Review 11 – Pacific Rim

When I was just four years old, I had my first experience with robots, specifically, the Transformers.  These machines inadvertently crash-landed on Earth from Cybertron, and gained the ability to transform into Earthly vehicles.  Most importantly, they were awesome.  For a long time, I was convinced the coolest things in the world were robots.

Then along came Pokémon.  Whether it was the cheesy TV series, the addictive trading card game or the legitimately awesome videogame, the Pocket Monsters became an obsession for millions, and still are.

Put simply, two of the things I love the most are robots and monsters.  That’s why I was pretty excited about Pacific Rim, a movie in which the two beat the living daylights out of one another.  I’m pleased to report it does exactly what it says on the box, nothing more, nothing less.

Put simply, two of the things I love the most are robots and monsters.  That’s why I was pretty excited about Pacific Rim, a movie in which the two beat the living daylights out of one another.  I’m pleased to report it does exactly what it says on the box, nothing more, nothing less.

Pacific Rim is set on a version of Earth which has been invaded by monsters from another dimension called Kaiju. The opening to this dimension is, you guessed it, underwater at the Pacific Rim .  The logical response?  Fight them off by building colossal Jaegers, mechs armed to the robotic teeth with more weaponry than an entire nation’s army.  When the Kaiju begin adapting to advances in Jaeger technology and gain the upper hand in the war, Commanding Officer Pentecost (Idris Elba) calls on has-been Jaeger pilot Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and unproven rookie Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to join the last line of defense in the legendary Jaeger Gypsy Danger.  It’s a classic reimagining of the old good vs evil battle, and I could have written it when I was seven.  There are no real twists or turns in the plot, and it’s a predictable exercise.

The major roles are acted quite well, but the characters are never developed enough to allow their actors to do anything other than go through the motions.  There are jock pilots, a softly spoken but strong-willed Japanese woman, a stern commanding officer with a heart of gold, a bully rival pilot who eventually comes around… you’ve seen it all before, and frankly you’ve probably seen it better. They’re not mind-numbingly dull, nor are they mind-bogglingly interesting – they’re simply present to string things along.  They succeeded in keeping me mildly interested while I waited for the next title fight between Jaeger and Kaiju.

The standout is Mana Ashida, who plays a young Mako Mori and convinces during a limited number of flashbacks.  With very few, if any, lines of dialogue, she manages to express more in a few minutes of screen time than her more experienced co-stars can in the entire film.  Aged 9, she’s already a pretty big deal in Japan, and could be one to watch out west too.

Characters… plot… pfft. I saw the trailer. I didn’t come in expecting dialogue that crackles like Reservoir Dogs, an ingenious non-linear narrative and characters who will stay with me for a lifetime like Heath Ledger’s Joker, Brando’s Corleone or even Eric Cartman.  If you are expecting these things, you clearly misunderstood the trailer and will be extremely disappointed.

Characters… plot… pfft. I saw the trailer. I didn’t come in expecting dialogue that crackles like Reservoir Dogs, an ingenious non-linear narrative and characters who will stay with me for a lifetime like Heath Ledger’s Joker, Brando’s Corleone or even Eric Cartman.  If you are expecting these things, you clearly misunderstood the trailer and will be extremely disappointed.

The reality is, these little diversions are never outstanding enough to distract from the metallic main course of the film, and that’s for the best.  What makes this film tick is the action, which is gloriously intense.  It makes most action films look like games of backyard cricket; what’s on offer here is ridiculously epic and up close & personal at the same time, with long-ranged weaponry taking a backseat to good old-fashioned fisticuffs.  Despite the sheer size of the combatants, I found myself wincing at the more aggressive kills and moves, which is a real credit to Mr Del Toro, who has a talent for visceral, fantastical combat in all shapes and forms, a talent developed in the wicked Hellboy movies and, to a lesser extent, Pan’s Labyrinth.

Special effects are stunning, with nightmarish visions of real world cities torn apart by monster attacks interspersed with wonderfully creative robot and Kaiju designs.  While the plot is somewhat derivative, Pacific Rim’s creative team has clearly put a lot of care into creating a rich universe on which to project a number of storylines.  Each Jaeger and Kaiju is part of a class/category and has a codename, the inner-workings of the two-pilot Jaeger system has potential to be fascinating, and the biology and homeworld of the Kaiju could carry a film in themselves.

The richness of this vision is a pro and a con though.  While I’m looking forward to what comes next in the world of Pacific Rim, it’s a bit of a shame it wasn’t more fleshed out here.  The movie is quite long as it is, but I would have gladly surrendered a half-arsed attempt at drama in favour of something that engrossed me further into the universe, like an analysis of the parasites which crawl on the Kaiju, more screen-time for other Jaegers and their pilots, or an insight into the reasoning behind the Kaiju’s desire to exterminate humanity.

I guess your enjoyment of Pacific Rim will correlate directly with your love of robots and/or monsters. It’s absolutely crucial to note that there are some moments that don’t involve things like a robot left-hooking a monster across the face with a shipping vessel, but these mediocre moments are few and far between.  When it comes down to it, Pacific Rim is fine popcorn entertainment.  The generic plot points and crepe-thin characters never outweigh the gargantuan battles, and the fact that Del Toro has managed to put together a compelling universe in the face of stilted dialogue and a pedestrian story is impressive too.

In short, if you liked what you saw in the trailer, as I did, you will enjoy this movie, and you’ll probably want more in the future.  If not, bring a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a book, because you’re in for over two hours of bullshit.  You’ve been warned.

 

Pacific Rim is a Category 4 Kaiju out of a Category 5.

Reviewception 1 – Rex Reed’s Review of Pacific Rim

If you’re a Reviewman regular, you’ve (hopefully) already read my thoughts on Pacific Rim.  Whether you agreed or disagreed, I at the very least hope you found it grammatically sound.  More importantly, I hope it was enlightening and factually correct, two things Rex Reed’s review of the same film definitely is not.  Please open it and follow along with me.

This confused, untrue mish-mashed turd Mr. Reed is attempting to pass off as a review should never have gone to print, and whoever’s in charge at The New York Observer should have their eyes and head checked by qualified professionals.

 

Paragraph One

The problems start in the very first sentence: “Everyone knows summer is a dumping ground for rubbish.”  I have near-newborn cousins who can tell me that summer is in fact a season.  It’s not a tangible object like, say, a toilet, verge or garbage tip, and therefore you can’t dump stuff on it.  I don’t care which way you’re trying to swing it.  If you want to make bold claims and write off an entire season based solely on the content of the local cinema, at least illustrate your point competently.

Rex concludes his opening paragraph by stating that “The result is being called, by people with intelligence and taste, Godzilla Meets Predator.”

Firstly, this sentence is confusing.  I know both movies are regarded as classics, and if people with intelligence and taste are calling Pacific Rim a convergence of two classics, that must be a good thing, right?  So why did Rex Reed give the movie a paltry ¼ rating?

Secondly, Pacific Rim is not being called Godzilla Meets Predator by anyone, let alone people with “intelligence and taste”.  Quickly Googling “Godzilla Meets Predator” yields 1,460,000 results, and while I’m not prepared to scour through all of them, nothing from the first five pages references Pacific Rim in any way, shape or form, except Mr Reed’s questionable piece.

There are probably good reasons for this, so let’s lay them out.  If Godzilla is being likened to the Kaiju, then the Predators must represent the Jaegers.  The Godzilla reference is justified, indeed, the influence of that film is evident in Pacific Rim’s antagonists, the hulking Kaiju beasts.  They’re skyscraper-sized monsters who appear set on wiping out humanity.  They’re similar in size, appearance and intention to Godzilla.

The Predator, on the other hand, is an armoured alien not much larger than the average Arnold Schwarzenegger, who uses an arsenal of weapons to ritually hunt humans and Xenomorphs for no purpose other than sport.  Jaegers are robots built by humans, operated by humans tasked with saving humans.  In many ways, they’re the exact opposite of Predators, hence why no one with half a brain would liken a Predator to a Jaeger.

Let me sum up Rex Reed’s equation here.

Giant monster that kills humanity = giant monster that kills humanity.  Fair enough.

Sentient alien that hunts humans for sport = inanimate robot vehicle piloted by humans for the purpose of defending humanity.  No way.

Paragraph Two

Poor Rex Reed loses his train of thought here.  Let me highlight his derailing: “I suppose some effort should be made to extend at least a one-star rating for computer graphics, since that is all this incredible waste of time and money is about, but don’t look for anything that remotely resembles smart dialogue or inventive technology. Even the special effects are cheesy and stupid.”  Wait… so did you like the special effects or not?

Rex proceeds to go on a bizarre, disjointed tangent about how unfortunate it is that people play videogames and watch escapist popcorn cinema instead of playing poker.  It’s a cheap, over-generalised shot at the demographic of this film, and it’s uncalled for.

 

Paragraph Three

If this review has any merit, it’s that it has a twist in the third paragraph: it appears as though Rex Reed hasn’t even seen the movie!  “In Pacific Rim, millions of lives and cities that weren’t already destroyed by the zombies in World War Z have been wiped out by some kind of intergalactic holocaust”.  It’s explicitly stated in the first five minutes of the film that the Kaiju came from a portal between dimensions beneath the Pacific Ocean.  Therefore, by definition, the invasion cannot have been “intergalactic”.  I would have accepted “interdimensional”.

“Kaijus look like a cross between anthropomorphic sea urchins and T. rexes.”  T Rexes is a solid comparison.  However, last time I checked, a sea urchin was a small ball of spines.  There is nothing in this film that even closely resembles a small ball of spines.

 

This is a sea urchin.

 

These are Kaiju.  Unlike the sea urchin, a Kaiju won’t fit in the palm of your hand, and also has a face.  These are just differences I whipped up then, I’m sure you can find a few of your own.

 

“The only way to fight them is to invent monsters of our own called “Jaegers”—steel robots the size of the Chrysler Building with astronauts inside acting as pilots.”  Again with the space stuff… really?  Calling a Jaeger Pilot an astronaut is like calling me a deep sea diver: I haven’t got the relevant qualifications and I’ve never been deeper than three metres below sea level.

“The last surviving pilot to operate inside a Jaeger is a man named Becket…” Wrong.  There are clearly three operational Jaeger teams, two teams of two and one of three.  That’s a grand total of seven living pilots.

“Becket launches a 2,400-pound mega-nuclear bomb against the remainder of the underwater Kaijus from inside an outdated, condemned Jaeger that is ready for the junk pile.”  Wrong.  Becket’s mission is to co-pilot a Jaeger and defend a separate Jaeger that has been tasked with delivering the bomb.

 

Paragraph Five

Did you think Reed was done with the twists?  Think again!  Twist two: Rex Reed doesn’t actually know about movies!

Pacific Rim was directed, more or less, by Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro. His debut film was a neat little horror called Kronos, but I have personally disliked everything he’s done since. I was not a fan of the labored, overrated Pan’s Labyrinth, and I hated the equally contrived and pretentious ghost story The Orphanage.”  This is perhaps Rex Reed’s most embarrassing passage.  Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favourite films of all time, but hey that’s just me.  However, Guillermo del Toro did not direct The Orphanage, JA Bayona did.  That’s not my opinion.  That’s a fact.  If one has had a journalism degree for over half a century, one should be learned in the art of collecting facts.  Or, you could just do a fucking Google search.

Reed ends his review with a classic piece of nonsense speak, the skidmark atop a stinking heap of paragraph-based poo.  “It’s important in a mindless frolic like this to find someone to root for, but although the humans knock themselves out in Pacific Rim, they’re pure cardboard. Sometimes you’d much rather get to know the robots.”  Mate, this sentence, and your review, are mindless frolics.  I’ve seen more coherent passages in a tin of Heinz Alphabetti Spaghetti.  If you can decode this absolute ripper of a closing passage send me your answers on a postcard, please let me know.

As for this review, I give it 1 out of 5, only because of the twists.

Review 10 – The 3 Worst Ads on TV

Apparently, the average person is exposed to somewhere between 3,000 and 20,000 commercial messages per day.  Sadly, I would estimate that between 2,999 and 19,999 of them are absolute dirt. However, it’s heartening to notice a few golden nuggets peeping through the confusing, lying, exaggerating pile of poo that is the vast majority of the advertising industry’s output.

These are not those nuggets.

In fact, these three examples are among the worst ads on TV at the moment.  I’ll tell you why.

 

Nicabate Minis/Nicorette Lozenges

Why it’s a crap ad: false advertising.

This ad commits the most basic of advertising no-nos: it portrays its product as something it’s not.  The benefits of Nicabate Minis/Nicorette Lozenges would seem fairly straightforward to me: they relieve cravings for nicotine without the harmful effects of cigarettes.  The idea behind the ad is straightforward too: every time you resist a cigarette, you celebrate a little win.  And while there are plenty of creative visions that could convey either of these messages, Nicabate/Nicorette have chosen to present their product in an entirely false way and confuse the viewer.

The ad in question, embedded above, is simple enough.  Man 1 asks Man 2 if he would like a cigarette.  Man 2 says “I’m good”.  What he should have responded with was “will those cigarettes give me the confidence to perform karaoke in an empty bar while hallucinating that a miniaturised Maori funk band is playing a cover of Rare Earth’s 1971 classic I Just Want to Celebrate on a serving tray?  If not, then I’ll be fine with these sweet pills from Nicabate/Nicorette.”

I’m not a smoker, and am therefore not a Nicabate/Nicorette consumer either.  But I’ve done the research.  I’ve described the intended effects of the product above: they help kill ciggy cravings.  But even the most severe side effects are limited to fast or irregular heartbeat; and swelling of the face, lips, mouth or throat resulting in difficulty swallowing or breathing.  Nope, that’s not hallucinating or confidence enhancing.  So, somewhere in between turning down a cigarette and hallucinating/performing karaoke, the man has obviously consumed LSD and drunk five to seven beers.  It’s the only logical explanation.

But hey, he’s not smoking, so I guess in a roundabout way the ad does settle on the right message.  4 ciggys out of a pack of 24 for this one.

 

Jeep

Why it’s a crap ad: no mention of product benefits, presents a vague and unrealistic scenario.

Jeep is one of those brand names that has become so deeply embedded in society’s language that it has almost become a descriptor for vehicles suitable for use on rough terrain, just like Mackintosh’s raincoats have inspired an entire product category, the Mack raincoat.  They’ve reached this enviable position through precision engineering that combines the benefits of an off-road vehicle with aesthetics and luxurious interiors suitable for inner-city and family transport.  Recently, they’ve become surprisingly affordable too, and you can get a low-end Jeep, The Patriot (also the subject of this ad) for just $25,000.

So for their latest campaign, did Jeep focus on affordability, luxury, precision engineering, or the fact that their name is one of the most famous and highly-regarded in the world?  Your guess is as good as mine.

What unfolds above is some sort of awkward dialogue between Michael and an unnamed woman, presumably Michael’s wife or at the very least mother of his children.  I’m assuming they have kids because they’re cleaning up plush toys while they talk.  When unnamed woman tells Michael that she bought a Jeep, he repeats the question several times to confirm the information he’s just heard, before looking impressed.  Then the ad descends into the advertising cliché that is four-wheel-drives driving on an array of roads.

This wouldn’t happen.  These are more likely scenarios:

A:

Michael: so what did you end up getting?

Woman: I bought a Jeep.

Michael: You bought a Jeep?  Why?  I’ve told you I don’t bloody like that brand and I’d prefer a smaller, cheaper car since we only have one child, and said child is a tiny newborn that can travel safely in virtually any vehicle given the right safety seat.  It’ll be years before we need a bigger car than a hatch like the bloody Volkswagen Golf, which has awesome ads, by the way.

 

B:

Michael: so what did you end up getting?

Woman: I bought a Jeep.

Michael: Wow, I thought you were just going out to get a pack of almonds, 12 eggs and a tub of yoghurt like I asked!  What about our mortgage?  The kids we have to raise: there are so many doctor’s and dentist’s appointments involved in that.  The older one, he’s just about to go into high school… now we’ll have to send him to a shit one and he’ll end up making rash decisions and expensive impulse buys like you do.

 

C:

Michael: so what did you end up getting?

Woman: I bought a Jeep.

Michael: You owe me $25,000.

 

D:

Michael: so what did you end up getting?

Woman: I bought a Jeep.

Michael: You bought a Jeep?  Well so did I.

Woman: Fuck Michael, I knew we should have discussed this at greater length.

Ultimately, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that at the end of the ad, and I’ve seen it a lot, I still have absolutely no idea why I should buy a Jeep, or what Michael is really thinking under that seemingly impressed grin.

1 wheel out of a four-wheel drive.

 

AAMI

Why it’s a crap ad: it had big shoes to fill, it’s more overplayed than Stairway to Heaven at guitar shops.

How the mighty have fallen… the glory days of Ketut, Rhonda and the overweight yet charming Balinese foot massager are but distant memories for AAMI and viewers now, played out of existence by this dismal excuse for an ad.

This is actually an ad for the AAMI Skilled Drivers Course, a course for under 25s that’s included with any AAMI comprehensive motor insurance policy.

The initial idea and execution for this ad is decent enough.  A woman reflects on her past driving experience when she catches a glimpse of her former self at the traffic lights.  But it was never going to be as memorable as the internet phenomenon that was Ketut’s romance with that loveable redhead Rhonda, and to a lesser extent, her Balinese foot massage.  The characters are nowhere near as endearing and the humour is mediocre at best.  If AAMI were hoping for this to spread like wildfire like their past ads, their hopes were misplaced.

Perhaps knowing their new campaign wouldn’t be as catchy as the old, AAMI took a different approach.  Instead of actually making a good ad that would stick, they have seen fit to seemingly buy up every single 30-second slot on every network at every time of every day to force it to stick.  Seriously.  This ad gets played all the time.  I have actually seen it play back to back in between goals during an AFL game. It should be illegal to play an ad this average this many times.

Every time it plays, I feel a little piece of my heart dying, never to return to me.  Sure, you can say change channel, but it’s like the taxman, death or Liam Neeson in Taken: you can’t escape this thing, it will find you, and it will destroy you, no matter where you turn.

0 out of 12097497654986, which I think is the number of minutes of my life I’ve spent watching this ad that I’ll never get back.

AFL Mid Season Reviewman

With teams each approaching their respective halfway points of the season, it’s time to review each club’s performance using my innovative scale (0 to 10, where 10 represents the best and 0 the worst).

Adelaide Crows

This is a club that was literally a single kick away from a grand final berth in 2012.  Yet halfway through 2013 they find themselves struggling to crack into the top eight.  Their losses have been, for the most part, to quality opposition, including three likely top four candidates in Fremantle, Hawthorn and Sydney.  However, losses to fellow mid-table teams Carlton, Port Adelaide, and Richmond are a fair indication that this team doesn’t deserve to play finals.  A lack of a quality key forward is as conspicuous as Kurt Tippett’s contested marking ability.  One of the season’s great disappointments.  5/10.

Brisbane Lions

Here’s a microcosm of Brisbane’s season.  In Round 10 they were thrashed by Collingwood on their home turf.  In Round 12, after the bye, they were similarly shellacked by Fremantle, despite the fact that they made a whopping seven changes, bringing back genuine superstars of the future in Rockliff, Rich and Leuenberger.  Brown and Black, have missed stretches and appear to be past their best, and with a lack of obvious, consistent replacements, it’s going to be a long season, and perhaps a longer few years.  4/10, every one of those marks for the unbelievable victory away from home against Essendon.

Carlton Blues

Honourable loss: it’s the term every coach hates.  But Carlton opened their season with three of them, to Richmond, Collingwood and Geelong, with the largest margin a mere 17 points.  They’ve since started to click into gear a little better, perhaps becoming used to the coaching style of Mick Malthouse, but still seem to struggle to turn close losses into close wins, with Essendon, Hawthorn and St Kilda getting the better of Old Proud Navy Blues by under three goals.  Waite simply MUST string together games.  Walker’s reinvention as a backman has been a resounding success.  But they must find consistency.  6/10.

Collingwood Magpies

It’s been an interesting season for the Pies.  They’ve been thrashed by teams, but have dished out their share of buggerings too.  Fremantle, Hawthorn, Sydney and Essendon brushed the Black and White Army aside with relative ease, which would indicate that the top four might be beyond them.  However, their best is good enough to at least trouble sides in the finals, as their defeat of Geelong would indicate.  For me though, the gap between their best and worst is too great.  That, and I hate them.  6/10.

Essendon Bombers

Off field, you’d probably go with a 2/10 at best.  On field, they’ve been among the top performers.  The injury woes of 2012 are behind them, which would make another second half of the season fade-out as likely as peptides not popping up in the news again.  They worked a miracle on Fremantle’s home turf, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, and have only struggled against fellow top four aspirants Geelong and Sydney, losing each of those games convincingly.  Their spot in the four, however, is deserved.  8/10.

Fremantle Dockers

The Purple Haze is pretty damn hazy!  The Rollers/Rockers’ only losses have come against top performers in Essendon and Hawthorn.  They’ve ground out close games against Adelaide and Richmond.  They pulled a rabbit out of the hat against Sydney at the SCG, managing an astonishing come-from-behind draw.  They’ve convincingly beaten Melbourne, the Gold Coast, the Western Bulldogs and cross-town rivals West Coast.  They have the best defence in the league by a long way.  And they’ve done it without a who’s who of key players, including Pavlich, Fyfe, Walters and Hill, along with first, second and third choice ruckmen in Sandilands, Griffin and Bradley.  An incredible effort, all things considered. 9/10.

Geelong Cats

It’s back to business as usual for Geelong, who have resorted to old habits.  And by that, I mean they’re brushing aside just about everything in their path.  Despite the retirements of so many key players across every line, the worrying thing for the rest of the competition is the injection into the side and rapid improvement of youngsters like Vardy, Duncan, Blicavs, Smedts and Motlop, who have fit in seamlessly.  They’ve added pace to an already potent midfield, are finding more avenues to goal rather than relying on Hawkins, and have made it look like Matthew Scarlett never really mattered (all due respect to Matthew).  So… why did they lose to Collingwood?  9/10

Gold Coast Suns

Wow.  People laughed when Gold Coast’s chairman John Witheriff announced his 20-ONE-3 vision: an aspiration to achieve 20,000 members and a premiership within three years.  Those laughs are being accompanied by worried looks over shoulders now.  They managed three wins in 22 games in 2012.  Halfway through 2013, they already have five.  The ahead-of-time recruitment of Jaeger O’Maera was a masterstroke – give him the 2013 Rising Star now.  Aaron Hall, Dion Prestia, Trent McKenzie and veteran Campbell Brown have gone up a notch.  And it turns out obscure midfielder Gary Ablett is by far and away the best player in the league, and possibly the best player the game will ever see.  Worryingly convincing improvement.  8/10

Greater Western Sydney Giants

It’s been more of the same for Greater Western Sydney in 2013, who have shown fleeting glimpses of brilliance, primarily off the boot of Jeremy Cameron.  Based on the first half of this season, it’s not unrealistic to say that he will at some stage become the premier forward in the game.  The rest of the team has stagnated, with high-profile veterans like Brogan and Cornes non-contributors, and the allegedly promising youth showing little development outside of reeling in a few 20 goal margins and making them 10-15 goal margins.  The best thing you can say about the rest of the team is that they try hard in patches.  And at the top level, patches won’t cut it.  1/10

Hawthorn Hawks

A horror first half of 2013 saw the losing 2012 Grand Finalists playing 2012’s top eight across the first seven rounds.  Much to the horror of the rest of the competition, barring perhaps Geelong, they now sit first, with the best attack and percentage in the league, if you don’t mind.  The fact that Franklin has been well below his devastating best shows depth in the forward line, while the supposedly weak backline is in fact the third strongest in the league, trailing only Fremantle and Sydney, two teams who have already fallen to Hawthorn anyway.  They’ve done it without Suckling and, for the most part, Rioli too.  I am frightened.  10/10

Melbourne Demons

Where do you start?  They beat Greater Western Sydney that one time.  Then again, so has everyone else.  With literally less than a handful of players performing at the standard required at this level (Jones, Howe and maybe Frawley), young talent with a distinct lack of talent, and a rag tag bunch of trades who must cry themselves to sleep at night, Melbourne’s 2013 season is surely one of the most uncompetitive efforts in recent memory… in sport.  They’ve got the worst attack and percentage in the league, the second worst defence and probably the lowest attendance numbers.  The only fair score to give is a 0/10, the same score I give Mitch Clark’s decision to go to Melbourne when top four chance Fremantle practically had the red carpet rolled out, a nice hot bath running and champagne and strawberries on his bedside table.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

So close… yet so far.  That’s been 2013 for the Kangaroos.  They’ve been in winning positions against the Gold Coast, West Coast, Adelaide, Hawthorn and Geelong.  They lost all of those games.  There have been bright spots, like Lindsay Thomas’ shocking improvement, and the fact that they’ve been able to get into these winning positions at all against two flag favourites.  Nevertheless… call it a losing culture, a mental issue, or a team that trains well but crumbles in real game situations… I call it being quite good, but not good enough.  5/10

Port Adelaide Power

Along with the Gold Coast, another big improver.  These idiots could only manage five wins for the entire 2012 season, but have already notched six this year, and are lurking dangerously outside the top eight by percentage alone.  They probably still haven’t shown enough to mix it to any meaningful degree with quality sides, with West Coast the biggest scalp they’ve taken, in a miraculous 41-point fightback.  But I’ve been ever so impressed with the so-called Power.  The youth is looking good, with Wingard and Hartlett taking promising steps forward, while experienced players like Cornes and Boak have impressed.  Maybe they don’t have the power to rule in 2013, but they certainly have the power to (occasionally) win.  7/10.

Richmond Tigers

The Tiges look like they might have found a little something.  They’ve put together some solid wins, coming out on top in the pressure cooker environment against Carlton in Round 1, while spanking Port Adelaide and West Coast outside of Melbourne.  They’ve been more ruthless against the weaker teams too, managing some decent margins that have helped them into the top eight.  Riewoldt is having another solid season in front of goal but is still prone to the odd stinker when pitted against a quality opponent (G’day Luke McPharlin, you legend).  Deledio and Martin are cruising nicely, and could be right in the mix for All Australian selection.  7/10

St Kilda Saints

The Saints are on a dangerously slippery slope, and are clearly continuing to feel the loss of Ross Lyon and the defensive edge he brought to the team, while Fremantle fans point and laugh.  Finals are now impossible, with a severe lack of quality and depth to blame.  They showed a bit against West Coast before letting the game go by four points, and snuck home against Carlton in an impressively resilient performance.  The shining light has been Nick Riewoldt, who appears to be in All Australian and potentially Coleman Medal form.  Montagna has tried hard too.  Unfortunately, their normally reliable amigos Milne, Dal Santo, Fisher, Gilbert and Hayes have either been below their best or missed out on too many games to have an impact.  As for the rest of the list?  Let’s just say they’re developing.  2/10

Sydney Swans

The Swans started out with unconvincing wins against the expansion clubs, a loss to the Cats, and a near-loss against the Saints.  Since then, they’ve improved, despite the lack of high-profile recruit Tippett and Rhyce Shaw.   Based on the first half of their season, I wouldn’t lock them in for back-to-back flags.  They broke even with Fremantle after being nearly five goals ahead in the fourth, and were similarly unconvincing in losses to premiership fancies Geelong and Hawthorn.  They will face Hawthorn and Geelong again, before the home and away season is over, that will be a true test of whether or not they deserve the 2013 flag.  Solid, but not super impressive.  8/10

West Coast Eagles

A pre-season survey of the nation’s footy fans would’ve seen a remarkably high percentage of them locking in the Eagles for the flag.  As it stands, they’re struggling to stay in the eight.  The House of Pain is no more – embarrassing home losses to Richmond, Carlton and Hawthorn have seen to that.  They also conceded bragging rights in the Western Derby.  Injuries may have hurt early, but a supposed flag favourite should pack the depth to cover them (see Geelong).  Without that depth, it’s easy to see why they’ve only beaten the bottom six teams on the ladder, but have failed in every other test.  3/10

Western Bulldogs

It’s been another tough year for the Doggies, who appear to have well and truly reverted back to being one of the whipping teams of the league, as they were before those preliminary finals a couple of years back.  There’s a serious lack of firepower up front – the only teams who’ve scored less are Melbourne and Brisbane.  On the bright side, Cooney looks like he might be able to return to some sort of form, while Giansiracusa, Griffen, Boyd, Murphy and Liberatore have been admirable in their efforts.  There’s very little to make a song and dance about outside of those players trying hard.  At least they’re not worse than last year. 4/10

Reviewman Countdown 4 – Perth’s Best Burgers

Food trends come and go, much like the strange Mini Disc fad of the mid 90s.  However, unlike the concept of making CDs look like floppy disks again, the appeal of a hefty piece of meat shoehorned between two pieces of bread is ever present.  Perth has a good number of contenders in this burger-based Wrestlemania, but who boasts the concoction that takes the title belt?  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. I took a look at the best burgers in the west, stemming from five notable burger joints and a surprise high-end restaurant.  For the sake of alliteration, let’s call this list Six Sexy Burgers.  I know “burgers” doesn’t start with an “S”, but we’ll roll with it.

 

6. CRAM $13.50 – Alfred’s Kitchen.

This casual Guildford outlet is one of the most loved in Perth, and with good reason.  The CRAM itself is one of them.  The most calorie-packed burger on a menu that’ll seriously cause the loosening of belts and popping off of buttons, it’s a classic “The Lot” burger.  Egg, bacon, cow two ways (beef and steak) and some relatively soggy salads make this more like a supercharged Double Whopper rather than a gourmet burger, but it has its charm.  The decent price:content ratio gets it bonus points, though it isn’t the cheapest on the list.  Fun fact: Matt Preston named this as his favourite burger in Australia.  The fact that he has the diet of a garbage truck and the body of a walrus should indicate to you that if you’re looking for healthy, nutritious food, you’re barking up the wrong burger joint.

Alfred's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

5. Goat’s Cheese & Hummus $14.50 – Grill’d.

With a price as suspect as the lack of a letter “E” in the restaurant name, you’d be hoping for something pretty outstanding from this lamb burger.  It delivers, with a simple blend of ingredients that works.  Smooth, rich goats cheese is offset by the nuttiness of the hummus, two flavours that combine beautifully with the no fuss meatiness of the lamb.  Being a massive chain, expect some inconsistencies in quality.  Don’t be surprised to find the odd sandy lettuce leaf or grisly patty on your visit.

Grill'd Mount Lawley on Urbanspoon

 

4. Day Dreamer $12.20 – Bilby’s. 

Head up Davies Road in leafy Mount Claremont and you’ll come across a teensy tiny burger joint with a capacity of around nine diners.  Bilby’s holds a special place in my heart, having produced the first truly “gourmet” burger that I laid tastebuds upon.  To this day, I’m pleased to report that my favourite burger at the diner, the Day Dreamer, holds its own, against far more expensive entrants, I might add.  This chicken burger packs a decent hunk of breast marinated in thyme and all manner of native pepper berries, giving the traditionally boring white meat a nice herby zing and a little bit of heat.  It’s garnished with the usual salad greens and tomato mix, along with melted cheese, bacon and a beautifully silky avocado cream.  Being the cheapest burger on the list is a huge plus.
Bilby's Chargrilled Burgers on Urbanspoon

 

3. The Beef Big Smoke $15.50 – Burger Bistro. 

The price is as high as the burger itself.  If your wallet can brave one, and your jaw the other, the payoff is good.  A flavoursome Angus patty is engulfed in the obligatory salads, but the smoky barbecue sauce, quality Emmental cheese, pancetta and garlic mayo are the true keys to the magic.  The crispiness of the bread is a nice touch, which also prevents the burger from breaking apart through the combination of meat juice, cheese juice, sauce and all sorts of other juices.  Possibly the most filling burger on this list.
The Burger Bistro on Urbanspoon

 

2. Mozzarella Chicken $14.50 – Jus Burgers. 

Jus is seen by some as the undisputed king of the Perth burger scene, and I tend to agree.  They don’t overcomplicate things by loading ingredients in between bread, instead focusing on nailing what’s in each.  Perfectly cooked chicken tenderloins, with a little light charring for that inimitable taste of fire, are the centrepiece.  The little touches make a huge difference too, like fantastically crisp lettuce; and lightly grilled, salted and oiled bread.  It’s held together by a house-made pesto and notoriously expensive, fresh tasting buffalo mozzarella.  It’s not literally held together though – this thing is a nightmare to eat, even if you cut it in half with the provided steak knife.  Pack a bib, make sure no one’s looking, then lick it all up or soak it with bread & chips.
Jus Burgers on Urbanspoon

 

1. Rockpool Burger ($24) – Rockpool Bar & Grill.

Neil Perry is known for many things.  Ponytails, QANTAS First and Business Class menus, steak, fine-dining, and having the most successful high-end group of restaurants in Australia.  I’m here to talk up the burger, tucked sneakily away on the bar menu, which is not only the best in Perth, but may well be the best in Australia.  Virtually everything on offer is made in-house, from the pillowy bun, through to the tangy onion and zucchini pickle, amazing chilli jam, and of course the patty.  Using assorted cuts of David Blackmore’s Wagyu Beef, which are finely minced, seasoned and formed into generous slabs before being cooked medium rare, this is a serious piece of beef.  This isn’t that low marble score crap you get at some restaurants either though.  This is some of the only 9+ Wagyu beef you can get in the country.  Say what you will about the $24 asking price, which will get you the burger and absolutely nothing else… this is a literal double handful of explosive flavours, and is the best burger I’ve ever eaten, by a distance.
Rockpool Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Found any better options?  Let me know, I’d bloody love to chow down on them.

 

PS: “But… I’m a vegetarian…”

Fantastic, so is my sister!  Luckily for the protein-challenged, there are several vegetarian options at these eateries.  Stay tuned for my list very soon.

Review 9 – The R Classification for Videogames

When the majority of the population of the United States voted Barack Obama in as their president, they wanted change.  Similarly, when a plethora of major videogame releases were barred from the Australian market, the people wanted change in the form of an R Classification, much like the one that exists for movies.  It’s a tenuous segue, but then so were the grounds on which games were banned back in the dark ages.  So, has the country’s R Classification for Videogames changed anything?

Gamers cried tears of joy when the R Classification for Videogames went live.  And it wasn’t only because they could tear mythical beasts apart in God of War: Ascension, crush infected heads with bricks in The Last of Us, uppercut heads off bodies in Mortal Kombat and blow away radioactive creatures and militants in polygon-perfect detail in Metro: Last Light.  It was a move that was supposed to elevate videogames onto the same artistic plain as cinema, which in my view is where this form of entertainment belongs.  It meant that adults who wanted to play adult videogames could do so.

It was supposed to be the start of a new age for gaming in Australia… a more mature age where games appeal to a more diverse demographic.  To an extent, that age has begun.  But June 25 and 26 2013 developments have shown that there’s still a way to go.

On June 25 2013, Saints Row IV was refused classification.  Less than 24 hours later, State Of Decay met the same fate.  To be refused classification, a title must “offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified.”

Saints Row IV was found to contain:

A) “a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context”

B) “insufficient delineation between the “alien narcotic” available in the game and real-world proscribed drugs.”

State Of Decay was banned on similar grounds: “drug use related to incentives or rewards.”

Let’s take a look at the reasoning used to restrict these titles from sale.

 

Saints Row IV A: “a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context”

The player can use an Alien Anal Probe to attack NPCs (non-player characters).  This so-called probe is some kind of outlandish fusion of sword, dildo and random appendages, which can be inserted between the legs of NPCs in order to launch them into the air.  Here’s a quote from the report: “After the probe has been implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus the area around their buttocks becomes pixelated highlighting that the aim of the weapon is to penetrate the victim’s anus.”

Let me say that I’m not an advocate for the insertion of alien devices into anuses or sexual violence.  But let me also say that the Classification Board is taking things extremely seriously here.

The pixelation of the action means that this so-called sexual violence is implied, not graphic.  This is even stated in the report.  It’s like fining someone because it kind of looked like they were going over the speed limit.  This is not a compelling enough reason to label the content as offensive against accepted standards of morality, decency and propriety.

I’m not saying that forcefully inserting an object into some poor soul’s through the pants, anus or otherwise, before launching them into the air is in line with standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.  That’s because it doesn’t  happen.  Ever.  In carrying out thorough web research on sexual toys, I have not once come across something that resembles what the report states, though devices of this nature are becoming increasingly inventive: “The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.”  Furthermore, there are very few people in the world who could penetrate even a delicate pair of pants with a blunt object, unless said object were a sexual toy that was, literally, out of this world.  And then the victim is launched into the air?  Like they’re a small pack of crisps, rather than a 45 to 100 kilo human?  Bullshit.

What I’m getting at here is that this whole scenario is an impossibility.  It is so blatantly impossible that it can’t be against any sort of accepted standards, as standards that govern the use of an alien device on humans do not exist. The Board is drawing a non-existent line that likens something that is conspicuously fictional and outlandish with a horrible real-world issue, and it’s a tenuous line at best… certainly not grounds for banning a game.

Oh, and another thing. In Saints Row III, which you can go out and purchase right now, you can do this:

That’s beating law enforcement officers to death en masse, with a real world dildo.  Go figure.

 

 

Saints Row IV B “insufficient delineation between the “alien narcotic” available in the game and real-world proscribed drugs.”

This is a naming issue.  “The Board notes that the label “narcotics” is commonly used to describe a class of real-world drugs that include such proscribed substances as cocaine and heroin.”  In other words, players are taking alien cocaine, when the Board would prefer that they be taking alien white powder that is definitely not ingested via the nasal region resulting in sensations of well-being and heightened alertness.  It’s stupid reasoning, but it’s fairly clear, and can easily be avoided.

But it was years ago when Fallout 3 was refused classification on the exact same grounds.  Furthermore, it’s worth noting that there are countless films and TV programs which depict the use, distribution and even manufacture of real Planet Earth narcotics.  Sure, the element of audience interactivity is absent, but real actors and settings add to the realism.  If the point of introducing an R Rating was to bring the credibility, respect and artistic merit of other media to videogames, then the rating has failed.

 

State Of Decay “drug use related to incentives or rewards.”

The developers of this game clearly thought that Australia was ready for games to ascend to a film-like level of acceptance in society – they didn’t even bother renaming their drugs.  Methadone, morphine, and amphetamines can all be found lying around the environment like change under a vending machine (serious, check when you’re next near one, you might score yourself a Snickers).  Much like Saints Row IV, they sprung the old “no drugs in games” trap.

There is an added issue though.  Here’s a report extract, “In the Board’s opinion, the game enables the player’s character to self-administer proscribed drugs which aid in gameplay progression. This game therefore contains drug use related to incentives or rewards and should be Refused Classification.”

In Breaking Bad, Walter White resorts to drugs to make a large amount of money so that his family can live comfortably after he’s lost the unwinnable fight against terminal cancer.  Almost three million people watched the latest episode live, with countless others catching up on downloads.  It features an array of benefits and detriments of drug use and manufacture.  Oh, and it manages to breeze onto Australian shelves with an MA rating.  That means if 11-year-old Junior wants to watch crackies purchase and use super hard drugs, he can get his clueless mother to buy it for him.

A horrible fact of the videogame industry is that a disturbingly high number of quality, top-selling titles feature extreme violence as central gameplay elements.  Indeed, mass slaughter of innocents and enemies is not just encouraged; it’s essential to progress.  So sure, State of Decay features drug use related to incentives or rewards, along with the killing of mindless zombies, but there are countless games which feature murder related to incentives or rewards, games which are available to anyone over 15.  Game violence is a whole different topic, but there’s clearly something wrong with Australia’s classification criteria if it dictates that mass killing is wholly acceptable in R, MA, M and even some PG and G games (you can’t fool me Nintendo, I know those Pokémon aren’t “fainting”), as opposed to drugs which are an absolute no no.

This is OK:

But calling drugs by their real names and using them?  In a videogame?  Get the hell out of my country.

 

So what has actually changed?

Major titles that have hit shelves with an R Rating include God of War: Ascension, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, The Last Of Us, Metro: Last Light and Mortal Kombat.  Mortal Kombat was originally refused classification, but is now available.  It’s a solid, critically acclaimed fighting game, and its availability is a credit to the board.

The Last Of Us is regarded as one of the best games ever made, and bears striking similarities to Left 4 Dead 2, which was refused classification due to the graphic violence that can be inflicted upon infected humans.  The Last Of Us allows players to do this, in much greater detail than Left 4 Dead 2, and with far greater emotional impact. It’s therefore easy to see this game being banned in an R Rating free society.  Another win.

The other three games are sequels or add-ons, and from all accounts they’re no more or less violent than their MA predecessors.  Ascension and Last Light deal with the same subject matter in the same game universe, while Blood Dragon takes the realistic present day island setting of Far Cry 3 and throws it out the window, putting an alternate reality 80s action movie-style acid-trip in its place.  While it’s impossible to tell what their rating would have been in years gone by, I dare say they would have managed to scrape through with the same MA rating as their prequels.  A neutral result.

Overall then, things have improved.  If The Last Of Us and Mortal Kombat had been restricted from sale in Australia, I would have imported them, then got my pitchfork and torch from out the back and marched on the Board.  But I can buy them.  I’m enjoying The Last Of Us right now.  So, while I’m grateful that these titles are available, it’s a shame to see that there’s still a definite distinction between videogames and other media.  What’s worse is that bans are being imposed thanks to flawed classification guidelines and the misinterpretation of content.

Overall, I’m giving the R Classification for Videogames a 4/10.

Review 8 – Cold Jellyfish and Pig Trotter

When I eat Chinese, I normally go for the stereotypical classics.  Sweet and Sour Pork, Crispy Duck, Sizzling *Insert Meat Here*… these are the greats that have stood the test of time, and the test of different cultures, having travelled outside their region of origin to tempt tastebuds worldwide.

On a recent visit to Uncle Billy’s, I stuck to my guns… initially at least.  But three beers and two champagnes later, I made a call to sample something different, IE: the least appealing item on the menu: Cold Jellyfish and Pig Trotter ($19.80).

Presentation was actually decent.  It’s not going to please fine diners used to dishes plated up using a combination of tweezers and titration.  However, it’s much better than what I was expecting, which was the foot of a pig and a jellyfish, as cold as the carcass and ocean from whence they came.  What I got was thin slices of what was in essence very lean pork belly, complete with a thin layer of fat and skin around the edge of each.  This obscured the pile of jellyfish beneath, which was also thinly sliced into strips, presumably across the dome rather than the tentacles.  Basically, it looked like Kim Chee, or Korean pickled cabbage, which happens to be the food of my people, so based purely on looks, I was pretty stoked with my ill-advised choice.

It kind of ended there though.  The flavours weren’t disgusting, nor were they mind-blowing; they were just amazingly unremarkable for something that sounds like it would be so much more… unique.  The pig trotter was under-seasoned and quite bland.  It was probably more ham than pork, and the fact that it was cold made it all the more “sandwich in a lunchbox”-esque.  The jellyfish was basically jellified seawater.  It was quite salty, which nicely offset the blandness of the pork, but it may as well have just been seawater.  I couldn’t identify a distinct flavour of any kind.

Textures are where the dish falls down.  If you’ve ever cooked pork or bacon with the rind on, you’ll know that it’s a tough, unpleasant layer when raw, but becomes an outstandingly crispy treat when cooked right.  But, Uncle Billy’s asks: “why would we make a crispy skin when we could cook this pig’s foot, cool it down, and in the process pretty much leave the skin as it is when it’s raw?” That’s a missed opportunity.  The jellyfish feels like those really thick rubber bands.  I know this because I used rubber bands as dental floss when I was a younger, more stupid child.  Terrible.

I suppose the lesson to be learned here is to go with your instincts, and if you wish to enjoy a dining experience free of mediocre, obscure dishes, keep alcohol content to a strict limit that won’t affect your judgement.  If I’d followed my instincts here and stopped at the bog standard classics of Chinese cuisine, I would be writing this to you $19.80 richer.

3 jellyfish tentacles out of 10.