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Archive for March 7, 2010

Film Review – Alice in Wonderland


I had intended to see this film in IMAX 3D but the only reasonably timed showing had already sold out by the time I showed up, so I had to settle for the regular screen format though I was able to get a 3D theater. With movies like this one, where the production was geared toward that format, I felt like if I saw a 2D rendering of it, somehow I would be missing out and not able to enjoy the movie to its full potential. I’ll grant you that Alice in Wonderland isn’t some unmissable piece of cinema, but I’m not going to see something where half the formula has been stripped.

As for the movie itself, I’ll begin by stating that if you like Tim Burton movies this is one that you can’t pass up. All his signature flares are here from the humour to the art design. This is practically porn for Burton enthusiasts, as the things that endear him as a director to that crowd are on full display here. For those of us who don’t think of Burton as some sort of godsend, the film is enjoyable in its own right. The cast is absolutely superb, playing their parts full bore, completely immersing themselves in character. Helena Bonham Carter is quite good as the Red Queen and Johnny Depp nails the schizophrenic lunacy of the Mad Hatter. The voice casting for the CG characters was spot-on as well, with Stephen Fry as Cheshire Cat being particularly entertaining. Not to mention Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar. That man can do no wrong.

Tim Burton has pointed out in interviews that his goal in putting out this film was to add structure to the Alice in Wonderland tale. He contends that previous versions felt like individual scenes placed along a central timeline with no real connection to each other and that his goal was to add cohesion to the overal arc. He has actually managed this, somewhat. With a story and setting so mind-bogglingly askew, everything has to feel slightly disjointed if only to aid in setting the tone. Luckily, the two forces at work here in the film tend to balance each other out.

Mia Wasikowska does an admirable job as Alice, playing sweet and demure with courageous zeal. She’s also endlessly adorable. I couldn’t help but think she bore a striking resemblance to porn starlet Aurora Snow. But then again, I’m kind of a pervert. But here’s a picture of Aurora as Alice anyway.

Really, my one thought coming out of the movie was that the 3D was well done and that it certainly enhanced the film viewing experience, but that none of it felt integral. I hate to even bring it up, but Avatar used 3D in such a manner that you felt like without it the whole movie would feel drastically different. It was part of the movie. With Alice, that feeling isn’t there. The 3D is simply there. Which may help it in the long run, as I doubt I’ll ever watch Avatar again and feel the way I did while watching it on that IMAX screen.

In the end, this is a film worth seeing. Especially if you’re  a fan of the Lewis Carroll material. It’s most definitely a different take, but the tone feels right and the movie works on all the necessary levels. It’ll definitely have a place in the heart of thousands of Hot-Topic teenagers for years to come.

Ronin’s Reviews : Heavy Rain

“How far will you go to save someone you love?”

Heavy Rain

Available on the PS3
Preferred platform: Uh…

Oh Heavy Rain… the game everyone wants to talk about. I myself eagerly wanted to do a review of this game and get the word out, but I had to finish the game first. I’m not one of those people who just plays through half a game, then makes a couple of assumptions, and litters a review with generic phrases so that they can talk about something as quickly as they can. But after a few pauses I finally was able to finish Heavy Rain. And now that I have, I almost don’t want to talk about it. Not because I don’t have enough things to say about the game, or that I disliked the experience, but for the fact that I felt such a connection to this game that it has evolved into something personal.

Heavy Rain is a game… yes a game, don’t let anyone fool you with a phrase like “interactive movie”. It is a game of choice. A game of trial. A game of consequence. Throughout the game you control one of four people in various sequences connected to the events of the ‘Origami Killer’, a serial killer behind the deaths of various children. Ethan Mars, the father out to save his son. Scott Shelby, the investigator accompanied by a woman who has lost her son. Norman Jayden, the detective put in charge of the case of the Origami Killer. Madison Paige, the woman who meets Ethan and is looking for answers. As the game progresses you control one of these persons for a scene or two, before switching to another. This allows for the advancement of events while also displaying simultaneous events from multiple perspectives.

I’m going to pull a reverse and talk about the negatives about this game before I start with the verbal fellatio. For one thing, the movement can be a bit cumbersome. You may find yourself stuck for a moment when trying to maneuver around objects, but nothing too noticeable. There are also times when the camera angles supplied to you aren’t the best they could be at displaying all of the environment, but nothing to seriously hamper your ability to perform. And then there’s… well, nothing comes to mind. During my play experience I may have noticed one or two things in which I let out a sigh or other expression of dissatisfaction, but the amount of good in this game completely overwhelms any bad thought I have about it. Honestly, anything I could say at this point would just be nitpicking.

On to the good. Where shall we start? Hmm. You remember that thing I said earlier about choices and consequences? Yeah, I mean that. This game was advertised as one where anyone can die, and they meant it. It stretches the idea of “how far will you go?” Now having choice is nothing new in the videogame industry, but never before have I felt such a deep connection to my choices. This is no mere Jedi/Sith morality system, where the choices are black and white and you know at the beginning of the game what kind of choices you are going to make throughout the game. Heavy Rain does possess its share of black and white decisions, but also just as many gray ones. And then there’s the occasional choice between two dark gray decisions that leave you with your fingers dangling over the controller’s buttons. In games like Bioshock 2 and Fallout 3, I would occasionally be presented with the choice to let someone live or die, and the choice would always be obvious to me depending on my predisposition. White knight means letting everyone live. Dark bastard means kill all who stand in your way. But in Heavy Rain, I hesitated when I found myself behind the trigger of a gun, with the barrel pointed at someone’s head. And previously the game had been trying its hardest to make me dislike this person. Then I have one of those “you’re not so different, you and I” moments. I cared that I held the power to terminate this person’s life. This fictional person. A bit of electronic code. It was almost too must for me to handle.

Even when you’re not making life or death decisions, there are little choices to make and minute interactions with people and places that make this game all the more meaningful. As Ethan Mars you may take a shower and get dressed, draw building plans for your job, and play with your kids in the backyard on the day of your son’s birthday. Games throughout history have been trying to get me to believe I was something since I first played Jaws on the NES. Whether it be a heroic plumber, a space marine, or many a prophesied hero. But never had I felt so deeply in tune with such a simple yet emotional experience that is the Father. Sorry Bioshock 2. I felt panic when a father would feel panic. I felt depression when a father would feel depressed. I felt relief when a father would feel relief. And this is just for one of the four people involved in the Origami Killer tale. Each person possesses a unique experience and each evoke deep feelings within the player.

You may have noticed that throughout this review, I hadn’t used the word character, and instead used people or person. That is the kind of emotional connection I felt with everyone in Heavy Rain. I have always possessed a sort of heightened empathy towards people, even fictional ones. I want to keep my squad mates alive, not because that is what the game considers ‘winning’, but because it is the right thing to do. Because of this little fact, the emotionality nearly broke me. I know this isn’t something that would concern many gamers, but I’m merely trying to convey the success this game has in trying to tell a convincing story.

Al this emotional stuff is all well and good, but can it deliver in the actual aspects of traditional gameplay and storytelling? I say, hell yes. Aside from the few problems i mentioned earlier about movement and perspective, the gameplay is genuinely great. Even though just about every action you perform is in the form of a quick-time-event (i.e. press ‘this’ button now) you always feel in complete control. And the storytelling is superb. The interaction between the stunning looking characters and environments serve only to enhance it. Never did i find dialogue to feel forced, static, or in any way unenjoyable. The plot shuffles on at a good pace as you make your way through the story as each of the four persons. The mystery of the Origami Killer isn’t unshrouded by plot twists so much as stunning revelations. All in all, it is a wonderful story told wonderfully.

Verdict: This is a game that I think everyone should play. I’m not saying that everyone will necessarily enjoy this game as much as I did, or even at all, but it is definitely something to be experienced by anyone who owns a Playstation 3. Even non-gamers like Reverend should at some point experience this game. Be warned though that this is not your typical game, I understand that. It is not an action-packed experience (even though I absolutely loved any point involving conflict in the game) and it takes a certain type of mindset (there I go using that ‘mindset’ word again) to achieve a full experience of the game. If your only enjoyment in games comes from getting to go and shoot the bad guys, Heavy Rain probably isn’t for you. If that’s the case, you’ll probably be more comfortable with Modern Warfare and a coloring book. (Ah there’s the kind of snark one expects from this blog (Even though I did enjoy Modern Warfare 1 and 2 (Even if the second one did enjoy killing me so much in the campaign (I mean actual permanent cutscene death, not the die-reload-die-reload thing (Which is maybe why I like Heavy Rain for the fact that if I die it is actually my fault (Wow there’s a lot of parenthesis in here))))))