Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cloverfield (Part IV)

* ...which brings us to Hud, the character who “films” most of the movie and provides a running commentary so annoying that you can’t wait for him to get devoured.

If there’s one thing I’m sick to death of in American film and television, it’s the celebration of stupid people. I don’t enjoy hearing stupid people say stupid things. It rarely makes me laugh, and it just leaves me feeling depressed – this could be due in part to the village idiot we have for a president, who has unintentionally made up more words than Dr. Suess.

I know, I know. I'm bitter. But I'm comfortable with who I am.

* Lastly, why do we have a character like Hud, created almost exclusively for comic relief, in a movie like this? Like just about every other big-budget “event” movie, the writers seem compelled to cram in jokes throughout the entire runtime that go against the emotional core of the story – most likely out of fear that a movie where Manhattan is bombed back to the stone age might be too much of a downer. This is something that’s plagued movies since the late '80s, and I want it to end.

Anyway, give it a rent, wait till the middle of the night, crank up the volume or put on some headphones, and lose yourself in this nightmare.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cloverfield (Part III)

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. It helps that the filmmakers have taken to heart what made Jaws and Alien so effective: the less we see of the monster, the scarier it is. This is where the first person camera gimmick pays off, because we only see the monster when the main characters see it, and director Matt Reeves wisely holds off on completely showing the creature until the end of the film.

The problem is that I already started to lose interest in the film by that point. The film suffers from several problems that should be corrected for the sequel – and I’d love to see a sequel to this film that would keep what works and fix what didn’t. Here’s a quick list of complaints, so this rant can end and I can start picking on Rambo:

* The parasites didn’t work – though the consequences being bitten was filmed to creepy perfection. It’s a good idea, the monsters look good, but they are first shown easily tearing through a squad of soldiers, and then the creatures go down like chumps when they attempt to snack on the protagonists, a bunch of pampered twenty-somethings who can barely work a digital camera...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cloverfield (Part II)

not unlike the original Godzilla, which was accused after its release of exploiting the massive devastation Japan suffered in World War II and the country’s obvious anxiety towards the atomic age. But the original Godzilla, cheesy and awesome as it was, had something to say – which is why that film holds up after all these years. Cloverfield lacks the substance of Godzilla, its most obvious inspiration. It’s built exclusively to scare – and in that it succeeds.

What makes the film so scary? It isn’t the first person camera gimmick, though that does help. Like Godzilla, it’s got one hell of a monster. I’ve already said how I feel about CGI in horror films, but the computer generated monster in Cloverfield is incredibly designed and animated. It looks truly alien and comes across like a feral animal, scared to be an environment alien to it, which, with the exception of King Kong, makes it very different – and much more terrifying – than the other giant monsters who often have no motivation for fucking shit up other than for fucking shit up’s sake.

It's the most compelling and terrifying computer generated creature I've seen in a film since

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cloverfield (Part I)

In short: Better than I expected – not as good as I hoped it would be.

Like The Blair Witch Project, the first person camera gimmick wears out its welcome about two-thirds into its runtime and strains even my almost fathomless credulity for science fiction stories. It also doesn’t help that I didn’t care whether a single character lived or died, save one (Lizzy Caplan's Marlena) – another of Blair Witch’s failings.

But when Cloverfield works, it works pretty damn well. The early scenes of destruction, before the characters know who or what is attacking the city, are terribly effective. I don’t know how I feel about the filmmakers purposely emulating the imagery and emotion of 9/11. Part of me thinks it’s a cheap exploitation of a tragedy, the other part of me very much understands the need to turn fear and pain that’s all too real into something so fantastic, so outlandish, and so unreal that it could never, ever possibly happen. And it’s not like Cloverfield is the first piece of speculative fiction to use 9/11 or America's military and political response to that day as story fodder – but it’s certainly the most obvious, the most direct.

Which makes it

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (pre-viewing thoughts)

All right, let’s see if I can get back in the swing of things.

I haven’t been updating like I should. In my defense, I’ve got some new meds that took some getting used to and I’ve been sick for last two weeks (started with allergies, grew worse from there). It’s nothing serious, merely a large inconvenience. Anyway, let’s get back to ranting.

Got tickets to the midnight show of Crystal Skull at my local multiplex and I can’t wait. I haven’t been this excited to see a movie since 2005, when Revenge of the Sith and Serenity came out. My early prediction: it won’t be as good as Raiders or Last Crusade, but it will be better than Temple of Doom by several orders of magnitude. The last few years have been replete with “back in the saddle” sequels to 80’s action films – from Terminator 3 to Rambo – and, with the exception of Rocky Balboa, I think Indiana Jones is only franchise that deserved another sequel after all these years.

Back tomorrow with my review.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Am Legend (2007 Film - Part I)

I have to agree with about every review I read on the latest film adaptation of I Am Legend: it’s a pretty good monster movie until the monsters show up.

I knew going in that this film would have little to do with Richard Matheson’s brilliant novel and I told myself to just enjoy it for what is. And the first half is pretty good… surprisingly good, in fact. Will Smith finally drops the smart-ass “Will Smith” character from Independence Day and Men in Black, one of the elements that ruined I, Robot and could have potentially ruined this film, and his performance is what makes the film work as well as it does.

I’ve got two big issues with the movie. The first is too much CGI. Now, I’m not a CGI hater, but it should only be used when there’s no other way to produce a desired shot – especially in a horror movie, because making the audience believe in what they’re seeing on screen is the only way to generate suspense, and nothing breaks the illusion more than crappy CGI. Director Francis Lawrence’s decision to make the vampires/zombies/whatever the hell they’re supposed to be completely computer generated robs the film of any genuine scares. As good as Smith’s performance is…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

28 Weeks Later

I love zombie films, but there’s one thing that bothers me about them: we know where the story’s headed – the zombies run amok, everything goes to hell. True, it wouldn’t be much of a film if the survivor’s defenses held and the characters sat around watching M.A.S.H. re-runs, but forty years after Night of Living Dead, I need something more than zombies run amok, everything goes to hell to keep me interested.
The zombie film’s that have truly captivated me are the ones in which society attempts to rebuild after the outbreak has, in some form, been contained, movies like Land of the Dead and Fido. I was truly excited to see 28 Weeks Later, to see what the filmmakers did with reclaiming London after the rage virus (how did the first movie manage to be scary with something as lame as the rage virus?) had run its course. To my disappointment, director/co-writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does almost nothing with this premise – and the multitude of other interesting ideas presented in the first half. It’s all just there to buy time until the zombies (or infected) run amok and everything goes to hell.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (Gold Rush and Medic Achievements - Part IV)

(Yes, yes, I know. This one runs well past 200 words. But I didn't want to dedicate another day to TF2 and I wanted to complete my thoughts.)

...are just right – challenges of moderate difficultly that can be completed by playing the class well, without deliberate steps taken just to earn an achievement.

I’d say this first experiment with class achievements and unlockable weapons was a success, but there are a few things I would fix for the next round of achievements.

* Release achievements packs for more than one class per update, preferably for two wildly different classes so teams keep a modicum of balance. Examples: Scout/Engineer, Spy/Pyro, Heavy/Sniper, etc.

* I don’t know if this would work, but make some of each class’s achievements achievable by all classes, so servers aren’t spammed with just the latest class to get an achievement pack. Take the Medic achievements. Achievements that require you to work with another class should have been rewarded to both the medic and their medic buddy. Also an achievement or two for all classes attacking a medic would have been nice, like an achievement for killing a medic right before he activates his ubercharge, or for killing a Medic and his Medic buddy within five or ten seconds of each other. That would have kept servers a little more balanced those first couple of days after the update when servers were spammed with dozens of medics.

* Discontinue achievements that require players to use the Steam or Xbox Live friends network to join a friend’s game to complete an achievement. I’m particularly jaded about this one, after getting spammed again and again with friends requests by complete strangers just wanting to get the “With Friends Like these…” achievement on Live. Call me an antisocial shut-in, but I don’t want to befriend complete strangers online. I want to earn achievements just by logging onto a server and playing the damn game, without worrying if someone else is online.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (Gold Rush and Medic Achievements - Part III)’re an easy, obvious target for Spies, Pyros, and Snipers. Also, your success as a medic is just as dependent on your skill as the skill of the person you’re healing, and players often become overconfident due to the extra health or neglect to watch your back, and that’s not doing anybody any good.

But when everything comes together perfectly, I don’t think there’s a more enjoyable class to play in TF2. I’ve only unlocked the first of the three new weapons, the Blutsauger, the only weapon of the three I want in my loadout, and it’s a handy weapon to have when your medic buddy has just been killed and you’ve got precious little health left and need to make a hasty retreat.

The achievements to unlock these weapons are a strange lot. They range from the ridiculously easy (Surgical Prep, Midwife Crisis) to the ridiculously hard (Placebo Effect, Medical Breakthrough, and Big Pharma). Some are truly brilliant, funny ideas, but aren’t necessarily in the best interest of your team to attempt unless you’re dominating the opposition (You’ll Feel a Little Prick, Blunt Trauma).

Some, though, are...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (Gold Rush and Medic Achievements - Part II)

...but I think Payload is the best game mode yet for Team Fortress 2. More than the other two modes, it keeps players on both teams focused on one clear objective and forces players to work as a team – and unlike Dustbowl and Gravel Pit, it’s possible for the attackers to lose ground, which makes being on defense a more dynamic, enjoyable experience. And you’re definitely going to need some medics if you plan to win on Gold Rush.

Thanks to the Medic achievements and new weapons, they’re no longer in short supply. Before this update, I’d say the average team I played on didn’t even have a single medic. When I join a team, I pick my character based on what class my team lacks, unless I really, really suck at the class we're lacking, such as the Sniper or Spy. Before the update, I logged most of my time as a Medic out of, for lack of a better term, necessity. I certainly enjoy playing as a Medic, but it can be a terribly frustrating experience. If you’re the only Medic on a team…

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (Gold Rush and Medic Achievements - Part I)

First off, I’d like to apologize for the lack of proper content these last few days. GTA IV, the Gold Rush/Medic Achievements update on Team Fortress 2, and some unfortunate medical woes were all a factor. Even after only a few days, it feels weird doing this.

But enough of that.. Let’s talk some Team Fort.

Gold Rush, the first map to feature the new Payload game mode, stays true to the quality of previous TF2 maps, maintaining that almost perfect blend of strategy and frantic action of previous maps. More than ever, I’m amazed by the quality of TF2’s maps. Making a solid multiplayer map for any game isn't easy, but Valve has all the standard challenges plus balancing each map for the game’s nine unique character classes. With the exception of 2Fort, which I’ve been playing in some form for over ten years, I’m not tired of any of the game’s maps, even after months and months of play. And I’ll take less maps and a longer wait between new maps if they continue to be as good as Gold Rush.

Maybe because it’s a shiny new toy

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV (Day 4 & 5)

It's done. Brain hurt, fingers tired, thumbs sore.

Think I should go outside now.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008