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Sylvester Stallone; or Sly Stallone as he is known in the business, has always been somewhat of a second grade Schwarzenegger. At the height of his popularity; around the early 80''s, you would find that nearly all of his films would fail to even touch the box office success achieved by his even more muscle bound opponent. Of course he has always had 2 franchises that have defied this; keeping his name alive in such an unstable business. The first was his classic drama; come not so classic series, Rocky, and the second was the subject of this review. His explosive Rambo trilogy.
Now the thing to remember about the Rambo trilogy is that they do not represent the most intelligent end of film making. They are lads movies; pure, unadulterated lads movies. They are the ultimate in entertainment for men; films in which the size of the next explosion is far more important than the reasons for that explosion.
The first film; First Blood, was different. It didn''t have the name power that the series would later develop and so as a result didn''t have the funding either. It was based on the novel of the same name that told the story of Vietnam Vet. John Rambo. A man who is arrested on charges of vagrancy and declares a one man war against the local police force.
It''s the perfect story to do when creating a lower budget action movie because a police force will have far less guns than an army; thus reducing the explosions and by coincidence the expense too. However you can''t really be forgetting that First Blood was based on a novel about a psychotic soldier murdering a towns police force. The film version was much less hard hitting; featuring a nice friendly soldier pushed too far and still going out of his way not to kill anyone. It results in a film that has neither the psychological edge that I understand the book brims with, and yet is just too slow to be a really entertaining action adventure.
Even Stallone doesn''t really impress; sure his muscles made him impressive in the sequels but he never really makes use of them in the first. Instead you have to put up with try hard snarls; screams of agony that are more painful to the audience than the hero, and dialogue so corny that an entire city full of Amish people would have difficulty swallowing it. Richard Crenna does better; his calming voice was basically the only thing that can stop Rambo, and as Crenna speaks in this calm mannor you can just pick up on how much he wants you to pick up on the concerns he feels for Rambo. It''s not a great performance; far from it, Crenna''s spoof of this character in the Hot Shots films had the same emotions, but in terms of a Rambo film he has come to fit the character like a glove. Brian Dennehy was a little more disposable. His performance as the Sheriff was fine in being a run of the mill Denehy performance, but there''s nothing new; or even good, about his run of the mill sheriff character.
That''s about all there is to say on the matter though; First Blood is fun on a small scale, but still remains nothing more serious than a bit of fluff.
Rambo: First Blood Part II is much better. It''s still fluff, but the bigger budget sequel that had Rambo return to Vietnam to rescue some illegal POW''s is one big peace of fluff. You name it this film has it; machine guns, missiles, helicopters, BIG explosions, Rambo II has it all. This is the film that the series is ultimately remembered for and it is the ultimate in lads entertainment.
The acting is the same as ever. Stallone''s drawl is not only as irritating as ever but his dialogue is like a hundred times worse. One particular speech at the end involves talk of the American way, and how those poor soldiers love their country and want it to love them as much. Excuse me but Boohoo; I hate all of this over the top patriotic nonsense and it is always irritating when a big explosive film uses it in such a way as to make you feel the same way. Crenna''s performance balances it out though; again being plain and average but fitting his character into a Rambo icon.
Like I said though; who cares about all of that stuff when Rambo II is such a big lads movie. It''s just one huge explosion stretched out to a feature length; it''s not comical, has no wisecracking nonsense and just lets the big explosions do everything. Could there ever be a better movie to watch drunk?
Sadly the series went and ended up on a fizzle. Rambo III scrapped the jungle; scrapped the ultimate lads movie feel, and left you with the "Ooh look its just any old action flick" feeling. At the start of the film Rambo is a buddhist; OK so he''s just living among them, but once his friend gets captured he returns to war and has no difficulties with being out of practise. He travels to Afghanistan and helps the local freedom fighters; the film was dedicated to the brave Taliban warriors (Oh how opinions can change), against the Russian armies. It was basically just the typical Americans Vs Russians nonsense that took over the times.
It has an acceptable amount of gun fights; some suitable explosions and overall you could do a lot worse if you were looking for a film to watch when drunk. However the action scenes lack the atmosphere without the lush green jungle backdrop. They simply don''t look as interesting when taking place in a desert of terminal browns and as a result are not as exciting.
However that''s all that''s really different and the third film completed the series to a tee. It had the formula of one terrible performance from sly Stallone''s drawl; uttering some appallingly cheesy dialogue about how great America is. Not that I have anything against the country, but like I said it''s very annoying when an 80''s action flick tried to be so patriotic. Crenna is the films saving grace; again because he fits the character like a glove; a very comfortable well worn glove that has a lot of sentimental value, even though he''s not all that emotional.
Sad really; a series as well known as Rambo and it only has one really good action movie. Other than the second film; the first was slower though marginally more intelligent, and the third was; well, crap.
However this is still a respected action series, and I feel that a respected series should be given a DVD set to do it justice. The region 2 non special edition set doesn''t. I was going to write a full DVD review until I realized that each disk was consistently bad. The picture transfer being of a VHS quality and the audio making no use of the 5.1 whatsoever.
Extras wise each film comes with it''s very cheesy 80''s trailer and a 80''s pre release feature; you know with Crenna going on about how important the message of the films was; about how they really show a soldiers true feelings (and I''m talking 2 here) and really talking out of his backside in an effort to impress the drunk and the insane. None of the disks have any new material; nothing that examines their impact on action movies, and so who cares about this set. I got it for an extremely low price; if you can''t then just get the second film and you''ll have everything that would make this purchase worthwhile.
Troy is a film that succeeds in a lot of areas; a film that does manage to capture a lot of the promised grandeur, it fails in a lot of areas that cheapen the experience as a whole.
The story is certainly epic; chronicling a number of different plot branches without ever really getting itself muddled. You know the score here, big bad king Menelaus is celebrating peace with the Trojans when he has his misses stolen from him by spunky young prince Paris. Now this wife Helen is not now remembered as the face that launched a thousand ships without good reason. See Menelaus was just a little ticked off at this and so went to his brother Agamemnon and launches a fleet of a thousand ships against the Trojan nation. Fighting for the Greeks is the bad boy warrior Achilles; a man said to be un-killable and generally the guy you want on your side in a fight. The Trojans wont give in without a fight though; they believe in their gods, have their supposedly impenetrable walls and have their own bad boy in the shape of Prince Hector who will fight to the death to defend both his country and his little Bro.
To go along with the biggest war in history are at least 3 separate love stories, 2 major rivalries, hundreds of men trying to find honour and the greatest military tactic in history (or the most idiotic mistake in history; you decide), which is just one of a number of legends given birth by this story including the already mentioned "Face that launched a thousand ships", and the moment where Achilles heel became his; well his Achilles heel. So like I said the plot is certainly an epic one and something with all the hallmarks of a modern classic; if only this big budget film was able to actually do it justice.
The cast for example is split straight down the middle between some fantastic actors, and some just downright poor performances. Brad Pitt manages well as the tough guy Achilles. His brooding personality and honest eyes are perfect for the character, and while there were times in the battles where his presence would falter; usually when he was supposed to be being his hardest, I would still say that he did well. Rose Byrne was even better, her eyes were just so much more expressive than you could ever wish for them to be, and so even during her moments where she has no lines; meaning most of her screen time, she still managed to get across every mixed feeling and every nuance that her character requires. Diane Kruger''s Helen Of Troy was simply stunning, not just in a "Damn she''s hot" type of way, but genuinely beautiful in the same way as a work of art. Again her performance went well physically, not only in capturing the beauty that legends are made of, but in her expressing the emotions she is feeling. Sadly her character had far more dialogue scenes and a lot of the time I found her performance to be very mixed.
On the other side of the coin were a number of fantastic actors that have decided to hide their talents for this film. Admittedly Sean Bean had very little to work with in the role of Odysseus (You know that dude Homer Simpson played that time) but I don''t think it''s unreasonable for an actor of his caliber to try and introduce a little personality into the preceding. Brendan Gleeson was just a little too comical in the role of Menelaus, never really convincing you of this rage that led to this slaughter, but then he never really has to try that hard since his nemesis is Orlando Bloom. Now pretty boy Bloom may make for a perfect elf, but a confident and noble prince he aint. In his initial scene with Helen you''re supposed to believe that he''s this confident prince whose not only stolen a wife in every port, but has been able to secretly seduce the kings wife on numerous occasions. Yet the moment she actually disrobes for him he gives her the look of a guy who''s not quite sure what he should do next. Then later on he''s just too much of a pretty boy to really hold your attention, I mean I know the character is supposed to be inexperienced, but skinny ladies man Bloom against big fat Brendan Gleeson is hardly a clash of the titans is it. Must have run in the family though, because as much screen presence as Eric Bana brought the role of mighty Hector you still could never quite understand why he was trying to play an Irish Trojan. Not the actors nationality so there seemed to be no reason for his strange accent, unless that was how the Trojans actually talked in which case everybody else sucked.
Of course this a film about much more than just actors, and yet even stylistically the film is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is superb, absolutely dripping in the perfect atmosphere whether it''s trying to portray despair, honour or love it actually works. I admit that the drum beat that played out in one of the major battles didn''t really fit, but other than that one little bit it was superb.
Visually the film had some great costume design, not the best I''ve seen by a long shot, but these costumes were more than believable enough to immerse you into the film. It''s just unfortunate that this level of quality couldn''t be kept up in all aspects of the film. Some of the cinematography; usually involving either a fleet of 1000 ships or an army of 50,000 soldiers are genuinely impressive, but then outside of these shots there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the camera work that never really succeeds at getting in close to the emotional moments and is just a little too close during most of the major battle sequences.
Did I actually mention the battles yet? Fantastic, at least some of them were. The big military battles were jaw dropping; really brutal without resorting to any unnecessary gore. So hard hitting and realistic in portraying the kind of atmosphere that only a modern swords and sandals adventure can provide. Sadly the smaller battles; the one on one fights that should contain most of the atmosphere are just; and believe me when I say that I hate to say this, they''re just too obviously choreographed. They never feel unpredictable enough as they are so obviously planned out that they really detract from the believability. This kind of intricateness may work for something like Star Wars, but in such a major historical epic (Which is what they decided to aim for when they removed the more fantasy aspects of the myth) it felt wrong, especially this one move Achilles insists on using that wouldn''t look out of place in a Jet Li flick; or maybe Troy the videogame, just not the major motion picture.
I can''t really complain about the film without at least giving mention to its worst feature; its dialogue. This stuff was really mixed. It often would start out really well, before rolling downhill in the same sentence. Lines like "I want to see my son grow tall; I want to watch the girls chase after him." were such an uneven mix of period sayings and modern expressions that you really have to question what the writers were thinking at the time.
What it really comes down to is whether I would recommend Troy to a viewer. Well I would say yes; sort of. It succeeds in the areas that it succeeds in, and does them superbly. It''s just that when it does mess up it pulls no punches and messes up royally, it''s not enough to ruin the whole film but you will need to ask yourself whether the films 3 hour run time will be as endurable with all of its flaws.
I''m a little mixed on how to rate this thing myself. See 3 stars doesn''t really do it justice, it''s actually 3 and half. It was a close call but since it just about fell on the wrong side of that half I''ll have to round it off to 3 stars. It''s certainly not a bad film, but it''s not even close to greatness. Possibly the years biggest disappointment.
Richard Donner, director of such classics as Timeline, and Conspiracy Theory...
Wait a second maybe he''s not the greatest director afterall. Well he must be getting old or something because back in the 80''s this director helmed what has gone on to become one of my longtime favorite childhood movies. The Goonies; directed by Donner, and written by the combined talents of Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg, is a film that recalls to mind every childhood fantasy you had about bandits, booby traps and buried treasure.
What makes the film such an endearing classic though is simply the sheer energy of the whole thing. It tells the story of young Mikey Walsh who decides that the only way of stopping his childhood home from being sold is to get together The Goony Gang (The name of his gang) and track down the missing treasure of pirate One Eyed Willy. They have a map, the smarts to figure it out and the spirit to succeed where the only other person to try has been killed. In fact everything seems to be going perfectly until they realize that the only way to start their journey is to go through the secret hideout of escaped gangster family The Frattellis.
From this point on the film is none stop adrenaline fueled fun. It just bounces from one classic set piece to the next without giving you time to breath and realize how utterly unoriginal it all is. I mean who will ever forget the hilarious scene with the drainage pipes, the dizzying drop down the spiked pit, or best of all the breathless scene involving the bone organ and retractable floor combo. When you factor in the fact that The Frattellis are hot on their heels and suffering at the hands of the kids cartoon violence then the film truly never stops moving.
Luckily for a film that relies so heavily on pure energy it''s gotten together a young cast simply brimming over with uncontrolled excitement. I''ve heard it complained that the film has bad acting, but who cares when the kids are this much fun. From Sean Astin''s delivery on his classic "It''s their time, their time, up there! Down here it''s our time, our time, down here" speech, to Corey Feldman''s mischievous translation for the Spanish maid, these kids will constantly make you laugh. Yes the cries of Jeff Cohen''s Chunk may be completely fake, and his I love you lines completely cloying, but his excitement is such that you find yourself reciting his lines all the same. Of course the best of them could only be Jonathan Ke Quan. I mean sure Data''s inventions are some of the films most memorable things, but this is all really down to Ke Quan''s performance. Remember what he did in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, well he had that kind of energy here first. Everything about this kid, from his gleeful cries of "$50 bills!" as he finds a money printer, to his quiet whine as he realizes they''re fake, to his cheeky grin as he uses his retractable boxing glove, this kid is just WOW.
Even the grown ups get in on the energy as Robert Davi makes opera singing scary, and Joe Pantoliano becomes the embodiment of Whiley Coyote as he constantly hurts himself in comical ways while trying desperately to get the kids. There is also one other thing worth mentioning though. That''s Sloth, the disfigured but friendly Frattelli. You could say that this character brought an important message of accepting others regardless of their appearance, but of course that''s not what you remember him for. Everyone remembers him for ripping off his shirt to reveal a superman vest before beating his brothers upside the head. This guy rocks.
At the end of the day, with all of that energy on display I don''t have to explain myself. I simply love this flick.
I was never quite sure what to expect from the romantic comedy 50 First Dates. I''ve always despised Adam Sandler''s (Little Nicky) goofy persona, but at the same time I have always been in love with Drew Barrymore''s (Charlie''s Angels) cute as a button looks. Then I realized that there was actually one Sandler film I liked, The Wedding Singer, which succeeded largely on the chemistry he shared with Barrymore. I figured that since my rentals are free anyway it couldn''t hurt to check out their latest project.
With 50 First Dates writer George Wing has taken the concept from such films as Clean Slate and moved it completely into the genre of the romantic comedy. It stars Sandler as Henry Roth, a vet living in Hawaii who likes to make up exciting stories about his life for the vacationing women whom he will never have to commit to. One day over breakfast though he meets a young girl named Lucy (Barrymore) whom he finds himself drawn to. Sadly on their next meeting Lucy acts as if she''s never seen him in her life, which is when Henry discovers the unfortunate truth that a year ago Lucy was in a car accident and can no longer create new memories. Her family are trying to protect her from discovering the truth and so try and stop Henry from seeing her. An act that forces him to manufacture meetings so that he can win back her heart every day.
It''s a great concept to be sure but the great thing is that the film actually lives up to it''s potential by aiming for the gut and scoring with a series of belly laughs. There are a few points of not so funny crudity (Usually involving Rob Schneider) but most of the films humor works well. You have the scenes where Lucy''s family are trying to make every day her birthday; including the frequent first viewing of The Sixth Sense and its shock ending. Scenes involving his annoying co worker and all of his animal friends. Best of all though are the scenes where he''s trying to woo her, sometimes winning her heart and other times getting her to beat his brother with a baseball bat. Some of the belly laughs were just hysterical.
Thankfully the young couple at the center of the story manage to make this film work better than the writing alone could ever manage. Sandler proves that when he''s not playing his usual character he can give a sensitive but funny performance with some terrific comic timing, and yes he still shares a lot of chemistry with Barrymore. However you could really have replaced him with his pet Walrus and it wouldn''t have made a difference since this is Barrymore''s film. Her screen presence is such that she can make you laugh and cry with just a look. She makes sure that in any scenes where she discovers the truth her puppy dog eyes and scrunched up face will melt even the coldest of hearts, but at the same time when she''s being wooed her cute smile and sweet laugh will make your heart skip a beat.
The pair received strong support from the likes of a buffed up Sean Astin as Lucy''s over protective brother. Some brilliant dead pan from Dan Aykroyd as her doctor, and the films most expressive performance from a Walrus appearing as itself. They were all strong, but again are really forgettable compared to Barrymore.
My only real problem with the film came down to Rob Schneider as Harry''s brother Ula. I''ve never liked him much anyway, but here he''s really nothing but the source of the 90% of the films crudity. Nothing too bad, just nothing clever, and as always he simply has that face that makes you want to slap him.
Other than him though 50 First Dates is a sweet, funny, well acted little film that stars Drew Barrymore. Definitely a recommendation.
Well I had a day off today, and just like I do every day off I felt a trip to the cinema was in order. Sadly The Incredibles doesn''t officially open here until tomorrow and so I was forced to watch something a little different. The movie I chose to watch was Shaolin Soccer, an action packed kung fu comedy that plays around with the wire fu conventions of films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
The story follows the same basic conventions as any underdog sports film. It sees a young Shaolin follower named Sing who has made it a personal quest to reintroduce martial arts to the world. This is not an easy task due to the fact that people no longer appreciate the benefits of martial arts. Even his Shaolin brothers, Iron Head, Empty Hand, Weight Vest, Hooking Leg and Iron Vest are all living pretty mundane lives and each have long forgotten their Shaolin super powers. He sees his chance to fulfill his dream when he meets a retired football player who agrees to coach him and his brothers as the worlds first Shaolin soccer team. Once the brothers are all reunited and their powers restored the coach enters them into a competition with the help of a former rival who is now coaching the current champions Team Evil. (gee I wonder who the bad guys are)
However Shaolin Soccer is not a film to watch for it''s story. I''m sure you already know how the story will end, but what you are not prepared for is the sheer amount of surreal insanity you will encounter along the way. In the early stages Sing is observed going about his daily routine when a worker asks for his help in lifting a heavy crate. Sing responds by kicking the crate and sending it flying to where it should be, before he tries to popularize kung fu through lounge singing. Then in the teams practice match they are up against a team hiding wrenches, hammers and other weapons in their shorts, and about halfway through Sing drops to the floor and the scene morphs into something out of Apocalypse Now.
Of course its once the tournament kicks off that the madness really begins and the film gets to have some fun with the old wire-fu. During the football matches; particularly the final against a souped up Team Evil, our Shaolin brothers get to make use of all sorts of super powers. They fly across the pitch, catch the ball and run with it embedded into their stomachs, and send huge great balls of fire flying at the terrified goalies.
Though it''s the sound and visual crew that really go to town in heightening the hilarity. Seeing a person who can kick a ball is one thing, but seeing him kick a ball that turns into a huge fiery dragon, or using a bullet time kick so that the ball knocks the goalie clean into the crossbar with a cartoony clang is just plain hysterical. I''m telling you these matches were a blast.
However I was a little disappointed to find the film was only available dubbed. It meant that I could no longer gauge the quality of the performers. 2 stood out. Stephen Chow plays Sing, and on the strength of his facial expressions alone manages to be the best martial arts comedian since Jackie Chan kicked off the whole trend. The other was Kai Man Tin who played the teams goalie, and is officially histories greatest Bruce Lee homage with his Game Of Death jump suit and constant use of familiar poses.
It''s a shame because with the original language I firmly believe this film would have been a 5 star hit. It''s an example to people like the Wayans Brothers how self referential film making should be, and a thoroughly enjoyable blast to boot.
In the early 60''s Steven Spielberg released a film into the world that played on the claustrophobia of the ocean, played on peoples primal fears of sharks, and ultimately scared a generation of film fans out of the water for good. There were sequels and I admit that the quality was rapidly declining, but I just can''t imagine anybody would have ever expected any film, let alone a Jaws film, could ever be this badly made.
The tag line to the film is "This time it''s personal" and the sad thing is that the tag line was more than just a cheap sales pitch. See it''s been quite some time since the events of the first 2 films and Chief Brody has long since passed on. However his wife and now grown up son are still living on the Amnesty beach front. Problem is that the original sharks mothers, brothers, second cousin (or something) is still extremely ticked off at his good friends demise and has sworn blood vengeance against the family responsible. So it goes that when the son is out working on the water the new shark takes advantage of the situation to take him out. When old Mrs. Brody hears the news she comes down to the only conclusion possible, that the sharks are all out to get them (because the idea that living on a high risk beach he may just have been attacked by an unrelated shark was just too far fetched for her.) and the only way to protect herself from shark attack is, not to just stay out of the water, but to completely up and leave town.
Well it would seem this was actually the course of wisdom because our shark seems to have friends on the outside who have bugged her phone and informed it of her plans to escape a shark by moving to an island. So the shark follows, or more appropriately leads, as it gets to the Caribbean before that damn slow plane carrying Mrs. Brody. Yadayadayada the shark proceeds to munch on some locals, tries to get it''s teeth into the final son, and takes time out to find out what fresh helicopter tastes like.
Yeah I know it''s all dumb, but it''s not just script problems since the film also suffers some serious pacing problems that are not helped by the very mundane acting. There''s a large portion of the film granted to a romance between Mrs. Brody and her pilot (ewe crinkly dates) where you''re expected to care more about the characters than the shark but you can''t because both Lorraine Gary and Michael Caine (usually one of my favorites) are clearly giving more thought to their paid Caribbean vacation than to their performance. There''s also Mario Van Peebles painfully false accent and Lance Guest doing nothing with his role as Michael Brody.
Of course being a Jaws film you can rest easy knowing that when it gets going the film will have some worthy shark attacks. Just try and forget the fact that the shark has gone from rubber looking, to a big piece of plastic that never opens its mouth or moves its tail, and generally looks like something from a kids fairground ride. You can forget that because of the spectacle of a shark attacking a helicopter, the terror of a shark standing up on its tail and roaring...
No I''m not convinced either. The film fails in that regard to. In fact it just plain fails! Only John Williams classic score can be called a plus, but it''s a plus that is not nearly as effective in such a bad film.
The idea behind King Arthur was to demystify the legend, try to tell the real story that inspired one of histories greatest tales. Of course then you realize that this is yet another Jerry Bruckheimer produced masterpiece and any hope for believability goes straight out the window.
The story is set about a thousand years before the legend you all know. It stars Clive Owen as Arthurius (Arthur), a Roman general who leads a noble band of pagans in defense of the realm of Britain. Rome has promised said pagans a release so that they may return home, but on the bishops arrival they are betrayed and forced into one final mission. They must head deep into enemy territory, braving the resident Woad soldiers who are being led by an old warrior named Merlin, in order to rescue a family of nobles that have set up an estate there.
The problem is that these people are using the beliefs of the slaves against them, and are walling up their enemies to slowly die. When Arthur discovers this he liberates the Woad prisoners and escorts all of them, including the beautiful but battle hardened Guinevere, back to safety.
From this point on the film becomes a less than competent Braveheart wanabe, with Arthur realizing that the Rome he fought for no longer exists and joining the fight of Merlin''s warriors. Cliched heroic scenes abound, romance blossoms from nothing, and Arthur leads his troops with his own less than rousing variation of Mel Gibson''s famous "They''ll never take our freedom" speech.
While I never really expected anything more than this I was a little disappointed at the lack of any truly standout characters. Of the Knights of the round table only 3 stood out. Arthur was a pretty poor lead character, with no sense of authority or power coming from Clive Owen and his unfortunate hair cut. Ioan Gruffudd played Arthur''s best friend Lancelot who shared a brief and underdeveloped attraction to Guinevere but was otherwise a pretty bland and predicable character/ actor combo. Finally there was Ray Winstone who ignored his own acting talents to give a completely over the top performance as the comic relief character Bors. The other 3 knights Galahad, Tristan and Gawain were so forgettable that I can''t recall who was who. There was also these 2 ugly dudes playing unnamed evil Saxons, with only Guinevere being a remotely interesting character thanks in no small part to a passionate performance from Keira Knightly.
Even the action scenes weren''t up to the usual Bruckheimer standard. Most of the time a Bruckheimer production will have a pulse pounding soundtrack but here all you have is an uninteresting soundtrack that does nothing for the action. Action that is already pretty mundane. It''s not that they''re bad, just neither exciting or emotional. The 15 (soft R) rated directors cut I saw had a few beheadings, some pretty nasty hits to the eye and similar amounts of gritty realism, but because of the set up in these scenes they never feel as gritty or shocking as was intended and as such you just don''t care.
It''s not as if this is among the worst films of the year though. It''s all really inoffensive with some technical merit in its overall look. Costume design was fantastic, and the locations held an authenticity usually lacking from the producer of Pearl Harbor. Even the few gory effects looked real and would been really useful in a better film. So yes the film does at least have some technical merit, but still, it''s all pretty boring really.
He''s strong, he''s fast, he''s brave, he is Mr. Incredible, rescuer of small kittens, stopper of mad terrorists and boyfriend to a more than flexible woman. Sadly for him his life in the spot light is about to come to a shattering conclusion. When Mr. Incredible saves a man from an attempted suicide the results are tragic. The victim of this rescue proceeds to sue his would be saviour for psychological damages.
"You never saved my life. YOU RUINED MY DEATH!!!"
It''s not too long before this catches on and people begin suing their heroes left right and center. Recognizing the fact that legal fees are approaching the cost of a terrorist attack the government has just one option. The super hero relocation program. Heroes the world over are forced to hang up their capes and live by their run of the mill alias''s. Mr. Incredible and his wife Elastigirl are now simply Bob and Helen Parr. He''s an insurance salesman by day and a bowler by night, she''s a quiet suburban housewife struggling to raise a family of average everyday kids.
The trouble is that only Helen is truly happy with such a mundane existence. Their son Dashiell (Dash) wants to use his super speed in the arena of sports, and their daughter Violet is becoming a social drop out who uses her invisibility powers to avoid being seen by the kids at school. However it''s Bob who''s suffering the worst. He remembers the glory days and absolutely hates the amount of attention given to relatively minor achievements.
"It''s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity."
So when a mysterious woman offers him the chance to return to his super hero ways he jumps at the chance. Concealing the truth from his family and therefore risking far more than just the world.
That is what is so great about Pixar''s latest animated hit The Incredibles, like The Simpsons it focuses on the irony of real life and lets the fantastical backdrop take secondary place. The opening to the film alone manages to make fun of the two faced double standards of celebrities, and societies obsession with idiotic law suits. It''s like Homer always says, "It''s funny because it''s true!" You see Mr. Incredible grinning at the cameras telling everybody they can all be special, but then squashing the good intentions of a young boy trying to help and you laugh because this is what you see from celebrities every day. You see a man suing a hero for saving him and you laugh because you know that if super heroes really existed then people (Americans) would sue them to make an easy buck. Then as the body of the film kicks in and you see Bob as this guy fed up with being screwed by his employers and hating his uninteresting life and you can relate. You see Helen being called into the school, struggling to control the kids at the dinner table and you laugh. Not because it''s stupid, but, quite the contrary, because it''s real.
Unfortunately this will likely to cause a lot of the humor to sore straight over the kids heads. That''s where the action scenes come in. Bold, colorful and very well animated these scenes that feature a young girl bowling into enemies with her energy shield, a mother turning into a parachute and a boy punching the bad guy a thousand times a minute will have the younguns enthralled.
Really Pixar have done it again. They''ve cast voice actors who manage to be over the top enough to be funny but at the same time real enough to be real. They make the films style work so that you have a film for all the family. Parents will be able to appreciate the intelligent satire, while kids will love the action and visuals. It may not be a Finding Nemo beater but it''s still one of the years best.
Two Brothers is the story of two sibling Tigers. Born in the jungles of early 20th century Cambodia these siblings live somewhat of an idilic life. One is a quiet withdrawn little mammas boy while the other is the braver rogue that looks out for his brother. Sadly this all comes to an end when men arrive and desecrate their home. The mother grabs the timid cub and flees the scene, but the braver cub is trapped inside a temple. The father goes for this trapped cub but is shot dead by hunter McRory (Guy Pearce) who finds and adopts the stranded cub. Unfortunately Mcrory is quickly arrested and arranges for his tiger to be taken in by a traveling circus that names him Kumar and trains him to jump through hoops.
The mother Tiger is not willing to leave her cub though, and so shows up trying to get him back when she is caught in a trap and joined by Kumar''s more timid sibling. He is soon taken in by a young village boy who names him Sangha and cherishes him as a pet. However the family dog takes a dislike to having a tiger in the house and tries for all its might to get him. One day the mutt gets its chance, forcing Sangha to defend himself and nearly kill the dog. Realizing the Tiger has now tasted blood the family are forced to remove it from their home and send it away, which is when he is taken away and made a part of the emperor''s menagerie where he is raised to be a fierce animal.
Years later the 2 brothers are reunited when the Emperor arranges for the circus owner to provide a tiger to do battle with his own. Will the now timid Kumar stand a chance against the fierce Sangha or will he be ripped to shreds. I don''t think I really need to tell you the answer, but from this point on the film becomes one of the worst displays of sugary goodness in years.
Oh don''t get me wrong the film certainly has its redeeming values. It''s just that they''re both in very visual areas. The cinematography used throughout the film is absolutely superb. Most notable is the near perfect recreation of the ancient Cambodian temples and how they would have looked in the early 20s. These locations have had every vine, and every statue meticulously placed with a budget rarely seen in a childrens movie. Other parts include the circus, the menagerie and the battle arena being very good visually.
The other area was the extremely expressive tigers, especially the cubs. The looks in their faces may be cute, but they also get the story across. Developing the characters and completely telling their story without the need for actual talking animals.
Sadly outside of those areas the film is definitely one of those childrens movies that the parents will be bored with. The human characters are all completely flat and lifeless. The actors, even Guy Pearce, all give completely mundane performances. Brushing off their dialogue like they''re completely aware how cheesy it all is.
Oh sure the kids will be impressed. The tigers are really cute, and the core message about protecting wild life is honorable enough to grant the film a decent score, but still the fact is that any film with a little boy recognizing a fierce tiger as his cuddly pet because of love, or even just tigers that have the intelligence to remember a bond after years of separation is just to cloying for grown ups. Someone please pass me a bucket.
Despite the fact that Halo 2 has been praised by many as the best FPS (First Person Shooter) ever made it still managed to disappoint me. Sure I enjoyed the hell out of the game, but I didn''t feel it could hold a candle to the original. Even in terms of last years releases I found this game, Star Wars: Republic Commando, to be a far superior action based FPS.
Republic Commando is at its heart a connection between the films Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith. It''s not the first time that Lucas Arts have used this approach with its Star Wars licence, the original Rogue Squadron took place between Episodes 4 and 5 and showed how Luke went from destroying the Death Star to getting pinned down on the ice planet Hoth. In the same way Republic Commando takes the finale of Episode 2 (an entire clone army being released on Geonosis), and through the eyes of an elite squad explains how they found themselves in the massive battle for Kashyk portrayed in the third film.
This is no regular Star Wars tie in though. There''s no lightsabres, no force powers, no pompous mythological ramblings, in fact there''s none of the traditional signs of the Jedi inhabited universe. No, Republic Commando instead paints a darker picture of the Star Wars legend by placing you in the battle hardened shoes of one of the republics elite commandos. The game itself actually feels far more like the original Halo as you have to face an intense barrage of enemies, and have to gradually push your way forward if you want to survive. Fortunately Lucas Arts have been smart enough to utilize the same genius control scheme as Halo (right analogue stick to strafe, left stick to aim, right trigger to shoot and left trigger to toss a grenade) since Trade Federation droids will set up a foothold in nearly every area, Geonosians (giant bugs) will swoop in from the skies, and Trandoshans (slave trading lizards) will charge every corridor. You really need the level of control that this scheme provides if you ever want to survive such a barrage.
That''s not to say that you are playing another Master Chief type of Super Soldier though. For me the games strongest selling point is its squad based gameplay. your character is the leader of a specially trained squad of clones whose abilities you need to know how to use. In a similar manor to the Rainbow Six series every locked door you encounter needs to be breached in the correct way. One team mate setting an explosive on the lock, another tosses in a grenade, and then everybody makes their way in single file. However unlike the recent Rainbow Six games Republic Commando really makes you feel like a member of an elite commando squad, as opposed to a babysitter for a group of incompetent marines.
For instance sometimes you need to keep your squad in check and order them to open the door in a manor that wont disturb the droids behind it. In other places you need to be aware of your surroundings and learn to manage a variety of tasks among the team. In one instance I found myself in a room being filled with droid dispensers that needed to be secured quickly. I found 2 sniping positions which I decided to assign to my team, while I went in and set the explosives. In another room though the droids had already established a foothold and the room needed to be cleared. In that instance I again assigned 2 squad members to sniping positions, but decided it best to assign a team member to the demolitions whom I would then help to cover. The A.I on the team is so good that this kind of leadership is warranted if you want to succeed, and for once it''s not necessary to do every task yourself.
In fact quite the opposite, sometimes you need to actually sit out a battle. I mean part of being a leader is to, not just assign firing positions, but to make sure your team focuses their fire on the correct enemy. This on its own is all well and good, but then if a team mate is immobilized (including yourself) it requires someone to run over with bactar (Star Wars medicine) before they can continue the battle. What you have to decide is whether or not it''s in the best interests of the team to call someone away from their position to offer this help, and sometimes you just have to sit out the battle and wait until the enemy is down before getting your medicine.
What really proves to draw you into the team is the games sound though. Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett in Episode 2) does a superb job of infusing his own unique sense of energy into the lead character, but still the other characters have their own voices (odd that clones all sound different) that perfectly fit their own unique personalities. Yet still the other in game sounds manage to match this, footsteps coming down the corridors, laser blasts passing your head, 8 foot tall wookies roaring ahead of you, it all manages to make you feel like you''re right there on the battle lines of the clone wars.
Sadly the games visuals were a little to mixed to do the rest justice. Parts of them that really worked were the fantastic animations that were created using the help of a military supervisor in order to make Delta squad feel like an actual elite squad. They were also rendered using an extremely high resolution engine with some truly amazing lighting effects. The characters were fine, it was just that the areas themselves were a little lacking. It''s all really down to the games completely linear level designs, meaning that any areas not immediately accessible were created using a tunnel effect. It''s not really a problem in the heat of combat, but in some of the more enclosed spaces I found myself occasionally spotting the lack of a true draw distance.
Still I have to admit to loving every minute of Rogue Commandos intense gameplay. It perfectly recreates the horrific clone wars we''ve heard so much about, and manages to be the best squad based game on a console to date. It is, I''m sorry to say, going to lose a point on it''s length though. Over the course of 3 years the game manages to show you just 3, admittedly long, levels that get the basic story out of the way and nothing more. I''d love to see a sequel, or maybe even a spin off dealing with the Mandalorian War, but for now the games length prevents it from being the Halo beater that I so badly want to call it.
Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers) and starring the combined might of Brad Pitt (Oceans Eleven) and Angelina Jolie (Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow) Mr. And Mrs. Smith is one film that screamed potential. Unfortunately this light hearted tale of the ultimate marital dispute does not contain the same easy going humor and consummate coolness that all 3 players have proven themselves capable of providing.
The film stars Pitt as Mr. John Smith a mild mannered husband by day, hired assassin by night. Jolie plays his unwitting wife Jane, a quiet suburban housewife by day, hired assassin by night; for a different company! Both parties struggle to keep the 2 lives separate but succeed at keeping up the visage of a quiet suburban couple. That all changes when the 2 are hired to kill the same person, get in each others way, and are given just 48 hours to take out their spouse.
Surprisingly enough it''s these 2 normally talented entertainers that prove to doom the film. As a couple they lack even a spark of chemistry and as a result potentially energetic scenes fizzle out and die before they can get started. Alone they are better, but still there can be no denying that neither star is on top form. Brad Pitt is easily one of my favorite actors but here he just can''t seem to raise his spirits enough to pull off the goofy charm required. His facial mannerisms are just a little to subdued for the comedic scenes, but a little to prevalent for the more action packed moments. Jolie on the other hand manages the films visual gags with aplomb, but just can''t seem to raise her own unique spark for her exchanges with Pitt.
The film works better as an action movie. I''ve liked Liman''s style ever since The Bourne Identity and once again he''s not afraid to shake things up. He''s not of the Michael Baye school of directing where every scene has to feature the same camera shots, the same flashy cars, and the same lame one liners. There''s just something raw about his style that utilizes every day objects and vehicles to make the action feel like it takes place in the real world. One scene in particular featured the couple shooting it out in there own small town home, throwing kitchen knives around and pulling shot guns from the oven, yet still the setting feels real. It''s this feeling combined with Liman''s shakey but well placed camera that helps to give the audience a sense of place during the action scenes, and it''s this that makes them so much fun.
It''s just a shame that so much of the film relies on the non existent chemistry between its stars. Simon Kinberg has done such a good job on the films script, bringing out scenes involving a marriage guidance councilor with comedic genius, and adding such a light hearted spark to the literally explosive break down of a marriage. Yet the fact that Jolie and Pitt so badly fail to ignite that spark means that all his work was in vain. Vince Vaughn does his best in an extended cameo as John''s partner in crime Eddie, and to be honest his natural timing and eminently watchable charisma do breath life back into any scene he features in. Sadly he''s not at the center of the film, and his energy disappears as soon as he does.
Believe me I wish I didn''t have to say this. The film does have a witty script, solid direction, and some very good support. Yet the fact that both Pitt and Jolie are on a bad day means that none of those aspects raise more than a chuckle, and the majority of the film is much more of a chore than it deserves to be.
So what exactly is this The Dukes of Hazzard thing all about anyway? That was the main thought running through my mind as I entered the theatre. I''d never actually watched the show, had no idea who Daisy Duke was, and completely failed to get the jokes so wonderfully worked into that episode of Family Guy. Yet the fact that our party contained one 14 year old boy meant that this was pretty much the only film we were going to be able to see this night.
So what exactly is this Dukes Of Hazzard thing all about anyway? To be honest I''m still not sure. From what I could work out the whole plot revolved around this orange car (The General Lee) that speeds around country lanes making impossible jumps designed to show off some fancy camera work while forcing numerous police cruisers into some decidedly dangerous accidents. Driving this General Lee is one Bo Duke (Sean William Scott) who, along with his cousin/passenger Luke Duke (Johnny Knoxville), has to put a stop to the governors wildly implausible get rich scheme that could destroy the town. The solution involves plenty of fast driving, a little high jumping, one blonde in a fridge, and other similar mayhem. Read into that what you will, because I''m still not certain what I just said.
What I am certain about is the fact that they could have done a far better job in casting the 2 leads. I like the pair just fine as individuals. I like William Scott''s goofy charm, and I love Johnny Knoxville''s over the top, yet strangely cool, style. Yet as a team they just don''t gel, they lack the necessary chemistry for a film of this style and as a result fail to make the duo outshine their own car.
Still whatever damage they cause is soon rectified by the insanely funny supporting cast. Eccentric Uncle Jesse is brought superbly to life by Willie Nelson who gleefully screams out the characters over the top jokes that will have you either rolling in the isles, or walking out in disgust. Of course the most important casting decision would have to be Jessica Simpson as everyone''s favorite country bumpkin Daisy Duke. Shockingly enough, her skimpy bikinis actually did play an integral part to the stories continuity; well maybe not that far, but still, that and the wonderfully conniving performance from Burt Reynolds as the chief villain Boss Hog made the film enjoyable enough.
It was however nothing more than a guilty so bad it''s good type of fun. Even as an over the top car movie the editing on the stunts was horrible. You are constantly bombarded with shots of the car doing some stupidly over the top jump, hurtling bonnet first toward the ground before miraculously landing on all 4 wheels. A few one shot stunts would have made the effect that much more impressive, but alas, this really was too much to ask for. Still, it''s all really harmless enough. There were a few clever jabs at the series, including the reaction The General Lee would get in this modern PC world. Oh and I guess certain things worked as a nudge to the series too; the car, the horn, the fake stunts, and a wildly implausible Boss Hog plot to destroy the town. Nothing clever, but it was fun all the same.
So what exactly is this The Dukes of Hazzard thing all about anyway? My answer can only really be, nonsense. Over the top, nonsensical silliness featuring a fast (though kind of crappy looking) car, and a good looking girl in a pink bikini. Worth a group screening I guess, but not recommended for the lone cinema experience.
It''s a shame really, such a trivial little thing can ruin a reputation for so long. It was around 10 years ago that game developers Tempco got desperate in their attempts to compete with beat-em-up giants Namco and Sega. The game in question was Dead Or Alive, an interesting little fighting game that combined the Virtual Fighter engine with a complex countering system, the first, very basic, interactive arenas, and some lightning fast gameplay that would have gone completely unnoticed if not for the fact that Temco decided to include some giant bouncing breasts. (sadly you did read that correctly) It was nothing more offensive that the average Carry On joke really, and when they combined it with a series of unlockable thong bikinis it did sort of sell well to teenage boys. Unfortunately, I was one of the few teenage boys who really did want the game for the fighting, but my parents were having none of it.
Now Dead Or Alive has reached it''s fourth incarnation. Team Ninja have worked tirelessly in perfecting the gameplay to appeal to hard core gamers rather than button bashers. The bikinis themselves have been gone since game 2 (they did return for a little Volleyball on the beach, but that really was just one for the teenage boys) and the bouncing breasts have been reduced to a barely noticeable in joke. It''s too late now though, the damage has been done, and everyone now assumes that all Dead Or Alive players are dirty old men looking for a few cheap thrills from a high definition game. Shame really as Dead Or Alive really does deserve to be the gamers choice. It''s faster paced than Virtual Fighter, more Tactical than Tekken, and punishes random button bashing fiercely.
The basic game mechanics are the same as previous titles. One button works for punching, one button works for kicking, a third button works for the basic throws, and the final button is the "free button" that when used correctly produces a devastating counter attack. This is where the Dead Or Alive series differs from other fighting games, because while new players can still produce some effective combos with random button bashing, the more experienced players will still win out by grabbing a leg mid combo and stamping on their opponents face. The trick is to know where the attack is coming from. In Dead Or Alive 4 this is even more important as the counter system has been honed to the point where you will only succeed if you hit counter at the exact same second as your opponent hits attack. The only way to do this is to keep your head clear. Try to observe your opponents playing style, look for repeat attacks/combos, or any holes in their offense, and then utilize them to your advantage.
Of course your opponent is going to be making the exact same plans, and so a skillful offense will be just as important to master. You need to mix it up a little. You can use combos, but you can''t really rely on them alone. Try to switch between a characters different fighting stances; try to fake out your opponent by stopping mid combo and hitting them as they counter thin air; heck if you see an opening try throwing your opponent with the occasional "cheap" move, but again don''t expect to abuse these moves as every move in the game is counterable if you have both the skill and the patience. You''ve probably heard others slating the game for the inexperienced players who abuse these moves for a cheap win, and I can assure you that anyone losing to them is losing because they are not good enough to stop the move, not because of any advantage a poor player has with these moves.
If all of this sounds a little complicated to you then I can assure you that it is, at least at first. Therein lies the beauty of Dead Or Alive 4. The only way to understand the depth of the game is to practice it, and eventually anyone can go from defense to offense with the lightning speed of a Jet Li movie.
In terms of the overall package I would definitely say that Tempo have done a decent job here. The basic mode is the story mode where you choose your fighter, battle your way through a string of opponents until you reach the final boss. Midway through each character will have a selection of cut scenes telling their story, and at the end it all gets tied up in a nicely shot CGI sequence. Some of these can be cute, others such as Zac''s are hilariously surreal, but when you reach the main players (Ninjas and the like) you will see the amount of heart that has gone into the Dead Or Alive back story, and the efforts put in to tieing it up here.
Other game modes include the classics survival and time attack; in both single and tag team forms, team battle and a sparring mode. It''s nothing you haven''t seen before but the X-Box live achievements do add a significant replay value to most of them. What impressed me the most with the single player though was the advanced A.I system. Finally the computer will try to learn your attack patterns, counter you with increased regularity, and if given the opportunity will juggle you (hit you into the air and then keep hitting) until the cows come home. It forces you to put the same skill and care into a single player game that you would have previously put into fighting other humans.
Of course the real depth to this new Dead Or Alive game will only ever be found on X-box live. See I never had this on my old X-Box so I had no idea what I was missing out on. However it''ll be the Internet play that ultimately decides your future with Dead Or Alive 4. Like all beat-em-ups this game is primarily a multi player game, and with the ability to play it online you can now find a wealth of human opponents without trying to talk all of your mates into getting together to play games. Ultimately the online portion of Dead Or Alive will be where your practice will come in handy. The problem is that you''ll need a lot of practice. Team Ninja have never been interested in producing games that anyone can play, they like to challenge the elite of gamers above anyone else. That''s not to say that regular people can''t enjoy Dead Or Alive, I certainly do and I''m still a grade C gamer (whoops just lost like 30 matches in a row to a better guy, now I''m a D). It''s just that you need the right attitude going in. Try to be the best and you better be the best or you''ll hate the game, but make it a point of searching for players in your skill range and you''ll most certainly have fun, so long as you don''t expect any of the victories to be handed to you.
That''s not to say that the online portion is perfect. Far from it. As with any game this fast paced a very fast connection is a requirement if you want to avoid getting lagged. You''re best bet is to search for players that live in the same country as you, and pray that nobody with a poor connection enters the lobby from further afield. Still, the amount of lag is no where near as bad as it could be, and if you don''t mind being choosey about who you play it shouldn''t be a problem.
The other aspect of the game that demands consideration is, of course, it''s cast of characters. Personally I was well pleased in this regard. There are initially 16 characters to choose from, with a further six you can open up later. Yet all of these characters remain balanced in their own respective fields. You have the fast combo heavy ninjas like Ayane, the more balanced characters like Jan Lee, and of course the big power hungry brutes like Bass. For first time players it will appear that only a few characters are worthwhile, but once you start getting better and developing your own style you''ll find different characters to be perfect. I''ve even seen people become unstoppable with Bass, despite the general consensus being that he is useless. All in all this would have to be the most balanced cast of fighters since the original Street Fighter 2.
Shame that the same can''t be said for the games arenas. Now I missed Dead Or Alive Ultimatum on the Xbox (only DOA fighter I didn''t play) and as a result some of these advancements are new to me. I still like the way Tempco allow you to interact with the environment. For instance, my favorite stage features a fight on a rope bridge, but you''ll quickly find yourself kicking your opponent off the bridge, causing them to crash down hard on the bottom, and continue the fight in the river below with all sorts of tree branches and stones to throw each other against. Other levels feature shops where you can throw each other through displays, and even a big mansion full of endless windows . I like this because, again, it forces tactics as you try to move the fight in the right direction to get your enemy into a danger zone, while trying to avoid getting cornered if you miss. Sadly, there are a few levels that feature random environmental damage. You know getting hit by a car on the road, or attacked by a wild animal in the jungle. In single player it''s a cute enough gimmick, but in multi player I find it does cheapen things. I''ve had matches where I''d be playing against a clearly better opponent, and just as he goes to finish me he gets hit by a car and I steal the victory. I''ve never lost a match in this way, but whenever I win like it I never feel satisfied.
Aesthetically though the game is a tour de force. The graphics in this game have to be seen to be believed. Some people gripe that the character models look very last gen, which is not really true at all. In terms of the slightly detailed, anime nature of the characters there''s not that much more you can do. However in Dead Or Alive 4 the other areas have been improved upon 10 fold. Clothes sway realistically in the wind, hair flows as the characters fight, and the texture mapping on these costumes is unbelievable. In the environments you will see some wonderful lighting effects, the best water effects ever, and again the detailed textures used to create the various arenas so realistically. Thanks to the slightly smaller levels the draw distance is never a problem, and clipping is limited to a few pieces of hair that you will never be able to notice during the high speed bouts.
In the audio department you mostly get what you''d expect. The over the top grunts go hand in hand with the over the top ninja fights perfectly. Appropriate characters like Zac and Bass have the requisite hilarious voices, and everything you would really expect to hear is present and correct. Then the music kicks in. Tempco have gone to great lengths in order to fit the music with the game, even getting the rights to songs by Aerosmith for the main theme and ending scenes. Even the lyrics are important if you want to understand the story, and the necessary emotions, whether they be laughter or tears, are always provided by the perfectly selected music.
All in all I would definitely recommend Dead Or Alive 4 to anyone who is serious about their gaming. It''s hard, but the rewards for perseverance are well worthwhile. Of course if you don''t think you''ll be putting the time in to learn the game then I wouldn''t even recommend renting it for the perfect presentation, because you, and most people admittedly, are not part of the games target audience.
Bathseda''s Elder Scrolls series has always had a sort of love hate relationship with gamers in general. Some love the series for their massive open ended structure and absorbing narrative, while others end up hopelessly lost and pine for a game where saving the world is really of far more import than wondering around the wilderness picking flowers. My only experience with the series to date was the Xbox release Of Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind that I enjoyed enough to put in around 60 hours of play time, but never actually started the games main quest. (wasn''t my fault, some guy told me to start making a name for myself and get back to him, and I kind of forgot to get back to him.) I''d dearly love for Microsoft to get started on making Morrowind BC so that I can try a little harder, but even so I remain satisfied that I found value for money in a game that allowed the player to play a hundred different games depending on their mood.
It would be a shame for people to assume that Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion is going to be another Morrowind expansion pack, because the truth is that Bathseda have strived very hard to fix the issues that have plagued the series since it''s beginnings.
True the concept of the game remains inherently the same. You play the character of your choosing, with options to choose the race and Birth Sign of your character dictating the areas you will best specialize in. Then a series of options; ranging from nose size (and point) to how broad to make the shoulders, allow you to play as the character you want to play as. From here the main story is introduced; this time involving the assassination of the Emperor and all his sons allowing gates to Oblivion (a hell type dimension) to open up across the country. Only the Emperors illegitimate son remains to take up the throne and reseal these gates, but it''s kind of up to you to find him.
Once again though this quest is surprisingly unimportant to the game as a whole. You can save the world in little over 10 hours if you choose to, but the game wont end if you do. Alternatively you can allow the forces of darkness to get on with it while you yourself do whatever it is you feel like doing while all of this is all going on.
From this point on the options at your disposal are staggering. You can wonder the wilderness killing bandits and looting their caves. Or you can enter a random town and listen to the local gossip, which will then open up any side quests you find appealing. These can range from solving murders, committing murders, hunting vampires, catching thieves, and quite a few Indiana Jones type quests with back story''s equally as intricate as that of the main quest itself. Then of course there''s the imperial arena where you can become a Roman type Gladiator and engage in Mortal Combat for the pleasure of a bloodthirsty crowd, and make yourself a little money if you survive.
There are also four guilds scattered around the country, each with their own 20 hour+ stories, and each utilizing vastly different genres to help avoid any sense of repetition. There''s the Fighters Guild who are losing business to a new organization, and through a series of hack and slash dungeon raiding missions you need to help them regain their position. Then there''s the mages guild, where obviously spell casting becomes the focal point as you must investigate a sinister cult of necromancers before they can wipe out the mages guild for good. There''s a thieves guild where fighting and killing is banned, and so you have to master your stealth skills if you want to complete their quests and uncover the mystery behind the guild master Grey Fox.
Yet the guild that perhaps provides the most fun is The Dark Brotherhood, or the assassins guild. Each mission in this section can be completed by simply killing your target, but, as it''s a discreet organization then they pay more if you use discretion and finds less incriminating ways of completing a contract. The games most unique mission is featured in this guild, whereby you''re locked in a house with 5 other guests, and only if you can kill them all without any of them discovering your identity will you earn a bonus. You can do this by following them around until they''re alone, befriending them and talking them into exposing themselves, or even manipulating their prejudices so that they end up killing each other for you.
Of course doing the "bad quests" will effect your standing with the 9 gods of Tamriel, who will cure any diseases you have if they feel you''ve done more good than bad. This can prove useful as diseases will effect your stats negatively, and there are a lot of diseased creatures in the game. Plus, if they don''t let you pray (or like me you just couldn''t be bothered with finding a chapel) then you could find yourself going to bed with an acute case of Hemophilia, and waking up a full blown vampire. I, of course, manage to pull this off quite well in my game as it adds to your stats significantly, but others who find it harder to feed on sleeping victims everyday will probably find the fiery sun burn to be a distinct problem.
Not that any of this will prove to be anything new to elder Scrolls vetarians, but the wonderful thing about Oblivion is the way in which Bathseda have so efficiently ironed out a lot of the series flaws. The biggest of these advancements is by far the games new A.I system. Remember in Morrowind how NPCs would just stand around their homes all day waiting for you to come visit. Well that little issue has now been completely erased thanks to the games "Radiant A.I". What Radiant A.I is, is an all new system whereby a character is programmed with certain needs (a thief must steal, a guard must guard, farmer farm ect...) but then how the character fills that need is entirely up to them. So if you like you could just choose a random A.I character to follow and wait for something cool to happen. This can include anything from random pick pockets sneaking on them, to bar fights breaking out, which in turn can lead into a full blown riot if you''re not careful. One particularly cool moment I witnessed two guards fighting to the death, and shouting insults at each other for reasons I never could figure out. I suspect one of the guards was hunting deer and accidentally shot the other, because in this game that sort of thing happens all the time, but more often than not the player wont be around to witness it. If the system has one drawback it''s that sometimes a NPC you''ve grown quite fond of (shop keepers and trainers are the worst) can just disappear from the game entirely because they went out hunting and got killed by a bear. Even so, I wouldn''t trade it in for any other system, especially since I had to postpone one mission for a few days after I found out a character I needed to speak to had taken a weekends holiday and I didn''t feel like chasing her around the country. True story!
That''s the biggest improvement, but my favorite improvement is in the games combat engine. Gone are the invisible dice rolls that Morrowind employed to decide which strikes would hit. In it''s place is a much simpler system of, if you''re aiming on target when you strike then you will hit and your stats will decide how much damage is dealt. As with the previous games your approach to battle will be dictated by the type of armour you specialize in, ranging from heavy armour that protects you in the short term, but hinders your ability to move, right the way through to mages robes that offer some form of magic protection. I always favor the light armour as I like to move a lot during battle, but after experimenting with different styles I can safely say that any form of battle is made more entertaining with this new system.
Other advancements made have both their good and their bad sides though. Horses are a very welcome addition for avoiding the tedious amount of walking in the previous games, but then fast traveling (teleporting to any place you''ve already found) seriously detracts from the exploration aspect of the game.
You''ll also find in this game that enemies will level up alongside your character. Again there were elements I disliked about this system, because there was never a moment where I had to run for my life after approaching a big dungeon early, but still it ensured a steady challenge no matter how long I played for. Others have complained that they can no longer level up to almost god like levels and walk through even the toughest enemies in a single strike, but I would have found that very boring and prefer it when the monsters get bigger as you get stronger.
Thankfully for a game as epic as this Oblivion has been treated to some superb presentation. The graphics alone are a tour''de''force. At times I found myself walking between cities just so I could take in the view from the top of a mountain, or witness the sun set over the grassy plains. It''s all in the superb draw distance really. Yet the graphics become even more impressive when you witness the character animations, and the unrivaled rag doll physics that allow you to literally roll a defeated foe down a hill just for the fun of it. It''s true there are the occasional glitches where items will remain suspended in mid air, and there are clipping issues on some of the individually animated blades of grass, but considering the fact that the entire game world is pre loaded then it''s an impressive feat that they avoided as many glitches as they have. (Public service announcement - this video made all the glitches worthwhile - http://media.putfile.com/Rolling-With-Bears-Oblivion )
Finally we really have to give some consideration to the games audio. If you''ve ever played an Elder Scrolls game before then you''ll likely be prepared for a superb orchestral soundtrack, and it''s present and correct. Yet on top of that the game finally features voice acting, and very good voice acting too. The voices in the main quest alone include the likes of Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean, and Terence Stamp, but on top of that every single character has a voice in this game that fits their respective race. Even though most of the voices are repeated it''s still an impressive feat and proves to draw you into dialogue scenes far more than the rather tedious sections in Morrowind.
All in all I''d definitely recommend Oblivion as the best game on 360 right now. It offers the same gaming experience as buying Tomb Raider, Hitman, Thief 2, Baldurs Gate and Deus Ex on a single disk. The main story is a bit of a let down, but the many side quests, books, and character interaction ensure that you''ll be hooked into the Tolkienesque story regardless. Sure there are problems in the game. Some players have reported experiencing game destroying glitches, the graphics can feature pop up and clipping occasionally, and it crashes more than any of my other games. Yet like Morrowind these faults can be avoided if you know how to, and as a result do not prevent the game from being a game of the year contender.
Hardcore Morrowind players will likely be disappointed by the way the game seems to walk players through, but anyone who doesn''t enjoy getting lost in their epic games will have a blast regardless.
If there''s one name in the gaming community that has become synonymous with quality it would have to be Rare. From Killer Instinct (snes) through to Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64) this is a company that has been breaking new ground in nearly every genre despite the technical limitations they have been facing. It is likely for this reason that Microsoft turned to rare for a killer launch title on their new Xbox360 console. Rare answered with not one, but two, eagerly anticipated titles in the forms of Perfect Dark Zero (prequel to one of the best games ever designed) and this game Kameo: Elements Of Power that has been teasing people with it''s potential since it was first announced for the N64 nearly 6 years ago.
Elements Of Power tells the story of Kameo, a young elf princess who also happens to be the daughter of her kingdoms greatest champion. Years ago her father disappeared after defeating the evil troll king Thorn, and while Kameo has spent the years since living in relative peace her whole world is about to take a sinister turn. It seems Kameo''s mother has passed on to her the power to transform into the elemental sprites, or guardians of her kingdom. It also seems Kameo has an older sister named Kalus who feels cheated out of her birth right. Needless to say this combination of spunky young heroine and jealous older sister takes a turn for the worse when Kalus kidnaps the rest of the family and attempts to subdue their elemental sprites so that Thorn (yup, turns out the dude is still alive) can destroy the Elvin kingdom and rule the world with his "technology".
Similarities to Lord Of The Rings aside I would have to say that the story is probably one of Kameo''s weaker elements. Given a little time this colorful adventure could easily have been a Legend Of Zelda rival, if only it didn''t feel so incomplete. Kameo is a very linear game that progresses along the lines of ''travel to one village, solve a puzzle to reach a boss that unlocks an elemental, who is used to solve another puzzle to a second boss, who unlocks the elemental you need to solve the temple puzzles. This in turn get''s you to the really big boss that you need to defeat in order to save a relative who provides you with the elemental you need to access the next village.'' Unfortunately with limited cut scenes, and absolutely no interaction with your nemesis, then you never really feel as compelled to advance as you really should.
So then I find myself asking why I continued to push my way through the game, and the answer is simple. Kameo is actually surprisingly fun to play. At it''s heart this is a classical platform game, but with the added twist of the elemental sprites. Each of these creatures have their own strengths. Some; such as the boxing house plant Pummel Weed, are useful in battle, some are better at platforming, others can traverse the water, and one particularly cool creature can freeze the very air to create new paths. Only by learning the strengths of each creature will you be able to successfully navigate the entire game world and solve the games fairly simple puzzles.
For the most part battle is a frequent, but unobtrusive part of each level. However when exceptions are made they are made well; well all except for the action heavy puzzle light, and decidedly tedious, level that Microsoft insisted on shoehorning in at the start. Largely these exceptions occur in the badlands between each village, and when you first witness this area you will lose any misconceptions you may have had about the 360''s abilities. To give you an idea of the power on display here consider that the original X-box could handle maybe 20 or so characters onscreen at once without slowdown, but in the badlands you will witness literally thousands of trolls battling thousands of soldiers, and it can get very intense when you have to enter the battle in order to complete your objectives.
Still the battles honestly don''t take up much of your time until you manage to reach the games various bosses. These fall into two categories. The first are the actually disappointing mid bosses that take up the majority of the battles. Every one of them is exactly the same; a giant shadow troll that can not be touched, but that sends out many light trolls to attack you. These can be hit, and once you''ve done that you simply pick them up and throw them at the Shadow Troll. As you progress their attacks and durability will increase, but otherwise they are all the same turgid and predictable boss battles that get in your way.
Once you reach the dungeons though you will find the real deal. Huge end of level bosses that require some serious thought to defeat. To beat any of these bosses you''ll need to use 2 or more specific elementals, and figure out how to combine their attacks to get through the bosses defense. once you know this the fights can become pretty easy, but still, figuring it out yourself and then utilizing that tactic can be a very rewarding experience.
Sadly as much as I enjoyed playing through most of Kameo, I still found a very real problem rearing it''s head. It feels like a side effect of the games cross platform development really, but I found the games controls to be a little unresponsive. The system itself works fine, having the 2 trigger buttons perform all of Kameo''s moves, with the face buttons being used to switch between whichever Elementals you have assigned. It''s just that when you try to move Kameo using the thumb stick there''s a slight delay in her movement. Ordinarily you wont notice, but at times in the game a puzzle/battle will require you to push another item off a cliff, and when your character ends up moving around the object at critical moments you will find yourself shouting.
Still, despite a few gameplay hiccups I do believe Rare has provided a nicely presented game here. Kameo''s graphics are simply breathtaking. The locations may come down to the cliches, fire world, ice world ect... but each of them has been superbly rendered with more of those wonderful lighting effects the 360 knows how to handle. I did notice a few clipping issues during the sloppily designed first level, but after that the game had me well pleased, particularly with the draw distance over the badlands.
Oh, and the sound. The sound is just incredible. I loved the voice acting in this game, it was genuinely funny in the way few games can manage. I don''t care whether it''s the Oracle''s whining, the Whatnot''s (your talking book) sarcastic guidance, or the over the top battle cries of the mysterious lead soldier, I was laughing. Then when you combine that with some wonderfully cute tunes for each level and you have a game that is as fun to watch as any Disney movie released lately.
All in all I''d heartily recommend Kameo as a game you should enjoy playing. While the unfortunate flaws prevent it from being this generations Jak And Daxter you could do worse than play this easy, but enjoyable little platformer. Besides, if you happen to be a parent who wants to share their new console with the kids, then the game is really essential right now.