The Last Samurai | Frostpunk
Winter is coming for the samurai and the world.
MOVIE REVIEW /// The Last Samurai
Movie summary: An American military advisor embraces the Samurai culture he was hired to destroy after he is captured in battle. (IMDb)
There's two things to get out of the way when it comes to a review of The Last Samurai, because people often get them wrong. First is the fact that Tom Cruise's Nathan Algren is not the title character, even if he is the focus of events - Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) is, or you can take 'Samurai' as plural to mean all of the men following him.
The second is that this is a 'white saviour' movie, except this doesn't fall into that particular trap either. Algren doesn't save or 'uplift' anyone, instead being the one who has his life improved by exposure to a culture vastly different from his own. At best, he brings some military knowledge of the US Army would train the Japanese forces, which makes sense as that's why he's even in Japan in the first place.
It's astonishing how many people immediately dismiss The Last Samurai for these two non-existent problems, considering there are a couple of issues that could be considered more genuinely problematic, such as the near-fetishisation of the Samurai way of life. Considering it's effectively a feudal society with even more strictly-defined barriers between the haves and have-nots that exist today, it's not really a good thing to portray in such a positive light.
The movie also isn't particularly accurate historically either, as the samurai were perfectly fine using guns at this point in time, plus many samurai were happy to give up their titles as, being better educated thanks to their elite status, they were able to attain a similar status in this new society. Just a few things to bear in mind about this movie then.
But, those issues are really it - most historical movies aren't entirely accurate (if they even get close to accuracy at all), so it would be a little too harsh to judge The Last Samurai for doing the same when it does pretty well in some areas that could've tripped it up. If you're okay taking the above into account, then you get a really damn good movie to enjoy.
It looks incredible, thanks to New Zealand's gorgeous landscapes proving just as good at masquerading as Japan as they did Middle-Earth, and the cinematography is often incredible, matching the locations. The score, composed by Hans Zimmer, is as fantastic as you'd expect from him, really helping to accentuate the visuals even if not quite as memorable as usual for him.
The cast are all really damn good, even if this is one of those times where it's really hard to stop seeing Tom Cruise playing dress-up. I don't have this problem with the Mission: Impossible series, War of the Worlds, or plenty of others, but there's just something about this role that stands out for some reason - this despite him playing a self-destructive, death-seeking alcoholic!
He's really good as Algren otherwise, and his progression from trying to kill himself to find something new to live for feels well-paced and believable enough that you can understand how and why his character changes throughout the movie. As you'd expect, he's also entirely convincing during the action sequences, and - playing a military officer - it's entirely justified for his character to be so competent too.
It's the Japanese cast that deserve the biggest share of the praise, with Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto, Koyuki as Taka, and Hiroyuki Sanada as Ujio personal standouts for me - Sanada especially as he doesn't get as many lines as the other two, so a lot of his work is done through body language and expressions that show just how damn good an actor he is.
There's also no shying away from death and violence here either, as things do get very bloody at times - especially in the final battle - and a lot of major characters are killed off, so don't go in expecting The Last Samurai to be a typical action blockbuster. The events of the movie take a toll on the country and the characters, which really helps ground everything and make it feel more real than it actually is.
The Last Samurai is a great movie that has a period setting you're not going to find being featured very often, if at all, in a Hollywood blockbuster, earning it bonus points for uniqueness. There's also the fact that no-one here is squeaky-clean either, with the movie not shying away from depicting attitudes of the time. Match all of this to fantastic visuals, an amazing score, great performances and an engaging story, and you've got a pretty bloody good movie on your hands.
[9/10 - Great]
GAME REVIEW /// Frostpunk
Game summary: As the ruler of the last city on Earth, it is your duty to manage both its citizens and infrastructure. What decisions will you make to ensure your society's survival? What will you do when pushed to breaking point? Who will you become in the process? (Steam)
Frostpunk is a game that matches a lot of what I felt about the movie Red Sparrow - there are some patently obvious flaws that mar the overall experience, but I still enjoyed it anyway. There's something about this game that provides that 'just one more day' feeling and it's pretty easy to lose track of how many hours you've been playing, although it can take just one issue flaring up to bring everything you've built crashing down.
The biggest problem I had is that I felt the main story campaign was a little too restrictive in how you could play it, leaving very little wriggle room for experimentation and meaning that the start of each new game can be deathly dull as you repeat the steps you know will set up your city - to a point. At times, it almost feels just as much a puzzle game and memory test as it does a city-builder.
There are set events that occur and there are certain things that you'll have to always do to ensure your city survives them - most likely learning through trial-and-error, then remembering what worked best for your next attempt. It's a good thing that Frostpunk has such a great visual style and is so easy to play, because I would've given up on it much earlier otherwise.
Yes, it can be tricky telling certain buildings apart sometimes, but the majority are distinctive enough for it to be an issue, but it's possible that you could grow bored of the unending combination of winter and steel - what you see at the start is pretty much what the game is, so you'd best look elsewhere for a title with more visual variety to it.
As for the controls, it's mostly mouse-driven, choosing items on various menus and screens as you'd expect from a city-building game, but I would stress that it's very much the long-term you should be thinking about with Frostpunk - quick fixes might solve a pressing issue, but could screw you over later on. This goes for the construction of new buildings or when choosing new laws - the latter of which often has unintended consequences thanks to regularly being asked to pick between two unpleasant options.
There are other scenarios to play too, including a variety of 'endless' modes - the latter I tried for the first time just recently and enjoyed very much - so you do have some options when it comes to how you play the game, but there's always a certain path to prosperous progression no matter what. Some 'difficult' choices are pretty easy to make when you know how good or bad they are.
I would recommend Frostpunk if you'd like to try a spin on survival city-building like Banished, but with some serious caveats about its longevity - it's a great experience to begin with, but can become a little repetitive thanks to its strict difficulty discouraging experimentation until you've got yourself comfortable at the start. It feels very much like a game that most will enjoy playing through initially, but might never go back to if you take any lengthy break from it.
Frostpunk is an addictive, if frustrating game with a brilliant premise and art style let down by being just a little too restrictive in what you can do, a level of difficulty that may put many off and some strange quirks in logic. It really does look good though, the controls are pretty much spot on for this type of game and it's got quite a few different scenarios and modes, so there might be some part of the game that you can enjoy.