Thursday, September 28, 2006

Always Falling Down The Same Stairs

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

Ever notice how solidly console video game controllers are built? It's a tradition left over from the 8 and 16 bit era. Many were the NES and Mega Drive controllers hurled at great force toward the TV screen back in the Travaglia household in the early nineties. The TV might get damaged, the controller cord might be ripped out of the console and cause all of your saved games to be lost, but the controller itself always remained perfectly functional. “Maybe you should go play outside for a while,” my dad would suggest.

“Motherfucker piece of shit cocksucker Ecco the motherfucking dolphin!” I would reply.

The era of two day gaming marathons spent patiently chipping away at some diabolically inclined side scroller is long past for me, but I'm sure many of you still remember the source of all the anguish: the genre known as the fucking platform game. Today's gaming industry has forgotten the traditional platformer, as gamers nowadays don't have the tolerance (or the anal retentiveness) for such titles, so I was surprised when they revived the Prince of Persia series. The first entry in the new series, 'Sands of Time', was a critical success but a commercial failure (an all too common misfortune for good games). The publisher Ubisoft responded by sexing up the sequel, 'Warrior Within', with more mature content (and of course when we say 'mature' we mean marketed towards horny teenagers instead of preteens). As much as the gaming intelligentsia derided this stupid need to appeal to the fourteen year old boy demographic (and the twenty-somethings with the buying habits of fourteen year old boys demographic) it seemed to work. I never played any of the games in the series (except for a very brief go at 'Warrior Within') but the latest instalment, 'The Two Thrones', came free with my new video cards (so I now have two copies, maybe I should have a competition and give one away) and I gave it a whirl.

It turned out to be great fun. The frustrating game mechanics of its old school forebears have been rethought and improved. Platformers have traditionally suffered from a tendency for a single false move to send your character over a cliff to instant death and back to a save point you passed ten minutes ago (if you were lucky enough to have a life left). The new Prince of Persia game still has fundamentally the same game concept: lots of jumping, climbing, swinging, swordfighting and general swashbuckling (only now in 3D), but the obnoxious frequency with which you plummet to an untimely death has been reduced by some nice innovations which also make the gameplay more fun. For example your character will never slip off a platform just because you pushed the controller in the wrong direction. Unless you specifically tell him to jump he will always catch the edge of the platform and allow you to get back on. Maintaining direction while jumping is no longer required, as the game automatically points you toward the nearest valid target and you merely have to worry about the timing and the choice of technique used to get to your destination. It probably sounds like they've made it too easy but it's more that they've stripped away the frustrating fiddly stuff and just left the aspects of platform jumping that actually made those old games fun. You still die often but another nice gameplay gimmick they've introduced in this series is the sands of time, a special power that the Prince has to reverse time (up to a maximum of six times before being recharged), so if you make a mistake a quick button tap pulls the Prince back up out of the bottomless pit so you can have another go. Invaluably handy in a game with arbitrary fixed save points.

The story also warrants a bit of a mention. While predictable, cheesy and full of fun historical trivia (did you know that Babylon was the capitol of Persia?) it is presented much better than the embarrassing efforts of most of it's peers and even contains an interesting plot hook in the form of the Dark Prince. The Dark Prince is the protagonist's evil alter-ego (bought to life by a magic spell gone awry, of course), and as the plot unfolds the Prince periodically transforms physically between his two forms (with different abilities and weaknesses for the player to contend with). It's kind of clever how the protagonist's two identities represent his different personalities in the two games preceding, but to no great surprise the writers naturally avoid any chance to turn this into a compelling allegory and keep things firmly in the 'cackling villain' mould of dramatic conflict. Still, even the fact that a video game contained the potential for an interesting story is heartening.

The game itself is great fun to play and manages to recapture that exuberant platforming fun that us oldies are too slow and decrepit to slog away at for hours and hours any more. Just one caveat. The PC port is jerky and buggy, you're probably better off getting a console version if you can.


I took the geek test too:

i am a total geek

I only got 34.51677% though.

Via Joel

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Random Shit

A fun flash game: Flow

Only on the internet: Lowtax gets the shit bashed out of him by Uwe Boll

Both via Penny Arcade


Just finished watching the second season of Lost the other day. The show has received a bit of a critical backlash recently, but that was more or less inevitable given the enthusiastic fellatio it received during it's first year. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first season I was not ignorant of it's faults, so when it started to founder this year I neither surprised or disappointed.

Despite a pretty dull midseason slump the season started and ended quite strongly. They did a great job of resolving last year's cliffhanger, and both satisfied our desire to learn what was in that fucking hatch and set up a new mystery to keep us engaged for the new season (what happens when the timer in the hatch runs out). The new mystery didn't work as well as it should have because we all knew that the writers wouldn't let it run out until this year's finale, but at least when they did they did it in a clever way; by showing it during a flashback.

Speaking of which, they need to get rid of the damn flashback gimmick, or at least to stop using it every episode. They were great in the first season but the only one I found interesting this year was the Scottish guys one in the last episode, which was admittedly pretty cool.

The actual cliffhanger for this year isn't nearly as compelling as last years, I'm very curious to see what happens to Michael and Walt, as they seem to have been given a chance to be rescued, and also because I'm a sucker for 'good man forced into incredibly shameful acts' stories. Somehow I don't think they'll be getting very far, Walt is the kid with Magic Spooky Powers and I doubt that the bad guys would just let him go so easily after going out of their way to kidnap him in the first place. The other dangling plot threads are not so interesting. I'm a little bored of watching the bad guys play games with the protagonists and I suspect that whatever they find at their lair won't be particularly exciting. At any rate, we'll find out in a few weeks when season three starts in the US.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Before The Bourbon Kicked In

Placebo – Live In Concert

Ah Placebo. Few other bands are so frustratingly adept at failing to deliver. They're great songwriters but when it comes to performance, whether live or on CD, they always seem to not be giving it their best. I last saw them in concert at the Big Day Out 2001. Their set was professional and I doubt anyone would have walked out thinking it was poor, but five years on the only thing I remember about it is their performance of 'Black-Eyed', which I did particularly enjoy, and some obnoxious random teenybopper asking me to let her sit on my shoulders. They then proceeded to be blown right off the stage by Rammstein, a band that could never be accused of delivering a forgettable show.

Nevertheless I'm sure these guys at least have the potential to give a great concert so I dutifully headed down to the Hordern this Thursday past to give them another chance. The opening act was The Howling Bells, who I had never heard and in fact have still never heard because I was distracted by a sudden craving for an inappropriate amount of bourbon (see previous post). Placebo themselves were better than the last time I saw them. At times they showed the same lack of passion but at others they quite sufficiently managed to rock the fuck out on the loud songs and to touch my alcohol sodden heart on the soft ones. There was also a really good crowd in attendance. Placebo are really past their prime in terms of popularity so for once I got to attend a big concert that was more or less devoid of munters and bimbos who are only there to brag to their friends about it at school the next day. Still too many emo kids around mind you. Anyway it was a good audience with most people dancing and enjoying themselves, a sight that is regrettably rare to come by at big concerts.

The setlist (to the best of my recollection):




Because I Want You To


Sleeping With Ghosts


Song To Say Goodbye

Every You Every Me

Follow The Cops Back Home

Special Needs

One Of A Kind

Special K

The Bitter End


Running Up That Hill


Twenty Years

They suffered from the same old lack of vitality on probably about half the songs. 'Song To Say Goodbye' in particular didn't meet my expectations, but they seemed to gain momentum as the set went on. 'Special Needs' was very heartfelt and 'One Of A Kind' was delivered with a lot of guts. Placebo's specialty is a kind of melancholy romanticism and when you get a whole concert full of people singing their hearts out to that kind of music it's one of the best kinds of shared experiences. The highlight of the concert was 'Sleeping With Ghosts' which achieved exactly what I just described. The lowlight was the two one song encores. What's with that?

So in spite of (and probably because of) a few real highlights Placebo are still a frustrating band. They could easily be so much better!

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Friday Lessons

Bourbon is not my friend.

Four dollars of sushi is not a proper dinner.

I seem to have developed a thing for girls with sleeve tattoos. Not sure when or how this happened.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – B-Sides and Rarities

Three discs full of Nick Cave for $30 could never be a bad deal, but I think that your money to satisfaction ratio would probably be bettered by a purchase of Abattoir Blues or Murder Ballads. I probably just had my expectations raised too high by a few b-sides albums that were easily as good as the rest of the bands output by the likes of Muse and System of a Down.

There are a few real gems in this collection, such as a stellar acoustic performance of 'The Mercy Seat' and 'Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum' and 'Little Ghost Song', a pair of sad, haunting songs. Most of the tracks I like come from the third disc, betraying my preference for Cave's later stuff. Most of the other enjoyable songs are silly but entertaining tracks that keep things lively, such as 'There's No Night Out In The Jail', which is pretty much about what the title says, and 'God's Hotel', which has a lot of fun with variations on repetitions of the things that you don't find in heaven.

But the majority of songs on this collection are b-sides for a reason. Even the good ones lack that vital coincidence of design that would make them as transcendently beautiful as the best tracks of Cave and co's other albums.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pitchfork Media...

Give the new Justin Timberlake album 8.1/10. Death of culture imminent.

Viva la revolucion! One glorious day the blood of the martyrs shall wash away this stain on civilisation!

Fighting For The People's New Free World

Kronos Quartet – Black Angels

Given all the cringe worthy attempts at protest music that the soft cocked mainstream losers that call themselves the rock and roll of today have given us over the last couple of years, it's just as well classical music is around to do it right.

The majority of Black Angels' running time consists of performances of Shostakovitch's Quartet No.8 and the titular composition by modern composer George Crumb. Crumb's piece is a reaction to the Vietnam war and as is appropriate for a historical event which casts such an unpleasant and shameful cloud over today's world the music itself is disquieting to say the least. The abrupt, brutal start of Dillinger Escape Plan's Miss Machine is nothing compared to this albums opening, which with no warning drops violins shredding tritones at high volume and pitch; a great early morning workout for your ears. It's not most people's cup of tea but nevertheless if you have a tolerance for avant-garde unpleasantness its a great performance.

Shostakovich's Quartet is in contrast far more listenable, like 'Black Angels' it is a requiem for those who died in a war, in this case for the huge loss of life suffered by the Russians in World War 2. I've never listened to Shostakovitch before but I found this piece very beautiful and I can see why he's so highly regarded.

In between these two performances are a couple of shorter pieces. 'Spem in Alium' ('Sing and Glorify') is a very old baroque piece inspired by the biblical story of Judith. The peacefulness of this work is a very well chosen contrast to the violence of 'Black Angels' which precedes it. 'Doom. A Sigh' is another avant-garde modern piece, based on recordings of an obscure brand of traditional Romanian music that was wiped out by the Soviets in the communist era. Finally there's 'They Are There!', a World War 1 era patriotism song reworked into a sarcastic repudiation of jingoism. 'Spem in Alium' I like a lot, whereas the other two are a bit too avant-garde for me, but still don't detract from the album as a whole.

And there you have it. One antiwar album, no simplistic comparisons of George Bush to Hitler, no embarrassingly stupid politics and best of all no fucking Green Day.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I Am Pleased

David Farrar uses the correct term. I think it's the first blog post I've seen to use the term 'Islamist' instead of the meaningless buzzword 'Islamofascism'.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Eyeing Little Girls With Bad Intent

Jethro Tull – Aqualung

As a wise man once told me, “Jethro Tull isn't the kind of thing you want to listen to a lot, but when you do feel like it you'll be really glad you have it.” When people say these kinds of things to me I usually just nod and smile.

Jethro Tull's album Aqualung fits right in with a bunch of other famous British albums from the late 60s and early 70s such as Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, The Beatles' White Album and a whole bunch of Led Zeppelin's stuff, made at a time when rock music was just starting to expand musically and thematically, but before it became arrogant and pretentious.

Like a lot of those albums Aqualung is an ambitious concept album, using the tale of a lonely old hobo in order to criticise Christianity. In contrast to the weighty concept the music has a pleasant 60s folksiness. It seems very simple when measured against all the Opeth I've been listening to recently, but the more 'complicated' music you listen to the more appreciative you become of simplicity. Even with simple arrangements and a straightforward approach there's some nice, evocative stuff on this album.

Jethro Tull's only gimmick is leadman Ian Anderson's flute playing, which actually works very well in the context of this kind of music, and it's a bit of a surprise that other bands haven't tried it. Like all good classic rock albums there's plenty of flashy guitar virtuosity which always goes down well, and they have some pretty cool dual solos between the flute and the guitar.

By today's standards the concept is pretty mundane stuff, even if it might have seemed terribly transgressive at the time, so I wasn't very engaged by the lyrics or the theme, but the music is very solid and it's quite an agreeable album. I don't think I'll listen to it a lot but, uh, I'm glad I have it...

Monday, September 11, 2006

In The Distance, I Hear Them Devouring

Opeth – Ghost Reveries

I hate to disabuse my readers of their perception of me as a savvy, literate intellectual with my finger on the pulse of the underground, but I'm actually just a lazy fuck in front of the computer and as such I tend to miss out on a few things. Number one on that list at the moment are Tool tickets to the concert in January, but besides that one of my major musical regrets of the last couple of years is overlooking Opeth for too long.

After having more than a few people rave to me about this band I gave them a perfunctory listen before deeming them uninteresting and categorising them in the 'more dopey metal shit that I don't get' folder. Of course now that I've realised my folly and given them a decent chance, everyone else seems to have moved on. Saying you're getting into Opeth is very 2004.

Opeth fit comfortably within the death metal genre, and although some might argue with that statement, saying that they incorporate different styles such as jazz and folk and contrast melodic passages with heavy, aggressive ones, I would reply that this is merely a distinction between 'good metal' and 'boring metal'.

Ghost Reveries was a critical success but as you might expect most metal hipsters are dismissive of it in comparison to Opeth's older stuff, as they are starting to move vaguely in the direction of not being obscure any more. However they may have a point as besides a few excellent tracks, a majority of the album does feel slightly uninspired, but even a subpar Opeth album is a great album in general.

There is a loose concept to Ghost Reveries, dealing with death and the occult. Like almost all metal ever written the lyrics are fairly overblown and probably a little ridiculous taken out of context, but Mikael Akerfeldt (singer, lead guitarist and songwriter) manages to bring a fresh breath of literacy to the standard subject matter of satanic rituals on foggy moors, and after all, that is all that I really ask for from song lyrics. No matter how cheesy it is to hear about ritual murder in frozen forests, I can't deny that I get a real kick out of it when it's done right.

What really sets these guys apart is the complexity of the music (which is especially unique in light of how almost all the rock music popular today is influenced by the simplicity of punk). Most of their songs are ten minute epics with interlocking, recurring themes, and the parts themselves are a joy to learn as a musician, because there's always so much going on both rhythmically and melodically. The members of the band are all stellar musicians themselves, of particular note is the drumming and Akerfeldt's vocals, which are impressive not only because he alternates effortlessly between clean and growly singing, but also because he has some of the best tone in his death metal voice that I've ever heard. Sure some other guys are deeper and more guttural, but Akerfeldt is able to add a really nice crunch to his voice without overdoing it, so that it still conveys emotion (and sometimes you can even understand what he's saying).

So back to Ghost Reveries in particular. Even the naysayers won't deny that the opener, 'Ghost of Perdition' is a classic, even by Opeth's standards; ten minutes of truly epic heaviness punctuated by beautifully sad acoustic pieces, made only more melancholy by the fact that the song is about some dude murdering his own mother because the devil told him to. The next two tracks, 'The Baying of the Hounds' and 'Beneath the Mire', initially suffer in comparison to their predecessor but after a few listens they grew on me a lot. They both have intense moody breakdowns in the middle and 'Hounds' in particular has some inspired passages.

Unfortunately the remainder of the album doesn't quite live up to the start, 'Harlequin Forest' and 'The Grand Conjuration' are both decent songs with some great riffs but they don't hold together overall as well as the earlier tracks. They are integrated with a few acoustic(ish) tracks, 'Atonement', 'Hours of Wealth' and 'Isolation Years', which are all great but rather short and are really designed as interludes to the heavier tracks.

Of course, that's still six great tracks out of eight so it's not like I don't recommend it, it's just that there are other Opeth albums that are better.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

You Go Ahead! I'll Cover You!

Half Life 2: Episode 1

Valve's Half-Life games are arguably some of the best video games ever made, and nothing about them is particularly innovative or original, but both entries in the series simply have the slickest, glossiest production ever seen in games. From beginning to end the gameplay, graphics and sound are flawless down to the smallest details making the games truly immersive, almost cinematic experiences. Half-Life 2 even took things a step further, introducing actual subtext into the story that was actually enhanced by the interactive nature of the game.

Valve have chosen to continue the series in episodic format, although seeing as how their idea of episodic is one episode every six months to a year I wouldn't look to them as the best example of this new business model (hopefully the upcoming Sam And Max games will be the first real contender for that title), and the first instalment in the Half-Life Episodes series is a satisfying taste of that Half-Lifey goodness, although it's too brief to attain the epic heights of its predecessor. That's not to say it was too short though, the game was actually much longer than I expected, and I was quite satisfied that I got my $30 worth. Plot wise not much happens, once again we start out exactly where the last game leaves off and your goal is to safely escape City 17, as the alien fortress that you infiltrated in the last game is about to blow up and take a good chunk of the countryside with it. Along the way you are accosted by the remnants of the alien invasion that you took down in Half Life 2. A few more plot elements are introduced, ranging from the obvious and stupid (“Whatever is in this mysterious data capsule must be incredibly important to the aliens!”) to the potentially interesting (your egghead scientist ally from Half-Life 2 taking charge of the human survivors and his ardent hatred of the posthumans), but we'll have to wait for later instalments to see how they pan out.

Valve have obviously listened to what their fans wanted more of, and it appears that what they wanted more of was clearly the gravity gun! I am fairly sure you could do the whole game (excepting maybe the boss battles) using only the gravity gun as a weapon as almost every part of the game requires it in some way, and with your well armed sidekick Alyx backing you up for most of the game it's very rarely even worth swapping it out for a different weapon. You'd think that picking stuff up and throwing it around would get boring, but the designers once again show their talent and produce a large variety of interesting new scenarios to chuck stuff around in. Introducing Alyx (a major character from the first game) as a permanent partner is nicely done. Her AI is generally pretty good and her comments on your actions (like for example gushing with admiration after you take down a boss enemy) makes the game feel a little more immersive.

Mostly however it's just more of the same that we got in the previous games. The boss battles are recycled from Half-Life 2, and you'll recognise many of the locations you visit from that game too. This is by no means a bad thing of course, just like the first two games this episode is a joy to play simply because of the simple attention to detail and imaginative level design brought to it by the developers. Yes, many of the scenarios are variations on those found in earlier games but these guys seem to have some clever knack to making them fresh and fun each time you encounter them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hey! Girls Name!

So over at Uncertain Principles Chad Orzel has a post listing songs on his ipod named after women. Since I had nothing better to do I did the same myself, and I found that I only have thirty (out of about 3600 songs). Fewer than what I expected, and it seems that I probably have more with men's names.

Anyway, I figured we'd make a little game out of it. See if between all six of my readers, you can name the artists who perform these songs. A couple of them are obscure, but I'm fairly confident that even between Barnes and Joel alone you could get most of them. And just to make it interesting, if you don't collectively get over %50 by midnight on Saturday, I'll murder all of your families!

1) Aisha

2) Ruby

3) Alice

4) Judith

5) Deanna

6) Xtal (This one probably shouldn't count, but hey.)

7) Sabrina

8) Grace

9) Magdalena

10) Lucy

11) Minerva

12) Jezabel

13) Rose

14) Madeline

15) Katrien

16) Vera

17) Pauline

18) Lydia

19) Tracy

20) Polly

21) Sophie

22) Jessamin

23) Maria

24) Elizabeth

25) Sylvia

26) Brena

27) Candy Jones

28) Lily

29) Lilith

30) Anna

Forty Signs of Rain

by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the easiest ways to irritate me is to start an argument about global warming. The issue is one of the most obnoxious and aggravating examples of the general public's scientific illiteracy, and it's incredibly frustrating to watch dishonest politicians and big business take advantage of this to further their own agenda. The nadir (or at least what I hope will be the nadir) of their efforts was the release a few years back of Michael Crichton's State of Fear, a science fiction novel (easy on the science) which suggested that global warming was thought up by a bunch of scaremongering environmentalists (not 'conservationists' of course!) who needed a new boogyman in order to keep the millions of dollars of income they were receiving in the lucrative business of being hippie activists.

Fortunately as an antidote to such drivel Kim Stanley Robinson has written Forty Signs of Rain. Unlike the other novels of his that I've read it's very low key and character focused. It seems he is deliberately trying to avoid the image of the hysterical, zealous environmentalist by calmly and rationally stating the facts. The book is set at some point 'in the not too distant future' (OK he's a little fuzzy on some of the facts) and the effects of climate change have become noticeable, but there are no giant icestorms, tsunamis or plagues of locusts. The changes are enough to impact peoples lives, but not so much to wreck civilisation. I have a vague recollection that this is the first book in a series, so maybe we'll have a few more dramatic scenes of national monuments being destroyed, just like in that stupid movie, but for now he keeps his doomsday predictions rather conservative.

As much as I approved of the message, the book itself was a bit of a drag, as he keeps things perhaps a bit too low key. The principle characters are a group of scientists doing work loosely related to climate change, and as much of the narrative is spent on describing their family lives (or lack thereof) as on the science or the gradually encroaching catastrophe. A part of me hopes that this is to make it all the more heartbreaking when the protagonists' annoying kids buy it under a rogue iceberg in future books, but I'll probably be disappointed. Nevertheless I do appreciate his effort to keep a human focus in a story that is primarily about political issues, I just think it wasn't executed as well as it could have been.

The biggest problem for me with the book is Robinson's pollyanna solution to the lack of attention given to climate change by the worlds governments, a mix of Buddhist philosophy and an exhortation for all the scientists in the world to join hands and WISH REALLY HARD!!!!! that they can suddenly stop being politically impotent. It's a nice sentiment but my view is that if you want to win this fight you have to realise that it's all about money. If I were a climate scientist what I would do is put an emphasis on the cost of catastrophic climate change in actual dollars. Any and all of us, whether individuals, corporations or states, have a lot to lose, not just personally but financially if these predictions come to pass. Nobody is going to be making much money when the Sydney CBD is underwater, so it makes financial sense for any business which genuinely has a long term view of its interests to co-operate with plans to avoid this scenario.

Of course, that's more than a little pollyanna-ish too. It doesn't do much good for a small business to spend their entire profits to convert to clean energy when the USA, China and India sit under three huge columns of CO2 flying up into the air, but I believe that an emphasis on the financial cost of climate change in the future, as compared to the cost of making moves to avoid it now, would be a good way to get the attention of the greedy and short sighted in businesses and governments around the world and present the issue to them in terms that they cannot ignore.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Bit Of The Old Ultraviolence

During my long period of unemployment I got to catch up on two movies that I'd been meaning to watch for some time: The Devil's Rejects and Oldboy.

The Devil's Rejects surprised me a little bit by just how disturbing it was. I still haven't seen its prequel (House of 1000 Corpses) and I was expecting something a lot goofier, more in tune with director Rob Zombie's cheesy industrial metal band. However the titular group of psychopaths engage in some pretty nasty behaviour, and in particular the extended torture and kidnapping scene in the middle of the movie was pretty twisted.

Zombie's movie is very ambitious, but in the end it left me unsatisfied. The story is a nice and elegant allegory to current world affairs, but it lacks depth and insight, and the violence, while some of the nastiest I've ever seen on the screen, only offends in the shallowest manner, especially when compared to Oldboy.

The violence in Oldboy is very infrequent, especially when compared to The Devil's Rejects' non-stop gore-o-rama, but the two or three mutilation scenes are so gutwrenchingly disturbing that even I, he who likes to spring viewings of Mr. Hands onto unsuspecting visitors to my house, found them difficult to stomach. I'll express the reason behind the difference in my response to the movies by way of an analogy to black metal. Opeth have been the best musical discovery I've made so far this year and while they can loosely be described as a black metal band the growly, thrashy parts of their songs are balanced out by plenty of acoustic, melodic, moody or otherwise restrained passages. This means that when they launch into a heavy part it feels a whole lot more heavy than the music of say Cryptopsy, who undermine the incredibly brutal assault of their music by kicking every song off at maximum power and never dialling it down for even a second. In the same way, The Devil's Rejects' non-stop gore is unaffecting because we've (or at least I've) been exposed to so many gory movies that meaningless violence is no big deal no matter how disgusting it is. On the other hand Oldboy's few moments of genuine violence are disturbing because they occur in a much more realistic setting, and because it takes place in a much more meaningful narrative.

SPOILER WARNING: I'm going to ruin the end of Oldboy for you now, so if you haven't seen it, go away and watch it right now and then come back.

Oldboy is a very clever movie. For most of it's length it is a mostly straightforward revenge flick, as our protagonist (played by Min-sik Choi) tries to track down the man who imprisoned him for fifteen years (and also tries to learn the reason why he did so), looking (in what must have been a deliberate decision) more or less exactly like a Korean Charles Bronson. However by the end the genre conventions are completely reversed, it is the antagonist who ultimately gets his revenge on Choi, and once having achieved it, promptly kills himself, as there is nothing left for him to live for. Choi's character, robbed of his own revenge, must live with the horrible things that he has done and that have been done to him, but he still gets to live. And in the final scene he seems to have found, in a very twisted way, some kind of peace.

The climax of the movie, in which the protagonist is begging his nemesis for mercy and has been completely broken to the point of cutting out his own tongue, is an incredibly good example of how to use violence effectively in a movie. It's shocking, unexpected and blunt nature is grotesque enough, but the real reason it works is because of the story and characters that have caused it to come about. It's one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in a movie for a long time and it will stay with me for far longer than the rapes and eviscerations in The Devil's Rejects.