Review: “Repo Man” (Film)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d re-watch a film that I’ve been meaning to take another look at for over a decade. I am, of course, talking about Alex Cox’s 1984 film “Repo Man”.

I first found this film on a market stall in either 2006 or 2007 and, knowing literally nothing about it, decided to take a chance on it because it looked interesting. All I can remember about my first viewing of this film was that it was unlike anything else that I’d ever watched before, that I thought that it was “cool” and that I didn’t really understand it. So, with almost a decade and a half of extra maturity and knowledge than I had back then, I wondered if this film would make any more sense to me a second time around.

So, let’s take a look at “Repo Man”. Needless to say, this review will contain some MAJOR SPOILERS. The film itself also contains some FLICKERING IMAGES (although I don’t know whether they’re intense enough to be a problem for some viewers or not).

The film begins with a car speeding along a desert highway somewhere in America. A nearby cop notices and pulls the car over. The sweaty and nervous driver tells the cop that he really doesn’t want to know what is in the boot of the car. Needless to say, the cop instantly becomes suspicious and decides to check it. When he opens the boot, a glowing light engulfs him and reduces him to little more than two smouldering boots. The car then drives off.

Yes, this isn’t your typical gritty crime thriller…

We then see a bitter young man called Otto (Emilio Estevez) get fired from his job at a supermarket. When he tries to console himself by visiting a raucous party at his friend’s house, he finds his girlfriend sleeping with another man. Miserable and disillusioned, he wanders off and ends up drinking alone in the middle of a field. The next morning, he is still wandering the streets when a man called Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) parks his car beside him and offers him ten dollars if he will help him.

After some initial misunderstandings and insults, Bud explains that his wife is in labour and he needs someone to help him drive a nearby car to the hospital. After some haggling about the price, Otto agrees and takes the car keys. Whilst getting the car to start, a couple emerge from a nearby house and try to stop him from stealing their car. Otto shrugs and drives off, following Bud to a rather sleazy-looking car impound.

When Otto enters the office, he realises that he’s been tricked into helping Bud repossess a car. Angered by this and not very keen on becoming a repo man, he spills the beer that the repo firm offers him, reluctantly takes the money they give him and storms out of the building. Meanwhile, several government agents investigate the mysterious death in the desert.

Is it just me or does that beer look incredibly similar to water?

Otto soon finds that can’t seem to find any money anywhere else. His parents have given away the money they once promised to give him and almost every job advertised in the paper seems to be very much of the dead-end variety. So, reluctantly, he joins the repo company. Within days, he is wearing a suit, taking copious amounts of speed and revelling in the chaotic nature of the job.

However, after reposessing a sports car and cruising around in it for fun, he ends up giving a lift to a mysterious woman called Leila (Olivia Barash) who tells him that she’s on the run from government agents who are trying to find and cover up the remains of four aliens….

I would say “cue the ‘X-Files’ music”, but this film was around before “The X-Files” were.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst I still don’t fully understand it, it is certainly a unique film that really has to be experienced first-hand. There’s no real way to describe it that really does it justice, but it’s worth a try. I just hope that this review at least makes some sense. Where do I even start?

Despite the sci-fi surrealism of the film’s plot and the wonderfully quirky atmosphere, this is a surprisingly angry film. Many of the characters feel resentful towards the world for one reason or another. When Otto is introduced, we see life dealing him a bad hand – but he’s already shown to be more than a little bit embittered and disillusioned before all of this happens.

In some ways, this is possibly a punk film – with a real undercurrent of cynicism and anger running underneath it. But, whilst the film is certainly critical of authority, capitalism and the establishment (eg: evil government agents, the repo men being presented as little more than legalised car thieves etc…) and also contains some punk music, most of the film’s “punk” characters are a group of amoral criminals whose lives revolve around recreational robbery and serious drug use. They are “anarchists” in the very worst sense of the word – who quite literally treat life like a game of “Grand Theft Auto”.

For a “punk” film, these punk characters are some of the most villainous in the entire film.

This film is also possibly a criticism of the “macho” culture of the 1980s too. Otto and many of the other repo men are shown to be swaggering, insecure, homophobic, violent, hard-drinking/drug-fuelled, sleazy (and sometimes aggressive about it!) and almost constantly angry. They are not meant to be sympathetic characters by any stretch of the imagination.

And, as mentioned earlier, they are also shown to basically be car thieves too.

In fact, there are virtually no sympathetic characters in this film. Literally the only vaguely sympathetic character is a drug-addled homeless man who lives at the repo yard and rambles about the universe. But, this is probably part of the film’s satire. It is set in a nightmarishly hyper-intense version of Reagan’s America. In other words, pretty much everyone is heartless, cynical, brusque, violent, bigoted, amoral, angry and/or unprincipled. This links in to the film’s criticism of the economics and culture of the age, with almost everyone in the film being motivated by money, status, pleasure or personal gain of some kind or another.

Yet, when one of Otto’s criminal friends is shot during a robbery, he gives a ridiculously melodramatic dying speech about how society is truly to blame. Otto, on the other hand, disagrees with him. Despite the fact that the characters are clearly shown to be a product of 1980s America on steroids, this small segment adds some intriguing nuance and ambiguity to everything that raises all sorts of questions. Are people a combination of themselves and the society they live in? Is personal responsibility just a political myth used to ignore social problems? Am I reading way too much into this comedic scene?

One other interesting satirical detail is that there is literally no product placement in this film, and the film makes a point of showing you this. Pretty much everything that can be eaten or drunk has plain white packaging with a (usually very generic) product name written on it in bland blue letters. For example, whenever a character drinks a beer, it is literally “Beer”-brand beer. Not only does this lack of branding contrast absolutely perfectly with the greedy “world” of the film but it also points out just how omnipresent things like advertising and branding are.

Mmm… A delicious can of “Food”.

The film also includes some satire about spirituality and capitalism too. For example, one of the many things that annoys Otto at the beginning of the film is the fact that his stoned parents have given $1000 that they were going to give him to a televangelist instead. A televangelist who is later revealed to be in hock with the film’s mysterious government agents. This is also a film where the stoner-like ramblings of a homeless man who lives at the repo yard actually turn out to have more truth in them than anyone else’s theories about the nature of the universe.

I always thought that parodies of televangelists were more of a ’90s thing, so it’s interesting to see this in a film from the ’80s.

Another interesting thing about this film is how several of the main characters end up turning into the things that they hate the most. Whether it is how Otto goes from being a rebellious, anti-establishment punk who hates even the idea of repo men to becoming an enthusiastic suit-wearing repo man or how Leila goes from being a whistleblower on the run from the government to not only joining the mysterious agency that has been chasing her, but also enthusiastically helping them to “interrogate” Otto too.

Then again, I might be reading too much into this. She possibly just wants revenge on Otto for harassing her earlier in the film.

So, yes, this film is very much a satire with a lot to say. And, even though this is the second time I’ve seen the film, I’ve probably still missed a lot of subtle details or satirical comments hidden in the film. Either that or the film is just messing with the audience and intentionally makes no sense.

In terms of the actual plot, the film does have one. Sort of. And it is probably a metaphor for something, although I can’t work out what. In short, the film’s story mostly revolves around a car that contains what are implied to be alien remains – which are also radioactive enough to disintegrate anyone who looks at them directly. These alien remains are kept in the boot of a car which constantly keeps getting stolen by different people before, eventually, it starts glowing and allows both Otto and the homeless man at the repo yard to ride it into the cosmos. I’m sure that this is almost certainly a metaphor for something, but I can’t work out what.

In the context of the film, the glowing car is maybe a time machine designed to populate an ancient version of the Earth via a time loop. Possibly.

Visually and musically, this film is fairly cool and unique. Unlike the coke-fuelled 1980s pop music you’d expect to find in a satirical film like this, the music is instead the kind of “cool” rock and punk music that is also sometimes reminiscent of a dystopian version of the 1960s (which might be another satirical theme in this film?). Likewise, the film sometimes makes brilliantly creative use of lighting and set design in the kind of way that films from the 1980s and 1990s are famous for 🙂

Although many of the locations look fairly “ordinary”, there are some really cool-looking places in this film.

All in all, this review probably hasn’t done this film justice. It’s either an intricately-constructed multi-layered masterpiece of social satire or a giant film-sized practical joke. Or both. There is nothing else quite like this film.

I would say that this is a film that you will either really love or really hate, but – if my reactions to it are anything to go by – your reaction will probably be “WTF?”. But in a good way. Sort of. Even though you probably won’t fully understand this film, watching it is still an incredibly unique experience – fascinating and disturbing in equal measure- that will probably linger in your imagination for quite a while afterwards.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get… Honestly, I really don’t know.

Review : “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” (Film)

Well, I was in the mood for some silly comedy horror, so I thought that I’d take a look at an animated film from 1998 called “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Although I rediscovered “Scooby-Doo” a year or so ago – thanks to both seeing a few episodes of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and reading an excellent Lovecraftian dark comedy parody novel called “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero – this film completely passed me by at the time. In fact, it also passed me by during my childhood in the 1990s too for some bizarre reason.

In fact, I only ended up finding this film after watching a couple of 1990s nostalgia-based videos by the horror movie critic Ryan Hollinger and being intrigued enough to get a second-hand DVD of it, even though I already knew quite a bit about the film’s story from the reviews.

Note: The 2003 UK DVD edition of “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” is actually a double-sided disc that allows you to choose between watching the film in 4:3 or 1:33 (?). I ended up choosing 4:3 for this review, mostly because this side of the disc seemed to be less scratched/smudged.

Anyway, lets take a look at “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. The film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (lightning effects mostly), although I don’t know whether they are intense enough to be an issue or not.

The film begins with a dramatic scene set in a creepy old mansion, where the Scooby gang are being chased by a monster. In a twist that will surprise absolutely no-one, the “monster” actually turns out to be a man in a costume who is trying to scare the “meddling kids” away from his counterfeit money factory in the mansion’s basement.

Sometime later, the Scooby gang grow up and go their separate ways. Scooby and Shaggy end up working (incompetently) for US customs and Velma opens a bookshop. Fred and Daphne stay in the paranormal investigation business, albeit for a TV show hosted by Daphne. During a chat show interview to promote the next series of the show, Fred has the idea to get the old gang together to join in with the production.

What could possibly go wrong?

Needless to say, their next few cases all involve people dressed in silly costumes. Daphne is disappointed that they haven’t found any real evidence of the paranormal. But, whilst visiting New Orleans, a local woman called Lena happens to overhear their complaints and suggests a visit to her employer’s chilli farm on a haunted island on the bayou called Moonscar Island….

An invitation to a haunted island? What fun!

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a rather amusing comedy horror film, which also has some rather cool-looking artwork too. Although some elements of it are a bit like an extended episode of the TV show, this film actually does a few innovative things with both the show itself and the zombie, werewolf and vampire genres too. Plus, some early parts of the film also reminded me a little of a much more light-hearted version of Edgar Cantero’s excellent 2018 parody novel “Meddling Kids” too 🙂

In terms of the film’s comedy elements, they’re reasonably good. Although some of the show’s trademark food-based jokes do seem a little bit over-used in this film (and there’s a slightly random running joke about Scooby not realising that he’s a dog), the film’s comedy elements still work really well. The scenes involving ghosts, monsters and zombies are played in a hilariously melodramatic way that is just fun to watch, plus the film also has a wonderfully self-referential sense of humour too.

Not only does the film include a montage scene showing the Scooby gang unmasking numerous villains but, throughout the film, Velma and Fred keep trying to think of classic-style theories about what could be behind the strange events on Moonscar Island. Still, this film relies a lot on slapstick comedy and food-based humour. Quite a lot of this is actually really funny but, as I said earlier, it sometimes feels a little over-used and the film would have probably been even better if there was a bit more variety in the humour. Still, this is a reasonably small criticism.

Yes, these food-based scenes are very funny but they would probably work better as more occasional moments.

The film also makes excellent use of character-based humour too – with the scenes showing what the Scooby gang get up to after they “retire” from solving mysteries being some of the film’s funniest moments. Whether it is Scooby and Shaggy working as customs agents trying to stop food smuggling or the fact that Velma has opened a horror-themed detective novel bookshop, these amusing details really help to add a little bit of extra depth to the characters whilst also emphasising their wonderful weirdness (and how they only really seem to thrive when investigating the paranormal).

Seriously, the customs-based scenes are some of the funniest moments in the film.

In terms of the film’s horror elements, they’re surprisingly good. Although this film will only actually scare younger viewers who have less experience of the horror genre, the film’s horror elements are actually handled in a vaguely “serious” way that is more dramatic than the original TV show.

Not only are there a few brilliantly dramatic set pieces (such as ghostly writing appearing on a wall in a way that might remind you of the Overlook Hotel from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines) and a relatively grim and creepy backstory, but the film’s plot also allows for some wonderfully random plot twists that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in an old-school 1950s horror comic too 🙂

So, this is where “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” got the idea for that terrifying jump scare from! Who would have thought it?

Yet, despite the gleeful silliness of the film’s plot twists, the film’s story is actually quite well-structured. Not only is there some clever visual foreshadowing of a later plot twist, but the fact that only Scooby and Shaggy actually see anything paranormal for part of the film also adds a tiny amount of tension and drama to the story. Plus, as wonderfully bizarre as the plot is (seriously, think 1950s horror comic 🙂 ), everything in the film actually makes sense in context.

The film’s backstory is fairly dramatic too – with random cat-worship, evil pirates and alligator-related deaths portrayed in a reasonably “serious” way. Still, although the film touches on some of the historical context of 19th century Louisiana, this is very airbrushed (eg: the film presents the sides of the US civil war in a “neutral” way and, despite being set on a plantation – albeit a “pepper plantation” started by spice traders- the film doesn’t mention slavery). Yes, the film was aimed at kids but – even in the 1990s – things like “Horrible Histories” were able to explain the grim parts of history in a way that was accessible to younger audiences. So, the airbrushed history here is more than a little bit odd.

As mentioned earlier, this film actually does something innovative with the zombie, vampire and werewolf genres. Although the zombies are initially presented as frightening (and can also turn into ghosts too), they actually turn out to be trying to protect the Scooby gang by warning them away from the island. Plus, although the film includes a few Voodoo doll based scenes, the zombies aren’t actually traditional Voodoo zombies, but are the victims of werewolf-like cat monsters who have survived for centuries by draining people’s life-force in a vampiric kind of way. And, yes, it’s also awesome to see a “Scooby-Doo” story where the monsters are actually real for once.

Not to mention that it also allows the film to include a hilariously macabre twist on the usual “unmasking” scene too 🙂

Plus, I have to praise the design of the zombies too. If you’re a fan of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden (and you should be – they’re amazing), one of the really cool things about this film is that the zombies seem to be at least slightly inspired by the band’s famous mascot too 🙂

Hmmm… Must be one of Edward T. Head’s long-lost cousins.

Talking of designs, I cannot praise the artwork in this film highly enough 🙂 This film is made using traditional animation and this allows for all sorts of cool painted backdrops that look absolutely spectacular, not to mention that the slightly larger budget (compared to the TV show) means that the animation also looks a bit smoother and more seamless than the old cartoons from the 1960s/70s, whilst still being very reminiscent of them too. Seriously, like with other TV shows like “Cowboy Bebop“, 1990s animation has a wonderfully distinctive look to it that is always awesome to see 🙂

Seriously, this is a really cool-looking cartoon 🙂

Musically, this film is very ’90s too 🙂 In addition to a few pieces of classic-style “creepy” music, the film includes a couple of rock/pop-punk style songs that are wonderfully ’90s in the best way possible and even come vaguely close to the lighter and more melodic edge of the heavy metal genre at times too 🙂 Seriously, I really miss the days when this type of music was a lot more popular. The 1990s were awesome.

All in all, this is a really fun and amusing comedy horror film that is definitely worth watching. Not only does it have a reasonably well-structured, if gloriously silly, plot that also does some innovative things with familiar horror monsters but it’s also a really cool-looking piece of visual art too. If you enjoy old-school 1950s horror comics, have read Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and/or just miss the 1990s, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

First Impressions: “BlooM” (v 1.666 Demo [OLD]) (WAD for “Ultimate Doom”/”Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “Zandronum”/ “GZDoom”)

After looking through my article schedule, I suddenly realised that it has been about a month since my last “Doom II” WAD review. Since I still wanted to keep up this tradition and look at something “Doom”-related this month, I thought that I’d write a quick “first impressions” article about something that I originally hadn’t planned to review (but, luckily, still took screenshots of out of habit).

I am, of course, talking about the v1.666 demo of “BlooM” that was released last autumn and is probably out of date by now. If I remember rightly, I happened to spot this one morning a few days after Halloween last year (yes, I write these articles several months in advance) and I just had to take a look at it.

Since the minimum version of GZ Doom (3.7.2) needed for the demo was slightly too modern for my computer, I ended up using another source port listed as compatible – version 2.8 of Zandronum.

However, this caused some visual glitches and missing sprites. This wasn’t too much of an issue for me and the game was still very atmospheric and enjoyable most of the time – but missing sprites made the endings of the second and third levels somewhat confusing. Likewise, I only really had a chance to play through the WAD as Caleb. Plus, although later versions of “BlooM” may or may not be in a different format, the demo was compressed using 7-Zip – which requires downloading a free program to uncompress the file.

Anyway, let’s take a look at v1.666 of “BlooM”:

“BlooM” is a project that aims to create a mash-up of “Doom” and “Blood” 🙂 This is more than just a simple sprite replacement or TC, but a complex project that aims to mix both things in a much more creative and original way than you might expect- with new monsters, textures, levels etc… Plus, in addition to a new introductory segment which explains the backstory behind everything, the game also gives you the option of playing as either the Doomguy or Caleb too – with an animated character selection menu too (which I had trouble taking screenshots of. But it looks really cool).

One of the first things that I will say about this WAD is that the atmosphere of it is utterly amazing 🙂 This is how to make a horror FPS game! It takes the dystopian sci-fi of “Doom” and the gloomy oldness of “Blood” and blends them together in a truly unique, creepy and atmospheric way that also takes inspiration from classic gothic and/or Lovecraftian horror games like “Quake” and “American McGee’s Alice” too. This is a really cool-looking WAD that is worth playing for the atmosphere alone.

Yes, it’s a “Quake”-like evil cathedral that, like something from “American Mc Gee’s Alice”, is floating ominously in the aether 🙂

Although the demo I played only contained about four levels, one of the really cool things – apart from the unique aesthetic – is that most of them are made up from segments of “Doom”, “Doom II” and “Blood” levels that have been rearranged in some rather imaginative ways. Not only does this create a fascinating tension between the familiar and the unfamiliar (with this uncanniness also adding to the creepy atmosphere too), but it also allows the strengths of these classic designs to really add to the gameplay too.

Although many of the areas are a bit more subtle, this overgrown version of “Dead Simple” is a great example of how “BlooM” does it’s own thing with some very familiar source material.

Not only do the new textures lend this disparate mixture of areas a consistent feeling and aesthetic, but the game also adds some new areas to link them together too. These areas are, in a word, stunning.

One of the best elements of the connecting areas are probably the “American McGee’s Alice”-style floating tiles, which add a certain level of eerie Lovecraftian strangeness to everything. This eerie feeling of being somewhere strange is also helped by a few clever uses of teleportation that have the effect of making you feel uncertain of reality itself. Seriously, I love the strange shifting world of this game 🙂

These “American Mc Gee’s Alice”-style floating tiles are amazing 🙂

As for the actual level designs themselves, the four levels I played had a very old-school feel to them. They are large, sprawling non-linear things that require the player to explore and find keys. Yes, I got stuck and/or lost a couple of times whilst playing, but the level design is like a slightly more expansive and dramatic version of the kind of classic levels you’d expect from a challenging 1990s FPS game 🙂

This WAD also does something rather clever with it’s monster designs too. Instead of just using monsters from “Doom II” and “Blood”, the creators of this WAD have quite literally frankensteined the monsters from both games together in order to create a bestiary of new monsters 🙂 And it works! I’m still surprised at how well the monsters from both games go together. Not only that, the monsters will also sometimes have different behaviours and attacks than you might expect as well 🙂

For example, this mixture of a Cacodemon and a Gargoyle can fire projectiles at you and shield itself with it’s wings too.

Earlier, I mentioned that you could choose to play as either Caleb or the Doomguy. Although I only played through this WAD as Caleb, one of the cool things that I noticed was that – in addition to the standard “Blood” weapons- there was some new stuff too. In addition to a revolver and a single-barelled shotgun, one of the coolest moments in this WAD was when I happened to pick up the invulnerability sphere, only for the screen to go a dramatic shade of red and for Caleb to suddenly morph into some kind of creature who can literally tear monsters apart with his claws.

This is so epic 🙂

The game’s gothic horror atmosphere is also enhanced by the music, which is more on the “Blood”-like side of things, with lots of ominous ambient noises and stuff like that.

All in all, although this demo is probably very out of date by now and also had a few glitches when I played it with Zandronum 2.8, I was still absolutely blown away by how cool this WAD was 🙂 If you want an atmospheric gothic horror “Doom II” WAD that is both similar to and very different from “Blood” – whilst also including elements inspired by “Quake” and “American Mc Gee’s Alice” too – then this one is well worth playing. It is a creative, fun and thoroughly enjoyable WAD 🙂

If I had to give what I’ve played a rating out of five, it would get a five. Play it.

Review: “Network” (Film)

Well, I was still in the mood for films from the 1970s, so I thought that I’d take a look at the 1976 satirical dark comedy film “Network”.

Although the film’s famous “I’m mad as hell!” speech has been sampled in numerous songs, I only really learnt where it was from when I happened to watch this fascinating online video (SPOILERS) about the film and then decided to look for a trailer for it afterwards. Naturally, I was intrigued and was also delighted to find that second-hand DVDs of this film were going cheap online.

So, let’s take a look at “Network”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

The film begins with a voice-over stating that UBS News presenter Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has been given two weeks until redundancy due to personal troubles affecting his work. We then see Beale getting drunk with his friend and colleague Max Schumacher (William Holden). At first, they laugh about the silly moments in their careers, but their thoughts go in a more melancholy direction later in the night.

Of course, their woeful discussion also foreshadows when…

The next day, Beale concludes one of his live news broadcasts with an unscripted rant that ends with him promising to shoot himself live on television in several days’ time. Needless to say, this causes a flurry of shock and controversy. Although the station want to fire Beale immediately, Schumacher manages to convince them to let him on the air once more for an apology and a dignified send-off. Of course, Beale uses the second broadcast for a cynical rant about “bullshit”.

What are they going to do? Fire me?

Superficially concerned about Beale’s mental health – but more concerned about their own reputation, the studio dismisses him immediately. However, not long after this, the head of the station’s TV entertainment division – Diana Christiansen (Faye Dunaway) – realises that Beale’s controversial on-screen rants have given the studio their highest viewership figures in years. So, she immediately starts campaigning for Beale to get his own show…

Any publicity is good publicity, it seems…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, although it can be a little stodgy or dated at times, it is a brilliantly cynical work of satire that is not only more relevant than ever, but also has a wonderfully wicked sense of humour too. If you’re a fan of 1990s comedians like Bill Hicks or 1990s comics like Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”, then you’ll probably enjoy this film. Yes, this film isn’t “100% perfect”, but most of the film is the type of unflinchingly cynical satire that really flourished in the 1990s. Not bad for a film from the 1970s.

Even the televangelist-like theming of Beale’s show has a surprising amount in common with satire from the 1990s too.

Thematically, this film is absolutely fascinating. At it’s most basic level, it has a lot in common with Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” – a dystopian sci-fi novel set in a future where people are too distracted by shallow entertainment to really even consider thinking for themselves. In some ways, this film feels like a prequel to that novel – showing what happens when a television station only cares about money and sensationalism. When the quality or ethics of what they’re broadcasting doesn’t matter as long as the audience are “engaged”.

And, despite the ’70s setting, this film still feels shockingly relevant today. It feels like the type of satirical film that should be updated into something more modern if anyone actually had the courage to do so. After all, we live in a world where social media makes the film’s sensationalist “news entertainment” show appear quaint by comparison, where politics is more about style than substance, where “reality TV” is actually popular, where controversies have gone from being occasional things to being a constant fixture of modern media and where the modern focus on brevity (such as character limits on micro-blogging sites etc…) promotes sweeping and polarising statements, instead of complex and nuanced discussions.

…Sorry, got sidetracked there. But, yes, this is the kind of film that should be updated for the modern age. It should be more well-known in this age of the “attention economy”. But, a film like this probably couldn’t be made today. It would cause too much of a fuss.

In short, this is a film that predicted how the “soma” of the modern age actually consists of Orwell’s “two minutes of hate”. And, if you don’t get either of those references, then read Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Seriously, don’t just Google them. Actually read both books. In combination, they will tell you a lot about the modern world.

Ironically, for a film about sensationalism, this is a surprisingly slow-paced film that really feels like the two-hour film it is. For the most part, this works well – adding a feeling of realism to the film and actually giving the audience time to think about everything that is happening. The slow pacing is also deliberately meant to counterpoint the rapid-fire shocks and sensationalism of the TV show it revolves around. But, saying all of this, the film can be a little bit too slow-paced for it’s own good at times. Whether it is long business meetings or lazy exposition-filled voice-overs (that are only made bearable by a few comedic moments), this film can feel a little bit stodgy or bloated at times, but don’t let this put you off.

Yes, there are a lot of meetings in this film and some exposition-filled voice overs, but don’t let these moments put you off of watching this film…

Although satire doesn’t always have to be comedic, this film contains a lot of comedy. And, although there are a few “politically incorrect” moments and/or dated elements that are a bit cringe-worthy when seen today, the vast majority of the film’s comedic moments still feel fresh and are often laugh-out-loud funny.

For the most part, the humour is slightly more on the subtle side – with numerous irreverent lines of dialogue, witty character moments and stuff like that. But, the whole premise of the film – where a TV station gleefully exploits a veteran news presenter’s nervous breakdown for financial gain – is also a hilariously cynical piece of dark comedy too. If you have a slightly twisted sense of humour or, as I mentioned earlier, are a fan of Bill Hicks and Warren Ellis, then you’ll probably find this film to be as amusing as it is disturbing.

A good example of this film being both amusing and disturbing is when Beale randomly starts ranting at people even when he isn’t on TV.

Another interesting theme in this film is capitalism itself – and, for all of the film’s cynical satire, it is actually a call for moderation and corporate temperance that is needed more than ever in this greedy age. The film makes the case for a sensible, moderate attitude towards business and the economy by showing the very worst extremes of both “sides” in a very cartoonish fashion.

On the one hand, there are completely amoral hyper-capitalist suits who treat business like a religion and, on the other hand, there are violent communist revolutionaries. For all of it’s outspoken cynicism, this is a film about the danger of extremes, of the danger of paying too much attention to people who will do anything to get attention. And, these days, this is also more relevant than ever.

In terms of the characters and acting, this film is excellent – with the stand-out characters being both Howard Beale and Diana Christiansen. Not only does Peter Finch play the role of Howard Beale with just the right mixture of understated realism, unpredictability and earnest fury, but Faye Dunaway plays Diana Christiansen with just the right mixture of comedic brilliance, villainous cynicism and serious drama. Not only does a lot of the film’s comedy rely heavily on these two well-written and well-acted characters, but they are also absolutely essential to pretty much every satirical point that the film makes.

Diana is simultaneously a hilariously funny, chillingly villainous and surprisingly tragic character.

And Beale is a complex and mysterious enough character that you’ll probably never be quite sure what to feel about him.

All in all, this is a film that is more relevant than ever – yet probably wouldn’t be made these days. It’s a mostly timeless satirical film that will also make you laugh too. Yes, it hasn’t aged 100% perfectly, but it is still an incredibly refreshing film to watch. If you want a film that actually has something to say and you don’t mind the occasional tedious or dated moment, then this one is well worth watching. Likewise, if you want to see what satire should be like these days, then watch this film (or watch a Bill Hicks DVD).

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Warriors” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for absolutely ages. I am, of course, talking about the 1979 thriller film “The Warriors”.

If I remember rightly, I first heard about this film in the mid-2000s when I happened to read a magazine article about a videogame based on it. At some point in the late 2000s, I ended up buying a second-hand DVD of it but didn’t get round to watching it. In fact, I’d forgotten that I even owned it until a couple of weeks before writing this review when I was looking through a stack of old DVDs for films to watch and stumbled across it again.

I should probably point out that I am reviewing the original theatrical version of this film, rather than the later “Director’s Cut” version. Likewise, more modern UK DVD releases of the film also -quite rightly- have a lower rating than the over-zealous “18 certificate” on the 2001 DVD edition that I watched.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Warriors”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

Set in New York, the film begins with nine members of a street gang from Coney Island called The Warriors travelling to another part of the city by train. A powerful gang leader called Cyrus (Roger Hill) has called a large outdoor meeting of delegates from many of the city’s gangs. The rules are that each gang can only send a few members and that everyone has to be unarmed.

Of course, since this is a thriller film, don’t expect the story to remain this joyous and peaceful for too long…

When The Warriors arrive at the crowded park, Cyrus begins to give an inspiring speech about how much more powerful the city’s gangs would be if they joined forces and took over the city. During this speech, several people in the audience furtively pass a revolver to a man called Luther (David Patrick Kelly) who is the leader of a gang called The Rogues. He takes aim and shoots Cyrus. Alerted by the sound of gunfire, the local police suddenly show up to the meeting.

So, naturally, Luther confesses to the crime and hands himself over to the relevant authorities. Only joking!

In the panic and chaos that follows, Luther loudly accuses The Warriors of killing Cyrus. As their leader – Cleon (Dorsey Wright) – is swallowed up by the vengeful crowd, the rest of The Warriors manage to escape to a nearby graveyard. After a brief argument, Swan (Michael Beck) takes over as leader of the gang. But, he’s got a problem. Not only are they quite a few miles away from home, but both the police and most of the city’s other gangs are looking for them too…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch 🙂 Not only is it a compelling thriller that is refreshingly different from a typical action movie, but it also has a wonderfully distinctive atmosphere and a high level of visual flair too. It’s a timelessly cool classic 🙂 I just wish that I’d watched this when I was a teenager, since I’d have probably found it even more amazing back then.

Not to mention that it’s also a really compelling “David Vs. Goliath” type of film too.

One of the interesting things about this film is that, although it hints at all sorts of intriguing background details, it tells a relatively simple small-scale story with almost laser-like focus. Surprisingly, this works really well. By making the main focus of the film The Warriors’ perilous journey across New York, everything feels lean and compelling. Not only does this streamlined plot mean that the film’s faster pacing actually feels appropriate and fitting for the story, but it also helps to build suspense and drama too.

Another thing that adds to the suspense is that the only form of transport available to The Warriors are the city’s subway trains. Not only is the idea of a chase-based film revolving around public transport refreshingly original, but the fact that The Warriors have to rely on the trains also adds a lot of extra suspense – since they often have to rush to stations in order to catch trains, not to mention that – because train routes are public knowledge – there’s always the risk of other gangs and/or the police showing up at later stations along the route too.

Needless to say, the train journey has more than it’s fair share of unscheduled stops and changes.

All of this suspense is also enhanced by the fact that this film was made before mobile phones existed, meaning that – for example – when the gang get separated and agree to meet up at a station, these scenes have a much greater feeling of uncertainty than they would do in a modern film.

Unlike a lot of more spectacular superhero-influenced modern action movies, yet another thing that makes this film so gripping is the feeling of realism. Despite the highly stylised premise, everything that happens in the film is something that could realistically happen. This grounding in reality helps to make every scene in the film matter more and helps to build up suspense. The Warriors aren’t immortal and, when outnumbered, they are more likely to run than they are to fight. This feeling of vulnerability really adds to the grippingly suspenseful storyline and it means that every fight scene matters more in narrative terms.

And, although there are fight scenes, this isn’t really an “action movie” in the modern sense of the word. It’s a little bit closer to an old-school suspense thriller (like John Buchan’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps”), where the main characters are accused of a crime they didn’t commit and have to navigate a world that is out to get them – relying as much on stealth, tactics and/or luck as they do on whatever weapons they can scrounge together. By focusing on realism and not turning The Warriors into over-powered action heroes, this film really sets itself apart from a lot of action movies and is really refreshing to watch as a result.

The film’s fight scenes are reasonably well-handled too, with enough choreography and flair to look dramatic but with enough understated grittiness to still feel grounded in reality. My only real criticism is possibly the editing of the fight scene in the train station bathroom. Like in some modern films, this scene relies a little bit too heavily on quick jump cuts and multiple camera angles – which not only lessens the impact of some moments, but can also make the events of the fight very slightly difficult to follow. Even so, this technique is used to great effect during a couple of moments – like the dramatic camera angle used after one of The Warriors hurls someone through a door.

Although the multiple camera angles don’t work well in the rest of the scene, the camera is really well-placed during this dramatic moment.

I should probably also talk about this film’s atmosphere, which is absolutely awesome in so many ways 🙂 Not only does it have that “edgy” late 1970s/early 1980s type of rebellious punk/heavy metal atmosphere that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on an early Iron Maiden album cover or in an old 2000AD comic, but the film also includes a lot of more “classic” 1960s/70s-style elements too which give everything a really cool countercultural ambience that is pretty much timeless.

And, yes, thanks to the stylised premise, understated “realistic” special effects and streamlined story, this film holds up surprisingly well when viewed today. Plus, although a few individual moments could be considered “politically incorrect” if seen out of context, the film as a whole is surprisingly modern in it’s outlook on a variety of topics. For example, whilst one member of The Warriors is very homophobic and misogynistic, the film actually presents these things as character flaws (which eventually lead to his downfall).

This film is also a brilliant work of visual art too 🙂 In addition to lots of intriguingly run-down urban locations and seedy-looking train stations, the fact that almost the whole film is set at night allows for lots of really cool and creative lighting designs too 🙂 If you love glowing neon, high-contrast chiaroscuro lighting and/or rain-drenched streets, then this film is an absolute joy to watch 🙂

The lighting in this dramatic dialogue scene is especially cool-looking.

And just check out the cool composition and lighting in this scene too 🙂

Another interesting thing about this film are all of the bizarre gangs too. It could be because I’ve been playing “Saints Row: The Third” recently, but highly stylised and unrealistic themed gangs are something that is both absolutely hilarious and oddly compelling at the same time. At least a couple of the gangs wear wonderfully silly costumes and this really lends the film a gloriously unique “larger than life” atmosphere.

Like these bizarre mime artists…

…Or the “Baseball Furies”, a gang that loves baseball… and face painting.

As for the characters, they’re really good. Although you shouldn’t expect in-depth characterisation here, this actually works in the film’s favour. Being set over a small period of time in the seedy underworld of New York means that any moments of mystery or ambiguity actually work in the film’s favour by piquing the audience’s curiosity. Likewise, because this film sets out to tell a focused small-scale thriller story with a simple premise, the lack of deep characterisation actually helps to keep things streamlined here.

Even so, the characters are fairly good. The Warriors come across as a realistic group of morally-ambiguous anti-heroes who suddenly find themselves out of their depth. They make mistakes, they do stupid things and sometimes they really don’t have a clear plan about what to do. They’re rough and crude enough to feel dangerous, yet the “David and Goliath” situation they find themselves in means that it’s next to impossible not to care about what happens to most of them (apart from one particularly obnoxious character). The film’s supporting characters are reasonably good too, with Luther coming across as both menacing and pathetic at the same time and a character called Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) who ends up joining The Warriors being a more complex character than she initially seems.

Although Mercy might seem like a cliched character at first, she has more characterisation and more of a story arc than you might expect.

In terms of the special effects, this film uses practical effects and clever editing in a way that really adds to the feeling of “realism”. All of the effects are also kept reasonably small-scale too – with, for example, a few small fires instead of the action-movie explosions than you might expect. Again, this adds a feeling of realism to the stylised events of the film and helps to keep everything compelling.

Musically, this film is better than I’d initially expected. Whilst punk music or old-school heavy metal would have been a really great choice for the film, it instead uses more traditional 1960s/70s-style rock music. This lends the film more of an old-school countercultural atmosphere, not to mention the fact that most of the music is linked to a mysterious pirate radio station (which provides news updates for all of the other gangs too) also helps to make the music a more seamless and atmospheric part of the film too.

Not to mention that the radio station studio also has some really cool-looking red lighting too.

All in all, this film is a timelessly cool retro thriller film that is refreshingly different from more traditional action movies 🙂 In addition to lots of cool lighting, set designs and atmosphere, this film tells a brilliantly streamlined small-scale story that is realistic enough to feel suspenseful and gripping whilst also being stylised enough to feel wonderfully “larger than life”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Galaxy Quest” (Film)

Well, although I’d originally planned to re-watch the horror classic “Jacob’s Ladder” today, I found that I wasn’t really in the mood for horror. So, I thought that I’d finally take a look at the 1999 sci-fi comedy film “Galaxy Quest” instead. This is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite a while, given that it is a parody of “Star Trek” 🙂

On an amusing film censorship-related side note, more modern UK editions of the film actually have a slightly higher rating for one of the most ludicrous reasons I’ve seen in a long time – namely the very same censorship that allowed the film to get a PG rating in the US and UK during the 1990s. Seriously, the BBFC’s current policy of treating muted/bleeped/overdubbed/asterisked etc… four-letter words the same as uncensored ones is one of the most hilariously prudish and silly things in the world. A film can get censored because of censorship! The mind boggles!

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Galaxy Quest”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. Likewise, the film itself contains some FLASHING LIGHTS although I don’t know whether they’re fast or intense enough to be a problem for some viewers.

The film begins in California, at a fan convention for an old sci-fi TV show called “Galaxy Quest”. The show’s main cast are burnt out by constant public appearances and barely make it through the convention with gritted teeth. Eventually, Captain Taggart (Tim Allen) snaps at a fan and storms away from the autograph booth. On his way out of the convention centre, he meets a group of strange-looking people who introduce themselves as Thermians and request his assistance in his capacity as captain. He thinks they’re talking about a store opening ceremony the next day and brushes them off before going home and spending the evening with a bottle of whisky.

The next morning, a very hungover Taggart is awoken by the Thermians knocking on the window of his expensive house. Still thinking that they’re there to take him to the ceremony, he hastily puts some trousers on and gets into a limo with them before falling asleep when the Thermians begin telling him about their people’s desperate plight. When he wakes up, he finds himself on board a spaceship that looks suspiciously similar to the one from “Galaxy Quest”. Thinking that it is a fan project of some sort, he plays along and casually orders the crew to fire all of their weapons at the mothership of the Thermians’ feared nemesis and oppressor, Sarris.

And, yes, I can’t help but think of the “Star Trekkin’ ” song here…

When he asks to go home, he is taken to a teleportation booth – before being covered in transparent mucus and catapulted through a wormhole back to Earth. Suddenly realising that everything he has experienced was actually real, he rushes to the opening ceremony and gets there late. Needless to say, his fellow cast-members aren’t exactly convinced of his story. Even when the Thermians return to Earth a few minutes later to say that Sarris has survived the attack.

The main cast are sceptical about this and begin to leave before realising that the Thermians could be talking about a new acting job. So, they rush back to Taggart and only realise that it isn’t an acting job when one of the Thermians is revealed to be a hologram and their mucus-covered bodies are flung across the galaxy onto the Thermians’ ship. Before they can say anything, the Thermian captain gives an inspiring speech about how their civilisation has advanced and developed thanks to important “historical documents” broadcast from Earth and that it is a great honour to have Earth’s finest spacefarers on board to help with the battle against Sarris…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it was a lot of fun to watch 🙂 Like the best parodies, it is very much its own thing whilst also both gently ridiculing and paying homage to the source material. If you are a fan of “Star Trek”, then this film is definitely worth watching. Not only is it a really creative and funny parody, but it’s also a fascinating window back in time to the golden days of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s – when space based sci-fi TV shows were a lot more popular than they are now. *Sigh* I miss those days.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation”, “Farscape”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Andromeda”, “Bablyon 5”, “Stargate Atlantis”… *Sigh* They don’t make ’em like they used to.

In terms of the film’s comedy, there’s a really good mixture between more subtly amusing moments and laugh-out-loud moments. Although the inventively farcical premise of actors in a sci-fi show having to command an actual spaceship is played as much for drama and nail-bitingly awkward “out of their depth” suspense, it also allows for a lot of comedy too.

Even so, the show’s humour is at it’s absolute funniest in the scenes featuring the hilariously goofy Thermian characters (who are a laugh-out-loud inversion of the logical, elegant and emotionless Vulcans from “Star Trek”) and the TV show’s obsessive fans – who are presented in a surprisingly nuanced and varied way.

Although the show has a couple of funny moments where fans are depicted in this sort of way…

…One major plot point in the film is that, as you’d expect, the fans know more technical details about the show than the actual actors do.

There’s also a lot of sci-fi humour here too with – for example – the spaceship being powered by a large beryllium sphere (don’t ask me why, but this is hilarious) and a few amusing riffs on the idea of teleportation technology too. One of the major strengths of this film is the sheer variety of different types of comedy on offer. In addition to sarcastic humour, cynical humour, meta humour, gross-out humour, irony, slapstick humour and amusing characters, the film absolutely nails the tone and style of it’s source material.

There’s even a quarry-like desert planet at one point too!

But, as I mentioned earlier, the film is also very much it’s own thing too – with original characters, original spaceships, original aliens and an original premise. This gives the film a lot more creative freedom than if it was just a direct parody of “Star Trek” and, like with the sci-fi parody TV show “Red Dwarf”, this also means that this film is still amusing and compelling even for people who haven’t watched any “Star Trek”.

In terms of the film’s sci-fi elements, they’re surprisingly well thought-out. The idea of an alien civilisation mistaking TV broadcasts for historical records is the sort of thing that could easily turn up in a quirky 1950s/60s story by a writer like Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov (and I couldn’t help but think of Asimov’s hilarious short story “Victory Unintentional” here). Plus, because a lot of the spaceship has been reverse-engineered from the TV show, this provides a fairly good in-universe explanation for all of the sillier elements of the film’s technology.

Such as this hilariously gross teleporter accident.

The film also innovates beyond it’s source material too, with – for example – the Thermians using holographic devices in order to appear human (since they’re actually octopus-like creatures, which of course allows for some comedic moments) and the film also including a gloriously silly alternative form of high-speed transportation too.

Involving a protective covering of slimy mucus too.

The film’s plot is also really well structured, with a real sense of progression throughout. At first, it is a sombre drama about a bitter group of washed-up actors doing a gruelling tour of fan conventions and beginning to crack from the grinding stress of it all. Then it is a suspenseful thriller with lots of comedic elements and a few serious moments. By the end, the film has pretty much become the very thing that it is parodying – even down to a “separate the saucer” type moment – yet, because of the journey that leads to this, these moments are some of the most dramatic, fun and “feel good” things that I’ve seen in a while.

I cannot praise the characters and acting in this film highly enough. Not only do the main cast really get the tension between acting and reality absolutely right, but a lot of the film’s humour comes from the often sarcastic, fractious and/or panicked interactions between them. Whether it is the contrast between Tim Allen’s optimism and Alan Rickman’s cynicism or the way that Sigourney Weaver occasionally points out the many shortcomings of the original TV show, this film’s characters are what make it so excellent. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the Thermian characters are absolutely hilarious in almost every scene that they appear in too.

The bickering cast are also a glorious parody of Roddenberry’s original “No conflict” rule too.

And almost every scene involving the Thermians is comedy gold.

As for this film’s special effects, although they are a mixture of practical effects and “old CGI”, they work absolutely brilliantly here. Not only do they often actually look similar to or better than the TV shows the film is parodying but, thanks to the characters, plot and humour, you probably won’t be paying too much attention to the exact details of the special effects.

All in all, this is a really fun sci-fi comedy thriller film that is an absolutely excellent parody of “Star Trek” whilst also being it’s own thing too. It’s also a relic of a better time too – when Hollywood not only put out mid-budget films, but space-based sci-fi TV shows were still such a popular thing that an entire parody movie based on them could be commissioned 🙂 If you’re a trekkie or if you just enjoy sci-fi comedy, then this one is worth watching 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Citizen Kane” (Film)

Since I was in the mood for a “high-brow” film, I thought that I’d take a look at Orson Welles’ 1941 film “Citizen Kane”. This is a film that I’ve heard a lot of praise about over the years and which has been referenced and parodied a ridiculous number of times. It is often regarded as a classic. So, I was curious about whether it was actually as good as people say that it is.

And, luckily, this film’s fame and reputation meant that it was fairly easy to find a reasonably cheap second-hand DVD of it 🙂 Seriously, this wasn’t the first “high-brow” film that I’d thought of watching – but all of the others I found during my search seemed to be way more expensive than I’d expected. Seriously, book publishers regularly reprint both public domain and copyrighted “classics” in affordable formats. The film industry is really missing something here.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Citizen Kane”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS (yes, you probably already know the famous twist, but I’ll be explaining why it is so dramatic etc…)

The film begins with some ominous shots of a large gated mansion on a hill. Then we see an old man called Charles Kane (Orson Welles) dying alone inside one of the bedrooms. In his final moments, he drops a snow globe and utters the word “Rosebud”. Moments later, a nurse arrives to cover up his body.

When the film starts like this, you can probably guess that it isn’t a “feel good” movie…

We are then treated to a jaunty 5-10 minute newsreel about the life of Charles Kane. A newsreel that shows his life as a powerful newspaper magnate, his unsuccessful attempts to enter politics, his troubled love life, the building of his opulent “Xanadu” mansion, his meetings with some well-known people of the time (including a very evil one), a mixture of public opinions about him, hints about his influence on history etc…

When the newsreel finishes, we see that it is being watched in the gloomy offices of a magazine. The editor tells the assembled journalists that he doesn’t think that the newsreel really tells the whole story about Kane. And, remembering the stories he’s read in the press about Kane’s mysterious last words (presumably overheard by the nurse outside the room), the editor asks several of his journalists to interview people who knew Kane, in order to work out who or what “Rosebud” was…

It’s a film about journalists researching a journalist. This is wonderfully meta 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, whilst it takes a little while to really become compelling, I can easily understand why it is a revered classic.

Or, to put it another way, when I started watching it, I initially thought “This is hilariously corny and old-fashioned” but, by the end, I was glued to the screen and quite literally moved to tears by parts of it. Yes, this film is a bit of a slow burn at times and it requires you to pay attention and to think in the same way that you would if you were reading a novel, but – like a good novel – it is well worth paying attention.

And, yes, this film should be compared to a novel. There is unreliable narration, complex character-focused storytelling, a frame story, moral ambiguity, deep ideas expressed in clever ways and all sorts of other stuff which you might not expect to find in an old-school Hollywood film. Even the structure of the film – a man’s life story pieced together from the memories of others – is almost novelistic in some ways, with the film quite literally consisting of people telling stories. If you are used to reading novels, then you’ll really enjoy this film or at least “get” what it is trying to do.

Likewise, this is a “slow paced” film by film standards, but moderately-paced by novel standards.

It also has a level of thematic complexity that might surprise you too. It is a film about journalism, about the corrupting influence of wealth, about fame, about power (and it’s limits), about unreliability, about life, about death, about loneliness, about truth – but, most of all, about memory. Not only is it a film about how we all live on in the fragmented and unreliable memories of other people, but one of the most powerful and tragic moments of the film is when we learn that Kane’s final memory is of the innocent days before he became wealthy.

Yes, pretty much everyone knows that “Rosebud” is a sled, but when you actually see the film, you’ll understand why it’s such a significant and emotionally-powerful twist. It’s the thing Kane was carrying in the moment before he was adopted by a wealthy banker, the thing he was carrying the last time he saw his mother etc…

Yes, it might be one of the most well-known plot twists in history. But, when I actually saw it in context, it was such a powerful moment that I suddenly burst into tears.

All of these themes are handled through some of the best and most complex characterisation that I’ve ever seen in a film. It is practically novelistic. Not only do we see Kane’s journey from an idealistic and irreverently cynical young man to a bitter and lonely old eccentric, but all of this is presented in the kind of unvarnished – yet ambiguous – way that makes Kane feel like a complex three-dimensional person.

We see him at his best and at his worst, and everything in between. Unlike the newspaper that he runs, the film never leaps to judgement about him. Instead, the audience are left to make up their own mind and piece their conclusions together from the opinions of other people.

Although Kane is very much a tragic character – dying alone in an opulent palace built for a lover that he drove away – he is an extremely compelling one, whose life is filled with all sorts of contradictions and mistakes that make him feel real. His flaws and inconsistencies make him more than a typical movie character. He’s someone who writes a manifesto about truth, yet runs a scandal-filled tabloid newspaper, yet also upsets his opera-singer lover by “truthfully” completing a critical review of one of her concerts that a drunken critic has left unfinished. Yet, after this, the critic then implies that he’s abandoned his principles. It is these moments, these many contradictions, that make him such a fascinating and realistic character.

Likewise, Kane also thoroughly and completely contradicts the second point of his manifesto in the way he treats many other characters throughout the film.

Kane certainly isn’t a “likeable” character by any stretch of the imagination, but he comes across as deeply human because of everything we see about him – and, more importantly, everything we don’t. One of the most interesting omissions in this film is the time gap between the sullen child Kane was when he was adopted and the cheerful, yet deeply cynical, twentysomething he becomes a decade or two later.

By not really showing this phase of his life, the film leaves it at least slightly ambiguous whether his flaws were inherent in him or whether the circumstances of his life drove him to become the bitter, lonely and controlling person that he is at his death. His nostalgia for the past implies the latter, but almost everything we actually see of him implies the former.

And, to reflect all of these contradictions and ambiguities, the film itself is structured in an unusual way. Not only is a lot of the story told through flashbacks that aren’t always in chronological order (though this never really gets confusing) and filtered through the perspective of several different characters, but even the “authoritative” newsreel at the beginning of the film – which a magazine editor later says isn’t the whole story – contains a brilliantly contradictory montage scene showing one person denouncing Kane as a communist and another person denouncing him as a fascist before Kane describes himself as an American (and, yes, the film can be read as a critique of all three ). Even the structure of this film is designed to make you think for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

For example, this front page initially seems like a “plot spoiler” when it appears in the newsreel but we later see the full context behind it, which calls into question the reliability of the newsreel.

Yes, all of this ambiguity requires you to pay attention to the film and actually think about what you see, but it results in a deeply compelling and powerful experience that is almost like reading a really good novel. Even though some parts of the film certainly show their age, this film’s focus on complex, naturalistic and ambiguous characterisation makes it pretty much timeless.

Not only is it a very unique and creative film, but it’s many points about the pitfalls of power could easily be seen as a satire of modern celebrities, politicians, journalists, “influencers”, corporations etc.. in the same way that the film was probably intended to be in the 1940s.

Visually, this film is spectacular. Not only are there lots of fascinatingly detailed and/or opulent locations, but there are also numerous clever uses of lighting, composition and perspective that really add a lot of visual interest to everything.

Likewise, the fact that this film is in black and white not only gives it a really interesting “film noir”-style look (which is another genre that focuses heavily on complexity, moral ambiguity etc…), but it also helps to leave a lot more to the audience’s imaginations too. Whilst colour film was around at the time, this film really wouldn’t “work” in colour. Amongst other things, the “unrealistic” look of the B&W film adds a lot to the film’s themes of unreliable memory and ambiguity.

The set design in parts of this film is absolutely amazing 🙂

Although this isn’t a “film noir”, it certainly does a good impression of one at times.

The film’s lighting design is utterly superb too. Not only does the B&W film really help to add an extra level of drama to the lighting but this film was also apparently one of the influences on the amazing lighting design in “Blade Runner”. Need I say more than that?

Do you like our owl?

Musically, this film is interesting. One of the most memorable musical moments is a jaunty music hall song (later parodied in “The Simpsons”) that is commissioned to celebrate Kane’s leadership of the paper. Not only does this scene emphasise the sheer size of Kane’s ego (and how powerful he thinks he is) but, in an absolutely genius move, an instrumental version of it is played over the ending credits just after the poignantly tragic ending.

All in all, this film is a classic for a reason. Yes, it takes a little while to really become compelling and some parts are a bit old-fashioned, but – as a whole – it is a timeless and extremely powerful film. It’s a film that has the thematic depth and complex characterisation of a novel, which does some really creative stuff with the medium and which also looks absolutely spectacular on a visual level too. If you can handle ambiguity (narrative, moral etc…), slower-paced storytelling and the idea of thinking for yourself, then this film is well worth a watch.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Virtuosity” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take a look at a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for quite a while. I am, of course talking about the 1995 sci-fi action movie “Virtuosity”.

If I remember rightly, I ended up finding this film back in either 2016 or 2017 when I was going through more of a cyberpunk phase than usual (and trying to find as many things in this genre as I could). Although I ended up getting a DVD of it back then, I got distracted by other stuff and it ended up languishing on my “to watch” pile until shortly before this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Virtuosity”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (and the film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS, although I don’t know whether they’re fast/intense enough to cause a problem for some viewers).

The film begins with a uniformed policeman called Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) and another cop getting off of a train in a city filled with eerily similar-looking businesspeople. They are looking for a suspect. As they run through the pristine streets, the walls distort slightly. When they find the suspect – Sid (Russell Crowe) – a frantic gun battle begins between them. However, things start to go wrong and Sid quickly gains the upper hand.

It is then revealed that this is a VR police training simulation, developed by a large tech company, that is currently undergoing testing on convicts before being put into service. One of the convicts dies from a brain overload after being killed by Sid – an A.I. program based on the personalities of history’s worst murderers – in the simulation. The police chief, who is watching the demonstration, orders the program to be shut down before Sid fries Parker’s brain too.

And, yes, there is dialogue about how there are supposed to be safety features in the program. Which Sid has somehow overridden.

Parker – an ex-cop who has been jailed for seventeen years after taking violent revenge on the person who murdered his family – is returned to prison. The prison’s cruel guards deliberately send him to a general wing of the prison where, as an ex-cop, he is hated by the prisoners. After winning a fight with a far-right hooligan who has been suspiciously let into the hallway between the cells, Parker is later interviewed by a criminal psychologist called Dr. Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch), who is researching a book.

Meanwhile, the head of the tech company has a conversation with Sid and – for some bizarre reason – decides to find a way to allow him to exist in the real world. After tricking a nanotechnology researcher with a seductive A.I. program called Sheila, the company boss substitutes Sheila’s program with Sid’s. When a robotic clone of Sid emerges from the incubation chamber, he kills the researcher and leaves the facility in order to carry out a series of ever more vicious and sadistic crimes.

The police need someone to deal with Sid. Since Parker was the only one who stood a chance against him in the simulation, they offer him a pardon in return for stopping Sid…

Reluctantly, he accepts it. After all, it would be a rather boring film if he didn’t.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a reasonably fun and vaguely cyberpunk-influenced 1990s action movie. Imagine a mixture of “Demolition Man” and “Terminator 2”, but with a slightly lower budget and a slightly grittier atmosphere and this should give you some idea what to expect.

In terms of the film’s sci-fi elements, they’re fairly interesting in a retro-futuristic kind of way 🙂 This film is set in a very 1990s version of the future where realistic virtual reality, advanced fifty terabyte A.I. programs, data crystals, sophisticated bionic limbs and humanoid robots that can self-repair by absorbing glass into their bodies sit alongside CRT computer monitors, low-polygon CGI and old-school broadcast television. It’s a really interesting contrast and it gives the film a wonderfully ’90s atmosphere 🙂

There isn’t a single mobile phone in sight, but there are bulky video-screen payphones 🙂 I love 1990s sci-fi 🙂

Interestingly, this film uses the phrase “Interactive Sandbox” two years before the first “Grand Theft Auto” game was released.

Still, although the film takes some thematic influence from the cyberpunk genre – with self-aware A.I and amoral tech companies being major parts of the story – the film is probably more of an exploration of the nature of evil, infamy and narcissism. Throughout the film, Sid always wants a larger audience for his crimes (even going to the point of creating a TV show called “Death TV”) and, when watched today, it is hard not to see this as some kind of eerily prescient satire of the “attention economy”, social media in general etc….

But, given the controversies of the time, this was probably originally intended as more of a satire of violence in the media – with Sid giving a content warning about how “Death TV” is unsuitable for younger viewers, before cheerfully informing the rest of the audience that they won’t be able to look away. The film’s old-school satire of media violence also extends to the way that Sid often treats reality like a computer game and the way that at least one of his murders is shown to be a “copycat crime” based on an infamous serial killer.

But, saying this, this film is much more of an entertaining action film than a “serious” sci-fi movie. And, in this regard, it works really well. Not only does Parker have to deal with inner conflict about his past and obstructive bureaucracy, but Sid is also a suitably formidable adversary for him to fight too.

The film’s decision to allow Sid to heal by absorbing glass into his body creates a really good balance between making him an unstoppable Terminator-style villain and actually giving Parker a fighting chance against him.

Not to mention that the scenes where Sid heals are both hilarious and creepy at the same time.

Although this film contains some fairly dramatic and well-choreographed fight sequences and car chases, it’s probably slightly more of a suspense thriller in some regards. Throughout the film, Parker is playing a game of cat and mouse with Sid – with the balance of power between them shifting throughout the film. The film also adds to this by giving both characters very different motivations, with Parker wanting some way to either avenge his family’s death again and/or clear his name and Sid gleefully treating the whole thing like a game.

Again, this film came out two years before the first “Grand Theft Auto” game. So much for videogames being a “corrupting influence”.

Even though some of this suspense can get fairly predictable or cliched at times, it’s still really refreshing to see an action movie that focuses slightly more on a suspenseful premise and a carefully-calculated battle of wits between two characters in this age of hollow CGI spectacles.

Plus, unlike more modern and sanitised “PG-13” action movies, the fight scenes and car chases here actually have a bit of dramatic weight to them thanks to the fact that they make heavy use of practical effects and don’t really shy away from the painful emotional and physical consequences of violence.

Still, this film’s thriller elements do come at the expense of story to a certain degree. Yes, the film takes a bit of time to show us Parker’s tragic backstory and to give him some characterisation, but if you’re expecting a more contemplative or cerebral sci-fi thriller (like the original “Ghost In The Shell”), then you’re going to be disappointed. Not only are a few plot elements incredibly contrived, but the film’s pacing is slightly too fast too. Yes, it’s an action movie, but the film’s futuristic atmosphere and characterisation suffers slightly because of the relative paucity of slower-paced and more contemplative moments to counterpoint the frantic action and suspense.

Yes, there are some slower-paced and more serious character-based moments. But, not really as many as you might expect.

Plus, although this film tries to be a bit of a detective movie – with Parker and Madison visiting crime scenes and looking for clues about where Sid might be – this element of the film feels somewhat under-developed. Thanks to the faster pacing, they often seem to pretty much instantly work out the answers (which are always correct) without the kind of contemplative uncertainty and methodical investigation that makes the detective genre so compelling and suspenseful.

Yes, it’s good that the film shows Parker and Madison actually investigating crime scenes – but this is very much an action/thriller movie rather than a detective story.

As for the special effects, they’re reasonably good. Yes, the CGI effects look very old – but the film-makers made the sensible decision to only use them when absolutely necessary to the plot, allowing them to serve a narrative/dramatic purpose that helps to distract from their shortcomings.

Still, for the most part, this film makes use of timeless practical effects 🙂 Although the film’s action sequences feel very slightly more “low budget” than other blockbuster films from the age, they are still reasonably dramatic. Not to mention that the film’s practical effects are at their best during the more “sci-fi” moments – such as when Sid emerges from some kind of bio-pod after taking physical form.

The film’s effects are at their best when they are practical and sci-fi based.

And, even though the CGI looks really old, it still works because it is only used when absolutely necessary. Modern films take note of this!

As for the characters and acting, this film is really good. Although some story elements are rather cliched and stylised, the main cast handle the material really well. Denzel Washington plays an ex-cop with a morally-ambiguous past who is trying to get both redemption and revenge,with just the right mixture of tragic bitterness and sympathetic “goodness”. Kelly Lynch plays a fairly “realistic” psychologist/detective character and Russell Crowe plays Sid with cartoonishly villainous glee (which also helps to add some dark comedy to this rather gritty and serious film too).

The film’s set design and lighting is reasonably good too. The futuristic version of LA is kept fairly understated (basically just being 1990s LA, but with slicker architecture and a few well-placed pieces of “futuristic” tech), and the film also includes lots of the kind of gloomily industrial and gothic “futuristic” 1990s cyberpunk-style locations that are always fun to look at.

Although the futuristic version of LA looks a lot like 1990s LA…

…there are still some cool-looking 1980s/90s sci-fi style locations too 🙂

All in all, this is a fun action movie with a bit of a cyberpunk flavour to it. Yes, it’s slightly too fast-paced and a little bit cliched/predictable at times, but If you’re a fan of 1990s sci-fi or just want to see an action movie from a time before sanitised spectacle and over-used CGI became common, then this one might be worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from horror films and watch something a bit more light-hearted. In particular, a Japanese comedy film from 2005 called “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers” (also known as “Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected) which I found whilst looking online for second-hand DVDs.

Although I hadn’t heard of this film before, the title intrigued me enough to find out more about it and – after watching a trailer online – it seemed like the kind of film that could either be really brilliant or really terrible, so I decided to take a chance on it. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

Note: I should probably point out that the UK DVD edition of this film I watched only contains a subtitled version of the film. Whilst I personally prefer subtitles (and the film’s comedy still works really well with the subtitles), I thought that I should mention this in case anyone prefers dubbed films. Plus, although the film itself is in widescreen, the aspect ratio of any screenshots I took changed depending on whether they included subtitles or not (as such, many of the screenshots here may not represent the film’s actual aspect ratio).

So, lets take a look at “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

The film focuses on a twentysomething woman called Suzume “Sparrow” Katakura (Juri Ueno) who is stuck at home whilst her husband works abroad. Still, he calls her every day – to remind her to feed their pet turtle, Taro. Needless to say, Suzume is thoroughly bored by life and is also considered so boring by everyone else that she is – functionally – invisible in many situations.

After an attempt at filling the turtle’s water tank goes hilariously wrong and Suzume ends up flooding the balcony of her flat, she calls a plumber to sort the problem out. The plumber tells her a story about discovering a cooked squid blocking the pipes during another job. When Suzume doesn’t believe him, they argue and he insists on showing her the squid. Reluctantly, she travels to his house to inspect the squid (which is pickled in a jar) before deciding to walk home after yet another bizarre argument with him.

And, yes, this film has voice-overs too 🙂

On the journey home, Suzume reaches a set of steps that are rumoured to be lucky if anyone runs up them in less than thirty seconds. However, as she nears the top, someone knocks over a cart of apples and she dives to the ground to avoid getting knocked over by them. Whilst lying on the ground, surrounded by apples, she spots a postage stamp-sized poster on a nearby railing that says “Spies wanted” and gives a phone number.

Sometime later, she calls her best friend Kujaku “Peacock” Ogitani (Yu Aoi) and arranges to meet up in a local cafe. When Suzume arrives at the cafe, she gets a call from Kujaku telling her that she will be two hours late. Feeling bored and disappointed, Suzume eventually decides to call the number and become a spy…

…And discovers that she is perfectly qualified for the job.

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a really funny and creative film with a lot of personality 🙂 Imagine a combination of Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic, a TV show like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, a comedic “point and click” computer game like “Normality“, the more light-hearted parts of “Twin Peaks” and some of Lise Myhre’s “Nemi” comics and this might give you a very vague idea of what to expect. But, saying that, there is nothing quite like this film.

In terms of the comedy, this film made me laugh out loud quite often. In addition to a few well-placed moments of slapstick comedy, a lot of the humour here comes from absurd characters and surreal situations. These quirky moments are often kept understated and small-scale enough not to feel too silly, whilst still being bizarre enough to be hilarious.

Whether it is a “competition” that is a sneaky way for two fishermen to get random strangers to do their job for them, a character suddenly dancing, several moments involving a plumber, a shop that sells mediocre noodles (and advertises itself as such), Suzume making a “kidney” from a melted drinking straw etc… this film is hilariously bizarre in a vaguely “Monty Python”-style way.

Somehow this is both hilariously funny and incredibly cool at the same time.

And this scene where Suzume is pulled over for keeping to the speed limit is pure “Monty Python”.

This absurd humour also extends to the film’s ironic plot – which revolves around someone who is so ordinary that she is literally invisible to many people suddenly finding herself acting noticeably strangely and attracting a lot of attention as soon as she actually actively tries to “act ordinary”. Although this element of the film seems more than a little contrived at times, it allows for an unpredictable mixture of subtle and less subtle comedic moments. Likewise, this contrast between normality and strangeness is very much in the tradition of things like “Subnormality”, “Monty Python”, “Normality” etc… too 🙂

Plus, this film is set in a wonderfully random and stylised “world” too. It is similar enough to reality to look realistic, but it operates on it’s own bizarre dream-logic in a way that instantly makes the film feel fascinating and unpredictable, yet reassuring. For the most part, this is very much a “feel good” film that has a rather creative perspective on the world.

Yes, there are one or two brief moments that may seem slightly dated and/or “politically incorrect” – but, as a whole, this film really is an excellent comedy. It gets the balance between surrealism and realism right and there’s also a wonderfully unpredictable mixture of more subtle humour and more overtly silly and/or immature humour (such as a hilarious scene involving a blocked toilet) and – like the best comedies – this film really has it’s own distinctive “personality” too.

This is immature toilet humour at it’s most puerile, yet I couldn’t stop laughing throughout.

Not to mention that Suzume’s laughter during this scene, and another scene set in a supermarket, is one of the funniest laughs I’ve ever heard.

The film’s characters and acting are really good too. Not only does a lot of the humour come from the way that the characters react to various things, but – in a film about “normality” – almost all of the characters are strange or eccentric in one way or another. Although this is sometimes exaggerated to the point of silliness, it still works really well in this film and also gives everything a vaguely “Twin Peaks”-style atmosphere too.

Seriously, this film’s characters are wonderfully eccentric 🙂

Another cool thing about this film is how low-budget it is. Not only does this instantly give everything a vaguely sitcom-like atmosphere, but it also means that the film’s relatively few special effects stand out a lot more.

This is a film where it quite literally feels like anything can happen, and yet this is all achieved through the kind of creatively low-budget methods that feel considerably more “realistic” (due to their simplicity, brevity and/or practicality) than most slick, large-budget films do. Likewise, the low budget also means that the film has to focus a lot more on things like characters and/or storytelling too 🙂

I’m not sure if this is CGI or traditional animation, but the film’s “flick book” style intro is really cool.

Still, talking of storytelling, don’t go into this film expecting a traditional comedy thriller. Even though the film does have a plot, it can occasionally slow down a little bit too much and/or go in some utterly nonsensical directions (even by the surreal standards of the film).

Although the fact that some parts of this film don’t make sense is probably intentional (with the ambiguity adding to the comedy and the dream-like atmosphere), it does mean that some parts of the film’s ending feel a little underwhelming in dramatic terms. Yes, the film ends on a high note with a hilarious call-back to an earlier part of the film, but the resolution of the main story arc is still a bit of a disappointing “WTF?” moment.

After all of the build-up to this segment of the film, it is a bit disappointing in dramatic terms.

Even so, one thing that helps to keep the film’s plot reasonably coherent is the strong focus on the main character. Throughout the film, Suzume will often tell the viewer her thoughts via voice-overs. Not only does this instantly lend the film a lot of personality, but the frequent voice-overs are also evocative of the style of observational humour found in many classic “point and click” computer games (and this is really awesome to see in a film 🙂 ), whilst also lending the film a slightly novelistic/comic book style quality too 🙂 And, although some of these voice-overs are the textbook definition of “exposition”, they still somehow work astonishingly well in the context of this film.

The voice-overs in this film are a brilliant riposte to the tired old “Show, don’t tell” advice usually given to writers.

All in all, whilst this film isn’t “100% perfect”, it certainly comes close to it. If you want a unique, creative and hilariously funny “feel good” surreal comedy movie, then this one is definitely worth watching 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Saints Row: The Third” (Computer Game)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to review a computer game today, I’ve just completed the main campaign of “Saints Row: The Third” (2011) and absolutely had to talk about it.

This was a game that I found during a sale on GOG last October (I write these reviews quite far in advance) and decided to get because it has been ages since I’ve played a 3D “GTA”-style game (the last time was “GTA: Vice City”… On the Playstation 2). And, after waiting for the hefty 8.5 gigabyte download to finish, I was eager to take a look at it.

Note: I should probably point out that the DRM-free version of the game I played was the “full package” edition of this game. This is a version that – in a level of honesty that would shame some modern game companies – includes literally all of the paid DLC. I’ll be talking about the DLC in this review, but it isn’t an essential part of the game 🙂

Edit: Since a remastered version of this game has been released in the time between preparing this review and posting it, I should probably also point out that I am reviewing the non-remastered version here.

So, let’s take a look at “Saints Row: The Third”. Needless to say, this review will contain some gameplay and story SPOILERS.

It’s a bank robbery where the robbers are wearing giant masks based on one of them and the customers sometimes pose for photos with them too. This isn’t your typical “gritty crime” videogame…

You play as the leader of The Saints, a criminal gang who have become celebrities. After a bank heist goes spectacularly wrong, you and your associates – Shaundi and Johnny Gat – are captured by the leader of an organisation called The Syndicate. This is an alliance of three smaller gangs – the satanic/mafia-style “Morningstar”, the Lucha Libre-inspired “Luchadores” and an awesome cyberpunk goth gang called “The Deckers”.

In case you haven’t guessed, this character is the villain. Or one of the villains anyway…

The Syndicate leader takes you onto his private plane and makes a proposition. You and your associates refuse it – with bullets. In the chaos that follows, Johnny Gat is killed and both you and Shaundi have to make a daring aerial escape from the plane. When you land, you find yourself in the American city of Steelport. A city controlled by these three gangs. A city that you decide should belong to The Saints instead….

No, this isn’t the ending of a movie. It is literally the second mission in the game 🙂 This is so epic 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 For the first hour or so of it, I quite literally had a huge grin on my face. And, although some parts of it can get a little dull or repetitive at times, this is probably one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played in a while. Not only is it a game with an actual personality and a sense of humour, but it is filled with so many awesome moments and elements that really help to make it more than just a clone of the “GTA” games.

Exhibit one: The “sonic boom”. A sound-based rocket launcher type thing that can smash through doors and liquefy zombies.

In terms of the gameplay, it is fairly similar to the “Grand Theft Auto” games. In other words, it is set in an open world and played from a third-person perspective. You can explore the city, carry out missions whenever you choose to, steal cars to get around, get into gunfights and earn in-game currency (through gameplay and gameplay alone 🙂 ) which can be spent on various things. And, although this game includes the dreaded regenerating health and checkpoint saving (albeit with a limited manual save option too), the gameplay here is really solid.

This is a gloriously open-ended game where you can either follow the main story, explore at your own pace and/or cause random mayhem just for the hell of it. You’ll probably be doing a combination of all three of these things but, to my surprise, the main story was a more interesting part of this game than I’d expected. Usually in these types of games, the “do whatever you want” element is a lot more fun than following pre-structured missions – but, barring a few repetitive combat and escort missions, the main story was a lot more fun than I’d expected.

Surprisingly, this was more due to the actual story more than anything else. Although the premise is incredibly stylised and knowingly silly, I still found myself gripped by the game’s epic – and often hilarious – storyline. It is completely “over the top” in the most fun way possible. In addition to telling the story of The Saints’ battle for Steelport, it also includes elements from so many other genres (eg: Cyberpunk, zombies, professional wrestling etc..) too. Yes, the story is utterly silly and “unrealistic”, but the game knows this and uses it to deliver a funny and compelling romp that is worth playing for the story alone.

The game’s story is extremely random, yet surprisingly gripping.

And, as mentioned earlier, this game actually has a sense of humour too 🙂 Yes, it is a very immature and “edgy” sense of humour, but it is still incredibly funny. In addition to lots of sarcastic, cynical and/or funny dialogue between the characters, the game also includes all sorts of gloriously surreal things like a rather “not safe for work” chariot chase, an area where you turn into a laser-wielding toilet, a hilariously rude baseball bat-style weapon, a mission where you have to ride across town with an angry tiger in the passenger seat etc…

It’s grrreat!

Whilst the game’s main plot also includes a small amount of political satire too, the game’s comedy elements are so surprisingly and consistently funny because a good number of the jokes are things that would only work in the medium of videogames. This style of transgressive and surreal humour relies heavily on interactivity in a way that only games can. Although your character also does a few traditional things like shouting out corny “Duke Nukem 3D”-style one liners (eg: “I always win my arguments!” etc..) during combat, a lot of the really funny parts of the game take full advantage of the fact that literally anything can happen in the artificial world of a game.

Another awesome thing about this game is the sheer amount of customisation and self-expression that is available to the player too 🙂 Not only are there numerous character design options available to you, but you can also mix-and-match numerous outfits, get various tattoos, create your own “mixtape” (albeit from a list of pre-selected songs) for one of the in-game radio stations and choose which weapons/abilities you want to upgrade. Yes, some costumes are DLC, but there are still quite a few non-DLC ones that can be earned and/or unlocked through gameplay. Seriously, I cannot praise the sheer amount of customisation on offer here enough – and I probably spent at least 1-3 hours on all of this stuff throughout my playthrough of the game 🙂

Seriously, you can even wear “Blade Runner”-style ’80s sci-fi’ make-up! This game has a lot of customisation 🙂

Literally my only complaint about the customisation is that the game doesn’t allow you to choose which gang you belong to. You quite literally have to be in The Saints – which seems like a little bit of a missed opportunity. I’d have absolutely loved to play a more cyberpunk-themed version of the game as a member of The Deckers instead. Plus, although some missions are themed around the other gangs, you don’t always really get to learn a huge amount about them.

Yes, the leader of The Deckers is quite literally a gothic cyberpunk character 🙂 Remind me, why am I in the *yawn* Saints?

And this virtual reality mission is gloriously cyberpunk too 🙂 Again, why can’t I play as a member of The Deckers?

As mentioned earlier, I played the “full package” edition of the game which includes all of the DLC. I have very mixed feelings about this extra stuff. On the plus side, two of the three extra mission packs (“Genkibowl VII” and “Gangstas In Space”) are reasonably fun – especially when you’ve upgraded your character enough. Likewise, the DLC also includes cool stuff like a gun that summons a hungry shark, a couple of really awesome motorbikes and several extra costumes.

On the downside, some of the DLC messes with the game’s progression and difficulty curve by giving the player some fairly powerful weapons and vehicles very early in the game (in addition to automatically unlocking some stuff that is meant to be unlocked via gameplay). So, I imagine that this game is probably a slightly more fun, focused and consistent experience without the DLC. Which, in this greedy modern age, is something that I actually have to praise 🙂

Plus, even without the DLC, the game still provides a decent amount of replay value after completing the main story thanks to a large number of optional “Saints Book” side-quests and the fact that there are numerous collectable items littered across the map too. You can also re-play many of the game’s various activities and challenges too. Plus, after completing the main story, the game gives you the chance to re-play the final segment in order to see the other ending (but, it will only let you choose that ending the second time round!).

As for the game’s combat, it is fairly standard console-style third person combat. Although the regenerating health drains some of the suspense and reduces the level of challenge a bit, the game makes up for this in a number of ways. Not only does it throw realism out of the window and include some creative enemy designs (eg: large tough “brute” enemies, zombies, armoured soldiers, tanks etc..) and also includes a large range of upgradeable weapons too. Although some of the more imaginative weapons are DLC, there are at least a couple of creative weapon designs (like the “sonic boom”) in the main game.

Yes, you can literally fight zombies with sci-fi weaponry. This is so epic!

In terms of the game’s vehicle segments, they are really good. As you’d expect from a “GTA”-inspired game, there are a wide variety of cars and motorbikes for the player to steal and you’ll quickly work out which ones are worth choosing. Plus, in addition to a few armoured vehicles, the game also contains segments that involve flying helicopters and VTOL planes (with reasonably intuitive controls) and even a few brief boat-based and skydiving segments too.

In the classic “GTA” fashion, there are several radio stations you can listen to when you’re in a vehicle. These include a refreshingly large variety of music and there is nothing better than roaring down the freeway at warp speed with the “William Tell Overture” thundering through your headphones or listening to some “edgy” Marilyn Manson music during a car chase.

Plus, there’s actually a radio station that plays heavy metal 🙂 I want to live in Steelport!

Plus, during at least a couple of missions, the game will also play some very well-chosen background music too. Whether it is Kanye West’s “Power” playing during a thrilling aerial raid on a penthouse flat or the way that Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” serves as a hint during a crucial decision that you have to make in a later part of the game, I cannot praise the music in this game highly enough 🙂

The game’s world design is fairly interesting too. Not only is the city large enough to encourage exploration, but it is small enough to ensure that you’re never too far away from where you need to be (and, yes, the game includes a “GPS” feature too). Plus, although a lot of the areas are the kind of generic Chicago/New York-style city locations that you’ve seen in “GTA” games before, there are still some brilliantly creative flourishes too.

Time to go to church! Just a shame that the doors are always locked 😦

This is a mission-specific area but, wow, this is so gloriously cyberpunk 🙂

All in all, this game was a hell of a lot of fun to play 🙂 Yes, it isn’t quite 100% perfect (eg: regenerating health, a limited saving system, DLC that messes with the difficulty curve, annoying escort missions etc…), but it certainly comes close. This is a game that is simultaneously a thrillingly epic action movie and a hilariously immature comedy at the same time. Although it was released in 2011, it is closer in spirit to the classic “edgy” games of the 1990s than most modern games. It is a game that is made to be fun and, for the most part, it achieves this in spectacular fashion 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.