Reviews, Video Game

[60/365] A Review: The Sexy Brutale

Created by Cavalier Game Studios, a team founded by former members of the fabled (ha! Fable-d! geddit?) Lionhead Studios, and Tequila Works, the Madrid-based team behind Deadlight, The Sexy Brutale was one of the more anticipated titles of 2017, with one site calling it the best game at Gamescom 2016 with only a demo to go by. Truth be told, being the out-of-touch video game enthusiast that I am, I wasn’t particularly up-to-date with the latest in video game news and expos, but a brief article in a volume of Edge some time last year had me interested in The Sexy Brutale‘s concept. A neverending murder mystery set in an opulent mansion with masked guests and a stunningly stylish art style? Count me the fuck in.

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In The Sexy Brutale, you play as Lafcadio Boone, a priest trapped in a neverending nightmare and tasked with figuring out how and why the guests in the opulent mansion are being killed off one by one. With every guest you save, you unlock powers granted by their masks and use those powers to advance further into the story, saving more people and eventually uncovering the secrets behind The Sexy Brutale.

Without spoiling too many things (since I’ll be writing another post later about my thoughts on the game’s story!), The Sexy Brutale shines in four aspects: gameplay, dialogue, sound, and art. Granted, there are instances where the game lags and affects the gameplay – there are times when I’m tapping the A button as hard as I can to get Lafcadio to stop diddling about and open the goddamn door – but whether that’s due to my ailing machine or the game itself is anyone’s guess. Questionable lag aside, the very concept of The Sexy Brutale‘s gameplay is an exercise in elegant simplicity. Lafcadio can wander around the mansion unhindered, but if he ends up in the same room as a staff member or a guest he can be tormented by the staff’s or guest’s mask, which will drain his energy the longer he remains in the same room with them. To avoid that, Lafcadio can peek through keyholes into the next room and see what’s going on.

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Lafcadio peeking into the room and listening to the conversation
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Lafcadio utilising the power of a mask to listen to distant footsteps

Much of the game revolves around you running around the mansion, avoiding guests and staff alike, in a rush against time to save the guests from being murdered. Once the clock strikes midnight, the entire day resets back by 12 hours, and Lafcadio is set to begin his quest again. This is where The Sexy Brutale‘s gameplay shines – you’re meant to play through the day over and over and over again, or else you wouldn’t be able to pick up important clues to solve the murder mysteries. The resetting gameplay mechanic is crucial in understanding how the guests are murdered, and subsequently how to stop the murders themselves. This sort of repetitive gameplay can be tiresome and downright irritating if done for too long, wandering through the same damn hallways and dodging the same people again and again, but The Sexy Brutale paces itself well enough that it doesn’t feel boring, and the length of the game – six hours, give or take, without obsessively searching every nook and cranny for collectibles – is long enough to get a good grasp of the story and short enough to not feel too cumbersome to the player. It’s a simple concept that can be tricky to execute, and The Sexy Brutale does it so well so as to seem effortless.

A good gameplay means nothing without a good story, and while I’ll be talking about that in a separate post, I’d be remiss not to point out the delightful dialogues that pepper the game. The writing in this game is phenomenal; again, keeping in line with the theme of simplistic elegance the game seems to go for, the dialogues fill the characters with personality and life to the point where I started feeling not only for the guests, but also the staff members. In a game where it’s so easy to miss even a crucial piece of dialogue, making each line count is important, and The Sexy Brutale succeeds in creating a cast rich in personality and notable quirks with a limited number of dialogues. That’s pretty damned impressive, I ‘d say. As an example, here’s a ghost in the library complaining to Lafcadio about the abysmal quality of the books available:

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After a good three hours of wandering around the mansion and dodging staff and guests alike, listening in on conversations and generally soaking yourself in the eerie, uneasy ambiance of the mystery, this kind of silly humour comes across as relief, even.

As previously mentioned, The Sexy Brutale‘s mechanic revolves not only around spying on those around you, but also keeping an ear out for telltale footsteps coming your way. In this sense, I particularly love how you can tell the exact moment each guest is being murdered by sound cues alone – a gunshot, the tolling of a bell, breaking glass, all these can clue you as to what’s going on at the moment, and I really think that’s a neat concept. Music-wise, the soundtrack for this game is fucking amazing. Seriously, it’s amazing. I might just get my hands on a physical copy just for the soundtrack alone, it’s that good. It’s jaunty and jazzy and fits the casino theme perfectly, but during the more heartrending parts of the game (yes, you read right. this game can break your heart) the soundtrack can be downright melancholic.

Last but not least, The Sexy Brutale‘s art style is a sight for sore eyes. The isometric view doesn’t offer a lot for details, but goddamn is there a lot of details in this game. The levels are well-designed and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and I personally found it greatly to my liking. The juxtaposition between the cute 3-D renders and the stylised art of the characters was particularly charming to me. Overall, The Sexy Brutale is a wonderful visual experience, and I highly commend the team at Tequila Works for a job exceedingly well done.

If there were to be anything detracting from the experience, I’d have to say the aforementioned lag – it could really make or break your game, especially when you’re rushing against time or trying your damnedest to not get caught by the staff or guests. Also, the transition between gameplay to cutscene and vice versa could be a lot smoother. A minor detail I’d noticed was that Lafcadio’s character model doesn’t have a lot of idle movements during cutscenes – unless he’s handing something over to another character, he turns his head to look around the area non-stop, which doesn’t really make much sense when another character’s talking to him.

There isn’t much replayability to The Sexy Brutale – once you’ve played through the story, there’s very little point in replaying it unless you’re trying to collect all the invitations and cards – but it’s an enjoyable and surprisingly poignant experience that’s well worth your time and money. 9/10 would recommend.

The Sexy Brutale is available now on Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

Music, Reviews

[59/365] A Review: B.A.P’s ROSE

I mentioned a while back that B.A.P was making another comeback before kicking off their world tour, and it was released early this month: a three-song single album featuring title track WAKE ME UP, DYSTOPIA, and DIAMOND 4 YA.

ROSE is distinct from their previous singles by having all three songs be in completely different styles – rock for DYSTOPIA, their signature hard-hitting hip hop made melodic with WAKE ME UP, and the NOIR-esque DIAMOND 4 YA. I don’t think any of their previous single releases were this diverse in the tracklist, so it was somewhat a surprise when I listened to the album for the first time – especially considering it was 8am in the morning and I was listening to it discreetly in class during a three-hour lecture.

The first song in the album, DYSTOPIA, was what really caught me off guard, with its 2000s heavy rock sound reminiscent of early era Linkin Park; almost like Bang  X2 2.0, even. Definitely did not feel like an idol song. I would’ve mistaken them for a rock band if I didn’t know better. It’s structured as a traditional rock song with scratching elements, which is unusual for a K-pop group, and you can tell they’re not used to the genre by how some of the high notes are definitely out of place. Honestly speaking, it’s a novel offering by B.A.P and it’s outstanding precisely because it’s by a K-pop group, but for a rock song, it’s nothing special. Rather generic, even. Nothing about it particularly stands out, but it’s an alright song that could definitely work as an anime opening theme. That’s just the vibe I get from it.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t even seen the MV. I tend to not watch any of their MVs anymore given how overdramatic their more serious MVs can be – I still can’t watch SKYDIVE without cringing, and people were raving about how awesome that MV was! – so I can’t say much about it, but aurally WAKE ME UP is a somewhat catchy and cohesive effort marred by haywire rap in both the first and second rap verses. There was something off with the pacing and length of the rap verses in relation to the rest of the song that made them feel a little jarring to listen to, which is a shame because other than that WAKE ME UP is actually a good song. It’s redeemed somewhat by the bridge rap and a repetition in the chorus that works well thanks to the vocal line, and Bang Yongguk’s using his 4:44am voice in his verse, which is always a plus. It’s good to have him back. Overall, WAKE ME UP highlights the vocal line’s strengths and while the rap could have been more finely tuned, it’s a quality effort for a title track.

The final song, DIAMOND 4 YA, is a haunting jazzy track that carries on from their previous full-length album, NOIR. The rap verse here is better than in WAKE ME UP, although Bang Yongguk’s not using his 4:44am voice anymore, and there’s a definite improvement in Zelo’s verse compared to WAKE ME UP. Structurally, it seems to ride on the same emotional hype as the title track, building up to a climax by the final chorus. There’s an air of fragile ethereality (or ethereal fragility) with the high notes and chimes amidst the blaring brass and steady bass, which gives the song its unique edge. Daehyun once mentioned that the group had a hard time picking between WAKE ME UP and DIAMOND 4 YA for their title track, which is fair because both of them are equally on par with each other – DIAMOND 4 YA is more cohesive overall, while WAKE ME UP is the kind of catchy, classic B.A.P the fans would definitely love.

Either way, ROSE is a promising release hampered down by what I suspect to be rushed production and not enough quality control. I think TS Entertainment was pushing for the album to be released on time before the world tour, and hence the quality suffered greatly. Given more time, I’m sure they could have polished the songs more. As it is, I will forever curse TS Entertainment for their shitty management and mourn for what could have been a truly outstanding single album.

Buy ROSE on iTunes

The following aren’t necessarily reviews per se so you’re welcome to click away to another post if my being angry about how TS Entertainment isn’t treating B.A.P right isn’t your kind of thing.

These last two releases seem to be bad omens for B.A.P: with NOIR, Bang Yongguk had to sit out from promotions because of a panic disorder, and with ROSE, Himchan had to sit out from promotions because he’d cracked a rib. Himchan cracked a rib. That’s not normal. TS Entertainment stated that he’d cracked his rib from stress due to the strain from the practice in preparation for their comeback and also sudden weight loss, which by the way, is also not fucking normal. Losing weight so suddenly to the point of cracking a rib? There’s a fucking limit to how much idols have to starve themselves to look good for their fans, and it’s the job of the fucking management to make sure they don’t push themselves too far!

Also, who in their fucking right mind would have their idols perform on comeback stages two weeks before embarking on a fucking world tour? Especially when they just came back from a Japan tour before that? It’s fucking insane!

And a while back there were also reports that TS Entertainment wasn’t fucking paying their staff, citing money problems as an excuse for late payments and not compensating overtime work. How fucking shitty can you get? First they work B.A.P to the bone to the point where the group actually had to go for a fucking lawsuit, and then when the dust settled they ruined B.A.P by shitty promotions and working them to the bone again – to the point where Bang Yongguk and Himchan both can’t perform because of medical issues – and now they’re not even paying their staff? Whoever’s in charge of TS Entertainment is a piece of shit and I hope they rot in hell.

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B.A.P had so much fucking potential. So much.

I’m just legitimately upset by this. They deserve so much, all the members have so much potential and now it’s all gone to waste because their fucking company couldn’t get their fucking act together. That part where one commenter said they should’ve been on the same level as BTS now? It’s true. That’s how much fucking potential they had. I’ve been with them since they debuted. They were well on their way to the top, they were head to head with EXO, they could be head to head with BTS now, but then the lawsuit/hiatus happened and they might as well have disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ll say it as many times as I have to, anybody who thinks the lawsuit didn’t hurt B.A.P can eat dirt. I’ll drag them through the mud with my own hands. The hiatus ruined B.A.P. It ruined all they could have been.

And maybe I would’ve been disappointed if B.A.P eventually ended up having to disband. It would be preferable for them to go the Highlight route and split from TS Entertainment to do their own thing, but that takes a lot of money and with Bang Yongguk and Himchan nearing the age for enlistment, it’s not viable. Maybe I would’ve been disappointed if the worst came to pass, but I’d be okay because at least they’d be alright and they’d be free to pursue other avenues, but we’re now at a point where not only the members’ careers are in jeopardy, but also their goddamn health. Granted, the idol business isn’t exactly the most forgiving industry, but there’s something to be said when two subsequent comebacks result in serious health issues for the members. Bang Yongguk couldn’t perform on stage due to anxiety. That Yongguk, who’s been performing longer than he’s been a member of B.A.P. Himchan has a cracked rib from sudden weight loss and stress from strenuous practice. Himchan, who’s constantly told that he’s too fat and needs to lose weight, and does so by simply not eating altogether. How is this okay? How is any of this okay?

At this point it’s like TS Entertainment doesn’t even care if the members suddenly drop dead on stage from the stress as long as they’re still doing the world tour and making them money.

Honestly. Fuck TS Entertainment.

Music, Reviews

[58/365] A Review: Code Kunst’s MUGGLES’ MANSION

Code Kunst is a producer under YG Entertainment’s HIGHGRND sublabel, aimed towards indie and alternative musicians. HIGHGRND is headed by Epik High’s Tablo, who I’m personally a huge fan of; I follow him on SNS and caught him hyping up the album and the track he’s featured on with G.Soul, so I figured I’d give it a listen to.

I have never fallen in love with an album more quickly than I did with MUGGLES’ MANSION.

This entire album oozes chill vibes, the kind of smooth, laidback hip hop that you can just put on and enjoy on a good day. Artistic (Intro) sets the pace for the rest of the album, with each track seamlessly segueing into the next. The second half of 향수 (Feat. 넉살) really stood out to me the first time I heard it, the repetition of the lyrics somehow giving it a harder edge. It sort of had me jolting out of a reverie brought about by the chill beats, which was an interesting thing to do in an album – especially when it goes straight back to the chill beats with THIS IS (Feat. C Jamm).

Then came Fire Water (Interlude) followed by FIRE WATER (Feat. G.Soul, TABLO) and boy was that a pleasure to listen to.

G.Soul’s voice is smooth (like butter) and paired wonderfully with Tablo’s skilled rapping and Code Kunst’s smoother beats. This track had me melting, I tell you.

StrOngerrr (Feat. 로꼬, MINO) was a pleasant surprise since I quite like Mino, it’s a shame he doesn’t get to be in the spotlight more in his own right – even in this song he’s in the chorus and not the main verses. MORE FIRE is another instrumental track that seems to serve as a bridge between the first and second half of the album – they’re both laidback, but the latter seems to carry a different kind of energy compared to the former, starting with Born from the Blue (Feat. JUSTHIS). This song gave me a strong Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann OST vibe for some reason, which is a good thing since the soundtrack for that anime is phenomenal.

The three rappers on Cruz (Feat. Loopy, PUNCHNELLO, Ugly Duck) have distinctly different styles which meshed together well on this track, which makes it interesting to listen to. X (Feat. 이하이) is one of the more higher-tempo songs in this album, going with the theme of a woman who’s decided she’s had enough and deserves better and is off to find a new man. I was honestly surprised by this song since I’ve never heard Lee Hi sing before, and this kind of sultry strong voice reminiscent of Kitti B was not what I’d expected from her, but I like it.

PARACHUTE (Feat. 오혁, Dok2) is one of my absolute top three favourites from this album, along with Beside Me (Feat. BewhY, YDG, Suran) and Lounge (Feat. 화지); they’re the real highlights, in my opinion. I have a thing for vocalists like Oh Hyuk and Suran; Suran featured on Agust D’s mixtape and the track Winter Bird she released last winter was beautiful, but the sultry jazzy style she sang with in Beside Me really blew me away. Unlike Lee Hi, it was completely unexpected precisely because I’ve heard Suran sing before, and that kind of voice from Suran totally hit me out of the blue. Lounge served as a good end to the overall theme, a relaxed beat that ties up the album nicely.

The final two songs don’t seem to fit in with the overall theme of the album: White AnxiEty (Outro) (Feat. Colde of offonoff) is more offonoff than Code Kunst, with its minimalist instrumentals and Colde’s almost ethereal vocals, while Don’t shoot me MAMA (Feat. Car, the garden) similarly highlighted Car, the garden’s style rather than Code Kunst’s, especially with the acoustic guitar strumming that’s glaringly absent from the rest of the album. It could be some form of promotion for offonoff and Car, the garden, since from what I can gather offonoff is signed under HIGHGRND but still very much under the radar, and Car, the garden is as independent as they come. It would explain how both songs seemingly don’t match the tone of the album per se, but they’re good songs nevertheless.

The best thing about MUGGLES’ MANSION is that the featured artists all mesh well each other. Each of them shine on their respective tracks, with the rappers all equally standing out in their verses. I don’t know if he chooses the artists he wants to work with himself or the label recommends them to him, but either way they all fit his tracks so well, I’m honestly rendered almost emotional by how effortlessly smooth this whole album was. Listening to it for the first time was a real experience, I’d say.

10/10 would recommend, an absolute experience, am definitely a fan of him now.


Restaurant, Reviews

[34/365] A Review: Al-Fatah

Serving ‘authentic Arabian cuisine’, Al-Fatah has several chains across Selangor and KL, with this one in TTDI Grove, Kajang, apparently being their latest. According to the flyer we found in our mail, they also do deliveries which is great if you’re peckish for some wholesome Kabsah lamb with rice but too lazy to go out yourself.

This flyer is a LOT more detailed than their actual menu.

The first thing you see when you reach the restaurant is a table set up with hookahs and cases of flavouring – evidently one cannot offer an authentic Arabian dining experience without hookahs, so the outside seating area is for customers partial to that.

If you’re a smoking fan, you’re in for a treat, one supposes.

The interior is a little bare, with almost all the furniture from IKEA – it’s amazing how I can practically tell the table is from IKEA just by its scent alone – and lightbulbs strung from the ceiling. It’s probably the whole hipster concept that’s real hot lately, although there’s nothing remotely warm about the restaurant – bring a jacket if you can, because the air-conditioning is cold enough to freeze over hell.

Brick walls, bare lightbulbs – the industrial hipster feel is strong with this one.

The food is standard Arabian cuisine fare, with appetizers, lamb and chicken dishes either with rice or bread, pizzas, and other such things one would expect to find in an Arabian restaurant. The dessert is a little lacking, although I suppose no one comes to a restaurant like this looking for baklavas. I ordered a Beef Tikka with bread and some hummus to go with it, because I love hummus and can’t be bothered to make them myself at home. The menu said they had Vimto, which is a thing I dearly love, but apparently they didn’t have any today so I settled for a can of Sprite instead.

My fridge was stocked full with these back then.
Beef Tikka w/bread and hummus also w/bread
I almost mistook this for rendang.

The Beef Tikka was succulent and flavourful, but the garlic yoghurt that came with it could use a little more garlic – it was a tad underwhelming. The tomato garnish? sauce? thing that also came with the Beef Tikka was spicy as hell, which was a bit of a surprise since it’s not often I find super spicy condiments in Arabian restaurants. The hummus was a little on the dry side and could’ve used more olive oil, and there was a slight bitter aftertaste that I was not very fond of. For RM7, you might as well go for Nando’s hummus with warm and fluffy pita bread at RM10.90.

The bread that came with the Beef Tikka and hummus were cold. They weren’t even fluffy – just the cheap, thin kind of flatbread you find at supermarkets. I probably wouldn’t have minded since I had to eat four slices of those and if they were even the slightest bit on the fluffy side I would’ve gorged myself into a food coma, but the fact that they were ice cold was a real downer. The least they could’ve done was throw the bread on a pan to warm it up or something, but no the bread was colder than the atmosphere at a dinner table where two exes have to sit next to each other and attempt to be civil but end up bringing up all the missed anniversaries and forgotten I-love-yous that led to the breakup.

I have an odd sense for metaphors.

It didn’t help that the air-conditioning, as mentioned previously, had the entire restaurant freezing. Anything piping hot delivered to the table ended up cold and unappetizing in mere minutes. Service was also rather slow – I wagered we waited almost twenty minutes for our food.

My dad’s Lamb Kebab w/rice.

The Lamb Kebab was passable, with the lamb fresh and flavoursome, but the portion was a little lacking compared to other Arab restaurants we’ve been to in the past. Usually they come in portions so huge you’d have to share with a friend if you didn’t have much of an appetite, but here it’s just nice and manageable for one person. My mum, who’s the pickiest eater I know, finished her entire plate and for her that’s either a goddamn miracle or the serving portion was really tiny. She had a Lamb Kabsah, which was okay by her standards, but I could tell the serving portion bugged her somewhat, especially given the price.

Having said that, Al-Fatah is a passable restaurant with decent food for a decent price, but pick your menu wisely or you may end up with an unpleasant dining experience. Dress warmly and eat as fast you can, too.

5/10 would go ehhh if you ask me to recommend.

Al-Fatah Restaurant, No. 62A, Jalan TTDI Grove, Kajang, Selangor

Facebook: alfatahrestaurant

Music, Reviews

[22/365] A Review: Don’t Make Me Cry by Jessi

Jessi, my babe, my best girl, has finally made her comeback! I’ve loved her ever since I heard her sing – like legit sing and not rapping – and I’ve been looking forward to a comeback for ages. She’s probably right up there with John Park in terms of Favourite Solo Artist, I figure – I’ve always had a thing for jazz singers, apparently. Heh.

She featured in Dumbfoundead’s KBB a while back and IATFB from AsianJunkie has covered that, so I won’t. This time it’s all about Don’t Make Me Cry.

Jessi, no matter how much she plays that gangsta lady persona, is more suited to jazz lounges than the streets. Thankfully Don’t Make Me Cry plays to her strengths, with its slow-tempo beats that match her soulful singing. The second chorus onwards is replete with guitar riffs reminscent of The Spine from the soundtrack for the game Transistor, further emphasizing the ‘jazz singer’ parallel. Jessi is no broken-hearted lady wandering the city seeking vengeance for her lover’s death, but Don’t Make Me Cry is a story of a woman who won’t let herself be hurt again, no matter how much it hurt to turn her back on the memories they once had and cherished, and it’s no less important than Red’s story.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this slow jazz-lounge style, but it’s definitely mine – as you can probably tell – and Jessi’s voice is definitely not wasted here. The song is nicely paced, the instrumentals are simple but effective, and overall it’s an A+ offering from Jessi.

The MV, however, I have a few irks with.

First of all, who the hell orders red wine at a bar? A bar. Not a wine bar because we ain’t classy enough for that, just a regular old pub that probably does live shows every Saturday night – and our douchebag orders wine. It’s weird and I’m not buying it.

Second, our douchebag, well… no offense to his face, but his entire being screams douchebag. Like if I were a bouncer at that pub and I see him flirting with Jessi, I’d be warning her to stay the fuck away from him because that boy is Grade-A fuckboy material. Girl, you’re just asking to be hurt.

Other than that, it’s a clear-cut story – our douchebag meets Jessi at the pub she bartends at, they date and fall in love, he does her wrong, they break up in a symbolic gesture of smashed wine glasses, he comes to the pub weeks later to woo her back, Jessi says no, and he walks out of her life forever. But wait! In the final scene, he sets down the wineglass gently on the bar – a peaceful end to their relationship, one where hopefully they can both move on from. Yay for symbolism! It’s nothing special, but I get to see and hear Jessi’s fantastic voice again so I can sit through her (bad) acting and obvious wineglass symbolisms.

It’s a welcome return for Jessi, and here’s hoping 2017 will be a wonderful year for her musical endeavours.

Still not over the guitar riffs in this song, honestly.

Film, Reviews

[12/365] A Review: A Monster Calls

It’s exam week and the very last of my finals is tomorrow, so naturally I decided to go see a movie as I am wont to do in these trying times. My rationale was that I had yet to fulfill my monthly movie quota – that being at least one film per month – and once I leave for semester break it would be very unlikely for me to get the chance to go to the movies. I had to choose between A Monster Calls, which I’d been somewhat looking forward to, and The Railroad Tigers, which seemed like it’d be a fun and mindless romp.

My decision was helped along by the fact that I am indescribably broke (an exaggeration, yes, but let me have my hyperboles dammit) and thus I figured I should get my money’s worth, which is why I went for A Monster Calls.

It’s got Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson.

It was worth every penny, and then some.

A Monster Calls is based off a novel by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie, and it tells the story of Conor O’Malley, a 12 year old boy whose mother is dying from an illness. He knows she’s dying, but he’s plagued by the guilt of wanting it all to be over and done with – of wanting his mother to finally pass, so it wouldn’t hurt anymore. When put into synoptic context like this, it all seems so very simple – but A Monster Calls excels in its simplicity by weaving a story that you can’t help but be involved in. It’s a simple story told exceedingly well, and even though you can hazard a rough guess at what’s going on and what’s about to happen next, you can’t help but be sucked into the maelstrom of emotions. It’s a story about guilt and finding the courage to survive, and by god if it wasn’t beautiful.

There are certain moments that highlight how clever – or at least thought-provoking – Ness’ writing is. The monster tells Conor the story of the invisible man who was tired of being unseen, and wonders:

“If no one sees you, are you really there at all?”

Halfway through the movie, Conor’s bully eventually tells him he’ll stop tormenting Conor from now on because he knows that’s what Conor wants – he provokes the bully intentionally because he wants the confrontation. He tells Conor that from now on Conor is “invisible to [him] too,” which pushes Conor off the edge into beating the boy into a pulp.

But why the bully? Why is it so important that Conor is visible to the bully? Why does Conor rely on the bully to make him feel seen, like he’s visible? And then it clicks: teachers treat Conor differently due to his mother’s illness. They’re more gentle, kinder. The other schoolchildren, unused to a person like Conor, unused to the whole circumstances surrounding him, the boy who’s tiptoed around like he’s made of glass, like he’d break at any moment, are unsure of how to treat him, and so they do what children do – they look at him with pity in their eyes and speak of him with condolences in their murmurs. They don’t look him in the eye, they don’t speak to him – they waltz around Conor like he’s a spectre, simultaneously seen and unseen. Only the bully treats Conor like normal – insofar as beating someone up is normal – and that’s the reason why Conor relies on him so much. It’s as much a dependent relationship as it is an unwanted one, and you have to admit it makes you think.

Speaking of the stories the monster tells Conor: the storytelling scenes are marked by a shift into watercolour-esque dioramas that are incredibly reminiscent of the watercolour art of Ubisoft’s Child of Light, and I thought that was a stroke of genius.

A frame from Child of Light‘s intro, to give you a rough idea

The animated watercolour scenes segue into the next smoothly, which is always something I greatly appreciate. It lends a fairy-tale-esque to the stories the monster tells Conor, further obfuscating the heavy meaning behind each of the stories. Even the watercolour dioramas serve a purpose – at the end it’s revealed that the watercolour dioramas that Conor sees from the monster’s stories are similar to paintings made by his mother when she was a child, and at the very end of her art album is a painting of a little girl on the monster’s shoulders. It’s shown that his mother knew the monster, evidenced by the way she looked at it in her final hours, but what are the odds of mother and son knowing the same monster? Of having the same monster walk by their side?

And if the monster saved Conor from his guilt, what did the monster save Conor’s mother from?

Keen eyes will notice Liam Neeson in a framed photograph, hoisting a little girl on his arms – it is implied that he is Conor’s grandfather. Liam Neeson is also the voice of the monster. Is it a little piece of meta or something else completely? Nobody knows, but it certainly adds another layer to one’s interpretation.

There is another aspect of Conor’s relationship with the bully that still niggles at my mind. From the beginning it’s made clear that their relationship is different from a normal victim-bully relationship in that Conor is the one who provokes the bully – Conor stares at him for any amount of time until the bully looks back, and then the beatdown commences. Until the part where Conor loses control, there was an underlying current of – attraction? a budding sexuality, perhaps? – in their actions concerning each other. I don’t rightly know and it’s hard for me to explain, but it’s definitely not the typical victim-bully relationship. There was a scene where the bully pulls on Conor’s tongue, warning him not to be a tattletale, and later on he says that he and Conor had a deal that only he could touch Conor. It’s as sexually charged as much as two children fumbling over their feelings can be, taking those tentative steps into adolescence.

Like I said, it’s hard to explain. I don’t rightly know if Ness planned for that kind of innocent exploration – insofar as pulling on someone’s tongue is innocent – of the boys’ sexuality, and at the same time I wonder if it’s not just me projecting these thoughts because I know Ness is gay. It’s not that I have a problem with that, because I don’t, but you do wonder to what extent does your interpretation of a work of art is influenced by what you know of the creator, and if it’s fair to them that those influences exist. Would I have thought the same if I didn’t know Ness is gay? Again, it’s an interesting point to ponder.

Sometimes I wish I’d never taken psychology in foundations.

Fuck you too, Freud. Wait. Fuck.

Character-wise, and I suppose this is really more praise to the book than the movie, all the main characters are interesting, with none of them feeling like mere cutboard cutouts. Conor is a smartass with an artistic streak and possible anger issues. Conor’s mother wanted to go to art school and is loved by her friends and family. Conor’s grandmother works as a real estate agent despite her late years. Conor’s father is described as an all-start-but-no-finish kind of guy, who gives up on his family and goes to the other side of the pond to start a new one. They’re interesting little snippets that breathe life to a cast of characters that would otherwise be monotonous and plain. It helps you be invested in their stories: the shared pain Conor and his grandmother go through dealing with Conor’s mother’s illness; the frustration Conor feels with his father, who doesn’t seem to offer any legitimate way out; Conor’s desperate attempts to save his mother from death even though deep in his heart he’s already let her go; the guilt when Conor finally tells the monster the truth. If they were flat characters, we wouldn’t feel for them this way, but we do, and it’s another testament to the quality of Ness’ writing.

A Monster Calls was screened in a relatively tiny theatre, which I initially balked at because most of the time these tiny theatres are reserved for movies that don’t seem they would do well – The Wailing was one, if I remember correctly. Later I realised that the tiny theatre served to impart an almost intimate feel – there were only about seven of us in that hall, but it felt more like we were watching an arthouse film than a typical commercial-entertainment-heavy one. It was a good experience.

There was a delightful old man at the far end of my row who laughed out loud at Conor’s smart mouth and didn’t bother to muffle his sniffles during the more tearjerking parts. He sat there at the end of the row, armed with crisps and mineral water, content to enjoy the movie by his lonesome, and never have I felt more like I’d found a kindred spirit in my life. Whoever that old man is, I wish him all the joys the world has to offer, for he brightened up my day considerably.

A silly final observation: in the film, Conor uses a pair of very old Skullcandy headphones – or something that certainly looks a lot like it! – and for some reason seeing my favourite headphone brand on screen made me really happy.

Final verdict: A Monster Calls is a beautifully told story of overcoming guilt and finding the courage to move on and live on. Well-paced, stylish and thought-provoking, it’s well worth seeing. 9/10 would recommend.

Restaurant, Reviews

[7/365] A Review: Ben’s

Right, so I was about to write a post on the Korean entertainment industry (and in the process get all salty about how my faves aren’t being treated right because I am the softest stan you’ll ever know) but I went out for lunch with my best friend earlier today and I wanted to talk about it! Danni and I go way back, we’ve been cursed together since high school and it’s been a long time since we met up, so today was a long time coming.

On a whim, we headed to KLCC and decided to try out this place called Ben’s – Danni’s been around it a lot and I’ve never been, so might as well! It’s got a nice vibe to it, almost like Plan b. over in Mid Valley (which is no surprise, since they’re from the same company. Plan b. is also quite a nice place, will do a throwback post on it some time soon!) – almost hipster-ish with its steel chairs and tiny tables and free lemon water.

The menu was nothing out of the ordinary – your normal selection of salads, sandwiches, pasta, burgers, Asian cuisine (laksa and pho were several that caught my eye) and standard Western fare (steak, beef stew, fish and chips, et cetera). Danni ordered a Hearty Wagyu Beef Steak with strawberry milkshake, while I got a Classic Carbonara Spaghetti with cafe latte.

Contemplating life and beef stews

Apparently the stew, according to Danni, did not taste like stew. Tasted more like bolognese sauce, rather, but considering the menu did say Hearty Wagyu Beef Stew in tomato and beef jus (and given the fact that most beef stew recipes I’ve tried out do in fact use enough tomato paste and/or sauce to rival the most tomato-ey pasta sauce in existence), I’d say that’s not really surprising. The beef was tender as all hell though, I’ll give them that at least. The strawberries in the milkshake were sour, but at least there was an actual fruit in the milkshake, which is more than what I can say for some restaurants I’ve been to.

Ignore my powerbank over yonder

My Classic Carbonara Spaghetti, on the other hand, was absolutely delectable: creamy and cheesy with beef slices and bits of turkey bacon. Needed a little pepper, although that might have just been my personal preference. The cafe latte too was pleasantly flavoured – I’m the kind of person who believes that a little sweetness is needed to bring out the very complex and subtly nuanced taste of coffee, so I added some sugar and it was just nice. Nothing too amazing, but pleasant all the same.

All in all, given the mixed reaction we both had over the course of the lunch, I’m of a fair mind to recommend Ben’s if you are: a) in possession of ample cash you will not regret spending (main courses range from RM30 to RM78, and the service charge makes it all worse); and b) of an adventurous nature. Seems it could be a hit and miss, depending on your order, and I certainly seemed to have the better luck today.

From my experience alone, 7.5/10 would recommend.

Ben’s, Lot 140, 1st Floor, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur