Monday, February 18, 2013

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Aliens: Colonial Marines is an FPS game from fan favorite developers Gearbox Software, based on the highly popular Alien franchise. This game has received a lot of backlash since its release, and I'm here to address some of that. Does it really deserve all this negative feedback? Absolutely not. Is the game good? That is a different question and the answer isn't as black and white as the former. But after playing through the story and playing a few games of multiplayer I can honestly say that I had fun. I wasn't blown away, but at the end of the day, shouldn't that be enough? Unfortunately, with a price tag of $60, it really isn't. I'm going to try to keep this as simple as possible. And just point out the main aspects of the game as well as the pros/cons.
  1. The Gameplay:
The gameplay is actually good, as far as the control and mechanics go. The interface is pretty simple and adds to the experience of playing as a Colonial Marine, which is actually the point. There are 2 types of enemies; aliens and humans. Fighting the Aliens is always satisfying and makes you feel like a Colonial Marine, but fighting the humans is tedious, boring and makes you wish you were fighting anything else. There isn't a whole lot to do, because the concept is so simple, so you basically have 2 options: shoot or run. The overall goal of the game is to immerse you in the atmosphere and make you feel like you are in the world of Aliens, so most of the focus was on this, and the developers neglected some important mechanics of video game developing, like pacing. The multiplayer has a fun two round matching system where the players alternate between the standard FPS Marine or a third person Xenomorph, in a very generic matter. Its fun, but it doesn't bring anything that new to the, now staple, multiplayer format. The escape mode is incredibly fun, but I would much rather just play deathmatch. The multiplayer is one of the weaker aspects of the game, and I really enjoy the single player campaign

    2.   The Story

The story is relatively simple, with some ironic retconning. The thing I find the funniest about this game is that it tried to ignore the events of Alien 3 (somewhat) and this story was nothing special to begin with. It goes you are a marine, Weyland-Yutani is experimenting with Xenomorphs (as always) and tries to tie the loose ends (you) and you have to escape. Its really something we have seen before many times. The story for the film Aliens is nothing special, but what elevates it beyond mediocrity is the characters, the visual effects and the overall pacing. There was tension and humanity, whereas here its just an excuse to put you in familiar Aliens sets. So that is a failure of the game, but I don't find it as a complaint, because I'm playing the game because I had a legitimet want to return to Hadley's Hope, not for an interesting and complex story. This game isn't Heavy Rain or LA Noir, what matters is the gameplay, not the progression of the story

    3. Technical Aspects

Here are the actual problems that the game has. There are a lot of rough textures and syncing problems. The story is forgivable considering the development time because not all writers can crank out a script as good as Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, or even Amy Hennig with an extended period of time, but animators can polish graphics. This is very poor and I noticed it immediately and was disappointed greatly. The sound is actually very good though. Its what drives you through the game and carries that "Aliens" feel. It even features some cast members of Aliens that did some pretty good voice work. Overall, the voice acting was good, but some of the dialogue was bad, which I call Episode 1 syndrome, where a good actor has nothing to work with.

Now I realize that I referenced Aliens a lot, but that is the main point of this game. It was made for fans of Aliens. Maybe even at the cost of (ironically) alienating modern gamers. I believe that many people were just mad disappointed that the game took so long and it didn't fully deliver. But it was an Aliens game and felt as such. A good example of something in development for a long time and delivering sub par results is Episode 1. Its not bad because we waited a long time and its a disappointment, its bad because it fails as a cinematic experience. It may not be worth the $60 price tag, but its not worth the critical backlash that it has gotten. The way others have been reviewing this really reminds me of how others reviewed the phantom menace, in that they couldn't agree on what is exactly wrong with it, which leads me to believe that they were just disappointed and in turn are pouting like a little baby and just hate it. I played it as both a fan of the franchise and somebody who is not fond of first person shooters. The bottom line is that the game is entertaining, has fun Easter eggs, and is to Aliens what Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire is to the Star Wars franchise. Its just another chapter in the Alien canon. It has a few technical problems, and yes, for the amount of time it spent being developed, it should have been more polished than this, but its acceptable. From the get go it was almost definitely set up to fail just because it has such an important brand of Science Fiction attached to it, as well as the gearbox name. The perfect analogy is Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Its a franchise we care about, we have all kind of wanted to see what it has to offer after all these years, our anticipation was high, but it missed the bar. Its still a decent property, but it has a good deal of flaws. If you look at it under a microscope you will find far too many imperfections that you really didn't need to see, but from a far, its not so bad. But that maybe the problem, is that its average. With such an important title and Gearbox developing it, you can't help but expect more, but after the dust settles, I think people won't care so much. If you can get it for around $30, and you are a fan of Aliens, give it a go, otherwise, there are plenty of cool games coming out later this year

Friday, February 15, 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Cartoons are spooky :O
Beautiful Creatures is in many ways the spiritual successor to the very popular Twilight series; in that it is a tale of romance between a mortal human being and one with supernatural powers, which causes conflict for the super being's family, and that it is also a giant pile of garbage. I went to see this film thinking that it might be so dumb that it would be ultimately funny. And I, like the crew of the Prometheus, was so wrong. This movie is pure exploitation in the most insulting form. Pretty guys, pretty girls and a cheesy teen romance that would make even the most iron stomachs wretch with disgust. The story is so basic in that it lacks any creativity. Just because you add the twist of one being a witch, doesn't make it fresh and new, if you can't do anything with the characters. That fucking Sandra Bullock movie, Practical Magic, had more interesting magic in that. The movie has a central running theme of destiny, which is pretty typical of a romance film with a supernatural element, but if I don't care about the characters, why the hell should I care if they end up together? Now to the characters: The main character, androgynous male pussy, establishes that this is a hick town that nothing exciting happens in, and everybody knows everybody. That's alright, except for the fact that everybody is wearing designer clothes and is keeping up with the latest from the H&M collection, and basically look like an ad from the J Crew catalog, so I'm already taken out. And the female lead, Not Kristen Stewart, is a witch, although they called it a caster and 45 minutes into the movie I was so fucking tired of hearing the word caster, and although she does have no friends because everyone thinks she is weird and a devil worshiper, she does nothing to try to branch out and establish any relationship with any of these kids, leading to the supporting characters to be nothing but a bunch of one dimensional, cardboard, cutout, stereotypes that do nothing but set the south back another 100 years.
How Beautiful Creatures views the south
The depiction of the south in this was incredibly offensive to me, because the characters had access to the outside world, but they just chose to be ignorant hicks with outdated southern slang and terribly over the top accents. Also I never once cared about either of the main characters because they were both so fucking boring. That is the main problem with this film, its fucking boring. Nothing interesting happens ever. There is one fight between Not Kristen Stewart and Bulma, where the 2 girls just spun a dining room table around for about 10 minutes. Jeremy Irons and the rest of Not Kristin Stewart's family went on several tirades about how powerful Not Kristin Stewart was, which is promising, but she didn't do anything cool. All she did was make it snow in South Carolina in the winter time. Another reason why this was the spiritual successor to Twilight was how fucking lazy it was made. The editing and cinematography were so fucking bland and cheap. And the pacing was so fucking horrible. This movie was an hour way too long, and I mean this, which is shameful considering its 118 minute run time. Compare this film to Boogie Nights; where attention to detail is paid, technical skill is shown on every front, and it functions as both a story and a work of art. Beautiful Creatures is neither. It is a fucking insult to everything that represents the magic of cinema. I could have made this movie easily. Now on to the positives... Now back onto the negatives. The script was as thin as the paper it was lazily barfed onto. I am a big fan of Jeremy Irons (Love love love Dead Ringers) and he had nothing to work with. Such a waste of an academy award winner. Emma Thompson, took the route of overacting and she came off as so hammy that it was unbearable at times because she felt so out of place. Overall the acting was bad, except Jeremy Irons, who gave it his all, and was essentially the Qui Gon Jinn of this film. Like I implied before, there was no positive about this film, and it wasn't even visually interesting. The visual effects were terrible. Just straight terrible. The costumes looked like they were the aborted child of the unholy consummation of Twilight and The Hunger Games, and were quite obnoxious. This movie sucked. It was lazy, cheap, boring, and a sad excuse to exploit stupid teenage girls who have no more Twilight to look forward to. The action lacked any tension and excitement and the romance was one dimensional and very eerily reminiscent of the romance between Padme and Annakin from Star Wars episode 2 in its forced awkwardness. Most plot devices happen for the sake of convenience and lack all subtly. It is one of the worst films I have ever seen and I really don't recommend it. Its fucking boring, and while I did laugh considerably at the god awful dialogue, it is not worth your time and boy do I wonder and dread who's time it is worth.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Side Effects

Charismatic performance of the year so far 

Side Effects is a perfect film. I'm just going to start my review off with that. This is the best movie I have seen this year, from a film making stand point (granted, I enjoyed Warm Bodies a bit more) and this is a perfect example of a "film maker's film". It starts off very subtly with an ominous traverse through a hauntingly empty living room that glances above a shot of blood on the floor, which perfectly sets the mysterious tone of the film. The film begins with Emily (Mara) visiting her husband Marcus (Tatum) in prison, with him implying he will be out soon. After Marcus is released, you start to see a gradual dwindling of serenity from Emily which leads to her attempting suicide, and so kick starts the plot. Dr. Banks, (Law) a psychiatrist, sees Emily in the hospital and she makes a plea that instead of her staying in the hospital for a few days that she instead see a few days a week. Then begins a series of anti depressants a very ethereal and dreamlike feeling. As we follow Emily, the line between real and surreal begins to blur and you feel her breaking down. The cinematography here is quite beautiful and a lot of very technical achievements, as is a trademark of Soderbergh's films. Dr. Banks then meets up with Emily's old therapist, (Zeta-Jones) and she recommends a different drug which causes her to sleep walk. The film is photographed in a way that almost seems to simulate a dream that causes a feeling of certain nervousness and distress for the viewer. A certain feeling of discomfort is forced upon the viewer as Emily seemingly prepares a meal for Marcus, herself and a third person. Although there never was a third person, because Emily was sleepwalking, and as Marcus tries to snap her out of her dream, she stabs him and fatally wounds him. After this the press begins to follow Dr. Banks and all sorts of questions are raised about the drug he prescribed to Emily and about the morals of the FDA. Dr. Banks life soon starts falling apart from every possible angle and his integrity is put into jeopardy. From then on it becomes a mystery involving pharmaceuticals, rival doctors, and its up to Dr. Watson to use the skills that he picked up from Robert Downey Jr, to fix his broken life. AS the pieces fall into place, Banks realizes the relative simplicity of the whole conspiracy and his character is summed up in one line "you're a fucking genius." I really liked Jude Law's performance in this (not that I thought anybody was bad) but I honestly think he is a great actor. I also like the transition he has made from sexy young Brit, to professional and top notch thespian. It was a blast following him on this complex mystery and watching him piece everything together, and as a good movie should, it had a happy ending, and absolutely the best pay off for a film (to me, at least) since The Usual Suspects. It's been tough to not spoil this movie, because it was so good. It is one the better mysteries that we have access to, and probably the best we will have for a while. But the great thing about mysteries, is that its human nature to be curious, and you will be wanting the entire time.
This is a top notch film, made by a top notch film maker, with great acting, a great script, great editing and phenomenal cinematography and if this was Soderbergh's last film, I'm glad he went out with such Finesse, because Side Effects is not only a great film, it is a great idea and I couldn't ask anyone else for a better swansong.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies is a romantic comedy with zombies. I can approach this film from 2 different perspectives: One point of view is that this film is just a tried and true comedic love story, or that this is a film that is much deeper than that and begs the question; What is it to be human? I will analyze both views and ultimately let the reader decide based on my critique. When looking at this film from afar, it appears to just be a generic romantic comedy, zombies not withstanding, with a main character who becomes infatuated with a girl that is reluctant to the idea of embracing him as a person, let alone a lover. The girl slowly Warms up to him, they come to some rocky terrain, but finally love perseveres, and the 2 live happily ever after. You would have to be a fool to not think that that was going to be the ending. Now that is what I enjoyed so much about this film, it is so simple. I was a fan of zombies long ago, long before this god awful trend of zombies and I really want it to stop, and I was actually getting tired of seeing zombies in the media, but I thought this was a really unique twist on this overexposed genre. The main zombie, named simply R, appears to have brain activity, (because he is constantly narrating) but the activity doesn't allow his body to function. As time passes, he slowly forgets everything about his former life, but tries to hold onto his humanity by collecting various unique items he comes across, which leads me to my second point; up close, this film seems to have an underlying theme of humanity. This film is the perfect contrast to The Walking Dead. Where The Walking Dead portrays the zombies as tragic, this presents them as lethargic. The only release from their state in The Walking Dead is death, and the release from their state in Warm Bodies is life. Doing human activity kick starts their heart and brings them back from a state of seemingly endless somnambulism. Now I previously pointed out that the film asks (very subtly, I might add) "What is it to be human?" It approaches this question from both sides allowing for an unbiased judgement. The film is post apocalyptic so the humans revert to a cold and calculating state of mind and act on logic, for the sake of survival, while the zombies act merely on instinct for the sake of survival and because, well, they are zombies. R is just like all the other zombies. He has a routine which most likely echoes his former life, this is based on the habits that are shown from other zombies which includes a janitor zombie mopping up, a TSA agent wanding anybody who passes through the metal detector. But the thing that makes him come alive is just a girl. She makes him want to remember, and eventually their time together brings him back from the dead. R fights for the girl, named Julie, and it helps the other zombies remember that they once were human. What is so unique about this is for the first time, or least that I've seen, that it shows that zombies are still humans, they just forgot how to be a human. This film has 2 villains: The human military and the zombies that lack all humanity and are too far gone mentally and physically, called bonies. The military, led by John Malkovich who is Julie's dad, have forgotten to be human too, but in a way that is appropriate considering the inevitable emotional trauma that comes with the zombie apocalypse, and in the end, R was the most humane character in the whole film. But in the end, its just about people coming together and learning to love each other.
Nicholas Hoult
I don't want to give a whole lot away, but the film is as solid a film as I have ever seen. This is the kind of film I want to make. I don't think I have ever said that about any other film. The direction is so tight. The attention to detail is tremendous and the subtlety (ironically) is very high. It is the kind of story I like, it has a very cohesive narrative, its consistently funny, it has underlying themes, the editing and the script were great and the performances were terrific. Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class, Jack The Giant Slayer) put on a terrific performance as R. His job wasn't easy. He had to be lifeless, yet the most humane character at the same time. He had a lot to juggle. His delivery was the right amount of awkward (he's dead) his movement was clumsy enough without coming off forced or campy and his gradual return to form (in a manner of speaking) was very noteworthy. Plus all the supporting cast were great. Except Dave Franco, who plays the same douchebag in everything he is in. I like to think that this film takes place in the same universe as 21 Jump Street and Dave Franco plays the same character from that.
Overall, Warm Bodies is a well directed and scripted romantic comedy with some tight action, nice little moments, real emotion, without getting too mushy, and some very fun performances. I give this one a big recommendation and encourage you all to bring a date.
Who says romance is dead? Who cares? That's not what this film is about. Its about life and the people in it being good to one another and sometimes, that's all we really need to feel alive