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All reviews - Movies (108) - TV Shows (28) - DVDs (14) - Books (35) - Music (49) - Games (24)

John Woo's Masterpiece

Posted : 6 years, 7 months ago on 20 March 2011 04:26 (A review of Red Cliff)

Subtlety and restraint are not two words that I usually associate with John Woo. He has made a career out of over the top, overly melodramatic action thrillers that more often than not sink under the weight of their own stylistic pretensions (think Mission:Impossible 2). However, every director has one great epic in them, and this is John Woo's masterpiece.

The movie tackles a story based on the the battle of Red Cliff, largely adapted from the Chinese language epic 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms', considered to be one of the most influential works of Chinese Literature. The relationship between the story and actual history is much like the relationship of Shakespeare's works to actual history, in a word 'loose'. It relates the conflict between the three warring kingdoms in the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history.

Red Cliff : Part I largely deals with the forming of alliances and preparations before we actually enter the arena of war. The aggressor is the Prime Minister of the Han Kingdom, Cao Cao, who wants to conquer the two most powerful warlords in southern China. The two warlords, formerly enemies, form an alliance to face a common enemy. We meet the protagonists, the generals and leaders of the three armies. It's a leisurely introduction, verging on the dull at times. This is when I started to realise that this wasn't your typical John Woo movie. The characters weren't the typical caricatures that populate John Woo's movies, they come across as real characters. Incredibly noble and heroic characters, but real characters nevertheless.

The battle scenes are shot in great detail, even as the brutality is kept in check. This isn't the Steven Spielberg style of shooting battles, but it isn't quite superficial Hollywood either. They follow a happy middle ground between the two and it works very well, much like it worked for movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first battle is not the main battle of Red Cliff, just an initial skirmish. It's a 35 minute mini-epic from start to finish, almost in real time on-screen. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie as the action takes a back seat to planning and strategy. In fact, much of both movies is about planning and strategy with the battles as the climatic highlights, not the entire show.

Part I isn't perfect, the pace is slow at the beginning and I was wondering where the movie was going for a while. However, the production values and the acting is excellent throughout. It was almost John Woo was in unfamiliar territory at the start and didn't know how to best go about it. Thankfully, he finds his feet by the half way mark, which sets up things perfectly for the story to take flight in the next part.


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TRON: Legacy review

Posted : 6 years, 7 months ago on 17 March 2011 05:16 (A review of TRON: Legacy)

Summary: "A powerful wizard creates a new and fascinating world and populates it with perfect creatures shaped in his own image. The creations rebel against the creator, led by one who was the creators son in almost all respects. The creator is exiled from his own world. Many years later, the creators real son finds his way to the new world, seeking his long lost father. He falls in love with one of his father's creations and devises a plan to bring her and his father back to his own world, free of the tyranny of the rebels, who were now the rulers. His plan is thwarted by the rebel leader. The grand wizard is forced to sacrifice his own life to save the life of his son and the woman he loves. The son escapes back to his own world to continue his life, with a new found purpose to continue his father's legacy."

Take out the neon lights and cyberpunk and you have a generic fantasy story. Thankfully, I don't mind some mediocre sci-fi/fantasy now and then. Great background score by Daft Punk, especially in the last 40 mins or so.


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Frasier review

Posted : 6 years, 7 months ago on 12 March 2011 01:59 (A review of Frasier)

There were two sitcoms that were my staple viewing in college, this and Friends. While Friends destroyed itself in the final three seasons, somehow Frasier managed to avoid that fate and delivered eleven straight seasons of great comedy. It's just remarkable how they managed to keep the quality so high for so long. Credit to the great writers who worked on the show and to the actors as well.

One of the best things about the show was that all the characters, Frasier, Niles, Martin, Daphne and Roz stayed true to their original selves even as they evolved. If you watch the first season and the final season back to back, they characters feel the same, even as they are different. This is remarkable because so many sitcoms (I'm looking at you, Friends) end up with characters that are almost caricatures of their original selves in an attempt to get cheap laughs. Not on this show, thankfully.

Seven years after it ended, Frasier has aged very well for me. It's still as funny and fresh as it was the first time I watched on.


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The Exterminating Angel review

Posted : 6 years, 8 months ago on 17 February 2011 09:43 (A review of The Exterminating Angel)

Bizarre yet captivating tale of a group of party guests who mysteriously find themselves unable to leave the living room of their host. They proceed to spend the night there.. and several days following, all the while unable to understand why and how they came to be in the predicament they find themselves in. Short of space, food and water, they fall prey to sickness, hunger and personal conflict. The movie is deeply satirical and symbolic. The plight of the highly affluent party guests ironically mirrors the plight of the millions of impoverished around the world. They try logically reasoning about their situation but ultimately logic gives way to irrationality and blind faith and it's a fascinating evolution to watch.


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The Vanishing review

Posted : 6 years, 8 months ago on 17 February 2011 07:48 (A review of The Vanishing)

Ever wonder what goes on in the mind of a kidnapper when he is planning and committing the act? Here's your chance. The kidnapper doesn't run around with a large knife or axe, he does not grin maniacally, he doesn't have a scary tone of voice, he looks entirely like an ordinary man. You wouldn't pick up out of a crowd as a dangerous man, yet he becomes more and more menacing, precisely because of his outward ordinariness. Melodrama and hysterics are kept out of this movie, much to the credit of everyone involved, and the cold, calculating mind of a sociopath is put on display for the viewer's horror and surprise.


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Ilomilo review

Posted : 6 years, 8 months ago on 2 February 2011 02:11 (A review of Ilomilo)

Ilo and Milo are two friends who want to spend every day with each other. Unfortunately, they have to meet in a new place every time, so it takes a bit of work to find each other. The game basically consists of a 3D maze with Ilo and Milo is different parts of it. You can navigate one or the other at a time, with the ultimate objective of meeting somewhere. The puzzles are varied and clever, along with different items and characters to help you along the way. The music and art are excellent, making this a really fun puzzle to solve.


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Batman: Arkham Asylum review

Posted : 6 years, 8 months ago on 2 February 2011 02:02 (A review of Batman: Arkham Asylum)

Wow, just wow. Easily the best Batman game ever created, and quite possibly the best game ever created. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, taken the Warden and Gordon prisoner and it's up to Batman to stop him and rescue everyone in the prison/asylum. It's an RPG and you play as Batman, no Robin to distract you. It's heavily influenced by the Christopher Nolan films in terms of style and characterisation.

Let's start with the environment, it *is* stunning. Arkham is present in the game in all it's creepy glory. There's several buildings, all rendered with lavish detail. The music is mostly very good. I'm not completely enamoured with it, but more often than not, it's adds to the atmosphere.

The characters get as much attention as the environment, if not more. As part of a puzzle quest, you get patient interview tapes all through the game. All of them are exceptional, kudos to both the writers and the voice artists. You encounter all the classic Bat-villains - the Joker, of course, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, Bane and Scarecrow. The story is largely driven forward by The Joker but each of the other villains gets their 15 mins. Then there is Batman himself. He's voiced by Kevin Conroy, who has done a brilliant job voicing Batman since the early 1990s starting with the Animated Series. His face, his suit, his weapons - everything is perfect.

The game play emphasises stealth over action. You get the fights with the inmates and the boss fights but much of the game involves sneaking around without being detected by your pursuers. This is entirely in keeping with the character of Batman, who never carries a gun and relies on stealth and surprise to overpower his opponents. You get toys and upgrades to help with this, the Batarang chief among them.

The game play, the story, the characters, the environment are the best in a Batman game created so far. As a Batman fan (both movies and graphic novels), I am in heaven every time I play this game. It's as close to perfection as a game can be, in my opinion.


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Star Trek Fan Collective - Captain's Log review

Posted : 6 years, 8 months ago on 28 January 2011 07:09 (A review of Star Trek Fan Collective - Captain's Log)

This collection should be a blockbuster punch in the guts kind of collection, in theory anyway. The problem is that the selection is so varied that it's not possible for any narrative to build up, unlike the other themed collections.

(Disc 1) Star Trek
"The City on the Edge of Forever"
"The Enterprise Incident"
"Balance of Terror"

The first episode on this disc, 'The City on the Edge of Forever', is a classic, one of the best episodes in the original series. William Shatner's introduction is weird, incomprehensible in parts and I'm not convinced he knew what the episode's plot actually was.

The other two episodes revolve around the Romulans. 'The Enterprise Incident' is really good, though it's more of a Spock episode than a Kirk one and I'm not sure why it's included here. 'Balance of Power' is so-so, a straightforward combat story that doesn't leave much of an impression. Not one of my favourites, and that fact that it is popular enough to warrant inclusion baffles me.

(Disc 2) The Next Generation
"In Theory"
"Chain of Command"
"Darmok"

My favourite on this disc is 'In Theory' which is directed by Patrick Stewart and largely centres around Data. One of the better episodes in this series.

'Chain of Command' is one of those episodes that leaves an impression the first time around, but once the shock wears off, you realise that the story is relatively weak. Patrick Stewart gets a chance to flex his acting muscles, which makes it worthwhile to watch again.

'Darmok' is a very good episode based on the theme of trying to understand an incomprehensible alien language. It's a theme that's been used by Star Trek writers for pretty much every show in the universe and usually results in an interesting episode.

(Disc 3) Deep Space Nine
"Far Beyond the Stars"
"What You Leave Behind"
"In the Pale Moonlight"

Deep Space Nine is a hard beast to fathom. It's largely episodic, which makes it difficult pick out individual episodes of excellence. The whole disc, while not boring for a Trek fan, is pretty flat.

'Far Beyond the Stars' bucks the trend. It's basically social commentary on racism with a clever plot and steps outside of the DS9 continuity, making it easy to enjoy individually.

'What You Leave Behind' is the series finale and I'm confused at to why it's in this collection, since the Captain is one character is an ensemble cast.

'In the Pale Moonlight' is very focused on Sisko and deserves to be here but the story also makes little impact outside of the DS9's larger context.

(Disc 4) Voyager
"Counterpoint"
"The Omega Directive"
"Flashback"

Another reasonably solid set of episodes on this disc, 'Counterpoint' being the best of the lot. Voyager's penchant for building up the tension till the very end and finishing up with a relatively weak quasi-scientific plot construct has always bothered me. Both the other episodes suffer from this problem. They are still enjoyable, but not my favourites from the series.

(Disc 5) Enterprise
"Judgment"
"These Are the Voyages..."
"First Flight"

A very good set of episodes from Enterprise. I'm not sure how so many series finales ended up in this collection, but 'These Are the Voyages...' is another one. The good thing about Enterprise was always it's penchant for plugging into the history of the Trek universe created by the other series that preceded it.

All the episodes here follow that trend, and personally, I enjoy them all the more for that. The finale ends with the formation of the Federation, 'Judgement' digs into Klingon history and 'First Flight' is about the history of the Earth Starfleet. Interesting plots, all of them.

This disc is the only one that maintains some sort of narrative, that of the history of Starfleet / the Federation, and is more enjoyable for it.


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Star Trek Fan Collective - Borg review

Posted : 6 years, 8 months ago on 28 January 2011 07:09 (A review of Star Trek Fan Collective - Borg)

One of the greatest foes ever created in the Star Trek Universe. There were some great stories written with the Borg as the focal point, including the fantastic movie 'First Contact', unfortunately not in this collection.

DS9 has almost no appearances by the Borg except for the pilot episode 'Emissary' where the events from the TNG episode 'The Best of Both Worlds' are part of the brief back story of Benjamin Sisko's character. That episode is not included here.

(Disc 1)
Enterprise: "Regeneration"
The Next Generation: "Q Who"
The Next Generation: "The Best of Both Worlds"
The Next Generation: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II"

The only episode from Enterprise is chronologically the first time the Borg appear on TV ('First Contact' being their first time chronologically overall), but not the first time we've seen them on-screen. It's a decent episode which ties in well with the Borg stories from the other series, but also raises the question of why they were never mentioned in the original series, which came after Enterprise chronologically.

The TNG episode 'Q Who?' is the Borg's first appearance on TV. It's the start of a beautiful friendship, sort of.

'The Best of Both Worlds' was hands down, the best Borg story written for TNG. The image of Picard is Locutus at the end of Part I is shocking the first time you see it. Good stuff.

(Disc 2)
The Next Generation: "I Borg"
The Next Generation: "Descent"
The Next Generation: "Descent, Part II"
Voyager: "Scorpion"

'I Borg' and 'Descent' form a loose story arc. They are decent stories, but not quite the highest quality writing TNG has seen. Some of the concepts in these episodes, especially Data's desire to feel human emotions, is explored in much more detail and depth in 'First Contact'.

(Disc 3)
Voyager: "Scorpion, Part II"
Voyager: "Drone"
Voyager: "Dark Frontier"

Voyager was the show with the most Borg appearances and not all of them are included in this collection, but the better ones fortunately have been. Of all the Star Trek TV series, the best Borg stories were from this show, and they tend to involve Seven of Nine a whole lot.

'Scorpion' sees the introduction of Seven's character and her escape from the Borg collective. 'Drone' is another high quality story, which has her as a supporting character central to the story. The best of the lot is 'Dark Frontier', which brings back the Borg Queen, a character that had a central role in 'First Contact' as well. The story explores the back story of Seven/Annika and the struggle between her lingering Borg identity and her human one.

(Disc 4)
Voyager: "Unimatrix Zero"
Voyager: "Unimatrix Zero, Part II"
Voyager: "Endgame"

It's almost fitting that the finale of Voyager ('Endgame') had a major part for the Borg, though I'm generally iffy on time travel stories personally. 'Unimatrix Zero' sees Captain Janeway do a Picard and have herself assimilated into the Borg. It's adds an interesting facet to the Borg mythos. While the story wears thin over two episodes, it's still a very good story.


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Robin Hood review

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 15 January 2011 11:18 (A review of Robin Hood)

The worst movie directed by Ridley Scott that I've had the misfortune of watching. The film's creators make the fatal mistake of creating a Robin Hood story that is neither rooted in myth or the history of the period it is set in. With neither of these things to ground the story, we end up with a generic drama that could have been set anywhere and anytime, so why call it Robin Hood at all? The end result is similar to the the ridiculous Sherlock Holmes movie, also from last year. Being disrespectful of the source material rarely results in a good movie, and it's true here as well.


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