Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Most Anticipated Movies of 2013 (Updated 12/12/12)

It looks to be a little early for this, but I thought I would go ahead and get it out of the way before I need to wrap up last year'sTop Anticipated list. (I've seen 15 out of the 20 I listed last year, three have not been released yet and one got a very small limited release that I may not catch this year, so I'm only behind on Argo) But 2012 has been a fantastic year for cinema, and 2013 looks to carry the torch. The follow is a list of my top anticipated movies of 2013.

20. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese) - It's Scorsese and it stars Leo so it makes the list. But Hugo was pure example of filmmaker porn, so it sits at the bottom for now. 

19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) - Do we really need a 4th Mad Max? Probably not, but these set pieces look cool. 

18. The Wolverine (James Mangold) - Hugh Jackman must really love playing Logan when he keeps coming back to projects with no promise. Even though this is supposedly supposed to be a semi-sequel to the first Wolverine movie (that sucked big time) Mark Bomback is rewriting the script. Bomback is responsible for the horror that was, Race to Witch Mountain, Die Hard 4, Unstoppable and the Total Recall remake. Despite Wolverine being one of the best comic book characters ever created, that's not enough to move this movie from the bottom (but yet still slightly hopefully) of my anticipated movie list.

17. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez) - Does Robert Rodriguez have nothing better to do? With a release date set in October of 2013, we should to start seeing some official photos and teasers soon. But most of the cast from the first film is returning, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Michael Madsen. It remains low on my list for lack of information.

16. Warm Bodies  (Jonathan Levine) - This premise is a joke, but there is something oddly charming about the way Levine approaches scripts. He made having cancer feel comfortable in 50/50 and even if 2013 is seeing more than one high profile zombie release, (Will the zombie craze ever stop??) Warm Bodies has Rob Corddry and John Malkovich... so I'm obligated to see it.

15. A Good Day to Die Hard (John Moore) - After Bomback and Len Wiseman ruined John McClane's personality in Live Free or Die Hard, John Moore apparently is doing everything he can to revive him and assuring us "This is Die Hard! Any shit won't do!". With publicity that includes a car chase that was 78 days in the making, it's hard not to get excited to see John McClane save the world. It's low on my list because Moore also is responsible for Max Payne. *shudder*

14. Man of Steel (Zack Synder) - I'm not sure what to think of this yet. What are we in for? The joke heard around the internet is we are about to see Superman fly in slow motion since that appears to be the style Synder (300, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead, Sucker Punch) likes to edit in. However we also have the master of the Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan penning the script and producing, so he's obviously going to have a lot of input on how the movie comes out. Cautiously optimistic after the disaster that was Superman Returns.

13. World War Z (Marc Forster) - So it's official, this movie is going to be nothing like the book. It was originally on my list for 2012, but when reshoots were being called into action the release date was pushed back into 2013. What scares me about this? Damon Lindelof was brought in to help with the script. What's exciting about this? Joss Whedon was brought on as a consultant of the reshoots. Who knows if any of the trailer had reshoots in them. They are definitely trying something new with the zombie theme- I am not a fan of running zombies, but there's some interesting shots below.

12. White House Down (Ronald Emmerich) - The master of disaster movies, Emmerich (ID4, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) is taking on a new film that involves the white house being taken over by terrorists. Improbable concept, but Emmerich has entertained me in the past.Staring Channing Tatum.

11. The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking (David Twohy) - Probably my favorite character developed within the last 10 years. Twohy's last Riddick movie was a flop in theaters, but the fanbase was large enough he got the funding to finance another R-rated Riddick movie. I've been waiting a long time for this trailer to come out. With a release date in March, I hope we see it soon.

10. Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier) – Easily one of the most provocative and blunt directors out there right now, Lars von Trier raised eyebrows with Anti-Christ and last year’s Melancholia (which I thought was the best film of last year). His new film is titled, Nymphomaniac, and apparently involves unsimulated sexual intercourse. Actress Nicole Kidman already dropped out after reading the script, but Shia LeBeouf remains on the cast list. Interesting to see what Lars has up his sleeve.

9. Oz: The Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi) - Trailer below. :)

8. Oldboy (Spike Lee) – I’m not sure why I have this on my list. The original was phenomenal and remains in my top 30 movies of all time. Could Spike Lee ever adapt this into something equally thrilling? Staring Samuel L Jackson, Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen… I can’t help but anticipate the Americanization of Oldboy.

7. Iron Man 3 (Shane Black) - Hard to not get excited over the next story arc in the Avengers universe. Trailer says it all.

6. The Last Stand (Jee-woon Kim) - If you don't know Jee-woon Kim by now, you fucking should. I Saw the Devil is one of the best movies I saw this year and I wrote about the Good the Bad and the Weird earlier this year. He's now directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first full length feature film since stepping down as Governor of California and based on the trailer, it looks to be fantastic.

5. Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro) – Love del Toro’s style, so naturally a science fiction film based on the Japanese monster film genre known as Kaiju, will be hard to ignore. Updated: Added Trailer!

4. The Evil Dead (Fede Alvarez) All Alvarez is known for is this short youtube clip, but The Evil Dead and I go way back. The Evil Dead (1981) was the scariest movie I had ever seen, and I probably saw it at an age where I shouldn’t have watched it. But by the time Army of Darkness came out I was already a Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell fan. Raimi is still producing this, so I have faith he won’t let it suck, but this trailer is indeed shocking… and exciting.

3. Gravity (Alfonso CuarĂ³n) – Known for Children of Men and the best Harry Potter in the crappy series (Prisoner of Azkaban) Cuaron is helming Gravity, another sci-fi movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Not much else is known about the project except: “Gravity is the next Avatar in terms of ambition: the film is a contemporary survival thriller that follows a woman as she attempts to make her way back to earth after a satellite crash sets off a chain reaction of further crashes. Because it’s set in space, most shots require every element to float in zero-gravity”… Yes please.  To further my excitement for this film; “DeFaria said there are only 156 shots in the entire two-hour film. If you do the math, that means quite a few of these shots would have to be over 30 seconds long at least (which is an eternity compared to many of the shots in your average action film), and DeFaria notes that some of them could run anywhere from six to 10 minutes without a single cut.” Wow.

2. Star Trek into Darkness (J.J. Abrams) – This will be the final straw which determines if J.J. Abrams is indeed an elite director or if his production and marketing campaigns are stronger than the actual final product. Good luck JJ. Updated: Added Trailer!

1. Elysium (Neill Blomkamp) – Blomkamp did District 9 on a $30 million budget, so how will a sci-fi film with $130 million budget turn out? Backed by Hollywood’s  A list actor Matt Damon, the synopsis reveals; “In the year 2159, two classes of people exist. The first are the very wealthy who live on Elysium, a pristine man-made space station looking like a stanford torus built by the Armadyne Corporation. The rest live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster), a hard-nosed government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 5 ("Blast Pit")

Blast Pit
                Blast Pit is one of my favorite levels in Half-Life and Black Mesa for multiple reasons. Firstly, it is a strategic chapter designed to ease the tension of the player. A lot of video games do not think of a players emotional state as they progress through the game. Games like Doom 3 for example, constantly throw enemy after enemy at the player until the each boss is defeated. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Id since action shooters are what they are known for. But Valve took a different direction with their action shooters.  In every Half-Life game released, there are levels that are designed to ease the tension on the player and introduce another element of gameplay. These emotional breaks not only allow the player to shift their gameplay style, but it allows the player to become more connected with the character, or in this case, the environment around the player. Developers need to learn you do not always need action on screen to make a game a thrilling experience.

                This chapter Blast Pit is probably one of the best designed remade chapters by the Black Mesa team. It’s a beautiful render of the source engine and it opens up the Black Mesa Research facility even further in terms of size. The decommissioned rail system that Gordon was told about in the previous chapter is easily found and stretches out the size of the complex nicely. But Gordon learns quickly that it won’t be easy as he thought to get to the Lambda Complex. The resonance cascade appears to have taken out the rail system bridge. Time to go on by foot.

                Instead of Marines constantly attacking, Blast Pit sets up other hazards for Gordon. Green hazardous chemicals pool up under the broken railway bridge, a bustedpipe spews green goo and an entire room is filled with radioactive waste. Where does this giant elevator take Gordon? To the rocket test labs of course.

                Another reason why this chapter is my favorite is because it is also one of the few levels with a mini-boss. Inside the rocket test labs is a giant mutated alien creature, blocking Gordon’s pathway to the rail system. In order to destroy the monster, Gordon must fire the test rockets, which currently is notonline due to lack of power and fuel. Gordon’s next two tasks are to solve the two puzzles; but they are not as direct as you think they might be. If players realize early that you must enter the beast’s chamber This is the first chapter where Gordon get’s equipped with the explosive satchel, although grenades are much more efficient for this puzzle.

                To turn on the oxygen/fuel tanks, Gordon climbs down a level and follows the colored pipes to another elevator shaft. Climbing down the shaft Gordon enters another sewer system that eventually leads him to a giant silo looking area. More Climbing... leads to a manual override switch that turns on a giant wind turbine. Eventually the end of this adventure leads to a control room with a valuepuzzle. Turning on the OXY/FUEL puzzle isn’t really that difficult, but it’s the monotonous journey to find that final switch that makes the puzzle interesting. Also seeing the Black mesa team add to the subtle new differences is a nice touch, like the lights changing to red as Gordon enters and exits the silo.

                Turning on the power is a similar puzzle but again, more subtle encounters are added such as having the Houndeyes sleeping in the middle of the hallway only to awake when Gordon approaches. Talking to a scientist informs the player that Smithers (another scientist) went to try and turn the power on himself, but “never came back”. Later, a Bullsquids is spotted eating a scientist who is presumably Smithers. Luckily, Smithers is revealed to be hiding when Gordon goes to flip the second switch which turns on the power. Now that someone has “restored allpower”, the engine can now be fired.

                Returning to where the mini-boss is begins some fantastic original music. Sets the tone wonderfully right before the button is pressed and the boss is extinguished (in spectacular fashion . To advance through the rocket test labs, Gordon needs to climb down to where themonster was growing from and swim under the complex. This leads to the one of the best set pieces in the game; a TRUE BLAST PIT, green toxic waste flows throughsome kind of treatment plant.  It’s a beautifulway to end this chapter.

Air vents in Chapter 5: 2 (storage area) (turbine room)
Total Air Vents to Date: 13

Monday, October 15, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 4 ("We’ve Got Hostiles")

We’ve Got Hostiles

                The first chapter in Half-Life/Black Mesa that is a quote from one of the NPCs, “We’ve Got Hostiles” is a chapter that allows the player to realize just how big this mess really is.

                The chapter opens beautifully in both Half-Life and Black Mesa with a scientist banging on the glass of a security office just before the guard is pulled into air vent. The distraught scientist then runs directly into a laser trip mine… wait a second, why are there laser trip mines setup around this area?...  As directed by the last NPC you met in Office Complex, you’re instructed to “keep going until you get to the surface”. But the elevator doesn’t get you to the surface. It gets you to an industrial-ish manufacturing area with conveyor belts, multiple storage and warehouse areas with forklifts, loading docks and freight elevators. I can imagine the Black Mesa team put considerable thought into how they wanted this chapter to look. The original version does not give much insight into the kind of level Valve was shooting for. What could possibly be ABOVE an Office Complex in a research facility?

                “We’ve Got Hostiles” isn’t a practically great chapter both in either Half-Life or Black Mesa but the draw of the level is seeing the shocking turn of events where Marines are dispatched into the Black Mesa Research facility to essentially contain the alien invasion and wipe out any surviving scientists. It’s the first chapter that Gordon gets the machine gun, shotgun and it’s also one of the shortest clocking in at just over 10 minutes. Remember, my recorded play through on youtube is trying to simulate a movie-like reaction. It’s not a long playthrough, it’s not really a walkthrough and it’s certainly not a guide. I’m just playing it as I would expect Gordon Freeman to react during the events that take place.

                One of the Marines calls out “Squad! We’ve got Freeman! which is interesting because that radio transmission occurs before I hear “We’ve got Hostiles”/”We’ve got heavy fire here”. Have the Marines known about [Gordon] this entire time?

                One of the things I like most about “We’ve got Hostiles” is the tension. Gordon finally gets to ride two giant freight elevators a considerable distance up. That’s progress on reaching the surface and a change of pace from constantly heading down to escape the Black Mesa complex. Right when blue sky is seen for the first time in the game, that glimmer of hopes of possibly surviving quickly dissolves when Gordon sees dozens of Marines on the surface all prepared to wipe him out. Gordon is forced back underground into a bunker after Marines release artillery fire. Gordon gets so close… only to end right back where he started. Literally.

                But there’s a bright side; “We’ve got Hostiles” ends with an NPC giving Gordon another mission. He must travel to the Lambda Complex on the other side of the base- The side of the base that Gordon does not have clearance for. Apparently there are scientists in this complex that know quite a bit about resonance cascades and even know a way to fix this. But how can that be? Isn’t the Black Mesa Research Facility the only facility conducting these kinds of experiments? So we get a bit of foreshadowing with the mention of the Lambda Complex as well as trying to find the Decommissioned Rail System and getting through the Rocket Test labs. Gordon is in for fun times ahead.

                Air vents in Chapter 5: 2 (dropping in after the Air assault) (shortcut to security office)
                Total Air Vents after the resonance cascade: 3 + 5 + 2 =  11 Vents 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 3 (Office Complex)

Chapter 4: Office Complex

                Gordon makes his way to the Office Complex where he was told to go by the first guard you meet. Part of the aura that surrounds the Half-Life franchise is being subtly directed on the next task at hand. When the game begins, you realize very quickly Gordon is late for work, and they are expecting him in the test chamber. After the resonance cascade, Gordon’s primary objective is to get to the surface as directed by Eli. However, that simple task proves to be much more challenging when Gordon finds out the tram is down and the whole complex is falling apart. Eli makes Gordon (and the player) realize that you need to keep certain scientists and guards alive in order to escape Black Mesa.

                What I also love about Half-Life is how Gordon is forced to go deeper and deeper and deeper into the bowls of Black Mesa before arriving at the elevator that leads to the office. The Office Complex is a sight for sore eyes (sort of speak)- an office environment is much more pleasing to the players after witnessing the destruction of the laboratory. There are plenty of hazards Gordon must solve; It shouldn't be easy as to stroll down the office hallways to the next level. There is also some fantastic foreshadowing to the player. “Soldiers are coming to rescue us. It can’t get any worse than this!”

                The Office Complex sequence originally designed by valve was supposed to be act as a “break” in the action. The original Valve design team controlled the pace of the game well by allowing for less hostile situations and more puzzles focusing on intellect. Half-Life 2 does this more beautifully than any other game ever did. But Black Mesa also does a decent job here. 

                The Black Mesa team did a fantastic job sprucing up the office area and making the level layout a lot more realistic. Specifically, the parking/road area- Yes it took Gordon seven minutes to arrive at the Black Mesa research facility via tram, but what about the office workers? Would they need to endure the same painful slow moving tram every single day? No, they can arrive via car. They don’t need level 3 access. Remember, Gordon arrived in the Office Complex after venturing through elevator shafts, sewer systems, freezer rooms, a long deep decent, crossing two broken bridges and a loading area.  The different levels of the facility are connected and only accessible for Gordon because of the resonance cascade and broken down complex.

                The second thing I really like is the restaurant area. Gordon arrives in an eating area and if the player progresses correctly, you can recruit up to four security guards and two scientists. They will follow you and help take out enemies in the restaurant area as well as a mini-finale before the level ends. Before reaching the mini-finale, Gordon needs to get through the freezer, which actually makes sense now that it is made clear the restaurant area is indeed a restaurant. Any restaurant would require a freezer to store food. Compare the original restaurant area (which barely looks like anything) to the Black Mesa restaurant area. Wonderfully remastered. There is even a nice little new event inside the freezer involving a female scientist and a different way to approach the puzzle, which is exactly the kind of re-imagining I would expect in a “remake”.

                Finally, I love the extra dialog thrown into Black Mesa with some female scientists. Why didn't Valve think there would be any females in Black Mesa? Some of the remade scene in Black Mesa have some of the NPCs adding commentary to what they are witnessing. This adds an entirely new element of immersion to the player. If a guard saw two scientists getting sucked into a ventilation shaft and seconds later body parts are spewing from the vent, they probably wouldn't keep that to themselves.

                One thing I've always hated in video games is making the player use ventilation shafts. The number of ventilation shafts Gordon is forced to crawl through is extremely high throughout Black Mesa. In Office Complex alone, Gordon crawls through 5 vents! First to solve the electricity hazard, second to solve the second electricity hazard, third to unlock a door and progress through the game, fourth for some extraammo, and a fifth to solve the freezer puzzle. But they’re not just vents, they’re HUMAN sized vents. Enough with the vents! For some reason I am less critical of these vents in Half-Life/Black Mesa opposed to the human sized vents in the futuristic Dues Ex: Human Revolution. For some reason, in the future, there are human sized vents connecting every building- even locked hotel rooms, police stations and apartments. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 2 (Unforeseen Consequences)

Chapter 3: Unforeseen Consequences is part 2 of my review but chapter 3 in the game. Try to keep up. 

Quite possibility the best chapter name ever, Unforeseen Consequences shows the disarray of the research facility after the resonance cascade. Unfortunately this chapter is also where Black Mesa falls off the rails. And I don’t mean the game turns awful; but it’s quite clear the developers of Black Mesa are not Valve employees and the lore of returning to Black Mesa with the Source Engine is lost in a dull, predictable mess. It's hard for me to say those words. After all, this is a FREE GAME that was made by fans of the same series that I love. How can I criticize them for anything? But this is the problem with shot-by-shot remakes- the sense of mystery is lost, and the gameplay feels quite outdated. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to admire in this chapter (along with the rest of the game), liquid nitrogen machines turning portions of the laboratories to ice, fancy new computer monitors and buttons to press, but if this were the result of Valve's first attempt, it would feel rather lacking.

                Examples of the mundane gameplay are the two unremarkable valve puzzles. I don't mean they were created by Valve Software I mean the puzzles involve the kind of Valves you turn. The first puzzle makes Gordon turn off two pressure gauges to allow a backdoor into a freezer to open. The main pathway is blocked so it's a puzzle to get the player to "look for anything you can turn or press". Not much thinking needed.

                The second puzzle involves Gordon dropping into the sewer system. The ladder to allow passage up to the surface is broken, so Gordon must flood the sewer to raise the water so he can reach the ladder. Of course this must be done in an area that involves quite a few ceiling barnacles which cause massive damage. 

                Unforeseen Consequences is also where Houndeyes, Alien Slaves (also known as Vortigaunts‎ from Half-Life 2)and Bullsquids are introduced. The Black Mesa source team did a great job revamping these creatures which causes more than just physical damage when Gordon is attacked. The Houndeye creatures distort the screen and cause the player to shoot out of the crossaire while the Bullsquids shoot an acid attack that covers the player's screen. Well done here.

                One thing I love about Unforeseen Consequences (as well as Anomalous Materials) is Black Mesa dev team introduced Eli. In Half-Life 2 we were introduced to Eli for the first time. Eli makes countless references to Black Mea science facility and him and Gordon working together before the resonance cascade. So the developers of Black Mesa included a string of dialog that links Gordon's relationship with Dr. Eli Vance. Superbly done. In both Half-Life and Black Mesa, Eli (although he is never mentioned by name in Half-Life) is heard speaking about concerns with the test chamber. Eli is an NPV that gives Gordon his next objective. "Get to the surface and let someone know we are stranded down here"  

Another thing I really like is how long yo go without a real weapon after the resonance cascade. Instead you need to use the help of the security officer or use flares to light enemies on fire. In Half-Life you picked up a crowbar relatively quickly, but you do not get the crowbar (or a pistol unless you fail to keep the security guard alive) until you reach the front security desk. Another great touch by the BM team.

                Some thing I really dislike. Apparently in the effort to reproduce Half-Life the developers forgot to give Gordon the ability jump over obstacles that are taller than a pencil lying on its side. This is one of the biggest complaints I have for the whole game and it makes puzzles like this one frustrating (of course I do it perfectly in this video because I'm awesome). Jumping does not feel right. Neither does getting off a ladder. You stick to the ladder like glue, and you need a very precise movement to escape from the ladder's clutches. The developers also made an exact replica of the descending elevator event to which the face-huggers that fall down the shaft, jump right over Gordon... no fighting needed. This occurs in the first game, and it also occurs in the remake. They could have put a little more thought into this event, but maybe they were trying to stay true to the first game. 

The full videos of the walk-through is below. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Black Mesa Review: Part 1 (Inbound & Anomalous Materials)

The Half-Life series has played a major role in my love for single player video games campaigns ever since I popped that orange CD into my computer’s disk drive back in 1998. From that moment I was utterly obsessed with the protagonist Gordon Freeman and his adventure through the Black Mesa Research Facility. Valve Software changed the way we played video games. They created an immersive universe with a silent protagonist and told a story with revolutionary interactions throughout the 12 hour campaign. In a seemingly impossible event, Valve outdid themselves in 2004 with Half-Life 2, the sequel to the events that followed the Black Mesa incident, expanding the Half-Life universe with a brand new engine (called the “source engine”) that incorporated a radical new way to simulate physics in game. Gordon’s story was continued in 2006 and 2007 with two short sequels called Episode One and Episode Two. But lovers of the Half-Life series lusted for a remake of the 1998 adventure. And in 2006, I learned some bold fans of the series were making a free, shot by shot remake of the 1998 adventure using the source engine and calling the project; Black Mesa Source. The developers boasted another 12 hour campaign that is essentially a free modification, no purchase necessary.
                Black Mesa Source was eventually renamed “Black Mesa” and was released this past Friday. It had been six years since I read about the game’s announcement and like most highly anticipated long dev-cycle announcements (think Duke Nukem Forever) I was eager to play. Because my love for this series is so strong and it's one of the last remaining franchises I can hang my hat on (So long Mass Effect, Duke Nukem and Resident Evil), I will attempt to identify the good and the bad of this remake through a series of blog posts going chapter by chapter. 

Chapter 1: Black Mesa Inbound & Chapter 2: Anomalous Materials

                The first and second chapters, Black Mesa Inbound and Anomalous Materials createa beautiful sense for just how large the Black Mesa facility is, much better than Half-Life ever did. Remember Half-Life fans, the Black Mesa Research Facility is just one portion of entire complex. Since this is a shot by shot remake, Black Mesa opens in the titled sequence as Half-Life did; credits role as Gordon takes the 7 minute Black Mesa tram system to work (video below).  The additions to the opening sequences are quite clear; There is a beautiful lobby complete with escalators and a vibrant lighting system, there’s considerably more activity below the tram and along both sides, there are nicely set corner offices, and beautifully designed corridors and tunnels. The Black Mesa team made a considerable effort to make Half-Life look more like Half-Life 2- make the set pieces more realistic, with a thoughtful approach to how a tram system should look. Let’s be honest, we all thought Half-Life appeared “realistic” back in 1998, but when you play it today, character models look like walking legos and most level layouts made little sense. The point of Black Mesa was to correct that and it appears they do right out of the gate. I need to commend the Black Mesa team for realizing some implausible mistakes in the original opening. In Half-Life, there’s a portion of the track where a gate is lowered that requires the tram to stop to allow the passing of a robot carrying radioactive waste. Would a research facility really build a tram system low enough for this to even be in issue? In Black Mesa, the tram is far overhead as the spider-robot walks by and is merely a sightsee on opening tour.

                One of the more impressive sides of Black Mesa is the inclusion of huge pieces of additional dialog not present in the first game. There’s one section of the level that has three or four scientists discussing an experiment as well as two others talking about TPS reports getting “progressively worse”. But just like in Half-Life, Gordon can still nuke the casserole in the microwave, bother a fellow scientist waiting for a message and push the alarm button in the lobby. There’s also some cute dialog involving a security guard who tells Freeman he’s a “sell out” for cutting his pony tail and an achievement for helping a fellow scientist by getting him toilet paper in a bathroom stall. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

What I'm Currently Obsessed With (September 2012 Edition)

I have a ton of reviews to get to and hopefully I'll post them soon, but I thought I'd do a quick "What I'm currently obsessed with" post like I did in February and last year. Most people know of the movie Dredd, currently in theaters. It's a reboot of the 1995 classic Judge Dredd starting Sylvester Stallone, only a lot more dark and a lot more violent. Some of the trailers begin with some beautiful music that sets the tone for the film perfectly. The artist is La Roux and the song is In for the Kill. Once I saw the trailer I immediately went to Amazon and downloaded to my iPod. So now I listen to it 60 times a day like I did when Nightcall was featured in the movie Drive.  Below you will find the song and the trailer that introduced me to it. Let me know what you think. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Total Recall (Len Wiseman, 2012)

               Anothertop anticipated movie of 2012 for me.  Remembering my reaction of the original back in the mid 90s, Total Recall was the epitome for what I believed the future to look like.  Cool looking cars, that drive themselves, giant wall sized TVs and the ability to live on Mars. A more recent viewing of the 1990 classic has me thinking otherwise. Cool looking cars? Well, I guess in the future cars are ¼ the size they are now and travel at 10% the speed. Maybe in the future natural resources are limited. Cars that drive themselves? Not really sci-fi anymore thanks to Google. Giant wall sized TVs? I’m certain my living room TV is larger than the one in Arnold’s home. Mine is also anamorphic widescreen which makes it even better. That blender that Arnie is using to make his breakfast, is sitting in my cabinet at home. And the ability to live on Mars? OK, mankind hasn’t mastered that yet. But we did just land the most sophisticated space probe in the history of NASA. I am also intentionally leaving out the most important sci-fi draw of both movies; the ability to implant memories into people’s head. This is the sci-fi element that drives both films and still remains mastered.

                The two things that worried me about this project were director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Mark Bomback. Bomback is responsible for destroying John McClane’s personality in Live Free or Die Hard (not to mention that wonderful idea of John McClane riding on the back of an F-35) and he also penned the critically acclaimed Race to Witch Mountain. However, Bomback teamed up with Kurt Wimmer this time around, who I am a big fan of. Wimmer gave us, Equilibrium (which put Christian Bale on the map) and the Recruit. Wiseman is most known for the first two Underworld movies, where he actually stole actress Kate Beckinsale and then married her.

                Wiseman’s Total Recall is redesigned- Colin Farrell takes over from Arnold Schwarzenegger, still works reluctantly at his job, unhappy with the way his life turned out, married to a smokin hot wife (Kate Beckinsale) and intrigued by a company called “Rekall” that advertises vacations or fantasy memories by implanting them in your brain. Like Arnold, Farrell opts to visit Rekall and get ‘secret agent’ persona memories implanted in his head.  You can essentially break Total Recall into halfs- the first being ripped straight from original- making it easy to guess the sequence of events. Both films follow essentially the same pattern of events with minor tweaks and modernization of technology. Instead of cherry sized GPS implant in Arnold’s head, Farrell has a cell phone installed into his palm. There is also an overextended chase sequence showing off Wiseman’s futuristic hover cars. It’s almost as if Wiseman knew people were poking fun at the Verhoeven’s Total Recall depiction of the future and wanted to ensure his audience that yes, we made cars in the future cool again. Kurt Wimmer

                The second half is where new ideas start shaping. There’s no Mars in Wiseman’s adaptation, so the big sci-fi element is a giant tunnel through the center of the Earth. The tunnel divides the two surviving factions after World War III. The United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony. In Verhoeven’s Total Recall, the rebel force on Mars was fighting for more air and a fair and balanced civilization. In Wiseman’s Total Recall, a rebel force is fighting for habitable space in the Colony. Wiseman does a great job portraying the Colony as a dark and gritty Blade Runner-like world, filled with congestion and unpleasantness, while the UFB is portrayed as a clean Minority Report world.

                The biggest problem with Total Recall is how the story develops in the 2nd half. We meet up with Melina (Jessica Biel) early (as we did in Verhoeven’s version) but scenes feel dragged out. Maybe the source of the problem was in the editing room? The car chase sequence was way too long, the standoff sequence where Farrell is made to believe he is still strapped into a chair at Rekall was way too long and it took way too much time to meet up with Bryan Cranston’s character. Unlike Lockout, which I felt needed an extra 20-30 minutes to fully develop, Total Recall needs 20-30 minutes cut to make the movie flow better. 

                There are some things to like about Total Recall; some great action set pieces, neat sci-fi ideas and of course Beckinsale and Biel look great on screen. But Farrell as an action hero still comes off rather boring. Biel is also wearing cargo pants throughout the entire movie which was a big mistake. Maybe Beckinsale and Biel needed to switch roles. For an action movie, it’s a rather dull one. There are some great throwbacks to the original involving the “2 Weeks” woman and the “three breasted woman”, but no “See you at the party Richter” lines, no alien tech and no mutants. In fact, the three breasted woman isn’t really explained in the movie. I suppose you could argue that the radiation from World War III is the cause, but there’s no mention of radiation or anything else that could have caused that anomaly. In the end, Total Recall is a rebranded-iRobot screenplay that barely resembles its predecessor due to weak chase story mixed with a dull lead actor.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)


Prometheus was on my top 20 most anticipated movies of the year and is getting mixed reviews from fans of the Alien franchise and critics. I was really excited to see Scott get back into his element- His last few films have not been the Scott as we know him for; Robin Hood and American Gangster were bores, A Good Year was a love story that I could barely get through and the last enjoyable Ridley Scott movie was made over 12 years ago; Gladiator. What made Prometheus so interesting was the mystery behind the giant Space Jockey that we were introduced to in Scott’s original Alien movie. So many questions arose from the gigantic dead being, and Scott even provided some insight in the 2003 DVD commentary of Alien Director’s Cut.

“The space jockey is the pilot and he is part of a military operation, if that's the word you want to apply to his world. And therefor this is some kind of carrier, a weapon carrier, biological or biomechanoid carrier of lethal eggs inside of which are small creatures that actually fundamentally integrate in a very aggressive way into society or any place you drop. So if you land on a human being you have a resemblance to a human being, if you dropped on an ostrich it would look like an ostrich. And there is a fundamental connection in nature," ... Then he goes on to explain how there is an insect that has the ability to sense when there is a grub behind a piece of bark on a tree. “When the insect walks over the bark, senses the grub and stabs into the bark piercing the grub and lays the eggs inside the grub so the grub become the host.”

The problem with explaining this on the DVD commentary and not in the movie is it left too many questions and not enough answers as portrayed in this comical video.

                One of the problems with Prometheus is there is too much Lost-like story going on. Damon Lindelof has created the same problems that led to the mixed reaction of  J. J. Abrhams’ Lost ending. Too many motifs, too many unanswered questions, too much confusing (and misdirection) logic that it takes away from that great stuff that is put on screen. The second problem was FOX- We already know FOX wanted Prometheus to be PG-13, but somehow Scott convinced them to keep it R. FOX wanted to cut out the best scene in the entire movie; an abdominal surgery scene.

                But what Scott does do well is setup another universe within the Alien universe and the possibility for another trilogy. Prometheus is based around the origin of the human race; the mystery that could have started life on Earth. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are archaeologists who have discovered star maps in ancient civilizations across the planet, which suggests beings from another world have traveled to Earth giving these civilizations an invitation to humanity’s ancestors. They dub these aliens as “Engineers” and suspect they are the reason life began on Earth. A team is assembled to explore a distant moon, LV-223 (not to be confused with LV- 426 in Alien) on the ship Prometheus. We know Prometheus was a titan from Greek mythology who not only created man out of clay, but gave them fire. This angered the Gods and they chained Prometheus to a rock and condemned him to have his liver eaten out by an eagle every day for the rest of his life. (his liver would grow back) Prometheus the film, and the rest of the Alien franchise, returns to this torn abdomen motif on a regular basis as we all know well.

                The film narrates in a way that does not particularly come out with precise explanations for the events that transpire on screen. The opening shot of the movie involves one of the Engineers performing a ritual as a spaceship flies away. The Engineer drinks from a small cup of black goo that subsequently dissolves his body into a river as his body is broken down into individual DNA sequences. Is this Earth? We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. The point Scott is making involves the building blocks of another world. Remember, Prometheus the Titan’s name is derived meaning “Forethinker” being a man of great foresight. Prometheus also approached Zeus with a choice of two animal sacrifices which his decision would set a precedent for future sacrifices. The Engineer in the opening scene of Prometheus is clearly sacrificing himself for the birth of man. What is the black goo? We don't know for sure but in theory the Engineers weaponized the xenomorph genetic material. We know what happens when you are exposed to the black goo as Prometheus plays out.

                Prometheus is not perfect, but Scott does create two of the most refreshing horror sequences I have seen in quite some time. When one of the scenes finally ended, I realized had squeezed my popcorn bag crushing the popcorn inside and my legs were twisted in front of me. I tried to imagine myself in the same situation of the character on screen.... I’m not sure I would have made it.

                What goes unnoticed are the bread crumbs Scott leaves, foreshadowing certain events that are not directly explained but opens the area for discussion which I find the most fascinating and clever portions of the film. For example, the final shot of the movie with the xenomorph had people rolling their eyes. Was this inserted because FOX pried it into the movie? Did Scott want to give Alien fans a link to both stories? Probably not. 

The creature was known to exist by the Engineers as shown by the mural and the theory of the base being a military facility. Based on Scott’s comments in the Director’s commentary above, I believe the Aliens change based on the species they come in contact with. This would also explain why the face huggers that come out of the eggs are different than the one Shaw gave birth to.  
                Theron's character (Vickers) was pointless. I didn't say the film was without flaws, but I still believe they are easily ignored flaws. Why do we even care that her character is pointless? Does it bother viewers who were expected her to have a bigger role in the premise? I think if anything her character serves as an opposite to Dr Shaw's character; she was a cold SELFISH human being (and arguably non-human), which is proven towards the end when she escaped the ship to save her own life. This was well represented in the motifs of the notion of self-sacrifice of “Prometheus”, which Vickers has no interest in partaking. If anything, her fate was well depicted. Shaw on the other hand is a believer "in God" with a "very strong faith". Her personality evolves through the film as seen with the discovery of the star map and then later with an internal conflict of her belief system and then a physical conflict fighting for not only her life, but all of Earth. And even when the battle is over, she still has the determination to continue to question her beliefs, to find more answers.

                Prometheus is not to be part of the Alien universe. It was made for different reasons and Scott pulls it off. It will not end up considered an instant classic, but it is a great way for Alien and Scott fans to rejoice to what is an interesting concept manufactured inside an existing fictional universe. I'm on board with this new storyline and I await the sequel to help quench my thirst for more Space Jockey


Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Chris Nolan, 2012)

It’s been months since I’ve done an update, and rightfully so; in that time I’ve earned myself a nifty new post-graduate degree. Now that I have all this extra free time after work, I have the freedom to watch movies, play sports, go out with friends and do things that I’ve been dying to do but couldn’t in the past 21 months. My first update will be about the Dark Knight Rises, my number 1anticipated movie of 2012.

                The Dark Knight Rises was everything I had hoped it to be, even with a running time of 165 minutes, far exceeding the length of the first two films. The movie begins 7 years after the events in The Dark Knight. Gotham is quiet and crime free, while a badly worn out Bruce Wayne hides inside his mansion mourning over the death of his love Rachel and struggling with an internal battle realizing how much he has given up, for so little in return.

                The three new characters introduced are the most interesting parts of The Dark knight Rises. They include; a talented cop, John Blake (JGL) , who suspects Bruce Wayne to be Batman, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a mysterious jewel thief who is described to be an associate of the main villain but appears to only act in her own selfish manner,  and the main villain Bane (Tom Hardy), whose menacing voice and monstrous appearance hides behind a respirator. The new characters are pivotal to the climax of the movie. Nolan did a fantastic job building the relationship of Selina and Bruce and at the same time intertwining the stories of the first two films to uncover Bane’s master plan. Hathaway is perfect as Selina, (but don’t call her Catwoman!) as Nolan portrayed her in a tight, black suit with cat ears that fold down to night vision goggles.  Bruce/Batman also has an incredibly memorable fight scene with Bane and Nolan depicts quiet clearly how the 7 years held up in his mansion has taken a toll on his body and it appears Batman is most definitely physically outmatched.

                The complaints I have are minor in scope. I didn’t expect Nolan to produce excellent action sequences and I was right to assume so. The Dark Knight Rises probably has more action set pieces than the previous two films and with the exception of one emotionally great sequence involving a stadium, the Dark Knight Rises chugs through bits and pieces of car chases, fist fights and aerial shots that are not exceptional. They also don’t need to be. They feed the story fine. Nolan also doesn’t do humor. There’s no witty comebacks like Spider-man is known for, no cute banter that makes Tony Stark so charming, there’s just stone cold Bale.

And my biggest gripe about Nolan (SPOILERS AHEAD *** skip this paragraph) is his inability to induce any sense of a drama into a villains defeat. We saw what happened to Two Face in The Dark Knight, which could possibly go down as the weakest character death in the history of all cinema.  There was speculation that Two Face wasn’t dead and was being held inside Arkham Asylum, but the Dark Knight Rises squashes that theory pretty quickly. But more annoyingly, the movies spend a great deal of time building up Bane as an unstoppable monster only to dispatch him in a pseudo-deus ex machina event.

                Although Nolan had more time to tell his story, there does seem to be a bit of rushing editing involved. Nolan is known for using cross-cutting (a type of editing that simulates events occurring at the same time) in his past films but there are sections of The Dark Knight Rises that really stand out as rushed. In Nolan’s defense, the cross-cutting is a technique used to power the audience through a lot of the silly (but important) pieces of information but the audience is vulnerable to get confused on just how much time has actually passed between scenes. None of these critiques affect the love affair I had with the on screen characters. They were casted perfectly and to read more about how Nolan and David Goyer (an avid comic book fan) were influenced on all three movies, I invite you to read 20 Batman Stories Most Influentialto “The Dark Knight” Trilogy.  

                In the end, Nolan left the Batman universe with another tremendous effort with a satisfying conclusion, which should leave Batman fans smiling. Chris Nolan has ended his saga with Batman with a beautifully written love letter. The hopes of Nolan being involved in a future Justice League movie are doubtful. It’s best for him to walk away at this point, let someone else spin a Batman story of their own. But Nolan has transformed comic book adaptations as we know it (as evidence with The Amazing Spider-Man and The Man of Steel).  Not only will the next Batman predecessor have a huge challenge in front of them, the filmmakers will be challenged with creating a story following the best trilogy ever made

Grade: 95

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Rest of PAX East 2012 Stuff and Other Awesome Things

But first, the not so awesome things….

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
               The title of this game should be; “Ghost Recon; Exactly Like We’ve Done Before”. How can this be a “future soldier” game when in every iteration of Ghost Recon, players had the ability to wallhack? Why is it fun to know where your enemies are?

Assassins Creed 3
                What a waste of time! I should have known better than to wait in line for this pile of crap from Ubisoft. If you’re expecting anything drastically new from the last five iterations over the same number of years, (which I’m not sure anyone is) then you probably already have decided on whether or not you will be buying Assassins Creed 3.  Assassins vs Templars taking place around the 18th century when America was first being colonized. Another year, another Assassins Creed game. It will also most likely be $60 on PC and most likely be another pass from me. 

Mass Effect 3 Panel
                Another waste of time. Bioware went out of their way to declare they would not be addressing the ending to Mass Effect 3. The good news is the audience was allowed to ask questions after the panel speakers were done talking. What a perfect time to confront Bioware! The panel included a producer of Mass Effect, Level designer, two writers and a QA guy. The first topic? DLC. Ok. Then some talk about Tali and how she’s a racist. OK. Then questions…  And the audience elects to ask about; the Citadel, video game relationships to art, shooting Mordin, WHAT KIND OF TOOLS WERE USED FOR TESTING THE GAME, “If you could throw one character into the synthesis ending, who would it be?”and some lame question about Garrus.  My fellow video gamers disappointed me.

Borderlands 2;
 Another sequel, another game you probably have already decided whether or not you re buying this. Me? I’m not. The first one is a giant mundane repetitive piece of shit. As much as I want to kill dogs for the first 30 levels I think I'll spend my time doing something more fun. 

The Things That Were Cool…

Aliens: Colonial Marines; While waiting in line, we got to speak to the marines, who were not part of Sega marketing or any other contract marketing company, but were rather fans of the Alien franchise and had constructed their own Marine outfits. Sega found these guys online, and hired them to hang out at PAX, which was a nice touch to the authenticity around the Aliens Colonial Marines booth.

The game itself looks OK, definitely not what you would expect from 6 years in the making, but as we learned recently, the game was announced before production had even started. We saw "Pre-Alpha" footage of a live demo of the game. After the live demo, we got to play 5v5 multiplayer against the developers where we were the Marines and the devs were aliens. It was essentially Left 5 Dead only in the Alien Universe. The Aliens even had an equivalent of an tank.

What got me the most excited was this game is actually going to be the canon "sequel" to Aliens. So it follows the events after the movie. You board the Sulaco and see Bishop cut in half, two pods were jettisoned into space alluding to Ripley surviving.... later in the game you apparently get toland on the planet LV-426. One of my questions after the demo was whether the Space Jockey would be making an appearance. And the response I got was; "Well you can't land on LV-426 without bumping into the Space Jockey can you?"

Diablo III Beta Keys;  ( I still haven’t received mine yet but the Blizzard dude said it would take 7-10 days… I’m still hopeful)

Primal Carnage; A multiplayer game that is Left 4 Dead, only putting dinosaurs against humans. The game we played was extremely buggy, but it was also extremely fun in the early pre-alpha development stages. Playing as a T-Rex, velociraptor or pterodactyl you can attack humans in exactly the ways you are envisioning as you read this.  I have high expectations that future demos will be more complete and even more satisfying as this demo was.

Air Mech; The surprise of PAX for me. It’s a multiplayer RTS that can run in your browser. You can even play right now if you’d like; https://www.carbongames.com/chrome.html When you hear RTS you immediately think of Command and Conquer, but this RTS is less about placing/building buildings and more about using your super jet/robot transformer to fly over predetermined bases, build your army and attack your opponents in 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 co-op play. The devs claim it’s also coming to steam later in the year but you can play the demo right now through your browser.

Super Monday Night Combat; Another wicked fun multiplayer game. Yes it’s a lot like TF2, but it’s more like TF2 on steroids... for free. It was actually released on steam yesterday before I post post this. Seriously, go there right now and you’ll start downloading it. 

PAX East Summary: So yes, I hit up all the major titles and not one of them really sparked any  huge interest. The two places I had the most fun were at the Air Mech booth and Far Cry 3, and the only reason Far Cry 3 seemed so fun was because I got to sit down and rest while I played. Overall I feel 2012 is a weak year for games and I'm surprised more gamers are not bored with the over hyped beaten to death franchises. My only hope is Valve can get me another release soon…

Good Movie’s I’ve Seen Lately

I meant to write full reviews for these but I haven’t had time, so very quickly people should go see, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance if it’s still around in your area. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, also known as the Crank guys (and Gamer), have put their own spin on the Ghost Rider franchise and it really paid off. It’s light-years better than the first movie that also stars Nicholas Cage. This is what Ghost Rider should look and feel like. Johnny Blaze (and Cage) come off as crazy lunatics. Now we need Neveldine and Taylor to tackle the Punisher.

Another great movie out right now is The Cabin in the Woods, written and directed by Drew Goddard, the dude who wrote Cloverfield and a bunch of Lost episodes and co-written by Joss Whedon, the dude who directed awesome movies like Serenity, Thor and the upcoming soon to break every movie record; The Avengers. It’s much better for me not to say why The Cabin in the Woods is so great, because it’s greatness is hidden in a bunch of misdirection in the way the movie was promoted. You just need to trust me that it should be experienced. Don’t ask anyone if they have seen it, don’t Google the synopsis, just go to the movie theater, see the movie and return here and comment on your reaction.