Film #31: I, Tintin (1980)

aka: Moi, Tintin
directors: Henri Roanne & Gérard Valet
language: French with English voiceover
length: 51 minutes
watched on: 5 October

I’m still working my way up to the big one – the new film. But this is a rather interesting documentary made a while back, which features a lot of very interesting footage about Hergé and Tintin.

It tells his life story again, which I’ve heard from many sources, so there wasn’t very much new in there for me. Yep, I know he’s accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and all the rest of it. I don’t really care about that; it happened a long time ago and he clearly did a bunch of stupid things at the time and apologized for them later. Let’s just leave that aside for the moment.

What was most interesting for me in this documentary was that it showed footage of Hergé meeting Zhang Zhong-ren, the Chinese man who was the basis for the character of Chang Chong-chen in the Tintin stories, for the first time in about 50 years; an emotionally charged reunion, albeit one in which the man was surrounded by people wanting to meet the man who had such an influence on Hergé, and was literally treated like royalty. I think he even had an audience with the Belgian queen or something ridiculous. It was sweet to watch them meeting again, however much he was treated like royalty.

The rest of the film didn’t really stay with me, to be honest. Again, it was good to see actual footage of Hergé himself speaking to the camera, and that’s about it; the rest of it I already knew.

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Game #13: Sleepy Stu’s Adventure

completed on: 23 Sep

This was a flash game that I basically played on a whim back in September. It continues the theme of gravity-defying games like the ones that I played in the Humble Bundle (VVVVVV and And Yet It Moves), and is quite hard in some places. I think I had to ragequit and come back to it the next day (being compelled to come back the next day is pretty much my criterion for inclusion in things such as these, when I haven’t downloaded it).

Anyway, it is a game with a fair bit of variety in its 50-or-so levels, and it’s quite fun to play. It does suffer from having a few too many movement mechanics, possibly, although it doesn’t get ridiculous with them. Learning how they all combine is fun, too, and trying to pull off some ridiculous stunt-like jump can be particularly amusing. They include things like hovering when you walk off the edge of a block, or being able to stick to the ceiling, or the good ol’ double jump.

Where the game excels (although it implements it a bit confusingly) is when it later starts to turn the new abilities off again (the explanation given is that the character Stu is sleepy, as the title suggests, and doesn’t have the energy for certain abilities). You get somewhat of a choice in what gets turned off, but there’s always a suggested inventory (and often I can’t see any other way to complete the level). Annoyingly, the game doesn’t show you these while actually playing – you have to pause/exit out of the level to see the set or change it and go back in again. It becomes apparent later on, however, that moving left and right are both considered “abilities” under this system, and can be turned off by the game. So this makes for an enjoyable twist at certain points in the game.

Fun, anyway, but it does (in a few places) require the same sort of reflexes as are useful for the likes of VVVVVV, so be warned. It does also need a better interface for switching abilities.

Film #30: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

by: Tomas Alfredson
in: English
for: 127 minutes
on: 18 September

I went to see this having heard quite a few good things about it, but to be honest, I didn’t really like it. I had a hard time connecting with it, possibly because the characters that inhabit this film inhabit a different era from me, very much the Cold War and not the modern day, and I found the plot confusing and dense. I sort of managed to miss the big reveal at the end somehow. Basically, I ended up bored in the cinema.

During the past few months, I’ve been listening to Mark Kermode’s podcast on the BBC, which has been entertaining me greatly, and for the past few weeks he’s been constantly having to defend himself from the public who write in – they tend to agree with me on this – and he is continually claiming that the plot doesn’t matter at all and that it’s about men betraying each other. I sort of want to write a rebuttal to it, but it’s not like he’s going to read it, and it’s not like I’m exactly verbose… but so many people have been writing in to say that it absolutely is about spying. To me it seems to be certainly about both, but I wasn’t enraptured by it, and as I say, the spy plot that is running along during the film gets really confusing at times. Perhaps it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s all about the relationships between the characters, but in that case it could well be easier to follow.

The betrayal plots are interesting, though, when you manage to unpick them from the rest of what’s going on in the film, and the characters really do manage to play off each other well. Interesting or amusing from my point of view, as well, is that everyone in the film seems to be gay. But that’s pretty irrelevant

But on the subject of the characters themselves, there are some brilliant performances, particularly by Gary Oldman as the central character, who really makes you forget that he ever camped it up as Zorg or played a rogue wizard in Harry Potter, and really owns his performance like no other.

But when it all comes together, there are some great moments, and great performances, but I found the whole thing to be dense and frankly boring, because I didn’t find myself connecting on more than a superficial level with it.

Film #29: Oranges (2004)

by: Kristian Pithie
in: English
for: 12 minutes on Youtube
on: 13 Sep

This was another short film that I watched recently. It was OK; it had two teenage actors who weren’t that great – it’s gay-themed in that they share an awkward kiss. It’s quite evocative of being that age and being awkward about relationships, but that does to some extent just translate into it being an awkward film. And I’m mainly including it because the final few seconds really made me go “d’awww”. It wouldn’t take that long to go and watch it on Youtube to see what I mean, if you can find it. I can’t remember where I was linked to it from.

Game #12: And Yet It Moves (2009)

by: Broken Rules
finished on: 11 September

And Yet It Moves is a strange platformer game that is the third game that I’ve finished from the Humble Bundle. As if to make a theme with VVVVVV, its principal gimmick is gravity manipulation, although unlike VVVVVV, it’s technically the entire playfield that moves (your choice of gravity affects other falling objects), rather than the character, and you can fall in any of four directions, rather than just up or down. And you can jump, unlike VVVVVV.

The game has a rather unique aesthetic, with objects on the screen that look like they’ve been torn out of pieces of paper. Soundwise, it’s constantly throwing strange and intriguing noises at you, tempting you to go deeper. It has three distinct “worlds”, with about 5 levels each, so it’s not very long overall (it’s artificially padded with achievements for any replay value that it has).

There’s a considerable variety of different game ideas that are used throughout, particularly in the third world, which is the most colourful and varied, where things start disappearing under your feet and there are sections with a heavy bass beat where you jump from platform to platform before they disappear. Most of the game feels fresh, but as it’s so short, it also feels like there’s so much more that they could have done with it.

The controls were a little bit annoying to begin with, however, and I had to change them around: essentially, you use the WASD keys to move your character and the arrow keys to move the world, a rather neat setup, but the arrow keys by default are set to rotate the world in the direction of the arrow rather than your character. I simply couldn’t get my head round this kind of non-player-centric control, and I eventually had to invert the left-right axis, which ended up working a lot better for me as I was now controlling what direction the player would rotate.

It’s also difficult to learn how not to die in this game. Fortunately, death doesn’t cost anything, and all that happens is that you go back to the previous checkpoint, but the slightest thing can have your character flying apart with a ‘tschuf’ sound, which starts to grate a little bit after a while. You retain momentum when rotating, for one thing, so you will continue to fall faster and faster, and if you land while falling too fast, you will die – unless you land on a very steep slope or something (never quite got my head around that particular mechanic, to be honest). And then there’s the fact that most other obstacles can kill you at the drop of a hat, like getting squeezed between two boulders or attacked by bees.

So all in all, I have somewhat mixed feelings about it; it’s a good game by all means, but it gets annoying after a while when you keep dying, and the weird noises can get a bit much after a similar amount of time. But it was quite fun, and a relaxing platform experience – especially after playing VVVVVV!

Film #28: Protect Me from What I Want (2009)

directed by: Dominic Leclerc
language: English
length: 14 minutes
watched on: 4 September

A short gay-themed film that I watched one day last month, which rather impressed me in a couple of ways. It’s the right length to show an encounter and nothing more, and leave you wanting, and in many ways the storyline is heartbreaking – a young Muslim boy hooks up with another boy on a council estate in Leeds but leaves when he can’t reconcile himself with it.

The acting’s alright, but could have been better, and as I said, the film leaves with a desire for more – although as I reckon that’s its purpose, it seems to have served it well. Overall, like this review to mirror it, short and sweet.

Game #11: Machinarium (2009)

by: Amanita Design
finished on: 3 September

I wasn’t fully expecting to like this game, the second that I’ve finished from the Humble Indie Bundle. It’s partly the genre of the thing: I’m not particularly a fan of this point-and-click style of game, which seems to often end up in pixel hunts. But I kept with the game, and for all that I didn’t particularly enjoy its gameplay – indeed, it drove me nuts at some points when I just couldn’t see the solution – it more than makes up for it in sheer charm.

Its basic premise is that you play a robot, and you have to get him back into the robot city. You don’t get given much in the way of plot to begin with, and you start to be filled in on the plot as you go – for instance, there are these evil bully robots, who you have to try and get back at. The game keeps it simple overall, and conveys meaning through pictures rather than words, except on the very first level where you’re given basic instructions on how to operate the robot.

For all that it’s a gritty, brown, steampunk-esque environment that the robots inhabit, it’s equally lush, with hand-drawn backgrounds in every scene and cute little animations at every turn. The music, too, really adds to the atmosphere and is incredibly sublime and listenable (and the soundtrack comes as an extra with the Humble Bundle, so I’ve been listening to it ever since).

The puzzles themselves are sometimes very obtuse; the first few levels are single screen and stand alone, but then the game starts to open out, first with a series of connected puzzles, and then about halfway through the game, there’s a kind of hub that goes off in several separate directions. Suddenly the game really starts to connect different screens in increasingly obscure ways, in such a way that it can be hard to keep track of what you’re trying to achieve by going through a certain area and where you have to go next, although by the end, it all comes together neatly like a jigsaw.

There’s a decent balance between general puzzles that cover the entire screen, often involving the robot taking things from places and putting them in other places, or doing a certain thing with something, and mini games, which range from sliding tiles puzzles to a clone of Space Invaders to a board game played against the computer which is a bit like Connect 4 and Go mashed together. I found this balance to be generally good, as I tended to be better at the mini games – I think one had to complete all of them anyway in order to win the game. But some of the wider puzzles could be maddening. The game, to its credit, was quite good about having a hint and walkthrough available in-game (cutely illustrated, as usual), and locking it off with an annoying mini game lest you be tempted, but at first, I just got pissed off at the mini game because it wasn’t really obvious that you could shoot enemies, and that you could use the keyboard instead of the onscreen buttons. I got there eventually, though.

Anyway, it’s said that good science fiction shows, and doesn’t tell, and Amanita Design have perfected this art with their setting. Apart from being beautifully illustrated, it’s incredibly detailed, with different little things catching your eye every time you play it. Even writing this review I’m getting little pangs and wanting to play the game again. So I’d definitely recommend it to anyone.