In desperate hopes of boosting hits and notoriety to both Schlock and this column, I was going to review controversial local (as in Maltese) documentary Dear Dom. Unfortunately, unlike some other reviewer , I cannot review what I didn’t bother to watch. Damn you, ethics! Talk on DOM MINTOFF, most divisive of Maltese politicos (he was either THE GREATEST MAN or THE GREAT SATAN, depending on whom you ask) and wearer of the most amazing belt buckles will have to wait! But you can have fun making your own review by replacing the names of whatever I actually bother to review with “Dear Dom” and/or “Dom Mintoff.” Also, in honour of Il-Perit, everything will get rated in BELT BUCKLES in a pointless demonstration on how needless review scores actually are.
Sorry for alienating you even further, non-Maltese readership!
It’s rare to see a film starting off as hesitantly as John Carter – one with not one, not two, but four openings, each failing to effectively explain a rather simple story about a man on a strange world. You’d think filmmakers would have more confidence in modern audiences familiar with the likes of Star Wars and Lord of Rings, Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones – all franchises set in strange places and full of daft names. Just like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom stories, now a century old! One can’t imagine Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) being embarrassed of directing the mother of all genre pieces, so one can assume the faint smell of shame (just look at the name – John Carter – you’d think it’s maybe a legal drama of the Michael Clayton variety) comes from Disney’s management…
Anyway, if you’re still confused, the basics are very simple – Confederate soldier turned adventurer John Carter is transported to Mars due to [MAGIC]. There he learns that a)Martian gravity turns him super human, somehow, because [GRAVITY WORKS THAT WAY OKAY]. The locals, who call the world Barsoom, are divided in three, mainly – Red (like regular humans but red), Green (aka Tharks, 8 feet tall, 4 armed, tusked, savage yet also noble monsters) and Therns (immortals, assholes). Two factions of Red Barsoomians are locked in pointless civil war, John Carter sets things straight by virtue of being a White Man, the end. Can’t get more basic than that, seriously.
At least once the wobbly openings are out of the way John Carter The Film proves to be a wholly entertaining, at times even delightful, old fashioned adventure – one full of exciting locales (The Predator City of Zodanga!), fantastic vehicles and weird creatures. Stanton shoots it straight, with stately photography and editing belonging to a historical epic. Meanwhile the special effects are somewhat understated, yet all the more effective in bringing Barsoom to life.
Solid lead performances help, too. Taylor Kitsch fills his loin cloths decently enough, Lynn Collins is striking (and hugely attractive!) as the Princess of Mars herself, Deja Thoris, Willem Defoe lends his voice and motion capture for noble(ish) Thark leader Tars Tarkas and the ever-entertaining Mark Strong makes a menacing Matai Shang, the villain of the piece.
Yes, it’s cliched, particularly in these post-Avatar days. But even if Burroughs hadn’t created most of the cliches surrounding genre adventure fiction (to which Avatar is an unashamed tribute), it’d still be churlish to dismiss as an adventure as fun (again, at least once it gets fully started) as John Carter due to the lack of supposed “originality.”
7.53 BELT BUCKLES
MASS EFFECT 3
So, the saga of Commander Shepard is over. The galaxy is saved, but not with a bang. Commander Shepard saved the galaxy with a whimper, and her name will hardly be remembered with anything more than a faint whisper of disappointment.
Mass Effect 3 is the ultimate EA game.
The feelings of disappointment do not creep in immediately, mind, even if the game’s opening is extremely heavy handed. Taking place in a future Vancouver besieged by the series’ giant squid-roach-spaceship antagonists, the Reapers. Shepard gets to trudge through wreckage, shoot at zombies and eventually meet a soon dead (via transport shot out of the sky) kid – a death somehow causing Shepard all sorts of guilt feelings and a number of extremely tedious playable dream sequence.
Things get better as soon as Shepard leaves planet Earth, with a fairly thrilling section on Mars introducing the game’s second set of antagonists, Cerberus (think COBRA from G.I. Joe). It’s a high point – one of only few in a game that should be all high points.
One can’t escape how underwhelming this series finale is. Which is kind of a shame, really. The first Mass Effect was an entertaining RPG (despite hideously clunky combat), boldly taking inspiration from early Star Trek and cheap paperbacks (the kind with lurid paintings of multicoloured alien women on the covers). The second game was even better, adding a patina of Star Wars-style scum and villainy, colourful new characters and hugely improved the cover-based combat.
Mass Effect 3, however, adds nothing. If anything it subtracts. Apart from the new locations housing the actions (most of them are are, perhaps inevitably, grey and full of wreckage, mind), there are very few character art assets – and what looked good in 2010 impresses far less in 2012, with wooden facial expressions and repetitive animations. The character roster only gets two additions, in the shape of a generic, boring musclehead and what’s basically Hajime Sorayama-style fembot (one has to admire Bioware for adding that).
For a game using such mature (and badly aging) assets, it’s also strikingly immature when it comes to the writing. Bioware’s RPGs still hinge on binary choices – “good” or “bad,” red or blue – with very little room for subtlety or genuine moral choice – a far cry from the far more interesting decisions one gets to do in the somewhat similar (thematically within the ‘fights and conversations’ genre anyway) The Witcher 2.
CD Projekt’s dark fantasy sequel handles another matter in a superior fashion – sex. “Romance” in Mass Effect 3 is laughable at best and absolutely embarrassing at worst, trying to titillate while making sure absolutely no one gets offended, resulting in ridiculous scenes where characters shower and clumsily make out (as well as crude polygonal models can, anyway) in their underwear. Hell, the very first Mass Effect did it better, even if it did generate a ton of frankly pointless controversy in the process.
The most offensive moment, however, is the end. Not the ending – that’s another barrel of fish. The final mission itself is a tedious, uninspired affair set in what’s supposed to be London, forcing you to fight through increasing numbers of generic enemies, again and again and again. By the end you’ll be hoping that, yes, the Reapers will get to cleanse the universe, sparing you from going through such Sisyphean efforts – until the ending eventually does show up.
It involves a final “decision” involving a trio of choices identical to those in last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Good job, EA!
175 AND A TWELFTH BELT BUCKLES
SHARKNIFE DOUBLE Z
Corey “Rey” Lewis’ sequel to 2005’s Sharknife is a mess. A glorious, beautiful mess of explosive comics. And all the better for it.
Yes, the plotting might be razor thin, the writing flimsy, characterisation pothole shallow, but who’s checking? This is a breathless videogame of a comic where hero CAESAR HALLELULIAH turns into even more awesome version of Kamen Rider in order to kick monsters and rivals right in the face, and last I recall no one was complaining the likes of Street Fighter and Streets of Rage lack in plotting.
It’s all about the reading experience, and this is where the videogame (videogame as pure “play” at least) comparison comes in. Sharknife wears its inspirations on its sleeve – hell, technically this is SHARKNIFE SAGA: STAGE SECOND, and early on you’re told to TURN PAGE TO START.
Comparisons can be made with a couple of Sharknife‘s contemporaries, Scott Pilgrim (2004) and King City (2007) – it shares a world running on videogame logic with the former, and a street art aesthetic with the latter, not to mention it feeds on a common cultural soup incorporating media (comics, videogames, television, cinema) from Japan, Europe and elsewhere…
These are comics by males (boys?) in their 20’s, for males in their 20’s, although Sharknife is perhaps the most simplistic of the three… after all, Scott Pilgrim is about personal growth and becoming a non-shitty human being, while King City deals with the geography of heartbreak. Sharknife has no complications of that sort – Caesar Halleluliah turns into his heroic form (gifted to him, it has to be said, by a Space Shark from the ARCADE GALAXY) whenever he gets a fortune cookie from his girlfriend (or is she his girlfriend? Their relationship is surprisingly chaste)… well, it’s a fact women have the “power” to make guys feel like superheroes, right?
Then again, thinking too hard about Sharknife is something of an unsatisfying experience – not when Rey’s energetic, fluid layouts are taking over your visual cortex. This is as “pure” as action comics can get – all 200 pages of it.
265 BELT BUCKLES GET
PRESS A TO CONTINUE POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION !
A GAME OF THRONES (Season 2, episodes 1, 2)
The best thing in A Game of Thrones‘ second season is seeing how it gleefully smashes the world the first season carefully presented – gone is boring old Ned Stark, and replacing him is his polar opposite – Tyrion Lannister. Who else? Peter Dinklage steals every scene he appears in anyway, so might as well expand his role even further… Hell, I’d totally watch the Tyrion and Friends Show. Even his little retinue is great, especially Shae, the Funny Whore. Even if Season 2 is still lacking in SHAGGA SON OF DOLF (character find of 2011). At least so far! HBO should fix that, pronto. No, I don’t care whether he actually appears in the books or not. Rosie the redhead whore doesn’t, and yet she still appears in plenty of the exposition – or SEXposition, rather. The second episode in particular has a hilarious amount of that, including a particularly icky moment on top of a horse.
The Greyjoys are fuckin’ weird, man.
Otherwise all is normal in the lands of Westeros… or as normal as things can get in a fantasy kingdom in the grips of civil war, at least. There’s still lots of glowering looks and dramatic conversations held in MENACING HUSHED TONES where characters threaten various horrible things to each other. More locations are introduced – such as the island of Pyke, home to Westeros’ finest fireplace – together with new characters, all of whom so far appear to be absolutely dreadful human beings. Seriously, without Ned Stark’s moral compass nearly everyone in the new season is some sort of human monster. Even Robb Stark, once simply “son of Ned Stark,” is now a terrifying figure and master of Really Intense Stares. And King (not a Prince anymore!) Joffrey? Total sociopath.
Good to know business is at usual as the Game of Thrones continues being played. Winter is coming, etcetera.
12.8 BELT BUCKLES
*if you’re not familiar with the first season of A Game of Thrones season you can do a lot worse than listening to the Schlock podcast discussing exact that here!
LUPIN III: THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINE (episode 1)
It’s been 27 years since the last Lupin III series (not counting various made-for-TV specials and movies), so when a new one gets announced, you stand up and notice. Or at least you do if you’re an anime fan and/or grew up watching the red (or green, depending on the series) blazered gentleman thief’s escapades…
The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is not technically a “new” series, mind. It’s meant to be a prequel – one telling the story of how Arsene Lupin’s grandson met his lady love cum rival, the curvaceous Fujiko Mine. It’s also a somewhat grittier story – or more “mature,” if you will. It certainly has a lot of tits and ass, if that is what counts for being mature these days. The opening sequence particularly memorable, in its surreal nudity-rich Russ Meyer-esque glory.
(Mind, by Japanese animation standards the nudity seen here is tasteful and the tone taken is generally non-sexist. Take that as you will).
Thankfully, while substance is somewhat lacking (the first episode’s plot is a slight affair involving drugged up cultists) there’s style in spades. A lot of that comes thanks to animation director and character Takeshi Koike (Redline), whose take on the characters is a jagged, slightly sketchy affair that’s closer to the original comics by Monkey Punch. The animation is also beautifully slick and smooth, with a somewhat muted colour palette suiting the darker tone. One also needs to mention the soundtrack – a superbly jazzy affair from musical director Shinchiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop).
Either way, it’s better than 27 years’ worth of TV specials (Lupin vs Detective Conan, anyone?) and a shot of adrenaline in the arm of a mostly moribund Japanese animation industry.
35 AND 3/5 BELT BUCKLES
MAD MEN (series 5, episodes 1, 2)
Yes I do know I’m already behind, sheesh. And I have no idea why I like this show about upper middle class Americans in the 1960’s and their petty emotional problems so damn so much (I should really hate these characters, with their swank pads and fancy suits and muscle cars), but I do. Nothing happens in this show, other than HISTORY and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and RELATIONSHIPS and PAINFUL SILENCES. Anyway this 2-episode season opener (titled “A Little Kiss”) has one of 2012’s sexiest TV moments, where now-Mrs Draper Megan sings to Don (in French!) at his 40th birthday bash. Then there’s the 2nd sexiest TV moment, where Megan decides to do some light housekeeping in her underwear because of everyone at Sterling Cooper Draper Price being a terrible hollow shell full of cigarette smoke, cynicism and booze.
The 1960’s were such a great time, you guys.
I should get back to reviewing nonsense about space monsters punching each other in the balls, I’m no good at this.
0.8 BELT BUCKLES
I’m afraid I’ve no proper music review this time, but I’ve been listening a lot to The Dear Hunter, a band I just discovered. Their three albums – Act I (The Lake South, The River North), Act II (The Meaning of, and All Things Regard…) and Act III (Life and Death) are excellent, and generally recommended. A couple of days ago a friend also introduced me to jazz quartet Floratone and their recent self-titled album, Floratone II. That’s also pretty good, but I still need to give it a proper listening. What else of good music is out there? Do let me know!
So, that’s all from this issue. Don’t forget, if you would like to have anything reviewed/checked out/recommended let me know (please do!), using either the regular Schlock address or email me directly at MARCO (dot) ATTARD (at) GMAIL (dot) COM (symbols redacted so as to avoid attentions from spam robots).