Saturday, 8 March 2014

Not Books


Okay, this is it; my attempt to catalogue the various films, TV shows and games etc. that consume all of the spare time I should be using to read books. I'm no expert in any of these categories, nor do I try and fulfill the same role as artistic snob as I do with literature, so this is probably going to all be fairly random, and hopefully much less serious than my usual efforts. Also let me preface it by saying I really don't watch  very many films these days, particularly in comparison to episodic TV because I just don't have the patience to sit in the same spot for more than an hour, therefore if my film selection seems... odd, then it's just because nine times out of ten it's something my girlfriend was watching on television. Finally if you've got a few seconds then please visit the comics-centric blog Every Day Is Like Wednesday, because I've ripped-off this concept from that site wholesale. Sorry Caleb.

Films-

American Psycho (2000)
Though my memory is awful, I'm fairly sure that I first saw this film a few years back after reading Bret Easton-Ellis' 1991 contemporary (if 1991 is still contemporary, that is) cult-classic, and it joined its similarly-themed and often-compared sister film/book Fight Club in being one of the few examples of a film improving over the source material. This was perhaps the third time I'd seen it and probably the most I've enjoyed it. Directed by arty-punk type Mary Harron (whoever that is), this film works because Christian Bale is awesome as Patrick Bateman, straddling the line between cartoonish and villainous masterfully throughout the film, dipping further into one side or the other whenever necessary to maintain the essence of both a disturbing look at aspects of modern life and consumerism and that of a deeply black comedy.

Personally I find the whole film to be very funny, whatever that says about me. Though it could be construed in some aspects as a horror film, the unorthodox ending and the lack of a sympathetic viewpoint (well maybe except for Bateman's assistant Christie, but she doesn't have a huge role) throws that notion on its head. It's by no means a perfect, five star classic film; as a story it's rather unbalanced, with the hazy chronology and postmodern attitude towards what we actually see Bateman do not translating to the screen as easily as it does on paper, but Christian Bale is so unbelievable charismatic in the role that it didn't really matter to me. I enjoyed it so much that I've made a mental note to read the book again, though who knows when that will actually happen.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
I first saw this film over ten years ago (I am old now) when at secondary school (or high school if you prefer) while the class were studying Billy Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and left with fond memories of it as a surprisingly fun film. I don't think I'd seen it since until a few nights ago when my girlfriend started watching it on TV and I couldn't resist joining her. Ten years on and it's still a surprisingly fun film, but I really have no desire to ever watch it again. This romantic comedy thematically based on Shakespeare's play is perhaps most notable these days for being future-Joker Heath Ledger's breakout role, and he was undoubtedly the best part of this film without question. Suave, ranged, and annoyingly handsome, his charisma easily outshines every other performance in the film, including fellow future Batman co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Though the comedy is generally a lot of fun, the film falls apart for the older-men in its portrayal of rebellious teenagers, particularly Julia Styles as the waspy lead. The cool, snarky dialogue is hacked, corny and annoying throughout, although in that respect also probably somewhat realistic. It's all part of creating the overall vibe of a teen romantic comedy that sits somewhere in the middle of classic teen films like The Breakfast Club and not-so-classic more modern (well, not anymore) gross-out stuff like the American Pie series. I did vastly prefer this film to said gross-out teen comedies and I think it has a mass appeal that would probably ensure that everyone could enjoy it once, so I suppose it really is a very good film for what it is, but I never need to see it again.

Austin Powers- International Man of Mystery (1997)
From a film I never wish to see again to a film I've seen about a billion times, this was on television too and what was supposed to be a quick look at the beginning at least ended up being another re watch. This is by far my favourite of the Austin Powers trilogy, and not only because it doesn't re-tread the same old jokes over and over again; there's a sense of innocence and naivity about the whole thing. Yes Liz Hurley might be an awful, awful actress but I actually buy the relationship between her and Austin to the point where I kind of wish there hadn't been any sequels. I don't really have much else to say about it because you've all likely seen it multiple times, only that somehow, despite the utter ridiculousness of it all, this time I found it to be a much warmer and somehow more charming film than I ever did before.

Video Games-

Ace Attourney- Phoenix Wright: Justice For All (Nintendo DS) (2006)
I don't spend much time playing video games anymore, but in my youth I was a fiend for such things. In the attic at my parents' home sit a variety of old consoles and games, most of them missing half the wires required to make them work (I've got a Sega Megadrive console without any wires or games at all for some reason). My favourite type of game, however, the type I used to spend my time and meager pennies hunting down in various second hand game stores, are adventure games. Sure, I love a bit of Street Fighter and Mario Kart, and I think The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a legitimate work of art, but the narrative-based gameplay of mostly PC (as in computers, not political correctness) games like the Monkey Island and Broken Sword (the first being my favourite game of all time) series are what I enjoy the most. The hours I wasted trying to get some of the rarer, older gems to work on MS-DOS (screw you, Little Big Adventure) could've been used for far more productive activities, but I enjoyed it all nevertheless.

After years and years of people mourning the adventure game genre as dead it returned to prominence in a big way on modern consoles through developers incorporating crucial aspects into wider-reaching games, such as LA Noire. Despite my delight at this, I still yearned for a more stripped-down, back to basics game more closely resembling my older favourites, and Capcom (oh lovely Capcom) obliged by providing the Ace Attourney- Phoenix Wright series, of which I just finished playing the second installment.

Initially developed for the Game Boy Advance in Japan then ported to the Nintendo DS, the games put you in the shoes of Phoenix Wright, a do-gooding quirky lawyer who I became immensely attached to almost immediately. The games are divided into separate cases, mostly self-contained stories that involve Phoenix, a defence attourney, taking on a new client accused of murder. The gameplay is split into two parts; investigating the crime scene and related areas for clues and witnesses, then going into court and using the evidence to grill each person on the witness stand in search of the truth. The investigations are very similar to classic adventure game gameplay, but the court scenes are fairly unique and a huge amount of fun. To be honest the cases are fairly easy but also usually very long and absorbing.

The key to why I love these games so much is down to the writing and characterisation. The characters are mostly strange oddballs, but with enough depth to provide tension and shock when revelations in court come to light. It's done in a controlled anime-style, but the dialogue is often genuinely brilliant, with the humour mostly coming from the established nature of the characters. It's the strength of these characters that made me really care about proving their innocence or guilt, and, to my delight, many of the best ones return in further cases. Having finished the second game leaves me a bundle more to get through, hopefully continuing the journeys of characters I've grown very fond of while introducing great new ones. I'm going to stop rambling now lest this turn into a video game blog, but I'll finish by mentioning I've literally just ordered the third in the series off my trusty friend Amazon.

TV Series-

Star Trek: The Original Series 1-2
Yeah, I'm a bit of a Trekky. I got into through watching The Next Generation on BBC2 back in my school days, and that quickly spread to each of the other series. With the advent of cheap DVD boxsets I started watching them through from the beginning, so, with the aid of public libraries, slowly over the past seven years I've watched every episode of Star Treks TNG, Voyagers and Enterprise (I started DS9 but it was so very boring). Even though I'd watched and enjoyed various single episodes of TOS over the years it took me a while to get around to starting the adventures of Kirk and company from scratch, but it's been a lot of fun.

Unlike other Trek shows I find it extremely hard to chain-watch episodes of TOS, thanks partly due to the 50-minute run-times and partly due to the intensity of most episodes, but this has been for the better. Despite not yet getting around to watching the third and final series I'm happy to declare TOS to be my favourite Trek series. The holy trinity of Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy is such a strong connection that even during the really stupid episodes (of which there are more than a couple) their inescapable charisma carries me through. Kirk, especially has grown and grown on me as an extremely likable, even sometimes believable leader who I would follow to the end of the Earth.

It's definitely not a classic TV show that you have to enjoy or anything, but it is absolutely classic genre fiction. One of the most appealing things about TOS to me is that the style of writing, the plotting and thematic basis for each episode combined with the relatively low budget and special effects makes it all seem incredibly similar to pulp sci-fi novels and short stories. That's kind of an obvious observation I suppose but it's easy to forget when thinking about Star Trek as a franchise. Unlike the all-knowing deus-ex machina abilities of the characters in the later TV series or the action stars of the film remakes, TOS really does give me the illusion that these guys in their tin can in deep space might not be alright after all. They always are, of course.

Karl Pilkington- The Moaning of Life
Sky One's follow-up to the very successful pseudo-travel series An Idiot Abroad this time went ahead without any appearances from Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant, but is no worse off for it. In fact, this was my favourite Karl Pilkington show of them all, thanks to less of a focus on Karl losing his mind with frustration and more of a focus on his comic philosophies on the strange and exotic things and people he meets. Rather than being sent around the world to places he's almost guaranteed to hate, Karl chose the places he wanted to go. There's also the sense that all of his prior experiences have forced him to grow as a person, something confirmed by his eagerness to participate in dangerous or embarrassing activities that I would never of imagined him wanting to do in An Idiot Abroad.

Production wise it's the same polished package as before, just with a different theme. This time each episode is themed around a topic like Marriage, Children, Death etc. Karl spends each episode in various exotic and mostly third-world countries, finding out about local traditions and meeting various people. Like An Idiot Abroad its both fascinating and amusing, and gives me the impression that I'm really not doing enough with my life. Ah well.

Fittingly, the last episode of the series is the best. The theme is Death, and Karl visits a number of countries where he gets taught how to professionally mourn, tidies up a corpse for a public display, and has someone make him a coffin that looks like a twix packet. Some of it is silly, but there's a more touching side to the proceedings, particularly at the end of the episode when Karl pays for a public waste bin with a memorial to the Ghanian woman who he made up for her funeral, placed on the promenade at the beach in Hastings, England, and watches various passers by take a look. It's better than I describe it, anyway.

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Well, that was kind of fun. If the above reviews are awful then I apologise, but I need a little more practice with this kind of stuff before I get to the substandard quality of my regular stuff. Anyway, enough of that.