Saturday, April 21, 2018

Stubs - Hell's Angels

Hell’s Angels (1930) Starring: Ben Lyon, James Hall, Jean Harlow Directed by Howard Hughes with James Whale (uncredited) and Edmund Goulding (uncredited). Screenplay by Harry Behn, Howard Estabrook, and Joseph Moncure March (uncredited) Produced by Howard Hughes. Run Time 131 minutes USA Black and White w/ Color inserts. War. Melodrama

One of the first casualties of the coming of sound may be actress Greta Nissen, a Norwegian actress who had appeared in several Hollywood silent films. Originally hired to play Helen, the female lead of Howard Hughes’ big-budget production, Hell’s Angels. The critically acclaimed actress was with the production from its inception on October 31, 1927 and was involved until Hughes decided to get onboard the coming of sound and scrapped much of the film he’d already shot. While accents are not issues with silent films, they are with sound and Nissen’s was too noticeable for a film that up to that point was the most expensive film production to date.

Howard Robard Hughes Jr. was a lanky millionaire from Texas, who came to Hollywood after dropping out of Rice University. While Hughes’ fortune was inherited, his father’s Hughes Tool Company, he wanted to make his first splash in Hollywood. The first two films he produced, Everybody's Acting (1927) and Two Arabian Knights (1928), were financial and critical successes, the latter receiving the Academy Award for Best Director. His films The Racket (1928) and The Front Page (1931) were also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, the latter also receiving nominations for Best Director and Best Actor.

The idea to film a World War I aviation picture was first suggested to Hughes by Marshall Neilan, an actor, director, producer, and writer, in the fall of 1926. The film was set to star Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Greta Nissen.

Ben Lyon had been in films since 1918 after finding success on the Broadway stage opposite Jeanne Eagels. He would develop into a leading man starring opposite such renowned silent era actresses as Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moore, Barbara La Marr, Viola Dana, Anna Q. Nilsson, Mary Astor and Blanche Sweet.

James Hall hailed from Dallas, Texas and had been acting in films since 1923’s Man Alone. His sound debut had come in The Canary Murder Case (1929), opposite William Powell and Louise Brooks.

Neilan would be the film’s first director when production began at Metropolitan Studio. But Neilan didn’t last long and left the production because of Hughes’ overbearing techniques.

Luther Reed, a director from Paramount, was the next to take the helm, but he didn’t last long either, quitting in January 1928 again because of Hughes’ annoying interference.

After Reed’s departure, Hughes decided to direct the film himself, taking special interest in the air sequences of the film. For the film, he personally acquired forty warplanes, many authentic fighters from World War I. Over the next three years, the production was plagued by a number of fatal and near-fatal accidents. In three separate air tragedies, two pilots and one assistant were killed.

When finished, the silent version of Hell’s Angels was previewed in March 1929 and did not fare well. At the urging of co- but uncredited director James Whale, Hughes scrapped the entire film and reshot it as a sound picture. The rewrite fell to MGM’s Joseph Moncure March, who thought that the original silent film was "depressingly bad."

Shooting began again in September 1929 without a female lead. Hughes auditioned many women as a replacement for Greta Nissen including June Collyer, Ann Harding, Carole Lombard (then known as Carol Peters) and Dorothy Mackaill. It was Lyon who introduced Hughes to Jean Harlow after picking out the 18-year-old actress out of a chorus line performing on a nearby sound stage.

Whale, who was new to Hollywood, would work closely with Harlow, even shutting down production for three days so that he could get the performance out of her that he wanted. Whale, who would not receive credit on the final film, handled dialogue scenes while Hughes would concentrate on the aerial scenes and dogfights.

The final scene of the film was shot on December 7, 1929, and involved 1700 extras. The entire production involved 20,000 extras and a total of 2,254,760 feet of film (about 560 hours) that were shot and developed, the largest amount of negative discarded for a single film.

The film begins with three Oxford students vacationing together in Munich, Germany; Roy Rutledge (James Hall), his brother Monte (Ben Lyon) and their German-born classmate Karl Arnstedt (John Darrow).

Roy and Karl are waiting in a beer garden for Monte, who arrives with a woman clinging to him. Unlike his brother, Roy has already found love with Helen (Jean Harlow) and has no interest in other women. Monte begs his brother and Karl to take the woman off his hands, as he has another engagement to attend to.

Roy shows Karl a photo of Helen (Jean Harlow), the woman he loves.

His other engagement is with a married woman, the Baroness von Krantz (Jane Winton), who thinks her husband, Baron von Krantz (Lucien Prival), is out on military business, but he arrives home early and catches the two lovers. The Baron does not get angry, but rather challenges Monte to a duel.

Baron von Krantz (Lucien Prival) challenges Monte (Ben Lyon) to a
duel when he catches him with his wife (Jane Winton).

Monte’s first reaction is to run and he is packing his bags when Roy comes back to the hotel. Monte doesn’t tell Roy why he’s leaving in such a hurry and is gone by the time the Baron’s seconds arrive to make final arrangements for the duel. Roy upholds his brother’s honor by taking his place in the duel.

In a tinted color scene, we see the duel from a distance as the Baron shoots but only wounds Roy.

The Baron shoots Roy (James Hall), unaware he's not the man he challenged.

Back at school, there is talk of war. Karl speaks openly about not wanting to fight against the British. Meanwhile, Roy takes Monte to meet his girl, Helen, but when they get to her house, she’s out and Monte doesn’t have the patience to wait to meet her. Roy though stays, what seems to be hours, to see her.

Roy takes Monte to meet Helen, only to find out that she's out.

When war does break out, Karl is called back to Germany and Roy enlists with the Royal Fighting Corps. Monte, who seems to have a cowardly streak, wants nothing to do with it, but ends up enlisting accidentally in order to get a kiss from a pretty girl being used to lure men to enlist.

Roy, who is anxious for Monte to meet Helen, finally gets his wish at a Charity Ball given by Lady Randolph (Evelyn Hall) which he also helped organize.

Helen is obviously taken with Monte when they're introduced by Roy.

Helen is obviously taken with Monte and uses her considerable charms on him. Roy keeps getting called away, which allows Helen more opportunity to snare Monte. She asks him to take her home and while there slips out of her slinky dress into something more comfortable, a loose-fitting dressing gown. Monte thinks twice but, in the end, can’t resist her.

Helen makes her play for Monte.

The Germans mount an attack on London using one of their Zeppelins, whose commander (Carl von Haartman) uses Karl as the spotter. Not wanting to see London destroyed, Karl leads them to an unpopulated lake area which he convinces his commander is right about Trafalgar Square. The Zeppelin unloads all of its missiles, which explode harmlessly in the lake below.

German-born classmate Karl Arnstedt (John Darrow) is used as the spotter for the
attack, but feeds his commander bad information to save London.

The British are not too unaware and send up several planes, including one with both Rutledge brothers flying it. The Zeppelin tries to outrun their pursuers and when they are not getting the speed and height their commander wants, they start to get rid of excess weight, starting with Karl, whose observation gondola is thought to be slowing them down and would take too long to retrieve.

Karl is the first to be sacrificed in an effort to save the zeppelin.

When they are still too heavy, all excess equipment is thrown overboard. And when they need to go even lighter, men volunteer to jump to their deaths in order to keep the zeppelin from falling into enemy hands.

German soldiers jump to their deaths to keep the Zeppelin from being shot down.

While the Rutledge brothers are shot down, Roy manages to land the plane. They have a view of the Zeppelin which is struck down when one of the British fighters crashes into it. The Rutledges narrowly escape harm when the burning wreckage falls to Earth on top of their stranded plane.

The Zeppelin gets struck by a plane and catches fire before falling to Earth.

The brothers are sent to France, where Helen is also working in Lady Randolph's Canteen. Roy goes to see her there and she is openly flirting with another man.

Back at their base, Monte pretends to be ill to get out of Night Patrol, a duty that always seems to cost someone their life. Monte wants nothing to do with the war and openly says so in front of the other pilots in the mess hall.

Somewhat surprisingly when superiors are looking for two volunteers for a dangerous mission behind enemy lines, Monte is the first to volunteer. Not wanting to let his brother go on alone, Roy also volunteers. The mission is to fly a captured German bomber over the enemy’s munitions dump. The goal is to fly the plane back but in event of being shot down, they are to destroy the plane. And, if they are captured, they will be shot as spies since they will be pretending to be German pilots rather than enemy combatants.

The brothers find Helen in a backroom with another man.

On their last night, the boys are given freedom to do whatever they want. Roy wants to see Helen but when he gets to the canteen he’s told that she’s out. He leaves her a note and then joins Monte when they go to a nearby café. There, in the back room, they see Helen with another man. They are both drunk and affectionate. When Roy tries to get the other man to leave, Helen informs him that she’s never loved him and tells him to get out.

Helen tells Roy that she never loved him and to get out.

The brothers retreat to a bar across the street where they get drunk with two French girls. Monte tries to encourage Roy to forget about Helen. The brothers keep drinking and the closer it gets to their time to report, the more Monte talks about not wanting to go. But Roy won’t hear of it and drags his brother away and back to base.

While Roy flies, Monte lines up the bombs.

While the mission is initially successful, their bombing is witnessed by Von Richter (William von Brinken), who is commanding his Flying Circus. They attack the bomber which is trying to outrun them. The plane is hit by machine gun fire but continues to fly. Finally, a contingency of British fighters appear and take on the Germans. A large-scale dogfight takes place in which both sides lose planes. But when it looks like the Rutledge brothers might get away, Von Richter sweeps down and shoots the bomber down.

British fighters come to the Rutledges' rescue.

The plane crashes and burns but the Rutledge brothers survive. They are taken to a military prison run by Baron von Krantz, who recognizes Monte but not Roy. Despite their duel, the two never actually met. Von Krantz is interested in the position of the British troops and airplanes. If the boys cooperate, von Krantz promises them they will be sent to a POW camp near Munich where they can wait out the war in relative comfort. If they don’t it is the firing squad that awaits them. He gives them fifteen minutes to discuss.

The brothers are captured and taken to see General von Krantz.

It should come as no surprise that Monte wants to talk, but Roy talks him into letting him speak with von Krantz. Roy doesn’t reveal that the two men are brothers and instead tells von Krantz that they are rivals for the same girl. He says he’ll talk if von Krantz lets him kill the other pilot, a request the General agrees to.

Roy lies to von Krantz about his relationship with Monte.

Monte is all too willing to talk to spare himself. Seeing no other alternative, Roy shoots and kills his brother with the one bullet the General gave him. After watching his brother die, Roy is taken back to the General, who is surprised to learn the men were brothers. Roy refuses to talk and is taken away to be executed before a firing squad.

Roy stays with Monte while he dies.

The brothers' sacrifice is not in vain, however, for their brigade's attack on the Germans is a complete success.

The total budget of the film was reportedly $4 million, per Hughes, but in truth was closer to $2.8 million. Still a lot of money in its day, but far less than the $4 million M-G-M spent on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). Hell’s Angels premiered on May 27, 1930, with a huge fanfare at Grauman’s Chinese Theater but wasn’t released to the public until November 15, 1930. The film was a box-office success, making nearly $2.5 million in rentals. However, considering it took in less than it cost to make, it lost money for its wealthy producer.

Hells Angel's premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater.

While the film has some spectacular scenes, they aren’t necessarily as involving as say similar scenes in Wings (1927) were. In Wings, the actors actually flew the planes they were in. That is not the case here. The dogfights, while enormous, are for the most part not all that exciting. Too many long shots of small planes against enormous cloud formations.

Impressive but involving dogfights.

There are some really interesting shots in the film, like seeing a Zeppelin falling down with the camera underneath it. And the pyrotechnics, no doubt real explosions, are spectacular as well. But for a war film, there is relatively little war footage. Hell’s Angels is, after all, more melodrama than action.

Fairly impressive pyrotechnics.

The film has remnants of its silent roots, including the use of tinted scenes, like the violet hues used during the early morning duel scene or the use of blue tints during obvious nighttime shots. There is actually a color sequence in the film. The party where Helen falls in love with Monte was shot in a two-strip process called Multicolor, though the actual sequence was printed by Technicolor. (Multicolor was not prepared to print the number of inserts needed for the wide release Hughes wanted.) This would turn out to be the only time Jean Harlow would ever be seen in color in a film that wasn’t colorized.

Hell's Angels is the only film to feature Jean Harlow in color.

It should also be remembered that this is a pre-code film, meaning there is some fairly frank sexuality, and a surprising amount of adult language (for the time). During the final dogfight sequence, you can hear such phrases as "son of a bitch", "goddamn it", and "for Christ's sake", along with the words "ass", "hell", and a few uses of "God" in other scenes. These were not common on the screen then and would not become a staple of films until the MPAA Rating system was adopted in 1968 and films could be rated according to the language used.

Despite the setting, the story itself is sort of mundane. None of the actors, including Harlow, really burn up the screen with their acting prowess or develop beyond being one-dimensional characters. Harlow was in fact, called out by New York Times critic, Mourdant Hall. In his review, Hall says that while the overall film is “absorbing and exciting. But while she is the center of attraction, the picture is a most mediocre piece of work."

Jean Harlow at the beginning of her career still exudes sex appeal.

That criticism is a little harsh. I don’t think her shortcomings as a leading lady in Hell’s Angels is really her fault, so to speak. This was, after all, her first major role. She’s only 18 with very little experience acting. It’s not her fault that she might have been thrust into the limelight before she was ready just because she’s pretty. Despite the critical reviews, Harlow became a star based on the film. She does exude sex, especially when wearing her barely-there gown at the party. She has the same platinum blonde hair that would help make her a star at MGM, though her eyebrows would be thinner than they are here. While her acting was oftentimes a little stiff, that would not keep her from becoming an icon in American culture, even though she died when she was only 26.

Her impact is somewhat reflected in the story of Ben Lyons, her co-star and the man who discovered her. While he received generally positive reviews for his performance as Monte, his career began to wane and he went to work on the business-side at 20th Century Fox in the mid-1940s. On July 17, 1946, he met a young aspiring actress named Norma Jeane Dougherty. After their first meeting, he stated that she was "Jean Harlow all over again!”.  He organized a color screen test for her, renamed her, and finally signed her as Marilyn Monroe to her first studio contract. Talk about a man with a good eye for beauty, as he discovered arguably the two most iconic actresses in Hollywood history.

James Hall’s career in films ended in 1932, with Manhattan Tower, when he went to work in vaudeville. By the time of his death in 1940 at the age of 39, he had basically fallen into obscurity. Hall is part of one of the most powerful scenes in the film. Roy feels that for the greater good of the war effort he has to kill his own brother. No doubt Monte would have done just about anything to save his life and Roy finds it in himself to kill the brother he’s been looking after and cleaning up after his whole life.

Even though he has a relatively small part, Lucien Prival’s appearance as Baron von Krantz provides bookends for the film. It is a nice touch to have the husband of Monte’s lover be the one who gets to decide his and Roy’s future. Even though he’s not in this film, Prival’s performance as von Krantz predates how many Nazis would be depicted in World War II films.

While I prefer Wings, I am glad to have finally seen Hell’s Angels and would recommend it to anyone interested in early sound films or anyone who is a fan of World War I themed films. Though flawed there is still a lot to like and there are some spectacular shots. To top it off, you get to see a young and still learning Jean Harlow.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review Hub - God of War

Beginning in 2005 and created by David Jaffe of Twisted Metal fame, God of War tells the story of a Spartan mortal named Kratos as he seeks his revenge on Ares (Greek God of War) and, eventually, the rest of the Greek pantheon, primarily Zeus, for personal reasons. This would prove a highly successful IP for Sony and the PlayStation brand, as Kratos would go on to make guest appearances in a number of games, mostly fighting games, usually as a PlayStation-exclusive character. Though Kratos' story officially concluded in God of War III, Kratos' story would be expanded upon in a few other titles before a new direction was decided upon for the character, this time placing him in the realm of Norse mythology with his son, Atreus.

Below is a list of links to every God of War review on this blog, presented in chronological order and sorted by Era. (Re-reviews are listed next to the main link in parentheses.)

Greek Era


Norse Era

God of War (2018)




God of War: Betrayal

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Clueless (1995)

Clueless (1995) Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Dan Hedaya Directed by Amy Heckerling. Screenplay by Amy Heckerling. Based on Emma by Jane Austen (published in 1815). Produced by Scott Rudin, Robert Lawrence. Runtime: 97 minutes USA Romantic Comedy

Like William Shakespeare, the work of Jane Austen has been made into several movies. Every novel she’d written has been made into either a movie or a TV Miniseries save Sanditon (1817), her unfinished novel. Some of her books have been adapted many times, like Pride and Prejudice (1813) which has been adapted 13 times for film and television with looser adaptations from an episode of Red Dwarf to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012–2013), an Emmy winning YouTube adaption.

Her book Emma was first adapted as a feature film in 1948 and again in 1996, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and in between were two television miniseries, first in 1960 and then again in 1972. There was also a TV movie starring Kate Beckinsale, also released in 1996 and then again as a miniseries in 2009. But not all adaptations follow her books so closely. Case in point, Clueless (1995), in which the story is transplanted to Beverly Hills and given a then modern update by Amy Heckerling.

Heckerling, whose career includes another teenage comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), her first feature, was known for her comedies. These include Johnny Dangerously (1984), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), Look Who’s Talking (1989) and Look Who’s Talking Too (1990). In order to prepare for this film, Heckerling studied real High School students to get the lingo and culture for teenagers in the 1990’s.

In this version, Austen’s Emma Woodhouse is reborn as Cheryl "Cher" Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a cute, sweet but deeply spoiled daughter of attorney Melvin "Mel" Horowitz (Dan Hedaya), a $500 an hour litigator. Cher’s mother died in a freak liposuction accident when Cher was only a baby.  Cher is one of the popular girls at high school, riding the crest of the social wave along with her best friend, Dionne Davenport (Stacey Dash). Dionne is based on the character Isabella Knightley (née Woodhouse), Emma’s sister.

Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Cher (Alicia Silverstone) are best friends at school.

Cher is 15 years-old but drives a tricked-out Jeep that her father bought her. A good fashion sense, she has her outfits programmed into her computer so that she is never mismatched. A good student, Cher doesn’t apply herself to anything until she receives lower than expected. In order to help raise her grades, she negotiates with some of her teachers, who raise her grades. However, her debate teacher, Wendell Hall (Wallace Shawn), doesn’t budge. But she does manage to weaken his resolve by playing matchmaker, setting him up with another hard-grading teacher, Miss Geist (Twink Caplan), the latter of whom she gave a makeover to help attract Mr. Hall’s attention.

In an effort to get a better grade, Cher set up her debate teacher
 Wendell Hall (Wallace Shawn) with another lonely teacher.

After finding success with that effort, Cher turns her attention to a new student, Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy). Tai is a bit of an ugly duckling by comparison with Cher and Dionne. Tai, though, catches the eye of skateboarder and drug user, Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer), whom Cher feels is below her. Instead, she tries to fix up the new and improved Tai with Elton Tiscia (Jeremy Sisto).

Cher takes new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) under her wing and gives her a makeover.

She tries to match them up at a party in the Valley. But things don’t go as planned and Cher ends up with Elton. On the way home, Elton stops the car to make his play for Cher. However, when she rebuffs his advances, he leaves her on the side of the road. Cher is promptly mugged with her cell phone and purse stolen. Desperate, she calls her former stepbrother, Josh Lucas (Paul Rudd), who lives in L.A. going to college. Even though he’s on a date, he still comes to her rescue.

Cher tries to set Tai up with Elton (Jeremy Sisto), but he's only interested in Cher.

Cher then falls for another new student, Christian Stovitz (Justin Walker). The child of a divorced couple, Christian’s parents have joint custody and he spends one semester in Chicago and one in Beverly Hills. Good-looking with his own somewhat dated sense of fashion, he dresses like a member of the Rat Pack, Cher falls hard for him.

Cher falls for Christian (Justin Walker), another new student at her school.

On their first date, Christian takes Cher to a party. Concerned about him, Josh, who is helping his former step-father with some research for a case, begs off helping to follow them. Mel, who seems to know what’s going on, lets him go. At the party, Josh ends up dancing with Tai, who otherwise is a wallflower at the affair. Cher notices and appreciates his actions. What she doesn’t seem to notice is that Christian is more comfortable with the boys at the party, even staying behind with Josh taking her home.

Cher is willing to give her viriginity to Christian, but he's not interested.

Cher, who we learn is still a virgin and is waiting for someone she loves, decides that Christian is the one. She invites him over to her house when her father is out but when the time would be right, he goes home. It takes Dionne’s boyfriend, Murray Duvall (Donald Faison), to point out to her that Christian is gay.

Despite her miscalculation, Cher still likes Christian because he’s smart, likes art and has a good fashion sense. On a shopping spree with him, Tai, who is also at the mall, is flirting with some boys while sitting on the second-floor railing. She jokes about falling over and the boys she’s with decide to take it a step further and dangle her over the railing. Christian comes to her rescue but her near-death experience has a profound effect on her popularity at school.

Tai usurps Cher as the center of attention at school.

But things don’t get better, as Cher fails her driving test and try as she might, she can’t renegotiate the results. When she gets home, Tai is there with Josh and later Tai confides to Cher that she has a crush on Josh and asks Cher to help her get him. But Cher, instead, tells Tai that Josh’s not right for her. A verbal altercation follows, ending with Tai calling Cher a "virgin who can't drive".

Now, Cher is left feeling totally clueless, which causes her to reflect on the important things in her life. With Tai being the social queen, Cher gets involved in charity work, which she finds rewarding. Cher even leads her school’s Pismo Beach disaster relief effort, a made up and undefined disaster. She also lowers her guard, allowing Travis to invite her to an amateur skateboarding contest he’s participating in.

Cher starts to realize she's attracted to her former stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd).

Cher’s soul-searching leads her to the epiphany that she, in fact, loves Josh. But she can’t seem to bring this up to him. The situation presents itself, however, for Josh to show how he feels about her. When one of her father’s associates scolds her for taking files apart, Josh defends her. This allows them to finally confess their feelings for each other.

The film ends at the wedding of Hall and Geist.

The film ends with the wedding of Hall and Geist. The various couples are there, including Tai and Travis, Dionne and Murray and, of course, Cher and Josh. Cher even wins a $200 bet by being the woman who catches the Geist’s wedding bouquet. She and Josh embrace and kiss and the film ends.

Clueless ends with a kiss between Josh and Cher.

Clueless was a bit of a surprise hit. On a budget of $12 million, the film made $56.6 million. While not a blockbuster by the standards of the day, the film made the virtually unknown Silverstone a star and led her to getting a $10 million contract at Columbia Pictures. The film also received generally positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike.

The film doesn’t really seem to have the usual three-act structure that we have become accustomed to. There are three acts, but the first act seems to go on for a long time. We are treated to a luxurious look at Cher’s lifestyle, which is pretty sweet. She seems to have money, freedom and zero responsibilities for most of the film. You have to give her some credit for still being a virgin but that is about as virtuous as she gets until near the very end. It is only after she loses her place on top of the social order that she takes a look at herself and changes.

I do find it hard to believe that a lawyer father would let his daughter drive without a license, knowing what sort of liability that would be. While I’m sure that this happens more than I’d care to think, it just doesn’t seem like something her father would knowingly let her do.

And I don’t really buy her situation at school, either. I know that the depiction of school life is supposed to be exaggerated for comedy but Elton is very handsy throughout, grabbing Cher at every turn, even when the moment doesn’t quite feel like it would be appropriate. Maybe I’ve been ruined by an ever-litigious America, but it’s hard to imagine a school would allow that sort of behavior. I know this is pre-PC and the #metoo movement, but it still seems very brazen, even for the setting.

Cher is not really a likable character through much of the film. While you might envy her lifestyle, she is a self-centered drama queen. Unless she was a friend of yours you wouldn’t really like her as a person. I know you’re saying but she does good deeds, doesn’t she? Well, the first good deed we see her do, matching Hall and Geist together, is really a selfish gesture because she hopes it will lead to better grades. She takes pity on Tai, but she never really seems to have that girl’s best interest at heart.

It might also seem a little odd that she ends up with her ex-stepbrother in the end. Not the usual way a romantic comedy ends, but they are a cute couple nevertheless. While Josh is based on Emma’s George Knightley, their relationship in the book is not so familial, though they are familiar, life-long friends.

One of the fun parts of the film is watching a couple of really good character actors. Wallace Shawn, perhaps best known for films like My Dinner with Andre (1981) and The Princess Bride (1987), doesn’t disappoint here in what is a small, though important role. Neither does Dan Heyada, who plays Cher’s father. Heyada first came to be known as Carla’s ne’er-do-well husband in the long-running TV Series Cheers. He would also appear in such films as Nixon (1995) and later play Nixon in Dick (1999).

Several of the stars of Clueless would go on to long careers in film. Silverstone, despite her large contract with Sony, never really took off as a major star. There would be some big roles, like Batgirl in Batman & Robin (1997) and while she continues to act to this day, Silverstone is known as much for her activism as her acting. A devoted vegan, she is also a supporter of PETA.

Stacey Dash, who would reprise her role in the Clueless TV show that followed from 1996 to 1999, also appeared in several films and TV Series. Somewhere along the way, the Democratic Dash would end up a Republican and on Fox News as a commentator during the latter half of the Obama administration. She has since filed to run in California's 44th congressional district in the 2018 Congressional Election as a Republican.

Donald Faison would have a more conventional acting career. After also appearing on the Clueless TV series, Faison would also appear on the long-running Scrubs (2001-2010) followed by The Exes (2011-2015).

Jeremy Sisto, who played Elton, would go on to appear in such films as Waitress (2007) as well as star on the TV series Law and Order (2008–2010), and Suburgatory (2011-2014). He would also play Jesus in a TV Movie of the same name in 1999. Here he’s all hands; not his best role.

Brittany Murphy, who played Tai, maybe best remembered for voicing Luanne Platter for the entire run of the animated series King of the Hill (1997-2009) also got her big break in this film.  She would also appear in such films as Girl, Interrupted (1999), 8 Mile (2002), Just Married (2003) and Happy Feet (2006), the latter in which she voiced the character of Gloria. Plagued by rumors of drug use, Brittany's career slowed in the late 2000s and she would, unfortunately, die of pneumonia in December 2009. 

Perhaps of all the actors, Paul Rudd may have had the most prolific career. Clueless was his first film, though he had been on the TV series Sisters before that. He would go on to appear in 18 episodes of the very popular Friends series. A favorite of director Judd Apatow, Rudd would appear in several of his films, The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007), and This Is 40 (2012). He also appeared in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), both directed by Adam McKay. He also found new fans with his successful appearance as the titular character in Ant-Man (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016) and will soon appear in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) and in the yet untitled Avengers: Infinity War sequel. At this point of his career, Rudd’s best attribute was that he was cute.

Clueless is not so bad as it is somewhat forgettable. The film hasn’t aged-well, especially in light of the more recent Occupy Movement and attention to economic inequalities. The story is okay, though Cher really doesn’t change all that much. It’s not like she goes for someone like Travis. Instead, she ends up with someone in her same socio-economic class. Perhaps it's telling that Josh is also involved with Murray, who may be to blame for how the two of them came out. And what’s there to say about a film whose most memorable line of dialogue is “as if”.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Silver Case (PS4) - Kill The Past

Back in 1999, game developer Goichi Suda, better known as Suda51, directed and released a visual novel called The Silver Case, the first title released under his studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, for the original PlayStation. However, it remained a Japanese exclusive for the longest time. The first attempt to bring it to the west was a planned remake for the Nintendo DS that never materialized, as Suda51 was unsatisfied with the product, claiming that it would require a lot of changes to fit the dual-screen environment of the handheld. Years later, a proper remaster of the game was released for the PC in 2016, also the first time the game saw the light of day in the west. 2017 also saw a worldwide release of a PS4 port of the game, the subject of this review. Since Suda51 is a favorite on this blog, we wholeheartedly dove in to take a look at one of his first games. Compared to his later output, it’s rather interesting and unique to say the least.

In 1999, a series of mysterious murders is committed within what’s known as the 24 Wards. This prompts the 24 Wards Heinous Crimes Unit to investigate, concluding that the murders were committed by Kamui Uehara, a man who had previously killed a number of government officials in the now-famous “Silver Case” 20 years prior. However, Kamui was held in a mental hospital and deemed unfit to commit crime again, leading the HCU to wonder how he could still be around. The player character, a member of the Special Forces known as “Republic”, has been recruited to help investigate the Kamui case.

The story of The Silver Case is told from two perspectives. The first scenario, Transmitter, is told from the perspective of a detective, the nameless protagonist recruited by the Heinous Crimes Unit, trying to track down Kamui. The other scenario, Placebo, is told from the perspective of a freelance journalist, Tokio Morishima, investigating the Kamui case. Due to the presentation of the story in the main menu, which resembles a sort of record player, Transmitter can be viewed as the A-side and Placebo the B-side.

The Silver Case is split into two sides, like a record.

As for the execution of this presentation, it’s overall very solid. The premise of tracking down a serial killer presumed inactive is intriguing on its own, but it gradually unfolds into a rather elaborate, but engaging, conspiracy involving government politics surrounding the 24 Wards, as well as the true nature of Kamui Uehara and how he relates to it all. I won’t say too much to avoid spoilers, but I will say that’s it’s rather essential to play both Transmitter and Placebo, preferably trading off between them to make full sense of the story; I say this because I played Transmitter and then Placebo and found myself lost a little on some of the details until I finished both. Even though Placebo starts out as more or less Transmitter from a different perspective, the story does pick up sooner rather than later and has its own unique twists and turns.

Though the plot of The Silver Case is a bit odd and has some bizarre twists, which may be more acceptable if you’re a Suda51 fan, what makes it engaging is its themes. There are some elements of postmodernism present, mainly through the game acknowledging itself in odd ways, most notably how it handles the concept of a silent protagonist in a game. In the case of this game, the player character is implied to be literally mute, which elicits some interesting reactions from the other characters; by contrast, Tokio is very talkative throughout Placebo.

The nameless main protagonist of The Silver Case, whom
the player can name (Protip: His "default" name is Akira).

One major theme of The Silver Case, which also loosely ties a few other Suda51 games together, is the theme of “Kill the Past”. A “Kill the Past” game generally involves the protagonist having to either directly confront past events they are at odds with or destroy some relic of their past which burdens them in some way in order to move forward with their lives. This idea of destroying a relic of the past is played out rather well in The Silver Case and manifests itself in an interesting way, though the payoff is better if Transmitter and Placebo are played in the right order.

What’s notable about The Silver Case is its gameplay, or the lack of. Since it’s a visual novel, most of the time the player is reading through text and dialogue to advance the story to its, in this case, pre-determined conclusion. It’s kind of annoying that you can’t adjust dialogue speed or skip through it, however there are certain times when dialogue speed is used for dramatic effect or to recreate use of an online chat room, so it also kind of makes sense.

When not reading text, the player has the opportunity to explore a three-dimensional world in first-person view and interact with objects. Movement in this part of the game is restricted to a grid-like system where the player can only walk between specific points on the map, which operates not unlike “tank controls”, but the player can also look up and down; turning resets the view. However, there are numerous points of interactivity depending on the part of the story and there is some occasional puzzle solving. I will admit, however, that sometimes it’s not completely obvious where the player is meant to go next to advance the story, but fortunately the limited map points make it pretty easy to figure out with trial and error.

A section of actual player interactivity in The Silver Case.

During the actual gameplay segments, the player uses a command ring with four options: M (Move), C (Control), I (Implement) and S (Save). Players normally have to scroll through the command ring and select the command they wish to use, though the options are also accessible through shortcuts. Move and Save are the most likely to see use, while Control, basically interacting with an object, can only be used on map points marked by a sun and Implement, in which you use an inventory item, is pretty rarely used. The controls do take some getting used to, but it’s pretty easy once you adjust.

While gameplay is present somewhat often in the Transmitter part of the game, the Placebo portion is a lot more text-oriented. As such, there’s a bare minimum of actual interactive moments, restricted entirely to four objects in Tokio’s apartment: his computer, phone, apartment window and pet turtle, Red. Due to this more limited presentation, Placebo is more boring to sit through, especially if you play like I did and tried to go through it all in one sitting (this is partly why I discourage the playstyle).

The visual presentation of The Silver Case is rather unique mainly due to the Film Window engine. Film Window was created to take advantage of Grasshopper’s limited resources available at the time, but the way they did so gives it an experimental flavor and helps it stand out even from other visual novels. The way Film Window works is that the game places windows on top of a larger backdrop relevant to each case. In these windows, the player can see 3D backgrounds, 2D artwork (both character profiles and whole shots), dialogue text and both live-action and animated footage. The seemingly random, but ultimately deliberate, placement of each window helps to highlight the emotion of each scene and can easily ramp up the tension at the right moments. The use of numerous mediums is also executed pretty well and can at times create an appropriate sense of unease.

Film Window in action.

Each chapter also feels unique, since they all have unique backdrops and general color schemes which suit each case. For instance, case#3: Parade is presented entirely in black and white and has a dedicated intro animation. case#4: Kamuidrome has a generally green color scheme to match its relation to the internet, also reflected in how the backdrop generates random words in a special typeface, however I did find that this chapter in particular saw some framerate drops due to the number of visual effects in the backdrop.

The visual style of case#4: Kamuidrome
(compare with case#0: Lunatics, above).

Transmitter and Placebo also have general style differences within the 2D artwork each side uses. Specifically, Transmitter uses a generally more realistic style while Placebo uses a rougher, sketchier style. Not only does this difference help each side feel different from each other, it can also create two different appearances for characters who appear in both sides, most noticeably with Tokio Morishima and Tetsugoro Kusabi from the Heinous Crimes Unit. It’s not too jarring, but it can create a different impression of certain characters as a result.

I’ll also mention here that while the game will use the visuals of the remake by default, it’s possible to alter the settings to instead display the visuals of the original PlayStation release instead.

The soundtrack for The Silver Case, arranged by Akira Yamaoka for the remake, is also pretty good and helps to give the game its own identity. Each track contributes well to the atmosphere, including the unique track for each case, and the prevalence of certain cues helps to highlight certain scenes and make the score more memorable.

Before I end this review, I’d also like to mention that as of 2017, the remake of The Silver Case also includes two additional chapters meant to more directly bridge the game to two sequels (these are included in the PS4 version by default). case#25: White Out leads more directly into The 25th Ward: The Silver Case and report*6: YAMI leads more directly into Flower, Sun, and Rain; the former game did not receive a proper re-release until 2018, until which it was considered a “ghost game” by Suda51, and the latter had received only a DS version in the west. These new chapters are pretty short, you can complete them both in less than 10 minutes combined, but they do a good job of making the player want to see what happens next.

case#25: White Out also adopts a similar visual style to The 25th Ward.

The Silver Case is a very interesting game. Its premise goes into sometimes bizarre territory, along with some philosophizing, and has a unique presentation. The actual gameplay is a bit bare, especially in the Placebo portion, but does present a method of interactivity unseen in a good number of visual novels. Considering this is Suda51’s first game under Grasshopper Manufacture, it’s pretty solid overall, but also feels more barebones compared to his later work. What really keeps the player invested, however, is the unique feel the Film Window engine provides as well as how more about each character is revealed through the different cases. I’d recommend this mainly to Suda51 fans who want to see where a lot of traits found in his later output originate, and who want to add one more of his games to their library, or for people who are looking for an interesting visual novel to play. It’s rough around the edges, as plenty of older games are, but worth playing once.