Movie Project #14: A Prophet [2009]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

A Prophet [2009]

A Prophet [2007]
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
Running Time: 155 minutes

In Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, prison is an intimidating and often brutal venue that is dominated by two groups: the Corsicans and the Muslims. If you aren’t affiliated with one of these groups (and thereby “protected”), you are entirely on your own, and this is not a desirable option.

The film’s main character, a 19-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent named Malik (Tahar Rahim), learns this firsthand. Sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly attacking a police officer, Malik enters as a naive young man — a kid, really. He is quickly singled out by the Corsican mafia as someone they can take control of. Led by the old, gruff Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the Corsicans force a proposition on the new prisoner. They want him to kill a Muslim witness named Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) who is passing through on his way to testify against them. If Malik doesn’t assassinate their target, he will be killed himself. If he does go through with it, he will be protected by the Corsicans through the remainder of his sentence. Truth be told, there is no decision to be made; Malik has to kill this man.

A Prophet [2009]

So it goes in A Prophet, a dog eat dog world. This is just the first test. Malik does a lot of growing in the film, eventually rising through the ranks in absolutely astonishing fashion. As the film goes on, we learn bits of his background. He dropped out of school at age 11, basically raised himself on the streets, and he never learned how to read. Knowing this background makes his ascension even more impressive. Despite his shortcomings, Malik is incredibly street smart, and he quickly adapts to the prison’s hierarchy system.

Malik’s Arab descent allows him to walk the line between both the Muslims and the Corsicans, and he takes full advantage of this. He becomes good friends with a Muslim, Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who teaches him how to read and write. As Malik’s role within the Corsicans continues to grow, he also branches out into a separate business for himself with Ryad. Eventually, thanks to his good behavior he is granted occasional day leaves, allowing him to conduct business on the outside. It is clear that when/if he leaves prison, he is not going to be the same man.

A Prophet [2009]

Tahar Rahim doesn’t look the type who could succeed in prison, but his performance is entirely believable. We never really know quite what he’s thinking, and the film is stronger because of this. Even better is Niels Arestrup as Cesar, basically the epitome of a godfather-type mafioso. He often appears calm, but it’s clear from one look at him that he is not someone to mess with. The performances and setting are as authentic as it gets — Audiard even made it a point to hire former convicts as advisors and extras in the film.

A Prophet‘s tale is a complicated one, but its surprisingly non-violent payoff is immensely satisfying. The extended running time — all 2 1/2 hours of it — is certainly lengthy and even drags at times, but it’s worth it in the long haul. This is an ambitious drama that manages to combine both gangster epics and coming of age stories into one powerful and intelligent film. With its 13 Cesar nominations — and nine wins — it’s clear that many others feel the same way.

8/10

Advertisements

Movie Project #40: The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]
Director: Juan José Campanella
Writers: Eduardo Sacheri (writer), Juan José Campanella (writer), Eduardo Sacheri (novel “La pregunta de sus ojos”)
Country: Argentina
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella
Running Time: 129 minutes

“A guy can change anything. His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. He can’t change his passion…”

In The Secret in Their Eyes, this quote, provided by a relatively minor character, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), works on so many levels. Sandoval’s passion is booze, and he can’t break his love of whiskey, much to the chagrin of his impatient wife. Yet Sandoval is a functional drunk, and he provides a worthy friend and companion to Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), the film’s main protagonist.

Esposito is a retired legal counselor who is struggling to write his first novel, based on a horrific rape/murder case he worked on some 25 years ago. Seeking guidance from his former boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), he begins examining the past events surrounding the case while also seeking possible new information during the present day.

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

The film goes back and forth between these two time periods — 1974 and 1999 — demonstrating the failures of the Argentinean’s justice system at the time. In 1974, when Esposito gets a lead on the possible murderer, his superiors are all too dismissive of his work. For them, they would rather take the easy way out and pin the crime on two completely innocent manual laborers; that is their rather unfortunate form of justice.

Yet Esposito refuses to give up until the right man is caught and behind bars. This legal case is his passion, and he is able to instill the help of both Hastings and Sandoval, even though both of them would rather let the past stay in the past. In one particularly impressive scene, Esposito and Sandoval head to a raucous soccer match in hopes of finding their lead suspect, a devoted fan of Racing Club. The entire film is full of slick camerawork, but it is here where Juan José Campanella’s vision truly shines. An extended take shows the action high above the stadium, where the camera then goes in above the pitch and into the crowd where the two investigators are entrapped among thousands of screaming and singing fans. It’s a remarkable scene, and it only intensifies when the main suspect is spotted, starting off a frenetic foot race throughout the stadium.

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

Even with so much of Esposito’s attention focused on this case, it is clear he has another passion: his long-time colleague, Irene Hastings. For whatever reason — partly due to his lack of self confidence — he struggles to make his move on his very attractive co-worker, despite her not-so-subtle hints otherwise. Their buried romance adds another layer to the case, even as they struggle to remember the past and their own fallacies.

Finally, there is the devastated widow of the murder victim, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago). It’s clear that his passion is his wife, and after her tragic death, he does everything in his power to find her murderer, even sitting for entire days at the train station, waiting for him to show his face. Esposito forms a sort-of friendship with Morales, vowing to help him solve this case.

With so many plot lines in play, it would be easy for the film to become a bit of a mess. That’s not the case at all here — the transitions between past and present day are smooth, and the mashup of thriller, crime drama and romance feels effortless. This is a film that fires on all cylinders, delivering a gut-wrenching story with an unexpected ending, one that no one can soon forget.

9/10

Movie Project #37: Moon [2009]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

moon-poster

Moon [2009]
Director: Duncan Jones
Writers: Duncan Jones (story), Nathan Parker
Country: UK
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Running Time: 97 minutes

According to Moon, at some point in the not-so-distant future, nearly 70% of Earth will be relying on energy derived from the moon. At a mining base on the far side of the moon, there is one man responsible for overseeing the extraction of helium-3 and its subsequent delivery to Earth. This man is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell).

With just two weeks left on his three-year work contract, Sam is starting to demonstrate signs of fatigue from his elongated period of isolation. The first time he is shown, he is looking all too rough with a Grizzly Adams beard. You can almost smell him through the screen. Aided by the idea of finally being able to see his wife and child, Sam cleans up with the help of his computer companion, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

Moon [2009]

One day, after leaving the base to recover a helium-3 canister, Sam suffers a hallucination and crashes his rover into a harvester, knocking him out in the process. When he awakens, he is inside the base infirmary with no memory of his accident. GERTY isn’t all that helpful in explaining the incident, immediately causing Sam to grow suspicious. His further investigations leave him to believe that he may not be alone on the moon after all — although his frequent hallucinations make it difficult for him to determine just what is real.

To say anything more about Moon‘s plot would be a discredit to the film and to its director, Duncan Jones (yes, the son of David Bowie). There is a major plot twist that pushes the film in a new direction, one that raises questions about humanity, loneliness and the ethics of technology.

Although I am not as well-versed in classic sci-fi as I would like, it’s clear that Moon is influenced by some of the titans of the genre, the most obvious being 2001: A Space Odyssey. The introduction of GERTY immediately brings flashbacks of HAL-9000; in fact, Kevin Spacey’s vocal performance is not far removed from that of Douglas Rain. The HAL connection makes us question GERTY’s motives in the early going, though it does eventually become clear that the two computers are quite a bit different. It’s also hard not to see the 2001 influence through some of Moon‘s beautiful interior shots of the lunar base — Gary Shaw’s cinematography is often stunning.

Moon -- Sam Rockwell

But most impressive is the performance of Sam Rockwell, who is on screen for nearly every minute of the film’s hour-and-a-half running time. Rockwell generally impresses in every one of his roles, but this may be his defining moment. His performance requires quite a bit of range, and it’s all the more impressive that he is able to do so almost entirely on his own here. It’s a shame that he was pretty much forgotten about during the award season.

Moon isn’t a perfect film — its ending may be too “feel good” — but it is an impressive debut from Duncan Jones. Two years later, Jones would go on to make the underrated Source Code. His next project, a film based on the Warcraft video game series, is set to arrive in 2015. Given the near-brilliance of Moon, it’s easy to see why he is continually being rewarded with bigger budgets. And hell, if anyone can finally make a good video game movie, it’s probably Jones.

8/10

My Movie Year – 2009

Andy over at Fandango Groovers puts together some really great blogathons every once in a while, and his latest is titled “My Movie Year“. I am a week late to the party, but I had to join in after seeing the great posts scattered around the blogging community. The concept is simple: select your favorite movie year and back it up with five movies to support your claim.

Now, this is actually quite the difficult question, and it has raised some interesting debates across the internet. Examples from critics include 1939, 1959, 1962, 1994 and 1999. All worthy choices, but I opted to go for a more personal route: the year 2009.

This was the year that I absolutely fell in love with film. Now, I had always enjoyed watching movies but it wasn’t until 2009 that I opened up and began indulging in anything and everything film-related. This was also my first full year living in Chicago, and there was a very cheap video store right around the corner from my first apartment in the city. Between that and Netflix, I had access to all sorts of great DVDs.

While 2009 may not be the *greatest* movie year ever, it was still a good one, and I have fond memories of many of its releases. Here are my top five, followed by some honorable mentions:

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart

District 9
District 9

Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds

Up in the Air
Up in the Air

Zombieland
Zombieland

Honorable mentions: (500) Days of Summer, An Education, A Serious Man, Away We Go, Best Worst Movie, Black Dynamite, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Sin Nombre, Watchmen

What is your favorite movie from 2009? Do you have any interesting movie-going memories from that year?

For a full list of participants in this blogathon, head over to Fandango Groovers.

Video Game Review: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box [Nintendo DS, 2009]

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: August 24, 2009

When it comes to puzzle games, the Nintendo DS certainly does not have a shortage of them. There are several great games in the genre, but one series in particular rises above the rest. The Professor Layton series is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, and it has been going strong since 2008. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box represents the second entry in the series (there are now four, with a fifth on the way).

Everyone’s favorite top-hatted gentleman, Layton, and his young apprentice, Luke, are back and looking to solve a new mystery. After traveling to meet the Professor’s mentor, Dr. Schrader, they are shocked to find him dead in his apartment. The circumstances surrounding his passing are peculiar, and rumors are swirling that his death was caused by the fabled Elysian Box, a chest that is thought to kill anyone who opens it. The only thing left behind in the doctor’s apartment is a train ticket for the luxurious Molentary Express, so the duo hop onboard to learn more about this bizarre situation.

While the story is deliriously offbeat, it does a good job of maintaining interest, especially when the train reaches a small town that is enveloped with secrets.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Of course, no one really plays Professor Layton games for their stories — it’s all about the puzzles! Diabolical Box has received a nice boost to the tune of 150+ puzzles of varying styles and levels of difficulty. Some are simple and can be solved in a matter of seconds; others can take much, much longer. Everything is fair game: logic puzzles, brain teasers, sliding puzzles, peg solitaire, and so on. The variety is very much appreciated, as it helps keeps the gameplay fresh throughout.

If you are familiar with the previous game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, then you will feel right at home here. The two games are similar in scope, with the differences being a new story and puzzles, as well as different mini-games.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

An example of a key puzzle

As rewards for completing puzzles, you can receive different objects that are used for various side projects. Some are silly, such as obtaining toys that will give a morbidly obese hamster a workout, whereas others are more interesting, like finding new herbs to brew different types of tea. There are also bonuses that can be unlocked that show character profiles, sound clips and other gameplay aspects. In total, the campaign should last about a dozen hours or more, if you take the time to investigate each area for new puzzles.

I don’t think I have ever seen a poor review for a Professor Layton game, and there is a reason for that: they are just great, quality titles. It doesn’t hurt that Layton and Luke are a charming tandem, two classy chaps who always take the high road. With 150+ puzzles, a lengthy campaign, and some fun mini-game diversions, there is a lot to like with the Diabolical Box. My only complaint is that I wish there was a greater punishment for incorrectly guessing answers. You lose points the first two times you provide a wrong answer, but that’s it. This makes it a little too easy to “cheat” the system. Regardless, this is a fun puzzle adventure, and I can’t wait to tackle Layton’s next journey.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Batman: Arkham Asylum
System: Playstation 3 (also on Xbox 360, Windows and Mac OS X)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Stealth
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: August 25, 2009

I am not a big comic book or superhero guy, but I have always had a soft spot for Batman. I remember buying Batman trading cards (based on Tim Burton’s 1989 film) when I was a kid, and I even watched the ultra campy (but fun) 1960s TV show when it aired on daytime television. After some poor movie sequels in the 90s, Christopher Nolan revitalized the character with his acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy. This success has translated to the video game world, where we have Batman: Arkham Asylum, easily one of the greatest superhero titles ever made.

Arkham Asylum is gripping from the opening moments, as Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) escorts the Joker (Mark Hamill) to the eponymous institution. The Joker is restrained by handcuffs and surrounded by armed guards, but there is still that sinking feeling that shit is about to hit the fan. Sure enough, his accomplice Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is there to override the security system, allowing the Joker to escape. Now it is Batman’s turn to regain control of the asylum, while also thwarting the Joker’s plan to create an army of Titans that threaten Gotham City. All in a day’s work for ol’ Bats, right?

Fans of the comic books (and TV shows and films and so on) will be pleased to see several recurring characters show up. Bane, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy are just a few villains that our caped hero runs into, and there are references to several others as well. In fact, for those who could use some refreshers on the series, there are dozens of newspaper clippings scattered around the game’s environment that can be picked up to learn about backstories for each character. Even non-fans will find it easy to get sucked into the world of Gotham.

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Arkham Asylum’s gameplay consists of a mix of brawling combat, stealth and exploration. The combat, at first glance, seems almost elementary in execution, as just one button is used to attack. However, this “Freeflow” system is surprisingly well-crafted. Along with standard attacks, Batman has the ability to “stun” an enemy, as well as counter an opposing punch or kick. In order to string together long combos (which boost the overall score), he must flawlessly maneuver between each function, dodging enemy attacks while fighting back at the same time. High scores are eventually rewarded with XP, which can in turn be used to upgrade Batman’s gadgets. Many of these can be used in combat as well, such as the Batarang and Bat-Claw. The amount of depth that this simple brawling system has is outstanding.

The stealth aspects allow Batman to hide in the shadows and use his grappling hook to fly from pillar to pillar. Evasion is important in areas where enemies are rampant, particularly when they are carrying guns. Utilizing a healthy mix of brawling and stealth is the way to go to achieve maximum success.

For those who enjoy exploration, the game offers plenty to whet the appetite. There are countless items scattered throughout the environment, many of which give insight to the game’s backstory (as mentioned earlier). Most intriguing is the addition of a whopping 200+ riddles left behind by the Riddler. In every new area, the puzzle-obsessed villain leaves behind a riddle for Batman to figure out. Many of these are tricky and benefit greatly from the use of Batman’s impressive Detective mode. This well-designed feature highlights objects of interest and allows limited X-ray vision on anyone in sight.

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Quite frankly, there is not a shortage of quality gameplay in Arkham Asylum. As an added bonus, there is even a separate Challenge mode that offers bite-sized levels to boost combat and stealth skills. The amount of options and replay value is staggering.

Although Arkham Asylum is now over two years old, its visuals still hold up well today. The game’s environment is very dark and gritty, not unlike Christopher Nolan’s films. This presents a sense of realism that is very welcome, and this is aided by a stellar voice acting cast. Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn are all played by their voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, and the other roles are filled by more-than-adequate veterans on the scene. In terms of aesthetics, everything screams high quality.

I won’t go so far as to say Arkham Asylum is the best superhero game ever made, as many have, but it is certainly up there. The gameplay is near flawless, the story is a worthy entry to the canon, and the presentation is superb. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to appreciate what this game has to offer. As a bargain bin title today, there really is no excuse to miss this.

9/10

Now, onto Arkham City, which I am VERY eager to play.

Video Game Review: Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

Scribblenauts
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Emergent, Puzzle, Action
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: September 15, 2009

Scribblenauts is a perfect example of a game with tremendous potential yet unsatisfying execution. This DS puzzler presents a world full of possibilities, with the only limit being your imagination.

The goal is simple: you are given an objective, and you must find a way to complete this by writing in words, which then appear on screen in their physical forms. Let’s say, theoretically, that the “starite” (the item you need to get to) is on the other side of a lake. You can get there in a number of ways, of course. You could write in “boat” and take that across to the other side. You could get a pair of wings and fly over, or you could get a snorkel and swim across. This is a very basic example, but you get the idea.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

There are a whopping 200+ stages in the game, evenly split up into “puzzle” and “action” stages. Puzzle stages require something to be solved, whereas action levels are more versed in side-scrolling platforming gameplay. Stages are ranked on a four-star difficulty system, so you have a good idea of how challenging a certain level will be. If that’s not enough, there is even an option to create your own level, or just mess around in a sandbox area and try out different words to see what they do. It’s incredible that 5th Cell managed to fit all of this into a DS cartridge, especially considering there are more than 10,000 words in its dictionary.

On the technical side of things, there is no doubt that Scribblenauts is impressive. Unfortunately, there are major issues that severely hamper gameplay. The biggest problem rests squarely on the control system. The main character, Maxwell, is a bitch to move around. You control him by tapping the stylus on screen, but he is very lackadaisical in his movements. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I tried to get him to move to a certain platform, only for him to fall off over and over again. It’s also difficult to pick up items and/or interact with them sometimes. There are moments where the “item taps” will register as an empty space, often creating situations where Maxwell falls to his death. This is all beyond frustrating, and it could have been fixed with a simple solution: just let the character be moved with the D-Pad! As it stands, the game only uses the D-Pad to move the camera from side-to-side. Everything else uses the stylus, which just doesn’t work as it should. Very disappointing.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

There are also problems with the game’s vocabulary. While the sheer amount of words available is staggering, most of the puzzles can be solved with the same basic items. I found myself using the same words over and over again: jetpack, wings, cord. While the game begs for gamers to be creative, why would I want to take the time to type out something infinitely more complex, especially when the game rewards you for finishing a stage quickly? Simple, tried-and-true techniques seem to work best here.

Also, every word available comes in a one-size-fits-all package. There is no way to get a longer rope or a larger blanket. You have to work around the size that the game gives you. This causes seemingly logical solutions to not work at all, even when they should theoretically.

It’s a shame that Scribblenauts was released with so many inherent flaws. The concept is, frankly, brilliant, and it evokes powerful feelings to have the ability to write anything you want and have it appear on screen. There’s still a decent and playable game underneath, but I can’t help but feel that this game could have truly been something special. There is a sequel now available that claims to have improved controls, but I’m not sure I will bother with that one. As it stands, Scribblenauts is a technical marvel but a mediocre game.

6/10

Video Game Review: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
System: PSP
Developer: Climax Studios
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: December 8, 2009

Let me begin by saying that I haven’t played a Silent Hill game since the original PSOne classic came out in 1999. Apparently I am missing out because I have heard nothing but rave reviews for most of the PS2 games. As a way for me to get back into the series, I picked up Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Some will say that this is a bit of an odd choice to begin with since the game labels itself as a “revisioning” of the first game, and it is quite a bit different from the the rest of the series. Still, I got sucked into the psychological side of Shattered Memories, and that’s what maintained my interest throughout.

Right from the start, the game opens with a red “Psychology Warning” screen similar to the FBI warnings that preface movie DVDs. The message claims that “it gets to know who you really are” and that “the game plays you as much as you play it.” Bold statements to be sure, but I have to admit I was intrigued by this idea.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

The game uses psychology in the form of therapy sequences in which you answer a series of personal questions. Your answers to these questions ultimately shape the game around you, and there will be several differences in the game depending on your responses. Some are subtle, such as a tavern turning into either a sports bar or an Irish pub, but others are significant and can lead to some pretty wild endings. It’s a neat feature, and I would love to see more games do something like this.

Just like the original Silent Hill, you play as Harry Mason as he searches for his missing daughter in the eponymous town. Some familiar faces pop up but they are completely different than you may remember. This is a brand new adventure, and the story is a fresh take on the original concept.

The game is decidely split into two styles of gameplay. The main portion revolves around Harry searching frantically for signs of his daughter, finding clues and asking people for help. These segments are completely devoid of combat, which takes some getting used to. Whereas typical survival horror games rely on the unknown and keeping an eye out for unwanted surprises, Shattered Memories has none of this. In the main segments, there are no enemies and it is impossible to get hurt. Instead, occasional puzzles are thrown in the mix to keep interest while Harry is exploring the town. This could get pretty boring actually, but Climax keeps the suspense in tact by throwing a bunch of plot curveballs your way while focusing on some interesting character development.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

The other style of gameplay comes in the form of nightmares. In these scenes, nearly everything in the world turns to ice, and Harry has to escape these environments to get things back to normal. The catch is that there are enemies in these areas, and they can kill you. You can’t fight back other than to throw them off your back. This can lead to some frantic situations when a bunch of them hunt you down and jump you at the same time. Unfortunately, while these segments are meant to provide some sense of thrills in the game, they are very poorly executed. The nightmares essentially turn into a series of trial and error sequences where you quickly run from door to door with no clear idea of where to go next. There’s nothing you can do other than keep trying to find the exit while hoping the enemies don’t catch up to you. After a while, I began to dread these moments. Not because they were scary, but because they were just not fun.

It’s a shame that the nightmare gameplay is so tedious because I really enjoyed the rest of the game, even with its lack of real combat. The story kept me interested throughout, and the ending was just phenomenal. Seriously, the end made me glad I stuck around for the entire game (which admittedly is very short). Shattered Memories is a good effort that utilizes unique psychological aspects, but it will surely alienate some gamers since it isn’t a proper survival horror title. Still, it’s worth a shot if nothing other than to see “how the game plays you.”

7/10

Video Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 13, 2009

I liked the original Uncharted quite a bit, but it took me a while to get a hold of the sequel. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves expands upon the original in every way while maintaining the same adventure/platforming gameplay that was so great the first time around.

Uncharted 2 picks up right where the first game left off. Treasure hunter extraordinaire Nathan Drake is back, this time trying to find out what happened to the lost fleet of Marco Polo. Aided by new and old characters alike, Drake’s journey takes him across exotic locales all over the world. Jungles, snowy mountains, hidden villages — you name it, it’s there.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

Building upon the epic nature from the first game, Uncharted 2 is grandiose in every sense of the word. Again playing out as a big-time summer blockbuster movie, the game has a number of insane cinematic moments. The opening chapter of the campaign heaves itself in your face, forcing you to learn the game’s controls while Drake is trying to climb up a wrecked train that is hanging — just barely — over a cliff. Yeah, this “tutorial” is only the beginning. There are a lot of ridiculous and over-the-top action sequences scattered throughout, and they are just AWESOME. Drake has almost superhuman jumping abilities — which come in handing for the game’s excellent platforming sections — and does a lot of stuff that is physically impossible, but it works because this is a *video game*. For sheer cinematic brilliance in gaming form, Uncharted 2 is among the best.

It certainly helps that the game is stunning, one of the most gorgeous titles available on any platform. The character models are top-notch, and the aforementioned exotic locales are simply beautiful. The details found while traversing these areas are subtle but brilliant, such as Drake having snow get stuck to his pants while in the mountains, or having his clothing become wet after jumping into a lake. With an impressive musical score and some excellent voice acting, Uncharted 2 definitely feels like an action movie.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]

While this sequel is all-around more polished than its predecessor, it still struggles with some minor gameplay mechanical issues. Combat is much improved, as now you don’t have to empty clip after clip into enemies before they finally drop. However, there are still occasional problems with the covering system, namely Drake getting sent to hide behind the wrong piece of cover than what you originally intended. This tends to happen right in the heat of important battles, and can lead to some frustrating deaths that are faults of the gameplay, not the user. There is also a lot of repetition in the game. There are moments where there seems to be gunfight after gunfight, which gets tiresome. Naughty Dog usually does a good job dividing up segments into different styles of gameplay, but there were some areas where it became redundant. Still, there are a lot of EPIC sequences that make up for the occasional monotony.

Perhaps most intriguing about Uncharted 2 is its addition of a multiplayer mode. At first I was wary of this because Uncharted is very much a single player experience, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how well-executed the online play turned out. There are both competitive and co-op options available, each of which has different game modes. I found the co-op games to be the most fun online, as you can either play through various levels while fighting off countless enemies, or you can play an “Arena” mode where you shoot your way through ten waves of villains. The competitive modes include traditional Deathmatch, Plunder (a spin on “capture the flag”), and Turf War (control areas to win), among others. There is still a good-sized community active today, and that should remain for the foreseeable future.

Uncharted 2 has received an impressive amount of accolades — and Sony has made sure that we are aware of this by listing “25 Perfect Review Scores” on its cover — and most of these high marks are deserved. While I still found issues with some of the gameplay quirks and general repetitiveness, I greatly enjoyed working my way through the single player campaign. The addition of a high-quality multiplayer section is just the icing on the cake. If you’re a fan of giant action/adventure epics, you will feel right at home with Uncharted 2.

8.5/10

Movie Review: Enter the Void [2009]

Enter the Void [2009]

Enter the Void [2009]
Director: Gaspar Noé
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Language: English
Country: France

Man, Gaspar Noé sure knows how to test an audience’s patience, doesn’t he?

Perhaps best known for 2002’s Irréversible, an incredibly disturbing portrayal of a rape and a murder, Noé has created another trying piece of work with 2009’s Enter the Void. At a sprawling and strung-out 161 minutes in length, ETV is not for everyone.

The movie follows a young drug-dealing American named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) who is living in Tokyo. For the first 25 minutes or so, the movie shows Oscar’s life via a first-person point of view. This allows us to experience some pretty astonishing moments, particularly when Oscar takes a few hits of the powerful hallucinogen DMT. While Oscar is tripping, some batshit crazy visuals spin out of control on screen. Later, after snapping out of his quick but powerful trip, Oscar heads out to drop off some supply to a friend of his. The dropoff turns out to be a drug sting, and shit goes haywire from there. Oscar frantically tries to flush the drugs down a grungy toilet while the police surround him. He yells out that he has a gun, and the police instinctively shoot him from behind the door. At this point, Noé shows us his interpretation of death, as we watch Oscar leave his prone body, still from a first person point of view. This is all really powerful stuff, especially since it is all being seen directly through Oscar’s eyes.

Enter the Void [2009]

From this point forward, Oscar’s soul leaves his body and we now follow him through past and present as he experiences what is essentially the ultimate hallucinogenic trip. His soul looks back on his too-close-for-comfort relationship with his sister (Paz de la Huerta) and how they fended for themselves as orphans. He checks in on how his sister and his friend are coping with his death, and what ultimately becomes of his body.

During all of this, the streets of Tokyo are alive with pulsating and flashing lights. Ever wanted to experience an acid trip without actually taking the drug? Enter the Void may be your best bet. The lights are everywhere, often with vibrant colors that fill up the screen. This film is definitely not recommended for those sensitive to such visuals.

Enter the Void [2009]

In fact, Enter the Void is more of an audio/visual experience than anything. Between Gaspar Noé’s unique camerawork and Thomas Bangalter’s tense soundtrack, it is easy to get enamored with the spectacle of it all. Unfortunately, it seems little effort was made to provide much in the way of character depth and dialogue. These aspects are presented in a passable sort of way, but I feel that they could have been fleshed out more.

I was in awe for the first half of the movie, just sitting there while admiring the beautiful mindfuck happening before my eyes. Unfortunately, Oscar’s journey as a soul began to grow tedious after that point, and the movie dragged on a little too long. I regained interest during the ridiculous and sex-crazed final ten minutes, but that significant amount of time in between was more tiresome than anything. Only so much can be done with a concept like this, and Noé drove the point home a little too hard.

Still, even with its excessive run-time, Enter the Void is an experience unlike any other I have seen. Its almost as if Noé took the trippy sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey and expanded it into a full-length feature, twisting it into his own distorted point of view. Enter the Void could have used some mindful editing, but it is an unforgettable adventure all the same.

7/10