Archive for November, 2009

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz (2007)

November 29, 2009

Hot Fuzz

 

Director: Edgar Wright

  Release Date: February 2007

 Cast: Simon Pegg – Sergeant Nicholas Angel, Nick Frost – PC Danny Butterman, Jim Broadbent – Inspector Frank Butterman, Bill Nighy – Metropolitan Chief Inspector Kenneth, Timothy Dalton – Simon Skinner

 

Intro: Recently voted as UK movie fans favourite comedy film of all time (Odeon poll 2009) I thought I’d revisit this movie myself and put up a quick review! I’ve always preferred this one to Shaun, but I did see Hot Fuzz first. Strangely, a lot of people I asked about both of these films tend to prefer whichever of the two they saw first. Anyway, enough rambling from me on with the review!

Plot: Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is the finest police officer London has to offer, with an arrest record higher than any other on the force. However, his superiors have decided that he is making them look bad and so they send him to the seemingly sleepy town of Sandford miles out in the country. It would seem that Sandford is not only winner of ‘village of the year’ several years in a row but also crime free. Once there, Angel is partnered with overeager PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) whose police training consists of watching too many cop movies and going to the pub. PC Danny Butterman is also the son of amiable Police Chief Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent).  Angel’s new assignment sees him growing more and more frustrated and is made even worse when, after a series of grisly ‘accidents’, the villagers and the police seemingly turn a blind eye to the possibility of foul play. Angel is convinced that Sandford is not what it seems and is convinced there is more sinister and darker going on.

Review: Through a montage of chase scenes and action set pieces in London we are introduced to PC Nicholas Angel, presented as one of the greatest officers the Metropolitan police have ever had. However, fearful of Angel upstaging every other policeman in London he is packed off to the sleepy village of Sandford, and he is none to happy about the new assignment.

From the word go the film is packed full of references and draws on this source material brilliantly throughout. It is presented from a very British perspective, in a village where everybody knows each other, but also combines story elements from films such Bad Boys II and Point Break, and puts this kind of explosive Hollywood action into the quaint ‘local’ village of Sandford. This works surprisingly well, and includes some excellent action set pieces with gunfights at the local Somerfield and local pub. The second half is the more action packed of the movie, with car chases through country lanes, a swan chase… and even an action packed fight scene in the towns own model village. This all produces (with a tongue in cheek feel) some funny scenes and great stunt work, including the odd one liner thrown in for good measure.

There are some inventively gory scenes, making this not the usual light hearted British comedy most are used to (as well as making everyone a bit more careful around churches and model villages). There are some great performances from everyone in the cast. Pegg and Frost make an awesome comedy duo. As well as the ‘moustache twiddling’ Simon Skinner played by Timothy Dalton and the supposedly kindly old amiable Chief Inspector Frank Butterman, played by Jim Broadbent.

Conclusion: Hot Fuzz is a homage to all buddy cop action movies in the years gone by. Hot Fuzz, like Shaun of the Dead draws from all the material that makes this kind of movie work. Shaun of the Dead was not only a spoof of all zombie movies, great and small, but it was also a thank you with a ‘tip of the cap’ gesture to all those movies too. Hot Fuzz does the same thing and it does it superbly. Pegg is brilliant as is Frost as his bumbling sidekick Danny Butterman. Overall an enjoyable, action packed comedy. Let’s hope this kind of writing, enthusiasm and feeling of personal input into a film continues. Now, does anyone fancy a cornetto? 

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Spellbound Dizzy (Amiga)

November 26, 2009

Spellbound Dizzy

Developed and published in 1992 by Codemasters Spellbound Dizzy is just one game in a long series of egg related shenanigans involving the Yolkfolk (this time with the help of Theo the Wizard). Each game follows the usual set of rules and gameplay, (puzzle solving platformer with inventory menu and dodgy music) but each retaining its own unique charm. The series was originally developed by the Oliver twins, two British brothers, Philip and Andrew Oliver, who started to professionally develop computer games while they were still at school. However, they had little involvement with this title other than signing the game off and letting Big Red Software take over the design and development aspects of the game.

The game itself is well drawn and immediately boasts about its size *cough* but never really gets further than that in the interesting stakes. The graphics are bright and colorful, the usual combination of cartoonish scenery and well drawn objects throughout. 

However, compared to earlier games, this one seems inferior in design and presentation, even with the extra animation scenes such as Dizzy becoming stunned, swimming and the mine cart.

Spellbound Dizzy does feature some minor differences in game play from other Dizzy games; fruit and cakes are dotted around to restore energy, water doesn’t kill instantly, although without the aqua lung drowning is inevitable, and the mushrooms (magic?) are spinny objects that can propel Dizzy to greater heights, allowing him to reach unseen platforms and the odd cloud. Unfortunately these minor differences in game play don’t really make up for the lack of storytelling (it’s nice to have a little bit), puzzles that don’t seem to make much sense, and some very irritating music. 

Long and ever so slightly dull (being generous) the Dizzy games seem to work best when they are kept simple and short, this makes them a lot more fun to play as opposed to (an hour in) switching the music off and wanting to throw Dizzy from a great height shouting “Survive that!”

As much as I love other Dizzy games this one didn’t work for me, childhood memories tell me it was a lot more fun ‘back in the day’, in my opinion there are better games in the series, Fantasy World Dizzy (1991), Magicland Dizzy (1991), that are genuinely still fun to play as an adult.

Need more Dizzy? Visit this  fan site for more info!

Tomb Raider: A Brief History

November 18, 2009

Tomb Raider follows the adventures of Lara Croft, a British female archaeologist in search of ancient treasures. Tomb Raider was widely praised by gaming magazines for its revolutionary graphics, inventive game play, and involving storyline.

It was developed by Core Design and is arguably its most famous (amongst other classics such as Chuck Rock and Heimdall) and its most successful game.

Developed by Toby Gard (hailed as the creator of Lara) and Paul Howard Douglas, the original Tomb Raider began development in 1993 but was not released until November 1996 for the PC, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn. The game was critically acclaimed and widely influential, spawning 5 sequels with Core Design. Core developed Tomb Raider games up until the release of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, which can be argued as the most unsuccessful game in the series.

Publisher Eidos then passed the reinvention of the franchise onto Crystal Dynamics, who in turn reinvented Lara for a new generation of gamers and hardware in Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary (a rethinking of the original game by Core Design).

There are two different continuities within the Tomb Raider video games. The first continuity was created by Core Design, and encompasses the first six Tomb Raider games. The second and current continuity was introduced by Crystal Dynamics for the series’ reinvention in Tomb Raider: Legend. Both continuities were created with the participation of Toby Gard who also returned to assist with the reinvention of his character in Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007).

Core Design

Core Design was set up in 1988 by Chris Shrigley, Andy Green, Rob Toone, Terry Lloyd, Simon Phipps, Dave Pridmore, Jeremy Smith and Greg Holmes. Most were former employees of Gremlin Graphics. Core Design was acquired by Eidos Interactive in 1996 through US Gold. Core continued development of the Tomb Raider games until 2003 with Angel of Darkness. The company became defunct in 2006.

The list of Tomb Raider games released by Core is:

Tomb Raider (1996)
Tomb Raider II (1997)
Tomb Raider III (1998)
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999/2000)
Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000)
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (2003)

And expansions:

Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business (1998)
Tomb Raider II: Golden Mask (1999)
Tomb Raider III: The Lost Artifact (2000)

Crystal Dynamics

Crystal Dynamics was formed in 1992 by Sega veterans Judy Lange, Madeline Canepa and Dave Morse (Amiga). Crystal was the first licensed developer for 3DO. Crystal Dynamics was acquired in 1998 by Eidos Interactive and by 2003, Eidos Interactive moved development of the Tomb Raider franchise from Core (which had limited success with its later Tomb Raider titles) to Crystal Dynamics.

The list of Tomb Raider games released by Crystal Dynamics is:

Tomb Raider: Legend (2006)
Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007)
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)

The latest Tomb Raider game from Crystal Dynamics has now been released, it not only breaks away from the ‘Tomb Raider’ brand but it offers more arcade action style gameplay from a raised isometric view and a fixed camera point. It also offers multiplayer and online play.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010)

The story in the game begins 2000 years ago in ancient Central America and focuses on a battle began between Totec, the Guardian of the Light, and Xolotl, the keeper of darkness. Totec’s army was defeated when Xolotl used the mirror of smoke to unleash hordes of ghastly creatures. Totec survived said battle, and found a way to defeat Xolotl, imprisoning him in the mirror of smoke and watching over the mirror as an immortal stone statue.

In present day, Lara Croft reads of the legend and attempts to find the mirror. After a long and dangerous hike she is successful. She stops to observe the mirror, only to find that a band of mercenaries led by the local warlord (why are mecenaries so interested in Archaeology?) followed her into the temple and took the mirror from her, but accidentally releases Xolotl. The stone statue of Totec comes to life and warns Lara that Xolotl must be stopped before the light of dawn. Depending on the number of players participating, Lara and Totec either join forces or go separate ways to try to stop Xolotl.

Eidos Interactive

Eidos Interactive is a publisher of video and computer games with its parent company based in England. Eidos plc became the parent company of Eidos Interactive and was founded in 1990 by Stephen Bernard Streater. In 1996 it acquired CentreGold which included US Gold and Core Design. Eidos has published all the Tomb Raider games to date. Eidos Interactive is now a part of Square Enix (April 2009). Some of Eidos portfolio of published games includes the Hitman series, Thief series and Deus Ex series.

Back in the Day…

Tomb Raider is the first game I had for my Sega Saturn and from the moment the title screen appeared and its signature title music began I was hooked. Even though I love the new games, and thoroughly enjoyed the anniversary Edition, nothing will match the feeling of playing the original for the first time. The graphics were impressive and a control system I’d not experienced before was quick and easy to get used to, it opened up a whole new world of exploration and puzzle solving as well as story telling and action.

One of my all time favourite retro games, some of my favourite levels from the original include St Francis Folly, which you may or may not recall contains the Neptune, Thor, Atlas and Damocles puzzles. How many people made it to the top of that tower and considered a nose dive straight down?  The Cistern and the Obelisk of Khamoon are also favourites, The Cistern mainly for how vast and impressive the playing area was when you first saw it. The title music (and incidental music) make playing this through again worthwhile and certainly brings back a lot of memories.

The first game also includes some more memorable villains, the more modern games the villains do not seem to make as much of an impact. The final boss fight in Tomb Raider with Natla is great, as well as the troublesome Pierre who always popped up to take a pot shot at you at inconvenient times!

For a taste of the original soundtrack see Tomb Raider Title Music!

Movie Review: Enter the Dragon (1973)

November 15, 2009

Enter the Dragon Title

Enter the Dragon

Director: Robert Clouse

Writer: Michael Allin

Release Date: 19th August 1973

Cast: Bruce Lee – Lee, John Saxon – Roper, Jim Kelly – Williams, Ahna Capri – Tania, Kien Shih – Han

 Plot: The story centres around 3 participants of a martial arts tournament. The tournament is held every 3 years on the island of a powerful man called Han. Lee (Bruce Lee) travels to the island not only as a spy to find out what Han is up but to avenge his sister who died at the hands of one of Hans bodyguards. Lee teams up with Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly) who form the forces of good on the island and must take part in Hans’s tournament to finally put a stop to his criminal activities.

Review: The film is one of my favourites and is definitely one of the all time martial arts classics. The storyline and dialogue are simple at best, (it’s the type of script you can memorise from start to end if you watch it a few times) but contains memorable quotes you can take away with you, mostly from Lee himself, “It is like a finger pointing away to the moon” and “Boards don’t hit back”, simple but effective and keeping in mind this is a martial arts film and storyline is a bonus if you get one.

Lee & Roper

On the flip side this film “is” about the martial arts and this is where it exceeds expectations. Lee is at his finest in his explosive fight sequences, brilliantly choreographed and performed by Lee and a pleasure to watch. His moves are  fluent and fast and his philosophy on martial arts and fighting technique are evident.

The set pieces are impressive from start to end and you get a real sense of being trapped, (especially in the hall of mirrors fight sequence), and once they have reached the island there is only one way off, to fight. Hans Island itself is a perfect setting with “Bond-esque” villainy to it (and its owner) and makes for the perfect arena in which the three main characters can develop.

Conclusion: A film for martial arts fans and Bruce Lee fans everywhere, Lee is at his best and his helped through Williamsthis film by a varied and great supporting cast. A great soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin immediately gets you into the film and for what to expect. It turned out to be a film that brought Lee worldwide acclaim but also is his last film. It is only up to the imagination to see what could have come after Enter the Dragon.

Favourite Sequence: Lee and Parsons (the Australian competitor) in a wonderful exchange en-route to Hans island. Lee explains his “art of fighting, without fighting” after being asked “what’s your style” the resulting explanation is fantastic, much to the amusement of the crew who were being bullied by Parsons earlier.

Check out the Enter the Dragon trailer!

Basil Poledouris – Movie Score Composer

November 12, 2009

Basil Poledouris

 Basil Poledouris           21st August 1945 – 8th November 2006

After recently discovering what exactly the “genius” function was on my iPod nano I noticed something odd. Not only did it group my music by genre, album and artist but also by composer. Settling back on the train listing to a few classic movie themes I was surprised to discover my choices jumping from Conan the Barbarian, to Les Miserables and then back to Robocop.

After further investigation, or “Google” I think it’s more commonly known as, I discovered the wonderful composer of classic (and varied) movie themes, Basil Poledouris, an American music composer who wrote many memorable scores for movies and television shows.

Possibly not up there in the fame category with the likes of John Williams and Danny Elfman but never the less the man is a legend. It certainly inspired me to look a little further and to expand my knowledge of where our classic movie themes come from.  Some of his most recognisable contributions to movie scores are Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer (1984), Robocop (1987), with some of his final work (sadly Basil passed away in 2006) includes The Touch (2002) and The Legend of Butch and Sundance (2004).

With a career spanning 4 decades Basil worked in many different styles, mediums and genres. Other popular movies Basil Poledouris composed include Starship Troopers, Lassie and Hot Shots Part Deux!  It is a revealing and certainly an eclectic mix but, as with John Williams, I can now recognise that “shiver down the spine” familiarity of the score, the key signature of any great composer.  

Some of his greatest scores have been compiled in this awesome YouTube video, for a taster visit Basil Poledouris – Greatest Hits.

The Secret of Monkey Island

November 8, 2009

The Secret of Monkey Island

  

Developer: Lucasfilm Games

Design: Ron Gilbert

Genre: Point n’ Click Adventure

Release date: 1990

 

“My name is Guybrush Threepwood, prepare to die! The immortal words of Guybrush Drinkwater, um, Thrinkwood, eh, never mind. Squinky, just call him Squinky.” 

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve written on my blog. This game has so many fond memories attached to it I could waffle on for days. I believe that Ron Gilbert is the best thing to have happened to point n’ click adventures in the entire history of the genre. He designed and created a game I still enjoy playing through again and again, even 20 years later. It is hard to express how much I love this game, (without resorting to interpretive dance or something) and unfortunately can never do it justice. However below are just some of my thoughts and feelings on what I think is a classic game, first played on my Amiga in the early 90’s, eagerly swapping 4 disks over and over, and pretty much the same game still being played on my PC, through Steam. My original big boxed version for the Amiga sits proudly on my shelf o’ gaming as I write.

The Secret of Monkey Island can be seen as one of the greatest point and click adventures of its time, and possibly of all time (begin debate) It remains in the hearts and minds of all dedicated adventurers since the beginning of the classic pirate series from Lucas Arts, and more specifically Ron Gilbert, master of dialogue and design behind The Secret of Monkey Island. Guybrush’s adventures continue to this day, with some of the original team returning for the Tales of Monkey Island from Telltale Games. The Secret of Monkey Island is an adventure game that utilizes the command verb-based system SCUMM (Script Creation Utility of Maniac Mansion), the kind of point and click interface first introduced in Maniac Mansion and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The technology was used in all subsequent Lucas Arts adventure games, with the exception of Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island. The branching dialogue system allows you to talk to characters in different ways without fearing a wrong choice, (if this was the not the case Guybrush’s’ further adventures could see him working down at the local fire station) after declaring to the pirate captains “I wanna be a fireman”. The game play itself revolves around inventory-based puzzles to solve. Items are picked up and saved in the players’ inventory until needed; they can be used with each other or with an object, place or character within the game.

Guybrush is the wannabe pirate hero of the adventure, our pony tailed protagonist doesn’t realise that his arrival on Melee Island couldn’t have come at a worse time as its inhabitants are being terrorised by the fearsome ghost pirate Le Chuck. To begin his dream of adventure on the high seas, drinking grog, swordplay, thievery, and eh, treasure huntery, Guybrush must seek the three grog swilling, foul-mouthed pirate captains who reside in the SCUMM bar, aptly named for the games interface system explained above. Guybrush must complete the three trials given to him by the pirate captains to succeed in becoming a pirate. With cracking dialogue, cut scenes and some very funny moments Guybrush’s adventure goes from wannabe pirate to captaining his own ship and crew in order to find his way to Monkey Island and rescue the woman he loves from the evil clutches of the ghost pirate Le Chuck!

Along the way Guybrush meets many other great characters; including Captain Smirk who trains Guybrush, used ship salesman Stan (this character also returns many times in other Monkey Island games, and excels in the second game as a used coffin salesman), Otis the prisoner, and most significantly, the love of his life, Governor Elaine Marley, who Guybrush meets whilst attempting to steal the idol of many hands (only because it belongs in a museum you understand…). However, Elaines ex, or Le Chuck as we like to call him decides to kidnap her and take her with his ghostly crew to the fabled Monkey Island. Le Chuck has been Guybrush’s nemesis throughout the Monkey Island series and is a great character, with plenty more villainous potential to return in further games, whether is be as ghost, zombie or human!

One of the most memorable of the three trials (for its longevity) is to defeat the island’s sword master Carla, an expert in the art of sword play and insults. A notable contributor to this very clever and funny part of the game was author Orson Scott Card. Orson wrote the insults and answers that the player has to collect by fighting stinking and bloodthirsty pirates on the road, and to  use the insults and answers collected to defeat the sword masters own unique brand of verbal abuse. This is also one of my personal favourites in the game, and even though I know when I have just enough replies to defeat the swordmaster, I will continue to fight and collect more. Other favourite parts of the game include the relatively short second part on the voyage to Monkey Island itself, the ‘self contained pirate sitcom’, whereby the mutinous crew reduce Guybrush to the highest and lowest rank on his own ship.

Gilberts dialogue throughout is funny and timeless, allowing new gamers who have not had the  pleasure of the Monkey Island experience before to appreciate the superior humour and the great characters in a new light, rather than focus on the outdated graphics and linear story line. However, with the recent release of the special editions on PC the graphics have been greatly improved with some fantastic character designs and background artwork, I highly recommend The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition as it looks great but has lost none of the originals great game play, humour and charm. 

A brilliant game and still one of my all time favorites, it all culminates into a timeless game with humour and characters that stick in the mind to this day, playable and simply one of Lucas Arts, (or more accurately Ron Gilberts) greatest point and click adventures, nothing yet in my opinion has beaten sword fight insults and the pirate ghost ship shuffle. For similar experiences in humour and game play see other classics like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Monkey Island sequels Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island tried to sustain the template set out by Ron Gilbert but are missing the subtle humour and charm of the first two games, and I think whole heartedly that Monkey Island 2: Le Chucks Revenge is a superior sequel, with an ending that can only be explained, or concluded (if he chooses), by Ron Gilbert. 

 

Monkey Island related business below… (Monkey Business)

Learn more about Ron Gilbert at his website Grumpy Gamer

Old but still interesting interview with Ron Gilbert over at The World of Monkey Island in 2007, plus includes plenty of other awesome Monkey Island info.

Amiga Power 2 (June 1991) review of The Secret of Monkey Island gave the game 90%

Amiga Format 23 (June 1991) review, gave it 92%

Having trouble wondering what the red herring is for? Not sure what to do with the cotton swab, eager to get a-head in navigating? Then check out the Amiga Longplay of The Secret of Monkey Island on Youtube below!

Mid Week Mini Review: Midnight Resistance (Amiga)

November 5, 2009

Midnight TitleThis week!

Midnight Resistance

 Platform: Amiga 500+ (emulated)

Developer: Special FX

Distributor: Ocean

Year: 1990

 Midnight Resistance is a 1 or 2 player side scrolling shoot ‘em up and platformer. You play as mercenaries thrown into battle with alien forces who have kidnapped your entire family, it’s up to you to blast your way through each level to save them.  You’ll use a variety of weapons from flamethrowers (see below) to shotguns and special power ups such as a defensive barrier and homing missiles to defeat the enemies.

Flaming Tank

Enemies come in all shapes and forms (and from all directions) which can make game play a little frustrating as the rotational control system of the weaponry is sometimes slow. For example to fire backwards you need to move backwards too, making shooting enemies running up behind you tricky. You’ll be up against foot soldiers, stationary heavy weapons, flying troops and plenty of bosses.  Bosses come in the form of tanks, planes, soldiers, and, eh, floating tv’s… as well as an impressively grotesque final showdown with a giant head.

Luckily for the player keys collected from defeated enemies (the red things that look like lollipops) can be used to buy new weapons in the shop at the end of each level. And will eventually be used to save your family, although it doesn’t seem to affect the outcome of the game if you fail to save them all.

Second Player

Midnight Resistance is a colourful game with appealing cartoonish graphics, combined with the frivolous use of weaponry and no brainer action makes this a game to come back to again and again. It is an enjoyable play through but can be tough in places, its best points include nice backgrounds, 2 player co-op and an awesome choice of weaponry.