Short Review: The Boy In the Striped Pajamas

5 08 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Cover

Author: John Boyne
Pages: 224

A haunting tale of two very different boys: one German, one Jewish.  As they begin a journey of friendship with a fence separating each from the others world, the story of WWII Germany is told through the eyes of innocence and confusion of a child during that time.  Read it…

9 out of 10.

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Short Review: The Help

29 07 2009

The Help Cover

Author: Kathryn Stockett
Pages: 464
Published: February 2009
ISBN: 9781905490431

A sad but truly enjoyable read with a shade of hope on the last page. You get wrapped up in the lives of these characters, their friends, family and communities. Sincerely written with a “complicated” topic for the time it was set in.  I fell in love with the people and the words!

8 out of 10.

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Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

20 07 2009

Half-Blood Prince Poster

Release: Wednesday 15 July 2009
Running Time:
153 minutes
Age Restriction:
10 (Violence)
Website: IMDB, Official

I must say, before I start this review, that I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this movie. I’ve seen all the previous ones, and honestly they disappointed me. Maybe it was just that they didn’t capture every single thing that happened in the books, or maybe the director’s (David Yates in this case) vision of Hogwarts differed from mine. Whatever it was, it blunted my view of the movies, as in the back of my mind I was constantly nit-picking the movie: “That wasn’t in the book.”, “What was that? Where did that come from?”, “Oh they totally ignored that whole sub-plot.”

Half-Blood Prince was no exception to the above, and I felt myself constantly thinking back to the book and comparing it to the movie I was watching. In comparison, it is no contest: the book wins hands down. As a movie by itself, however, I think that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a decent movie.

For the two people in the world who haven’t read the book OR seen the movie, here is a brief plot synopsis: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in his sixth year of school at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Attending school with him are his best friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). This year, however, is marked by dark undertones, as the evil Lord Voldemort has openly declared war on the wizarding world. It is against this backdrop that Albus Dumbldedore (Michael Gambon) sets out to learn more about Voldemort, and find his weaknesses to ultimately destroy him.

There isn’t much more to be said about Half-Blood Prince. If you’ve seen the other movies, you will be familiar with the various faces and characters, and will ultimately enjoy the movie’s high-budget special effects and quality script. If you’ve read the book, the same things will impress you, but perhaps your enjoyment, like mine, will be dampened by having read the books. Either way, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is my favourite of the Harry Potter movies so far.

Final verdict: 7/10. Now go read the book.

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Van Wilder: Freshman Year

15 07 2009

Van Wilder: Freshman Year

Release: Tuesday July 14 2009 (DVD only)
Running Time:
98 minutes
Age Restriction:
18 (Language, Sex)

You must surely have heard of 2003’s Van Wilder: Party Liason? Not? Ok well basically it was awesome, telling the story of a legendary college guy, Van Wilder, and the parties he organised. After that was the sequel, Van Wilder: Rise of Taj, which didn’t even feature Van Wilder. I didn’t enjoy that one at all. The third movie in the series in this one – Van Wilder: Freshman Year.

I didn’t go into this movie with very high expectations, because generally sequels are bad. Especially to movies which didn’t require them, such as the aforementioned original movie. However, with Freshman Year, I was pleasantly surprised. Let me just say that I feel Freshman Year is more of a reboot of the series than an actual prequel: for example it’s supposedly set years before the original, but everybody’s using iPhones. That being said, I’m all for a reboot, as long as they do not get bogged down in mediocrity. *cough* American Pie: Beta House, American Pie: Naked Mile *cough*.

The story is basically exactly the same as that of the original: Van Wilder (Jonathan Bennet) is introduced, hot girl (love interest) Kaitlin Hayes (Kristin Cavallari) is with asshole boyfriend who makes Van’s life hell. Lots of sex, character development, typical gross-out scene, feel-good moment, partying, resolution. This is all nothing new. However, why change a formula that works? I enjoyed it in the original movie, and I still enjoy it in this one.

If you get this movie expecting anything less than a gross-out comedy, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for something slapstick and relatively mindless, then this is the movie for you. The girls are sexy, the jokes are funny, the slapstick is well done, the acting is believable and the characters are just crazily over the top to be enjoyable.

While not as good as the original, Freshman Year is an excellent addition to the series, (and I feel it far exceeds Rise of Taj) and I hope they continue with Van Wilder: Sophomore Year. All in all, I give Van Wilder: Freshman Year a solid 8 / 10.

Buy Van Wilder: Freshman Year DVD

Killzone 2

13 07 2009

Killzone 2 CoverDeveloper: Guerilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
HD Resolution: 720p, 1080i
HDD Space: 77MB install, ±1MB saves
Genre: First Person Shooter
Mode: Single player. Multiplayer online only.
Rating: ESRB: M. PEGI: 18+. BBFC: 18
Released: February 27, 2009

Killzone 2 is the name of one of the PlayStation 3’s many exclusive for 2009. It’s a sequel (obviously) to Killzone on the PS2 and Killzone: Liberation on the PSP, and sets you right down in the middle of a huge interstellar war between the essentially human Vektans and the mutated, evil Helghans.

You play the entire game as Seargent Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a member of the elite Alpha Squad, and you begin the game on the flagship of the invading Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA). After the events of Killzone, the ISA have orchestrated a massive invasion of the Helghan homeworld, in an effort to break the morale of their enemy and end the war. The primary objective of the invading force, Alpha Team, and you is to capture the Helghan leader.

Graphically, Killzone 2 is amazing. I think it would be fair to say that there is no better looking game on the console; or at least that it is one of the best looking games. Everything is realistic looking and will probably blow your mind. You really feel like you are part of the ongoing war, as bullets fly over your head, RPGs explode right next to your cover and your comrades die all around you.

Killzone2 ScreenThe environment of the planet Helghan is that of a smoky, lightning filled rock, and the graphics convey that sense of doom. Everything is dull and metallica to survive the harsh climate, or perhaps because of it, and this is reflected in the textures and lighting. Don’t expect all the colours of the rainbow on this game, because you are going to be disappointed.

Gameplay wise, Killzone 2 is a fairly straightfoward FPS: kill enemies using a variety of different weapons, advance to next area, repeat. However, Killzone 2 introduces a cover system, that allows you to hide behind nearby objects and evade enemy fire. While not perfect (I sometimes found myself just wanted to crouch next to an object, not stick to it in cover), this works well most of the tim, and is a nice touch.

Let’s talk about A.I. The Helghast you are fighting against feature brilliant A.I. and you probably won’t find them doing the same thing on subsequent play-throughs. They will flank you if you stay in cover for too long, and they surprised me a number of time with something really sneaky, for example when they flushed me out of my comfortable cover with a grenade and then shot me dead when I ran out. Unfortunately, the amazing A.I. does not extend to your squadmates, who will sometimes stand right in front you as you’re firing, block your path as you’re trying to run and just generally not aid you as much as you would like. I think I can count the number of times my partner killed a Helghast on one hand…

The character development is a little weak, and the character you play: “Sev”, is little more than an ISA grunt with a bad haircut. That being said, I actually found myself getting into the characters in subsequent playthroughs, which shows that it’s not all bad. Storyline … well aside from the grand “invade the enemy homeworld and end the war” there is none to speak of. You and your team go to various places, finish various objectives and carry on. It’s a little weak.Killzone 2 Screenshot

Multiplayer wise, I can’t comment accurately as I haven’t had any first hand experience with it. I’ve heard good things, however, and the availability of two (with a third in the works) DLC map-packs must mean that something is right about it.

Your playtime of this game will vary, depending on how much you want to beat it. While multiplayer ensures a theoretically unlimited amount of gaming, the single player is not so fortunate. If you just finish it once on the medium difficulty, you are probably looking at maybe six hours of gaming. If you comb each level looking for all the collectibles and getting most of the (offline) trophies, you are probably looking at about a good 20 hours. For all the (offline) trophies, you are looking at may 40 – 50 hours, as the “Complete all mission on Elite difficulty” and “Complete all missions on any difficulty level without dying” will rack up that playtime. Here’s a nice overview from my trophies: first trophy: 17 June 2009. Final trophy: 10 July 2009. So lots of value for money.

At the end of the day, I really enjoyed playing Killzone 2, and aside from a few minor annoyances (like why is Sev so short?? He comes up to the chest of other Alpha squad members and struggles to see over low walls), Killzone 2 is highly recommended. I give it a solid 9/10. If you have a PlayStation 3, at least rent this game, to see what all the fuss is about.

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Surviving Evil

11 07 2009

Surviving Evil Movie PosterRelease: Friday 10 July 2009
Running Time: 86 minutes
Age Restriction: 16 (Language, Violence)
Website: IMDB

Surviving Evil is a rather odd movie. It’s short, features a strange mix of South African and Hollywood stars, and isn’t very long. It also isn’t the greatest movie in the world, but more on that later.

Ok, so the premise is this: Seb Beazley (Billy Zane) is a type of Bear Grylls survival expert, who hosts a survival show on various inhospitable places. However, while filming on a particular Philippino island, the supposedly mythical Aswang awaken and begin to hunt the party.

So the storyline is a little thin. Come on, were you really expecting much better from a horror movie? Last I checked they weren’t exactly the best written scripts in the world. So if you can get over the relatively weak plot, you can truly appreciate the mediocrity of the rest of the movie. That being said, there was a distinct lack of cheese present in Surviving Evil; something that is not true for a lot of other recent horror movies. Plot holes are also kept to a minimum, so I suppose the script isn’t that bad after all.

The acting, if I were to describe it in one word, would be overdone. Grossly exaggerated, weak and over the top in places, it is not a total failure. It’s just the actual reactions to the monsters that left a lot to be desired. Relationships between the crew were merely hinted at, and underdeveloped, leaving me wondering more about this ill-fated TV crew. Why, for example, does the director have a drinking problem? Why is Chill Reyes (Natalie Mendoza) even doing on this expedition? We never find out.

Otherwise, Surviving Evil is a decent movie. It was a little annoying at the constant flashes of the Aswang that are interspersed literally throughout the entire movie, as if hinting at some terror still to come, and the monsters themselves seemed a little too weak to be truly terrifying: I mean I want my movie monsters to be all-powerful and utterly terrifying, not human enough to be killed by a homemade bow and arrow. That being said, they still manage to kill 80% of the film crew (come on, it’s a horror movie, you knew it was going to happen), which is a plus.

Flaws aside, I think Surviving Evil is still a fairly decent movie. As I’ve said, it’s probably not going to win any awards or anything, but it’s good to see local (South African) cinema advancing. Go see it, get a good laugh (and maybe a fright) or two, and see what you think.

In conclusion, I give Surviving Evil a 5/10.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

24 06 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen posterRelease Date: Wednesday 24 June 2009

Running Time: 147 minutes

Age Restriction: 10 – Language, violence

Website: IMDB

Following the major success of 2007’s Transformers, a sequel was all but inevitable. This is that sequel.

Now, if you’ve seen the original movie, this movie shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There are giant transforming robots that get into epic fights with each other. Stuff (lots of stuff!) gets blown up in spectacular fashion. Megan Fox is hot. But you know all of this already.

The story of Revenge of the Fallen takes place two years after the events of the first Transformers. The Autobots (the good robots) have formed a special team with the United States government to hunt down and destroy any and all Decepticons that are on Earth, either that have recently arrived, or that have been hiding on Earth.

Of course, with new enemies comes new friends, and there are a number of new Autobots which have joined the ranks under Optimus Prime’s command. Unfortunately, of these five or so new robots, only two are actually introduced and given character, while the rest serve mainly as background characters. Awesome giant transforming robot background characters, but background characters non-the-less. The two that are given character annoyed me to no end, being two small useless robots with wannabe-gangster personalities. I don’t know if they were supposed to be funny, but they just annoyed me with their pseudo ghetto tough talk and arrogant swagger.

The main antagonist in this movie is an ancient Transformer known as The Fallen, who seeks to destroy the Autobots and humanity in general. Cue epic battles scenes, big explosions and cool special effects. Hmmm … speaking of special effects, there are some which are excellent, like the animation on the Transformers themselves and the large-scale CGI, but in certain parts it just looked cheap and obviously not real, which detracted from the general suspension of disbelief that exists when viewing a movie.

The actual story of the movie is decent. I actually found it quite interesting, which is unusual because the writing on these type of movies is usually pretty bad, or mediocre at best. That is to say that the writing is usually quite cliched and formulaic, and Revenge of the Fallen‘s writing was quite good.

All in all, it’s a solid sequel, and a fairly good movie to boot. I give it a 7 / 10.

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