Watching: American Gangster

Here's a quick blurb:

American Gangster is a 2007 crime film written by Steve Zaillian and directed by Ridley Scott. The film stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life heroin kingpin from Manhattan who smuggled the drug into the country in the coffins of American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. Crowe portrays Richie Roberts, a detective who brings down Lucas's drug empire.

Here's the trailer:

I really got the sense as I was watching this film that Ridley Scott saw this as an opportunity to make his own The Godfather (with a touch of Goodfellas). Clearly there are a number of differences - it's much more of a cop vs bad guy story than a sprawling crime family thing - but nonetheless, there really was a Godfather vibe to this thing - stylistically at least.

The film uses a lot of the same sombre and dark looks in Godfather, celebrates the whole family thing and even hints during a Thanksgiving sequence at the famous Godfather christening/whacking montage. Music from that culture is used widely (and really effectively, awesome soundtrack of soul, funk and blaxploitation hits including my personal fave "Across 110th St". (This is also a staple of the Scorsese approach)

What the film missed though was depth and this is what puts it into the lower tier of perfectly competent but by-no-means great crime films. The characters are all a little thin - possessing one or two heavily emphasised personal traits (Frank Lucas is smart and capable, Richie Roberts is smart and honest) that you really don't get past. (The fact that Richie Roberts had turned in nearly a million dollars he and a partner had found in a car boot was mentioned at least a dozen times in the story)

It was interesting enough to watch, stylish and cool but ultimately, I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters and Ridley Scott never seemed willing to dwell long enough on any one scene to create any anxiety that something could go wrong.

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe's performances were fine for the characters they were given, I just wish the characters had been more interesting. All in all, a stylish film and an interesting enough story but nothing amazing


Pwning: Forumwarz

Well ok, perhaps pwning isn't entirely accurate, it's more like playing but I'm just getting into the spirit of the thing.

Forumwarz is an online role-playing game (RPG) that is set in the modern world of Internet forums, with all the associated depravity, leet-speak, clannishness, juvenile behaviour, flaming and whatnot.

I've generally veered well away from the RPG genre in the past because for the most part it seems to revolve around the fantasy/wizards&warriors/dungeons&dragons/warcraft world that I've never really gotten into. (I don't mind fantasy movies - particularly the golden age of them in the 80s and of course the LOTR trilogy - but all in all it just seems a little silly.)

Forumwarz however brings the funny to the RPG genre by mercilessly and outrageously skewering pretty well all the elements of online culture.

You can play as one of three types of online archetypes, making use of your various powers in a range of ways. You can be either a Troll (someone who generally just enjoys being an arsehole to people online with provocative/offensive remarks), an Emo (modern day Goths essentially but angrier and more emotional - these guys tend to whine incessently) or a Camwhore (cute girls who make use of their sexuality to get what they want).

I'm a troll. (Incidentally, I played a Troll in my first dramatic role - a kindergarten production of the 3 billygoats gruff - so i think I know a thing or two about being a troll :)

Gameplay involves a series of missions which increase in difficulty and require you to use your powers to kill discussions in web forums. (Or fora if you prefer to be grammatically correct).

As you progress, you accumulate experience, cred, skills and items which allow you take on tougher and more offensive opponents and keep you engaged by regularly ringing the little "rewards" bell in your brain.

Forum battles involve making an initial comment and then seeing how much damage this does to the board and how much damage the response does to you. You don't type the words as such but rather choose from a selection of attacks - as a troll I have the option to bang my head against my keyboard, post offensive ASCII art, post spoilers, make Yo'Mama jokes and now post bad poetry.

As a Troll (I haven't played as the other classes - yet) I have a supply of ego and a supply of douchebaggery that I need to monitor during the battle to survive - fortunately these can be topped up by buying supplies between battles from the online pharmacy drugs-r-fun (happidex and viagrow) and dodgy dealers under the bridge (anything from nutmeg to a keg of malt liquor). You can also buy dodgy home-made steroids from a jock "friend" or get Bruce the Bear to fix your computer when it takes damage.

It's worth noting that a lot of the content in this game goes out of it's way to mirror the ridiculously offensive stuff that you can find if you trawl the web long enough and before you can join the game you have to type in a disclaimer stating that you are not easily offended.

So far I've battled white supremacists, fecalphiliacs, deathmetal headbangers and furries (fetishests who dress up in animal costumes) and it gets out there - but that said, a lot of the dialogue is community generated and very effectively and humourously skewers the comments of the range of online nutbags.

The game also uses a mock instant messaging client, a mock email system and a mock search engine to progress the story, which quickly sees you enmeshed in a weird conspiracy which may or may not be driven by shadowy govt forces set on dispersing evil code to infiltrate web user's computers.

The game has some artificial gameplay limits - you can only attack four forums a day (you can go back and repwn old fora if you wish to increase your experience and cred - which results in random presents from strangers). The limits are designed to encourage donations to the game makers to support the site (these donations buy you cheats) but I like the limits as it means that you don't get stuck in the game for too long.

I highly recommend this game - but you might want to be mindful of who might wander past your computer as you are playing it - forum titles such as Fitness Faggotry, That's a lot of feces, Konservative Kristian Koalition and Headbangers Hellhole... of Death might give people the wrong idea about your normal browsing habits :)


AWWWing: Fatboy Slim The Joker video with kittens

This video was the winner of a competition that Fatboy Slim put together a little while back to make a clip for his remix of the Steve Miller song The Joker.

It's got kittens. In hats. Need I say any more. :)


Looking forward to: Diary of the Dead

Looks like zombie-film icon George A. Romero is on a bit of a roll now, with the fifth installment in the Night of the Living Dead series well on the way.

Diary of the Dead goes back to the events of the first film - originally set in the late 60s but now updated to the modern day through the magic of being a super-awesome film-maker and allowed to do whatever you wish.

It takes the slightly over-used approach of a group of young film-makers with a camcorder documenting the weirdness going on around them - but hey, it's Romero and I'm sure he'll do this story telling mechanic justice and bring something special to it as well.

No idea when it's due out here but it's been out in the U.S for a couple of weeks and has a passable 66% on Metacritic. (But most of the negative reviews that dragged this score down seem to be reacting to Romero's grim view of society than the film itself)

Notable beacon of progressive thought, the Murdoch owned New York Post, has this to say:

Romero's we're-all-doomed-and-maybe-we-deserve-it pessimism is so extreme he would fit right in with a real group of brain-eaters: the French.

Here's the trailer.

There is also a great interview in the AV Club on The Onion website with the great man himself - check it out here.


Celebrating: Canberra Day

Well it's the Canberra Day public holiday today and I'm marking it in fine public service form by sitting on my arse in front of the computer. (What with Canberra being the seat of government in Australia it is also the public service capital)

Happy Canberra day - marking 95 years of being the little city that could. (Or as some friends less kindly put it - the city that never wakes)