Thursday, April 30, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: The Rewrite

2014, Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice) -- download

It must be very odd to be a movie writer who writes with an actor in mind. Lawrence has written four movies with Hugh Grant. I get it, you get a picture of your main character in your head, having worked with them before and just want to run with it. But what if the mains are not on the same page as you? I don't think Sandra Bullock, who has also led four of Lawrence's movies, would have liked his one, as it small movie without much oomph. Meanwhile I imagine Hugh Grant is fine, as long as its a Hugh Grant role. You know the ones, where he is a snarky, self-aggrandizing but slightly befuddled man who usually charms his way out of a predicament. This role allows him to maintain his essential character, even as he ages.

P.S. Marisa Tomei seems quite happy doing small roles in small movies and I applaud her for them, for more often than not, they are great roles. And an actor has to work, right?

So, Hugh Grant playing Hugh Grant, this time as a writer who had one great screenplay and has since been living off its fame. His agent sends him to be the teacher of a screenwriting course in a small college, just to make ends meet, while he writes his next best thing. He hates the idea. Of course he does, exchanging LA for upstate NY sounds like a bad idea. That is the premise, and the expected turnabout, where he learns to love the small college, town and its quirky people hits all the expected notes. But its a charming formula that works.

The thing is that there is an underlying laziness to the writing, which weirdly mirrors Grant's character. There are numerous women in the movie, as Grant makes sure his class is dominated by cute young things, but very few have much of a role. They all seem to exist to be the sounding board for his charming barbs. Even Marisa Tomei, who is expected to be the love interest, given time, is thinly sketched playing her usual single mom with lots of pluck. Maybe if Bullock had actually come along for this one, we would have had more of a developed main character. Alas, we had lackadaisical charm, not quite up to the sweet status, and a chuckle worthy romantic comedy. It will be great Netflix fodder.

P.S. I had to chose this poster because all the others were in this "too many teeth" smiley creepy stage.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


2014 Neill Blomkamp (Elysium) -- cinema

I really should be writing these around the days when the movie is still at its prime in the theatres, and in my head, instead of so long later that it has left your collective mind. And my head. But blog, not review site. Procrastination.

I like Blomkamp. I loved District 9 and I enjoyed Elysium despite it lacking something. I like his world, his vision much more than I like the stories he has created of late. OK, maybe not the stories themselves but the execution of them. I allow to give him time to work on that instead of having it so knife edged precise, that he burns out after a few good movies, like Shyamalan.

So far, Blomkamp also has a desire for a societal meaning to his movies. If you recall, District 9 was as much social satire as it was science fiction. The movie begins with a bureaucratic eviction notice served to aliens who may not even be able to read the contract they are shown. Sharlto Copley as low level (the program director's son in law), bumbling Wikus, is oblivious to the fact they were a slave race that may not even understand contracts, notices, etc. let alone read it. Its as comical as it is tragic. And once he is infected by the alien virus, he becomes as persona non grata as the aliens he refused to understand.

Chappie is rather heavy handed in the satire. Sometimes stumblingly so. To the point it sometimes seems unintentional.

Dev Patel is Deon, a robotics engineer with a desire to create the first self-aware AI. He has already had great success with his robot policemen, but they have a very narrow direction. We've seen these guys before, in his 2004 Tetra Vaal and also in Elysium. They are smooth moving CGI characters that seem more like traditional effects, they blend so seamlessly into their scenes. I love how Blomkamp is ever reusing his passion pieces, retooling them and expanding their repertoire. It parallels Deon as he retools one of his broken down police bots into Chappie, effectively the body being worn by the AI he hammers out on his home PC after he leaves work for the night.

Yes, another exploration of AI and the ramifications it has. But, no not really. The ramifications are rather glossed over until the movie reaches its climax. The movie is mostly a satirical look at how we react to the AI emergence. Deon is ecstatic at Chappie's birth but quickly annoyed when his place as surrogate father is overshadowed by the comical criminals that adopt him. Deon wants to be worshipped as creator, to have his creation stay rather innocent and perfect. But said criminals, played faithfully by South African punk/rap/whatever band Die Antwoord, have other plans for our steely main character.

Chappie emerges in a childlike state, ready for knowledge but with a rather confusing base state. Blomkamp seemed less interested in how a fresh AI would actually be and more interested in how we as humans could just mess things up for him. It could start its programmed life with so much downloaded but Deon has left him rather empty, maybe just dominated by a learning protocol. And seeing his born in the lair of the criminals, the first things Chappies learns are.... tainted.

Deon wants father-god worship, Ninja wants a working tough-guy machine to help him commit crimes and Yolandi (or ¥o-landi Vi$$er) sees Chappie as the newborn child, her child to be protected and coddled. Chappie seems to be the only one who gets what he is, how he has to emerge and how he deserves to live. Hell, Deon doesn't even seem to care that Chappie has a time-clock ticking, an irreplaceable battery that, when it dies, takes Chappie with it. I am sure Deon is already conceiving the next version, the one that will worship him. But Chappie has other ideas and the entire Internet of ideas is there at his disposal.

And of course, the rest of the world wants Chappie dead. A sentient robot scares them, not completely without validity considering its a gun-wielding cop bot. But Hugh Jackman's religion-bending, mullet wearing engineer in shorts really wants Chappie dead, but mainly because he wants his own personally designed cop bot to win out the contract for law enforcement in Joburg.  Jackman's bots are big, mean and full of weapons -- think ED-209 (Robocop) for a modern age. But with a remote control pilot.

I am pretty sure Jackman's character was meant to represent some social stereotype in South Africa, in his pseudo safari look, his mullet and religious fervour, but it is lost on us in NA. It still plays well into the satire, as Jackman sits only a few cubicles away from Deon but is so far away in design and success. The commentary of these  two geniuses sitting in cramped cubicles pumping out technology that sets the tone for an era made me snicker, with its commentary on the men who do the work and the suits in their offices making decisions. That Sigourney Weaver as the boss wants Chappie dead is more a matter of not understanding and not controlling whatever the hell Deon has created, than it is a real human reaction.

In the end Chappie lives, of course he does. But whereas Wikus ran off into the anonymity of the townships, now a full fledged alien, Chappie and Deon cannot be anonymous. They are the next stage in evolution of life on Earth. And yet, so very very dependant on their creators.

The satire was not entirely successful. I could not get over Ninja and Yolandi and their cartoonish presence. For them, Chappie was just the latest tech they couldn't understand but wished to exploit. I don't think they got much of a breakthrough this was. And we have to sit through so many comical interactions between them and Chappie, for a moment I really thought Blomkamp was fond of Short Circuit. But the movie is so much fun to watch, I forgave those aspects.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

xBox One: Destiny

I didn't enjoy Destiny and I cannot fully explain, even to myself, why. The game was the highly anticipated (yes, I know its been out for ages, but it was highly anticipated before it came out) from Bungie, the same studio as Halo. They claimed it would be revolutionary, innovative and a ton of other buzz words. What we got was a very very pretty MMO-style FPS. Ahem, Massively Multiplayer Online style First Person Shooter, for the benefit of my non-gamer readers. And that meant grind, lots of grind. But in a world with great art design. Again, grind is the repeating the same task over and over and over and over to accomplish a larger end goal. For example, collecting a resource from the fallen body of an enemy 50 times.

Premise. Its the distant future, long after a big (moon sized big) alien sphere was discovered. That discovery ushered in a new age for mankind, allowing them to leap forward in technology, colonize the other planets in our solar system and reach for the stars. The sphere, called The Traveller, had enemies and they ended our golden age and reduced us to ruin, from massive colonies down to one city, on Earth, with The Traveller floating above. We, as main character, awake from the dead accompanied by a floating Tyrion Lann... I mean, Peter Dinklage voiced robot. We don't know who we are, why we are, but we are a type of hero called a Guardian. Guardians exist to protect The Traveller and hope to discover why we fell and help the system recover. And there are aliens.

The background is sketchy, broad strokes of mystic scifi peppered with post apocalypse. We get more and more as we do missions but it never really fills in anything. There is no real story here, just a translucent attempt at creating a vast world with vast things happening. Hell, we don't even really find out why we were dead and why we lost our memories. There are undead aliens burrowed into the Moon, there are robotic intelligences hanging out on Venus, there are four armed aliens on Mars. All the alien races have boring names like The Fallen or The Cabal or The Hive. It gets rather vexing. Hah. That's a pun on another alien's name, The Vex. Yeah, I yawned at that too. Yawning is par for the course in this game.

I don't get it. In many aspects, Destiny is a loot-gathering, item-upgrading game like Diablo III. You go out and shoot the same enemies over and over to find special items, weapons, armor and stuff in order to upgrade your current weapons, armor and stuff. In fantasy games, this is fun for some reason, watching your guy put on different fancy suits of armor or wield neat, flashy weapons. But here I got so very very bored as I was challenged on fighting enemies for about 10 levels. The grind was very anti-heroic. It always felt dangerous, not challenging dangerous but act-too-cautious-in-order-to-survive dangerous. And that was ignoring the occasionally blundering into enemies you couldn't hope to defeat. It wasn't until about midway through the game, that it picked up and you could actually take down enemies with abandon. And the cool stuff started to drop.

Most of the stuff is usual stuff. Weapons, armor and currency. Much of it were crafting materials of which were almost solely to be saved for later in the game. You also got to upgrade your spaceship, but only in a cosmetic way. The only point of the spaceship was to make the load screens not as boring. So why the frick does my spaceship need a hat. Non-gamer friends? Hats are a general reference to a common cosmetic change to characters in game that have no effect on game play, but make you prettier, i.e. your character can put on a hat. Spaceships don't need hats.

As for the multiplayer aspect of it, it was more like MMO-light. There were always other real people running around in the background but I never interacted. Back in the MMO days I did that as well, but they at least made the world feel populated. The only time, in Destiny, that the other players felt required for the game was during Raids -- special, tougher missions that always had 1-3 people involved. You needed those other players. And of course, there was an arena style area, where everyone could fight everyone. Most MMO players looooove PvP, player vs player. I don't. I just get my ass kicked over and over and over by kids 1/3 my age.

It was around mid-level I realized this was a game for Real Gamers (tm) i.e. those people that understand the minutiae of this type of gameplay. They are about builds, min-ing and max-ing characters, strategies in raids, etc. They use tons of jargon. I just wanted to play a game and have some fun and be immersed in a world. Its why I got bored with MMOs, but at least they had some fun story elements that were always in play. Main missions, side missions, expansion packs -- TONS of story. The story in Destiny finishes after level 20. Yes, quickly done and over. The rest of the game, all the gameplay, everything else you would do with the game is about just advancing your character during hours of rinse & repeat of previous missions. OMG yawn.

Not long after finishing the story, I quit. And I gather many people would say the game is just beginning at that level. But for me, it was done. And I am rather disappointed. It was an Xmas gift, it was a highly anticipated game. It was boring.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


2015, Christopher Leone (writer for The Lost Room) -- Netflix

Getting it out of the way, Parallels is the new age Sliders. Its a show, and I will stick to calling it a show even if its only a pilot presented on Netflix as a movie. This show is produced by Fox Digital Studio, the imprint that just about every big media studio now needs. Finally, they are getting it and breaking ground in new forms of production and distribution. Even if they don't fully get it, at least the attempt is there. But the model is still evolving so I will forgive that.

So, Sliders. Parallel worlds. For each and every possibility, every choice we make, each choice anyone makes, there is a world. So, it might be as simple as New Coke was a success. Or it might be as drastic as the Americans won the war of 1812 and we are (*shriek*) just another bunch of states. Now imagine you can travel from one to the other. That is the basic premise of any parallel world fiction. Sliders had them swooping down tubes of energy, desperately trying to get home. Parallels uses a building that exists in all worlds. Yes, a Tanelorn or Well of Many Worlds. A building is the portal to all the alternate worlds, existing in all realities, no matter how different they are. This will be interesting should they go to one where technology never went past medieval.

Ronan and Beatrix are two siblings brought back together by a mysterious message from their father. This message leads them to said building where they are almost immediately sent to a world destroyed by nuclear holocaust, one that may or may have not been caused by their father. Conflict, mistrust and mysterious secondary characters are introduced pretty decently for a non-big studio production. Its not quite Lost in its weirdness and confusion but there are references to high technology and legacies mixed with a slight possibility of the main characters actually returning to their home reality.

I loved it. But I also loved his The Lost Room, which dealt with a weird never changing hotel room and the magical items created when you removed an item from the room. It plays on my love of the multiverse, alternate realities and the ability to travel to them. The acting is decent enough and the story is more solid than many shows actually being aired right now -- think Olympus if you have seen it, much to my pity for you.

I desperately need this to make it to regular series status. Hopefully enough views on Netflix will influence such.  Hint hint.

Graig also rather enjoyed it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

3 Short Paragraphs: Young Ones

2014, Jake Paltrow -- download

Speaking of post-apocalypse. Wait, we weren't, we were speaking of apocalypse. This is not that, but more the slow burn ending of the world and the people living in that po-ap age.  This world is ending as the water goes away, as the people pull back to the cities behind the wall (not unlike Beasts of the Southern Wild), as those they leave behind struggle desperately to survive, fighting to keep a way of life they barely remember. The water may be gone, but its only mostly gone.

Michael Shannon plays Ernest Holm, alcoholic and father of two. He lives in a dust bowl, protecting his land, but for what reason, even he is not sure. He makes enough money carrying supplies to the water miners in the mountains, those rough men who live off alcohol and dirty magazines, digging the water out of the dust, to be sent only to the city. Where other movies would have them drilling for oil, these men drill for water. In fact, this movie feels like many other movies. Think any Australian Outback movie where the world has ended and blood is drawn over what is left. Think There Will Be Blood and the obsessive oilmen. Think westerns and their duels with the rich and ambitious, while eking out lives in dust and violence.

I am not sure if I liked this movie, but I did like how it presented itself. Of course I did, its po-ap. But presentation wise, no its not. In fact, it felt less bleak than The Rover. There are used robot salesmen, for frack's sake. There is civilization but these people chose to live outside it, not wishing to be under the heels of civilized life. But beside the struggle for water and life, there is the familiar desire for control, power and family. Nicholas Hoult is the interloper who seeks to take Elle Fanning, daughter of Holm away from the homesteader. Kodi Smit-McPhee is the other Holm, seeking to keep his family going. While hanging onto the western motif, their interactions are fun to watch and well acted, but in the end, nothing is really compelling. Well, maybe the use of a realistic bigdog robot.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

2014, Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn) -- Netflix

The first movie, Sin City, is from the days before Frank Miller proved himself to be a misogynist and dropped from the hearts & minds of the comic book world. Oh, there are still the mouth breathers that love what he does and what he stands for, but really, despite having created some of the most iconic images out there, he is not liked very much these days. The extreme worlds he creates, film noir but full of ultra-violence and over the top characters, are still compelling but I am not sure if the world wants it anymore, and even Robert Rodriguez seems to be calling this one in.

As the movie opened, my first thoughts were, "Was it always this cartoony?" I remember Sin City with its shadows, the angles and the stark black vs white. But I don't remember it being so phony looking. Maybe its just time, but for the most part, the movie forgets how to setup a scene, much of them looking like SyFy level green screen creations. Cartoony. Only the scenes that are built straight from the comic have any weight to them, any allure and wonder. THOSE scenes look incredible.  Nancy on her bed in a halo of the sheets. Dwight coming in through the skylight. But even the tastefully (*snerk*) done nude scenes with Eva Green become tiresome as the "look! artful shadows! obscuring smoke!" is used over and over and over. By the end of the movie, I was wishing the style was done away with for this movie.

As for the movie itself, it resurrects the mixed stories and chronology of the first but messes up any continuity, completely, utterly and confoundingly. Marv should be dead for about half the movie, based on what he did in the first. If they are happening concurrently, then at least cut his hair to mirror the first's, not that silly mullet he is wearing. And even if you ignore the Dwight is not Clive Owen bit, things gets messed up there too. Yes, this movie requires Googling someone's blog post to even make half-sense of the timelines. That is what nails the coffin lid down for this movie, showing it to be slapped together for dollars and not whatsoever for the art it could be.

Was there anything enjoyable to warrant the Like I gave it on Netflix?  Yes, Josh Brolin is utterly brilliant in this, from his glare and growl to the way his body moves. He is solid meat and willpower and carries every scene he is in. Eva Green really plays the Miller iconic woman, i.e. All Women Are Evil Manipulative Witches, to the tee. Yes, her breasts do as much of the acting as she does, but she really seems to relish these roles. And Gordon Joseph Levitt's truncated character arc is completely sold; you could tell he just dove into the role, and I just loved loved loved those stacks of coins they gambled with. Really, those coins made me forgive much of the movie.

OK, I suppose I should own up a bit. I won't deny the Nancy dance scenes still work for me. But her story arc was wasted.  Having her go nutzoid and Marv tagging along like a lovesick puppy was a disappointment, because one of the things the first movie had established is that Nancy gained strength from the death of Hartigan. Shame.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Notes for the End of the World: a quartet of fatalism

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World -  2012, Lorene Scafaria - netflix
It's A Disaster - 2012, Todd Berger - netflix
These Final Hours - 2013, Zak Hilditch - netflix
Melancholia - 2011, Lars Von Trier - netflix


We may not always agree, as the title of our little website says, but one thing David and I can always agree on is we're fascinated by end of the world-type movies. I don't know what it is about watching characters face their impending doom, but based on premise alone it's going to be a deep, possibly philosophical, probably emotional journey.  Though these types of movies by conceit alone must end with the end of the world (Spoiler Alert), they aren't necessarily completely depressing or bleak, as the main characters' journeys invariably end with them finding some sense of peace and acceptance. Sure, there's a hopelessness and inevitability that pervades the proceedings, but the fantasy of it is in going out feeling satisfied.  Another draw to these types of stories is, in part, the feeding feeding of that nihilistic bit of us that sometimes would just like it all to be over with, and knowing that we're not missing out on anything.  The end of the world is the ultimate in shared experiences.

There's a difference between impending apocalypse movies where there's no potential salvation, and possible apocalypse movies like Armageddon or Deep Impact or 2012 or any zombie movie, where the main theme of the movie is hope and survival.   Often those type of movies -- particularly the bigger, Hollywood mainstream vehicles -- seem to think that most of humanity perishing (save for a few main characters) is better than all of humanity perishing, whereas I think that having a main character face not just his or her own mortality, but the end of everything, can be a much more interesting, unique and individualistic journey.  Given the rise of zombies in pop culture, and the ongoing prevalence of post-apocalyptic stories (can't wait for Mad Max: Fury Road) it seems en masse we're more interested in the survival angle than with finality, and like fantasy/nightmare worlds that result more than no world at all.  As such, I find films like these are little gems, affecting and effective.

Here are four films I found on Netflix that deal with the end.  (A couple other recommendations: Don McKellar's Last Night (1998), The Rapture (1991) and The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961))


Watching Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was a shocking experience, moreso than any of the other of the films I'll discuss here, since this was a major Hollywood motion picture starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightly that was sold as either a comedy romp or a romantic comedy (depending on the trailer or commercial) rather than a fairly bleak tale about the actual end of the world.  I mean, "the end of the world" is actually telegraphed in the title, so why didn't I expect the actual world to end?

The opening minutes of this film are as cold and sobering as any on this list.  Relationships fall apart, people commit suicide, riots break out, desperation and depression reign.  Carell's Dodge (that's his character's name, I'm not referring to his truck) had his wife literally jump out of the car when word was given of the failure of a rocket meant to destroy an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.  He's pretty bummed out thereafter, but still making the slow journey into work only to have a coworker's body smash into the hood of his car.  A party held by friends raises his spirits none, and the thought of meeting anyone new just to be with someone at the end seems meaningless.  When he formally meets his flighty British ex-pat neighbour Penny (Knightly) for the first time, she's just looking for an escape from her ex, and Dodge offers her the couch.  They make friendly but it's little more than that, until she gives Dodge 3 years' worth of mail that got mis-sorted into her box.  Among the letters is one from his high-school sweetheart whom he never got over requesting reconciliation. With his journey set before him, Penny is dragged along since a riot is approaching their building.  An unusual road trip ensues.

At every turn I was expecting the film to turn into the comedy it was promoted as, yet by the halfway point, it was obvious this was never intended to be a straight up comedy (despite the stunt casting of many comedic actors like Rob Coddry, Rob Huebel, Patton Oswalt, T.J.Miller, as Gillian Jacobs), but rather a drama with the odd moment of comedy.  And even when it is aiming for levity there's an undercurrent of unease.  The film never finds a stable tone.  It wants to be funny but it won't commit to the levity, and it wants to be a drama but it wasn't cast to be such.  It doesn't aim to be romantic, at least not until the third act where it's evident that these two characters share a connection, but even though it kind of works, the romance doesn't ring true (I'm still trying to decide if the movie is saying they connect so deeply because it's the last connection they will make in their lives, or if it's truly something deeper... I think it wants to be the latter but I have a hard time buying it for real).

It's actually a quite potent movie, but not a consistent movie and certainly not the movie that was originally sold.


Of the four films here, It's A Disaster is the odd one out because it's not actually an end-of-the-world scenario.  It's an end-of-their-world scenario, but the world as a whole isn't ending.  It hits a lot of the same notes as an end-of-the-world story does, hence why it fits.  Like Seeking a Friend..., this film was sold as a comedy.  Unlike Seeking a Friend..., this one is actually a comedy.  A dark comedy, but funny nonetheless.

The film finds a group of friends gathering for a couples brunch in a suburban home.  Tracy (Julia Stiles) is bringing her new boyfriend Glenn (David Cross) to meet her friends for the first time, finally confident she hasn't found one that's crazy.  Famous for their brunches, their hosts, Shane (Jeff Grace) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) are hiding that they're getting a divorce.  Drug addled musicians Buck (Kevin Brennan) and Lexi (Rachel Boston) are very freewheeling and flirtatious, while Hedy (America Ferrera) and Pete (Jeff Grace) have been engaged for five years with no actual plans to get married.

Cross starts as the audience surrogate as he attempts to navigate the awkward dynamics of the group, but the film quickly and smartly establishes each of the characters and their individual interpersonal dynamics.  Very soon we get a sense of who each of these characters are, with no real surprises (save one) added on, just more depth.  I like the low-stakes dynamics of the group's interpersonal conflicts (it feels very much like a long-lived group of friends, complete with longstanding issues and tensions that have to be carefully traversed) measured against the very large threat outside their doors.

The imposition of the terrorist attack on their lives provides a very interesting vehicle for these characters to explore their relationships with each other, while at the same time never forgetting to address the problem outside.  A lot of the conversation, for instance, happens when they all search the house for a working battery operated radio.  When one of the characters mentions they remembered taking a shower and seeing a shower radio, the briefly celebrate, until one of the homeowners says "Wait, when did you take a shower here?"

It's a pretty note-perfect dark comedy through to its not-quite conclusion.  And it's really quite refreshing to see Cross playing a nice, normal guy (well,,,,) for a change.  He's surprisingly good at it.


These Final Hours is an Australian feature about the looming end of the world and one detached young man's desire to avoid it.  James (Nathan Phillips) leaves the woman he loves behind at an oceanfront home to head inland for an end-of-the-world blowout party.  He doesn't want to feel a thing.  But the journey inland is interrupted by a crazed machete wielding maniac, forcing him from his car.  After successfully fleeing, he searches for a vehicle to continue his journey only to witness two men carrying a screaming young girl from their van into their home.  He wrestles with stealing their van and leaving and saving the girl, but ultimately saves the girl.  Rose wants desperately to reunite with her dad for the end of the world and James at first wants to off-load her, to find someone else who will help her, but ultimately decides it's his mission, not anyone else's.

James' life has been anything but a virtuous one, so to take care of this child, to help her find her peace when he can't seem to find his own, gives him some meaning.  The story is a redemption tale, not for any one thing James did, but making up for a life wasted seeking escape instead of actually living it the way that meant anything.

Like Seeking a Friend..., it's largely framed around a road trip, that finds strange and unsettling encounters with people and how they're dealing with the end of the world.  James makes it to the party, with Rose in tow, and the moment he arrives you can tell he's unsure why he's there.  Where this was his objective, his mission, he now looks upon this celebration with disgust, more in regards to his once-strong desire to be there than the people who seem more than content to be there.

It's not a flawless movie, but it's got a strong arc and it's quite well acted.  There's a few pained cliches, such as the radio narrator's updates on when the annihilation wave will hit (in this scenario, the meteor has already hit North America and it's some hours before the wave of fire crawls its way to Australia), even when the radio isn't on (total shades of Vanishing Point), and James' last minute reunion.  Yet, even the cliches are used well.  I liked the meeting of James and his mother the best.  Quite obvious that these two had an exceptionally strained relationship, and even though it's the end of the world the bad blood doesn't totally come clean.  Yet, they still get their moment, and it's absolutely beautiful.

Where most of these movies blink out with a blinding white light, this one ends facing the wave of fire, the heat searing before the wave even hits.  It's such a different visual, impressively rendered.


Finally, there's Melancholia, the big one in this group.  It's the one from the biggest-name director, Lars Von Trier, and the one backed with the most acclaim, making plenty of best-of lists, including the Dissolve's best of the decade (so far). It's easy to see why this has garnered such attention during the opening minutes, a lengthy montage of breathtakingly staged, slow motion photos that foreshadow the events of the film, set to Wagner. These disparate yet kinetically charged visuals slowly reveal their meaning as the film progresses, but the film can't quite sustain the sad glory that this prologue delivers.

What follows is a remarkable film indeed, but not necessarily a likable one.  The film is divided into two arcs, one centered on Justine (Kirsten Dunst in easily her career-best performance) on her wedding day, the other her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the days that follow.  The story opens with Justine and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) in the back of a limosine stuck in a tight turn on a road in the back country.  At times Justine looks utterly miserable, at times she laughs, at times it seems she's putting on a smile because she should.  They're late for their reception, which is at the  immense family estate of her brother-in-law, John (Keifer Sutherland).  An elaborate and intricate evening has been planned and Claire, John and the wedding planner (a curiously delightful Udo Kier) are excessively stressed an annoyed.  Her boss (Stellan Skarsgard), in his toast, has both promoted her and requested a new tagline for a campaign by the evening's end, dangling his nephew's career in front of her if she fails.

Justine tries to keep a brave face as much as she tries to keep interest in the whole affair but her mindstate won't let her.  Her sister tries to coax her through but just sees Justine's depression as a thing she does.  Michael meanwhile offers her the promise of a tranquil apple orchard to help her be happy.  In both cases, their intentions are good, but obvious that neither truly understands what is happening.  Justine's apathy starts into self-destructive behavior, her mother is cold and detached as ever and her father seeks party and escaping from reality.  Justine desperately wants the compassion, solace and care of her parents and receives nothing despite her pleas.  What inevitably results is one of the most cataclysmic of all wedding receptions.

Meanwhile, when dusk broke, a new star had appeared in the sky.  John cites it as Antares. By the end of the evening Antares was gone.

When Claire's segment begins, the world is preparing for a rogue planet, named Melancholia, to pass by Earth in a couple days' time.  Claire feels a heavy sense of foreboding but John constantly reassures her that it's just a fly-by, that it will be the greatest astrological event in history, but everything is fine.  Clare reads doomsday sites and doesn't know how to prepare herself.  Meanwhile, they take Justine in, who has become practically crippled with melancholy, barely able to move.

As the planet moves closer, Justine seems ever more at ease; not happy, just accepting.  Meanwhile Claire's angst accelerates and she doesn't understand Justine's calm, perhaps even envious of it.

The film is a potent look at depression, conveying very well (for the most part) the difficulty of carrying on when the hold gets so strong.  It's not just apathy, or sadness, or lack of concern for others or one's self, and it's not that those are all happening at once, but they are all part of it, and Dunst expertly portrays faking one's way through life because of what's expected of them.  Justine's depression obviously reaches greater depths, but Clare's anxieties, and the portrayal of her attempts to deny them, assuage them, or accept them are equally grounded, despite the surreal trigger.

Yet, for as good as the film does at creating these immensely complex portrayals of depression and anxiety, and doing so while manufacturing an absolutely wondrous event to frame them around, Von Trier laces his film with more than a few moments of upper class bullshit that makes it hard to fully enjoy.  These characters witness the event of Melancholy's arrival but without a single radio or television broadcast or phone call or text to precede it (only Clare's internet search shows signs of a world outside of John's family estate).  It's all very quaint, riding around on horses to a bridge they won't cross (the same bridge which the golf cart won't cross later), as if there's some perimeter to these events that isn't affecting the rest of society.  The rich get a beautiful cataclysm all their own.

It's not just the setting, the lack of any reality outside the estate, but the lame moments of rich people behaving badly.  These mostly involving the elder Skarsgard's influence on Justine's evening, like his "toast", Justine having sex with his nephew on the golf course, his tirade after Justine tells him off, or his nephew's "proposal" after Michael storms out on her.  It's all rather broad for a film otherwise laced with more subtlety.  There's a pretentiousness in any filmmaking that thinks it can get away with such overt ham-fistedness within its story.  John Hurt and Udo Kier are great in comic relief roles that, in hindsight, are dangerously out of place in a stone cold serious film about depression and the end of the world, particularly since Claire's half of the film features nothing close to it, so there's no consistent levity throughout.

I think the opening sequence is an absolute marvel, and there's moments of absolute drop dead gorgeous cinematography (and special effects) laced throughout.  Dunst is fantastic and looks incredible wearing one the greatest on-screen wedding dresses of all time.  As an exploration of melancholy, it does better than almost any film before it, but as an end-of-the-world movie it's utterly up its own ass.


Besides It's A Disaster, I like to think that Melancholia, Seeking a Friend.. and These Final Hours all share the same catastrophe, that they're all stories from the same end of the world scenario (throw Last Night in there as well).  There's no real reason they couldn't be save for the miniscule differences in the descriptions of what's happened.  When films are this dark, you need to find your own fun sometimes...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I Saw This!!: TV, but not TV

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our all-too regular feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies (or stuff) they watched (or played) some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. Now they they have to strain to say anything meaningful lest they just not say anything at all. And they can't do that, can they?
In this edition, television shows, of a sort:
Parallels - double pilot, Netflix (complete)
Ascension - six episodes, CBC (complete)
Last Man on Earth - eight episodes, Fox (Sundays @ 9/9:30)
Danger 5 - one episode, Netflix
Family Tree - four episodes, DVD
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - three episodes, Netflix
Space Riders: Division Earth - 13 webisodes, CTV Extend/Hulu

Parallels caught me unawares, showing up in the "What's New on Netflix Canada" feed with an intriguing synopsis that basically mentioned exploring parallel worlds.  If there's anything keyword that will get me to check it out, parallel earths is one of them.  By all means I expected it to be a low-budget, direct-to-video movie, the likes of which are generally barely watchable, but this very quickly seemed like something different, starting with the "Fox Digital" logo at the start (which I thought originally was a BS photoshopped logo to try and make it seem like a genuine production, but it turns out it's a legitimate early effort in the Fox Digital lineup).

It's about a couple 20-something siblings who get a strange call from their dad only to find him missing and a mystery in their wake.  A strange satchel, an unusual orb, and an address taking them to a building that they learn the hard way jumps between dimensions.  It's basically Sliders but with a bunch of mysteries seeded in, and it's really, really good.  Turns out it's a product of Christopher Leone, one of the creators of The Lost Room, a SyFy mini-series from around 2006 which I absolutely loved and worth seeking.  What's on Netflix is essentially a double-length pilot, or rather two episodes, put together as a film.

Petitions have launched to bring it to series and I definitely want more.  Even before all the weird cryptic stuff at the end of the "movie" (plus a tantalizing reveal about one of the characters) that makes you want to know more, it had me hooked.  The first ten minutes start off a little slow, but it doesn't take long before the mystery kicks in and propels the show forward.  The actors are all unknowns, but they settle into their roles rather quickly.  The lead actor, Mark Hapka, is CW-level handsome, like a cross between Mark Whalberg and Matt Damon, as good an actor as the former but not quite the same charisma as the latter.

Watch the "movie" on Netflix, rate it highly and show your support on the petition...



Ascension is the SyFy network's first attempt to reclaim some semblance of respectability.  After years of supporting Sharknado and Mansquito-like ironically bad low-budget movies, all the lustre the network gained from Battlestar Galactica was gone.  In those years other networks had started gaining serious traction with genre TV shows that once would have only been housed on their channel.  Ascension was presented as a 3-part mini-series of 2-hour movies in December. Co-funded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, it aired in Canada as a 6-episode season in February.


The first episode lays out an intriguing concept for the series.  Set aboard a "generational starship" that was launched in secret by the Kennedy administration in the 1960, it's 50 years later and we're catching up with the second generation of ship-runners, learning about this micro-society as they struggle with class issues and the ennui resulting from knowing they'll never see land.  Things take a dramatic turn when a young woman turns up dead, apparently the ship's first murder.  Like a killing in a small town, it rocks the shaky societal foundation of the ship, but even more troubling is that she was shot, and no guns were believed to have been on board.

The first episode is remarkably well put together.  The ship, its design, the wardrobe, and the society in general embrace their 1960's origins.  Though racism isn't really prevalent (the ship's XO is black) sexism is still an integrated part of the ship's daily life.  The "stewardesses" of the ship regularly entertain the ship's crew, and while it's not explicit, the undertones are that this is an institutionalized form of prostitution.  Tricia Helfer (formerly of Battlestar Galactica) playing the chief steward and the captain's wife, is a master manipulator, having a high level of unofficial power, but the reality is women can have very little official power.

The first episode features an unusual aside taking place in modern day on Earth between an eager college student and Gil Bellows' character, the son of founder of Project Orion.  The scene is meant to highlight the secrecy which the project has maintained for 50 years, but it feels decidedly out of place with the rest of the show.  The second episode reveals that Bellows is more that aware of the Project, and it ends with the revelation that he's in charge of it now, that, in fact, the ship is not in space at all but a practical simulation which none of the crew are aware.

This is a remarkable and surprising twist (executed exceptionally well as one of the crew is accidentally blown out of the airlock and onto a mattress below) but the show devolves quite a bit from there.  The star-faring adventures of this 1960's space rocket, and it's society that's gestated differently in the 50 years since was more than enough of a concept to hold a show.  It's a new take on Lost in Space, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.  A "back on Earth" conspiracy certainly could have a place, but is largely an unnecessary complication for what was already a great premise.  As the remaining four episodes progressed, the outside influence upon the interior of the ship increased, and Ascension was the poorer for it.

In the final two episodes the show, this government conspiracy plot revealed its purpose, which was to force the evolution of humanity, thrusting paranormal powers into the mix and virtually derailing the entire show.  It ends at episode six with a series of cliffhangers that apparently will never be resolved, since SyFy has stated it's not commissioning another season.  There was a lot of promise early one, and throughout there was some entertaining elements but it was overly-ambitious and in the end failed as a result.  And I hope to never hear the phrase "Going full Snowden" ever again, thank you very much.


What a remarkable accomplishment The Last Man on Earth is.  The pilot episode of this new series from 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and ex-SNL cast member Will Forte, opens in 2020 with a montage of Forte (playing "Phil Miller") crisscrossing the country in a bus, loaded with art gallery and museum pieces alongside pop culture and sport paraphernalia.  Every city he leaves he spraypaints "Alive in Tuscon" on their welcome sign.  Back in Tuscon, six months later with no sign of any other survivors, Phil has lost almost any semblance of his civility.  He roams around in the same shirt and underwear, spending most of his days drunk, sometimes bathing in his Margarita Pool (a margarita-filled kiddie pool, complete with salted rim), sometimes hanging at a bar with his assorted ball-friends (one-upping Castaway's Wilson a dozen times over).  He flirts with a window display mannequin when he's not engulfed in pornography, and after a while life has no meaning.  The whole pilot episode features only Forte's character on-screen.  That this made it to Fox, or really any channel for that matter, is remarkable, but the end result is so captivating (not to mention funny) that it should be no surprise.

The pilot captures what a solitary life in a modern city would be like (as a result of a clean apocalypse, at least.  The buildings are still standing and there's no dead bodies anywhere to speak of).  There's no threats, save maybe boredom or alcohol poisoning.  There's fun to be had when you're the only person around, but eventually the loneliness, the desire for human contact will start to crush you.

So, in the second episode, when Phil meets Carol (played by the amazing Kristen Schaal) he should be more than elated, he should be jubilant and celebratory.  Not only is there another person, but a woman.  Unfortunately, Carol and Phil's personalities, they discover almost instantly, couldn't clash more.  Carol seeks to make lemonade out of the lemon that is Phil, while Phil has no other choice but to accept Carol as his companion for lack of any alternatives.

The show takes form of a relationship satire (as opposed to a post-apocalyptic spoof) almost instantly once Carol arrives.  The writers (with Forte in charge as showrunner) still play around to great effect with the setting of the show, but the relationship between its two leads becomes very complex very quickly.  Carol, rightly, suggests that they need to repopulate the Earth, but she won't have any bastard babies running around.  Phil doesn't see how any of the standard rules of the old world (stop signs or marriage) have any bearing on where they are now, and the battle of wills commences.  It would be easy for the show to turn Carol into a dude-wrecking, nagging, controlling, over-sensitive, harpy, but she's not the bad guy for trying to make Phil into a better man, into someone who cares about life again.  Phil is kind of the bad guy for resisting it just because Carol isn't even close to his ideal.  It's a play on the cliches of men afraid of losing their freedom or individuality to a relationship (as if so much of one's identity is invested in pornography or poor hygene).   There's a lot of fear, but the quick counter is what was life like before, alone and desperate?

From there, each episode gets a little more surprising (for enjoyment purposes I've avoided a bunch, not that they aren't predictable, but they are fun), and at times uncomfortable as Phil starts becoming less of the hero, and merely the protagonist of the story.  Phil's nature is selfishness and that leads to all manner of unflattering moments for the character.  But Forte is capable, both in performance and in scripting, of injecting moments of redemption, sometimes as a result of Phil's actions and sometimes in spite of him.

I hope in the closing episodes of the show it actually explores some of Phil's mental health issues, which are clearly present, if ill defined.  I'm sure there's a lot of trauma to thinking one is the sole survivor of a cataclysm for a prolonged period of time, and surely self-centered thinking is a result of existing primarily in one's own mind for so long.  Of course, this is a comedy series, and a damn funny one at that.


When I pulled up Danger 5 on Netflix, I had no concept of what it was.  The "cover" image used gave the appearance of low-budget 1980's direct-to-video exploitation flick, with a heavily shadowed headshot of Hitler wearing sunglasses and holding up his gun.  The chrome logo of Danger 5 emulating Robocop's logo was just as telling.  But what was it?

Watching the show I quickly discovered a that it was a mock-1960's action-adventure serial, set in WWII-era 1940's, about an international team of superagents whose sole objective is to kill Hitler.  The aesthetic is very much like a live action parody of Gerry Anderson's "supermarionation" shows like Thunderbirds and Stingray.  Using heavy overdubbing, intentionally campy acting, and a barrage of bizarre, nonsensical elements (like their commander having an Eagle's head), as well as utilizing pointedly obvious miniatures for every action sequence, Danger 5 puts in a lot of effort to make it look like not a lot of effort was put in.

I generally love this kind of stuff.  Bizarre nonsense is totally my thing, having developed formatively on Ambush Bug comics and watching Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.  Films like Black Dynamite and Kung-Fu Hustle are obvious predecessors to this, which then is strange given that those feature-length movies left me wanting more, whereas I felt the first episode of Danger 5 overstayed its welcome.

The product of Australian television  (from the makers of Italian Spiderman), if Danger 5 falters it's perhaps because they aren't aware of the "Adult Swim" style of programming that has revolutionized comedy television in North America in the past 20 years.  Scaled back to 11 or 12 minutes, this type of deranged weirdness-for-weirdness sake is a lot more entertaining, more easy to ingest.  Running to a full half hour, the show has more time to breathe which means that characters need to be developed and better realized (South Park and Archer, for instance).  When it comes down to it, though, the first episode of Danger 5 is more weird than thoroughly funny.  Whereas Black Dynamite was loaded with as many sight gags as clever and countless repeatable lines, Danger 5 seems to rest more on aesthetic than wit.


From Christopher Guest. Starring Chris O'Dowd. No two statements could have me more ready to invest in a TV show.

Sure, Guest hasn't been a flawless maker of comedy (does anyone remember For Your Consideration?), and yet, he is the absolute top name in loosely scripted comedy productions.  His trifecta of Waiting for Guffman, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind have cemented him in that role for the rest of his life. His comedies are muted, sometimes a little dry, sometimes a little quiet, but Guest always seems more interested in exploring a character rather than seeing comedy. He trusts his performers to make something funny, but he doesn't demand it from them all the time.  He still wants soul and compassion.  His gift, as much as he is a talented director and actor, is assembling a cast.

Chris O'Dowd may be my favourite comedic performer of this decade, and the decade before that.  He's able to be schlubby and hapless, like in the IT Crowd, or, just as easily, effortlessly charming but still hilarious like in Bridesmaids.  His brief appearance in Thor 2 still has me hoping they can somehow translate his nervous and sweet, but ultimately rejected date into a feature-starring superhero.  Here, O'Dowd plays Tom Chadwick, a man between jobs, recently dumped, who inherits a chest of objects from a recently deceased aunt.  This sends Tom on a journey of discovery about his family.  It's a delightful framework for many of Guest's usual cadre of performers to craft some wonderfully entertaining and bizarre back stories for the Chadwick family, but it's London setting allows Guest to take advantage of the myriad of talented comedic performers the UK has to offer.

Very obviously and foremost, this is a Guest production.  It has all the hallmarks, loaded with goodwill and charm, but the influence of British humour is a new and refreshing thing for him.  It shares the same air as a Peep Show or Pulling, but where British comedy wrings a lot of anxiety out of its characters in the name of comedy, Guest dials it back.  There's a sereneness to the story, a sense that even if characters don't get along in a scene, Guest the director, and the actors in the roles still like the characters and aren't choosing sides.  It's a production where people play nice, and that kind of comedy is both rare and a bit of a hard sell, which is probably why Family Tree isn't getting a second season, unfortunately).


The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is Netflix's first original comedy production, taking the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock show under its wing after NBC passed on it.  Netflix seems like a good home for any respected but perhaps marginalized talent.  Realizing that creative comedy has drawing power (hence their heavy investment in stand-up and resurrection of Arrested Development), it's a more than appropriate home for Kimmy Schmidt to land.

The show is centered around 29-year-old Kimmy, who was recently unearthed from a cult's doomsday bunker with her sister wives after 15 years, brought to New York to run the talk show circuit, and decided to stay, instead of going back to Indiana.  With a permanently smile and a hearty can-do attitude, she may have been a victim but she's not going to let her trauma define her.  She is out of place, out of touch, and her maturity is stunted, but nevertheless she finds a home (sharing an apartment with a sheltered gay black man whose dreams of Broadway stardom have all but died) and landing a job as nanny for a repugnant upscale family (led by Jane Krakowski as the matriarch, in a role that manages to somehow tops Jenna from 30 Rock in self-centeredness)

Thrust into completely alien environments, Kimmy Schmidt could easily be a searingly-painful-to-watch comedy about a girl getting mixed up in things she has no awareness of, but it manages to assuage those anxious moments by centering on a character who's more than capable of rolling with it, and strives constantly to make it work.  It's Ellie Kemper's teeth-filled performance and seemingly boundless enthusiasm that makes this otherwise tremendously bizarre and wholly unrelateable show work.

The first few episodes I've watched are obviously still finding their feet, the tone of the characters seems to shift slightly each episode as the actors ease into the roles and the writers define the situation a little more.  Even though it's not, the world still feels like Tina Fey's New York from 30 Rock,  a place where the bizarre is commonplace.  The sub-plot of the third episode, focusing on Krakowski's character's Native American roots (quite literally at one point) is the first sign outside of the premise of the show going for broke with sheer lunacy.  I'm keen to keep watching, but also hoping it finds the right groove quickly.

Plus, Carol Kane.  Come on!


Referring back to what I was saying above about Danger 5, the web series Space Riders: Division Earth get is right where Danger 5 got it wrong.  Like Danger 5, Space Riders is a parody of a once-popular style kids show built for adults, with severe language, sexual overtones, and violence in the name of comedy.  In this case, it's a spoof of The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers-style action-adventure.  Where Space Riders succeeds is in worrying less about style, and more about twisting the expected format and creating an emotional investment in the characters (no matter how ridiculous they may be).

Created by Canadian comedic actor Dan Beirne and comedian Mark Little, the show takes two unlikely individuals, scrawny, barely-employed roommates Philip and Ken, and by happenstance puts them in the position of becoming Earth's official Space Riders.  Entrusted with the transformation crystals (the "Zoid pack") that give Philip incredible intellectual powers, and Ken unbelievable strength and fighting prowess, the new gig still can't help either of them in their regular life.  Philip's unabashedly in love with his boss at the coffee shop.  Of course she doesn't notice him, instead having eyes only for an utterly disinterested Ken.  Ken, meanwhile, can't find a job.

Instead of focusing primarily on their adventures as Space Riders, instead it looks at how being Space Riders interferes with having a regular life, something which Ken doesn't seem to mind at all, but a responsibility Philip is still far too timid to accept.  One of the arcs deals with the taboo of using their power for personal gain, as Ken pushes Philip into a back-alley brawl, then transforms and power punches a guy in the face when Philip falters.  "Ken! I think you caved his face in," Philip cries.  "I didn't think I'd punch him so haaard," Ken replies with a mincing whine.

Their chief nemesis is Orson Ooze, who just escaped from space jail, and seeks to kill Earth's Space Riders to reclaim his place as a supreme evil in the universe.  Ken describes Orson as "I think he's trans".  "Is that self-identifying" Philip asks at an inappropriate moment.  I'm not certain if there's intent to make fun of a trans individual with Orson, as it's not really brought up again, but  Kayla Lorette is amazing in the role, making Orson appropriately cartoonishly evil (a sort of Rita Repulsa/Skeletor hybrid) while also being genuinely entertaining character who has such trouble with his henchman, Moon Monster ("Did you mess with my settings?"), that at one point he kicks him out and Moon Monster goes to live with Philip and Ken..

The concepts are entertaining (such as Orson Ooze's portal cat teleporting the baby Ken is sitting when he isn't looking) and it's evident how much fun the everyone involved is having (each transformation sequence is entertaining because each is done unique with variant lyrics of the rockin' transformation song).  It's a well-made show, obviously low budget, but embracing and using it to even better parody the source material.  Each episode about 6 or 7 minutes in length which is perfect for this type of material, and it tends to run in about three episode arcs (so it could effectively be a 1/2 hour series, with each episode hitting a commercial break, but it works well with an arc occurring for every 6 minutes.

Given that this was made in 2014 and I hadn't heard about it before (despite being a fan of Mark Little's) I'm guessing this didn't make a big enough splash for a second series, which is too bad because it's very entertaining.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

xBox One: Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive was the primary reason I wanted the xBox One first, first as opposed to the Playstation 4, other than the reasons outlined in the previous Far Cry 4 post. I love the idea of third-person, open world games with weird super powers. InFamous and Prototype are a pair of my favourite games. This one comes with a sense of humor and smacks of familiarity, harkening back to  Jet Set (Grind) Radio from the Dreamcast days. Bright, colourful and cheerfully irreverent, as a followup game, it was a nice change of pace from the grimdark nature of Far Cry 4.

Premise. You are a janitor pushing a garbage bin while some big corporation releases a new energy drink to a bunch of meathead frat kids. Suddenly, said energy drink turns them into mutants - big pulsating, orange pus-y mutants who try to kill you. The entire tutorial is you attempting to get home to your apartment while the city goes to hell; very fast. Oh and I should mention, a badass old man gives you a gun that looks like a blunderbuss with a pair of *cough* balls attached. Its called the Flaming Compensator. And thus, the irreverent, juvenile comedic tone for the game is set.

This game is all about its humor. You are constantly breaking the fourth wall. You are constantly being reminded that you are in a video game. No better example than when you respawn -- animations of aliens dropping your body, or you emerging from a grave like a zombie, or sliding in from left stage, like a boss, or ... oh, just go look for yourself. They always made me crack a grin. All of the dialogue, most of the missions are just plain silly and setup to make you giggle. The game never takes itself seriously, even when you transition from the Hero's Journey from self-important to selflessness.

And the play is just plain fun. Like these other games, InFamous in particular, you are able to move fast along rails, i.e. telephone wires, railings, edges of just about anything. You skate along on your sneakers, boots or whatever jumping up higher points of vantage or hanging from them via a crowbar. What self-referential video game would not have a crowbar. You also bounce like a platformer cartoon, off cafe umbrellas, awnings and off the hoods of cars. Boing boing boing, you can go just about anywhere. Initially its a bit troublesome as the camera swings about you all willy nilly, but once you get the hang of it, and add in the ability to woosh (dash) over air or water, you are speedily jumping from spot to spot. This is one of those games where fast travel is almost never used, because normal travel can be such fun.

As expected, the weapons are going to be Ratchet and Clank outrageous and fun. Not much to be said there.

But then there is character customization. Of course, race, gender and hair colour are there but the fact you can change these ANYTIME you want is hilarious. Yes, you can swamp gender and body shape any time you drop by the change room. I started as a shaved punk kid, swapped into a gaudily dressed, bearded hipster and finished the game as a lil punk girl with quite the attitude. There are hats, weapons, outfits, accessories and general clothing all focused on making you look outrageous. These are street alterna-kids, one moment gothy, one moment punk and finally, once in a few missions, nerdy -- yep, you can dress as a LARPer. I never got tired of swapping out clothes every few missions.

The base enemies are the ODs, the kids who morphed into squishy orange zombies. They attack you, they ooze and when they die, they explode into the energy drink that you can use to upgrade. Then there are the big versions of them, 20' massive ones that you keep a distance from and just lob exploding teddy bears at.  Later on, you fight flashy fascist robots or gun toting gang kids. There is enough variety to keep things fresh. And after a few comments about ever-spawn, it seems completely normal that these things keep on climbing out the sewers.

Yeah, I loved this game. There were a few elements that I actively avoided, mostly the multi-player and the annoying 100%-er ideas of collecting. Collecting stinky sneakers, toilet paper and floating mascots was useful to a certain degree but only really appeal to the collectors. That and the achievements. If they had more clothing unlocked, I would have never stopped collecting. I need more than bragging points in my games.

I realize that after a handful of video game reviews, I will have to stop relating the usual things I have trouble with in games. Achievements will never be my thing, and in the more serious games, the never ending amount of murder you commit will be a normal reference. In this game, there was no sense of murder as they are completely post-human. OK, there are those gang kids, but the level of the game makes it more cartoony than reality, so no guilt. Even cyber-guilt.

I am not sure if I will return to the game once the DLCs come out, but if they have some new duds for my girl, then maybe.