Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Album Review: Coldplay – Viva La Vida

  • This review is dedicated to Vixen.

Also dubbed as “Death And All His Friends“, Coldplay‘s fourth album has met with mixed and myriad reactions from music critics. Most of them have expressed disappointment and displeasure regarding the new direction Coldplay has taken in their latest offering to the Alternative/Rock genre. My reaction after spending all day listening to the whole album countless of times is that those critics must have been smoking crack or something! Viva la Vida certainly has pushed the boundaries of what I expect from Coldplay, producing a beautiful, serious and sometimes testing 45-minute disc, full with religious references and precious melodies.

The CD comes to life with a brilliant, glittering instrumental opener “Life In Technicolour“. It’s just a shame it doesn’t burst into a full track, lyrics and all, because it could have been the best on the album. “Cemeteries of London” follows next and it is blessed with douses of holy water; it’s atmospheric and daunting at the same time. “Lovers In Japan/ Reign of Love” is my absolute favorite. This unique track consist of two songs in one, it begins very instrumental and cheerful, then ends semi-acoustic and depressed. “Viva la Vida” is a brilliant string influenced track with incredible orchestration; excellent choice to represent the entire mood of the whole album. “Violet Hill” on the other hand, is more guitar influenced with monotonous repetitive melody over a rich harmonic background with a heavy insistent beat and clever use of piano at the end.

Viva la Vida definitely doesn’t disappoint, and it comes on par with “X & Y” if I dare to say. Sure, it might come a little bit different that Coldplay’s previous offerings but it certainly reveals its depth after several listens. Even though I reviewed only 5 tracks, I highly encourage you to give the entire CD a full album purchase. Believe in the hype baby! Believe in Viva la Vida!

Definite Downloads

1- Lovers In Japan/ Reign of Love
2- Viva la Vida
3- Cemeteries of London
4- Life In Technicolor
5- Violet Hill

~Rating~

Review: Helvetica

Documentaries usually prospect to tell a story of certain significant events or people; they can also be awfully mundane, or incredibly entertaining. Helvetica is the result of the outstanding prophecy from the award-winning director Gary Hustwit, which describes the ups and downs of a typeface, one of the most used typefaces in the English language that is. But the question is, will a documentary about a font provide any sort of entertainment?

Helvetica produces a cheerfully engaging investigation into the world’s most ubiquitous typeface, uncovering a minor hit storm in the world of graphic design as well as broadening the cinematic and analytical potential of the documentary form in the process. Tracing the roots of the Helvetica back to a small factory in Switzerland in the 1950s, the film charts its rise as a staple of corporate logos, warning signs and any form of communication that requires a direct and functional mode of expression. At personal level, I’m not a designer by any stretch, but have always been fascinated by the use of language and text. It really is empowering for a non-talent like myself to observe the proliferation of the democratizing of the tools of production. It has caused me to look much more closely at the written word in the world around me. It explores the way a typeface can polarize a society. While the topic may be considered mundane to some, this films’ treatment of it was anything but that. By the end of the movie, I felt artistically inspired on so many levels, and I definitely place it as one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen recently.

Artfully photographed, sharply edited and propelled by a gorgeous rock soundtrack, Helvetica is a film that owes probably more to philosophy than style. Don’t let the ordinary subject matter put you off. This is one of the wittiest, most diligently researched, mysteriously intelligent and quietly captivating documentaries of the new millennium. Helvetically recommended.

The Bottom Line

A-

Review: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is essentially one of, if not the most, spoken of RPG game of all time, and has spawned spin-offs, movies, countless debates and conversations in message forums. So now, after eleven years and subsequent releases, Final Fantasy diehards have a game far beyond anyone’s expectations. Crisis Core ends up becoming what one might consider a prototype game from SquareEnix, with some completely new features and ideas that might have normally been left out of a traditional Final Fantasy game. Alas, that makes Crisis Core stands both above and apart from other RPGs on the market and up to Final Fantasy VII itself.

Crisis Core takes place a few years before the events of Final Fantasy VII. The main protagonist is Zack Fair, a 2nd Class member of SOLDIER, Shinra‘s elite fighting squad. FFVII fanatics may remember Zack from select scenes in the PSOne classic, but they were very barren and nobody really knew what the guy was like; he only had about one line in the entire game. I won’t go into any specifics, but just know the game is all about the adventures of Zack Fair as he makes his way up the SOLDIER ranks while meeting a lot of memorable characters along the way including Professor Hojo, Cloud, Aerith, and of course the coolest villain ever; Sephiroth.

The game is an action RPG through and through, but what sets it apart is that the battle system is not necessarily in real time, nor is it necessarily turn-based. The fighting style is similar to that of the Kingdom Hearts series, where if you press the attack button, Zack will charge and deliver swipes with his blade. Overall, the combat is really simplistic as you can cycle through various commands, such as using items or magic just by using the left and right shoulder buttons, and they’d all be used with the X button as well.

Initially, you will probably have a smooth sail in the beginning of the game, as you’ll easily eliminate herds of enemies with a single button, but not long enough; the game will throw at you a bunch of tough challenges that you will have to tamper with your battle strategy. But no need to fear, the Digital Mind Wave or DMW is here. The DMW system tracks Zack’s emotions of certain characters you meet in the game, and it automatically uses some of the points gained in battle to keep the slots moving, and when the left and right slots match, you’re taken to an additional screen to take a look at which pictures and numbers the middle slot stops at. When all three slots have the same character, Zack will perform a special move that corresponds to that character. However, when certain numbers match up in the slots, you level up a certain battle tool, whether that is your material (magic) or even Zack himself.

Aside from the main story, in save points you can take part in optional SOLDIER missions. They’re divided into separate categories and difficulties, which flash out in order to immediately tell the player what to expect. Essentially, these are all dungeon-crawler type missions, where the main point is to get from Point A to Point B, and kill the main monster. When you finish each mission, you’re awarded a particular item or materia, which make your journey a whole lot easier, especially since you won’t have too many opportunities to level up or find rare material in the main storyline All the missions are pretty short (about 15 minutes each), so the game is certainly playable when you’re on the go or if you want to play in bunches.

Visually, this game is stunning for the PSP hardware. After years of being told what the PSP can do, it’s refreshing to begin seeing not only technically good games but also great looking ones. The game is generously packed with glorious FMV cut-scenes that go above and beyond any competition to be found on a handheld, or even on consoles. The soundtrack remains breathtaking throughout, as even the battle-tested standards of the series get fresh and innovative updates and remixes of the original songs. Although the surprisingly deep writing makes saying the lines easier, the sheer quality of the voice actors is exquisite and quite enjoyable too.

The game however has it flaws and they are big ones. The lack of explorations really hits major points, which is quite unusual for a Final Fantasy game. The repetitive and unimaginative missions are also another shortcoming that might turn off some gamers and disregard it completely. Nevertheless, the sheer enjoyment the game has to offer is still enormous, making it one of the best game spin-offs ever made.

Returning to Midgar has never been so nostalgic, and Crisis Core intricately woven those fond memories in a tight package bundled with a tremendous fan service love. Crisis Core is what every Final Fantasy VII fan has been clamoring for; from opening to close, every note in this game plays well, and anyone that owns a PSP, even if not a fan of RPGs or Final Fantasy, should give Crisis Core a chance.

Overall Score

8.8 out of 10

CD Review: Leona Lewis – Spirit

Soon after her X Factor win last year, Leona Lewis was whisked to the States to work with several top producers on her debut album, Spirit. And oh boy, what a debut album, but more importantly, what a strong voice does Leona possess. Spirit is a very well rounded album and totally demonstrates Leona’s capabilities. It’s not balled-heavy but it definitely offers a stunning range of musical flavors.

“Bleeding Love” is my favorite track in this album, and it’s actually Leona’s first single. It’s totally amazing and without question, the best single ever released by an X Factor contestant – although that’s not a bar set especially high. Half ballad and half not, and the bass-free production makes it an incredibly catchy song. “Take A Bow” is the song that really demonstrates Leona’s range and rhythm. It has a little bit of Mariah’s touch but Leona’s smartly makes it her own. “Better In Time” is also a standout track! It has the same vive as Bleeding Love; very catchy melody and chorus that blends beautifully with the piano and strings. “I Will Be” is more like a pop-rock song but Leona’s voice nicely overshadows the instruments and she takes the center stage with the lyrics. “Footprints In The Sand” is among the slowest track in the album but it won’t drive you to sleep at all. It is very beautiful and very Whitney Huston; it’s quite uplifting. In the end, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this album to anyone who loves music generally. However, if you are a big fan of Carey and Huston, then this album is definitely for you.

Definite Downloads

1- Bleeding Love
2- Take A Bow
3- Better In Time
4- I Will Be
5- Footprints In The Sand

~Rating~

Review: Professor Layton And The Curious Village

A quick glance at game’s box art ultimately tells the story – brain-teasing games are clearly the flavor of the month on the Nintendo DS, but unfortunately, for every fun title like Brain Training, there are a slew of mediocre brain teasing titles that are vying for your gaming dollar. Thankfully, Professor Layton and the Curious Village falls into the first category. What is most surprising about Professor Layton and the Curious Village is the seamlessly divine marriage that it portrays with its clever balance between story and gameplay. As you start playing the game you’ll quickly find that this title is so much more than a simple collection of brainteasers.

Your puzzling experience begins with the introduction of the unusual Professor Layton and his faithful young assistant Luke as they travel to the curious village of St. Mystere, a place where puzzles and brainteasers are as commonplace as a controller in a gamer’s hand. You’ll find that mystery is always afoot in village of St. Mystere. Following the death of a wealthy baron, his will has revealed that a secret treasure is stashed away in a secret location within the picturesque village. To track down the mysterious treasure, the Baron’s family must solve a variety of riddles, or as it turns out, hire Professor Layton and Luke to do the job for them, and from there, the story takes many twists and turns that will make you curious how will all the events will tie together at the end.

While it’s all good and well to include a storyline to add some meat to the gameplay, the greatest strength of the title is within its puzzles. At its core, Professor Layton and the Curious Village features over one hundred and twenty puzzles, but most gamers will find that only 80 or 90 are required to complete the story mode. For those times when you just feel like having a quick puzzle session, the game also allows you to play through the story mode puzzles without having to play through the game’s story mode. If you manage to work your way through all of the puzzles, Nintendo is also offering players a new set of puzzles each week, which are available as free downloadable content via your Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. The free downloadables are reportedly only going to be available for a limited time.

The types of puzzles on offer are quite varied and ultimately keep boredom from creeping in, as you will be able to solve such problems as: completing a maze, solving math problems, answering riddles and moving objects from point A to point B in a certain number of moves. The difficulty of the puzzles varies, ranging from too easy to fairly difficult, but the game’s built-in hint system (which you can access by collecting hint coins that are spread throughout the game) will soon put you on the right track. Best of all, while the puzzles can prove difficult in certain sections of the game, they are rarely ever frustrating thanks to both the hint system and the fact that none of the puzzles are timed, allowing you to sit down and ponder the answer away from the DS.

As you sit through the animated cut scenes, you’ll notice that the game’s visuals are quite reminiscent of the popular Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away animated films. Cut scenes aside, this also translates wonderfully to the in-game action. The hand drawn characters, the attractive air of St. Mystere gives off with its 19th Century setting coupled with the soundtrack of music with a mysterious lilt to it, leaves you feeling like St. Mystere is a living, breathing town of old world charm on your DS, something that has been severely lacking in other third-party developed DS titles. The game is also fully voiced with excellent performance that truly adds more life into the game than any other DS titles around.

As a whole, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a game that will keep you occupied for hours. Whether you choose to play in short spurts or a marathon session, you’ll find that its delightful combination of adventure, mystery and brain teasing fun will be worth every cent. So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and buy it!

Overall Score

9.3 out of 10

Review: Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

The first Harold and Kumar movie that was released four years ago was definitely one of my favorite buddy comedies of all time. The second sequel, albeit not as funny as the original, truly deserves attention even from those who didn’t watch the first one. The sequel picks up just hours after the last movie ended, right before they embark on a trip to Amsterdam to hook up with their sexy neighbor, Harold’s longtime crush. And from that point on, our heroes go through a series of mishaps and misfortunes that eventfully deviates them from their intentional plan, all of that in a genius comedic flair.

There’s absolutely no dull moment in Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. The plot is definitely thinner than White Castle but it almost maintains as much jokes and hilarious scenes as the first one. The movie also smartly examines the racial tensions that are engulfing the US nowadays in a hysterical atmosphere that doesn’t feel like a Sunday school special. The performance -in my opinion- is certainly better than the original; Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) characters are more flashed out and they turn to become deeper as the story progresses. The return of Neil Patrick Harris reprising himself is certainly welcoming and he provides a bigger aid to our heroes this time around. Unfortunately, the ending didn’t turn out to be as I expected; it was a little bit on the cliché side and I was really hoping for something that can knock me away, but at least, it serves its purpose.

Escape From Guantanamo Bay it’s not just a good sequel, but also a good movie, whether or not you’ve seen the first film. It packs a political punch, a well-acted performance, a hilarious plot, and a great amount of outrageous scenes that can give your grandmother a heart attack, and all of that in one package. A definite watch for the fans of the original Harold and Kumar.

The Bottom Line

B

Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I was pretty ecstatic to learn that the masterminds of the 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were in charge in producing Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and after witnessing the slightly favored reviews across the web, I was determined not to miss it. However, the movie didn’t turn out quite well as I expected. The plot sees a struggling musician named Peter Bretter whose heart has been broken by his girlfriend and TV star Sarah Marshall. To clear his head, Peter takes an impulsive trip to Hawaii, where he is confronted by his worst nightmare: Sarah and her tragically hip, new British-rocker boyfriend, Aldous. However, fate smiles to Peter as he finds comfort with the beautiful resort employee Rachel, played by none than the very sweet Mila Kunis.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is funny, though I didn’t find myself laughing at the same guffaw-per-minute rate as the people around me. The acting however was inconstant, sometimes it is quite charming and other times it’s just plain mundane and one-dimensional. Jason Segal (who played Peter) shined in some dramatic moments but I honestly didn’t believe his character to the extent that I couldn’t sympathize with him at all. Mila Kunis however was the real surprise, and she demonstrated her capabilities as a young talented actress. The script has few moments of genuine laughter but I felt most of the jokes were forced and fairly predictable. The ending however was awful and really left a bitter taste in my mouth as I couldn’t fathom the manner how everything came together in the end. To me, I found Aldous (Sarah’s British boyfriend) is the most memorable character and the best thing in the whole movie.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall will manage squeeze from you few (and sincere) laughs here and there but in the end the flick is nothing but a mediocre plot who tries to stand up by fueling us with outrageous moments. You are better off watching Knocked Up for a second round than this stale film. Wait for the DVD release.

The Bottom Line

C+

Anime Review: Mushishi

In the world of Mushishi, there exists a form of life known as “mushi” – strange creatures that are more primitive than animal, plant or bacteria, yet are closer to the source of life than any of the former. It is not (generally) in their natures to cause harm, but their alien natures means that when human and mushi interact, neither comes off better. Enter the Mushishi (or Mushi-Master) Ginko who meditates human-mushi affairs, as he constantly traveling from village to village to study these mysterious beings and the effects they have on people, trying to help out where he can.

Mushishi is different from most anime series in a couple of ways. First of all, the entire series is episodic. There are neither story arcs nor any cliffhangers that tie the events of one episode to another, but at the same time, what saves it from being repetitive and boring, is that it doesn’t use the stereotypical fast-paced action, complex fantasy, hyperbolic comedy, and intense violence that we are used to see in anime series. Rather, its pacing is slow, focusing more on the actual scenes and situations, allowing the viewer to absorb the background of each individual episode and the guest characters in that episode. Thus, there is a great deal of dialogue exchange and information that we’re made to think about and dwell on, rather than actual action taking place. It’s unconventional but it works brilliantly at the same time. As far characters go, Ginko remains the only standout character that we can only feel attach to, but more importantly, it’s Ginko’s relationship with the Mushi that is quite amusing. The voice acting also wins major points. The Dub version is excellently preformed and it also survives from harsh edits. The soundtrack is good; it remains atmospheric throughout and reminisce the rural medieval Japan feel quite well. In the end, if you are looking for an original anime series that is absent from the usual components of conventional anime, then Mushishi is definitely for you. Highly recommended.

Rating

  • Story: 8/10
  • Characters: 7/10
  • Animation: 9/10
  • VA Performance: 9/10
  • Soundtrack: 7.5/10

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Book Review: Beginner’s Greek

If you like or watch chick flicks, this novel will seem eerily familiar to you. As a matter of fact, it has all the components to become a B-rated romantic movie. Even though the main setting of the story is the modern time, the story is quite simple and old-fashioned. The writing is sophisticated but uninspired. The characters however were so unbelievable that sometimes I wanted to throw the book across the room; they were “too good”, “too beautiful”, or “too nasty”.

This first debut novel by James Collins sees the protagonist Peter Russell off on a flight from New York to LA where he encounters the beautifully, enchanted soul mate Holly. Throughout the duration of the flight, both Peter and Holly manage to “hit it off”, and by the end, they exchange phone numbers. When Peter returns to his hotel room, he discovers that he lost Holly’s phone number. Years later, when Peter and Holly meet again, she’s on the arm of a womanizing but charming author who also happens to be Peter’s closest friend. The two eventually marry, and resigned, Peter marries the dull but sweet Charlotte. At first, it seems Peter and Holly weren’t meant to be, but fate proves it sometimes has a funny way of working things out as many precedent events and twists become to take turns.

Despite being written by a man, Beginner’s Greek reads somewhat like literally chick lit. Unfortunately however, as much I enjoyed following the plot and grasping the relationships amongst the characters, it just didn’t seem real, especially the characters’ behavior. Even though the book is too wordy for its own good (more than 400 pages), I felt I was missing huge chunks of the story. However, despite all of this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. To be fair, the book has a clever character progression and the plot manages to entice all the elements of the story in one tight package where eventually the novel reaches its satisfying conclusion. However, it will take perseverance to see it through, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the romantics. It is definitely not a terrible book but it is also not a great book either, it’s just a “solid good” book.

~Rating~

Review: Arranged

arranged-poster.jpg

Note: This review is based on the DVD version.

This film actually was recommended by my dearest friend Sushi, and based on her review and the premise of the movie I couldn’t help myself but to watch it. The film focuses on two young female teachers – one an Orthodox Jew (named Rochel) and the other an observant Muslim (named Nasira) – who are assigned to work together in a multi-ethnic school in Brooklyn. Initially, I thought it is one of those films with a sentimental “let’s all get along” message, but it turned out to be a lot more complicated and interesting than that. The characters find friendship with each other, because they are both confronting similar issues with their parents and the secular world. They are also both undergoing the difficulty of trying to find a mate through their community’s traditional systems of arranged marriage. While some of the characters come off as walking stereotypes, the film for the most part, does a sensitive job of portraying both aspects of religion and tradition in a very positive light. The film respects the women’s genuine commitment to their faiths even as they struggle with difficult aspects of their faiths. The acting and the script are sometimes uneven and there are moments that feel like an after school special. The conclusion is a bit too simplistic. But the message about both necessity and possibility of multi-religious co-existence is a good one presented with humor, warmth, and intelligence. Another minor flaw I found is that it doesn’t balance the lives of both characters; I felt Rochel was the leading character and Nasira was the support (sort of a side story) character, but the effort was genuine and heartwarming.

arranged.jpg

Arranged is an engaging story that feels very real, and very important in our times when so many walls keep people from connecting with each other. It is so refreshing to have the bigger theme of cultural and religious differences treated with respect and interest, and with an absence of violence. Even though it’s not a masterpiece, I invite you to watch this film along with your friends and family and absorb the fact that you don’t need shared religion in order to share friendship and respect.

The Bottom Line

B