Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Video Game Voters Network

Hey, all. Due to some health issues, I haven't had time to really post anything recently, but I'll get the ball rolling again soon once I get a chance (hopefully kicked off with a review of The Town, which I did enjoy). However, I wanted to talk about something recently that caught my attention around the web, as well as in the latest issue of Game Informer.

California has decided that it the government is somehow the best means mediate what younger audiences should be seeing and playing in video games. A new law is being proposed that several other states will uphold should it go through that violent video games are not to be sold to minors. Now, to begin with, what's the problem with taking the parents aside and saying "Hey, how about you do some parenting?"; and it's doubly bad news for those who are working with their kids, actually paying attention to what they are playing. This law supposes that the retailer carrying said game is to be fined a heinous amount, likening video games to alcohol and tobacco, should a violent game be sold to a minor. What constitutes a violent video game? Well, it's up to each state to decide.

So what that leads retailers to decide to do is to not stock problematic games and it leads the bigger developers (keep in mind Bioware, one of the greatest video game storytellers ever, which usually only publishes Mature rated games is now under EA) to pretty much not fund what they can't sell en mass. It's a slap in the face that they have gotten the Supreme Court to even listen as this is a complete breach of the first amendment and a slandering of good art. It's an act that will lead to a point where there truly is no stopping point for censorship. The floodgates will open. Even Stan Lee is taking a stand.

So please, whether you're a casual gamer or an avid fan, take a stand. Let's stop it here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Solomon Kane (2009)

Michael J. Basset's Solomon Kane, based on Robert E. Howard's pulp creation stars James Purefoy as the titular damned soul is a great ride even if somewhat forgettable. Solomon Kane is a mercenary who has killed many men, having sold his soul to the devil for his prowess on the battlefield. Presently Solomon is a man of peace, afraid of bearing arms, lest the reaper come to collect. Joining up with a caravan (led by Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige in good but throwaway roles) that is destined for tragedy, Solomon is spurned back into a life of violence but for the first time he has a purpose.
The first thing I have to notice is that for a $40 million film, Solomon Kane looks much better than most of the films coming out of Hollywood right now. The creature effects are great and the moody look and feel of the film is lovely. Secondly, the cast is fantastic. James Purefoy is a gravelly bad ass, but manages to not take it too far as to be off-putting. Max von Sydow is his usually stoic, majestic self. Even a surprise third act reveal of Jason Flemyng is a fun turn. Bassett has a little tendency to let the film get a little bombastic, but the film had me so worked up, it felt genuine instead of beating me over the head over something I cared nothing about (see Transformers).
However, where the film succeeds the most (and my favorite of the film's attributes) is how respectful it is to Howard's source material. Unlike John Milius' Conan the Barbarian, which felt like it pick and chose what Milius liked best from the Conan mythos and came up with his own backstory for Conan, Solomon Kane feels like the character leaped directly from the pages of Howard's tales onto the screen. This is the film Marcus Nispel should have been watching and taking notes while filming his Conan reboot. It's a great little film that I hope to revisit when Nispel's impending disaster comes along.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

It's always a hard job adapting a comic book to a film, especially when said comic has it's own visual flair and a way of doing things that just doesn't translate to the screen as well as you'd think. Last year Zack Snyder brought us Watchmen, albeit a much different comic, trying to adapt one of the medium's most celebrated volumes to the screen with very tepid results. Sometimes directors and studios miss the point, sometimes the work is either too colossal to fit into a film or really doesn't lend itself to the format. Scott Pilgrim is one of those comics that you would think upon reading would never work in a live-action format. That fact was not lost on Edgar Wright, who rose up to the task of directing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Instead of straining against his genius comic source, he dives into it, with phenomenal results.
The brilliance of the film is in that it literally is a living, breathing version of Bryan Lee O'Malley's epic anime/punk/video game inspired opus. When Scott destroys an enemy he visibly gains experience points, rising out of the disintegrating body. Emotional battles become full scale showdowns with past baggage. Wright pulls out every stop to bring us images that stimulate our senses and advance the plot without giving us a break to think how silly it might all look with a less competent director. Wright is also very crafty in condensing down six volumes (containing about 200 pages each) to a two hour film and barely losing any of the core material. Yes, I missed several subplots and I was surprised to find dialog coming from different mouths, but I'd take that over a bloated film that didn't know when to stop.
For those not in the know, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tells of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, in the first role I have fully enjoyed him in) who meets the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The problem with Ramona is that her exes have formed a league to torment Ramona and destroy any would be boyfriends. Scott must defeat them one by one with the help of his sarcastic gay roomate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin, stealing the damn show) and his band, Sex Bob-omb.
The cast in this film is perfect. Not one actor feels out of place and they all click with each other. Cera, Winstead, Culkin, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman and especially Jason Schwartzman all deserve major kudos for their excellent work here and being so damn game. I only feel like Shota and Keita Saito are left out as most of their story from the comic is left out, which is the only minor problem I had with the film. Kudos also to Beck and Broken Social Scene for bringing the bands' music to life and rocking the shit out of it.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a unique film and the most successful direct comic book to film adaptation to date. It's a film that deserves to be seen and marveled at. Few films these days give us protagonists we can relate to on such an epic quest. I would say not since the Star Wars trilogy have I been this involved with the hero's journey. Sadly, it's already looking like Scott Pilgrim is having a hard time reaching those outside it's target audience. It's nothing new to us geeks and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Inception (2010)

Before I start off the review, I want to say this: If you haven't seen Inception yet, don't bother with my, nor anyone else's review. Just go see it. Even if you don't enjoy the entire film or don't buy into it, there is at least one minute of this film worth everyone's time. My silly little review will be here when you get back. Now then...

Inception is the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) a man forced to live by illegal means outside the USA and away from his children. His illegal means is a method of stealing ideas from the sedated and dreaming called "extraction". When his latest job goes south, he and his partner Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) are offered a once in a lifetime opportunity: use "inception" (planting an idea instead of stealing it) to plant an idea in the heir of an empire's head and Cobb can go home to his children.
That's about all of the plot you need to know up front (even though I told you to go see the movie first). Thankfully, Christopher Nolan's films seem to be the only films that don't have the entire plot and scenes from the whole film in the trailer, a practice which is both nauseating and disappointing, allowing you to view the movie without too many apprehensions beforehand. It also allows you to realize that this isn't a traditional story. Whether the events in the film be dream or real, the film itself is an exploration of what it is to create films and how through film the director, the writers and even the audience can sometimes go through the most therapeutic experience in their lives.
All that meaning and story wouldn't mean jack if Nolan didn't assemble his talent well. The cast is excellent: DiCaprio and Levitt deserve some awards, Ellen Page gives the first performance of her career that I've actually liked, Tom Hardy in the most fun role in the film, Ken Watanabe reminding me of why I'm such a big fan, Dileep Rao making look forward to even more work from him, Cillian Murphy giving me another one of his great sympathetic turns that I love so much from him, Marion Cotillard scaring the crap out of me, and Tom Berenger and Pete Poslethwaite, who I had to check IMDb just to make sure it was them. They may seem underwritten, but in the big picture they all fit perfectly.

On a final note, I'd like to address Hollywood in general, since they may be confused by an original film staying on top of the box office for three weeks in a row. We didn't just see this film because Nolan directed The Dark Knight. We didn't just see this film because of DiCaprio. We saw the film because we were intrigued by an original premise and wanted to learn more. We saw it again because it had the substance to allow us to come back. Love it or hate it, it is not the disposable trash you keep dumping in our laps week after week. I love films. Please take this as a lesson. Give original films a chance. I'm tired of unwanted gimmicks, remakes and sequels.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Arrival (1996)

A film that I had seen bits and pieces of the second half on Cinemax for a lot of my childhood, I had never sat down to watch all of David Twohy's The Arrival (and I've always avoided the infamous sequel, The Second Arrival). It felt right to start off my science fiction weekend with something that wasn't intensely cerebral but still interesting. Add to that a mid-90's Charlie Sheen (when I still had fun with his pre-Two and a Half Men antics) and a comfortable slow burning plot and you have a recipe for a fun hour and half plus.

The film starts off in a poppy field not too far from the North Pole, defying all logic. Climatologist Illana Green (Lindsay Crouse, a nice far cry from her turn as Maggie in Season Four of Buffy) is investigating, spewing technical terms about the enivronment and CO2 and it all sounds very nice and lets us know the film is at least going to try to ground itself somewhat. Elsewhere in the world, Zane Zaminski (Sheen, playing warm, yet paranoid and full of crazy eyes), a radio astronomer for SETI and his co-worker Calvin (a criminally underused Richard Schiff) discover a unique signal of extraterrestrial origin. As each scientist takes their finds to their superiors, they are repeatedly and ignored and called out, until Illana and Zane (in their own ways) decide to do it homegrown. Relying on their skills, they discover clues leading them to Mexico, where the movie throws bathtubs and scorpions at them and begins to get a little serious, while Zane gets crazier and crazier.
Like most of Twohy's later films (Pitch Black, Below), The Arrival thinks it's smarter than it actually is, but it's so much damn fun, I'll forgive him for it. He has some fun camera techniques and is willing to let his actors breathe (especially Sheen, who is alternate parts tense and unintentionally hilarious) which gets some good results. His films (sans the atrocious looking A Perfect Getaway which I still have not watched) are always great B movie guilty pleasures and this one is no exception. The effects are pretty decent for the time and the score is appropriately ham-fisted and blaring. And you gotta love assassins who use bathtubs and scorpions to kill people.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Upcoming Reviews...

Now that the Blogathon has got me back online and given me that shot in the arm I needed, I'm prepared to go on a glut of reviewing over the weekend. As it is, I had hoped to review Inception today, but that's likely to be my birthday present so expect that review sometime in early August. So, in lieu of Inception, I've decided to revisit my favorite genre (science fiction) and review some old favorites as well as some genre classics (cult and otherwise) that I've meant to check out for a long time.
Some new reviews to come:
Solaris (1972)
The Pier (1962)
Metropolis (1927) (sadly, it won't be the restored version scheduled for release later this month)
Fantastic Planet (1973)
Stalker (1979)
eXistenZ (1999)
Alphaville (1965)
Timecrimes (2007)
2046 (2004)

They may not all get posted this weekend, but expect them soon. As soon as I finish catching up on The Venture Bros., prepping for new episodes in August (a nice belated birthday present... thanks, Adult Swim!)...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

BLOGATHON: Dahmer (2002)

Now that the Blogathon is in full swing, I've finally culled together my thoughts on the film chosen for me, 2002's biopic, Dahmer.

I'll say this right off the bat. Dahmer isn't quite what you expect, in ways both good and bad. For one, I expected it to be a gorefest, but it's very tastefully done, with most of the gore happening off screen and only a few really grisly scenes for impact. That's not to say it's an easy film to watch, as Jeremy Renner's creepy, yet subtle performance of the infamous serial killer is fantastic. It's a shame the movie around him isn't up to snuff.

The plot focuses on Dahmer's past (leading up to his first murder) and present (stalking homosexuals at clubs and bringing them home to create uninhibited "sex slaves", something that the movie won't explain to you itself) and it's in the past that I find the movie at its best. Unfortunately, the sticking point is that if you don't research the story of Dahmer, you won't really get some of the things happening in the film. Renner gets some real meat to chew on when he's interacting with his family and his soon to be first victim. Sadly as the film goes on, I began to notice something very distracting: every other actor in this film is terrible. Whether it's Artel Great's caricature of a street wise homosexual African American or Bruce Davison's "Where am I?" portrayal of Dahmer's father, the acting is just laughably phoned in. I can't count the number of times a scene would really gain some momentum and then one of the other actors would open his mouth and ruin it.
Almost as middling as the acting is David Jacobson's directing which basically includes sitting the camera at the exact expected angle and deciding which color a scene should be. His choice to abruptly end the movie as Dahmer walks off into the mysterious forest with no purpose is so frustrating that it almost ruins any good intentions the film has. I have yet to see Down in the Valley, but I hope his directing isn't as middle of the road there. On a lighter note, at least I enjoyed the film's moody score which really evoked a great mood. It really is a shame that Renner and the score aren't in a better movie.

Other Blogathon posts:
More coming soon...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Joblo Blogathon

So, as you can tell I've been a bit lax lately. However, to help kick start my ass back into gear, I'm participating in the Joblo Blogathon along with five other of my fellow schmoes from the Joblo community. My portion should be up soon, barring unforseeable delays.

Credit for the excellent gif goes to ever talented God of War (of Movie Gif Net).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Futurama - Rebirth/In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela

Wow. I've never seen a cancelled show come back this strong. Watching these premier episodes of the new season (the show's sixth, following production orders, airing on Comedy Central Thursdays at 10 PM EST) one would think that Matt Groening and co. just took a long hiatus to further sharpen their wits for this brilliant show. While the show's fifth season, comprised entirely of four straight to DVD movies later split up for broadcasting, was hit or miss for some (I fully enjoyed them all, with Bender's Game being the only weak link of the bunch for me), these two episodes are a hilarious gut punch that don't skimp on the intelligent humor or the brilliant geek culture references the show is known and loved for.
I'm definitely not going to spoil the plots of the episodes, trust me, it's way more fun going into them blind, just like every episode of Futurama. Here's hoping the meatbags at Comedy Central give Groening's masterpiece a good home until (if ever) he finally is able to put it rest. Of course, I'll always pray that never happens.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

(500) Days of Summer

Marc Webb's feature film debut, (500) Days of Summer, wasn't a film I was exactly looking forward to. I was prepared to write it off to hype, but as I sat down to watch the movie with my wife I can say I really wasn't prepared for the places this film went. This is the kind of romantic comedy I enjoy the most, with real characters and real emotions, topped off with a believable story.
The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with Tom Hansen (a mesmerizing Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falling in love with the new girl, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), at the greeting card company where he works. Eventually the two begin seeing each other, where Tom learns that Summer does not want to get close, having commitment issues stemming from her parent's divorce. Early in the movie, we see the aftermath of the end of their relationship, Summer wanting to remain friends; Tom wanting more. Tom romanticizes their relationship, blinding himself to the reality of what Summer is and isn't. The film follows his rise and fall of emotions, Tom wondering how to get Summer back, everyone else wondering where Tom will land.
(500) Days of Summer is a film that lets its actors breathe and inhabit their characters (every actor makes the most of their screen time) and genuinely puts us in Tom's shoes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors and I can't wait to see him in next month's Inception and Zooey Deschanel is possibly too good at pulling off her off putting character. Marc Webb has a tight hold on his direction and gives every frame a pleasing touch to the eye, while not afraid to get a little existential and goofy. Also to note is the great soundtrack, featuring Regina Spektor and Black Lips, among others. This is just a film I really enjoyed every minute and every element of and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Nothing is a strange oddity of a film, one that I wish really had enough steam for its entire runtime. The plot follows two men who live together, one trying to push his own way through society while letting everyone walk on him (Dave); the other an agoraphobic who suffers from panic attacks (Andrew). Through strings of bad luck worthy of any classic black comedy, they both end up trapped in their home, needing an exit from their problems and it seems like it's not going to happen. Lo and behold, after a tear gas attack from the police, Andrew and Dave wake up to discover that there is literally nothing outside their house.
It is here where the film is most interesting as David Hewlett and Andrew Miller (both having previously acted in director Vincenzo Natali's Cube) portray the two neurotics exploring their new world with a fantastic sense of wonder and fear. The sequences with the recurring nightmares of the two murdering each other are morbidly hilarious and a little unnerving at the same time. Unfortunately, shortly after the film really goes off the rails, seemingly just pull some gags and show off the effects. I'd lightly recommend it for a fun time, but don't expect too much from it. I appreciate Natali for trying something different, but I much prefer his earlier output and look forward to Splice as a return to form.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Top 10 Godzilla Films

We should just go ahead and get it out of the way. I'm a huge Godzilla fan. I have been since I was about five years old and my parents go me Godzilla vs. Megalon on VHS (I know, awful movie, but it got me on the road). Over the years, it evolved into a love of Toho's films in general (an entire discussion for another day) and their competitors, such as Daiei, producer of the Gamera films. However, nobody does it better than Toho and on this Father's Day (where I get to go lax on my duties and waste time on things like irrelevant top 10 posts) I'm gonna hail to the King of the Monsters once again.

Runner-Up: Gojira tai Supeesgojira (Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla)

Let's just get it out there. Spacegodzilla is my favorite kaiju other than Godzilla himself. The problem is the movie he's in just isn't very good. It's got a confusing Yakuza subplot, terrible direction, an agonizingly slow plot, weird score and worst of all, this...

Yeah, let's move on, shall we?

10. San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster)

Most people seem to prefer Invasion of Astro Monster, but I prefer its predecesor. For one, it's an epic smackdown between Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and Ghidorah. Astro Monster just removes Mothra and adds Devo aliens. For two, Ghidorah's "alien prophet in a human body" plot intrigues me in a way few Godzilla films have. Sadly, it's not that well handled, but at least the acting's good, Inoshiro Honda is on the top of his directing game and Eiji Tsuburaya's effects are fantastic.

9. Gojira tai Hedora (Godzilla vs. Hedorah)
Oh God, where to start with this gem of insanity? This is possibly the most heavy-handed environmentalist movie of all time, but even that doesn't being to describe the batshit insanity of this film. Growing up with the American Internation Pictures dub and that bizarrely infectious "Save the Earth" song set to people dance around with fish head masks... Nightmare fuel, pure and simple. The fights are great and Hedorah is a dastardly fun monster, if you can get past the fact that it's a pollution monster spewing his acid poop on everyone and everything.

8. Gojira tai Biorante (Godzilla vs. Biollante)
Note: Out of all the films on this list, this one still isn't on DVD. It was put out on home video by Dimension and apparently it isn't very high on their priority list to get it out and they want too much for the rights for any of the smaller companies to pay to release it.

I guess I must just really enjoy the weird Godzilla films. Another very strange one, thous for way different reasons than Godzilla vs. Hedorah. The score is one of the weirdest ones I've heard from the series, what with the main title "Bio Wars" being carried by a rip roaring guitar ready to burst into a solo at any moment. Biollante is also one of Godzilla's most interesting foes, what with all the "being a genetic abomination of Godzilla, roses and a dead girl's soul" stuff. The plot loses its way a little when it becomes too embroiled in government espionage, but it's still well worth a watch, especially for the first film featuring my favorite Godzilla suit.

Badass, thy name is Godzilla.

7. Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (King Kong vs. Godzilla)
Possibly one of the stupidest Godzilla films plot wise (it's all just an excuse to get the two titans together, and none of the characters matter in the slightest) this film is just a fantastic good time. All I think about when I think about this film is the fantastic effects work and my favorite little bits from the battles (Godzilla clapping his hands together and making little roars to announce his victory over Kong midway through the film; the random half a minute stick puppet battle in the Mt. Fuji climax). Classic Godzilla smackdown material.

6. Mekagojira no Gyakushu (Terror of Mechagodzilla)
You gotta love Mechagodzilla. His entire conception sounds like a drunken alien scientist's way of dealing with Godzilla. "Godzilla stops us at every turn, he's defeated all our monsters!" "Well... wait a minute, here's an idea! What if... what if we just build a robot Godzilla? Yeah, and we'll give him rockets and stuff! God, your eyes are so dreamy..."
*ahem* The original Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was a decent film, it just suffered from some really random choices, such as a near five minute song break in the climactic monster fight, which awoke King Seesar, who we don't have enough time or space to talk about how much I hate. Terror... removes Seesar, gives us a huge freaking dinosaur named Titanosaurus and pits them both against Godzilla. Also, gone is Jun Fukuda, who is probably my least favorite Godzilla director and in his place, the master Inoshiro Honda returns to direct his last Godzilla film. The battles are epic and well done and the plot is actually pretty good, for about the tenth alien invasion film in the series at this point.

5. Gojira tai Mekagojira (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla)/Gojira tai Mosura tai Mekagojira Tokyo Esu O Esu (Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.)
I'm cheating a bit and including these two as one entry, as they are the closest tied films plotwise in the entire series. Where to start? The ingenious concept of Kiryu, who is essentially a new Mechagodzilla created from the bones of the original Godzilla? The fantastic special effects, which are the best of the entire series? The great plot, acting and directing? These are top notch films and I never feel I can watch one without the other, they honestly feel like one long saga. Great stuff.

4. Mosura tai Gojira (Mothra vs. Godzilla)
The last Showa film to feature Godzilla as a full blown city wrecking baddie, this is a tour de force of Tsuburaya's effects, Honda's direction and Akira Ifukube's stirring music. There's not much I can say about it that hasn't been said before, it's just classic Godzilla.

3. Gojira tai Desutoroia (Godzilla vs. Destoroyah)
If I ever have to make a list of movies that bring me to tears and turn me into a bawling baby, this would be very near the top. Godzilla freaking dies, set to Ifukube's beautiful, poignant "Requiem" and it gets me every time. The monster effect here are the best of the Heisei era and this is nothing short of Takao Okawara's masterpiece, hitting all the right notes and even bringing the series full circle.

2. Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidora: Daikaiju Sokogeki (Godzilla, Motha and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack)
When Shushuke Kaneko, director of the Gamera reboot trilogy, decided to sign on for a Godzilla fim, he decided he was going to do something no director has since the Inishiro Honda directed the first film in 1954. He was going to make Godzilla scary again, and he succeeded. This Godzilla, with his cold, lifeless eyes has become more than just a monster smashing Japan's cities, he is the embodiment of the Japanese soldiers lost during World War II, punishing Japan, lest they forget. Kaneko puts us in awe of the beast again and makes us feel the horror of being under his wrath. A haunting, stirring film that may even be better than Kaneko's Gamera films, if I ever get around to re-watching them.

1. Gojira (Godzilla)
How could it not be number one? The birth of a legend, the terror of a nation and the start of fascinating (and well-deserved) careers. As much of a product of doom saying of the horrors of nuclear warfare as it is a monster film, the original Gojira is a cast and crew not milking a scare, but putting forth their fears and emotions (Honda himself visited the bombing sites in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Godzilla's attack on the fishing boat mirrors the very real Lucky Dragon 5) with more heart than ten James Camerons with ten Avatars. A true classic and my favorite film of all time.

Well, that's it for now, folks. Be sure to comment back and tell me which films you agree with, disagree with and any of your favorites.