In my flat, no-one can hear me scream (hopefully!)

In my previous post I talked about games based on films and films based on games, which leads quite nicely into this post about the game “Dead Space”.  Strictly speaking it is not directly related to a film yet it feels very much like playing through an amalgamation of several sci-fi and horror films, most notably “Event Horizon” and “Aliens”. In addition the developers actually released a full length animated film at the same time which I believe explains events leading up to the game, but I’ve not seen it.  There’s even an animated comic you can download for free on XBox Live so they’ve really made an effort to try and immerse you in the game universe, and immerse you it does!  Not since “Bioshock” have I found myself getting so sucked in to a linear shooter and the two games certainly have a lot in common.

So what is it all about?  You play a slightly mysterious character called Isaac Clarke who, during the game intro, is identified as being the “Systems Expert” on a spaceship investigating a distress call from a mining operation on a remote planet.  Things start to go awry very quickly and the rescue ship crashes into the mining craft orbiting the planet, leaving you and the rest of the crew stranded on the seemingly deserted, floating city with lots of unanswered questions.  Where are the hundreds of crew members?  What happened to the colony on the planet?  Why are whole sections of the ship quarantined?  There’s only one way to find out, but it’s not going to be easy…

To say much more would spoil the story so instead I’ll concentrate on the gameplay.  First off it’s worth saying that playing through the whole game on Medium difficulty took me 13-14 hours.  When you compare it to an open-world game like Fallout 3 or GTA it doesn’t seem very long, but for a linear game that seems to be pretty standard and puts it on a par with Bioshock, Halo and the Gears of War games.  Like GoW it is a Third Person Shooter (TPS) but it lacks any kind of dynamic cover system and so plays more in the sideways strafing style of Halo and L4D.  What does make the combat different, however, is that rather than the traditional head and body shots you are forced to lop off arms, legs, tentacles and other appendages instead. As a result the weapons you get are made up of various cutting implements, from lasers to circular saws which you can control remotely.  You also get equipped with a rather nifty stasis weapon which lets you slow down advancing enemies and a kinesis device which let’s you grab hold of distant objects in a Jedi stylee.  The addition of some occasional zero gravity set pieces also mixes things up a bit. While all that stuff is groovy the thing that grabbed me most was, as I said before, how immersive the game is. It makes great use of surround sound (if you’ve got it) and there were a few horrible moments when I suddenly heard something gurgling behind me and nearly leapt off the sofa.  It was also able to make me freeze to the spot by simply turning out the lights and leaving me in the pitch black with only some unerving sounds for company.

If the game has got a fault it’s that the combat can become a little bit repetitive if you stick to the same weapon all the time, which I admit I found myself doing. It also isn’t particularly challenging mentally so I never really got stuck trying to work anything out like I have done on the Resident Evil games, something which might have increased the playing time.  Finally, it hasn’t got any multi-player mode or any other play modes at all, so once you’ve completed the story that’s it.  Your only option is to play it through again trying to get some of the achievements you missed the first time, which I’ve just started doing.  Overall though, it’s definitely worth a play through if, like me, you can borrow a copy or pick one up cheap second hand and especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi and horror films.

Published in: on 29/06/2009 at 4:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Game/Film Crossovers

These days game based on films, TV shows, childrens’ toys and even film/toy cross overs are pretty common.  Generally speaking these games seem to fair quite badly as far as the reaction from critics and hardcore gamers goes, but as long as the film/TV show/product they’re based on is popular they will always sell well enough to make a healthy profit.  I guess the same goes for films based on computer games, generally speaking they’re considered to be pretty awful and yet they keep making more and more of them, so someone must be making money.  So I started thinking, are there any really good games based on films or films based on games?  The Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones games were pretty cool, but one could argue that it’s the Lego-ness of them that makes them so much fun.  I was also thinking about the strangest game tie-ins I’ve ever come across and was reminded of the truly weird Frankie Goes To Hollywood game I had on the Amstrad.  To this day I have absolutely no idea what it was about.

Anyway, over to you guys…

Published in: on 29/06/2009 at 1:40 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Wonderful, Amazing, Thorpe Park

When I was quite a lot younger I used to go to Thorpe Park with my parents and I have quite a few early memories associated with the place.  I remember quite clearly the relaxed boat ride which would climax by going through a trippy barn with flashy lights and strange anamatronic things all around you.  I remember taking the train out to Treasure Island and being attacked by pirates who would try and give you the dreaded Black Spot.  I also remember my brother Mike falling off a carousel and smashing his head on the ground which resulted in a massive bump on his forehead which seemed to hang around for weeks afterwards.  I have vivid memories of going on Space Station Zero with my Uncle Dean and getting so bashed around that I wouldn’t go on another  roller coaster for years, yet now the same “coaster”, moved outside and renamed “The Flying Fish”, seems like the most tame ride imaginable.   Later on I remember them building Loggers Leap and being terrified of what was then the highest log flume in the UK.

Last Friday I went to Thorpe Park for the first time in 5 years and these days the park looks somewhat different to the one I remember.  Loggers Leap and The Flying Fish remain, but there are so many other rides to choose from that I didn’t even go on either of them.  Instead we (there was a group of 10 of us) started with a ride on Vortex, a large swingy, spinny thing,  followed quickly by 2 consecutive goes on the magic carpet ride Quantum.  Once upon a time both of these would have been considered pretty extreme for Thorpe Park, but these days they’re a pretty tame introduction.  So, upping the ante, we headed for the park’s newest ride, Saw. The ride itself was awesome, but the 90 minute queue was not so great.  Fortunately no other queue was quite that bad and after lunch we managed all the big coasters, including Nemesis Inferno, Colossus and my personal favoruite Stealth. There was still plenty of time to go on loads of the other extreme rides too, such as Samurai, Slammer, Rush and X:\No Way Out.

All in all it was a very good day and, while suprisingly busy for a Friday during term time, we ended up getting on pretty much everything we wanted to in the 8 hours we were there although we did end up purhcasing a fast-track ticket for Stealth for an extra £4  to save us some time.  I would have liked to got on a couple of the roller coatsers a second time and so if I went again I’d either go mid-week earlier in the year or modify my ride strategy a bit to go on the coasters first and last thing with all the other rides inbetween.  It’s also worth noting that there’s no need to ever pay the full £35 entrance fee as 2-for-1 vouchers are so easy to come by that we ended up with about 4 spares between the 10 of us.  While we concentrated on the bg rides there’s still plenty of stuff for younger kids too, so it’s definitely one for the whole family.

Published in: on 23/06/2009 at 9:24 am  Comments (2)  
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Si’s Chili Con Carne/Quorn

I’ve been asked to post this recipe up here, which I take as a compliment, but to be honest I just make it up as I go along and it’s a constantly evolving thing.  That means that the recipe here may not result in something that tastes exactly like it did when/if I cooked it for you, especially as I’m a little vague on the quantities. Anyway it is very easy and relatively quick to make.

Ingredients (for 2 people)

1 medium-to-large onion
Garlic
Chilies
Beef or Quorn mince
Basil & Coriander and/or 1 Italian OXO cube
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
Tomato puree
1 tin of kidney beans
Salt
Pepper
Tabasco
Encona hot pepper sauce
Red wine
1 cup of rice

First chop up the onion into fairly small chunks and fry it in the wok.  I use low fat sunflower spray but use oil if you’re not bothered.  Just before the onion is finished browning I add the garlic and chilies and mstir it in with the onion for a minute or so.  I use “Very Lazy Garlic” and “Very Lazy Chili” for pretty much all my cooking.  If you’ve not used it it comes in jars pre-chopped and the amount to use depends on your own preference. I really like garlic so I put in quite a lot, anything up to 1 small teaspoon for 2 people.  With the chilies I would add a lot less because it’s pretty potent stuff, but also because you’re going to be adding 3 kinds of pepper later on.

When the onion is done add in the mince.  I’m afraid I have got no idea how much in terms of grams and ounces, I just pour it out the packet, but use whatever you normally would for 2 people.  Stir it quite frequently while cooking to make sure it browns equally all over. Like the garlic and chilies, I cheat and use those squeezable tubes of basil and coriander and would normally add that now and stir it all together while the beef cooks.  If you’re using more traditional herbs then you’ll want to wait until the chopped tomatoes are in, but I like to coat the mince directly.

Once the mince is cooked add the chopped tomatoes and then a bit of tomato puree just for an extra tomato-ey kick. If you’re using Quorn there’s no natural “juice” to keep things moist so you need to be careful not to burn it and might want to add the tomatoes earlier rather than later.  Also, you may well find you don’t need 2 whole tins of chopped tomatoes if you’re using beef but you need a lot more for the Quorn.  Next stir in the kidney beans.  Add in the salt and pepper and then add the Tobasco and the hot sauce.  Again, the exact amounts depend on how hot you like it but I’m pretty generous with the Tobasco and use the Encona sauce sparingly.  The Robs of this world can always add more once it’s on their plate. At this point I used to add an Italian style OXO cube, but that was before I discovered the squeezey herbs and I find that the basil and coriander are usually enough on their own.  I also sometimes add a splash of red wine, but not always.

Once it’s all in the pan leave it to cook through for a little while.  As a general rule I find Quorn  tastes nicer the longer you cook it and so you may want to leave it for half an hour or so.  With beef I find that the 12-15 mins it takes to cook the rice is usually enough.  Once the rice and meat/Quorn are done put them both on a plate and eat it.

Published in: on 16/06/2009 at 10:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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Past Transgressions

As a general rule I don’t like to read reviews of films I want to see.  This might seem like a strange thing for someone who buys two film magazines a month to say, but I’ve been burnt too many times in the past by reviewers giving away important plot points or other details which spoil the film for me.  Even being told that the film has a twist in it is usually enough to make me spend the film trying to work it out before it’s revealed.  However, if I’ve never heard of a film then I will read the review and if something sounds interesting I’ll add it my Lovefilm list.  This is the case with the Spanish film I watched last night, “Timecrimes”.  The film had obviously impressed the reviewer enough for him to give it 4 stars and a half page slot in the magazine, so I started reading the article but then stopped almost immediately.  Why?  Because the reviewer told me to.  To quote:

“Concentrating on the micro rather than the macro, Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has reclaimed the genre from Judgement Days and DeLoreans, sealing it into the domestic sphere. The result is a suspenseful, funny, meticulously calibrated lo-fi classic that’s every bit the equal of recent Iberian dazzlers “[REC]” and “The Orphanage”. If any of this interests you one iota, then stop reading now.”

A comparison with two of my favourite films of last year was enough for me and, while I don’t necessarily agree that it is the equal of either of them, I did really enjoy it. However, I’m now in the same predicament as that reviewer because it’s almost impossible to explain the film without giving away important plot information. It’s probably safe to mention that it’s about time travel though, as if the name weren’t enough the references to Terminator and Back To The Future would have given it away already.  Basically, the question the film poses is what would happen if you unwittingly travelled back in time by an hour and then couldn’t cope with sitting on your arse waiting for the past version of yourself to catch up with you?  Having had quite a lengthy conversation about the problems with trying to make a film involving time travel just a week ago, it was great to see a film where the writer has clearly thought through all the problems and managed to produce a film that, as yet, I’ve not been able to pick any holes in.  I can’t really say much more but I love to be able to have a conversation with someone else who has seen it.

For me, the only thing that stops it from being a REALLY great film is that there were a couple of points where I though to myself “That’s just a little bit too convenient!” or “Surely no-one would actually do that?”  However, these mostly happen quite near the beginning and once the film got going I forgave these initial transgressions and got caught up in the brilliantly unravelling story.  The more I think about the film the more I like about it and I definitely think it requires repeat viewing to pick up on all the little subtleties.  At only 80 mins long it moves at quite a fast pace and, thinking about it, unfolds in pretty much real time, albeit not continuously.

So, if you can cope with subtitles and don’t mind thinking a bit when you watch a film I’d highly recommend it.  I would say that to not give it the time would be a crime, but that would be a bit too corny.  Oh wait….

4 out of 5.

Published in: on 16/06/2009 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hate 4 the Dead

Left 4 Dead 2 has caused quite a stir it seems. With much vitriol being directed at Valve for potentially splitting the gaming community and not delivering on the promises they made when Left 4 Dead originally came out.

I do believe that we’ve not been delivered as much content as they could have done.  Survival mode is more a fun distration then a full blown attraction and the extra versus maps feel like they could’ve been included at the beginning. I still have hope that the Left 4 Dead 2 will deliver more than a mod of Left 4 Dead.

If Valve are to believed then this time around, the game will be more than just more of the same. With a plot – a frequent criticism of the first game, proper melee weapons, more varieities of infected, a whole new gaming mode, more maps, and substantial changes to the core gameplay.  Thinking about it, if each of these things had come out individually as paid for DLC over the course of a year – even at the bargain price of 400 gamer points a shot – you could be looking at the cost of a whole new game anyway?

Besides hasn’t the likes of Call of Duty done basically the same thing? With new variations on a theme coming out once every year since 2005 and with all add-ons paid for anyway?  Is the problem not so much that this has happened at all, but rather that Valve has spoilt it’s fan-base with extras that they now believe is their right to always get?

Published in: on 07/06/2009 at 12:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Del Toro Talks Monsters

This is quite a cool little interview:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/review/8084025.stm

Published in: on 05/06/2009 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review – Coraline

Having seen and loved a Nightmare before Christmas, going to see Coraline wasn’t necessarily the biggest leap of faith I have managed regards film viewing. However with the main character a young girl and slightly whimsical nature of the advertising I did have my doubts, however a lack of decent alternatives and the fact that Neil Gaiman was the writer, convinced me that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I am glad to say I wasn’t. Not in the slightest. Okay, so it is a kids film, but it is a kids film with brains, it does a nice line in creeping unease, bordering on dread and I am sure for some kids it may well have been quite scary. But with a strong female lead, good plot, amazing visuals and a good line in humour it delivered on all counts.

Coraline is a young precocious girl who, with her mum & dad (both writers), has moved to a large house out in the countryside. This house wouldn’t look out of place in Psycho, and with the depressing weather and inattentive parents, a very bored Coraline starts to explore her new surroundings. She ends up meeting slightly odd boy called Wybee and several strange neighbours (including a Russian former circus performer voiced by Ian McShane – Lovejoy must seem like a horrible nightmare now!).

The plot revolves around two initial discoveries, one a doll that is an exact replica of Coraline and a small door that she finds in a room which has been wall-papered over.

One night Coraline awakes to see a small mouse in her room, she follows the mouse, which leads her to the door, which is now open and takes her into an alternate reality where everyone but her has buttons for eyes. This “dream” world is seemingly everything that her current life is not, however there are enough clues to hint that things are not quite what they seem.

This is a lavish visual treat, filmed in the same stop motion animation that was used for Nightmare before Christmas, with a great story reminiscent of Roald Dahl. I was also reminded of the Hideo Myasaki (sp?) movies because of the subtle blend of reality and fantasy (and also the switch from pleasant mood to dark mood).

Not necessarily the sort of film that most adults without kids would necessarily choose to go and see, but alot more rewarding than many of the current adult-orientated movies out there.

I almost forgot, we watched it in 3D. The second film I’ve watched in the new medium. It says alot for the film that I didn’t focus on this, and I think this is the key thing that film makers need to remember, 3D can enhance a good film, but it can’t paper over poor storyline and plot. At times the nature of the animation and the 3D did combine wonderfully and considering that most 3D films will be either Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks productions about zany animals (well the latter two will definitely be heavily animal dependent due to not having Pixar’s courage or imagination) it was good to see a film of this type in 3D.

One final note, one of the trailers for this film was that one with the spy Guinea Pigs. I have to admit I am starting to want to go and see that film!! The bit with the territorial Hamster in the pet-shop was hilarious 😀

Published in: on 04/06/2009 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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One-pan Prawn Pilau

One of mine & Bob’s favourite recipe’s. It’s ridiculously easy to cook and a much healthier alternative to a proper curry. You could use cooked chicken or veg instead of the prawns. Obviously the Bob version is sans-peas.

2tbsp korma curry paste (Patak’s is good)

 1 small onion finely chopped

300g/10 oz basmati rice, rinsed and drained

700ml chicken stock from a cube

150g pack peeled, cooked prawns, defrosted if frozen

cupful frozen peas

1 red chilli, sliced into rings (or use the cheating Lazy Chilli like I do!)

handful coriander leaves chopped

lemon wedges, to serve

  1. Heat a wide pan and dry-fry the curry paste with the onion for several minutes until the onion just starts to soften. Add the rice to the pan, then stir to coat in the curry paste. Add the stock then bring to boil.
  2. Cover the pan, then turn the heat down to low. Leave the rice to simmer slowly for 12-15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked. You may want to check/stir the rice occasionally during cooking to ensure it doesn’t stick to the pan.
  3. Turn off the heat, then stir in the prawns, peas and chilli. Cover the pan and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
  4. Fluff up the rice grains with a fork and season if you want. Scatter over the coriander. Serve with lemon wedges, and a naan bread if desired.

SERVES 4

Taken from BBC Good Food – Easy One Pots October 2008

Posted by Michelle

Published in: on 03/06/2009 at 5:54 pm  Comments (7)  

Film Review – Drag me to hell

I’m fed up with horror films that are just “re-imaginings” or whatever of sometimes classic horror movies.  It’s cheap and lazy.

I’m fed up with horror films that use torture and general stupid unpleasantness in leiu of horror.  Yes i know hacking and cutting people up is pretty horrific, but in comparison to a lot of the horror genre it’s unimaginative and dull.

What i want is the creeping and unspeakable unknown.  The dread of the unavoidable and the inevitable.  Something fantastic and extraordinary, yet filled with eerie familiarity.  Hurray for Sam Raimi returning to the fold and giving me “Drag me to hell”, a film that fits this bill perfectly.

There’s no real blood and gore in the sense that the horror genre has become saturated with, but there’s plenty to make your stomach turn.  There’s frights and shocks and jumps aplenty, there’s old school spooky noises and some of the most basic yet effective scares i’ve seen for a long time.  It’s also brilliant and shows many a film maker that going for the higher censorship rating equals neither scary nor good.

In a nutshell the story is simple.  Alsion Lohman plays a young woman who spurns a gypsy woman’s request for a third extension on a loan to keep her house.  She is then cursed by the gypsy woman and all hell literally breaks lose.  Her sceptic boyfriend – another excellent turn by Justin Long – offers her support and goes along with it as things just get worse and worse for her. 

Key to this movie is how both of these two characters are truly likeable.  Lohman manages to give us a damsel who is in obvious distress but with enough guts to fight her supernatural tormentor.  Long plays his character with enough scepticism to provide a foil to her unbelievable situation and claims, but with a touching love that drives him to support her in spite of it all.

The film has plenty of Raimi’s trademark slapstick and goofing around – talking goats, people floating when possessed, hardware as weaponry – but there’s also a geniune foreboding that’s not existed in any of his films since Evil Dead.  Overall this is a thoroughly effective horror movie and a definite return to form for Sam Raimi.  More please.

Written by Bob

Published in: on 03/06/2009 at 4:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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