Uniformly good [Open Thread]

In which I review something from almost every media category (but I should read more books) and give them all the same rating. Maybe I should go to increments of 0.1 instead of 0.5, so I can make finer distinctions: I would rate Asobi Seksu’s Citrus (reviewed last week) slightly higher than The Knife’s Silent Shout (in this post) for example.
The Descent: A heartwarming British film in which six women forge strong bonds of friendship during a spelunking expedition. At least, that’s what it looks like until monsters show up and start eating them. Hell yes. I mean, we’ve all been stuck in boring dramas where we wish it would turn into a monster movie and kill off the most annoying characters, and this movie actually does it. Except that it’s not boring at all; one thing this film excels at is ratcheting up the tension well before the monsters show up, with a series of plausible but legitimately scary or shocking events leading up to the gory climax. The cave where most of the movie takes place is itself a source of much of this tension, filmed in a way that conveys the claustrophobia and disorientation of the spelunkers. The descent referred to in the title isn’t just the literal descent into the cave but also the descent into madness of one of the characters, and this is paralleled in the increasing chaos and confusion as the caving party disintegrates. Overall, a very well-done horror movie. Rating: 4/5
Arrested Development – Season One: I kept hearing that this show was excellent, but didn’t really know much about it. Josh was happy to educate me, and we fairly rapidly went through the first season’s worth of episodes. The show is best watched in bursts of several 22-minute episodes at a time; it is very self-referential and excels at recurring jokes. Arrested Development centers around the Bluth family, most of whom have freeloaded off the wealthy patriarch George Sr., until (in the first episode) he is arrested for massive fraud. Most of the episodes have Michael Bluth, as the voice of responsibility and moderation, trying to rein in his flakier relatives. It’s the quality of the writing that makes the show stand out; the dialogue is very funny on several levels, and a narrative voiceover (by Ron Howard) is used to create an ironic interplay between an omniscient observer and the very self-unaware characters. Rating: 4/5
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: The portable Castlevania games have been improving incrementally since Circle of the Moon on the GBA, and Dawn of Sorrow is the latest iteration, a refinement of (and direct sequel to) Aria of Sorrow. As with its predecessors it is a side-scrolling dungeon crawl, and preserves Aria’s mechanic of earning new abilities from defeated monsters. There are a few token uses of the DS’s touch screen (admittedly, finishing off boss monsters by drawing a magic seal is especially satisfying) but otherwise the gameplay will be familiar to veterans of the series. This installment does an especially good job with an interesting dungeon layout, smooth control, and challenging but not frustrating difficulty. The free-fall boss battle is particularly inspired. Rating: 4/5
The Knife: Silent Shout: The Knife, mentioned in yesterday’s post, has a new album out this year. Different in mood from “Heartbeats”, it’s a dark and ghostly record, perhaps another candidate for a Call of Cthulhu game soundtrack. Indeed, Josh and I listened to this in the car before and after seeing The Descent, and it was creepily appropriate to a claustrophobic horror movie. This one strikes a stronger emotional resonance than the similar atmosphere of Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead, and is also more danceable. Listen to “Like A Pen” and “Silent Shout” at their MySpace page; in further recent-post-synergy, the latter track appears to be a free download for Facebook members this week. Rating: 4/5
Live: Zero 7 with Jose Gonzalez at the Fillmore: Sure, I panned their latest album, but their earlier work is really good and I love going to the Fillmore. (I am ignoring Jessica’s suggestion that I post an entry titled “I Went to Zero 7 with Three Hot Girls”, but this might also have had something to do with it.) Jose Gonzalez’s opening set was a mellow and competent performance on acoustic guitar; afterwards he did vocals for Zero 7 along with Sia Furler. (The band proper is just two British guys on synths, but here they had a backing band and the two vocalists. The lack of their other singers meant certain songs couldn’t be played; “In the Waiting Line”, which appeared on the Garden State soundtrack, was particularly missed.) Naturally much of the set was devoted to songs from The Garden, but there was a good fraction of older stuff as well so I can’t complain too much. Sia seemed pretty drunk (or otherwise chemically enhanced) and her vocals were much more slurred than in the recordings, which detracted a bit. Fortunately they played a number of instrumental pieces, which tend to be my favorites out of Zero 7’s catalog. It would have been nice to hear “Speed Dial No. 2″, though. Rating: 3.5/5

8 thoughts on “Uniformly good [Open Thread]

  1. Lemming

    The Descent–I heard someone refer to this as “Dykes in a Cave”.
    Arrested Development–I hear rock beats scissors.
    Castlevania–I don’t recall the free-fall fight of which you speak. I agree otherwise, though. Tip: there’s no real need to use the stylus for sealing the bosses, a thumb works great and is more accessible in a hurry. It would be nice if Black Panther was ealier, though.
    Other Stuff–I don’t know, and I have no opinion.

  2. Arcane Gazebo

    “Unfortunately, the whole incident was covered by the paper.”
    I was referring to the Gergoth fight, which admittedly is only free-fall for a few seconds after it breaks through the floor and you fall down the tower. Anyway, I’m now working through as Julius (or more accurately, as Alucard).

  3. Narrenschiff

    Was it me or was “Castlevania: Big dawny sorrow-sorrow face McMoon” kind of easy compared to the previous games, especially in the boss battles? Then it tried to pad itself out with expansive but lacklustre alternate play modes.
    They were showing “Arrested Development” on one of the BBC’s digital channels over here, and despite it looking like the worst piece of light entertainment trash in history from a theoretical standpoint, I seem to remember it being so funny it hurt.
    In terms of new Brit horror flicks, try “Creep”: it looks like a crappy haunted-house-but-on-the-London-Underground flick for the first half, then it goes very lateral. The bad guy kind of reminded me of the video for “Sabrina” by Einstuerzende Neubauten.

  4. Arcane Gazebo

    I remembered both Aria and Harmony of Dissonance being easier than Dawn, but it’s been a while since I’ve played either. Circle of the Moon was certainly the hardest one in the series.

  5. Josh

    Narrenschiff: Dawn of Sorrow and Aria of Sorrow were both equally easy to me in the same way that Symphony of the Night was, inasmuch as they took a sidescrolling action game and added a whole lot more RPG elements to it, far more than Harmony and Circle had, and definitely more than the truly action-based Castlevania series. When you add RPG elements into the game you instantly make the game easier, as things such as save points, spells, levelling up, and especially in the area of the Sorrow and Symphony series, you had the ability to equip better and better weapons rather than having the standard whip. RPG designers always want to make the little ways to make your character uber-powerful at the beginning, the Castlevania games just seem to be less subtle at it with things like soul collection and upgrading of equipment.
    That all being said, this styling of gaming still is responsible for Symphony of the Night which in my opinion stands next to Castlevania III as the best in the series, and one of the best playstation games ever.

  6. Mason

    Also, the ‘Dykes in a Cave’ comment was delivered perfectly, as I had no clue what Dave Relyea (who said it) was talking about; I double-taked and had to have him say what he meant. Dave also mentioned one could do this with just about any movie, although I’m having trouble thinking of examples.
    I have actually heard of the boss battle in question—maybe it was mentioned in an EGM review?
    Gazebo: Jessica’s suggestion was indeed a very good one. You should have followed it.
    I just orded the DS version of Puyo Puyo. “En guard!”

  7. Narrenschiff

    Puyo puyo, yaaay! I’m still gobbling through the New Super Mario Bros game. A year or so back when I was completing my degree I was living with this sweet little lass who did engineering. She’d occasionally eat too much candyfloss and then run around squealing with glee, and that is as close as I can get to describing the feeling that the new SMB gives me. The casual games are oddly compelling, too, though a little familiar.
    Has anyone tried Polarium? It was an early release title for the DS, and due to it’s laughably primitive graphics and sound (and a few nasty control quirks) it is usually available at the very bottom of bargain bins. At heart, though, it’s a pretty compelling action puzzler, though, so it might be worth a look. Electroplankton is also great fun, but feels nothing like a game – it did provide a handy focal point for meetings with my supervisor, though.

  8. Mason

    I’m still working on New SMB, but I am stuck on one particular level (I’m trying to finish level 8 early after I found a warp so that I can save whenever I want), and I want to have a lighter game to take a break from my continual frustrations with that. (This is the second small castle in level 8. Aaaargh…. I have died dozens of times on that level.)

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