KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

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KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sun Aug 14, 2016 9:59 pm

I quite enjoy reviewing things, as those of you who enjoy my Gotham write-ups (aka layer-by-layer takedowns and slow descents into insanity) and sporadic articles know. Since the editing process for articles wasn't going speedy enough for my liking, I've decided to crib a bit from Octoberpumpkin's lovely game reviewing thread and Pseudoman's equally lovely anime reviewing thread and start a reviewing thread of my own!

NOTE: Reviews are now inside spoiler tags for length and convenience reasons, not due to actual spoilers. I still maintain my policy of being vague about all but the most infuriating plot developments.

Contents:

Films

Lights Out (this post)
Suicide Squad
Don't Breathe
Hell or High Water
Blair Witch
Hardcore Henry
Deepwater Horizon
The Accountant
Arrival
Nocturnal Animals
The Bye-Bye Man
Get Out
Netflix's Death Note
Perfect Blue
A Quiet Place
Slender Man

Television

Channel Zero: Candle Cove
Samurai Jack (Season 5)
Barry (Season 1)

Games

Adr1ft
Abzu
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter
To The Moon
No Man's Sky
Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom
Virginia
The Beginner's Guide
Dishonored 2
For Honor
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
What Remains of Edith Finch
Stories Untold
NieR: Automata
Observer
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus

Anime

Kill la Kill
ERASED
My Hero Academia
Space Patrol Luluco
KonoSuba
Kiznaiver
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy
My Hero Academia (Season 2)
Girls' Last Tour
Inuyashiki: Last Hero
Made In Abyss




Lights Out (2016)

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Basic Summary: A dysfunctional family is menaced by a shadowy figure that only appears when the lights go out.
Genre: Horror
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia
Length: 81 minutes

(I would normally put the trailer here, but in this case it spoils the one mystery of the movie and most of the big moments. If you desperately want it, you can look it up, but I would advise against it unless you just don't care.)

For the unaware, Lights Out follows Rebecca (Palmer), a young woman who lives on her own after having fled her old home. Rebecca's mother, Sophie (Bello), is afflicted with severe depression and delusional behavior, driving everyone away but her young son Martin (Bateman). Her mental instability worsens following the gruesome and unexplained murder of her second husband, and she retreats into her darkened home, leaving Rebecca to care for Martin. However, the silhouette of a misshapen woman starts to turn up in the shadows of Rebecca's apartment, and when this figure -- calling itself "Diana" -- starts attacking the siblings, they must find out what it is, how it relates to their mother, and if they can get rid of it before it claims them all...

Spoiler: show
I was looking forward to this film since its announcement, for one reason and one reason only: it's based on a short film that freaked the shit out of me for days after I first saw it, and directed by the guy who made said short film. This short film is three minutes of breathless suspense and creative cinematography tricks, and it frayed my nerves like nothing else. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:



It's an excellent premise -- simple, but playing off one of our primal fears and providing fuel for tons of potentially terrifying scenarios. Translating it to film, however, saddles the premise with additional needs: the need for a story, the need for character development and interaction, and the need for the initial scares of the gimmick to hold up for an hour and a half. Were all of these requirements met?

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Let's start with the story, which has been -- for the most part -- rightfully earning some critical praise. This is not a typical horror flick story, painted on as an excuse for jump scares; David Sandberg had a clear plot and theme in mind, and the subject matter boiling under the surface of the plot is something that is very close to his heart, as subsequent interviews have proven. It's neither a particularly complex story nor a particularly subtle one about its message, but it's more than a lot of mainstream horror films put out, and the message is one that I happen to care a lot about as well. So that's perfectly fine. Several in-universe, non-thematic explanations veer into overused cliches and are riddled with plot holes, but I would be willing to overlook them if I were dazzled by the film as a whole.

Unfortunately, the pacing and the ending both do their level best to drag my affection for the bright spots down. We'll get to the ending in a bit, but the pacing... oof. The film is eighty minutes, so screen time needs to be used optimally, but it feels like forty at most. I would normally praise the shunning of filler and sluggishness, but Lights Out course-corrects so hard that it falls victim to the opposite problems. It's too quick, too breezy, too willing to show its whole bag of tricks right off the bat. Suspense and buildup are scant before Diana starts clearly showing herself, and both the characters and the audience learn exactly what the nature of the threat is and how to fend it off within the first half-hour. If the climax didn't start so long before the end, this would feel like a necessity, but the amount of wasted time once the rising action hits its peak makes one question why more of the running time wasn't devoted to tension buildup.

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The characters are much like the story: simple, but with effort put forth to make them feel like more than they are. Rebecca is your typical rebellious youth, but her vulnerability, alienation from her mother, and struggle to give her little brother a suitable home make her more than a stereotype. Martin is surprisingly tolerable for a horror movie kid, neither wise beyond his years nor unbearably precocious, and I predict a bright acting future for Gabriel Bateman (although I noticed him doing a weird thing with his mouth throughout much of the first act that I can't quite describe). Rebecca's boyfriend Bret (DiPersia) initially looks like your standard cannon fodder punk, but he's kind, logical, and willing to stick around when Rebecca needs him most.

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The standout of the main group is Sophie, the caring, do-right mother tortured by her mental illnesses. As a portrait of crippling depression and schizophrenia, she's heartbreakingly realistic; she genuinely loves her children and wants them back in her life, but as she attempts to reconnect and make amends, the imbalances in her brain drive them away and push her further into the depths. It's a bitter cycle I have seen play out too many times, and Maria Bello captures all sides of her personality and mental state compellingly. It saddens me that she almost certainly won't get some kind of recognition for the role, because she's one of the film's brightest highlights.

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It's a shame, then, that as we circle back from the elements introduced to the core concept and examine what remains of the core itself, my praise dries up. The horror aspects are undoubtedly the weakest element of Lights Out, to such an astounding degree that I would be tempted to classify the film as a drama with loose horror elements rather than the intense thrills-and-chills fright fest it clearly intends to be. These elements aren't mutually exclusive, either, because movies like The Babadook and Mama have cleanly blended them to great effect in the past. Everything was lined up for this movie to work, and... it doesn't.

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Almost none of the power of the original short carries over to the film. Diana is a more fleshed-out entity than her nameless counterpart, and her crackling puppet-like movements are suitably disturbing, but she lacks any real presence onscreen and off. Thanks to the lack of tension buildup, there is no suspense surrounding where she could be or what she might do. Her silhouette and in-and-out appearances are effectively shot, but they inspire more appreciation for the special effects (and the fact that it's almost all practical rather than CGI) than shock or fear. Her constant screams are obnoxious, her abilities and level of brutality are wildly inconsistent, and her face -- when it's eventually revealed under a glaring blacklight -- is unbelievably close to the campiest special effects in the original Evil Dead series, and a far cry from her nightmarish appearance in the short. In every one of her scenes, I wanted to be scared -- actively tried to appreciate what the movie was setting out to sell me -- but she dredges up neither fear nor campy hilarity. When I walked through my house around midnight after getting home, with every light off and nobody else around, I stared at the shadows I was practically blind through and felt nothing but crushing apathy.

And then, when it can't get any worse, we come to the film's ending.

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I don't blame David Sandberg for the content of the finale, and how it's all resolved. According to interviews with him and others who worked closely in the writing process, the original cut of the film went on for several minutes longer, complementing the theme of the movie and putting a critical spin on the core message. However, test audiences complained that the film went on for a few minutes too long and that it should end where it ends in the theatrical release. But the end result of this? Not only is it an anticlimactic resolution to the story and a painfully poor finish to the central character dynamics, but it paints a horrifying picture all over the intended point. I know Sandberg didn't mean for it to turn out that way, and since a sequel has already been greenlit, I hope he'll have the chance to bring his point about properly. But this is not the sequel, and we're stuck with an ending that all-but compromises the entire piece.

In the end, I walked into Lights Out wanting to love it and walked out struggling to remember anything within it. The story is thoughtful and the characters are exceedingly well done, but my goodwill is tempered by the liquid pacing, nonexistent scares, and cripplingly shoddy ending. It's leagues ahead of typical summer horror flicks, and those desperate for something remotely creative to see could do worse than this. However, when The Babadook and Mama are both things that exist, I can't say it's your best option for dysfunctional family horror and well-realized depictions of mental illness.

Rating: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

I do want to see more theatrical work from David Sandberg. His short films are great, and he clearly knows his stuff. This video is an interesting look at the making of the film -- at least, the trailer -- and the thought and effort that went into it. I just hope the next final product he churns out is better than this.
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Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed Aug 15, 2018 6:53 pm, edited 40 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:24 am

Suicide Squad (2016)

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Basic Summary: A team of super-criminals are forced to assemble to stop a world-ending threat.
Genre: Action
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney
Length: 123 minutes



For the (scant few) unaware, Suicide Squad follows a crew of homicidal misfits forcibly assembled by a shadowy government agency to serve as a black ops squad, with bombs implanted in their necks to keep them obedient. When one proposed member of the squad, Enchantress, goes rogue and takes over the city with magical phenomena, the squad are sent in to rescue an important target trapped inside and take down the berserk witch.

Spoiler: show
After the divisive Man of Steel and the burning heap of infant corpses that was Batman V Superman, DC and Warner Brothers needed Suicide Squad to be the critically beloved success that would redeem their cinematic universe and help them catch up to Marvel. They needed it so much, in fact, that they descended on the film like a pack of starving jackals, tore it to shreds, and tried to fix everything they didn't like in the editing room, all in the name of making it a more appealing mass success. As its reputation on the internet has proven by now, this was not successful.

Suicide Squad is a difficult movie for me to review, because my overall opinion on it changes practically by the minute. The late-stage executive meddling is more visible than any other film I've ever watched, in that it feels like a load of completely different movies with wildly varying purposes, tones, and story arcs were sent into a shredder and the scraps were mindlessly shoved fistful by fistful into a projector. On a moment-to-moment level, the film goes from working almost perfectly to not working at all and back. Nevertheless, everyone else on the internet has a hardline opinion on it, so I'll try my best to solidify a coherent one.

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Thus, we begin with the story, which is the one aspect almost nobody in their right minds has praised. Suicide Squad barely has what one would consider to be a story, even in a barebones sense. It's by far the film's greatest failing. It begins with an impotent whimper in the form of around twenty solid minutes of backstory exposition (which wouldn't be necessary if they'd taken the time to set these characters up as side villains in other movies), carries on with no purpose for some time, and then ends with an impotent whimper through lifeless battles, meaningless sacrifices, unearned pathos, and obligatory teases for the future. It has absolutely no second act to speak of, and the third act manages to both arrive too soon and feel too late. Character arcs and plot points appear and disappear at random as edits and reshoots vivisect the existing story, and utter nonsense seeps in at the most random of times to provide lazy deus ex machinas.

The tone, too, swerves uncontrollably from scene to scene. While Marvel's films usually do a great job blending drama and emotional payoff with wry humor, DC has thus far had trouble striking a consistent tone for their movies, and Suicide Squad is perhaps the worst off for it. It tries to be the anarchic good time seen in the trailers, but it bends to the breaking point to fit in with Zach Snyder's dour grimdarkness. It tries to be as wild and out-there as Deadpool, but it forces itself not to do anything that might offend mass audience sensibilities or scare away the kids. It attempts to commit to a devil-may-care attitude for the majority of the runtime, but continuously shackles itself to utterly empty romance subplots and other bog-standard tropes that make the attempted rebelliousness ring hollow.

It's all sloppy shit, is what I'm saying.

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It doesn't help that at its most basic core, the plot does not fit the characters or the basic premise. I have no idea how much of the "story" in its current state matches David Ayer's original intent, but whether the fault lies on his shoulders or the executives, it's baffling how it came about. The Suicide Squad are supposed to be an off-the-books hit squad sent to run suicide missions and assorted dirty jobs for the government, with their infamous criminal status and explosive devices giving their superiors plausible deniability if the job goes wrong. This premise is stated almost verbatim by Amanda Waller in the opening moments of the film, but it then goes off the rails and tries to shape these loons into an anti-Justice League of sorts. Their first operation is both domestic and supernatural, something that actual superheroes are already equipped to handle and the SS are woefully unsuited for, and the "plausible deniability" -- the sole reason for assembling the task force in both the comics and the movie -- is shot when the main group is given backup in the form of a few dozen Marines anyway. In short, the story goes out of its way to rip its own core concept apart for no logical reason. It's Gotham levels of insistent self-sabotage.

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The characters are what make or break this movie, and that would have always been the case even if it had been a masterpiece. So before we get to them, let's run down the other elements. The cinematography is... fine. Ayer's direction is standard and safe, and the action sequences are choreographed competently. The visuals aren't immediately as dry and monochrome as previous DC efforts, but the over-saturated neon colors look pointlessly gaudy, and those somehow get washed out to more grayed hues before too long. The musical selections consist of virtually every popular song you've heard in movies before, from "Fortunate Son" and "Spirit In The Sky" to the oft-promoted "Bohemian Rhapsody", shoved into individual scenes in mind-bogglingly rapid succession with none of the grace of Guardians of the Galaxy, which Suicide Squad blatantly aims to emulate.

All right. Woo! With all of that out of the way, time to talk about the thing that matters most for Suicide Squad: the Squad itself and the characters surrounding them. Important to note here is that despite all of the on-the-nose talk about them being "bad guys," the film rarely commits to demonstrating that with more than petty acts like stealing from storefronts or mouthing off. In the shackles of the PG-13 rating, and with the extensive edit deleting many of the more directly villainous scenes for our main characters, we're mostly just left with fairly asshole-ish anti-heroes. But do they still work?

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First up, the two leads. Preternaturally skilled marksman Deadshot is the clear everyman, with an easy-to-understand skillset, a sympathetic focus on his love for his daughter, and a defined moral code regarding his assassinations (though one revolving around the old "women and children" thing, which I can't stand in this day and age). Will Smith is as charismatic as ever, capable of both zinging off decent-to-great one-liners and selling the emotional focus he gets toward the finale. He's not the most groundbreaking character out there, but Smith's performance elevates him.

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Far more original and interesting is Harley Quinn. This being the first live-action portrayal of the character, Margot Robbie had a lot on her shoulders, and the widespread praise she's earned is deserved. She sells the madcap zaniness the character is known for, and while the undercooked script doesn't give her nearly enough chances for my liking, she performs well when the time does come for the crazy affectations to slip away and reveal the damaged intelligence and fundamental decency inside her. She's also believably physical as an acrobatic fighter, and an encounter she has in a glass elevator provides one of the more memorable action sequences in my mind. All of that being said, I don't much care for her costume, she can't hold a single accent for shit, and the flaws in the characterization of the Joker (more on him below) rub off on her in their flashbacks.

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Count me among the skeptics who were then shocked by how well Captain Boomerang turned out. Jai Courtney has amassed a reputation as a black hole of charisma, sucking in all of the life and energy of any film he's in and leaving nothing in its place -- the human equivalent of beige. However, let loose to play a boomerang-tossing bank robber with his native Australian accent, he's surprisingly entertaining. The movie neglects him more and more as it goes on, and he only gets to throw two or three boomerangs in the entire thing, but his lovable sleaziness, unrelenting dickery, and head-tilting mannerisms go a long way toward making him one of the few characters who actually feels like a real villain. He has a groan-worthy running gag involving a plush toy that reeks of Ayer or the studio desperately trying to cram him into a Deadpool archetype, but other than that, I quite enjoyed his presence.

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Rounding off the four squaddies I enjoyed is El Diablo, a Mexican gangster with pyrokinesis who's reformed into a complete pacifist. Jay Hernandez's performance isn't as standout as the other noted three, but his character's profoundly sympathetic backstory and insistence on never again using his powers makes him far more interesting than a lot of his teammates. He does get saddled with a baffling thing about the Squad being his "family" that requires more suspension of disbelief than Fast and the Furious for how unearned it is, and his character arc ends on a sour note, but he still stands capably with Deadshot, Quinn, and Boomerang.

The rest of the squad don't do so well.

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- Appointed military leader Rick Flag is a generic everyman soldier ripped straight out of a mediocre FPS, and his romance with the woman possessed by Enchantress is something the audience is never made to care about -- Deadshot's very presence renders him redundant, forcing one to wonder why, beyond the obvious role as a middleman between Waller and the Squad, he was even included.
- Killer Croc looks great and has a wealth of sympathetic backstory to be mined in the comics, but he's given absolutely nothing to do other than sit in the background growling and chuckling through the other characters' conversations. He barely even gets to fight, and his fights mainly consist of boring throws and slams. He's set up for a big moment toward the end, but it fizzles out to nothing.
- Katana looks great and is potentially interesting, but she pops up so awkwardly and late in the story that I genuinely forgot she was going to be in here, and I continued to sporadically forget about her throughout, despite the forced attempts to make me care about her backstory and the cool sword moves that I -- as a noted fan of both Japanese stuff and swordfighting -- should have been all over. There was no reason not to introduce her along with Flag and attempt to develop her alongside him, since she's his bodyguard.

And the less said about Adam Beach's Slipknot, the better. Not that the movie has much to say about him anyway. Hell, I'm not even going to bother giving him a picture or a bullet point.

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Moving on to the actual villains... woo boy. The Big Bad and her helper do not get things off to a good start. Enchantress and her brother Incubus are some of the very worst comic book movie villains I've had the misfortune to experience. Enchantress at least starts off fairly cool, with her The Ring-inspired appearance pictured above, some wicked special effects shots, and a decent set of powers. However, once she goes rogue and regains her real body, it all goes down the tubes. She looks improbably shitty in both design and CGI, such that I'm still in disbelief that she wasn't simply kept in her stringy-haired form for the whole thing, and her world-ending scheme is utterly nonsensical, generic, and as sympathetically complex as a Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain's plot. Cara Delevigne, who has yet to impress me with any of her filmography, compounds the bad taste left in our collective mouths with flavorless hammy acting and a constant hula-style dance so pointlessly bizarre that I struggled to comprehend it as it unfolded before my eyes. Incubus is even worse, merely a dumb brute covered in hilariously trashy CGI who's made out to be a big deal, but winds up being not even worth his own paragraph.

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Viola Davis's Amanda Waller comes out immeasurably better, and I have no doubt that she would have stood tall even in a film with remotely good antagonists. Her terrifying power takes a few scenes to be properly showcased, but when her ball gets rolling, she steals the show. Not quite a textbook sociopath, but nowhere near a normal human being, she plays every other character like flashy marionettes to suit her ends. Even when she's at an obvious disadvantage, she feels like the most dangerous person in the room. She does have a central action that strikes me as out-of-character and poorly handled, even with my limited knowledge of her comics incarnation, but it doesn't diminish her overall presence. I doubtlessly want to see more of her in future DC Universe films.

And so, we come to the biggest and most divisive talking point in the film. The character I was most looking forward to, and the one that could have either stolen or demolished the whole thing.

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What did I think of Jared Leto's Joker, from the roughly fifteen minutes of screentime he still has after nearly all of his scenes were cut from the theatrical release? I'm... honestly still not sure. I've been stewing over my opinion on him for two days now, and I've settled on a number of different viewpoints. I appreciate the different take he's conjured up, blending parts of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger into a psychotic mob boss with his own territory and themed gang. I also like his "exhausted old man" laugh, and the tattoos -- while completely unexplained and therefore pointless -- didn't bother me too much.

At the same time, his actual performance is all over the place. In interviews, Leto has explained that they shot each Joker scene multiple times with a slightly different take on his Joker -- a different attitude, a different level of expressiveness, a different manner of speaking, etc -- and the scenes in the film are from all different takes, which makes his character flow about as well as the movie does. In some scenes, like his pivotal action sequence, I loved his more understated-yet-theatrical mannerisms and wanted to see more of him. In others, like an extended flashback scene in a strip club where he apes a wild Jim Carrey performance and gets off on the idea of Harley having sex with a black man (I am not exaggerating -- it feels like it was written by the alt-right "cuck" crowd), I cringed and wanted to shoo him away with a broom. The Joker who says "I'm gonna hurt ya really, really bad" is not the same Joker who practically jumps on a table and screams "HUNKA HUNKA" with gibbering facial motions.

He's underwritten, yet overplayed. Too intense, yet not intense in the proper way like Heath Ledger. He doesn't really serve any purpose in the main story, and in the flashbacks to his and Harley's initial relationship, he's softened by the studio's removal of every typical abuse connotation and comes off like a fangirl's bad fan fiction portrayal. Honestly, he should have either been saved for the solo Batman film and kept purely in the shadowy background here, or just been made the main villain or otherwise a larger instigator of conflict. I do want to see him opposite Batman, when he'll have more time to develop under Ben Affleck's sterner direction and be able to show what makes this Joker worth watching -- assuming Leto gets to keep the role, given his hostility toward the studio for cutting the role he immersed himself in.

All in all, Suicide Squad is a choppy, sloppy mess of a film carried by some compelling performances and decent ideas, but ruined by studio interference, poor direction, shit storytelling, a godawful main villain, and general franchise impatience. However, I was solidly entertained through most of it, and as it's nowhere near as irredeemably wretched as films like Batman V Superman or Fant4stic, I don't believe it deserves anywhere near the universal thrashing it's gotten. Go see it if you're curious, you've been longing for a live-action Harley Quinn, or anything else you've heard appeals to you -- otherwise, let's all wait for Wonder Woman and hope I don't have to make so many concessions if and when I review that.

Rating: Damaged, But Still Breathing
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Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 5:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Thu Aug 25, 2016 6:51 pm

Haven't seen the movie and don't really plan to, but I liked your write up!

I personally don't like the new Joker look. The Joker is too.... classy... to dress that way...

....






*cough and awkward shuffle*
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:53 pm

Adr1ft (2016)

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Basic Summary: An astronaut navigates the ruins of her space station and searches for her crew on her way to repair an escape pod.
Genre: Survival-Adventure / Pseudo-Environmental Narrative Game
Systems: PC (Oculus Rift supported), PS4, Xbox One
Created by: Three One Zero
Directed by: Adam Orth
Written by: Adam Orth
Designed and Programmed by: Tom Gerber, Sam Bass, Jason Barajas
Starring: Cissy Jones
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 4:6


(That annoying robotic voice stays with you for the whole game and narrates most actions, by the way.)


For the unaware, Adr1ft follows Commander Alex Oshima, leader of an important space station in the near future. Following an unknown calamity, Alex wakes up to find the station reduced to orbital scrap, her crew missing in action, and her suit damaged and leaking oxygen fast. Her only hope for salvation is the lifeboat at the center of the station, but before she launches it, she must navigate the ruins to find her colleagues, repair what she needs for a safe journey home, and try to put together exactly what went wrong...

Spoiler: show
I've played two games published by 505 Games this year. One was Abzu, an experience I enjoyed immensely and will get around to reviewing soon. The other was Adr1ft, which... was not as pleasant. The two games actually share a lot of similarities -- serene atmosphere, free-floating movement, a goal of repairing or restoring things and uncovering a mystery, etc -- but where Abzu succeeds, Adr1ft plummets from orbit and burns up in the atmosphere.

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In case you don't know the story, this game was created by Adam Orth, the guy who earned the ire of pretty much everyone back in 2013 for his "deal with it" comments in regards to the Xbox One's "always online" thing. After the incident turned a lot of people against him and led to him being let go from Microsoft, he reports that he felt directionless and helpless, equating it to being the lone survivor of some kind of cataclysm and having to pick up the pieces to restart his whole life from square one -- and that's where the game's inspiration came from. Honestly, I've never fully empathized with him and generally considered him a bit of a whiner, but I can respect what he feels. I mention this now because his reasons for making Adr1ft are inseparable from what the game is -- for better or worse.

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I'm going to start with the graphics, unusually, because they are without a doubt Adr1ft's biggest selling point. Simply put, it looks fucking gorgeous. The sheer scale of space and how it's presented is expertly realized; the first moment I got out of the wreckage and saw Earth below me, my stomach dropped from the sheer scale. The interior environments look pretty good, especially a greenhouse segment you travel through multiple times, but they don't hold a candle to space itself. If you have an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive, that's all you need to know right there. This game is probably a fucking incredible sensory experience in virtual reality, enough to dull the rest of the flaws. Unfortunately, for me, even the novelty and luster of the infinite expanse was lost after an hour or so, and the constant backtracking you engage in got to the point where the greenhouse -- which was at first so beautiful that it made me audibly gasp -- elicited only sighs every time I slowly floated back through it.

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Then let's move to the story, because this is -- or at least it's supposed to be -- a thoroughly story-driven experience packed with meaning and symbolism. The driving story threads are Alex's discovery of the disaster and her crewmates' personal journeys leading to their fates, both of which are related through audio logs that are just floating around and can be easily missed if you aren't constantly scanning (but we'll get to that in a minute). Alex's story is rather barebones and predictable, and the ultimate truth of how the station got blown to hell is frustratingly simple. Aside from her guilt over failing to prevent the disaster and a few vague tidbits here and there, she also has very little in the way of actual character depth, which is a shame, because I quite like Cissy Jones as an actress, especially for her role as the rich and engrossing Delilah in Firewatch. The way her journey ends, too, is so stupefyingly unsatisfying and anticlimactic that I spent hours digging through the internet, wondering if I'd missed some collectibles that would unlock a longer ending sequence or something. It's clearly meant to be representative of Adam Orth's healing process, but poetry can only bleed so far into storytelling in a game like this.

(And in regards to Adam Orth's "symbolism," there's a part where the in-game corporation -- which is presented as a generally well-meaning entity -- uses the slogan "always online, always there to help" or something of that nature. I almost turned the game off then and there from the sheer on-the-nose audacity.)

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As for the other characters, there are about five or six, each of whom have a series of audio logs to their name. Another point I'll give the game is that the voice acting is top-notch; these do sound and feel like audio diaries of real, everyday people. Unfortunately, the commitment to making them "real" goes so far that they become boring. One guy has a daughter on Earth he cares about, one woman was a childhood friend of Alex's, another woman thinks space is really neat, and most memorably, an old guy with cancer wants to just die in space. I know there were more characters, but I can't recall their names or traits. I didn't care about them as much as I was supposed to. Their logs also don't chronicle anything particularly exciting or build up in an especially notable way; you won't get to hear them in the moments before the disaster, when their emotions would be running high and the excellent voice work might serve a purpose. Instead, their respective character arcs are left to easily-missed discoveries that are intended to be profound and moving, but which elicited little more than an "oh, okay" from me.

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And now it's time for Adr1ft's most cutting flaws: everything to do with the gameplay.

In all my years as a seasoned gamer, I have never seen a game more at odds with itself than Adr1ft. The core components of its design philosophy seem to be intentionally made to negatively counter what the game wants players to see, feel, and experience.

From the ground up, the gameplay is shot to hell simply because of repetition. Your driving goal in the game is to get communications, life support, and other such necessities to the escape pod so you stand a chance at surviving, and to do that, you need to travel to four different areas of the station to repair devices there. The station is set up like a giant, broken wheel, with the pod at the core and the four paths and destinations being linear spokes. The thing is -- and I could hardly believe this when I realized it -- repairing these devices is the exact same task essentially copy-pasted four times.

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At the hub, you learn from a section's computer that the mainframe is offline, the Cerebrum core is corrupted, and the Cerebrum module is inactive. You float along for a while, reach a long vertical cylinder and float up to a tiny room that loads you into an automatic animation, and move along the process with button presses (not QTEs -- the process simply pauses and waits for you to press X or the corresponding prompt); you turn on the mainframe with a button press, watch a drawn-out animation of it booting up, reformat the core, watch another drawn-out animation, retrieve the module disc, and clamber out of the room. You then travel all the way back through the area, are forced to travel through the entire first area in the game again to reach the pod room because a door somewhere along the way has arbitrarily locked itself, and finally plug the disc into a computer there.

Wash, rinse, and repeat three more times, and you win the game. It's an hour's worth of content stretched out to around six or seven hours.

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And then it's all flawed down to the mechanics. You move around via your thrusters, which control fine, though they could stand to be less sluggish in areas where dodging hazards is vital. They draw from the same constantly leaking oxygen supply you need to keep breathing and survive. Should you run out of oxygen for any reason, Alex suffocates to death in a drawn-out sequence that is shocking and disturbing the first time, but becomes a twenty-second time waster every death after. So with that incentive in mind, you need to conserve your depleting supply by using momentum to move and constantly looking out for floating air tanks to snatch up and suck on (which are helpfully lit up and usually found in tight clusters). While it is suspenseful at first, it quickly becomes a chore to hunt one down at every new juncture, and irritating hazards like arcing electricity drain it even faster in addition to disorienting you and causing you to lose control for several critical seconds.

But the paradox comes when you realize that the game is ostensibly built around exploration. You're supposed to go out of your way to float to far-off satellites and wreckage chunks to find story bits and collectible ID tags, or just to appreciate the environmental detail. Thing is, though, your oxygen depletes even faster out in the vacuum than it does inside, and there aren't any oxygen tanks outside of the strictly linear path guiding you toward the repairs you need to make. You need to know the story to get both the point and Orth's labored metaphors, but you're actively discouraged from wandering down a curious-looking path or going after a distant audio log. In theory, it could be a matter of risk versus reward, as other games have implemented well -- in practice and context, it's just a fundamentally broken system.

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Compounding the problem with the gameplay getting in the way of story enjoyment are the navigational elements. The areas themselves are relatively linear, but locked doors and other impassable obstacles frequently require you to take detours outside. To help, the game gives you a minimap -- a 2D minimap. For a game with fully 3D environments where you can drift in any direction and frequently be facing upside-down. There is no way to judge the elevation (or, all too frequently, the proper direction) of waypoints or other things of interest marked on the minimap. Sometimes the game deigns to give you visual waypoints, but the range and time at which these appear seems arbitrary, and they can often simply point behind the locked door you're supposed to find a way around rather than toward the airlock five minutes-worth of travel in the opposite direction that you're supposed to find and go through. You would think it would be simple to guide a player through a linear series of busted hallways. You'd apparently be wrong.

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Finally, there are collectibles to be found. The audio logs I've mentioned extensively, but you're also meant to find around 30-40 SD cards that are floating around in random rooms scattered throughout the game. They're minuscule and seemingly inconsequential, so if you aren't paying attention from the get-go, you can easily miss or mistakenly ignore them. Me? I sent out a scan in every room in the game, and I wound up with something like five or six left to find -- the same number, give or take a few, that I've seen on multiple message boards and other places of discussion. So far as I can tell, nobody has found them all, or at least nobody has cared enough to post about it if they have. No one knows exactly what these collectible cards are for, whether it's just for an achievement or something that fundamentally changes the ending. I have two theories: they're either scattered at a random corner of space that you would never look toward without a guide, or -- as I swear I observed at one point -- they spawn rather than being preset and will occasionally be in areas you cleared, to encourage yet more backtracking and padding. I don't know, nor do I care.

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None of the fundamental gameplay flaws are helped by the game's shoddy programming. After every other death (occasionally every death, period), Adr1ft would experience some kind of indeterminate error, crash, and boot me back to the PS4 menu. The game was usually kind enough to keep track of where I was, but oftentimes I'd be forced to replay up to a half hour to return to my proper place. At other points, I would fly out to one of the spinning satellites that deliver a radio message from Earth to you, only to fly in the path of one of the solar panels on my way back and be trapped against it, pinned to the side by the force of the spinning with no recourse as my oxygen slooooowly drained until death. Those are just some of the choicest bugs I encountered, but rest assured that there's plenty more to go around. I'm usually more forgiving toward indie games like this, but taken in context with everything else done incompetently, it leaves a continuing sour taste in my mouth.

In the end, the best way I could describe Adr1ft would be as thus: a "walking simulator" made by someone who hates walking simulators and jammed in arbitrary mechanics, hazards, and items in an attempt to make it feel more "game-y". It could work as a meditative, mostly danger-free story experience, or if the design team doubled down on the dangerous aspects and tightened up the controls to accommodate. As it is, though, it's a game that struggles against its own potential and comes out as so much less than the sum of its parts. I appreciate what the game means to Adam Orth, and how making it, by his own admission, saved his life. But I'm not Adam Orth, and I'm wagering that most of you aren't either, so we're left with a game that fails in key areas and only gets worse as it goes on. If you want a great meditative, explorative game with the meaning and power this was intended to have, wait for my Abzu review. Unless you own an Oculus Rift or a Vive, don't waste your time or money on Adr1ft.

Rating: Aimless, Helpless, Endless, Pointless
  • 8

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:22 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Fri Sep 02, 2016 1:15 am

Abzu (2016)

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Basic Summary: A diver wakes up in an unknown sea and begins diving on a search for restoration.
Genre: Adventure / "Art Game" / Environmental Narrative Game
Systems: PC and PS4
Created by: Giant Squid
Directed by: Matt Nava
Written by: Matt Nava
Designed and Programmed by: Matt Nava, Brian Balamut
Starring: N/A
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 2:8 for majority, 4:6 in final act

(Not providing a trailer because it spoils a lot of the environmental surprises and lovely little things best experienced blind. Look it up if you want, but as someone who jumped in after only seeing a few screenshots and vague descriptions, I strongly advise against it.)


For the unaware, Abzu follows an unknown diver with no name and no voice. Waking up adrift in a seemingly endless sea with no land in sight, the diver chooses to descend in hopes of finding answers. As the diver finds technology and structures left behind by a previous civilization, it quickly becomes apparent that something happened before the diver woke up, and whatever it was, it left a deep scar on the ocean itself. The diver takes it upon themselves to restore the beautiful blue world to its former glory, but they have no idea what awaits them in the deepest parts of the abyss...

Spoiler: show
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First things first: Abzu is essentially a spiritual sequel to the indie darling Journey. It shares a similar art style, albeit with vivid blues and greens rather than stark yellows and reds, and was in fact created by one of the people who worked on the game. Their stories also share a few notable beats, especially toward the end. If you liked Journey, you should love this. If you didn't care for it, there's enough done differently that it might be up your alley this time around.

Me? I quite liked Journey, and I fuckin' love Abzu.

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I'll start with the aforementioned story, as it's both the least prominent element and the weakest (that's not to say it's bad -- it just pales in comparison to what else there is to enjoy here). Like Journey, it's clear going in that you won't be getting a concrete and linear narrative, and a lot from start to finish is left up to your interpretation. Until you reach the darker depths, the only clear story element is a mysterious, gigantic great white shark that both stalks and flees from you at every turn. Payoff starts to arrive, along with the only thing approaching a concrete answer to a certain story beat, about an hour-and-ten-minutes in (for reference, even if you're exploring as much as you ought to, the game is only about two hours long); this payoff makes at least the theme of the story clear, and paves the way for an excellent half-hour of delightful surprises between it and the climax. The final sequence is the most derivative the game gets of Journey, and it doesn't quite earn what it does as life-changingly viscerally as Journey, but the denouement is surprisingly emotional all the same and serves as a perfect cap to what it's built up.

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The gameplay is simple, as it damn well should be for a game of this type. Diving, your sole method of travel, is fluid and intuitive (once you turn off the default up-down inversion, that is -- humans are not planes, damn it). The only annoyance there is that it takes a while to get used to the movement scheme enough not to unintentionally flip when you're trying to turn, but it's not a huge issue. Your interactions are all accomplished with the same button: you'll activate technology, grab onto and swim alongside life forms of varying shapes and sizes (which helpfully provides you with their names if you don't recognize a particularly obscure species), and meditate at shark statues which let you see the perspective of surrounding organisms as they interact. There's no combat to speak of, and the only hazards arrive late in the game and are non-lethal in nature.

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Abzu is an extremely linear game that has you swimming down a path for most of it, but it also rewards exploration whenever you're in an environment with even a degree of openness. At the end of the first segment, you're deposited on one side of an open abyss that has no apparent bottom, with the gateway to the next area clearly visible on the other side. Most other games would let you swim down for a bit and then either redirect you, slam you into an invisible wall, or have a hitherto-unseen monster devour you as a means of guarding the boundary. However, when I chose on a whim to swim down there instead of reaching my goal, I was delighted to find quite a few species of deep-sea life that don't pop up anywhere else in the game; they're so effectively brought to life that I spent close to ten minutes swimming with them, but I've seen a few Let's Players swim obliviously to the gateway without a clue that those species were anywhere in the game. Abzu is a pretty short game, but that doesn't mean you should rush it. Take your time, explore thoroughly, and soak everything in. It is, as many have called it, a meditative experience.

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In case you haven't noticed by these screenshots, Abzu is fucking gorgeous. In a year that's offered no small breadth of graphical variety and stunning beauty, this is by far the most visually arresting game I've seen anywhere. The simple cel-shaded style is used to bring locales of unbelievable majesty to life, and every nook and cranny has something amazing to appreciate. Not a single environment or asset is obviously repeated, save the temples interspersed throughout the main environs, which both gives your journey a lot of variety and encourages you to take time and appreciate everything you come across. I normally put little stock in graphics, but this is one of those cases where they absolutely matter.

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But for as nice as the story is and as beautiful as the environments are, Abzu's most valuable feature is what sets it apart the most from Journey, and it was the source of my most profound moments while playing: the creatures sharing the ocean with you. There are around a hundred different real-world species -- possibly more -- presented across the various areas, and all are brought to life with insane degrees of love and care. The chance is high that if you can think of it, it's swimming or crawling somewhere in the game. Every species has unique animations individually crafted to fit it, unique noises if applicable, and entirely unique behavior toward both you and the surrounding life. Once again, to name my favorite encounters and the most profound experiences I had with various creatures would be to spoil the unmatched magic of stumbling upon some obscure species you'd be certain couldn't be present.

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And while they're all amazing on their own, what makes it special is that all of these conflicting organisms come together to form their own ecosystems in each area. Every area feels genuinely lived-in by these creatures, from grand reefs to simple caverns and halls. Just watching the different creatures interact, whether feeding and being fed upon or peacefully coexisting, is an almost transcendent experience. The game knows it, too -- as I mentioned above, there are shark statues dotted throughout most areas upon which the diver can meditate and follow each species on its cycle. It's an inherently visual thing that can't be done justice with words, and it's one of the strongest selling points Abzu has to offer.

All in all, Abzu is an underwater Journey in a lot of aspects, but what it does differently is what sets it apart as a game like few others. It's very short -- and thus, playing it in one sitting is both easy and essential -- but for its duration, it held me spellbound, whether with its incredible sea life or with its surprisingly touching story. If you liked Journey, enjoy artsy games, need a few hours of stress relief, or have any interest in the ocean and the many creatures therein, Abzu was made for you.

Rating: Let Your Senses Be Flooded
  • 6

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:23 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sun Sep 04, 2016 6:05 pm

Don't Breathe (2016)

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Basic Summary: Three teens break into a blind war veteran's house and are forced to fight for their lives.
Genre: Horror-Thriller
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Written by: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Produced by: Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, Joseph Drake
Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette
Length: 88 minutes


The trailer looks like it spoils the whole thing from beginning to end, but it actually barely reaches halfway through and doesn't give away any of the real twists. Trust me.


For the unaware, Don't Breathe follows Rocky, an abused Detroit teenager looking to escape to California with her baby sister. She and her two friends, Alex and Money, make money by breaking into houses secured with Alex's father's security systems and pawning off what they find inside, but they never have enough to break away from Detroit, until Money gets a tip about a potentially $300,000 stash in a blind Gulf War vet's house. However, when the trio break in, they find that the old man is more than prepared to defend his home with lethal force, and he's not prepared to let them leave...

Spoiler: show
I was all jazzed up for Don't Breathe, more than either of the movies I've reviewed in this thread so far. It looked like a creative idea rife with potential for edge-of-my-seat thrills and chills. And it IS exactly this... up to a point.

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We'll hold off on discussing the story, because... ugh... so we begin with the characters. Rocky is a great lead, highly sympathetic despite her crusty edge and complete willingness to victimize innocent people for her own gain; of the three protagonists, she's the one you most viscerally want to survive. Alex is a nice guy, and the only one to express any hesitation over their robbery practices, but his characterization is a little flat and bland; regardless, he's fairly easy to root for as well. Rounding out the trio is wannabe gangster Money, who's a total asshole and is single-handedly responsible for initiating every step necessary for the situation to reach critical mode; luckily, as the trailer spoils, we don't have to put up with him for very long.

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Topping them all, though, is Stephen Lang's baddie, credited simply as The Blind Man. Despite just being an elderly man with a gun, he's the most terrifying horror movie monster I've seen in a long time (and he is presented in a monstrous way, barely speaking and silently creaking through the halls of his house as he attempts to pick the teens off). His presence is powerfully felt with every second from the moment the teens enter his house, whether he's directly hunting them onscreen or lurking somewhere just in the shadows. The fact that he can't see should be a weakness, but it somehow makes him even more uniquely terrifying. Certain revelations late in the story damage his characterization and make him significantly less palatable, but for the majority of the proceedings, he's perfect.

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The cinematography is top-notch, using both frequent cuts and painfully tense unbroken shots to ramp up the suspense at every turn. The Blind Man's house is framed from the exterior like a foreboding monolith and inside as a claustrophobic maze, and the man himself alternately hidden in shadow and towering over everyone in his scenes. The film knows exactly when to cut away and who to follow to maximize the tension, and toward the end, multiple fake-outs and carefully-framed shots are used to deceive you about what's actually going on. And the opening shot, filmed via a drone, is just to die for. It's doubtlessly among the most well-shot horror films of the year so far.

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With that, we come to Don't Breathe's most appealing strength: the sheer horror. The title is apt, because from the minute The Blind Man begins his hunt, I barely took a breath. It's one of the most intense horror experiences I've ever sat through. Minute after minute after minute, something new happens that keeps you feeling unsafe and the characters running for their lives. There are jump scares, but they're mostly of the well done variety that caps off built-up suspense and starts building more rather than compromising the scene. I was on the edge of my seat, hands either whitening against the armrests or clasped over my mouth, internal monologue endlessly looping "fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK" every time The Blind Man was in the room. Between the man's ruthless efficiency and the particularly small size of the house, it simply doesn't let up for even a half-second. This is one of the only times across any medium where a pistol (later exchanged for a revolver) is effortlessly depicted as scarier than a knife or equivalent weapon. It's raw horror thrills in the most concentrated form, and while I enjoyed it, I would not recommend it to those with weak hearts.

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Unfortunately, Don't Breathe also has a story it wants to tell, and it is that story that threatens to compromise the whole experience despite the top-quality frights. It starts off fairly simple, as indicated by the summary, and I was completely on board until problems started to arise, the first of which has to do with repetition. A movie like this does generally call for one or two red herrings and failed escape attempts, and the first few presented to us work just as they're intended. However, by the time the movie is due to wrap up and it just keeps faking out which escape will work and whether The Blind Man is subdued or not, it gets a bit stale.

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But that problem doesn't even come close to dragging the movie down as much as the widely-touted twist does. Yes, Don't Breathe has a third-act twist, and to be blunt, it does not work. It's queasy in concept, in a way that clashes with the razor-sharp thrills presented by the rest of the film. In context and execution, it's a weird combination of unbelievably disturbing and extremely silly, two descriptors which cancel each other out more often than not -- if I described it right here, chances are you'd call bullshit from how ridiculous it is. It doesn't mesh with anything the film has built up, story-wise or horror-wise, and needlessly builds on an earlier "twist" that was already an acceptable reason for the plot to be happening. It lasts way too long, detracting from the constantly-on-the-move adrenaline pump. But most damningly of all, it's just... unnecessary. After the scene has run its course, the movie simply continues as if nothing had happened, moving on to a collection of climactic scenes that could have happened in exactly the same way if the twist had not been there. It behaves with its own "critical story revelation" like someone who obliviously tells you that you look like you've just seen a ghost. It would be unbelievable how bad it is if I hadn't watched it play out with my own eyes. Then again, this film was produced by the minds behind Evil Dead, both versions of which are home to a scene where a random woman gets tentacle-raped by tree branches, but I wouldn't have thought their influence would leak to the script.

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And then, as if that didn't drag the experience off the rails, the ending is stupendously unsatisfying -- in a way that, once again, is simply unnecessary. It caps its driving conflict perfectly and seems to end on a fitting note, only to sabotage its own story with one final "OOOOOH SPOOKY" revelation that renders a lot of the experience moot. Not only is it pointless nonsense in a vaccuum, but the way it's set up causes no small amount of fridge logic, filling the whole movie with gaping plot holes as a result. It's a dangling thread, completely unnecessary to the whole picture, that can be pulled to make the whole thing crumble apart. Why, guys? Why did you need that last little thing?

All in all, up until it starts sabotaging itself with needless plot twists, Don't Breathe is among my favorite modern horror movies. It's a masterwork of breathless suspense and crushingly intense atmosphere, only undone by the last, say, 20-25 minutes. If you think you can handle a ridiculous, unnecessary, and frankly offensive twist and a needless nonsense ending, you're in for a wild ride.

Rating: Don't Breathe, Don't Blink, Don't Let Sam Raimi Near Your Script
  • 9

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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Tue Sep 06, 2016 11:00 pm

Definitely adding Abzu to the Wishlist!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sun Sep 11, 2016 6:14 pm

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter (2016)

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Basic Summary: Sherlock and Watson solve cases throughout England, may or may not tangle with the supernatural.
Genre: Adventure
Systems: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Created by: Frogwares
Written by: Aurélie Ludot, Luke Openshaw
Starring: Alex Jordan, Andrew Wincott
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 7:3



For the unaware, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter follows the world's greatest detective and his faithful assistant for... like the eighth or ninth time in Frogwares' licensed series. It's business as usual at Baker Street until Holmes and Watson are met with two new arrivals: Holmes's adopted daughter Katelyn, returned from a long stay in boarding school, and an enigmatic new flatmate named Alice. As Holmes tries to balance his obsessive case-solving and the responsibilities he has as a parent, he finds himself drawn into the mysteries of Alice, who openly studies the occult, seems fixated on spending time with Kate, and knows far more about Holmes's own secrets than anyone should. It's not long before the penny drops, and the detective might finally have met an opponent he can't outsmart...

Spoiler: show
I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Sherlock Holmes, but I've read most of Doyle's stories and played Frogwares' prior Holmes game, Crimes & Punishments. That game is what I'd consider to nearly be the ideal Sherlock Holmes game adaptation (and a criminally underrated little gem), and I'd wanted to see its innovative mechanics and addictive case-to-case sleuthing in a more solid overall experience. The Devil's Daughter promised exactly that, but as is often the case, some things are improved while others decline.

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One of my biggest complaints about Crimes & Punishments was the utter lack of a driving story. For as solid and compelling as most of the cases were, they felt like individual vignettes building up to nothing (more akin to Doyle's short story collections than his novels), with the only connective tissue being a running anarcho-terrorist subplot that fizzled out at the climax of the last case. The Devil's Daughter immediately gets off on a better foot, with Holmes's strained relationship with Katelyn and slow-boiling conflict with Alice effectively gluing the cases together into one cohesive narrative. Payoff takes a while and certain parts feel like stalling, but the cinematic final chapter is a fitting resolution, dropping some twists I should've seen coming but which still left me reeling, and finishing off with a fairly intense dialogue-based showdown. The ending is a bit too abrupt, but at least there is an ending this time.

As for the individual cases, there are four other than the final chapter, which -- while a step down from Crimes & Punishment's six -- is still a perfectly acceptable amount, especially considering how hard C&P started dropping the ball after its first two. Individually:

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- "Prey Tell" admittedly doesn't kick the game off to a great start. Its central mystery is murky and undefined until it's almost done playing out, and packed full of insipid minigames and dull asides seemingly for the sole purpose of filling out time. It's readily apparent that the whole case exists to deliver on the first cutscene's intense flash-forward cold open, but when the promised sequence is reached and the player is allowed control, all the bloody climax amounts to is a clumsy stealth-chase sequence that handily exposes the flaws in the game's engine and budget. An ensuing confrontation in a snowy backwoods cabin has the potential to be a cool finisher, but the preceding mystery's unclear stakes and head-tilting motivations makes it all fall rather flatly to the ground, even as it tries to force a Telltale-style timed moral choice on you that makes very little sense. It's probably the worst the game has to offer.

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- "A Study In Green" is a more suitable opener, harkening back to the best material Crimes & Punishments offered up. The brutal murder and seemingly absurd eyewitness account it revolves around are immediately more engrossing than anything the first case offered, enough to keep things focused and somewhat believable even as genuinely preposterous plot points start rising to the surface. It's breezily-paced and packed with both red herrings and tense situations, all as you'd expect from a good Sherlock Holmes story. This makes it all the more baffling when an out-of-nowhere stretch of gameplay is slotted in between the critical revelations and the true resolution, echoing one of Crimes & Punishments' most mind-numbingly tedious and frustrating puzzle segments; even if you hit the merciful "Skip" option on every new puzzle, it lasts far too long for the information it conveys at the end. It's jarring, ridiculous, and almost kills the built-up goodwill of the case. Nonetheless, final sequence aside, it's the best standalone case in the game by far.

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- "Infamy" starts off really strong, with the apparent focus of the case rapidly shifting multiple times before settling on a welcome (if a bit anachronistic in nature) priority shift. This is quickly followed with a few critical reveals in the Holmes vs Alice plot, maintaining the breathless pace. However, a visit to a criminal slum tavern set up as an homage to the Guy Ritchie films causes the case to lose some steam, as the only facts learnt are dull and the obligatory slow-motion bar fight is a frustratingly unreliable sequence of trial-and-error instead of the impressive display of analytical badassery it was intended to be. The story then starts heading to exciting places for a while and regains the love lost by the tavern sequence, but the ultimate answer is unsatisfying and almost handed to you.

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- Finally, "Chain Reaction" also starts really strong, in an even more "THAT ESCALATED PRETTY FUCKIN' QUICKLY" manner than "Infamy". About a third of it is spent at the initial scene of the crime, first rescuing survivors in a gruesome disaster and then using the environment to piece together how all of the events lined up to cause it. When the crime scene is eventually left, it too starts to lose its steam, but the shorter length in comparison to other cases reduces the sting. The culprit and his motivations might be predictable once you have everyone in the lineup, but it's still a fun little buffer between "Infamy" and the final chapter.

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On to the characters, of which only a few matter. I initially didn't care for the new Holmes voice-and-motion actor, because Kerry Shale's performance in Crimes & Punishments has become my go-to idea of a Holmes voice, but Alex Jordan's Holmes grew on me after the first case. He's a different incarnation entirely: slightly gruffer, more rough-and-tumble, and having to deal with far more personal stakes and emotional drama than Shale's Holmes would have been up for. Watson is as dryly reliable as ever, though he has less to do since he spends two of the cases wrapped up in his job apart from Holmes; some subtle interactions between him and Holmes in "Chain Reaction" and the final chapter go a long way, though. Though Jordan effectively sells his side of Holmes's relationship with her, Katelyn fares less well, as despite being the center of the emotional turmoil, she's too simple and precocious for real attachments to form; Clementine, she is decidedly not. Luckily, Alice easily makes up for Kate's failings by being such a goddamn intriguing rival, lending tension to their interactions and allowing the finale to feel gripping and meaningful with her largely pulling Kate's weight.

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The gameplay side is simultaneously one of The Devil's Daughter's greatest strengths and most frustrating missteps. The positives are mostly the systems lifted from Crimes & Punishments that I so loved the first time around: methodically inspecting crime scenes to make sure you have all of the evidence, stunning people mid-sentence by using evidence and educated guesses to catch them in lies, and balancing the various strands of an investigation until you have enough to bring them together. As with C&P, the absolute best mechanic is the "deduction board" -- while accessing Sherlock's mind, linking together two pieces of evidence that might be related forms a deduction (represented on a chain of neurons), which might offer you multiple options depending on how you interpret the result, and multiple deductions eventually link together to point to whoever your evidence and intuition says is the culprit. As with the last time, though, it's very easy to miss or misinterpret something, pointing you to the wrong person; you're allowed to redo the final conclusion if this happens, but it provides incentive to think more carefully.

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Unfortunately, while the carried-over mechanics remain polished, very little of what The Devil's Daughter does new is any good. Walking around London as an open world could be interesting, but there's little to do or see that would make you not want to just use the standard carriage travel system. There are new eavesdropping and balancing sequences sharing the same "keep the icons in the bubbles using the left and right sticks" prompt; while the balancing is okay, the eavesdropping feels especially clumsy and tacked-on, and in effect it feels more like mind-reading because nobody would ever say the things Holmes overhears out loud. There are also a few traversal puzzles in industrial areas requiring you to move large carts and hit switches, all of which feel needlessly pulled out of the early 2000s and are blatantly only there to pad time. But the most irritating sins are the setpiece moments that try to make the game feel more cinematic and varied: whether it's a hair-pullingly long and awkward tail mission as Wiggins or one of a few Guy Ritchie-influenced slow-motion fight sequences, very few of these moments work in concept or execution, and they feel like needless distractions from the material people would actually buy a Sherlock Holmes game for.

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The graphics usually look good-to-acceptable, even though many of the assets are repurposed from Crimes & Punishments. Unfortunately, something else is also repurposed from the prior game: the engine. Holy shit, the engine. I get that these games are made with a smaller team on a smaller budget, but that's no excuse for having two games in a row be graphically buggier and more poorly-optimized than recent Telltale efforts. A lot of the cutscenes, especially the opening of "Prey Tell", are stifled by muddy textures, uneven loading, and stiff animation, and the sheer amount of stuttering and screen tearing I consistently experienced is almost unbelievable in this day and age. The character models never randomly T-posed mid-sentence as so often happens with these graphically buggy games, but that's the best thing I'll give the engine.

Overall, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter is a very mixed bag. It's worth playing for the central story, engrossing mysteries, and holdover Crimes & Punishments mechanics, but it's held back by the uneven flow of the cases, needless setpieces and minigames, and punishingly unreliable engine. I would recommend it to those with more than a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes fiction or those with a craving for brain-teasing mysteries to solve, but I'd recommend Crimes & Punishments for those same reasons. Frogwares are so close to making the perfect Holmes game, but The Devil's Daughter is sadly not it.

Rating: The Game Is Afoot, With Two Left Feet
  • 5

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Mon Sep 12, 2016 8:40 am

Hell or High Water (2016)

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Basic Summary: Two brothers settle a debt to the bank by robbing said bank's branches.
Genre: Crime Thriller
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
Length: 102 minutes



For the unaware, Hell or High Water follows Toby Howard, an unassuming do-right Texas resident, and Tanner, his less restrained ex-con brother. After their ill mother passes away, Texas Midlands Bank calls in the reverse mortgage on their ranch, threatening to foreclose unless their tremendous debt is paid. Angry and desperate, Toby decides to pay off the debt by robbing Texas Midlands' various branches and enlists Tanner to help, intent on securing a future for his family and getting revenge for the bank's less-than-wholesome business practices. However, between the inherent danger of their spree and the retiring Texas Ranger doggedly pursuing them, the brothers might not get away as clean as they'd hoped...

Spoiler: show
I have no other preface for this review, other than that this movie completely snuck up on me and it's probably going to be among my favorites of this year. Let's get started.

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First off, cinematography. It's not mind-blowing, but every scene is well-shot and captures the feeling it's going for, whether it's a relaxed chat in a field, a tense one-take shot of danger approaching, or one of a few chaotic shootouts sprinkled along toward the end. The sun-soaked Southern aesthetic makes the feeling of the film alternate between warmly pleasant and crushingly isolated, a la No Country for Old Men, with country roads receiving a lot of focus for this effect. And the robbery scenes, as sparse as they are, are expertly filmed in such a way that you're made to slightly fear the masked men even though you know it's the protagonists. The score is also great, when the movie chooses to use music; even though I'm not into country music or general Southern-influenced tunes, the songs provided by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis genuinely complement the scenes that utilize them.

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The story is formatted pretty much as you might expect: there's a few bank robberies to open the film, then a long stretch of character-building and peaceful interactions, followed by another bank robbery that initiates the long-anticipated climax, and then on to an artsy ending. However, for as predictable as a lot of the specific beats are, the film still does an awesome job at building up the suspense and making the savvier audience members question their guesses. Even though the bank robberies and criminal thrills are the obvious draw, the slower-paced scenes between the start and the climax don't feel boring, despite the fact that nothing much is really happening to move the plot forward. And once the action picks up again, the wait feels worth it, as the time we've spent bonding with the characters involved and waiting for axes to drop makes the bloody, frenetic proceedings much more unique and gripping. The whole climactic showdown is a breathless, knuckle-whitening affair, even if you've managed to guess the basics of what will happen, as I essentially did; it's just scene after scene after scene of new problems stacking on top of each other to create a steadily more insurmountable situation, even long after the protagonists are out of the bank. While the ending wrap-up goes on more than a few minutes too long after the climax's natural endpoint, thus draining some of the impact of what just went down, I like the content of the final scene just enough that I'm willing to forgive it.

However, the ultimate draw of Hell or High Water is the cast of characters that hold the story together. The performances are stellar across the board, and the dialogue and other interactions they share are remarkably natural and realistic in a way that non-improvisational scripts rarely approach. Though there are a lot of bit parts involved at one point or another, the film is focused entirely on developing the four major players in the conflict, and is all the better for it.

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The Howard brothers are fascinating leads, both together and -- on rare occasions -- apart. Toby, despite being the more serious of the two and not as manically entertaining as his brother, is magnetic in his determined, contemplative quietness. Even before his motivations are explained following the first robberies, he's immediately likable and captivating. I've never seen Chris Pine give such an impressive performance; it's so far above his standard caliber that I completely forgot it was him. Meanwhile, Ben Foster's Tanner serves as the perfect foil to his brother: crude and hedonistic where Toby is a pretty normal guy, and trigger-happy in their robberies while Toby tries to keep situations from escalating. Despite these traits, he doesn't dip into irredeemable or cartoonish territories, and keeps his wilder characteristics centered around a believable, only slightly more jaded human being. The brotherly love between the two is palpable, and their interactions are part of what keeps the majority of the film from being dull.

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On the other side, there's Jeff Bridges' Marcus Hamilton and his partner, Alberto Parker. As is to be expected, Bridges tends to steal the scenes he's in, no matter how hard it is to understand some of his lines through his accent. He's essentially Tommy Lee Jones's sheriff from No Country, doing his best to follow the crime spree as his old age and approaching retirement loom over him; unlike that character, however, he actually manages to get some shit done and becomes a suitable rival for the Howard brothers. Alberto doesn't steal the show quite like Hamilton, but his casual, weary retorts in the face of Hamilton's seemingly endless Native American jokes make him as lovable as the others. Like the brothers, the two share an interesting bond, strained on the surface but with a mutual understanding that they mean a lot to each other. A scene they share in a hotel room around the midpoint is one of the film's overall standouts.

Overall, it's difficult to convey with words what makes Hell or High Water so engaging. The thrilling heist story, engrossing performances, and beautiful cinematography all come together to make one of the best films of the many I've seen this year, but describing the individual parts doesn't quite do justice to how well they blend together. I can't think of many bad things to say about it. If the premise, trailer, or content of the review even slightly pique your interest, absolutely give it a watch -- if you can handle a slow burn in your movies, chances are you'll love this one.

Rating: I'd Usually Put A Clever Remark Here Indicating My Overall Opinion In Place Of A Numbered Or Starred Score, But I'm Very Tired And Can't Think Of One So I'll Just Say That It's A Very Good Movie And Let You Pretend There's A Fitting Remark Here
  • 6

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 6:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:21 am

Kill la Kill (2013-2014)

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Basic Summary: A vagrant schoolgirl goes on the hunt for her father's murderer with the help of a talking sailor uniform. Crazy shit happens.
Genre: Action-Comedy
Created by: Studio Trigger
Directed by: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Written by: Kazuki Nakashima
Starring (Japanese / English): Ami Koshimizu / Erica Mendez, Toshihiko Seki / David Vincent, Ryoka Yuzuki / Carrie Keranen, Aya Suzaki / Christine Marie Cabanos
Episodes: 24 + 25th as OVA
Source Material: None

For the unaware, Kill la Kill follows Ryuko Matoi, a 17-year-old vagrant youth abandoned in boarding school at a young age. After a six-month hunt, Ryuko tracks a quarry down at Honnouji Academy, an island school training its students to utilize superpowered uniforms, lorded over by the dictatorial Satsuki Kiryuin and her elite officers. The scissor blade Ryuko wields is one half of the weapon she found stabbed through her father's corpse after trying to reconnect with him, and she wields it with ruthless skill in search of her target: the shadowy woman who fled into the night with the other half. Satsuki has answers for Ryuko, regarding both her quest for revenge and the questions that have haunted her since her abandonment, but Ryuko quickly finds herself outclassed by the inhumanly strong populace. To elevate her to their level, she soon comes into contact and becomes bonded with a sentient, blood-sucking sailor uniform she names Senketsu; when Senketsu feeds on her, she gains godlike power, but is also forced to fight in an outlandishly skimpy transformation form. Undeterred by her embarrassment, Ryuko utilizes her newfound power and swears to take down Satsuki's regime and find out what secrets she holds, no matter the cost...

And for as overly long and detailed as that summary is, that's just part of the first episode synopsis. It gets even more ludicrous and self-aware from there.

Spoiler: show
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Y'all probably knew this would happen sooner or later. Kill la Kill is my all-time favorite anime and I've spent no short amount of posts here breathlessly espousing its virtues. Since I'm catching up on a lot of anime I've missed throughout this year and will be reviewing a long string of them soon, I figured I'd start off by running this one through the more thorough review process I've established, while also establishing the format for future anime reviews. This will probably be my longest review thus far, just because I have so much material to cover and so many things to say. Take my hand, and let's jump in to the surprisingly heartfelt insanity that makes up Kill la Kill.

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When considering the story, it's important to consider what Kill la Kill intends to be. In case the absurd, cliche-ridden plot summary didn't tip you off, it starts off as an enthusiastic deconstructive parody of various familiar tropes for both the shonen genre and anime in general. Everything from the typical revenge quest (starting with the seeming pointlessness of Ryuko fighting to avenge a father who was never close to her and ultimately abandoned her) to things like obligatory transformation sequences and stripperific, fanservice-oriented outfits* are mercilessly poked and prodded for jokes and witty insights. Early episodes take standard episodic concepts and play them out to their most glorious extremes, while also building the relationships between the characters and subtly setting up important concepts for later use. To that end, it takes some time for the overall plot to advance at a meaningful rate, and for the driving question to be given prominent focus, which can make some parts come off as filler.

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However, from the moment the killer's identity has been revealed, the plot does a complete 180 from its previous direction and runs breakneck into more serious territory, without losing the gloriously silly and exuberant edge that got it to that point. It's at this point that Kill la Kill's mission statement switches from enthusiastic deconstruction to passionate reconstruction. Individual episodes and concepts continue to ape familiar tropes, but instead of poking fun, it plays them to top quality and makes them fit within the story as it gets more focused, proudly displaying why those basic ideas are utilized so often to begin with and why so many fans and creators love them. The most extravagant characters and bizarre concepts are brought together to form a genuinely unique, and at times dramatically potent, universe. It dives headfirst into the Gurren Lagann-esque "FUCK YEAH INSPIRING AWESOMENESS" factor it had always been playing with, resulting in some of the most fist-pump-worthy moments in all of anime. Most unexpectedly of all, it slowly ratchets up the emotional value, leading to the kind of quiet drama scenes, heartwarming exchanges, and potent tear-jerkers one wouldn't expect from such an absurd conceit. A lot of people are disappointed in the final episode, but other than one unsatisfying villain sendoff, I've always seen it as a perfect resolution. The 25th episode OVA isn't absolutely essential viewing, as the broadcast episodes tie up the major plot threads perfectly well, but it contains enough simple brilliance, fantastic callbacks, and scale-topping badassery that I would highly recommend tracking it down legally or otherwise.

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* -> Addressing the elephant in the room before we get much further: yes, Kill la Kill has a reputation for extreme fanservice. If that puts you off, don't worry: it's 1) satirized more mercilessly than almost any other element, 2) explained with some weirdly reasonable logic as the story gets more focused on answering its mysteries, 3) ironically used for intentionally disturbing effect in later scenes of horrific bloodshed and vulnerability, and 4) nothing if not equal-opportunity. For the straight ladies and gay guys, in addition to equally skimpy transformations used by some of the prominent male characters, a huge chunk of the plot of the latter half revolves around a group of oily beefcakes who wear belt holsters and not much else.

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Of course, whether it's parodying or telling a serious story, Kill la Kill is a shonen (or at least shonen-styled) series, and that requires kickass fight scenes practically per episode. They are provided, and they most certainly do not disappoint. Every battle is a well-animated spectacle, pitting Ryuko up against a stronger opponent in such a way that it's rarely clear how she'll win -- and, very often, she doesn't. Victories aren't easily won or handed out in this series: Ryuko has to move perfectly, form moment-to-moment strategies, and know when she's outmatched. This results in frenetic battles that change flow by the minute and will do nothing if not keep you glued to the screen. The first battle between Ryuko and Satsuki in the third episode sets a high bar, and the series devotes itself to pole-vaulting over that bar with every new engagement, ramping up the difficulty, intensity, and sheer scale every time. And for variety's sake, Ryuko's far from the only one to get in on the action -- almost every character gets his or her time to shine. I gave the show a shot in the first place because I'd heard the fights were so cool, and I was never disappointed.

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And on that note, the animation isn't the crispest or most realistic around, but the art style gives it a feel all its own and never seems lacking. The colors are vibrant when they need to be and grimly washed-out when a dramatic scene must be set, and every character design is rendered in a distinct way, making it easy to keep track of what's going on in particularly large-scale battles. Also impressive is the soundtrack; there's a jam for every occasion, and they're all wonderful to listen to, especially the villain songs and opening themes. Of particular note is Ryuko's infamous theme, "Before My Body Is Dry," also known memetically as "Don't Lose Your WAAAAAAAAY" -- the first time I heard it, I groaned at the over-the-top Engrish hamminess and prayed it wouldn't be used too often, but it's utilized in such a way that by the time its familiar guitar track kicked on for the final time, I almost audibly cheered. It's now grown on me thoroughly. Side note: If for some reason you want to look up the full version on YouTube and give it a listen, whether before or after watching the series, make sure you get one of the many videos with the random interrupting rapper edited out. No one likes him.

And now, to the last area of discussion: the characters. Kill la Kill's cast is generally hammy and larger-than-life, but there's a heart to almost all of them that makes them more than caricatures. There's also a hell of a lot of them, so I'll only be rattling off a few of the ones I find particularly notable and memorable.

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The star of the show, Ryuko Matoi is my all-time favorite anime character for a reason. She's obviously a certified badass, even before she gets Senketsu (as pictured above), and continues to find new and innovative ways to beat the shit out of her enemies as the story progresses. Her unmatched skill and furious nature are tempered by surprising intelligence, both in her battle strategies and in her ability to rationalize and roll with stranger turns of events. Other than that, however, she's just a typical shonen protagonist at the outset: constant irritation, drive to succeed no matter what, huge chip on her shoulder, sharp and sarcastic tongue, etc.

What sets Ryuko apart from thousands of other vengeful, hot-blooded badasses her template is based on is how her character is gradually revealed as the story moves into more personal territory. Underneath all of the single-minded focus and casual head-busting lives a confused, damaged girl struggling with every aspect of life. She's desperate for the human contact and affection that she's been denied from her birth, and isn't constantly pissed off so much as emotionally raw and unable to stop bottling it up; staying with her new best friend's family while hunting the killer immediately softens her, to the point where her personality has drastically changed for the better even before the halfway point. She also knows her entire life has been spent with people swirling lies and vague deceptions above her head, and what she really wants more than bloody eye-for-an-eye vengeance is for someone to sit her down and tell her what it all means. Every time she loses herself in rage and forgets the lessons she's learned, it's a freakout born from a lifetime of unanswered queries and boiling self-loathing crashing to the surface. She's easily one of the most sympathetic characters in a story not hurting for them, and -- as I've said so many times -- my absolute favorite.

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Ryuko's two main allies don't slack off in the character department, either. Senketsu starts off in a strained relationship with Ryuko, but even before his character development kicks in, his deadpan bitterness and seemingly slightly-unhinged tendencies make him a joy in his role as Ryuko's guiding voice and symbiotic weapon. Luckily, Ryuko softens to his presence very early on, and as his development kicks in, he becomes her confidante and -- physically and metaphorically -- closest friend. The strengthening bond between the two is one of the earliest sources of heartwarming seriousness, and is continuously tested throughout the series.

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Absent-minded Honnouji schoolgirl Mako Mankanshoku, who becomes Ryuko's best human friend, is less complex than Ryuko or Senketsu; however, it strengthens her role more than hurts it. With her head-in-the-clouds optimism, surreal sense of humor, and penchant for speeches both inspiring and completely nonsensical, she's a shining light that never goes out no matter what darkness surrounds her, and a positive influence for Ryuko to continuously look to as she pulls herself from her cynical rut. She gets her moments of drama every so often and is surprisingly competent on the battlefield, but for the most part, she's just there to make Ryuko and the audience smile.

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On a more antagonistic note, primary villain Satsuki Kiryuin is presented as an abrasive, totalitarian bitch whom Ryuko is completely justified in taking down. Her grandiose speeches on purity and power echo nothing less than Nazism, and her first few visible actions are purely screwing over more likable characters. But while her ruthless, hammy dictator schtick cuts her out as a black-and-white villain, when we finally start seeing things from her perspective, it becomes clear why she acts the way she does and holds the insane beliefs she espouses. Without spoiling too much, she goes through as much development as Ryuko, if not more, and is probably my second-favorite character from the series by the time she finishes her character arc.

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Last, and absolutely least, this little bitch. Nui Harime is one of a few villains introduced in later sections of the story, but she infuriates me more than any of her peers (which says something when one of the other villains has a habit of actually molesting her children). Pop the brain of Ramsay Bolton into the body of a precocious little girl, then give her teleportation, functional invulnerability, and the fourth-wall-breaking skills of Deadpool, and let the abomination you've created off the leash: there you have Nui. From the moment she slid onto the screen in her purposefully simplistic animation style, she boiled my blood like no other. Every single line she speaks, every action she takes, is calculated to wreak the maximum amount of suffering on the characters who least deserve to suffer. She's a mass-murdering, completely amoral savage who enjoys playing with the laws of reality as much as she does toying with her prey. She's entertaining in her own special way, but I just hate her adorable little guts.

All in all, Kill la Kill is something truly special, at least in my eyes. There are many more complex anime with superior stories, more layered characters, and interesting takes on serious topics -- series that are, objectively speaking, better -- but nothing I've watched has rooted its hooks in me and attached itself so firmly as Kill la Kill has. I'd give it only the highest recommendations if you're looking for a lot of laughs, plenty of kickass action, a memorable cast, and a strong dose of feels; just let yourself be carried along on its current of manic passion, and don't overthink it any more than you would a series like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure or Gurren Lagann.

Rating: Blatant Favoritism or Not? You Decide
  • 5

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:21 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Sep 15, 2016 7:29 pm

To The Moon (2011)

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Basic Summary: Two doctors travel through a dying man's memories to fulfill his final wish.
Genre: RPG, Adventure
Systems: PC
Created by: Freebird Games, Kan Gao
Written by: Kan Gao
Designed and Programmed by: Kan Gao
Starring: N/A
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 9:1

For the unaware, To The Moon follows Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, doctors from an agency whose purpose is to fulfill the final wishes of the dying by manipulating their memories to make them remember what they wished had happened. Their latest patient is Johnny Wyles, a bedridden hermit who resides in a mansion on a lonely oceanside cliff -- and who has asked to go to the moon, for reasons even he doesn't seem to know. Ready for a routine assignment, Rosalene and Watts venture backwards through Johnny's memories, watching his life -- and his relationship with his late wife River -- pass in reverse on their way to plant the desire that will alter the course of Johnny's life, but what they find in the recesses of the old man's memories will test their own relationship more than any other case...

Spoiler: show
I played To The Moon when it originally came out, all the way back in 2011. I was thirteen, and it was the first video game in my memory to ever make me cry; I'd gotten emotionally affected by games before, but not to the point of full-on tears. A couple of days ago, I decided to revisit it, remembering only a few major events in the story -- and it made me bawl like a little baby. Replaying it at my older age got me to appreciate the story's path in more depth, and solidified it as one of my favorite RPG-styled games ever. So now I'm going to review it, because that's what I do now.

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Getting the gameplay right out of the way first because it's not important, the game plays like a typical top-down RPG, but with a complete absence of combat or any connected systems. You move the doctors around as one like a hero with a party member trailing behind, talk to people, and interact with objects and parts of the environment. The traditional "challenge" of the game comes from finding memory links in important items scattered around Johnny's various memories, and using them on a memento to access it, whereupon you solve a basic tile puzzle and connect another memory to travel back to. It's all so simple that it's virtually impossible to be stuck, and this is the kind of game where that's a boon, because you're not playing it for a challenge.

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The graphics, as well, are of a fairly standard style if you've seen any other games made with RPG Maker, though to my knowledge most of the art and sprites are original rather than engine assets. They look consistently gorgeous for what they are, the environments are varied (although all of the images in this review are based in the mansion or lighthouse), cool nontraditional things are occasionally done with the visuals, and a few important moments (emotional and humorous) even utilize the simplistic presentation and engine limitations for material, but it's not a graphical wonder even by pixel art standards. The music, on the other hand, is absolutely to die for. The soundtrack doesn't have quite the breadth of variety that's usually present on games I praise musically, but the mostly piano-centric tracks manage to convey whatever emotion a scene must be presented with, whether light-hearted humor, adorable romantic development, ominous danger, or positively soul-crushing sadness. Toward the end, there's even an unexpected vocal song by Laura Shigihara that reflects on the game's themes during what's probably the biggest tearjerker scene in the whole thing, and listening to it cleaves my heart asunder every time. For a brief sample, one of the more famous tunes in the game:



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Before we get to the crown jewel that is the story, I'll review the characters that drive it forward. Of the player characters, Eva Rosalene starts off rather blandly, especially by comparison to her partner; she's the "straight man" act to his wild card nature, the Murtaugh to his Riggs, and it takes a bit for her professional detachment to start slipping so her character can develop. Neil Watts, on the other hand, is lovable from the get-go and constantly involved in hilarious, unpredictable antics that keep the game from being a non-stop tear waterboarding -- "Fucking Neil!" could be the tagline of the game if the emotional core didn't so often overpower him. However, both doctors have far more to them than is initially presented, and during the late hours of the game, their conflicting interests and moralities rise to center stage (and Neil in particular is involved in an unexpectedly dark subplot that's easily missed if you aren't constantly paying attention). By the end, it's clear that their personal stories are as critical to the game as Johnny's memories.

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Speaking of, the entirety of the main story rests on Johnny's shoulders, so it would all fall apart if he were uninteresting or unsympathetic. Fortunately, he's the complete antithesis of those things. Whether you're watching him as a somber old man reflecting on his failings or a starry-eyed kid with the whole world ahead of him, he's someone you just start to viscerally care about. His life as it truly was is really nothing extraordinary, as all of the events depicted are entirely plausible and natural (I'd wager that everyone of a sufficient age can relate to one or more experiences in his story), but his personality and the way it gradually changes with time make the journey feel almost magical. I would go so far as to say that he's among the most realistically developed human characters across any medium -- it sounds like hyperbole, but there's no other way to encompass what he is.

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all: Johnny's wife, River. Right from the get-go, it's clear to anyone who either has the disorder (such as myself) or has spent a lot of time with such individuals that she is autistic -- the game never out-and-out names her condition, but it's made blatantly clear through her speech, actions, and the therapies she undergoes, as well as the brief mention of "neurotypicals" from another character who knows her. It's extremely difficult for even the most well-meaning creators to portray an autistic character without making them into a caricature to be either mocked or given pity, and River never once feels like this. On the spectrum, she's on the more severe end of Asperger's, but a lot of her weirder tendencies turn out to have deep logical explanations as the story progresses, unfolding her into a multi-layered human being. She has her strange obsessions, and she has behaviors that sometimes alienate her from Johnny, but beneath everything, she's just a girl who wants to show her affection and has no idea how to express it. The sight of her distinct red hair swishing back and forth into the scene is a sign that things are going to get feels-y, and fast.

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These four characters serve as the lynchpins of what I'm comfortable calling -- in my eyes, at least -- one of the best stories across all of gaming. That's an extremely high bar, but To The Moon clears it with flying colors. The out-of-sequence storytelling, which I usually don't care for and tend to see as unnecessarily muddying pretension, is utilized well and expertly paced to enhance the story; when we've already seen where certain people will end up late in life, and when others will pass away, watching their optimistic and relaxed earlier years takes on newfound power. Exploring Johnny and River's unconventional relationship and blossoming romance in reverse, from River's deathbed back through to their marriage and all the way to their first meeting, is an endless fountain of tears both heartwarming and heart-crunching as they glide through the highs and struggle through the lows of life together. Every scene is packed with subtleties that either become critical later or have to be reflected on with the full context of the story, and every seemingly inexplicable event or mysterious recurring item has significance; no plot thread is left unstitched. It all intertwines together for the emotional high points of the climax and ending, which I can only equate to Kan Gao personally twisting a knife in my soul. It's one of the most layered bittersweet wrap-ups I've ever experienced, and if this game alone wasn't sad enough, it lays the grounds for a sequel whose anticipated release date is finally approaching.

All in all, I can only describe To The Moon as one thing, and I mean it in the most literal and un-hyperbolic way I can muster: a masterpiece. No game I've played, no matter how intense and emotionally draining (this includes the likes of Telltale's The Walking Dead, SOMA, and Mother 3) has made me cry so consistently and powerfully as this one. It's a beautiful story that reflects nothing less than pure human emotion, and one of those stories that I aspire to even approach in quality as a writer. If you haven't played it or watched a playthrough of it (for the latter, I recommend Cryaotic to preserve / enhance the dramatic impact), it should be high on your priority list.

Rating: A Stratospheric Achievement
  • 4

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:24 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Sat Sep 17, 2016 4:21 am

I quite enjoyed To The Moon myself, although I guess it didn't hit me in the same personal way. I'm glad it touched you so much and that you find a work that you aspire to!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sun Sep 18, 2016 10:34 am

Blair Witch (2016)

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Basic Summary: A young man ventures into the woods in search of his long-missing sister, and is terrorized by the forces that stole her away.
Genre: Horror, Found Footage
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Valorie Curry, Brandon Scott
Length: 89 mins



For the unaware, Blair Witch follows James Donahue, brother of Heather, who filmed the footage in The Blair Witch Project. James was a child when his sister disappeared, and has spent his entire life since trying to find her. When a mysterious tape is discovered deep in the forest where she and her friends vanished that seems to show her face, James is driven to renew his efforts and treks out with five others to find any evidence that she might still be alive. However, the local legend Heather and company fell prey to is hungry again, and the years have only made it more ferocious...

Spoiler: show
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I really like The Blair Witch Project. It is certainly not a movie for everyone, and I recognize why others dislike it, but it's a personal horror favorite of mine. I watched it for the first time many years after its entry into the cultural lexicon, knowing full well that none of it was real (and thus eliminating the "you only liked it if you bought into the hype" excuse), and it still chilled me. Despite it pioneering and popularizing the "found footage" shooting style, very few other entries in the genre have emulated what made it successful: the heavily improvised style, methodical buildup, atmospheric daylight scenes, psychological focus, commitment to ambiguity, etc. Instead, it's been more common (and profitable) to use the camera as a cheap device to toss dozens of horrendously poor jumpscares into the audiences' faces, jolting them without providing actual horror.

And it saddens me to say that Blair Witch, a heavily-hyped and uber-secretive sequel with a talented director, a significantly higher budget than the original film, and rave reviews from festival showings, does not change the pattern.

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The cinematography should be the first point of focus. Putting aside all accusations of motion sickness and irritation that are prompted by the shakiest of the genre, Blair Witch is just exceptionally poorly shot. With regards to everything that would follow it, The Blair Witch Project was surprisingly reserved in its movement, only indulging in familiar shaky running at the very end; the long shots, as well as everything being captured on only two cameras, lent it a more intimate feeling that made the suspense buildup work. By contrast, even by the standards of cheap found footage schlock, Blair Witch is shaky to the point of absurdity. There were a lot of scenes where it was to the point that I genuinely couldn't tell what had happened, and had to get clarification later. The dramatically increased camera count (each of the six teens is equipped with an ear-mounted camera, a few of them have secondary handheld ones, there are wall-mounted cameras that aren't utilized for anything of note, and one of them brought along a drone) makes everything feel too busy and detached for the attempts at buildup to work effectively.

To give credit where credit's due (God knows this review needs some positivity), the sound design goes a long way toward redeeming the visual presentation. The ambient noise, snapping twigs, and general sound placement pulled me in at times, and made the forest come to life as its own malevolent presence. The deafening, exaggerated screams the main characters (usually Ashley) emit whenever something mildly surprising happens drags this element down a bit, but sound design is definitely what the film does best.

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The story plays like a dull retread at best and like incoherently bad Blair Witch Project fan fiction at worst, trundling along through the motions until its attempts to innovate bury it for good. The first few minutes have the characters meeting up and hiking into the woods, refreshing the audience on the mythology (and casually dropping in new tidbits that come off as just what they are -- awkward foreshadowing) as they go, and getting to their camp. Then creepy stuff starts happening, but the wooden symbols of old are eschewed (save the one scene pictured above, coincidentally one of the only creepy scenes in the whole thing) in favor of having the Blair Witch roar and knock down trees in the night (this happens multiple times), and the infighting and mental decline that formed the bulk of the original's second act is echoed in interspersed conflicts that feel wholly unearned. Characters are gradually plucked from the group, but are shown in the moments leading to their disappearances rather than merely vanishing between days, handily removing the element of ambiguity and unease that comes from disappearances. It's not too long before the plot just blows its load, so eager to move the cast to the infamous ruined house that it propels the redshirts out of the way in a series of choppy death vignettes.

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However, the flaws only become horribly apparent once the survivors enter the house. At that point, the story turns itself on its head and starts butt-chugging hallucinogenics, drowning itself in a hazy sea of pointless callbacks and needless premise twists. It delivers clarifications to some of the mysteries set up by the original, but what it provides is simultaneously too revealing, frustratingly vague, and rife with plot holes, blending it all into the happy medium of incoherence. It tries to be clever as it starts playing with the flow of time and revealing that the Witch has as many heretofore-undiscussed abilities as Superman, leading only to trite silliness at how badly it's blended in and how little it really contributes. One particular story beat involving the character of Lane still completely eludes me, because I can't think of a way to work it in without it being complete nonsense. All of this is delivered at a feverishly breathless pace that fails to project any sense of urgency, shuttling the characters hastily from one scenario to the next in a constricted time frame, up until a clumsy climactic sequence that lets any sense of tension slip between its fingers. And the ending... let's just say that if you thought the infamous "Mike in the corner" shot was a poor wrap-up (we would disagree, but you get my point), this one will top it in every disappointing way. I actually cocked my head in disbelief like a cartoon character when it cut to credits. I have no fucking clue why all of the critics say the last twenty minutes are the best part.

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The characters are so dull as to barely be worth mentioning, but I have to. Heather, Josh, and Mike propelled The Blair Witch Project, compensating for their mostly lacking characterization by delivering deeply human and believable performances -- much in thanks to how it was filmed, with them only given directions to walk in and basic information to convey, and being offered neither a detailed script nor knowledge of what scares they would come across. James and his larger cast of friends pack about the same level of characterization, but merely turn in the most workmanlike "I AM ACTING" performances with their shoddy script content. Everyone has a single trait and nothing more: James is flatly determined to find Heather, Lisa is his vanilla love interest, Peter is the snarky black friend, Ashley obnoxiously screams a lot and whines about her early foot injury, and the outsider duo of Lane and Talia are weird assholes. No character is given an ounce of development, their interactions are shallow and stilted, and at times they're so obnoxious that it turns into a movie where you just want the Blair Witch to kill them all.

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But the true cardinal sin committed by Blair Witch is the one it's most painful to express, for all of the dramatic festival review quotes the trailers hype: it isn't scary. At all. Horror is obviously subjective, but I challenge anyone to be horrified by the by-the-numbers found footage jumpscare playbook blatantly utilized throughout the film. Gone is the suspense, gone are the lingering questions, replaced by loud scare chords and embarrassing tricks. I shit you not, the following scares make up 90% of the "horror" content, repeated ad nauseum between other familiar tactics:

- An absentee character suddenly reappears right in front of the lens to a scare chord and some screams, whether due to a prank, running from a real threat, or just not knowing they'd surprise the person holding the camera. If you can possibly believe it, this standard "cat scare" continues to be used all throughout the movie, and at one point happens no less than three times in one five-minute scene.
- Someone unexpectedly screams deafeningly loudly about something minor; again, usually Ashley. God, I hate Ashley.
- Someone is sharply pulled and dragged by an invisible presence, screaming all the way.

I almost got angry from how much the feeling of "I've seen ALL OF THIS SHIT before" persists, and it only got more pronounced during the last twenty minutes (which, again, are almost universally praised in even the most negative reviews). I cannot count how often a door slammed shut by itself, that oh-so-fresh scare we've never seen in horror before. The redesigned house almost seems lain out to accommodate as many slammed doors in quick succession as possible. The rest of the scares come from the Blair Witch herself, which...

*sigh*

Okay, spoilers for the climactic section, look at your own risk. I have to talk about this.

ending spoilers
They show the Blair Witch.

The entity whose sole distinguishing trait is always staying off-camera, never being seen (to the point where some theorize that the original film didn't even have supernatural occurrences, and that Heather was being intentionally led to her death by Josh and Mike), is shown on-camera in full body. What is she, after seventeen years of speculation and buildup?

A tall, pale, alien-looking creature with spindly limbs that hisses and roars as it charges through the trees and hallways. It defies belief that she would be capable of, let alone intelligently responsible for, the phenomena in the first movie and very early in this one.

Oh, and also she can manipulate time and space and cause loops in dimensions and is absolutely all-powerful, but she can only kill you if you look at her -- that's why the serial killer in the mythology made one victim stand in the corner as he sacrificed the other victims to her, and why the whole corner-standing phenomenon exists. Despite her being glimpsed full-on numerous times before this becomes relevant in the climax, the fact that neither Mike nor Heather (the people we see drop their cameras at the end of The Blair Witch Project) turn around before being attacked, and Mike (the corner-stander himself) having no fucking idea about that piece of lore.


All in all, whether you loved The Blair Witch Project or thought it was overrated crap (or any stance in between), Blair Witch is a fucking awful piece of cinema. It's not scary, it's not subtle, the story is nonsense that retroactively tears holes in itself, and it comes nowhere close to the visceral horror expressed when the first trailers were just calling it The Woods. Adam Wingard openly made this because he needed money after The Guest didn't do well, but whatever his excuse, it doesn't make me at all hopeful for the Americanized Death Note adaptation he's directing.

Rating: Seeing the Forest For the Shitty, Shitty Trees
  • 5

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 6:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Sep 22, 2016 11:05 pm

No Man's Sky (2016)

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Basic Summary: Space is fuckin' big.
Genre: Survival-Sandbox
Systems: PC, PS4
Created by: Hello Games
Directed by: Sean Murray, David Ream, Ryan Boyle, Grant Duncan
Written by: Sean Murray, David Ream
Designed and Programmed by: Will Braham
Starring: N/A
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 1:9 with "Follow Atlas", 0:10 with "Spurn Atlas"





For the unaware, No Man's Sky follows your unnamed, identity-less space traveler after you crash land on an uncharted planet. This is the first time anyone has set foot on this planet; it's yours, as is the star system that surrounds it and incalculable swathes beyond. But before you can set off exploring, you have some things to deal with. Your ship is too damaged to fly, there are unknown life forms crawling over the horizon, and a mysterious entity calling itself Atlas really wants you to let it guide you to the center of the universe, where the grand answers to all things await...

Spoiler: show
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Okay. This game. If you've been on the internet at all since its release, you know how people tend to feel about this one. It was the most hyped-up game on the market since its announcement, and then the release came and it flopped into the mud like a dying fish. I'd heard all of the criticisms, both reasonable and seemingly ridiculous, before I was gifted a copy for my birthday and set off playing it. So... what did I think of No Man's Sky? Does it deserve its reputation as the single most divisive title in the history of the industry?

The answer is a confident, resounding... sort of.

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The first thing that has to be discussed when speaking about No Man's Sky is its biggest selling point and proudest achievement: the sheer awe-inspiring scale. This is, quite literally, the largest game of all time. It was procedurally created (not procedurally generated, as in games like Minecraft; the universe is statically the same for everyone, but it was originally spawned from randomness) by a huge, complex series of algorithms that were let loose to create a universe as opposed to the programmers designing every planet. There are just over 14 quintillion full-scale planets in the game. It is almost mathematically impossible for players to explore all of it. And there is not a single loading screen throughout.

The way this scale is communicated to you has to be commended, as well. The first time you repair your ship and launch off the planet that felt so massive below, and are immediately lifted into the vast star system with nary a second of visible loading, it's an unforgettable moment. Same goes for the first time you open the universal warp map and see how many other vast galaxies and star systems there are, all of equal or greater size to the one you're currently in. The knowledge that you can go out and explore all of that, yet never come close to witnessing even a sizable fraction no matter how often you play it, boggles the mind like no other game on the market.

However, the old adage of "quality over quantity" applies here more than anywhere else. There's a lot in this game, to be sure. But how much of it is even worth seeing?

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Graphically, the game is... serviceable. Whether or not you see anything impressive is all down to luck. Space generally looks cool, some of the planets are gorgeous, and some of the creatures are biological marvels to watch. However, the art style's nothing special, general planetary textures are as muddy and dull as a PS2 game, and many of the creatures share animations and major features. As for the music, it's all electric-toned rock provided by the indie band "65daysofstatic", and it sounds... fine. There were some tracks I liked, and some that went on too long and didn't contribute much.

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The story is barebones enough that we can get it out of the way quickly. At the very start, following your awakening on whatever planet you spawn on, you're given a choice: follow this "Atlas" to the center of the universe, where some grand revelation is supposedly waiting, or spurn the entity and explore freely. This is presented entirely without greater context to help you decide, and it's the only time you get to make it, so there's no taking it back if you change your mind later. Thing is, it changes almost nothing. I had already been spoiled on the game's ending and decided I didn't want to deal with that shit, so I flipped off Atlas and went on my merry way. Except the game by default still gives you a road map toward the center, and forces you to complete goals that will allow you to follow that map. And you can explore freely either way! The only difference I stumbled across is that every so often, you'll find a special monument dedicated to Atlas that will pull you into a similar choice-making format as the first choice and the regular monuments: if you're following Atlas, you get a choice of accepting things, but if you rejected it -- despite the writing indicating that it's giving you another chance -- your only option is turning your back again and further pissing it off.

That's pretty much all of the story content until you reach the fabled center, the constantly glowing light visible from every corner of the galaxies. What awaits you there? What is so important and mystifying that no matter what you do, the game encourages you to venture there anyway? What is the meaning of No Man's Sky, the truth behind this vast universe full of unanswered questions and enigmatic concepts? What is the core of Sean Murray's vision?

I usually don't endorse spoiling yourself, but I actively do encourage you to read about the "end" before you even buy the game.

ending spoilers


You reach it on the warp map when you have enough upgrades and are close enough to access it, highlight it like a normal star system, and begin racing toward it at light speed. A special cutscene triggers, and a rock medley of the game's various musical tracks kicks on.

Then you realize you're not even flying toward it -- you're being... thrust away, I guess? The music gets louder as your destination gets even further away, and then, when you're at the edge of both space and your sanity, your ship turns around in the opposite direction. And there, glowing just as vibrantly, is ANOTHER CENTER. You find yourself re-experiencing the first cutscene in the game, and then you once again wake up on a different planet with your ship damaged, all of your stuff gone, and another journey awaiting you.

That's it.

Is this supposed to be profound? It seems to echo the endings of games like Journey, where the loop is the point, but here it's just meaningless, inexplicable, and resolves nothing. You never find out what's at the center, or why Atlas wanted to guide you, or what the fucking point of anything is. Days of tireless work is rewarded by the game clearing away your slate and begging you to do it all over again.


So overall, the story blows unbelievably hard. Yet that's not even where No Man's Sky's greatest failings are. No, what truly fist-fucks No Man's Sky into the asphalt is its gameplay mechanics. I don't have a problem with No Man's Sky being a survival game, like many did at the launch. I don't gravitate toward the genre and would have preferred it to just be an open-world exploration game, but I can deal with survival mechanics pretty handily. However, No Man's Sky is not a good survival game.

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Your basic gameplay consists of running around a planet, scanning discoveries to be renamed and uploaded to the network, and mining materials with your multi-tool. Most planets have some form of constant health drain, whether it's low temperature or atmospheric toxicity or radiation or what have you; it all works the same, with it slowly chipping at a meter and you replenishing your suit with special minerals to keep it from killing you. When you have some useful materials, you craft what you can and head off to the nearest space station, where you trade ores and valuables off to various merchants in exchange for credits that you use to buy what you need to advance. Wash, rinse, repeat, all working the same way no matter how far you travel. It's like one long grinding session extended to be the meat of a full game, with the only destination you're working toward being that "ending" up there.

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The first paragraph-worthy gripe I have, and one of the most infamous complaints about the game by now, is in regards to how the inventory is handled. Expect to hear "NO FREE SLOTS IN SUIT INVENTORY" with exceptional frequency, because the space you have to store things on foot is paltry. You can stack ores of the same type, but the amount available in a stack is represented by a meter rather than a hard number, making it rather unclear; you also can't stack the same items, whether they're unique collectibles or basic crafting components, cluttering up needless amounts of space; AND if you equip any upgrades, those take up permanent slots that can't be used for anything else.

Survival games demand careful managing of resources, but the best ones either give you a lot of carrying space, give you somewhere else to store things other than your on-foot inventory, or double down and make surviving on scraps the whole point. No Man's Sky seems to aim for a blend of the latter two, but ends up feeling like it lacks both -- there are no chests or similar systems to store things away for later use, and everything is common enough that you're never made to feel like a struggling survivor, forcing the game into an awkward one-and-done middle ground. You can transport items to your ship's slightly larger inventory, and there are meager slot-by-slot suit upgrades scattered around random planets, but even at a high level you'll still be frustratedly juggling basic materials and tasks. That alone is enough to knock the game flat.

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But that's not all! A survival game has to have some kind of combat element, I guess. No Man's Sky's on-foot combat is the absolute bare minimum, wherein you use your multi-tool's mining laser (or a dedicated shot upgrade that actually feels worse) to kill hostile creatures and destroy robotic Sentinels. Fighting is merely a matter of keeping your reticle centered on the thing trying to kill you and holding down the button until it stops trying to kill you; nothing to write home about, but not awful. I cannot say the same for the space combat. Oftentimes, when you're exiting a planet's atmosphere or light-speed boosting from one corner of the galaxy to another, you'll be alerted that pirates are scanning you. When this happens, there is no way to avoid being pulled into a mandatory dogfight with them, and since all of your travel systems are locked, the only way to escape is to shoot them all down. These engagements feel, for lack of a better term, greasy. They're too sluggish and bland to be exciting, yet they move at a slick, dizzying pace as the pirates zip all around and constantly pepper you with laser fire. Until you invest in major combat upgrades, you will almost certainly die to these encounters -- the game is generous enough to simply put your inventory in a floating grave marker and respawn you with your ship at the nearest space station to retrieve it, but repeated instances of this make them feel like needless, bothersome roadblocks.

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And, of course, the game is buggy as hell. I'm told it was even worse before the long sequence of patches Hello Games released, but there are still glitches galore, ranging from the mildly annoying (horrendous texture pop-in, movement bugs, and the like) to the virtually game-breaking (unresponsive terminals and occasional crashes, though nowhere near as bad in that department as Adr1ft). I frequently encountered an odd bug where I'd take expected damage from a fall, and then after walking peacefully for a bit, I'd suddenly be damaged again for the same amount, apropos nothing -- I thought it was hostile creature attacks or environmental hazards at first, but experimenting proved otherwise. And most frustratingly of all, I was at one point affected by a glitch many people have reported, in which my ship flew off without me -- when this happens, your only recourse is to craft a Bypass Chip and scour the planet for a hackable terminal that will let you call the ship to your position, which took me nearly a full hour to do. Woe be to any this affects if they're on a barren planet with no colonies; since dying on-foot doesn't respawn you in your ship and you can't actually restart from save points, I imagine you're boned.

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Now, the gameplay is not without its carrot-on-a-stick incentives to keep you moving through the tedium. The aspects of discovery are initially more than enough to keep things going. Scanning undiscovered new lifeforms, naming them, and uploading them for everyone to see is highly rewarding despite being shallow. When you stumble across a particularly cool-looking creature or a planet with a labyrinth of stone cubes floating all over it, everything feels worth it. You also encounter Knowledge Stones and other monuments that teach you the language of your galaxy's native intelligent race (there are three in the game) word-by-word; tracking these things down is addictive, and slowly getting to understand what the traders and scientists are saying has its own rewards.

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Sadly, this feeling wore away the more I played. It's partly because the "lone wanderer charting a wild, untamed universe" feeling is sabotaged by how densely populated a lot of systems feel; there's always a space station nearby, random ships race overhead all the time no matter where you are, and most planets have 1-3 alien outposts with sentient beings who've already set up shop there. But mostly, it's down to how sparse any interesting content actually is. All of the gameplay trailers promised a bounty of enormous and distinctly varied creatures that reacted intelligently and creatively to their environments, but in my weeks upon weeks of venturing out, I barely encountered anything larger than my ship or otherwise visually arresting in a memorable way; and regardless of size, the only two behaviors creatures seem to have is "indifference" or "run up and bite you". They don't even seem to interact with each other, whether predators or prey. I never stumbled upon the river-bathing titans, forest-rattling rhinoceros things, and colossal sandworms prominently shown off in footage, and I haven't seen anyone do so in YouTube playthroughs either. One of my proudest moments was happening upon a sky full of majestic flying dragon-centipede hybrids, and I quickly found out that numerous others had already observed the same type of creatures in other corners of the universe with slightly different color changes marking them as technically different species (as pictured above). I'm genuinely curious whether the footage shown off in trailers and gameplay previews was in any way manipulated to show off better results.

Overall, No Man's Sky is the only game I've played that goes from a magical journey to feeling like a dead-end job. The moment I first removed the disc from the console after several days to play something else, I lost all desire to pop it back in and keep exploring. The sheer technical achievement cannot be understated, nor the fact that such a tiny team as Hello Games was responsible; this is a milestone for pure game design, and I hope other developers experiment with the same grand scope overlayed onto a better game. Do I think Sean Murray is a liar who deserves to rot in Hell for not including multiplayer or whatever? I don't. But that doesn't stop me, even with my wildly lowered expectations, from being let down.

Rating: To Boldly Trade Rocks Where No Man Has Traded Rocks Before
  • 5

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:25 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Thu Sep 29, 2016 3:22 am

ERASED (2016)

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Basic Summary: A man travels back into his youth to stop a sadistic killer and save his long-deceased victims.
Genre: Mystery-Thriller
Created by: A-1 Pictures
Directed by: Tomohiko Ito
Written by: Taku Kishimoto
Starring (Japanese / English): Shinnosuke Mitsushima / Ben Diskin, Tao Suchiya / Michelle Ruff, Aoi Yuki / Stephanie Sheh
Episodes: 12
Source Material: Completed manga by Kei Sanbe

For the unaware, ERASED follows Satoru Fujinuma, a struggling manga artist whose life is by all measures on the low end of average, save one thing: for as long as he can remember, he has been afflicted by a phenomenon he calls "Revival," which sends him back in time 1-5 minutes before something bad happens to others around him, usually leading him to avert whatever was about to transpire. Wallowing in poverty and sick of his seemingly destined duties (which consistently lead to him getting hurt), Satoru is certain that his life has nothing left to it. However, when a gruesome murder shakes apart his life and the police zero in on him as a suspect, he finds himself suddenly and inexplicably ripped back in time to his childhood in 1988. Satoru is convinced that the tragedy in his present is closely tied to a string of unsolved child slayings in this time period, and he takes it upon himself to seek the justice that was never carried out, no matter the cost...

Spoiler: show
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I love murder mysteries, and hunts for serial killers are my absolute favorite spin on that genre. When pulled off well (as in, not by David Cage or cable trash like CSI), the relentless search for the sinister figure in the shadows as his or her body count rises captivates me like few other story types are capable of. A huge chunk of my favorite antagonists are serial killers, and I glom onto whatever new "find and stop the killer" tales I can find that gets even decent reviews. However, because I consume so much of the genre, my standards for something pulling it off notably well have grown exceptionally high. So how does ERASED, which received high praise (and equally high backlash) when it debuted earlier this year, stack up to the cluttered field?

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The story begins slowly, but as soon as the murder and time-jump happen toward the end of the first episode, things drastically pick up in both speed and quality. Satoru's secretive investigation into the lives of the victims and the circumstances surrounding their abductions is immediately compelling, with exactly as many possible suspects and burning questions tossed into the fire as you would hope from a good murder mystery. The actions he starts taking to preserve lives and gain more information are equally engrossing; the conceit of a 29-year old using his knowledge to try and manipulate history from a powerless 11-year old's perspective is played up mostly perfectly throughout most of the series, leading to more than a few great scenarios. Much of the investigation is tied to a particular relationship Satoru forms with one of the victims, which I found exceptionally heartwarming and one of the main draws, even as it tackles heady themes of parental abuse in a way that generally comes off as cartoonishly overdone (though it's suitably horrifying when it's executed well, and provides fuel for some predictably awesome, heartwarming, and tear-jerking moments for the protagonists). And the slow clock ticking toward the date where the murders begin gives the whole thing a tight, tense focus for the early proceedings.

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However, as the series starts wrapping up its mysteries in the final three episodes, it takes a serious nosedive from its prior quality. The reveal of the killer is handled in the most predictable fashion possible; I called the character's probable nature from literally the first scene they appeared in, and kept trying to tie the evidence to different suspects in the vain hopes that the show was ready to pull a fast one on me. The heartwarming plot arc ends just a few episodes too soon, and its revisiting at a later point doesn't pack as much joy as it rightfully should, leaving the final episodes struggling for an emotional core. Most damningly, the killer's reveal is followed swiftly by a plot point so out-of-left-field and crippling for the premise that it makes the last two episodes feel like they came out of an entirely different, much more melodramatic and mediocre series. I'm told that some of this may be due to the distillation of much of the manga's last half into these final two episodes, but I just don't like the general direction even in the source material. Now, with all of that said, I did like the very last episode for the most part, taken purely on its own merits; it's just nowhere close to the ending I was hoping for as I was spellbound by Satoru's struggle in the earlier episodes.

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I was initially unimpressed with the animation quality, but I don't think I was giving it enough time to soak in through my binge-watch -- it's genuinely beautiful, with a gorgeous art style, above-average movement, and a number of scenes that dramatically ramp up the production quality (including the "park scene", pictured above, one of the overall best parts of the show). Meanwhile, music is used sparingly, so I can't give much focus to that -- the most I can say is that the OP is one of the year's best, and even if you don't bother with the series, you should still give that component a watch.

The characters are the last point that needs to be covered, and as with Kill la Kill's review, the sizable cast means I'll be focusing on a few individuals who stuck in my mind and can be discussed to any great degree.

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Satoru is a strong protagonist, though much more so as a "child" than in his present day. As an adult, he's a rather dull, milquetoast starving artist whose only unique characterization comes from the Revivals. Once he's in the past, however, he gains more than a few new layers and becomes both far more sympathetic and far more interesting. Through his new eyes, the experiences that shaped his youth are given stark new meaning, and the questionable morality of interacting with a bunch of unaware children using the mind of a much older man is sporadically explored to decent effect. His characterization takes a few unearned turns in the final episodes, but unlike the killer and the story itself, it doesn't irreversibly fuck him up.

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Next we have Kayo Hinazuki, an aloof and awkward student who was the first victim of the killer's spree, and is thus the primary victim Satoru focuses on and spends much of the series struggling to protect. She's the thrust of the main emotional arc, and her gradual development as she comes to trust and value Satoru rarely failed to get me suitably teary. She is the victim of serious physical abuse by her petty sadist of a mother, a trope that so frequently is used to give sympathy to an underwritten Mary Sue, but while she's not a masterclass example of depth and trope subversion, she's sufficiently well-written enough that I grew to care about her wellbeing and accepted her being the driving force of so many episodes. Her arc comes to a satisfactory conclusion near the end, but when she's brought back into the fold during the final episodes, a particular plot point bites into her built-up goodwill and tears out a bloody chunk that doesn't grow back by the ending; I can see the reasoning behind it, but it doesn't make it any more narratively or emotionally satisfying.

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And now we come to my favorite character of them all, and a new entrant into my list of overall favorite anime characters: Satoru's mother, Sachiko. Is she possibly the best mom in all of anime? I'd definitely put her high up on the list. She's so great. She steps in and cares for her son when he's down on his luck, solves cold cases in her downtime with her network of old news contacts, beats up abusers and other assholes despite her age (in the present day, she's 52), and is always on hand for both worldly advice and a lovable post-cigarette quip. She's the only character whose writing doesn't get negatively impacted by the downward spiral of the story, and thus she maintains her gloriousness through to the end. Plus, at one point, she gets struck in the face with a snow shovel and barely flinches despite the bloody wound it produces. #BestMom

(I know her puffily-drawn lips are a little weird, but you get used to them.)

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Finally, let's talk about the killer himself, whom I spent most of the series mentally referring to as the Red-Eyed Man for the stylized glimpse Satoru catches of him (pictured above) as he's leaving the plot-triggering murder scene. Over the course of the investigation, he's an effortlessly menacing presence: a starving predator stalking the night who might randomly pluck someone into thin air and deposit their bodies in the snow a few nights later. His murderous methods are nauseatingly cruel, and he also has a habit of making elementary school kids his main victims, so there's an element of primal "you need to die, and it needs to be slow" feeling every time someone discusses his antics. He's not the best serial killer I've seen in an anime, but he serves his purpose well and does it with sinister aplomb.

Unfortunately, the writing downturn of the last three episodes hurts him more than it does anyone else. As mentioned, his true identity is the most boring and predictable answer the writer could have gone with, and just putting that face to him dents his threatening power. What follows is even worse, as moves are taken that thoroughly drain him of all mystique while offering nothing in its place -- despite some attempts to make him more sympathetic in his actions, we never actually learn his basic motivations for beginning the spree, as all of his backstory content was cut out in the adaptation (probably for the best, anyway; the manga's exploration of his history and mental state is terribly overwrought). His personality takes multiple twists and turns post-reveal, none of which feel remotely earned, and his final confrontation and eventual fate are astounding in their dull lifelessness. It almost would have been better to go out-and-out and just make him a pointlessly sadistic monster, rather than ending up with the muddled, simpering mess he turns out to be.

In the end, ERASED is the epitome of a "journey over destination" story, in a genre where that should almost never be the case. It's pretty great for what it is (that is to say, it's nothing mind-blowing, but an excellent execution of what it's aiming for) as it's going along, but as soon as it gets to where it was headed, it fails to stick the landing and flops face-first into bewildering plot decisions and unearned arc conclusions. If it had simply collapsed under the weight of its lofty ambitions, I would be perfectly fine, but its dramatic spin-out leaves so much to be desired that it can't really be justified. I would recommend ERASED for its initially fascinating mystery, the Kayo plot line, and the awesomeness that is Satoru's mom, but if you're the kind of person who can be soured on a whole experience by the way it ends, you may as well stay away.

Rating: Should Have Been REVISED
  • 5

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:26 am, edited 10 times in total.
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