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3May/111

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Review

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Kane & Lynch: Dog Days, the sequel to Kane & Lynch: Dead Men was quite a ride. This time around, the story was simpler and the interaction between the two protagonists more interesting and more intense. The look and feel of the game improved greatly, and while there was still some snags with the controls, the overall gameplay experience improved pretty dramatically.

Story

In Dead Men, Kane and Lynch are put together by The Seven, a council of top level, international crime bosses that Kane used to belong to. Kane stole money from them and he has to get the money back. The Seven stage a prison transport escape for Kane, who is en route to death row, where he is to be put to death for past crimes. They put Lynch, a wife-murdering sociopath, in the same transport and make sure that Kane is prepared to get busted out. After the escape, Lynch is tasked to help Kane retrieve the money he supposedly stole, while The Seven threaten to kill Kane's ex-wife and daughter. Pretty soon both Kane and Lynch get burned by The Seven but manage to turn the tables and start hunting for them all over the globe, this time as partners.

In Dog Days, Kane is reunited with Lynch who now lives in Shanghai. Lynch is working as a thug for some a British smuggler named Glazer, has a girl and regularly takes his medication. Kane has been travelling the world, pulling heists where he could, but it becomes evident from the trailer to the game that the last heist went horribly wrong and his entire crew got killed while he got away, without the money. He wants to do one last job and then retire and so he gets in contact with Glazer, to smuggle some weapons and he is met in Shanghai by Lynch.

Before taking Kane to his hotel, Lynch asks him to accompany him on a little job he needs to do; having a chat with a local thug who has been talking too much. He needs to teach him a lesson, and before Kane knows it, he's stuck in a gun fight that goes horribly wrong as they accidentally shoot the thug's girlfriend, the daughter of an important politician/mafioso. That starts a chase through the sprawl of Shanghai as they are trying to flee the city.

Controls and Atmosphere

The reason I wanted to talk a bit about both the look and feel as well as the controls of the game is because they are very narrowly related. First of all, the game is absolutely beautiful, smothered in neo-noire that atmosphere that's reminiscent of Miami Vice and similar shows and films. It shows both the glitz and glamour of a large city and simultaneously highlights that the shiny lights are only skin deep and that underneath that lies the filthy underbelly of a wicked, urban sprawl. The colours used in the game are all saturated neon colours of pink, blue and yellow and the setting is very rich and detailed. Also, the surroundings give a sense of endless openness and possibilities without letting you lose track of the path you're predestined to follow. From the sweat shops you invade to catch a thug, to the low-rent apartment blocks you race through to save Lynch's girlfriend, to the train yards, docks and airport you have shoot-outs in to get out of the city, all of them are covered head-to-toe in beautiful, rich detail.

The controls are a little tricky, but have certainly improved since the first game. The cover system works better and is more intuitive now, switching from one piece of cover to the next is also a bit more responsive, though the standard settings allow you to use the WASD buttons and RMB to walk and strave, you use the C to get into cover. All good. However, when you duck from one cover to the next, you use C+A to duck left, C+W to duck forward and C+D to duck right. I use the same finger (left-index) to hit both C and D. So a combo of those is a little tough.

The camera angle is also a bit problematic at times, but again, not nearly as terrible as it was in Dead Men. They actually chose a really interesting concept; a supposed third person carrying a portable camera to film everything. That camera man is always just behind whoever you're playing at the time, be it Kane or Lynch, and sometimes ricochetting bullets hit the camera and make it go static for a moment. The camera is almost always moving, giving it a hard-nosed reality feel to it, and when the camera man is running behind you to keep up, the image becomes blurry and you can hear him panting. Sometimes, in the thick of it, he loses focus on what you're trying to hit. The lighting becomes bad as fast-paced action leaves the camera struggling to keep up. The camera man is there, but he's never part of the story. It's very well done.

Final Thoughts

I thought this game was brilliant. From the rather brutal torture scene that leads into Kane and Lynch both running naked, cut up and bloodied into the streets of Shanghai, love handles and all, to the pixelated faces of the people you shoot in the head, supposedly because the camera man thought it was too gruesome for public consumption. The pace is fast and the panic on the voices of both actors is really well done, their frustration grows as they realise they are getting far too old for their gun-fighting antics. The only real complaint I have about this game is that it seemed a lot shorter than the first one, and that there was absolutely no end-of-game sequence, making the end of the game very anti-climactic.

4Jun/100

Repo Men

Repo Men [2010]

Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Actor: Jude LawForest WhitakerAlice BragaLiev SchreiberCarice van Houten

It's been a long time since I've reviewed a film, other projects and a string of less than stellar films were the reason for my disinterest in devoting time to an extensive review, but I've decided to do a review of Repo Men, mostly because I wasn't disappointed by it, nor found the subject matter absolutely impossible to tackle in a meaningful review. (Which was the reason why I never reviewed A Single Man, simply because it was a little bit too much for me to handle and still do it justice.) No, I had absolutely no expectations other than that it wouldn't be Citizen Kane, which probably went a long way to making this film the an enjoyable one. Well, that and the extensive amounts of gore.

.: Online
I have been following the development and the marketing campaign behind the film for a little over six months now and I have to say that it came close to the brilliance displayed in the campaign to promote District 9, with seemingly life-like, high resolution posters (see below) advertising living irresponsibly, drinking excessively and eating all the junk-food you could lay your greedy hands on since "The Union Cares." You can have all your organs replaced with cybernetic "artiforgs" that often work better and longer than your normal, flesh-lumps would. You could get your heart replaced for a mere 975,000 dollars with an 18% APR on the first year and 24% the following years. In this fashion the Union provides hearts, kidneys, eyes, spines, livers and limbs. Check out the brilliantly designed http://www.theunioncares.com, the official site of The Union, and see which Union payment plans suit your lifestyle!

Brilliant, just brilliant. I always like it when they supplement an already compelling and extensive fictional universe with well thought out and designed cross-overs into our own world, blurring the lines between the real and the fictional and creating a deeper, more immersive film experience.

.: The Story
The Union is a company selling artificial organs to anyone willing to extend their life by cybernetic means. Repo Men repossess the organs from people who are more than 3 months overdue with their payments, breaking into houses, knocking people unconscious while asking a series of standard questions before cutting you open on your kitchen floor and retrieving the liver you decided not to make payments on.

"Would you like to have an ambulance present to drive you to the hospital after I'm done with the procedure?"
"Are they going to give me a new heart?"
"No, not with your credit history."

The Union works the same way credit cards companies do, offering you a product that will allow you to extend an already toxic lifestyle into infinity, while making huge amounts of money off the interest you pay on the loans they offer to pay for these life extending products. Some people take great care in making sure to pay off the loans on time, but most people tend to fall behind on the enormous payments they'll have to make. And that's where the Union makes their money, retrieving the organs and selling them to someone else and starting the cycle all over again.

Remy (Law) is a level 5 Repo Man, the best in the business, working alongside his best friend Jake (Whitaker), who have been inseparable since the third grade, went to school together, went into the military together, shared everything together. Then married Carol (van Houten) and had a son and slowly but surely Carol wants Remy to do less dangerous work, pressuring him to take a job in sales. Obviously reluctant to give up the life of a repo man, Remy keeps putting off talking to his his boss, Frank (Schreiber), who runs the local Union branch, being too content to repo other people's organs with his friend Jake. His entire world is turned upside down when he decides to do one last repo and something goes wrong and he gets hurt. After having spent a few days in a coma he wakes up with an artiforg heart (including the stranglehold contract) and his wife unwilling to continue with the relationship. More importantly, he finds himself strangely afflicted by a conscience, unable to perform the repos that he used to do with ease. His savings dwindle and he quickly falls behind on his payments until he is driven into the company of Beth (Braga) a girl he always admired from afar who's dealing with the same trouble as he is. The both of them decide to run, hiding out in the abundant dilapidated tenements in the ghetto's, far away from the skyscrapers and the luxury of the life he came from and hunted by his ex-colleagues who are trying to repo his heart.

.: The Production
The production on this film is beautiful, allowing the sleek design of hypermodernity to stand beautifully juxtaposed against the excessive violence, the gory repos and the deplorable state of the ghettos. It's a post-modern world where people have embraced the seamless integration of man and machine without their being an emphasis on overly cybered individuals, which is often the case with films that depict worlds where people opt for cybernetic modification of their bodies. The worst you see is a man with an obvious cybernetic limb, the rest of the cybernetics are all subtle, seemless and discrete. Not that there aren't cybernetic freaks, but that's not what the films focusses on as it looks at what happens when a normal person falls behind on payments. It would've been too easy to inject the film with too many displays of the fringe cyberfreaks. (Not that it wouldn't have been fun, I just admire the self-restraint.)

The acting is average, but Whitaker once again takes the crown, closely followed by the overlooked Schreiber-powerhouse. Seriously, why don't we see more of these two guys? Jude Law looks in shape without being overly muscled, just about what I would expect his character to look like, but his effete accent is somewhat out of place. Braga does not deliver a particularly good performance, but she does seem to fit the roll well. I have the feeling that van Houten's performance mostly ended up on the editing room floor. It ended up being a distraction and not much of a critical plot element.

All in all, it's an enjoyable film, with great visuals and a compelling universe and a rock solid performance by Whitaker who seems to be getting better and better with each time I see him on the silver screen.

.: The Trailer


.: The Posters

Poster - Live Irresponsibly
Poster 1 [HD]
Poster 2 [HD]
Poster 3 [HD]
Poster 4 [HD]
Poster 5 [HD]

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25Nov/090

Tyson

Tyson [2008]

Director: James Toback
Actor: Mike Tyson

.: Review
The best example I can come up with of a film that builds up your affection for the characters you're watching, only to completely break it all down, is Goodfellas. It does it so masterfully that you don't even care that the characters you're rooting for are really amoral and intensely bad people. Hollywood, like many other film industries, likes to root for the bad guys. It likes to root for the underdog, and it likes drama.

And Mike Tyson delivered all of that.

This documentary chronicles the life of Mike Tyson, narrated by Mike Tyson in his now almost iconic, high-pitched, rambling, ranting way. It starts with him talking about his childhood, about the crimes and the drugs and the juvenile detention centers. How he found boxing and how he was taken in by his first trainer, Cus D'Amato. How he lived in his house, was trained by him, in both the mental as well as the physical art of fighting. D'Amato was everything to him, the very first person to ever make him believe in himself. The way Tyson talks about him is very moving, very touching. Very honest. I guess that's the prevailing sense; honesty. He tells things how they happened, either real or imagined.

It's obvious he's a deeply troubled individual with some deep-rooted psychological problems. He's beyond redemption, knowing that he's broken but ultimately unable to fix things. You can see that he's older, wiser and that the sharp edge in his personality has dulled considerably. He's got his rage under control to the point where he can discuss his problems without getting angry, without losing his temper and without lashing out at everything and everyone.

He's also, obviously one of the most gifted boxers to ever live. The reason he started losing later on in his career, after he went to jail, is because of either complacency or his inner demons standing in his way. But when he was in his prime, his speed was crazy and his punching power far above that of his size; a small heavy weight at 220 pounds. His footwork, his stamina, his ferocity and his accuracy were only matched by his speed and power. It's amazing to watching him shadowboxing at the age of 18.

This documentary is a recommendation for anyone with an interest in boxing, Tyson, or to watch someone tell the story of his own self-created trainwreck.

.: Trailer

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12Nov/090

District 9

District 9 [2009]

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Actor: Sharlto Copley

.: Introduction
I was really surprised at the premise of this film when I first learned about it. Relatively inexperienced director. First time actor as the lead role. Aliens come to the planet, but they are relatively retarded and without guidance. It's set in Johannesburg. I'll let that sink in for a second. Let me repeat; it's set in Johannesburg. Did you get that? Sometimes you'll see a film that picks one of these and manages to achieve critical acclaim and then that's all that's being talked about, how the director had next to no experience besides some music videos or how the actor turns out to be the hottest new breakthrough prospect out on the market. This film was pretty ambitious down to its amazing marketing gimmick of putting up anti-alien posters all over major U.S. cities with no further explanation. I'm rambling a bit but I think I'm getting across just how unusual this film is and that if things had gone just a little differently, the delicate promotional equilibrium would've been disturbed and we would've never been able to see this film. Especially in the era of mega-budgets hardly anyone really wants to take a chance with something out of the left field (out of the far, far, faaaar left field) and hope to see some return on investment.

.: Set up
Aliens have come to earth in a gigantic craft that eventually settles above Johannesburg, South Africa. For long months nothing happens and unrest pressures the South African into action. They contract a private security firm called Multi-National United (MNU), a la KBR and Blackwater, to breach the craft and see what's going on inside the craft. They do so and it turns out that the aliens inside are actually the "worker" aliens, not too bright, with under-evolved intellects, who are severely malnourished and neglected. There's no sign of the leadership and the aliens are taken off the ship and put in internment camps on the outskirts of the city.

Years later aliens are given a limited form of citizenship and are treated as degenerates, the symbolic nod to apartheid is unmistakable. Communication with them is difficult and they seem really primal, concerned with few things like procreation and food. Nigerian gangster have taken hold of almost all trade within District 9 as they provide prostitutes and cat-food, which apparently is like a drug to the aliens, who, due to their appearance, are referred to as "prawns." In return, they will accept almost all alien technology, especially weaponry. Sadly, the alien technology can only be used if the wielder has prawn DNA, so it's useless to humans, something MNU has been researching from the moment their soldiers breached the craft and found the aliens inside.

.: Wikus
Queue Wikus van de Merwe (Copley), a bureaucrat at MNU, the company who has been charged with the welfare of the prawns but are secretly only interested in their weapon technology. He is the subject of a documentary on the move of the prawns from District 9 to a different camp outside of Johannesburg after growing disapproval of their presence from citizens of the city. The documentarists follow him around as he prepares to head out to District 9 to deliver notices on the move to the prawns. They can't just move them, since that would be illegal, so they have to deliver notices to each of the inhabitants of District 9. At the same time, they'll do a sweep for contraband like dangerous alien technology. Wikus seems inept and is disrespected by the mercenary units under the MNU employ for what they consider to be weakness.

While delivering the notices in District 9 he stumbles upon what he thinks is a cache of alien weaponry. He tinkers around with a small device that accidentally discharges and sprays him with a strange black mucus. Because he's being filmed for the documentary he shrugs it off and tries to get the documentarists to cut that part from the film. They continue with their mission and while not everything goes according to plan, it went well. Later, he starts to feel ill and a strange transformation starts to take place... Oooeerr!

.: Verdict
This film is absolutely awesome and I recommend everyone who likes science fiction films to have a look at it. It's new, it's refreshing and the production is superb, especially consider the relative inexperience of the film's makers. I'm looking forward to seeing where the careers of the director and main actor are going to go. I'm hoping that Copley will pick up the reigns that Christopher Lambert left vacant as his career degenerated into nothingness as the go-to-guy for kind of out there science fiction leads.

Wikus accidentally discharges an alien device.
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24Sep/090

Bringing Out the Dead

Bringing Out the Dead [1999]

Director: Martin Scorsese
Actor: Nicolas CagePatricia ArquetteJohn GoodmanTom SizemoreMarc Anthony

This movie tells the story of Frank (Cage), a son of a nurse and a bus driver who, naturally, became a medic on a rotating, two-man ambulance team in Manhattan, working the graveyard shift. He's exhausted and bordering on a full blown burnout and he keeps seeing things; he sees the ghosts of those he wasn't able to save, and hears the pleas of the comatosed and the brain-dead. He tries as best he can to get fired, yet every night he is partnered up with others, and goes out into the urban nightmare of New York to try and save people. He hasn't saved anyone in months, a fact which fuels his depression and his increasingly reckless behaviour. He's partnered up with; Larry (Goodman), a fat man who seems only interested in food and setting up his own ambulance dispatch, Marcus (Rhames), a religious zealot who keeps hitting on the dispatch lady, despite her obvious distaste for him, and Tom (Sizemore), an aggressive macho who works the graveyard shift voluntarily because he gets off on the excitement.

One night, Frank and Larry are called in to help an elderly man who's suffered a heart-attack. He's the father of Mary (Arquette), an ex-junkie who is trying to get her life in order. They manage to save the man, which keeps him comatosed and unresponsive. Frank is drawn to Mary for reasons he can't quite explain, just like he's drawn to the job even though he wishes he could quit. He's looking for salvation, forgiveness and rest, which he seems to find in the strange relationship he develops with Mary. He also seems to be capable of endless patience and forgiveness, as is shown in his relationship with Noel (Anthony), a mentally ill hoodlum who is perpetually thirsty, which drives him to cause trouble.

A very dark movie from Martin Scorcese, whose editing kind of reminded me of Tony Scott's editing lately, very fast and frantic. While the acting of Cage, Arquette, Goodman and Rhames isn't stellar, Sizemore and Anthony seem to shine. The midnight backdrop of Manhattan does a tremendous effort to add atmosphere to the film, and it succeeds in spades. It shows you the side of New York City that few ever get to see, even after living there for years on end, and it's an ugly one, much like in The Brave One. It doesn't glamourise anything; neither the job, the medical field, the nightlife, the city, nor the people. Many current day films are advertising vehicles, meant for product placement and putting asses in seats. That doesn't go for this film, which I'm sure wasn't a big box office draw, and might even have only a very small cult following. It's depressing, ugly and sad, which is exactly why I like it.

The film remains open ended, and that might frustrate some but it adds to the overall feeling of hopelessness. You don't know if things will improve, nor will you ever know. There's also no real resolve on where Mary and Frank's relationship is heading. During the film they develop an affection for one another, but it never graduates to a love affair, because finding love in Frank's situation, in the environment he moves in, is not realistic. It makes the affection they share for one another more real and believable, and also doesn't shed any light of hope on the Frank's future.

Tip; if you watch this film, do it late at night, preferably in a sleep-deprived haze, the film becomes magical that way.

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