Sunday, 23 November 2014

Film Review #71

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 179 Minutes

Tagline: "More, more, more, more, more, more is never enough"

I think it's safe to say the common perception of Wall Street is not an especially positive one. It is after all pretty much exclusively associated with greedy, arrogant, lying fat cats who have and want nothing to do with us lower class riff-raff. Oliver Stone's film of the same name among many other examples demonstrated that all too well, but at least they are fictional. Martin Scorsese's latest effort, however, is not. Much like several of his previous films, it's based on the memoirs of its main character - Jordan Belfort, a real-life stockbroker who, after earning a low-level position with a respected Wall Street firm and almost immediately losing it following Black Friday, instead decides to start his own company dealing in penny stocks along with new friend, Donnie (Hill).

Donnie and Jordan meet for the first time...
After recruiting a few other friends Jordan (DiCaprio), Donnie, and the rest of them begin their work with the newly-formed company, given the 'respectable' name of Stratton Oakmont Inc. to disguise the fact that it's just a 'pump and dump' scam. Which basically means they lie their arses off to sell shares for overly-inflated prices! Thanks to aggressive use of these underhand selling techniques (learnt under Jordan's tutelage) they are soon making a fortune and their days have descended into non-stop partying, drug use, and debauchery, in the office as well as elsewhere. Even without this lunacy, however, it's not long before they've earned the attention of the FBI, specifically Agent Patrick Denham (Chandler) who makes it his mission to take them down.

Jordan gives one of his many motivational speeches...
His attention is not really surprising either. Despite his apparent fame, I was not aware of Jordan Belfort or his exploits prior to buying this so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Well, other than some Wall Street-related activities, naturally, and that alone conjures images of rich people getting richer at the expense of 'ordinary' people and acting increasingly arse-ish, but the amount of profanity, flagrant drug use, shagging, and generally immoral behaviour here was quite shocking! The Stratton Oakmont office alone sees semi-naked marching bands, dwarf darts, prostitutes, and literally constant parties, and Jordan and Donnie (and no doubt many of their employees) are near enough always under the influence of something, usually Quaaludes, their drug of choice.

Preparing for an overseas trip...
Indeed, assuming this is a realistic portrayal of the actual events, it's a wonder any of them found time to actually sell any stocks! Artistic license (possibly) aside though, one thing I was distinctly aware of before and while watching this is that it's a Martin Scorsese film and that's a near-as-dammit guarantee of wonderful production values, a gripping (and probably lengthy) running time, and a wealth of fine acting talent, and that's definitely the case once again. Just as Scorsese's usual excellence is to be expected, so too is DiCaprio's which he demonstrates once again with another remarkable centre-stage performance. One surprise, however, was Jonah Hill. I almost didn't even recognise him to begin with but he does a fantastic job as the star's friend/partner, Donnie.

Just another day at Jordan's place...
The pair of them understandably and intentionally steal the show here and their exploits are... well, pretty hilarious most of the time, especially their insane (and quiet surreal) experience with a batch of expired Quaaludes, but they have some top support too. Everything about this film is of the highest quality but that shouldn't suggest it will appeal to everyone. The sheer ridiculousness and frequency of most characters' behaviour was almost too much at times; there probably isn't a single decent, morally-upstanding character among them, and few lessons are learned. Some have actually called it the unofficial 'Goodfellas 2' and that's probably not too far wide of the mark. They have some similarities and, while this particular tale of excess isn't as powerful or insightful, it's definitely funnier and is yet another Scorsese masterclass.

RKS Score: 8/10


Thursday, 20 November 2014

PS2, Xbox, GameCube... The Last of Their Kind?

For almost the entire history of video games there has been a rivalry to one degree or another between console gamers and home computer users. The former believed their systems to be the superior gaming platforms whereas the latter heralded the multi-functionality of their systems, and I suppose both were right - that is after all what both types of format were designed for.

Rather than simply acknowledging that though, most gamers argued instead. First we had the Spectrum and Commodore 64 users versus the Master System and NES users, then MegaDrive and SNES users versus Amiga and Atari ST users, and when the CD-based consoles started appearing it was the all-powerful PC they were competing with. I was an active participant in many of these wars, particularly at college where I spent many study hours passionately lobbying for my mighty MegaDrive in the face of a devout Amiga fan, right up until I effectively left the 'current' gaming scene with the demise of Sega's final console which was, as we all know, the last really great console to be released. Part of the reason the Dreamcast didn't achieve the levels of success that Sega needed it to was simply because there were so many PS1 owners who were waiting for the PS2 to be released, and most of the rest were waiting to see what delights Nintendo would come up with for the GameCube or to see what Microsoft's debut console would offer, and it's these consoles that I recently decided must surely constitute the last of the true games consoles.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

MSX Games #1

Herzog (1988)
By: Techno Soft Genre: Strategy / Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: MSX
Also Available For: NEC PC-88, Sharp X-1

The superb MegaDrive is correctly remembered as one of the finest consoles ever and was graced by countless fantastic games. One of its more under-appreciated gems is Herzog Zwei, a real-time strategy game from Techno Soft (yes, they of Thunder Force fame) which is often cited as one of the very first such games ever. Something that is seemingly even less well-known than this slightly obscure game, however, is that it was a sequel to an even more obscure MSX release called... Herzog! For the linguists among you, the name is actually German for 'duke' (no, I've no idea why a Japanese game has a German name) which does little to explain the premise. Unsurprisingly, the backdrop is warfare, namely a conflict between the 'Mercies' (blue) and 'Ruth' (red), and the goal for both sides is to reach their opponent's base and destroy it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

First Look PSN #4

Chime Super Deluxe by Zoë Mode (2010) - PlayStation Network (PS3)

Video games have not often fared well as far as charity is concerned, in my experience at least, and it seems Chime here is the first title released by non-profit publisher OneBigGame, so naturally I feared the worst. I bravely gave it a try anyway though, and what I found was a fairly simple music-based puzzle game. The idea is to choose from a list of dance/trance music tracks, charitably donated by such artists as Moby and Paul Hartnoll, which then play while you attempt to arrange a succession of various shaped blocks within a (nearly) screen-sized grid. As you're doing this a 'beatline' continuously sweeps the playfield from left to right. If your block-placing antics has left behind any completed blocks of 3x3 or bigger, known as 'quads', they are permanently added to the 'coverage' of the grid when the beatline passes over them which means you can then place more blocks on top.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Top Five Street Fighter Characters

While it's certainly not a genre I dislike, one-on-one fighting games have never really been my favourite genre either. Many of my preferred examples, however, are made by Capcom and feature the words 'Street Fighter' somewhere in the title. It's a series I first encountered in its very earliest form - the original Street Fighter in the arcades, and the version with the big puffy pressure-sensitive buttons too! I've since played most other games in the series (though not the fourth game... yet) and have enjoyed them all. Well, except for Street Fighter: The Movie, obviously.

Obviously the games are all very well made, catering for novice and expert players alike, but I think one of the most appealing things about the series is the variety of characters. There are few I really dislike but those below are the ones I've spent most time playing as. That just leaves the question: who is your favourite?

5... Sakura

Cynics might suggest that this energetic young lady was introduced to the series purely for fanservice reasons, being a schoolgirl with a very short skirt and all, and perhaps they're right, but she quickly became a fan favourite anyway. She debuted in Street Fighter Alpha 2 as a squawking teenager, having been inspired by Ryu's victory in the first World Warrior tournament. She therefore plays a little like him, having her own less powerful variations of some of his moves, but she's much more nimble. She might flash her panties now and then as she leaps all over the place but she'll have you for lunch if you get caught gawping!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Retro Calendar!

Oh hey, how's it going? Being something of a sad mindless office drone by day, I've become rather fond of those 'page-a-day' calendars in recent years. I've had several kinds including astronomy ones and even cat ones (who doesn't get bored of those crazy felines and their often-nonsensical tomfoolery?). While briefly mentioning this to friend and occasional Red Parsley peruser, David Bird, he had an idea - how about making an online retro game equivalent? This kind of amazing technical wizardry is beyond my humble abilities but luckily David is a dab hand at that kind of thing.

And a remarkably short time later he had done exactly that! But how did he manage to do it so quickly? Well, luckily he knew someone who already had a fairly sizeable collection of screen shots! So, after combining my exhaustively-grabbed archive and his own coding know-how, we soon had... the world's first (probably) retro gaming page-a-day calendar! Hopefully all you fellow retro-gaming fanatics think this is as cool an idea as we do so please feel free to check it out using the links below.

The images are sourced from the entire history of Red Parsley and are displayed using random effects such as scanlines and wibbling, and the featured game changes every hour too, so keep hitting 'refresh'. Here are a couple of samples from today:

Hope you like!

See the calendar in all its majesty here
Maybe also check out David's main website here.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Puzzle Games #17

Zooo a.k.a. Zoo Keeper (2003)
By: Success / Ignition Entertainment Genre: Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo Game Boy Advance First Day Score: 74,900 (normal mode)
Also Available For: PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
Download For: Android, iOS

You know, I think there has to be something about having animals in video games that automatically makes them much more appealing, at least to certain people like me. Take those tile-matching puzzle games for example - you know, the ones like Bejeweled? Despite there being dozens, perhaps hundreds of different versions and clones of them on everything from proper gaming systems to mobile phones, web browsers, and Facebook, the only one that's ever appealed to me in all these years is Zooo. And, as you might've guessed, it's an animal-themed one! The creatures in question are apparently the occupants of a zoo and have run amok. You play the part of a zoo keeper and it's your job to 'keep the animals orderly'... by arranging them in lines, obviously!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Retro News #1

For a while now I've been toying with the idea of posting odd bit and pieces of retro-gaming-related news but, since I don't often participate in many related groups or forums or attend too many community events (I'm a bit of a loner I guess!), I don't really find out about most things until after everyone else. Boo hoo! :(

I was fortunate enough fairly recently, however, to unexpectedly stumble upon some absolutely fantastic retro gaming news. Perhaps everyone else already knows about this too, but it's so splendid I'm going to warble away about it anyway. The amazing non-profit Internet Archive site already had stacks of texts, books, art, videos, films, music, and all sorts of other stuff freely available to view/use, and now they have made some rather awesome additions to their sizeable vaults. The first is known as the 'Internet Arcade' and is a collection of hundreds of classic arcade games from the 70's, 80's and 90's (though mostly the early 80's) which are all fully playable via JSMAME emulation from your web browser!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Film Review #70

Zombieland (2013)
Director: Ruben Fleischer Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 87 Minutes

Tagline: "Nut up or shut up."

Despite their recent popularity - or perhaps partly because of it - I've never really been tremendously interested in zombie films. I've seen a handful over the years but definitely don't seek them out, I just find them immensely predictable and boring. I'm therefore not sure what made me decide to watch this particular effort, especially since its title made it clear that there would be many of the lumbering oafs in attendance. Maybe it was the very decent looking cast that swayed me which is headed by Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson who portray Columbus and Tallahassee respectively, so named for their cities of origin (apparently exchanging actual names might lead to them growing more 'attached' to each other which isn't a good idea when they could die at any time). They are two survivors of the 'zombie apocalypse' that occurred two months before the events of the film; the result, apparently, of a mutated form of mad cow disease which devastated the US.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Overrated! #7

Wipeout (1996)
By: Psygnosis Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Saturn
Also Available For: PlayStation, PC
Download For: PlayStation Network

Well, it's certainly a pretty cool title screen...
Developers had been experimenting with futuristic racing games for some time already before Nintendo came along and gifted us with the mighty F-Zero. Mighty as it was, though, being a Nintendo game, it was just a little too cartoony and colourful for some tough and manly gamers of the time. Luckily for them, Nintendo's superb game was sufficiently popular that the years that immediately followed it saw many developers rushing to try and topple it from its throne, and most of those were far more serious and 'realistic'. The most successful of these by some margin was Wipeout by British studio, Psygnosis, and it's a game that was immediately hailed by near enough everyone as the game that had finally made gaming acceptable, even 'cool'. As I would hope anyone reading this would know, however, that's no guarantee of it actually being enjoyable.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Splendid Master System Music #1

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

Some time ago now I wrote about the intensely nostalgic feeling I had when I heard a much-loved piece of Master System music again for the first time in many years, and this past weekend it happened again! Okay, perhaps the feeling wasn't nearly as pronounced this time but I was still very pleasantly surprised to be reminded of this fantastic piece by industry legend, Yuzo Koshiro. It was featured in both the Master System and Game Gear versions of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, specifically the 'Bridge Zone', and must surely count among the finest pieces of Master System music I've heard. Check out its splendour thus:

Special Note: I didn't record this great tune myself, I'm just an admirer, so all credit to, firstly the original composer, and secondly the YouTube user who uploaded it!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Single Screen Platform Games #13

The Fairyland Story (1985)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 58,800
Also Available For: MSX, X68000 (PlayStation 2 and PSP on compilations)

The most famous and beloved of all single-screen platformers may well be Bubble Bobble but, as I discovered a few years ago whilst fooling around with this very blog, it wasn't even Taito's first stab at the genre never mind the first ever example. Three years beforehand they gave us Chack'n Pop which was and remains quite a strange but oddly enjoyable game (once you get used to it!), and then again, the year before the legend itself arrived they graced us with Fairyland Story! Unlike Chack'n's peculiar adventure, however, this particular example has much more in common with Bubble Bobble and could therefore (possibly) even be considered its spiritual predecessor. Both games feature 100 single-screen stages, each consisting of an arrangement of platforms populated by several scary enemies which all need to be vanquished before you can move to the next stage. The only real differences are the characters and how they dispose of the heinous enemy creatures.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Film Round-Up #6

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

You might think this is just another rom-com that my wife 'encouraged' me to watch but it's actually one I bought for her only to find that she'd already seen it and didn't like it! Oops, oh well. I eventually got around to watching it anyway and it's actually not bad. This could of course be because Anne Hathaway spends much of it in various states of undress. She plays Maggie Murdock, a somewhat promiscuous young lady who begins a sexual relationship with Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a womanising pharmaceutical sales rep. He soon falls for her but finds her much less eager to commit to a longer-term relationship since, as we later find out, she suffers from early onset Parkinson's disease and seems to only want a sexual partner due to fears that any boyfriend or husband would leave her when her condition became too much of a strain. I guess it's hardly the most original premise but this isn't an all-out rom-com - a surprising amount of the plot is dedicated to Jamie's blossoming career, especially when a new drug called Viagra appears (the film is set in the mid-90's), but both sub-plots work pretty well together. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are both likeable in their roles, too, and they have some decent support from Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt amongst others. Unexpectedly enjoyable... 7/10

Friday, 31 October 2014

Currently Playing...

Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (2003)
By: Microsoft Game Studios Genre: Shooting Players: 1-4 (up to 16 online) Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Microsoft Xbox
Also Available For: Xbox 360

So, flying games, huh? I've never really known what to make of them to be honest. The idea of them is almost always appealing but on the few occasions I've taken the chance and played one, I've nearly always ended up frustrated and/or disappointed (probably more my fault than theirs but still). A low price point helps though, and I happened to spot this popular Microsoft game for a ridiculously un-pass-upable 75p!

The back-story is actually quite detailed, taking place in an alternate-timeline version of the 1930's where the Americas have fragmented into many smaller nations who are in a constant state of war with each other. As a result, interstate highways were never developed and the main means of transportation is by plane and Zeppelin. Since the people have moved up in the world, so has the crime, and I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that you play as what basically amounts to one of these 'bad guys', albeit a dashing and heroic one, named Nathan Zachary, leader of Fortune Hunters air pirate gang - one of many such gangs that prey on the aerial commerce of the area. The game takes place in four regions starting with Sea Haven, an island off California.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Computer Shmups #2

Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine (1987)
By: Raffaele Cecco / Hewson Consultants Genre: Shooting / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 3,825
Also Available For: NES, Amiga, Atari St, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Before the days of the internet, us gamers had to rely on magazine reviews to tell us which titles we should add to our collections. One that received unanimous acclaim from all of them was Cybernoid, but once I duly purchased it (or received it as a gift, as was more likely the case!), I found myself with a different opinion. Being a Raffaele Cecco game, the quality of the graphics and presentation were a given, but it wasn't as nice to play as it was to look at for me, with the unforgiving difficulty and frustrating nature of the gameplay quickly turning me off. But that was a long time ago and, while I've never been the most talented of gamers and my meagre skills haven't exactly improved over the intervening years, I nonetheless figured it was time to revisit this much-loved classic to see if it finally captivated me the way it apparently did so many other gamers.