The Witch (2015) Review

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Robert Eggers The Witch has been an elusive film for me, in the sense that being able to get to a screening has been difficult, since there were very few that were close enough for me to see it. But I finally did. And it was great.

For those that don’t know, this film follows a New England family who are banished from their settlement for reasons that we can assume are religious ones. So they go out and establish a farmstead out near the woods.  Things start going bad, of course, when the baby disappears and the crops start failing.

The cinematography here is fantastic, with slow and suspenseful camera work, with a dour, somewhat desaturated look. Twisting branches, gnarled roots and lighting that plays an excellent role, particularly towards the end of the film that discloses enough for you to understand, but also hides enough to let your imagination run wild.

The film also shoots for authenticity in it’s aesthetics. From the mannerisms of the characters that do believably sound like New Englanders of the time that can occasionally be difficult to understand, to the look of the farmhouses and the very brief glimpses we get of the village. The actors of the film were unknown to me, but the performances of the small cast is brilliant, with the voice of the father having and unmistakeable tenor and dialect that is strong, but also as the film progresses filled with the edge of paranoia and resignation.

On a structural level, the film feels almost literary, with sequences that due to the way they are cut feel like clearly demarcated chapters. These are expertly paced as well, with the film focusing more on the relationships of characters, religious piety and fervour, as well as paranoia that escalate throughout the film, with the ‘horror’ moments being like extraordinarily effective exclamations that drive the next section forward. This is also driven though expert use of sound, cutting from quiet to very loud moments, the use of foreboding music and silence both exude the terrifying quality of horror, whilst maintaining some contemplative aspect to the film. Actual violence is also sparse, but also effective. I know the phrases “gripping” and “edge of your seat” are perhaps cliché in the realm of film reviews, but those phrases fit this film like a glove, since as the film progressed and got closer to the end, the closer to the edge of the seat I was and so was the friend of mine who I saw this with.

To conclude: The Witch is a brilliant film, perhaps one of the best recent horror movies available. It is a shame that this didn’t get a wider theatrical release, considering it is a film I think a mainstream audience could still appreciate. But yes, The Witch is a gripping, believable and expertly crafted film that feels authentic to the period and authentic to spirit of old folk tales that you should all go see whenever you have the opportunity to do so.

9/10

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Doom (2016) Review

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Today, we have a guest review from my friend Craven

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Arm Ripping. Spine Tearing. Mind Blowing.


Developer: iD Software
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Platforms: PS4, XBone, PC (Played on PC)
Copy Acquisition: Purchased ($50 AUD)
Playtime: 13 hours

NOTE: This review only concerns the single-player portion of the game. Multiplayer and Snapmap functionality have not been tested at the time of writing.

In the leadup to the 2016 reboot of DOOM (which for simplicity I’ll be referring to as DOOM 4) it was easy to be cynical. iD Software’s games have declined in quality for a long time now. As more of the original team left iD became a studio more keen on interesting technology than it was in interesting game design. This peaked with RAGE, a game more remembered for its experiment with megatextures than its mark as an actual video game. Now with John Carmack’s departure leaving no original DOOM team members left, hope seemed as low as ever for iD. Couple this with DOOM 4’s gameplay reveal demonstrating a both cluttered and console geared appearance, and an incredibly poorly received multiplayer beta that gave off the impression that DOOM 4 was an amalgamation of Call of Duty and Halo. All signs simply pointed to DOOM 4 not being able to reach anywhere near a worthy successor to the over 20 year legacy of the DOOM series.

In the end though, it simply makes it all the more surprising. Because oh my god, they actually did it. DOOM 4 is a spectacular shooter, combining elements from various old school shooters with ideas brought in from other genres to make a thrilling new game.

Let’s begin with the plot. What’s there is a sci-fi romp akin to the stories told in the other DOOM games. Demons happened on Mars, it’s your job to stop the demons and close the portal to Hell. On Mars. DOOM 4’s only supporting cast member is Samuel Hayden, a robot intent on guiding you to the point where you can go save the day. Apart from him and main villain Olivia Pierce, this is Doomguy’s show. And it’s Doomguy that gives an otherwise threadbare story an interesting twist, as it becomes very clear that Doomguy’s role is to mostly ignore the plot and only be concerned with one thing: killing demons. A screen comes up providing an exposition dump and he pushes it away. He’s told to carefully take apart expensive research equipment and responds by kicking it straight to the ground. If it doesn’t immediately assist with the purpose of killing more demons, it doesn’t matter to Doomguy. Hell, one of DOOM 4’s strengths is how quick it is to get you to the point of demon killing. You just wake up chained to a sacrificial altar, break said chains and proceed to smash a demon’s skull in before beginning the shooting right then and there. It seriously takes the game about 10 seconds to get going and it’s a delightful way to open.

Now as for the gameplay it’s important to first dive straight into DOOM 4’s most controversial addition: melee finishers. These canned animations have been subject to flak as a sign that the game was being built less for enjoyable play, and more for “cinematic” single button presses to just show you the fun instead. Thankfully in practice these are made to accompany the flow of the shooting, rather than distract from it. Firstly, the animations are incredibly short, so short that even with the full speed of the action (and the action is fast) it doesn’t feel like they’re wasting a single moment of your time and never outstay their welcome. Secondly, the main way you heal in DOOM 4 is for enemies to drop health pickups. Using the melee finishers not only drops the most health, but you get to pick up the health immediately by virtue of already being right up to the demon for killing. Layered on top of this is the chainsaw, which has very limited uses but on use causes an enemy to bleed bullets instead of health, providing an ammo refill for when you most sorely need it. This, coupled with the fact that the game is very fast and actually quite substantially difficult, leaves the combat with 3 distinct rules:

  • You stop moving, you die
  • You stop killing, you die
  • If you can’t keep shooting, it’s chainsaw time. You can now continue shooting.

One last thing to mention about the gunplay is the BFG, which in DOOM 4 feels like an addition ripped quite naturally from the bullet hell genre. Similar to the chainsaw it’s very limited on uses, but functions as a screen clearing bomb to save for whenever a fight becomes too overwhelming.

The structure of the levels is another thing where DOOM 4 feels comfortable in taking inspiration from another genre. It still retains a lot from classic shooters with secrets in a healthy enough abundance and just well hidden enough to make them rewarding and fun to find. However individual encounters with monsters almost exclusively happen in combat arenas that lock you in single rooms, with most paths and existing for traversal and secret hunting, rather than combat. It’s a structure that feels like it was pulled directly from the hack & slash genre, like their main inspiration came from God of War or Devil May Cry, rather than looking exclusively at classic shooters. Hell, to go back to the melee finishers, they fill a surprisingly similar function to the Zandatsu mechanic from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Point being it’s inspiration that naturally fits the style of gunplay they’re going for, and serves to add to the shooter genre in a different direction to where most shooters have gone in the modern era.

Now DOOM 4’s aesthetic & music are both dividing elements of the game, with a lot of pre-release footage giving off a really bland look, topped off with cover art that’s about as generic as it comes. However when coupled with how the game feels in your hands, it feels like the aesthetic & music were a puzzle, and the gameplay was the missing piece to make it all feel complete and cohesive. In motion during actual play the visual style pops, with a lot of the duller colours serving to make brighter one pop out vividly. The music’s blend of heavy guitar riffs and synth flow with the action well, with the track changing whenever you pull a melee finisher as well as changing when more and more demons flood into the level. It’s not the amazing flow of the aforementioned Metal Gear Rising and its boss music, but it’s enough to have a similar effect of ramping up the music to accompany the action.

Ultimately, DOOM 4 will fare well with you depending on what your expectations for a new DOOM are. Because it is a new experience, and many DOOM fans will take issue with some of the design changes. If you’re looking for what would essentially be a HD remake of DOOM II look elsewhere, and if you’re looking for a further progression of where DOOM 3 took the series you’re also set to be disappointed. DOOM 4 for what it is though is a thrill, an absolute joy to play and a will almost certainly go up as one of the best games of 2016.

10/10

Look Who’s Back (2015) Review

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What would happen if Adolf Hitler were to suddenly be transported to modern day Germany? This is the question the satirical, part mockumentary tries to answer this question. As the premise suggests, the film follows Hitler trying to get his bearings in modern Germany and eventually becomes a television success.

The film is both hilarious and illuminating. Massuci (who is playing Hitler) has an excellent grasp on Hitlerian mannerisms, especially on the first television appearance where he maintains silence,drawing audience attention, before speaking. He’s a fish out of water, which is where most of the hilarity comes from. But the film, while very funny, also has a very serious tone in it as well, almost as if it has the pulse of contemporary Germany. There are many things that this fictional Hitler says that are absolutely correct.

These illuminating sequences are the unscripted sequences with ordinary German people. Many people, whether they be elderly or young women voice their complaints about immigration and their disillusionment with democracy. Our Hitler marvels at technology, such as flat screen television, but after seeing what’s on, lambastes it for the pointless trash it is. He meets with AfD and NPD members and lambastes them for their lack of charisma, such as by falling asleep when the AfD guy is talking about fiscal or education policy. We also see people who look absolutely stoked to see him, getting selfies and doing the Roman salute with him. But we also see others who are deeply offended and in a very pleasurable moment, see some punk looking skinny antifa kid yelling ‘fuck Germany’ to then get pulled down by some ordinary looking football fans. I’m not sure to what extent editing influenced this, but it seemed to me as though all the people who had positive reactions were largely tourists in Germany or a cross section of regular folk, whereas those who had negative reactions were largely human refuse.

As I said, the film is very funny and has lots of excellent moments, but in the third act, it loses a little bit of steam when it steers into a more dramatic tone that feels like sermonising and trying to elicit some guilt, which is probably why this film was allowed to be made and distributed in Germany in the first place, because otherwise the film has it’s fair share of moments that will feel very controversial to many,especially the German establishment.

But aside from a somewhat darker and on the nose, slightly preachy third act, this is a very timely film that has it’s pulse on the continued political polarization and actual views of your ordinary German on the street and it does this without mocking or doing anything mean spirited with those individuals. This was filmed in around 2014 into 2015 and in the wake of Merkel’s open borders policy, this film is doubly relevant. It is a film that might be challenging and controversial for some and an absolute delight for others and I think it encourages a multiplicity of interpretation, especially in the sense of our being enamoured with Hitler from different points of view. It should be on Netflix in most countries, so if you have Netflix, spend and evening watching a timely and intelligent comedy.

8/10

Martyrs (2008) review

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How does one review a film like the French language Martyrs? It certainly can’t be said that this movie can be ‘enjoyed’ by any understanding of the meaning of enjoyment. Martyrs begin with the story of a young girl who had escaped captivity from a horrific abuse and 15 years later, seeks revenge on her captors.

This film is nasty and violent. Incredibly violent, the kind that makes one sick to one’s core. It’s pure misery almost the entire way through. The plot is a little thin, but that is no matter: the sheer intensity of what is going on, helped by handheld camerawork and high amounts of claustrophobic shots, with the most brutal of effects of bodily mortification and harsh sound keep the consistent mood of grief.As the characters get broken down, so do you. It is frighteningly immersive and challenging for the viewer. It is a film that will make you feel like garbage. With an original score that sounds like something that would almost fit Silent Hill maintains the oppressive atmosphere. This is a film purely about the raw feeling it gives you, the total depths of sterile and impersonal violence that can be done to a person. It’s really the perfect blend of how the feelings that the film gives you really drive the narrative content and your understanding of the film.

There’s not much else to say about this on a technical level, because that’s all great. It can’t be said that I enjoyed the film, even though it was excellent. If you think you can take this kind of movie that makes you feel an absolutely miserable, it is worth martyring yourself to. Most people probably won’t be able to handle this. And that’s fine. But it is an amazing movie in what I call the ‘human misery’ sub genre.

9/10

Sanjuro (1962) Review

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Sanjuro stars Toshiro Mifune in this samurai film from the early 1960’s, directed by Japanese film auteur Akira Kurosawa. It follows Sanjuro, a wandering samurai who is astonishingly unkempt and unconventional, in stark contrast to the young samurai that follow him are are very tight and formal.

While it is said to be a comedy, I only found it occassionally funny, although this might just be a thing with me not getting all the subtleties. But otherwise, if you’re familiar with Westerns, such as the Man With No Name trilogy, you will likely be able to orient yourself quite quickly, considering the cross cultural nature of the conventions of jidaigeki films and westerns. Mifune displays himself an incredible talent offering an immense amount of realism and character into Sanjuro, with an incredible amount of depth coming through pure expression.

A black and white film, it holds up very well visually with brilliant lighting and sets that for the most part I can only assume were shot on location. If it wasn’t on location, then they’re very impressive sets, because the film just looks great, especially with Kurosawa’s camerawork. However, it might just be a technical problem with the print the digital master was created from, but there are occassional oddities in the editing that don’t seem intention and are more like slight technical mistakes, which for a very brief moment take you out of the experience. In regards to the violence, there are fights but the sounds aren’t as bombastic with the clanging of metal on flesh like newer films might be and there’s very little blood which is fine, because when there is blood, it is more impactful. Fight choreography is also excellent, especially in the final fight of the film.

Should you watch Sanjuro? Yes, especially if you haven’t seen any films in the jidaigeki genre and like westerns. It’s an enjoyable adventure of a film with an excellent performance, beautiful visuals and a lot of heart. Check it out.

7.5/10

Overwatch (2016) Open Beta: Impressions

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Over the weekend, Blizzard opened up access to their latest shooter for PC, Overwatch. I played it for a bit over the weekend, at least enough to get a feel for the game, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you on it.

If you have been living under a rock and you don’t know what this game is, the most succinct frame of reference I can give you is that it is Blizzard’s answer to Team Fortress 2. It has a similar rendering style, although more high fidelity and is aesthetically pleasing in it’s cartoonishness and it’s diverse range of characters, from Pharah, the Egyptian woman that looks like she’s in the Samus suit and can rocket jump, to Bastion, a portable to turret, Genji who is basically Grey Fox and Torbjorn, a dwarf who is essentially the engineer from TF2, to Reaper who is the obligatory edgelord. Each character has their own weapons and abilities that make them feel markedly different, such as having differing default movement speeds, amounts of weapons and special abilities. For example, one of Genji’s abilities is to block bullets, McCree can empty his revolver as if in a spaghetti western, Mercy heal, Mei can summon a block of the Wall from Game of Thrones. There are about 21 heroes and each fit broadly into one of four classes: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support, which gives you some indication of what characters you might want to pick in particular match types or match circumstances, such as whether you are attacking or defending. It is a dynamic that works well most of the time, however, there are some balance problems. One notable problem is stacking of a particular class on defense, that being having four or more Torbs in one team. When a team I was on did this, it was a cakewalk and we slaughtered them. The same occurred the next round when the entire team went as Torb and we were resigned to the fact that we were going to get smashed, but we tried hard anyways.

In terms of maps, I didn’t play many, but the themes were varied: from the sunny Greek coast, to a Hollywood set for a western film, to Russia, to Egyptian themed maps, all blending nicely with character personalities. I didn’t play enough to be able to give you any sort of detailed breakdown of map layouts, but from what I did play, they were all enjoyable to play on and there was nothing that immediately

In each match, it is 6v6 and there are King of the Hill type modes, to modes that are identical to payload. Unfortunately, there is no server browser, so this all operates off of matchmaking. On the plus side, the matchmaking works quite well and consistently, unlike Rainbow Six: SiegeAnother positive is that the game performs well, as I am getting about 90 fps on average at around max settings at 1440p on a GTX 970. There is also a party system which works consistently well and the in game chat is comprehensive and allows you to talk to specific people, your team, party, or the server.

One thing that will inevitably come up in discussion of this game on message boards: who is the best waifu? Who is best girl? I am not going to get into that discussion here, but I will say that most players will find out who is their very own best girl, in addition to who is their favourite to play. My favourite to play is Pharah because of rocket jumping and being able to deal loads of damage.

To wrap up, is the game good? I would say yes, it played mostly quite well and is perfect for those who want to scratch that TF2 itch whilst avoiding the baggage that plagues TF2 as it stands today. If you have an itch for this type of arcadey shooter, I would definitely recommend looking into it.

Carrie (1976) Review

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Carrie is an American horror classic from Brian de Palma, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. It is an emotional rollercoaster of a film and I would say not a horror in the conventional sense that one might be used to, such as slashers or cabin horror. It is the story of a shy young girl bullied by her peers and psychologically abused by her insane Christian mother and throughout the course of the film, discovers that she has supernatural powers.

Watching this film 40 years after it’s original original release is like stepping into both a filmic and cultural time machine. The opening sequence in a high school girls locker room-a casual and non sexual nudity, the segregation of physical education classes by sex, the teacher being able to physically strike a student. It’s a world that feels removed from current times, yet still retaining it’s familiarity.

Sissy Spacek plays the titular Carrie White and delivers an astounding and believable performance. This is one of those performances that hit you emotionally- you see her shyness, her fear, embarrassment, but also her fleeting moments of happiness. Carrie’s eventual blossoming confidence and happiness is something truly lovely to witness-yet at the same time terrifying, for us the audience already anticipate the impending humiliation and tragedy. We see from the opening shower sequence, in which Carrie experiences her first period and is absolutely frightened, for she does not yet understand what is happening to her and when she cries for help, she is laughed at and humiliated. This is something I cannot exactly empathise with, but for young girls, especially around the time of the film’s release, this would be terrifying to them. But the point from it is we see the meanness of her peers and even with the supernatural element of the film and it’s climactic prom sequence, it is not some metaphysical being like a Freddy Krueger or a psycho like Norman Bates. Rather, it is from the excess of an every day kind of meanness and abuse that we see throughout the film-something more akin to a banality of evil. Yet, not everyone is nasty to poor Carrie, there are those, very few who are genuinely nice to her, making the climax of the film all the more tragic.

The soundtrack of the film is also something to note, combining elements of classic melodramatic style without being too overbearing, quotations of hymnic rhythms, diegetic rock and roll and gloomy atmosphere, with all these in play during the prom sequence in the final act to devastating effect, especially with the transition from triumphant melodrama to the sounds of impending doom. Not to mention that there were some sounds which sounded almost ripped from Psycho with their screech and brief rhythms when they are heard. Other performances in the film are believable enough, perhaps seeming a little odd, but not enough to take one out of the experience, but Spacek steals the show. Visual effects as well seem to mostly hold up and the visuals of the film are absolutely fantastic, again in that prom sequence which we inevitably circle back to when talking about this film.

Carrie is a film that I really liked in a way I didn’t expect it to, it was greatly moving engaged something of a protective instinct from myself. Of course, others will feel differently, but the fact that this film can achieve that without feeling manipulative or doing it in the cheapest way possible, but instead feels genuine and uncomplicated. And despite it having the clear stamp of being from a different time, I would insist that it still has a timeless quality to it. It’s brilliant and if you haven’t seen this American classic, you should.

9/10