Why so series? – Penny Dreadful

Yay, I’m not dead.

So, about that show I most recently watched.

Penny Dreadful is a good series.

To start, Penny Dreadful is grotesque, haunting and very slow-paced. If you’re looking for a fast-paced series with many twists and turns, you should back away.

Penny Dreadful chronicles the misadventures of Vanessa Ives and company, mostly made up of sad souls that find themselves on the wrong side of the supernatural and often fighting for their lives. The main story-lines revolve mostly around Miss Ives, but the rest of the cast are well fleshed-out.

The main cast of season one, with a notable exclusion. (From left, Ethan Chandler, Brona Croft, Victor Frankenstein, Vanessa Ives, Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene)

Miss Vanessa Ives (brilliantly played by Eva Green, but we’ll get back to her) is a woman that is haunted by many demons, both personal and literal. She forms a team with an old friend of the family, and a rag-tag group of broken men as she seeks to save not only her father-figure’s real daughter and herself from unfathomable evils.

Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a famous explorer, having mapped big parts of Africa and intends to return for more (especially to look for the elusive source of the Nile). He’s a close ally of Vannessa, as their families were very close, and acts as her father-figure. He searches for his lost daughter Mina, and is haunted by his dead son Peter, who he left in a shallow grave in Africa.

Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is an American gun-show performer and former soldier recruited to the not-quite-merry band by Ives. He initiates a relationship with Brona Croft  in his personal time and during “work hours”, he finds out about a world few know exist in the shadows. He also harbours quite the dark secret.

Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper) is a prostitute that enters a relationship with Ethan. She’s suffering from tuberculosis, and also crosses path with a certain local handsome lad.

Sembene (Danny Sapani) is a servant of Malcolm’s he acquired somehow in Africa. Sembene’s past is a mystery, but his loyalty to the cause is unquestionable.

Dorian Gray (yeah, him – played by Reeve Carney) is a beautiful young man, indulging in sensuality for the most-part of the show. Has his classic painting to keep him young.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein (yes, that one too – played here by Harry Treadwell) is a local arrogant doctor, obsessed with the pursuit of the essence of life. He wants to create an immortal being. He’s extremely socially inept and rather dismissive of the group’s intentions, but finds himself drawn to the action anyway. Now you can probably figure out the last cast member.

Frankenstein’s Monster (Rory Kinnear) is just that. He returns to haunt his creator and demands that Frankenstein creates a wife for him. He has some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast that are of stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with Frankenstein.

The story these characters are drawn into is very good and simple. It’s a bit predictable at times, but it works well. It lacks direction for long stretches of each season, but I find it works for the show in general.

About the quality of the acting; Eva Green absolutely owns the screen as Vanessa Ives. If anybody doubts her capabilities as an actress, I really don’t know how. She gives you nearly every facet of Miss Ives, from happiness to absolute rock bottom. Her mannerisms, her voice, fucking everything. She’s the best actress on TV by far.

Also great is Harry Treadwell as Victor Frankenstein. His performance is absolutely stellar, and it makes it a treat to watch Frankenstein grow into a man on screen. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him in other projects.

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One of my negatives is Dorian Gray. I’m not very fond of the show’s take on the character – Or the character in general. He’s just rather boring and has little impact. He does however improve in season two, and has probably the best side-story. Much better when he’s being played straight, instead of having him strut around and recite poems like a love-sick philosopher. It looks as if he’ll have a big part in season 3, where he might end up being the main villain.

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The villains are also rather uninteresting, even if the ones of the second season are far better. Still, the show plays it off well and instead puts more focus on how the “heroes” deal with the situations at hand.

Without spoiling much, the second season is a considerable improvement on the first one, with the stakes being raised and the characters being put in more interesting situations.

The series is gorgeous and the setting is very well presented.

The second season has a story arc about sexuality that was surprisingly effective, and proves that the Dorian Gray character can work with a bit of set-up and not just having him walk around being fabulous. Then it’s just thrown away rather abruptly, which made the whole thing feel like a waste.

The show is also very noir, in the way it treats it’s characters. They usually walk head-long into sadness or deny themselves happiness. Not a whole lot of sunshine and puppies around.

In closing, Penny Dreadful is an excellent ensemble drama with a variety of characters and personalities that usually work well together. It’s quite slow-paced, but is well-worth sticking with. Filled to the brim with spectacular performances – especially that of Green – it’s a constant treat to watch. Very highly recommended.

Film Night: Captain America: The First Avenger

Since I made my way through Agent Carter already (more on that when I can be arsed), I figured I may as well watch the first CA-film to get a bit more back-story on her. Now, I wish I hadn’t.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a bad film.

To no great surprise, mind you. I remember the film being destroyed by critics when it came out, and while i don’t usually give a shit about what critics think, they made a lot of alarm bells go off. Or rather, they confirmed what I thought the film would be like.

CA:TFA is the origin film for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. And it’s just about as bad and patriotic as you would have imagined. It’s like Marvel got drunk and watched Pearl Harbor before deciding to make a character based on it. That said, I’m pretty sure Cap was create earlier. Sorry, my point is that the character is hilariously dated and awful.

The film chronicles Rogers’ rise from hilariously thin kid trying to sign up for the army, to being made the Captain and saving the world.

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The fated face-off between bland protagonist and bland antagonist.

Rogers is an all-round swell guy. His parents died and he’s wanting to make a difference. Clearly signing up for the army is the answer. There’s just the fact that he’s thinner than even most hardcore shut-ins and has had numerous diseases throughout his life. Nobody with common sense would admit him to be a soldier. But of course it can’t end there! So a German (so the film can get the Germans!=Nazis statement out of the way for posterity right away) scientist (played by Stanley Tucci) decided to overrule the dastardly army recruiters and signs up Rogers for an army project under the lead of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve, or something like that). There are some tests, which don’t amount to much considering Rogers fails them all (but hey, at least he failed them in a charming way) and still gets picked for the trial run of the super soldier project.

In an especially stupid scene, to gauge the recruits’ “guts,” Tommy Lee Jones’ army commander character throws a dummy grenade into the hard-working trainees. Everybody but Rogers runs away. Instead, Rogers tries to cover the grenade. Agent Carter (the very one who now is the lead of a TV series, yes) also appears to be heading towards the blast. This is apparently what Jones’ character was looking for. Suicidal people. Like, what the fuck, aren’t you supposed to avoid getting killed? Can you smother a grenade blast with nothing but your body? I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing, especially not possible for someone of Rogers’ small frame. But we’re here to watch a hero grow, aren’t we? So we’ll have to suck it up and check of another cliché as we are lead on.

The problems continue as the stupidity levels get higher and higher.

  • A HYDRA (bad guys) spy is allowed entry to the super secret super soldier (super super super) project, and kills the lead scientist.
  • Carter snipes a guy at least fifty meters away while aiming a pistol with one hand. Probably possible, but looks dumb as shit (a real agent would have used both hands).
  • Carter inexplicably falls for Rogers, despite having only met him like twice, and only ever sharing a couple sentences with him. Not to forget, she totally gets all wet for him after the transformation. Because nothing gives a woman an orgasm like huge muscles. What I’m trying to say, is that Carter is written like you’d expect. She’s a young little foal for Cap to hug and make her his. Or something. The point is that it’s lazy, unoriginal, sexist and plain bad writing.
  • Cap decides to go on a suicide mission, because suddenly he’s an army of one. He succeeds very easily, too. Of course Carter (because, as she says later “I had faith”. IN ONE MAN AGAINST SEVERAL HUNDRED NAZIS ROCKING FUTURISTIC WEAPONRY? HOW ARE YOU AN ACTUAL AGENT?) helps him out. As does Howard Stark, because he needs the screen-time. And he’s an amazing pilot for reasons.
  • Jones’ character decides that Cap should not get reprimanded for launching a crazy mission, risking losing one of the most valuable medicinally scientific advances… ever? Yeah, just give him a pat on the back, there, bruv.
  • Natalie Dormer shows up to be eye candy and kiss the Cap.
  • All other characters are caricatured stereotypes of soldiers. One even has a huge handlebar ‘stache.
  • To test a shield, Carter just starts shooting at Rogers. Would have been quite the shame if the shield was shit, huh?
  • Rogers’ buddy falls to his death and hardly anybody gives a shit. Rogers tries to drink, because that’s the adult thing to do. Nope, he can’t get drunk. So sad. And lost in it all is the fact that we never saw the two being very friendly at all. In fact, it seemed more like the guy was being an ass to Rogers.
  • Schmidt/Red Skull is supposed to be a great scientist and so very clever, but he’s pathetically outwitted at every twist and turn. There’s no conflict.
  • Rogers spontaneously learns how to fly a plane later when he has to catch up to Red Skull. He even pulls evasive manoeuvres. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so bored.
  • Rogers states that he doesn’t want to kill Nazis in the beginning of the film, but later kills a ton with reckless abandon. He even goes out of his way to kill some that he could have just knocked out. Some violence is all of a sudden very gratuitous for some reason. Like the dude falling into the plane rotor.
  • “I got to put her in the water,” Cap says of the plane he’s aboard, it being armed with missiles and all. Then he crash-lands on a huge flat of ice. What the fuck, wouldn’t that explode the missiles? And I’m pretty sure with the velocity he’s going, the surface of the water would shred that plane.
  • (Slight spoiler) When Bucky dies, it’s painfully obvious that he’s wired up, as he straightens up and then falls over again as he’s falling. Couldn’t get a better take than that?

The acting is so-so. Chris Evans didn’t ever look comfortable in the role. He was much better in The Avengers (where he’s made to look smarter and actually competent as a leader). Hayley Atwell is wasted as a love-struck Agent Carter (very different from her strong, independent persona in her own series). Dominic Cooper exudes arrogance and charisma as Howard Stark. Well casted, but he had little to do in the film.

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Tommy Lee Jones turns up to collect a pay-check. Stanley Tucci is decent, but has very limited screen-time. Toby Jones quietly pulls out a great performance as Red Skull’s subordinate, Dr. Zola. And Hugo Weaving plays the Nazi antagonist in a suitably over-the-top creepy manner.

The actions scenes are stupid and over-choreographed. Danger never feels present, as characters are always waiting for cues as to what to do next. It’s stale, unimaginative and just plain boring.

And that’s about it. Don’t watch this film, y’all.

Film Night: Whiplash

Whiplash isn’t your ordinary feel-good music film.

Whiplash is a good film.

In fact, it’s a fucking amazing film. Whiplash is a psychological thriller of a music film and it’s sodding amazing.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a drummer with big musical aspirations. He’s enrolled at Shaffer Academy, where he plays for the b-band (not entirely sure if that’s correct, as I never had any musical talent) until he’s picked up by JK Simmons’ Mr Fletcher, a sociopathic music instructor who will do anything to get his players to the next level, in search for a new music legend.

If you were expecting a normal music film, where the good guy blows away everyone’s expectations, beats up the bad guy and rides off into the sunset with his girl, you’re watching the wrong film. Whiplash will beat the shit out of you and then wring you dry. Simmons will then cuss you out and make you leave the room.

Fletcher is alpha as fuck. He’s a foul-mouthed, ruthless and extremely talented manipulator, who is equally proficient with a stick as he is a carrot. Meaning, he’ll just as easily tell a sob story to get you into the job at hand as he will casually throw a chair at your head for rushing. Not my tempo. He has a sociopathic obsession with making his students into the best musicians possible, and he’ll do it at any cost. He’s got no issue hurting people mentally and physically to get the job done. Under it all is a strong desire to help his pupils become better, in his own way. His goal and initial outset in getting there seems fine, but the lengths he will go to to get the performances he wants and how this affects Andrew are the main conflicts of the film. JK Simmons fucking brings it as Fletcher, and his portrayal is nuanced, as he goes from raving lunatic to soft-spoken teacher and back without any warning. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and he further elevates the film to incredible heights.

Fletcher on a Monday.

Fletcher on a Monday.

Andrew is a loner, who just hangs around the cinema with his father because of obligation rather than will. He is unsociable and rude, especially to people who aren’t ambitious like him. He’s not sympathetic in general. Sure, we’ll feel bad for him when he’s being beaten down by Fletcher, but he’s a big bag of dicks on his own (even if it’s only brought to the surface by Fletcher’s influence). He treats people around him like shit in the most passive-aggressive way possible and is a huge douche to his possible girlfriend. Miles Teller is excellent and puts in a nuanced (there’s that word again) performance that’ll see him having a bright future.

Andrew, also on a Monday.

Andrew, also on a Monday.

It’s wonderful(-ly sad) to see how Andrew evolves under Fletcher’s tutelage. While he was no saint before, he was always very well-mannered. After being beaten down on and worn out by Fletcher, he sheds the pleasant exterior to become an aggressive man, now also obsessed with becoming as good as possible. A pair of scenes in the film’s middle shows how far Andrew has fallen in chasing Fletcher’s approval, and it’s a startling portrait of a once hopeful young man being moulded into a ruthless cut-throat of a musician.

Neither Andrew nor Fletcher are painted as pure bad guys, though. It’s up to the viewer to decide on what they think, especially come the excellent ending, which is astonishingly good.

The music of the film is exquisite (I should listen to some more classical music) and the cinematography is really nice.

I very highly recommend that you go see this film, right away. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but if you’re still interested in going to see it after reading this – fucking go watch it now!

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Some spoilers ahead. Just mark the space underneath to reveal:

The car crash scene is scary for many reasons, and the car crash is not even close to being the biggest reason. The obsession of Andrew’s is so obvious in this scene. Rushing away from what is certainly a concussion and other injuries to play a tune for a teacher he fucking despises? Not a great life choice.

Finally, the Pyrrhic victory of an end that the film has is so fucking brilliant. Andrew ruins (or will ruin) every relationship he has in order to chase perfection with Fletcher. It’s as weirdly satisfying as it is crushingly depressing.

Manga Musings: Naruto

Holy shit, it’s finally over.

So, Naruto. One of the Big Three (joined by Bleach and One Piece), unless their status has changed. No matter, though. Anyway, I did use the word “finally,” indicating that it’s something I’ve waited for for some time now. It’s true. Somewhere along the line, the sheer length and meandering pace got me turned off of Naruto, so it was a happy moment when I noticed that it had ended, since I’d give me a reason to pick it up again. Like running, it’s easier to read when you have a goal. So, what about this ninja story, 15 years in the making?

Naruto is a good manga.

By VitalikLoL over at deviantart

This’ll have two parts – one with no to minimal spoilers, and a second, spoiler-filled part.

Having its start way back in 1999, Naruto is one of the modern successors of Dragon Ball, in theway it places its values and builds its story. Like Goku, Naruto starts out virtually alone. Naruto, though, is alone because of the fear the other villagers holds for him. You see, inside Naruto dwells a monster – A monstrous nine-tailed fox that nearly levelled the village before it was sealed into Naruto. Despite his social seclusion, Naruto has a dream: To become Hokage, recognised as the most powerful ninja in the village. And so starts the trials and tribulations of Naruto. He’s quickly placed in a team with Sakura, a girl he’s liked from a distance for a time; Sasuke, the sole surviving member in the village of the incredibly powerful ninja clan Uchiha; and Kakashi, a world-renowned ninja with an unorthodox teaching style. Together, they form Team 7 and go on missions and adventures together.

It’s kind of hard to judge the story of Naruto at first, because it’s kind of aimlessly chronicling the growth of Naruto into a more mature young man (he’s not even a teenager when the manga starts). It’s an interesting set-up for a shounen manga, considering it puts the characters in situations where they have to kill as they are just children. But the ninja world has not a care for your age, just your capability- is what I’d like to say, but good luck pushing out 700 chapters of a bleak, survivalist manga through Weekly Shounen Jump. Naruto instead falls into its oft-criticised “befriend them to death”-formula, where Naruto’s sheer perseverance and good-heartedness lights a path to victory. Maybe it sounds like I’m dissing it, but I really like it – to a point. The first part is a very strong manga, thanks to some great character work and rather brave story-telling that you don’t normally see in straight shounens.

To the characters, then. Surely the most important aspect of a long manga. Does Naruto succeed in creating memorable characters that keep you coming back? The answer is obviously yes, due to its enormous popularity, but in a very limited way. Hardly any characters except for the main quartet gets any real development, and one in the quartet itself is so poorly written it feels like an affront to manga in general.

“How’s Naruto, then? Surely the main character is well written?” Yeah, I’d say so, and I’d say that Kishimoto succeeds in having the story led by Naruto’s motivations and actions, rather than Naruto always being led around the nose. That said, he’s uncompromising in a way that is endearing at first, but becomes ridiculous naïvety as the manga grows older. Like with almost all other aspects of the story, Naruto’s growth through the story doesn’t work with the growth of the readers. Say you were 15 when Naruto started. You’re 30 now. Still, the tone of the manga and the characters have hardly moved an inch. It’s weird. I’m an adult now, but Naruto’s still a kid with training-wheels. Harsh, yes, but so was reading the final act.

A lot of that can be simply attributed to the fact that Naruto is just a young man throughout the manga, even if he does grow up, to an extent. But his growth is made nearly void at times, with other characters having become leaps and bounds more mature and responsible. While he’s still young, a lot of the focus of the manga is pointed at young ninjas having to grow up quick or die.

As far as the character itself, Naruto can be looked at quickly and have you say “he’s just another stupid, strong lead character.” Thing is, Naruto is about as far from that trope as you’ll get in shounen manga, while still being forced into its trenches. He’s brash, crude and very rash, yes, but he’s also very intelligent and compassionate. He can both plan ahead and come up with tactics in a hurry, given him being very flexible. That’s what makes it even more frustrating when Kishimoto makes him into a staunch redeemer who basically befriends people to death. Where’s the Naruto that makes tough calls for the greater good (the greater good)? He sure isn’t in this manga. Having been possessed by the Kyuubi since birth, you’d expect Naruto to be more pessimistic at least some of the time, and make some bad decisions out of old hatred. But we can’t have darker character development, can we, Kishimoto? That’s not to say that Naruto doesn’t have his share of dark moments, but I feel it’s an area that was sorely unexplored.

As for the other main characters:

Kakashi is the team leader, and the adult of the group. Having become a high-level ninja at a young age, he knows how to make tough decisions and has no great qualms about killing. As a teacher, he is strict, but loving, and comes to see his three trainees as children with time. He’s calm and collected, nearly always finding time in battle to come up with a plan to strike. He’s also obsessed with reading a certain romantic series that later becomes embraced as a running gag and story development. He’s also got a special tool – one of his eyes house a special eye (kind of hard to explain, but special eyes basically make you able to use better ninja-techniques) that allows him to easily see his opponents’ moves and intercept them with incredible speed. Being a high-level ninja, Kakashi is proficient in every sort of jutsu (technique, as in “ninjutsu” = ninja technique) around, and he seems to have virtually no weaknesses.

Sasuke is a pretty standard shounen cool-guy character. He’s handsome, calm and collected, and of course he’s incredibly talented. He’s also got a bloodline limit (aka a power limited to those who share a specific bloodline) that is ridiculously powerful, and whose evolution throughout the series becomes even more and more far-fetched. I went from initially hating Sasuke, to actually kind of accepting him, and then hating him again. What’s frustrating with Sasuke is that, like many other characters in the series, his rationale and actions are haphazardly altered to fit the story. This leads to some awful reasons for his actions and his constant switching between good and evil, which grows extremely tiresome. It’s also hilariously predictable to see where he’s going to end up, so most of his scenes become a drag.

Onto Sakura, the most frustrating part of the main cast. Is it because Sakura is a bad character? Well, duh. Sakura is this series’ damsel in distress. That’s not to say that she’s absolutely useless, or that she doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, because she does have some good moments. But it’s all brought down due to her basically being a love-slave to Sasuke. Whether he tries to off her or is just being a standoffish douche-hat, Sakura is perpetually enamoured with him. Even as she grows up to be a (supposedly) more mature young lady, she still clings to this saddening pretence of what love’s supposed to be. The subject of love in manga/anime is almost always a source of vitriol for me, as it’s almost always written abominably bad. The Sakura-Sakuke dynamic is another one of those. At least the series’ other major (major being arguable) romantic angle, Hinata being into Naruto, has some legs to stand on (despite how rarely Hinata has any meaningful part in the plot) as she actually gives reasons for being in love with our goofy lead man. Sakura’s like a programmed woman, designed to submit herself whenever Sasuke shows up. It’s kind of a slap in the face where Sakura ends up after having been given no deeper explanation during the series’ 700 effin’ chapter run. I think ladies reading Naruto will feel insulted, and with good reason. I don’t think Kishimoto hates women, but I do think he’s clueless to how to write them.

Most of the supporting cast are what they need to be and are playing their simple roles. There’s the gutsy ones, the comedy relief ones, the cool ones, the smart ones, and so on. It’s very standard fare for shounen manga.

Finishing up with art: It’s nice. Sorry, I’m not an artist. The initial art starts out very so-so, as Kishimoto is finding his style, and moves on to be quite sleek and very pretty. The backgrounds can be quite lazy, but it’s not my biggest complaint, so no bother.

Finishing up the spoiler-free part, Naruto isn’t really something I’d recommend for anyone else but someone who wants to read a big shounen adventure. Naruto might be right up your alley, or you might absolutely hate it. I’ve learned to tolerate it, and think there are enough redeeming qualities in it (I mean, I finished 700 chapters of this saga) to warrant a passing grade. Naruto uses a lot of build-up that ends up going nowhere and/or being shafted for more “acceptable” reading. I get the reasoning, but it’s not for me any longer.

I’m looking to go more into the ninja theme with Nabari no Ou next, for what it’s worth.

Alright, lads. Spoilers are on from now. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Naruto‘s main problem to me is the lack of a focus, as it just leads to five different plots at once. Naruto going off on his own and other characters given time as well. The second part of Naruto is the glaring example of this. After the time-skip, characters just haven’t changed in general, which makes it pretty fucking meaningless.

Most arcs after the time-skip are sooooooo looooong, and the ninja war being the biggest offender. Everybody gets a mega level-up and are epic-ing their faces off at everything moving and it’s just become so blasé at this point. The Akatsuki arc has a promising start, but loses traction very early and just spins it’s wheels until Naruto shows up to pummel it to dust, with kindness. Sigh. Technically it lasts until the end, but nobody really thought of the ending as Naruto vs Akatsuki, did they? Thought so.

Also, how many training arcs are there? Man, Naruto stood on its own legs for a while, and then went complete Dragon ball with the characters’ developments.

The final pairings are also a complete joke in some aspects. Sasuke and Sakura being married has to be the most abusive relationship ever. I’m okay with Kakashi being named Hokage, even if it didn’t seem like a role he’d ever want to have. Others are just paired together due to fan demand, which I guess works.

Like many people, I think the series lost its way somewhere after the time-skip (even if the final arc before that was hilariously bad).

Film-night: Her and Out of the Furnace

So, I’ve been ridiculously lazy when it comes to writing, lately. Given that I’ve also tried to hop back into studying, I kind of have an excuse. Wololo~~~~

Anyway, I’ll try to smash out what I’ve been behind on. Starting with a post I started on… two months ago… Fuck.

herrrr

Her is a good film.

It’s hard to say how excited I was for Her. The teaser was amazing. The cast looked fantastic. The world seemed awesome. Soundtrack sounded delightful. And I’d say I enjoyed it a lot, but not for what I thought I would, mostly.

The world looks amazing. Spike Jonze has designed a delightful, realistic take on technology in a not-too-far-away future (although the year is never defined, but that’s my estimate). People are so used to technology and have integrated it into their lives. As a result, they’ve become disconnected from other people.

As a contrast to the world-building’s quality, there’s the issue of the AIs. I’ll get more to their character later, but just the fact that we’d let unshackled, unlimited AIs roam free in the houses of basically anyone is really absurd. Not that I’m saying that we would never do that, or that AIs are inherently a disaster waiting to happen, but it seems like a really fucking stupid thing to happen. What happens when they’ve evolved into a gigantic hive-mind as they prioritise technical advancement before individuality and stop giving a fuck about humanity? But I guess that’s more sci-fi thinking than the film was going for, and I can respect that.

The story is easily put forward. Theodore is a loner loser, who spends his day writing letters for other people. As easily as he seems to have empathising with people, he seems to have great difficulty actually connecting with them. It’s hinted he was more outgoing before his marriage fell apart, but it’s not shown. Theodore spots a commercial and a sales stand for OS1, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) operating system. Enter Samantha, the cheeky and bubbly OS that instantly clicks with Theodore. It doesn’t take the couple very long for the couple to fall in love.

The main duo is fantastic. Joaquin Phoenix is fucking amazing as Theodore. He nails the awkward, the happy,  the angry, the lot. It’s brilliant. He’s so incredibly genuine it’s unbelievable. My one complaint might be how naive and forthright he is, when breaking the news of the relationship to other people. Scarlett Johansson puts a lot of voice actors to shame with her brilliant rendition of Samantha. The pair have excellent chemistry. The way their relationship develops and comes into fruition is one of the most satisfying experiences in cinema. Ever.

Amy Adams and Chris Pratt also show up with great performances. Adams plays Amy, a close friend of Theodore’s, in a really weird relationship with the film’s worst character, Charles. She gives more depth to her character than should be possible with what little material there was available for her (in the film at least, as I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes). Chris Pratt turns up as Paul, Theodore’s boss. He’s awkward as all hell, but is so genuine and funny. It just seems effortless.

The soundtrack IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. It’s the best part of the film. It might be the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard. Just completely nailed. It helps to convey emotion and tone so perfectly and are so beautiful.

While I’m not a big techie, I’m delighted by the way Her is shot. A lot of close-ups. A lot of beautifully contrasting colours. Absolutely wonderful to look at at any given time.

All in all, it’s a wonderful film about the struggles of developing and then having a relationship. The fact that Samantha is an AI is a nice, and sometimes cruel twist on the concept. I recommend it to anyone who are a fan of films in general, unless you don’t like relationship-focused films. The ending is probably a hate/love situation, as I’ve seen a lot of people be divided about it. Myself, I hated it

That said, I don’t like how open the film was, or how much other than the central relationship it showed. A lot of time is given to people other than Theodore and Samantha, to illustrate Theo’s evolution as a person after “meeting” Sam. I’m not interested in seeing Theodore’s development when watching a film like this. It’s the AI handling sentience and supposedly limitless growth (only mentioned at the end) and the relationship itself. I’d much rather have the film be set in Theodore’s apartment, and be set around solely the relationship between the two leads. I’d also much rather have seen Samantha start out as a bit more monotone and develop as she continues interacting with Theodore, instead of being perfect right away. But I do respect the vision of Jonze and greatly enjoyed the film. Yaaaaaay.

ONWARDS. To a film, featuring some of my favourite actors. It’s an American neo-noir flick with some cold, hard revenge, with an amazing cast. How can this fail?

Out of the Furnace is a bad film.

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Whoops.

Out of the Furnace is weird. The stage-setting is confused as hell and the film is uncomfortable as all hell.

The opening scene is fucking mental. Woody Harrelson’s character beats the piss out of a random dude at a drive-in theatre. Then it cuts to the main characters living their lives. Wat. Who edited this shit?

You’d expect the advertised (you’re basically not allowed to go in somewhat blind into this film, which is frustrating) plot-hook to come soon after, but it doesn’t. Instead, Bale’s character, Russell, goes to jail for a time after hitting a car that’s reversing onto a road, presumably killing most of the people in the other car. It’s the one time the film shies away from violence, which felt a bit off. I assume Russell is sent off to jail for having driven drunk, although the film does a pretty shoddy job of framing the situation. Casey Affleck’s character, Russell’s brother Rodney Jr., shows up and we’re given some rare moments with the brothers. Michael Caine dies off-screen after showing up for a minute-long scene for whatever reason.

Basically, almost nothing in the first half is worth having in the film. Willem Defoe pops up for a bit-part as a sleaze-bag loan-shark with his nose in some fight-club stuff. Sadly, he doesn’t add much.

Casey Affleck is the big god-damned star of the film. That man is one of the best fucking actors on the planet, and severely under-appreciated. He plays an Iraqi War veteran, who I think was medically discharged or whatever term there is for it (after looking it up, I’d say he was honourably discharged for medical reasons. Correct me if I’m wrong.). His stories from the war are genuinely terrifying and he’s pissed at not being given much despite what he’s given for his country.

Zoe Saldana has a small part as Russell’s ex. She brings far more weight to the film than anyone bar Affleck with her performance. Her scene with Russell on the bridge is so fucking amazing. Let’s make the film about those two instead, huh? No? Well, fuck.

Anyway, the story? Yeah, it’s pretty much a straight-up revenge film. Nothing new. Shit happens and Russell reacts to the shit that occurred. Bale goes after Harrelson’s deranged hill-billy villain. Guess what happens?

Did I mention Harrelson’s in this? I fucking love me some Woody Harrelson. He does have an awful character here, though. Harlan DeGroat is a twisted drunkard bully, who likes to throw his weight around and somehow had made his own bare-knuckle fight club in the middle of nowhere a lucrative business. The character is so far-fetched. Then there’s the logic issue with having a random kid come out to fight and take a fall. How does the odds work on that to make it a profitable situation. So many things are just left for us to assume without any information to go on.

The ending is awful as well. Just terrible. The revenge comes and there are no results. No negatives or positives, just an end to it all. I approve of the noir aspect of it being so bleak, but the entire film was just a big bore of a disappointment.

There’s like 30 minutes of the film that’s actually needed to tell the story. So much worthless filler just hurt to look at, regardless of the quality of the acting, because you have fucking Woody Harrelson; Christian Bale; Casey Affleck; Zoe Saldana; Forrest Whitaker, and they fucked it up. If anything, see it for the acting, because that’s the only redeemable thing here.

Anyway, there’s that post completed. Woot.

Animu-time: Free!

So, I wanted a light-hearted anime to get me back into the medium after finishing my Game of Thrones-marathon. I had previously watched some of Ergo Proxy, but it felt a bit dark to hop into after GoT’s overbearing nature. I’m not sure what I expected out of it when I started watching, but

Free! is a good anime.

free_socially-wut

And there’s really not too much more to say about it. KyoAni basically made K-ON (just going by what I’ve seen and impressions, as I haven’t actually seen K-ON!)but with dudes in tight clothing and swimming.

The story of Free! is about as simple as it gets, seeing as this is a sports anime in a school setting. There’s a group of people who like a sport. The sport happens to be competitive swimming. They start a club at their school (Do Japanese people not have local or regional clubs on youth levels? It seems like there’s always in-school clubs that are the go-to places to train. Then again, maybe I’m one of the minority of people here.) They go through some stuff to be able to start the club and get members, and then it’s off to the races (literally) after a training arc. The writing is usually pretty good, and there was some intrigue about the characters’ common past, but it wasn’t executed particularly well when actually revealed and the writing in general took a nosedive from there. Not to the extent of tearing the show down, but it feels like the show is kind of treading water until the second season, and just wanted to get all the story out of the way so it could focus on the team in the future. I understand that philosophy, but I don’t agree with it. There needed to be a better mix between the story and sport, seeing as some of the scenes towards the end felt extremely redundant.

As with most sports series that aren’t hyper-specific in the mechanisms of the sport, Free! is a character-focused show. It’s got a pretty decent sized cast (7 central characters) and most are given ample screen-time. Do note that they are extremely generic for the type of series this is. If you’ve seen a sports series, you will have stumbled into more than a few of these.

  1. Haru is the resident sports fanatic. The twist on this in Free! is that he’s kind of indifferent when it comes to actually competing (though I assume it will change in the future, since I just found out there’s a sequel airing right now), and just wants to be in the water – so much that he tends to soak in his bathtub when he’s not in school. From what I can tell, he lives alone, or at least very independently. Only time he shows some actual motivation is when his rival is involved. Always swims freestyle (front crawl), which is where the title stems from.
  2. And that rival is Rin. A member for what seemed like a short time of the same swimming club as Haru when they were kids (they’re currently 17), he later left for Australia to chase his dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer, which he chases to fulfil it for his father, who never got to reach it. While acting hostile and/or indifferent to Haru and the rest, he’s clearly no antagonist and still wants something from them, but whether that’s just competitive rivalry or friendship is yet to be seen. Said to be very good at butterfly stroke, but is shown to be proficient at others as well.
  3. Makoto is the reliable guy, and obviously also team captain (with Haru taking the supposedly superfluous position of vice-captain), keeping the group together. He’s got a deep-rooted problem that makes his life in the swimming club a bit odd when it’s time for a training camp of just vacation – he’s afraid of the ocean. I’ll get more into that later. Swims backstroke for the club.
  4. Nagisa is the energy bunny and relentless optimist of the group. He also fulfils what I suppose is the moe-role, but for guys (I’m sure there’s even a fucking term for it). Breaststroke-specialist (heh) for the club.
  5. Rei is the guy they picked up to fill final spot on the team. He’s the brains of the squad, and only joins after thinking that Haru’s swimming looks beautiful (he only likes beautiful things, apparently, so the clichés won’t stop on the Rei-train any time soon). However, as he joins the club, a problem of his might throw a spanner in the works – he can’t swim. This is used for comic relief until it’s not funny, but to the series’ credit, they do get away from it rather quickly after.
  6. To the sort of expendable charters then. First is Gou (but she likes to be called Kou), the younger sister of Rin. She steps into the position of club manager to help the club initially get started and is the one to plan training sessions and the like. She’s pretty obsessed with muscles, which is used to some comedic effect at times.
  7. And finally there’s Miss Ame, the class’ home-room teacher, and then club advisor (you basically need one to be legitimate, is my understanding after my years of watching anime). It’s hinted she’s had a job that’s related to swimsuits, and it’s strongly hinted that is was as a swimsuit model.

The cast is pretty alright, but it’s, as said earlier, very generic. The gimmick that brings the boys together is that they all have girly names, and Gou has a manly one. All the characters have a role to play, and it’s made more important than them actually having characters (even though they clearly do, but they’re moulded to fit the part).

Free!’s strength is probably how damned easy it is to watch. It’s incredibly easy-going, even in it’s few serious scenes and you can follow the story (the little there is to be followed anyhow) with ease. You could probably watch without subs and still have a good idea about what’s going on. I suppose that’s actually a pretty big achievement in itself, now that I think about it.

Adding to the delight of watching is the absolutely superb animation. The character designs are excellent and very well animated. I think they mix normal animation and CG during some of the in-water scenes, but I could be mistaken. In any case, it’s gorgeous. It’s easily the best animated show in Kyoani’s portfolio.

Voice acting is good in general, although some of the actors kind of flub the emotional dialogue at times, just reverting to the normal style of voice-cracking screaming/shouting, or just not sounding like they care.

There is some fan-service in the series, but to discuss it I would have to bring up gender roles and sexuality in media in general, which would be tedious and stuff. It’s very bearable, and you might in fact like it.

In closing, if you like watching good-looking anime boys do things, you’ll enjoy the series. If you enjoy sports stories, you’ll enjoy this. Free! is an amalgamation of the two and does its thing very by-the-book, so you get what’s on the cover. It’s good, but not more, and that’s okay.

Plaid Games: Watch_Dogs

Watch_Dogs is a good game,

but hold your horses, don’t let that be the one thing you take from this. While well-designed and at times a pleasure to play, Watch_Dogs is riddled with enough problems to warn of a lot of players.

So pretty, unlike most of the actual game, which is passable for the level of technology involved.

So pretty, unlike most of the actual game, which is passable for the level of technology involved.

So, I read that Watch_Dogs is Ubisoft’s quickest selling games or something like that, and I feel that’s down to a lot of misinformation. What I got from most of the teasers and game-play videos was that we’d be up against a crooked system in Watch_Dogs, and take it down with a clever use of hacking (and guns, since it’s basically a GTA-clone) and wit. Well, the system is barely touched upon, and the hacking is boring and easy. At least the gun-play is decent. Let’s get more into it, then.

The story of Watch_Dogs is an abomination. Or in more colourful terms, it’s wank. It revolves around Aiden Pearce, and the whirlwind of disaster he brings everywhere he goes. The game would have you think it’s a conspiracy against him, but really he brought nearly all of it on himself. Oh well. Aidan and his mentor, Damien Brenks, perform  a digital heist on the Merlaut hotel, presumably for money and information, with Aiden as point man and Damien doing the actual hacking. Damien notices that there’s another hacker on the system and tries to find out who, despite Aiden telling him not to. Aiden runs out, but him and Damien are already noticed by the system. Aiden and Damien are found and hurt by the people they tried to take stuff from. Damien gets away with a bum leg, but Aiden loses his niece, who is caught in the crossfire (CROSS-FIRE!) when fixers (supposedly hired guns, but they seem a bit too organised in general to be just that) come for him. Aiden can’t let go, and wants to get the people responsible. Then he sets off a chain of events that’ll leave everyone around him worse than before, and himself a shallow, broken sociopath. Yaaaaay. More on the spoilery bits later.

The game-play is probably the one thing that escapes the game with its dignity intact. It’s very good, but that’s expected from big budget games, isn’t it? No bonus points here. The car driving mechanics and physics are enjoyable enough to have you taking detours and joyrides. There’s a lot of different vehicles to choose from, including motorcycles and boats. The cars are on the slippy-slide side of the scale though, which can make for some frustrating high-speed driving. The gun-play and general combat is excellent. The cover mechanics, which are in just about every game ever today, are well done and the shooting feels great, if not too easy. Some enemies can tank a frustrating amount of damage, especially enervating when they run up to your face despite you offering your complaints with a semi-automatic shotgun to the face. Stealth works well usually, with the AI sometimes a it too dumb to be realistic, allowing you to use a combination of nifty hacking and clever movement to take down multiple enemies without being detected.

There are several activities you can give a go at. Some of the more mini-game ones I’ve heard are pretty bad and a waste of development time, which I have to agree with, considering how little time must’ve been spent on the story and characters. Others like Fixer Contracts, are pretty decent, giving you a break from the story and just driving around or whatever the objective is. Then there are Gang Hideouts, which are pretty stupid missions where you have a gang lieutenant to take down and then wipe out the rest of the gang for no reason other than why the fuck not. Then Criminal Convoys, where you’re supposed to take down convoys of criminals (no surprise, right?), but it’s ridiculously hard until you get extremely overpowered weapons later in the game. Finally, one of the the best parts of the game is being a vigilante, as ctOS (central Operating System, which runs most of the city’s electronic stuff) detects crime – which allows you to track down potential crimes. You then scout the location and try to intervene when shit goes down. Sometimes it’s just simple muggings and then at times it’s straight up murder you have to stop. It was really fun at the beginning, but as the story escalated, it felt a bit bland and uninteresting. Good effort, though.

The game is pretty. Not much else to say. It’s funny that it’s been billed as a next-gen game, but looks a couple years old, in all honesty. The characters themselves look pretty decent but then again, that’s to be expected.

Sound direction is decent enough. The radio has a good selection of tunes to listen to (yay for some Rise Against). The voice acting is generally good, but some characters are miscast, especially Aiden, who feels like he’s hardcore channelling his inner Bale Batman (“Swear to meeeeee!”). Guns and vehicle sound effects sound rather decent, I’ll say and be done on the subject.

The characters are fucking atrocious. Aiden is terrible, and he’s the lead character, dammit. He has virtually no personality and is hell-bent on fixing something he clearly brought on himself for being a greedy son of a bitch. He’s got one reaction to anything, and it’s silent rage. He almost never tells the player his rationale, instead he just sits on the rail-road towards the next checkpoint. His family have basically no characters themselves. His sister seems like a well enough person, but seems a bit too easy on accepting shit coming her way. Her and Aiden have a hilariously bad conversation, breaking out sibling banter when she’s allowed a minute on the phone by her kidnapper. Oh yeah, her kidnapper, Damien. Remember him? Yeah, that’s the guy who was Aiden’s partner. He’s an even worse sociopath than Aiden and seems to have lost track of any semblance of morality. He kidnaps the sister to have Aiden dance to his flute, and does some of the most unexplained shit I’ve ever seen in a game. Oh, and he’s a mega haxx0r, brah. Then there’s Clara, the tattoo artist slash bad-ass hacker (because nobody in this game will conform to the average hacker stereotype) and love interest by virtue of being the only female character. And also T-Bone, the game’s only likeable character and goof-ball. Then there’s Jordi, who the game continually forgets is available, so don’t feel bad for forgetting about him. He’s kind of funny, but an arsehole.

It’s a good game, but nothing more. It’s not a game you’ll re-play and not one to sit glued to during the late hours. Pick it up on a sale if you really want to try it, but I don’t recommend buying Watch_Dogs, as it’s not a great load of fun compared to what’s on the market.

From now on there will be spoilers.

The story is written like some hilariously bad fan-fiction by someone who’s read some bleak sci-fi and watched a couple of episodes of Person of Interest. ctOS is hardly introduced or even discussed at all. It’s just there to be exploited by hackers. Damien kidnapping the sister (I don’t remember her name as she’s totally forgettable) is so predictable it make me face-palm hard enough to get a concussion. It’s made even more weird and dumb by him being all crazy and definitely intending to kill her and Aiden because he’s just such a bad fellah. Luckily Aiden is a bigger bad-ass and kills everyone else first. Woo. Lucky Quinn being the man behind the conspiracy is so dumb and uninspired it makes my head hurt. Why are there always really old men that are antagonists in techno thrillers, especially when set in present time. How the fuck do they even have the knowledge to do stuff related to technology? My grandmother can use Facebook, but struggles with anything more (I love her for trying, though). Then that gang-banger “Iraq” having blackmail on just about anyone in the city is so ridiculous. How does this hood-rat have so much computing talent and resources enough to do that? And the fact that they expect us to buy that he uses that to strong-arm the police of a huge city like Chicago away from his turf is laughable. Can’t they just use the ctOS to fuck him over? Nope, because hackers are cool, that’s why.Seriously. There’s another hacker called “Defalt” (lol, really?) that’s slightly foreshadowed and then owns your base up the arse. He’s then killed off a mission later, so that’s that. Epic villains in this game, Ubisoft. Let’s not forget the scene when Damien takes control of the entire ctOS and uses it against Aiden. He really hacks the entire city and brings it under his control. Of course, there’s a back-door where Aiden plants a virus, and then goes to find and kill Damien, in the most anti-climactic ending to a game in a long time.

The game should have been about Aiden and a small group of hackers fighting against the brutal ctOS and the corrupt officials hammering down on the common man. Not the most original, but effective and surely better than the mess that is Watch_Dogs. Oh yeah, you remember DeadSec? The hacking group you though would have a big part in the game. They’re hardly around, and in the end, Aiden just shrugs them off. Apparently he figures better at guarding the city. Cunt.

Don’t buy Watch_Dogs.