VIDEO GAME: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (2007, Naughty Dog)

Uncharted Drake's Fortune.jpg

Action-adventure game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was published for PS3 by Sony. The player plays as Nathan Drake (Nolan North), supposed descendant of Sir Francis, who has discovered the clues that his ancestor secretly left behind that may just lead to the lost treasure of El Dorado. Nate goes on a quest to find this treasure, along with journalist Elena Fisher (Emily Rose) and mentor Victor Sullivan (Richard McGonagle). However, they are not the only ones who are seeking this treasure, so it is a fight against time to find it first, against a force with far more men and firepower.

PROS

  • An excellent balance between adventure and platform gaming, particularly when completing the puzzles; while the action when facing enemies is mostly fast-paced and intense.
  • The puzzles are very clever and intricate challenges which force the player to take heed of the smaller details in Drake’s surrounding, the smallest of which often make the difference between completion and going round in circles.
  • Stunning graphics throughout the game. In the exteriors it is particularly found in the reflective quality of the water and the brightly-lit surroundings; while the designs of the interior locations are rich in nuance, detail and texture.
  • When controlling Drake as he climbs, the in-game camera often depicts this in a long shot, giving the campaign a real cinematic quality which is jaw-dropping to look at.
  • The three main characters have a great dynamic which evolves over the course of the game, and is made all the more engaging by the excellent voice performances from Nolan North, Emily Rose and Richard McGonagle.

CONS

  • The campaign is quite short and occasionally a tad repetitive – I completed it within nine hours, and I would not describe myself as a hardcore gamer.
  • Some problematic gameplay – despite the short campaign, Drake swims and runs very slowly; while it is impossible to steer a jet ski and fire your weapon at the same time, even though you need to do both in the jet ski levels.

VERDICT: 8/10

LITERATURE: The Twits (Roald Dahl, 1980)

The Twits first edition.jpg

British children’s book The Twits is a darkly humorous tale which was originally published by Jonathan Cape. Mr and Mrs Twit are a horrid couple in their early-60s who hate each other and regularly play pranks on each other. They are also cruel to children and animal alike, especially birds and the caged monkeys that they own. Eventually the monkeys and birds decide that enough is enough, so they team up and begin plotting to give the Twits their comeuppance.

PROS

  • The book displays Roald Dahl’s true knack for comedic writing. The darker side of his humour is found in the pranks and comeuppance; while his understanding of the silly things young children find funny is seen a moment where some children manage to get the better of Mr. Twit.
  • When establishing the Twits, Roald Dahl conveys an important lesson to young readers in an easily accessible manner – that external beauty has no true value, whereas internal beauty does.
  • Through the Twits, Roald Dahl helps young readers realise that you can have love-hate feelings towards characters – you really enjoy the pranks that they play on each other, but you also want them to have their comeuppance.
  • When the monkeys and birds work to give the Twits their comeuppance, they are clearly against the clock, which gives the final third of the book a fast pace and heightened suspense.

CONS

  • In the book’s epilogue, Roald Dahl goes a little too far, as the darker aspects do not humour as they did in the rest of the book, and it goes into a territory which some younger children would find genuinely scary.
  • While amusing to read, the first half to two-thirds of the book has a rather episodic nature, which emphasise that a novella length book does raise some obvious constraints.

VERDICT: 8/10

PREVIEW: July 2020

Well, for the first time in nearly four months I have some good news about cinema – UK cinemas are reopening in July! From July 13th my local Odeon is open again, and in its first week will be showing new releases from the several weeks prior to its temporary closure in mid-March, all but one (Bloodshot) of which I have seen, as well as some older films (including The Dark Knight trilogy). So, I will see Bloodshot (which came out in the UK only a few days before cinema closures, ergo I missed it), and I will probably rewatch some older films on the big screen. Why the latter? Because actual new releases (such as Mulan and Tenet) are not released until August. Unless, of course, some much smaller films still get released in the last week of July.

Nevertheless, while I will of course be playing it by ear, there will be a fair amount of new content published on this blog during July, because even if cinemas are closed I will always have an abundance of creative arts content to blog about (the real challenge is settling on what to write about – there is oodles and oodles to write on).

Thank you as ever for visiting this blog and for the month ahead I, as always, wish you Happy Reading!

LITERATURE: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl, 1964)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory original cover.jpg

British children’s fantasy novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. When legendary chocolatier Willy Wonka announces that he has hidden Golden Tickets in five random bars of chocolate, the finders of which will be given a free tour of his legendary factory, the entire world goes mad. However, poverty-stricken boy Charlie Bucket cannot believe his luck when he finds the last one, after four children from much more privileged families had found the others. Led by the great Willy Wonka himself, Charlie (who brings along his Grandpa Joe) and the other children (who bring along their parents) embark on the adventure of a lifetime as they tour a factory, the true magic of which goes beyond their wildest imaginations.

PROS

  • The book can be split neatly into two Acts which link impeccably with each other. In Act One, Roald Dahl focuses on fleshing out Charlie and Grandpa Joe, while also establishing the Wonka legend; Act Two is the quirky, faster-paced adventure which focuses a lot on Wonka (easily one of Roald Dahl’s best ever characters), while also presenting life-changing events for everyone else.
  • Roald Dahl cleverly juxtaposes Charlie’s kind and selfless personality with the other children’s self-centred and unkind personalities to teach young readers that being a good person is of far greater worth than any material wealth.
  • The narrative has a consistently beautiful sense of warmth, firstly through the relationship Charlie has with his family, and then secondly through the instant bond which Charlie strikes with Wonka.
  • While his writing style is consistently excellent throughout the book, Roald Dahl’s brilliant imagination shines through in the tour of the factory (especially through the Oompa-Loompas), enticing child and adult reader alike.
  • In the methods through which the other children learn some life-lessons, Roald Dahl really channels the darker side of his imagination in a rather quirky and amusing way, but even then not to the same extent as he does in the darkly-charming Oompa-Loompa songs which accompany them.

NITPICKS

  • The tour dashes through and names a number of really quirky ideas for a magical sweet factory, several of which I wish Roald Dahl had dedicated even just a couple of pages to to focus on.

VERDICT: 10/10

Summer Box Office: 2011

Well, with cinemas globally closed for the majority of this summer (UK cinemas reopen in mid-July!) due to the COVID-19 Pandemic there is essentially no real summer box office for me to consider or make predictions for. As such, I have decided that I shall do some brief revisits of the summer box offices of the last 20 years, looking at the 20 highest grossing films globally for that year and consider what that says about the summer audiences. In this twelfth instalment I shall be considering the summer box office from the year 2011, and here are the 20 highest grossing films globally of that summer:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  4. Kung Fu Panda 2
  5. Fast Five
  6. The Hangover: Part II
  7. The Smurfs
  8. Cars 2
  9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  10. Thor
  11. Captain America: The First Avenger
  12. X-Men: First Class
  13. Bridesmaids
  14. Super 8
  15. Green Lantern
  16. The Help
  17. Bad Teacher
  18. Horrible Bosses
  19. Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  20. Cowboys & Aliens

I remember Summer 2011 being quite something. I remember some great smaller films (like Attack the Block) flying under most people’s radar, but I will truly never forget what an event Harry Potter was as the franchise came to a conclusion (this was long before the decision for a Fantastic Beasts film was ever made). It was insane, and by the end of its theatrical run it was the (then) third-highest grossing film of all-time. Ultimately though, in Summer 2011 the global cinemagoing public were throwing their money at pre-sold properties – the above list is predominantly sequels, prequels, reboots and adaptations. These were films which already had a predetermined audience which could be marketed to and, understandably enough, cinemagoers flocked.

There are a few original films, however, but what made these big box office hits is the fact that they had serious marketing assets. Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses respectively starred Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, both of whose physical beauty was appallingly exploited to entice the target teen audience; J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg’s names and roles were emphasised in the marketing for Super 8; and Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford starred in Cowboys & Aliens. The only slight surprise on this list is how big a hit Bridesmaids was, a big role in this having been due to positive reviews and word-of-mouth which gave it a tonne of post-premiere hype. Other than that though, this is a generic Summer Box Office Top 20 list that foreshadows how the 2010s’ Summer Box Office would be majorly dominated by franchises.

Summer Box Office: 2010

Well, with cinemas globally closed for the majority of this summer (UK cinemas reopen in mid-July!) due to the COVID-19 Pandemic there is essentially no real summer box office for me to consider or make predictions for. As such, I have decided that I shall do some brief revisits of the summer box offices of the last 20 years, looking at the 20 highest grossing films globally for that year and consider what that says about the summer audiences. In this eleventh instalment I shall be considering the summer box office from the year 2010, and here are the 20 highest grossing films globally of that summer:

  1. Toy Story 3
  2. Inception
  3. Shrek Forever After
  4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
  5. Iron Man 2
  6. Despicable Me
  7. The Karate Kid
  8. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
  9. Robin Hood
  10. The Last Airbender
  11. Salt
  12. Sex and the City 2
  13. The Expendables
  14. Grown Ups
  15. Knight and Day
  16. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  17. Eat Pray Love
  18. The A-Team
  19. The Other Guys
  20. Step Up 3

Okay, of all of the global Summer Box Office lists that I have done so far, this is the most generic and unsurprising. Most of the films on this list tie into a pre-existing property, and those which do not have highly marketable leading stars (including Leonardo DiCaprio, Steve Carell, Julia Roberts and Mark Wahlberg). Regardless of whether they are family entertainment, teen comedies or big budget science-fiction, they are all easily marketable, therefore it is no wonder that they all made this list. The only thing that strikes me is the range of quality. You have Toy Story 3 and Inception (two of the year’s best films), The Last Airbender and Grown Ups (two of the year’s worst films), and (quality-wise) everything in between. It is not often that you can honestly say that about a Summer Box Office.

Summer Box Office: 2009

Well, with cinemas globally closed for the majority of this summer (UK cinemas reopen in mid-July!) due to the COVID-19 Pandemic there is essentially no real summer box office for me to consider or make predictions for. As such, I have decided that I shall do some brief revisits of the summer box offices of the last 20 years, looking at the 20 highest grossing films globally for that year and consider what that says about the summer audiences. In this tenth instalment (we are halfway there, guys!) I shall be considering the summer box office from the year 2009, and here are the 20 highest grossing films globally of that summer:

  1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  2. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
  3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  4. Up
  5. Angels & Demons
  6. The Hangover
  7. Night at the Museum 2
  8. Star Trek
  9. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  10. Terminator Salvation
  11. Inglourious Basterds
  12. The Proposal
  13. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
  14. G-Force
  15. Public Enemies
  16. District 9
  17. The Ugly Truth
  18. The Final Destination
  19. The Taking of Pelham 123
  20. Brüno

Yet another year where sequels make up a considerable percentage of the films on the list, and the Top 3 are not in the least bit surprising – I still remember how much hype there was amongst my peers for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in the weeks leading up to its release. Given that there are so many sequels on this list, it is a delight to see that Up (one of, if not the best film of 2009) took fourth place. Other than that it is a mostly generic Summer Box Office list – family entertainment, teen films and romantic-comedies (the majority of which have easily marketable star power in their leads).

There are two surprises, however. Firstly, that District 9 made the list, which ultimately emphasises that within the global box office there will always be a market for original science-fiction. And secondly that Inglourious Basterds managed to overcome the automatic restrictions imposed by an 18 (UK)/(US) rating to take eleventh place, which (I believe) was as at least as much due to Quentin Tarantino fans as it was Brad Pitt fans.

Summer Box Office: 2008

Well, with cinemas globally closed for the majority of this summer (UK cinemas reopen in mid-July!) due to the COVID-19 Pandemic there is essentially no real summer box office for me to consider or make predictions for. As such, I have decided that I shall do some brief revisits of the summer box offices of the last 20 years, looking at the 20 highest grossing films globally for that year and consider what that says about the summer audiences. In this ninth instalment I shall be considering the summer box office from the year 2008, and here are the 20 highest grossing films globally of that summer:

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  3. Kung Fu Panda
  4. Hancock
  5. Mamma Mia!
  6. Iron Man
  7. WALL-E
  8. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  9. Sex and the City
  10. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
  11. Wanted
  12. The Incredible Hulk
  13. Journey to the Center of the Earth
  14. Get Smart
  15. What Happens in Vegas
  16. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
  17. Tropic Thunder
  18. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  19. The Happening
  20. Step Brothers

Ah, Summer 2008. I still remember how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull kicked off the season as being almost an event, being the must-see film which everyone flocked to, only to be left disappointed (I enjoyed it a lot more at aged 16 than I do now 12 years later, but I still considered it a huge decline in quality from the original three). However, the true event film, the true talking point amongst casual and avid cinemagoers alike in 2008 was The Dark Knight, which was not only the highest film of the year but also one of the best of the year; and 12 years and some 3000+ first-time watches later it remains in my Top 5 Favourite Films of All-Time.

Looking at Summer 2008 in general it is quite generic for the most part. Family films, sequels, teen comedies, romantic-comedies, almost all of which had very marketable leading stars. Two points of interest to note though. Firstly, this was the last year where Brendan Fraser (lead in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Journey to the Center of the Earth) would have any major presence in the Summer Box Office – he has of course been in a number of films since 2008, but none of them were really hits. And secondly, while neither of them made the Top 5, this was the summer that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. While they did not make the Top 5, they were both box office hits and, in the bigger picture, foreshadowed how the MCU would eventually come to dominate the Summer Box Office on a regular basis.

FILM: Good Burger (1997, Brian Robbins)

Good Burger film poster.jpg

Comedy Good Burger is distributed by Paramount and based on a sketch of the same title from Nickelodeon’s All That. When Dexter (Kenan Thompson) gets into a car accident while driving without insurance, he takes a job at Good Burger to earn enough money to pay for the damage caused. He is shocked to learn that one of his co-workers is Ed (Kel Mitchell), who had inadvertently caused the accident. Later, Dexter learns that Ed has a brilliant secret recipe for sauce and convinces Good Burger to use it, leading to an enormous increase in food sales, and Dexter and Ed developing a close friendship. This comes at just the right time, as Good Burger faced major new competition from Mondo Burger, whose owner (Jan Schweiterman) will stop at nothing to ruin Good Burger, and it is up to Dexter and Ed to stop him.

CONS

  • A very predictable narrative with gags that very rarely raise a chuckle, over-reliance on racial and gender stereotypes, mockery of mental illness and bare-minimal characterisation for the big supporting ensemble.
  • Incredibly goofy slapstick which most children would not find funny (certainly my friends and I would not have found this funny when we were aged 5-8), some of which is appallingly used for misogynistic purposes.
  • While many of the performances from the supporting cast are exaggerated deliberately (to the point of it being irritating), several of the more seasoned actors look like they wish they were on the set of a totally different film.
  • While Mondo Burger’s production and costume designs are meant to look tacky, they also look very cheap and flimsy, and these are problems which also afflict the film’s practical effects throughout.
  • While the fast pace is understandable, given that this film is meant to be incredibly energetic, several fight and chase scenes are very sloppily shot and edited, and are frankly a mess that are a headache to watch.

PROS

  • Kenan and Kel (as ever) have great chemistry and it is that, plus the incredible energy they bring to their most deliberately exaggerated performances yet, which make even the film’s most dire moments watchable.
  • By heavily focusing on Dexter and Ed’s friendship, the screenwriters really play to their target market – Kenan and Kel fans (they were huge in the 1990s!).

VERDICT: 2/10

VIDEO GAME: Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (1996, Broderbund)

Zoombinis Cover.jpg

Puzzle game Logical Journey of the Zoombinis was developed and published for the PC by Broderbund. After being tricked and enslaved by the Bloats, the 1250 Zoombinis decide to escape their homeland and seek refuge elsewhere. In groups of sixteen they evacuate Zoombini Isle, and the player has to use them to complete a series of puzzles in order for them to successfully finish their epic quest to their new home.

PROS

  • The puzzles rely on logic and problem-solving, with the hints being subtle ones which give only a small indication as to what needs to be done, thereby providing a healthy and surprisingly captivating challenge to players.
  • The puzzles are not only challenging but they are fun and, as such, when I first played this game at aged 7 I did not realise that I was learning as I was doing so, which is a true sign of a good educational game.
  • As the game progresses the puzzles become gradually more challenging, which they also do upon repeat playthroughs, keeping the game’s challenge-levels healthy and engaging.
  • Many educational games focus on teaching facts, whereas Zoombinis teaches and develops logic skills and problem-solving, which in many ways will prove far more beneficial to players in later life.
  • The graphics are outstanding for a mid-1990s’ PC game, boasting a rich colour palette, quirky character designs and a very good amount of small detail and texture to the rural landscapes that the player/Zoombinis go through.
  • Players get to design the Zoombinis by choosing feet, hair, noses and eyes, which proved fun for all children (every kid in my Primary School class loved Zoombinis), regardless of how creative they are.

NITPICKS

  • To get all puzzles to maximum difficulty involves playing the campaign through several times, which some may find a tad repetitive after a while.

VERDICT: 10/10