An Ordinary Life – Ethel & Ernest

14 12 2016

ethel-and-ernest (Cloth Cat Animation - 2016)

What do you dream of? Do you dream of riding a Unicorn and battling the Troll King in the city of Colossus on the furthest edge of Saturn? If so, then you have misunderstood my question. When I ask what you dream of, I ask that in the meaning of, what do you foresee for yourself. Do you dream of a big mansion, lots of money, a gold-plated Rolls Royce and a pet Jaguar? That sounds like a pretty good dream for yourself and I wish you luck in your endeavors to achieve that, but is there anything wrong with a simpler life: a life that involves having your own house, a nice job, maybe a husband or wife, a nice little car and a kid to call your own? Well, given a recent example I recently discovered, I can see a lot of pleasantry in just living a nice long-lived ordinary life, seems quite nice.

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Released in 2016 by Cloth Cat Animation and Directed by Roger Mainwood; Ethel and Ernest is an animated adaptation of the Raymond Briggs graphic novel of the same name. Raymond Briggs is of course best known for his graphic novels including The Snowman, Father Christmas, Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows, many of which have since been adapted further into films and TV shows. Ethel and Ernest follows the story of Briggs’s parents from when they began their courtship in the early 1920’s right up to their deaths in the 1970’s, along the way showing their incredible life through an ever-changing world, delivering their own experiences in some of history’s most notable moments.

ethel-and-ernest-book (Jonathan Cape - 1998)

The story begins with Ethel (Brenda Blethyn) working as a lady’s maid who over the period of a couple of days is spotted by a young man on a bike. After a few days the young man all nicely dressed arrives at Ethel’s work place and introduces himself as Ernest (Jim Broadbent). He invites her out on a date and after a few more dates, Ethel requests that she leaves her employ as a maid so that she may Marry Ernest. Her request is given, and the two marry, followed by getting a house together, and Ernest getting a job as a milkman. As time passes by, the two of them sit down into a normal living routine, with Ethel becoming a housewife and Ernest fascinated by the ever passing technological world, installs a radio and a cooker plus a few more home improvements to make it theirs. Outside of their lives, things are changing, Britain is on the brink of war with Germany, and people are out of work. While all this is going on, Ethel and Ernest conflict with one another due to their respective beliefs, with Ernest acknowledging his working class life, while Ethel believes that she is more middle class and up. Eventually Ethel is treated with the birth of a son they name Raymond (Luke Treadaway), but giving birth was a real strain on her and is told that it’s best that they don’t have another.

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Britain engages with Germany as World War 2 starts, and Raymond is sent to live with Aunty Flo (Gillian Hanna) and Aunty Betty (Pam Ferris) in the countryside as he is evacuated with thousands of other children. Broken hearted at home without Raymond in their lives, Ethel and Ernest plod on with Raymond taking another job as a fireman during the Blitz Bombings. The two of them erect both a Morrison and an Anderson bomb shelter, and are privileged with seeing Raymond in the countryside and have him home one weekend, although he and Ernest narrowly miss an attack from a Doodlebug. With the war over, the family returns to normal, with Raymond going to grammar school and Ernest seeing improvement in his work load, although the two cannot stop bickering with the election of a Labour government and Churchill being kicked out of office. As Raymond grows up, he begins to do things very different to his parents that they just don’t understand, such as his desire to go to Arts School, while his parents can’t see much of a job coming out of it. Raymond grows his hair out, although Ethel continues to press a comb onto him. Eventually Raymond meets a girl called Jean (Karyn Claydon), who unfortunately is not able to provide grandparents to Raymond’s parents. The two of them get a house in the countryside that Ethel considers to be a dump.

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As time passes by and the world steadily advances further, life for Ethel and Ernest begins to slow down. Ernest retires from his job as a milkman and Raymond gets a job as a teacher. Ethel and Ernest take in a more quiet life, but Ethel’s health begins to deteriorate, and as time passes by begins to forget things, even those closest to her. Eventually Ethel dies in hospital, leaving Ernest to fend for himself. After some time goes by, Ernest too dies. Back at his parents’ home; Raymond makes note of a tree in their garden, one he planted when he was just a boy.

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Ethel and Ernest is a rather pleasant film which at first does not really present itself as a film, more a sequence of short films spanning the life of two very ordinary people. At first it’s like an animated slide show, and one I felt presented the story of these two-bit by bit, maybe frame by frame or chapter by chapter. The film however is at this point just starting its engine, as when life settles down, the Drama begins. At first these are two gentle lovers just enjoying life as it can be, but now they face the prospect of actually having to live together, and what we discover is that they are two polar opposites. They share dreams and desires for the future but like many of the time cannot see how much life will change ahead of them, or how quickly it is enacted. While it is very pleasant though, the film is somewhat tragic, as it ends the only way life can, in the Death of these two people, and how their life affects those around them at that time. But in that though we are presented with a cold hard fact of the knowledge that life must come to an end and how important it is that we don’t waste it, it’s one chance in only one chance. The film though while ending like this however reminds us that even when these two people passed on, that in life, although maybe not absolutely perfect, they still lived an extraordinary life, one that was filled right to the brim. Maybe not the most glamorous or exciting, but definitely a positive life, and shows that no matter your standing, class or background, a good life can still be had.

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The film’s story I find is very similar to The Wind Rises, as though while in essence it’s just a story of the parents of Raymond Briggs, it also tells a very broad story of the growth of England from post World War One right through the tumultuous years of World War Two and the progression of life luxuries beyond that. It does this in a very unique way to. I have seen lots of documentaries in the past regarding what happened in World War 2, but most of these have taken the form of talking about the front line, the enemy, the Battle of Britain, the blitz, other countries and the evacuation of children; however I have not ever (I think) seen a documentary or presentation of the life lived by those in London during this time. I am not saying that said things have not been done before, but they do seem pretty rare. Here, this film really shows that with mentions of the Anderson Bomb Shelters and the like, to mentions of life for those working to keep London built and even the raids of Doodlebugs. It is a very nice way to tell a story but also presents information of what England was like that at that time.

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While all this is going on of course, we get a real glimpse of the lives of Ethel and Ernest. The film does have some great cast members and features some cameos from people at the time presented in their original format, but this film really does work to show us what these two were like by making them the front-runner of every scene. But while it may be an idyllic life for those of a similar situation, there is a minor level of conflict between the two. Ernest for example is very much a working class man. He works hard because he knows he has to and is good at his job. He loves Ethel a lot, and even uses his manual labour skills to good use in improving their lives in any way he can; he is very much a working class hero. Ethel meanwhile comes from a more upper class background, although this is only shown in what she used to do for a living. This background though very much impacts her way of thinking, and though while their lives appear very much in similar vain to that of the average working class family, she genuinely believes she is not Working Class. This conflict between the two remains throughout, and while although this causes tension between the two-way of thoughts, they are less hostile, more just ways of thinking. In reality they are two very different people and share no real commonality in belief. This continues further when Raymond grows up, starts acting more like a teenager, a rebel against the old-fashioned views and respects. This causes Ethel to look at her son differently as he changes like a changed world, growing his hair out, not looking for a normal ‘job’, going down a different route, not buying a ‘house’ and of course not being able to provide her with a grandchild. It really shows the change in respects over time as though back when they were young; Raymond’s choices would not have stood up to anyone, but now the world is more free it goes against those older respects and really delivers home in a very presentable and obvious way the difference between the old and young generations.

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Being based on the works of Raymond Briggs, the film strives to present its artwork and look in the same style as his book and his personal drawing style. The film looks very traditional in its animation, although shows some points where it nearly leaps off the page. It is 3D shaded but not flat 2D either. The animation is very fluid and very detailed, and within a few seconds really draws your attention in as it’s nice and clear but also very fun in presenting its information as well as world and characters. One thing thought that really stood out for me though was how it used 2 different styles of artwork to portray life and death. You see, when the film is playing, all the images are nice and colourful, nice and bright, as if to show their life and how easily they just jump off from the page. But then as the film continues, when it presents a moment of death, the style changes; while it still carries all other forms of life in the same style, death is a more static, 2D image, that is very detailed still, but the life is completely withdrawn, like they who they once were is gone and the body; like the drawing, has no life.

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Ethel and Ernest has an interesting use of music, as for the most part there is pretty much no soundtrack, but that is in to say that one has not really been provided, but not there is no music either. No, instead the film uses a lot of old-fashioned and well known pieces from respected composers of the time using popular music of the current time the story is in. One piece though that has sort of been used as a standing point of at least some form of a soundtrack is that of a piece by Paul McCartney called In the Blink of an Eye. I am not really all that a fan of McCartney, but this piece of music is a nicely fitting piece. It sounds very progressive in its tune and presents other animations to mind as they pop into your brain. It sounds very British and really helps to create a vision of the passage of time in British lands and fits nicely with the images of this film. It’s progressive but also retrospective and just nicely fits in there as when the credits roll on they show how beautiful a life it was for Ethel and Ernest and really how well it was lived.

Ethel and Ernest really is such a pleasant film. It tells a nice story of an average family, not an average family who happened to be spies or anything spectacular on an action like scale, just an ordinary family living a pretty ordinary life. It tells a story of the inner conflicts and opinions of married life, plus also tells a story of Britain and the changing of attitudes and respects with the passing of time. It is nicely animated showing stark contrasts between life and death, creating some really humorous moments and at the same time bringing to life and telling the real life biography of two amazing people. Ethel and Ernest is a real family drama and a really pleasant film to watch, easily a future classic, one that families can (and probably will) continue to enjoy watching with one another in years to come.

GENEPOOL

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The Entire World Is Waiting For The Power Of Steam – Steamboy

16 11 2016

Steamboy (Sunrise - 2004)

In 2013, animation Director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli; Hayao Miyazaki created a film which he announced was going to be the last before he retired. The film was called The Wind Rises, and it was a film that followed a young man who dreamt of designing the ultimate aircraft, and so the story took us on a history of his young life, career, romantic relation, and a retrospective history of his country, eventually leading the young man to his pivotal moment designing the aircraft of his dreams. There is one slight issue however with the company he works for, being the ones to foot the bills; the only option is to design it to the benefit of a company contract, and at that time in Japan’s history the only contract work for airplane manufacturers (or at least those shown in the film) is to build them for the sake of war. So while the young man does get to design his dream plane, he has to come to the eventual realization of what the plane’s purpose is to be. It is a very interesting idea for a story, looking at great inventors, the things they do; but also what they have to do in order for them to be allowed to build such things!

The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli - 2013)

Released in 2004 by Toho, produced by Sunrise and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Steamboy is a Steampunk animated action film set in the UK and follows the adventure of a young inventor who has to come to terms with the realities of the world of inventions and of course save the day from threats very close to home. Touted at the time of release as being the most expensive Japanese animated film of all time, Steamboy took 10 years to produce, and is only the second major animated release for Otomo following his milestone film Akira in 1988.

Akira (Toho 1988)

In 1863 in Russian Alaska, inventor Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina) have discovered a pure mineral water, which they believe they can turn into a powerful steam based energy source. During an experiment however, everything goes wrong with Eddie being engulfed in freezing gases, but leaves a strange spherical object being created. Three years later, in Manchester England, great-grandson of Lloyd: Ray Steam (Anna Paquin), a young inventing prodigy receives a strange parcel containing the spherical object plus some designs relating to it. Two men then show up called Alfred (Mark Bramhall) and Jason (David S. Lee) claiming to be from something called the Foundation and who want the ball. Ray refuses to give it to them, and is surprised to see the arrival of his grandfather. Ray makes a run for it, and is eventually chased by a strange steam automotive vehicle, making his escape on his own Monocycle. The chase leads them onto the railway tracks, with the automotive being pushed into a river, and Ray being rescued by Robert Stephenson (Oliver Cotton) and his assistant David (Robin Atkin Downes). Things don’t last long however, as while the train is en route to London, Ray is kidnapped by the Foundation thanks to their Zeppelin.

Ray finds himself in a dining hall, and being introduced to members of the O’Hara Foundation which includes Scarlett O’Hara (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled granddaughter of the foundation’s chairman, and Archibald Simon (Rick Zieff), a company executive. Ray then meets his father Eddie whose head has been greatly altered by the accident, now with only a few strands of hair and a helmet covering one half of his head, as well as other metal components all along his body. Ray and Scarlett are taken on a tour of the facility dubbed The Steam Castle by Eddie who says he wants to use it to enlighten mankind’s vision of science. Ray is recruited by his father to help finish it off, but when asked to help in assisting to turn off a valve, Ray finds his Grandfather trying to sabotage the whole thing. He tells Ray that the purpose of the castle and the O’Hara’s foundation is to sell weapons to Britain’s enemies at the Great Exhibition the following day and shows Ray evidence of this. The two eventually reach the core of the castle, and pry away a steam ball, one of three used to power the castle, but they are then surrounded. Ray makes an escape but Lloyd is recaptured. Ray manages to run into Robert Stephenson telling him about his father and the steam castle, and hands him the Ball thinking Stephenson can be trusted, but discovers that Stephenson’s motives are near the same; to build an army for the purpose of keeping Britain Great.

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At the Great Exhibition, the O’Hara foundation shows off their weapons to generals from around the world, exhibiting their steam-powered soldiers, miniature aircraft and submersible men. At this moment, Stephenson launches an attack on the foundation using his steam battle tanks. With the exhibition now a war zone, Ray steals the ball back from David, and rigs it up to use it as a sort of jet pack. In the foundation’s control room, Eddie, straps himself into the machine and while under powered orders for the castle to launch. The building sheds its skin to show a great behemoth like structure, a big black floating castle, which then engulfs the city of London in a big freeze. The royal navy in vain try to shoot it down, while Stephenson attempts to pull it down with his trains. Ray manages to get on board the castle reuniting with his father and Scarlett, but is too late to stop Lloyd from shooting Eddie. With Eddie having disappeared into the machine, Ray and Scarlett assist Lloyd in getting the castle back over the Thames as the machine is too unstable and likely to explode. At the last-minute, Eddie having deflected the bullet with his metal body decides to lend a hand, revealing Lloyd’s original intention for the Steam Castle: to be used as a giant theme park. Ordered by his family to save Scarlett and leave, Ray makes his way back to the control room, straps on a jet pack and leaves the castle just as it explodes, sparing most of London in the process.

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Can a film justify its release if it does not have much of a plot? Steamboy is an interesting film; on the one side it’s very well researched, and is somewhat surprising to see a Japanese animated film set in 19th century England and feature locations such as Manchester and (‘of course’) London, as well as feature great moments of a country’s history such as the Great Exhibition and famous faces like Railway Engineer Robert Stephenson. I am not saying this can’t be done, I am just saying how well and detailed it all is but you would not exactly expect for a film from Japan to be set in this country during that period. Of course, this film does also have big outstanding and unbelievable moments, interesting characters and great themes; much like you would expect from the man who made Akira: or should you? That’s the point though of seeing it isn’t it, or at least most might think so, that because this man-made an iconic film from the 1980’s, one of cinema’s all-time great animated films, that is why we should see it; no other reason right? This film is of course heavily touted for being from Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director of Akira; but is that the reason why we should see this film, or should it be that it’s a happy coincidence, and that this film should really be its own thing. I think that is where this film sort of collapses. There are some good things about this film: It does feature big moments of disbelief, and it features themes and ideas as well as argues the differences between progress and greed as well as the blessings of science, but only a little bit really, as all that gets entrenched in delivering the Akira experience, with big moments, wonders of awe and nothing else really. It has it’s moments, moments of philosophy that intrigue that inspire, and the story develops this a little bit; but possibly under the belief that he had to deliver a 19th century version of Akira rather than explore these ideas and create something that was its own identity, Otomo just sort of skipped all that. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Akira, I would just rather watch Akira rather than something that is not a near carbon copy of it (Force Awakens).

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The film’s characters are a real odd bunch and (international released version) are played by some top-notch quality actors. Much like what was stated above, some characters are minor-ly developed and are actually going in the right direction but are lost in what is a rather convoluted and unused plot. The issue that this film has with its characters is that it’s hard at any one point to actually know who is good and who is bad. Ray Steam is obviously the hero of the story, but it’s just obvious if somewhat boring. The character is nicely set up and has reason to explore and discover as he is lost without his heritage and is in a world that he would rather be doing something else in, but other than that there is no real reason for him. He tries to be brave and do the right thing, he is just not a decent enough character to really get behind or enjoy. Someone like Scarlett is a lot more interesting. She actually develops over the film’s timeline, going from a toffee nosed brat to a proper hero and someone worth rooting for. Yes she starts off in a situation where she is horrid and someone you have no affection for, but as the film develops she becomes a good character, so why she couldn’t be the protagonist is beyond me. That is the thing though with this film, there are two solid female characters, Scarlett and Emma (Paula J. Newman), but Emma gets 3 minutes of fame and is never seen again, but she was interesting compared to Ray who is just useless. The issues with good guy bad guy just continue throughout. Yes, the henchmen are bad, but that is their point and Archibald Simon on the other hand is just a pleasant annoyance who can’t stop talking. Robert Stephenson is nicely done, but it’s sad that someone who should be a sort of helper, a guide or assistance in times of such peril turns out just to be as horrid and bad as the somewhat…..Supposed to be…..villains. His assistant David pretty much covers this role with ease, and it would have been more interesting if David per say was the villain out of the two and was something of a manipulator, and so Stephenson could then be the helper, with a villain by his side that needed defeating. Lloyd is of course a good guy but the story does the right thing of teasing his intentions and asking if he is bad or good, and then reveals his intentions correctly and stays that way, I just don’t think the mad professor look really does him any favours. Eddie meanwhile is of course the big bad villain and is voiced brilliantly, and much like Lloyd is teased into his role, but he just keeps changing his mind. His intentions and motives are there as to why he is who he is, but why would the villain suddenly change sides like that at the end. He should be a boss to fight, a hindrance to overcome, not someone who is like: “Oh well, let me give you a hand!”

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The voice acting works in some of the film’s favour, and boasts acting talent like Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, but it’s not fully utilised I feel. Scarlett is voiced nicely and actually sounds and feels real, compared to Anna Paquin whom does a good job in a male voice role, but in the form of the voice that most people believe how British people speak. Speaking as a British person, I do not speak like that, I have actually yet to meet someone who does. Both Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are British; and they don’t speak like that; and they’re in this film! It becomes near offensive the more it gets touted. Maybe instead of hiring people to create a generic voice that does not actually exist, maybe they should hire British actors to do the job, because then it would be a lot more realistic (and less offensive). When it comes to the voice overs in this film the only ones that really do anything I feel are those of Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina. Patrick Stewart’s character is not seen much of to truly enjoy, but it’s still good when he is on-screen, although possibly a bit loopy and mad. Alfred Molina though I feel really carries this film. It’s a voice of reason and passion, and although the character struggles to really find his place in this film, the voice over does the character tremendous and enjoyable levels of entertainment and justice. It’s just a shame about everyone else really.

The film does have its recovery sections, it’s not all collapsing. The animation is nicely done and works well to really capture the beauty and spectacle of 19th century England, especially London. The fleet of vessels on the Thames, the beauty of the city’s iconic buildings and structures, to the animated engineering of its own infrastructure. Add to this the machines and contraptions of the story’s fictional contents like the steam-powered soldiers, the monocycle, and of course the mighty Steam Castle in all its forms and you have this well-made world which has added benefits. I do think the animation style and colouring loses a bit in comparison to the film’s contemporise like the recent works of Studio Ghibli for example, but when close up the details are superb. The film’s soundtrack Composed by Steve Jablonsky) is an additional benefit too as it creates mostly sounds and ambiance rather than pieces of music. The music does have its moments of grandeur like the launch of the steam castle or the chase within, to moments of peace too like Ray’s theme, Scarlett’s theme, and of course the music behind the blessings of science monologue. Now while not insinuated within the soundtrack itself, there is one piece of music though that does come out in relation to the film: That of its theme from the trailer: Full Force; the adventure and steam-driven music that creates and encapsulates moments of awe and wonder, but creates a level of seriousness and tension to shine out loudly.  Although the film does tout some of that wonderful adventure but still steam punk driven piece of music here or there, it’s this piece of music which shines out for the film’s soundtrack, even though it is really non-existent, but it’s iconic and memorable enough for you to remember it in conjunction with this film.

Generally it feels like something of a shame altogether, because I was expecting more. Steamboy has its likable moments and bits to enjoy, but the story is so convoluted and makes more room for big moments rather than a properly developed plot. It’s one of those occasions where the trailer delivers more than the film. Steamboy is something of a quick storyteller; it just dashes from one thing to another, not developing nor explaining, creating interesting moments but not diving into them sacrificing its potential in the process for something else, but no reveal as to what. It comes with great voice talent but does not really use it effectively, it has interesting characters in the wrong roles and it has spectacular ideas that are just ignored. On the plus side the animation is delightfully detailed, and has music that has its occasions which are used well. Yes it has its big moments which are nicely done and very creative, but a film like this should be more than that. It should not be living in the shadow of its legendary predecessor and working hard to live up to be like its bigger brother. It should be blossoming like a flower, being independent and making its own path, then and only then can it have a chance to be on an equal footing and be appreciated the same way, rather than just being a clone in a different setting.

GENEPOOL





The Lost Reviews – Governor of Poker 2

18 10 2016

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If you like board and card games as much as me, you may have a huge stack of games. Lots of games you enjoy, some probably more than others, and maybe some you have yet to play, but the one thing that is probably more true than most is that, you probably don’t get to play many of them all that often. There maybe a few for instance that you have not played in a while. This is definitely true of me; some of the time I play more of than others, while games like Munchkin for example I don’t get to play as often as I would prefer, because sometimes they are hard to bring to the table. Some of the time when you play games, it’s best to play ones other people have experience of just so everyone can have a good time, and don’t need to learn a lot of new details. This can be true of other games too, and in my experience I can go long periods of time not playing a basic card game like Poker.

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I was introduced to Poker over a decade ago, but it can be hard to get a game of it in. I can watch it on TV, like I used to during the good old days of the William Hill Poker Grand Prix, but there is nothing like actually playing it, which is why it’s a good thing that there are many video games out there that allow me the opportunity to play a game of poker in the meantime, whenever I want to, and in my experience, there is none finer than Governor of Poker.

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I originally used to play this games predecessor on Kongregate, but then it was more of a demo, never got to play the original in its full form, however when I noticed this sequel on Steam; I near leapt at the opportunity. In Governor of Poker 2 (by Youda Games), much like the original, you are a wannabe poker champion living in Texas, and you spend your days go from town to town, competing in games, acquiring enough to take over the entire town, before moving onto the next. Purchasing buildings provides you with an income, while competing in tournaments and cash games provides you with an opportunity to acquire more money much more quickly while also building up your reputation. As you progress, you will encounter star NPC players, taking them on in the hope of becoming the number one poker man in the whole of Texas.

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The games main piece though comes to its Poker games, which thanks to the Wild West theme, mean that you and everyone else are represented at the table via hats and hands. This part of the game really does come down to the core gameplay of most Poker games, and there can be tells, there can be bluffing, while all the time still creating tension and panic as you watch the chips build up, change colour or reduce in quick fashion. From there on it comes down to how good of a poker player you are, and how far you are willing to go to get the table win.

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The game is nicely designed, even if the designs themselves have not changed much since its predecessor. The animation is nicely implemented, from walking, to cut scenes, to even the flicking of chips at the poker table. The only issue I really have with the design side is that the maps are rather static. The only person moving around is you, while everyone else stands mega still not moving before or after you enter a saloon; it does not carry much in the way of life. The game’s soundtrack is nicely designed as it comes more down to a couple of pieces of music, but leaves everything else to the stiffening sound a bliss of silence, with a little bit of noise coming from other characters and of course the dealer. While the original definitely still carries the best theme tune, the game’s soundtrack is at it’s best when there is virtually no sound at all. The gameplay is nicely mixed up, and the differences between games, hats, and even the allowance to buy houses and make an income is rather good, I just don’t think there is really any need for a story in this game, it does not adapt or change over time, it just sort of pops up when you reach a goal, even if reaching that goal requires you to play for several hours before you reach the next one. The only thing you really feel, is the disappointment and crunch as you begin to lose money and property, and wonder how you are going to get back onto your feet. There is a lot to like, and a lot to enjoy, but there is a lot of crowding and a lot of wasted bonuses which just don’t work or appeal, it brings a down note to what is actually a pretty competent and thoroughly enjoyable game.

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Don’t get me wrong, I really do like this game; I just think it provides you with things you don’t need or even want. At heart, its basic charm is how this game succeeds, it’s not because you want to free poker from the corrupt hands of those who would rather not play it, but because you want an environment that allows you to play Poker, as close to real as possible. At the tables, you get a real sense of dread, passion and emotion as you win or lose, and as you strive to believe that you can win, and know when it’s time to push or pull back. Everything is there, the poker side works, and the other gameplay pieces included continue to enhance your experience. That’s all this game in the end needs to provide, it does not need a story, just a sense that you are awesome at poker……….at least when you are.

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GENEPOOL





Next Week

13 10 2015

Film Reel

Starting next Monday and running all week-long until the following Sunday is the culmination of nearly 5 months’ worth of writing; becoming the biggest project I have undertaken since finishing university.

Pacific Rim (Legendary Pictures - 2013)

Back in May, when I had finished University and was looking for work (which mostly involved sitting behind my laptop sending and waiting for emails regarding work), my Mam suggested I do some kind of project to keep myself busy. As the months progressed I got involved with some volunteer work for both Barnardo’s and The Dukes while also writing stories for the Preston Short Story Slam. In May though, I finally decided upon a big project to undertake, one that while sounding easy from the outset became so big that over 4 months have passed since originally starting it. The project was to produce a week of film reviews.

AKIRA (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1988)

Some of my more regular readers may have spotted that it has been a while since I have posted a film review on here, not since Early June with the film 13 Assassins. Film reviews are nothing new to this blog as you may already know (or not know, in which case I do film reviews). To date I have written and posted 61 film reviews (including 2 two-part reviews) with genres including science fiction, world cinema, animation, monster movies, dramas, super hero films and not forgetting best of all: Godzilla. In the past I have done film review seasons (usually taking place in June) where I review more than 1 film a month, my usual output. But not once have I done an entire week of film reviews.

13 Assassins (Toho Co. Ltd. - 2010)

It was going to be a challenge, but I decided to do it, and as such stopped producing my regular output of 1 a month to concentrate on getting all 7 films for this week of reviews ready, so then I can just plan the week and get them posted. I decided to not just do any random bunch of films, but instead chose to do a series of films, and luckily there was a series that currently and exactly contains 7 films, one that I am a big fan of. So I chose to do that one.

Godzilla (Toho Co., Ltd. - 1954)

It’s not been without its problems. One of the films I did not have on DVD so had to buy it (got a copy for 75p from CEX), to begin with I did not commit to it too much and so had to make my own time schedule to work to, finding images, links, information and videos online was rather tricky and due to time slipping past I could not have it ready as quickly as I wanted it to. Now though I am glad to say that it is ready to begin.

The Raid (XYZ Films - 2011)

Over the past few months working on this, it has been hard, but have been able to become a better writer too as now I am able to think a bit more critically about things, about my own work, time management skills and overall performance (I am even thinking about producing an Evaluation of the project in order to, well – evaluate my performance). I am glad now that I am able to share this with you all, I hope you enjoy it.

The Hunger Games (Lionsgate - 2012)

You may still be wondering what the series in question is, well; I will be announcing that later this week. Although one of the posters in this post is a clue (despite the fact I have continuously left clues here and there on both here and Facebook over the last few months), try to guess which one.

X-Men: The Last Stand (20th Century Fox - 2006)

GENEPOOL (I did some rough calculations in my head, and have figured out that the total word count of all 7 reviews is nearly that of the minimum word count for most novels).





My Big Cuddly Friend – My Neighbour Totoro

15 04 2015

My Neighbour Totoro (Studio Ghibli - 1988)

When I was young, I had a lot of Teddy Bears. I loved each one of them and can remember taking them days out with me including the zoo, and on holiday. I still have my Teddy Bears, plus two lovely cats, one of which I have nicknamed Teddy Bear due to how big and cuddly she is. But just imagine that you move into a new house, and in the forest there is a large, and very fury cuddly creature; how would you react? Well, how else, other than give it an extremely large hug.

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Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli; My Neighbour Totoro is a Japanese animated film originally released in 1988, about a couple of girls who go on a series of mini adventures, along with a big fury creature called Totoro. While this being a Japanese film, the one being reviewed here is an English Dub release (as that is the one I recorded on Film4).

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Set in the recent history, the film opens with father; Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi,  Tim Daly) and his two children; Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka, Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto, Elle Fanning) moving house. They say a quick hello to a young boy named Kanta (Toshiyuki Amagasa, Paul Butcher) and his family next door before they arrive at their new home. Tatsuo starts to unload into the house while Satsuki and Mei explore their new home. At first they are interested in the discovery of acorns in one of the rooms to which their father suggests could be because of Squirrels. The girls go into the bathroom and first floor to discover dust like creatures moving into the rafters. A local woman who cleans the house called Granny (Tanie Kitabayashi, Pat Carroll) suggests that she used to see them when she was young, and that the dust creatures might move out; to which they do late that night. Satsuki and Mei along with their father go to the hospital the following day to see their mother (Sumi Shinamoto, Lea Salonga) who is recovering there; in which along the way they spot Kanta again who pulls faces at Satsuki.

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The next day, when Satsuki is at school, Mei plays on her own and sees a strange white creature in the garden. She follows it, but loses it, only to spot it again along with a similar blue creature. She follows them into the forest and finds a large, grey, fury creature of the same kind. She calls it Totoro (Hitoshi Takagi, Frank Welker) guessing from what the creature roars, before she falls asleep on its belly. Satsuki returns home, only to discover Mei has gone missing, finding her sleeping in a cluster of trees. Mei tries to show her family the Totoro, but when she looks for it, she cannot find it. Her father tells her that she may have seen a forest spirit, which only appears when it wants to. He takes her and Satsuki to a tree nearby to say hello and thank you before Satsuki writes the first in a series of letter’s to her mum.

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The next day, while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki at school, Mei is looked after by Granny. In the same class as Satsuki is Kanta and while in class Satsuki spots Mei. The class teacher allows Mei to join the class where she draws a picture of Totoro. That afternoon, they walk home and it begins to rain, stopping on the way by a little shrine. Kanta comes along and offers them his Umbrella before running away. The sisters later on travel to the bus stop to give their dad his umbrella. At the bus stop, Mei starts to fall asleep and while Satsuki keeps her dry under the umbrella, Totoro turns up. Satsuki gives him his umbrella, to which he rather enjoys playing with. He then disappears on a bus that is also a 12 legged cat (Naoki Tatsuta, Frank Welker), giving the girls a little present in the form of acorns, which Mei plants.

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A few nights later, Totoro and the other animals are in the garden performing a ceremonial dance, to which the girls go out to join them. Totoro makes the acorn seeds grow into a giant tree, where the girls and the animals play instruments and enjoy their time with Totoro. The following morning the acorn trees have begun to sprout. While helping Granny one afternoon; the girls receive a telegram which tells them that there is a problem with their mum’s treatment. This leads to an argument between Satsuki and a disappointed Mei. Mei decides to take some corn to the hospital to make her mum feel better, to which end, she goes missing. Granny, Kanta, their family and Satsuki start looking for her, but do not get much luck in finding her. Satsuki goes to the tree in their garden where Mei first saw Totoro, asking him to help find her. Totoro calls the cat bus which takes Satsuki straight to Mei. Once finding her, the bus takes both sisters to the hospital where they see their father with mum who is actually alright. They watch their parents from the tree before secretly putting the corn on the window. Their mother says she thought she saw them there, before seeing the inscription on the corn. The cat bus then takes Mei and Satsuki home, where Granny is happy to see Mei safe as the cat bus disappears from view. As the credits roll, it shows the girls mum coming home, plus what they, Totoro and friends get up to, following the end of the film.

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My Neighbour Totoro is a brilliant film. I watched this film last week and couldn’t help but cry at the end credits. I was just so happy and loved what this film was and what it was about. My Neighbour Totoro is a brilliant piece of animation, it’s art style is one that ranks above many films released since then but also shows how traditional cartoon/paper based animation still has advantages over more digitally made films in the current forms. It is also a very colourful film and uses many different colours to not only show and define but also to represent. But these colours are not at all dark; it’s actually a very brightly colourful film and only appears at a real dark point during the night time scenes or inside a dark room. The film is mostly used shown in a day time perspective and allows the colours to flourish as a result of this. This use of colour really makes the film standout but also makes it more appealing and represents the mood of the film quite well.

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The film’s story is actually rather simple, but is one of its more alluring qualities. Throughout this film I was trying to predict what was going to happen. I was thinking all the time about plot directions, but none of them happened. What is given instead is a nice pleasant setting mixed with something a little different. The film in essence is about a couple of girls who move into a new home, which just happens to be next door to a forest occupied by some magical creatures. That’s it. It’s not the case of some girls who get lost in a forest and are helped out by the creatures, nor is it the case that the animals are threatened and the girls help them out. It’s none of those either. It’s just the case that a couple of young girls make some amazing new friends in the local wildlife. I did partially wonder if the story of the ill mother was going to lead in the direction of A Monster Calls with either the mother dying or the animals helping her get better. No, it’s just an incredibly pleasant film where new friends are made in a brand new place, sort of a combination of what happens when Imagination meets Exploration.

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Then film’s characters are brilliantly done with each one doing their part for the film in their own particular way. The film’s main cast is actually rather small, while there are other minor characters dotted around the place. The character of Granny at first looks like just an ordinary; maybe stereotypical grandmother, like character, but she is very knowledgeable of the area she lives in and comes highly respected. She is also very pleasant and supportive instead of cruel or strict. Her beliefs keep those around her going but also inspire them too. Her caring and supportive side comes as a relief to those around her, particularly Satsuki. The girl’s mother is something of an emotional background weight for the girls, but it’s not necessarily her presence on-screen but off-screen that character carries. The girls go through the struggle and worry about their mother’s illness but their mother’s positivity helps to uplift them. However the struggle for the girls causes an element of friction to them, more so for the film’s later moment. The mother’s sudden illness at the end really pushes a moment for all those around her, particularly the girls. While she is mostly something of an idea and more towards a minor character, the mother is actually more a plot carrier which eventually comes to a head. The father meanwhile is shown as being a lot of fun as well as caring for his daughters. His strong will and exterior is that of being supportive as well as possibly distractive for his daughters to their mother’s issue. The father is also really enthusiastic for legends and beliefs of the area and distils that into the girls by taking them to the tree and while unsure of what the girls see by mentioning Totoro does somewhat believe them. However his open exterior does bring up the pondering issue of how he is feeling regarding his wife. While he is strong for the girls given what everyone is going through, it does make you wonder what he is feeling inside. That’s one of the film’s most interesting achievements, the point that you really do care towards the feeling of its characters.

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Kanta is a strange character. It is obvious of note that he is actually quite shy but tries to hide it through being mischievous and possibly obnoxious. He is however very caring but doesn’t want anybody to know. His place in the lives of the girls starts off with his shyness towards them and continues to be quite withdrawn from them. But he does begin to warm to them slowly but gradually. Beginning with him giving them an umbrella to walk in the rain with, but then turning against his actions to help out the girls when he can after their mother gets sick, by this point he is warming to them, but is still rather shy around them though. Kanta as such is one of the more shy/secretive characters of the film.

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The film though really hangs on the characters of Mei and Satsuki. Mei is young and playful and it’s through her exploration and interest which leads to the discovery of Totoro. She loves those around her and likes playing with her sister in particular. She is however also rather boisterous and moody, which can lead her into troubling situations. Being young though it could be seen as a lack of understanding for her mother’s situation, something that comes to light as she gets more sick. Her relationship with her older sister is strong, but possibly too strong and due to a lack of people her age around, she does struggle coping without her. But here is a level of animosity towards Mei from Satsuki, which comes out when Satsuki shouts at her. Mei though is also rather headstrong and while she feels it unfair that her mother cannot come home yet, her attitude and love for wanting her to get better, plus the corn she got from Granny leads her to getting lost on the way to the hospital, however the desire for her mother to get better is inspirational enough to attempt it. Satsuki meanwhile is not simply a big sister; she is more grown up than that. She presents the feeling that school is something of a release to her as she has become something more of a carer to Mei rather than just her sister. While she is presented as a head strong, playful and rather mature person, there is also a level of vulnerability in that too. While caring for her sister plus writing letters to her mother keeps her hopeful and headstrong, she eventually breaks down as what she truly thinks and feels comes flooding out. She feels very responsible for the things she does and the people round her, but in turn she does drown a little from within. While initially jealous of Mei for seeing Totoro, she too gets to see Totoro later on and helps him out, which leads her to come to trust his abilities, which in turns helps her find Mei and becomes a stronger person thanks to those experiences.

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For me though, the film’s best characters are its non-human characters. The characters of the forest creatures were introduced in a rather interesting way, as they weren’t stumbled upon but more rather suggested. From the films early moments as the soot creatures appear to the sounds of something upstairs leaving acorns behind. While the soot creatures do have a short time onscreen, their early introduction suggests there being something else too. This would eventually come to Mei discovering them, rather than really stumbling upon them. The first sighting is actually rather fun. Mei discovering the small white creature, it running under the house, but then appearing behind her with another one leading the way (one of the film’s best moments). The 2 creatures are rather cute and a bit silly in design, but also very adorable. The 12 legged cat bus is a rather interesting idea but adds to the mystery of the creatures. It is very cat-like in nature and looks as cuddly as the other creatures.

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Unlike the case of other creature based films, the creature of Totoro does appear rather soon, but it means as an audience member; we can get to know him and his friends (almost personally). While his name is in the film title, he does not spend all that much time on-screen. While Tatsuo does suggest that they only appear when they want to be seen, it is also the opposite, them appearing when the girls need some accompaniment. Totoro and the other two smaller ones are actually very friendly and playful but also caring and respectful. When Satsuki is waiting with a sleeping Mei at the bus stop, Totoro appears. While he does catch a bus in the end, he just stands there, but gives Satsuki something to think about but also have someone around, even if they do not talk much. Totoro is also rather silly, something shown at the bus stop when he likes to hear the rain come down on his umbrella.

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Totoro though does show something of the unknown secrets of the world. His own forest friends show an element of variety of the creatures yet to be discovered, as well as those in dreams and fantasies, such as the 12 legged cat. He is not just a creature though, but a caring and respectful friend. When he is given an umbrella, he repays the girls with a present to say thank you, he then helps them to grow the tree by taking them on a mini adventure during the night which leads to an enjoyable time for all. With the new friendship in him from the girls, he grows to care for them and helps in the search for Mei by asking his forest friends to help out. His caring for nature and mystical tradition also shows with him taking part in the ceremonial dance to help grow the acorn tree. While they are all still rather mysterious, their onscreen presence makes them the most enjoyable, defining characteristic of the film, making it so happy and lovely to watch. For the entire film, I was just wanting to jump in a cuddle them; even more so after the film ended. The little kid in me wanted to go on an adventure with them. I just wanted the good feelings the creatures bring to come into my world.

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My Neighbour Totoro makes great use of its music, composed by Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack though is rather hard to talk about, mostly because it’s easy to join in with and the minute I start thinking about it, I start wanting to sing it. The opening song is nice and cheery and sets the film up rather nicely; starting as it means to go on as it were. It’s a joyous piece as is most of the film’s music. The final piece though stands out the most to me. It’s a catchy song featuring the titular character’s name. As said before, it’s hard for me to talk about it, as I would rather just listen to it instead. The soundtrack is really terrific and will want you to sing along to it, take my word for it, it’s worthy of listening to, even if you don’t watch the film.

All round, I love this film, I really do. I feel like this could easily make its way up in my favourite films listings. I haven’t seen much in the way of films this year, having only gone to the cinema twice this year, but My Neighbour Totoro is better than (Insurgent and Seventh Son) both of them. I have already begun highly recommending this film to all my friends, and started searching for a DVD copy too. This could well become my movie moment of the year, I loved it that much. While it does look basic and is probably more designed for a children’s audience, I feel it is enjoyable for absolutely everyone. Its animation and artistry is fantastic; the music is catchy and enjoyable; the characters, both human and non-human are terrific and brilliant; basically everything about this film is sheer Fantastic and one that everyone, and I mean everyone should watch at least once. I already look forward to the next time I see it, hopefully with people to share it with. I don’t know how much more I can say other than, My Neighbour Totoro is a Great Film starring the cuddliest, most helpful, wonderful friends; quite possibly, in the history of cinema.

GENEPOOL (now just need to see how it compares in the Japanese speaking version).








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