Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: Mind the Gap Volume 1 – Intimate Strangers

 Review by Disgruntled Monkey

Writer: James McCann
Artist: Rodin Esquejo
Publisher: Image

Mind The Gap is a comic that both intrigues and infuriates in equal measure, especially being the first chapter in a longer series there is much that is left unanswered which could drive the more casual of readers to anger. What it really comes down to is the potential that can be seen and whether that’s enough for someone to invest the time.

Personally, I was captivated by the predicament of the lead character Elle and her discovery of a shared mental space whilst in a coma. The mystery revolves around three factors; one - how Elle came to be in a coma in the first place, two - why she was put into a coma and three - we wonder at the mental mindscape and how it’s tied to Elle and her past.

The biggest problem in regards to the main story is that there are so many threads and surrounding characters that sometimes the story gets lost in the scope. Pacing is also a problem with some reveals seemingly rushed and out of nowhere, possibly a product of little time being given to some characters. Tolerance is going to vary from reader to reader, but there was enough here for me to enjoy.

Thankfully there is more here to admire other than the story, the artwork is fantastic and Esquejo brings a real sense of realism to the characters and locations. This helps ground the comic while making the supernatural elements that more intense. I particularly loved the mental-scape of Elle while she tries to remember her accident - blending her love of Red Riding Hood and what she’s actually seeing.

Overall Mind the Gap is a great departure from the superhero genre, but even with this first volume people will find a lot of questions unanswered. It suffers the same problems as the television show Lost to be honest. If you love a good supernatural mystery and are not afraid to go without answers then the first volume is worth a try; otherwise you should probably skip.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Let's Play: Pickledancer and Dwod Play Terraria! (Part 5)

Filmed in front of a live studio audience.

Abandoned after a desperately going AFK, Pickledancer finds himself alone in a world that hates and fears him. Wait isn't that X-men? Terraira, X-Men, each are equally as good. Anyway segue aside it's time to enter pack into our Let's Play series. 

The First Episode

The Second Episode

Monday, July 22, 2013

Let's Play: Pickledancer and Dwod Play Terraria! (Part 4)

Another double dose of terrifying Terraria Let's Play. Pickledancer and Dwod are your guides as always in this journey into the pits of madness and beyond. If you like these Let's Play's then head over to Pickledancers YouTube channel for further Terraria episodes and many other games. Link is right here.

The First Episode

The Second Episode

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: Hellraiser Volume 1 - Pursuit of the Flesh (2011)

Review by Disgruntled Monkey

Writers: Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette
Artists: Leonardo Manco and Stephen Thompson
Publisher: BOOM Studios

Picking up after the second movie, this comic series makes quick work of shunning every movie after the sequel and creating its own epic story line. Having Clive Barker along for the ride helps in establishing ties to the movies and making it seem as if this was the direction Mr Barker had always intended.

Twenty plus years on from the first movie, we are reintroduced to Kirsty Cotton who is now hunting down all of Lemarchand’s devices and destroying them to prevent the Cenobites from ever crossing over to our world. Meanwhile, Pinhead has become disillusioned with his station in hell and wants to become human again. He launches a plan that could grant him the forgiveness of heaven or the eternal damnation of hell.

It’s an interesting set up and actually answers many questions that were left hanging after the first two movies. Yes there are other devices that can summon Cenobites, yes there are other types of Cenobites not just ones addicted to pleasure and pain, and finally there is a heaven even though getting to it seems pretty hard. Very smartly this comic gives information to the readers to get them on the hook.

We get to really get into the head of Pinhead this time through.

Barker and Monfette really do weave together a compelling world with some interesting characters, especially those that have joined Kirsty in trying to destroy the gateway to hell. Unfortunately for the strength of the writing the art is a little bit of a let down. I’ve seen worse but it just seems rather rough to my eyes. However coming from a small comic publisher with a franchise that people wouldn’t exactly be jumping to be a part of, it’s no wonder the art lacks a bit.

People who love the Hellraiser films should give this comic series a chance. It hits all the right notes and expands on the world in leaps and bounds. Some may feel that it is a bit lacking due to all the set up but for me there was just this promise of big things to come. An excellent beginning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Play: Pickledancer and Dwod Play Terraria! (Part 3)

Another two parts for the masses. In these two episodes we start with Dwod digging ever deeper towards the gates of hell but taking time to shill the Minecraft let's plays. Meanwhile Pickledancer attacks grass and is soon under investigation from Malcontented Moose's SVU.

The First Episode

The Second Episode

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Review by Disgruntled Monkey

Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: David S. Goyer
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

One of my biggest complaints from Superman Returns was that it really did lack the kind of action that people were keen for in a Superman movie. Sure, Lex Luthor is an awesome villain but we wanted to see super powered beings beating the crap out of each other. Well, now Man of Steel has arrived and it scratches that particular itch, but does it make it better than the films before it?

Visually this movie is glorious and is one of those films that truly makes cinema going a wonderful experience. From Krypton to Earth, there is a beauty to everything; a beauty that makes the sudden explosion of action that much more jarring - but in a good way. It all builds towards making the movie epic in both scope and feel, great for a superhero movie.

Acting is also top notch with Henry Cavill striking a balance between the hero and the man who hasn’t quite discovered himself. He’s also ripped as all hell and I completely believed he was an alien even when not in the suit. Amy Adams is sweetly endearing which lends itself well to the pixie-like mischievousness that this Lois Lane embodies. Michael Shannon chews the scenery as General Zod but during his quieter moments actually comes across as sympathetic. Russell Crowe is hellishly impressive as Jor-El and I wanted more of him. Finally, a shout out to Christopher Meloni and Antje Traue for really creating interesting side characters with not a hell of a lot to work with.

Just look at this face. It screams evil. EVIL!

The story itself is actually quite good and while it reinvents Superman’s origin, it’s not going to offend anyone other than the most die hard of Superman fanboys. Unfortunately it’s in the nuts and bolts of the script where we find Man of Steel’s bigger problems; problems that I’ve seen in many of David Goyer’s works. While I think he’s an okay writer, his best work tends to lie towards composing with another author, yet in this case he is solely responsible for the screenplay.

Dialogue is one of Goyer’s biggest weaknesses and in this script some lines were so awkward I couldn’t believe the actors delivering them with a straight face. Another problem I touched on earlier was some characters weren’t given much to do, yet in the third act we are supposed to care. There was a ramping up of Superman’s origin that made things feel artificially epic, which is a shame as Snyder was doing a bang up job of that naturally with his visual aesthetics. I won’t touch upon specifics so as to avoid spoilers, but one example was the father/son relationship between Pa Kent and Clark. I feel the original Christopher Reeves’ Superman did more justice to the relationship between than this movie, and it did so in less scenes.

Still, despite all this the movie is pretty awesome. It feels like an excellent starting point for a franchise and I really did love Henry Cavill in the role of Superman. I hope that in future movies we can move on to new enemies. Braniac perhaps? Zack Snyder was an excellent choice as a director as his eye for spectacle has done Superman well. If you haven’t seen this already then get out there and watch. Marvel might have some competition now.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Moose's Mental Breakdown: The Last of Us

I am not good at video games. I love them, collect them, go to midnight launces for them, buy all the collectors’ editions and generally just adore them. However, for a solid part of my formative years I did not have a console and subsequently missed most of the video games’ rise to prominence. The last thing I played on an actual, connected-to-the-television, have-to-use-a-controller console was Aladdin for the SEGA Mega Drive 2. So, restarting my love affair with video games meant having to relearn how to use a controller and now, there were so many buttons. I am not good at video games. I still play them - just badly - and while yelling alternatively at my hands, the screen and the camera.

So when I picked up The Last of Us I knew it would take me a while to get through. It has. I knew I would probably freak out and switch over to Flower to calm my nerves down. I did; any number of times. I knew the game would be worth it though, I knew the story would keep my attention and the characters would be dynamic and keep me invested. I did not, however, know how conflicted I would feel at the closing credits.

A quick rundown for all four of you who haven’t heard of or played this game yet – A fungal infection breaks out amongst the populous, proving to be exceptionally fast replicating and easily transmitted from host to host. Chaos ensues, global structures collapse and the end of the world progresses as expected. 20 years later you are playing as Joel, a survivor living in one of the heavily militarised safe zones working as a smuggler. Tasked by a rebel group with smuggling a young girl outside the quarantine zone, things inevitably go awry and Ellie and Joel set out on a journey that will tax them both to their limits.

Gameplay wise I found this game very enjoyable, even though to an outside observer watching me walk away from the game because there were too many clickers in the room might seem to indicate otherwise. I love stealth; I love how I don’t have to directly set myself up across from some other guys with guns and trade bullets until my screen is scarlet. I am an exceptionally terrible shot so the option in this to not shoot suits me well. I found the exploration of various desolate cities and towns interesting and moving, the kind of detail put into each and every object in the game world is amazing. I like to pick up everything, open every door, turn on every light; having the option to be able to go through what amounted to other people’s lives and discover the hell they went through right up to each person’s individual end was endlessly fascinating. 

The thing I found most jarring, in fact, was that I had to keep going back to shooting people or stabbing them in the neck if I wanted to be sneaky. I wanted to truly roam each city, out fox my enemies and escape into the wilderness and the inevitability of having to kill a bunch of other survivors, whether they were in the right or not, irked me. I know, I know, you actually have to have some game in a video game; I just get kind of tired of crouching behind chest high walls all the time I guess. 

Speaking of the inevitable fire fights, why is everything set in the crumbling remains of cities? One thing I was truly hoping for was some interesting forest survival sections. The story takes the two main protagonists - Joel and Ellie - across the country, mostly on foot, looking for salvation at the hands of a group of rebels named the Fireflies. So yes, each time they come to a city the gameplay centres on surviving the other survivors, essential fare in weaving a tale around the end of the world but what about when they leave? Instead of getting a nice cinematic and cuing up the next mouldering town, why not have a chapter devoted to travelling through the wilderness between the cities? It’s been 20 years since most of the continental United States has been abandoned to the infected. What does it look like outside the walls of society? Do they have to travel only during the day to avoid being trapped by infected in the dark? Are the spaces between cities devoid of infected due to the fungus driving them towards the last bastions of habitation? Do the infected go after animals or are they only able to infect human hosts? Does this mean the wilderness is devoid of animals or packed with feral house pets? I loved the desolation and feeling of loss generated by the forsaken cities but was the unchecked growth of the forests not worth exploring as well? Throughout the game Ellie is shown reacting to epitaphs of the past, old movie posters, ice cream trucks and a teenager’s journal. Was not her possible opinion on an unchecked forest, against Joel’s assumed sense of loss that the forest represented, worth even one short section? Just a thought.

So, the story. I gotta say, I love how many strong females there are in this story. Between Marlene, leader of the Fireflies, Maria, Tommy’s wife and leader of her small community, Tess, Joel’s smuggler partner and Ellie herself this game abounds with interesting, faceted women. It’s kind of a shame they keep killing them.

We open with Sarah, Joel’s daughter. Immediately you know she’s going to die. Sarah is not the girl on the cover of the game, Sarah is not that’s girls’ name. There can’t be two young children in one game so you know - this one’s ticket out is already punched. Ok sure, it’s the first few minutes of the game, we need some motivation, lots of people die during end of the world shenanigans; I’ll let this one slide. I’ll give Naughty Dog this though, Sarah’s death is excellent. No ‘last minute tearful goodbyes’, no instant anger or revenge story arc, she gets shot by a faceless man making the wrong choice in a bad situation and dies crying with pain. Joel isn’t even looking at her when she goes. It’s gut wrenchingly believable. I knew it was coming but was glad it was at least well handled.

Fast forward 20 years and Joel is working with Tess. Oh dear, another woman who isn’t on the box art. Ok, maybe she chooses not to go gallivanting across the country? Throughout the course of the first few chapters set within the quarantine zone and just outside the wall you truly begin to bond with Tess. She’s strong and hard because the world has forced her to be; yet her personality is well rounded, not just the ice queen bitch you expect from this kind of character. Through her interactions with Joel you learn they have been working together a long time, not simply lovers, not just comrades, but a unique relationship brought about by their shared history. In the few subtle allusions they make to their relationship you really feel how well they know each other and how strong their bond is. Then you meet Marlene, leader of the rebel group the Fireflies, who is wounded and tasks you with bringing Ellie to some other rebels waiting outside the quarantine zone. Tess pushes for you to take the job. Ok, so Tess is here to push the story forward and Marlene gives you a reason (her presumed fatal wounding) for it, fine. In the process of trying to find the Fireflies, unfortunately, Tess becomes infected. Thus it is revealed that Tess is here to give the protagonist motivation, like Sarah before him, in the form of her death. Damn.

Skip ahead a few seasons and our intrepid duo (having had to team up due to the unfortunate deaths of all of the Firefly guides) have arrived at Joel’s estranged brothers’ safe haven. Here we meet Maria, Tommy’s wife, who serves to give Joel further motivation to continue on with Ellie alone, as he does not want to take his brother away from the town he has helped to create. She also creates temporary tension between Joel and Ellie by telling Ellie all about Sarah, which Joel had so far refused to do so. At least she doesn’t die.

There follows a really excellent story arc here of Ellie having to come into her own. Her character previously, while helpful, felt like little more than reasoning to allow for the story. Throughout the Lakeside Resort chapters, however, you truly get to see Ellies’ character evolve from the young ingĂ©nue into full blown Heroine. Finally being able to play as her character, due to Joel being wounded in a previous chapter, is fascinating, not in how her gameplay style differs from Joel’s (it doesn’t) but in how her character reacts to the hardships you are putting her through. This culminates in a high tension scene where you expect Joel to save her, dashing in as a white knight tasked to protect his charge, but instead are forced to participate in the brutal murder of another. It’s a kill or be killed scenario that catapults her character from sidekick to lead, from child to adult. I felt it a pity they didn’t dwell on the implications further, instead choosing to skip ahead again to a few months later.

Thus we come to the final acts of the game. Over the course of the story we have learnt that Ellie is immune to infection and that the Fireflies want her to help find a cure. Knowing how these things go I expected that the game would require me to make the choice to kill her for the cure, the old “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. I had been expecting Ellies’ death from about an hour in. I had not expected Marlene to still be alive, and to have already made that choice for me. I further didn’t expect to have to kill the doctor attempting to operate on Ellie and then kill Marlene to escape. Well done Naughty Dog, you managed to kill Marlene twice! Once in theory and then in actuality.

‘So Ellie gets away’, you say, ‘you don’t save humanity but you give her a real life, that’s ok isn’t it?’ Well, not exactly. In the very last cinematic, when you have arrived back at Tommy’s safe haven to begin your new life, Ellie stops you and asks if what you had told her about the Fireflies was true. You see, she was unconscious when you killed Marlene and in order to spare her any pain Joel lies to her, tells her there are others who are immune and that the Fireflies had tried to find a cure but they had failed. And here, on the cliff edge overlooking the safe haven Ellie asks you if it’s true. She asks you to swear it’s true because otherwise all the other deaths would be in vain. Joel answers yes and you see it right then. Ellie dies with that affirmation. Maybe not physically, but she is dead inside.

So yes, I enjoyed The Last of Us. The visuals are amazing; the story is many faceted and arresting. The characters are well acted and more importantly well rounded. I feel there was more that Naughty Dog could have explored, and some things that could have been dialled down but overall an excellent game. Next time, however, can I play as Tess?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Let's Play: Pickledancer and Dwod Play Terraria! (Part 2)

Time for more Let's Plays with the dynamic duo of Pickledancer and Dwod. This week we will be continuing the journey into Terraria with a double dose. Enjoy. Huzzah.

The First Episode

The Second Episode

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: It’s In The Blood (2012)

Review by Disgruntled Monkey

Director: Scooter Downey
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Sean Elliot, Rose Sirna
Writers: Scooter Downey, Sean Elliot

How do you know that you’re dreaming? Is there a difference between dreams and hallucinations? Could you really define your reality if you couldn’t tell the difference?  These are all interesting questions that have been covered by many a movie. It’s in the Blood lends its voice to the choir and manages to be distinctive.

We first meet October in a nightmarish scenario, running through a dark forest with something unfathomable chasing him. This turns out to be a dream, but even in supposed reality things are not quite what they seem. October has a photographic memory causing the viewer to question reality once again as he conveniently remembers what is needed. Needless to say the movie continues this trend of deliberately blurring reality and the dream.

At the heart of the movie lies the relationship between October and his father, Russell, and their struggle to come to terms with both each other and the shared tragedy that haunts them. The nature of the film begins to coalesce as clues to the characters shared past slowly come to light. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t spell everything out until close to the end and happily the story is supported by some exceedingly strong acting; especially Lance Henriksen as Russell.

This image shall haunt your dreams. You welcome.
It’s in the Blood is the kind of film that is both ambiguous in its story yet still provides us with answers. Both characters are so broken that they could be having shared hallucinations, or there may be a real supernatural element to the proceedings. This is certainly not your typical horror movie as it seems more intent on getting you to think than enjoying visceral thrills.

Gems like It’s in the Blood make me thankful for taking the time to watch movies that received no love in the theatre. Honestly, if you like your horror on the cerebral side then you should take the time to watch this film. Enjoy the dream/nightmare world on display and come up with your own interpretation, you’ll feel better for it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: Bait (2012)

Review by Disgruntled Monkey

Director: Kimble Rendall
Starring: Richard Brancatisano, Xavier Samuel and Chris Betts
Writers: Shayne Armstrong, Duncan Kennedy

Sharks are scary. They’re a primordial terror that seems to just get under the skin of many people. The sheer terror of movies like Jaws has stopped people from wanting to swim in the ocean. As an Australian I’ve also fielded plenty of questions from friends overseas about our deadly seas and sharks. People are fascinated by the thing that terrifies them. So you can imagine the excitement that some might have for all the shark movies coming out, not to mention excited for this movie Bait that places them in the country many think are their home, Australia.

Unfortunately for us the movie, like many recent shark movies (I’m looking at you Shark Night), is a bit of a miss. The core problem is that Bait doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Plot wise the movie lends itself to a goofiness that could have been joyous. A tsunami hits a coastal Australian town and some unlucky people find themselves trapped in a flooded supermarket that is now home to massive great white sharks. How can you not have fun with that?

Taking itself seriously would be the answer. Sure, there are moments where the goofiness and camp can’t be contained, but Bait desperately wants to be taken seriously. It feels weird to say, but I think there was way too much character development for this shark flick; though I was grateful that most of the characters were likable in their own way.

Imagine this in 3D! Ooooo scary!
Another weird thing about the film is the body count is ridiculously low, which seems to stem from the fact that Bait wants us to be invested in the character drama. Unfortunately it’s difficult to get into that frame of mind when the deaths are so bloody. It doesn’t help that a lot of the effects are very cheap and, this being filmed in 3D, now exceptionally immersion breaking.

In the beginning I saw some great camp fun but it quickly whittled down to just a painful viewing experience. I couldn’t get into it and when the last line of the movie was uttered I just wanted to flip off the TV. All in all; a major disappointment.  At least I’ll always have Jaws and Deep Blue Sea.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Let's Play: Pickledancer and Dwod Play Terraria! (Part 1)

So it begins. Newest members to The World of Disgruntled Monkey team, Pickledancer the Nerd Voice and Dwod the Quiet Man begin there journey in Terraria and a catch phrase is born. Poor Kevin indeed.