Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Happening (First and ONLY Viewing)


Seriously, what the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

Finally got around to watching The Happening last night. In case you haven't seen it yet, let me save you an hour and a half of your time. The characters in this movie run in fear from the wind.

The wind.

They even turn their heads back while running and, Godzilla-style, look up in fear at... the wind.

And that's not even the worst of it.

If that sounds like a good movie to you, give it a rent. If not, watch The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, or Signs again and savor some of the best sci-fi/fantasy storytelling in modern film.

I ask again: what the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wall-E (First Viewing)


Finally got around to seeing it.

All I got to say is: damn...


Should have seen it in theaters.

Wolverine (First Trailer)


Well, they definitely de-pussified the character. A welcome change coming off the complete waste of time that was X-Men 3.

Other than that, the trailer didn't impress me much. Wolverine doesn't need an origin story. Giving Wolverine an origin story actually subtracts from the character, instead of adding to it. And exploring Wolverine's family/domestic issues is about the last thing I want to see on the big screen - especially if the character's arc is getting revenge for the stolen lives of lost loved ones...the most boring, unoriginal story the filmmakers could tell.

And why are there so many supporting Marvel characters in a film about Wolverine? All they needed was Wolverine and a baddie or two from the Marvel franchise to make a solid film. It sounds like a business decision to me, since Marvel has certainly put profit before a good story before, setting up future stories and characters by adding them haphazardly into stories where they don't belong. I doubt that this movie can support that many characters and tell a proper Wolverine story, but I have little doubt that Marvel already has spin-off movies planned with these additional characters if this movie, a spin-off itself, does sufficient bank.

I'm still going to give it a chance and catch it in theaters. Hugh Jackman is the only actor I know that can pull off Wolverine, and it's worth it just to see the man work.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 10 - "Lair of Grievous"


Strong start, weak finish.

Lair creates and sustains an atmosphere of mystery and danger for the first two acts, despite some clunky dialog and the standard, superfluous battle droid bit, but the final act feels rushed and incomplete. Kit Fisto's (Fisto? Really, George? Really?) actions after the death of his former student - a great death scene, by the way - are rushed, confusing, and dramatically inert.

And the moral of the story, "don't answer power with power," is murky at best. It makes the Jedi once again look like close-minded, emotionless hypocrites, since Obi-Wan directly confronts Grievous in Revenge of the Sith in much the same way that Vebb does in this episode. I know Lucas has implied again and again that the Jedi of this era have closed themselves off from their emotions to the point of their detriment, but it has yet to be conveyed properly in any story in any format. Lair is no exception.

These things aren't not enough to ruin the episode, but it makes it feel like, well, a competent but not exceptional TV show. And the last thing The Clone Wars should feel like is just another TV show. Lair is good enough, though, that I'd recommend it to casual fans of the Wars.

The one big improvement in this story is General Grievous. I liked his character considerably more in this episode, since Lair implies that he choose to become a cyborg, instead of needing to become one to sustain his ruined body. I like the idea that he suffers almost from surgical addiction, and that he traded his humanity (or Kaleeshity or whatever) for his "improvements."

I've always thought his character was unnecessary, and he's the worst example of technology in the prequel stories that was considerably more advanced than that found Episodes IV-VI, thanks to twenty years of advances in special effects. More importantly, Grievous took away valuable screen time from Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith. Dooku's character and his motivations were never properly developed, and Christopher Lee - Christoper Fuckin' Lee, man - was wasted in that film. Without Grievous, Dooku could have been killed later in the movie, ending the Clone Wars, giving the character sufficient time to develop and end properly.

But Grievous works in the cartoons, and I finally believe that he could become an interesting, formidable villain, if there are more episodes like this.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 9 - "Cloak of Darkness"


My expectations were quite high for this episode, since Paul Dini, co-creator of Harley Quinn and the single best writer on Batman: The Animated Series, wrote it. For the most part, Dini delivers: the plot is tighter than most, the pacing feels just right, the dialog is solid, and the jokes actually tend to be amusing. This was only the second time in nine episodes that the wife didn't sigh, shake her head, and leave the room with her back radiating disappointment and disgust at me halfway through an episode.

Despite numerous story improvements, Cloak of Darkness is almost brought down by one element beyond Dini's control: Ahsoka Tano. She's less annoying here than in other episodes. Like Duel of the Droids, she has something to do for the whole episode, which helps considerably. The writers of the show are starting to get that every character should have a purpose in the story, that characters both propel the plot and are propelled by it. They do not exist to pad screen time or to come up with cute nicknames or lame jokes.

Dini does what he can with the character, but she doesn't belong in this story. Ahsoka is added in without any real explanation so that one of the show's regular characters would be in the episode. Her part could have been easily been rewritten as Luminara Unduli's Padawan, a character that could have been a little older and a little wiser, making the whole "the student teaches the master" a bit less cloying. Or Luminara could have carried the story herself. Having a single Jedi carry the story would be a welcome change. Almost all of the episodes so far have lacked focus because of too many characters.

Anyway, I'm getting rambly here. Cloak of Darkness is only the second episode I'd recommend to casual sci-fi fans who aren't sad, lonely, depraved geeks such as myself.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wanted (The Film)


Just watched it over the weekend. Didn't really dig it.

I found both James MacAvoy's character and the story to be stupid, annoying, and repugnant.

I dug one thing, though. You think Morgan Freeman is playing the "Morgan Freeman" role, when he is, in fact, playing the "Jon Voight" role.

Nice twist.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Quantum of Solace (Videogame - The Quasi-Review, Part II)


The game uses the Call of Duty 4 engine and was made by Treyarch, the developers of Call of Duty 3 and World at War. So, the game controls just like Call of Duty -- with the welcome addition of a tight cover system, which is essential to a Bond game.

Even with these improvements, the game lacks that unquantifiable "it" that Goldeneye had. Everything here - the controls, the graphics, the sound, the A.I. - is solid, though never exceptional. When it works, it works damn well. But Quantum's one great failing is that it was obviously rushed out the door to match the release date of the movie. What's there is solid and well-made - there's just not very much of it.

The game runs no longer than five hours, even though it covers both Daniel Craig films. The story is fractured and woefully incomplete: if you haven't seen the movies, then you'll be unable to follow the game's story. Playing the game before I saw the Quantum of Solace movie, I was afraid of the game spoiling the movie's plot. With the exception of one twist near the beginning of the film, nothing is given away. All you get from the story is that there's a bad guy, he's doing bad things in a certain place, and you need to go there and kill some fools. That's pretty much any Bond story in a nutshell.

Here is a perfect example of what's wrong with this game, using a section of the game taken from Casino Royale to avoid spoilers about the new Bond movie. The game recreates two-thirds of the Madagascar chase scene - one of the best action scenes from the Bond franchise. In the first level of this sequence, you chase that jumpy bomb-maker guy from the town square to the construction site. The next level you chase him through the construction site, ending with you following him to his embassy. Both levels are well-made and extremely enjoyable, and you would assume that the next level would be the climatic shootout inside the embassy.

You would be wrong.  The game immediately cuts to Bond trailing another baddie in Miami, which is about a half-hour later in the movie, with a brief voiceover by Judi Dench recounting Bond's actions in the embassy while the game loads this level. This is one of several "what the fuck?" moments that makes you wonder where the other half of this game went, like it stepped out of your house in middle of the night to "go get some ice cream" and never came back. Whole levels were, I suspect, cut in order to meet the movie's release date.

I wish Treyarch had another few month's to finish the game, so it could've been released in time with the DVD. If Treyarch had recreated both Daniel Craig movies fully and completely, then Quantum of Solace might have been one of the best shooters of the year. As it is, it's just pretty good. I bought it, but I paid thirty bucks for it, thanks to Gamefly. I can't recommend you spending more than that for this game, even if you're Bond fan.

Quantum of Solace (Videogame - The Quasi-Review, Part I)


First off, I'm a huge sucker for Bond games. I've played almost every Bond game that's come out since Goldeneye...except, I think, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, which I avoided as a matter of principal. I've enjoyed most of them to some degree, but there are only three Bond games that are actually solid, enjoyable games with or without their association to the Bond franchise - Goldeneye, Everything or Nothing, and now Quantum of Solace.

Of course, there's only one question on everyone's mind when a new Bond game comes out: is it better than Goldeneye?

The answer for Quantum of Solace is both yes and no. Certainly, there's been a number of technological and gameplay improvements over the past decade. Quantum of Solace features realistic character models, full facial animation, voice work by all the major stars from both Daniel Craig Bond movies, and a full orchestral score. These improvements are nice, and certainly makes it feel like you're living out a Bond movie, but that's all peanuts next to this: Quantum of Solace's controls much, much better than Goldeneye.

The first person shooter is no longer an anomaly on the consoles, like it was in 1997. Developers now know how to make console shooters control with almost the same level of precision as a mouse and keyboard. Plus, the Xbox controller seems to have been designed, at least in part, with FPS games in mind, as where the 64 controller was designed for...for...imprecision? Confusion? Frustration? The desire by Nintendo to have their asses handed to them by Sony? I really don't know.

Gotta go. Finish this up later.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 8 - Bombad Jedi


Yeah, I watched it. It had Keven Rubio as the credited writer, so I gave it a chance. Here's the short, short review:

Actually not as bad as expected.

not good.

not worth your time.

Gears of War 2 (Story Complete)


Finally beat Gears 2 over the holiday weekend. Gotta make this quick, so here's five thoughts on Gears 2.

1) Every review I read recommended playing the game on the hardcore difficulty level. Since it came up so often, I went with their advice. They were right.

A challenge somewhere between normal and hardcore would be the perfect fit for me, but I'd go with hardcore over normal. The grunts become extra-absorbent bullet sponges on hard - too much so. They take far too many bullets to go down. But monsters, like the tickers and wretches, and enemy weapons, like the grinder, boomshot, and torque bow, become much more threatening - making for much tenser battles.

2) Mixed feelings on the ending. The final section of the game is truly epic. It feels bigger and more dramatic than just about any other game I've played. Damn, damn fun...but it is in no way challenging. Basically, the only way you could cock up this section is to not press the right trigger repeatedly - even on hardcore.

The first Gear's endgame is an excellent example of the perfect difficulty for a final boss: challenging but not frustrating. Ramm took only a few tries to beat...but only a few. If there is a third game, I hope Epic combines the challenge of the first game's end boss with the scale of the second game's final baddie.

From a story perspective, Gears 2 ends on a pretty interesting note. Spoiler's ahead.

The game doesn't end on a cliffhanger, as I expected. Nor was the the origin of the Locust Horde explained, though it's suggested that humanity either helped create or propagate the Horde.

It's hard to say what Epic was going for with the sinking of Jacinto, but the running motif of this series seems to be the COG's rash, disastrous decisions to combat an enemy that they don't understand. And the sinking of Jacinto may be the COG's worst decision yet, judging by the brief voiceover after the credits. There's still a lot of story left to be told in subsequent chapters. Here's hoping that Epic gets better writers to work with the game designers next time.

3) I'll give the people that worked on this game's story some credit: the scene where Dom reunites with his wife works, and works well. Emotionally, it sticks the knife in and then slowly turns it. It's powerful stuff. Seriously, this scene is almost Squaresoft good.

A shame that Dom is back to his usual "'Sup, bitches!" ten minutes later, and Epic forgets all about Dom's loss for the rest of the game.

4) So, in this futuristic world, there are invisible robots, hammers of dawn, and all other kinds of cool shit with which to be badass with, but the best sniper rifle the COG has is a single-shot, bolt-action rifle?


5) Still glad I bought it, instead of renting it. It's a better game than the first, with a better story that still needs some work. And Epic bucked the trend of the last two years and made a single-player campaign of an acceptable length, 10 hours or more, with exceptional gameplay. That alone makes Gears 2 easy to recommend.

And it's still got a chainsaw bayonet. Really, what else do you need in life?