Singularity

Tag: review

Shopping online

by on May.21, 2010, under Miscellany, rambling, Rant

It's really not that hardI don’t review shops, online or otherwise, except in extreme circumstances. My disposable income, as discussed already, is swallowed by sport. Oh. And food. Food and sports kit. I don’t buy clothes, or a lot of music, or go out socialising very much… I’m pretty much a hermit with a carbon fibre and lycra habit.

This means that reviews of online shops aren’t very helpful unless you too are looking for a shop that will sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits. If you are looking for a shop to sell you esoteric sports kit and bike bits, because you’re a habitual purchaser of such things, then you’ll already have your favourites and don’t need me to tell you where to go. Your favourites are probably the same as mine, because that’s the nature of the beast.

I, and other people like me who buy from these shops, are looking for an easily defined set of qualities. If you run one of these shops, here is what you should know about what the average recreationally competitive cyclist/triathlete wants from you (other than what you are selling):

  1. Fast turnaroundHacked offWhen we discover or decide that we want that Continental GP4000 in blue in 700x25c we tend to want it now. If not yesterday. And while we comprehend that there’s this thing called ‘the post’ we will be exceedingly happy if it turns up the next day and will definitely come back to your shop and deal with you again. We are competitive. We like things fast. We also like our toys. Ordering something is like setting the calendar to Christmas Eve. Imagine waking up on Christmas Day and being told Santa hadn’t got around to you yet. You would be disappointed.
  2. Shipping costs — Some shops sell the items really cheap and make up the money by charging an inordinate fee for postage. Things don’t cost that much to ship. I can and have sent a fully padded bike bag the size of a small horse by next-day special delivery and it costs about twelve quid. Do not charge me six quid to send me a carbon fibre stem cap, two caffeinated energy gels and a puncture repair kit. Especially if I won’t get them for a week. It will make me angry. I will not come back to your shop. If you charge me anything more than £2 postage and I’m not buying a bike (and if I am, shipping should be free because I’m spending so much already) that thing had better turn up the next morning or, at a pinch, the day after. This is even more especially the case if you have a free delivery option and a priority delivery option. There are shops out there who can get things to me the next day for free, FFS. This is particularly galling if your shop is one of those that charges my credit card upon receiving the order. That means you’ve got my money for far longer than I have my toy. This will also make me angry. I will not come back to your shop.
  3. The ever-awesome XKCD does it againOrder tracking — We order tracking. I love getting the email that says “your order has been dispatched”. Then it’s definitely Christmas Eve. If you offer me order tracking I will make use of it. My shopping experience is made so much better by being able to watch my package, in a virtual sense, as it wings its way to my excited little paws. If you offer me order tracking and a fast turnaround then I will forgive you charging me for postage when there are shops who will send things to me for free because you have just made the entire transaction an order of magnitude more engaging. Order tracking should be thought of as an extra layer of wrapping, and even if you already know what you’re getting, unwrapping packages is so much fun.Order tracking means I am much more likely to come back to your shop.
  4. Range of stock — I know this should probably go without saying, but anyone who is serious about a sport that involves serious kit, such as cycling or triathlon or kiteboarding or whatever, is impressed by a shop that sells things no one else does. I am likely to forgive you many failings if you happen to sell something I want and can’t get anywhere else. Mine!And here’s something else of which to be aware: we know what we want. We will consider all the options carefully and in many instances we will come to your shop because you have turned up in an internet search as having that one thing. You may make an additional sale on the back of that one thing. If you sell that one thing and meet all the above criteria, then you are likely to get a repeat customer. When you consider how much money people like us are prepared to spend, it’s worthwhile giving us a good experience. The corollary to this is: if you claim to have a particular thing and list it on your website and we find your shop because we want that one thing, and order it from you, it had better be there. If it isn’t there, make sure you contact us immediately and explain as much. Which brings me to…
  5. SwapsI'm not sure this is what I ordered As I’ve already said, we know what we want. Do not make a decision for us if what we want isn’t there. Pick up the phone. Email us. Tell us what’s going on and let us decide what to do about it. We gave you our contact details for a reason and thought that was why you wanted them. The only exception to this is if you have a specific section on your order form that asks us what to do in case of the item not being in stock (there is one shop I use that does this).
  6. Customer service — We want to give you our money. We want to give you our money and have you send us objects of delight that will make us happy/go faster/feel lighter/dance up hills/give us shiny bicycles. Just be niceIn other words, what we are doing here is exchanging cash for pleasure. This isn’t life or death. We’re not paying for something that we need and can’t live without. You do not have us over a barrel. Good customer service is therefore part of what you should offer if you want us to come back, because there are plenty of places that offer excellent customer service and we will give them our money instead if you don’t. We like to reward good service. Bad customer service is, more than any other factor, likely to make customers turn away. Not only will they turn away but they will tell all their friends about you, and not in a good way.

And this is why I’m posting today.

When I went across to Ireland to do the Galway Triathlon last year I had to drop into Nigel’s Cycles to pick up some CO2 canisters because I wasn’t allowed to take mine on the plane. While there I had a nose around, as one does in a bike shop, and he had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle in stock, something I had not seen before. I came very close to buying it because it’s exactly the sort of utterly superflous, but dammit so intrinsically useful-looking thing that I find irresistable. At the time I was already over-budget for the trip by some way and couldn’t justify the expenditure.

Then I read a review of one of these things last month and was reminded of how cool it had been, and decided that I’d like one. I hunted on the internet for this item (see point 4) and found a range of places, including Ebay. Most of them had the running version, which I didn’t want. I wanted the bike version (see point 4, again). The three places I looked at initially were good enough to state that it was out of stock (see points 4 and 5). Then I found Pure-Sports, who said they had it in stock. It was a good price, too, notwithstanding the £3.99 postage cost, which set my hackles on end (see point 2).

I duly put in my order. They had order tracking. Excellent (see point 3). By that afternoon my payment had been processed and stock had been allocated, according to the order tracking. The countdown to Christmas had begun.

A week later my bike bottle had not turned up (see point 1). Santa was spurning me. I was disappointed. I called.

My item was not in stock. Not only was it not in stock it had been discontinued. Someone had ordered the replacement model on my behalf and they were waiting for it to turn up (see point 5). Ah, but did the replacement have the gel flask, which is why I wanted it? They couldn’t tell me. Someone would get back to me.

Nobody did. I emailed them. No response (see point 6). A further week later I called again. Apparently the replacement model did not have the gel flask and I was being refunded. Fair enough, but with this level of communication failure the shop had already lost any future custom. At this stage, however, I would merely have crossed them off my list of potential retailers.

Cut to a month later. I still haven’t had my refund. This is why I am moved to post about it. This particular shop has demonstrated complete failure at every one of the things I ask for in a shop. The turnaround was shocking. The shipping costs were excessive. The order tracking was there but it lied. (How can non-existent stock be allocated?) The one item I wanted from them wasn’t there and they did not contact me within seven days, which the website claims they will if there is a problem with an order. They made a decision about what to send me instead of asking me what I wanted and, finally, their customer service has been shockingly poor.

In contrast, I called All Terrain Cycles yesterday because they also had the Hydrapak Gel-Bot bike bottle on their website. They had three in stock. The nice man checked to make sure it was the bike bottle not the running version and was evidently appreciative that I knew the difference although he didn’t. I placed my order at just past 4pm and did not feel any need to quibble over the postage. This morning I received an email saying that it has been despatched by 24-hour courier, complete with tracking number (>click<). Now, even though I know I won’t get it until Monday because I had it shipped to my work address, I am already in a state of excited anticipation.

Pure-Sports: you’re doing it wrong and I’m telling all my friends.

All Terrain Cycles: you’re doing it exactly right and I’m telling all my friends about that, too.

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Sam reviews Pandorum

by on Mar.22, 2010, under movies, Reviews

The other film I watched this week was Pandorum, on loan from my mum. I had wanted to see it at the cinema, but Frood and I tend to be a little disorganised about going to the cinema unless it’s something that I’m desperate to see, so we missed it.

Pandorum, for those of you who were not paying attention to the adverts, is supposedly about… Let me just copy what it says on the box:

Two astronauts (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) awaken in a hyper-sleep chamber aboard a seemingly abandoned spacecraft. It’s pitch black, they are disoriented, and the only sound is a low rumble and creak from the belly of the ship. They have no memory of who they are or what their mission is, but one thing they do realise very quickly is that they are not alone.

This is pretty much utter rubbish. Do not pay attention to what the blurb on the back says. This is Alien meets 28 Days Later meets Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and don’t let anyone try to persuade you of anything different. You do not need to know anything more than that. This is the story in a nutshell, and if you have seen both this and Mad Max III, please do not tell me that the bit with the dude and his pictorial creation myth was not ripped straight off the kiddies and their Captain Walker story and expect me to believe you.

We had huge issues with the lighting. For the first third of the film I could barely see what was going on. Then the strobes started and I couldn’t watch at all. I could see glimmers of a really good film in there, and spent the entirety of it waiting for them to turn into something more substantial.

Oh, and oh! Seriously. Girlie has been surviving on her own for months, and yet as soon as our hero turns up she becomes incapable of even climbing out of a hole by herself? What is it with movies? A woman who has been independent and has the skills and ability to look after herself does not become weak and useless the moment a guy makes an appearance. She should have been looking after him, not the other way around. She had the skills and the experience, he simply had junk in his pants.

While I’m at it, the Earth just vanishing? Was that for real or did I lose interest before they explained that this is impossible and hadn’t really happened it was just the space madness and/or the mutagenic food cubes?

Oh, the science rawked, dude! I haven’t seen drivel like that since Sunshine!

OK. Enough. I wanted to like this film, I really did. But at first I watched but couldn’t see, then I couldn’t watch, and when I could watch what I saw was derivative and disappointing.

There’s a particular sort of disappointment that comes from seeing a good idea poorly executed. That’s the flavour of Pandorum.

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Sam reviews Hannibal Rising

by on Mar.22, 2010, under movies, Reviews

First off, I know that I’m way, way, way behind. I do have my reasons.

You see, back in the day I read Red Dragon and fell in love with the character of Will Graham, a man whose ability to get inside the mind of monsters was so profound the FBI thought he might be psychic. The question of whether he was or not remained unanswered by the end of the book, and I liked that it was left up to the reader to decide whether Graham’s power came from something unexplained by science or his own tamed monster. Red Dragon was the first book I read to suggest that the state of being monstrous was not necessarily something to be shunned; neither was it something that could necessarily be seen or explained.

I liked the original film, too, and got on okay with Silence of the Lambs in both formats. The problem was that it was the character of Hannibal Lecter that attracted all the attention — he was the more obvious monster, but a charming and handsome one, which made it fine to indulge in the thrill of having a secret crush on him.

So then we had Hannibal, which, for all its Mediaeval Memory Palace references and culture, for all the attention it gave to the titular monster, didn’t really become monstrous until the end. I’m not talking about the part where he serves up Krendler’s brain as an appetiser, either. The truly monstrous part was the romantic interlude, and they left that out of the movie.

I found it an incredibly strange decision however I think it was because Lecter’s popularity was fuelled by the same romantic notions that have led to sparkly vampires and werewolves that don’t smell of wet dog. Lecter being in love with Starling from a distance was romantic. Lecter actually making Starling his beloved companion, who shared his sense of aesthetics as well as his life… Well. That’s a bit like Dracula marrying Mina Harker and undying happily ever after. Serial killers don’t get happy endings. That would be amoral. Most people don’t like amoral romance to find fulfilment.

People don’t like amoral.

But, see, that’s the point. That was the thing I always liked about Lecter: the idea that he arrived fully formed, monstrous only because his moral stance was at odds with that of society: a man whose sense of aesthetics was impeccable and who set the highest of standards. For everyone.

Lecter as played by Brian Cox was cunning and intelligent but obviously insane, prone to petulance and self-absorption. Lecter as played by Hopkins was an educated sociopath and aesthete making the most of enforced asceticism. He also understood the nature of passion.

Hannibal Rising purported to tell the story of what made Lecter what he was: a childhood experience so dreadful that his heart died, taking his soul with it, and leaving a monster in its place. The entire film is about making him somehow lovable, about making him intelligible, about putting the viewer in a position where he feels he might understand how it is possible for Lecter to exist as he does.

For me that ruins it. Never mind the ridiculous and completely unwarranted martial arts training shoe-horned in there —presumably we need the “martial arts give you superpowers” trope because a fine sense of aesthetics and a predatory drive can’t possibly explain keen senses and reactions, oh no— I don’t need or even want to feel that Lecter exists because of something that could happen to anybody. That, to put it bluntly, is pretty much what this film says. Rather than Lecter being, in his own way, a unique and exquisite piece of art, he is just some poor kid whose sister was eaten by soldiers and who vowed to take revenge.

The Lecter of Hannibal Rising resembles Creepy Thin Man from the Charlie’s Angels franchise more than he does the Lecter who could and would take a woman apart and put her back together again so he would have someone fit to sit at his side while attending the National Opera.

When I first encountered the work of Thomas Harris it was Graham who interested me. More accurately, it was the monster that might live inside him that interested me. It was the monster in Lecter that I came to admire, living by his own rules and his own standards, which were, despite his capacity and tendency towards murder, so much higher than those of the population at large. He killed a viola player to improve the sound of an orchestra — and I can assure you, as a one-time orchestral viola player myself, that there are plenty of violinists who could understand that sentiment.

Lecter as explained by this prequel is no more than a disturbed child who went and got himself a good education. He’s no longer a one of a kind, never-to-be-repeated flash of lightning in a clear sky.

We don’t always need reasons. Some things are the more beautiful for their absence.

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Sam reviews… The Wolfman (2010)

by on Feb.12, 2010, under movies, Reviews

The Wolfman movie posterHaving something of a thing for vampires is common enough. Stoker and the many monsters he has spawned, from the rabbit-toothed Nosferatu to the sparkly Edward Cullen, has a fanbase of people from academics to Whitby goths.

Me, I’ve never been a vampire person. They don’t interest me all that much. Dracula always struck me as the Victorian way of writing a story about rape and it was possessed of a boolean morality I found off-putting. Modern vampires are even worse: they’re pretty much super-powered people who don’t die and would be equally at home in the Marvel Universe, inexplicable attractivenes and everything. The only vampire who interests me at the moment is Being Human with a ghost and a werewolf in Bristol.

Werewolves. Now they’re another matter entirely. Werewolves are the vampire’s poor cousin, and that’s not entirely the fault of White Wolf and Vampire: the Masquerade, although I have a history of ranting about how the RPGs are responsible for so much misinformation out there.


Hollywood hasn’t been kind to werewolves, presumably because they don’t result in young women swooning over the thought of being swept off their feet. Vampires are sophisticated, elegant, mesmeric — much like one supposes Mesmer himself was — or at least capable of behaving that way by virtue of the experience conferred upon them by their immortality. Vampires hit the mature, experienced man button that many women find attractive.

Werewolves, on the other hand, tend to be disturbed, slightly unhinged individuals who, once a month, turn hairy and smell of wet dog. In mainstream movies only The Howling ever really looked at the erotic side of lycanthropy, spawning a plethora of sequels that were absolutely appalling and might as well have ended up as Emmanuelle In Fur. Only Wolf has done the romantic side of lycanthropy, with both Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer turning in surprisingly good performances. I don’t count Ladyhawke in this field because it’s not really a werewolf movie, although it is one of my favourite films of all time.

There have been notable exceptions to the “werewolf movies are rubbish” generalisation, although there are a few that are cited as being examples when they aren’t really. Brotherhood of the Wolf is an interesting film, based loosely on actual events that happened deep in the superstitious 18th century French countryside; however, for reasons I won’t disclose for fear of spoilers, it doesn’t really belong in a list of werewolf movies. Wolfen, although described as a werewolf movie and being a good film, is not about werewolves. You can take or leave the Underworld and Van Helsing contributions: they may, arguably, have been successful in what they were doing but I would argue that their depiction of werewolves suffers from the traits that make them, while potentially enjoyable action movies, bad werewolf movies.

American Werewolf In London is, of course, probably the best werewolf movie ever made, and I suspect you would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees, despite the appalling sequel. In the Company of Wolves is an excellent, mythic take on the legend, melding proper, gory fairytale with some genuine folklore. Dog Soldiers brings some humour to the genre (and can thus be forgiven the standard werewolf model) but aside from those, you’re really struggling. There just isn’t much out there. Ginger Snaps, while critically acclaimed, didn’t do it for me as a werewolf movie because the metaphor was just too blatant and, in my opinion, stopped it being about werewolves at all.

One film that has always stuck in my mind is the only Hammer venture to tackle a werewolf as a titular character: The Curse of the Werewolf. It struck me for several reasons, not least of which is that it is one of the very few films — if not the only one — to depict someone who is a werewolf not from being bitten by another werewolf, but because he is the product of a rape. The usual method of becoming a werewolf implies that it was avoidable: if the victim hadn’t been there then it wouldn’t have happened and thus, in a way, it’s partially his own fault. “Don’t go out on the moors!” In The Curse, the protagonist could not have avoided it. The events that occurred to cause this happened in the act of his conception. This gives a different slant to the story, and perhaps thus permitted a different way of approaching the werewolf protagonist. In that film the disease, if that’s what it is, even goes into remission for a significant portion of the character’s life, when he has spent some time learning to control himself in a monastery, and is only resurrected by the stirring of animal passion as he becomes a man. Love is both his undoing and his saviour, albeit that the resolution is, as is apparently usual in lycanthropy cases, terminal.

I confess that I was a little confused when I sat down to watch The Wolfman, for I thought that it was a remake of The Curse, and was excited to see, at last, a good lycanthropy film made with modern effects. It’s not, of course: it’s a remake of the 1941 film with Claude Rains. The plot, briefly, is that estranged son Lawrence Talbot returns home after the death of his brother (by werewolf), gets bitten, falls in love with girl… You can guess the rest. Still, it started quite well, despite Anthony Hopkins portraying Talbot Sr as a Welsh Hannibal Lecter on sedatives. The period setting was nicely done, with shades of Hounds of the Baskervilles and plenty of moody lighting. The first encounter with the beast rendered him as possessed of shocking speed and power, running through his victims with all the brutal care of a steam train covered in samurai swords. Briefly, I thought this film might have given us a good werewolf.

Let me just qualify my position here. I have issues with the bipedal, man-with-big-teeth-and-hair style of werewolf. That’s not a wolf. Just because early movies lacked the capacity to do either animatronics or good creature effects, and had to make do with spirit gum and paint, it doesn’t mean we should be left stuck with werewolves that are basically men with fur and extravagant dentistry. Landis got it right, from every bone-cracking, pain-etched twitch and contortion of the transformation sequence to the massive, four-legged brute that ended up stalking the streets. I even preferred the approach of Wolf, which almost avoided the transformation altogether and had the character turn into an actual wolf. I detest the creatures that are more lemur than canine, and it is beyond me why we are still forced to suffer under the pretence that werewolves are men with fur. The clue is in the name.

The transformation sequence in The Wolfman borrows heavily from Landis, and so I was on the verge of being happy. Then it stopped, far short of where I thought those elongated feet were taking me, and there he was. More hair, bigger teeth, the yellow eyes, the big claws and the ruffled shirt.

Er. What? Ruffled shirt? Oh, right. This is the 21st century, where you can rip someone to shreds and eviscerate him in full, bloody detail but daren’t show a nipple for fear of censure. He has to be a well-dressed werewolf.

It went downhill after that. Benicio Del Toro, for whom I have a severe soft spot as a result of his performance in Fear and Loathing, couldn’t quite deliver the pain and torment of a man who has been cursed to slaughter by a ravening beast inside him. Even the scenes in the asylum, complete with the 19th century answer to waterboarding, failed to produce the sense of a man in agony. The occasional face-on shot of him charging at full speed on all fours provoked a giggle rather than a sense of awe. And, finally, the inevitable long big punch up. What is it with Hollywood and their constant desire to have werewolves fight like chimps? They are canids. Canids do not fight by chest-bumping. Apes do that. A transformed werewolf is no longer an ape. He is a canine. Can we please try to remember that? Wolves do not launch themselves through the air and bump chests. Why would werewolves?

OK. Werewolf-fanatic gripes aside, the performances were lacking in sparkle (nothing to do with the aforementioned Cullen). None of the actors, with the possible exceptions of Emily Blunt and Art Malik, seemed all that invested in what he was doing. Hugo Weaving’s performance was oddly off-key, almost as if he were in another movie with a different script reading lines that coincidentally made sense in this one. It was, overall, somewhat dull, and that’s a terrible thing to have to say about any film. I’d rather hate a film than find it tedious.

On the plus side, the film was nicely paced and mercifully restrained in terms of length (although the IMDB entry puts it at 125 minutes, it started at 21:35 and we were out at 23:15, leading me to wonder what they cut for the UK release). I enjoyed the depiction of an aristocratic family in ruins and the device of hallucinogenic flashbacks to reveal the surprise would have been a nice touch if I hadn’t spotted the twist some time before.

If you like werewolf movies, it’s worth watching, but don’t be upset if you miss it at the cinema. It won’t lose much for being seen on DVD, apart possibly from the hilarity of having the main character come barrelling towards you like an angry baboon who has just crashed through a haberdasher’s, larger than life and three times as ridiculous.

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Sam reviews… Wolverine Origins

by on Oct.18, 2009, under games, Miscellany, Reviews

Wolverine: Origins, Uncaged Edition

It’s not usual for me to review a game before I’ve finished it, but I’ll make an exception today because Frood is busy with Quantum of Solace (which is just Mace Griffin with an English accent).

First of all, let’s just do the wibbly-wobbly flashback thing. Imagine everything going a bit blurry like the teleporter effect from Blake’s Seven. You still with me?


Back in 2003 Marvel and Activision released Wolverine’s Revenge to coincide with the release of the second X-Men film — a blatant bit of Wolverine publicity if ever there was one, which made Magneto’s comment to Logan (“Once again, you think it’s all about you.”) even more lulz-worthy.

As it happened, this was a great game. It really was. The stealth kills and smell-o-vision were very well done, and made sense in terms of characterisation. I really enjoyed this game until it got a bit too frenetic for fun right up at the end. As I’ve said before and probably will do again, Activision do have previous for decent games based on the Marvel universe.

The new Origins game is an 18, so immediately you can tell that there is going to be gore. And there is. Lots of it. Which is kind of groovy. I don’t know about you but I get really ticked off with slicing and dicing and people falling over like rag dolls. If I’m kicking the living shit out of something I want see evidence. This game has it in spades.

Wolverine Origins PS3 version

It is also of the button mashy school, where chaining comboes means hitting the square button three zillion times before punctuating with triangle. This is, to be fair, reasonably similar to the previous Wolverine game, so I can’t complain about that too much. I just find it difficult to keep track of how many times I’ve pressed the square button when I’m being assaulted by three mutant wendigoes the size of Methodist churches, 10 killer robots and about 50 machine gunners.

You see, this game has decided that “increased difficulty” means “send more goons in to shoot him”. I’m not a huge fan of this. Indeed, it pisses me off to the point where, several times, I have been swearing at the screen, my controller slippery with sweat and my hand cramping as I try to dodge, block, roll, counter and pull off a berserker fury all at the same time while being shot to shit by an entire army of mooks who are all yelling “He’s hurt, he’s hurt, keep up the pressure!” It’s just not fun. It’s merely frustrating.

There are some really weird gaming decisions, too, like the scene in which you have to dodge the bullets from a sniper and fight off the inevitable goons while you are looking at yourself through the sniper’s sights. WTF? It’s hard enough dealing with a squad of machine guns at the best of times, but when you can’t see half of them because there are trees between the sniper who’s trying to kill you and both you and them, it’s impossible.

Which leads me to the dodgy camera angles. The camera appears to have a mind of its own and a sense of humour akin to that of GLaDOS. Why yes, thank you, I do so enjoy trying to fight off one of the stronger bad guys while my view is entirely obstructed by the freakin’ CEILING. Or the FLOOR. When fighting the camera follows Logan around like a slavish puppy, despite the supposed right stick control, so most of the time you’re staring at his arse while some giant robot pounds on him with RPGs you can’t see until they hit you because they’re coming from off-camera. This is unfortunate, because you’re supposed to counter projectiles by hitting them back at the source.

Ah yes. Countering. Hit L2 at just the right time to enable a bullet-time segment where you can hit square and perform a special attack. But “the right time” has to be precise to the millisecond, as far as I can tell. Too soon and he merely blocks, and that’s about as exciting and helpful as a dairy cow in the dressage ring.

The power-up bar in this game is rage, and Logan can accumulate rage by killing things or destroying certain items in the landscape. Once enough rage has been accumulated he has access to his superpowers of claw drill, claw cyclone, claw spin or, my personal favourite, berserker mode. He can tell which ones will give him rage because in this game smell-o-vision is a false-colour heat haze affair in which important things have certain colours. Red things are dangerous, yellow things can be destroyed for rage orbs and green things are useful in some way. Rather than the scent trails of the previous game, which made sense, and allowed you to sneak up on unseen enemies and spit them like a pig, this one has funny colours and sort of a blue breeze that indicates where you should go next. Not that you need to be told where to go next because it’s so linear you can’t even go exploring in the scenery a couple of feet from the path. No wandering about for you!

Yes, once more Activision have given us a game in which the scenery really is only scenery. This means it’s not much of a challenge to pick up the bonus items like the figurines that open up the costumes, which is presumably why you then have to complete a near-impossible bonus challenge in order to unlock said costume. Much as I’d like to unlock said costumes, I’m not sure I have the patience or the thumb stamina to fight a version of the character who has unlimited rage and all the combat reflexes of a highly trained cyborg ninja while mine has enough angry to shout at a used teabag and the reflexes of an asthmatic slug.

The gameplay is, thankfully, more varied than Ultimate Alliance 2, in that there are traps to avoid and jumping tests and the occasional puzzle. You can see where they’ve taken some hints and tips from Prince of Persia. The underlying God of War engine is also fairly obvious in the methods of dispatch for the larger, tougher enemies, especially the mutant wendigoes. These are not bad things. I like a bit of variety in my gameplay, which is why I find it so utterly bizarre and frustrating that they should have given us that and yet their combat difficulty is just throwing more and more and more things at Wolverine so he is forced to spend more time dodging and running around looking for a space to allow his healing factor to kick in before his guts spill out.

Generally the difficulty curve goes like this: start a section with a few standard grunts. Meet a whole bunch of grunts with a few of the special elite grunts who are harder to kill. Find yourself in a room with even more of them, plus some of the bastards that need a special move to kill. Fight until your hand aches. Move into a big, empty room where suddenly some new extra-difficult bad guy turns up and says “HAI!” Kill him and three more turn up and all attack at once. Swear a lot. Finally make it through that only to discover that now you’re fair game for all previous bad guys plus the new extra tough bad guys to throw down on you in vast numbers all at the same time. Rinse and repeat.

Frankly this game makes me go “GRRRRRR!” at the telly almost as much as Logan does on it. This is an adult’s game with childishly repetitive combat.

That said, you know, it’s not all bad. The feral senses could have — and should have — been done a lot better but, if you were a bad guy and had the crazy Canucklehead coming after you, would you send just one or two grunts? No. At the end of the day, if you’ve got Wolverine on your territory you send every man you have, armed to the teeth, and tell them not to stop firing until they run out of bullets or are dead.

And they will, trust me, end up dead. For while there are times when I have been reduced to screaming “FOR FUCK’S SAKE JUST DIE, WILL YOU?!” there is something deeply satisfying about going from a room full of mooks to a room full of dismembered mooks. Especially when, as occasionally happens, Logan moves in the blink of any eye from ripping some guy to shreds to answering his phone as if his mum has just called to ask if he’s coming round for dinner.

Ideally this would have had the stealth and the sneaking of the first Wolverine game combined with the potential for wholesale death and destruction on offer here. I should have been able to choose between sneaking up a scent trail for a silent claw through the gut or the incredibly useful lunge (the lunge is, at least while I’m playing, Wolverine’s primary mode of travel). As it is we have a gore-fest blender of a game with occasional challenges based mostly on being fast enough and pressing the right button at the right time. This isn’t a game you can get through without dying, frequently, unlike MUA2: it’s giving me RSI and blisters and is occasionally chuck-the-controller-at-the-telly frustrating. For all its flaws, however, it hasn’t given me the same sense of shocked betrayal that the film did.

It hasn’t, at least not yet, made me cry. Still, I suppose there’s plenty of time.

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Sam reviews… Katamari Forever

by on Oct.04, 2009, under games, Reviews

I promised you two game reviews yesterday and only delivered one. That was rather naughty of me. Still, you can’t say I short-changed you in the last review. At least I got to it before Ben Croshaw (whose feelings about Web of Shadows match mine exactly).

The other game I wanted to review was Katamari Forever. All together now…

NAAAAAAAA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA, KATAMARI DAMACY!!!!!!

Following on from We Katamari, there has been a terrible accident in which the King Of All The Cosmos suffered a head injury and lost his memory. Total amnesia. The Prince and all the cousins then build RoboKing to help out but RoboKing is a bit of a klutz and before you know it we’ve lost all the stars. Again. It’s down to you to get rolling and create lots of stars to sort things out before the King does something awful to RoboKing (minus lube, apparently), and to bring back the King’s memories while you’re at it.

Thus there are two main arenas in this version of Katamari. In the RoboKing’s realm are the new games, while in the King’s realm are old levels from the last game, tastefully decked out in black and white to represent forgotten memory until you bring them back to life and colour by rolling them up into your katamari.

What can I say? It’s Katamari. Fundamentally, all Katamari consists of starting small and getting big. As big as possible. No, bigger than that. Call that a katamari? It’s a bit of a thin katamari. We’re disappointed. But there it is. You do know the whole point of katamari is to roll big, don’t you? We did explain that, I’m sure we did.

No updated graphics here, oh no. It’s still the quirky, pastel-shaded realm where everything looks sort of baby-ish and sweet until you realise that all the people trapped in your katamari are screaming in pain and fear and you ask yourself how come the bloodless, apparently painless scrapping of MUA2 gets a PG but this blatant horror is considered suitable for three year-olds. It’s not like they welcome your advance with open arms. People and animals alike flee in terror more convincingly than they flee from Godzilla, FFS. I mean, wouldn’t you? If a 10m wide ball of accumulated stuff that once made up the scenery in your neighbourhood came barrelling towards you down the street, wouldn’t you run screaming? You are, fundamentally, rolling up property and living organisms, which are then turned by your mentally unstable, despotic leader into giant fiery balls of nuclear processing using some sort of matter-transforming superpower. It’s not like the people can expect anything but a terrible, suffocating, agonising death.

And they think this is suitable for three year-olds. Right.

The two new things are the Prince Jump, in which you can cause the katamari to leap in the air by using the Six Axis controller’s motion sensor (or pressing R2, which is much easier); and the heart points, which cause your katamari to suck in everything it is capable of picking up. Thus the games can be quite tactical, in that you have to decide whether to go for the heart early, or wait until you’re a lot bigger and can suck in more things. There is also an option to take photos from the Look screens, although I keep forgetting I have the option of an aerial view to look for more things to roll up so I haven’t taken any photos yet.

New levels open up upon completion of previous ones, and you have to complete levels in both realms to open up all of them. You can’t work your way through the RoboKing levels without opening up the King levels and vice versa. Yes, the Cow Bear level is one of those that you have to complete. Grrr. Gnash. Gah. And the campfire one.

Initially somewhat disappointing, the game gets a lot more fun upon completion, when you gain access to the mini games and can then go through the levels again opening up the other modes of play: Eternal (no time limit), Drive (double speed katamari); and Classic (exactly what it sounds like). The music isn’t as good as the previous games, despite consisting largely of remixes of the old favourites.

Overall it is worth a punt, especially if you are already a fan. If you are not already a Katamari fan I’d suggest getting a copy of the previous game instead, because the dialogue is a lot more quirky and you’ll miss out on all the in-jokes in this one, if it were not for the case that it’s become collectible and costs almost as much as this one. The game is definitely worth the current price tag if you already know you can lose yourself to the joys of rolling up screaming people and rabbits, cats, dogs, mice, juggling monkeys, giant octopus, fairies, sumo wrestlers, buildings, trees, flying whales, pizzas, sushi, cars, vans, helicopters, parascenders, Easter Island heads, UFOs, clouds, tropical storms, continental plates and god.

Otherwise, wait until the price drops a bit or find a friend who already has a copy. Just don’t expect to be allowed to borrow it.

Naaaaaa na na na na na na na, katamari damacy…

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Sam reviews… MUA2

by on Oct.03, 2009, under games, Miscellany, Reviews

I’ve got a couple of game reviews for you today. To start with, let’s take a look at Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

Do I need to repeat the whole Marvel Fan Girl thing? Yes? No? Tell you what, take a look at my Marvel games collection:

There are a few, yes.

Yes. There are two versions of the original Ultimate Alliance. One for PS2 and one for PS3. Guess what. I liked it. A lot.

I mean, there are some real turkeys there. The Official X-Men game at the bottom left is a pile of shite. I can’t put that any more kindly. It is dreadful. Rise of the Imperfects isn’t really any better, but it’s made by EA so I was rather dubious before I bought it.

Y’see, my experience is that Activision are the guys who know how to make good Marvel games. One of my favourite games ever is X-Men: Wolverine’s Revenge, in which the smelly, short, hairy, bad-tempered Canucklehead takes a trip up to Alkali Lake and stealth kills his way most righteously through thousands of mooks and some super villains. Apart from the end level it’s a corker of a game. The end just gets a bit button-mashy frenetic for my tastes.

The series of co-op games that started with X-Men Legends has always been top of our list for acquisition because Frood and I enjoyed the first one so much. It was our first proper co-op game in which we got to beat the crap out of things together. We’ve bought each one since then and, with every iteration, Activision has seen fit to simplify the game and introduce more characters and yet make them more similar.

X-Men Legends had very customisable characters and your choice of spending your XP was very flexible. If you decided you liked one power over another you could preferentially load that one up and ignore the one you didn’t like. You could buy points for a power. You could assign those powers to different buttons. More to the point, the unlockable extreme powers were for each character. There were different items of kit that each character could wear, affecting their abilities and their resistances. It was possible (at least for Frood) to spend almost as much time playing with character levelling as it was fighting bad guys.

Rise of Apocalypse simplified the character levelling, but not so much that we were complaining. It made it less fun but it didn’t stop that aspect of the game being worth spending time on.

The first Ultimate Alliance simplified by a whole order of magnitude. If I were being unkind I might suggest that this was a direct reflection of Jemas’s rather hubris-filled statement that the Ultimates was there to bring success where all the regular Marvel story arcs were falling into a pit of failure constructed out of what-ifs and untold stories (see the statement at the end of The Tomorrow People). Personally, having read nearly all of the Ultimate X-Men, I can’t help but note that the fifteen-year olds who started out in that grew up pretty damn fast, and feel this is unsurprising because, unless you are going to deal realistically with what happens psychologically to child-soldiers, you can’t have child killers at all. Hormonal teenagers running around snogging one minute and slaughtering baddies the next with nary a blink is entirely implausible.

What I’m trying to say is that, for me, the amount of death and destruction in the Marvel Universe, the darkness of characters like Wolverine (epitomised in the Barry Windsor Smith one-shot) and Emma Frost (femme fatale indeed) is too adult on many levels for the sort of “X-Men as teenagers reboot” that the Ultimates tried to provide to be plausible.

Which is only slightly out of context, because it seems to me that the simplification of the Ultimate Alliance games is a direct result of a rather similar attempt to appeal to a more mass or younger audience whereas the early ones were aimed at fans. This despite the fact that the younger players would probably be happier dealing with complex gameplay than a lot of us more — ahem — mature players.

Other than the irritating simplification of character levelling, the gameplay itself has become incredibly linear. Incredibly linear. Do not show me an open door if I can’t enter that room because there’s an invisible barrier of code in the way. I want scenery, not set-dressing. Given the obviously upgraded graphics — the reflections on Iron Man’s suit are glorious — why can’t we have game arenas confined by the walls rather than inevitable plot? We had that in the previous games. Why not this one? If there’s a rooftop I can see and I have a flier, I should be able to go there. While I’m at it, as we have such gorgeous reflections on Iron Man’s suit, why in the hell do the others all look like they’re made out of plasticine?

Where previous games had levels that required certain characters (Ice Man for putting out fires, or fliers for retrieving objects), we merrily hacked, slashed and slaughtered our way through this one without any real thought for character choice. It makes no difference. Gone are the individual extreme powers in favour of this ridiculous “fusion” notion. They claim more than 200 different powers, but really there are only about five, as we discovered by taking every team combination we could through the basic training simulator before we got bored seeing the same thing over and over again. Playing Wolverine and Deadpool to Frood’s Spiderman and Jean Grey (he’s missing Toad and Blade, bless him), we could either suck everyone into a pile and whale on them; get Wolverine to run around in a very homoerotic fashion holding hands with someone else; or have someone pick Wolvie up and chuck him at the bad guy. If you’ve got someone who has beamy powers, including Storm’s lightning, you can add to this a sort of laser-death ray sort of affair.

For true entertainment, though, Susan Storm putting a hamster ball force field around the Thing is worth a shot.

Gone, too, are the individual boosts provided by cunning outfits of gloves and hats and things. Instead we have three slots for team boosts, each of which provides a power like an extra 15% stamina or resistance to fire. These apply to the whole team, not individual members. Rubbish. Just rubbish. You might as well pick three you like and forget about it.

Each level takes an absolute age to load, this being because all the cut scenes are pre-loaded. This is not for your convenience, oh no. This is so, when you inadvertently reach the boundary condition at the end of a segment, the cut scene can whisk you away before you’ve finished smashing all the crates and looking for secrets. Frood and I both swore at the screen a lot over this. We haven’t got all the collectibles. Some of them we haven’t found. Some of them we couldn’t pick up because the cut scene interrupted. On one notable occasion we went from a sewer in Latveria to a boat in New York two weeks later in the space of a second. I mean. What the hell, Activision?

Seriously. WHAT THE HELL, ACTIVISION? What gaming company lets the cut scene stop the players from destroying crates?

Plus points. Let’s find some. Doesn’t take long to play through the first time? Hardly a plus point. The graphics are great. Really they are. The dialogue in-game is pretty good, and the conversations in the headquarter sections between maps are written to be pretty well in character. Spiderman and Deadpool get some great lines. The Civil/Secret War storyline is nice, in that it reflects material that has been going on in continuity, although it’s material that I mostly haven’t read because I don’t have the six-figure income needed to keep up with everything these days (mind you, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Iron Man Nick Fury sent to Latveria, at least not in the Bendis/Del’Otto version). Captain America is voiced by a guy who is apparently trying to sound like Steve Austin, and he looks quite a lot like Steve Austin, so a point for consistency there. (I’m stretching, aren’t I?)

Dammit. I really wanted to like this game. It’s number 4 in a series of games I still dig out and play sometimes. It’s an Activision Marvel game. It should have been freakin’ awesome.

But it wasn’t. The powers are meh, the fusion powers not spectacular or varied enough, the gameplay is frighteningly — I mean, frighteningly — linear. There is no going back after each segment, and if you thought you could hold off the end and make your way back there’s a cut scene waiting to abduct you. You can save and swap characters wherever you like (in the previous games you could only do this at special check points) but there’s no point because the game only saves to the start of a level and there isn’t any need to swap out characters. You don’t have the option of portalling to a previous section of map from the central hubs so you can go back solo to kick some butt and find missing collectibles while your gameplay partner is busy making dinner.

In short, MUA2 is a disappointing outing for Activision that has got me wanting to go back and play X-Men Legends again. Which is a shame, because we liked it so much and have played it through so often that our characters are now too powerful: the game can’t cope and falls over when we try to play it.

Bah.

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Sam reviews…

by on Jun.07, 2009, under movies, Reviews

The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Movie posterFirst off, I know I’m late on this. Frankly I didn’t want to go to the cinema to see Keanu “Woah” Reeves reprise his Johnny Mnemonic performance — which I could tell he was doing by the simple fact he was going to be wearing a suit — and thus have to pay for the privilege. Nor was I going to buy the DVD, as I already own a copy of Johnny Mnemonic. Somewhere. So I had to wait until it came out on pay-per-view.

Bite me.

If you don’t know the plot by now, then you’ve been living under a rock in a swamp. Alien comes to Earth and says that unless mankind changes its destructive ways then powers immeasurably superior to ours will wipe the species from the face of the planet. Faced with complete destruction and massively superior technology, someone has to change his mind about humanity’s right to live. It has been many, many years since I last saw the original, so I’m not position to make anal comparisons between the two and watched it as a film for its own sake. Up to a point.

We started off up a mountain somewhere in 1928. In this scene KR played a bearded mountaineer who finds a strange glowing sphere in the ice, and proceeds to poke at it with his ice axe. I mean, really. If you found a strange glowing sphere encased in ice would you poke at it with your ice axe?

Yeah. I probably would too.

“Oooh! He’s going to get abducted! How exciting!” I exclaimed, already thinking this is a much more satisfying explanation for a human alien than them growing one.

But no. Bright flash of light then beardy is waking up slightly puzzled and the sphere is gone. Not a lipless cow to be seen anywhere, either.

Skip to the present day and we meet our heroine. Hollywood has banned action girls from the movies, for some reason. This leaves most girls with the fate-worse-than-death of being a soppy screamer who faints at the sight of a beetle. Here we have avoided this by making her a biologist specialising in the sorts of bacteria that get off on making scientists say “WTF is that doing growing THERE?” Her personal drama, because we can’t be without personal drama, is provided by being the widow of a man who died serving in the army, leaving her with the care of his son by his previous wife, who doesn’t like her very much and wants nothing more than his daddy to come back. Yada yada.

The action begins by having a bunch of feds turn up at her door while she’s trying to persuade the kid to get off WoW and come eat dinner while he reminds her, in that precious way movie children have, that she’s not his mother.

It’s all very Crichton, and here was where my niggles started blowing up into full irritation. I detest the idea that any government in this day and age doesn’t have a contingency plan in place for something like this, as ridiculous as it seems. In The Andromeda Strain, which had exactly the same multi-disciplinary mobilisation, the scientists were at least aware that they might be called upon. They were thus prepared to get straight to work and were much more effective and efficient, rather than spending valuable minutes — and minutes were valuable in this film — faffing around stressed because they didn’t know what was happening.

I started becoming genuinely uncomfortable when they went to meet the sphere in Central Park. I’d really like to think that we wouldn’t, as a species, turn up to greet our first verified alien visitor with howitzers, tanks, snipers and rocket launchers, but upon reflection I suspect that we probably would. And yeah, we probably would shoot him as well. That many nervous people with guns, accidents are bound to happen.

After that the whole thing just derailed and it became downright silly. The giant robot was the best thing in the film, and I’m going to ignore the painful way they shoehorned an acronym in there to explain his name. The alien arrived in a spacesuit made of placenta, which fell off and allowed KR to reprise his Matrix adult foetus role, after which he did his emotionless cool act, making him look like an escapee from Equilibrium. That was fine in context. We are talking about a portrayal of inevitability and implacability, after all.

The major premise of the film is summarised in the scene where the kid asks Klaatu whether they should run or fight and Klaatu responds “Neither… There is nothing you can do.”

I didn’t think enough was made of this. I can tell they tried, but other than some feeble attempts to destroy the giant robot, they didn’t do anything that really hammered home just how powerless people were. That’s the part that should have been really scary. Here we are currently facing potential environmental disaster and we still can do something about it, if we get our act together. We are, as the Professor (John Cleese) said in the film, “standing on the precipice”. Right now we can still step back. I wanted to be shown how abjectly hopeless it will make us as a species feel when there is nothing we can do about it any more. When it’s too late.

Unleashing a self-replicating mass of matter-eating artificial locusts just didn’t do it for me. Wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly, either.

As it is, the film went something like this:

Jacob: Ure not mai mom. I hates U!
Dr Helen Benson: Put your computer DOWN and eat your dinner, FFS.
American Military: Dr Helen Benson U must cum with us and leev horribl child behind cos we say so and we has motorsickles with flashy lites.
Dr Helen Benson: Oh. OK.
American Military: Now U help us meets visitor from owter space.
Dr Helen Benson: Kewl.
American Military: Noes!!!!11!! Ebul alien cum to eats us! Shoot it! Now! Kwicks!
Giant robot: DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY. LOL.
Klaatu: FFS. I’m not even out of my spacesuit yet. Quit it, Gort. Just… Give me a minute. FFS. We’re off to a great start already. Way to go making me think you guys have the potential to be nice.
Dr Helen Benson: Medic!
American Military: U R ebul alien cums to eat us. We am be interrugating U nows.
Klaatu: I think not. FFS. I just want to speak to the UN. What is it with you people?
American Military: Aieeee! He has used speshul ebul alien powahs to eats our branes thru the wiring!
Klaatu: I got the box. Damn straight. Now to get me to the UN. Aha! Here I have found what appears to be a transport hub. My word. How vicious and violent this race is. The sooner we’ve got rid of them the better. Oh. I appear to be bleeding and unwell.
Dr Helen Benson (answering phone): Yes? You have found the alien cough I mean my patient? I’ll be right there.
Klaatu:Your race is vicious and violent and destructive and must die. I am here to kill you all so that the bunny rabbits and the polar bears can live in peace. You must act as my chauffeur because, although I am excellent, I do not possess a driving licence.
Dr Helen Benson: Oh. OK. But we’re really not that bad. I shall introduce you to my professor, who is also excellent, and has a Nobel prize for being excellent, and he will show you how wrong you are by being excellent.
Professor: See my excellent maths! Listen to excellent Bach through my most excellent sound system.
Klaatu: Your math is promising and Bach is indeed most excellent.
Jacob: U is nasteh ebul alien and ai call army on U Bcoz that’s what Dad wud do and Dad was like JEBUS.
Klaatu: FFS. I thought we were getting somewhere. No, that’s it. You’re all going to die.
Giant robot (turning into artifical locust plague): DESTROY DESTROY DESTROY. LOL.
Dr Helen Benson: Noes! I has been kidnapped from the alien by the military in an ironic subversion of the alien abduction experience. No rly.
Jacob: I am be all alone in woods and am scared. Can U help me ebul alien who isn’t so ebul eny moar?
Klaatu: Kids, eh?
American Military: We gots nuthin. U try, Dr Helen Benson. Heer is Ur fone.
Jacob: I kno! We can meet at Dad’s grave and alien can bring him back to life with his alien powah, just like Jebus!
Klaatu: Look, kid. He’s not just dead, he’s worm food. He has been recycled, FFS.
Jacob: Waaaaah!
Dr Helen Benson: Oh, poor baby! Here I shall hug you and make you feel better.
Jacob: Mom! I luvs you!
Klaatu: It would appear I was mistaken about the nature of humanity. If this child can hug the woman who cares for him, then perhaps their world leaders will not blow the living shit out of each other with nukes and will cap carbon emissions to stop polar ice melt. I must stop my giant robot locust plague, all because this child embraced this woman.
Rest of world: Yay! Say it. Say it! SAY IT! WTF? He didn’t say it! Even Bruce Campbell said it in Army Of Darkness! We spent the last 100 minutes waiting for him to say it and all we get is a lousy EMP? FFS. The only real consequence is that we’ll need to reboot everything and our watches have stopped. What’s that supposed to teach us? Hey, Klaatu! You SUCK.

Still. Could have been worse. It was better than Sunshine. It didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty nail.

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Sam reviews

by on May.02, 2009, under movies

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I’m warning you now, there will be spoilers. Just one or two. The problem is that I can’t think of any way to tell you what I really feel without revealing a couple of things that would otherwise come as a complete surprise, especially to the fellow Marvel fans out there. What I’m hoping is that all the fans who are as sad as I am will already have seen it and everyone else won’t give a crap.

However, here’s your chance to look away. Look away now if spoilers concern you.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I heard it was being made, which is probably not the best way to approach a film. Marvel’s track record with movie adaptations is fairly hit and miss. The first two X-Men movies were great; the third one was a great big wobbly pile of shite. Iron Man rocked; Spider-Man was emo even before Venom got in on the act. There are two Hulks. Fans disagree which of them was better (me, I go with Edward Norton, in case that makes a difference to you). The less said about Ghost Rider the better, but then the Fantastic Four films were actually not too bad at all.

I’ve seen them all. Mostly opening night, at the cinema. The sight of the Marvel flicker-flack on the big screen puts a grin on my face that would make an orang-utan proud.

I’m not just a Marvel fan girl. I’m a Wolverine fan girl. So for this movie I didn’t even wait for opening night. I went to the special preview advance showing before the official opening, dragging Frood along with me. I take no blame for Rev Will’s attendance. He said he wanted to come. That’s him on the right.

The opening section appeared, initially, to have been lifted from the Origin story arc by Bill Jemas. So far so good. But then, um. WHAT? Say WHAT? Since when was Sabretooth Logan’s brother? Chris Claremont originally intended Sabretooth to be his father, and the source of the long-term enmity the simple fact that Victor didn’t think Logan measured up to the standard he’d set. Canon has since made it clear that Creed isn’t Logan’s father, but he sure as hell ain’t his brother.

Then follows a quick timelapse special of the two boys fighting through various wars (invariably for the Americans, despite Logan fighting for the Canadian army, but whatever, this is Hollywood). I already knew Liev Schreiber had been given the Sabretooth role, despite being about as non-Sabretooth as you can get. The only way they could have cast someone less like Sabretooth would have been to ask Will Smith to do it. Having said that, Schreiber wasn’t as bad as I expected him to be, but I still think they should have gone to the WWE for their casting.

I found Creed’s continual use of “Jimmy” to refer to Logan intensely irritating and totally out of character for both of them. Just, you know, as a by the by.

We come to Vietnam and Creed’s bestiality has been fed by decades of fighting, and yet Logan is still the noble warrior. When Creed attempts to rape a Vietnamese woman his officer tells him to stop. A fight ensues, in which Logan initially tries to protect the woman and then ends up protecting his brother. This theme arises again and again throughout the film: the notion of brotherly loyalty between Wolverine and Sabretooth. I found it totally unbelievable. Sabretooth is the character who takes great delight in the annual Wolverine birthday bash. By which I mean he bashes Wolverine on his birthday. That was the whole Silver Fox thing and… I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Full Metal Jacket this is not. Watchmen this is not. Where the Comedian shoots a pregnant woman in the head and walks away, here our two brothers find themselves in front of a firing squad for assaulting an officer. I wasn’t aware they did that in Vietnam. But still. Whatever.

Apparently it tickled.

They are then recruited by our old friend Stryker, although Brian Cox had the sense to turn down this one. He’s still in military rather than religious guise, so I can’t complain about continuity there. They join an elite group of soldiers, all of whom are mutants, for some purpose that isn’t made clear, although by the end it’s obvious that this was the start of the Weapon X project.

Yay! Deadpool!

There are three characters in the Marvel universe I follow with any degree of consistency. Wolverine, X23 and Deadpool. The merc with the mouth is simply one of Marvel’s finest creations, and it’s all thanks to Fabian.

I have no idea who the rest of them are. I don’t care. Deadpool! Squee!

There follows an infiltration exercise designed primarily to show off the various powers of these mutants to the audience, and towards the end of this short sequence Ryan Reynolds shows a glimmer of promise. I begin to think that yes, yes, he really could do it. I mean, he’s not horribly mutilated with a face that looks like the inside of a tin of dog food and a voice that sounds like Demi Moore on gravel, and there’s no sign of him recognising the fourth wall, never mind breaking it, but this is pre-Weapon X, right? There’s still time.

But that’s it. That’s your lot. Not even two minutes of a chance to shine. Then our boy Logan takes exception to a bit of violence and walks away to find a new life in the Canadian rockies as a lumberjack with a beautiful schoolteacher girlfriend (who isn’t called Silver Fox). Next thing we know his old squad is dead, and the implication is that Sabretooth is doing it.

What? But I thought… Deadpool? Deadpool? Noes!!!!11!11! He can’t die! Wake up, Deadpool, please wake up!

He does. Eventually. But you’ll wish he hadn’t. It’s just too painful.

Anyway. Then follows a standard Marvel bit of manipulation to get Wolverine back into the Weapon X programme involving murder of loved ones and revenge and all the usual stuff to bring out the animal in him. Yada yada. I’m not going to bother describing it all in detail because it’s all rather predictable. He gets his adamantium — I was disappointed that they toned it down from the stark brutality of Barry Windsor-Smith — and escapes before they can wipe his memory, leaving a trail of bodies as he seeks revenge on his brother.

The plot seems to have taken a pick-n-mix selection from the various story arcs. The Weapon X programme is sort of classic, but mostly Ultimate. In this one the familiar characters from the X-Men films are kids, as they are in the Ultimate series, being used as the basis for experimentation… Sorry. My brain veered dangerously close to what they did to Deadpool and I had to stop and take a few deep breaths or else I’d have been reduced to a quivering heap on the floor, screaming to the heavens “WHY? FOR THE LOVE OF THE LITTLE BABY JEBUS, WHY???!!”

The Blob, usually nothing more than the butt of jokes and someone too foul to generate sympathy, was really nicely done in this film, and for me was one of the high points. Kevin Durand did a very good job with him. I think, basically, that’s one of the reasons this film was so disappointing. The actors all did a remarkable job with the material they were given (apart from Danny Huston as Stryker, who appeared to believe he was working in a straight to TV flick, or was asleep). But the plot was full of holes and inconsistencies; the characters were forced into actions that were simply not like them for anyone at all familiar with canon; the dialogue was at times trite, melodramatic and downright cheesy (that Wolverine and Moon thing was almost enough to make me gag); the fight scenes were often shot unsympathetically and there was just far too much CGI. Especially that bit at the end when Professor Xavier in a Dale Winton tan turned up in Airwolf. The power effects seem to have been taken straight out of Ultimate Alliance (“XXXOO overhead spin kick!”), although that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it worked very well for Gambit and both Frood and I were move-spotting throughout.

I could see where they had levered in bits to “please the fans” but you can’t just take something out of a story arc and drop it into a context that is held together by the araldite and cable-ties of retcon and expect it to work. You can take ideas, principles, tropes or themes and use those, but not plot points. It was obvious and necessary to focus on Wolverine’s battle to be human rather than animal, because that’s the character’s main conflict throughout his various incarnations. It’s fine, even better, to deal with the memory loss in a completely different way because the Weapon X programme isn’t being played out the way it does in the comics. It’s not fine to dump the future complement of the X-Men into cells and then randomly make the White Queen Logan’s girlfriend’s sister. Pulling plot points straight from the comics and juxtaposing them with major retcons is jarring and unsettling for those of us who know the comics. It’s one of the reasons why the third X-Men film fell down (Morrison did the Logan/Jean death scene far better in New X-Men). The other reason was the wasting of one of the best characters of the entire franchise. And Wolverine makes both those mistakes.

It’s a pity, and I have to wonder who’s to blame. The writers? The director? I can’t help but feel you could take the same acting complement, give them the production crew of X2 or Iron Man and you’d have an absolutely stonking movie in which the merc with the mouth would remain the merc with the mouth and I’d have been a very happy girl.

As it is this may not even end up as part of my DVD collection, and the only other Marvel films I don’t own are the ones in the Spider-man series.

Lest you think that my negative reaction is the disappointment of a superfan whose favourite character has been brutally sodomised by the writing crew, I can report that neither of my companions thought it any better and they quite happily tell me I’m a sad Marvel geek.

Let’s hope they manage to do a better job with Avengers, eh?

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Sam reviews

by on Feb.13, 2009, under movies

Die Hard 4.0

I know. I’m late. But every so often I like to come out with a brief review of a film that we happened to watch the night before on DVD because there was nothing on the telly.

Bruce “action man in a vest” Willis’s post-hair, terrorist-fighting, survival caper is the sort of switch-your-brain-off and enjoy movie that I need once in a while. Either I ODed on throat sweets yesterday or the fever had come back, but with a deleriously willing suspension of disbelief I was along for the ride and enjoying every wisecracking second, including Silent Bob as the basement dwelling Über-nerd, Warlock. Yarly. Not as good as the third one in terms of character interaction, but it has its moments.

Up until the oven ready gas. That kind of threw me back into engineering mode for a few minutes, as I scoffed at the preposterousness of having lit gas flooding through the supply pipes, not to mention the logistical and practical impossibility of being able to re-route all gas lines across the eastern seaboard to feed into a single power plant in West Virginia. Using a laptop. Unfortunately the truck vs STOVL fighter jet celebrity death match happened shortly after that, so I hadn’t settled back into going with the flow when the F-53 pilot unleashed his missiles on a busy highway. I can’t see anyone blithely accepting that sort of collateral damage in any circumstances.

However, the epic fail of plausibility kicked my brain back into idle, and I could enjoy watching McClane chasing down the bad guys with a catalogue of injuries that should have included every bone in his body being shattered (not to mention a number of internal organs — the liver behaves as a non-Newtonian fluid if you hit it hard enough, and I’m guessing McClane’s was hit more than hard enough), killing them all, and then showing just how much of a hardman he is by sitting in the back of the ambulance as if he’d done no more than bloodied his nose while his young sidekick was off his face on morphine to deal with a couple of flesh wounds.

Jumping the shark or crowning moment of awesome? McClane didn’t jump a shark. He jumped an F-53. After the pilot had ejected. While it was on fire.

What do you think?

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