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All reviews - Movies (45) - TV Shows (2) - Books (1) - Games (11)

Unsettling and strangely effective

Posted : 2 months ago on 18 November 2018 05:53 (A review of A Field in England)

Director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump are doing something very unique here, something I haven't ever seen before, and take some filmmaking risks that ultimately pay off for a movie that is straightforward and yet deeply difficult to describe in detail. A black and white film set some time in the 1640's in the English countryside, we follow four deserters of their country's civil war who leave the battle behind and choose to seek respite at a pub across a field. Ingrained with superstition, fairy tales and folklore, their simple trip turns sharply strange, leaving the viewer disoriented in a constant state of unknowing, questioning the reality of the situation and feeling as helpless as the characters. I was impressed by the acting of each of the main characters, but particularly stunned by Reece Shearsmith as Whitehead. Powerful images, haunting scenes, and a brilliant soundtrack make this clever low budget folk horror movie stand out as a triumph of modern cinema. 

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for a Good Time...

Posted : 1 year, 4 months ago on 18 September 2017 07:24 (A review of Good Time (2017))

Easily 2017's best film thus far--if you are lucky enough to catch it on the big screen, you'll be in for a visual, frenetic treat that trips you up every time you think you know where you are being lead. Robert Pattinson is mesmerizing and unrecognizable, as he fully immerses himself as Connie, but I was most surprised by Ben Safdie's performance as Connie's brother--and the thick, wild arpeggios of the synth score. This film feels alive, and I look forward to seeing it again.

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Posted : 3 years, 11 months ago on 2 February 2015 06:25 (A review of The Long Dark)


By far the best Early Access Steam game I've ever played. This game is gorgeous, and simply exploring the vast expanse of Canadian wilderness becomes a main driving point as every new cabin or site you discover is like some sort of picturesque painting. I've amassed a considerable screenshot collection, utilizing the handy HD Screenshot (Hud Disabled) hotkey. The beauty is enchanting, but also deadly--which is another great aspect of this game. No zombies or otherworldly threat. Just nature's bites--the cold and the wolves. Those damn wolves...

Surviving is a great challenge in either starting point, making each decision important since it is life or death with every hour that passes. A lot of games tout "Survival" as a selling point, but none have managed to really be an enjoyable experience to me until I played The Long Dark. I think the dev team have managed to strike a near-perfect balance of challenge and reward. Note that I've only played this on the standard diffuclty level--I've heard that the hardest difficulty adds more wolves... I'm confident they will change that and challenge the player some other way, as the wolves are notorious pricks in this game. Like I mentioned, however, I think standard strikes a great balance and has been a lot of fun.

Be aware that there is currently no narrative story mode--Sandbox mode alone is worth the price during a sale. Throughout the play, you'll encounter hints as to what the story may be... I've had a lot of fun with the minimalism of it all, and to see that sense of mystery last so long is impressive. I still haven't explored every last bit of the lands yet, and now they are going to double the size of the explorable terrain! So, I'll just leave off with that--I'm impressed with this game!!

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A Plague of Bugs

Posted : 5 years, 3 months ago on 29 September 2013 06:31 (A review of Dead Island: Riptide)

I didn't even really like the first one, but the co-op is a hell of a fun time, so I figured I'd give this one a shot, too. Got to Chapter 3 with a friend online, had to retire for the evening, and have not been able to join each other's room since.

"Connection to the game you have tried to join could not be established."

The story is bland, and much shorter than the original. The characters are two-dimensional and uninteresting. The villain is unbelievably ridiculous. And while the graphics do look stunning, if you take a closer look at pretty much anything, you start to see shoddiness--some static props are floating, flowers don't blow in the wind, etc. Really, the only thing going for this game was the co-op gameplay. The actual fighting of zombies is a challenge and feels like a life-or-death situation, no matter how pimped-out your weapons are. It's very intense and enjoyable. If only the programming bugs would let me get to that point. I'm just fortunate that I experienced these issues before buying the game, thanks to a free weekend of Steam. This headache is not worth money.

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Shiny game, despite the hoops

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 28 May 2013 05:24 (A review of Battlefield 3)

Ahh, EA. Where to start? Oh, I know. I only own this game because I bought SimCity during its chaotic release week, and for putting up with that debacle (as if I had a choice), I was rewarded with an already-finished game that actually works—in theory.

“We have lost the objective. We have lost the objective! I REPEAT, WE HAVE LOST THE OBJECTIVE!”

I’ll give you a quick backstory of my history with the Battlefield franchise: I loved BF: 1942, liked BF: Vietnam less, and BF:2 would not even function properly on my PC thanks to copy protection and whatever other opening-week nonsense that was happening those years ago. So, given my experience with SimCity and earning a free game for it, I figured I’d give the series another go. Straight away, the game tells me it requires Origin to be played. Well, that’s fine, I already installed EA’s inbred cousin of VALVe’s Steam. I get the game downloaded and patched and ready to play, and click the game in Origin, and it launches my web browser. Wha?

“Um, I just wanted to, uh, confirm that the sighting of the tank is, uh, true, over.”

So, the web browser opens with no explanation or tutorial of its UI or how to actually join a server, so I just click the big “Quick Play” button and wait. This causes Origin to pop up and “sync” the two web services, which makes me wonder: why on Earth do I need to use Origin to do this? Or, alternatively, why couldn’t this game—which requires Origin—actually use Origin to, oh I don’t know, allow me to join my friend’s game, form a group, or simply join a server? The game executable opens in a window, and, if given a chance, will sometimes remain minimized for hours while I get distracted by the internet—diverting gaming hours into the endless nothings of online browsing.

“The enemy has taken all the objectives, I repeat, the enemy has taken ALL the objectives, what the FUCK are we going to do about this, guys?’”

Admittedly, part of that is my problem. But only part! Forgive me for expecting a AAA-title to have it’s own server client UI in-game that doesn’t require me to download a plug-in for my web browser, let alone have a web browser. I just don’t see why Origin couldn’t have handled that, or the game executable itself. OK, this review gets better, just hold on.

“Be advised, we have taken the objective.”

The game, once I finally got into it, was quite confusing—you get dropped into the thick of it with some puny starting weapons and no instructions. Meanwhile, your enemies have been mastering the maps over the course of years, hiding behind a specific bush or spying and killing you through a crack in some distant concrete wall. But this is nothing but a pittance—once the adrenaline starts flowing, you start running around, shooting your friends and figuring out which people are enemies, and the game starts to entertain. Massively.

“Uh, I just spotted an enemy tank; he’s a big fucker, over.”

The respawning system is ingenious. The maps are expansive and varied, with interesting things to do and see in each of them. The weapons and their upgrades are very fun to customize and unlock. However, it’s frustrating to use weapons in co-op that are unavailable online—even to unlock—without paying an extra $20. I find that to be offensive, especially in this multiplayer-centric game, but the weapons they do have available seem more than adequate to counter the more advanced, cooler weapons. It is a fun game, but I don’t see what will keep me interested beyond the tried-and-tired Call of Duty: Modern Warfare unlock system. All-in-all, it seems as if DICE has made a good, solid game that EA has bogged down with their typical anti-consumer policies.

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Fevered feral fantasy

Posted : 5 years, 9 months ago on 30 March 2013 07:49 (A review of Hotline Miami)

"Do you like hurting other people?"

Hotline Miami is psychotic, blisteringly psychotic, but yet subversive enough to penetrate through the fourth wall and have you questioning why, in fact, is this game so fun? The gameplay mechanics are simple: you come to the front door with a mask on and murder everyone. It varies in complexity, as the game gives you a healthy variety of tools with which you can use to make with the red splatters, and rewards you for utilizing your options with new mask choices--each one granting its specific boon. My favorite was Don Juan, the horse mask, granting me "Lethal Doors." In I would charge, typically getting gunned down or having my brains bashed in within seconds, and seconds later trying it again, only slightly different. You can get caught in loops where the same enemy kills you over and over and you insist on keeping the same pattern because it has worked so well until that point and you realize... well, maybe I should say I realized, that the whole thing seemed rather psychotic in nature, but why is it so fun?

"Why did you come back here? You're not a nice person, are you? You make me sick!"

The story lends the whole gameplay element about as much credulity as a handshake from a banker. But that is why it works so well. "Jacket," our unnamed player-character, is seriously unhinged from the start, living alone and, we learn, following instructions left on his answering machine.

"It's 'Dave' from Miami pest control. We need you. A client at SW 104th Street is having vermin problems. Try to handle it as quick and swift as you can. Someone else will clean up for you after you leave. Make sure not to bother any of the neighbors."

How curious our method is of "following instructions." However, Jacket has hallucinations, or maybe flashbacks, of three masked people sitting around him, asking him hostile questions, predicting the future with certainty, and generally being bizarre, which certainly doesn't explain anything, but it does add a bit of clarity to the situation. You are psychotic. All the neon colors, the pulsing retro techno buzz, the blood, the free handouts at every store you go to, the puking in the alleys. You start to see the people you've killed again, grotesque sinkhole foreheads dripping on the carpet. And then you die. Or maybe you don't. And then, once you've beat the game, it almost makes sense that the story is not over, and that you must play as someone you've killed. It would be easy to trust this "Biker" over Jacket, but when the final blood is spilled, it puts everything into question. Why did Jacket and Biker keep following the instructions on their machines? Could the whole thing really just be a couple kid's nihilistic game? Why is this game so fun?

"A picture is starting to take form here... I wonder if it's accurate. Some pieces don't quite seem to fit. Or maybe I just don't like the way it looks."

Hotline Miami manages to hook you with the one-more-try mechanic and a promise of an unforgettable fever dream of feral fantasy. Soak in this inspired indie game. Enjoy the brutality, enjoy the style, but most of all--[Link removed - login to see].

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Surprisingly aimless

Posted : 5 years, 12 months ago on 27 January 2013 10:26 (A review of The Master)

I am a huge fan of P.T. Anderson--have been since I first saw There Will Be Blood and was further swayed by Magnolia. He has a hypnotic way of drawing you in and keeping your attention as things swirl out of control. And so when I saw previews for The Master, it only took me one look into Joaquin's manic gaze before I knew I had to see it.

"If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world."

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie Quell, the enigmatic troublemaker that stumbles his way into Lancaster Dodd's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) world, secret elixirs in-hand. But even here, so close to the beginning, we come to an impass: who is really the star of this film? Both actors give phenomenal performances, not to mention Amy Adams finding ways to shine in the unenviable role of the submissive wife. But the film itself can't seem to decide who exactly this movie is about. There has been controversy over the topic of the film since it is based loosely on the life of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard--but it doesn't tread past the ankles in anything worth mentioning. You see some sides of Dodd that make you think he isn't as supremely confident as he would like to think, and sometimes in those same scenes, you see Freddie has similar doubts. The movie teeters on the edge of climax, making you think something explosive will happen at any moment due to the volatile nature of Freddie--yet the end scene plays out and the only thing it made me wonder is if Lancaster was trying to hide his love for Freddie. Still, this movie has a lot going for it--P.T. has a great visual style with gorgeous shots and detailed scenes. I especially enjoyed the period-piece clothing choices and color palette. I just wish it was more cohesive, which sounds strange coming from me.

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Haunting meta-game

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 7 December 2012 11:00 (A review of Trauma)

This isn't so much a game as it is an interactive story, but what an enthralling story it is. The main protagonist--lets be honest, she is basically the only real character in this story--has just survived a traumatic accident. Now bedridden for an unknown period of time, she finds herself dreaming the same dreams over and over. The hospital psychiatrist gently yet indifferently prods her on as she is tested on her ability to recover, both physically and mentally.

"Do you think that I can be back home this month?"
"Maybe. It depends on your progress."
"There is an exam in three weeks. I've been preparing for quite some time."
"There will always be another exam. I believe you should focus on your well-being first."
"Am I not doing that?"

The game itself focuses on these recurring dreams as you navigate through photographs representing her descriptions as she narrates your actions. I found the dreams to be varied and quite interesting, with plenty to explore and some truly gorgeous shots. Yet even with multiple endings available for each dream, they go by rather quickly. It took me about an hour to beat the game, with only a few alternate endings not found. And yet this doesn't detract my overall opinion of the game. Something about the German narrator (voiced beautifully by Anja Jazeschann) really struck me as detached, hopeless, confused--it really gave me a sense of urgency as I tried to piece together the photographs and search for clues on how to end this infinite loop of depression. If you are curious as to the insight dreams give to outsiders, especially those of a trauma victim, I do not think you will be disappointed with this inexpensive indie gem.

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Ponderous but piercing

Posted : 6 years, 1 month ago on 25 November 2012 11:53 (A review of The Hunter)

I started up this movie without knowing anything about it other than the hook: Martin David (Willem Dafoe) is a mercenary, sent out by an anonymous science lab to hunt down an extinct creature: the Tasmanian tiger. What seemed like it would be an endless hunt for something that doesn't exist turned out to be a search for anything--connection, above all else. Martin is an awkward and enigmatic man who shies away from any sort of close contact. He prefers to keep things simple and quiet, and out in the serenity of nature he is at his most comfortable. Those serene scenes of him traversing the Tasmanian wilderness are a beauty to watch, but they are punctuated by a very disturbing reality. Martin sets traps, steel and improvised, and marks their location. While he loves nature, he does not lose sight of his mission.

"I'd like to go on alone."

His parting words to Jack Mindy (Sam Neill) feel like Martin's mantra. He may not say it to everyone, but you can see it in his face that he'd rather avoid everyone in this town. And by and large, they would rather avoid him--there is a rather heated conflict already in-play between local environmental activists and the loggers they are protesting. Martin plays a delicate balancing act of loyalties for as long as he can until things come to a head, when it is revealed that not everyone is who they seem, or seemed. There is somewhat of a love story intertwined between Martin and Lucy, who's husband has been missing for months without a trace--but I never got the feeling that either of them truly wanted each other. It's Lucy's children, however, that get Martin thinking about his future and about his past. How long will he travel the globe alone, hunting for--well, what exactly is he looking for? When the final scenes came, I was exhausted at the pacing but felt completely emotionally engaged with the characters in the final scene. And so I recommend this film, which is not really a pro-environmentalist tale, but rather a journey to find connection in a cold world.

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Life creeps in

Posted : 6 years, 3 months ago on 16 October 2012 01:14 (A review of The Puffy Chair)

Watching this movie, right from the start, gave me an unnatural desire to film my own short or feature film. Something about seeing the low-fi digital effect of the film and the natural, low-key acting really grounded this quirky and against-the-grain film. I’ve seen the word “mumblecore” attached to “Duplass” many times now, and I’m still not certain what that all entails, but I’ve loved all of their movies and this one is no exception. But what is exceptional about this film is the “figure-it-out-as-we-go” feel to it, because it ties in so well with what is happening on-screen—the chaos, the indifference, the awkwardness, the anger—but what is so strange and endearing is the love I could feel the filmmakers and actors had in this road movie.

“I’m sorry I tackled you.”
“I’m not.”

The setup is this: Josh is about to embark on a solo road trip to pick up an exact replica he bought on Ebay of the puffy chair his father used to own to give it to him as a surprise birthday gift, but after some ‘convincing,’ he decides to take his longtime girlfriend along with for a little getaway. Their relationship is heartfelt but clearly strained—Emily knows what she wants and says it, while Josh seems to just accept the way things are, without saying much at all. Which is what this film seems to be all about—repressed thoughts and feelings—because the more they put off their conversations about the future, and about their love, the longer time they have together. They seem to know things are doomed between them, and picking up Josh’s brother Rhett along the way only acted as a catalyst. Rhett saw the puffy chair as the source of all the bad feelings, when actually it is what finally lifted the veil on a failed relationship. But is it a failed relationship? They clearly have deep feelings for one another, and in the end scene, we can see how that will live on despite them moving on. Good art imitates life. Life doesn’t end in a cute little bow with all of the loose ends tied up—there are always more conflicts and problems to deal with—and this film is great.

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