Fracture (2007)

This film is 2 things: Technically it could fit into Noirvember, as it is a crime/court thriller. At the same time it is a Thanksgiving movie recommended to me by a friend when I was discussing detective mysteries. This film slipped under my radar at the time of its release, and now that I’ve seen it, we can discuss its contents. This is Fracture.

Directed by Gregory Hoblit (who also directed Primal Fear in 1996, so you know what you’re in for if you saw that one) and set in Los Angeles in the modern day (2007), our story revolves around two characters in particular; Theodore “Ted” Crawford (played by Anthony Hawkins) and Willy Beachum (played by Ryan Gosling). Ted Crawford is a wealthy aeronautical engineer whose skill in his craft is so good that he could finish work quickly enough and well enough to go home early. And go home he did, as he decided to wait in the dark for Mrs Jenny Crawford (plays by Embeth Davidtz). Jenny, Ted’s beautiful wife, is having an affair. She goes to a hotel under a different alias and spends intimate time with Police Lieutenant Rob Nunally (played by Billy Burke) – something Ted knew about after doing a bit of personal sleuthing over a period of time. Ted shoots Jenny when she gets home, and prepares the scene of the crime before calling the cops. Lieutenant Nunally shows up and to his great dismay, ends up identifying the victim as his anonymous fling. Ted then begins to taunt Nunally (as any jealous and potentially sociopathic husband might in the same situation) to the point of making the scene look like Police brutality. Leading to an arrest where nobody looked good (Because, you know, it’s a cop beating up a 70 year old man). From here, we are introduced to the film’s protagonist Willy Beachum, a young attorney due for a promotion, who is looked favourably upon by his current boss, Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn), and his future boss, Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike). Beachum’s success comes from him simply taking on the cases that he knows he can win, and therefore has no challenges, a mere aesthetic of personal growth, and his accomplishments look good on paper. He takes on the Ted Crawford case with the assumption that, like Ted at the beginning of the film, he can go in, win the case, and go home or go to a VIP party. However, due to how meticulous Ted was at preparing the crime scene – Willy’s in for a quite the roller coaster.

Now to see what we as viewers have and haven’t taken for granted:

The acting is very good, and in its own way amuses me – the character interactions and dialogue were presented in such a way that it felt and sounded like an action or sports movie. Making the slightly mundane appear more testosterone fuelled. Lots of snappy quifs, talking about lawyers as “fast rising stars” like they were racing drivers or athletes, with the best ones carrying themselves like movie stars blending in with celebrities. And of course when people are angry in this movie, they throw things! Anthony Hopkins puts on a good “Anthony Hopkins performance”, the kind that could be seen by some as phoned-in, but he is such a good actor that it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been a little indifferent with Ryan Gosling, but here he is very good at playing a southern boy who evidently moved to Los Angeles to make his fortune.

The characters and story continue on from what I said about the acting, that there is a lot more testosterone in this film with everyone talking (a little bit) like Arnie and Sly (okay, not the best examples, but it can get a little over the top). Willy Beachum carries himself like he was Bruce Wayne because of his success on the job, and so he enters this case with a hint of bravado as he assumes this will be easy, and falls into a trap. Afterwards he goes from Lawyer to Detective, wises up and stops thinking this was going to be a breeze. One quality that sticks out about him, is that he desires no corruption or shortcuts. He wants to make no mistakes or to cheat his way into winning. He is a rebel who makes it clear that there is to be no false evidence, and everything is to be by-the-book. Even the corrupt cops who want to help him start to feel the edge. Meanwhile his case with Ted Crawford in prison can be taken as either a negotiation or a game…So here is Anthony Hopkins, in prison, playing a mind game with an authority figure…He’s very good in this role.

Mychael and Jeff Danna’s musical score is beautiful, haunting and (in places) with a hint of tension and espionage in its tone. The piece called ‘The Rube’ evoking all kinds of emotions through its use of minor key piano and strings. It is one of the strongest characteristics of this movie…and that’s even with Anthony Hopkins in it.

The locations are pretty good, and I like that they used Fred Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall as a setting (As I always wanted to see what it looked like inside). We really get a sense of Ted’s personal accomplishment from his place of work to his choice of house and car (never mind having a beautiful young wife) and we sense Willy’s rise in ranks, as he has ticked some boxes, but not all (depending on the boxes of course; some people see big house, nice car and marriage as “making it”, but some others won’t. Willy’s got a lovely, vintage BMW though).

The cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau is phenomenal! Very beautifully shot! You could screenshot half of this film if you watch it on your PC or Mac. Tremendous lighting as well.

Would I recommend Fracture? Yes I would. It’s a very good cat and mouse court film with small whiffs of cheese, some fantastic visuals and a good story about pride coming before the fall (and then wising up). It’s not your typical Thanksgiving film, but it can be enjoyed all year around if you were that way inclined.

Acting: ****1/4

Characters: ***3/4

Story: ****

Music: *****

Art/Locations/Effects: ***3/4

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****1/4

Perfect Blue (1997)

Oh boy, we’re continuing Noirvember with something very special…to me at least…Because I still remember that day back in, I’d say sometime in 2005. I walked into Cash Converters, scanned through the DVDs, and here it was. I knew nothing about this film at the time, other than it looked like everything you would expect from a non-mecha anime – a sweet, smiling face covering the box’s foreground with the underlying darkness right in front of it (i.e. smiling girl in foreground stabbing something or somebody in murderous rage). It was the first anime I ever bought on DVD, and hence a personal pandora’s box was opened and I have been travelling through that rabbit hole ever since…and may the Alice In Wonderland and Matrix references continue throughout this review…or not. This is Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.

Set in what was modern day Tokyo, Japan (around 1997/1998, even though the film was made in 1996), our story revolves around Mima Kirigoe, a member of a mildly-successful J-Pop group called CHAM!. In the opening scenes we go back and forth between the two sides of Mima – her as a regular person buying groceries, and her as the Pop singer performing to a few hundred people (mostly men) on the rooftop of a multi-storey complex (Because sometimes in Tokyo, ‘The Park’ is on a rooftop). Mima performs her last concert as part of the group, with aspirations of becoming a full time actress (as being a pop singer was starting to affect her negatively) – to the mixed thoughts and feelings of both casual fans…and the not-so casual. She soon gets back to her apartment, puts away everything to do with her former life, and starts to work as an actress more regularly. However, things start to get creepy when she finds out that there is an online diary called “Mima’s Room”, which would be seen as a blog today…The diary entries, to Mima’s surprise and horror, were frighteningly accurate. How did it know that she bought cow’s milk and fish food? Which then brings up the question of whether Mima is in danger, as people who “taint” her innocent pop idol legacy seem to be getting in harm or trouble.

Now to decipher what’s real and what isn’t about the details:

The art style and animation are excellent, with character designs done by Hisashi Eguchi (who also designed the characters in Roujin Z), which are anime in style, yet realistic and quite detailed in anatomy and colour. The backgrounds would also be seen as within the confines of real settings, and then there are the scenes in which Mima appears to somehow hallucinate, which is where (some) of the horror takes place. Some of the designs however are a little less realistic, in particular Mamoru Uchida. The colours are well presented, with the emphasis on stronger hues to bring out the fantastical nature of some scenes. The animation, along with its creative use of cinematography is also a real treat to the eyes in terms of realism, cine-magic and storytelling.

The music by Masahiro Ikumi and the film’s voice acting are very good, with the soundtrack ranging from happy-clappy J-Pop to something straight out of Silent Hill. While the J-Pop music would have been a product of its time, the Silent-Hill-eque scores still hold up today in terms of their unsettling tone. The voice acting is strong, even in the english voiceover – every voice suited their design well.

The Characters, Story and themes are what keep people coming back to this film, because it is a very multi-layered journey with us asking what is real and what isn’t. At the same time, the film’s themes are probably more important now than ever. What started off as a niche activity in the film has now become a prominent part of modern society; The internet, blogging, social media…online stalking. While stalking has always (sadly) been around, it has become a more spoken-about problem today. If you know anybody who has had their photos and information used for cat fishing and fake accounts, this is a film that could be seen as covering it before it became a big deal. We also see themes of real self vs avatar, as Mina pretty much battles with her perceived self (who is more like a demon of negativity dressed in her Pop Idol garments, telling her that she made the wrong choice, and is now washed up at 21) and has to fight her in order to come-of-age, as we see her for who she is before she even enters these battles for her mind and sanity. But there are people around her who are only interested in her Pop Idol-Persona. Happy, bubbly, can sing, can dance, all day every day, and forever young. Among them include Mamoru Uchida, an obsessed fan who would be best described as a combination of “The Otaku Killer” Tsutomu Miyazaki, “The Bjork Stalker” Richardo Ramirez, Mark David Chapman (the man who shot John Lennon) and Michael Myers (Halloween). A truly unnerving combination. Despite being an evident celebrity at one point, I really like how down to earth Mima is and how, despite becoming an actress, is very much a normal person who is understandably alarmed by what’s happening around her. Her real life is what we, as an audience, are drawn towards. Which makes it all the more scary when others only embrace this “Facebook Life” version of her. At times, there is a real blurring of lines when Mima is acting – as she plays a character in a TV show who has Multiple Personality Disorder, which can really throw us into a spiral of wondering what’s to be embraced.

Would I recommend Perfect Blue? If you’re old enough to watch it, absolutely! It’s one of the most watchable anime out there in terms of what you can find that is new every time. It’s cleverly written, and it pretty much gets scarier as the years go by, and is more relevant in today’s world than it was in its day. There is a slight prophecy element in how technology, online personalities and stalking have more or less caught up with what the film did here (Making this ahead of its time). And at 80 minutes long, we receive a lot more information that we expect for the playtime. It is a must-watch for anime fans, and an excellent film all-round.

Art style: *****

Animation: *****

Voice Acting: ****1/2 (Japanese) **** (English)

Characters: ****1/2

Story: *****

Music: ****1/2

Themes: *****

Overall: ****3/4

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Artwork by Aaron Clements, November 9th 2020.

To continue on with the theme of Noirvember, we’re now going to talk about a film that I went into without any prior knowledge other than “Hey, Harvey Keitel is in this!”. A film that’s not really addressed anymore, as it had been (sort of) remade in 2009 under the same name and stars Nicolas Cage (called Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans). It can also be argued that another film by Harvey Keitel came out that year, and may have done a little better and left a little more of an impact on the culture…the film? Resevoir Dogs. But anyway, lets dive into this visual time capsule, which perfectly presents the seedy underbelly of 1992 New York City from the perspective of an incredibly corrupt cop. This is Bad Lieutenant.

As said before, it’s 1992 in New York and our star is Harvey Keitel, whose character has no name. Since Joe, Manco and Blondie have been taken, we’ll simply call him Lieutenant. Lieutenant is…quite the character. We can joke about corrupt cops on many levels, even in this current political climate, but with this one it’s no laughing matter (much like this current climate). We’ll start by giving a profile of the Lieutenant because this film’s plot takes a backseat, and instead it’s a character piece with numerous themes. The Lieutenant is a family man, and lives with his Wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, two sons and two daughters…or maybe it’s 2 sons and 3 daughters. I don’t think that was mentioned. On top of this, the Lieutenant is a Baseball fan and a Roman Catholic. But this doesn’t stop him from the life he lives. He is an alcoholic, a Drug Pusher (using police evidence, no less), a Junkie, a Gambling Addict, an Adulterer and a Sex Addict. His approach to the law is so corrupt that it’s actually quite spooky. Criminals avoid jail time, as long as he keeps the drugs or the money, and girls he catches breaking the law are let go when they do him a ‘favour’ for the moment. So anyway, there are several stories happening at once which the Lieutenant is involved in: He is placing bets on the Baseball World Series between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is an ongoing thing. He is trying to stay sane and high functioning as a cop and family man by getting high through sex and drugs. And lastly, he is trying to find 2 young men who raped a Nun in a church, which is effectively the main part of the story.

Now to talk about the smaller aspects to make the bigger picture.

We’ll start by saying how much of an acting powerhouse Harvey Keitel is. He may not be the only actor in this film, but he carries his role in such as way that the other actors either fade into the background or they have to do something to really stand out. Outside of him, I can remember the skinny red headed Heroin dealer (played by the film’s co-writer, the late Zoe Lund), partly because she injected herself with real heroin for her scenes. And of course we also remember the Nun (played by Frankie Thorn), who has quite the revelation ahead of her. The casting decisions are also very interesting; because one of the Lieutenant’s daughters is Harvey Keitel’s own daughter, and his daughter’s real-life babysitter was one of the two girls in the car he stopped…knowing this information makes it a very morbid scene. To add more fuel to the fire, Abel Ferrera had this film as a comedy in his head, and was going to choose between Harvey Keitel or Christopher Walken…Walken could have fulfilled that comedy aspect…but Keitel would not…and maybe that was for the best.

The characters…The only character that really matters is the Lieutenant. Because without him this film wouldn’t be connected in any way. Today this character could be compared to various others of a similar demeanour; including Sergeant Gerry Boyle from The Guard, Rick Sanchez from Rick And Morty, and Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Despite being the worst kind of cop out there, Keitel manages to create an element of sympathy with this character. That’s he’s not really a ‘bad person’, just a slave to his addictions and wants to find peace and happiness. The characters outside of him are left quite open, as you can slot in any number of people into their roles. The children are any children. His wife is anybody’s wife. The junkies are anybody who got hooked. Making the focus all about the Lieutenant. Simple.

The story is that of a Roman Catholic Morality Tale…only this is not a Movie you would show an Alter Boy to convince him to be a good. Most of the film’s dialogue was not in the script, and was often decided upon shortly before it was shot. There is a coherence to the flow of the film, and the visual storytelling is outstanding – to the point that you could take in about 90% of the film from it. Some could argue that without the 2 main themes of forgiveness and redemption, this film would have been pure smut…and they’re right.

The music consists of 2 contrasting music styles: Church organ music and early ’90s Rave, giving us an authenticity in our viewing since we’re either on the streets, in quiet hotel rooms, in Night Clubs, in the Church or in his home. I can’t pinpoint who made any of it, and I’m pretty sure that with the $1 million budget and paying for Harvey Keitel, it was better to just go the Dogma 95 route.

The cinematography, lighting, location choices, colours…everything about the technical side of this film…Is absolutely fantastic. And the reason for this…it’s all real. It was shot in a Guerrilla style. Director, Abel Ferrera, did not get official permission to shoot anywhere (other than in certain rooms), instead they planned the shoot and then did it on the spot in the location. Those are not extras – they are real New York Civilians. That Night Club that the Lieutenant goes through was shot on a busy evening. On top of this, the editing gave us some moments of twisted humour. There is one scene in the whole film that the Lieutenant is not in, and that is the Rape of the Nun at the alter. It is a drastic and unpleasant moment in the film, and then right afterwards we cut to the Lieutenant’s young daughter watching a sweet and innocent cartoon on TV…This edit was straight out of both Bambi and Full Metal Jacket. To instantly switch between two polar opposite scenarios.

Would I recommend Bad Lieutenant? That’s a good question. There’s a reason why this film received an NC-17 rating in America and was once banned in the UK. Because visually and audibly it is gritty, sleazy, grotesque, dirty, hopeless, depression-inducing and sad…while at the same time it is a very twisted Catholic morality tale about forgiveness and redemption that was shot in very gripping and attentive manner. Even scenes that would have been boring were shot to make us curious. In terms of showing off skills, I would also say that this film is Harvey Keitel’s pique acting performance. However…I’ll put it this way; If you have been desensitised by the likes of Game Of Thrones or True Detective or The Wolf Of Wall Street – Bad Lieutenant might be ‘enjoyable’ but also seen as a little tame if you’re looking for something ‘extreme’. But we keep in mind that in 1992, this was very much a well made video-nasty (minus any huge amounts of gore). But if your family and friends prefer Disney movies…don’t ruin their lives with this one. And if you’re watching movies for escapism, this probably isn’t the one for you either. If you adore cinema and can watch anything then talk about it maturely, then yes, it’s a good movie.

Acting: **** (***** for Harvey Keitel)

Characters: *** (***** for The Lieutenant)

Story: ***1/4

Music: ****

Art Style: *****

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****

Homicide (1991)

I’ve decided to use the month of November to do a series of reviews that revolve around Film Noir in any shape or form (known as Noirvember). The rule is that it has, at minimum, a few noir elements or influences, and at most we are watching the full blown chain-smoking-bogart experience. Today we’ll be talking about a lesser known film that, as of this review, can be experienced either on DVD or Amazon Prime. I had difficulty seeing where else it can be, and even on DVD it’s hard to get, so Prime would be the best way to see this I would say. Directed and written by David Mamet and starring Joe Mantegna (a go-to actor for Italian American Gangster roles and the voice of Fat Tony in The Simpsons), this is Homicide.

Set in the modern day (1991 at the time) in an American city that is never named, our story revolves around Joe Mantegna’s character Bobby Gold, a Homicide Detective and Negotiator who is trying to catch Robert Randolph (played by Ving Rhimes), a drug dealer and cop-killer on the FBI’s most wanted list. While on his way to apprehend an associate/relation of Randolph’s, Gold and his partner, Tim Sullivan (William H Macy), end up stopping at a scene where a homicide took place. An elder Jewish woman who ran a sweet shop was gunned down for her fortune in the basement. When her son, a doctor, finds out that Gold is Jewish, he pulls some strings and gets Gold assigned to his Mother’s murder case, even though the Randolph case is first priority to Gold. He is then placed on the fence – does he put the Force first like he always did, or help his own people?

Now to look at the details:

I’ll start by saying that the acting is excellent, and the dialogue is snappy without sounding overly rehearsed. About ninety percent of emotions in this film are different volumes of anger, from the quiet mourners to the stressed policemen, and the film’s very blunt when it comes to 2 of its more prevalent themes: racism and anti-Semitism.

The characters are very much plot-driven with some room for development, but in the end we’re not meant to care about whether Gold prefers Sinatra or Martin. Gold’s development is based primarily on some of the themes of the film, in particular, the anti-semitism he receives, and the alienation that he experiences when it comes to own Jewishness. Because though he was born a Jew, he is very much secular. (Possibly) No bar-mitzvah, doesn’t understand or speak Hebrew, and doesn’t go to the synagogue…and so he hasn’t a clue about this identity he possesses, to the point of his own people judging him for it. In a way, he is the self-hating Jew, or “The Wicked Son” that David Mamet talks about in his 2006 book of the same name (Which Mamet wrote as a memoir to his younger self) – A Jew who picks and chooses what he wants from his heritage (if anything at all) while living like a gentile. While he has friends on the force who look out for him (Especially Tim Sullivan) he is still given a hard time on the force, in particular from at least one superior.

The story is the best aspect of this film, because it is written really, really well. There is no trimming. As far as a series of events that keep the plot moving are concerned, everything has its place. Everything is useful in the drive forward, and everything is useful in taking Bobby from point A to point B, with pondering, getting mixed up and getting caught up in great sacrifice. This is very much Bobby Gold’s story, as no scene exists without him. And with a script this tight, it’s the best way to experience it.

The music is by David Mamet’s go-to composer, Alaric Jens, who uses violin, piano and bass to create a very somber score. A haunting combination of an unhappy city, a disillusioned detective and an echo from Schindler’s List (Or, this is an echo within Schindler’s List, as it came out a few years earlier).

In terms of art direction, special effects and cinematography, Mamet chose to place less emphasis on it in favour of the film’s story and characters, and yet despite this, it’s still very atmospheric. The film is shot with drained colours and is presented almost entirely with natural light and isn’t afraid of looking too dark on screen. The presentation of violence is less about how flashy the fights are or gory the wounds are (although crime scenes are bloody, regardless) and more about how the emotions are thrown into it. The locations were shot in Baltimore, Maryland, but the film doesn’t say where it is, so it could be anywhere in the USA. It has no problem presenting itself with the dirt and grime that has since become famous in the 2002 TV Show ‘The Wire’.

Would I recommend Homicide? Yes I would. It’s a very tightly written, well paced crime thriller with noir qualities that deals with some heavy issues that are still prevalent today. The tear between who Bobby is and who he is expected to be is well played out. And while the choice of language and the vehicles of said language could make the modern man blush, it shouldn’t be shunned if you are mature enough to see it.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****

Story: *****

Music: ****1/4

Art: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****

Overall: ****1/2

Pee Mak (2013)

With a certain holiday (if we can call it that this year) around the corner, let’s do a ghost story. And in this case, let’s talk about a ghost story that made so much money in Thailand that it became their highest grossing film, by being made on a budget of $1,800,000 and leaving the cinema with $33,000,000. The Ghost under the big bright headlight is Lady Nak – an intricate part of Thai local folklore from the time of King Rama IV (1851-1868). This is Pee Mak, available as of this review on Netflix.

As mentioned, set in mid 1800s Siam (during a time when King Mongkut was in power and when the whole area was plagued by wars), our story revolves around a husband, wife, and four soldiers who accompanied the husband home. The husband is Mak (played by Mario Maurer), his wife is Nak (played by Davika Hoorne), and Mak’s fantastic four are Aey (Moustache), Ter (Glasses), Shin (Top Knot) and Puak (horned curtains). The Men were all involved in the war and end up becoming best friends after Mak saves their lives in a battle. Meanwhile, Nak is alone and experiencing a difficult birth, and shortly afterwards rumours went around town that she died during labor and had become a very powerful ghost. The fear was to the point that when the five men arrive in Mak’s village in the evening, there is nobody around. Upon arriving home, Mak then introduces them to his wife, and because it was too dark to continue travelling, they all decide to stay…However the four friends start to become suspicious. Believing that Nak is actually a ghost and Mak is completely oblivious to this fact.

Now to talk about what’s real and what isn’t:

The Acting is comedic for the most part while also applying elements of horror and romance, depending on which scene is happening. Many-a-times I found myself watching this as if is the equivalent of a spoof to another film telling this story. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the horror aspect is less scary and more grotesque anyway Classical. A part of me feels that you have to have family members or friends that remind you of these characters in order to get the fullest enjoyment of their performance, because otherwise they could potentially fit the credentials of any variation of the Stand By Me kids that also includes someone out to get them.

The Characters consists of 2 leads, 4 supporting, and quite a few extras. The extras are the soldiers and the villagers, with the villagers mostly there to advance the plot a little, in particular the town drunk and her son. Like I said about the acting, I’d say the characters are more like everyday people and designed to remind you of folk you know. The only character who stands out as being evidently different is obviously Nak, who plays a great straight-role while everyone else is more on the funny side. Mario Maurer’s Mak is pleasantly dim in his own way while Davika Hoorne’s Nak is very good at switching between possibly alive and possibly a ghost.

The Story is based on the local legend, while at the same time this is very much a comedic take on it. Rather than being told from Nak’s point of View, which is what many tellings of the story do – it is told from Mak’s perspective instead, hence why the film is called Pee Mak (or Brother Mak). Humour prevails throughout the film as Mak’s friends try to tell him the truth while doing their best to not be killed by Nak by being blatantly obvious, or possibly slanderous in the accusation. It is a matter of them seeing her as a ghost while Mak appears to be either under a spell or illusion or he might actually be foolish. We are then given a small mystery element, causing us to ask ourselves “what is real and what isn’t”. A part of me also considers possible themes of control. Along the lines of a wife telling her husband that he can’t go out with his friends. Other times it’s about the themes of truth vs gossip, privacy vs public knowledge and love regardless of circumstance.

The Music, and especially how it was used or edited is…a matter of preference. If you have ever seen trailers for American Movies and how they cut the music in order to tell a joke or punchline that is meant to cause the audience to laugh somehow…Well, that technique is used a fair amount here. We’re presented with something dramatic or spooky, and then the music cuts as a line of dialogue is being used as a foil. However, the music that’s played during the scenes between Mak and Nak on their own (at home, the fair and so on), such as Want To Stop The Time by Palmy are really lovely.

The CGI/Special Effects go back and forth in quality with the practical effects being better than the CGI. As far as I can see, the CGI is minimal. Such as the bees coming out of the hive, that one was evident. On other occasions some cinematography choices allowed a by-pass on certain effects, and at other times, some effects are all that’s needed – such as the presentation of extended limbs. Then you have other special effects such as the presentation of cadavers, which were actually well done, though pretty graphic in their own right…even though it’s a comedy, it is also horror after all.

The Art style is great. Excellent sets and a good use of neutral colours and lighting, especially for the ghost scenes. The tree houses by the river are a nice setting. Nothing feels like a set, and everything feels organic. Even the practically effects are very earthy.

The Cinematography is quite good. Parts of the film were shot in such a way that less CGI was needed, and the lighting of Mak’s home along with the river was nicely done. Pleasantly atmospheric, even though it is technically a horror setting.

Would I recommend Pee Mak? Yes I would, because I think it’s a film that should be seen at least once regardless of your background. In my opinion it is a film that is best experienced by anybody who lives in Thailand or visit very regularly. Anybody who knows the language, the customs (Such as why everyone in this film has black teeth), the mannerisms, the folklore, the humour and the characters that could be met along the way. It can be argued that it’s a Thai film for a Thai audience and I can respect that. At that same time, I did find it amusing and thought it was pretty well made.

Acting: ***1/2

Character: ****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ***1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ***1/4

Art: ****1/2

Cinematography: ***3/4

Overall: ***3/4

Knives Out (2019)

Whodunits; the foundation (and go-to staple) of detective fiction fantasy. Set in manors or mansions or luxurious trains, a detective arrives to a murder and tries to find the culprit from within a small group of people. Red Herrings, revisions of clues, new perceptions, motives and a potentially guilty butler. It is a genre that can be done well or done badly, and yet still maintain a fun-factor within itself, depending on the game being played. Not-so ironically, we’ve even made a board game out of it (Clue/Cluedo). However the genre is for the most part quite exhausted, and many-a-times we either rehash what worked before or experiment on new ideas based on current events and culture in an attempt to bring in new audiences and spawn new generations of authors…Enter Rian Johnson’s Detective comedy Knives Out.

Set in the modern day (2019), our story revolves primarily around the Thrombey Mansion in Massachusetts, a home owned by the Thrombey family, or more specifically an acclaimed mystery novelist name Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). We begin with Fran the housekeeper (Edi Patterson), bringing Harlan his breakfast, which included a mug of coffee that read “My House, My Rules, My Coffee”. After not finding him in bed, she goes to find him in his study…dead. With a medium-sized knife clearly used as a weapon against his own jugular. We then find out that Harlan’s 85th Birthday Party happened the night before, which included Harlan’s Mother, Wanetta, (or “Great Nana” as the family calls her, played by K Callan) his children, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Walt (Michael Shannon), their spouses, Richard (Don Johnson) and Donna (Riki Lindhome), as well as Toni, the widow of Harlan’s middle son Neil, and Harlan’s grandchildren, Ransom (Chris Evans), Meg (Katherine Langford) and Jacob (Jaeden Martell). In a Rashomon fashion, the family, housekeeper and Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas) are questioned Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Laketh Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) about what happened, then in walks, or specifically, already seated, the world famous detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig). So we have an elderly man (and a mystery writer at that), who made a mass fortune, and nearly everybody (with exceptions) is convinced that it was suicide…everybody but Benoit Blanc. Obviously Harlan’s Will is due for an audience, but Blanc wants to prove to everyone…that this was a murder.

Now to see whodunit well in the building process:

The acting for the most part is excellent, with some of it at times being a real head-scratcher – in particular Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Benoit Blanc – French name, Southern American Accent…and I don’t mean Brazil, I mean Texan. It is a fine example of actors playing roles that are a far cry from what they’re known best for. In Craig’s case, James Bond, and in Chris Evans’ case…Captain America. Then we have other actors who could come as a surprise, considering their roles in both detective and horror fiction over the years. You have Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween, Don Johnson from Miami Vice, Jaeden Martell from Stephen King’s IT, Toni Collette from The Sixth Sense, Katherine Langford for 13 Reasons Why…then of course, the Star Wars cast: Frank Oz (voice of Yoda) as Harlan’s Lawyer, Noah Segan (from The Last Jedi) as a secondary detective, and the fact that Rian Johnson directed The Last Jedi (for better or worse). I thought everybody played their roles well, from the most to the least of on-screen presence, and Ana de Armas was excellent as a main protagonist.

The Characters and Story are…fantastic. It was advertised as a Whodunit for a modern audience, and it very much delivers. Benoit Blanc It’s one of the most unique characters that I’ve seen, and enjoyable when you get past the potential mixture that lead to him – I see him as part Sherlock, part Columbo, part Maigret, and part Senator Claghorn (It’s the accent). Out of all the characters, Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera, is by far the most loveable, and for good reason. One of the themes of the film is the passive discrimination within the United States of Latin-American residents…In fact this film is, in its own right, a political commentary holding up a mirror. In particular a commentary of today’s American (and possibly Western in general) politics or political or life views. The Thrombey Family, among other suspects, each represent a different side of American or western life: You have Money, Bounty and Opportunity (Harlan), the self-made (Linda), the hypocritical (Richard), the privileged but ungrateful (Ransom), the hard working underachiever (Walt), the non-confrontational good girl (Donna), the know-it-all imposer of one’s lifestyle (Toni), the Social Justice Warrior (Meg), The Alt-Right internet troll (Jacob), the seemingly oblivious (Great Nana) and of course the third party victims of circumstance (Fran, the housekeeper) and the immigrants trying to get on with their lives, which includes just being very good at their work (Marta). What brings all of the characters into the fire is Harlan…Because Harlan is money…he’s life…He’s the life-source for his children…and it’s making them all very screwed up, regardless of where they stand or what they think is correct…because they love money. They say “I love you” or “We love you” because when money is at stake, so are their lives, even Toni and Meg.

The music by Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) is great! Especially in how it’s used in the film’s open shot with the dogs running away from the house in slow motion. It might be 1 of my favourite openings to a film now, and yet in sets the audience up for how they’re going to feel for the rest of the film – that this is going to be a quirky, kooky and darkly humorous experience. Then you have the music that isn’t Johnson’s. The film ends with Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones

The artistic decisions and cinematography reminded me of Wes Anderson, and when I saw the trailer, I assumed that Anderson was involved somehow, and was surprised by his absence. Every shot is well placed, and the presence of all the dolls/puppets/marionettes, as well as the colours of the walls and the lighting…you can smell the wood interior of the house without actually being there.

Would I recommend Knives Out? Yes! I loved this, and yes the experience of going into the film without knowing whodunit is gone. But I could return to this film easily because of how well produced the journey was, along with great dialogue, quirky characters, some likeable and others a detestable mirror of the world around us while they engage in arguments that are riddled with humorous hypocrisy.

Acting: ****1/2

Character: ****3/4

Story: *****

Music: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ****

Art: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/2

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (2013)

To continue the focus on J-Horror for the time being, we’re now going to have a look at a show that has, well…possibly everything to do with this sub-genre. You can find it on Crunchyroll, and as of 2020 is still going, and now has a live action version of itself available. You could watch a whole season in less than an hour, and yet every episode has real intrigue and suspense. This is Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories.

So what is it about? Well, in the intro of every episode, at 5pm in-show, the sound of a small drum would be beaten, and all of the children in a playground would stop what they’re doing, and turn their attention towards a man wearing a yellow mask who appears to have an elaborate box or cabinet with doors on display. The man is not a pied piper or weirdo spying them (thankfully), but rather he is a special kind of Sweet Vendor known as a Kamishibai Narrator, with Kamishibai being translated as “Paper Play”, “Paper Drama” or “Paper Theatre”. But here it’s a Yami Shibai, which instead means “Dark Play”. We are then given a short story with a start, middle and end, followed by a catchy little theme tune that changes from season to season.

Now to discuss the intricacies of this contraption:

The Art Style and Animation is far from new, but how it is platformed is, to a degree. It provides us with possibly the most minimalist anime you will ever see (Nearly as minimalist as some anime in the 1960s and 70s), as there is emphasis on animating with either the camera or by moving still images on screen to create the impression of animation. It could also be argued that this is like a motion comic, in which we witness individual stills in a slow paced and kinetic presentation. If you to compare this to, let’s say Makoto Shinkai’s ‘Your Name’ or Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, it’s like comparing fire and water, if I’m honest. Very different to each other. Either you hate the style, or it’s fantastic. The Art Style includes realistic anime character designs with drained colours and dark backgrounds, even during some daytime scenes. Much of what we see is a little dreary…setting the mood rather perfectly.

The Voice Acting, as far as I’m concerned, is very spot on and solid. There’s no english voiceover for this – and I have no problem with that because it may take away from the authentic nature of the story presentations. There’s subtitles, and when it comes to frightening vocals…you don’t need a dub to be scared of what you’re hearing.

The Stories, Themes and Characters are all stand alone from episode to episode, the only character who appears in all of them is the Narrator introducing the story. The characters themselves are very much normal people you would find anywhere, but particularly in Japan; Curious Children discussing Urban Legends, People moving into strange new places that might be haunted, High Schoolers witnessing their fears manifested in a nightmarish fashion… There are no bad characters, just vague and underdeveloped ones that anybody could slot themselves into the role of, which is why I’m giving them a three, no more, no less. The Stories and themes borrows from many aspects of Japanese Horror, Urban Legends, morality tales and Folklore, including the Lifts that go to dark and disclosed floors, Ghost Neighbours, Children hearing or seeing Demons that would see them locked in a room and told not to leave until morning…while a bowl of salt burns when the demon is near to protect them. At times the visuals can delve into HP Lovecraft’s cosmic horror territory, including the episode of the Salaryman who is so tired that he’s seeing a moving, talking pile of meat trying to get him to look at it…kinda grim. But in general, I love how this is done, even if the animation style is not to everyone’s liking.

The Music is very creepy, creating the kind of squirm that would be associated with watching Ju-On and The Ring…only it’s quick and easily taken in, with the end themes bringing you back to reality.

Would I Recommend Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories? Yes I would! I thoroughly enjoy these bitesize horror stories that make me think I’m watching a Japanese version of The Twilight Zone, while also witnessing a preservation of an old art form for a newer audience. It continues the theme of Old and New going in the same direction, and in this case, the New is giving the Old a new lease of life by being an anime on TV, phones or internet in general. Considering Kamishibai was once a primary form of escapism before the “Electric Kamishibai” (now known as the Television) took its place, it was the equivalent of a Comic Book with voiceovers, background noises and suspense to create an audio-visual experience. In its own right – it was more advanced than Radio…And now the art form is given both a revival of interest and a more international audience. So if you like Horror, do check it out. It’s well done.

Art Style: ****1/2

Animation: ** (When compared to other animations, but ***** for the fact that this is a very deliberate style of storytelling)

Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ***

Story: ****

Music: ****3/4

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: **** or ****1/4, depending on how you feel about the animation

Ring (1998)

Ever since I started writing on this website, this film was going to eventually pop up on it. And though I missed what would have been a good time to release it (mid September), anything horror related is usually a perfect choice in October anyway. We’ll add to the fact that one of the actresses in this film (Yūko Takeuchi) passed away on September 27th this year. Making this a little more bittersweet than intended. Anyway, without holding back much longer, here is the first live-action Japanese film I ever saw (demonstrating, occasionally, the power of remakes). This is Ring.

Set in September, 1997, our story revolves around Reiko Asakawa (played by Nanako Matsushima), a beautiful young journalist and divorced Single Mum who works for a TV Company. She has one son, Yōichi (played by Rikiya Otaka), who is in primary school, and her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), is a college professor who has a hint of a sixth sense. Reiko decides to investigate an urban legend for work that was being passed around by High Schoolers. The urban legend in question is a haunted TV Channel or VHS tape that kills its audience a week after being watched. Due to how up-in-the-air the whole thing is, Her story goes cold…but then quickly it is reignited in a tragic fashion…through the death of her niece, Tomoko. At the funeral, She finds out that Tomoko’s passing was a strange one. There was no suggestion of foul play, and yet she received both an autopsy and a closed casket ceremony. Tomoko’s classmates were outside during the funeral, and through them Reiko finds out that Tomoko had possibly seen this tape or channel. Reason? She died at the same time as a group of other teenagers, with whom she went to stay in a rental cabin in the Izu Region (as one last fun weekend before going back to school). After finding a receipt for Photographs in Tomoko’s room, Reiko got the photos, and finds out where the teens stayed…to which, she decided to spend the night in the same Cabin…She finds a tape…and from here Reiko, with the help of her ex-husband Ryūji (Who, because he has this sixth sense, doesn’t treat her like she’s crazy), tries to find out how to break the curse before the end of what could be Reiko’s last 7 days on earth.

Now to look at the components:

The Acting is very good for the most part, & Nanako Matsushima is excellent as someone trying to keep a level head when it’s a race against the clock to save her own life and anybody who comes in contact with the tape’s contents. Rie Inō is fantastic as Sadako, even if her appearances were brief. She’s excellent at presenting herself in a creepy fashion. Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance as Ryuji Takayama (Reiko’s ex) is highly underrated, I feel, considering the characteristics that he chooses not to flaunt. He doesn’t put on a kooky clairvoyant performance, but he does reveal small details of his gift in his eyes and head movement. Everybody else is memorable to a degree, especially the two high schoolers at the start of the film as they give the audience the exposition that sets up the rest of the story.

The Characters are mostly memorable, especially within the context of their roles. Reiko is likeable as a single Mum trying to make ends meet and just so happening to get herself into a lethal predicament. We see how the situation puts her under intense stress without making her go completely bananas, and it’s a much more natural performance when you consider the stoic tenacity that’s usually learned in Japan from a young age when in public. This same stoic tenacity is with Ryuji throughout this investigation, and when it comes to Sadako…well…I don’t want to spoil anything.

The Story is very much a Japanese Ghost Tale that borrows from several sources, including the use of Yūrei (wandering, earthbound ghosts of Japanese Folklore), and the story of Chizuko Mifune – a young woman who claimed to be a clairvoyant. It also includes several underlying things that would go unnoticed outside of Japan – including the rise of technology and how modernity was potentially consuming tradition (which remains a high topic in Japan to this day, as the practice of letting the past and the present run parallel isn’t always in smooth agreement). On top of that, Reiko’s situation was rather unconventional for the time, as there would have been a general expectation for her to still be married to Ryuji, and staying home to look after Yoichi (Who she has occasionally left alone in their home while she works). I also like how Reiko chooses to calmly get her affairs in check without disturbing either her investigation or her normal life. For instance…she has a few days left to find out how to be free, and She uses some of it to take Yoichi to his Grandfather’s house, and even stay over. To have a day together as a family, even if it’s the last.

The music is by the legendary Kenji Kawai (Who created the score for the 1995 Anime film Ghost In The Shell) and while there is only twenty minutes of music In this ninety minute film, it really stand out within the minimalist approach. The opening theme is still 1 of the ominous that I’ve ever heard, and much like the Ju-On movies that came after it, emphasis is placed on silence as a means to brings out little noises that instantly unsettle you. The score can be divided into 2 styles; creepy, and sad. Creepy when investigating, and sad when reflecting. However, much like Ju-On: The Curse, the end credit theme by HIIH (which is called ‘Feels Like “HEAVEN”‘) could seem out of place, and is potentially the most dated aspect of the film.

The CGI and special effects are minimalist as well, with only one scene in particular that could qualify as CGI…One scene, and for its day, it was very good! It’s 1 of the most memorable moments in the film. There is also the major practical effect near the end that worked really well, that I don’t plan to spoil it.

The Artistic approach and cinematography are really well done with emphasis on natural lighting (mostly from lamps and ceiling lights), and I like how even a movement from the camera just changes the mood or communicates the presence of what is unseen. Also there is a time capsule quality to the film that being set so much in what was the here and now. The end of the summer of 1997 – those were the clothes, that was the technology, those were the cars (Those beautiful late ’80s to mid 90s Japanese cars and 1 Mercedes Benz), and also the way we solved problems…and there’s something nice about that, I think. It was the right time in which you could make VHS static and polaroid photos scary – something that DVDs and digital cameras took away altogether, even with this current boom of music videos trying to look like they were made in the ’90s.

Would I recommend Ring? Yes I would. At this point it’s a classic horror movie, and even now it’s still holds up well in the creep factor. It influenced a whole generation of Horror, and also revived the genre within its home country. Is it the best horror movie of all time? Probably not. Is it better than the 2002 American version? Personally, I think so. Yes, it’s dated at this point, and the use of VCRs and video tapes could go over the heads of many people born in this century. But it is still 1 of my favourite movies, and for me, it was the beginning of my love for Japanese cinema.

Acting: ****1/4

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****

CGI: ****

Art: ****1/4

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/4

Sherlock Holmes Vs Arsène Lupin (2007/2010)

Right, this will be my first covering of a Sherlock Holmes story, I believe, and in all likeliness it’s the first one by Frogwares that I’ve covered. Is there anything special to say about Frogwares? Yes – despite being a smaller video game company with a significantly smaller budget compared to the likes of Rock Star, EA and Ubisoft – Frogwares manages to have a niche that is both charming and exciting, and caters towards it with a passion, despite parent companies not always being good to them. What is the niche? It’s the taking of classic fiction from within the public domain and creating new stories, with three in particular being the standouts: Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and HP Lovecraft. Their most prolific series by far is their Sherlock Holmes series with at least eight games to their name as of 2020. And with Sherlock Homes: Chapter One coming out next year for both the PS4 and PS5 (and others), I think I should start to potentially revisit some of these previous instalments, beginning with the 1 that’s plunk right in the middle. This is Sherlock Holmes vs Arsène Lupin, also known as Sherlock Holmes Nemesis in the UK.

Set within a few days in the middle of July, 1895 – our story begins in the morning at 221B Baker Street. Holmes is playing the Violin while Dr Watson is reading the Newspaper, where the deeds of the Parisian Gentlemen Thief known as Arsène Lupin is making the rounds. Shortly after this, Holmes receives a letter…from Lupin. Inside the letter it’s very clear – Lupin is challenging Holmes to a game of wits. After an investigation into the contents of the letter, which included a small poem as a clue to Lupin’s next cat-burglary, we end up in the National Art Gallery, where the game truly begins.

Now to deduce the details:

The art style and graphics, when you consider what else was released during this time, were good in 2007 (the original) and okay in 2010 (the remaster), as 2006/7 was the beginning of a transition of pique generations from Playstation 2 to Playstation 3 and X-Box to X-Box 360. The biggest difference between the two versions of the game was the addition of a third person perspective, some slightly crisper visuals, and some extra animations (internet lore will tell you with amusement about what is now known as “Creepy Watson”, which occurred in the original release because Dr Watson was not given a walking animation, and therefore appeared behind you wherever you go). The graphics themselves flowed at a nice fifty to sixty frames per second and the visual details were aesthetically pleasing, even with the hints of blockiness that remained prevalent in some PC games at the time. The art style is clearly inspired, as they managed to create some very attractive interpretations of real places, including the National Gallery Of Painting and the Tower Of London. After also playing previous instalments of the series, I can tell you that there were some clever shortcuts in the design. For one thing, the Character sprites in this game are exactly the same as the ones in Sherlock Holmes Awakened (which was released in early 2007, while this was out in October that year), they were making the 2 games at the same time with the same tools, clearly). In general, it was all charming to look at.

The level design and gameplay, much like every other game in the series, are all about the cross-referencing and puzzles, as well as some thinking outside the box. It’s also the first Sherlock game that I’ve played were I was recommended to have a notebook at hand…and no, I didn’t take that advice…too much. However, much of the game’s length comes from the puzzles, especially when solving them for the first time, and then sometimes you actually have to type in an answer, and even if you say the right thing, it’s not always ‘right’, it can be quite strict in its lettering. You’ll also get a lot of “I have no reason to go there”, and, I’ll be honest, the British Museum puzzles will have you visiting every room and exhibits about a dozen times each. It’s not a very flexible game, simply because while you’re controlling Holmes (and occasionally Watson) you don’t know what they’re thinking unless they talk to themselves.

The characters and story were…well, Holmes & Watson, with Inspector Lestrade thrown into the mix. Although this was the first Sherlock Holmes game to have a chase in it. We see how sharp Lupin can be throughout the ordeal, and it becomes a question of whether Sherlock can win the war of wits, let alone any of the ‘battles’. One thing I will say, the story doesn’t mind being a little bit silly. There was a scene that involved Queen Victoria that gave me a little chuckle, and then we see others, such as the musical librarian, the drunk who sees himself as being undercover and the journalist who plays Watson like a Fiddle. If there’s 1 bit of distinct continuity from Sherlock Holmes Awakened…it’s Barnes, the Bookshop Owner. The poor man has clearly fallen off the edge.

The music comprises mostly of classical music with a different piece representing a different location, and it already gets five stars in the process. Tchaikovsky’s Melodiè Op 42 No 3 is more or less the main theme of the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games, or at least it is the main theme for Baker Street. Then you have Edvard Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 13: II (Allegretto Tranquilo) as the Main Menu theme, Franz Sherbert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat, D. 929, Op. 100: Andante con moto for the Museum, & Kalinnikov’s Symphony no.1 mov.2 for the Tower Of London…among others…personally I love it…and it’s free!

Would I recommend Sherlock Holmes vs Arsène Lupin? If you’re looking to introduce this series to a younger audience, this would be the best 1, as it has by far the lightest story in the series (That I’ve played). It is the only 1 that doesn’t have a murder in it, and it is also the only 1 that doesn’t delve into either frightening confusion on Watson’s part, or into the realms of either the Supernatural or Lovecraftian Horror. Instead it focuses on simply catching a thief. I would also say it’s possibly a good game for a parent and child to experience together. So, if you have Steam or GOG on a PC, have a look.

Graphics: ***

Art Style: ****1/2

Level Design: ***1/2

Gameplay: ***1/2

Characters: ****

Story: ***1/2

Music: *****

Overall: ***3/4

Coffee Talk (2020)

Screenshot 2020-08-31 at 12.03.53

I will say 1 thing about this game…It came out in January this year and is set in this Autumn coming…and even though it’s technically set in an alternate reality, I doubt the creators knew that 2020 would turn out the way it did.  Making it even more of a fantasy that they possibly anticipated.  With that out of the way, let us talk about Coffee Talk.

Set in an alternative version of Seattle, Washington USA, in the Autumn of 2020 (Beginning on September 22nd.  Tomorrow, as of posting this), our story revolves around the owner and Barista of a small cafe and his or her regular customers (We don’t know what the Barita looks like.  We can only make assumptions).  In this reality, mythical literary creatures are not only real but have integrated into human society and are all treated the same (more or less.  But there are still prejudices, via old family feuds and so on..It’s a little like ‘Once Upon A Time’ or ‘Grimm’ I guess).  Our main character (you) are more or less the biggest enigma of the story, leaving the player room to get to know his customers and hearing their various stories.

Now to have a Characteristic Talk:

The Graphics and Art Style are nothing new, but they’re well done here.  On one side you have the minimalist pixel art style that makes the game look like it belongs on an older computer or games console, and on the other side you have the anime art style that borrows heavily from anime that came out in the 1980s and ’90s.  You can see how anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop influence both the fashion sense and the colour scheme.

The Level Design and Gameplay are very simple – they are split up into days, and it progresses in 2 ways; pressing a button to advance the character dialogue, and of course the main aspect of the game, which is creating the drinks.  As different customers come in, you start to receive new orders.  Part of the fun is the guessing and experimentation of these drinks, as it’s possible to get them wrong and you’re not always given clues as to what goes into them or in what order.  It’s a very simple game to play, but it doesn’t stand out as anything special – the game’s best qualities can be found elsewhere.

The Story is very much character driven than plot driven; There is the main, consistent story, which revolves around Freya, the pixie green-haired journalist who is trying to write her first novel.  She appears more or less every day while the other characters nip in and out, and her story progresses, even when other stories are happening.  Other characters and their problems include Baileys and Lua (an Elf and a Succubus in a Romeo and Juliet style relationship), Myrtle and Aqua (an Orc and a Mermaid who meet in the Cafe and become friends over their love for their jobs, which is in video game development), a Vampire model and a War-veteran Werewolf who used to be his bodyguard (Hyde and Gala), A Pop Singer Cat-girl (a cat who can transform into a human) and the fights she has with her over-protective Dad (Rachel and Hendry), A father-of-three-daughters Cop who is everybody’s Uncle (Jorji), and an Alien who is trying to learn about dating and human reproduction (Neil).  Due to minimalist actions, the game is also very dialogue heavy (and is skippable if you’re just looking to collect trophies for getting the drinks right), and it’s clear that despite being set in a fantasy version of Seattle…each story is very human and you grow to know these characters quite well.  The developers said that despite having fantasy races present, the stories were made as realistic as possible.  It’s a nice touch.

The Music is in the style of Lo-Fi; samples of lounge piano or guitar, bass or other instruments mixed with hip-hop beats.  I personally love it, and it’s a style that has a cult following on youtube for being tremendous background or ‘homework’ music.  It creates the game’s scene perfectly, and I will even listen to it from time to time when I’m having my own coffee and staring out the window.

Would I recommend Coffee Talk?  Yes.  It’s not a challenging game (outside of, perhaps, the mixing of the drinks) but it’s a very relaxing experience that sucks you into its world, even if you don’t technically leave the cafe, never mind not look anywhere but the bar table.  It’s a good, strong, interactive visual novel that’s easy to pick up (control-wise) but a challenge to get 100% in.  I found myself absorbed in the conversations, and even though the game seemed to lack a major goal, I keep in mind that there is a mode you can play were the game can go on for as long as you want.  Even people who don’t play video games might have a pleasant time with this 1.  Definitely check it out.

Graphics: ***

Art Style: ****1/2

Level Design: ***1/2

Gameplay: ***1/2

Story: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Music: ****3/4

Overall: ****