Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Seven Albums of 2009

I feel I don’t write enough album reviews here, I don’t get round to the new music when it comes out and then kind of miss the boat a bit. Christmas/New Year is the perfect time to catch up and here are seven albums that came out this year that I’ve had in heavy rotation. In no particular order:


John Mayer - Battle Studies

Most are aware of my borderline obsession with the discography of John Mayer. Battle Studies came out this year with the difficult task of providing a followup to his previous album Continuum. More of a sidestep back to his pop roots, with a California rock edge, the album lyrically wears it's heart on its sleeve and does nothing drastic or challenging. However it's production and application are so flawless, as a fan I couldn't be happier.

Passion Pit - Manners

I'm not a massive indie/electronica fan, and after accidentally seeing Crystal Castles live and forever regretting it I wrote off the new popular genre. Passion Pit's incredibly accomplished debut album was recommended to me by a close friend so I thought I’d try it. I find an accessibility in the fact the group are a whole band rather than two guys on synths, and that their music is structured like more regular/pop music (Chorus/Verse/Bridge etc). Combined it makes a really great listen.

Norah Jones – The Fall
It’s Gonna Be

Where John Mayer took a sidestep back, Norah Jones made a leap forward. I love when artists go in a new direction and completely pull it off, which is what The Fall does. It’s bassy, Lo-Fi sound completely complements her voice when you think it wouldn’t, and the songs themselves are a refreshing addition to her already excellent songbook.

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

French band Phoenix are another example of a band who constantly move in new directions to great success for every one of their albums. Teaming up again with the producer of their first album ‘United’, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix drives through its 33 minute duration, which although seems short makes you feel like you’re hearing nothing but the strongest songs they initially wrote, leaving you utterly satisfied.

Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement
Maybe So, Maybe No

A Strange Arrangement’s throwback to the 60s and 70s soul scene was such a surprising and excellent end to the Summer when it came out mid-August. With a vocal style somewhat -reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield, it’s weird to think Hawthorne comes from a background in hip-hop. The album literally came out of nowhere and did a quite quick circuit of the internet when it first came out. In interview Hawthorne described how although the sound is reminiscent of old soul records he hopes it also pushes forward to more modern hip-hop. I personally disagree but it doesn’t stop the album from being highly recommended.

Kings of Convenience – Declaration of Dependence
Boat Behind

The video for boat behind (linked above) essentially embodies how you should listen to any album by Kings of Convenience. Their latest album has been a good while coming, no doubt due to the many musical pies band member Erland Oye has his fingers in. The album is very true to their style, but it’s apparent how tight the duo are, and how they take being just a pair as nothing but an advantage.

Stephen Kellogg & The S6xers – The Bear
Oh Adeline

Stephen Kellogg is one of my favourite songwriters, and it amazes me how the albums he puts out get better and better. Despite this the band have yet to be successful enough for me to find a studio version of Oh Adeline (linked above). The song really lets the melody, vocals, and quality of the writing stand out. If I had a disc changer, this would make the cut.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Machinarium - Do Flash Skills Result In Great Games?

Flash games are the bains of our bored, dead time on the internet. Whatever the menial task that we should be performing, we always fall across that one link that asks us to perform an even more degrading activity that when completed, we hold nothing but pure regret towards. Machinarium, is an adventure game that despite being developed and built solely in Flash, is not a use of time that you will equate with regret. Machinarium is the first full game release by independent Czech team ‘Aminata Design ‘, who though at first appear foremost a game studio, also seem to lead a double life as a design studio, based mainly in flash websites. The experience and skill the team have with the Flash platform is undeniable from their portfolio alone, but is the transition from mini-games and web layouts, to an immersive gaming narrative a successful one?

On the surface Machinarium’s narrative is generic in the context of most adventure games. A robot dumped in a scrap yard travels back to his home city in order to save it from peril, humorously solving quirky puzzles along the way in a point and click engine. It may sound unoriginal, but the simplicity, and even naivety of the narrative comes across as refreshing and charming amongst today’s Modern Warfaring and Uncharting. The atmosphere of the game breathes an innocence that is oddly captivating as opposed to frustrating. Part of the success of this comes from the absence of character dialogue in telling the story. Instead, speech bubbles and thought clouds lead the player through the back story leading up to the game’s opening. The real success however, is probably the comfortability of the games point and click enginge, which is familiar enough to let other factors of the game stand out. A stalemate somewhat lies here though, as it can’t be helped to think that the game could feel like something a lot greater, if it’s controls weren’t so similar to everything else.

Although the familiarity in the gameplay and the story could be enough to turn a player off to Machinarium, it’s saving grace lies in the presentation. Although the game isn’t in fact that long, the high level of detail in all of the beautifully hand drawn artwork is reminiscent of a children’s story book, or concept artwork from a Tim Burton film. Background artwork and interactive animation is seamless to the point of immersion, and the fact that the player has to at times spend a fair amount of time on the one screen solving it’s puzzle is made up for as they get lost in the detail. The accompanying soundtrack, composed in-house, is incredibly befitting of the game’s artwork and story, with a slight electronic twist on Terry S. Taylor’s soundtrack to claymation cult classic ‘The Neverhood’.

At its price point (12.50GBP 20$ 14Eur) there is more than enough in the Machinarium package. As an experience it provides everything you would want from it, keeping Adventure gamers very content. The artwork and soundtrack give that little bit extra, which if absent, there’s no doubt the praise of this review would be somewhat dampened. Aminata have proven themselves incredibly capable of making a Flash game that isn’t an utter waste of time, and playing it safe for their first full game was probably a good move. However, matching the originality of their art style with their own take on the controls and mechanics would have possibly produced something that would cause up a more significant storm and certify their place on the Adventure Games Developer map. Though achieving this whilst maintaining the charm and simplicity that makes the Machinarium so successful, is most certainly easier said than done.

Original Nidzumi Post:

Tales of Monkey Island - Power Pirates Included

Despite their fairly niche market, point and click adventure games have always been classed highly amongst enthusiasts. Some titles have even debatably broken into the ‘mature’ games category in terms of plot, such as Broken Sword and Beneath a Steel Sky. Although groups such as the developers of the SCUMMVM emulator have built bridges to widen the audience base of these games, the last few platform generations have seen a notable push toward console gaming, and the days of point-and-click have been somewhat lost.

All however is not in vain, as Telltale games have now moved on from Sam & Max to a revival of the Monkey Island franchise. ‘Tales of Monkey Island’ is being delivered to both PC and Wii as an episodic title as is Telltale’s MO. Although unlike predecessors, each episode is no longer standalone but a continuous adventure simply split into five monthly chapters.

The game opens with Guybrush Threepwood (mighty pirate) back at the helm with his wife Elaine beside him, battling the forces of the evil pirate LeChuck. Although it sounds like the same old thing, the originality comes from the fact that the opening holds resemblance to the finale of previous Monkey Island games. It’s nice to see Telltale do something original and tell you their own story and not simply replicating the game with slightly different puzzles. To delve too much into the plot would spoil the experience you have with it. Needless to say the tone is pitch perfect for a Monkey Island game and it’s apparent that Telltale have spent a lot of time studying the older titles in the series in effort to attain the same quality.

As immersive as the narrative and humor is, something has to be said for the few things that pull the player out of the experience. Some of the puzzles are a little un-intuitive, though I hasten to add only a few. Thankfully, less so than original point and click titles due to general human decency and a really well implemented hint system. However there were times of impatience where a FAQ had to be loaded, only to then make me feel like an idiot when reading the solution.

On the more technical side the control system should be mentioned. Unlike regular point and click games where simply clicking the desired destination was enough, the system in place involves clicking and then dragging the mouse in the direction of travel. WASD/Arrow keys are also available, and about ten minutes with it should be sufficient to stop the player walking into everything. Thinking about it though, it should play very well on the Wii, and remove the awkward precision of clicking constantly on the ground and instead just holding down A and moving the Wii remote left and right.

The visuals of the game would be best described as ‘animated caricature’, somewhat resembling the art style of Monkey Island 3, but in 3D. Also coming out on the Wii it’s obvious that the game isn’t going to give it’s jungle environment the same fidelity and realism seen in Uncharted, but it doesn’t need it. Anything more than what’s been delivered would simply distract from the story, and if anything make the nature of the gameplay harder, as the more detail makes it harder to find the items you need to solve things.

Some negativity has arisen from the fact that the player pays for all five episodes before playing at all. The principal of this is apparent, but when the quality of the first episode is so high, and the promise of four more months of content that can be nothing less but equal in quality. You can’t be anything but satisfied.

The first two episodes in the Tales of Monkey Island series are available to play now and Telltale are the perfect match of developer to continue the franchise. Their iteration of the series is both loyal and original, with enough to immensely satisfy fans of the old games, whilst also grab in a brand new audience who missed it first time round.

Original Nidzumi Post:

Why Isn't Everyone Playing Quake Live?

Internet browsers have come leaps and bounds in the last few years in terms of being a gaming platform. Often delivering the experience in the form of a flash arcade clone or an in-depth RPG requiring a 50MB client before being able to play it. Quake Live is seemingly a significant jump, offering a full, graphically capable, online multiplayer first person shooter for no price at all. To add greater insult to injury it’s all delivered in a 5MB browser plugin. Too good to be true?

The grounding of the game is Quake III Arena. Though understand grounding as meaning the entire game. Take everything you remember about playing Q3A, and simply apply it to a streamlined browser experience. Everything has been rebuilt from the ground up, with levels being heavily based off of original and the more popular user created maps from the original release in 1999, as well as a boastful variety of seven game modes. There is also matchmaking in place, partly chosen when you decide upon your difficulty level during the training level, and in part decided upon by your performance during gameplay.

Both matchmaking and amount of modes will likely be tweaked and increased as the game currently remains in the state of being an open Beta (August 2009). Also set to change upon final release is support for both Mac and Linux, something that is meant to drop tomorrow.

Q3A was previously my only exposure to the Quake franchise. A friend at school convinced the IT technician it was a good idea to install it across the school network, and the beginning of lunch became something that somewhat resembled the opening of Black Friday as too many people rushed in to the available twenty PCs.

My experience with Quake Live is somewhat similar to that video, however without fear of being crushed or bullied by someone older than you. What does remain the same, is the eternal feeling of having my ass handed to me every time I fail miserably in front of every other player in the game. Any delusions of grandeur I once had in which I tell myself how good I am at online First Person Shooters are gone.

This aside Quake Live is still consistently fun, and incredibly addictive as you find yourself saying that you need just one more fifteen minutes of fragging. It’s something far too good to miss out on. The fact that it’s free also makes it something pointless to miss out on. It’s just a shame that their hand might be forced into making a paid option for the game but for the time being everyone should try it at least once.

Original Nidzumi Post:

EyePet - Technical Flare and Frustration

Love them or hate them, virtual pets certainly hold their benefits over the real thing. A single, one off investment that doesn’t include an array of accessories that you’d rather not own. There’s also an absence of defecation across a carpet when you arrive back home for the evening. Perhaps even the ability to make your pet fight with your other friend’s pet and have it not be illegal.

Nintendo has easily had the greatest and most successful market share in the virtual pet genre, with games such as Nintendogs soaring high in sales charts for surprising lengths of time. Despite this, it’s nice to see other consoles try and provide some competition; EyePet is Sony’s answer.

EyePet is made different from other pet simulations through its use of ‘augmented reality’, whereby the user creates interactive 3D objects on-screen through the manoeuvrings of objects in the real world, all recognized by the Playstation Eye. EyePet makes full use of a plastic card with a paw print as its object of interaction. On screen however, it’s not simply a card, it’s a drinks bottle, it’s a showerhead and it’s even a trampoline.

Despite showcasing this new interactive technology, the software has a really nice focus on the characters presented, of which there are two. The EyePet, and a by-the-book stereotypical white lab coat Professor, aptly known as ‘The Professor’.

Unfortunately the same praise cannot be said for the initial setup of the equipment, where endless time was spent adjusting the Playstation Eye, clearing space in the room, and fiddling with the lights to achieve optimum settings.

The real game opens as the Professor guides you through the game’s tutorial stages and challenges. Here you’ll be introduced to EyePet through a Jurassic Park-esque sequence involving a hatching egg, if albeit without the onslaught of prehistoric beasts.

Once up and running you’ll finally start to look after you’re EyePet. This would be too boring though, so instead a ‘Pet Plan’ has been put together to keep both parties interested. The plan consists of a sizeable series of challenges timetabled out over fifteen days, all based around the main interactive controls of the game, which then develop in order to showcase the ‘augmented reality’ technology further.

The game encourages players to interact with their EyePet in as many ways as possible, with activities such as drawing and even singing. Tasks as mundane as cleaning and feeding also become very involved, hands-on experiences.

The technicalities of the game are both the strongest and weakest points of the experience though. When successful, I genuinely found some of the different ways I was asked to interact and play with my EyePet entertaining and rewarding. The amount of activities, and subsequent mileage, you’ll get out of the game is undoubtedly impressive for a simple pet simulation. This is also seemingly the game’s Achilles’ heel though, as some of the technicalities simply don’t hold up when put into practice.

Once through the basics, every mechanic introduced had me battle with its workings for a time long enough for a child to get frustrated and walk away. These issues could well have been to do with the tough lighting and floor space situation in my room, and the fact that I’m not the size of a six year-old, but if honest this seems like poor planning in development. It’s unrealistic to assume everyone is going to have the ample floor space and supply of suitable lighting to play this game.

The devil’s advocate would note that ‘tough luck your game fails to play the way it should when using it in the wrong conditions’, however this brings out the paramount frustration with the software. The provision of instruction when attempting challenges is essentially absent. When working, the software will happily guide players through the necessary motions. When not working, the software remains utterly silent and I find myself flailing around my floor, fiddling with lighting conditions, and being removed from the experience.

Apart from once playing a demo of Creatures 2, and also once owning a Digimon, this reviewer has to admit ignorance in this genre of games. Then again this could almost certainly be seen as the same mindset of a parent looking for a form of interactive ‘edutainment’ for their child. The interactivity that comes from the Playstation Eye, mixed with the cute face of the game’s protagonist on the box, are almost certainly the game’s strongest selling points. Promise of further interactivity from other games that use the Playstation Eye make the thirty-five pound investment (bundled with Playstation Eye and Magic Card) a great deal, and certainly a notably cheaper one than brand new A-list titles seeing release this season.

As the optimum play conditions were absent from this particular EyePet experience, it’s hard to determine how seamlessly flowing and accessible the title truly is. When it was working, the time invested was rewarding. It was honestly, surprising easy to forget that the objects on screen weren’t really near you. Almost an impressive technical showcase, and if purchasing for young children, definitely expect them to ask for your assistance during a few of the technically quirky tasks.

Original review posting at Nidzumi found here:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Network dramas and the dumbing down of television...

My father often ­enjoys telling me about the ‘golden age’ of television. A world in which a mere two channels existed, where all was black and white, and where programming was produced to inform rather than dance around in front of people with an attention span of eight seconds. There’s no doubt that the face of television has drastically changed. Hundreds of channels are quickly rifled through by an idiot with a remote, hoping to catch a quick glimpse of something shiny or better still an explosion. Has the intelligence once found in television story-telling been lost for good?

Popular dramas of the present day manifest in forty-minutes of twists and turns. American shows such as Heroes, Lost, and Desperate Housewives thrive off of their large casts and long series runs. But are these necessary for telling a story? ABC’s Lost is probably the best example of where a 24 episode season run does nothing but hinder the story being told. An entire greatest hits of infamous episodes have seen literally nothing happen and questions raised that drags a viewer through another ten episodes before receiving a satisfying (or even not so satisfying) answer.

Desperate Housewives’ first season followed the exploits of four best friends in a stereotypical suburban America and the dark secrets that hide behind the neighbours’ drapes. The show is now in its sixth season and you can’t but question just how many family secrets exist on one averagely sized street. Plotlines have included retarded, psychotic sons being chained in basements, friends burning each other’s houses down, a daughter falling in love with a disturbed, murderous boy, and the burying of babies under swimming pools. Scenario’s which sound ridiculous in this context, but yet on the screen, viewership remains high enough and profitable enough to condone more and more seasons.

Desperate Housewives is the best example of the ‘corporate formula’. A large cast gives a higher chance of a character being thrown in who someone will like. It also gives writers more plot options later in the show. Once the first order of thirteen episodes is up, it’s back to the writing desk to replicate the success of the episodes that just aired, and it’s this hunger for an order of more and more episodes that could be placed as the problem.

Prison Break saw the young, likeable Michael Schofield hold up a bank and get sent to prison, all in order to then break his older brother (framed of murder) out. The show was well written, had an interesting variety of characters that questioned a viewer’s loyalties and sympathies. Most successful was the tensioned pace, that kept people returning every week to see the gang finally break out of prison in the last few episodes of the first season. It seems too good to be true, and that’s because it was. Why? Because there were a further three seasons. Running around was done, and wait…they were put in ANOTHER prison, which they then inevitably had to break out of. The fact there were a whole three seasons drawn out was simply because the formula was good, and audiences kept returning no matter how futile the plot became. One series saw the love interest die, only for her to return when ratings dropped.

It’s so refreshing to witness a show that tries something different and tells a story rather than tick boxes on a weekly basis. Most of these shows fall onto premium networks such as Showtime and HBO, Band of Brothers, The Wire and Weeds are to name a few, but of course they come at a cost, a subscription cost to be precise.

It seems apparent that storytelling is purely influenced by money when it comes to network television in the US. However, are television networks such as ABC to blame for dumbing down these shows, in order to give audiences what they want? Surely if they play off of what the majority of the audience wants does the blame seemingly in fact land upon us? The small list above proves that television certainly isn’t losing its intelligence, we’re just too lazy to go out and find it.

Get hunting…

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Nidzumi Article: E3 2009: The Big 3, Who Won?

Now all the ‘Big Three’ have stepped off of their conference stages, has the promise of a return to the ‘Old E3’ – abuzz with sudden, surprise announcements (all of which seemed to involve motion control) and celebrity appearances been kept? Sony appeared in the most difficult position from the start due to the large number of press leaks over the previous month or so, whilst Nintendo and Microsoft remained incredibly tight-lipped with their announcements. However, this in no way seems to reflect the final standing of how they were received.

Microsoft lived up to their past reputation of putting on a show rather than a keynote presentation, with co-ordinated set pieces, celebrity guests and an incredibly solid lineup of games set for release this year and beyond. Most interesting to see was the reveal of ‘Project Natal’, Microsoft’s response to Nintendo and motion control. With a good enough tech presentation involving a game few would ever play, and a dull but suitable painting demonstration they made a really good grounding for a peripheral with a great amount of potential. I say potential because a lot of the promises seemed almost a little too hard to believe. Full body motion scanning, voice recognition, multiple figure tracking and the absence of any kind of controller aside from your body are definitely revolutionary if successfully implemented, though can also raise fair skepticisms.

This aside, game lineups including two new Halo games, a look at Final Fantasy XIII running on the 360 and also the announcements of XboxLive teaming up with Facebook/Twitter/Sky TV kept the whole conference on a high for its 90 minute duration, and set a considerably high bar to be reached by Nintendo and Sony.

Nintendo’s conference, although better than last year’s apparent attempt of getting people excited about releases for their console, no doubt delivered the weakest press event. This fact would be obvious from a clap-o-meter, which would read an audience applause tally at a mere three (Ed - three seconds?). Banter was obviously scripted and aside from the announcements of a Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Bad Subtitle there was little to be interested in.

It’s almost as if Nintendo were unsure of what tone to pitch their content in. No doubt this comes down to the fact the majority of what was shown were products aimed strictly away from the enthusiast press sat in the auditorium. Time spent demonstrating Wii Motion Plus (also extensively discussed/demoed last year) seemed at a complete loss when games like Zelda: Spirit Tracks were merely brushed past with an on-screen logo.

Then again, the financial situation Nintendo currently find themselves in, the presentation in no way hurt them. They were happy to present what they wanted and then wave everyone out. Although the majority of presented games were not to my personal tastes or of the majority present in the hall, they will evidently sell well to the market Nintendo has paved out for themselves. Overall it was just disappointing to not even see them try and reach the high bar set by Microsoft the previous morning.

Sony also lived up to past reputation of starting late due to queues outside the conference hall as people arrived from Nintendo’s presser. Seemingly with the most to prove, (with a smaller install base compared to competitors, on top of last month’s announcement that the Sony company had lost around 1 billion dollars last year, and the leaked announcement of the PSPGo) Jack Tretton stood up to the plate, joking with the audience about their inability to keep secrets, speaking with a very commanding presence when describing how the Playstation brand was performing in the context of their infamous ’10 year plan’.

Their game lineup was possibly as strong as Microsoft’s, with crowd pleasers such as a much longer trailer for FFXIII, looks at Assassin’s Creed II and Uncharted II, and the existence of Gran Turismo 5. What impressed me most about Sony’s conference was the fact they still had surprises. They even had a response to Microsoft ‘s announcement of motion control by demoing their own. Although design was still very much in development, the tech demo they gave showed a lot of promise and although a little rough around the edges, seemed incredibly responsive to use and debatably near completion despite the slightly thrown together demo material.

Disappointments came in the form of a rather expensive price point for the PSPGo and no sign of a PS3 price drop. The PSPGo price especially, coming in at $250 the price point seems a bit extortionate considering consumers can happily buy a 360/DSi/Wii for considerably lower costs these days.

Obvious from all the conferences was that all three companies have settled into this generation, and are incredibly aware of their audience market. This makes it difficult to place them in a ranking order of which was the best as all the consoles tailor to a slightly different audience. For the E3 audience it’s possible that Sony may have snuck in at the last second in an underdog fashion to nab first place. However it’s almost too close to call between Microsoft, and they rightfully both deserve an equal first. Ultimately it boils down to the consumer, and with the announcements made you can be more than happy currently owning either 360 of PS3 at this current moment.


Also check out the article at: (managed to get on the front page for a while soon after it went up. Rather chuffed for a first article on the site ^_^ )

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

140 Word Review: Fanboys

‘Fanboys’ is a film following the epic road trip of four best friends on a mission to break into Skywalker Ranch and see a copy of Star Wars Episode I, before the death of one of the four suffering from cancer. The movie isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s not supposed to be. To quote the film ‘it isn’t about the movie’.. The undeniable message of the film is found witnessing the extreme lengths fans will go to, and the friendships built around the common theme that they all have such passion for. With an impressive array of cameo appearances, and sci-fi references that will go over most people’s heads, this is a movie for fanboys, about fanboys. Often cheesy and generic. But don’t take it too seriously and you’ll walk away satisfied, and proud to be a Star Wars fan.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Låt Den Rätte Komma In / Let The Right One In

Pseudo-horror erotic-tween fest ‘Twilight’, which recently saw giggling girls drag friends and boyfriends to in order for them to swoon over bad-boy-pretty-boy killed off from Harry Potter, despite its mass success, is an utter waste of time. Fans of the dearly beloved Transylvanian blood-sucker, and fans of films that are any good were left disappointed. Though as both the film and its original ‘saga’ of books have attained high praise from the audience they were marketed at, approaching ‘Twilight’ as the grand return of vampires to film is almost certainly the wrong approach.

‘Låt Den Rätte Komma In’ was released January of last year, though thanks to time being taken in both subtitling the film, and getting it out to the local independent Art House Cinema, it thankfully didn’t slip under my radar. The plot (set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in the early 1980s) follows the endeavors of the bullied and lonesome 12 year old Oskar. Upon meeting the enigmatic Eli, a girl of his age who claims she ‘cannot be his friend’ (probably because she’s a vampire), and the dead bodies drained of blood suddenly cropping up all over the place, the story quickly finds motion. As the audience watches the relationship between the two develop , they also bear witness to the personal effects that the extraordinary situation has on all of the film’s characters.

The initial strength of the story is the fact that it never truly reveals it’s ace. John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of both the screenplay and original novel) makes no references to ‘vampires’ at all (except in one moment….the movie’s lowest point). The film’s low budget doesn’t allow for the glossy blockbuster effect that Twilight had, as an ensemble cast of vampires flew around saving the day with an anti-heroic arrogance that made you want to slap some sense into every girl in the auditorium . Tomas Alfredson’s directing takes on a much more artistic and subtle approach, often leaving the mind to fill in the gaps thanks to old school cinematography tricks. This isn’t to say the film isn’t gory. Throats are mercilessly slit, bodies humourously burnt, and limbs jovially decapitated. But the absence of many computer effects, and the brutality in which these acts are suddenly portrayed adds such a faultless reality to the film they’re almost curiously captivating.

The Director’s framing gives the film a beautiful yet dark tone, contrasting brilliantly with the innocence and light that the children bring to the fore. Mixed in within this though are a series of subtle hints to the way that Eli is forced to live her life. Forbidden from exposure to sunlight, cold-blooded, beastlike when the scent of blood hits her nose, and dependant on the mysterious handler caring for her, tasked to collect the blood for her to consume. It’s this that makes the vampire theme work so well, and not fall into the clichés associated with other vampire horror flicks.

Following this pattern, the absence of any true heroes in the story builds on the hopeful yet bleak reality conveyed for such an out of the ordinary scenario. Playing a character who shows notable flaws is no easy feat, and the child acting was highly accomplished with this in mind. Supporting actors also proved competent, though it’s sometimes challenging to gauge with subtitled films as so much more attention is put to the words on the screen rather than how lines are being delivered. Lina Leandersson’s Eli was notably excellent, and somewhat reminiscent of Ivana Baquero’s performance as Ofelia in Guiellermo Del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’.

It’s difficult to bring up the more negative sides of Låt Den Rätte Komma In. Partly because there were few, and partly because the faults lie very much at the end of the story, which if discussed would spoil the first two thirds of the film. Spoilers avoided, the final act sees the introduction of two more plotlines, which if introduced earlier would have probably worked better within the film. The simplicity of the film’s setup is suddenly cluttered too quickly and after the plot has spent time building up what seems to be a coming of age story, suddenly appears otherwise with an ending which although fine, felt like it could have also gone in a different direction for it’s conclusion.

Låt Den Rätte Komma In has now been released on BluRay and DVD in the US, with simplified subtitles that don’t match the more accurate theatrical subtitles. Apparently the publishing company have no fixed this issue after complaints, but be aware there are two floating around. This aside, it feels a disservice to tell you to avoid this film. It’s certainly not for everyone (people who dislike- blood/people from Sweden/snow/more blood/slightly odd haircuts/vampires). But it’s a genre that has been re-approached from such an original and refreshing viewpoint, and presented with such a confidence, that it would be a crime to miss out on.

Put in your fangs and go see Låt Den Rätte Komma In (English title: Let The Right One In)…

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Zack And Miri Make A Porno

A long awaited update...

Kevin Smith is one of those directors I’ve been aware of for a while , but only just recently gotten around to catching up and seeing a few of his films (I started on Clerks and have been making my way up the list). For anyone remotely interested in pop culture today it’s hard not to inadvertently come across his name whether it be a writing credit or the role of a director, or perhaps just one of the twenty-nine times he appears on IMDB under the apparently notable category of ‘thanks’. Perhaps it was the extended hype surrounding the name of Kevin Smith before seeing his work but if honest, despite enjoying them it has to be said they felt somewhat dated and stale.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno is an interesting movie in the context of his previous films because of the more mainstream approach that’s been taken in its production and release. The concept of the movie is simple. So simple in fact it can be understood by just reading the film’s title, where it can be understood that best friends Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) decide to get themselves out of debt by making a porno movie together. The speed and ease in explaining this works favourably, as it opens up the beginning of the film quickly and really allows the audience to get as comfortable as the marrital-esque friendship held by the title characters, that led me to just feel jealous, alone, and depressed. To top off their happiness the chemistry between the pair is undeniable and makes them both incredibly likeable to the audience, and me even more embittered at the delight they take in each other’s company.

In the run up to release there was far too much discussion over whether ‘Porno’ should be permitted into the film’s title, and whether or not children would read the word and be corrupted by something they didn’t know about, or be encouraged to boot up their computers and Google through curiosity. What’s even more ridiculous is that now they’re happily releasing ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’ starring some new British ‘comedy’ duo actually quite popular with children in Britain. Their popularity with children leads me to believe they are in fact entirely unfunny, and even more dilemma is created from the cryptic title that makes it impossible to understand if it’s lesbians who are killing vampires or if it’s people killing vampire lesbians…The approach given in Zack and Miri to the porn elements are less crude than audience members would imagine, despite the appearance of all forms of genitalia at one point or another. Amusingly, the porno moment featuring Zack and Miri is so beautifully awkward, and other scenes involving the other characters are approached in more of a humorously grotesque way, resulting in the audience not particularly wanting to revel with glee in boners nurtured under popcorn.

The supporting cast deliver a great diversity of personalities to add into the mix, though not in the same memorable ‘ensemble’ way often associated in earlier Smith outings. Though in some ways this is good as it keeps the film strictly focused on the relationship between Zack and Miri, and allows extra room for a lot of excellent one liners and visual gags that couldn’t otherwise be attributed. Smith’s writing, although different, seems much wittier and comes off as individuals telling their own jokes, rather than all the film’s characters telling jokes as if they were Kevin Smith, delivering them in the same, somewhat formulaic tone that could be equated to someone trying too hard. Despite strengths in the funny factory elements of the script, in terms of narrative the plot somewhat dominates in the last act of the movie, and the laughs become fewer as the plot rolls to its predictable conclusion. It’s predictability however, is no bad thing as again it gives breathing room for humour. It’s a tough balance to maintain and it’s only in the final act that it feels more weighted towards narrative.

Zack and Miri Make A Porno is a movie that does exactly what it says on the tin, though in this case the tin is a poster donning a slightly controversial movie title. What’s most interesting to take from it though is that Smith’s transition to the mainstream feels a little generic when put amongst the sea of Apatow branded comedies released in the last two years, and ultimately feels less Kevin Smith. Even if his earlier writing is, to put it bluntly, arrogantly self-indulgent at times, it has a charm that appears somewhat lost from Zack and Miri. Although I enjoyed the film a lot it doesn’t to me fall into the ‘cult’ category that so many of his previous films have managed to achieve despite their shortcomings when compared to some more recent script based indie comedies. Although ground isn’t broken in the case of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the film is hilarious, written with heart, and has strong leads and solid supporting cast to perform it. It’s nice to see something that isn’t Apatow branded once in a while.

Time to bust out the video cameras and make some home movies…