Monthly Archives: June 2012

Fez

Quite sweet, and sometimes quite flummoxing, Fez is a 2D platform puzzle game from Polytron, rendered in a 16-bit style, where you take charge of a little white blob called Gomez which wears a fez and you make it run, scramble and jump its way up, down and around a cascading maze of vertical levels. However, although you move through the world in 2D, the levels are in 3D, and with a tap of a trigger the world spins a quarter turn, presenting a range of new possibilities as walkways are brought together, openings revealed, and gaps too wide to jump are narrowed.

Gomez has no weapons, can only run, jump and occasionally push levers or boxes, and can’t die. If you drop off a ledge that is too high for it, Gomez splats onto the floor with a discord, and then appears again from where it was cast, and there are no enemies apart from strange black holes that appear randomly in levels that make Gomez disintegrate if you walk or climb into it. It’s an incredibly simple idea, but it’s done so well. The levels radiate out from a single central point, so you have to make your way around levels using various means, and find doors to lead you to linked worlds.

Gomez has been given a quest by a hexahedron, which gave him the magical fez to perceive the 3D world, and the aim is to collect 64 cubes scattered across the levels in order to save the world from being torn apart. Many are in reach, but others need a more abstract method to reach, making it extremely satisfying when you finally work out how to get to it. A tiny Tinkerbell-like cube helps you on your way, giving you occasional hints in an inarticulate murmur like characters in Zelda.

Tickling ambient music provides a sweeping score that gives a more expanded feel to very constrained levels, which change through various themes from horror, to a neon-signed Chinatown, to ancient ruins, all floating in thin air or on water whilst the sky moves through a cycle behind it, providing stunning colours. It works well as a game to dip in and out of, though you may find several hours flit by as you beetle your way down to the edges of the cascade of levels, finding chests and keys to open previously locked doors. Also, when a certain number of cubes have been collected it forms a larger cube that then need to be picked up, and the joy on Gomez’s pixelated little face is probably worth the price alone.

Overall, a fun little game. A lot of people think it’s brilliant, I wouldn’t quite go that far as the music can get a bit irritating occasionally and I don’t feel a desperate need to continuously play it, but it’s good fun, and a bit different.

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The Assassin Rising

Known on IMDB as Siyama, The Assassin Rising is a 2008 Thai action-fantasy film which sees three young present-day Thailanders go back in time to a terrible battle in 1700s Siam and try save the town of Siyama from being destroyed.

The film opens with a Lord of the Rings-style battle montage of knife-wielding invaders slashing and burning their way through villages, led by the ‘sexually obsessed and bloodthirsty’ Ongmeer. However, one of his deputies, Yantra, ‘fails to tolerate the absurdity’ of Ongmeer, who is enjoying his raping and plundering so much gets his troops lost and separated from the main bulk of the fighting, the aim of which is to take the capital Ayutthaya. Yantra is apparently brave and noble, despite also being a knife-wielding invader, and kills Ongmeer, taking over the group. He leads them back to Ayutthaya through a valley, but between the thousands-strong army and the capital is the peaceful Buddhist town of Siyama.

Siyama however, isn’t as meek as the invaders may think, although Yantra has, somewhat strangely for a war leader, decided to just ask the townspeople if his army could pass through the valley rather than flatten them where they stand. A group of warriors called the Black Siamese Nine are put together in the town after another montage of weapons-smelting, barricade building and hand to hand combat training and at the end they all stand in a line like a boyband about to break into their latest hit. Realism isn’t a particular strong point of the film it’s safe to say, with attractive hair and outfits of strappy leather and studs comprising most of the younger generation’s appearance.

The town’s Buddhist priest leads a protection ceremony before the invaders arrive, which is where the first elements of fantasy come in, with the protection of nature washing over the villagers. Yantra’s demand that the army be sent provisions and guided through the valley is dismissed by the town’s spokesman, telling him that they’ll only get through the valley over the townspeople’s dead bodies, so the army moves into place.

At this point the film switches from the 1700s to 2006, with three friends driving past the ruins of Ayutthaya, which is now a World Heritage site, discussing how grateful they are to their Ayutthayan ancestors, and how they would like to thank them personally. In an alarming outburst from the bloke in the back seat he squawks that he’s building a time machine and starts waving a laptop around as though he’s just won the lottery. I can’t wait until he meets his ancestors, they’ll probably give up in despair that all they’ve fought for results in this guy.

In the town the Buddhist leader is up to something and a supernatural storm suddenly develops both then and in the future, sucking up the teenagers into the air and depositing them, still in their car, in the middle of the battlefield. The backseat guy, Boat, goes into overdrive when he sees the army, like an even more hysterical Thai version of Graham Norton’s Father Furlong character in Father Ted, berating his friend for her bad driving and then leaning out of the window and bellowing at the invaders outside that they must be making a movie, completely ignoring the fact that two seconds ago they were driving through Bangkok. The soldiers don’t take kindly to this and shoot an arrow at him, unfortunately not into the middle of his face, which leads into a high speed car chase down the sandy tracks of 18th century Siam, followed by spear-throwing men on horseback.

The townspeople take them in, with the monk telling them that his ceremony caused a time gate to appear. They seem to take this in their stride, and offer up what skills they have. Ana is a doctor, Boat can apparently make them weapons and Gib has ‘learnt some martial arts’ and will fight with the men – as she’s clearly capable of killing trained warriors whose entire lives have been devoted to murdering people.

The rest of the film then follows the villagers, helped by the future people, defeating the invading forces, which for some inexplicable reason sit and make camp, allowing the village to build their defences, train warriors, smelt swords and steal their gunpowder. It basically makes no sense whatsoever.

Unfortunately, for a war film, this is incredibly tedious to watch. Everything is dragged out and the inclusion of a time gate and modern day Thailanders adds absolutely nothing to the plot apart from an intense feeling of frustration. Maybe you need to be born in Thailand and understand the history, but overall this film is pointless and quite boring. Moreover, the title has absolutely nothing to do with the film, as there are no assassins in this at all. It’s really quite poor.

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers is a 2011 film by Ti West, which is set in The Yankee Pedlar Inn, an old hotel over a century old, which is closing down due to lack of business. Over its final weekend the hotel owner is away, leaving two employees to look after it alone. Claire and Luke are ghost hunting enthusiasts, with Luke putting together a website on the supernatural goings on experienced around the inn and claiming he’s seen proof that the ghost of Madeline O’Malley, who hung herself after being left waiting at the alter on her wedding day, is walking the corridors.

Most of the hotel is empty for the final two days, with just a woman and her son, an ex-actress called Leanne Rease-Jones who has turned to healing and divining, and a strange old man staying, who was very insistent on the room he wanted on the third floor.

Claire is keen on proving that Madeline is haunting the inn now that there’s very little time left, and uses Luke’s EVP recording equipment to walk around the ground floor listening to the ambient noise to see if she can hear any ghostly messages. A faint sound of a piano being played comes through, leading her to the grand piano in the main entrance, and when she’s stood looking at it one of the piano keys is pressed down, her first contact from Madeline. The action focuses a lot more around Claire than Luke, who seems strangely unbothered about making maximum use of ghost hunting opportunities seen as the hotel will be closing in two days, and she works as a focus for the gathering of tension through having an excitable but also insatiable character where creepy incidents only serve to make her want even more to find out about the inn’s ghost. This grows even more when Leanne contacts the spirits and warns Claire away from the basement, which is where Madeline’s body was kept for three days after she was found, but of course Claire then wants to go down there to find out what happened.

This is a different sort of horror story for the majority of the film from other haunted house style films and revolves more around a very gradual build up with comic banter and Claire shrieking and falling over a lot because a bird flies at her or Luke creeps up behind her etc, and if you’re in the mood I think it works well to keep your attention. It reminded me a bit of The Shining, but with less characterisation and a couple of basic horror movie jumps and scares. The acting is very good from everybody in the small cast – Claire and Luke are played by experienced actors, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy, who have been in a couple of well-known films, and they work well as a slightly geeky and socially awkward team of college dropouts who have a strong interest in the supernatural, and the banter and horseplay between them keeps the film buoyant despite the fact that very little is happening. The old man, played by George Riddle, is wonderfully creepy, quietly insistent that he wants a particular room where he spent his honeymoon and you can tell it’s not going to end happily. However, The Innkeepers is a bit slow and in the final quarter of the film it shifts from little noises and doors swinging shut to bog standard woman in a wedding dress hanging from the ceiling, white eyes staring at the camera, people running about in a dark basement and things looming out and so on, and then bang, it’s over.

This all means that we actually don’t find out anything. Leanne at one point mentions three ghosts and insinuates that there’s more to Madeline’s story than Claire knows, but this isn’t mentioned again from this point, and the old man’s link to the hotel makes little sense regarding the rest of the plot as he isn’t connected at all to Madeline who died in the 1800s.

The cast is very small, which can work well in building a clostrophobic environment, but although Claire is an interesting character to lead the film with her awkward manner and need to have a purpose to her life, I think everybody else is underused.

The back story of Madeline could have been fleshed out a bit more, with the whispers she hears maybe leading Claire to finding evidence of what happened, or maybe have her see flashbacks of the hotel in Madeline’s time like The Shining, and therefore freeing the ghost and then we wouldn’t have to see dead brides hanging from the ceiling or ghosts at all, which for the majority of horror films just makes the quality drop, and there would also be a sense of closure at the end.

Overall, I think The Innkeepers had promise, and a good cast and location, but it takes too long to kick into gear and then leaves us with a pointless ending.