Christmas 2016 movie special: “The Long Kiss Goodnight”

Dying in the snow seems to be a perfect fit for action movies, and The Long Kiss Goodnight is certainly one of the more explosive Christmas flicks.

The Long Kiss Goodnight
(USA 1996, director: Renny Harlin)

An amnesiac housewife soon finds out with the help of a private detective that she was a hard-boiled killer.

Renny Harlin knows how to do action movies with lots of snow and gunfights in a Christmas setting, as he proved himself in Die Hard 2. While this movie’s original title doesn’t refer to the yuletide season at first glance, the German one translated Deadly Christmas does, even if the references and backdrop aren’t as obvious as in John McClane’s second outing.

The story isn’t as straightforward as in other action movies. It’s more like a spy movie that plays with the past slowly being revealed. This makes it quite suspenseful, because it’s not often clear who the main protagonist can trust. Put together chronologically it might not be the most complex plot, but switching between these different time frames keeps the audience guessing.

The action is over-the-top and well choreographed, the villain is refreshingly charismatic and evil at the same time, and there are some great comic scenes due to either absurd situations or witty dialogues between Geena Davis and Samuel Jackson. The balance between violent shoot-outs in addition to stabbings and the humorous parts make this two hours of action-packed fun. Only the melodrama between mother and daughter could have been toned down a bit, as the acting can be unintentionally funny. However, this is still a great step up from Die Hard 2, because it has a wittier and more engaging original script.

Score: 9/10

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Christmas 2016 movie special: “Krampus”

It’s only one week until Christmas, so it’s time to browse through the seasonal movie catalogue, starting with horror comedy Krampus.

Krampus
(USA 2015, director: Michael Dougherty)

A family get-together on Christmas Eve turns from dysfunctional to terrifying when a festive demon and his minions are called by a boy to punish those who don’t believe in the season anymore.

In a way, Krampus is very much like Trick ‘r Treat by the same director, as it focuses on the darker side of a festivity’s mythology. It lays bare what really happens when people are stressed and forced to gather socially because of a tradition that has lost its meaning over the years with the real horror being consumerism and hypocrisy. In the first 20 minutes or so, very funny dialogues between the disconnected family members make it almost feel like a cruder version of Christmas Vacation, as some of the characters, like siblings who constantly fight, or a gun-loving man who’s similar to cousin Eddie, are memorable and likeable even if they have some obnoxious personalities.

When Krampus finally arrives with a never-ending snowstorm and the family has to fight for their lives against all sorts of freaks in the form of toys with teeth and other murder weapons, the movie suddenly turns into a mix of Demonic Toys with Gremlins in absurd situations, e.g. small gingerbread monsters attacking. However, the movie can suddenly become quite terrifying with creatures that look very much like people wearing masks in German/Bavarian street parades. The way characters are taken by these or Krampus one by one is also quite relentless, even if there isn’t a lot of blood and gore.

Despite the titular Krampus not being very talkative, the movie takes its time to tell the background story with the help of an animated movie in between. Looking at all the original drawings of the creature, it becomes clear that the director put a lot of effort in staying true to them. The transition between horror and comedy might be a bit unbalanced at times and it’s a rather linear affair compared to the episodic structure of Trick ‘r Treat, but Krampus still remains unparalleled in Christmas horror movies and a lot of fun to watch with some genuine scares to boot.

Score: 9/10

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Official Website

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Norse mythology games: “Rune” (PC)

Norse mythology is a fascinating backdrop for fantasy games, and hack-and-slash action-adventure Rune is one of the more violent examples.

Rune (PC)
(USA 2000, developer: Human Head Studios, publisher: Take-Two Interactive, platforms: PC, PS2)

Shortly after his initiation into the Odinsblade, an order of warriors who protect the rune stones forged by god Odin to bind his evil brother Loki, young viking Ragnar has to battle viking Conrack who wants to destroy all stones and bring destruction to the world with Loki and an army of the undead.

Not the deepest of stories…
If one expects an epic tale with memorable characters and action set-pieces, one should lower one’s expectations, because despite the length of the game, it doesn’t provide much insight into either the hero or the villain. While the levels are connected by Odin appearing once in a while, the main protagonist remains speechless except for a few words at the end, making it difficult to identify with him. The villain has quite a big mouth, and so do various goblins in their native tongue (with subtitles), but this doesn’t amount to anything more than promoting their warmongering and craving for power in addition to making the player feel insignificant as one warrior against a dangerous world.

…but a bigger world to explore
And maybe this is where the game shines the brightest: in its world building. The setting isn’t very original in the fantasy genre with its castles, caverns, and hilltops, but the architecture is often quite impressive with wide environments dwarfing the player and smaller ones evoking claustrophobia. The only problem is that the levels are simply too long and rarely break out of the monotony of slaying mostly the same enemies with a questionable lack of intelligence. Only one or two boss battles, the ride on a winged creature in a non-playable cutscene and the transformation of the player into something more powerful at the end are memorable set-pieces. A few more of those would have made progressing through the game less tedious.

Heads are used for chopping…
Combat is vicious fun and even requires a bit of strategy at times. Lobbing enemies’ heads or limbs off isn’t simply a gratuitous violence gimmick, it’s essential to prevent skeletons to revive or others to use their weapons. Destroying shields with certain weapons like clubs or hammers also helps to defeat nasties faster, which is recommended, because one is frequently surrounded by more than one can handle. It’s also possible to use magic by collecting runes that, depending on the amount of power one has accumulated, enhance weapons with different attacks or defensive abilities. While these aren’t necessary to complete the game and can’t even be leveled up, they still make battles easier and more varied to a certain degree.

…but not for puzzling
There are also some puzzles, but except for few parts that play with a level’s theme (like shutting down steam engines or overcoming a maze), these aren’t that varied, relying too much on finding the right lever and demolishing walls to enter hidden rooms. This can sometimes lead to unnecessarily running around, inspecting each crevice and remembering where a closed door is. Scripted events can also be frustrating when enemies only make passages accessible after others are defeated.

Graphics and sounds of the past
With a game from 2000 using the outdated Unreal technology, one shouldn’t expect a visual masterpiece. However, the character and enemy designs still look quite good on higher resolutions, while the gory decapitations feature some rather smooth animations, offering gratuitous fun even today. The levels themselves can’t compete with the impressive architecture and lighting effects of a Clive Barker’s Undying, but they’re still expansive enough to evoke that typical open-world fantasy feeling.

This is further enhanced by the great sound design, with some orchestral music, nifty weapon sounds and echoes in wider spaces, making it feel more epic than the story itself. Voice acting is quite good as well, although the main villain’s shrieking over-the-top voice is a bit too much.

Not a classic, but a guilty pleasure in small doses
Rune is one of those games that have almost all the right ingredients for an epic action-adventure: violent fighting scenes, expansive and claustrophobic spaces, and a larger than life soundtrack. Unfortunately, the level design is pretty uninspired and features sections that are way too long. Variety is also lacking, as there are very few memorable scenes, while the story and character development is almost non-existent. Even if there is a Rune Classic version that trims some of that fat, it’s still a game that will be remembered mostly for its gameplay about chopping off limbs and eating lizards to replenish health than providing clever level design and storytelling.

Score: 7/10

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Game release: “The Little Acre” (PC,PS4,Xbox One)

Pewter Games StudiosThe Little Acre isn’t only Ireland’s first Xbox One title, it’s also a charming little point-and-click adventure game in its own right.

Telling the story set in 1950 Ireland about a man named Aidan who is transported to another world when trying to find his missing father and his daughter Lily following their tracks soon after already sounds like a great premise for an alternative universe tale similar to games like The Longest Journey or the recently released Tales, even if it doesn’t seem to be a very long adventure and a bit easy on the puzzles. But then again this might be the perfect entry point for younger players who like classic Disney animation or older ones who like it as well in addition to being curious about the point-and-click adventure genre. Another selling point should be the apparently unique shift to an isometric perspective normally used in RPGs or RTS games.

It’s no surprise that the hand-drawn backgrounds and characters hark back to 90s adventure games like Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars or Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror, as Revolution Software‘s co-founder Charles Cecil functions as executive producer here. As in the case of Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse, its look and feel seem to hit all the right nostalgic notes, which can also be heard in the great voice acting and music, adding to the cinematic flair.

The game is now available on consoles and PC, with the latter having a 15% discount that will last until December 26, 5:59PM UTC.

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Winter 2016 movie special: “Frozen” (2010)

After so much bloodshed and creepy-crawlies horror, it’s time to finish our winter movie special with a much more down-to-earth approach about the dangers of riding a chairlift, as seen in the thriller Frozen.

Frozen (2010)
(USA 2010, director: Adam Green)

Three people are accidentally left behind on a chairlift while on a ski trip and have to survive the hardships of nature.

Adam Green is mostly known for his Hatchet I-III slasher series, so this thriller comes as a surprise. Even if there are some uncomfortable scenes of gore to watch, it’s actually more about the characters who are very well developed. Despite some stereotypical bro and girlfriend talk at the beginning, the dialogue becomes increasingly touching and the characters likeable so that one can’t but feel compassion for them. First trying to pass the time with jokes, but then revealing more about their fears and insecurities makes them vulnerable and more interesting than many 2 hour dramas sometimes try to achieve. Witty remarks and some dark sense of humor also make the terrifying situation more bearable.

And there are some very tense moments indeed. Considering that almost everything plays out on a chairlift, it’s incredible how suspenseful and dramatic almost each scene is. The quieter dialogue moments should be boring, but they all feel so natural and real that it doesn’t matter that it often takes some time before the next action set-piece sets in. This is one of those movies in which a simple premise is enough to be terrifying, but with each passing moment it gets worse and worse, leading from one spine-tingling situation to the next.

Of course one has to dispense with belief at some points, so the movie isn’t for those who already have a problem with characters leaving their cellphones at home. There are certainly enough scenes in which those same people will be ready to throw something at the screen, because characters don’t seem to act smart enough or too many bad coincidences happen in quick succession. But then again, one wouldn’t have a thriller but end up with just people sitting and waiting to freeze to death or (if they’re really that clever) get down without any problems. It’s futile to talk about this when all it boils down to is that Frozen is simply a perfect mix of thriller, survival horror, drama, and a bit of comedy that’s refreshingly different from other movies.

Score: 9/10

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