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  • Videogame Review: Pokémon Reborn

    • Screenshot courtesy of Pokémon Reborn

    There are a lot of fan-made video games out there that are truly impressive works all on their own, especially given that they were programmed and scripted by a mere one or two people.

    One particular game franchise that has been made into many, many different fan-made variations is Pokémon; this game’s fanbase is massive, only evolving since the game’s original release in 1995 and subsequent expansion into all kinds of medias. So it comes as no surprise when a multitude of different fan-games start popping up.

    However, there is one fan-made Pokémon game in particular that has caught the attention of
    fans in a big way. Pokémon Reborn, a downloadable PC game, is courtesy of a young woman, Amethyst Liddell, who made the decision to start this project on a whim. Like most Pokémon gamers, Amethyst, “felt like more recent main series releases have been lacking,” so she decided to create a game for herself, with no plans for mainstream success.

    But oh boy, do people like it. There are a number of walkthrough demos, interviews with Amethyst herself and online chat forums revolving around Pokémon Reborn, and for good reason. Personally speaking, it is by far the most involving and immersive fan-made Pokémon game I have ever played.

    Set in an apocalyptic world where Pokémon are endangered and a new organization of criminals known as Team Meteor have risen, the player must take on the role of the hero to try and free the city from further decrepitude and destruction. The entire plot of the game has not entirely unfolded as the game is only released one episode at a time, each one more complex than the last.

    When asked how long on average it takes to complete an episode, Amethyst stated that the
    first one, released in early April 2012, only took her about two weeks to complete. However, she has found that the development time of each episode “continues to increase with each release, since the majority of the time is spent polishing and fixing existing content.” As of now, though, she believes that the average waiting time is about four to five months, but warns that this too might increase.

    I can say with the utmost confidence that Pokémon Reborn is for relatively experienced Pokémon players. It contains all 721 Pokémon to date, a huge world map, new items as well as old items from the original games, 18 different gyms wherein each leader has a full team of Pokémon, and a brand new feature known as Field Effect, which challenges the player to have to be careful in their battle tactics, and gives their enemies a great advantage.

    In addition, most of the Pokémon can only be obtained by completing side quests in the game. Another cool feature is choosing your character; the player has the choice of either being a boy, a girl or non-binary, and you have a wide choice of skin colours, too.

    It should be warned that the game deals with some rather dark themes. For instance, one
    character commits suicide, another runs away from home multiple times, and at one point, a police officer is found dead.

    When asked if this had any impact on what kind of age group or audience this may be aimed at, Amethyst stated that she doesn’t think it’s aimed at a particular age group, “so much as a particular type of Pokémon fan. i.e people who want more from the series—in terms of challenge, depth, story, etc.”

    As an immersive fan-made game, I highly recommend it to any Pokémon fan who likes a challenge. If you’re interested in learning a little more about the game and its creator, if you want to donate to help the project along or if you’re interested in downloading it and playing it yourself, you can visit the official website.
    www.pokemonreborn.com/game/

  • The Best and Worst of Fantasia 2015

    • Photo Isabelle Stephen, courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival

    The Link’s Fantasia film reviewers Trent Lee and Nicole Yeba give us their best and worst flick picks of the 2015 edition of the festival.

    Major Releases

    Best: Cop Car
    Nicole: Kevin Bacon playing an evil police officer who gets his car stolen? I knew this movie was going to be awesome, and both screenings ended up selling out. Two preteens ride off with a car of a corrupt sheriff, and I was on the edge of my seat, especially after they make a surprising discovery. Bonus: Kevin Bacon was present for the Canadian premiere.

    Worst: Dark Places
    Trent: Great casting yet very hollow performances as every character’s demographic stereotypes are played up with tripe dialogue, exacerbated by cringe worthy edits and quick pace that made a grade-A budgeted film look like a D-list 90’s film. Only redemption was Christine Hendricks’ humanizing performance, -1000 points for not bringing Charlize Theron to the festival. Instead, we got Kevin Bacon.

    Anime

    Best: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
    N: An animation based on the famous collection of poems by Gibran and a beautiful way to share the poems to a younger audience. Many children were present at the screening. The prophet shares some of his wisdom on different subjects, which are described through interactive animation. A feel-good, enlightening movie.

    Worst: Miss Hokusai
    T: The family and love interest of O-Ei Hokusai’s storyline I thought was uninteresting and trivial to the film’s crux. The true draw is her father, Tetsuzo, legendary artist of The Great Wave. Too many plot fillers and a disconcerting J-rock soundtrack clashing with Edo era Japan. I think this would’ve done better if it was just the vignettes about the mythical elements behind Tetsuzo’s oeuvre.

    African Film

    Best: Who Killed Captain Alex?
    N: The plotline made little sense, but it’s a must-watch movie in my mind anyway. The experience is all in a typical Ugandan movie viewing, which has a Video Joker (VJ) whose comments on the film have audiences roaring with laughter. In Uganda, when you rent a film you pick a VJ depending on the type of comments you want. It’s a one-of-a kind experience.

    Worst: Ojuju
    T: Yes! Africa deserves praise with Cpt. Alex reinvigorating FFF, Ojuju, not so much. I found the plot meandering with neither rhyme nor reason. Disappointing was the director’s absent comments about Africa’s poor infrastructure in response to the Z outbreak, to echo the mishandled Ebola epidemic. Also, the random, awkwardly drawn out ending deflated it for me. Sorry Nicole.

    Horror

    Best: Shrew’s Nest
    N: Do you think your older sister is too maternal and a control freak? Well that’ll probably gain some perspective after seeing this Spanish film set in the 1950s. When a neighbour falls prey to the main character who falls in love with him, things start getting scary and ugly. If the sight of blood makes you weak, don’t watch this film. The revelation is even more horrifying than the violence.

    Worst: The Hallow
    T: The Hallow had a promising start: decent performances and well-done CGI monsters. But once you’ve seen the monsters, the build-up and terror peters out midway. What irks me still is after establishing the protagonist as this hip tree scientist, the tree aspect doesn’t really come up again until after the credits. And even then it’s just sorta thrown in as an aside.

    Comedy

    Best: Poison Berry in My Brain
    N: This is the adult version of Pixar’s Inside Out. The movie is easily relatable, especially with the awkward moments the main character goes to. Laughs are guaranteed in this romantic comedy, which makes you question how your brain’s council works. Surprisingly, there’s a moral to the story, which will make you think twice about being in relationships.

    Worst: The Master Plan
    T: Originally a classic Swedish heist comedy series (think Ocean’s Eleven via The A-Team ) The Master Plan, unfortunately, as with most commercial remakes proves even the best laid plans fail. Corny dialogue, subpar acting and lacking in the veneer of classy, charm and coolness of the series. It tries too hard to look like a bad boy L4yercake but instead ended up with a Mod Squad, the remake.

  • Highlights from Fantasia Film Festival 2015

    • Photo Vincent Frechette, courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival

    After another year at the Fantasia Film Festival, The Link’s contributors Trent Lee and Nicole Yeba pull some chairs together to have a wrap-up panel discussion highlighting the best and worst of FFF 2015.

    Trent: Nicole, your overall take of this year’s festival?

    Nicole: I thought this was an interesting year with a good selection of movies. There was a novelty with movies from the African continent. The three movies – each distinct – in Fantasia’s Underground category are Who Killed Captain Alex?, Ojuju and Crumbs. There were many world premieres from coming from everywhere with some film crews presenting their films in person. Two remarkable premieres were the Danish film The Shamer’s Daugther and Israeli film JeruZalem. The first was an underrated medieval fantasy based on the first novel of a young adult series while the latter was an original sold-out apocalyptic horror film. The choice of Japanese films was exciting with diverse stories from schoolgirls to yakuzas and of course, ninjas. One of the best things was that Japanese director, Sion Sono, known for his eccentric and gory films: Love and Peace, Shinjuku Swan and TAG. The only thing lacking was the few anime releases compared to previous years. There were other animations presented but no classic Japanese animation. Live action movies based on manga series were popular this year, such as Princess Jellyfish, Assassination Classroom and Attack on Titan. I loved that Nongshim noodles were given out during Korean films, a perfect snack!

    T: Right. I also picked up on Africa’s great year at FFF, making headlines for the festival. What I also loved this year is cinema with socio-political dimensions to them. Docs like error, The Visit and feature films, like Marshland. Definitely hoping this becomes a growing trend. FFF’s really turned up the angst since premiering Welcome to New York.

    N: The trend that needs to continue is definitely an increase of African films in future FFF editions, especially from Ramon Film Productions of Uganda. Everyone needs to experience an Ugandan movie, which is always played with a Video Joker who comments on the film and provokes hilarity amongst the audience members. The screenings would not have any trouble selling out in the smaller cinema room, which is more intimate. There were was not much diversity of Asian films compared to previous years where South-East countries came out strong. There was only one Thai film and no Filipino films, which I found disappointing.

    T: I also thought this year lacked major anime releases from Japan, but also sequels and Nordic films. With no Studio Ghibli release, anime overall didn’t populate FFF’s headlines as in the past. Past festival favourites like Library Wars were expected to follow-up, but didn’t make this year’s billing. Instead, drawn out sagas, like Ju-On: The Final Curse, underwhelmed wary audiences while Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends totally flew under the radar. Personally, I found dark, gritty Swedish, Finnish and Icelandic films showed the most consistent quality over the last two years ( When Animals Dream, Metalhead ). Unfortunately, aside from Brigend , an English film shot by a Danish director, Nordic films were put on ice this year. But you mentioned The Shamer’s Daughter, I’ll have to check that out!

    N: For sure!

  • FANTASIA REVIEW: Brigend Draws Viewers into Dreamscape

    Brigend is a slow, dreamy, hauntingly hypnotic yet utterly beautiful art house film and the debut feature from Danish writer and director Jeppe Rønde. In the same vein of past festival favourites Metalhead and When Animals Dream, Brigend is inspired by true events in a sleepy town of the same name in South Wales.

    A teenage girl, Sara, and her cop dad, Dave, leave Brixton to return to Sara’s childhood hometown, Brigend. Tasked to solve a string of mysterious teenage suicides gripping the town and British tabloids, Dave soon learns Brigend harbours darkness, and only the teenagers seem to know anything. With no common thread other than the parents always being the first to find them, Dave is grasping at straws as young Sara is lured deeper into a mysterious clique’s disturbing influence.

    Underneath the film’s exploration of sex, drugs, partying, and bullying, Brigend’s teen antics and rampage (robbing liquor stores and skinny dipping), quickly take on dark new meanings, far beyond hooliganism and parental rebellion. The rituals of the boys (and Sara) swinging from ropes across speeding trains, hurling names of the dead in the forest suicide shrines and, of course, skinny dipping in the river, transcend the troubled young person narrative. It is tribal in behaviour, with cultish rites, rituals, and initiations that form a new tribe to replace each of their previous nuclear family dynamics, breaking from things like Sara’s sweetheart’s hypocritical and callous priest father to Dave’s “affair” with another woman at the police station, which Sara sees as dishonouring her dead mother.

    Even on the surface, this film also looks and feels mesmerizing. Brigend lulls audiences into a lucid cinematic dreamscape. Indeed, its pre-Roman ruins, hilly town architecture, lush and ominous forest landscape looks like the foggy entrance to the realm of the dead, where souls of their friends beckon them. At times, the film evokes undercurrents of the supernatural and the occult while remaining humanist in its elements. The flawed promises of love, friendship and escape keep the teens lying between cult and community, blurring the realms between the living and the dead, that often blend together. Scenes like the naked dead bodies in the water or the final nude swim scene amidst a burning Brigend represent this duality. Likewise, the metaphor of the teen’s Internet chat room, where everyone is naked, explores being interconnected yet isolated in their world. The Internet serves as the realm of the dead, sucking in the anguished souls of youths into the other world, cyberspace, until they’ve disconnected all ties to our world and nothing is left but a cold and bare husk, before severing their mortal coils.

    At times, the inevitability of the suicides feels constant and imminent, but never predictable, keeping audience engaged. Leaving the door wide open, the film (unlike the adult characters) don’t paternally rationalize or try and solve the suicides. Instead, Brigend presents suicide as it is. Because of this, the film could possibly be Fantasia’s best European indie release.

  • 5 Things Fantasia Film Festival Can Do Better

    After five years of covering Fantasia Film Festival there are little things you notice. Next year marks its 20th anniversary: a milestone for festival organizers. Here are five things that would make the festival even better in 2016.

    Fantasia App
    The wonders of smartphone technology and apps today make event planning and organizing easier. Many festivals have their own apps that are free and easy to use. So for a well-funded, long-running festival with hundreds of films spanning a month like Fantasia, you’d think there’d be an app for that. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a listing of everything you plan on seeing organized at the palm of your hand instead of folding up paper schedules that look like relic parchments? Imagine swiping each film you plan to see, saved onto your calendar with alerts, notifications of added screenings and sold out shows? Alas, this was the dream in 2011, but as fans would tell you, it crashed. Dear Fantasia, please ask one of your fans to build it for you. Chances are one of them works in Montreal for an app software development company.

    Ticket and Pass Barcode Scanners
    If you see any of the hardworking volunteers at the doors running around like headless chickens, be kind to them. Again, Fantasia’s working with limited technology. Another way to make Fantasia efficient is if they just download a barcode generator app to print on their tickets and passes, have the volunteers download a free barcode scanning apps onto their smartphones to scan people in and out the door. Instead of relying on the scout’s honour system to determine if someone’s already been inside or is Artfully Dodging a packed show at the H building.

    Better Deal for Unlimited Passes
    If they had the chance, FFF fans would see at least a show or two everyday for a month. So a VIP wristband should be made available to these cinephiles. Again, in the past, wristbands were available, but due to high volume attendance at screenings it became unmanageable. But with, (ahem, suggestions, one and two from this humble reporter) you can’t go wrong. Seriously, 10 discount tickets just isn’t gonna cut it.

    Limit VIP Entourage
    Without naming names, there are certain cast members and directors in the past who have monopolized seats at premiers with their entourage and entire family clan, even though it’s a packed and sold out show. Indeed, Fantasia may roll out the red carpets for these big kahunas but surely one must put one’s audience first.

    Better Merch
    For diehard FFF fans, you know you want to show off your pride over the years of devotion. What better way than by getting a cool T-shirt. Well, apart from their magazine catalogue and posters, there really aren’t any exciting vendors to line up for. Other than the popcorn stands. Next year, maybe some laser pens, DVDs or sustainable cups commemorating FFF’s 20th anniversary?