Wednesday, 21 January 2015

batman: arkham origins

i don't usually like to review games until i've finished them, but something happened while i was playing arkham origins last night that really summed up the experience for me.

i've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this game. i loved the first two games so i was really looking forward to this one, and it had that amazing teaser trailer showing bruce wayne growing up into batman that really made it feel like some thing really special was on the way. this one -

but when i first played it, the whole thing felt a bit like an afterthought. the map is almost exactly the same as the last game, there are no surprises in the gameplay and the gimmick of this being batman's first encounter with famous villains isn't really played out. it felt like filler, like the developers were rushing out a game using the same graphics and mechanics before they had to redevelop it for the next generation of consoles. how many times can you beat up a bunch of dudes with your cape before it gets repetitive? how many times can you fight bane before the fact that it's simply a case of jumping out of the way when he charges at you starts to seem old? how many times can they reinvent the joker?

then the joker origin sequence happened. after you fight the joker there's a scene with him in prison being evaluated by a doctor who will become harley quinn. then you take control of the joker in this surreal sequence that takes place in his mind, fighting off hecklers in a nightclub and then navigating a nightmare landscape as the red hood. there are all these references to the killing joke that it doesn't really explain, it just throws them in. the whole sequence plays like something from an art film and it's amazing. this is followed by this really well-written speech where alfred is trying to stop batman going back out and batman explains to him why he has to do what he does. it's like the writers were suddenly allowed to do cool stuff halfway through the game.

so my review would be that it's nothing new but that there's cool stuff in there that makes it worth playing. that's not really anything to do with what happened last night.

my favourite moments in games are those where you as a player suddenly feel this synergy with the character, like you understand what it's like to be them and feel complete empathy with their situation. it's only happened a handful of times, but when it does it's better than anything any film or book or piece of music in the world. i had one of those moments.

in arkham origins there's this riddler sidequest where you have to collect these datapacks he's left all over the city. it's a tedious task and one i kept thinking i wouldn't bother with but then i'd collected so many of these things already i thought i may as well finish it off. earlier in the game there's a sequence where the joker takes over this huge hotel. he lines the hallways with bodies and bombs and stuff and he turns the ballroom into a funhouse. i was walking through the hotel looking for riddler datapacks and suddenly i started to feel really creeped out. in real life, i've always found large, empty spaces a bit creepy. like i was in brighton museum on my lunchbreak the other day and suddenly found myself alone in their ocean exhibtion. so there are stuffed birds everywhere and the sound of waves and it's empty. something about that emptiness in a space designed to be full of people really scares me.

that's what i started to feel whilst wandering the empty halls of this hotel. when i'd been there before it was full of joker henchmen trying to kill me. now the emptiness of this vast space was really creepy, especially with the bodies and the funhouse parts. i started to want to see a bad guy around the next corner or behind the next door, just to see someone; anyone. i preferred it when there were people in there trying to kill me, because at least there was life there. and it struck me that in that moment myself and the character were feeling the exact same way.

games are weird and interesting and mindblowing sometimes. i think they're the most interesting form of art and i think they have the potential to do incredible things with storytelling. i just wish there was a little less of the hitting and shooting people.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

the thing (2011)

so i watched the remake/prequel of the thing and i didn't hate it.

although it's a remake in almost every aspect the film presents itself as a prequel, telling the story of the norwegian expedition that kurt russell and his mates find the remains of in the john carpenter version. i'm not going to do a plot rundown because if you haven't seen the john carpenter version of the thing you should really sort your fucking life out.

the prequel aspect actually worked quite well, in that the base looks really similar and some of the sets match like the room with the block of ice that the thing came from. the costumes and hair fit the period and i didn't notice any obvious inconsistencies, other than if you watched them back to back it would kind of be like watching the same film.

i thought the first half of the film was pretty cool. it was different enough to be interesting, and it actually harked back to the original howard hawks thing from another world in places (and yes, if you haven't seen the howard hawks version you still need to sort your fucking life out). but once the thing reveals itself it all goes a bit wrong. actually, wrong is probably not the right word, it's more that it felt like a missed opportunity, like they never quite captured the suspense and sense of mistrust that the original does so well.

but what makes this film work throughout is mary elizabeth winstead's performance and her character. much like the original, characterisation in this film is minimal so you never really find out where the characters come from or what makes them tick. i liked that, it was refreshing and it meant you never really knew any of the characters well enough to trust that they weren't actually an alien. but the one element that's played really well is winstead's paleontologist character being a woman in a man's world. there's a moment when the characters are discussing how to thaw out the creature and when she voices her opinion she's ignored, and then she's reprimanded for even having an opinion. this is balanced by the fact that there is another woman on the base so she's not the only woman in the world of the film. but the way she's treated fits the period and the environment and it really raises the stakes because she's the first to figure out what's going on but no one will listen to her.

then there's the fact that despite being one of two women, she's so outnumbered by the men and they're all so much bigger than her physically i couldn't help thinking there was a point to be made here. the carpenter version is a film about men mistrusting each other, and in many ways a closer modern remake would be something like tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. this film is about one woman mistrusting all the men.

let's take the alien out of the picture. let's say it's a film about a woman joining a team of men in an isolated area in the 1980s. would it play any differently? sure, there would be less flamethrowers and monsters and murders (probably) but would the tension and the mistrust be any different?

i don't know if it entirely works as a prequel, but i do believe there's more to this film than a carbon copy remake, plus it's cool to see a well-written female character be intelligent first and run around with a flamethrower second. for those reasons i think it's worth checking out.

Friday, 16 January 2015


husk opens with a group of friends whose road trip is ruined when their car crashes next to a corn field with a spooky house in the middle of it (in the middle of the field, not the car). so far, so texas chainsaw massacre (i can't believe i just wrote that but i didn't delete it so i must be okay with it on some level). there are the usual archetypes - the chess team nerd (who actually uses chess to explain what's going on later in the story), the typical jock, his girlfriend, and a sketchy guy who is only sketchy so later on he can hotwire a car. and there's their other friend who runs off into the field immediately. based on that, it sounds like it should be awful, but it's not. it's actually kind of cool.

so what they soon realise is that if you're in the corn, something gets you. they end up stranded at the spooky house, surrounded by corn with no way to get back to the road. unless they can figure out what's going on.

what's going on is where the film get interesting, so if you're going to watch it you may not want to read this bit as it might get spoilerey. so the house was owned by a guy and his two kids. one of the kids went crazy and killed his brother. he hid the body by dressing him up as a scarecrow and stringing him up in the cornfield. the dead brother then came back from the dead and killed everyone. now what happens is that the dead brother kills whoever enters the field, possesses their bodies, makes the possessed body drive nails into their hands and sew their own scarecrow mask, then takes them into the field too. so the field is full of dead people dressed as scarecrows and this guy can possess any of them at any time. it's crazy and convoluted but it's actually kind of a cool idea.

part of the way we get to his idea is a bit dubious, with the nerdy guy randomly getting flashbacks to what happened in the house, but the other stuff is really interesting, particularly the dead bodies sewing their own masks. this happens three times and each time it's really creepy, especially when you don't know what's going on. of course, i've just told you what's going on so i've probably ruined it but i feel like you have to understand how messed up the idea is to get what makes this film work.

the other interesting thing is that the token girlfriend character is killed off in the first act. oh, spoiler, sorry. anyway, this means that the film follows the three guys. now as a feminist you'd think i'd be all like 'where are all the women?' but the thing is i know where all the women are, they're in all the other horror films. it's actually kind of refreshing to see a horror film that's just about these three guys. the filmmakers do still manage to adhere to the rules of the slasher film; they give all the characteristics of the final girl to the nerdy guy. so he's the one who's probably a virgin, he's kind of 'feminised', he's the only one with any sensible ideas but no one listens, he's the one who figures out what's going one and ultimately he's the only one left at the end, although i won't go into whether he survives or not.

the thing is, this is the second time i've seen this done recently, with see no evil 2 being the other example of a male character occupying the role of the 'final girl'. let's compare that to other recent slasher films, like you're next or no one lives. in those films the 'final girl' exhibits more behaviour typically associated with men than the men in the film do. i guess what i'm trying to say is the women in those films kick ass. i mean, the final girl has always kicked ass, that's what they do, but sharni vinson in you're next kicks ass from minute one.

so in the last five years there have been at least two films in which the 'final girl' is a man and two films in which the 'final girl' is more empowered and more physically capable. i don't know if this is representative of some kind of change or progress, or whether it's just a few isolated incidents that i'm trying to connect, but it has to be a good thing.

check out husk anyway, it's a neat 80 minute slasher film with some cool ideas.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


moments is a short film by chris cronin. it's kind of a musical, although there aren't any songs, just dancing. it's basically about this guy who seems to be perpetually part of someone else's romantic moment and the story is him trying to find his own 'moment'. it's a simple idea that's well presented - you get it right away and that's important in a film that's only five minutes long.

what's really striking about this film is the production values. the dance numbers are great and look really professional, but also it looks like everyone on screen is involved in the production. in a lot of shorts, the filmmakers don't really have the budget to close off streets or use dozens of extras, so scenes either end up looking sparse or it's obvious the filmmakers are stealing shots of members of the public to use as unsuspecting extras. in this it looks like they must have closed off half of London and hired a hundred extras, which i'm sure isn't the case but they really pull off that sense of creating a whole world in front of the camera.

the other thing i really liked is how beautiful they make london look. i go to london a lot, it's not that beautiful. mostly it's busy and dirty and grey. so to see london looking like the set from a golden age hollywood musical is amazing.

the one criticism i have is that i was expecting some kind of twist on the idea, whereas it actually kind of plays out exactly as you expect. that may just be me though as i'm so used to seeing shorts that set up a premise then twist it at the end.

otherwise i think this is a fantastic little film and definitely worth five minutes of your time. i guarantee it will put a smile on your face.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

step up 4

i am a little bit in love with the step up films. i suppose it;s the kind of thing you'd call a guilty pleasure, but i don't feel that guilty about it. the thing that attracts me to them is that the stories are always centred around these characters who have pressure to do something safe and boring with their lives, but really they want to be doing something different. i can relate to that.

so i'm a bit behind because step up 5 came out last year and i'm only just catching up with the fourth one. this one is a bit of a departure in that the usual dance crew competing in a competition storyline had been changed...actually no, they're still trying to win a competition. what's different is that it's a youtube competition and they're trying to get the most hits from performing the best flashmobs. while this doesn't have a huge effect on the story (there's still a classically trained dancer who needs to incorporate street dance into her repertoire so she can impress the judges at her school or whatever) it does change the dances quite a bit. rather than the usual aggressive posturing and the crew on crew contests where it's impossible to tell who's winning, the dances are more original and stylised. there's a fantastic sequence in an art gallery with neon lit ballet dancers.

the story itself disintegrates over the course of the film. at one point looks like it's going to deliver a really serious political message, but it never really follows through with this and the crew drop their revolutionary stance the moment money is mentioned. there are some truly ridiculous moments too, but overall you can't watch a step up film without smiling and ultimately it's about the dancing, which in this film is amazing.

i will definitely be watching step up 5.

Friday, 9 January 2015

the lone ranger

i was in a westerney mood after playing call of juarez so i decided to watch the lone ranger movie from like, last year? the year before? can't remember, but i missed it at the cinema and then promptly forgot it existed.

i didn't enjoy it all that much. i mean, the end is good, but it takes quite a while to get there with numerous problems along the way. i mentioned a while ago that if i came across anything i didn't like all that much i wasn't going to write a review at all. there's too much negativity online as it is as there's no point me adding to it. so like i did with chill i thought i'd talk a bit about me instead. the problem is i've been drinking so this may go horribly wrong.

the lone ranger is quite appropriate for what i want to talk about, in that it's about someone who wears a mask. my profile picture is not my face and my name is not paz. i hope most people would have assumed that already and this isn't a huge surprise. i have reasons.

in my last year at uni i wrote my dissertation on youtube, how it had evolved and where it could develop in the future. it had kind of a negative vibe because in all honesty i didn't get youtube back then. i was, and still am, really into films and couldn't see the attraction of the short form video diaries that youtube mostly seemed to exist for. i was interested in the portrayals of reality on youtube though, from an academic point of view - how by showing you five minutes of their life a vlogger can give you a totally false impression of who they are. then again, some videos i've seen have been entirely too honest, uncomfortably so. the thing is, i was watching so much youtube in my research that gradually i did start to get it. i went from curious observer to casual fan to obsessive fan and finally i started making my own videos.

no, i have not been entirely honest about my desire to start making youtube videos. it would actually be a return, not an initiation. i did, at one stage, have my own channel. i hadn't made many videos and they weren't great, mostly just film reviews and stuff, pretty much like i do here but on camera. i'll admit that i was overambitious, that i wanted to become zoella overnight and used to obsessively watch my view count and tweet endlessly for new subscribers, so maybe for all my analysis and research i didn't get youtube after all. but i was enjoying it. i was really happy that year. i was in love, i had a group of really great friends, i was really enjoying my studies. i had no fucking clue what i wanted to do afterwards but back then it didn't matter. i'm talking about this like it was decades ago, but it was like a year and a half, it just seems like a lifetime to me.

i started to get these weird comments on my videos. they weren't nasty or anything, just odd at first. this one person, no profile picture and a meaningless string of letters and numbers for a name, starting posting on every video i uploaded, sometimes more than once. then it became clear it was someone i knew.

they started to mention things in the comments; things about me and my friends. the comments didn't mention any names but they would be specific about physical characteristics, like 'the blond one' or whatever. this made me think it was someone watching me and my friends but then occasionally there would be a mention of something personal. not like a secret, but something you wouldn't know unless you knew me in real life. there wasn't anything malicious or threatening about the comments and a lot of them were still nonsense, but there was enough truth for them to be a bit fucking creepy, and there was clearly some agenda there. so i took a break from youtube, and then i went away.

it was a family holiday - me, my dad and my brother. we went to the states for two weeks. i'm not sure how dad could afford it but i think he was having some sort of crisis. he was insistent on us spending 'quality time' together, and that meant we couldn't take our phones or even check emails in internet cafes. he thought this would be good for us, but for me it was the worst thing that ever happened.

when i got back everything was fucked up. the random commentor (let's call him/her a troll because that's what they were and let's go with he because it seems most likely) had somehow hacked into my account. he didn't upload any videos, but he commented on others, leaving the same weird comments but in my name. he emailed my friends, sent them messages on twitter, using the same passive-aggressive tone where he wasn't being overtly malicious, just a bit weird. worse than that, he started flirting with one of my male friends, an ex boyfriend. i think this ex wanted to get back together (in fact, i know he did) because despite the odd tone he responded, although sometimes i think maybe he was hacked too. anyway, the troll sent the e-mail chain on to my boyfriend and that was that.

like i said, everything was fucked up. you think things like this will be easy to sort out, but even the friends who claimed to believe me never really acted the same way around me. my boyfriend didn't believe me at all, and that kind of hinted that maybe it wasn't meant to be anyway, although sometimes i wondered if there were other emails that he'd maybe deleted from my sent items, things that were worse than the ones i'd read.

the timing was fucked anyway. uni was over, most of my friends were moving away including my now ex boyfriend. i couldn't face moving back home and i loved brighton so much i decided to get a job and stick around.

i deleted the videos. i deleted all my tweets, set up a new e-mail account, deleted everything that the troll had touched. then i started again, with a stolen profile picture and a name i like more than my own.

that's why i haven't posted any videos yet. i don't really want him to find me again. i'm sure he's gone away or just doesn't care, the damage is done now. but it still feels too soon.

i'm not sure even posting this was a good idea. i don't know, i've had too much to drink and i'm in on my own on a friday night. i watched a movie i didn't like and i have no one to complain to except people on the internet, and i'm still a little bit scared of people on the internet.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

call of juarez

i mentioned a while back i had started playing call of juarez, a game from 2006. i was 14 when it was released (so much has happened since then!) but strangely it doesn't feel that all old. the graphics aren't great and the control system is a little clunky, but unlike a lot of games the story got me hooked and i played it straight through in a couple of weeks.

so it's basically a western about this guy, billy candle, who returns home after failing to find the treasure of juarez. he gets into some trouble in town and when he runs to a nearby ranch to hide he's framed for the murder of the family who live there. one of the victims happens to be the brother of reverend ray mccall, a slightly insane gunslinging preacher who will stop at nothing to do the right thing by god. the player alternates between billy on the run and reverend ray tracking him down.

what really makes call of juarez work is the variety in the gameplay. this isn't just a basic shoot-em-up - there are fist fights, chases on horseback, mountains to climb and tombs to explore. whenever the game verges on being repetitive, it changes things up. there are differences between the two characters as well. billy's sections are usually based around stealth and exploration while the reverend ray sections are mostly about killing lots of people.

billy's levels were my favourite, particularly the one where you have to find a way up a mountain using your whip to swing over crevices. there's also a cool tomb raider-esque section at the end, complete with attacking spiders.

i know red dead redemption is the definitive western game, and rightly so, but in a lot of ways i preferred this one. i do like a good story though, and this one really worked.

Monday, 5 January 2015


vasalisa is a short horror film by lora pendleton. it's kind of a tough one to write about because really the atmosphere created by the sounds and the images is more important than the story, but there is a narrative here about a woman searching for a witch.

the filmmaker employs some really interesting techniques to tell the story. the film is shot in a mix of colour and black and white, and is also full frame rather than widescreen, which makes it feel quite claustrophobic and acts as a nice contrast in the open air scenes. much of the film takes place outdoors, with well chosen compositions that sometimes reminded me of maya deren's meshes of the afternoon (yeah, i studied film theory at uni, deal with it. on a serious note if you haven't seen meshes of the afternoon you should check it out - it's one of the most influential films ever made and it will only take 13 minutes of your time). added to this is a surreal soundscape that creates a feeling of unease throughout.

but despite it's artistic touches this is a horror film and i found the images of the witch, particularly the early flashes, quite disturbing. when the witch finally reveals herself it all gets even more surreal and you're not sure whether she's doing something bad or not, which i think was the point and it's refreshing to see something that allows you to make your own mind up about the ending. the final sequence brought to mind another film i really liked, rob zombie's lords of salem. i know that film divided people but i thought it was amazing and i often find the combination of straight horror imagery presented through an arthouse lens to be really effective.

the one thing i could do without were the still frames as they took me out of the story a bit due to the change in aspect ratio, but other than that i loved it. also, there were no other cast or crew members credited so i'm assuming lora pendleton did everything herself, which is a pretty amazing achievement considering how good it is. if you're into horror or surrealism or both and you have 7 minutes to spare you can check it out below.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

see no evil 2

american mary is probably one of my favourite horror films in recent years so when i heard jen and sylvia soska were making see no evil 2 i was on board, even if i hadn't enjoyed the original all that much.

story is there's this serial killer dude, jacob goodnight, who was killed at the end of the first film but comes back to life to torment the staff on the night shift at the city morgue. who also happen to be having a party that night.

the thing is, i have a bit of love/hate relationship with slasher films. i love horror films and the slasher subgenre is very much part of that but considering how many slasher films there are it's surprising how few of them are actually any good. i think there's a misconception with slasher films that it's all about the gore and the murders, but that's never really appealed to me. if you take halloween, to me that's always been a film about suburban isolation rather than a film about a psycho killing people. the key scene is the part where jamie lee curtis knocks on the door of a neighbour and no one answers, because it says that for all our desire to be friendly and cordial to our neighbours really we all just want to hide ourselves away and let people deal with their own shit. the really good slasher films, the really good horror films even; they're about something. they're films about ideas and real life fears and stuff that's messed up about the world we live in. that's what makes american mary so great, it's a film about the human body and how it's seen by different people and how gender plays into that - it's amazing.

anyway, i'm rambling. the way i see it, when you make a genre film (not that i would know) you have two options - either you make the best possible version of a film in that genre, or you try to do something new with it. see no evil 2 mostly goes with the first option and does it really well, but there are some surprises in there too.

the first thing the film gets right that so many slashers get wrong is that the characters are likable. i'm so tired of watching a bunch of obnoxious teens talk about themselves and their stupid problems until they're killed off. here, all the characters come off as interesting with their own character arcs, so that when things kick off i really cared about what happened to them and wasn't just waiting for them to die. the relationship between danielle harris (horror royalty) and kaj-erik eriksen (very cute) is particularly well played. that's the other thing - the performances are great. no one is phoning it in. katharine isabelle (american mary herself) stands out as always, but considering she has a rather thankless role she manages to turn it into something interesting and has the most fun with it. the thing about liking the characters is that when they do things like staying behind in the spooky location to help each other out, i didn't think 'you fucking idiots, get out of there' i thought 'yes, you do need to go back for them!'. i believed it. what the helps this works is a slow build-up, so no one dies for like the first 25 minutes. this gives the audience time to get to know the characters and it really helps. the only film i've seen in recent years that pulled this off as well as this was the first cold prey movie (you should check it out if you haven't seen it).

once things do kick off the soska sisters really make the most of the location and their antagonist. there are lots of steadycam shots down long corridors, ,which really reminded me of similar shots in the suburbs of haddonfield. they manage to make the empty morgue seem suitably labyrinthine without losing a sense of geography.

there are interesting themes running through the film too. much is made of the fact that danielle harris's character ran away from being a doctor because it was too hard, and her journey in the film is not only about overcoming fear but also about deciding to stop running. there is an interesting parallel between this and the character of jacob goodnight, a man tortured by memories of an overbearing mother and someone who despite his immense physical strength lacks the emotional strength to challenge his past.

there is also big surprise at the end which i won't go into, but carol clover would be impressed.

i'm not sure this is up there with american mary for me, but it is a really well made film with a tight script (by two brits, nathan brookes and bobby lee darby) and stands out as one of the best in its genre so i really recommend checking it out.

Friday, 2 January 2015

the guest

the guest is about a family who lost a son in iraq or afghanistan or whatever, then this guy david turns up claiming he served with their son and ends up staying with them, hence the guest.

on the face of it the guest doesn't seem all that unique. whenever a stranger turns up and seems too good to be true, you kind of know there aren't going to be any real surprises. but the guest is kind of brilliant, in a neat, really enjoyable way.

director adam wingard infuses the film with his usual awesome stylistic touches which elevate the experience, and simon barrett's script is a wonderful portrait of a family in crisis. the four family members are so well-drawn and so easy to empathise with that much of the joy of the first half of the film comes from watching david sort out their problems. the situations are very well crafted, with david often taking on impossible odds only to sort out the problem with a few well chosen words or occasionally a single punch. like i said, i knew from the beginning that something would be up with him, but i badly wanted david to be legit, and while the script is part of that it's mostly down to one essential element.

dan stevens is amazing in this film. david fits the definition of a psychopath - someone with no empathy, incapable of feeling remorse, and has to emulate what he thinks of as human behaviour in order to fit in. this last part is what stevens pulls off so perfectly. he presents david as a robot that has been programmed to say the right thing, but he infuses him with just enough humanity that as a viewer you're never quite sure whether he's a psychopath or not.

other things that are awesome - steve moore's carpenter-esque score is amazing and there are some great songs too. also, the final set piece takes place in a neon-lit horror maze, complete with an enter the dragon style final showdown in a mirror room. any film that ends in a hall of mirrors wins points.

overall, this is one of the most accomplished films i've seen in recent months and definitely worth checking out. it was just released and you can rent or buy it most places, so go do that. you won't regret it.