Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome to the Chatroom

Over the past couple of months I have gotten exceedingly bored with all the "mainstream" cinema.

Shiny CGI, 3D, everything in slow motion, erm, I mean, bullet time, prequels and sequels and remakes, fantasy, superheroes, comic book adaptations, Science Fiction (don't get me wrong, I love all these genres), and worst of all: happy endings.

I was craving for something NEW, something DEPRESSING, something REAL!

So I searched the internet for something that would fit my criteria and it turned out, apparently I wasn't the only one who was bored out of their mind by the current cinema trend because all of a sudden, from everywhere, these new, depressing and "real" movies popped up.

I made a small selection based on storyline and actors/directors I already knew and liked (funny enough, a lot of these kind of movies are productions from the United Kingdom, by the way) and gleefully I rubbed my hands as I pressed the "buy" button and was excited like a child at christmas when the parcel from amazon arrived.

Three movies were in the box and three movies I will review, starting with the last one I watched: Chatroom.

First off, many of you will probably be surprised when I mention the director of this stunning piece because even though it is a UK production, the director is a very well known Japanese guy.

Let me just give you a couple of hints: He likes girls with long black hair who hang out in wells, weird things going on with video tapes and rings.

DING DING DING, yes, you got that right! Hideo Nakata, the director of the original Ringu
(why I find it totally ridiculous to call it "ringu" when in fact it is pronounced "ring" in Japanese, too, is a different topic... Just wanted to point that out. Grrr!) and the US remake of the second film, Ring 2, is responsible!

What an interesting surprise! Him being the director was one of the reasons I wanted to watch Chatroom.

Another good reason to watch it is the composer - yet another Japanese guy - the amazing Kenji Kawai, internationally possibly best known for his work on Ghost In The Shell (and again, the Ring movies), but he's generally a popular anime composer anyway, so, if that's your kind of thing, you'll probably know him.

The film is based on a play by the same name written by Irish playwrite Enda Walsh who also wrote the great Disco Pigs, which was turned into a great movie in 2001 and was kind of the stepping stone for Cillian Murphy, and the equally great and intense 2008 film Hunger about the imprisonment and death of IRA member Bobby Sands. Since I love both Disco Pigs and Hunger, him having provided the original idea was another reason I wanted to watch this film.

Now, the actors are - to me - all but one entirely unknown.

We have five main characters, five teenagers: William, Eva, Jim, Mo and Emily, played by Hannah Murray who some people may know as eating disordered Cassie from the first generation of the original UK series Skins.

William is played by Aaron Johnson who played the Character of Kick-Ass in the movie of the same name, but I have to admit, I still haven't seen that. My apologies. Hence, Aaron was previously unknown to me.

Eva is played by Imogen Poots who was in 28 Weeks Later (a sequel I REFUSE to watch, as 28 Days Later was way too amazing to be ruined by sequels) and young Valerie in V for Vendetta, but again, an actress I've never really paid any attention to. In V for Vendetta I was a bit preoccupied with Natalie Portman.

The character of Jim is given extraordinary life to by Matthew Beard who has so far only had roles in TV series but has just completed the movie Hippie Hippie Shake alongsiiiiide: Cillian Murphy! (and so, the circle closes)

And finally, Mo is portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, also from Skins (since I've only managed to watch 5 episodes of that series yet I haven't seen him on screen so far, I think), and other popular UK tv series such as Psychoville and Doctor Who.

As you can see, a lot of promising young actors.

As much as I love watching movies by "old" actors I already know and love, it is always very exciting for me to watch new, young actors.

The story is set in London with outside shots filmed in North London, mainly in the popular shopping paradise Camden as well as Primrose Hill.

The rest of it takes place inside several "chatrooms", visualised by a long, slightly shabby looking corridor and individual rooms which the characters can create, decorate and secure to their liking, with chairs or beds or anything, really, on which the chatters sit and communicate with one another is if they actually were in an actual room together.

But not only the chatrooms are visualised in such a manner, everything that takes place on the internet, private messaging, online gaming, is shown as an individual room.

Solely by chance (and possibly boredom), five teenagers happen to log in to a chatroom called "Chelsea Teens!", created by one of them, William.
The initial conversation is light hearted and a bit chaotic but already after the first few minutes the five of them decide to meet again and chat on a regular basis.

The chat and general online sequences are interrupted to show the actual surroundings of the teens, sitting at home in their room on their laptops or out shopping, online with their cell phones, which gives a first insight into their individual characters and how they live, quickly making it clear that each of them uses the online world as a means to escape their otherwise troublesome lives in the real world, embracing the possibility to create new personas for themselves and live out different sides of their personality they can not really live out in their real lives.

Before long the audience realises that each of them have their own little "teenage problems" which at first don't seem to be all that serious, e.g. Emily, the smart, well educated, well mannered girl, is dying to break out of her all-too-perfect world with her high-achieving but emotionally distant parents, Mo is in love with his best friend's little sister, and even Jim's shyness and depression doesn't come as much of a surprise anymore in this day and age, but soon - as they say - shit starts to get real.

Over the next few weeks the five of them meet again often, either
all together or for smaller, more private talks, revealing more about their true selves as they start learning more about the others and, ultimately, bringing the worst out in each other, starting with harmless acts of vandalism, like Emily smearing dog poo on her mother's windscreen, to much, much more serious crimes.

What started off as simply helping one another by offering support and by giving advice to improve their idividual situations quickly spirals out of control, affecting the lives of all of them, especially Jim's and William's, who seems to be the most messed up of all of them and who's truly sick mind and malevolent nature leads the story to its tragic end.

Now, obviously I am NOT going to spoil the ending for everybody but let me tell you, it is definitely worth paying the 7 or 8 quid for.

What makes Chatroom and its characters so interesting is that it cleverly shows just how easy it is to manipulate people, especially hiding behind the anonymity of the internet (cyber mobbing, anyone?), the dangers and darker sides of the world wide web, how fragile minds can be and how soon - what started off as harmless fun - can turn into something deadly serious.

Interesting is especially the discrepancy between the written and the spoken word, the intention and the reception - something that has been bothering linguists for ages - the lack of intonation more often than not making it exceedingly difficult to see the true intentions of a "speaker" who writes something on the internet.

There is a scene between William and Jim which shows quite well just why this is a problem.

As the audience, seeing them interact with one another in the room, we can HEAR and SEE the way William - the sender - speaks, but at the same time we know that in reality, on the other side of the computer screen - as the reciever - Jim can only read the words but not hear the tone in which they were spoken, or see the body language of the sender in order to gather further information about the intention, thus understanding Williams words only in the (positive) way he wants to understand them as, but not in the (negative, sarcastic) way William meant them.

Obviously, the lack of face-to-face intimacy in the online communication process acts entirely in William's favour here as Jim's missunderstanding is exactly what he aims for.

Apart from that a couple of rather uncommon topics are dealt with in the movie e.g. Paedophilia in teenagers, (auto-)Agression and self mutilation, hacking/cyber terrorism/internet crime, possibly internet addiction and - majorly - Sensationalism/Voyeurism.

Concluding I would like to say that, apart from the highly interesting story, the cimenatic realisation of this former stage play is fantastic.
When you think about it, the idea of placing any and all online scenarios in actual rooms is most definitely something that Hideo Nakata borrowed from the good ol' stage productions.

Nonetheless, the film comes across as truly unique and intruiging from start to finish.
It definitely had me on the edge of my seat for the whole 90something minutes and if you are looking for something new, unique and visually appealing, click here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Actually not so bad: Pirates of the Caribbean 4

I liked the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Maybe I watched the second one a bit too many times. I didn't even like it that much, I just happened to watch it an awful lot in cinemas, by chance! The third one was okay.

But when I heard there was going to be another one I really didn't like the idea. Why another one? What's there left to tell? Anything new about Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom? I thought I had definitely seen enough of their roles and their story was tied up neatly, so why have another movie? I largely ignored its whole production until the first trailer surfaced.

Then, I don't know why, but I did feel intrigued by it. Especially since they didn't continue a storyline that they had just neatly tied up into a bow just for the sake of having a sequel. They made up a new story (which, granted, was already hinted at at the end of the last movie). So in the end I went into the cinema with an open mind and thought I might actually enjoy it.

It is an enjoyable little movie, closer to the first one in its sense of a shortish adventure. I'm not sure you could describe it entirely as "carefree" and "light" but it surely weighed lighter than that whole selling your soul to Davey Jones or becoming Captain of the Flying Dutchman and thus being doomed to step onto land only once every 10 years. Dead Man's Chest and especially At World's End had very grave themes, resolutions that were extremely final and consequences that were extremely dire for some of the main characters.

On Strager Tides, even though it has its very serious moments as well, doesn't feel nearly as grave as its two predecessors and instead feels a bit more like the first movie again. One adventure at whose end none of our beloved main characters is really doomed. I think that was the movie's strong point.

Now when it comes to the weak points... I thought some elements were a bit badly worked out. What about this whole zombie issue? I guess they were voodoo cultish zombies but the movie could have made a bit more out of that. That love story with the missionary and the mermaid wasn't very inspiring. But the fact that they had mermaids were cool. I've never seen mermaids like those before and I thought they pulled off that idea well.

So finally, when I saw the credits roll and stayed until the very end so I could catch the little clip that always comes after the credits for these movies, I found myself hoping that they'd make another one. Which is really strange as I was against having a fourth one in the first place. I think Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa and Mr. Gibbs have started to become characters that seem like old friends to the audience. Usually you have these kinds of parasocial relationships to characters mainly when it comes to TV series. But since Pirates of the Caribbean have gone on for more than a trilogy now there's a different kind of fondness you develope concerning their stories.

I hope they do make another one. It is great to have a nice pirate story once in a while and that universe seem so rich, they could think up a lot more nice stuff. On Stranger Tides won me over, maybe because I didn't expect too much in the first place and also didn't follow the production and the critical reaction closely. Sometimes this may be the best way to approach movies.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What could have been At the Mountains of Madness

One of the sadder news this year so far was the cancellation of production on Guillermo del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness. Since I am very much a fan of his work on Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth I had been looking forward to this movie quite a bit. It was much more than just a consolation prize for Del Toro not directing The Hobbit anymore and it seems that the project meant a lot to him as well.

However, since we have such amazing things as the internet these days, production hell now no longer means that nobody will ever get to see any of the hard work that has already been done. That way fans might at least get a faint impression of what the movie could have been like.

A thing that bothered me was that Tom Cruise's name seemed to be fastly attached to the project. This may be disconnected from his acting abilities but I prefer to not feed a crazy scientologist if I can avoid it. Thus the project being stuck in production hell also frees me from this moral question.

On the other hand I can't really picture Tom Cruise as Dyer. Especially with Dyer being depicted as a young (25, wasn't he older in the book?) father-to-be, who is seduced into going onto the dangerous expedition even though he knows he should probably have stayed at home with his dear wife, I can't quite put Tom Cruise into this role. There are many younger actors who would be great for the part I'd imagine.

Another thing that might work against the production is its closeness to a well-known movie, which is "The Thing from Another World" (1951) and John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982). Even moreso because, as far as I can tell, there's a prequel to "The Thing" planned for release in 2011.

The closeness between the two stories those movies are based on has already been pointed out many times before. The "Thing" movies are all based on John W. Campbell Jr.'s novella "Who Goes There?", which was first published in 1938. However, Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" was written in 1931 and published in 1936. Since Campbell was a science fiction fan and also an editor of a science fiction magazine, I think it's very likely that Campbell had read At the Mountains of Madness and took his inspiration from there.

The stories actually don't have so many things in common. The main things being: An expedition to antarctica, the finding of a being from outer space under the ice, the alien being attacking the expedition crew. There, that's about it. But At the Mountains of Madness goes further and puts this whole plot into the context of the Cthulhu mythos and sets the stage for a showdown between Elder Things and Shoggoths. And super creepy six foot tall albino penguins. One must of course keep in mind that the movie would have probably included more monsters than the original plot, which most likely won't sit well with the Lovecraft purists. Especially the mutating and shape-shifting Shoggoths have been expanded upon, which puts this incarnation of At the Mountains of Madness closer to The Thing than the original text.

Since Guillermo del Toro is extremely good at creating creatures for his movies I think he's as close as it gets for a "perfect" choice for this movie. His way of avoiding CGI as much as possible and often relying on prosthetics, masks or even full bodysuits for his actors to squeeze in create timeless movies that are still impressive years later. I have observed this in Lord of the Rings already, where a lot of work was done with miniatures and costumes. These scenes don't age as much as the CGI ones. Del Toro would have done a great unforgettable work and I would very much have liked to see Doug Jones as one of the creepy towering Elder Things.

The next project that del Toro seems to be doing now is a PG-13 monster movie named Pacific Rim. Even though I am happy that he is doing something, this sounds like a bad consolation prize, especially considering that del Toro wanted to cut no corners and make a good R-rated monster movie out of At the Mountains of Madness. I don't think we have had any like these in a while.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pixar's Up - A bit too conceptual?

For some reason I wasn't exactly sold on the critically acclaimed Pixar movie Up. Yes, you can hardly find more emotionally engaging first 10 or so minutes of movies that function completely without dialogue. And I think the first ten minutes of Up in which we get to know Mr. Fredericksen's whole life story are maybe on their own worth all the praise that this movie is getting.

However, when the movie progressed I couldn't help but feel like everything was just a little bit random. Colourful rare birds? Okay. But talking dogs? Cooking dogs? Dogs flying airplanes? That really felt a bit much. I've waited quite a while to get Up on DVD but when the Limited Edition was released over here just a month ago I thought I'd finally get it and listen to the audio commentary and watch all the bonus features.

I really have to commend Pixar on their efforts to create the wonderful wilderness of South America. They actually went there, went onto these huge stone monoliths to experience it all themselves. And their attention to detail and their inspiration really translates well onto the screen. But we are used to getting that from Pixar, so where did Up go slightly off?

When I watched the audio commentary I heard a lot of "We always wanted to put [this] or [that] into a movie...". I realised above all Up seemed a little bit too conceptual maybe to engage me as much as some of Pixar's other productions. It felt like it was a movie that is certainly based on a great and innovative idea but nevertheless a bit cluttered by things that Pixar had wanted to do for ages and ended up putting it into this movie.

Nevertheless, of course there are great things about Pixar. I find that Russel's character is extremely intriguing. The way his dialogue flows just feels natural and authentic for a kid his age. His family situation, which is only touched upon briefly also seems interesting. While Andy's father was away for all of Toy Story we at least hear about Russel's father existing and Russel missing him. All this gets resolved in Mr. Fredericksen being the one who is there for Russel in the end. And finally, Russel being an Asian-American main character for a kid's movie isn't the least part of why I think he's an awesome choice.

Also having Mr. Fredericksen as a main character for a quite action-laden movie is a nice step against the growing ageism that we have been facing for decades. The resolution of the feeling of loss that Russel and Mr. Fredericksen share when it comes to their family members is resolved beautifully by showing once more that unconventional models of families may be just as functional in providing nurturance for their family members.

Up remains a very innovative and thoughtful movie, even though it's execution might appear cluttered to some people. In the light of recent announcements, being Cars 2 as well as a Monster's Inc prequel I hope that Pixar continues trying to bring forth original scripts. Even though I did enjoy the Toy Story trilogy immensely I feel like the whole film industry has had too many sequels in recent years.

Thus, I also have really high hopes for Brave, Pixar's new movie featuring - finally - a female main character. Don't mess this up, guys.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Anticipation for Sucker Punch as a Popcultural Database Movie

Being swamped with a bit of university work at the end of the semester I (noticably) didn't have much time and muse for writing about movies and videogames on here.

Coincidentally I came across trailers for the new Zack Snyder movie Sucker Punch. Previously I had just seen teaser posters, snippets and stuff like that and couldn't help but scoff a little bit at the character designs. Babydoll? That isn't a person, she is a synthetic comic book character.

But finally watching the trailer it became apparent to me that this was no overworked design, this was not "too much", it was simply an artful expression and reflection of popular culture and the way we consume it today.

Every still frame of the trailer is a panel in a comic book. Every scenario in the movie is a videogame. Instead of products of popular culture being created in the image of real life, it is real life that we translate into scenarios and entries in the popcultural database.

My first action after watching the trailer was doing an amazon search for the comic book that Sucker Punch is based on. But my impression was confirmed in the fact that there is no single source material.

Sucker Punch is synthetically created out of our common database of popcultural elements. The first few moments we watch the trailer we begin to wonder "Is this the film adaption of one of the games that I played but forgot about?" It could very well be. But Sucker Punch is probably even more than that. It consciously references and plays with the age of database consumption that we are in now.

The title "Otaku: Japan's Database Animals" suggests that Azuma Hiroki was dealing with a distinctly Japanese phenomenon when he wrote about the shift in the way of consumption of popular culture that happened in the Otaku world roughly from the early 1990s until today and the underlying theoretical and philosophical reasons for it. But reading his text I found myself coming up with all kinds of details from the western world of popular culture as well that were conform with this theory.

Since the grand narrative of organised religion was declared dysfunctional, cults like Aum Shinrikyo could thrive and gain power. But in that context shouldn't it also be mentioned that it was no coincidence that the founder of Scientology was a science fiction writer? The decline of the grand narrative is of course also apparent in the western world and thus I think that the model of database consumption can be evidenced in western geek culture and Japanese otaku culture alike.

Hence we have movies like Sucker Punch coming out. Sucker Punch is not the first product that is consciously constructed this way. Tarantino has always been a filmmaker that made a lot of references and drew on a catalogue of settings, characters and plots that had in some way been established before and gave them his own twist. But Sucker Punch goes one step further. Sucker Punch does not explicitly reference works like Lady Snowblood, instead it uses the archetype of the girl wearing a Japanese school uniform. A girl wearing a Japanese school uniform and wielding a Katana.

So essentially archetypes, settings, plot structures and all these things have become entries in the popcultural database. While some creators tell stories in the supposedly traditional way, more and more creators become conscious of the popcultural database and start using the elements consciously and without shame. When copy and original have the same value there is no shame in being a "copycat".

I am very much looking forward to the movie and while I think it might be a little bit silly in itself its construction is extremely interesting and might even change the way people look at movies just a tiny bit.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Looking Back at The Fellowship of the Ring

Can you even believe it? This year The Fellowship of the Ring will be ten years old! Ten years always seem to be a milestone for a movie. And me, being now somewhere between young and old, I don't have a whole lot of movies that I have consumed in a really aware way that are now ten years old. I remember that it blew my mind a little when I realised a while ago that The Matrix is now twelve years old. Little by little our beloved movies become movie-legends. And looking back at The Fellowship of the Ring one can definitely say that this movie has become a legend among movies!

It was only last week that I finally got the Special Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring on DVD. I had never seen it before but since I have become a real fan of audio commentaries and Behind the Scenes features, I thought a big 4 DVD bundle was just the thing I needed. Watching the bonus stuff really is amazing. The Behind the Scenes features of The Fellowship of the Ring give you EVERYTHING! For example I really enjoyed the feature about the costumes since they actually showed you everything, every layer, every detail of the outfits! That's the kind of stuff that a costumer wants to see and they are just handing it to you on a silver platter. The bonus features of the DVD are really made for fans. They know what fans want and they are giving us exactly that.

But another thing was conveyed in a great way in the bonus features of the DVD and that is the large scale of the project of Lord of the Rings. Nowadays, having been in the position of organising something, and the large amount of planning and paperwork behind virtually anything, I can really appreciate the effort that everyone involved put into this. It almost seems to me like a miracle that a huge project like that ever came into being. How many Hobbit ears and Hobbit feet were made, how many weapons and pieces of armour had to be crafted, how many miniatures were made, how many locations had to be prepared and then all the paperwork behind everything involved. When people think about Behind the Scenes features, they mainly think about the actors but I really appreciate that those bonus features show you a lot of the people who really work behind the scenes to bring a great project to life. And another thing that remains unbelievable to me to this day is the fact that a studio had enough faith in Peter Jackson to direct these three movies and make everything work out. This is why we don't get a masterpiece like the The Lord of the Rings trilogy every year or so, because studios tend to be highly distrustful. Many extraordinary projects might be too much of a gamble and thus we have to wade through the same dumb and annoying action/comedy/thriller movies every year, which will never become anything great but are at least trusted to gain back the production and advertising costs again. And then you have people like Shyamalan who gain the trust of a studio and a big budget and turn it into pure shit. You're making everyone look really bad here, Shyamalan!

Watching The Fellowship of the Ring now, ten years later does reveal some of the CGI effects that were used. CGI people in certain longshot scenes are easy to identify or for example the cave troll has lost some of its greatness. But considering the fact that this has been ten years, they still hold up amazingly. If you compare it to the CGI of for example Narnia today, it's masterfully done. Furthermore, The Fellowship of the Ring did really great in trying their best to only rely on CGI when it was necessary. The miniatures that they built and filmed still show up beautifully in the movie and shine as a light of quality. The false perspective shots were a great and timeless idea and naturally they still work perfectly in the movie today. And of course one has to respect all the marvellous work that was done with prosthetics and costumes. Those won't age over time, unlike maybe a Davey Jones that was completely created in CGI.

This is also something that still makes me wonder about my own perception as a viewer. When we first see these movies, we think their CGI effects are great! Same goes for games. I remember how Morrowind was a really beautiful looking game, or hell, Final Fantasy VII had the best graphics of its time. How does our perception change little by little so that we can make out the fakeness of the effects when we haven't been able to make it out before? It's still a bit of a mystery to me but due to that fact I think most movies do best not using excessive amounts of CGI.

The Fellowship of the Ring probably still remains my favourite from the trilogy until this day. It might be silly, but I prefer its largely warm beautiful colours to the bleak greys of the next two movies. I also prefer its little journey of adventure to the big battles that were fought in the last two movies. Of course those movies are good too, but for some reason I just like to rewatch the first movie the most. It seems that this is a sentiment shared by a lot of people. And having now finally watched the extended edition of it as well I can say that it really is better than the cinema version. It's sad that four hour movies are pretty much unmarketable but it's great that all the missing material is made available to us through DVD.

Even ten years down the road, The Fellowship of the Ring remains a really good movie. Rewatching it gives one a feeling of anticipation for The Hobbit movie(s) which will start filming next month!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bulletstorm - Balm for the Wounded Hypermasculine Egos Out There or Just a Fun Game?

This entry will not contain any pictures. Most of you will know what it looks like anyway and I can't be arsed to dig through websites and trailers to grab pictures.

The first trailer of Bulletstorm that I was shown was the one where you blow the guy's asshole out. I felt a very strange sensation. Normally I absolutely relish in defending videogame designers' and developers' rights to practice their art and design whichever game they want to design. Every time an election draws near (and might it be just a small one) it is my favourite Saturday morning passtime to go up to the info stands of local politicians and start a little bit of hell there. Many of you may not know it but together with Australia Germany has the strictest standards when it comes to videogame violence in the whole world (at least out of the "democratic countries", I don't know if videogames are being censored in China, Afghanistan or the like). Even a lot of games that can only be sold to adults in the first place are only available in a censored version in Germany. I just don't think that is right (why the hell censor Portal??) but more on that later.

So with my mindset that you should never try to restrict the recreational media that any adult in any country would like to access in their freetime, I was suddenly faced with a very strange sensation when I witnessed the first trailer. I didn't like it at all. Something about the sexualised violence made me extremely uncomfortable, which did open up a deep conflict within myself. I guess this is what all the conservative people out there feel when they see pretty much any videogame. "I don't like it, I think it is harmful, it should be banned!" However, I'm too smart to come to that conclusion. And in a way it also relieves me a little bit that some form of videogame violence can still make me uncomfortable. That's good, right?

Anyway, I have been thinking about Bulletstorm. Something that I purposely haven't done was checking out the old media coverage of the game, since I know from countless instances in Germany that reports about videogames are routinely chock full of false facts. It is very noticable that the journalists themselves have apparently never touched the videogame they are talking about and are instead relying on some kind of contorted hearsay. But yeesh, to make it onto Fox News, I think Bulletstorm must have caused a kind of ruckus.

I did read some quotes from the developers of the game, talking about how it was just supposed to be a fun game and that they were in a situation where they could just make any game they wanted to make without much restrictions and this sounds great indeed. The mock-game Duty Calls, which is a parody on all kinds of military shooting games shows that they are really self-aware as videogame developers and that they have a great critical knowledge of the conventions of the genre. There is nothing about these guys that says "dumb" or "violent" to me.

However, what I have seen of the game so far reminds me a lot of one of my very first gaming experiences, which was Duke Nukem 3D. The hypermasculine protagonist that spews witty lines and taunts while killing enemies seems to be largely the same in the two games. Now where does hypermasculinity come from? Hypermasculinity that expresses itself through violence against other people is a sign for two things: 1) neurosis, 2) neurosis because of marginalised masculinity. Marginalised masculinity is what happens when a male gendered person realises that they do not fit the standards for what is in their society regarded as hegemonial masculinity, more often than not being 1) heterosexuality and reproduction, 2) strength to defend oneself and their family and 3) the ability to sustain a family as a breadwinner. It is often observed that male gendered people who do not fit these standards make up for this by making use of a hypermasculine image for themselves, which might in cases depend very much on the use of violence against other, weaker people to demonstrate strength. Now, choosing the protagonist for your new game as that kind of person can indeed be seen as a clever sarcastic element to the game that doesn't take itself seriously anyway.

On the other hand, I do know the gaming community. And this is where I get back to my purposely sensational title for this blog post, because I am trying to make a point here: Whether Bulletstorm is balm for the wounded hypermasculine egos of losers out there or just a fun game for a well-adjusted person is ultimately decided by every individual themselves. In a free society it is common to trust in adults to consume products of popular culture in a critical and aware way and I believe that the majority of people is absolutely capable of that. Thus I see next to no harmful content in Bulletstorm, provided it is consumed by people of legal age. However, I have also seen my fair share of dumb, misogynist and homophobic assholes in the gaming community, who will not consume the game in a critical way but instead enjoy the (sexualised) violence for what it is. "But it's just a gaaaame!" Come on, I always look at all kinds of media from a critical and also a gender viewpoint and it would be stupid to not do it for this game just because it is a videogame.

That does not mean I endorse censorship of games at all. But if I have come to the conclusion that I do not wish for a movie like A Serbian Film to be censored, even if I see no point in it and think the director might have done better by getting a deviantart account to convey his message through "art" instead of subjecting hundreds of unsuspecting festival goers to that, I of course also do not wish for Bulletstorm to be censored. Let's be frank here, that's not my choice at all and it will be censored in Germany anyway (if it even comes out). But that does not mean I have to like the game myself or personally see much of a merit in it. I don't even want to try playing it. Of course, the huge monster in the trailer looked really cool but the moments of violence just weren't my cup of tea. I am glad that games like Bulletstorm exist, so that even the more liberal people amongst ourselves might have to say "I don't like this, I think it might magnify harmful tendencies in some people, but I see no reason why this should be censored at all". We should all at some point be in that position, reviewing our positions and reevaluating our principles.

That still doesn't mean I won't give you the side-eye if you are one of those people who don't question the dimension of violence and the perpetuated gender images in media like this at all and are too dumb or lazy for critical thinking when it comes to their own free-time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Game of Thrones Preview (Two Months to go!)

Slightly more than 60 days from its premiere, not so much new can be said about the upcoming adaption of A Game of Thrones from HBO. I'm still very excited about seeing it all come to life and each new picture that we get, each new trailer and glimpse that we catch from the series seems rather promising.

I still believe that a TV series created by HBO must be the best fitting format to the complex stories of intrigue and dozens of characters that make their appearance over the different books. I remember, even when years ago there was no word about an adaption at all, if there were discussions on the matter, an HBO produced series was always the format mentioned as best fitting for the source material. Thus, it's really quite surprising that after five or so years I find myself here, barely two months from the pilot episode to what might be a great adaption of my once favourite books.

I say "once" here because I first read the books in the final years of high school and back then I was completely fascinated with everything. If I read them today, I don't know if I would be quite as amazed. But fact remains, those are really captivating stories and whomever I recommended the books to before always received them very well. So yes, go ahead and read them, they're good books. But maybe be a bit wary because in all the excitement before the airing of the new series I always read things like "best book series ever" and such, which might just not be true for everyone. It's quite different from your usual fantasy book series but there is one thing that A Song of Ice and Fire is extremely good at conveying, one thing that I always remember when I think back to it: The vulnerability of people who have to make their life in an unstable country that is plagued by war, looting and general desolation. If you are just walking down a street, trying to make your way from one village to another you might be murdered just for the clothes on your back or shoes you happen to be wearing. A lot of fantasy stories deal with the fantastical (hence the name) but one thing that A Song of Ice and Fire was good at making you aware of was that danger even lies in the common highway man and not necessarily fantastical beasts.

Another thing I remember is hating a character very much through the first two books and then, when he got his own point of view chapters in the next books, him becoming one of my favourite characters. It might be a little bit cliché but it really isn't an easy feat to pull off. A Song of Ice and Fire keeps surprising you in the strangest ways and that's what makes it worthwhile.

Remains to be seen if the series will be able to do the same for us! As mentioned before, a TV series seems to be the best format for the storytelling because even in the book the story heavily relied on cliffhangers. George R. R. Martin used to write for TV and maybe this is one of the cases where it really shows. Thus, the storytelling of Game of Thrones should offer great potential for a TV adaption of any kind. The richness of the story, filled with great castles, wonderful country sides, a small dash of supernatural beings and exquisite clothes of manifold styles beg for a big budget like HBO might be able to offer. And as far as we can see in the teasers and high resolution stills everything looks very real, refined and beautifully crafted.

Now, of course there have also been some things that I started wondering about. First there is the issue of the book series, and thus the storyline, not being finished and Martin taking his fair time to finish the remaining books to say the least. But with adaptions like True Blood we can see that HBO does take liberties with the source material. While I hope that for the books that were finished they stick as close to the story as the format allows them to (minor adaptions still welcome of course), it might come in handy once they reach territory where no storyline exists yet. This might prove to be a double edged sword and we can only wonder how HBO will handle this. Fact remains, for the first season we have a perfectly crafted storyline that they can follow and even have some minor plots be resolved in the progress of the first season. Well yes, I am not kidding you. There are a lot of loose threads still hanging as of book four and the plots that have been resolved are actually in the minority, which at times is a reason for people to discourage others from even starting to read the books, because that level of unresolved business does feel kind of unsatisfying at times.

Then there is also the objection that the whole project is doomed to fail as it is, since production alone, even if all other things are settled, will take too long for the child actors to still look appropriate for their roles. I am not sure what to think about this, since another big and long filming project springs to mind, being the Harry Potter series. I think they pulled it off satisfyingly enough and since they seem to have aged up the children of A Game of Thrones at least a bit for the adaption it might just work out. Another question of course is the budget and whether HBO and all the actors involved are willing to make such long-term committments. This depends largely on the success of the first season I would guess, so it all remains to be seen. We can speculate on it right now but until at least the pilot airs and ratings are announced it's a bit hard to say anything solid on those matters.

A very personal concern of mine is one character and that is the Hound, Sandor Clegane. To be fair, I have never seen Rory McCann in any other role than the one he played in Hot Fuzz and I doubt that role is in any way representative of his acting style, since it's very much a comedy role with not very many lines at all. One thing that caught my eye (or rather didn't) in previous trailers was that Sandor Clegane didn't have such a noticably burnt face. Granted, I have not seen really high resolution pictures of it before, I have not seen his face in motion and the little glimpses that I caught of him were too short and small to really tell anything. But yet, I hope they did well on his face. Big defining scars always require great make-up and I really hope they do his face justice and not play down his disfigurement, as it happened in the movie adaption of Avatar the Last Airbender. To both Zuko and Sandor the scars are as deep as they are meaningful and they should be visible on their faces. But of course there is more to Sandor's character than just his scars. I guess in the first season we might not see a whole lot of him but yet I hope that in the key moments that are crucial to his character development they will not forget about him and give him a chance to shine and foreshadow his importance. Thus one of the scenes that I'm looking forward to the most is the Tourney of the Hand.

What I have seen so far of Petyr Baelish is amazing! He looks very much like I imagined him and it seems that even though he comes across as a minor character in the first few books, they have not forgotten his importance and give him enough of a presence on the screen so he might get the viewer's attention and maybe even occasionally steal the show. As far as the child actors go, I think they all look great and very appropriate but how they are doing on screen is one of the things that remains to be seen. Especially Maisie Williams who plays Arya has caught my eye. Maybe HBO played off a bit of the fact that Arya is a big fan favourite and released a lot of images of her already, but she looks great and in-character in all of those stills and I am also looking forward to see her on screen. In closing I can say about the cast that I very much hope we will grow to love a lot of different characters, especially played by actors that haven't gotten a chance to really shine before and that HBO will not put too much emphasis on Sean Bean alone as a drawing card for the TV series. I especially count on Peter Dinklage as Tyrion to become a fan favourite, just like his character in the books.

On the one hand, I can not believe that after all these years of waiting we are finally barely two months away from the premiere of the series but on the other hand more than 60 days do seem like a long time. But winter is coming after all, it is only a matter of time. Waiting is at least one of the things that we fans are really good at!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Depiction of Videogames in Novels

There is something quite unfortunate about the depiction of videogames or pretty much anything having to do with computers and internet in novels.

The starting point always seems to be a quite self-conscious conception especially from authors of children's literature that videogames keep children from reading books and in essence produce dumb people. That is a harsh prejudice that is simply not justified. Children these days will read books or they won't. Videogames are not going to change that, you might as well blame TV for the decline in sophistication. And true enough, when TV was at its advent the older media had a very critical view of the new media on the block.

Furthermore, even though I have to admit it is only a small exception, some games are in their narrative and psychological framework just as brilliant and sophisticated as a good movie or even a novel. Sadly, these works of course remain in the minority but if you have a look at any medium you might find an overabundance of trivial narratives and flat characters anywhere.

But even if you disregard the very sceptical and sometimes downright condescending point of view of the author, oftentimes the depiction of videogames is ridden with silly mistakes that make it very obvious the author probably has never touched a videogame with a ten foot pole. I vividly recall one instance where a new game was installed on the pc by putting a new microchip on the motherboard. Ridiculous.

Then I remember a novel series that was entirely set in a bleak future in which social power is earned by successfully fighting in a MMO type of game. The depiction of the MMO game within the novel was actually very accurate, so much that it poked fun at typical behaviour of MMO players, such as grinding or power gaming. On the downside the narrative soon lost itself in the most terrible and dumb Mary Sue characterisation. If I want to play an MMO game, I go and play. If I want to read a book I do so. I do, however, not see a point in reading a book about people playing MMO games, assumed that the narrative doesn't offer any other interesting points, which it sadly didn't in the admittedly brief time until I lost my patience with the book series.

I have yet to read a believable and also interesting depiction of a videogame in a novel. Most of the time the author tries to cram in some kind of message about how videogames are evil and are programming the young generation to be killing machines. Sadly, even Terry Pratchett's novel Only You Can Save Mankind seems to be one of those novels and even though I usually love reading Pratchett I can't bring myself to give that book even a try. Maybe once videogames have become a respectable enough medium, such as it happened with film, people are able to write about them in a reasonable and realistic enough way.

Monday, February 7, 2011

RIFT: First Impressions

One of the nicer things I brought home from Gamescom last year was a RIFT beta key. I registered quickly but it took a long time until I heard back from them, so I thought they had forgotten me after all. Some time ago however, I finally received the actual beta invitation and could try out the game.

It is a bit difficult to say anything about this game when I'm not really a player of MMOs at all. The last MMO I played? Ragnarök Online! I never played any MMO of the 3d kind, so navigating my character and especially selecting the enemies was challenging at first. I really liked the way the characters looked. They all had such broad hips and broad shoulders, at first it really threw me off but then I grew to like it. Until I took a screenshot and looked at it outside of the game. Turns out: My resolution ingame was a bit stretched and made everything look broader than it was. But strangely, I found this deviation from tall and slender characters, especially females, really refreshing! Oh well!

The gameplay was fun enough; even questing takes a rather intuitive route and you never really feel forced to do anything, which lets you play on and on for hours, obviously. What really impressed me was the wealth of different combination possibilities for your character's skilltrees. I can't even begin to think up which combinations I'd still want to try. So if you start a new character, you never feel like you are "stuck with them", because once you get bored you can choose new ways to skill your character and play them entirely differently! Lots of fun.

The implementation of rifts that suddenly open in the countryside is well thought out and carried out in a very atmospheric way as well. The countryside itself looks really nice, too. I still prefer Oblivion's graphics but that was a single player game. Imagine a near Oblivion-pretty world in an MMO game, that's really something!

Now onto the bad sides I guess, but those aren't really the games' fault at all. It's the players. Granted, you can turn a page in the chat or turn it off altogether but if you are looking for a group you can't help but have to endure the conversations of people ingame. My server was mostly filled with players that constantly talked about World of Warcraft and compared the two games. There is something about the random chatter of MMO people that annoys me. The tone of the conversation is always derogatory, it all serves the single objective to compare e-peens and it seems like people are always looking for fights.

I also realised that people like me probably aren't the target group of the game at all. I at least know my fair share of MMO terminology and thus I can fufill basic group functions but most of these people seemed to be permanent MMO players for whom this was just a different software to carry out their standard way of clicking. That is also a thing that will probably keep myself from playing the game when it comes out. I just don't feel like dealing with rude people like that, who seem to be navigating a whole different world than I am. If it means never getting ahead in an MMO and staying low-level then I'd rather do that than making my way through a dungeon with a group of rude guys for hours.

Even so, having to deal with very frustrating people, the game kept me interested enough to keep playing for hours on end. I don't really know how to write a review for an MMO since I am so obviously not accustomed to all their quirks and unwritten laws, so all I can do is give my view as an unfamiliar person. If you've never played an MMO before and you try to play any MMO you will probably get yelled at at first. Maybe if you can find a group of friends to show you the ropes you will be lucky but with so many MMOs out there and MMOs having developed into their own little niche kind of games, extremely different from the singleplayer RPGS that they once came forth from, it would always be tough to find your way into the system.

Rift at least is a new game where perhaps the minds of people aren't set into stone all that deeply and even for me it was really fun at times. I guess it would be a good choice to try out. For now, having played the game so intensely for the last three days I guess I can say I will never become an MMO player. There seems to be too much to learn just to have a little bit of fun. When the beta ends I think I will just go back to putting up with rude people in League of Legends. At least in League of Legends I can really kick ass if I'm lucky. In the end my overall impression of Rift is a highly positive one, while my impression of the players is an overwhelmingly negative one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Alternate Models of Families in Pixar movies: The Toy Story Trilogy

Chances are you will be surprised at what I am going to write now: I wanted to write an entry about how Andy's dad is absent from the family in the Toy Story movies. Are you surprised? Or have you always consciously noticed that Andy's father is never mentioned in the films and that he is completely absent from the family?

It did take me a while to notice that there was no father present and from what I have seen in online discussions it is a thing that most people don't notice at first until someone else points it out to them. Granted, the movies are, as the title already suggest, first and foremost about toys! The toys are the most important characters in the movie and it is their struggle that makes up most of the plot of the films. Also, from a technical point of view the animation team concentrated on the toys, the human characters mostly just making up a framework for the story. Many people explain the lack of Andy's father simply with: "They didn't animate that much."

But that's not really the Pixar we know. If one listens to the audio commentary of Toy Story 3 they mention how they at first didn't plan to even have a model for young Andy for this movie and that they at first had planned to leave it a bit botchy and chalk it up to the inferior camcorder quality so it would fit right in with the video that shows us young Andy playing with his toys. However, as they developed a model for young Andy, they just couldn't make it halfhearted, if they do something, they do it perfectly. Thus I do think that technical constraints don't mean a whole lot at Pixar and the decision to leave Andy's father out of the movie was at least in part a conscious one.

If you google further it appears that, despite the absence of Andy's father being not a plot point in the movies at all, many people are upset by this. They claim that it is just not "right" that any movie propagates such a "new normal" which "isn't normal at all", scoffing at how Andy is "too well-adjusted to not have a father around" and that "America needs examples of how a real family (a man and a woman [obviously they felt the need to specify that]) are formed".

I can say that I am really happy we have movies like Toy Story, which portray alternate models of families in a good or at least neutral light, without making the whole movie about it. Pixar tends to do these little nods to really progressive themes without making a spectacle out of it and that's what I find great about their movies. It's just one of the reasons why people of all ages can find something in the movies that touches their life or their views in some small way. I find this to be much more delicate than to target more mature audiences exclusively with adult humour.

Anyway, I think the very non-chalant portrayal of a single-mother family (for whichever reasons it may have ended up like this) in Toy Story is a great thing and it shows that alternate models for families have come a long way on their path to acceptance. It is great to see an alternate model of a family portrayed as if it's the most normal thing in the world, as I mentioned, many people don't even notice anything is missing from the picture to begin with. Besides, since Finding Nemo is a movie about a fish growing up without a mother (and I don't hear anybody complaining about that), shouldn't it be alright for Pixar to make a movie that only just slightly and softly touches on the subject of a boy growing up without his father and turning out alright after all?

Then of course the Toy Story movies aren't even devoid of positive father figures! Of course you can count Woody as one of the nurturing and loving father figures in the movie. His first priority has always been to be there for Andy whenever he needs him and Andy stresses that Woody has been his best friend for as long as he can remember. Buzz Lightyear, when he first comes into the picture does appear a bit like the shiny new toy that maybe some stepfather might have gifted Andy and indeed, the squabble of Woody and Buzz in the first film could be seen as an allegory for the actual father and the step-father fighting over the affection of their son. Lastly, the odd group of toys can also be seen as a family of course. Especially in the end, where Woody realises that the other toys have over the years become equally important to him and he can not face being without them, as they too have become his family.

I think Pixar promotes healthy families, just not necessarily families that always adhere to the most rigid standards that conservative people might think up. There is love and nurturance to be found in the oddest assortments of people and being of the same sex, being of different kin or any of these things have never stopped people from being a family to each other. I don't find that there is anything to criticise in this healthy message of the movies.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Silent Hill Movie that never was - Shutter Island

Personally I think Shutter Island was DiCaprio's best movie last year. Better than Inception. (And it should go without saying but there are spoilers to the ending of both Shutter Island and Silent Hill 2 in here!)

Shutter Island is a classical psychological horror movie that is simply a pleasure to watch. Starting out in line with a tradition from the crime and mystery genre - an investigation taking place in an isolated sphere, thus limiting the possibilites and culprits - it quickly becomes clear that this will be no ordinary criminal investigation.

DiCaprio's character, U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels, is asked to investigate the disappearance of a female patient from a mental hospital located on an island. As the investigation continues he is faced with unhelpful hospital staff and a resurgence of his own war trauma. We, as viewers, first start to be suspicious of everyone on the island, then of the marshal himself.

The thing that pleased me the most in the movie were parallels that I could see between the plot and also the visual design of Shutter Island and Silent Hill 2. Some passages are very similar in overall style and development.

We start by entering a foggy and cold world. A mysterious and vaguely dangerous place. But Shutter Island continues to have its world inhabitated by people. Even if they are unhelpful or downright hostile there is no direct sense of isolation. In Silent Hill 2 you spend most of your time alone, only sometimes coming across a handful of people that are wandering the town as well, but never meeting more than one person at a time.

Then the imagery of movie and videogame crisscrosses again when we enter the prison world. Both Shutter Island and Silent Hill 2 contain a prison sphere, which signifies physically by the descent into the hidden and deep and visually with the darkness and ugliness, the travel of the protagonists into the abyss of their own souls and coming face to face with their own monstrosity down there. But yet, they are unable to believe and it is only during the final moments of the movie or videogame that they are able to face their past.

Two different interpreations of the end of Shutter Island - Daniels choosing to revert back into his delusions because he can not cope with his past and Daniels pretending to revert back into his delusions because he hopes to find oblivion in the impending lobotomy - correspond to two different endings to the videogame: James leaving the town together with the manifestation of his own delusion, Maria, her cough at the end signifying that there can be no happy ending; and James deciding to commit suicide because he can not live with what he has done.

I don't think there ever will be a good movie adaption of Silent Hill 2. But I don't belong to the people who claim videogames like this are unfilmable. Shutter Island shows us what could have been a perfect movie quite like Silent Hill 2. It is not impossible to do it. People just need to realise the essence of it. Silent Hill 2 draws on a number of works by David Lynch, among them Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks and these came from the medium film to begin with. So creating a movie that is true to the essence of Silent Hill 2 should not be impossible at all.

On the other hand, when people think of (survival horror) videogame movies, they think of Resident Evil and Uwe Boll and Silent Hill 2 couldn't be further from those sorts. So for the time being I am completely content with pretending that Shutter Island was in fact Silent Hill 2 The Movie.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recommendation: A Year in the Life of J. K. Rowling

If you are about the same age as me (I was born in 1987) chances are that you are part of the Harry Potter generation! Clearly, most young people who enjoy the Harry Potter books could be called "the Harry Potter generation" but maybe there is something special about starting to read the book series when you are 11 years old, just as the main protagonist.

So for people like me around the world it is undeniable: the Harry Potter saga is coming to an end. It already did end in a way when the last book was released. No more midnight release parties! No more avoiding the internet for a few days before the book launch to not be spoiled by ominous carpet books. No more finding five different fan-written versions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix online. Oh well, back when the last book came out I told myself: There will still be the movies.

Now that the last movie is due out this summer (THIS SUMMER!) there won't be much of anything out afterwards. Yes, I am hoping for J. K. Rowling to write that encyclopedia or maybe some cute book like "Hogwarts, a History" much in the same way in which she wrote Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch through the Ages, but there won't be any new books about Harry Potter at Hogwarts. Ah well! So as the summer release of the final Harry Potter film draws near, we are all a little bit sad. Right now I am doing some things that bring back memories, like rereading the books or watching DVD bonus material.

But one thing that I dug up again is the 2007 documentary "A Year in the Life of J. K. Rowling". I thought it's a really beautifully done documentary which follows the author through a critical phase of her career - namely the year in which she finished writing the final book of the Harry Potter series. It's almost surreal to see her sitting in a hotel room now, after the book has been released, actually finishing the very last bit of the novel. Then you get a brief look at how the manuscript was transported to the publisher and finally being printed as well.

Other than centering around the production of the Harry Potter saga the documentary also features J. K. Rowling's sister and husband and they're talking a bit about their family life. James Runcie also asks Jo a few very interesting questions and touches on the hard times in her life, after her divorce and the birth of her first child, when she faced depression and how she managed to keep going after all. Some insights on how Rowling's personal hardships in life and probably most of all the death of her mother influenced the book series are also given.

Overall, it is probably the perfect documentary to watch for a Harry Potter enthusiast who wants to know more about the author. If you are a fan like me and familiar with Rowling's basic biography you will probably already know a lot of the things that are talked about in this documentary. However, it is still an interesting watch. Especially scenes like the one where Rowling has the opportunity to visit one of her old flats again and is overwhelmed by emotion when she sees the Harry Potter books standing on a shelf there, shouldn't be missed by fans.

But even if you aren't a fan of Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling is an interesting woman. She has very interesting views on life and if you ever wanted to check out what the fuss is all about this documentary might be a good place to start as well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rammbock - A German Zombie Movie?!

I don't like German movies at all. I don't know what it is about them. First of all, I think they are using different equipment. I actually tried to look this up. Are they using a different kind of camera, a different format, a different medium? Whichever way it may be, you can often tell a German movie from an American or British one just by looking at a still frame. Then the actors. Are German actors inherently bad? I've enjoyed watching Inglourious Basterds immensely so I think German actors just need someone who directs them the right way. Except for Til Schweiger, he just made his Til Schweiger-face and it coincidentally fit his specific character in that movie perfectly. So over time I just stopped exposing myself to German movies because every time I gave them a chance I was very disappointed. Maybe I should give them a chance again.

I sort of DID give it a try because one evening the second public German TV channel showed... a zombie movie! Unknown director, unknown actors, just a shortish little movie created out of the desire to make a zombie movie. Its name is Rammbock (yes, as in Rammstein) and it takes place in Germany's capital city Berlin. Actually one of the nice parts about Rammbock is that it mainly takes place in one building. Michael, the main protagonist of the movie visits his ex-girlfriend Gabi in an pathetic attempt to use the handing-over of the old house-key as an excuse to see her one last time and maybe convince her not to dump him. As he enters her flat he only finds a plumber working on the heating in the apartment. It's this handyman that becomes the first zombie of the film and attacks Michael as well as his own apprentice. They manage to lock the zombies out and from then on are able to communicate with the neighbours by shouting out of the windows into the joint courtyard.

The whole movie being set in one construction, one house is very reminiscent of the Spanish zombie movie [REC], which I enjoyed a lot as well by the way. It's a very close-up look at how a zombie apocalypse would affect the lives of people in the very first moments, especially if they find themselves unarmed. Rammbock is not to be understood as a classical low-budget splatter zombie movie. There are actually not many scenes of on-screen violence, most of the time it's the neighbours watching people getting mobbed by zombies in the courtyard. I thought that especially the open courtyard as a tool of communication, the ability to see into the other person's flat but not be able to really reach the people was a very clever and interesting device. What also makes Rammbock stand out are its characters. Even though you don't get to know a lot about Michael and the young apprentice Harper their dialogue is authentic and at times funny.

Michael is a terribly annoying guy, constantly worrying about his ex-girlfriend. This may sound reasonable for a zombie apocalypse movie but instead of fearing for her life, he worries about whether she might be upset when she comes back and finds that he and Harper wrecked some of her flat and he also scolds Harper for trying to build some weapons out of forks. By the time that he insists they have to leave the safety of the barricaded flat to go get his cellphone that he lost on the staircase the viewer is fully convinced that Michael is an idiot. Of course this is a textbook example of social commentary on the real world wrapped up in a zombie movie. Lines like "don't scribble on that, I wanted to sell it on ebay!" also come up.

Aside from unusual characters Rammbock also offers some bits of unique zombie features. Now, sensitivity to light is not unheard of in the zombie genre and it does come in handy for our group but the most interesting new twist about the zombie virus in this movie is that it's only triggered by adrenaline. If a person is infected the infection will only spread and turn the person if they're becoming upset or are triggering a release of adrenaline in a similar fashion. If no release of adrenaline is triggered the infection might be defeated by the immune system within a day or so. But since this is the zombie apocalypse remaining calm is not an option and thus sedative pills become very important for the containment of the disease.

Rammbock is just a good zombie movie. With its 63 minutes of runtime it is quite short but manages to tell a round story nonetheless. I always find it interesting to watch zombie movies from other countries than the US because the great majority seems to come from over there. But movies like [REC] or 28 Days Later just feel like they hit much more close to home, maybe solely for the fact that gun laws over here are stricter. I don't know one shop or even a place where I could find a gun in this city, which makes planning ahead for the zombie apocalypse quite hard. Thus, watching zombie movies in which the general public is completely unarmed feel more realistic to my personal life situation.

If you liked [REC] you should definitely check this one out, even though [REC] of course has more action and more scary scenes. Even if you liked 28 Days Later you might want to check this one out, though 28 Days Later of course has a different overall feel, a much bigger budget and much more action. If German movies more often went into this direction maybe checking them out wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Legend of the Guardians Review

Now the last thing that I expected Zack Snyder to do after his Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2006) and the amazing Watchmen (2009) was a cute little children's movie about owls. I didn't have the urge to see it right away but finally I did find time to squeeze it in so I thought a little review was in order.

I'm really not a person who goes to watch movies just because they look pretty. I admit that my great enjoyment of the Hellboy movies was very much enhanced by their marvellous design (especially the second one) but I usually never watch a movie just because the visuals interest me and nothing else. But for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole this might be true. Which is not a bad thing at all! The movie is utterly beautiful. I am used to the kind of cartoonish animation movies that Pixar and Dreamworks produce so watching something like this is a bit unusual and shows you a whole different side of the animation genre. When you watch a movie like this you realise: They have come really far now with the technical capacity. Beautiful backdrops, amazing weather effects and the owls themselves just look very real, down to their individual feathers. Knowing that feathers and fur have long been a problem in animation, a movie like that really reveals the technical advancement that has been achieved over the years. I have watched this movie in 2D but I think it might be nice to watch it in 3D as well. At the very least there have been a few scenes that were very obviously made to make use of the 3D technique.

This is a movie about owls set in a fantasy world. It starts out looking quite realistic and not necessarily fantasy, but be prepared for owls not only fighting with swords and wearing armor but also smithing the metal themselves, writing books, playing musical instruments and doing all kinds of stuff. Honestly, I thought it was pretty ridiculous at first but it doesn't throw you off too much since those elements are built up slowly over time and mainly dominate the latter half or so of the movie. Well, if you are prepared for swordfighting owls and have accepted their ability to do this then I guess you're free to enjoy the movie.

The characters themselves are likable enough. Since this is obviously a children's movie they are a bit on the black and white side but this is to be expected. Actually, I did wait for a plot-twist or something to come near the end of the movie but it just didn't come. It's a very straight forward movie about a fight between good and evil. I don't know how I came to expect a plot twist, I think it was some comment I have read before and must have misunderstood. So if you are fine with watching a not all too complex children's movie you won't be disappointed.

In some regards this movie feels a bit incomplete. Since it is based on a book I will just assume that there wasn't enough time to work on certain things enough and explain some issues. I still don't have any clue at all what that "fleck" substance in the movie is and why the evil owls gather it and what a gizzard is. I mean, I know what a gizzard is because I looked it up but the sort of mystical part it seemed to play in that movie remains completely mysterious to me. Now, not all things have to be explained and I really do enjoy watching movies that leave things open for the viewer to think about themselves but in instances like this it just seems a bit unfinished. There is also the role of the little elf owl, Gylfie which becomes a friend to Soren in captivity. This makes you think she will become an important character but then she just doesn't do a whole lot in the movie at all. It's sort of sad because she was one of the only female protagonists and being quite small but determined she suggested great potential from the start. I can't help but think that her role must have been bigger in the book because in the movie you're just left wondering why she is even there at all if she doesn't do a lot.

One thing that makes the movie quite lively and funny to watch are all the different accents the voice actors are lending to their characters. I couldn't identify them all but I certainly have some favourites among them. If you like owls and enjoy watching a really good looking movie set in a fantasy world, then you should check it out.