Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-30 12:37:00

The Boondock Saints

110 minutes

Two Irishmen, a Scotsman and six guns walk into a barfight…

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how serious a movie’s actually being. Was that cheesy one-liner a knowing wink in your direction, or was that the actor ‘emoting’? It’s an important thing to judge, since it can make the difference between a terrible movie and a hilarious one. Look at Shoot Em Up: everyone thought that was Serious Business and called it accordingly. Those of us who were actually in on the joke thought it was the most hilarious film ever and had a blast. So that puts The Boondock Saints in an awkward position. Shoot Em Up aims for audacity from the word go, while Boondock Saints…

Our heroes are twin brothers, Conner and Murphey MacManus who, if you couldn’t guess from the name, are as Oirish as Irish can be. Every time they appear at the beginning, there’s cheesy stereotypical Riverdance-style music, just to hammer the point home. After celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (of course) with a good old, home cooked barfight, the losers, a group of Russian mafiosos, track them down to their stylish hovel and get revenge on them. They’re forced to kill the mobsters in self-defence and hand themselves in to the police, where someone leaks their names for… some reason, and they quickly become minor celebrities, being dubbed the Saints. The pair have an epiphany of some description (again, not really described well) and decide that if killing two mobsters makes people like them lots, killing tons of mobsters will make people like them even more! And with this kind of excellent logic, the film proper begins.

At first, it’s hard to know where the film is going. With the constant background presence of the various mafia groups, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in for another grim and gritty crime drama, something with the moral ‘vengeance for its own sake never works’. But as you watch, things don’t quite pan out the way you expect. Ron Jeremy appears as a minion, with a… memorable scene in a porn shop. The action sequences get progressively more and more silly. And then Willem Defoe comes along and completely blows any and all pretences of this being a serious work out the water.

Y’see, Dafoe is easily the single best thing in this entire movie. Mainly because he’s the only one who seems to have grasped how entirely ludicrous the whole exercise is, and is intent on having as much fun with it as possible. So while everyone else is taking the film fairly seriously, he’s busy chewing up the scenery as a gay FBI agent, cheerfully sending it up left and right. By the time he starts describing (and enacting) the gunfight between the brothers and Billy Connelly, here playing a mob hitman by the name of Il Duche, a cigar the size of a small canoe wedged in his mouth the entire time, you’ve either turned the film off or you’re on the floor in stitches. The man makes the movie, and if it weren’t for him, it really wouldn’t be anything more than a bland, somewhat confused action movie. Even seeing him in painfully unconvincing drag doesn’t kill the movie, and that’s definitely something.

The ending loses all momentum, being a boring statement of intent that opens the door for a sequel (tl;dr “We’re gonna shoot this guy in the head now and you’re the lucky folks who get to see it! Tell the kids!”), Irish accents breaking badly every few seconds, which is a shame (and a little painful). If it had more courage of its convictions, it could’ve powered through and turned even that into something good. Even still, if you’re able to get the joke, this is a surprisingly good film once you get past the beginning. Just… someone tell Dafoe he shouldn’t have his legs apart when lying down wearing a skirt? Please?

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-30 12:36:00

Gilgamesh

26 30-minute episodes

Gilgamesh/Enkidu OTP?

Fifteen years after a terrorist attack that has wiped out electronic equipment worldwide and turned the sky into an electromagnetic mirror, a brother and sister are on the run. They run into a group of teens who offer to help them escape their pursuers if they agree to join them. Their cause? A war to cleanse the earth of humanity and usher in a new age. And the teens, a group known as Gilgamesh, have psychic powers, are capable of transforming into monstrous beasts, and are just the ones to step into the gap left over. Needless to say, the siblings are somewhat reluctant to join. Not just because they’re not interested in the whole genocide business, but because their father is the leader of Gilgamesh. And the one who unleashed the catastrophe on the world to begin with. So when they’re rescued by a second group of psychic teens, these ones lead by the harshly authoritative Countess of Werdenberg, it’s hard to know which side to take, and the pair are forced to decide where they belong.

Okay, first things first, this is a hard show to watch. I’m a man who likes his stylized character designs and artwork, but even I had a hard time warming to this one. The palette is muted and washed out for the overwhelming majority of the series, the main flashes of colour coming from the red stripes on one character’s jacket and the red dresses worn by the female members of Gilgamesh. When we finally see the blue sky it carries with it some measure of impact. According to at least one character, who has never known anything but a mirrored sky, it’s ‘creepy’. Given the events that transpire soon after, she’s not entirely wrong in her unease.

The character designs are what takes the most getting used to though. Frankly, everyone in it looks like a strung-out heroin addict. Doesn’t help that one of the psychics is constantly pestering the others for a quick boost every ten minutes. Once you get used to them, they make a refreshing change to the standard saucer-eyed moeblobs infesting the majority of modern output, but it’s going to put a hell of a lot of people off within the first few episodes, I can assure you of that much.

It’s not just the artwork though, everything about this show is weird. There’s an unsettling atmosphere throughout. Background music is used sparingly, though Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, a strangely melancholy piece, is referenced frequently. Characters act… well, they act. It’s not like the voice actors are wooden or anything, but I was left with the odd impression that the characters themselves were just playing roles, acting as the plot dictates. Like I say, it’s a weird feeling, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what it means.

In the end, there are no happy endings. How could there be in a show such as this. But the very end takes it just that little step further and all but says that, when you get down to it, none of it really meant much anyway. It’s yet another attempt at an Evangelion-style metaphysical ending (man, I’ve really been watching a lot of shows like that, huh?), and while not as hamfisted as, say, Blue Gender’s, which came right the fuck out of nowhere, it renders the last 25 episodes moot. Nothing is accomplished, except a whole lot of people are now dead. And in the final frames, it all but outright states that it wasn’t worth it anyway.

As I said earlier, Gilgamesh is a tricky one to get into. If the drab colour scheme doesn’t put you off, then the character designs will, and if the character designs don’t, then some element of the story probably will. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good show, and despite what I said about the ending, it does work, though that’s more than likely to piss a few of you off. It’s the story of a broken world slowly winding down, but refusing to admit it.

Perfect Autumn fare if you ask me.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-30 12:34:00

Rez

PS2

Big fish, little fish, cardboard box

It’s one of those accepted conventions of media, that if your premise is suitably weird or OTT in some way, it is [reference point] On Drugs. Gives you something to base your expectations and tells you that this is the next manic step forward from that. It’s Father Ted On Drugs, Angel on Speed, Tron mainlining Jack Daniel’s while getting into a chainsaw fight with Evangelion and Fullmetal Alchemist as Babylon 5 watches and takes notes, grabbing handfulls of impressively-coloured pills ‘purely for medicinal purposes’. Be impressed by the man whose life’s work is described as, say, “what FLCL takes to get high”, that’s a man who knows where it’s at.

So, following on from that logical progression, Rez is Panzer Dragoon at a 72-hour rave doing lots and lots of E with a few hits of acid for good measure. That’s it, review’s over, you can all go home now.

What, you’re still here? That wasn’t enough?!

*sigh* Fine.

Rez is an on-rails shooter that’s remarkably difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t played it before. Which kinda defeats the purpose, since reviews are generally there to aid people who haven’t played, read or watched something before. The plot, for what it’s worth, is that a supercomputer AI called Eden has become overwhelmed with knowledge, making her doubt her own existance. As a result, she’s shutting herself down, with an impending catastrophe on the way. The player takes on the role of a hacker, flying through her subsystems in an attempt to get Eden to pull herself together. This is acheived with the powers of wireframe graphics and techno, apparently. So it turns out Hackers was actually spot on. Who knew?

A stage goes like this. Your avatar flies along. Enemies pop up. You lock on, they explode. Eventually, a password cube comes along. You shoot it enough times, it opens, you go to the next layer of the stage where the music is more intricate and the graphics are slightly more detailed. Repeat until you get to a boss, kill the boss and that’s it, on to the next stage we go!

To give you some kind of reference for the next part, here’s how the game looks in action, since that’s the only way to actually get a feel for it. The Video’s of the 360 HD version, but it is, to all intents and purposes, the exact same game:



So, let’s take each element at a time. Gameplay is lifted directly from the Panzer Dragoon series. You can’t change your direction at all, and while you can move the camera around, it’s almost always facing in the right direction for you to deal with any oncoming threats. You hold down the fire button to lock on to enemies (up to 8 at a time) or you hammer the button to fire rapidly. You occasionally encounter items that give you Overdrive attacks, smart bomb-like items that target everything onscreen, which can be useful if you’re going for that all-important 100% shot down ratio. You also find health items, but rather than directly increasing the amount of damage you can take, they go into a bar. Fill the bar and your avatar evolves. Take a hit, and no matter how full your health bar is, you’ll go down to the previous form. Take too many hits and you’re booted out the system.

Rez, however, is one of the few games where I can say gameplay really doesn’t matter, since that’s not where the main draw is. This is a game all about the visuals and sound, though not in the obnoxious way most other games are. The word for tosay is “synesthesia” which, depending on its use, is either a neurological condition where senses become slightly skewed, most commonly perceiving sound as having shape or substance, or an artistic attempt to get several senses working in tandum, in this case, sight, hearing and touch. Everything that happens is synced up to the soundtrack. The graphics pulse in time with the beat, your shots basically hit when it’d sound best (but never interfering with your hit percentage or making you take damage). The soundtracks start off bare-bones, only a few skeletal beeps and notes to give you the impression that there is something there. As you progress, more effects are added, filling out the music slowly. It’s a great effect and gives an interesting feeling of progression, far different from almost any other game out there.

The graphics follow a similar path of gradual enhancement. If you’re someone who always demands the absolute finest from your machine at every turn, you’re probably going to be put off here. The visuals rarely ever progress further than basic textured polygons, so anyone seeking fancy shaders or lighting effects, this is not the droid you’re looking for. For everyone else though, the graphics work with everything else. When you actually start seeing something other than flat angles and pretty lights in the final stage, it’s oddly impressive, and gives you the feeling that this is going to be something different.

Downsides? Well, it’s hard to say really. It’s difficult to tell what’s actually a threat and what isn’t until it’s too late. And since you can only ever take, at absolute most, about 4 or 5 hits before dying, that not only results in you being blindsided more often than neccessary, it also makes boss battles more frustrating than hard, since when they attack, there’s usually a ton of missiles onscreen and working out which ones are actually going to hit you is guesswork at best. The boss battles themselves are arguably too long as well, some of the later ones being complete brick walls when it comes to taking damage, one having the added bonus of being super-fast, making hitting him trickier,and also having a shield of rapidly-shifting cubes! The whole thing hinges almost entirely on your enjoyment of the provided music as well, a problem common to every music game on the market, so if dance and techno cause you to erupt in a painful rash, you may want to steer clear. For my money, I actually like it, and I can’t stand most dance music, so take that as a recommendation if you will.

Rez is utterly unique, and for that reason alone, it’s worth a look. There’s a few similar games on the market – Synaesthete probably being one of the best-known, Darwinia sharing a similar visual style, but little else – but Rez stands virtually alone, I couldn’t tell you if it’s art, since I find the whole ‘games as art’ argument laughable at best. But I can tell you that it’s a solid game, short, but definitely worth your time, and that’s really the only thing that needs to be said.

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NECTARIS

Hudson’s Nectaris is one of the greatest military strategy games ever made. It combines simplicity with complexity in ways other games have rarely equalled. There are only twenty three units, but combined with new and refined strategic elements the game allows for surprisingly deep gameplay.

This game was first released on the PC Engine where it sold over two hundred thousand units, and has seen ports to the Playstation, GameBoy, X68000, PC-8801, Japanese cellular phones, and Windows ’95. The original game was so complete only two sequels have been released. Hudson released Neo Nectaris for the PC Engine SuperCD, featuring a handful of new units and a tweaked interface, and a German company released Nectaris for MS-DOS in 1995, which features many new units and two new planets to fight on. A remake was in development by the same German company. Called Nectaris 2000, it was never completed. The Windows ’95 game, which runs fine on Win98 and XP, was released as freeware by Hudson. You can download it right here.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-10 13:37:00

Robert Rankin – Raiders of the Lost Car Park

350 pages

What is this I don’t even

Writing a review is, despite what some of you might think, bloody hard work. Yes, it’s mostly ‘this is why X sucks/does not suck’ when you get down to it, but it’s also about making sense of what you’ve seen/read/played in your own head. Hard enough at the best of times, and that’s when the thing actually makes sense to begin with. Take Raiders of the Lost Car Park, for example. It’s the second in the Corenlius Murphy trilogy, but don’t let that put you off, it’s not like it’ll make the book any easier to understand. In the last book, he discovered that mankind is actually being secretly oppressed by the Hidden King of the World, that the world itself is a hell of a lot bigger than any of us have been lead to believe, and that his father is actually the legendary Hugo Rune, a guru of Absolute Wisdom, a ladies man enough to put Errol Flynn to shame, and the arch nemesis of Bud Abbot. Involved in this adventure were a clan of mad Scotsmen, an electric blue Cadillac Eldorado, his loyal circus midget friend, Tuppe, and a train named after a Greek god that went ‘Yabba Dabba Doo’ instead of more conventional train sounds.

Cant say you weren’t warned.

Your enjoyment factor for this book will directly proportional to your tolerance for the absurd. It’s fair to say that if you have no time for pointless asides, running jokes or meandering stories that may or may not have anything to do with the plot, you’re going to hate it. The plot, such as it is, is little more than a framework to hang said jokes and stories on. It involves a quest to open the Forbidden Zones, where the hidden wealth of the world is kept, with a reinvented ocarina, Prince Charles, Santa Claus and a gigantic rock concert held in Brentford.

Again: you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Like I said, it’s hard to state definitively whether this is a good book or not. I mean, I enjoyed it, it’s a good quick read, the funny bits are actually funny and there’s a fair number of references that brought a knowing smile to my face. But this is definitely not a book everyone will enjoy. The reliance on asides and running gags in lieu of actual plot borders on the self-indulgent at times, and there’s a definite feeling of ‘repetition = funniness, right?’ more often than I’d like. This is easily the most love it/hate it thing I’ve encountered in quite some time. Definitely give it a try, especially if you want something different, just…

…oh bollocks, it’s become a running joke, hasn’t it.

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