Review: Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad

Ryan Gosling. Sean Penn. Josh Brolin. Emma Stone. Robert Patrick. Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena. Directed by Reuben Fleischer in a post World War II cops vs. Gangsters story. This is a movie I wanted to see from the moment I heard about it.

Set in Los Angeles and facing off against famed mob boss Mickey Cohen, the players form an elite and off the books squad of cops who at the behest of the Chief of Police (played by Nick Nolte) take the battle against organized crime right to the head honcho. They hit him hard and where it hurts.

Does this sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds a lot like The Untouchables. Too bad it’s nowhere near as good as The Untouchables.

Now hold up a moment, that’s not to say that this is a truly terrible movie, just that’s it’s also not a very good one. The problems are twofold, first there’s the issue of balance.

See, half the time it seems to be a serious cop drama complete with “are we doing the right thing?” moments and the rest of the time it seems like it’s trying to be Dick Tracy 2, complete with characters who are either stereotypes or caricatures (more on that in a moment).

Seriously. Sean Penn plays Cohen so over the top that he’s kind of hard to take seriously and Troy Garity is his main henchman who has a scar over his face that damaged his eye, and is credited as “One Eyed Assassin”. Meanwhile, Josh Brolin is the tough as nails, uncompromising lead detective and Ryan Gosling is the morally grey detective who needs to decide if he’s really in the game or not. The problem here is that the movie never commits to one tone. Is it light and fun or is it dark and serious? The answer is neither because it seems to try so hard to meet in the middle.

If any of this is starting to sound familiar again it’s because of the second problem: there’s pretty much literally nothing here you haven’t seen before. There’s two deaths on the squad and normally I’d consider that spoilery, but if you can’t tell which ones it’s going to be after each of their first scenes (and what the immediate follow-up is going to be) then you’re probably watching a different movie than I was.

The film has other problems as well. A one liner here and there is good, several one liners during every sequence is silly. The rest of the dialogue is pretty bad too, even the lines that sounded cool in the trailer fall flat in the movie itself and they’re trying so hard to be cool that no one gets any real development. Everyone ends up just being a pastiche of others you’ve seen before. The Hard Ass, the cowboy, the tech guy, the minorities struggling for acceptance, and the old man police chief.

Worse yet, none of the actors really have any chemistry together. Sure, Josh Brolin and Mireille Enos has some, but the home story is a sub plot and Josh Brolin talking to almost anyone else feels forced. Even Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone don’t really seem to connect despite having done so in other films.

There’s a lot to like here in the small details. The movie looks amazing, from the sets to the costumes to the hair and makeup, everything looks pretty spectacular actually. The story itself isn’t bad, and we all know Reuben Fleischer loves his slow motion shots. In the end though, the looks are just window dressing, the story is told with little nuance and terrible dialogue and the slow motion (and sped up) stuff just makes the pacing of the big final action sequence fall to pieces.

The scenes that do play well are the action scenes (not sped up or slowed down) but they almost feel like a different movie.

Gangster Squad was one of my most anticipated films of the year. Maybe because of that context I am being hard on it, but I don’t think I am. It seems to be a movie that was made to make a great trailer. Lots of one liners to choose from, beautiful people in beautiful clothes on beautiful sets, and lots of action (and it really does have a great couple of trailers). The problem is that they didn’t seem to be able to figure out what kind of movie they wanted to make or how they wanted to play it and the result is that the finished product is just a hot mess.

2013 Oscar Nominees, Reactions, and a Few Predictions

It’s that time of year again: Awards Season. The Golden Globes are on this weekend and this week the nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards were announced.

My reactions to the nominations are varied, but as per usual I’m more surprised by what’s not on the list than what is.

I’m going to be up front about this too: I still haven’t seen all the films that are nominated, so my opinons here are a little skewed, so I’ll stick to talking about the ones I know (where I can).

The 2013 Oscar Nominations and my commentary thereon:

Best Picture

  • “Argo”
  • “Django Unchained”
  • “Les Miserables”
  • “Life of Pi”
  • “Amour”
  • “Lincoln”
  • “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • “Zero Dark Thirty”
  • “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

My initial reaction here is that they can have as many as ten nominations, they’ve nominated nine films and The Master isn’t on the list. I mean, love it or hate it, The Master is the type of film the academy usually goes all in on.

Also, and while I personally didn’t care for it, I’m a little surprised that The Dark Knight Rises isn’t on here in recognition of the trilogy that Christopher Nolan put together. I mean, they did it for Peter Jackson, why not Nolan?

I honestly don’t know what I’d pick from this list, I still haven’t seen Les Miserables, Django Unchained is amazing but Silver Linings Playbook is pretty much exactly the type of “quirky people” movie that actors love playing and love voting for, so we’ll see.

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Bradley Cooper – “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis – “Lincoln”
  • Hugh Jackman – “Les Miserables”
  • Joaquin Phoenix – “The Master”
  • Denzel Washington – “Flight”

I’m kind of shocked to see Bradley Cooper on this list, but then again as I mentioned before Silver Linings Playbook is pretty much the type of film the Academy goes in for. Denzel is a bit of a wild card to me, he was great in Flight but I didn’t expect to see him here.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Hugh Jackman are completely not surprising: They’re both great actors and they’re both in great films.

I have a feeling that Day-Lewis or Jackman will take this category but I actually hope for Joaquin Phoenix. The man is completely transformed for his role in The Master. His slight slur, his ability to go from calm to explosively violent in a heartbeat, and even his hunched posture, the man disappeared into Freddie Quell.

And of course the lingering question: where the hell is Jamie Foxx’s name?? Or John Hawkes? Geez!

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Jessica Chastain – “Zero Dark Thirty”
  • Jennifer Lawrence – “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour”
  • Quvenzhané Wallis – “Beasts of Southern Wild”
  • Naomi Watts – “The Impossible”

To be fair, I haven’t seen Amour, Beasts of a Southern Wild or The Impossible yet so I have no idea who is going to take this. I do, however, love the idea that either Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence might win since I honestly think they were both robbed in the past (Chastain in The Help and Lawrence in Winter’s Bone).

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Alan Arkin – “Argo”
  • Robert De Niro – “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – “The Master”
  • Tommy Lee Jones – “Lincoln”
  • Christoph Waltz – “Django Unchained”

Interesting fact: All five nominees here are Oscar winners already. Interesting Fact: Leonardo diCaprio has not won an Oscar before, was the scene stealing standout of the show in Django Unchained, and isn’t on this list.

Now, i don’t mean to demean any of these guys work but at the same time I do mean tot point out that Leonardo has been fucking robbed this year.

As to who will win? I’m pulling for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His work in The Master is stellar and he deserves to go home with his second trophy for it.

I’m going to say something that will make me sound like a fanboy now: I think Bruce Willis should be on this list for Looper. If you don’t believe me just go watch it again and pay close attention when he goes after his first target.

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams – “The Master”
  • Sally Field – “Lincoln”
  • Anne Hathaway – “Les Miserables”
  • Helen Hunt – “The Sessions”
  • Jackie Weaver – “Silver Linings Playbook”

Here’s a category where I think the younger actresses are going to battle it out. Amy Adams is phenomenal in The Master and Anne Hathaway sang “I Dreamed A Dream” on screen, live. Completely different roles to be sure, both both are great.

Not to sound like I have Django on the brain, but Kerri Washington could likely have done with a nod here. Hell, so could Emily Blunt for Looper.

Best Animated Feature

  • “Brave”
  • “Frankenweenie”
  • “ParaNorman”
  • “The Pirates! Band of Misfits”
  • “Wreck-It Ralph”

Pixar has a nomination and usually that’s enough to secure themselves a win, but Brave –while great by normal standards– was just ok by Pixars usual standards.

I’d really like to see this go to Wreck-it Ralph.

Best Director

  • “Amour” – Michael Haneke
  • “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – Benh Zeitlin
  • “Life of Pi” – Ang Lee
  • “Lincoln” – Steven Spielberg
  • “Silver Linings Playbook” – David O. Russell

I haven’t seen enough of these to comment. Lincoln was incredibly directed but I’m not so sure about Silver Linings Playbook. Maybe David O. Russell is nominated because he probably should have won for The Fighter.

No Tarantino? No Rian Johnson? No Ben Affleck? No Kathryn Bigelow? What the hell? And what about Paul Thomas Anderson? You’re telling me that the three main actors from his film had oscar calibre performances and he had nothing to do with that? Riiiight.

And again, a little surprised to not see Christopher Nolan on this list for the same reasons I mentioned above.

Best Original Screenplay

  • “Amour” – Michael Haneke
  • “Django Unchained” – Quentin Tarantino
  • “Flight” – John Gatins
  • “Moonrise Kingdom” – Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
  • “Zero Dark Thirty” – Mark Boal

This is the one that Tarantino will win. I can’t see how he wouldn’t given that he was snubbed on the Best Director list. But where is Rian Johnson on this list? She should be here for the same reason Tarantino is.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • “Argo” – Chris Terrio
  • “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin
  • “Life of Pi” – David Magee
  • “Lincoln” – Tony Kushner
  • “Silver Linings Playbook” – David O. Russell

I’ve only read the source material for one of these and I haven’t seen the movie version of it yet so I’m gonna keep my trap shut.

I’m going to wager a guess that either Silver Linings Playbook or Argo takes it.

The Rest and Closing Thoughts

That’s really it for the major categories, the rest are mostly technical. It’s nice to see that Skyfall picked up a nomination in the original song category, I loved the song and I hope either it or Everybody Needs A Best Friend from Ted takes it home.

It’s more than a little strange to see The Master left off the cinematography list, it’s being snubbed for best picture is one thing, it was easily the most stunningly shot film I saw in 2012.

I’m a bit sad to see that Looper was passed over entirely. It’s incredibly well written and it’s cast are are great. I know that the academy doesn’t usually go in for genre film but still. Great films deserve recognition. At least give him the screenplay nod!!

Last year I live blogged the ceremony and, barring any unforeseen circumstances I’ll be doing the same thing year, so check back here on 24th of February!

Matt’s Most Anticipated of 2013

2012 was one of the best years for film that I can remember and I’m honestly hoping that 2013 meets or beats it in terms of number of quality releases, and more importantly in the quality of those releases. There’s a lot coming out this year so here’s the ten that I am looking forward to most.

I’m listing these in order of release and not order of anticipation, partly because I find them hard to rank but mostly because I am looking forward to them all for different reasons.

And with that, here are the movies I am most looking forward to this year.

Gangster Squad (11 January)

Gangster Squad

I’ve actually been waiting for this since last year since its original 2012 release was pushed after the Aurora Shooting.

Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn in an old school cops vs. gangsters film is a hard recipe to screw up. I love the cast, I love the premise, and while director Rueben Fleischer has only made a couple of films, they were both good and he’s made a host of music videos and commercials which were also good.

I worry about the re-shoots that happened following Aurora last year but not very much considering the scene had just been relocated and re-staged rather than excised entirely.

The Place Beyond The Pines (29 March)

The Place Beyond The Pines

Yes, another Ryan Gosling movie. It’s true: I’m a fan of the baby goose. More than that though, I’m a fan of Ryan Gosling because he’s a great actor.

Gosling previously teamed with director Derek Cianfrance in 2010s Blue Valentine and in that film both Gosling and co-star Michelle Williams knocked it right outta the park. Seriously, if you haven’t seen that movie just go find it and watch it (but be aware, it has some hard to watch scenes).

Ryan Gosling playing a stunt bike rider robbing banks to provide for his son while being chased by Bradley Cooper as a cop mixed up with some crooked colleagues? It’s an intriguing set up and one I can’t wait to see.

42 (12 April)

42

I’ll admit this one is a bit of a wild card pick; chalk it up to my love of baseball. On the other hand this is the story of a modern American legend in Jackie Robinson and it’s being directed by Brian Helgeland, the guy who wrote L.A. Confidential, A Knights Tale and Mystic River. There’s a lot to like about that fact alone but when you add in Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey (the guy who dared to sign Jackie Robinson in an era when racism was still an OK thing) things get more interesting.

Chadwick Boseman is a relative newcomer here, but if this works out this could be a star turn for him and I’m always interested in seeing that.

Iron Man 3 (3 May)

Iron Man 3

I’m a huge Marvel geek and I’m a huge fan of their grand experiment to bring comic book continuity to the big screen. If you’ve been paying attention you may have already gotten this impression.

Robert Downey Jr. is among the best cast of the Marvel Heroes currently on screen and it’ll be a pleasure seeing him as Tony Stark again. Hell, even in the kind of boring Iron Man 2 he was fun to watch and with Shane Black directing and Don Cheadle returning as James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine one can only assume that there’ll be some great “buddy cop” kind of sequences as they battle the armoured bad guys.

Sir Ben Kingsley is playing the Mandarin, a character with supernatural powers in the comics, so it will be cool to see how they reconcile that with the technological world of Iron Man (that is, does he even have his powers or are The Ten Rings from Iron Man all he controls or will they be technological or what?).

Another exciting tidbit is that the story is based on Extremis by Warren Ellis, which is one of my favourite Iron Man stories and sees Tony Stark go through some interesting stuff.

Plus, this is the first film in Marvel’s second phase so I’m looking forward to seeing if I can pick out any world building or portents that’ll give me an idea what they’re planning for Avengers 2.

The Great Gatsby (10 May)

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an American classic, a fact that even though I am a Canadian I can certainly appreciate. I’m not going to sugar coat this though: I’ve never actually read it. I’ve always meant to but for some reason it’s just never happened.

Now there’s this, Leonardo DiCaprio re-teaming with director Baz Luhrmann in what looks to be a perfect part for the former and potentially the best looking film from the latter. The film is full of talented people not the least of which is Carey Mulligan who has shone brightly in everything I’ve seen her in, even as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who.

Plus, if it turns out to suck I won’t have to be bothered by how the movie was a crappy adaptation of the book.

Star Trek Into Darkness (17 May)

Star Trek Into Darkness

To say I am anticipating this film is an exercise in understatement. Understand that I am a life long Star Trek fan, some of my earliest memories are watching The Original Series with my father. I’ve seen every episode of every show (including the animated series) and every movie. In 2009 JJ Abrams brought Star Trek back to the big screen in a big way and I fucking loved it.

Long story short: if this list were ranked, Star Trek Into Darkness would be #1 on the list.

I happen to think that the previous film was nearly perfectly cast so I seriously can’t wait to see the whole crew back again. Yes, even Chris Pine. More importantly, I can’t wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain in this. So far I’ve only really seen him play good guys so it will be nice to see him put on his evil face. The man is a hell of an actor and this will very likely be a hell of a film.

There’s so much more I could say here, but the bottom line is this: is it May 17th yet???

Much Ado About Nothing (7 June)

Much Ado About Nothing

So apparently while filming last years The Avengers Joss Whedon called up a bunch of his friends and shot an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in his own house over 12 days or so.

Let’s rephrase that: the guy making the biggest film of last year made an indie Shakespeare adaption in his home in his spare time. That alone is pretty cool.

But this is also Joss Whedon we’re talking about here. Love him or hate him he’s certainly done some interesting stuff and is really good at managing large casts. I’m also just curious to see what he does with Shakespeare and how he worked his house into the film.

Plus, this is full of his buddies like Nathan Fillion (playing Dogberry), Amy Acker (Beatrice) and Clark Gregg (Leonato).

So basically it’s a bunch of awesome people doing a version of a play by the greatest playwright ever as adapted by a fantastic director. So where do I sign, exactly?

Pacific Rim (12 July)

Pacific Rim

Let’s see, director with a crazy and unique visual style? Check. Giant Monsters? Check. Giant Robots fighting those monsters? Check. Two people whose minds link via a computer voiced by the same actress as GLaDOS from Portal? Check. A cast including Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam? Check.

I dunno, maybe this movie wasn’t made for me specifically but there’s certainly a lot of boxes checked off here.

Plus, it’s a disaster movie where people are fighting for humanity as a whole to survive (check) against ridiculous odds. I’m sure that the giant robot that turns the tide will be obsolete or broken or something too but cliches done well are still entertaining as hell, and Guillermo del Toro is a pretty great director so I have little doubt he can pull this off.

The Worlds End (25 October)

The World's End

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright are finally going to release the third in their “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” each of which has been an homage to a certain type of film so far (if you’ve been hiding in cave these last few years, Shaun of the Dead was zombies and Hot Fuzz was buddy cop action).

In addition to apparently featuring the mint chocolate chip cornetto, apparently the boys will be on a massive pub crawl towards The World’s End Pub and the world might actually be ending while they do it. That description alone is enough to get me in theatres but rest assured the film will be full of their signature comedic style and mile a minute on the nose pop culture riffs that made the previous two films (and the series they did, Spaced) so laugh out loud funny.

Enders Game (1 November)

Ender's Game

I am of the opinion that if you have never read Orson Scott Cards phenomenal book Ender’s Game you should probably stop reading this right now, go find a copy and read it. There’s even a fantastic graphic novel adaptation if you’re so inclined. I’ll wait here while you do that.

All done? Good, then I don’t have to spoil anything. Now do you see why a movie version of this could be amazing? Harrison Ford as Commander Graff and Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer? Asa Butterfield as Ender himself? There’s not a lot to dislike here. Well, except that Gavin Hood is directing, but remember that while he did direct X-Men Origins: Wolverine he also directed (and won an Oscar for) Tsotsi, which is an amazing film.

What’s Missing?

There’s certainly a lot more than 10 films coming out this year and more than 10 that I am quite looking forward to. Thor: The Dark World (8 Nov) and Elysium (9 Aug) both only missed being on the list by the skin of their teeth –if I wasn’t a baseball fan you can bet one of them would have made it– and then there’s the Spike Lee remake of Oldboy (11 Oct), Man of Steel (14 Jun) trying to get Superman right for the first time in decades and Tom Hanks playing Walr Disney in Saving Mr. Banks (20 Dec) and Movie 43 (25 Jan) doing it’s best to offend, well, everyone it seems.

It definitely looks like it’s going to be a good year for genre film in particular this year, which means this is going to be a good year for nerds like me.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention The Wolverine (26 Jul) or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (13 Dec) and that’s because while I am looking forward to both of these I’m not really excited to see either. That might change once I see some trailers though so time will tell.

Sometime toward the end of 2013 I plan to revisit this list and recap whether I was excited to see the terribly great or the greatly terrible. In the mean time, what are your most anticipated films of the year?

On Frame Rates

The Hobbit
The Hobbit

This past weekend I finally had a chance to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the second time and this time I saw it in the shiny new HFR format. You’ve probably heard, at least in passing, some of the hullabaloo about this because not only is The Hobbit the first film to be shot and projected this way, but many critics really do not like it.

For those of you living under a rock, HFR is short for High Frame Rate. Film for my entire life and many years before has been projected at 24 frame per second (FPS). This wasn’t always the case but suffice to say that if you’re alive now chances are you’ve only ever seen 24 FPS projection (except maybe at a museum or something).

Why is in this important? Mainly because 24 FPS isn’t really that high, and the reason a lot of things in movies work is that your brain has to fill in so much information between the frames that many effects (practical or digital) only work well because of what isn’t on-screen.

HFR filming and projecting now doubles that frame rate to 48 FPS and the result is that, basically, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard and everything looks much, much, much clearer.

So what does this mean to me? Quite a bit as it turns out because it turns out that I like it. I actually like it quite a bit.

Apparently this means I disagree with the majority of the critics but from what I’ve read most of the critics are just saying “it doesn’t look like a movie” which simply isn’t true. It does look like a movie, it just doesn’t look like movies always have.

There are two noticeable side effects of HFR. The first is that things seem to move faster. This is because your brain isn’t filling in so many gaps like I talked about above but honestly this one goes away quick. It took me maybe 10 minutes to get used to how things appeared in HFR but once I was I felt like I was seeing a movie for the first time.

The other, larger problem is that because there’s so much more information on-screen and because there are so many effects in this movie a lot of them are a lot easier to see and that can sometimes kick you out of the dream, as it were. Some people have complained about being able to see make up effects and props (hello rubber swords!) more easily but this didn’t so much bother me as the digital effects. Green screened shots are obvious and CGI looks… well not cheap, but certainly easier to spot.

But these are quibbles that will go away as effects get better and as more films start shooting this way they’ll have to get better.

I’m not going to lie to you, the technology is new and interesting and not quite there yet but I, for one, can’t wait until HFR is the norm because all our movies are going to look a hell of a lot better once it is.

The Year Of Living Gamelessly

My father tells me that my stubbornness comes from my grandfather. Albert/Bill/William Best (still not really sure which were his given and associated names) was a huge ginger-haired man who subtly smelled of sweat and tobacco. He would hold me up in the kitchen of his house in Colchester while my grandmother told him to stop tormenting me. I hold the idea that he was a bit of a trickster and liked to joke around, whilst still effortlessly maintaining the intimidation of size and stature. Apparently he ran an internment camp for Nazi POWs – in Ipswich, maybe? – and played poker with the captives. It’s not too hard to imagine this as totally true, he was a bug guy and my father’s strong sense of respect must have come from somewhere. My son, almost two, has inherited the light ginger locks and round face of my wife, while taking on my side’s eyes and mouth, and it’s uncanny how he matches the single strong memory I have left of Albert. Genetic tracing paper, one layer laying over the features of the other.

Someone told Granddad once that there was no way he’d ever give up smoking. The way my Dad tells it, he threw away his cigarettes there and then and never smoked another. No reduction, no action plan – just the iron-coated stubbornness of someone who would never be told that he couldn’t do something.


I came to the realisation at the end of 2011 that I was buying a lot of games. Not spending too much – being a new father pretty much removes any disposable income – but constantly trawling through the used bins in EB, hunting out bargains, sniffing for deals. The less said about Steam, the better. Little purchases over the weeks, drip-feeding the idea that I loved playing games. The only problem with that idea was in the truth – I wasn’t actually playing anything. Each would be briefly checked, like an antique dealer examining a table, before my focus moved onto the next must-have bargain. A combination of my free time disappearing (again, see: fatherhood), exhaustion at the end of the day, and losing patience with any game that didn’t get me straight to the action meant that playing these games had become a bit of a chore. There was a palpable sense of frustration sinking in as I accepted that I was getting nothing from playing. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember that I’d seen, done, heard or felt, led stumbling towards the checkpoint marker with a ready finger on the kill button. These minutes that poured into virtual worlds became hollow and meaningless, wasted opportunities mocking my army of unread books and dusty guitar. I found that I was enjoying buying the games more than playing them. Something had to give, I knew that well, but it didn’t fall into place immediately.

I’m not a big believer in resolutions, and of course I’ve broken hundreds of them in my journey to that opinion. I should frame my selection of gym membership cards, each with a small plaque detailing the exact time of failure. However, I like ongoing challenges, something to push back the boredom of necessary predictability. I was looking for something that could mark out 2012 for me, somehow. Read more, write more, sing more; all great ideas but all underpinned my the knowledge of who I am – without motivation, I will flutter away from good intentions as soon as something pretty distracts me. I was at a party with some good friends, people who have shifted past that initial polite barrier into the realm of those that can truly reflect on who you are. I’m a sucker for a good pun, and The Year Of Living Gamelessly drunkenly popped up as we were talking about 2012 changes. In truth, I had to spontaneously give meaning and structure to what, up to then, had only been a fun play on an established title. What if I, a resolute and (seemingly) passionate gamer, go a whole year without…buying games? Kat responded with a laugh – friendly, winking, knowing – that found its echo in the group. “You’ll never do that”, she said.

Boom.

The idea took hold immediately. A whole year without buying games sounded so insane that I couldn’t resist.


I started gaming on my neighbour’s Atari 2600 at the age of twelve. Up to that point, it was only the infrequent visits to Southsea seafront that allowed me to take in the sounds of the arcade, feet sticking to sticky carpets in crowded, badly-lit pier buildings. The 10p pieces would be rationed and savoured. The singularity moment of walking into his game room and finding this wooden panelled machine, pads out, ready to play without a coin slot to appease…I can still clearly feel that moment, seared very deeply in my pleasure centre. We played games that were little more than blocks on blocks beeping and chirping away like fat sparrows while we pretended that we knew what we were doing.

Next was a Sinclair Spectrum 128K +2, a box of copied cassettes and a tape deck that clicked happily to itself every five seconds. My Commodore Amiga came to university with me, disk box full of classics like Lemmings, Speedball 2 and SWOS also hiding the terrible digitized porn disk inconspicuously labeled “Pics”. My first TV console, a SNES, was the worst purchase of 1996, Tetris Attack and Mario Kart slowly chipping away at my study motivation. PS1 led to PS2 and many, many happy hours playing TimeSplitters 2 by myself and Tekken Tag with Steve. (Steve, incidentally, used to make gamenight pints of whisky and coke that were 50/50 measures which led to End Of Days level hangovers). I can still pick up Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3 and use pure muscle memory to ace every level. Halo changed my life. XBox, 360, PS3, Gamecube, Dreamcast, Nintendo DS, Gameboy Micro, PSP, PC, Mac, iOS, Android…games, games everywhere, at all times, in all places. Gaming has been a major part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.


After the party, I formulated the firm rules for my endeavour: none of my own money was to be spent on any video games in any format, whereas vouchers, gifts and store credit was fine. A single own cent spent would be failure, even if it meant missing out on an absolute bargain. The simplicity and totality of the rules attracted me even more. Clear lines and instructions, so all I needed to do was make it through twelve months.

I knew straight away that the hardest part would be the fight against spontaneity. I often would buy a game on the spur of the moment, convinced that I absolutely had to have it, only to leave it collecting dust after a few brief days. To see something at a special price, or find myself with a free Friday night and a game I wanted sat on the shelves, was almost more tempting than I could take. The first few months were relatively easy due to Christmas and my February birthday, and distance from home meant that Amazon vouchers were the present of choice. I pondered over these purchases, knowing that I needed a few titles that could essentially get me through to Christmas (I had already conveniently forgotten about the piles of games virtually unplayed from the previous year). Gran Turismo 4 and a WWII plane sim called Birds Of Prey arrived a few weeks later and completed the usual cycle of initial play falling into disinterest.

Journey and Trials Evolution had been planned for, and Amazon vouchers spent accordingly, otherwise that would have been the end of my challenge right there. However, past these releases in March, the bite started making itself known. I had to physically force myself to walk out of stores on a number of occasions, shiny boxes calling me back like sirens in the deep. The worst find was a fresh discount bin in Future Shop with a number of genuinely interesting titles at $1 each. At one point I had six piled up in my hands, feet itching to run to the counter before my brain kicked past the barriers. My strategy of truthful reasoning began there and continued to get me through the rest of the year. I held up each title in turn and asked myself two simple questions:

1) Have I ever really thought about wanting this?

2) Will I actually play it?

Putting back the games that failed either question, the pile soon reduced itself to nothing, and my pride did the rest. I knew the failure would hang over me for a long time if I broke, and there would be no way to reverse it. The honesty of my situation became a hard, belligerent motivating force. Actually, it felt incredibly exciting to break the spell of bargain entrapment and that pushed me on ever further.

This circle repeated itself occasionally as the year rolled on. However, there was one major flaw to my plan. I had assumed that, if I just stayed out of the game shops, then I could resist the temptation of new titles. What I hadn’t accounted for was the game shop in my pocket, winking at me every time I used my phone. I’d be the first to admit that iPhone gaming could never fully replace the console experience, but what I started seeing was many reviews of apps that not only used the limitations of the device to great effect but also were exactly the kind of arcadey games that I loved. Turns out it’s easy to not spend $60; not spending 99c is an entirely different prospect. The fact that you could press one button, enter one word and a new game would magically appear in your hands was almost too much to resist. Almost. What had started to kick in, fuelled by the insistent reasoning, was a far more honest and shrewd opinion of what I wanted from games, and this gave me the edge over the persuasive itch to buy, buy, buy. I managed to resist.

Until Super Hexagon.

My first play of Terry Cavanagh’s hypnotic puzzle experience came in a review of the iOS version that linked to the free Flash original. It didn’t take long before I was hooked, and a brief run on a friend’s iPhone version just compounded how I absolutely had to have this RIGHT NOW. My options were limited, however; App Store credit had long disappeared, no more games to trade in, not a birthday or Christmas in sight. I turned to the gift app option, offering my wife all manner of things to secure the $1.99 present. She didn’t bite, of course. I’d load up the game page and stare longingly at the BUY button before forcing it to close. Resolution finally came, of all places, in a casino. In true Run, Lola, Run style, I watched with gleeful eyes as my five dollars slowly rose, dipped and finally inflated into eight. I walked out of that casino like a hero, the only man to beat The House. The original money went back into my pocket and the winnings – not my earnt money, technically – went to my wife, to the App Store, to my e-mail, and finally to my phone. Six months later and it’s not only my game of 2012 but also one of my favourite games ever.

Summer heat took away much motivation to sit in and play anything, which helped, but I was surprised when my console attraction didn’t really return as the Fall chill returned. I played a little bit here and there, and the library rentals certainly scratched the itch to play something new, but I was nowhere near as committed as before. Worse than that, there was a real disconnect of focus – where I would once have been able to stare at the screen, entranced and reactive, I found myself now barely able to even stay awake. The interest had all but gone, more simple iPhone experiences frequently filling the few minutes I had spare. I thought Halo 4 would be a serious issue – I had owned all from Halo 2 on release day, even sitting through an uncomfortable midnight opening surrounded by teenagers for Reach – and didn’t have a strategy for getting through this challenge. Luckily, Matt is as big a Halo fan as I am and we were soon sat playing his copy, raging through the campaign, split-screen. Even more luckily, I became so frustrated with it that the thought of owning it completely left my mind.

The strangest sensation connected with all of this was in November. As the gaming releases ramped up for Christmas, and the titles from earlier in the year were heavily discounted, my palms actually started itching. Not metaphorically. I desperately wanted to buy and play something new, the closeness of the next year doing nothing to alleviate my urges. It was very strange indeed, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even about playing, the repression of my spending patterns was finally staring to burst at the seams. The final boss battle came in the form of Super Hexagon on Steam, running at a ridiculous frame rate, all shiny and tempting. By that point, thought, Christmas was almost upon us, so my putting that at the top of my list actually made it child-level exciting once again.


I was playing Ticket To Ride with some good friends, heavily inebriated, when I realised that I’d done it. I’d joked that I’d probably see the New Year in on the Steam store, finger hovering over the BUY button as midnight chimed. Truth was, I barely even noticed until an hour later. What had seem like an impossible goal had passed unheralded, buried underneath wine, friends, food and laughter.


My Christmas present stash was a good one for new games. Between actual presents and Boxing Day discounts, I’d suddenly accumulated Lollipop Chainsaw, Far Cry 3, Sleeping Dogs, FTL and Thirty Flights Of Loving. It was like having giant bowls of ice cream after a year of occasional spoonfuls. I went into a few game shops at the beginning of January, giddy at the prospect of being able to buy something again, but left empty-handed. Interestingly enough, not because there wasn’t anything I wanted; more that the frugal nature of my justification hasn’t left, and I’m starting to wonder if it ever will. Those two questions still ring loud when I ponder a purchase, and I’m finding that I’m putting bargains back when once I would have spent without a second thought. My first game in over a year was, predictably in hindsight, on iOS. Hundreds was followed by Repulze, then Amnesia on Steam, then a PS+ subscription and the wonderfully batshit mental Tokyo Jungle. The spending already feels like it’s spiralling again, but this time there’s an important difference – I’m also not buying things. Even if they are cheap. Even if I absolutely must have them OMG. Whatever, a new part of my brain is saying. You’ve got plenty to play. They’ll be available later if you still want them.

And that, right there, is how my gameless year has changed me forever. It’s made me what I could not be before – realistic. The impulse has changed, and with it the love for sprawling console epics has all but vanished. Right now, I want games, not interactive movies. Not realistic depictions of street life. Not liberating your friends from island mercs. I want to instantly have three minutes squeezing my triangle through techno-backed mazes, I want to survive as a Pomeranian in neo-Tokyo, I want to savour the sublime squelch of a beautiful cheerleader dispatching zombies. I’m even playing Far Cry 3 purely as a spacial puzzle game (which works surprisingly well). Minecraft, ever-present and absorbing, is pure exploration of a Lego fantasy. Not a QTS cut-scene in sight. This is what I want now. Maybe it’s a call back to the singular experiences of Southsea arcade. Maybe all I needed was to be reintroduced to the sticky carpet and aural pleasures of games that are games.


Someone once told me that I would never be able to give up buying games for a year, so I did it just to prove them wrong. It probably tells you everything you need to know that I did it out of pride rather than an attempt to change a bad habit. What emerged, though, was an outlook on my decades-old obsession that was entirely fresh, mature and finally free of knee-jerk enticement. Rationality born from stubbornness. A gift from my grandfather.

 

Albert Best, professional badass (on right)
Albert Best, on right, being cool.

 

 

 

 

 

New Game Plus – Hundreds and Repulze

I bought some games! Feels really good to be able to do that again. Incidentally the whole story of my gameless year is coming very soon.

So, the first game I’ve bought with my own money since December 2011 is an iOS game called Hundreds. Developed by the minds behind Canabalt and Solipskier (two of my favourite iPhone titles), Hundreds has a clean aesthetic to match its simple core. By touching the circles on screen, their numerical value increases rapidly, and the stage is complete when you reach a combined total of 100. The circles change from grey to red as they inflate and, if you touch anything else in this red state, it’s immediate failure. The simple beginning stages ramp up in difficulty rapidly, drip-feeding new dangers like spinning blades, requirements for simultaneous touches and all manner of obstacles. Luckily, I haven’t come across any time restrictions yet, so it seems to promote a peaceful, patient approach that soothes as much as excites. The downsides I’m experiencing could be due to iPhone screen space – some levels need you to move your touch with the circles and it can be hard to maintain focus on the game screen when your fingers are covering so much of it. Also, I can’t see the point of the occasional word puzzles that invite decoding, but maybe their role will become more apparent.

That said, these negatives are mostly outweighed by the crisp design and cunning puzzles so Hundreds still comes highly recommended, especially if you’re playing on an iPad. It’s on sale until the 10th, so now’s a good time to grab it.

Hundreds

Hundreds, iOS App Store, $2.99 – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hundreds/id493536432?mt=8

 

The second game I bought was a complete impulse buy – its introductory price of 99c is always hard to pass up – and I’m very glad I took the chance. Repulze is basically, unbelievably, WipEout running on my iPhone. Well, it’s not the full experience of the Playstation hover-racing classic, but it’s still entirely disconcerting that it runs and controls so well. It’s purely about lap times – there are no weapons, which is actually a very smart move – and the pace of the racing is dizzying. An element that the developers have added is the way boosts are awarded. As you race around the track, you have the option to pass through red or green energy gates. Go through three that match your current polarity, and you can then boost by tapping the centre of the screen. The polarity of your ship flips with every boost, so it keeps you constantly analysing the track ahead for the perfect line.

Control wise, it’s taken the approach of reducing everything down to two buttons, and the default sensitivity feels perfect. Your craft constantly accelerates, so it’s just up to you to navigate your way through the twirling, spinning future tracks by pressing left or right. However, it’s not for the faint-hearted – the difficulty level is high from the off and the badges required to unlock the next track can sometimes feel near impossible. However, it’s the kind of difficult that makes me want to improve rather than quit, so if you’re already a future racing fan, I can’t recommend Repulze highly enough.

Repulze

Repulze, iOS App Store, 99c – https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/repulze/id573934243?mt=8 

Matt’s Best of 2012

It is now 2013. Another year is over, so here’s a brief look at what I thought of 2012.

Favourite Film – The Avengers

The Avengers
The Avengers

There’s so much I can say here but what it comes down to is that I’ve been waiting for this film for basically my entire life. Having been reading Marvel comics since I was a kid seeing all these characters brought to the big screen in a way that doesn’t suck on their own was good, seeing them all on-screen together in a way that doesn’t suck is fucking amazing. Because let’s face it: a lot of superhero movies suck.

You see it’s not just that this is a good film that makes it my favourite of the year, hell I’ll even admit that there are a bunch of objectively better films that came out this year, but The Avengers is the geek dream realized: comic book continuity brought to the movies. Proof that you can create an entire universe in film and the masses won’t reject it. Proof to the studios —finally— that their audience is full of intelligent people who are looking for an interconnected film series with characters that stand both on their own and as a team in a single universe. Yes, I realize I just said the same thing three times. If you think The Avengers isn’t a milestone in filmmaking consider this: Fox just hired Mark Millar to oversee X-Men continuity. DC had the ending of Man of Steel retooled to leave it open for a Justice League style team-up movie down the road.

And aside from all that, it’s just a damn good movie. It’s near-perfectly cast, they’re all clearly having fun, Joss Whedon’s script is lively and full of humour, and it features one of the best action set pieces of the year. Who knew basically destroying New York could be so fun? More than that though, Joss Whedon understands that what makes a large cast work isn’t the action or the bad guy’s plans, it’s the relationships between the characters and he completely nails this aspect of the film.

At the moment when The Avengers finally assemble for the third act of the film, I was one of the people standing and cheering, and I fully expect that the next time they assemble, I will be again.

Honourable Mentions

“I don’t want to talk about time travel, we’ll be here all day.” is my favourite line from Looper. This is the scene in which writer/director told us “stop worrying and enjoy this story because the story is what matters.” All of this is completely true. Looper is a film that tells you that it’s about time travel, but it’s really about love. That message, coupled with fantastic performances from the cast, a brilliant script make this a must-see.

Skyfall is the best James Bond story in years. It’s also the third act in a larger story that sees the latest Bond become fully realized and ready to move the franchise forward. Combine that with some of the best action direction of the year from Sam Mendes, and you’ve got a recipe for a great movie, which this is.

If you’d told me last year that one weekend in the summer all the guys I knew would be in a theatre watching a movie about a teddy bear (and all the girls were watching a movie about a stripper), I’d probably have given you a funny look, but that’s pretty much exactly what happened when Ted came out. It takes the ageing buddy movie schtick and manages to make it fresh again, it’s hilarious from start to finish, and it gives Mila Kunis a character to play. What more could you want?

Favourite Game – Punch Quest

Punch Quest
Punch Quest

I actually struggled with this category because, in all honesty, I don’t really have that many memorable gaming experiences from the year. There were a few flash-in-the-pans like Borderlands 2, but it ended up not holding my attention for more than a couple of weeks. Punch Quest, however, I can’t seem to get enough of.

There’s not really that much new stuff here; it’s an infinite runner that features punching. Strange at it may seem, that simple addition makes it completely addictive. Like all good single-player games, it engages me to keep playing by asking me to compete with myself and also by offering upgrades that make the punching cooler, routes that lead to boss battles or treasure troves, and a host of other “I can’t wait to see what comes next” moments in the gameplay.

Biggest Disappointment – The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises

You know I could go on and on and on about The Dark Knight Rises, but I am not going to go into specifics because I already did on the podcast but also because the specifics don’t really matter.

Sure, there are plot holes that you could drive a bus through, and there’s a lot of them, but you know what? Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both have some pretty big holes in them too. The difference is that where Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are both compelling stories, and The Dark Knight Rises is not.

Batman Begins had Bruce Wayne training and learning to become Batman. The Dark Knight pitted Batman against The Joker, his philosophical opposite. The Dark Knight Rises had Batman face off against his equal after learning to become Batman again, twice. This is not compelling; it’s repetition. Bane, despite Tom Hardy wearing the mask, isn’t interesting and a last-minute twist robs all his characters weight.

I feel like Christopher Nolan might have been going for fan service with this one (and let’s face it if the story were a comic book few people would complain because comics are strange), tried to work too much into the story and the end is a non-compelling mess.

And how did Bruce Wayne get halfway around the world with no money or ID in just a few days and then enter Gotham while it was on a total lockdown, anyway?

Dishonourable Mentions

Halo 4 may have made all the money, but I personally didn’t connect with it in the same way that I did the previous 5 entries in the franchise. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but every time I got stuck I got frustrated rather than spurred to push harder as I did in Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach.

Prometheus was meant to be Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to SciFi and the Alien franchise. It’s pretty safe to say that this was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, so when it turned out to be a convoluted mess, you could say that I was disappointed. Listen to the podcast episode in which we talk about Prometheus to get a better idea of how I felt.

Top Three I haven’t Seen/Played

I’ve tried to see Django Unchained twice now and both times I’ve gone down to the theatre every show has been sold out. Love it or hate it, people are certainly seeing it. I have mixed feelings about Tarantino as a whole, but I loved Inglorious Basterds, and this one looks to be right up the same alley of bloody American history.

I’ve heard very mixed things about Les Miserables but I very much want to see it for myself. I love the idea of live singing in a movie, but I can see where that might detract from the show as well. Plus it’s full of people that I like, including Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.

The C.I.A. says that Zero Dark Thirty isn’t realistic but I’m not sure I care. I’ve yet to hear a bad review, and it has one of the more interesting production histories of the year. Plus, Jessica Chastain. Just sayin’.

Conclusion

That’s about all I have for 2012. All in all, it was a pretty good year for film for me, but not so much for games. Hopefully, that changes in 2013!

Be sure to check out Simon’s Best of 2012 before you go, and have yourself a great 2013!

Simon’s Best of 2012

Best film – Looper

There’s so much to like about my film of 2012. Great script, stellar cast, strong direction from a relative newcomer…but Looper‘s best trick was what it didn’t tell you. The trailer would have you believe that you’re going to be watching a time travel action movie, young self hunting old in an indie twist on Terminator. What you actually got was a slow-burner that certainly had these elements in the background, but was really an exploration of family loyalty, the consequence of action, and how love can mutate and save at the same time. It gave us a further element to the age-old nerd dilemma: kill or spare young Hitler? Looper dares to suggest an alternative – change him, before it’s too late? It’s really something special, and the final message that Love Is The Answer resonated deeply over the weeks that followed the closing credits.

Also, it blatantly sidesteps the inevitable discussions on the holes in its time travel: Bruce Willis tells us directly that it just doesn’t matter. Deal with it. Watch the damn movie.

Honourable mentions:

Ghost Rider 2 – Really, one of the most enjoyable cinema experiences I’ve ever had. Take away the need to “act”, let Nic Cage be crazy and mo-cap the shit out of him, use the Crank directors, combine for great success.

Avengers – Awesome superhero ensemble party with Whedon serving fine cocktails. High art? Nope. Amazing, enjoyable, thrilling and genuinely funny? Yep. In spades.

Skyfall – Not just a great Bond film, but a fantastic action thriller that will hopefully act as a blueprint for the future of the franchise.

 

Best Game – Super Hexagon – iPhone

What’s the meaning of life?

Sorry, let me backtrack a little and give you some context. Super Hexagon has a simple premise: don’t die. Walls of death approach and all you can do is rotate your tiny triangle around a central hexagonal spoke. Inch through the space, repeat. Score is time. One touch is death, game over. Press to restart. Over and over and over again. Time slows and seconds become milestones. First twenty, thirty, forty. Sliding forward, each instant restart a chance to improve and slice away at your best score. Last a minute, and the game tells you you’re wonderful. You feel it too, with a sense of elation that is unmatched by many other “deep” games. And that’s just the first level – knowingly labeled “Hard” – before you fling yourself further down the rabbit hole in comparative, superlative and Hyper versions.

How can something so simple – an iPhone version of a Flash game, for God’s sake – leave such a lasting impression on so many gamers? I think it’s the purity. There’s absolutely zero fluff or filler in the design. Story, character, Freemium DLC (spit) – all eschewed in favour of a single beating heart. It reminds me of the hours I spent playing the version of Geometry Wars Waves buried in Project Gotham Racing 4 (if you haven’t tried it, I recommend throwing five bucks on a used copy and heading straight to the arcade cabinet in your garage). It’s almost like it contains the very root of everything I love about gaming, distilled and concentrated in one single action.

But, then, it goes even a little further. It feels like its trying to tell you something about yourself, about life. The desperation to stay alive, the fact that you have to read the situation, make your decision, move and live by the consequences. You can never go back. Indecision is the enemy and leads to failure. Read, move, act with instinct and trust that deep, deep voice inside.

There have been a few times where I’ve looked at the encroaching walls and my brain has given up. You can’t do it, it says. That’s it. Game over. Then I watch passively as my fingers take over and lead me through the gaps with millimetre precision. Maybe that’s why the iPhone version is actually my favourite – the timing windows for the gaps are buried somewhere very deep in my nerve endings. It’s also with me all the time, and is the perfect distraction for the occasional spare two minutes between being an effective teacher and responsible parent. I play it and the world shrinks away for ninety seconds, the music vibrates my fingers, my heart pulses in time with the screen.

What’s the meaning of life? Who knows. But for me, this year, it’s been Super Hexagon; keep moving, trust your instincts, make your decision, and go. You can never go back.

Honourable mentions:

Journey – PS3 – Beautiful, moving and meaningful. So rare to get this from a game these days.

FTL – Mac – Just getting into this, but it’s already worming its way into my thoughts. It’s certainly made me consider doors as a higher priority.

 

Biggest disappointment (game or movie) – The Dark Knight Rises

I’m sure Matt’s chosen the same. You only need to listen again to our podcast to hear the abject disappointment hanging on every groaned syllable. His analysis will no doubt act as a highly-detailed magnifying glass over one of the year’s biggest films, but let me be the blunt hammer to his scalpel. The Dark Knight Rises ultimately does the unforgivable – simply put, it is just A Very Bad Movie.

Not a rarity, not this year or any year, but let me tell you why this badness is especial:

This is a Christopher Nolan movie

Inception has spoiled me. It’s practically ruined anything remotely in a similar genre. The last film that had that effect on me was Fight Club, especially as I was then a student of filmmaking who, right up to that point, arrogantly thought I could improve on anything with my unsurpassed dynamic vision and seemingly limitless talent. Fight Club left me physically shaking in a taxi, wondering how the hell I could ever be that good. Inception did the wondrous thing of telling a story that could only have been told in that medium, by that director. Insomnia, Momento, The Prestige; all additional rock-solid signs that Nolan utterly understands the silken weave between pace, time, story, setting and character. How could all this vision, this experience, result in something as wooden and splintered as Rises?

The Dark Knight exists

Batman Begins sowed the seeds of new Batman, moving away from Schumacher day-glo pyrotechnics to a version more grounded in the real. TDK then took this formula and dared to cast some young actor from A Knight’s Tale to continue Jack Nicholson’s Joker legacy. Do you remember the furore surrounding Health Ledger’s casting? I’m sure I even contributed to it. All the whining stopped immediately when the second film finally released. But was it just Ledger holding it together? No. Nolan’s a director who can bring out the best from all his actors (a reaction by Al Pacino in Insomnia is still the greatest piece of acting I’ve ever seen on film) so Ledger’s star turn is not a singular lynchpin. The script, slow and steady and full of malice. The characters, so well-rounded and interesting. The movie fit together as an intricate Chinese puzzle box. You left the theatre feeling like you’ve been exposed to what happens when the best are allowed to work together.

Conversely, DKR felt like I’d just read the readers’ questions section in Cosmopolitan.

The story is bad

I’m not going to list all the problems with this script and plotline (pro tip: Google them), but suffice to say they have more holes than an infinite golf course.

 

Disappointment is an understatement, then. An altogether dreary and unsatisfying ending to one of the most invigorating superhero reboots in cinema history.

Honourable mentions:

Cabin In The Woods – Great premise, wonderful execution, terrible ending that negated the actions of the previous fifty minutes. Shame.

Promethius – Went in with low expectations, found the end result to be even lower. Very beautiful but ruined by a terrible script with some of the worst space scientists I’ve ever seen.

Halo 4Halo is all about story for me. Note to 343 Industries -“story” does not mean “go here, do this set of three things, repeat”.

 

Top 3 I haven’t seen/played:

Cloud Atlas – I’m reading the book at the moment – and it’s entirely wonderful – so I’ve delayed watching the movie as I don’t want my imagination forced to picture Halle Berry instead of my own Luisa Rey. Really curious to see how on earth anyone could ever think they could make a movie of this book. Adored Run, Lola, Run, so it’ll be a visual feast if nothing else.

Smashed – I’ve been saying for a long time that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of the best young actors working at the moment, and this seems to the film that finally supports this claim. It only had a limited run here, so looking forward to catching it before the Oscars so I can throw some support behind it.

Tokyo Jungle – The PSN title that lets you play as a Pomeranian, trying to survive post-human Tokyo amidst hyenas and lions. It sounds like an utterly unique gaming experience that could only have emerged from Japan.

 

 

Happy New Year!

Skyfall – Our Two Reviews

Skyfall

We both saw Skyfall this weekend and felt compelled to write individual reviews. We each have a lot more to say about this film so look for the next episode of the podcast for more in depth (and spoilery) discussion. For now, here are both of our reviews in their entirety.

Premium Bond: Simon’s Review

You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Timothy Dalton.

1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence To Kill saw him take over as iconic agent James Bond, rescuing the series from the latter campy efforts headed by Roger Moore. Dalton’s Bond was clearly a shift back towards the original spy of Fleming’s books, with serious realism creeping in and Dalton’s scowl replacing Moore’s insinuative eyebrow. They made money, for sure, but the latter was especially lambasted for being too serious in tone, too distant from the series’ preference for lightweight gadget fodder. The lengthy legal battle between MGM and Eon effectively killed his planned third outing, and the Bond reigns finally fell into the eager hands of Pierce Brosnan. I remember very clearly watching Dalton’s Bonds and really enjoying how the series’ new tone matched my own growing maturity. For that reason, he’s my favourite Bond. At least, he was – until Skyfall.

The first thing to note is that the story in Skyfall is actually compelling, interesting and twisty instead of being a mere backdrop for invisible cars and Playboy-level nuclear physicists. In a nutshell, a breathless pre-credits train-top chase leads Bond in pursuit of a lunatic villain – a character Javier Bardam savours so much in his portrayal – while using near-death as a catalyst for self-examination. All the main characters have skeletons in their cupboards, some more psychopathic than others. The aging cast is this time used front and centre as a reminder to us all that our bodies don’t always follow the vigor of the mind, and that sadness only turns into bitterness if stretched over decades. The chase unfolds in Istanbul, Macau and good old Blighty, the latter not filmed this beautifully in a long time.

Daniel Craig’s Bond resonated from the off in Casino Royale, finding an audience for his mix of seriousness and broken humanity. Craig lets us in on the journey from one point to the next, until we finally see that the assumed Bond “character” is as much a weapon as his fists or guns. It’s a clever, intelligent portrayal that’s subtle enough to not drift into melancholy. Craig’s casting was initially a hard sell, but it has proven to be a fine decision.

Skyfall sees Bond at his most resourceful and competent. The unfortunate side of both Casino Royale and the far weaker Quantum of Solace was that, as partial reboots, they really wanted to show you how Bond became this remorseless killer, a murderer for money. It took time for the character to settle into its rhythms, not helped by Quantum’s uninteresting story, but Skyfall doesn’t inherit any of these drawbacks. Here, Craig shows us Bond as a true agent, fielding ingenuity against bullets, never giving up even when the odds are stacked against him.

The other cast members are also steller. Judi Dench owns M more than ever, the extremely watchable Ralph Fiennes has great presence and even Ben Whishaw, as a new Q straight out of college, holds his own. The only downside is that the whole “Bond girl” aspect has been extremely downplayed. There’s a nice development involving Naomie Harris, but poor Bérénice Marlohe barely gets any time to shine. Flouting the girls around as Bond’s sexual conquests was certainly old-fashioned, but it did add a certain element to the Bond formula.

What a formula, though, and it’s crystal clear that director Sam Mendes absolutely understands it. From the thrilling car chase through Istanbul, a couple of stunning long takes (for both talking and fighting), through to a precisely staged finale in Scotland, every shot glows with style and confidence. There’s undeniable evidence that his experience with actors has brought out some career bests, especially the way Bardam exquisitely times the speech pattern of his bitter antagonist. Mendes also gives us time to wind down between set pieces. So many films get this wrong and hurtle along without any idea of calm before the storm. The script, too, has just the right mix of flavourful language with enough fan references to keep Bond purists happy for the next year.

It all builds to an amazing cresendo and positions itself as a solid base for the Bond films to come, even staging a final daring mini-reboot in many ways. It all seems so assured, so confident and rewarding; it’s hard to feel anything other than tingling anticipatory excitement when the closing credits gleefully announce JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. Just like it used to be, as it should be.

In Skyfall, we have the best Bond in years and a thrilling continuation of Craig’s interpretation. Actually, it’s not just one of the best Bond movies, it’s one of the best action dramas for a long time, with a main character that shows us how the reality of life should never have to keep us down for long. Timothy Dalton, my second favorite Bond, will be duly satisfied.

Bonding Experience: Matt’s Review

I am going to get this out of the way right now: Skyfall is a great film. Not just a great bond film, but a great film. It’s full of thrilling chases, great fights, and above all a solid story and superb cast to tell it.

Skyfall starts out like any great Bond film should, with a thrilling chase through a beautiful city using a multitude of vehicles. This, as with latter chases and action sequences are shot beautifully. The pacing is spot on, the camera works is amazing (thank the good sweet lord for the lack of Bourne style shakey cam) and the tension feels real. This is edge of your seat stuff! This leads into the classic Bond opening, and Adele’s “Skyfall” is a gorgeous song.

This opening sets up the basic plot of a list that shouldn’t exist falling into the wrong hands. You’ve seen this in the trailers, James Bond is back and he’s slightly worse for wear. It’s not often that Bond has been portrayed with a weakness but this weakness and vulnerability allows the character to grow in ways that The World Is Not Enough failed to really explore.

Many were unsure of Daniel Craig as Bond when he was first cast. Blond haired and blue eyed he didn’t fit the physical profile, and in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace his Bond was a harder man. None of the gaget tomfoolery or the casual feel that none of the previous actors except Timothy Dalton had brought to the part. He had his quips, but most of them were played with a cold and cynical attitude. This certainly wasn’t your father’s James Bond. While I loved those movies, yes even Quantum of Solace, I sometimes felt that the films and Craig had gone too far in this direction. I’m happy to report that Skyfall has found the balance between old school casual Bond and new school gritty, real, cynical Bond, and that that is a wonderful thing.

Judi Dench is back as M and she is delightful as the tough as nails head of MI6. If she wasn’t before, She’s certainly my favourite Bond girl now. Her portrayal is skilled and nuanced and the character is more in the forefront as the bad guy, played brillianty by Javier Bardem, is out not just to get Bond but M as well. You’ve seen tidbits of Javier Bardem’s first scene in the trailer and while I don’t want to spoil anything suffice to say that the only thing that I might like better than him as Silva fighting Bond would be Anton Chigurth fighting Bond.

Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw join the cast as a government official and Q respectively. Both are extremely capable actors and more than hold their own. Fiennes is basically always good, and I’m continually impressed with Ben Whishaw’s ability to throw himself into a part.

Where the film might be lacking is Bond girls. You might think the concept outdated or even sexist but it’s still an important part of the now 50 year old formula. That’s not to say that there aren’t Bond girls, just that neither Naomi Harris nor Bérénice Marlohe get as much develpment as they could, Marlohe especially. Harris does have a subplot unto her own, and her young fresh-into-the-but-unsure-if-she’s=ready-for=the-field agent plays well againts Craig’s unsure-if-he’s-still-good-enough-for-the-field Bond.

For those of you who felt that Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace left too much of the Bond formula out, suffice to say or points are back. As with Craig’s Bond finding the balance between old school and new, the film itself works all of these elements with the same even handedness. Q is back yes, but there’s no car that turns into a submarine or scene where Q delivers a gadget that would only really be useful in a specfic situation he couldn’t possibly predict (which Bond inevitably ends up in).

And that;s what makes the film great. Balance. A balance of ideas from the old school of Bond with the new school of Bond storytelling rooted in a world that’s more grounded in reality. Sam Mendes has done a brilliant job bringing this world to the screen and making sure that Craig, Dench and Bardem all play their characters with complexity and layers, never straying too far into anger, sadness or mania as they each deal with their pasts. He also proves himself one of the best action directors currently working today, a slightly strange thought when you consider this is the guy who usually brings us more thoughtful character pieces like American Beauty, Jarhead and Away We Go. The script is brilliant, providing just enough fan service to put a smile on your face but not so much that it falls into the trap of camp so many other Bond films have.

Skyfall is really the third part of a loose trilogy. It starts witht he cocky new agent in Casino Royale who ends up letting his guard down and getting betrayed, continues with him reeling and recovering from this betrayal and heartbreak in Quantum of Solace, and finally coming into his own by the end of Skyfall. I won’t spoil the end, but what I will say is that Skyfall brings Bond full circle and provides a solid foundation upon which the franchise can move forward will a fully formed Bond in a fully formed world. As the credits roll the statement “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN” is on screen as it always used to be, and I couldn’t be more excited for when he does.

Reflections On The Past: From Driver to San Francisco

John Tanner – the driver of Driver – has had a tough journey, but it wasn’t really his fault. You can lay the blame at the feet of Rockstar, or at least at the metaphorical feet of their ambition, as their success in opening up video game worlds became the forced design aspirations for many a dev team. Reflections – one such team – fell into this trap and managed to turn an epic franchise into a despised mess.

The first game, released on the PS1 in 1999, was all flashing sirens, screeching tyres and alleyways stuffed with cardboard boxes. Featuring an ex-racecar driver as a cop so deep undercover that even his NYPD colleagues wanted to trash him, it was a wild taste of how cases would be solved if Starsky & Hutch was the official training reference.

The key element was the handling. Each car that Tanner threw around the game’s cities had a throaty backend with just a bare understanding of grip. What felt uncontrollable at first soon slid into place, and the feeling of taking corners sideways with raging police cars speeding up behind you was a sheer visceral thrill. To make things even more filmic, your every move could be viewed and manipulated visually within a replay mode that placed you as a film director of a 70s car chase movie. Imagine Bullitt: The Game, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

So: a great game with a sturdy engine and critical appreciation to match the sales. What could possibly go wrong?

Reflections decided to open the car door and gave Tanner legs. Letting him escape his vehicle for the sequel was a bold move that didn’t entirely succeed. It preceded the singularity point of GTA 3 by a whole year but, while the ambition was commendable, the poor old PS1 just couldn’t take it. My main memory of Driver 2 is not about the tight freedom of driving, but of getting out of the car and trying to wrestle Tanner across the street as the frame rate dipped to flickbook levels. And his staggering amble couldn’t be ignored, with missions being written to incorporate the protagonist’s new trick. It sucked out the fun of what could – should – have been a generation classic.

Then the world gasped as the PS2 smashed what was thought possible, Rockstar showed us the shining grime of Liberty City, and Driver lost its relevancy. The pre-release hype machine whirred into place as Driv3r was announced and only increased in volume as it neared release. A few previews were positive, casting more hope onto Tanner’s comeback. Building to a massive buzz, Driv3r was finally released in 2004, and it was truly awful. Unbelievably buggy, ridiculously clunky and seriously outdated, it was crystal clear that it had been sent out before it was anywhere near finished. Of course, in these days of day-one patches, that’s becoming more normal (see the recent Medal Of Honor Warfighter – or even better, don’t) but the PS2 didn’t share this luxury.

The game quickly became a joke as word spread through gaming circles. It even got to the point where the few magazines that had published glowing reviews fell into scandal with accusations of under table payments, and it was hard to argue against them. Driv3r, for whatever reason, had just turned out to be a terrible game, made more disappointing by the marketing promises thrown around in pre-release.

The series hid after that, occasionally showing its face as a PSP title (Driver 1978) and a weak console offshoot (Parallel Lines), neither of which even trying to pretend that the crown of the PS1 original could be reclaimed. Many people – myself included – occasionally dreamed about how a modern version might look and feel, but it was always accepted that daydreams would remain just that.

So, when Ubisoft (who had bought Reflections) announced that Driver was having a full-blown Tanner-led sequel on modern consoles, the reaction was a pretty even split between glee and trepidation. After all, the effect of Driv3r never really disappeared and it was easy to imagine that the GTA legacy would surely dictate another on-foot disaster. However, it wasn’t to be. Maybe anticipating this suspicion, Ubisoft made it very clear from an early stage that the player never actually moves from behind the wheel. One car? Wouldn’t that get boring? Nope. One driver but multiple cars, made possible by a wonderful stroke of true high-concept imagination.

In the opening few minutes, Tanner is rammed into a coma by returning series baddie Jericho. The rest of the game takes place in his head, with every successful move towards the pursuit of his main target crossing over to aid his recovery in the real world (much like in the BBC drama Life On Mars). And it’s within this subconscious sandbox that Tanner finds he can jump from one body to another, effectively taking control of them – and their car – like a travel-happy ghost. It’s all expertly measured to fit into the structure of a video game, of course, but the fact that we know he’s in a coma from the beginning allows us to take whatever happens at face value. From the snappy script to the permanent magic hour golden twilight, it actually feels like a dream.

As you proceed through the game’s main missions, your power to jump grows stronger until you’re able to pull out to a map of the entire Bay area in order to travel quickly to your next target. For me, this kind fast traversal in an open-world sandbox is becoming more and more vital (perfectly epitomized in the amazing Just Cause 2) to the point where I know I’ll be subconsciously reaching for the hookshot button when GTA V finally releases. Being able to jump from behind the wheel of a cop car into an oncoming truck in order to swerve head-on into the getaway you’re still pursuing is pure magic. Actually, even though the game’s missions are generally good fun, I’ve been spending most of my game time just speeding round, finding new rides, enjoying the sunset. And it helps that every third vehicle is a car transporter with its rack in the declined position.

Once again, the handling is the star of the game. As meaty and thrilling as its PS1 forebear, every time I try to describe how it feels to drift around a corner at 80mph, I can’t help but rub my thumb and finger together. It’s incredibly tactile and, to steal from a better writer than I, to be any closer to the road would be to rub your face along the tarmac. The fantastic cars, clever missions, compelling story and many fan-service challenges (including a drive round the original’s garage testing ground, unlocked by driving a certain speed in a DeLorean) add up to an essential package that should have garnered far more appreciation than it did.

In the world of video games, just like in language, context is everything. I may have taken a long and rambling road to convey just how much I love Driver San Francisco, but its success is made all the more important because of the history it shares. To reverse the downfall and in turn make a game that’s actually better than the original is no mean feat, and one that should be applauded. I can’t wait to find out how it ends for Tanner, but in the mean time I’m happy to drift in the glow of the ever-setting sun.

Revisiting Halo 3 ODST

With the next Master Chief-led addition to the Halo universe looming around the corner, I’ve been doing a fair bit of introspection. The series of increasingly serious space epics has always felt like my perfect kind of FPS, from the orbital base jumps and gun-butting of Covenant Elites, to the dense growing layers of mythology and enemy headshots that reward you with explosions of ticker tape and cheering children.

The final game in the series from Bungie – 2010’s Reach – gave the player a unique close-up view of that entire world being wiped clean. However, Reach didn’t always “feel” like classic Halo to me – too somber, too light on day-glo purple – and that pushed me to try and pin down my favourite video game take on the mythos, at least so I could be mentally prepared to judge Halo 4. Interestingly, my final decision neatly contradicted a former strong set of opinions I had, and took me back to the time when Bungie decided to be a little more human.

Originally planned as DLC missions for Halo 3, ODST for the first time puts us in the boots of plain old humans. Highly trained badass humans, admittedly, but still far removed from the augmented flesh and seven-foot green armour that gives Master Chief such a brazen disregard for bullets. The game rotates around a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (voiced by enough Firefly alumni to justify a dreamy insistence that it’s an official tie-in) who are fighting away the invading Covenant in the lead-up to Master Chief’s explosive re-entry at the beginning of Halo 3. Microsoft’s insistence to turn it into a full retail release seemed to require more padding, so the set of missions is linked together by the silent Rookie searching through the city in search of clues. Every new clue prompts a new playable flashback.

There’s a clear noir-influenced direction in ODST, probably a result of circumstance – the game’s hub is the city of New Mombasa after a complete emergency evacuation, so its dark empty streets are the perfect place for pulsing neon billboards and dangerous lurking shadows. Even the soundtrack reflects this tonal shift, the classic Halo strings backing off to let in some crooning sax and light piano refrains. After the repeated chaos of the previous Halo games, this quietness at first feels…wrong. I remember rushing through these sections, desperate to find the highlighted helmet or gun that would activate the next story flashback. The way I rocketed past entrenched enemies, map waypoint dead ahead…it did feel a little like I was some kind of sci-fi streaker.

The missions, thankfully, were fantastic the first time and age has not damaged them. The split focus between the squad members – each with specific skills and weapons – meant that Bungie could really mix up the variety of objectives and locations. With a sharp script and snappy vocal delivery, it’s very easy to feel the jolt of going back to a silent protagonist at the end of each section. The final mission in particular is fantastic, a desperate fight across a bridge leading to a dug-in battle as you wait for extraction with a valuable asset. It felt enough to balance out the initial feelings of frustration and separation.

So, for me, that was it for a long time. A disappointing beginning that led to an exhilarating finale, in a package that just filled a gap before we got to be Spartans again. An interesting but flawed side project that put up a decent fight, but ultimately could never compete with the Chief.

Then time passed, other games got played, Reach got bought (amongst a gaggle of teenagers) at 12:30am, and ODST quietly sat untouched in my Halo collection. My fervent anticipation around Reach resulted in quiet disappointment over the end result (I’m not sure how it could have ever lived up to the Halo prequel my imagination conjured up) and the series finally felt like it had moved from my present into my past.

Thing is, ODST wouldn’t stay quiet. The idea of the human troopers was pervasive, not just the show-stopping orbital torpedoes that they insisted on using but also the fact that they had to fight in a very different way. Master Chief is designed to take the heat and stand tall as he fires a million rounds into an unlucky Brute’s face. That’s a vital part of his charm and the reason why players keep returning to him. ODSTs, however, don’t have this luxury. They are fragile, delicate meatsacks with a weak shield and paltry layer of metal being the only things keeping away the volleys of energy blasts and bullets. This calls for a distinct strategy – part stealth, part positioning and planning – and felt all the more human for it. We can never “be” the Chief, just daydream through his eyes, but the Troopers are only a few degrees removed from us in comparison. Self-preservation is a very strong motivator and it heightens every small victory.

It was actually through Reach’s lens that I grew to understand just how much I loved ODST. Firefight mode, which debuted in the latter, just didn’t feel as much fun in the former. Spartans don’t carry the same level of desperation in packs. Coordinated groups of these super soldiers are like sets of oncoming dumper trucks. This revelation led me to the realization that I missed the vulnerability of the Troopers as they provided a different kind of battle that required more of me as a player.

This is what made the muted shady structure of ODST’s hub finally fall into place. As I replay it again, I no longer have the urge to sprint. Now, I’m the human trooper up against absolutely massive odds, barely scraping through blazing battles with enemies that massively outnumber me, using strategy to win as much as weapons, before sneaking off down the streets, keeping in the shadows, listening for movement in the rain.

The quietness suddenly makes sense. It allows me to pick my route and plan my attack, which was never a real requirement of stronger warriors from previous games. The solace of being separated from your squad, of being forced to fight alone, is perfectly reflected in the gloom of the deserted city and the meanderings of the soundtrack. The back-heavy structure of the game allows me to find my feet and prove myself, before thrusting me back into the squad for the fight for my life against an army that is stronger in everything but intelligence and spirit.

And as Master Chief prepares to take my gaming world by storm once again, I find myself in the strange position of wishing I could be back as a Trooper, sneaking in the dark, battling in desperation, fighting the human fight.

Oscars 2012 Live Blog

Oscar night and I’m going to live blog the show. I was having trouble deciding where to start writing for the site and this seems like a golden opportunity really, just up and said “hey write about me!” So that is what I am doing. I will of course time stamp my thoughts as I have them, and hopefully provide you with enough context that you can read them without needing the show to be on in the background for you to understand what the hell I am talking about.

17:22: just getting set up with a place to write and record. Red carpet stuff is almost over, show about to start! Is a good thing we’re doing this without a screaming baby around. Oh wait….

17:30: Aaaaaaaand show starting. Morgan Freeman on stage. He’s welcoming us to the show, and also Billy Crystals parody montage.

17:35: Montage over. “Say ‘I’m Batman, it’ll help me!'” was hilarious, but all the jokes are pretty …. Uh…. Safe. I have a feeling this will be indicative of the rest of the show as well.

17:37: “Nothing takes your mind off these economic times like watching millionaires give each other golden statues.”. Awesome, if a little obvious. Now the singing. Oh the singing. If only Billy Crystal could sing.

17:41: I should probably point out how cynical I am about the Oscars this year, in case it hasn’t come through yet. I have a bad feeling there’ll be no risks taken tonight, and the jokes aren’t that funny so far.

17:43: First award is cinematography. Hugo wins. Second up is art direction. Hugo wins again. I haven’t seen this yet, but from what I have seen the film is gorgeous so this makes sense. I have no strong opinions about this either way really.

17:47: WTF is the band doing up in the box seats? Going back to Billy Crystal for a second my question is this: why the hell don’t they just get Hugh Jackman back again? Seriously; his song was way better and unlike Billy Crystal he can actually sing.

17:52: And now a montage of iconic moments in film. Brett from Flight of the Conchords is in the audience and I blew Simons mind by telling him that Brett is nominated for the songs in The Muppets.

17:55: The Artist wins Best Costume Design. Not surprised. Everyone looked great in it. The Iron Lady wins for Makeup. They did do a. Good job of turning Meryl Streep into Mrs. Thatcher and then aging the crap out of her.

18:03: Montage of actors talking about their first movie going experience. Mostly boring except that Brad Pitt dropped “War of the Gargantuas” which is kind of amazing. This is a movie which you need to see if you haven’t.

18:05: Sandra Bullock takes the stage. She’s about to speak Chinese. In German.

18:07: A Separation wins best foreign film. Iranian Film meant to be gorgeous. We wonder if it’s a political decision at all, but it is meant to be an amazing film. Is that too cynical? I can’t tell anymore.

18:09: Christian Bale on stage to give away the Best Supporting Actress trophy. Still hoping for Jessica Chastain. Simon and Wife taking the piss out of Christian Bale’s accent. Funny, most Brits I know do this, take the piss out of every other Brits accent.

18:12: Octavia Spencer wins for The Help. Everyone on their feet. Kind of brilliant. She was amazing after all. I maintain that the Octavia Spencer/Jessica Chastain storyline in The Help was the best part of the movie.

18:17: So far Sandra Bullock speaking Chinese in German, Iranian Director giving a political speech for his acceptance, and Octavia Spencer winning are the best moments of the show.

18:18: Ooooh Billy Crystal makes a joke that’s actually funny. “45 minute drive indeed.”

18:20: Christopher Guest and co doing what appears to be ad lib focus group for Wizard of Oz. Kind of right up my alley. “I didn’t like it until the flying monkeys.” Fred Willard FTW.

18:25: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo picks one up for best editing. Hugo for Sound Editing and Sound mixing. I realllly wanted Drive to win for sound editing, if only so that it could have an Oscar. Kind of wish that Transformers won for sound editing just to see everyone’s reaction and also the DVD cover a Transormers film that reads “Oscar Winner.”

18:32: Can we have more Fred Willard please?

18:34: Muppets on camera. It’s a good thing.

18:35: Cirque du Soleil interpreting “going to the movies” in dance. This could actually be pretty interesting.

18:39: I wish that at some point in my life I could be half as athletic as someone from Cirque. Seriously.

18:41: Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Paltrow presenting for documentaries. Not being very funny. Fuck I didn’t see any documentaries this year at all. Undefeated wins. Yay?

18:44: Huh, first instance of someone being played off. Even cut off the mic on the guys who won best documentary. Not really fair consider there were six of them.

18:46: Best animated film is Rango. Fucking amazing since its clearly the best animated film from 2011 and Gore Verbinski is overdue. Maybe a bit surprising that the film that was the best was chosen.

18:50: Any voice actors in the audience? I’d like to hear what you have to say abut Chris Rock’s little description of your job. I’d be willing to bet that you’re maybe wanting to go all Hulk SMAHSH right now?

18:54: Emma Stone is amazing. That is all.

18:55: Lots of good choices for visual effects but Hugo wins. Seems like Hugo is going to win all the technical awards. I wonder how that bodes for the beat picture/director awards… No I don’t, it bodes poorly.

18:59: Best Supporting Actor award. Christopher Plummer wins! Yes! About time. He’s generally speaking always great.

19:10: You know, I think they should just let the hosts of these shows run wild. When these jokes are so blatantly scripted they aren’t funny. If they’d just let them ad lib and make fun of the audience it might actually be good. So far Billy Crystals best jokes have all been off the cuff remarks, like the one to the president of the academy, “mister excitement.”

19:13: The Artist is totally going to win best score.

19:14: The Artist won best score. I mean, how could it not? The film is all music. On top of that the score is really good, too. Also John Williams had two nominations for the same score. YEAH I SAID IT.

19:18: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiniakais presenting for best song. Muppets to win, right?

19:19: Bret Harrison of Flight of the Conchords is now an Oscar winning musician. Fuck Yes. Muppets FTW.

19:25: is it just me or is Angelina Jolie not looking super healthy? She looks like a stick figure. Either way, The Descendants just won best adapted screenplay. I’m sure it’s great but I was really pulling for Moneyball.

19:29: I really hope Woody Allen wins for best original.

19:30: Woody Allen wins. Fucking A. I’d really like to see him win best picture as well but don’t see it happening.

19:37: You know, the technical awards should get more than just a 2 minute recap. But maybe I’m a huge nerd.

19:39: Maya Rudolph and Kristin Wiig making innuendo about short vs long film should be cliche but somehow is just funny.

19:42: Are all the best documentary nominees seated in the nose bleeds? Do they get to give their speech after the next awards when they finally get to the stage?

19:45: That’s a capitol hat the guy who won for best animated short is wearing. Jaunty angle as well.

19:50: Michael Douglas is clone of Kirk Douglas right? Time for the best director. Thinking that The Artist will likely win. If something I don’t want to win is going to win though, let it be Hugo. If something I want to win wins let it be Midnight in Paris.

19:53: aaaand The Artist wins for best director. Le sigh.

19:57: Governors awards. Again, wish they weren’t given such a brief recap. Just make it part of the show. Or, better yet, replace the red carpet BS with them.

20:00: Only best actor, actress, and film are left. Not hopeful for anyone involved in films that don’t rhyme with “de smartest.”

20:03: Time for the in memoriam. Usually this is when we get to hear how famous people were by how loud the crowd claps, but no one is clapping. Fucking finally.

20:13: ok the show is starting to feel dragged out. But at least Natalie Portman is on stage to give ay the best actor award. I’m sure Rene Dujardin will win, but we’ll see. Nice little unspoken exchange between her and Gary Oldman as she talked about his performance in Tinker Tailor.

20:18: Jean Dujardin wins. Not surprised in the slightest. Don’t get me wrong, while I didn’t think the movie was worth all the awards it’s winning or even like his character? He did a brilliant job. That said, GARY OLDMAN WAS NOMINATED.

20:24: Here’s Colin Firth to give the best actress award. No idea who it will be. Meryl Streep won the BAFTA but that’s British isn’t it. Viola Davis needs to win, Rooney Mara I want to win, but I have a feeling it’ll be Bernice Bejo.

20:29: Oh wait Bernice Bejo wasn’t nominated. Fuck. I had kind of assumed that she was. Either way, Meryl just won and it’s about fucking time. Even if Viola Davis should have. But seriously, about time. 13 nominations between wins?? Too many.

20:32: Tom Cruise to present best picture. With a montage. It’ll be The Artist, but I really want it to be … Well, they’re all good, but Midnight in Paris. Or Moneyball.

20:36: And The Artist wins. Quel surprise. Between Hugo cleaning up the technical awards and The Artist cleaning up everything else it doesn’t seem like anything else won much of anything.

You know, this ceremony wasn’t very exciting. I hope next year there’s some risks, some more varied choices, and that the theme is a little more specific than “we like movies.”. I’m going to sleep on it and recap in a day or two with more feelings on who won and who didn’t but long story short: boring, Emma Stone hot, Angelina Jolie not hot, and very few surprises.