View Post

Rocking the Couch

Documentary, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Rocking the Couch takes a rudimental approach in its coverage of #metoo that resultingly ends up scattershot and well-trodden. From interviews of actresses who have experienced sexual abuse to history lessons on misconduct in Hollywood, Rocking the Couch’s ambitious efforts to cover a broad spectrum of information within a sixty-minute runtime is admirable, however, sees it unable to effectively dissect important issues facing Hollywood and culture at large.

Where female interviewees share their traumatic experiences on screen, it is with the male respondents, often members of law enforcement or producers, and their dissociative responses on how female victims should behave that highlight something culturally problematic. It is unclear whether Rocking the Couch has something interesting to say about this male perspective – the bizarre manner in which interviews are conducted, involving green screen backgrounds and interviewees drinking wine, is distracting to the point that important themes come across as satirical.

Issues with editing are prevalent throughout Rocking the Couch, with director Minh Collins’ decision to embellish the film with cheap transition effects and stock-images that interrupt interviews being of high school PowerPoint presentation quality.

In title, Rocking the Couch makes a bold declaration that its timely subject matter will disrupt Hollywood, which despite its earnest attempts to do so doesn’t rock the couch as much as it brushes past it.

 
View Post

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Game, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

FromSoftware releases are more than simply games, these days they are practically cultural events. Masters of minimal, atmospheric storytelling and punishing, but satisfying gameplay, each of their titles comes with much fan anticipation, online speculation and endless, earnest think pieces about why “this one should have an easy mode”. In short, FromSoft games are a big deal and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is no exception.

Speculation about the new From game has been rampant since the Dark Souls trilogy closed out with its third entry in 2016. What would be next, we wondered. Bloodborne 2? A reboot of Demon’s Souls? A new IP of some kind? When we finally saw footage of Sekiro, it immediately became dubbed “Samurai Souls”, which was an exciting premise but not particularly accurate. You see, while Sekiro shares many similarities with the so-called Soulsborne games, it’s actually not part of that family. Sekiro is its own thing, for good and for ill.

Sekiro tells the story of Wolf, a wandering shinobi, who is on a mission to save the Divine Heir Kuro from the Ashina clan. The mission gets off to a bad start as during the opening minutes of the game, Wolf gets his left arm lopped off. In typical From-style, you the player need to rebuild the gruff hero’s strength, learn to use a fancy prosthetic and save Kuro from certain death. If this all sounds unusually straight forward for a From game, you’re absolutely correct. Sekiro’sstory is, by the standards of this developer, almost shockingly vanilla. Oh sure, there are some weirder aspects towards the middle and end sections, but nothing like the mind-bending cosmic horror of Bloodborne or the nihilistic fantasy of Dark Souls.

The other big change from standard operating procedure is the gameplay. Whereas Souls and Bloodborne let you choose from a variety of weapons and a variety of play styles, Sekiro gives you a single weapon. Certainly, Wolf can swap out various prosthetic gadgets and other nifty tricks, but it’s sword all the way, baby. Plus, get ready to block and parry. A lot. Like, pretty much the whole game. Sekiro is on a mission to retrain the player, so forget the slower back and forth dance of Dark Souls or the dash-and-slash of Bloodborne, because this is all block, deflect and break that posture for the deathblow. It’s a clever, nuanced system with a steep learning curve but once mastered it makes combat quite satisfying, however it’s hard not to miss the weapon variety from other From games. The inclusion of a spear, hammer and other era-appropriate gear would have gone far in making the proceedings feel a little less samey. Other aspects of Sekiro have been streamlined too, with PvP elements and the ability to summon online players to assist you both missing, and frankly, missed.

Look, dear reader, I’m going to be frank with you here as I slip briefly into the first person. I adore the Soulsborne games, with all my heart. Bloodborne in particular is in my top two all time games – with the other entry being a second copy of Bloodborne – however as much as I respect the craft and artistry of Sekiro, I don’t love it. The story feels a wee bit generic, the characters a little flat, and while the technical aspects of blocking, parrying and breaking posture are well-designed and executed with aplomb… they’re not all that much fun. Obviously this is subjective, and you may feel completely differently, but that’s how this one landed for me.

There’s a lot that’s great about Sekiro, mind you. The world is vital and a joy to explore. The new grapple mechanic adds a degree of verticality to the levels that is a real eye-opener. And the stealth elements, while not always perfectly implemented, are often a great deal of fun. The boss fights, as always, are memorable and frequently wrenchingly frustrating too, and I suspect it will be a while before I forget facing Madame Butterfly, Genichiro Ashina or the freaking Guardian Ape for the first time. However, as happy as I was besting them, I didn’t experience the same endorphin surge delivered by previous From games, instead feeling a kind of grumpy relief. Like I’d just finished cleaning a feral bathroom or a much-delayed trip to the gym.

Ultimately Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is going to be for a very specific type of player. The kind of gamer who liked the other From games, but wanted a more grounded story. Who enjoyed the likes of Bloodborne, but felt it needed more ear-jangling parrying sections and was, perhaps, a little mystified by all those weapon options. Sekiro is a very good game, conceptually, artistically and mechanically, but it’s also a streamlined, pared back experience that feels like it’s lacking some essential element, an indefinable component, that made the other From games masterpieces.

 
View Post

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

Game, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

When The Division launched in 2016 it was an engaging looter shooter beset by intermittent bugs and a lack of meaningful endgame, but it did contain the core of a great idea. Teaming up with your mates, or randos, to take on wandering gangs in a post apocalyptic New York during a snowy winter was a fabulous concept, and even at the game’s low points one couldn’t fault the atmosphere and sense of place. Now The Division 2 has arrived with the goal of addressing its predecessor’s flaws and, by and large, succeeds in this lofty goal.

The Division 2 changes location and season, this time taking place in Washington DC in the height of a sweltering summer. Various criminal factions vie for control of the former seat of America’s government, and it’s up to you – playing solo or in a team – to discourage their homicidal shenanigans with the ultimate attitude adjuster: a metric shit-tonne of guns. If this plot sounds familiar, or slight, that’s because it is. Much like the previous game in the series, The Division 2 is a premise with delusions of grandeur rather than a cohesive story. This is a deliberate choice by developers Massive Entertainment, because they want the player to be able to experience the game in their own way, either by charging through the story or taking the slow approach. While this is a laudable goal, it would have been nice to experience some kind of deeper narrative engagement because at the climax of the story, one shouldn’t be struggling to remember who the main characters actually are.

That said, The Division 2 succeeds spectacularly well when it comes to the world you inhabit. From the first mission where you take back the White House, to the endgame content featuring the dreaded Black Tusk faction, every single location feels lived in, thought out and constructed in a way that best suits a game of this type. Gameplay has also been significantly tweaked, adding elements of strategy to the somewhat tired cover-based shooting mechanics, to the point where players can potentially be overwhelmed by even low level enemies if they don’t choose their position wisely. Enemy AI, the bane of most looter shooters, has been jacked up to give your foes a real sense of agency. None of these cats will be joining Mensa anytime soon, however they will flank, take cover and rush you at times that feel logical. This is a far cry from Destiny’s often braindead foes and gives the action a sense of vitality and excitement.

Best of all, however, The Division 2 showers the player with loot. Whether you’re doing main missions, side missions, bounties, control points, Dark Zone exploration or just pissfarting about in the open world, you will continue to accrue better and better gear. You’ll need it too, because the game contains a surplus of content. The main campaign is a beefy one and after you hit the level cap of 30, an entirely new faction invades the game and reboots the main story missions. It’s a clever way of making old locations feel new again, and certainly addresses the original’s pitiful endgame woes.

The Division 2 won’t convince anyone who despises looter shooters, or games-as-a-service, of its considerable charms. However, for fans of the genre, this is quite possibly the best example currently available. Yes, there are still a few bugs and the shooting never quite attains the god-tier status achieved by Bungie, but it’s a sprawling, rewarding ballistic adventure that’s well worth a look for those keen to get in some post-apocalyptic combat practice before society really collapses. In about eighteen months or so, we reckon. Give or take.

 
View Post

Devil May Cry 5

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Video games, as a medium, have evolved so far beyond their earliest forms. What once existed as a brief diversion, an amusing gimmick, has now attained levels of sophistication impossible to have imagined even a couple of decades ago. Titles like God of War (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/god-of-war-2/) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/red-dead-redemption-2/) have raised the storytelling bar so high, legitimising video games as an art form capable of nuance, pathos and depth. All that being said… sometimes it’s fun to just beat the shit out of a bunch of demons, hey. Sometimes it feels good to unleash colourful carnage on deserving foes and look good while doing so. Devil May Cry 5 scratches that particular itch like an itch-scratching pro.

Devil May Cry 5 is the latest installment in the strange but stylish series from the good people at Capcom. Although the series was rebooted with DmC: Devil May Cry in 2013, this is a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 which dropped in 2008. Confused? Of course you are, but to be honest, familiarity with the series is an optional extra at this stage. Because what Devil May Cry is about, and has always been about, is spectacular action, and oh good (Dark) Lord does this game deliver.

Practically, you’ll be playing as one of three rotating characters. There’s Nero, the arrogant youngster with interchangeable arm attachments; Dante, the classic demon slayer with sword and guns; and V – the lanky, tattooed emo newbie – who can’t actually fight himself but commands a demonic bird, big cat and enormous golem. He also reads poetry to amp up his dark powers and no, we’re not even joking. These three characters have vastly different play styles, unlockable skills and alternate weapons. Even completionists are going to have a hard time experiencing every single trick of the trade during a single playthrough, which is where Devil May Cry 5’s “Son of Sparda” mode comes in handy, basically the title’s version of NG+.

This trio of unlikely friends travel through a pretty ordinary story, that time jumps a little too much for its own good, but essentially the narrative is a delivery system for action scenes. And the action is buttery, fast-paced, exciting, visually spectacular and original. The sheer feeling of unbridled glee as you tear a motorbike in half and smack fools as Dante, or ride your own rocket arm as Nero or leap atop your golem and curb stomp some evil, is genuinely wonderful. After a slew of excellent, but deliberately-paced story-based games, it’s a rare joy to just shut up and fight.

Devil May Cry 5 is, quite simply, a fantastic action game. The story is threadbare, the dialogue frequently appalling, and geez it would have been nice to have a playable female character along with all the NPC eye candy, hey Capcom? But all those concerns will evaporate like a demon’s freshly-slaughtered corpse when the aggressive metal cranks up and the next pulse-pounding blue begins. Slick, gorgeous and utterly addictive, Devil May Cry 5 is a terrific ball-tearing action extravaganza of ultraviolence and chaos and one not to be missed.

 
View Post

Trials Rising

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The Trials games are weird, narky little titles that absolutely should not work and yet somehow, against all odds, do. The premise is thus: you’re a little 2D bloke (or lady) and you ride a motorbike through increasingly evil courses involving the need for speed, precision, stunt skills and nerves of steel. The tracks get harder and more elaborate and the player gets sweaty and more frustrated, until you either run out of tracks (unlikely) or rage quit (extremely likely).

And yet despite obviously being a lower budget title, with 2D courses and occasional moments of graphical glitching, Trials games are utterly compelling. Trials Rising, the latest incarnation, is no exception to the rule and in fact features some of the cleverest, most devious and darkly diabolical courses in the series’ history. You’ll cackle with laughter as your manage to just survive an insane jump leaping through fire, you’ll punch the couch in spit-flecked frustration as a second later you’re coat-hangered by the lip of a ramp you hadn’t previously been aware of. You’ll repeat the courses over and over again, trying to shave precious seconds off your best time, and why? Because the real metagame of any Trials title is beating your mate’s high score.

Ironically, Trials Rising’s biggest problem is the opposite of most AAA games. As a critic one gets wretchedly tired of reviewing yet another tentpole title that doesn’t revolutionise or even vaguely evolve the core gameplay or mechanics, yet Trials Rising has done that and, uh… it’s not great. See, the way you unlock new tracks in previous Trials games was by getting better and better scores on existing tracks, which unlocks new areas. While that mechanic still exists here, to some degree, the main method of unlocking involves grinding random tracks that have new objectives like “30 back flips” or “finish in under a minute”. This sort of randomised content would be fine if it was optional, but it rather steals the thunder – and indeed the whole joy of progression – from previous games.

Other additions to the formula like online multiplayer and the ability to do tracks with your mates are fun, if inessential, but the progression system is a real bummer and feels antithetical to the precision and discipline required to “git gud” at these games.

Ultimately Trials Rising remains a worthy addition to a somewhat niche series, and features some of the most clever, wonderfully torturous tracks in the masochistic series’ history. However a new, frankly baffling, progression system steals the game’s thunder in a confounding fashion. Well worth a squiz for veterans and newbies alike, however, particularly if you have a group of competitive friends whose tears you wish to drink like salty, salty wine.

 
View Post

The Night Eats the World

Home, Home Entertainment, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The zombie genre has become such an overused cliche that it’s even a cliche to talk about what a cliche it is, so we’ll spare you to the usual spiel. Point is, if you’re going to release a zombie flick in the year of our Dark Lord 2019, you’d better be bringing something fresh, unique and interesting to the table. Happily, The Night Eats the World manages at least a couple of those accolades and is an effective slice of genre filmmaking in its own right.

The Night Eats the World tells the tale of Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), a vaguely misanthropic musician who is reluctantly visiting his ex-girlfriend, Fanny (Sigrid Bouaziz) to retrieve some audio tapes he left with her. However, when he arrives there is a party in full swing and Sam, unable to get Fanny alone, retreats to a backroom and passes out. During the night chaos reigns and when Sam wakes up the next day, he faces a world that has completely changed, and the surprisingly spry dead are frenziedly feeding on the flesh of the living.

Anyone who has seen 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (1978 or 2004) or even Shaun of the Dead (or about six hundred others) will be familiar with the basic setup here. Where Night sets itself apart is through tone and perspective, which in this case is very French. Sam is a compelling protagonist, who reacts to most situations with an appealing sense of practicality, but he’s also troubled and possibly mentally unstable. This volatile mix adds a unique sense of tension to the proceedings, where we’re never sure how much to trust Sam’s perspective. The zombies, too, feel quite fresh, standing stationary until they see or hear something and then moving nightmarishly fast, similar to the Aussie undead in Cargo, but also completely silent; with nary a groan of a hiss to be heard from them. Combined with very little dialogue throughout the film, this imbues the movie with a curious sonic minimalism which is oddly effective and extremely creepy.

Ultimately, The Night Eats the World plays out like a French indie I Am Legend, with lashings of 28 Days Later-style fast paced action and surprising moments of existential rumination. It’s confidently directed by Dominique Rocher, extremely effectively acted by Anders Danielsen Lie and reminds even the most zombie agnostic why there’s still twitchy, toothy life left in this versatile sub-genre.

 
View Post

Anthem

Game, Gaming, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Here’s the elevator pitch for Anthem: you’re on a strange world, spectacular and beautiful, that is chockers with deadly fauna, shonky humans and an ancient power you barely understand. The good news? You’re in a freaking Iron Man suit and you can fly all around this daunting, picturesque landscape, getting into adventures with your mates who are along for the ride. Sounds good, right? Well, the even better news is that the game’s by BioWare. You know, the people who brought us the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’? So you just know the characters will be fleshed out and the story intriguing.

It’s a great elevator pitch, and a great concept, so why then is the actual result so bland and lifeless?

Perhaps the problem with Anthem is the fact that it’s an online shooter/looter, a genre of game best represented by Destiny and The Division. This is new territory for BioWare, it’s true, but even grading on a curve, Anthem is shockingly light on narrative hooks and any atmosphere that extends beyond the admittedly pretty aesthetics. This is less Mass Effect 2 BioWare and more Mass Effect: Andromeda BioWare.

On the plus side, the flying is fun, and the mountainous, vertical terrain looks very cool. You’ll fly through the air, soaring past waterfalls and grazing creatures and shoot through alien technology, and gape in awe at how beautiful it all can be. This sense of spectacle won’t last long, however, as you’ll soon realise just how shallow and repetitive the gameplay is, even by shooter/looter standards. The combat feels okay, the missions are deeply unimaginative and the villain of the piece, called “The Monitor” is one of the more forgettable villains in recent memory.

The biggest problem with Anthem, however, is that it simply doesn’t feel that great to play. Flight is cool, it’s true, but the shooting and exploration are just adequate. There’s none of that addictive Destiny-style shooting that practically floods your brain with endorphins every time you pull the trigger. Instead, you’re left with an experience that’s just sort of… okay.

Even if you can look past the numerous technical flaws, the frequent drop outs, insane loading times and a staggeringly clunky User Interface, Anthem just isn’t that good of a game. It’s average in a sea of better products and while it may fix its various problems down the track, right now it’s a tragic waste of potential.

 
View Post

Backtrace

Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Following a bank job, Macdonald (Matthew Modine) and his fellow bank robbers do a back-woods rendezvous with shady partners in order to split the cash. The only wrinkle is that Macdonald and his fellow thieves already divvied the cash up and buried what they adamantly believe is their share of the $20 million spoils. The shady partners are none too pleased and a shoot-out ensues, seeing Macdonald’s accomplices all violently dispatched and Macdonald himself legging it through dense woods. During this tense escape, Macdonald cops a bullet to the head and thus a permanent bout of amnesia.

Fast forward seven years and Macdonald is a shell of his former-self and something of a man adrift. He’s banged up in maximum security for a crime he doesn’t remember committing, receiving regular visits from Sykes (Sylvester Stallone), a cop who worked his case and lives in hope of him remembering his crimes. One day, a fellow prisoner poised-for-release named Lucas (Ryan Guzman) offers Macdonald a chance to escape, aided by seemingly compromised prison officer Farren (Tyler Jon Olson) and prison Nurse Erin (Meadow Williams). Macdonald is smuggled out of the facility, to a deserted location where he’s offered a chance to remember his fragmented past with the help of an experimental new drug that restores memories but also causes intense pain. Submitting to the drug, Macdonald is as hopeful at the prospect of restoring his memories, as his abetters are about locating the stolen money from the bank job he cannot remember. On the trail of the escapee is the world-weary Sykes, who’s partnered with the tetchy Franks (Christopher MacDonald), and the pair endlessly bicker while overseeing the manhunt.

Mike Maples’ screenplay is pedestrian, lacking plausibility or weight. There are some serious logic holes which are helped in no small part by the fairly capable cast, particularly Modine who’s rather excellent as a man without a past. The low-budget nature of the production means that most scenes (save the prison sequences) take place in abandoned forests, desolate roads, vacant houses and empty factories, which leaves the viewer with a weird sense of emptiness and makes the film seem stagey. There are twists (obviously Macdonald is something of an unreliable protagonist) which help keep the plot moving along at a decent speed and Thomas Calderón’s editing coupled with Australian Peter A. Holland’s camera work give the action sequences some much needed pep.

The nature of Stallone’s supporting role means that he probably spent only a few days on the set, but he does alright with the modicum of character that the script presents him with. Stallone wears the part like an old shoe, busting out his ‘crusty old cop’ arsenal of character traits and gravelly-voiced grump, carving out a pretty solid performance on the whole.

Overall, it’s a straight-up VOD B-movie and knows what it needs to do to get the job done.

 
View Post

Metro Exodus

Game, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

You remember that scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds? Right in the opening, where Christoph Waltz is talking to that hapless dairy farmer about trying to uncover any Jews hiding in the area. Waltz is amiable, chatty and very decorous right up until the moment he isn’t, and a bunch of nazis are blasting through the floorboards and it’s shocking and scary and you can’t quite believe the tension has finally been expelled? That’s the feeling you get playing Metro Exodus.

Metro Exodus is the third, and possibly final, chapter in the Metro trilogy comprising Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light. The series has always been a criminally underrated slice of post-apocalyptic, first person action and suspense and hopefully with this entry will finally get the recognition it deserves.

The story revolves around Artyom – a robust but disillusioned man who, along with wife Anna, believes there are people and life outside of the claustrophobic confines of the metro system. Without getting into too many details – he’s bloody right and this fact sets him, the missus and a bunch of other characters off on a mostly above ground journey through post-apocalyptic Russia. This is a huge change for the series, and it works well for the most part. As atmospheric as the tunnels were in previous games, the change of location has added a lot more world building to the tale, and gameplay variety has increased.

The game is essentially divided into three large sandboxes that house the main missions, but also lots of side missions and environmental storytelling. The side missions aren’t 100% essential, but are really worth taking on just for the sake of getting a complete sense of the taste of texture of this grim, evocative setting.

It’s at this point we should probably bring it back to the Tarantino comparison, because Metro Exodus is a slow game. Artyom moves slowly, not sluggishly, but definitely with a certain deliberate pace. Most combat is best tackled in a stealthy manner, because death can arrive with little warning. You’ll need to worry about every bullet, because ammo is scarce, and even the ability to craft new ammo isn’t always going to help because the materials necessary to do so are also scarce. The game rewards thoughtful, meticulous forward planning and strategic thinking. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not a strategy game, and when the action kicks off, it’s frenetic and exciting, but the pace between encounters is not going to be for everyone.

Another potential sticking point is a few moments where the game’s a tad rough around the edges. The voice acting is a bit dodgy – utilising the ubiquitous but senseless ‘speaking English in bad Russian accents’ technique that hasn’t died yet for some reason – and there are minor bugs here and there, with a couple of hard crashes along the way. This is by no means everpresent or game-ruining, and will probably be fixed in patches, but it’s noticeable. There’s a slight clunkiness to some of the movement too, with the melee attack in particular feeling strangely weightless and clumsy. Still and all, these are minor issues when set against everything that works in this sprawling, ambitious tale.

Metro Exodus is engaging, tense and occasionally frustrating, but always compelling. Beset by occasional quirks of its lower-than-blockbuster budget it nonetheless delivers a freight train worth of excitement and never flies off the rails. For those interested in a thoughtful, deliberately-paced thriller with Tarantino-esque explosions of shocking violence, intelligent world building and genuinely scary monsters Metro Exodus might just be the train to board

 
View Post

Zero-Point

Australian, Home, Review, This Week, web series Leave a Comment

Comprising of four episodes that are each approximately five minutes long, the political animated web-series Zero-Point wastes no time ostensibly exposing the injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians beneath the backdrop of a society policed by superheroes.

The series focuses on Indigenous Superhero Zero Point (Mark Coles Smith), who is part of a government superhero crime fighting syndicate, A.F.E.C.O (Australian Federal Extra-Normal Civil Operatives), that is determined to uncover and take down a mysterious villain, Samson (Steven Oliver), who is determined to reassert sovereignty.

Zero-Point is then embroiled in a mystery to discover what happened to his father, with the show able to touch on topical Indigenous issues including white-patriotism, the stolen generation, substance abuse, and racism experienced in the judicial system.

All the more impressive due to the short length of each episode, characters are fleshed out to the extent that the audience can rationalise and understand their motivations, with enough mystery left should there be a second season.

There is a distinctly rigid style to the animation that resembles an ‘80s cartoon, that when combined with the action scenes elevate the story to highlight Indigenous Australian struggles.

Zero-Point, as was the case for Black Panther, uses the confines of a superhero story to highlight the inequality felt by Indigenous Australians and is done so with a clear agenda that never feels overbearing.

https://zero-point.tv/