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caseybrady1992

caseybrady1992
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Member since: 09.02.2010

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    • Band Of Brothers / TV Programme / 59 Readings / 58 Ratings
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      25.01.2013 00:12
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      An historic account and film at its absolute finest.

      For my final review on Dooyoo, I thought I'd review my favourite thing in the field of film and telly: 'Band of Brothers'. Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Stephen E. Ambrose, which was somewhat based on the accounts of soldiers who actually fought in the Second World War, and more specifically, in the "Easy" company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, it's easily one of the strongest WWII productions to be released, boasting the firepower of exec producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, and quite a hefty budget. Its honest, albeit dramatised portrayal of the experiences of the American soldiers of "Easy" company is wonderfully executed, and I'm here to argue why it is simply of the finest series to ever surface, and why you should definitely buy the box-set.

      'Band of Brothers' (BoB), as already outlined, follows the "Easy" company's campaign through Europe upon their entry into WWII, from Normandy, France, to Bastogne, Belgium, and to Hitler's Eagle's Nest in Germany. "Easy" were an outfit of paratroopers, trained to enter the battlefield from the air.

      The first episode introduces "Easy" company in their year (plus) of training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, under the severe rule of Captain Sobel (David Schwimmer). The episode introduces the soldiers of the company, conveying the stresses of the physicality of training and the arduous approach to the 'jump'. They make this 'jump' in episode two, and from here on in, war has begun for the men. Exec producers Hanks and Jendresen (Spielberg played more a final touch sort of role) need not embellish; the power of truth is enough to carry empathy - but it is executed fantastically. The bonds that the men make in Georgia are tested as they make the jump, and descend into a deadly warzone. "Easy" company's journey takes them through Europe in a variety of conditions, and the unfolding of events makes for absolutely sublime viewing. It is not 'entertaining', per se - you wouldn't expect it to be - but it is hugely engrossing, and the care that the audience feels for the men who risked their lives for all of us is enormous. One can only imagine the hardship of such an ordeal, but the producers do an extremely fine job of conveying the sheer horror of war, on many levels.

      "That night, I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace."
      -- Major Richard Winters

      As a work chiefly of non-fiction, BoB doesn't have a protagonist per se, but largely follows the effective 'leader' of "Easy" company: Major Richard Winters (Damian Lewis - you know, the guy from 'Homeland'). Winters effectively tells the story. He is the overseer, the man who guards the soldiers' bonds. Damian Lewis conveys a character of warm-heartedness, but one who is a born soldier and a born leader. Winters reflects on the experiences of war, helping the audience at least get some idea as to how he and the others would have felt. The audience quickly grows to know and trust Winters, and as the episodes pass, the same can be said for the others. Winters' best friend Captain Lewis Nixon is portrayed by Ron Livingston, and has quite a central role too, while Donnie Wahlberg plays Sgt Lipton, Scott Grimes: TSgt Malarkey, Neal McDonough: Lt "Buck" Compton and Dexter Fletcher as SSG Martin to name but a few - there are a LOT of 'characters', but that's because there were that many soldiers in "Easy" company. Admittedly, it's slightly hard to keep track of as a first-time viewer, but inevitable, really. The episodes tend to centralise around one soldier in particular, for the sake of structure and direction; by doing so, the writers could instil messages and ideas in the viewers' minds. The acting is superb, and the performances are a testament to the great men of whom the actors represent.

      So how is this realism achieved? Ultimately, it's a team effort. Firstly, the foundation for the series is absolutely Stephen E. Ambrose's original research for the book. I've read it, and it is fantastic; it is constructed in such a way that it becomes a non-fiction-novel hybrid. This is then transferred to screenplay superbly. The actors do a fine job, but it seems that some of the actors were originally casted because of their resemblance to the soldiers in question - this is attention to detail to say the least, and explains why there is a mixed bag of both British and American actors at play here; hell, Damian Lewis in the lead is a Brit himself! I imagine that Steven Spielberg's input towards the end of the production was vital, but Hanks and Jendresen ultimately guided this product to success. Meanwhile, the series as a whole is shot fantastically. Some of the cinematography is very powerful, and evokes emotions that ultimately reflect the greatness of the war; it is always shot appropriately. As Winters and co. storm the grounds of Brecourt Manor, the picture's hue is grey and gritty, and the camera follows the soldiers as if it is a soldier itself; while the camera sits still and peaceful as Winters watches over Lake Zell and the Swiss Alps as he reflects on the ended campaign in Europe, the finish drawing out the natural beauty of such a landscape. Ultimately, however, the producers aim to be realistic. This is a true story - the war happened - and essentially, all they want to do is tell the stories of these great men. The late Michael Kamen provides a stunning, poignant soundtrack for the series, including the popular 'Band of Brothers' Main Theme, a moving lament that buries itself in your mind and soul and doesn't shift. The underscoring of the series deals with this powerful main theme, including a few other related ones, and unifies the series wonderfully and effectively. While exploring the aural, the sound is brilliant, too. Naturally, the producers ensured that the sounds of actual WWII weaponry are used, but this only scratches the surface; you are transported to the warzone with 'Band of Brothers', and this is undoubtedly aided by the excellence of the sound team. Overall, the cinematography, music and sound combine to create an enhanced experience for the viewer; the emotion is augmented profoundly.

      -== The Verdict ==-

      I've left it until 'The Verdict' to indulge in BoB's brilliance. Budget, time and effort have been put into its production - and a lot of all three - but BoB ultimately finds its muse in the utmost heroism of the soldiers of whom the mini-series depicts. BoB is passionate; you can feel it as a viewer. The emotion is raw and the pain is real. As a viewer, you follow these portrayals of real people - real people who fought for the West - and it is massively down to the Exec producers' vision and the actors' excellence that it is so convincing. The mini-series is less of a TV show, more of an homage to the bravery and efforts of these soldiers. In this follow, the team behind its production transport you as closely as possible to the battlefield; you are meant to experience it with them, although you realistically never could. What I'm trying to say is that this is the most gritty, realistic and powerful realisation of war ever depicted on screen. When you reach the end, joy, relief and deep emotion will wash over you. The final scene, as Winters' watches over "Easy" company together one final time, he informs the audience of how things panned out after the war; and it's tragic. I don't get very teary with many films/TV programmes, but by god I'm a wreck a minute into this scene. It's emotional beyond words: the thought that each of the soldiers who have shared the same ordeals having to part ways and return to ordinary life; these men bound by a force like no other, who had to ultimately start new lives, some of the older ones perhaps resuming what they left behind. The truths aside, this scene, and the emotions it induces, is a testament to the grandeur of the series that is 'Band of Brothers'. This is a fantastic achievement, and one that I doubt will be surpassed for many years to come. It is wonderful viewing; tragic and passionate in equal quantities, it is definitely one you need to not only watch, but experience.

      We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
      For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
      Shall be my brother
      -- William Shakespeare

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        15.01.2013 18:21
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        A brief history and explanation of scoring for film.

        Welcome to my passion. I gained an interest in the subject back in 2008 upon hearing Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score for 'The Dark Knight', and Hans Zimmer's closing piece 'Chevaliers de Sangreal' for director Ron Howard's 'The Da Vinci Code'. I'm talking about the music behind the film; the score, the soundtrack that carries the film and ultimately tells a story in itself. Having already established an interest in music prior to this, by beginning keyboard lessons in 2004 and bass guitar lessons in 2005, I had been seeking something that actually meant something to me. My Dad would always say 'Who's your favourite bass player?' and I would struggle to give names - it really meant very little to me (saying that, I still play bass in a local covers band!). But I remember listening to end of 'The Da Vinci Code' over and over again one evening in awe; I had finally found inspiration in something and it felt great. It's been something I've been aiming to pursue now for four years, and every day I work my hardest to progress and eventually live the dream.

        It began with Hans Zimmer, and I was stuck in a little Hans Zimmer rut for quite a while - not that I was complaining! But it was upon watching 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1' and hearing Alexandre Desplat's score that my mind (and ears) was opened to the possibilities and other talents in the field; this score remains my favourite to date, simply due to its power, emotion and diversity. But I found myself exploring other composers, learning that there was more to film music than Zimmer. I view my foundation to my passion in film music to a triangle of composers, Zimmer and Desplat providing two of the corners; the third corner belongs to a composer who I always respected and subconsciously enjoyed even before I realised how much I loved the genre: John Williams. Recently celebrating his 80th birthday, he is simply in a league of his own when it comes to writing music, providing SO many memorable tunes that I'm hard pushed to find anybody else who parallels - and he's just absolutely spot on when it comes to everything else: writing, scoring to picture, orchestration etc. It wasn't until my second year of university that I began scoring; I'd found a way to invest money into getting the necessary equipment - which wasn't cheap, I tell you - but I knew that university was the best place to begin, and I would rue missed chances if I didn't start it up. I've come a long way since, and find myself these days, while still being thoroughly inspired by various film/TV/video game soundtracks and composers (Martinez and 'Drive'; Jesper Kyd and the 'Hitman' and 'Assassin's Creed' franchises; David Arnold and Thomas Newman, and the recent James Bond movies, to name but a few), I find myself these days listening to the greats of the late-19th and early-20th century Western art music scene; namely, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy and Richard Wagner amongst many others. If I could give one piece advice to somebody looking to get into this field (and it's advice I'm giving to myself too, as I'm far from 'in' at present), it would be to study these masters - how they write, how they orchestrate and in some cases, how they score - Richard Wagner's Operas were the first "films", although filming wasn't invented at this point; but the composer envisioned a time where such drama could be presented without materials being visible, such as the stage and orchestra. In fact, he was the man to invent the 'hidden orchestra', whereby the orchestra is placed in front but below the stage, out of sight from the audience - a concept still used today. I thoroughly believe (and have been given such advice on good authority) that studying such composers in depth is the key to gaining a far better understanding of music generally, let alone the art of film scoring.

        This said, such an orchestral approach to film scoring is diminishing, sadly. Other styles are equally, if not more popular these days. Since the 1970s and the introduction of synthesisers to film scores, becoming particularly notable in the 1980s with films such as 'Chariots of Fire' and 'Blade Runner' (both Vangelis), 'The Terminator' (Brad Fiedel) and 'Rain Man' (Zimmer), electronics have relentlessly intruded on the orchestra. Despite this prominence of synthesisers in the 1980s and into the 90s, it was very much a separate entity from the orchestra, with many fantastic scores showing up around the same time from composers such as Alan Silvestri, Michael Kamen and Randy Edelman. I see the 00s as the decade where the two fully merge, and the orchestral approach sees its breakdown. Admittedly, Zimmer is one of the biggest culprits of this breakdown, whereby he doesn't write for orchestra per se, despite consistently using a string and brass section. I argue that with an extended brass section (with goodness knows how many trombones), a lack of a solid woodwind section and the combination of synths, albeit subtle at times, prevents the 'ensemble' Zimmer more commonly writes from being described as an 'orchestra'. In this brief discussion on the subject, I here provide you with a spectrum for film scores, although there is far more to it than this: on one side there is the orchestral approach, and on the other: electronic, and there are many different sounds in between.

        Composers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; some have not a clue about the orchestra, others are very well equipped. In explaining the general system of writing for film, one needs to understand this. Again, as this is a rather brief discussion, I can only be quite general, but one should also understand that EVERY case in film scoring is different. There is, 99% of time, some sort of complication that causes a shift in the system. However, generally speaking...

        The film composer (and his team) is one of the last people involved in the process of producing a film; he simply has to be, as a film score should complement and convey EXACTLY what is going on onscreen. Now that doesn't mean that it needs to 'mickey-mouse' (a film music term that arose in Classical Hollywood, meaning to mirror exactly what is on screen; i.e. tiptoeing onscreen may be portrayed in the music via light pianissimo pizzicato strings) per se , but it should always, without exception, bear the film in mind throughout. Film scoring is a rushed business - since the dawn of 'talkies' (the non-silent film being 'The Jazz Singer' in 1927), composers have had very little time to write the music. Most often, around these early decades, composers would only write the themes and key sections simply due to time constraints, with a team of orchestrators writing the rest of the music. Fortunately, times have changed and composers now have more time to score - albeit not a lot more time! Orchestrators are still absolutely vital to the process, however, especially in the case of said composers who 'have not a clue about the orchestra'. It varies from composer to composer, however. John Williams, for instance, writes his music on 8-stave manuscript paper (8 'voices' is more than enough when it comes to writing for orchestra, as despite the vast number of instruments, rarely, in terms of the pieces as wholes, are all instruments sounded together in 'tutti', and oftentimes parts double each other), but provides such extensive notes (such as which instruments will play what, where) that the orchestrator almost becomes obsolete, simply 'preparing' the music to be performed by the orchestrator. Others write ONLY the themes, with the orchestrators doing the rest, but this is a rarer case these days, with competition being so fierce that nobody's going to want a composer who doesn't understand at least the basic concepts of music very much. The most common cases are the in-betweens though; I, for one, would love to orchestrate my own music if I was writing a feature-length film score, but would be quite loose on my 'annotations' as I know an older and far more experienced orchestrator would do a much better job.

        Backtracking slightly, I should outline the general process of film scoring. It begins with a 'spotting session', wherein the composer, music editor, director, producer and any other vital bodies involved will collate with the final cut of the movie and discuss each scene in-depth in terms of music - should there be music at all in a certain scene? If so, what sort of music? Any specific details? And so on. Some directors are very, very meticulous, others not so much. Before the solid establishment of the digital age, the film would then need to be 'punched', relating to the timecode, so that composers could sync their music exactly to the film. Nowadays, because everything is now done on superfast computers, it can all be recorded digitally with the film playing onscreen. So, the next stage would be the x amount of weeks the composer takes to write the film score, which is often dictated by the production team; time constraints dictate to what extent the composer writes, as if he doesn't have much time, he may leave certain aspects to the orchestrators or music editor. Hans Zimmer presents quite a special case, however. He owns and runs a company in L.A. called 'Remote Control Productions', which comprises of multiple composers from all over the world. As far as I'm aware, for the most part, directors contact Zimmer and RCP if they want a film scoring, and the task is then delegated, although some directors likely specify which composer they require. I refer to the composers as Zimmer's 'minions', as there aren't really any other cases like this in the field. While these composers get film music jobs to themselves, they also aid Zimmer quite a lot under the surface. Even in a film such as 'The Dark Knight Rises', in the OST CD sleeve notes, one finds 'Additional music by Lorne Balfe', likely due to said time constraints; as to how much music Balfe actually wrote for the film, one may never know, but it could be said that many of Zimmer's employees write very similarly to their boss.

        After composition, the score is orchestrated and prepared, a process often overseen by the composer, but usually contributed to by 4-8 people. The scoring sessions are like gold dust - hiring the space and the very talented musicians who perform the music doesn't come cheap, and with only 3 hours a day to record, it's another rush-job. Editing of parts is live, whereby the composer or somebody else involved may notice something terribly wrong with a 'cue' (the name given to an individual piece of music within a film score) and then it's a chaotic dash to isolate the problem and rectify it. Oftentimes, even after the score is recorded, the team are often required to go back to certain cues and redo parts, and this is known as 'redubbing' or 'overdubbing', whereby, for example, if a timpani part is particularly drowned out or quiet in a cue, a timpanist may be called back to re-record the part, and then it is put into the mix to accentuate the low part. Mixing, mastering and proofing occur after all of this. And after a frantic 6-8 weeks or so (again generally speaking), it's a wrap - you've got your film score. Worth noting is that nearly every single composer in the industry has written a film score and gone through most if not all of these stages before the director decides to scrap it as it's not right for his film - and so the process starts again but in a far more rushed, condensed form. However, all money, including for the original composer's services, still has to be paid, meaning that the whole process has cost a LOT, and more so than most other films! Luckily, for companies such as Disney, this isn't too much of a problem...

        The system I've described above has been in place for many years now, and really only describes, in a general way, the orchestral approach; but I'm sure you can eliminate any stages that don't apply to somebody writing an electronic score. In those cases, it is much more straightforward, and often offers the composer more time. But again, these days, there is a big crossover, which has caused the disintegration of classic orchestral scores, in that most feature films call for some time on the scoring stage, and it's almost been forgotten that thousands of effects can be produced by a 50-piece orchestra, say. This disintegration is also down to the rise of the digital age, and also the way in which home studios have become much more affordable and popular, and how the online, unsigned music market has become so commonplace. Anybody can score a film these days, as long as you invest a certain amount of money into a powerful workstation (such as a Mac Pro) and various hardware and software. I've made that step and it's rewarded me with some fantastic opportunities: I've "scored" three short films to date, with a slightly longer but far more important short film coming up in Spring 2013. Competition is ridiculous these days for these reasons outlined above, and in many cases, it's the old cliché of 'who you know' that applies here. There are various steps I'm taking at present to try to develop my skillset, network and chances of making it into the field. I graduate from Leeds University this summer, and my plans include a move to London amongst various others hopes and dreams. I love music, and I love film, and they're bare minimums for entering the film music world. I hope that this discussion has provided with you some interesting knowledge on what is a rather underground subject; either way, thank you for taking the time to read this. I've provided below a list of scores/films mentioned in this discussion and some related, and also a link to a film I scored in my second year of university.

        My fast-approaching graduation also means that I have decided to end my time on Dooyoo, after I have written my final review later this week. Work is likely to pile up massively over the next few months, especially with my dissertation due in in two months, and I need to get my head down. Meanwhile, free time needs to be dedicated elsewhere, as I need to focus on my dreams and plans for the future, and that means a lot of private study. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time on here; the community here is great, and I've enjoyed sharing reviews and opinions with all of you, but I've got to prioritise in order for me to pursue these said dreams. Hopefully one day I will be working in the film/TV music industry, but in the meantime, I'm doing all I can to make that possible. Wish me luck!

        Thanks so much for reading!

        -== Films & Composers ==-

        Casino Royale - David Arnold
        Quantum of Solace - David Arnold
        Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 - Alexandre Desplat
        The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Alexandre Desplat
        Kindergarten Cop - Randy Edelman
        The Terminator - Brad Fiedel
        Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves - Michael Kamen
        Drive - Cliff Martinez
        Skyfall - Thomas Newman
        Back to the Future - Alan Silvestri
        Chariots of Fire - Vangelis
        Blade Runner - Vangelis
        Star Wars - John Williams
        Jurassic Park - John Williams
        The Da Vinci Code - Hans Zimmer
        The Dark Knight - Hans Zimmer
        The Dark Knight Rises - Hans Zimmer
        Rain Man - Hans Zimmer
        Inception - Hans Zimmer

        -== Windows To The Soul ==-

        If you would like to listen to any of my work, please visit my soundcloud, at soundcloud.com / casey-brady1 (remove the spaces - Dooyoo won't let me publish without). And if you would like to view/listen to a short film I scored about a year ago, please type in 'Windows to the Soul Minsberg' into Youtube. Thanks!

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          10.01.2013 12:49
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          Desmond's end

          Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
          Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Wii U
          Out now

          [see my review on 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations': 'Closing Doors'. Please note that there may be a few spoilers of the story of this game in the following review]

          From one trilogy-ender to another, 'Assassin's Creed III' is the last of the cycle of protagonist Desmond Miles in the Assassin's Creed series, and ultimately the end of an important chapter for game developers Ubisoft. While I refer to a "trilogy" here, those of you who've played the previous instalments will know that there are in fact five main games (excluding the subsidiary handheld ones), but for the three middle games, Ubisoft stuck with Desmond's ancestor Ezio Auditore, ultimately referring to those three as one entity. So in overview, there is an element of balance and symmetry involved, with the way in which the first and last games are dedicated to two different assassins, while Ezio's story is spread across three; and there is definitely a full-circle feel in 'Assassin's Creed III'. But with this six year-long story coming to an end, the key question is: does it meet the hype? Promising a great game with a distinctly different feel, this is my review of the video game of the last assassin in Desmond's story.

          -== The Plot ==-

          You are Desmond Miles, a man who ran away from his life of training to be coming an assassin, and started a new one in New York as a bartender. You were tracked down and kidnapped by the company Abstergo and forced to relive the memories of your ancestor Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, a master assassin from the Third Crusade in 1191. With the help of an undercover assassin called Lucy, however, you managed to escape Abstergo headquarters. You learn that Abstergo is in fact the cover-name of the modern-day Knights Templar, and their quest is to recover what is known in the Assassin's Creed world as "pieces of Eden" - artefacts with extraordinary powers. It' a race to the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar: December 21, 2012.

          In 'Assassin's Creed II' (ACII), Lucy leads you to a safehouse with other assassins, namely Shaun and Rebecca, who provide you with a far more welcoming environment as you delve back into history once again via the Animus (the device that allows you to relive the memories of your ancestors, stored in your DNA) (now 2.0). This time, however, you must revisit the days of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an assassin from Renaissance Italy. The story develops over 'Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood' (ACB) and 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations' (ACR) for both Desmond and Ezio, both fighting for these "Pieces of Eden". The memories of Ezio allow Desmond to locate a "Piece of Eden" in ACB, and ACR allows Desmond to close the doors on both Altaïr and Ezio while he's stuck in Animus-limbo. At the end of ACR, Desmond awakens, and is greeted by the blinding sunshine...in the USA.

          So what has led Desmond to America (Boston, to be specific)? In 'Assassin's Creed III' (ACIII), you make your way into a cave - a cave which is in fact a hidden temple of the "First Civilization", a historic era that fictitiously existed before the world was sort-of destroyed before. It is the Piece of Eden that you find in ACB that leads you here. Within this temple, the team set up camp once more, and the clock is ticking - doomsday, the 21st December, is fast approaching, and it is believed that within this temple, answers can be found; answers to the questions surrounding the end of the world, and hopefully a way or preventing it from happening altogether. But a gateway that requires a (lost) key stands in the way, and in order to find that key, Desmond must once again explore the memories of his ancestors. Rebecca and Shaun, who are now accompanied by Desmond's father William, have located the specific ancestor and the era which Desmond must return to...so it's back to the animus for Desmond's final adventure.

          Cor, this is cheesy stuff.

          You are Haytham Kenway, an English Nobleman born in 1725. Working with your Order, you steal a key and travel across seas to Boston, America, hoping to find passage to a hidden temple of the First Civilization. First you seek accomplices, before trying to find the hidden Temple. The link for Haytham, however, is a female Native American slave who he frees amongst others: Kaniehtí:io. She is reluctant and evasive, but eventually helps Haytham. However, he does not manage to gain entrance to the Temple, and ultimately reaches a dead end.

          Some years pass; you are now Ratonhnhaké:ton, born 1756, son of Kaniehtí:io and, little to his knowledge, Haytham Kenway, who merely shared a fleeting romance with Kaniehtí:io. At a young age, your mother dies when your village is burnt down by the Templar Charles Lee. Now this bloke actually existed, but in true Assassin's-Creed Dan-Brown-inspired style, his history is ultimately ignored and adapted quite drastically to suit the game's story. As Ratonhnhaké:ton reaches teenage, he is sent via a village Elder to seek a mysterious, ancient symbol, that is in fact the symbol of the Assassin's Creed; he is to become an Assassin, and seek vengeance on those that have harmed and continue to threaten his village, and moreover, those who murdered his mother. As the plot unfolds, he too will be drawn to the key to the hidden Temple; not to unearth its secrets, but rather to bury it somewhere hidden, to be lost forever.

          -== The Review ==-

          It's an odd time to have a rehash, in the fifth and final installment to a series, but that's what Ubisoft have done; they introduce the 'Anvil Next' engine to power ACIII, and make a few other significant changes too. The introduction of a new character, story and era is chiefly due to a decline of interest and the inevitable ageing of their previous assassin Ezio. Ratonhnhaké:ton is half-British, half-Mohawk, and as he is introduced to the streets of Boston - a new experience for the trainee assassin - he is ordered by his mentor Achilles Davenport to adopt a new name: simply, "Connor". The game has parallels with the first game, 'Assassin's Creed' (ACI), in that the main assassin's story is covered in one game (that said, Altaïr's story was revisited in ACR, and there is always room to revisit Connor's story - but I highly doubt that Ubisoft will). Furthermore, there is underlying theme of doubt of deception, which despite remaining present in Ezio's story, is far more significant in ACI & ACIII. Hearing the last words of those you have assassinated, you learn that not everything is as it seems; there are shady areas all around you, and Connor ultimately learns there are very little people who he can in fact trust. It harkens back to the twist of ACI, whereby after making nine assassinations, you learn that your mentor has tricked you all along. There are some lighter, more fleeting references within the game too, such as the eavesdropping feature that is similar to the investigations you made in ACI.

          But let's start from the start, in terms of gameplay. The Assassin's Creed games present an open-world map, similar to those you may find in the Grand Theft Auto games; but they are set in a specific period in history. In the case of ACIII, the game is set around the American Revolution, and as aforementioned, plays around with the history of this time quite significantly (Connor was apparently present during the signing of the Declaration of Independence...). In this map, you can explore, and choose either embark on your main story missions, other side-missions, or take part in a vast array of other things, such as hunting animals, playing board games, buying/selling goods, or simply having a good ol' roam around the Boston frontier, or the streets of New York. The game becomes very free, in the sense that for the most part, you can choose at what pace you complete the game at. If you began the game and played the main story from start to finish, I doubt you'd even be 25% of full game completion, come the end. There is SO much to do in the Assassin's Creed game, and you can sometimes get very swept away in doing irrelevant things to Connor's story - which, in essence, is just fine!

          The world in which Connor is emerged is sublimely constructed. Ubisoft actually obtained maps to both eighteenth-century Boston and New York, and made the ACIII world from these; they are 1:3 to scale! Basically, that's still pretty enormous, and a fantastic achievement for a mainstream video game. Alongside Boston and New York, you have a vast expanse of sea, a "Homestead" and "Frontier"; and it's the latter two that actually become more central to your gameplay in ACIII - or so I found. At the end of the day, you choose where you spend your time outside of missions, as there is a lot to do both in and outside of the cities; however, your "Homestead", as the name suggests, holds the manor house in which your mentor Achilles lives, while the "Frontier" is a new approach, and therefore rather exciting for an Assassin's Creed game. Vast expanse of forestry and small settlements, with a variety of hunting plains, it's certainly very different to any area in ACIII's predecessors; and adding to this, hunting is big new feature that has been introduced. I found in my gameplay that I didn't actually spend much of my time in the cities, which is a great shame, considering the amount of effort the developers spent on producing it; but there is something lacking with it. The cities were absolutely central to previous Assassin's Creed games, but in ACIII, there is a lack of personality to them. It feels that they have been made big simply for the sake of actuality - which, really, is fair enough. In ACIII, the frontier feels far more like home, and in a way, that works out quite nicely considering your protagonist's descent.

          The game's graphics are superb. The introduction of a new engine is immediately apparent, and while it takes a slight getting used to, it effectively enhances the experience a lot. It feels different generally, and this taps into the controls. They have been improved, but only slightly. While Ubisoft claims to have worked out some kinks and "worked from the ground up", I still feel that there are some very annoying aspects to the control system, one of the more prominent being the way in which your character seems to magnetize himself to certain objects, which can spoil certain actions quite significantly. That said, the overall control system has been completely rebuilt, and it is better. It's subjective in a way, in the sense that it is completely different to the games before it, but I prefer the new system. The experience is improved, but for me, the experience declines with...well, the experience, which is essentially built on environment, including location, period in time and map, and other features such as soundtrack. Out of the five games, eighteenth-century North America is the least enjoyable time period, and presents the least satisfying surroundings. As aforementioned, the cities are neglected, but in fairness, it seems that Ubisoft have gone for quantity over quality in this respect. Meanwhile, hopping from tree to tree can get tiresome. That said, there is something beautiful in the way in which summer in the frontier is presented - it's soothing, and I've always found that the Assassin's Creed games can present something quite relieving in their visuals. But after the wonderful experience of roaming around sixteenth-century Constantinople in ACR, this is a heavy fall - a fall that not even the introduction of automatic varying weather conditions can fix! (Come on guys, let's face it, it's not that great going that it took you five games to introduce such a feature!) And the experience falls further with the soundtrack. Anybody who was paying attention to the soundtrack of ACR (and I won't blame you if you weren't, although you are missing out...) might have noticed completely different sounds between the in-game music and the cutscene music; but this is because of the welcoming of a secondary composer who also composed ACR's main theme: Lorne Balfe. Although Scottish, he is one of Hans Zimmer's composers in L.A. While the main theme was fantastic, and some other bits were superb, it was a style entirely different to the game's other composer Jesper Kyd; the composer who had provided the music to all of the series' games prior, too. With the introduction of Lorne Balfe, especially being part of the Hans Zimmer/Remote Control Productions machine, any video-game music fan could see what was going on - Jesper Kyd was being phased out. And I was highly disappointed to learn that he wouldn't return for ACIII - another significant change at an odd point in the series. My fears were confirmed upon playing through the game. The beauty of Kyd's music is its individualism, and it always possesses something rather special. In the Assassin's Creed games, I used to love roaming the rooftops listening to his fantastic soundtrack (call me sad, or a geek - I don't care!), especially in ACR. Balfe, albeit an able composer, provides Zimmer-ish music, but music far inferior to his ACR work. Plus, there is a lack of "roaming" music, and also lack of a prominent main theme. For me, the soundtrack pulls the game back very far indeed, and Jesper Kyd is sorely missed.

          The game picks up with its story - mostly. While I do have my concerns about tinkering with history so much, the story is engaging and enjoyable, and I also learnt quite a bit about the American Revolution, too (see, video games can be educational!). The characters, for the most part, are strong, and the relationship between Connor and his father can be quite comical at times. Ubisoft certainly soar here; but there was a largely unsatisfying edge, too. It's hard but to help feel that the story is quite rushed, especially in the sections relating to Desmond, bearing in mind that this has been the protagonist of all five games. The ending is predictable and very badly executed, and followers will be highly dissatisfied. Also, the way in which the ghosts (or whatever they are) of Juno and Minerva (characters from the First Civilization) become quite central to Desmond's story, chatting to him and sending emails and what not, is quite silly. So while Connor's story is universal and interesting, Desmond's is disappointing - and this is the most important aspect, as it has ultimately been anticipated for six years. It's just over before you know it.

          -== The Verdict ==-

          'Assassin's Creed III' is impressive, on the surface, but it's simply not as enjoyable as the three games featuring Ezio - you almost miss the Italian Stallion. The visuals are stunning, but too many other elements let it down. Missions are less inventive, Desmond's story is rushed, the controls aren't massively improved, while the music is dull. For Assassin's Creed fans, ACIII is a disappointment; but it's likely that this is very much due to its hype, in that it promised to be an epic finale. For me, the Assassin's Creed games have been groundbreaking in the gaming world, but in terms of gameplay, nothing special. They are very easy games that focus more on the story and the cinematics - like most these days! That said, the stories are interesting, albeit cheesy at times, and the cinematics are spectacular, and particularly well directed at times. In retrospect, it's been a great series, but reached its peak with 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations', with its engaging, closing story, its beautiful visuals and its perfect soundtrack. So it really is a shame how Desmond's story ends, with 'Assassin's Creed III'. No doubt, Ubisoft will be back VERY soon with a new Assassin game (five in six years - they're pretty relentless!), but for now, the story has come to an end. I've written reviews on all five of the games, so please navigate to my list of reviews if you'd like information on any of the other Assassin's Creed games. Meanwhile, the star rating I have given 'Assassin's Creed III' provides a further element of symmetry, one which is given chiefly because of its sheer disappointment.

          Experience: 6/10
          Gameplay: 6/10
          Story: 6/10
          Visuals: 10/10
          Sound: 6/10

          Overall: 68%

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          • The Dark Knight Rises(DVD) / DVD / 49 Readings / 47 Ratings
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            06.01.2013 19:39
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            Batman's End

            If 'Batman Begins' is brown, representative of the villain of The Scarecrow and earthiness, and 'The Dark Knight' blue, creating a cool, slick, dark effect, 'The Dark Knight Rises' is white, or clear. I refer to these "colours" as quite important to Nolan's overall effect, in that he creates an identity to each of the three films. They're very much a unit and an entity, and despite a new storyline for each, they are sewn together by an overall story - influenced by the comics - of Bruce Wayne and Batman. This "clearness" that is the "colour" of 'The Dark Knight Rises' is ultimately a stripping away of a number of things: the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his psyche and physical state; the cool style of 'The Dark Knight', and ultimately, the reputation of 'The Dark Knight' too (as many feared Nolan wouldn't be able to top it); and the subtlety of The Joker's villainous attributes (they may not appear 'subtle' on the surface, but in comparison to the villain of 'The Dark Knight Rises', Bane, The Joker was all about tricks and mind games, while Bane is a raw, hugely physical figure), amongst others. With 'The Dark Knight Rises', director Christopher Nolan (known for other films such as 'Inception' and 'Memento') brings his Batman trilogy to a stunning end.

            -== The Dark Knight Rises ==-

            What Nolan offers with his trilogy is a far more realistic approach to an ultimately fictitious character, and with such a "realistic" approach, Nolan deals with a human's mindset superbly, in that the character of Batman isn't simply flying out of his Batcave, knocking out some thugs and returning to have his butler Alfred tend to him. Batman is Bruce Wayne - there's a human being behind the mask, and he IS only human. The Batman is appreciated in Nolan's Gotham City, but never fully accepted; the police always place a question mark above him, and in the end of 'The Dark Knight' (TDK), Bruce commits the most heroic act of all; he takes the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent, the "White Knight" of Gotham - the "hero with a face", who was turned to evil by The Joker. The police hunt the Batman, but he goes into hiding, nursing serious injuries from a nasty fall. And in this realistic world, serious injuries last. 'The Dark Knight Rises' (TDK) begins eight years to the day of where TDK left off - a day of remembrance for the people of Gotham's finest hero: Harvey Dent, while Bruce overlooks from the rooftops of the rebuilt Wayne Manor.

            An underground army pulses in the foundation of Gotham City. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is working undercover as a maid at Wayne Manor for Dent's memorial service, but in fact infiltrates the manor to retrieve Bruce Wayne's (Christian Bale) fingerprints - and rob him for good measure. Her motive is to trade the fingerprints to an important businessman: John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), owner of a rivalling company to the declining Wayne Enterprises. However, when the trade with Daggett's assistant Stryver (Burn Gorman) goes awry, Selina manages to double-cross the double-crosser, and leads the Gotham City Police Department straight to bar where they are sat (she also manages to escape unscathed in a rather comical scene where, following a fine show of combat and gunmanship, she masquerades as a innocent bystander by sitting on the bar floor screaming with her hands over her head, before slipping out quietly). The police chase that ensues leads Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and his team into the sewers, where Gordon is captured and brought to a huge, ominous masked man called Bane (Tom Hardy). Young police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is determined to go straight in after Gordon, but his superior merely finds him in an irritation. But Gordon manages to escape, in exchange for a bullet in his side, and Blake finds him, weak. His independent work rewards him with a promotion to detective by Gordon. Blake soon after pays a visit to Wayne Manor, where he confronts Bruce Wayne and declares that he is aware that he is the Batman, and pleads for him to return. Little does Bruce know that the fingerprints that Selina stole have reached their destination: Bane will bring Bruce and the Batman out of hiding in his quest to execute the largest, most catastrophic terrorist event in the history of Gotham City.

            Nolan will go out with a bang. His Gotham City has seen progression. Since Bruce's almost-graduation through The League of Shadows in 'Batman Begins' (BB) and his work since, combined with Harvey Dent's noble approach to cleaning up the streets of Gotham and the Dent Act that followed his death, which has helped the Gotham City Police continue his work, Gotham City has become a much safer place within a decade. Bruce was fuelled by the murder of his parents when he was a child, a scene which we witness with Bruce in BB. He trained with The League of Shadows, but disagreed with their beliefs, and utilised his experience to bring peace to his city. Bane is the new villainous force in Gotham in TDKR, but is ultimately an echo of a force believed to be dead-and-buried in BB. The echo that is Bane is essentially the primary reason why Bruce decides to resurface, both as himself and as the Batman. His butler and only true companion, Alfred (Michael Caine), expresses enormous amounts of concerns over Bruce's plans and decisions, mainly because he fears for his friend's safety (a most poignant and powerful scene between the two characters ensues, and both Caine and Bale and superb here). Bruce must rescue both his company (Wayne Enterprises) as Bruce, and his city as Batman, but the two aren't necessarily independent from one another. A fusion reactor that may soon become the world's most commanding renewable energy source also possesses the potential to be used as a weapon of mass destruction - and this is Bane's target. As Bruce takes a hit, courtesy of his new nemesis Bane, he entrusts his failing company in board member Miranda Tate (the beautiful Marion Cotillard), as he plans to approach Bane in a more direct, Batsuit-clad manner.

            TDKR is a powerhouse of a movie. Easily in the top 10 most expensive films of all time, it is epic on many a level - aptly so, because on the back of the excellent TDK, it certainly needed to be huge. Nolan quite rightly makes a very different film to TDK, but it's not as good as its predecessor. TDK, as I stated in my last review (see 'Nolan's Batman Trilogy - II. Rise'), stands alone boldly, while BB and TDKR are tied quite closely with the League of Shadows storyline - and it really is a modern masterpiece - absolutely superb. As to whether BB or TDKR is better, it's hard to say, but I lean towards the former. That said, TDKR remains a brilliant film, despite some flaws which I will outline in due course. With the release of TDKR in 2012, Nolan has created one of the most successful trilogies in the history of film, rivalling others such as the The Godfather trilogy, the Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and surpassing (in terms of filmmaking at least) the likes of franchises such as Harry Potter. Nolan's Batman trilogy is only the inception of a new age in superhero movies, with the likes of 'Watchmen', 'Avengers Assemble' drawing influence, and future releases such as 'Man of Steel' and 'Justice League' inevitably due to take heed. Nolan is right to cut his ties to Batman with the completion of TDKR; his trilogy stands tall as the biggest success in superhero-film history, and one of the greatest achievements in film history.

            TDKR finds its foundation in its two predecessors, but arguably also its pitfalls - it always had a lot to live up to. Nolan and his team develop the story introduced in BB, while the story of TDK feels like an episode; a bridge to this final chapter for Nolan's take on the character of Batman - and it possesses a strong story. One of the most dominating elements of the first two films was the character and portrayal of The Joker. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor in 2009 for said portrayal, and this is a fine symbol of his excellent performance. His interpretation was sublime and spine-chilling, presenting a villain with far more depth than most. He has a history, credit for which is mostly given to Nolan and his team, but how Ledger conveyed this was inspiring. With TDKR, Nolan decided to go with a villain a little less well-known to the general public, but one comic book fans were sure to remember. Bane is played by Tom Hardy, an actor whose current celebrity status is chiefly down to Nolan, due to Hardy's employment as Eames in Nolan's 'Inception' in 2010. Prior to 'Inception', he may be found in 'Bronson' (from Nicolas Winding Refn, director of the superb 'Drive') and 'Layer Cake', as well as a small role (as his debut) in the fantastic HBO mini-series 'Band of Brothers', and has since starred in slightly bigger films such as 'Warrior' and 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' - and has also been rumoured to play Tom Fisher in a Splinter Cell movie; but I digress...Tom Hardy was called to supersede Heath Ledger, yet not supersede him at all; Tom Hardy and Bane and wholly different to Heath Ledger and Joker. Tom Hardy is a British actor, and had to bulk up A LOT for the role, despite already having a rather muscular physique prior to his work on TDKR. This is because Nolan's Bane is essentially a wrecking ball; he is raw, which goes hand-in-hand with the "clearness" that is the predominant "colour" of TDKR. Bane is a character very far from what The Joker is, and it was a tactical move from the director, and a clever one. While bearing in mind that half of Bane's face is covered by a demonic, mechanical mask, Tom Hardy is outstanding. His on-screen presence is absolutely terrifying, and one seriously fears for the Batman, not like in the other films. While his bulkiness and terrorist attitude creates this "raw" edge, however, there is once again depth to the character, and Hardy miraculously manages to actually evoke sympathy at one point in the crux of the final part of the film; Nolan's superb directing manages to aid this quite a lot too, however. One criticism I have heard for Bane is his voice; lucidly overdubbed, dry and absurd, I can see where the criticism stems from, but I think it's brilliant, and rather defining to Hardy's portrayal. He evokes feelings of horror, and his strange, diabolical voice only aids this.

            From one man with an apparently annoying voice, to another: the Batman, and Bruce Wayne. I covered this in my previous review, but the bloke needs to put on a voice when dressed as the Batman, okay? Otherwise he wouldn't scare anybody and someone would soon recognise that he's bloody Bruce Wayne! Christian Bale, as Bruce, shines in TDKR, more so than in the previous two instalments. Nolan has focused on the character of Bruce as vital to the construction of the hero of Batman throughout, and it reaches its climax in TDKR. He performs well as an injured Batman, but is all the more awe-inspiring as the righteous Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile, Michael Caine also provides a trilogy-best performance in TDKR, yet has less screen-time. It is really these three actors that provide the core for TDKR, but the others are great too. Yet one is drawn somewhat to one character in particular: John Blake, who, frankly, is overbearingly cheesy! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor, but his role in this is bizarre, in a word. It's clearly intended for him to be noble and heroic, but I'm with that police superior who wouldn't let him go after Gordon in the sewers - he's quite irritating; but, he's important. The theme of generations is in play here, and Blake is the young cop with potential, ready to help remove Gotham of its crime, as Gotham's current heroes, like Harvey Dent and injured Batman, decline. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle, or Catwoman (despite not a mention of this superhero name, thank god!), may to some seem somewhat of a head-scratcher, in that her purpose in the movie isn't prominent enough, but here I think people expect too much. As outlined in my earlier reviews, Nolan is a huge Bond fan - and since when has it been mandatory for Bond girls to have a particularly crucial role? She ties plotlines together, is important to Bruce, his morals and his ultimate quest, and provides a bit of eye candy, too.

            Nolan goes for scale with the third of the trilogy. Some scenes are absolutely huge, with the scene at the American football stadium not only being one of the most shocking, but also presenting stunning effects and seeing one of the biggest congregations of movie extras in history (doesn't quite beat 'Gandhi', though). Meanwhile, TDKR is the first in the trilogy to have parts of New York shut off from the public for filming (something which not many directors have been granted), and while that may not be particularly apparent to the audience, it's quite impressive nonetheless. The fight scenes, the flight scenes (namely, the hugely impressive and complex opening scene and also the inclusion of the 'Bat') and many other scenes are visually astonishing, while the grand scale of the story and cast is impressive too. Nolan scales down, however, with those providing the soundtrack to his final outing in Gotham City. While both Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard scored the first two films, only the former returns for TDKR. The reasoning for this is still not definite, but it has been rumoured that Newton Howard stepped down, seeing that Nolan and Zimmer had formed such a strong relationship (only Zimmer scored Nolan's film between TDK and TDKR: 'Inception'). Zimmer works heavily with leitmotif with TDKR, creating a "sound" for both Catwoman and Bane, and reviewing his motif for Batman and Bruce, as the character, for Nolan at least, reaches its end. While Bane's menacing chant backed by terrifying dry percussion is superb, Catwoman's theme is primary and uninventive. Meanwhile, Zimmer finds a way to develop Batman's basic two-note motif by reversing it - "why didn't I think of that earlier?!". Overall, the score isn't as good as TDK, but is fitting, and the final cue offers some truly powerful, hair-raising stuff. While the score could be a downside to the film, there are others too. As aforementioned, certain characters' roles and their executions are hazy, and this causes somewhat of a disjunct nature. It's quite inexplicable, really, but Nolan seems to have a goal in mind, yet the story just doesn't flow anywhere near as seamlessly as in TDK or BB. There are certain aspects, such as the well-prison, that are slightly bizarre too, and overall, there is an edge to the TDKR that causes it to fall, rather than rise. Either way, it cannot be denied: with TDKR, Nolan ends his trilogy fantastically and in style, inspirationally so, and provides a satisfying finale to a sublime and captivating story.

            -== A Final Word ==-

            'The Dark Knight Rises' closes Nolan's visiting of Bob Kane's Caped Crusader, eight years after the release of the first film: 'Batman Begins'. While Nolan is undoubtedly a filmmaking phenomenon, there is a disappointing edge to TDKR. I wouldn't say that this was inevitable off the back of 'The Dark Knight', because Nolan appropriately creates something fresh with TDKR, but rather, something just doesn't sit right. I'm not disappointed by the numerous things people have complained about (i.e. Bane's voice, the lack of time Bruce spends in a Batsuit, its quality in comparison to TDK etc.), but rather important elements such as characters and execution, and the flatness of certain plotlines, in that some parts feel slightly rushed and archaic; but I can't complain for very long - I'd be hugely ignorant to do so. Christopher Nolan has ultimately blessed the film industry with his work on the three Batman films, and TDKR is beyond doubt a enormously enjoyably movie, a fine piece of filmmaking and an end to a story that has as much heart in its formation as it does brains - oh, and muscle, thanks to Tom.

            After 'Batman Begins', Christopher Nolan was unsure whether he'd return and make a sequel, let alone a third film. Imagine now if he had decided to not make 'The Dark Knight' - I'm hitting the nail on the head here, but it simply wouldn't exist. Nolan's not really a director to make sequels, but something must have compelled him to give it a shot with 'The Dark Knight', and it would have simply been rude to end it there. With Nolan's Batman trilogy, he offers something fresh, invigorating and inspiring. He manages to pull off something that taps into both ends of the spectrum: all three films are undoubtedly blockbusters, but are vastly intelligent, too. 'Batman Begins' sets the scene and introduces the key characters, while 'The Dark Knight' offers something different. The latter rises in many aspects, and The Joker and Heath Ledger are certainly up there as the most important features. 'The Dark Knight Rises' responds by presenting the colossal Bane, and Tom Hardy - strong and resolute - portrays a villain that I will boldly declare matches Ledger's excellent performance. I dwell on characters here, but there are vast quantities to discuss with this trilogy. In the heart of the trilogy is 'The Dark Knight', though. While 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' are such great films, it is 'The Dark Knight' that is the strongest. It stands alone as a film in its own right, and also as an exemplar in many ways. It's the perfect superhero film, but also an inspirational and influential cinematic offering that ticks all the boxes - and I don't even care that I just used that cliché, nor this one: this is a trilogy to end all trilogies, and Christopher Nolan has produced something special here - something which will be remembered and treasured for years to come.

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            • Homeland: Season 2 / TV Series / 55 Readings / 53 Ratings
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              28.12.2012 16:45
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              The inferior second season of 'Homeland'

              Created by: Fox 21, Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa
              Starring: Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin
              Rating: 15
              Episode runtime: approx. 50 mins
              Release date: September 9th, 2013

              Last year saw the first season on 'Homeland's' airing in the US, and due to its huge popularity (it's Barack Obama's favourite TV show!), it was aired later in countries all over the world. Very loosely based on Gideon Raff's Israeli show 'Hatfium', meaning 'Prisoners of War', the first season raked in the raving reviews, not to mention some rather prestigious awards. For me, I found it a bit of an enigma; the show was highly engrossing, with some superb performances, particularly from Claire Danes, who plays bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison, but the balanced twelve-episode unit was flawed. While there were many very well executed, memorable scenes across the series, there was also a handful that missed the mark, some quite drastically. Meanwhile, there were a few performances not quite up to scratch. Ultimately, the addictive first season of 'Homeland' was disappointingly bogged down by said flaws amongst others - yet I loved the show in spite of it. This 'unitary' idea pertains to the way in which the first season was closed quite nicely; while there were many loose ends, if the show had been cancelled there and then, the first series would stand up as a great show in its own right. That said, I was really looking forward to its return in September 2012, all the time conscious that its rather understated flaws could tear wide open if the story continued...

              Note: please see my review of the first season of 'Homeland': 'A Prisoner of War Has Been Turned'.

              -== The Plot ==-

              I'll try to keep first-season spoilers to a minimum here, but unfortunately, the revealing of certain details is inevitable. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has been fired from the CIA for the abusing of materials and...well, breaking quite a lot of the rules. Ultimately, while her bipolar disorder plays a part, her recklessness and instinct has got her into a lot of trouble, and at the end of season one, she finds herself undergoing Electroconvulsive therapy to help rid herself of the disorder. Meanwhile, Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a secretively turned prisoner of war, has recently got himself out of a very sticky situation.

              A number of months have passed since the final episode of season one, and Carrie is trying to lead a peaceful life, teaching an evening English-as-a-second-language class, while Brody is now a congressman, working with Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan) on his presidential run. Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is working in Beirut, Lebanon, and pursues a former asset Fatima Ali, who refuses to speak to anyone but the person she worked with years before: Carrie. Saul and David Estes (David Harewood), the head of the CIA's Counterterrorism unit, turn to Carrie to help them out, as they believe this asset will lead them to the Al-Qaeda terrorist they have been after for some time: Abu Nazir, who, incidentally, was Carrie's specialist focus area whilst at the CIA. Carrie lived for the CIA, and in the past months she has worked on moving on, so when they approach her she is extremely reluctant. Yet she eventually complies, and is sent out to Beirut, working WITH the CIA, not for. What ensues is a struggle; Carrie feels at home working with such an assignment, but she's rusty, and she knows that after the assignment is finished, she has to return to her ordinary life - but that may not be the case when the assignment goes awry. Brody and Carrie, who shared a fleeting romance in season one, now lead very different lives; but Carrie is still in love with him. Their paths will cross once again, as Carrie's ties with CIA reignite and Brody's ties with Nazir do too, as he is approached by one of Nazir's contacts: Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson). Carrie repeatedly pursued the idea that Brody was a turned terrorist, with nobody believing her; with a trail to Nazir finally emerging, will this "crazy" notion be revived? Many questions have been left unanswered, but expect that to change.

              -== The Review ==-

              What made the first season so brilliant was the mystery around every character; who's the "baddie"? There are only a small handful of characters in the show that one can rule out, but even then one may doubt such an act. Even with Brody as an absolute turned terrorist, the viewer is still in the dark as to whether he's good or bad. The first season had so many twists and turns and mind games, and it also tapped into many delicate, and universal and important issues - war, imprisonment, mental disorders etc; it was a great shame that it was peppered with so many flaws. The worst fears regarding this show become reality with season two. In hindsight, I'm not sure whether I was glad they made a season two or not. It's not only "not as good" as season one, it's worse. The flaws are exploited, and the show feels very dragged out at times, while the series' story seems rushed; with some tinkering, season two could have been spread across two series because so much happens, but then again that contradicts what I'm saying. It's highly likely that 'Homeland' will stretch to at least a season six - season two is only the start.

              The first episode is weak, but artistically so; for entertainment value, it definitely picks up for a while after that. I say 'a while' because in its twelve episodes, it dips and dives all over the place - some episodes are great, others are poor. Viewing the season as a whole, everything feels jaded. Firstly, the performances aren't as impressive; Danes and Lewis are superb yet again, but it just isn't as effective as in the first season, but this is probably due to other issues, not the actors themselves. That said, their bizarre Ross-and-Rachel-will-they-won't-they-with-a-twist relationship is still as intriguing and powerful as it was last time. Patinkin as the brilliant Saul is...well, brilliant, and his and Carrie's relationship presents subtle glimmers of its intrigue from the first season too - yet it's not overdone. While other actors are good too, there are a number of actors who go the opposite way - some inconsistently, some indefinitely. Morena Baccarin, who plays Brody's wife Jessica, seems to have somewhat of a cult following due to her roles in various American Sci-Fi TV series. For me, this is the only show I've seen her in, and I can't get over how bad an actress she is. There are certainly stronger moments, but on the whole, her acting is dire and unconvincing. Also, Diego Klattenhoff, who plays Mike Faber, Brody's (I think, after all the events of the previous season, it's now safe to say 'ex-') best friend, is pretty mundane. His character is as stale and as a month-old loaf of bread and only minimally important - yet he is given a pathetic side-story that ultimately goes nowhere. It's certainly a game of two halves in terms of performances, but generally speaking, series two is weaker in this respect; while Lewis and Danes maintain their excellence, the effect isn't as profound, while others only go downhill.

              The pace of the season, particularly in the first four-or-so episodes, is a bit too fast for my liking. The viewer will be shocked by how much has happened by the end of the fourth episode - things occur that I didn't think would happen until AT LEAST the last episode of season two! It feels rushed and contrived, and ultimately appears like a desperate attempt by the producers to claw their way to the top of the TV shock charts. 'Homeland' and 'The Walking Dead' are centrally the two TV programmes that I watch, and I perceive them as parallel due their simultaneous TV time-spot of 9pm in the US; there is certainly competition there. Yet TWD blows 'Homeland' out of the water, and makes it look easy. TWD is in its third season, and is hugely different to the already distinctly varied yet brilliant series that come before it - yet it's still going strong. 'Homeland' is definitely entertaining viewing, but it relies too heavily on its twists and shocks, to the point where they are inserted for the sake of it. In terms of pace, it certainly settles down at the halfway point, but is clearly still absolutely determined to reach a certain point come the curtainfall of episode twelve.

              While areas from the first season are readdressed in season two, the 'Homeland' producers are set on moving the programme in a different direction - and they are sensible to do so. For the most part, this remains intriguing and enthralling TV. While we are reminded of Brody's past at times via the on-screen action, it is his superb acting that instils in us that he is still a broken man. Season two is very much Lewis's season, while season one was Danes's. And while the producers aptly keep this in toe, their introduction of new characters, such as Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend: the third Brit-playing-a-yank in the main cast, alongside Damian Lewis and David Harewood) allow for a new side to the story, and keep it moving forward. The air of mystery is still intact, but just like that bloody Mike Faber, it's slightly stale. The effect of season one is gone, in conclusion, and this is what causes one to question whether or not they are particularly pleased a second season was made. While there were numerous questions that viewers were dying to have answered, it was inevitable that season two could never top the first - it's up to you whether you can put aside the ever-expanding holes in order to be entertained. Weaknesses can also be found in the direction, which covers music; while Sean Callery continues to provide some hugely apt and exciting music for the show, some points in particular are overdramatic or in some cases under-dramatic - but this isn't the composer's fault. That said, the music just isn't as good as Bear McCreary's soundtrack for 'The Walking Dead' - nuh uh, no siree!

              -== The Verdict ==-

              If you've seen season one of Homeland but not season two, then do this: take season one, introduce some new characters and then make every element of it weaker - and there you have it, you've got season two. It's entertaining stuff, I'll give it that, but its flaws are all the more noticeable when its cover of superb acting, great story and universal issues is weakened, whether that is due to inferior filmmaking (sorry, televisionmaking) or nature. I would recommend watching it, but perhaps not purchasing the DVD. 'Homeland's' freshness has hit the conveyor belt, and it's gonna be pushed and pulled in all directions until it's reached its end, whether that's in season six, seven or beyond.

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              • Skyfall (DVD) / DVD / 43 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                24.12.2012 11:30
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                BUT IT'S NOT BOND :( :( *cries* (totally sarcastic)

                It seems it's taken the Eon Productions team about 10 years and 3 entire films to recover from the disaster of a 007 film that is 'Die Another Day'; 3 entire films: 'Casino Royale', 'Quantum of Solace' and 'Skyfall', in that we don't finally reach the top of that mountain of recovery until the final scene of the latter. As much as 'Skyfall' has been branded as 'back to Bond', it isn't quite. It's certainly got smatterings, much like 'Quantum of Solace' (Qos) did, but its hugely personal plot and select scenes definitely do not fit the bill. Does this make it a bad film? No. Does this warrant a 2-star rating? Definitely not. It's just the unfortunate truth for Bond fans that by the time the next 007 film is released, in hope that it's a success, they'd have had to have waited around 15 years for a new, true Bond film to be released ('The World is Not Enough' was released in 1999).

                -== The Plot ==-

                The film opens in Istanbul, with 007 (Daniel Craig) pursuing a target, aided by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris). The guy they're chasing is in possession of a hard drive containing details of agents working undercover for terrorist organisations. In pursuit, Eve is presented with a final chance for input on the chase, crouched with a sniper rifle upon a cliff while 007 and the target fight on top of a train; M (Judi Dench) orders her to take the shot, however unclean it is, and Bond is shot in the chest, falling into the river below. This causes one Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), M's superior, to approach her to discuss retirement plans - the cheeky bugger. In true Bondian style however, 007 survives, but is presumed dead back at MI6 in London, and is written an obituary and everything, only to end up lurking in the shadows of M's home like he did in 'Casino Royale' (CR). MI6 HQ is hit with a terrorist attack, and M wants 007 to investigate; however he must first take mandatory tests to deem him fit to go back out into the field. He fails miserably, little to Bond's knowledge, but M insists that he undergo the mission regardless, much to the dismay of Mallory. MI6 intelligence first points Bond to Shanghai, China, where the agent who stole the hard drive, named Patrice (Ola Rapace - Noomi's ex-hubby), is headed. The hunt begins, and he is eventually led to ex-MI6 agent- turned-terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem) on a barren Inception-esque island in Macau. Bond must overcome the villainous Silva in order to prevent the names of the undercover agents being publicly released, and ultimately prevent a terrorist attack on the British Secret Service.

                -== The Review ==-

                While I do strongly suggest that this is more certainly not your ordinary Bond film, 'Skyfall's' 50-year pressure causes Mendes to confidently restore many of the elements, some quite overtly, others not so. It's ultimately a journey to the point where we are truly 'back to Bond', but a percentile of the audience - a number of which will be die-hard Bond fans - will be thinking 'I thought we got there with QoS'. The Bondian style was certainly there, but its ties to its prequel CR were very un-Bondian, yet necessary; plus, the ending seemed quite closing. However, James Bond didn't feel 'back' - I actually quite liked QoS despite all the mumbles and grumbles, but the ending was still heavily weighted on the Vesper Lynd thread; well 'Skyfall' quite aptly puts that closed book on the shelf, and actually suggests that this is a much later time to CR and QoS - Bond is an experience 00 agent now. With 'Skyfall', Q is reintroduced at long last, played by young Ben Whishaw (I remember him playing Sebastian in the film adaptation of 'Brideshead Revisited'), and this marks the journey that Mendes and the team are making with the film: 'we WILL be 'back to Bond' come the end credits, but to said die-hard Bond fans, just enjoy the ride, because there are enough elements to keep you happy'.

                The Bond elements, general entertaining film and stellar filmmaking are all in place and balanced nicely. The rather generic terrorist plotline is present (albeit hugely marred by the very personal plotline concerning Bond, M and MI6), and also a structure that would not be out of place on an earlier Bond film. The 'exotic' locale is quite limited, being hugely based in the UK both in London and Scotland, but there is enough screen-time set in China. The scenes set in Shanghai in particular offer the most entertaining and the most stunning visually, one of which makes subtle homage to 'The Man with the Golden Gun' in its classic sense, while the neon of China's biggest city produces a cool, modern lighting that sets up a homage to 'Kill Bill, vol. 1'. This scene also sets up the classic Bond structure, whereby a piece of evidence (and they go for the biggest classic: the name of the country of origin on a weapon) leads Bond on to his next location, and after investigating there he is led to his next location, etc.; yet it's not an annoying treasure-hunt pursuit. 'Skyfall' has its Bond girls too, namely the aforementioned Eve and the gorgeous Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe); but in all honesty, 'Skyfall's' main Bond girl is very much M and Judi Dench. While Bond fans likely won't like the personal, unexplained elements that tie M to Silva, her character is central to the story this time around and she gets much more screen-time than the other two Bond girls. It's also worth mentioning at this point the almost-cameo role played by Helen McCrory, who leads a court hearing that sets M and Dench up for a superb scene, albeit un-Bondian, in which she reads out an extract from a Tennyson poem over a dramatic montage underscored by Newman's music. It's one of the film's central parts and creates an elite feel for 'Skyfall', but one which will inevitably anger those die-hard Bond fans (I actually rolled my eyes while writing that...). 'Skyfall', interestingly, while led by Craig, is almost wholly a film belonging to Dench and Bardem; they are both fantastic, and the latter presents another terrifying villain, albeit very different to the character of Chigurh in the phenomenal 'No Country for Old Men'. Bardem, in fact, brings horror to the role and ultimately the film, an element that is scarcely seen in older Bond films, so inevitably feels quite alien and further supports this idea that we're still not quite back to Bond. Meanwhile, the brilliant Ralph Fiennes puts in a solid performance as Mallory, but the little screen-time him and others (namely Albert Finney and Helen McCrory) have simply displays the utter firepower behind the camera for 'Skyfall'.

                Bondian elements and un-Bondian elements aside, 'Skyfall' is excellent. The action sequences are exciting and executed well, with a few original additions that are always massively needed in this Bourne-influenced day and age (such as the truck providing a handy bridge for Bond to move from two separating train carriages). As aforementioned, there a few dramatic scenes, all of which are handled superbly, while the lesser dialogue scenes have their share of interest, thrills and laughs. 'Skyfall' is also the first film since 1989's 'Licence to Kill' to feature a soundtrack by an American composer. While my last review discussed his cousin, Thomas Newman provides a different approach with 'Skyfall'. The last six films' scores have been provided by Brit David Arnold (Independence Day, Little Britain, Sherlock), but with Mendes being brought in, he brought along his preferred composer, who has worked with him on films such as 'Road to Perdition' and the multi-award winning 'American Beauty' (his theme for which is actually fairly well-known - big stress on 'fairly', though). His Americanism penetrates that score quite harshly at times, particularly when coming off the back of six British Bond soundtracks, with some eyebrow-raising employment of Orientalism at points, but this notion is quickly dismissed; his approach is fresh yet derivate (in a positive sense, with one cue in particular sounding like a Harry Potter/ The Dark Knight hybrid - think 'Harry Potter and the Caped Crusader'), and thoroughly enjoyable. When all is said and done, 'Skyfall' feels like a move forward. Certain things in the last decade have been left behind, while new elements have been picked up and so have certain older elements, more of which are sure to return in the next installment. The film is overall brilliant, but while this focus of getting back to Bond is omnipresent, the final 'battle scene', if you will, seems absolutely bizarre - certainly, in my eyes at least, the strangest scene I've ever witnessed in a Bond film, whereby even my eye-rolling at those die-hard Bond fans halts for a second or two. But if that's what needs to be done (I'm not sure it is) to tidy up this trilogy of recovery, then so be it.

                -== The Verdict ==-

                This review was inevitably going to be tainted by whether or not 'Skyfall' is Bondian or not. On the whole, yes, it is, in a sense, but there are enough dominating elements or scenes that arguably quash that statement. That said, at the end of the day, it has been 50 years since Dr. No - times have changed, and if you expect a Dr. No replica to be made tomorrow, then you're going to be very much out of luck. We're in a modern era (aren't we always?!) and we can't keep living in the past. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE the James Bond films, but I'm not one to sit there and sulk and say 'Casino Royale isn't a Bond film!' - it's a bloody good film, wholly necessary and that is that. Either way, 'Skyfall' is hugely entertaining, excellently made but possesses a few elements that hold it back. The final scene will have you smiling to yourself though as you know that this trilogy of recovery has finally come to an end. It's been an enjoyable seven years, providing a much-needed breath of life into the franchise, but we're ready to get back to Bond now - thanks.

                Oh and the title sequence and song? Cool.

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                • Monsters Inc. (DVD) / DVD / 33 Readings / 32 Ratings
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                  20.12.2012 12:43
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                  Pixar's fourth effort

                  Do excuse this rather retrospective review, but I watched the fantastic Disney Pixar's 'Monsters, Inc.' for the umpteenth time the other night, and while I'm aware that this has been reviewed, on Dooyoo at least, to the high heavens, I thought I'd have my say...plus it'll be quite anticipatory for the upcoming release of 'Monsters University'!

                  -== The Plot ==-

                  James P. Sullivan, or "Sulley" (John Goodman), and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) are best friends, and more importantly, two monsters who work together for Monsters, Inc., an organisation that extracts human children's screams as a non-renewable energy source, by entering their bedroom via their closet doors - because all 3-5 year olds I know have walk-in wardrobes! We're in a world full of monsters of all shapes, sizes, colours and limb-and-head-counts. Sulley is the company's "top scarer", closely followed by his arch-enemy Randall (Steve Buscemi) - saying that, Sulley's one of those nicey-nicey diplomatic characters. Under the watchful eye of Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn, who sadly died the year following 'Monsters, Inc.'s' release), the company is in trouble - "Kids [...] just don't get scared like they used to". When Sulley, after working hours one evening, sees a child's closet door left on the work-floor, he checks inside to see if anybody's "scaring" late, but finds the room empty. After exiting, he discovers that the child from the room has sneaked out herself, but before he can put her back, Randall exits the child's room causing Sulley to hide. What you've got to understand is that although scaring children is a profession for these monsters, they are scared of humans, children in particular - they believe them to toxic and highly dangerous; one of many of Pixar's hilarious little details. When Sulley interrupts Mike's date to tell him about the child, she escapes and reveals herself to the entire sushi restaurant, causing havoc. The CDA (Child Detection Agency) put the restaurant and the surrounding area under lockdown while Sulley and Mike only just manage to escape with the child in a Chinese take-away box. Back at their apartment, they try to form a plan as to how they can return the little girl; meanwhile, it is clear that Sulley is beginning to feel sympathy for the child, and declares that he doesn't believe her to be dangerous at all. It then suddenly occurs to Sulley how they can go about returning her to the factory and to her home, but it won't be smooth sailing, what with the CDA swarming the factory and with Randall on the prowl.

                  -== The Review ==-

                  'Monsters, Inc.' is the fourth film by Pixar Studios, after 'Toy Story', 'A Bug's Life' and 'Toy Story 2', and was released back in 2001, would you believe? Pixar have always been a cut above the rest (the rest comprising of the likes of DreamWorks and Aardman), and 'Monsters, Inc.' is a shining example of their work. Their imagination, attention to detail and overall balance is overwhelmingly brilliant, and to put it simply, they just get it so right. The plot itself can provide laughs, but nowhere near as many as the film produces. The characterisation of Sulley and Mike isn't exactly original; Sulley is diplomatic and immodest, while Mike is cocky and not exactly reliable, but remains totally likeable. It's the character of Boo (Mary Gibb - who appears to have only have played two other roles in her short career, both for Disney - for figure!) that makes this film though, and the ensuing relationship between her and Sulley. Boo is the name that Sulley gives to the child who escapes her room as his affection for her grows. As this is a wholly animated film, this only allows for mass scope, and Pixar create the ultimate cute child in Boo. The words that come out of her mouth are utter nonsense but massively cute and almost quotable, and her little antics around the Monsters, Inc. factory are fun to watch. Sulley's empathy for the child, her cuteness and Mike's growing impatience makes for entertaining viewing, while Randall is on the hunt as the villain; it's a classic structure.

                  Where Pixar soars, which applies for the majority of their films, is in the humour, both overt and covert, and the visuals. For the latter, the monster world is very imaginative, and realised so nicely; the colours and various monster species are enough to keep kids entertained at the very least. For the former, the brilliant animation studios cover every ground, ensuring that their target audience stretches far beyond young children. There are many jokes that will go straight over their heads, while even the jokes aimed at the children will make adults chuckle, and this is mainly down to the captivating story and characters that Pixar present. For example, Mike instinctively and accidentally spraying himself in the eye (he only has the one...) with a can of monster-deodorant when Boo sneezes on him will generate as many laughs as Mike turning his nose up at some yellow snow cones, before the Abominable Snowman declares that they're actually "lemon-flavoured". I used the phrase "attention to detail" earlier, and this is exactly what Pixar pride themselves in. Each scene is carefully constructed, and one can clearly see the level of effort put in. These days, Pixar release a film a year, which is still quite a long amount of time but still entirely necessary - the construction of each frame, let alone the pre-production and post-production ongoings, is time-consuming enough. What I'm saying is that the wait is worthwhile, as if the film-production rate was any quicker, you perhaps wouldn't get the high level of film that you do with Pixar.

                  Animated films like those produced by Pixar tend to have a runtime of around 80-90 minutes, and 'Monsters, Inc.' finds itself on the higher end of the spectrum at 92 minutes, which is a very good length but not too long so that kids get bored - not that you possibly could once immersed in this vastly exciting world. While colours and aesthetically pleasing graphics provide much fun for the viewer, the pace of the film certainly aids in the audience's enjoyment. It's pretty relentless, conveying the sense of chase and danger excellently. Each scene or occurrence is already preparing for its transition to the next, and it flows seamlessly; while a joke is ending, a tense or dangerous scene is already beginning, creating a satisfying overlap. The story and general structure of the film is thoroughly pleasing, even on a subconscious level, and this pertains to the 'balance' I mentioned earlier. While comedy, love, action and horror are all balanced perfectly across the movie, so is weight of each section of the film; never does it linger too long in one state, and it ultimately seems to last a lot shorter than its 92-minute runtime, which is always a good thing when analysing a film. I argue that 'Monsters, Inc' provides a perfect structure for an animated kid's film, but is also an excellent example of a parallel movie in the adult world (not like adult adult...).

                  Would my review be complete without a detailed insight into the film's soundtrack? The answer is no. Pixar call upon Randy Newman once again, who provided the music to the three Pixar films released prior to 'Monsters, Inc.'. While people think of 'You've Got a Friend In Me' when they hear his name, along with other songs he has written for the Pixar films, he is as equally talented in his incidental music - his scoring of the film. The score features some excellent 'mickey-mousing' (when the score directly correlates with the film, such as a descending musical sequence while Sulley and Mike tumble down a hill) but also some generally fantastic cues. He evokes moods perfectly, and his themes are great too, particularly Sulley and Boo's theme, which is orchestrated to superb effect when heard. While 'Monsters, Inc.' provides an excellent example for filmmakers in a number of ways, it's also hugely instructive for film composers too. Interestingly, too many to list of Randy Newman male relatives also work (or worked) in the film music industry, most predominantly Alfred Newman (1901-1970), the third-most Oscar-nominated person in history (second to, not entirely coincidentally, composer John Williams) and second in most won, and composer of films such as 'The King and I', whereby he adapted Rodger and Hammerstein's work; and Thomas Newman, who is hugely important composer at present, most well known for his work with Sam Mendes in films such as 'American Beauty' and 'Skyfall'. But, I digress...Randy Newman is hugely talented and provides the perfect score for 'Monsters, Inc.; but don't expect a peppering of songs like in 'Toy Story'.

                  -== The Verdict ==-

                  Not only is 'Monsters, Inc.' an instructive film, but it is a hell of a lot of fun, and just brilliant. It covers every ground in its runtime, providing laughs, tears, both combined, and moments of tension. Whether it's better than 'Toy Story' or not is irrelevant; rather, it's a film in its own right and only builds on its excellent predecessors in the steadily growing Pixar repertoire. If you haven't seen the film already, I strongly suggest that you do, but if you have, what harm will watching it again do? Surely the opposite!

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                  • More +
                    14.12.2012 11:37
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                    The Hitman's fifth outing isn't a great one.

                    Developers: IO Interactive
                    Publishers: Square Enix
                    Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
                    Release date: Nov 20 2012
                    Rating: 18

                    It's been over six years since 'Hitman: Blood Money'; 'Absolution' was released on November 20th 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Much has changed in six years - the gaming world has perhaps seen its biggest and fastest evolution to date. For any non-gamers reading this, the evolution entails a myriad of things, but the most overt aspects include a huge improvement to graphics and a general increase in focus on the cinematics, and also the story; game developers strive to produce the greatest possible 'experience' for players. For me, the 'experience' should be sought elsewhere. With an augmented focus in such areas comes a diminution or alteration in others; namely level of difficulty, general gameplay-style, music and length. In the case of 'Hitman: Absolution', three of those are covered. For those of you who have read my recent 'Hitman: Blood Money' review should bear those things discussed in mind, as they present many points of comparison to the new release.

                    I suppose we should start with the plot. You are 47 again - the iconic, bald-headed assassin. Since 'Hitman: Blood Money' (HBM), 47's handler Diana has gone rogue against 'The Agency', the...well, agency that 47 has been working for across the last four games. Benjamin Travis, now leading The Agency, orders a hit on Diana for 47 to carry out - this forms your first assignment, which is also a tutorial. Not only are you ordered to kill Diana, but you are required to rescue a girl named Victoria too, who Diana has been caring for. Upon assassinating Diana, 47 learns that he has been tricked, and that Diana knew that this would happen - so she had already warned Victoria. 47 takes Victoria to an orphanage as sanctuary while he investigates The Agency, and the girl herself, and an informant named Birdie aids him in this investigation. He is led to a man named Blake Dexter, and as Dexter gets the better of 47 and eventually manages to kidnap Victoria, 47, honouring Diana's dying wish of protecting Victoria at all costs, must track the man down, save Victoria, and in the case of Blake Dexter, do what he does best: kill.

                    For anybody who has played the Hitman games before, even in this plot, players should be able to spot some absolute departures from the classic Hitman style. Firstly, such a layered (albeit archetypal) plot is uncharacteristic of previous games, which consisted of a fairly straightforward occurrence that led to a series of missions, often only loosely connected. In the case of 'Hitman: Absolution' (HA), the missions form a stream - the last mission leads to another, but the story itself is separated into three 'parts'. The very fact that you have to assassinate Diana is a classic indicator of really trying to move into a new direction - to kill off a key character is a brave move, especially for a game with such a cult following. Although there have been villains in previous games, they are so understated that they barely make a difference to the game. The lack of story didn't make these games mindless, but it was the story of each mission that drew the player in. The story for HA is trying to feel like a film, punctuated by missions, that themselves feature quite length cutscenes at times. It's the who 'cinematic experience' that the game developers are trying to produce, and the fact that at the end of title sequence it says 'Directed by...' says it all, really.

                    The surface story itself, as aforementioned, is very been-there-done-that. Looking into the individual scenes, some elements are executed well, others not so much. The script, voice-acting (for the most part), facial expressions and bodily movements (the latter of which is usually god awful in video games) are spot on; however, the story itself is quite lame in parts. It is clear that 'director' Tore Blystad is aiming to create very dramatic moments at points, but I find that these never particularly work when in the thick of gameplay. The transition between playing out a level for the past half an hour to having an 'epic' cutscene is very hard to get right, because the drama is just too much, and unfortunately HA gets it uncomfortably wrong on many an occasion. Out of context, there are some effective moments, but the game presents its fair share of cheesy or awkward moments too.

                    The gameplay has changed massively, too. While the last three games at least were heavily weighted in the stealth direction (although you could take other approaches), HA tries to cover all grounds, so that one can fluently enjoy a more ruthless approach; because of this, the developers somewhat sacrifice the key element that rewarded it with its cult following: the silent approach. 'Silent Assassin' ratings are still available, but as a 'bonus', as HA focuses greatly on scores, with every action you partake in adjusting this score that sits in the top-left hand corner of the screen. You can still be silent, but you simply can't be stealthy like you were in earlier games - the level design just won't allow it. The 'stealth' approach, instead of entailing working out the best people to neutralise to infiltrate a location to take out your target, calls for you to touch barely anybody, but track NPCs (non-player characters) movements are use objects around you to get to where you need to go. This might be slightly more realistic, but it makes for boring playing, thus deterring the player from taking a 'stealth' approach - the developers' main objective, clearly. Also, rather than the open map one has in earlier games, whereby you could essentially do whatever you liked in, most levels are broken down into averagely three parts, and there is a distinctly linear approach to these sections. While there is scope within these map sub-divisions, each option is blaringly obvious and for the most part, fairly easy to execute. IO Interactive claim to have made 'huge maps', but I stress that that really isn't the case. Rather, the divided levels, with small to medium sized maps, are entirely cut off from the sections before and after it, whereby you cannot revisit them during gameplay, and you can start the level from whichever section you like from the main menu. And when I say 'cut off', I really mean 'cut off'; you can throw somebody out of a window on a hotel floor down to the ground that was accessible in a previous section with no consequences whatsoever. This has all disappointed me so much, as I'd practically been looking forward to this game for six years, only to find that IO Interactive had become, when all is said and done, a 'sell-out'.

                    At this point, I may simply sound like a typical wailing, nostalgic fan, and on some level, that's true, but I'm sure many of you have witnessed something you enjoy or follow quite devotedly move in a disappointing direction - times change, at the end of the day. But I stress that this only forms part of my argument and why I've rated the game quite poorly. To me, it seems that game critics vastly overrate video games (if the term 'overrate' is even permitted, considering the act of 'rating' is such a subjective notion), whereby poor games are absurdly held in similar regards to games that are in fact much better. Don't get me wrong, HA is enjoyable, but throughout it I felt like bashing my head against the wall, due to this change of direction, but also some thoroughly frustrating elements and flaws, quite like the one I outlined in the previous paragraph; there are too many to list on here, though. One of the most intrusive flaws (unless it was purposeful?!) is the checkpoint system; when using a self-activated checkpoint, should you choose to load from it if the mission has gone terribly wrong, everything except your objectives and your current state in the mission are reset. This includes any NPCs you've taken out and any 'traps' (such as rigging a generator to electrocute your target when they next use it) you may have set up. I found that while this was perhaps the most shocking thing for the developers to miss out on, throughout the game I was coming across more and more inadequate elements.

                    Due to the linear, structured approach HA adopts, there is also a sacrifice of another key building block of the Hitman style: exotic locale. Consecutive levels are often highly similar, and levels are either in Chicago or South Dakota - the smallest global span of locale in any of the Hitman games by 1000s of miles - and there are twenty missions in HA! Yet for anybody who has played the Hitman games, by twenty missions, this does not mean twenty fully-fledged assignments. At least two of the levels will take you about two minutes (although this is an extreme), while others are significantly shorter than the main missions in the game. All in all, despite a higher level count, with the linear gameplay, lesser difficulty and these shorter missions, HA will take you a lot less time to complete than its predecessors.

                    It's the term 'experience' that many game critics seem to gloss over; ultimately, you're playing a game like you'd watch a film or read a book, and you want it to evoke certain things. In all fairness, however, 'experience' is subjective. As aforementioned, 'experience' is formed, in the case of HA, from visuals, story and the cinematics, both in and out of gameplay. While IO Interactive retain certain elements from earlier Hitman games, their distinctively different approach creates a different game altogether. 'Experience' in these earlier games stemmed from the freedom of the open map, the locale and the music; I've covered two of these already for HA, with an 'open map' being non-existent and the locale being boring for the most part. In the case of music, HA hired composers Thomas Bärtschi, Peter Kyed, Peter Peter and Dynamedion, replacing single composer Jesper Kyd, who wrote the music for all four of the Hitman games prior. Hitman was ultimately Kyd's baby, in that he is one of the most important video game composers ever now, and the Hitman franchise elevated him to this position. One can only presume the reason he didn't get rehired is the franchise he began to compose in 2007, the year after HBM: Assassin's Creed. When 'Assassin's Creed III' was released on October 31st 2012, the franchise had released more games in six years than the Hitman franchise had released in twelve, and due to the donning of the word "Assassin" in the franchise's title, IO Interactive and Hitman's developers and marketing campaign subtly marked it as its enemy with references in videos, photos and the pre-release 'Sniper Challenge', in addition to HA's tagline 'The Original Assassin' saying: "Hey - we're back". While I'm yet to play 'Assassin's Creed III', I can already tell you I know that I will prefer it enormously, simply because the Assassin's Creed games have been so consistent in style. Returning to music, Jesper Kyd is sorely missed. There is not one soundtrack of his that I have listened to and disliked; his music for Assassin's Creed, just to sort that loose nail out in the coffin, is sublime, and frankly, HA's soundtrack is terrible. The 'The Agency' theme is absolutely pathetic, while the American theme is just NOT Hitman, in any shape and form. The sounds used are poor, while the music itself is boring to say the least. The final contributor to the 'experience' only adds to the disarray.

                    Pros for HA? Visuals, certain cinematic elements, easter eggs (the term used in video-game world for tongue-in-cheek things added by the developers that usually reference something within the franchise or in pop culture - the team are kings in this respect, across the franchise), black humour (as outlined in my HBM review) and despite all my niggles, the gameplay - it isn't completely awful, and like I say is enjoyable at times, I just strongly believe that HA shouldn't have received the positive recognition that it did. If you're a Hitman fan, expect to be hugely disappointed. If you're a fan of modern -day video games, expect to enjoy the game, despite its flaws, but bear in mind that it isn't as good as the games it draws influence from, such as 'Splinter Cell: Conviction' and 'Batman: Arkham Asylum', the former of which presents too many parallels with HA it's unreal, and the latter of which is clearly the most defining game of this generation of gaming. I should state that critics have raved about 'Hitman: Absolution', but as stated earlier, I strongly urge you to not always believe what you read or hear. The Hitman franchise has taken a step in the wrong direction with 'Absolution', a step which - especially considering it has such a large cult following, and the fact that the end (without revealing a thing) clearly sets up for a sequel - I sincerely hope they do not continue with.

                    Experience: 4/10
                    Gameplay: 5/10
                    Story: 5/10
                    Visuals: 9/10
                    Sound: 2/10

                    Overall: 50%

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                    • More +
                      10.12.2012 23:38
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                      47's fourth adventure

                      Developers: IO Interactive
                      Publishers: Eidos
                      Platforms: PS2, Xbox, PC, Xbox 360
                      Release date: May 26 2006
                      Rating: 18

                      If you trawl through my reviews, you'll find reviews on 'Hitman: Silent Assassin' and 'Hitman: Contracts'; 'Hitman: Blood Money' is the fourth in the series, the third of the console games. With the recent release of the fifth: 'Hitman: Absolution', I thought I'd backtrack slightly and fill in the gap.

                      Released in 2006, 'Hitman: Blood Money' (HBM) features Agent 47 as protagonist once again. A sharp, professional, bald-headed clone assassin, 47 is ordered by The Agency to take out various targets. HBM brings 47 to the States, where he undergoes a series of missions which are presented as flashbacks in a present-day story: retired FBI director "Jack" Alexander Leland Cayne is being interviewed by a reporter named Rick Henderson. As the two discuss 47 and whether not he is actually real, we play out missions to which they refer, leading up to the true reason for the interview: the White House assassination. As the plot unfolds, Cayne claims to have actually captured the elusive hitman of whom they speak, and promises to prove it.

                      With HBM, Danish video game developers IO Interactive (now part of Square Enix) up their game, so to speak. Building on Hitman: Contracts (HC) from two years previous, there is a new energy present, with better graphics, a stronger story, more exotic locale and plenty of new features. The game's concept is dominated by an open map with many hidden opportunities ready to be unveiled and pursued to complete missions. Introduced in the second game, 'Hitman: Silent Assassin' (HSA), the true purpose of the game, although certainly not mandatory, is to achieve a 'Silent Assassin' rating, which is chiefly obtained by completing a 'hit' without being discovered - in my opinion, it's the true art of the game, and allows for great replay value. To pursue the game like so, however, one needs to be prepared for a lot of trial and error, and patience. All of that said, you could just run in guns blazing and be done with it; it's completely up to you.

                      'Replay value' is something I really look for in a game; I'm not an avid gamer and I don't buy many, so I like my games to be powerful enough to cause me to return to them later on. The Hitman series have always done just that, and I often do return to the aforementioned games. It is chiefly the large maps that allow for this to be the case. The developers produce very detailed environments that offer a lot of ways for you to carry out the mission at hand, and there are always a myriad of ways for you to go about completing the levels. The game's difficulty depends entirely on how you choose to play it. If you do take the stealthy approach, I find it to be far more rewarding, interesting and challenging. In the case of HBM, it IS possible to obtain a 'Silent Assassin' rating, but it's not exactly easy. When taking this approach, patience is required in that one needs to learn the map and people within the map's behaviour; only in understanding these elements can one complete the mission stealthily and perfectly. The process of reaching this ultimate understanding for all of the missions takes hours of gameplay, and even when you've mastered the game, you'll want to keep playing it - and even trying to complete the game taking different approaches, and challenging yourself in various ways.

                      HBM presents new features. Firstly, the opportunity to customise and upgrade 47's arsenal and inventory is back, having last been seen in the first game 'Hitman: Codename 47' (2000) - but it is much improved. Secondly, there are added obstacles such as video cameras (which may prevent you from obtaining that 'Silent Assassin' rating), notoriety (a nice but underdeveloped feature that adds an interesting level across your campaign) and NPC (non-player characters) human shields. But the classic features remain, too, such as the interactive map that displays the entire area and people present within it (the detail of which depends on your difficulty setting), the exciting locale, the disguises, the suit, the fibre wire and the general free structure. That said, what I like most about the games across the series up to this point, is how different each game is. While unifying features, like those just mentioned, remain, the developers completely review the style to provide players with a completely new experience. In comparison to the games before it, HBM is brighter and more fun, yet debatably more violent. While HC was quite grey and moody due to 47's state and psyche, HBM, despite only being set in the US (save two missions), the variety presented in mission locale certainly boosts the game's appeal. And this highlighted by the ever-changing style of soundtrack composer Jesper Kyd. His work is sublime, and the way in which HSA features a Russian Classical orchestral approach, HC a penetrative electronica approach and HBM a mix of the two (to understate it) displays his sheer diversity. Putting the fact that I am a film/TV/game music buff to one side, I feel that his work really defines the games, and without it, the games would be far less poignant. HBM's soundtrack in particular is fantastic and possesses character to such a level which I feel no other video game composer has ever come close to.

                      Each mission is very different. While in HSA, for instance, the player would be required to play a number of consecutive missions in one location (for example there are five missions set in St. Petersburg in snowy Russia), HBM provides completely different environments for every level, whereby even two missions set in Mississippi are divorced from one another. That said, HSA does contain around 8 or 9 more missions to play. And there is a lack of repetition across HBM's levels, in that it's not a case of once you've cracked how to do one mission, the rest will be a walk in the park. On first play, each mission is an enigma, presenting a number of openings, followed by numerous ways to approach and then execute each objective, ultimately amounting to millions of possibilities of how to complete a level. In one mission, for instance, 'A New Life', set on a beautiful, sunny suburban street reminiscent of Desperate Housewives's Wisteria Lane, you can either enter the target's house via two back entrances, (one of which requires you to remove a video camera tape, the other of which requires you to sedate a dog first) or the front door dressed up either as a clown, an FBI bodyguard or a caterer. It's also worth mentioning here the series' renowned black humour which adds a comic and grounding level to the game; HBM is no exception, and there are plenty of nuggets of character interactions ready to be discovered within the game.

                      The game is six years old now, but for its time, graphics were great, particular in the case of the Xbox 360 release. The locale, which ranges from a cruise ship on the Mississippi river to a Chilean hacienda and from an abandoned amusement park to a jazzy mansion Xmas party in the Rocky Mountains, provides opportunity for visuals to be pushed to the extremes. And for a game released in 2006, IO Interactive, with their 'Glacier Engine', did a really superb job. It's amazing how much a strong backdrop can heighten likeability of a game, but I feel that this is one of the series' - and HBM in particular - most effective traits. While graphics are continually updated and outdated, the games themselves are not. While the original Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog games are still loved and played worldwide, while not quite on the same scale, the Hitman games have a similar timeless quality. Within six years, the gaming industry has changed enormously, with extremely advanced graphics and budgets to allow for cinematic experiences; but games like HBM shine through this, and I personally prefer these older games, where the focus lies primarily on challenging and fun gameplay rather than aesthetics (I will be posting up a review on 'Hitman: Absolution: in the next few weeks, and it will present quite an interesting comparison to HBM). So in a sense, HBM is one of the last of its kind, and even the game's sequel has taken a completely different (and generic) turn, its release albeit six years later.

                      I heard/read somewhere that 'Hitman: Blood Money' is available online now for free; whether that is the case or not, the game can be purchased for as little as £3.00 these days, and bearing in mind the excellence of the game and the hours upon hours of gameplay, this is a steal if I ever saw one. With the multiple avenues a player may take, the interesting story, the exotic locale and wonderful visuals, the comic elements, the brilliant soundtrack and most importantly, the excellent gameplay, 'Hitman: Blood Money' is a classic. One does not necessarily have had to have played the prequels, but I would recommend you do as they are great too - the four games up to HBM can actually be purchased as part of a collection for as little as £5.00, which is a super-steal if I ever saw one (bearing in mind that the first was only ever released on PC, so this collection is only available on PC). With the direction that the developers are taking the series now with 'Hitman: Absolution', 'Hitman: Blood Money' should be treasured, and while I may be entering the waters of cliché, they just don't make games like these any more.

                      Experience: 10/10
                      Gameplay: 10/10
                      Story: 9/10
                      Visuals (for it's time): 9/10
                      Sound: 10/10

                      Overall: 96%

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                      • More +
                        04.10.2012 20:00
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                        A powerful, brutal first season

                        Created by: HBO, David Benioff, D. B. Weiss
                        Starring: Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Mark Addy
                        Rating: 18
                        Episode runtime: approx. 60 mins.
                        Out Now on DVD and Blu-Ray

                        Based on George R. R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' and further the first novel in this fantasy series with the same name as the TV series (with the addition of an 'A'), 'Game of Thrones' is a HBO production. Set in a fantasy world but with clear references to the medieval times, it tells the story of a number of noble families' fight for the throne. This season in particular establishes the main characters and plotlines in preparation for the war for the throne, and the end of a summer a decade long. Winter is coming...

                        -== The Plot ==-

                        I could be here all day with this. The strength that Game of Thrones (herein 'GoT') possesses is that it creates a solid balance wherein numerous characters and storylines are present. You may not see one character for an episode or two, but their stories are progressed nicely. I haven't read the novel, but from watching the ten episodes of this series, it would have been IMPOSSIBLE to fit this into a feature-length film.

                        GoT is set in the fictional continent of Westeros, where seven kingdoms lie, including its capital: King's Landing. Here King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) rules, with his queen Cersei Lannister - a brilliantly evil Lena Headey.Their marriage is political, and their relationship empty and loveless. Their son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is heir to the throne. But the Lannisters are the richest and most noble family in the land; notably, there's Cersei's father Lord Tywin (Charles Dance), her twin brother Ser Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and her younger dwarf brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who lifts right out of the family - so is hugely likeable and provides great entertainment value. The family is immoral and corrupt, and serve as the villainous family in the story.

                        Lord Eddard Stark, or 'Ned' (Sean Bean), is the head of the Stark family in Winterfell of the North. With him are his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and their children: Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), who is set to marry Prince Joffrey, the mischievous Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), while Jon Snow is Ned's bastard son and is sent to Night's Watch, a military order that holds the 'Wall', the border of the north. Meanwhile, a third family, the Targaryens look to take over the throne too, as it was King Robert who overthrew King Targaryen. The (grown-up) children aim to seek vengeance: Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clark). The former plans on offering his sister to win an army, and she marries Khal Drogo of the violent Dothraki army.

                        Now, with characters in place, some plot: a deserter is caught and returned to Winterfell, where he will be executed. He claims to have seen the 'White Walkers' in motion, a mythological race that has lie dormant for thousands of years. Meanwhile, King Robert makes his way to Winterfell, his first visit in years, to ask Ned to be the Hand of the King. While Catelyn tells him he still has a choice, Ned feels obliged. Catelyn receives a letter from her sister Lysa (Kate Dickie) that it was the Lannisters who killed the previous Hand of the King, who was also her husband, and very close to Ned. They look to investigate further, while Ned travels south with the King.

                        -== The Review ==-

                        Many of you will be put off by the word 'fantasy', others will be put off by the word 'medieval'. But GoT is very much a drama, set in a very medieval fantastical land. Yes, there are heavily medieval elements present, such as horses, swords and castles, and there are hugely fantastical elements present too, like dragons, witches and magic, but they're not overly prominent; rather, they provide a backdrop to the story. As aforementioned, there are a lot of character and plotlines to keep in touch with, but you never feel lost. Across 10 episodes ranging from 50-60 minutes, the majority of characters actually receive a small percentage of overall runtime, which is interesting, and justifies the need for multiple seasons - season three will be out next year. But the protagonist, Ned, receives a higher percentage than others, although he too doesn't have a great deal of screentime in certain episodes. What I like about this programme is that it doesn't necessarily rely on one character or actor to run the show - it has balance. Sean Bean is fantastic in the role of Ned, however; his character is hugely likeable, diplomatic, moral and proud, and Bean conveys this excellently. His antithesis is the corrupt Queen Cersei, and Lena Headey provides a cold-hearted bitch of a queen tremendously well. Other characters/actors worth noting are the child actors, most of who have never starred in a film or TV production before! However, you may recognise Prince Joffrey, Jack Gleeson, from 'Batman Begins'. Peter Dinklage is great as dwarf Tyrion also - cunning, hilarious and willing to get out of any situation by offering 'lots of [his family's] gold' - while Emilia Clark, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, is excellent, conveying a convincing sense of progression to her character. The cast, interestingly enough (for an American show) consists mainly of British actors, but I suppose it achieves the Medievalism far more accurately. Season 1 was filmed primarily in Northern Ireland, but is also shot on-location in Malta and Iceland amongst other places.

                        While I stress that this is a 'drama', there are many differing components to the programme. Firstly, there is combat, whether that be one-on-one sword fights, brutal murders or battles. The combat scenes are very exciting - fresh and never too long. Secondly, there is a leaning towards the appeal of nudity and sex to heighten the programme. There are full-on sex scenes, random nakedness and sometimes more subtle approaches. Thirdly: the fantastical elements, although I will not elaborate further on this. Also worth noting is that there are many a distressing scene in GoT season one - some so distressing that it may deter some from watching. GoT features its fair share of gore, strong language, animal cruelty (although its obviously not real) and quite centrally, incest, in that it forms a vital part of the main plotline. There is a merciless quality in GoT, to the point where it almost completely ignores its audience and provides some highly uncomfortable scenes and storylines. This is a word of warning: do not expect easy viewing 100% of time - or 50% of the time for that matter. That said, overall, the series is absolutely superb. The story is intelligent and composed very well. It explores the politics, corruption and greed of Kingly subjects engrossingly, while constructing convincing characters and relationships. It does seem to gloss over certain aspects and it tends to move very fast at times, but that's simply the nature of adapting novels. The series isn't as spellbinding as a series such as 'The Walking Dead' and 'Homeland', in that its not full of shocking twists, turns and cliffhangers; rather, it finds its shocks and strengths in plot development and characters.

                        Elaborating on a previous point, the setting is phenomenal. Instead of relying heavily on CGI, like certain productions do, the decision to shoot on-location is a great one, but probably quite unavoidable. Northern Ireland provides a familiar British landscape, and while you could more or less place the likes of Malta and Iceland, the exoticness and lack of familiarity adds formidably to the fantastical elements. The costumes do too - they're excellent, and again contribute to the experience. Ramin Djwadi provides the soundtrack - a German-born, half Iranian composer who rose to prominence thanks to Zimmer's 'Remote Control Productions' - he's one of Zimmer's minions, as I like to call them. His music avoids typical Medievalism, but rather is percussion-driven and on the most part admirably understated. I really like it, and although his theme song isn't immediately enthralling, it improves with repeated listens, which you will inevitably have to do if you watch it, as the brilliant two-minute title sequence is shown at the beginning of every episode - unless you skip it, that is.

                        -== The Verdict ==-

                        This could go one of two ways for you. Firstly, the series is sublime, but whether or not you take to it is personal. Game of Thrones has a lot going for it: acting, story, characters, visuals & sound and cute dogs to name but a few, but it runs a few risks in its sheer brutality. I, for one, will take a break before watching the second season, and I think anybody that has seen the first series might relate to that. It's a tale of corruption and struggle that despite possessing fantastical elements, is powerfully realistic in its ruthlessness and characters. I just love first seasons. While certain shows may have superior later series, there is always something magical about the first season. Game of Throne season 1 is a solid entity; it soldiers through confidently, convincingly and excellently and doesn't look back.

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                        • The Orchestra / Discussion / 47 Readings / 46 Ratings
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                          03.10.2012 00:37
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                          The longest reigning musical ensemble

                          The most historic ensemble, one of the most widely used and certainly the most diverse, the orchestra is a grand group of instruments that has evolved massively over centuries. It began as a small ensemble and has grown enormously over time, and numbers and options are endless, ranging from as little as approximately 40 players to - well, unlimited amounts - Mahler's 8th is coined "Symphony of a Thousand" for a reason. It can actually be quite an intimidating force - I know in the past I have found it quite overwhelming, with 19th/20th century composers such as Beethoven, Strauss, Elgar and Stravinsky utilising the ensemble to awesome effect. But it can be broken down, and here I give a little crash course into the epic, enigmatic musical group.

                          The orchestra is basically split into four sections: brass, percussions, strings and woodwind, and auxiliary instruments may be added (such as a harp, piano, although these often fall into one of the above categories - strings and percussion respectively). Brass fundamentally consists of horns, trumpets, trombones and tubas; strings: violins, violas, cellos and double basses; woodwind: flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons; percussion is viewed as far more optional, but I will return to this. It's all about balance, really, and it entirely depends on your music. Many composers since the 19th century have authoritatively tweaked numbers to suit their needs, and while numbers generally grew from 1830 until the early 20th century, the numbers are constantly changing. So I'll give you a somewhat standard example: 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo - in that 1 flautist may switch to a piccolo (but they must be given ample time to switch)), 1 oboe, 1 cor anglais (a tenor version of the oboe), 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon and 1 contrabassoon (an even lower version of the bassoon); 6 horns; 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba; timpani, bass drum, cymbal; 2 harps; 2 violin sections, 1 viola section, 1 cello section, 1 double bass section. You may have noticed that I separated the horns from the rest of the brass, and my reasons are that horns are often treated as members of the woodwind section, and further are referred to as "wind" instruments. Percussion is easily the most diverse section, with a myriad of standard to exotic instruments at a composer's disposal: timpani, bass drum, cymbal, gong, triangle, woodblock, xylophone, marimba, waterphone - the list just goes on. And composers are always welcome to spice up the orchestra with many other instruments too, but most common non-percussive 'auxiliary' instruments include the piano, harp, saxophone and euphonium. Now that's a lot to take in, but in summary, there is a lot of room to manoeuvre despite being in place a traditional skeleton.

                          The fifth 'section' of the orchestra consists of one man, and is traditionally most certainly mandatory: the conductor. Although conducting in one way or another began in the 16th and 17th centuries, it truly flourished with the input of musicians such as Wagner, Berlioz, Spohr and most importantly, Mendelssohn. The conductor's main roles are to orchestrate the rehearsals (although this was not always case), and this is hugely superior to anything 'on the night', to beat time during performance, to enforce and appear as an authoritative figure, and to encourage emotions and performing styles. The conductor is the leader. The performance becomes his (or her) performance, whereby his name will appear on the recording sleeve notes, rather than the performers - and he has quite a big job, to be fair. Every performance is different, and different conductors can create vastly different versions of a certain piece as each conductor interprets the pieces differently. That said, should a specific interpretation turn the piece upside down or change it completely, the said conductor might find his or her reputation rapidly dwindling.

                          Without delving too far into compositional methods, it is important to review how exactly instruments are used. On the surface, instruments can either be used solo or in combination, and when all instruments play, this is known as 'tutti', an Italian word meaning 'all' or 'together'. The orchestra is specifically designed so that there is a bass, middle and treble, or high-end, like most other ensembles, and as soon as you start tweaking numbers, there is potential to spoil the balance. While you can use your double basses, tubas and bassoons to provide bass parts and violins and flutes to provide a melody, this is basic, albeit used very often; one thing I can't stress enough with the orchestra is that possibilities are endless - feel liberated when writing. If you want your cellos to play at the top of their register while the trumpets are playing at the bottom, then go right ahead; if you want the melody in the bass instruments, then do it! The repertoire provided by renowned composers, particularly those post-Beethoven (including his contemporaries) like Wagner, Mahler and Strauss, offer shining examples of how to exploit the instruments of the orchestra; but they've collectively far from exhausted the options. Some orchestral techniques include divisi, whereby a section of instruments, such as the violas, are split into multiple sections (usually not exceeding 3), solo, where any instrument can play alone, whether that be a flute, one of your violins from one of your violin sections, or a timpani, and tutti, as previously mentioned. You need to decide, when writing, how many instruments you want playing when. Create moods, build excitement and keep the orchestra on their feet; or keep things the same like Ravel did with 'Bolero' - it's not wrong, and it's certainly still enjoyable. You could have all of your higher instruments playing in unison; you could have only your brass section playing a fanfare. Worth noting is that certain instruments and sections do have popular roles, though they are by no means obligatory. For example, you may never give the melody to the violins in a piece, although they are one of the most common instruments to carry one. A reputable technique is to fluently employ the woodwinds throughout a piece, as amateur composers may only bring them in to highlight a section - equally, the world (or orchestra, rather) is your oyster, so do whatever you want.

                          I've made reference to a few composers in this discussion, particularly those of the 19th and 20th centuries; it is worth collating these, whilst not excluding pre-19th century composers who wrote for orchestra, such as Bach, Lully, Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart. 19th/20th century composers, however, include Schumann (a good example of a composer who perhaps had orchestral-balancing troubles), Berlioz, Lizst, Brahms, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Elgar, Ravel (a top-class orchestrator), Strauss (ditto), Mahler (also ditto, but so much more - he was essentially the last developer of the symphony), Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, Vaughn-Williams, Britten, Shostakovich, Schoenberg, Bernstein, Ives, Cage and Glass - and I emphasise the word include, as I have inevitable missed out some key composers from this list. One I have deliberately left out, however, is Beethoven, as he deserves a section for himself...

                          Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most known names in Classical music, perhaps only rivalled by Mozart. He was an eccentric man; a genius, and a revolutionist. It is commonly believed that with his third symphony, 'Eroica', originally dedicated to Napoleon but now only to a once-"great man", that the Romantic period began - his composition and use of the orchestra was groundbreaking and rather controversial. But he inspired a generation, and continues to inspire to this day. 'Eroica' is one my favourites, and I would strongly urge you to give it a listen. He was not a melody-writer, per se - that was left to the likes of Schubert - but his overall compositions are unsurprisingly fantastic and it's his revolutionary outlook that causes him to be respected and his repertoire revisited to this day. And it's thanks to him, in some cases greater than others, that the above listed 19th/20th century composers came to be and wrote in the style that they did - and ultimately, utilised the orchestra in the way that they did, to the point where John Cage would stand on the conductor's podium with hands poised for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, with the orchestra sitting in complete silence (see '4.33', or just stay silent for that length a time - your call).

                          Although there is a diverse world in what we call Modernism (our present day Classical music), the orchestra can be heard most commonly these days in film music. From the late 19th century with films being scored, most notably Soviet Union productions, film music has always, at least somewhere, called for an orchestra. The golden age of Hollywood saw composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner and Erich Korngold; later years saw composers like Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Alan Silvestri - and all of the above are heavily influenced by 19th/20th century output - certain Wagnerian music could easily be mistaken for John Williams. More recently, composers such as Alexandre Desplat and David Arnold have maintained the well-rounded orchestra, whereas composers such as Hans Zimmer have broken it down and made his instrumentation more selective, although Zimmer, amongst others, rely heavily on electronica. In a world that sees 'pop' (or 'popular' music) as a range of dance music and Justin Bieber, film music carries through the legacy of the orchestra.

                          I'm currently in my third year studying BA Music at University of Leeds, and I owe a lot of my knowledge on this subject to what I have learnt there, although a large portion of it is down to own research inspired by what I have learnt. Thank you for being patient and taking the time to read this - I enjoy sharing my interests and Classical (encompassing 19th/20th century music) music is progressively becoming one of my main ones. I strive to write music for film/TV, and I strongly believe studying these 19th/20th century composers and how they write music and utilise the orchestra is paramount in gaining a broader understanding. In the meantime, I hope you have learnt a little bit about the orchestra yourself.

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                            28.09.2012 17:11
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                            An overall disappointing end to a fine musical trilogy

                            Nolan's Batman trilogy is a monumental achievement in film. In reviews of the first two films (see my 'Nolan's Batman Trilogy' reviews) I drew comparisons with the likes of Star Wars, The Godfather and The Lord of The Rings - and rightly so. It stands tall amongst these giants, and in my opinion rises far above and beyond the Lord of The Rings films - but that's for another day. Nolan states in the sleeve notes of 'The Dark Knight Original Soundtrack' that one of the main reasons he returned after the fantastic 'Batman Begins' was because of the music; Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score was magnificent, and they built admirably on this in 'The Dark Knight', producing one of the most inspirational and trend-setting soundtracks of the 21st Century. Yet something has always intrigued me, although I think the answer is fairly straightforward; why, on the front covers of the 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' soundtracks, are the names listed like so: "Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard" - artists are more often than not listed alphabetically. But fears were realised when James Newton Howard's name did not appear next to the soundtrack for Nolan's finale: 'The Dark Knight Rises'. It appears that Zimmer's prominence, merely highlighted by the positioning of his name on the soundtrack cover, was superior to Newton Howard's. It was Zimmer, following 'The Dark Knight', who provided the soundtrack to Nolan's 'Inception', not Newton Howard, and it was Zimmer who would then go on, alone, to score 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Why is this the case? Although we can't know for sure, I wouldn't be surprised if Newton Howard decided against returning, for pride's sake; I did hear a story in concordance to this but it is somewhat unreliable, thus not worth dwelling on. Maybe Nolan didn't want Newton Howard back - but I doubt that. Either way, it was going to be a solo effort this time. How would it stand against the other soundtracks without Newton Howard's input, regardless of ratio? I went to see 'The Dark Knight Rises' upon its release, and my girlfriend bought me the soundtrack around the same time (before I'd even heard it!). It was a very special present because I consider the 'The Dark Knight' soundtrack to be my very first and one my favourites, and a great inspiration to me as I aim to embark on a career in the field.

                            'The Dark Knight' is still my favourite soundtrack.

                            -== Track Listing ==-

                            1."A Storm is Coming" 0:37
                            2."On Thin Ice" 2:55
                            3."Gotham's Reckoning" 4:08
                            4."Mind If I Cut in?" 3:27
                            5."Underground Army" 3:12
                            6."Born in Darkness" 1:57
                            7."The Fire Rises" 5:33
                            8."Nothing Out There" 2:51
                            9."Despair" 3:14
                            10."Fear Will Find You" 3:08
                            11."Why Do We Fall?" 2:03
                            12."Death By Exile" 0:23
                            13."Imagine the Fire" 7:25
                            14."Necessary Evil" 3:16
                            15."Rise" 7:11

                            Total length: 51:20


                            -== The Review ==-

                            Hans Florian Zimmer is a German composer who is one of the most popular film composers in Hollywood at present. He began with 80s scores such as 'Days of Thunder' and 'Rain Man', and peaked with 00s scores such as 'Gladiator', 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'Inception', although his only Oscar-winning score came in 1994: 'The Lion King'. Arguably, his biggest popularity boost came with 'The Dark Knight' - and I fear that many people assume that he is the sole composer for the film. However, his input was fantastic, and it is an excellent score. Five years have passed, James Newton Howard has departed and a new story with a change of pace is introduced with 'The Dark Knight Rises'. The best thing Zimmer could do at this point is move on, quit while he is ahead; and that's exactly what he does (although not after having a final go at the sound with 'Inception'...). Unfortunately, while I have much respect for him for doing so, he just doesn't quite pull it off. The sound isn't massively dissimilar, but overall he presents new ideas and takes a fairly different approach, yet his techniques are mostly still intact.

                            The film of 'The Dark Knight Rises' is more closely linked to 'Batman Begins' than its direct prequel (I love that 'The Dark Knight' is the best film in the series and yet works very well as a standalone entity), thus Zimmer uses ideas presented in the first film soundtrack as a basis to one of his main ideas - this doesn't stop him from delving into his TDK pool of work. One of my main problems with the soundtrack is just that. Whereas other composers who write across connected franchises handle themes and ideas with tastefulness, whether that is direct repetition, variations or complete unrecognisable upendings, Zimmer seems to use his fantastic TDK cues to save those flopping in TDKR. Sometimes these are varied, but more often than not amendments are minimal, with the added brass burst here and there or a different sort of digital processing. The ideas that are carried through sound exhausted; I could happily listen to them over and over again in the TDK soundtrack, but there is certain staleness hearing them again when you expect to hear something new. Zimmer views synthesizers and digital processing as instruments in themselves, and fair enough; yet while he does try to create a new sound, the direct revisiting of cues from TDK differ greatly from the more heavily-synthesized sounds of TDKR, creating an uncomfortable contrast.

                            The opening three tracks are great, though, and flow seamlessly into one - and into track 4, but we'll get there soon. 'Gotham's Reckoning' presents the sound of Bane, the villain of TDKR - a beast of a man residing in Gotham's underground, planning to rise and take down Gotham, ultimately fulfilling his deceased master Ra's al Ghul's quest. Zimmer turns to heavy dry percussion (mainly synthesized drums), a haunting theme in a jarring 5/4 time signature and, most enigmatically, a chant: "Deh-shay deh-shay bah-sah-rah bah-sah-rah". Although presented as a non-diegetic element of the score, it is used as a diegetic element for the film, as it is something chanted by both Bane's henchmen and some prisoners. The recording of the chant was offered by Zimmer as an opportunity to groups all around the world, who could send in their recording of this chant to be used in the soundtrack; quite nicely, then, one can hear a variety of versions of this chant across the album. 'Gotham's Reckoning' boasts the above tone in superb fashion, combining the pounding drums with the chant, ominous synthesized sounds and harsh use of low brass & strings.

                            'Mind if I cut in?' presents the second leitmotif, for Catwoman. This is distinctly different to Zimmer's usual output. It's fitting, yet not brilliant. A soft melody that sounds tainted immediately opens the track in gloomy fashion, before a piano steals the melody quite cheekily. The most prominent part of the theme, however, is actually the worst part. It consists of a high-strings scalic semiquaver passage that climbs; yes, it is somewhat cat-like, but its as primal as melodies come and it is simply repeated (and maybe shifted down a semitone at certain points). Simplicity is absolutely necessary at times, and I encourage it, but generally speaking, Zimmer's theme for Catwoman is quite poor. The character is mainly good in TDKR, and works quite closely with Batman in the film, and at times, Zimmer combines her theme with Batman's, which in all honesty is not a particularly difficult task when you consider that Batman's theme (or rather, motif) is purely a rising minor third. Yet Zimmer thinks he's very clever combining these two alongside another of his ideas from the trilogy in 'Fear Will Find You', and dwells arrogantly on the passage. Batman's said motif doesn't receive a great deal of fresh treatment in TDKR, except for two instances: firstly, it receives its most drawn out and grand rendition in 'Despair', so drawn out in fact that I feel rather sorry for the brass players; and secondly, at the final few seconds of the album. And here is where the connection to BB ('Batman Begins'), and the logic behind Bruce Wayne's story, lies. In BB, Zimmer employed a choirboy to represent Bruce's loss of his parents and his inability to move past that point. When Zimmer concludes the album with a choirboy singing the Batman motif, he highlights that Bruce Wayne, despite many years passing, has still not moved past the tragic loss. The presence of a choirboy is first reintroduced in track 2 'On Thin Ice', although digital processing leaves the listener unsure as to whether or not the main voice is in fact a choirboy, and is furthered diegetically prior to the American football scene.

                            After the first three tracks, the best term to describe the soundtrack is 'dark ambience'. Zimmer combines similar murky attributes as heard in 'Gotham's reckoning' with electronica, and the occasional TDK-sound burst. It gets boring. Zimmer ably depicts the ruthlessness, rawness and brutality of Bane in his instrumentation and general tone, but his usual spark is non-existent. Zimmer's melodies and ideas have more often than not been rather poignant or outstanding in his scores, but the TDKR soundtracks lacks edge. 'The Fire Rises', at 5.33 in length, patiently explores dark sounds before shifting awkwardly into a section based on Bane's sound with a very poor melody in the lower instruments. 'Nothing Out There' simply revisits ideas from previous films (so, out of context, is quite enjoyable), while 'Despair' also offers little new material. 'Why Do We Fall?' is based on a motif of a falling (totally and utterly deliberate choice of word) second, which is one rather defining to TDKR. It's quite an exciting piece, actually, and one of the better ones on the album, with one of the few moments featuring a revisited ideas that is distinctly varied making itself known in the last 30 seconds, helped by a powerfully thick drum texture. Meanwhile, 'Death By Exile' is purely ambient, and at 0.23 in length, is surely only there to boost the track count. 'Imagine the Fire' is the longest track on the album, and begins with a very strange celebratory aura. The majority of the piece is made up of worn out sounds, inferior melodies and more revisits, and even features a few sections that sound very similar to 'The Kraken' from 'Pirates 2' - not a good sign when a composer subconsciously reverts to unrelated music in his discography. 'Rise' is the 'A Dark Knight' of the album [see my review on the TDK soundtrack: 'Gotham FM'], reviewing key themes across the trilogy, mainly those directly related to the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Accompanying the final scenes of the film, it journeys through a myriad of emotions, and while once again there are revisits to earlier material, it's perhaps slightly more permitted here, and Zimmer does offer some variation, even if at points it does simply come in the form of slowing it down. Zimmer conveys deep emotion and provides a superb grand finale; it aptly has the feeling of a closing statement, for all of those involved with the trilogy. Zimmer has said himself that he remembers as a boy, aspiring to be a film composer, he had a unnamed film in mind that, if he ever made it, he would remember that dream and smile, knowing that he has made it. Now, I would argue that he's scored his fair share of bloody good films, but he states that he felt this sensation whilst scoring The Dark Knight Rises, which is really great.

                            The album is over twenty minutes shorter than the TDK soundtrack, but to be fair, if it was any longer, it would become almost intolerable. Nonetheless, three tracks are available to retrieve from online with this CD or download, one of which is god awful remix, which Zimmer seems to be permitting with a lot of his soundtracks lately.

                            The Dark Knight rises, but Zimmer falls (could be an African waterfall, couldn't it? Or a brand of wine) - what begins as a refreshing approach to a new film soon becomes a dire mash of electronic ambience and dry and percussive orchestration. There are a handful of tracks that are really great on this album, but with the overshadowing of the soundtracks to 'Batman Begins' and in particular, 'The Dark Knight', this is clearly inferior. It's intrusive at times, yet Zimmer does get some 'sounds' and ideas very right. Whether or not the absence of James Newton Howard has a part to play in the downfall is personal, but you can't help but miss his beautiful TDK offerings when you're subjected to the relentlessness of Zimmer's TDKR soundtrack. It's not the worst soundtrack you'll ever hear; on the whole, it's quite cool - but when compared to his other Batman offerings, TDKR doesn't come close. The TDK score was loved and hated (almost) equally - I fear that TDKR won't be quite so balanced. While his dealing with Batman's motif is great and his initial establishing of Bane's sound is effective, prominent elements let this CD down.

                            -== Three to Download ==-

                            'Want to hear a taster of the score? The three tracks I would you recommend you check out are: 'Gotham's Reckoning', 'Why Do We Fall?' and 'Rise'.

                            -== Technical Details ==-

                            Composer: Hans Zimmer
                            Release date: 17 July 2012
                            Length: 51.20
                            Label: WaterTower Music

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                            • More +
                              25.09.2012 15:22
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                              The excellent fourth game in the Assassin's Creed series

                              Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
                              Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X
                              Out now

                              [see my review on 'Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood': 'Rome Was Rebuilt in a Game'. Please note that there may be a few spoilers of the story of this game in the following review]

                              Ubisoft Montreal are really churning out these Assassin's Creed games, to the point where it has become an annual event in the gaming industry. When 'Assassin's Creed III' is released on October 31st, they'll have released more installments in its five-year history than IO Interactive have released Hitman games in twelve years. That said, they are very good games, albeit inferior to the Hitman series in my humble opinion. 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations' is the fourth in the series and is very significant to the story so far; it marks the end of Ezio Auditore da Firenze's story, and also returns to the first game's main character: Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, to tie up a loose end.

                              You are, however, in present day, Desmond Miles, a New Yorkian bartender who was kidnapped and forced to relive the memories of your aforementioned ancestors in a machine called the Animus. See, in this world, in one's DNA may you find imprints of your ancestor's existence. In the first game, 'Assassin's Creed' (herein 'AC'), you explored the memories of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, an assassin of the First Crusade in 1191. You soon learn about 'Pieces of Eden', ancient artifacts with hidden powers; the organisation that kidnapped you, Abstergo (who are actually a modern day Knights Templar) are after these Pieces of Eden, and have used you and your DNA to find one of them. The scientist who monitored your progress in the Animus, Vidic, planned to kill you once your memories of Altaïr were exhausted, but his assistant Lucy, an undercover Assassin, saves you and you escape together. In 'Assassin's Creed II' ('ACII') and 'Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood' ('ACB'), you find sanctuary in safehouses to further explore the memories of your ancestors; in these cases, you relive the memories of Ezio Auditore da Firenze. In his story, you have just removed Rome of Templar influence, avenged your Uncle Mario and hidden a Piece of Eden in a safe place in Rome. As Desmond Miles, you have made your way to this safe place and infiltrated it to recover the Piece of Eden. The game ends as you take hold of the Piece of Eden and become somewhat possessed, the forces causing you to assassinate Lucy, as the two of you fall motionless to the ground. Like all of the games before it, 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations' ('ACR') picks up directly where its prequel left off.

                              The Assassin's Creed games revolve around one key date: 21st December 2012, a date believed by some to be the end of the world. Across the five games (as mentioned, 'Assassin's Creed III' ('ACIII') is due for release later this year'), you have gradually discovered more and more about why this exact date means the apocalypse; and Ubisoft Montreal present these ideas in true Dan-Brown-fiction-presented-as-truth style. The modern-day Assassins are on a race against time to explore Desmond's ancestral memories and find a way to stop this apocalypse from coming.

                              In ACR, you are Desmond Miles, and find yourself in an odd environment known as 'Animus Island'. It's essentially the 'insides' of the Animus; remnants and fragments of memories that have formed a small world. Here you meet 'Subject 16', a character that has had a very small part in the series up to this point, but is nonetheless very important. He is a previous subject, like Desmond, who went mad whilst using the Animus, and eventually got lost, while his present-day self died. He explains the situation: you stabbed Lucy and passed out, while the other two modern-day Assassins (Shaun and Rebecca) got you back into the Animus, which is now the only thing keeping you alive. He explains that the portal on this Animus Island will take you back to the memories of your ancestors, allowing you to continue your quest; so you head in there.

                              You are Ezio Audtiore da Firenze approaching old age. You have departed Roma and are following in the footsteps of the once great Assassin Altaïr by returning to Masyaf, the Assassin Headquarters in the first game AC. There is a library there where secrets lay hidden. When Ezio reaches there, however, markings on its grand door suggest keys are needed to enter. He hunts down a Templar knight and steals the key in his possession, and learns that the remaining four were sent to Constantinople (or Istanbul) when Niccolò Polo moved there from Venice, and hidden. Ezio, set on unlocking the secrets of the Masyaf library, travels to Constantinople, and this is where the majority of the game is set. While Ezio has this main objective in mind, he enters a land of conflict; the Ottoman Empire reign but Templar presence inflicts chaos, and they aim to have the Ottomans overthrown. Ezio is greeted by Yusuf Tazim, leader of the Turk Assassins, and works quite closely with them whilst he undergoes his own endeavours. Meanwhile, he meets an Italian lady named Sofia Sartor who helps him in his quest to find the keys, and upon finding him, Ezio discovers that the keys also contain memories of the Assassin master Altaïr. Within these memories, holes are filled. It is a theory that, due to the inferiority of the first Assassin's Creed game, the character of Altaïr was dropped for ACII to allow a more prominent reboot. However, his story was left unfinished, and it is great that you get the opportunity in ACR to finish this story, while Ezio's comes to an end also.

                              ACR is the best of the series so far. Since ACII adopted a new style of gameplay, the games that followed have built on what was previously established, improved elements and selected the best bits. ACIII is due to take a whole new approach, which is a good thing in that we've had three consecutive games of quite similar gameplay, but it is far from worn out in ACR; rather, it is refined. ACB was huge; the map was massive and there was so much to do. ACR cuts down; the story is slightly shorter, the map slightly smaller, and there are less side-missions, and due to Ezio's dual overall objectives, these 'side-missions' actually become very central - everything seems relevant and thus encourages the player to complete every aspect of the game. That said, ACR introduces some new elements to the Assassin's Creed experience, and these are threefold: the 'hook blade' (which extends the distance Ezio can leap from ledge to ledge, and introduces some new combat techniques), bombs (Ezio must look for ingredients across Constantinople to construct bombs to use tactically within missions) and 'den defense' (a mini-game where, should Ezio's notoriety meter fill up, an Assassin den is invaded and you must protect it). However, whereas I do like each of these elements, each has their pitfall. The hook blade only extends the distance Ezio can jump minimally, and the combat techniques do not improve combat massively; the bombs are a nice addition, but can easily not be used - in that you could easily complete the game without them; and the 'den defense' mini-games come quite sparsely throughout the game.

                              The combat system has once again been improved, yet with this comes heightened simplicity - the game is just too easy. Yet the missions are ever so slightly harder, which does compensate. And like in ACB, the 'Full synchronization' tasks (if you want to complete the missions 100%) make the missions even harder. The missions themselves have far more character, for the most part, side-missions included, whereby at one point you are required to dress up as a jester and sing comically about past endeavors to distract groups of people while Yusuf assassinates various targets. The Assassin missions (where you can send Assassin's out across Europe and the Middle East to complete assignments) are back too, this time under the name of 'Mediterranean defense', and this feature is also improved. All four games have featured collectibles, too, where you can collect objects hidden around the map - usually out of 100. When you reached 100, you were then given a small extra for the player to enjoy. It ACR, around Constantinople (and Cappadocia, a map where you spend one of your memory sequences) are 100 'Animus data fragments', and when each time to collect a certain amount of these (usually in 10s), you can open a door on 'Animus Island' called 'Desmond's Journey'. These are nice little puzzles that feature a narrative by Desmond whereby you learn of his upbringing and how he came to be associated with the Assassins. While this isn't greatly important, it's always fun to learn a little bit more and is quite a nice break from the usual gameplay.

                              Visually, and aurally, ACR reigns supreme over its predecessors. From the pre-main title sequence, the game has a distinctively new look - black, as opposed to white, is the new key colour, and there is icy, distorted edge the menus' look. In the game itself, the graphics are the best yet, and the location is sublime: 1511 AD Constantinople. The climate is gorgeous, the skyline beautiful and the Islamic architecture is superb - Ubisoft Montreal have outdone themselves in this respect. One can explore a condensed version of the historical city, including many of its great landmarks, such as Hagia Sophia and the Forum of the Ox. The views from some of the higher buildings (which, like in the earlier Assassin's Creed game, you are required to climb), especially during nightfall, are stunning. This, with Jesper Kyd's in-game music, is a fantastic combination, and there's a particular track (on the soundtrack: 'Istanbul') that is absolutely excellent, possessing such a unique and serene quality. It's hard to believe that such an effect can be evoked through a video game, but it's truly wonderful, and can be very relaxing. The soundtrack is, like so many other elements in ACR, the best of the series, and this isn't necessarily due to the addition of another composer. Jesper Kyd returns and provides some of his best work to date; there are both exotic and electronic elements present, but he retains his individual style and provides an unmatched but completely fitting soundtrack. The second composer comes in the form of Lorne Balfe; a Scottish composer who works for Hans Zimmer's 'Remote Control Productions' in L.A. Balfe provides the brilliant main theme (originally called 'Ezio's theme', it's now known as 'Assassin's Creed Theme' on the soundtrack), the majority of cut-scene music and also the music on the Multiplayer mode. Whereas I personally prefer Kyd as a composer, they are very different in style - Balfe, coming from a film background, is inevitably more cinematic. The main theme features very Zimmer-ish elements, yet there is individuality present. Some of his cues are excellent, whereas some are slightly overbearing or bogged down by a very fake sound (he uses orchestral instruments mainly, but they are samples). Overall, the combined workings of the visual and aural team make for a superior experience in the Assassin's Creed series. There is beauty and appreciation in how they have constructed Constantinople through these means.

                              'Assassin's Creed Revelations' succeeds. Finally, after four games, Ubisoft Montreal have hit perfection. It's not my favourite game, simply because its not my preferred gameplay style (ACR is a sandbox-style game that relies heavily on story and cinematics rather than complex gameplay), but in this genre, its vastly superior. There are few downsides, and with such a layered game comes some glitches, but generally, it builds on previously established elements successfully, while adding some new great features. As previously mentioned, it's a very important one to the series. ACR closes the doors of Altaïr and Ezio, the former of which has been waiting to be closed for a few years now. It's grand and epic, and the in-game experience is beautiful. The story is the most interesting of the series, and it's very exciting. With 'Assassin's Creed III', Ubisoft Montreal will move on. It's the last in the 'cycle', a word the developers have used on numerous occasions themselves. There is the Altaïr cycle (AC and ACR), the Ezio cycle (ACII, ACB and ACR), and the Desmond cycle (all five games), and by the end of ACIII, Desmond's door, as well as new protagonist Connor Kenway's (a half-English, half-Native American Assassin active during the American Revolution), will be closed too. In the meantime, 'Assassin's Creed Revelations' is the series' finest hour.

                              Experience: 10/10
                              Gameplay: 8/10
                              Story: 8/10
                              Visuals: 10/10
                              Sound: 9/10

                              Overall: 90%

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                              • Fracture (DVD) / DVD / 66 Readings / 63 Ratings
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                                18.09.2012 01:14
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                                An interesting and enjoyable murder thriller

                                I don't want to spend this review dwelling on the subject of Anthony Hopkins' inescapable role as the calculated psychotic murderer. The legacy of Hannibal may be vastly apparent in 'Fracture', but at the end of the day, Hopkins was fantastic in 'Silence of the Lambs' and beyond, and puts in another fantastic performance in 'Fracture'. I don't completely agree that an actor should be reused in such a way, but perhaps Hoblit simply wanted a safe option; perhaps when he envisioned the film, or when Glenn Gers and Daniel Pyne wrote the screenplay, they had Hopkins in mind. You can make your mind up whether Hopkins' filmography has that overriding an effect for you or not, but in the meantime, 'Fracture' is a film in its own right and will treated as so.

                                Director: Gregory Hoblit
                                Starring: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Hopkins, Billy Burke, Rosamund Pike
                                Runtime: 113 minutes
                                Rating: 15
                                Out now

                                -== The Plot ==-

                                Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) observes his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) having an affair with another man. He waits for her to come, and when she arrives, he tells her that he knows, and shoots her in the head. Neighbours hear gunfire and soon, the police arrive and SWAT surround the house. Ted, in the meantime, calmly takes the time to apparently remove evidence, waiting. He is waiting for Lt. Robert Nunally (Billy Burke), the force's crisis negotiator, and the man who his wife was having the affair with. The guns are put down as Lt. 'Bob' Nunally enters the house, and when asking where his wife is, Ted shows him. When Lt. Nunally sees his mistress, apparently dead, he runs to her desperately, while Ted has the time to get the upper hand and holds a gun to his head. However, Lt. Nunally manages to overthrow and neutralise Ted, although it appeared a little too easy, before the police hurriedly enter and declare that his wife in fact still has a pulse.

                                Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is a lawyer in a public office, who has just received a lucrative job offer. His colleague is in awe simply because Willy has progressed so quickly; the kid clearly has ambition. He has one last case to sort out before he leaves, and he is told that it should be quick and clean; the defendant has a written and signed statement saying that he shot his wife. This defendant is Ted. Ted is drawn to Willy, and happily agrees to fight against him in court; Ted will be his own lawyer. Meanwhile, he begins playing mind games with Willy in the run-up to the hearing. And in court, while Willy tries to quickly tie the case up (his heart is not fully in it with the exciting job opportunity dominating his thoughts), Ted is scribbling on his pad ignorantly, blissfully. Lt. Nunally is Willy's next witness, and mid-interrogation, Ted pipes in an out-of-the-blue objection, bearing in mind nobody is aware of the affair, and Ted's motive for shooting his wife is, up until this point, unknown.

                                Ted Crawford: Yes, I wish to object.
                                Judge Robinson: On what grounds?
                                Ted Crawford: [getting up] I don't know...
                                Willy Beachum: Your honor..?
                                Ted Crawford: Um, I don't know what, uh, you'd call it, but, uh, they... It wasn't the first time it happened either... but, um. I, um, I don't know the, uh, legal terminology.
                                Judge Robinson: Well, why don't you try to explain it in layman's terms?
                                Ted Crawford: Um... f*****g the victim.

                                The witness, who is ultimately the one fighting against the defendant, is flawed, and Ted's signed statement becomes useless. Meanwhile, Willy finds himself in turmoil with his current and new job, the latter being under fire. Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), the boss at Wooton & Simms (the new job) is angry; she is fighting to keep Willy as the superiors regret inviting him to the team with this recent slip-up - and her fight his romantically driven. There is a spark between Nikki and Willy, and it seems that is what is keeping Willy tied to the job. He must decide, now, whether he wants to pursue the case at hand, or accept that his boss has taken him off the case; it's his ego versus his "shiny new job". He goes for the former, much to the dismay of Nikki. Ted has found fractures in the system and in the people, and he plans on exploiting them. Willy finds himself at a standstill, and Ted may consequently avoid charges completely.

                                -== The Review ==-

                                It seems odd that 'Fracture' was a film released in 2007 - it has all the elements of a thriller that could have been released five or ten years previous. I wouldn't say that it is predictable per se, more that the overall structure lacks imagination and the film at times borders bog-standard psycho thriller. And I use the word 'psycho' in desperate need of a better one. Ted's character is manipulative and hate-fuelled, and yes a bit mad at times, but his crime is one that is (sort of) legal in certain parts of the world, and for the most part he possesses somewhat of a grounded air, in that he doesn't have a single trace of regret and simply believes he should be able to walk free. Anthony Hopkins is brilliant in the role, and plays the seething, calculated character well. He has arrogance and openly admits to Willy outside of the courtroom that he killed his wife. The twist, the cleverness behind Ted's method, however, is fairly obvious; you either notice it or you don't, and if you do, it makes Willy's realisation of this at a late point in the film a bit 'well duhhh!'.

                                Ted Crawford: You know, my grandfather was an egg farmer.
                                Willy Beachum: This isn't going to be about your, uh, "rough childhood," is it?
                                Ted Crawford: No, I used to candle eggs at his farm. Do you know what that is? You hold an egg up to the light of a candle and you look for imperfections. The first time I did it he told me to put all the eggs that were cracked or flawed into a bucket for the bakery. And he came back an hour later, and there were 300 eggs in the bakery bucket. He asked me what the hell I was doing. I found a flaw in every single one of them - you know, thin places in the shell; fine, hairline cracks. You look closely enough, you'll find that everything has a weak spot where it can break, sooner or later.
                                Willy Beachum: You looking for mine?
                                Ted Crawford: I've already found yours.
                                Willy Beachum: What is it?
                                Ted Crawford: You're a winner, Willy.

                                Ryan Gosling is great too. He plays his parts with such character (I find myself in better need of a word, again) that it almost encroaches overacting; but Gosling avoids this, and in 'Fracture', conveys the notion well that Willy checked out a while ago, so to speak, and a sizeable fragment of his mind is elsewhere. It's his egotistic qualities that prevent him from compartmentalising, and it is here that Ted finds his 'cracks'. The metaphor of eggs represents the entire concept of the film, and endures until the final scene. The theme unifies the film well, and heightens it, especially when creativity appears sparse. The story is generally quite intelligent and engrossing, but it too has its share of cracks - in particular, a rather substandard script. Meanwhile, the soundtrack provided by brothers Mychael and Jeff Danna just doesn't quite hit the spot; at times it's too 'cool' for the scene at hand, others times slightly mismatched.

                                Where the film falls most predominantly is in the completely unnecessary sub-plot. Pike's character Nikki is important at first; she feels attracted to Willy and it is ultimately this that causes her to fight his corner while he's gallivanting with his ego. But it's almost as if the writers felt obliged to follow this through. The romance is silly and poorly established, and the father's status as the judge and his consequent value to the story is a little mundane. It is at a point like this that the writers could have deviated from the archetypal thriller movie model somewhat, but miss the chance. Pike herself plays the role well, but it's not outstanding. Admittedly, none of the other roles are particularly so, which allows Gosling and Hopkins to shine - not that they needed it.

                                -== The Verdict ==-
                                The main problem with 'Fracture', apart from the above contrastingly poor storyline, is that it doesn't present anything new on the surface: a court-case thriller with a seemingly psychotic killer that plays mind-games. I feel that had it been made 5 or more years earlier, it would have been perceived better. Whereas the 'crack' or 'fracture' theme boosts the film, there is an overriding lack of structural originality that ultimately, doesn't matter hugely, but it's the script, certain storylines and soundtrack that let it down. That said, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing and engaging film, and Gosling and Hopkins are superb. I'd recommend 'Fracture' if you like good murder/court thrillers, as it certainly is strong in that respect. Yet, the holes can't help but gape, and the film can't help but fall.

                                -== A Final Word ==-

                                By the end of a review, I usually find it very easy to award a star rating. However, I've found it quite difficult with 'Fracture'. On the one hand, it has some heightening elements and superb performances, and on the other, there is unoriginality and some weaker aspects. If I could give it 3.5/5 I would.

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                                  16.09.2012 12:37
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                                  No wonder Bond hasn't returned to space

                                  'Moonraker' is the eleventh official Bond movie to be released by Eon Productions, the fourth for Roger Moore and the third to be directed by Lewis Gilbert (the other two: 'You Only Live Twice' and 'The Spy Who Loved Me'). At the end of the credits for Bond film #10, 'The Spy Who Loved Me', you may find the words: "James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only"; but he didn't. Due to the massive success of 'Star Wars' and furthermore, filmgoers' resultant newfound obsession with space, Eon decided to bring 'Moonraker' forward and leave 'For Your Eyes Only' for another day - a good move when all is said and done, but the film itself is a different story.

                                  Director: Lewis Gilbert
                                  Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel
                                  Runtime: 126 minutes
                                  Rating: PG
                                  Out now

                                  -== The Plot ==-

                                  A space shuttle belonging to Drax Industries, on loan to the United Kingdom, is hijacked, and M16 orders for 00 agent James Bond (Roger Moore) to return from a mission in Africa. Bond makes his way to California to investigate Hugo Drax's (Michael Lonsdale) stately home & laboratories. He immediately suspects that Drax is behind the hijacking of his own shuttle, and proceeds to probe the grounds. The trail leads him from the U.S. to Venice, and then back to the Americas in Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon, before boarding a shuttle to space. Drax's ideal is to start a new world in space by beginning a new human race and destroying remaining life on earth; can Bond and CIA lovely Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) stop the madman from a deadly and ultimately deranged terrorist attack?

                                  -== The Review ==-

                                  Links to previous Bond films aren't small in numbers. 'Moonraker' is the second in Lewis Gilbert's back-to-back Bond films, with Roger Moore returning as 007. The villain Jaws appears again, while the story revolves around a terrorist set on destroying life as we know it and starting a new world, this time in space (as opposed to the proposed underwater city in 'The Spy Who Loved Me'). However, 'Moonraker' falls massively. Gilbert's direction apparently finds much of its focus in the special FX, while the character of Jaws (Richard Kiel) becomes stale where it had potential to get better. Meanwhile, there are some absolutely ridiculous ideas at play here (from the main storyline of a new world in space to distastefully arty scenes), some terrible acting and a predominant emphasis on comedy. Every series has its blip; there are few substandard Bond films and this most certainly finds its way to the top of the list, or at least near to. Yet the Bond formula is still present; you've got the guns, girls and gadgets, the vehicles (this time coming in the form of space shuttles, a speed boat and the infamous gondola cum hovercraft), the sadistic villain and the exotic locale. It just all goes wrong, really.

                                  Roger Moore is one of my favourite James Bond actors, and I know that he is one of the fans' favourites too. Bond, up until the Daniel Craig era that is heavily influenced by the Bourne series, has never been particularly athletic; he can fend off a series of foes, but rather ungracefully so and often gets caught out. Roger Moore fits this bill, but provides the suaveness we come to expect, too. Out of all the Bond actors, he also provides the most comedy, with his rather patronizing and misogynistic attitude, which lends itself to some truly hilarious moments. But 'Moonraker' finds its laugh elsewhere, as the great Bond one-liners just aren't so great this time. Instead, the film gets laughed at with some dire, embarrassing scenes. Firstly, the gondola sequence. The knife-throwing bloke in the coffin, the classic useless henchman who has absolutely hopeless aim when firing a gun, and of course, the gondola that transforms into a hovercraft. Gadgetry inclusions are vital for a Bond film, but this just goes a bit too far. Secondly, the dog scene in the forest is just absolutely bizarre. John Barry's grinding music accompanies a never-ending chase that is so iconic that it becomes enormously jarring in the Bond context; it's too arty for its own good. And thirdly, the god awful relationship between Jaws and that little French or Scandinavian girl, in particular, the use of Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet overture music that should NEVER have been used in a James Bond film - ever.

                                  And the film's concept is so farfetched, while moments in the final scenes are very unsettling. Drax plans on taking a group of couples up into an ultimately tiny and claustrophobic space station for them to mate and live there until it's safe to return to Earth, and we get shots of Bond and Dr. Goodhead spying on them in the back of their shuttle as they lovingly kiss one another during the ascent to space. It's quite disturbing and evokes strange feelings. But while 'Moonraker' deviates quite heavily from the Bond formula, as aforementioned, typical elements remain. We have a number of fight scenes and vehicle chase scenes that are enjoyable, particularly the one between Bond and Chang in the glass museum, and we get our usual shots of upcoming gadgets which is always a laugh. The added bonus in 'Moonraker', however, is the effects. Eon took its biggest leap yet by setting a Bond film in space, and with it comes some fantastic and exciting visuals - for late-70s standards anyway. The film was in fact nominated for an Oscar in the visual effects category. The forward-shifting of the production of 'Moonraker' was due to the success of 'Star Wars', but 'Moonraker' is highly dissimilar. More parallels can be drawn between this and Kubrick's brilliant '2001: A Space Odyssey', more than a decade after the latter's release. There is more emphasis on the spectacle of space, the visuals are great and there is a lot of influence drawn from '2001' for Drax's space station. What's more, the use of pre-existing music - in particular the music of Strauss (no sign of 'The Blue Danube' thank God!) - pays homage to Kubrick's work. The original soundtrack (scored by a returning John Barry) is inferior in certain respects, when compared to other Bond films from this era. Barry opts for a more orchestral approach as opposed to his usual jazz-infused brass band style, and while he does a good job in that respect, and it suits the film well, there are moments of obtrusiveness and overall, it's not particularly outstanding. Furthermore, 'Moonraker' provides one of the weakest theme songs from the franchise; written by John Barry, lyrics by Hal David and sung by Shirley Bassey.

                                  -== The Verdict ==-

                                  'Moonraker' is close to if not the worst Bond film of Eon's currently-released 22. It's not immediately apparent as to what went wrong, with cast and crew onboard who had previously produced some excellent James Bond films. What is immediately apparent, however, is what exactly IS wrong with the film. Eon were drawn to the popularity of space, and Lewis Gilbert was keen on exploiting special effects and the beauty of space - but there is little else going for it. With ridiculous ideas and poorly executed scenes, some very dire acting and an overall strangeness to the film, 'Moonraker' fails on many a level. It's provocative and distasteful, and while elements of the James Bond formula are nonetheless present, they are disconnected and at times, perhaps due to the context of the film, laughable. James Bond will return, however, in a far superior 'For Your Eyes Only'. And he definitely will this time. Really.

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