Game #15: Edge (2008)

By: Matthieu Malot & David Papazian
Language: English
Length: 48 levels (plus bonus and extended)
Finished on: 14 Mar 2012

Another game that I got through a Humble Bundle, this was originally designed for mobile platforms, so I also ended up buying it for my phone so that I could play it on the bus. The main reason to get it is probably the music, but the gameplay is also simple and addictive.

You play a cube going around an isometric 3D maze, and the title Edge comes from your ability to tip up onto your side and cling onto moving blocks with the edge of the cube. It kinda makes more sense in context, although it’s probably the biggest learning curve in the game and takes a bit of getting used to in terms of controlling it.

To complete the game 100%, there are a bunch of collectible tokens scattered around, although working out how to get to them can be confusing and counterintuitive. Sometimes you have to use your minimap to find a block hidden by the isometric view, or just trust that stepping somewhere will activate a moving block to take you somewhere.

The game has really taken the idea of a dynamic maze and run with it, and many levels require some degree of reflexes to complete. The last level of the extended set of levels is particularly fiendish in this regard; it took me over an hour to complete on the mobile version. This was mainly to do with the difficulty of the using the controls on the mobile version, as the computer version didn’t take me so long, despite still being very difficult. I found using the keyboard to be far easier to use than the tiny keypad that you get given on the phone, although it’s slightly counterintuitive as you have to get used to converting “up” into a northeast direction, and so on.

There are a couple of alternative control systems on the mobile version: touching the corners of the screen, which I found difficult, and using the accelerometer – ie, having the cube move in the direction that you tip your phone physically – but I think the latter was probably provided as some kind of novelty.

Anyway, overall it’s simple and addictive, doesn’t have a big learning curve, and is fun. My main criticism would be that there aren’t very many truly challenging levels (the final extended level is, of course, a worthy exception!). I’d say ideally it also needs some sort of level editor, although the levels are probably too complicated for that to be practical (there are usually some very complex things going on everywhere!). Now that I’ve finished the game, you see, its only replay value is time trials, which I don’t like and am not good at! Oh well, it definitely comes with a recommendation, in any case!

Film #54: Hugo (2011)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Language: English
Length: 126 minutes
Watched on: 13 Mar 2012

I watched this film at a very late-night screening back in March, purely out of curiosity for what it’d be like to go in at half past midnight and leave at around 3. Thanks to a quirk of the way things are timetabled in Japan, this was marked as “24:30-27:00” on the timetable (they do this to emphasise that it’s part of the previous day’s schedule rather than the next day’s, since 00:30 is potentially ambiguous). Afterwards, the first train back wasn’t until 5 am or so, so I had the chance to experience a Japanese internet café for a couple of hours (a bit boring, to be honest), and to be approached by several pimps on the main road…

As for the film itself, I went to see it in 3D, sort of on the recommendation of Mark Kermode, who seems insistent that it was the one film actually worth seeing in 3D. I didn’t really think it added anything. And I found most of it disappointingly bland. It has too much of a kids’ film feel for my liking.

It was certainly good in places. Sacha Baron Cohen (who I didn’t recognise at first) had an excellent turn as a bumbling policeman, after the manner of Clouseau or Crabtree; indeed, he looks very much like Officer Crabtree. The sequences looking at old silent films were quite interesting, too. It’s gained a lot of critical acclaim, to my knowledge.

But the whole thing with the clockwork steampunky robot thing was a bit ridiculous, and the rest of the story was just a bit disappointing and unmemorable.

Overall I think it was a nice film, and I’m glad I went to see it, but it wasn’t great.

Film #53: The Big Lebowski (1998)

Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Language: English
Length: 117 minutes
Watched on: 5 Mar 2012

Keeping with my veritable tradition, this review is over two months behind. I haven’t been sure whether to review on this blog films that I’ve watched before… I think generally I just go for it just as long as I’m not repeating myself. Well, anyway, this is the third time I’ve seen this film by the Coen brothers, because it’s very funny, and I was needing cheered up at the end of a tough week back at the beginning of March.

It’s one of the few films that I can recite back a few lines from (make of that what you will), and it is indeed a very popular film for doing that, although some of its best lines are rarely repeated – I posted some on Facebook and nobody noticed or recognised them. It’s a shame, really… more people should see this film.

It’s best known for being genre-busting, and it is indeed somewhat difficult to classify. It’s fairly obviously a comedy, but there are elements of film noir, and a narrator who thinks the film’s a western.

Just to quickly sum up, the characters are hilarious, the jokes come thick and fast, the direction is smooth and engaging, and the plot is satisfyingly incomprehensible (with zany scheme piled upon zany scheme several times over) and ultimately irrelevant. A good film all round.

Film #52: Johnny English (2003)

Directed by: Peter Howitt
Language: English with some French & Japanese
Length: 88 mins
Watched on: 3 Mar 2012

This is technically a rewatch, since I guess I saw the film in the cinema when it came out. It’s been a while, though. Notably, I’m now coming at the film from an adult perspective, rather than that of a 15-year-old; and I think the 15-year-old me enjoyed it a lot more than the 24-year-old me did.

Let’s face it, this was always going to be lowest common denominator humour, only a couple of steps up from Mr Bean. And if you really want a James Bond spoof, you’re better off watching something like Austin Powers.

It has its moments, for sure; there’s one sequence where the characters lose control of their muscles or something, which was very funny, but Rowan Atkinson’s talent for physical humour wasn’t given enough airtime apart from those moments.

As for the actual plot, it’s completely ridiculous, but does achieve the certainly admirable goal of getting John Malkovich as a crrrrazy Frrrenchman hell-bent on tricking the Queen into abdicating and thereby obtaining the throne of England. Because, you know, that would totally give him any power at all. Why the French, anyway? Haven’t we flogged that horse to death several times already, or do we really have to remind ourselves that the French used to be enemies of the English? But I guess this story was chosen to be hilariously apolitical and nothing like anything that’s likely to happen in real life (because that way you do have the legitimate concern of pissing people off with an inappropriate storyline…).

One other funny thing about the film was seeing Natalie Imbruglia playing the suave Bond-girl, simply because nobody’s heard from her really since then. It kinda serves to date the film a little bit…

Anyway, I heard there’s a Johnny English 2 out recently. I don’t think I’ll be seeing it. That’s not to say this film is that bad, it’s just not worth seeking out.

Film #51: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

20120507-012258.jpgDirected by: David Fincher
Language: English with some background Swedish
Length: 158 minutes
Watched on: 15 Feb 2012

Having spent my first few weeks in Japan seeing the posters for this film everywhere I decided that I would go to see it at the cinema. There are a couple of things that are worth noting about Japanese cinemas. Firstly, as with this particular film, the Japanese seem to get films months after we do; I think in the UK it was out before Christmas, yet I went to see it in February. Secondly, just going by the exchange rate, they’re really expensive at ¥1800, which is like £16. I keep telling myself I have to stop converting, especially now that I’m being paid in yen, but it’s difficult to stop when the conversion is as easy as lopping off two zeroes from the yen price and rounding down a little. Anyway, they also get really busy; the cinema was packed when I went.

I have written at length about the Millennium trilogy books and the Swedish films before. To summarise, I liked them, and they were the last proper page-turning books that I read. And I love Noomi Rapace as Salander.

So I was a bit put out when I heard that they were remaking it to put it in the English language for a “wider audience”. Oh, for heaven’s sakes… people are idiots. I also had a bit of trepidation because I’m not much of a fan of Daniel Craig and I couldn’t see how Rooney Mara could live up to Rapace’s performance (plus she looked silly on the posters).

Of course, some of my fears were perfectly reasonable. For example, the language thing becomes a logical inconsistency because the main dialogue is in English but background noises and signs are in Swedish, as you’d expect for a film set in Sweden. You get some actors putting on Swedish accents (Mara affects some kind of Poirot-esque speech by greeting people in a very Swedish way), while others, like Craig, don’t even try.

Comparing it to the Swedish version, the main difference between the two is undoubtedly budget; because the Swedish film was a TV project, it shows sometimes. This film starts with a completely unnecessary flashy CGI credit sequence and goes from there. Yet some of the sets look like they could have been lifted straight out of the Swedish film, as if they’ve actually just gone and used the same locations… at which point I just turn around and think, “why did they bother making it, in that case?”

As for the rapist (oops, spoiler!), I felt he looked a lot more threatening in the Swedish movie; here he comes across as rather jolly and avuncular at first, and only threatening later once you realize that’s what he’s going to do. Perhaps that’s a good point to be made there, that rapists could look like anything, and perhaps someone might find it even more shocking if someone who doesn’t “look threatening” turns out to be threatening, but this is a movie we’re watching, and generally, movies have a sort of visual convention of how people are presented, and it just comes across as jarring when that’s broken.

But all that aside, Rooney Mara’s performance as Salander was truly formidable, and she really sank into the role. I’m not sure I’d say she brought anything new to the role, but I think she’s a really competent actress, especially considering that the only other thing I’ve seen her in is as a preppy love interest in the film about Mark Zuckerberg, and how completely and utterly different she looks and acts in each film. As I mentioned, she affects some kind of Poirot speak at a few points during the movie – she’ll greet or thank people in Swedish – but it was done just subtly enough that it really made me believe that she was actually a Swedish woman who just happened to be speaking English for the sake of the movie. And that can only be a good thing.

Other than that, there are only a few minor differences here and there between this film and the original one; in the end probably not enough to justify making it, despite the good performances. Perhaps this film is more true to the book in some ways – for instance, Salander doesn’t give herself away to Blomkvist as she did in the Swedish film. And one particular part near the climax is more coherently executed. But as with the original movie, the postclimactic ending is poorly executed, although this is a consequence of the book’s Return of the King Ending Syndrome. As I mentioned in my previous review, this was one of the worst things about the book itself too, although it’s easier to get away with it in a book than it is in a film.

Anyway, I still really enjoyed the film, as it’s ultimately an engrossing story, whatever form it’s in. And I suppose if it does accomplish the goal of getting more people aware of the story, then that’s good (most Japanese that I’ve talked to haven’t heard of the Swedish movie, but have heard of this one). But I think anglophones need to quit with the whining about subtitles. After all, I watched this film in a cinema packed with Japanese people, and they didn’t seem to have any trouble with the subtitles.

Oh yeah, I’ve just remembered the other annoying thing that the Japanese do with films… the sex scene was pixellated. I bet it wasn’t even explicit. It’s rather funny, then, that the rape scene actually left less to the imagination with this cut of the film…