Archive for May, 2009

25
May
09

The Fling – An Action Movie Cop Out

This is kind of an odd post that’s been bugging me. The urge to write this one came after watching Terminator Salvation, but it really applies to many other action films. It’s something I call “The Fling”. Let’s briefly talk about it and why it bugs me so much. 

“The Fling” is when a monster or villain that can easily defeat the hero at close range instead chooses to fling them across the room. The hero then flies into some boxes or cans or whatever, before getting back up relatively unharmed and continuing the fight. 

This was used a few times in Terminator: Salvation. Just when the Terminator towards the end of the film gets close to John, instead of strangling him or beating him to death or whatever, grabs him and flings him away. This makes very little sense in the context of Terminator, where the machines are supposed to be completely clinical. If you watch Terminator 1 and 2, they never rely on this trick once. The only time that even comes close is when one Terminator flings the other… and that is usually done to temporarily get them out of the way so they can catch up with the human.

Vampire movies tend to be really bad offenders on this one. I think this is because both vampires and vampire hunters need to be at close range in order to be effective, but a fight scene that remains close isn’t visually compelling to watch. Watch the end of Blade 3 (you know… next time you get a chance or something), after a prolonged sword fight, the big dracula baddie at the end flings Blade across the room several times, when he can easily kill him up close. In fact, at one point he actually has Blade pinned down… and he gets off him, stands him up, and then flings him. Buffy is also quite reliant on this, particularly in the early seasons.

Horror/action seems to be the worst genre for this particular move, maybe because it’s so easy to dream up villains and characters that have limitless amounts of vaguely defined powers. When it comes time to actually put that character to use in a fight scene, it would end the fight too quickly to use said powers.

So why is the fling awful? It takes me out of the movie because it NEVER feels right. It’s a way to artificially add distance between the hero and the villain so that the filmmakers can fit in more dialog or show that the hero is going through the requisite “losing stage” of the fight without taking any real damage.

This isn’t to say that all throws in movie fight scenes are bad or nonsensical. Like any action movie fan, I enjoy seeing things and people get thrown through large panes of glass and so on. I still enjoyed Terminator: Salvation (somewhat) and Blade 3 (somewhat less). I hope if we start naming “The Fling” and calling attention to it, filmmakers will realize it and become less reliant on it.

If you never really noticed or cared until now, perhaps it will irk you from now on. You can thank me for that.

22
May
09

Terminator: Salvation

I just got back from Terminator: Salvation. The quick review? I thought it was pretty good. Better than Terminator 3, probably worth seeing in theatres, but not completely stellar.

For fans of the other movies, this movie is very faithful to the previous ones. It has many little references to them, and not just in a throwaway Indy 4 kinda way. It manages to get in all the important terminator ideas, shots, and lines. The plot fits nicely with the other Terminator films as well, even with Terminator 3. In fact, it might actually improve Terminator 3 a little bit, offering a bit of legitimacy to it.

I was concerned when I first saw Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese in the previews. After seeing the movie, he did a pretty decent job of it, but I still would have cast someone else. Perhaps if there are more movies planned in the future we will see him grow further into the character from the first film. Bryce Dallas Howard is given VERY little to do as Kate Connor. Her character seems as if it was cut down in the editing process or something. Honestly, I was surprised to see Christian Bale do a kind of mediocre performance as the adult John Connor. It might have been the writing of his character, but he didn’t seem to be all that important until the very end. Even then, Bale has done much better work.

The special effects are kick ass… more kick ass than I expected. I rarely spend much time talking about special effects these days, figuring that most movies with a budget have the “good special effects” label attached to them already, but the effects in this were great. The robotic Terminators have never looked better and the Terminator makeup effects were fantastic as well. They introduce a couple new Terminator models, as they always do. They are quite cool, and quite consistent in style with the other Terminators we’ve seen so far. As many of you probably know, there is a cameo from the ol’ model 101 Arnold Terminator using CG. It looks better than The Rock at the end of The Mummy Returns, but they wisely don’t depend on this effect for very long.

Let’s briefly talk about the bad things. The script isn’t outright bad, but it doesn’t really break new ground like the first two movies do. It’s thematically consistent with the other films, but the actual story of the movie hits some pretty well worn science fiction territory. My one Terminator super nerd complaint was that they gave SkyNet a face and voice at one point in the movie, whereas I believe it should remain a faceless and unknowable enemy. Still, giving SkyNet some lines was required in order to get across a few of the plot points late in the movie, so I don’t know how else they would have done it.

I am kinda left wondering if the movie would have been better or worse had the trailer and all the promo material NOT revealed that Marcus is a Terminator. The movie is totally worth seeing, most likely in theatres, but it won’t replace T1 or T2 anytime soon. Did we really expect it to though?

18
May
09

Dane Cook – Isolated Incident

Dane Cook really gets a whole lot of attention. At first, it was overwhelmingly positive, but as he started filling arenas and starring in feature films, he triggered a backlash worse than any I have ever seen. Without any one big scandal, public opinion seemed to just kind of devour him over time.

There is the issue of stealing jokes and whether or not this occurred. Sure, there is “parallel thinking”. Especially with news stories, many writers and comedians will have a similar take on a similar idea. There are three Louis CK bits in particular that circulate around the internet with the three “matching” Dane clips attached to them. I think those at the very least show that Dane had some influence from (the amazing) Louis CK. People will keep going back and forth on this one, but that’s where I am on it.

This isn’t going to be a review, really… just sort of my thoughts and a quick personal reaction. Let’s talk about Dane’s latest special: Isolated Incident. It is the best he has done. By far.

Why? 

Dane seems to have tried to get back to his roots with this new set by performing a very different kind of material in front of a much smaller group of people than usual. The material is stronger all around. Perhaps all the bashing and criticism made Dane aware of some aspects of his own style and his crutches that he now makes a point to avoid, but the delivery feels sharper and more direct. He spends way less time going off on tangents and making little side jokes in the middle of long form stories.

There’s a new EDGE to what he does too… which is already enough to get me interested. Once again, this seems to be a step away from the big and famous PG13 rated super star that he was trying to be before. There are jokes about suicide and some other dark material, but the really good stuff is when he brings in stuff from his life, such as the death of his parents, and is able to spin it into some pretty good and original material.

Rather than going into hiding or ignoring the shouts of the haters, he spends some time in this particular special to address them. This is a genius move. It isn’t some Carlos Mencia “mreh they’re just jealous” type material, it’s about the real impact that the internet communities and comedy rings have had on him. He doesn’t boo hoo about it, he pummels himself a fair bit, and then turns it around into another piece of very personal material.

That’s what this special is. Personal. He does spend some time treading into some pretty typical comic territory, spending a little bit of time talking about Obama and a little bit of time on relationship stuff, but it all comes off as “new Dane” type stuff, if that makes sense. Judging and critiquing comedy is a very difficult thing. If you deconstruct it too much or overthink it, you miss the point. It’s also way more subjective than many art forms.

That being said, I enjoyed Isolated Incident. It’s a really fresh and ballsy special that really won’t appeal to everyone, probably not even to all of Dane’s fans. It will probably turn some haters around, but it will bolster some of them even more. I really hope we’ll see more of this type of stuff from Dane from now on. If you’re a fan, check it out. Even if you hate Dane Cook with a violent passion, check it out.

You know you will.

14
May
09

Plants Versus Zombies Kicks ASS

Popcap kind of gets a bad rap with so called “hardcore” gamer types. They created Peggle, and Zuma, and several other “casual” games that manage to appeal to all kinds of people. I am one of those people that thinks that the overall difficulty of gaming has gone down in the last several years, and I do think that is a bad thing. That being said, Popcap’s latest game is so great that it at the very least gives them a free pass as a company.

If the title doesn’t explain it, Plants Versus Zombies is a game where you build up a garden of plants to defend your house from an onslaught of zombies. As weird as this concept is, they manage to keep the subject matter of the undead light … verging on cute. Many of you know I’m a zombie fan, but that’s not even the selling point of this game.

The game is essentially a tower defense game. It starts off as quite simple, but eventually becomes more and more interesting as the levels go on. At the end of each level, you are given a new type of plant. Before each level, you get a glimpse of the types of zombies you will be encountering (there are about 25 in total). The strategy comes in selecting the right plants for the job, and building up your defenses adequately. 

Plants Versus Zombies is better than the vast majority of tower defense games because it forces you over and over again to adapt to new things and develop new strategies. You can’t just build a winning formula and stick with it. Just when you have the whole thing figured out… they throw in night levels, with far less sunlight (your resource that you need to build), so you need to rely on mushrooms instead. Just when you’ve got that figured out… they throw in a pool level with underwater zombies. 

The zombie and plant types are all really clever too. The plants all have cute little names, but very specific uses. The zombies all behave differently too. Some of them are pretty straightforward, but some of them, such as the zombies that tunnel underneath your plants and attack them from behind, will cause players to live in fear.

Once you tap out the campaign mode there is a survival mode and a puzzle mode. Survival mode is what it sounds like, where they just give you every plant type and every zombie type and bombard you. Puzzle mode is kind of a mixed bag. Popcap seems to have implemented many little puzzle games that are references (or ripoffs, your choice) of other classic games. This means you can play “beghouled” by sliding around matching plants like in bejeweled. Some of these are really clever, some of ’em feel really tacked on and there only for the novelty of it. I particularly like the puzzles where you can play as the zombies, but the zombie Insaniquarium style game was weak.

No matter WHAT kind of gamer you are, you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot. It has charm in terms of graphics and gameplay. I’m sure you’ll become addicted and smoke through campaign mode as quickly as I did…

11
May
09

The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I’m a pretty big Terminator fan. I’m not quite crazy enough to say that Terminator 3 rocked, but I do always throw out the caveat “but that ending had BALLS, man…”  I still stand by that. Anyway, I’m really crossing my fingers for Terminator : Salvation. I’ve been rewatching the classic Terminator movies with my sexy rogueish girlfriend, but the other night I decided to take a risk and give the Sarah Connor Chronicles a shot.

I really tried.

I’ve complained a LOT to the people I know about the whole forward time travel thing in the first episode. Yeah, it creates all kinds of continuity problems and all that. It’s horrible and it undermines the films a bit, but I figured if I can just stick it out and make it past that, maaaybe it’ll improve from there.

Let’s talk about the cast. Lena Headey is fine as Sarah Connor… nowhere near as intense or strong as Linda Hamilton, but whatever it’s tv and I’m trying to be forgiving. Summer Glau is good as the River Tam-inator (man, I bet that pun has been made thousands of times by now). The killer is the kid playing John Connor. He looks and acts like Matthew Perry after he wished to be young and in high school again. He’s a total wimp who way overplays the whole “Unnngh my destiny is gonna be harrrd” thing. Edward Furlong was way more likable and badass in T2.

Also, you don’t need to be a super terminator geek to start to notice really obvious problems with the writing. In the first episode, they time travel forward to 2007 using a time machine hidden in a bank vault in 1999. In order to explain this, the terminator chick points out that although you can’t bring anything with you when you time travel, they managed to send plans back to have one built in the past. 

Fine, I can deal with that…. but she also points out that you can’t take clothes with you (a running thing in the Terminator movies) and that you can’t take anything mechanical unless it has living tissue surrounding it.

Moments later, they blast an evil terminator chasing them into pieces and time warp away. In the next episode, it is revealed that the evil terminator’s severed (skinless!) head travelled forward in time with them. Again, you don’t need to be a huge geek to realize that they JUST FINISHED SAYING THAT COULDN’T HAPPEN.

Some fans got even more angry when that evil Terminator is able to use his severed head to signal his body, eventually reuniting the two. I’m fine with that… I don’t need a completely scientific explanation for where the power source is and how his cpu can work without it and how his body can navigate without vision and all that. The point is that the show has no problem destroying not only the rules of the films, but its own rules that it stated minutes before.

It’s also really low budget once you get past the first episode… which a terminator story has never been. Another problem is that all the Terminator movies (even T3) need to move. They start off a little slow, but as soon as the Terminator first makes contact with their target, there needs to be a pretty good pace. Sure, they have several moments where they can catch their breath and develop the characters, but they have a goal that they must keep moving towards. In the show, Sarah and John seem to have a new goal every couple minutes, whether it’s simple survival, tracking down human resistance fighters, or (yet again) trying to destroy skynet before it is built. John even spends time trying to stay in school during all this. There are tons of episodes and scenes that simply feel like filler too… it’s a mess all around.

I’ve given up on this show… but let’s cross our fingers for T4.

07
May
09

Greendog : The Beached Surfer Dude

The Sega Genesis had some really bizarre games. I had a pretty good genesis collection, with many of the obvious and popular choices, but also with some ones that people don’t really talk about these days. We’re going to talk about one today.

GREENDOG: THE BEACHED SURFER DUDE.

I think as a kid, I really couldn’t appreciate the awesomeness of this title. not to worry though, I do now… it’s fucking fantastic. The plot is pretty great too. In the opening cutscene you see Greendog get cartoonishly washed up on a beach with a strange amulet on his neck. He quickly discovers that this amulet bears a strange Aztec curse that causes everything around him to go BERZERK. He needs to find several pieces of some treasurey thingy in order to lift the curse and be able to surf again!

Now… that’s actually somewhat original. Sure, the finding X pieces of an old relic is pretty typical, but an amulet that causes everything to go crazy? It’s a hilarious animation too… people’s eyes bug out and they become a crazy version of themselves.

So how’s it play? It’s a side scroller, you go along throwing a frisbee at all the enemies, picking up powerups along the way and so on. It has many of the side scroller tropes that drive people crazy today, such as jumping puzzles and mandatory high speed “vehicle” style skateboarding and roller blading levels. It also has sonic style underwater levels where you need to continually restock Greendog’s air supply.

It falls somewhere between total shit and total classic, but it’s an example of one of those bizarre games that I have a special attachment to because I grew up with it. I particularly like the art style. Greendog has almost no facial features, and he hides behind his hat most of the time. As much as some of the levels are irritating, some are really innovative. You collect junk food for points (the unhealthier shit being worth more points by the way), but in one level, there’s a little dog going along with you. The dog will eat all your junk food unless you get an enemy to drop a bone, which distracts the li’l fella for long enough for you to snag some food. The dog shows up again in an underwater level with a little snorkel on.

The game is full of cute little touches like that. Another good one is the red piranhas that fill every square inch of water in the game. If Greendog even dips part of himself underwater he’ll come out with the surface of his skin COVERED in hungry fish.

I don’t think I ever finished the thing, though I’ve gotten very close many times. Perhaps it would be a little more forgiving to play with saved states on an emulator, but I’ve never been that crazy about using those. It isn’t knuckle bustingly hard, but the game is long enough to just kind of exhaust you… it would be perfect for two sittings, not one. 

I know you emulator people are always looking for obscure little games that you overlooked at the time. Maybe give this one a shot?

04
May
09

X-men Origins : Wolverine

This review might be a little biased. In the interests of full disclosure, I WAS wearing a pretty bitchin’ Gambit costume and sitting next to a hot girl in a pretty bitchin’ Rogue costume while watching the new X-Men movie. There, that’s fully disclosed… pictures on facebook soon LOLZ!!

So how was the movie? It was okay. Nowhere near as bad as some of the early buzz would imply. It’s also not as bad as X3… and I fucking stand by that. Maybe it’s that my expectations were low since the initial reports from people who viewed the leaked version online, but I was able to enjoy the movie for what it was.

Wolverine seems to take the idea that it’s a prequel pretty seriously in some ways, but not in others. At the end of the movie, they go out of their way to give Wolverine amnesia to explain why he doesn’t know this story in the other films, but it only raises all kinds of other problems with continuity. One is Stryker, who was pretty cool in origins and pretty cool in x2, but they are NOTHING LIKE ONE ANOTHER. The actors are different, the motivations are different, even the goddamn accent is different. Also, he still has his memory… so… 

Another one is Cyclops. There’s a kid version of Cyclops in this movie, but I’m not sure why he’s there. It makes you wonder if he’s supposed to be pushing 50 by the time he’s working for Professor X. It also makes you wonder why HE doesn’t remember Wolverine. Of course, Sabretooth is also completely different between Origins and X1, though he’s way more developed in Origins. 

The moral of the story? They should have either tried harder to fit the movies together or they should have pulled a true comic book move and just declared them to be in different continuities.

So what was good? Well it had some fun action sequences and a pretty decent story. The action sequences are very “comic booky”, if that makes sense. That sounds kind of stupid to take time to say, but there’s a distinctly comic book feel to them that isn’t present in most comic comic book movies. One example is when Wolverine blocks a laser beam from Weapon XI by crossing his claws and thrusting his chest out. Another good one is when Ryan Reynolds blocks hundreds of bullets from automatic weapons by flailing two samurai swords around. I found that some of these worked and others didn’t… but the combat scenes feel more like the source material than many other comic book movies, for better or for worse.

I was happy to see Gambit on screen, but some people had objections. I don’t know a whole lot about Deadpool, but I understand fans of the character are pretty angry about his portrayal in the movie. Oh and one other observation that I don’t know where to put: Origins spends some time in the beginning setting up this kind of dark side of the force feeling with Wolverine needing to fight his urge to “give in to the beast” like Sabretooth so clearly does. They drop this idea pretty quickly, but I was glad they did.

Watchmen, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight have all really raised the bar for comic book movies. I know I spent the whole post here pointing out problems in the movie, but I somehow managed to have some fun with it. People who were fans of the other x-men movies or the comics should totally check out Wolverine, but otherwise you should probably wait for video.

I might just be a fanboy.