American Gangster | iZombie, Season 2 | Dragon Age: Origins, "Shale"
From small beginnings...
Movie review - American Gangster
Movie summary: An outcast New York City cop is charged with bringing down Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, whose real life inspired this partly biographical film. (IMDb)
Watching American Gangster again, I was surprised at the number of scenes I couldn't remember from previous viewings, but the reason why became apparent as the film went on: they weren't particularly memorable in the first place. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good here but still not quite as much as I thought there was.
The movie does have other issues too, although a lot of these are due to being based on real people and events and they're insignificant enough that they're relatively easy to overlook. The biggest problem caused by reality is that everything moves so slowly, that the ending feels a bit sudden. It doesn't feel rushed exactly, but neither is it cathartic enough to satisfy after watching for so long.
And that ending? I remember it being the highlight of the movie before, but I think the 'Nessun Dorma ending' to the first season of Daredevil on Netflix has surpassed it in my eyes and leaves American Gangster feeling a little smaller than a 2.5 hour movie really should be. It's still really good, but now feels like it's lacking that special something that made it stand out before.
I don't want this review to be all negative though, because everything I haven't mentioned is pretty great, including pretty much every performance by the cast. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe obviously stand out as Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, but I also love Josh Brolin as Detective Trupo and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Huey Lucas. Any of these four interacting with each other is fantastic to watch.
American Gangster is a good, but not great, movie that doesn't quite work as a whole and has a running time that doesn't feel earned. Part of this may be due to being based on real people, but they changed quite a fair bit about what actually happened and it makes me wonder why they didn't go a little bit further to improve the experience as a whole.
TV review - iZombie | Season 2
Season summary: With Liv's secret out, she faces new and even more powerful enemies, and old enemies in surprising new forms. (Rotten Tomatoes)
I really do like iZombie and all the main characters, but it really does feel like there's some self-sabotage going on with how badly the show mixes the stories of individual episodes with the over-arching plots. I really don't have any issues at all with serialised story-telling, but it's odd to have longer-term stories screech to a halt for a 'crime-of-the-week' episode before starting up again.
There were three points in this second season where I was completely thrown by how seemingly urgent plots were dropped for an episode or two, to only then be picked back up with the same level of urgency later. I understand that there's a lot they were trying to fit in this season, but it never feels as cohesive as it could've been, which leads to another weak end to a season.
I don't know how it was received when originally broadcast, but season finales are usually big 'event'-type episodes to go out with a bang, but so many big moments happen in the last few episodes, that the finale doesn't really stand out and, thanks to streaming, just feels like any other episode to watch before moving onto the next - I admit that I do want to see what happens next, but because of the characters and the season as a whole, not because of anything in the finale.
And I do love these characters, especially Liv (Rose McIver) and Ravi (Rahul Kohli) and their relationship. The only issue I have with either of them is that even Ravi suffers from being pushed into the background a little early on as iZombie struggles to balance what feels like an ever-expanding cast. Everyone is good in their roles, but their presence (or lack thereof) can feel quite random at times.
iZombie's second season is much like it's first, but better: very oddly-paced, with characters fading into the background for stretches of time, but still highly enjoyable to watch. It's a double-edged sword of the main group of characters are all being so much fun to spend time with that it's very noticeable when they're shoved aside. Hopefully this will change after how the season ends, even if the finale is very lacklustre.
Game play - Dragon Age: Origins | Shale
After the Circle Tower, I decided to get a piece of DLC out of the way, so headed south to the village of Honnleath, which was deserted save for some rampaging Darkspawn. Elissa and co easily slaughter their way through them and find the survivors hiding underground behind a mystical barrier, with them now able to leave with the Darkspawn gone.
The Darkspawn aren't why you come here though, but rather to retrieve a golem known as Shale, and you need the command word from the man who created the barrier. There's a problem both in-universe and outside of the game, because he wants you to fetch his daughter, who you learn has been entranced by a demon in the form a little cat.
The problem is that, while it's possible to save the little girl, there's no real incentive to do so as you have no connection to the characters of the village and these events never come up later in the main game thanks to this being DLC. Every time I've done this part of the game, I've just killed the demon, informed the man his daughter is dead and continued on with the game - the rewards for the puzzle simply aren't worth the time.
Anyway, you get the command word and revive Shale, who's a fun enough character to interact with from the start, but suffers from being a DLC character by not really having too defined a role and never fitting properly in any team I put together. They're stuck in a unique role like the Mabari hound of being unlike all the others and suffering as a result of it.
Shale can prove useful when levelled high enough, but has never felt essential to me - they fall in the 'warrior' class in terms of role, but Alistair is a better tank (even if my character, Elissa, is playing that role in this play-through and is better than even he could hope to be) and both Sten and Oghren are better at dealing out pure damage.
Ultimately, Shale proves to be more of a diversion that only marginally adds to the overall experience rather than feeling like a vital piece of the puzzle. They do have a secret that's revealed later on that might get talked about more if this game was released today, but it's again confined to something character-specific - being DLC means they can never be truly important and I can't remember them even being mentioned in later games in the series.