On The End Of A Quill

On The End Of A Quill

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora's Tower: Limited Edition Commemorative Coin Collection

If you bought the three excellent Wii RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora's Tower and The Last Story, plus you registered them all with Club Nintendo, you could get a set of Limited Edition Coins. One for each game, placed in a nice Club Nintendo box. Also if you bought The Last Tower in HMV you were given an artbook that covered the three games and a box to hold all the game cases in.

A coin for each game
Here is the Limited Editions of TLS and PD, the Xenoblade Ltd Ed only came with a red classic controller (I think) so I never picked it up. Also shown is the box the coins came in and the HMV extras.

After you had registered your games, you waited a bit to find out if you were one of the first to do so and then entitled to receive the coins. Club Nintendo sent a confirmation email and said the coins would arrive after a number of months. then after what seemed like ages (probably to give you time to finish the games!) they arrived in the post.

Pandora's Tower (top) and The Last Story artbooks.
Artwork from HMV book.
Alternate Steelbook Game Covers
The Last Story artbook and soundtrack cd
All in all, it's an excellent little addition to some excellent games. More game companies should do things like this. Usually people have to pay extra money for special editions and all you get is downloadable content or something. I must add that I haven't finished any of these games yet! But one day...


Uwe Boll is best known for game to movie adaptations of BloodRayne, In The Name of The King, Alone in the Dark, etc. But he also makes the odd ‘auteur’ or documentary film when he gets the time. Such time appeared when shooting Blubberella and BloodRayne 3, and reusing the sets from those productions, the director decided to shoot a movie about the horrors of Auschwitz.

The trouble with making a movie that centres around the Holocaust is that you are bound to split opinion; for all the people who liked the Oscar winning Schindler’s List, there was an equally vocal reaction that said it was a huge misrepresentation of the past. Even straight up documentaries such as Night and Fog are not immune from criticism, whether it is about the tone of the narration they use or some of the sources they elected to leave out. What sets Uwe Bolls film apart is that it wants to tell the story of the camp on a typical day, from arriving on a train to being burned in an oven. This leaves it open to being accused of simply being too gruesome. But to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick, if you were to make a proper film about the Holocaust, it would have to be unfilmable.

Around the scenes that are shot on set, we see young German teenagers interviewed about what they know about the Second World War, National Socialism, and about the concentration camps. Unfortunately these sections are a bit erratic as the interviews tend to jump from one topic to another, while popping back to the same faces before introducing some new ones. Was everyone asked the same questions? What was cut? It was just lacking a general flow. But these aren’t the scenes that caused certain critics to be up in arms. At the centre of the film is the trip to Auschwitz and what is shown there; herds of people being gassed, babies being shot in the head, corpses being brought to the furnaces and placed inside.

But to say these scenes are too gruesome I think is wrong. Unsettling of course yes; and there is always grounds to say that any movie, not just this one, only serves to rehumiliate the victims of the Holocaust by putting their suffering on screen. It is a fine line a director has to tread. If you can watch the trailer, you won’t be too off put by what appears in the movie. There aren’t buckets of blood or brains splattered all over walls or anything. Maybe it would be easier for people to take, if there was an axe wielding, cackling maniac doing the killing rather than the everyman soldiers that are shown. But make no mistake, this is not a Nazi apologist movie, it does not delve into the reasons for the extermination camps, the inner workings of the SS, the reasons why such and such company won the contract to make ZyklonB, or anything like that. It just purports to show a day in the camp; the utter lack of humanity shown is the real horror here.

There are a few problems that let the movie down. Most of it is shot in first person at eye level, but there is a scene from inside the gas chamber from high up to give a view of the whole room, a view that no one would have seen the Holocaust from. Also in this shot, there are only about 20 people inside, whereas guards talk of truckloads of 400 or 500 Jews being transported. More extras should have been used for these scenes; it wouldn’t have been very efficient if most of the room was empty space. Sonderkommandos who survived confirmed that some people simply died standing up as there was barely any room to fall over. Soldiers in the film talk of the advance of the Russians, so I presumed it is set later in the war when the gas chambers were built to house nearly a thousand people at a time.

The scenes where toddlers are taken from their mothers arms and shot was another problem. Too many cuts back and forth are made, robbing the soldier of any moral thought (if there could be any) around his actions. The camera should have been placed further back and no slow motion used I felt. The way it was done only served to create a distinction between the killing of the young and the old.

This is not a sit down with some popcorn movie; there are no heroes, no love story, no fancy special effects or soundtrack. The people are faceless, and I think that is what some critics have a problem with. If you want stories than I suggest you watch Claude Lanzmanns nine hour documentary Shoah, and that includes accounts that are far more horrifying that anything in Bolls film. Auschwitz is an important film in the canon of Holocaust movies because it is so matter of fact about the whole thing. Other films hint at what goes on in a gas chamber, Boll shows it, is his film any worse for doing this?
Of course showing one day, ignores the other years of extermination that was carried out. You can’t watch this film expecting answers or even reasons for the atrocity. I recommend you read books by Raul Hilberg, or if you prefer, from someone who was really there, Primo Levi. A visit to the vast collection of accounts on Yad Vashem is also recommended. http://www.yadvashem.org It was a shocking period in the history of our times, and something that still resonates today. Genocide has affected places all over the globe in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. The holocaust was responsible for over six million deaths, this film only shows a glimpse of that horror while asking have we learned anything, and that’s the really shocking part. It is a film you really should see. Auschwitz is available now on DVD.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


50 years, 23 films, six 007s, along with countless women, cars, martinis and women, and we once again return to the world of James Bond. Unless you’ve been living in a beach bar on some random island somewhere, you can’t have failed to notice the advertising onslaught that accompanies the latest film in the franchise, Skyfall. Soft drinks, beer, watches, laptops, you name it. Everything worth peddling has gotten a stamp of approval from Bond. But is the film itself worth watching?

In the build-up to its release it seemed everyone was saying that this Bond was one of the best of all. Not just one of the best Bond movies, but of any movie. Daniel Craig has never been better, Javier Bardem one of the best villains ever, Sam Mendes behind the camera has fashioned –insert superlative here- blah blah blah… unfortunately they lied. It’s not that good; it’s not even one of the better Bonds. I mean it’s better than Quantum of Solace (remember that?) but it’s not a patch on Daniel Craig’s first foray as 007 in Casino Royale.

Now when I say that it’s not that good, I still think it’s worth going to the cinema to watch it. It is a cut above the usual stuff that makes it to your local Cineplex every weekend. But for one of the biggest franchises in history, it could, no it should be so much better. Maybe Casino Royale set the bar too high for any movie to follow, or maybe that film came at just the right time after a couple of ridiculous outings for Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Either way I was expecting something better from this latest offering and was sorely disappointed with what was eventually served up.

Bourne does the 39 Steps…
It begins with the now obligatory ‘chase along rooftops’ scene. The villain escapes though thanks to the help of Bonds inept assistant, along with some coaxing from M. The next thing we see is James falling into the gushing rapids of a river and hurtling off a waterfall; cue the Adele sung intro. A very well done collage of confusion and death for Bond follows, in what is surely one of the better done Bond intros.

So James is dead. What do MI6 do in the event of an agent’s death? Why sell all his stuff of course, we are in a recession after all! But he’s not dead; it would make you wonder about the abilities of the secret service when one of their own guys can disappear off the map so easily. Turns out he was looking for the meaning of his life at the bottom of a bottle. And a strategically held Heineken bottle at that. I don’t know of anyone who when lying in bed with a beautiful woman drinks beer bottles held between their thumb and forefinger, but he’s in a very dark place I guess. Just to hammer home the fact that he is now an alcoholic mess, we see him downing shots in a beach bar filled with screaming locals. Boy can that man drink! But one morning while drinking alone in the same beach bar, he looks up from his stupor and sees the latest news on CNN. Why do beach bars have news channels on the TV? Is it any wonder there isn’t anyone there but Bond? According to the news, it seems the headquarters of MI6 has been attacked. It’s time for 007 to get back to work.

But first he has to prove his fitness for action. Apparently sneaking into M’s house in the middle of the night, just after someone blew up her office was not proof enough. Did I mention MI6 were now holed up in some disused underground world war two bomb shelters? Well they are! They should be safe from terrorism there, if not exactly safe from parliamentary sub-committees.

This new diabolical terrorist is releasing the names of British undercover agents, and no sooner are they released, then YouTube clips of them being killed are uploaded to the internet. Damn you technology!! Bond will have to put a stop to this by tracking down the guy who escaped from his clutches in the opening scene. How do they track him down? By pulling bullet fragments from Bond’s battered body, doing some CSI, determining that he is one of only three assassins in the world that use this new high-tech (useless?) weaponry, then through tapping mobile phones or something, they find out he is heading halfway around the globe to kill someone. Only thing for it, James sets off in pursuit.

Now Bond doesn’t get there in time to stop the overly elaborate assassination, but does get there in time to throw the guy off a skyscraper and catch the eye of the local moll. This leads him then to a dangerous gambling den, where he finds out about the island our main baddie is living on. He’s warned not to go there of course, but that’s like a red rag to a bull at this stage. To get there, and it must be miles away as it takes all night, he’ll have to get on the only boat going there. So he waits until it’s just about to leave... sneaks aboard… then takes off all his clothes and ‘surprises’ the bad guys girl as she is taking a shower? Now this is not rape or anything, ‘cos well, you know, she was forced into prostitution from a young age etc. He could have at least fed her a line or two beforehand. Plus she’ll be dead in about ten minutes anyway!

I might also point out that during this, Bond was sent over the girl who shot him at the start of the movie to help him with his mission. But she only seemed to help him have a shave; remember; two days stubble and he’ll begin to look like an alcoholic madman again. Plus shaving is very manly. (Screenwriting101) Unfortunately there isn’t much chemistry there and she doesn’t look much like a secret agent. Guns look awkward in her hands, but each to their own. Probably why she is later…

Finally we met Javier Bardem’s villain Raoul Silva. And he is the best thing about this movie; he eats up every scene he is in. He really unnerves Bond and there is a menace to him you won’t quite be able to put your finger on. You won’t be able to comprehend the motives of the things he is doing either, but that’s neither here nor there. But two minutes after meeting him, Bond captures him and takes him back to London. Now there is a good hour or more left in the film, so I wonder what will happen next? Was it all part of his plan? Will he escape? Are we about to see an obvious plot twist? (Screenwriting101) Yes, yes we are. The villain who controls all the computers of the world, somehow even your laptop at home, has planned everything down to the finest detail. How diabolical!!

When he inevitably escapes and blows up half of London, we find out he is trying kill M. So Bond comes up with the great idea of only him and M getting into a car and driving up to Scotland. What car do they use? An impeccably clean Aston Martin, which he has been keeping in a garage somewhere, of course. He bloody loves this car! When Silva blows this car to smithereens later with a helicopter, Bond seems to take the loss of his car harder than the death of …


So they head up to Scotland, to Skyfall to be exact. It’s the name of his parents’ estate. Yep! That whole, ‘Skyfall?’….’done!’ clip in the trailers? It was his house! So they head up there and wait for Silva to come and kill them, not one of his best ideas. Maybe the only reasoning for heading up there was that the place wouldn’t have any Wi-Fi, thus negating Silva’s power with computers? Whatever the plan, Bond couldn’t have known that the old groundskeeper that was around when he was a boy was still there! Hiding in a dark corner of one room, just itching to get the old shotgun out. Grizzly old men can only handle shotguns, poorly. Cue scene of shotgun cartridges dropping on the floor during reloading! (Screenwriting101) This character could have only worked if he was played by Sean Connery, but he isn’t and he doesn’t.

James and the two octogenarians proceed to board the house up as if the zombie apocalypse was happening. All the while Silva is surely on his way because Q has left a trail of breadcrumbs only a computer whizz could possibly decipher, which sould direct him towards them. And arrive he does, with a small army and an ominous smile. He proceeds, with the help of Bond, to blow the house to pieces. Good job James wasn’t too attached to the place. While this is happening, luckily M and the groundskeeper had managed to scurry to the nearby church. But M has been wounded and Bond has crashed through the ice of a frozen lake. This plan isn’t going well at all.

Silva wants to kill M, as we know, but he also wants to kill himself! What a madman! But thankfully before he can shoot M in the head, 007 arrives and kills him! Then M dies anyway?!? So Silva kind of got what he wanted at the end in any event? Great plan James. It seems to me he hasn’t completed a mission successfully during the whole film.

So there you have it, if you haven’t seen the film, I’ve just ruined it, and if you have, I’ve just explained it. It is a good action movie, shot brilliantly. I was just expecting so much more from a Bond movie at this stage. The Bond girls were below par but this was because James just wasn’t his usual suave self, they did not have a lot to work with. Moments where I was expecting a James Bond type line were wasted more often than not, leaving you with the feeling that Daniel Craig was just going through the motions of a normal action movie.

And while people say it cleverly pays homage to previous bond films, it really doesn’t. References to ejector seats and exploding pens came across as poking fun rather than revering the films that came before. The CGI with the jumping on the komodo dragons just looked silly. Again should we expect more from Bond at this stage, or were we spoiled with Casino Royale, and are the makers finding it difficult to recapture that magic. It seems to have returned to the one film good, three films poor ratio that there has been in the series for so long now, but I hope I’m wrong.

To wrap up! M is dead, Ralph Fiennes is the new M. Q is pretty useless. Moneypenny has been taken off field work and put behind a desk. Plus Bond has been cleared for action again. All neat and tidy. (Screenwriting101) What about the list of agent’s names and the…? Shhhh! Quiet you. Go listen to the boring Adele theme tune and don’t dwell on such things. It really does seem like they rhymed a few lines with the word skyfall and just sung them over and over. It’s not a patch on some other Bond themes.

Skyfall is a cut above the rest of what’s out in the cinema at the moment, but as a Bond fan I was left disappointed. If you haven’t seen it, then do; and make up your own mind. ‘Skyfall?’…………………………………………………………………….. Done!