[Film] Fire (1996)

Sita is a young woman living in modern-day Mumbai, India, who has just left her childhood home to enter into a traditional Indian marriage to Jitan, a man who succumbed to the union through family pressure. Jitan, however, decides to continue his bachelor ways by keeping his lover, Julie, in his life, much to the chagrin of his older brother, Ashtok.

Sita wants to make the marriage work, so she quickly gives in to Jitan’s habits, and soon discovers even more dysfunction within the family ranks. Ashtok and his wife, Radha, are also in a loveless marriage. Radha was deemed infertile 13 years ago, squashing any hope Ashtok had for a son to pass on the family line. Ashtok has since become disinterested in her. The family lives out their days attempting to find comfort in structure and patriarchal Indian traditions, while looking after their take-out food and video rental store, ignoring their palpable misery.

It seems everyone is accepting of their fate…everyone except Sita, who in her young wide-eyed optimism, can’t fathom a life devoid of happiness. Somehow everything has become a litany of duties. She tries to learn about being a good Indian wife from the senior Radha, who herself questions her lot. Sita and Radha become close as they commiserate over their household duties and collective loveless marriages. Continuously being denied any love by their respective spouses, they eventually find comfort in each other’s embrace… and bed. Their new-found passion breathed new life and optimism to such an extent that Sita and Radha make plans to cut their family ties to start a new life together. The family finds out about their relationship, and tries their damnedest to put a stop to it. How the film ends will indeed stay with you for a long time.

Sita and Radha discuss the future

Fire is written and directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, and is part of Mehta’s Elements series of films (Earth (1998) and Water (2005) succeeded it). The film is over 20 years old, and as one could imagine, a film dipicting a lesbian relationship caused much controversy globally in 1996. But, some critics also considered the film fearless and groundbreaking. I am not familiar with any of the actors, but I felt they were natural and passionate. I was moved by the complexity of the plot and I loved how exotic and different from normal Hollywood fare this well-made Indian film was. I also found it interesting how the family dynamic was as similar in India as it can be in Canada, which to me made Fire a relatable film.

Fire happens to be the first and only Bollywood movie I have ever watched (but not my last!). If you find Fire on one of the various media streams, be sure you check it out. It’s worth the watch.

3.5 / 5

Fire
Dir Deepa Mehta
Starring: Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das

[Film] Catch and Release (2006)

Gray and Grady’s wedding day plans were set in motion. The flowers, the caterer, the guest list all set. With the big day almost here, the bride and groom were ready for the day to arrive so that they could become husband and wife. But, when the day finally came, instead of relishing in the events, Gray would instead have to attend her fiancé’s funeral as Grady died unexpectedly in a boating accident just days before.

Gray (Jennifer Garner) is living in the moment at this point, relishing in her own grief. She doesn’t know how she will move forward without Grady. She isn’t even sure how to survive his funeral. She takes a powder from accepting condolences and hides out in an upstairs bathroom in the empty bathtub with the shower curtain drawn so she can cry privately in peace. She regrets not locking the door when Grady’s best friend, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), busts in to have a tryst with one of the servers working for the caterer; unaware they had company until it’s all over. Gray never cared for Fritz, and he certainly didn’t win points with this scene.

Days after the funeral, Gray tries to pick up the pieces. She and Grady had just rented an apartment for which she couldn’t afford on her own. She wasn’t married to Grady, and there was no will, so she wasn’t entitled to his estate. Grady’s roommates Sam and Dennis (Kevin Smith and Sam Jaegar) step in to give her support in her grief, inviting her to stay in Grady’s room for as long as she needs to. But, Fritz has also moved in, which has made things uncomfortable, especially after she found out whenever Grady went away on business, he had been carrying on an affair and might have even fathered a kid! And guess what, the mistress (Juliette Lewis) conveniently comes calling looking for Grady! Not to worry, as it goes with lazy storytelling and thin characters, everything ties up nicely at the end with a couple embracing on a sunkissed beach.

In case you didn’t “catch” it, Catch and Release is a very derivative movie and attempts to tick all formulaic rom-com boxes. When I read this film considered itself romantic, but began its story at a funeral, I thought it better have something feel-good to lighten up the mood. I have to say the story limped there. The plot aside, I had a hard time feeling anything for the one-dimensional, paper-thin characters. Jennifer Garner’s character is a great example: we never learn anything about her, really. Her fiance just died, yet we never see her family. Not that I am asking for another chick BFF film (where’s Molly Shannon?), but I found it weird Gray is devoid of any female support system the entire movie. She pretty much spent her time with a group of clichéd trope dudes.

The other characters in Catch and Release are your typical stereotypes. We have jokey Sam (Smith): the creative fat guy who can’t stop eating, as well as serious Dennis (Jaeger); the down-to-earth one who never gets his way and is secretly is love with Gray. We have the “suave” Fritz (Olyphant) who is the tall drink of Chlamydia and every girl’s love interest. Fritz is the one character I had the most trouble with. I hate it when there is one good-looking dude in a film who somehow beds ALL THE LADIES, including the ones who know better, simply because he exists. To that end, he was the most devoid of a personality of anyone in the story… Lastly, we have the mistress, Maureen (Juliette Lewis), who comes into town looking for Grady needing money. If there was one character that can infuse some interest into a generally bad film, it would be this one. I know I haven’t talked much about her in the plot, but Maureen was a surprisingly good laugh track to an otherwise plodding plot. Juliette Lewis always puts a quirky spin on any role she plays and it was good to see her make a mark on a seriously flawed film.

One might think Catch and Release would benefit from a little reworking. I just think the film is too imbued in clichés to really make a mark.

2.5/5

Catch and Release
2006

[Review] Victor Vran (PC)

The latter half of 2016 is where I hit quite a dry spell in the gaming department. No time! With a busy time at work and kitchen renos, it just seemed like I couldn’t get there. It wasn’t until Christmas 2016 when I finally got back at it thanks to a stint in the Borderlands again (the DLC’s great) that got the craving flowing, so to speak, for more heavy gaming.

Action RPGs are fast becoming an immersive favourite of mine, and I never thought I would get there. I have played several, from Mass Effect, to BioShock, to the Torchlight series and of course, Borderlands, but playing them has always come as a suggestion from the hubs, and never from me. RPGs can have a bit of learning curve – for one thing, you often have to manage your character and weapons quite a bit, and know what you are doing so you don’t die repeatedly. Some of these games give you strict parameters, such as only being allowed to carry a certain number of weapons on your adventures, or penalize you for dying, either by reducing your money or energy. My most recent RPG, Victor Vran, actually got all the elements right and was a fun game to play.

Victor Vran was a game that was sitting in my wish list on Steam for at least a year. Once the hubs and I had finished Borderlands 2, we were searching for another game like it to play together, and came upon this one. It wasn’t cheap – $27.99 to be exact…sorry, too rich for my blood! I put it on a wish list and hoped for a sale. It wasn’t until a Winter sale on GOG saw the price reduce to $12.99 that I took the plunge. It was definitely money well spent.

The fantasy city of Zagoravia has had an evil curse befall it. Vampires, insects, skeletons and zombies are overrunning the city, and the Queen seeks help. In comes Victor Vran; just some demon hunter dude who was passing through and who gets recruited to help find out who is responsible for the curse and why.

Victor Vran, unlike other RPGs, provides a simplicity in practically every aspect that anyone new to the genre could get behind. It has an easily accessible hub / menu system where you can access and swap out weapons with ease. You don’t have to choose a character class to Victor; instead you are given a choice of wardrobe, which in itself will give you more armor, critical hits in combat, or health regeneration, depending on which you choose. My Victor was dressed in the finest Zealot’s outfit, one that provides a high armor rate. Along the way, Victor collects weapons and demon powers in dungeon-crawling and loot drops. Each level offers something interesting and challenging in their venues and boss fights. Most levels offered secret passageways that were difficult to locate, but where you were rewarded with a treasure chest containing bonus gold or other prizes. Each level has a star rating to indicate difficulty. The game challenges the player to ramp up the difficulty within each level by turning on provided hexes that give constraints (such as bosses become more powerful, armor takes longer to regenerate, your health takes a huge hit when under attack…). It’s an additional challenge that can become addicting; seeing a four-star rating at each level across a map gives you a sense of accomplishment!

This game offers what seems like a limitless amount of inventory slots, the likes of which I doubt I have ever seen ever in playing an ARPG. You then have to go through and figure out which ones to equip in your weapons and power slots which can seem like a daunting task. The weapons provided give you varied choice – rifles, bow and arrows, scythes, hammers, and swords – all with their own powers and deficits. My weapon of choice happened to be a Coldsnap Scythe, one with a sharp blade and frosting powers that become more powerful the more I used it.

There is also the ability to add powers to weapons and outfits to make them more powerful by transmutting them, a method by which you would pair the item of choice with a demon power from your inventory. If there was anything that I found confusing, it would have been how to transmute something. I managed to add powers to a few weapons, but the game offered a recipe guide that sort of confused me and I never got that aspect working satisfactorily. But, it didn’t seem to matter in the long run. As long as I had a decent weapon, I got through; everything evened out.

There is some cheesy humour in Victor Vran, from the snide remarks coming from a disembodied voiceover, to some of the enchanted dancers and skeletons that can enrapt Victor, and even get him dancing. One could easily draw comparisons to Diablo 3 and even the Torchlight series in terms of the type of demons you fight and the dungeon-crawling; the similarities abound, which, for those in love with the Diablo canon, may hate on Victor Vran for some of its simplistic characteristics. For others, they might find comfort in finding a game that can tide them over until the next Diablo is released (whenever that happens); your mileage may vary. I, for one, enjoyed this experience, and recommend the game!

P.S. I just learned a few weeks ago that a Motorhead expansion for Victor Vran was in development, and is supposed to be released later in 2017. Apparently, members of the band were consulted. I have no idea what this will look like, but I am definitely interested!

3.5/5

Victor Vran
Dev: Haemimont Games
Released: July 2015

[Film] M (1931)

M is a German film (with English subtitles) from 1931, directed by Franz Lang, and starring Peter Lorre. The film takes place in Berlin during a period of uneasiness. There is a murderer on a rampage, luring little girls with balloons and treats into the shadows to meet their maker. Elsie Beckmann is the latest little one to be found dead, and the police are in a tailspin. They have received a letter said to be from the killer that he will continue to kill unless he is stopped.

Who is this guy? Every man out on the street within the vicinity of a little girl becomes a suspect. Riots break out among the general public. Tempers flare and everyone is on edge. Police set their sights underground, theorizing this guy is from the seedy underbelly of Berlin – a beggar, a thief, a pimp? Berlin becomes a police state; every inch of it, a shakedown operation. And to the stakeholders of Berlin’s crime syndicate, this has become very bad for their business and reputation. They have no interest in little girls and they are not child murderers! So, as the police conduct their search for the perp, so do the disenfranchised. The underworld band together, recruiting beggars and thieves and anyone else to search the city to end this nightmare.

Meanwhile, we come face to face with the murderer, Hans Beckert (played by Peter Lorre) as he wanders the streets, struggling with his inner demons. He fights against the polarity towards a lone little girl out on the street who innocently watches toy trinkets spin in the display window of a store while waiting for her mother to arrive. This scene alone gave me the chills.

Soon, the jig is up, and a heart-pounding race ensues to catch Beckert and bring him to justice – legit or otherwise…

Peter Lorre, understandably, caused a stir internationally with the Hans Beckert role, but it got him into Hollywood. I love his roles in the more familiar-to-me films, Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon and was happy to add M to the watched and enjoyed list of Lorre’s filmography.

There is something about old grainy black and white films…the stories they tell, how the actors are dressed…I am not talking about a period piece wrapped into a story, I am talking about films that are a snapshot of a time in history; M really exemplifies this. I mean, 1931! My husband remarked that this was the era our grandparents grew up. Talkies were just starting to take off; M being Lang’s first talkie, and said to be his best film. In watching M, I was also reminded in how some things never change: humans will still make mistakes, they will still point an ill-informed finger at someone, but are also willing to stand up for justice.

4/5

M (1931)
Starring: Peter Lorre
Dir: Franz Lang

The Hubs Has Started A Film Review Blog!

Hi All!

Some shameless promotion here: I am excited to present a special project by my husband, Kevin (a.k.a BuriedOnMars). He has started his own blog on WordPress, focussing on Blu-ray film reviews.

In his first entry, Kevin talks about the history behind watching movies and what the focus of the blog will be. My movie-watching shenanigans might even somehow squeeze into his blog post discussions in some way considering a lot of the time, we will be watching together (now if that doesn’t make following his blog worthwhile, I don’t know what will! Tee-hee!):

https://buriedonmars.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/what-is-this-blog-is-about/

Please, friends, check it out and give him some blogging love!

Thanks!

[Review] Overcooked (PC)

As of this posting, I have been on a well-deserved week-long stay-cation. From day zero, the hubs and I have been obsessed with playing Overcooked on the recommendation of Chris, Myles and Kathryn from @FlockofNerds. We’ve been “cooking up a storm” ever since!

Overcooked is a cooking strategy game where you play as a short order cook trying to fill orders as quickly as possible. You are given a food order with a set of required ingredients. For example, pizza requires dough, tomato, cheese and maybe sausage or mushrooms depending on the order. Each ingredient needs to be chopped. All the while you are washing dirty dishes and watching the oven to ensure your prepared food doesn’t burn. If your kitchen has a mouse problem, you have to contend with your produce going missing.

As you level up in Overcooked, the venue and layouts of the kitchen can change and impact how your character moves through the arena. In one level, your kitchen is divvied up among the back of three flatbed trucks, one of which moves around, and happens to be the only one with the essential ingredients to make your food. The complexity of the food you are making also changes (beef burritos and rice anyone?). You have to watch what is going on the entire time to ensure orders are prepared right and on time. Points are given when orders go through correctly, and lost if you screw them up. At the end of the timed challenges, you are given up to three stars depending on your score. The hubs and I played Overcooked together in co-op and it really got competitive for us: It was “three stars or bust”! The end boss is a real trip – I don’t want to ruin it for you, but let’s just say that it’s one-a spicy meat-a ball!

Overcooked is a very polished game, with cute characters, a neat little navigation map and catchy music. The developers, Ghost Town Games, paid serious attention to the details. Likewise, those that play Overcooked must pay attention. This game reminds us of some practical life lessons in game play, namely, keeping the communication pipeline open with your partner. As in life, it is important to let the other know what you are doing and where you are going. Screwing up is common in Overcooked, so be prepared for failure. And if you have any neuroses about that, you need to remember to take it easy on yourself and your partner, because the game is worth playing together to the end.

We played Overcooked on PC via Steam, but it’s also available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Go on, buy it! And make sure you play with a partner!

Overcooked (PC)
Ghost Town Games
August 2016

[Review] Polarium (Nintendo DS)

One of the best suited gaming genres for the Nintendo DS is simple casual time-wasting games. Y’know:  what I like to call “Doctor’s Office Waiting Room Time-Waster Games“. And with all the crap games out there that were released for the Nintendo DS (and there are a lot of them…), it’s welcoming to come across a puzzle game that is challenging, engrossing and competitive, yet enjoyable enough to get its claws into me for the last week. Polarium for the DS is that kind of casual game.

In Polarium your are given a play area where large blocks of black and white tiles fall vertically. Your task is to eliminate tiles from the play area by changing their shade to their polar opposite, thereby creating rows of one uniform shade. Using the DS stylus, you draw a path through as many tiles as you can in one stroke of the stylus. Tiles disappear from the play area once there is at least one horizontal row in one uniform shade. It’s important to attempt to eliminate as many rows of one shade as possible, as more blocks of tiles are falling from above and piling up. It’s also important to be strategic in what tiles you select to flip over as you can easily flip over the wrong tiles, wasting precious time. Depending on what mode you are playing in, allowing the tile blocks to pile up could mean game over, so you must think and act quickly.

Polarium provides a Tutorial that instructs on the basic moves. What is particularly helpful for the newcomer is a Puzzle Mode that tasks you with changing the polarity of the black and white tiles in one single stroke of the stylus (not easy!). There is also a Custom Mode, where you can create your own blocks of tiles and share them with other friends wirelessly, as well as a Versus Mode where you can wirelessly compete against a friend on their DS. Practice Mode is the no-pressure continuous play mode where blocks of tiles pile up and there is no game over; the mode I recommend you play for pure enjoyment of this game. If you are a glutton for punishment, however, go for the Challenge Mode – it is insanely difficult and unforgiving. Those blocks fall relentlessly from the top and there really is no time to ponder the universe; you have to go quickly. I have to say though, that in an effort to gauge my learning progress, I would go between the Practice Mode and Challenge Mode. Unfortunately, after over 3 hours of play, I still couldn’t get past 81 cleared rows on Challenge Mode. But, this was fine with me, as I still gained plenty of enjoyment playing Polarium in Practice Mode. The game was becoming obsessive, as I was finding it weirdly satisfying trying to eliminate as many opposing tiles as possible and seeing the play area completely clear itself of tiles! This is a clean freak’s dream embodied in a game! Combine it with a toe-tapping electronica soundtrack, and you have yourself a great casual game that guarantees hours of distraction.

Finding a copy of Polarium out in the wild was rare…I think I bought my copy at a game swap for $10, and it was the first time I had seen it sold anywhere. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth the scratch. I highly recommend it.

4/5

Polarium (Nintendo DS)
Nintendo / Mitchell
2005