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On World War Z

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 19:29

To start, I did not read the book before seeing this film. There's a lot of books out there, there's a lot of movies out there. I can't always do the book justice by seeing it before I see the adaptation. Maybe when I get back from my vacation I'll finally pick it up off my shelf, along with the Strain, Good Omens, Anathem, and countless other books that I promised people I'd get to. 

This sums up how my friends are about books I should readSo I walked into this movie blind. I knew little about the source material. I knew it was an oral history without a main character that took stories of a zombie apocalypse from around the world. The movie had Brad Pitt as a guy working for the UN. Seemed like the closest to clever writing to take the spirit from one and manufacture a character to work as the face for the story to me. Otherwise, I only had an instinct garnered over many drunken viewings of Romero  films to guide me. 


This image sums up the importance of the supporting cast.Most Accurate Review

"World War Z plays a bit like a series of separate films and the juncture where the new final act was grafted onto the proceedings is unmistakable, but unless you knew about the film's troubled past, you'd never guess it existed." 

You get the feeling very quickly that the movie is getting snapped around one way and then another at various points. I'll be honest, rewatching the film on Netflix gave me the undeniable sensation that you can pick out the different writers between scenes. If not for a highly talented cast and the unity of the direction/editing, I feel like the movie would shamble into an early grave (see bigshot critics, I can make stupid taglines too).

Most Idiotic Review

"... this lousy, ugly-looking, intensely illogical movie ..."


Finding a truly idiotic review off the bat was actually rather hard. Most critics, and me it seems, gave this film the benefit of the doubt. It had a hell of a production, and despite it's three credited writers, Pitt and his ensemble manage to keep WWZ's head just above water. So ... no, I don't think the film is lousy, or ugly looking. It does suffer from shaky-cam-itis, but seeing how prevalent that is these days, I've trained myself to look for it. As far as offenders go, this is not one. I always knew what was happening, at the very least, which is more than I can say for Abrams last outing in the Star Trek franchise. As far as being illogical, it certainly has its moments, no doubt ... but it is a movie about reanimated corpses after all, so call me overly forgiving in my old age of 22, but I think some leniency is allowed. The logic of the movie is more-or-less sound within the confines of its own world, if not ours (the way pathogens and viruses work), and the characters (usually) avoid horror movie cliches. The few times the movie decides to trot out these cliches, I'll just blame one of the other three writers who just couldn't bare to kill his darlings. 

What I Say

This is still a damned enjoyable film, but damn if it isn't riding of the fumes of potential. It's like Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can just feel it oozing awesomeness that it never quite gets too. As a creative person, I can at least respect the attempt to hit a mark and failing, as opposed to something produced from the GeneriTRON 9000 ... which constitutes 90% of whatever Michael Bay touches. The movie tries for a epic scope, it tries for relatable characters with an emotional center, it tries for tension, suspense, and action. Hell it even tries for a more sciencey approach. So instead of angrily lambasting it, I feel like World War Z is like that friend you knew in High School who had all the makings of being awesome, and a few years later you run into that friend and they're sad, overweight, and trapped in a dead-end job. For a moment you might think, "WHY U NO LIVE UP TO POTENTIAL," and then you just feel sad.

World War Z is like this zombie's hairline, f***ed up.
That's World War Z.

It's overweight, past-its-prime potential.

The main culprit of this is the script. It's herky-jerky, and a bit unfocused about what it wants to be, which is understandable, because when Lord Lindelof, Dark Lord of Hollywood Hack-Work ... breath ... breath ... the ending feels like it belongs to a different film. The first two thirds are building up this wild globetrotting epic and the last third feels more traditional Romero. Both have merits, but without Pitt to keep it cohesive, this would have fallen to pieces entirely. If anything, it feels like two movies. The ending is actually the sequel with its own story to tell. It's a rather surreal experience. 

I personally preferred the globe-trotting of the first half, if only because I felt, personally, that I hadn't seen that before in a zombie-film. Even if it wasn't fantastic, it was new, like Mtn Dew's LiveWire. I couldn't tell you if it was better than Code Red, but it's new and I'm drinking the crap out of it.

Symbolism of Mtn Dew and geo-political tensionThe characters also suffer. They aren't entirely consistent, at least not the side characters. Pitt is a dominant enough personality that he can anchor almost any role, and no I'm not salivating over Pitt. He's just a dreamy hunk of man-meat. Moving on.

It's the rest of the cast that suffers. The wife starts off pretty cool in the face of all that's happening. Then she's sidelined to playing middle-man over the phone. Segen is introduced just before the third half, and she's a really interesting character. I wanted more of her too. She was a real badass for the time she was on screen and left a real impact considering I remember her having next-to-no-lines. I seriously thought at first she was a mute. Then there was that bit with her screaming. And that was a cool part too. Honestly, the scene where she's ... spoilers, is really intense and cool, especially in the middle of the bedlam that's happening all around them. Capaldi and ... the other actor who's name I don't know but he did well too, brought weight, but ... eh, there were two casts to the film, both good, and both rather shortchanged. 


It was one of the complaints I've heard about Days of Future Past, and I can see it at work here as well. Two casts, and neither gets quite the spotlight they deserve. Again, this is a result of the Frankenstein-work of the script.

The spectacle though is still pretty fantastic. The imagery combined with the soundtrack was pretty powerful. The swarming zombies reminded me of the Squiddies from the Matrix films, especially Revolutions (which my brother and I just rewatched last week), and the overwhelming mass of 'You're F***ed' that they create as they flood whatever area they're in. I particularly loved the way they'd jump and lunge and throw themselves all over. The usage of CGI to create zombies who legitimately gave no shits about hurting themselves added a new level of danger to the creatures that we didn't even get in 28 Days Later.

So overall? It's a fine movie. It will ultimately rust a bit, be a bit forgotten. I doubt it will be hated or loved, or become a cult hit. People will probably look back and go, "Oh yeah, I liked it fine." Personally, I'll stick with Edgar Writer's Shawn of the Dead or Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later though. Them Brit's seem to really know what they're doing.

Terrible Tuesday: Terry Goodkind, a betrayal

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 19:24
As I've gotten older I've noticed I experience less shitty movies, games, books, and music. This is not because art has improved drastically in the past half-a-decade, but because I've learned more about what I like, the types of intellectual properties that appeal to me, the recurring artists who I love, and when a trailer and advertising campaign is overselling a product. It also stands to reason that in High School I had a vast social circle, much larger than I do now. Back then I was all over the place trying to figure out where I fit in, and I was funny and unassuming enough that I fit into most social circles long enough to be exposed to some real utter garbage. I mean, I was subjugated to horrors untold over those four years. And we're not just talking about getting a group of people and having a drinking game to movies like The Room, either. I'm talking about die-hard fans who refer to movies like the Dark Knight Rises or Inception being, respectively, 'a religious experience' and 'changing their lives.'

So buckle-up, because every Tuesday, I'm going to throw-down with a gnarly monster from my past and see if its corpse still stinks. 

Since I haven't talked about a book in quite a while, I thought I'd take a moment to return to my roots. I am a wannabe fantasy author, and I work really hard to avoid cliches, create engaging characters, and still have fun with it. I started reading Tolkien in the 4th Grade and moved on to Donaldson in the 5th, with Pratchet and Brooks sprinkled here and there for levity and humor's sake. This spoiled me pretty badly, but I didn't know it yet.

No, that lesson was learned the hard way. When I was in 8th Grade my father's girlfriend invited me over to a Wine Tasting at the local golf-course where a local author was socializing. His name was Terry Goodkind, and he was very polite, friendly, and gracious to spend some time chatting with me about the craft, and I will always respect him as being personable and friendly, as well as giving me a signed copy of Naked Empire, which had just come out.

At a rapid-fire pace I blew through his series which, to anyone who knows, is freakin' long. I mean, holy crap is it long. As far as fantasy sagas are concerned, it does rank up there with Wheel of Time and Song of Fire and Ice. And honestly? It was the first time I felt betrayed by a series. It was too long. It fell apart in the middle (and the middle of this series was something like three to five books, depending on how forgiving you are of either Temple of the Wind (rapey) or Naked Empire (forced Randian Bullshit). The characters became caricatures of themselves after book three and ceased and progression, development, or growth. 

The reason I say betrayed and not insulted or offended, is ... Wizard's First Rule and Stone of Tears were damned fun. I had a great time and the characters did feel realistic, well defined, etc. All those things we associate with a good story. They might not have been game changing or revolutionary, but they were like ... Indiana Jones. A fun ride from start to finish, which, considering they were both just under a 1000 pages apiece was no small feat, and for a previously unknown author, I'd say I'm still pretty damned impressed.

NOW WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? 

Seriously, Richard and Kahlan became speechifying psuedo-philosophical mouthpieces, the plot took a left-turn to crazytown, and the violence, sexual assault, and mass-rape became so prevalent that the further into the books I read I started to feel legitimately ill. We're not just talking about Stephen King's penchant for showing his villains kill dogs or something, either, or Game of Throne's more honest depiction of the time period most fantasy series are set in, or even Donaldson's instance of his protagonist raping a sixteen year old girl within the first hundred pages of his first novel. All those cases usually feel justified in establishing the world or character (in Donaldson's case, the aforementioned rape is still a pivotal aspect of the series and the character 9 books later. The protagonist suffers the ramifications and responsibilities associated with his action for books and books and books where you honestly start to feel sorry for him. You kind of want the world to forgive him, or at least I did, which is not my stance on rapists, so kudos to the author for turning my own sense of ethics and morality on myself). 

Goodkind though? Somewhere around Temple of the Wind I started getting this voyeuristic feeling, much like the way Robert Patterson described reading the Twilight books in relation to Stephanie Myers. I started thinking Goodkind might have been embellishing less in order to drive some point across, like Donaldson or Martin ... and just kind of living out some really freaky fantasies. I'm probably wrong. I seriously hope I'm wrong, but that's a vibe that, eight years later, I still can't quite shake.

Then there's the damned philosophizing. Terry Goodkind is a fan of Ayn Rand, and I'm just going to make my stance perfectly clear. I think there's a reason her beliefs didn't take hold. I think there's a reason that Ken Levine modeled BioShock's Rapture after her beliefs in Objectivism, and it painted a horrifying portrait of what would likely become of such an economic model.

I feel like there's a danger to authors who try to paint why something works as opposed to why it doesn't. It's very hard to create something that's unassailable, and the harder you try, or at least the longer you try (as in a ten books series thousands upon thousands of pages long) the more holes you'll inevitably have and the more absurd lengths you'll have to go to sustain your position. So while I applaud him for being passionate about something ... he picked a hellova thing to be passionate about .



In short, I'd never accuse Mr. Goodkind being a philosopher. After some of the interviews I've read of him in my studies of fantasy (I particularly love Donaldson talking about the Modern Epic, but hey, I'm a fanboy).He's more of a dogmatic moralist at this point.. much like the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Party and most kindergartners with an absolute good/evil right/wrong duality. He's more of a dogmatic moralist at this point.. much like the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Party and most kindergartners with an absolute good/evil right/wrong duality. 

In other words, "Pot the kettle called, and said pitch wants his black back."

My belief is that Goodkind has a very limited understanding of Philosophy and even the one he claims to ascribe to he doesn't seem to reflect on using that lofty conciseness of his beyond constructing false premise moral absolutes by ignoring or over-emphasizing the available evidence to suit his interpretation of Rand.

TL;DR: He lives in his own little world.

And lastly, if only Inchoatus was still active. They had a perfect summation of Goodkind, but I'll do my best to reiterate some of their points here. 

Goodkind's Rant: a rebuttal of the more preposterous utterances of this prolific author

"To define me as a fantasy writer is to misunderstand the context of my books by misidentifying their fundamentals." -- Terry Goodkind

You write a series set in a pre-industrial world with magic, wizards, dragons, an actualized underworld, and prophecies, and you think we're the ones misunderstanding the context of your books? It's named after a magic sword for Christ's sake! It's not great literature you miserable, pretentious bastard.

You know what? I don't regret reading all ten of those damn books, because they taught me more than I'd have ever thought possible. I can only hope that paranoia of turning out so schizophrenically will help me avoid the same pitfalls that destroyed someone who was, once upon a time, one of my top three favorite writers.

On The Edge of Tomorrow

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 20:44

I will readily admit it, I'm not a Tom Cruise fan. I'm neither a majority or a minority on the issue either. He seems to be a lukewarm star to me. No one is maddeningly in love with him (at least in my social circles) or desperately ready to cave in his skull with a Toyota Prius launched from a trebuchet. And his personal life is no end of amusement.

That said, after the disappointing rancid predictable tripe that was Oblivion, I was leery of Edge of Tomorrow at best. I love Sci-Fi, but after growing up on Hienlien, Asimov, Clarke, Verne, Wells, and Phillip K. Dick ... it's hard to be impressed by the stuff Hollywood usually turns out. It doesn't mean it can't be good or enjoyable but ... well, Back to the Future is one of the best time travel movies out there, beloved by mass audiences. Now go read the plot synopsis for Heinline's All You Zombies. I'll wait.





See? When you spent High School uncovering these gems, you'd have a bit of a higher bar when it comes to what gets you really excited. 

And let's face it,
Tom Cruise's chin cannot compete with Casper Van Dien's
So what did I think of Edge of Tomorrow? It was okay for a weird lovechild between Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers (doncha miss the days when my reviews were me frothing at the mouth about what a bunghole Dark Knight Rises was?).


But seriously, let's look at the pieces. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are both talented and skilled actors, capable of carrying their weight separately and their characters are given some pretty solid depth and growth. The action was fast paced, visually interesting and enjoyable (the exoskeletons are undeniably badass). The side characters were colorful and some were memorable. The script used repetition to good use without being overbearing. The third act fell apart and turned generic on such a dime it nearly folded space/time doing so. I won't say it fell apart, but the buildup could have payed off so much more. It's more of a shame than an insult, since the first 2/3rd of the film were actually pretty damned enjoyable.


I also have to take a moment to really compliment Emily Blunt's character. Not only is Sergeant Rita Rose Vrataski a strong women in a man's world but ... well that's pretty much it. The film doesn't add much more to that. She's there, she's badass, and no one really comments on the fact that she's a woman. Props.

There's no other possible reason I found her performance engaging. None at all. 
If I were to lobby one complaint it was the (barely) techno-babble behind the time travel. It's internally consistent with the rest of the film and it follows its own rules without breaking them or copping out too much .... they just weren't very interesting rules. But if I wanted to watch a time travel movie that I knew'd blow my brains out, I'd make time to finally watch Primer.

Wait that's a good idea. Lates!

On Kickstarter and Old-School RPGS

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 14:19

Well, here we are folks, I braved the <checks> 106 degree Vegas weather to get myself to a Starbucks to update this blog. THAT'S DEDICATION, so share the love, cause I'm not above measuring my self-worth against a digital readout of total strangers who read these ramblings. ONWARD

The first video-game I really fell in love with was KotOR. Before then I had garnered hours of enjoyment from Warcraft 2 & 3 and all of the Roller Coaster Tycoon titles, but Knights really cemented itself in my heart. I had discovered RPGs, and nothing would ever be the same.

But while my friends (I HAD FRIENDS) were doing backflips and headstands for games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Elder Scrolls ... I had no interest. The stories never impressed me, they were full of halfhearted characters and lackluster overall stories. I appreciated the art design, and oftentimes the direction the games were trying to take their stories, but beyond that? I just wasn't their target demagraphic (which is the diplomatic way of saying they suck the major doodoo).

... and I have to interrupt, an absolutely beautiful girl just smiled at me at Starbucks like six times, my computer crashed in the middle of this, she sat right next to me, and while I tried to extricate the "Hi" stuck in my throat, she got her order, smiled at me again, got to the door, smiled again, and left. I am an impressive specimen of male charisma. 

Anyways, back to video-games while I try and scrub the bitterness out of my brain.

I had one friend back in the day who turned me onto three magical titles: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Fallout, and Planescape: Torment. My world was blown away. These games were magical. 

So when Wasteland 2, Shadowrun: Returns, Pillars of Eternity, and Tormet: Tides of Numenara were announced, my ears perked up so hard I nearly achieved flight I was so f***ing excited. This was it, the return to the golden age of classic isomentric topdown RPGs, and I was there to see it. No longer was I playing games from the previous generation of gamers.



It was a nice reminder to the market that there is still an audience for these games, that were not all interested, or only interested in the Triple A games' graphics and porridge-brain inducing storylines. I'm sorry, but those games can sit and rotate as far as I'm concerned. They've dominated long enough.

Not that I think this will change the playing field, but I'd like to see it ... encourage the playing field to introduce games like BioShock: Infinite or The Last of Us. I want to see balance brought back to the force.

On My Vacation

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 19:00
So I went from my buddy's to my brother's, so I'm moving up in the world. Instead of having access to 250 games on Steam, I have acess to 575+ movies on DVD, VHS, and even Betamax (and no, I'm not exaggerating). So, I'm here to get my nostalgia on. We've riffed Matrix films, had a Phillip Seymor Hoffman tribute, and laughed endlessly at Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation with Matthew McConaughey with a robot leg. And we watched Election. Matthew Broderick has the best mental breakdowns. But I'm trying to blog from my phone, and frankly, I t. But I won't have desktop access until wednesday, and forget about being a Starbucks writer. I might have no pride, dignity, shame, or standards, but... wait that's a damn good argument. Peace!

On Far Cry 3

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 01:12

So, I've been stranded with no car and no ride at my friend's house for several days now. While he was at work he foist upon me Far Cry 3. It's been a killer vacation.

Since I'm a little past due, I figured I'd just share some of my thoughts on the game after a few hours of playing. 

The graphics are fan-f***ing-tastic

Soooo prett--OH GOD A TIGER IS EATING MY BALLS











The writing is shite. The player character is moderately inconsistent and goes along with the things people order him to do with alarming compliancy.

Yes, random wise-black-man. I will trust everything you say without question.
& lastly, the gameplay is meh. There were many moments I was hampered by torturously aggravating controls.  

I cannot accurately describe my hatred of climbing these
damn things.

For a game touted as highly as it was, I was really disappointed. After a fairly engaging opening, the game lapsed into downright silliness as far as the story was concerned, and I found myself increasingly frustrated by the gameplay mechanics over the nine hours that I played.


That said, there is something to be said about the game that did keep me playing past simple stubbornness. 

I don't know what it was, but something kept me from chucking the game and never looking back, and normally I'd try to pin down exactly what that something is. Maybe over the next few days I'll get more chances to sit down and give it a shot. I'd be more comfortable articulating my various issues after a more lengthy playthrough.


On How to Train Your Dragon 2

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 22:53

In the spring of 2010, I was but a wee High School Senior, ready to graduate and take on the world. Being the poor bastard that I was, my best friend and I couldn't afford our Senior Prom. We improvised: we cooked dinner, took our girls to the park, danced in the desert, and then went to a movie. The movie we saw? How to Train Your Dragon, and it was fantastic. I especially fell in love with it once I noticed, during the course of the movie, that everyone was staring at me. When I asked what they were looking at my best friend smiled smugly and said, "We're staring at you ... Hiccup." 

I guffawed. "I'm not Hiccup!" at which point Hiccup got smacked in the face by a tree and I shut up. 

I was forever after Hiccup.

So when I came back into Vegas for summer break, a certain group of friends wrangled me into seeing a certain movie. 

Most Idiotic Review

" ... this was not a sequel that anybody needed, outside of the accountants. And there's another already planned." 
— Stephen Whitty, (New Jersey Local News)

I feel a little remiss to attack a local news source, but lesbi-honest, this movie, not exactly racking up negative reviews, and rightly so. In his article, (titled 'The sequel that fell to earth') he concludes with a flat out falsehood. Of any franchises getting sequels, Dragon is perhaps one of the few that inherently excited me in and of itself. X-Men was only exciting because Brian Singer was returning to direct. Godzilla was a character that's always been a part of my family. The Marvel films are seriously hit-or-miss. But Dragon never worried me, and if the response on my facebook alone has been any indication, Mr. Whitty is sorely detached from this film's target demographic ... which, judging from the aforementioned response, are living beings with a pulse. 


Most Accurate Review

"The pressures to make a giant four-quadrant monstrosity must be enormous, and yet, like his unflappable hero Hiccup, How to Train Your Dragon 2 writer-director Dean DeBlois has prevailed, serving up DreamWorks Animation’s strongest sequel yet — one that breathes fresh fire into the franchise, instead of merely rehashing the original. Braver than Brave, more fun than Frozen, and more emotionally satisfying than so many of its live-action counterparts, Dragon delivers."
— Peter Debruge (Variety) 

This was also hard to choose, as there's no shortage of praise for this film, but I think Mr. Debruge really hits the nail on the head, if only for his reference to both a Disney movie and a Pixar movie (which are still technically two different things) that I agree, Dragon is better than both.

***
Plot—
The plot of the film picks up five years after the original left off, and our lovable vikings have changed with the times. Obviously this requires a new threat, and the film deals us Drago, a man who really does just want, "to watch the world burn," and like another, honestly more likable madman, he too has his own set of scars. 

The thing that pleasantly surprised me about this sequel is that it really does feel like a continuation more than a retread. This is a brand new story, and in many ways, a darker, richer, and more emotional one. The catharsis on this movie was brutal. They took all the love you'd developed over the course of the first film and used it to strangle you to near unconsciousness ... but in a nice way. 

The comparisons to Empire Strikes Back? Well justified for this second installment. 

Character—
Something was done in this film that I can honestly say I, at least, have never seen in an animated film before. The characters have aged. Hiccup and company went from being snot-nosed 15 year olds to snot-nosed 20 year olds (seriously, we never grow out of having snot in our noses. It's a biological thing). It adds a bit of that Harry Potter flair that grounds a pretty fantastical story in some pretty real territory. 

As I mentioned previously, this really does feel like the next stage in a journey, and part of what I found so impressive is, it's still securely Hiccup and Toothless' story, and frankly, I wasn't sure when the sequel was announced where else they could take the characters. On top of that though, unlike other mega-trilogies (Pirates of the Caribbean comes to mind) they didn't hold anything back. 

Dragon 2 is securely a standalone film with its own definite beginning, middle, and end. The story is open for more, but it's not ending on a damnable cliffhanger. 

Theme—
Like it's predecessor, Dragon plays into ideas of family and responsibility pretty heavily, and that's where a lot of the emotional resonance comes into action. It doesn't avert or distract from it's own themes, nor does it brow-beat the audience with a particular message. It allows the themes to be carried by the characters first and foremost. Honestly, if someone ever asks me for an example of solid story-structure, this'll be on the top of my list. 


Spectacle—
It's been years since I regretted not seeing a movie in 3D, seriously, but after seeing Dragon? I can only say that I'm pretty sure the ticket for IMAX 3D would have been worth it. I haven't said that since ... hell, probably the first one. 

The Dragon scenes are spectacular. I was happily bouncing in my seat one moment and then wringing my hands the next. The film works hard to balance its darker tone with the same sense of awe and wonder from the first film, and to my money, they succeeded. This film had some of the best visuals I've ever seen in a film. It really is a stand-apart feature. 

On Iron Man 3

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 16:03


Okay, I was going to save this for tomorrow's Throwback Thursday, but I'm scheduled to escape the temperamental weather of Utah for the sanctuary of Vegas' oven tomorrow, so I might not be able to be online. What I was planning to talk about today were the released trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy, until I realized, having not grown up with these comics and characters, the review would amount to, "Looks cool. Hope it doesn't suck." To me it seems like Marvel is starting to get a grip on their own films, even if they're sending directors running scared left and right. Captain America: Winter Soldier I really enjoyed and Thor: The Dark World was ... serviceable and entirely forgettable. 

But Iron Man 3?

I didn't honestly think that Iron Man 2 could be topped for being schlock, but this movie is really trying.

So what prompted this? I stepped into my living room and my roommates had popped in the BluRay and I  decided to give it a second chance (the next time this scenario played out, they were watching Dark Knight Rises and I fled the room snarking), and at first I was surprised. I'd walked around for months calling the movie a train wreck of poo, and for a while, I thought I had judged the film too harshly. I was enjoying the hell out of the start. 
Theeeeeeeeeen the third act kicked in. 

Man this movie fell apart hard. I could literally feel the film's gears shift and explode into shrapnel that dug through my eyes and attacked my brain. Say what you will about Iron Man 2 (it's cutting room roadkill?), but at least it's consistent in its stupidity. 

So, I wasn't overly bothered by the villainous Killian. I love Guy Pearce, I thought he was doing well, it seemed to be an interesting rivalry as opposed to Sam Rockwell's bumbling character in the previous film ... and then it turned into the most generic cliched revenge story. It overtook the international terrorist storyline in a half-assed way, and offered up a complete slap in the face to the few Iron Man comic fans out there.

It's as if millions of fans suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced

I don't mean insult to Iron Man fans, but think of this, the reveal about Mandarin was fun and actually well executed, in the context of the movie, but with knowledge of the comics, I was pissed on comic book fans' behalf. Why? If Dark Knight had revealed Batman's numero uno villain, the Joker, to be an actor hired to pretend to be a crazy homicidal clown, there'd have been riots in the streets. I think it shows an extreme lack of respect for the fans who originally gave you your start. 

I will never question Wolverine's regenerating stubble again.
Moving on, the Extremis component of the film. What the hell happened? In the comics it was -- and in the movie it was -- ugggh. Again, I'm not opposed to alterations to the source material in the transition to the big screen, but once the alteration becomes nearly unrecognizable, just change the f***ing name to something else. If you're not going to adapt the concept in any meaningful fashion, just go all the way and make it your own. I was also pissed that the Extremis Virus was so poorly developed a part of the film. It allows regenerative qualities. And as a fan I was thinking, 'Oh! Like Wolverine?' to which the film responds, 'No. It's not just rapid healing.' 'So it's like Ang Lee's Hulk?' 'Well no, since there's no gamma rays, and no big guy.' 'So ... is it like in the Amazing Spider-Man?' 'Nope, no source animal DNA to overtake the human DNA.'

So what is it?

Hell if we know but it allows you to breath fire and explode!

Did we ever explain this? No? Ah, f***it.
... Are you sure this isn't a Thor movie? 

Totally plausible science.
It's not necessarily an asinine idea, but as far as I remembered there's no explanation of how or why this occurs beyond, "Some people have an explosive reaction to the virus." This is not science fiction, it's pure fantasy, and I always respected Iron Man for living closer to the former than the latter. Once you buy Arc Reactor technology, it's not hard to accept the rest of the events in Iron Man 1 or the Avengers .... No comment on Iron Man 2. 

I really hated what they did with Tony. I don't hate what they tried to do. I just hate what they actually did. They try to explain that he's having panic attacks because of the 15 seconds of the Avengers he spent beyond the dark portal and the battle in New York. This doesn't add up for me. Tony makes it through a terrorist capture, and the betrayal of his oldest friends in the first film, nearly dies in the second from blood poisoning, and spends most of the Avengers around purported interdimensional Gods--none of which phased him. What the hell happened? So the idea behind it? Moving Tony into a new area, a new vulnerable place? I applaud the effort ... but I'll give them a 2 for biffing the landing. 

We do birthday parties too.

This might have been a poor decision.
The last major thing I'll bag on is this, the House Party Protocol. Now I know it's stupid for Tony to spend most of the movie worrying about his 'Prodigal Son' armor, which wasn't even combat ready, when he had a dozen plus suits waiting in his blown up house (also, Tony makes some really bone-head moves in this movies). That's not my major problem. My problem is that in this movie, the Iron Man suits seem to be made from tissue paper. What the hell happened? 

Dark Knight Rises? No, never heard of itKevin Smith influenced this scene.
Okay, time for another list. I'll just stick specifically to the Avengers, since I watched it most recently. In that movie his armor stands up to a toe-to-toe battle with Thor, God of Thunder, and even though my money was on the beef-cake, he was holding his own damn well. Later? He gets caught in one of four turbines that keep a Aircraft Carrier flying, and the damn thing still works (albeit damaged). And lets face it, during the final fight, he puts his suit through hell, case in point, the Jonah scene. It is shown over 3 films that his suits can take a beating. Until there are twelve suits on the screen. It's not a perfect metaphor, but it reminds me of Storm-Trooper syndrome. The more there is of something, the less effective it immediately becomes. The Series final of Buffy the Vampire Slayer suffered from this, but at least Whedon had the decency to make that happen in the name of his thematic message of women's power. Jeesh!

And the ending just seemed a bit cheap to me since anyone who's stumbled around the internet recently knows he'll be back for the next Avengers film, and chances are he'll even be in a suit! 

They're actually talking about where to grab food after.
So what did I like about the movie? The film had some good fun dialogue, especially closer to the beginning, and this time, the strength of character wasn't only reserved for Mr. Downy. I felt like the secondary characters had a lot more strength than in the previous installment, and a certain buddy-cop aspect seemed to underpin the fist half the film, even with the kid, who I personally liked. The action scenes were good, even if I didn't understand half of them, and the idea to see what Tony could do without his suits was a good one I think.

Alas, the reason the movie pisses me off so badly is that it had so much potential and started out so strong that I got really invested, so when it started to fall into bad and lazy writing traps, I felt more betrayed than I might have, if the movie had inured me to its stupidity right from the getgo. 

I totally forgive this whole storyline for ... some reason

On The Last Dark, book four of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 17:14

I first read Donaldson when I was twelve. Looking back on this fact, I can't actually believe that I read those books when I was so young. They're heavy, intense, beautifully crafted books. So, when the Last Dark, the final book in the series, came out last October, I was hesitant to read it. Whereas the rest of my generation was weeping over the Harry Potter final, I was still gnashing my teeth over Covenant, Linden, and the Land.

I've lived with these books for ten years. I went through junior high, high school, and most of college with them as constant companions. It's a bit of a big deal to me that a series that meant so much to me for such a long time comes to a close. 

It's been a day since then, and my emotional balance has returned somewhat, but not quite. Here are a few of my non-spoilery thoughts.


Suffering. That's the first word to come to mind. The sheer amount of pain and anguish foisted upon these characters is astounding and gutwrenching, but not without redemption. It's not just for the sake of violence and torment, but it really ... really ... really drives home the idea that this is the last battle. There's nothing that follows this. Either they win, or everything dies, so the entire book is full of moments that left me cheering. "Do something Foul doesn't expect."

They do, over and over again through the book, to the point I felt tired and exhausted by the weight of the struggle, by the impossibility of it all. It made all the little victories so much sweeter, like Treasure Berries. 


The characters are as extravagant as ever, and if the world ever were in real danger, there'd be no group I'd trust more to save it. They go above and beyond, as they always have, giants, Haruchai, Forestals, Rhanyhyn. The whole gang is here for the final round (minus the regular folk of the Land, who've been rather absent for many a story, if memory serves). 

But what I love is we still see new sides of these characters. Covenant, Linden, and Jeremiah all face their fears, one way or the other, and even the Haruchia and Giants are confronted with possibilities they've managed to avoid for nine freakin' books so far. Power to Donaldson for finding new ways to challenge the characters.

I will say this, and I find it odd, considering the length. I found the ending short. 

Here me out, seeing as the book is nearly 592 pages, you'd think it was long enough, but I specifically mean the resolution seemed ... almost unearned. The redemption of the earth takes place at the very tail-end of the tale, and honestly, considering how in-depth the attention to detail was throughout ALL of these books, there wasn't the equivalence we had with the end of book two as Linden heals the Land. So I loved the ending ... I just felt like it was rushed. The execution threw me, if nothing else. 

Still, the only complaint I have is that the ending, though well conceived, was less well executed, the ride alone was worth it. It's been a good long while since I fell that into a book.

On Dream Theater's Dream Theater

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 12:53

Whenever I hear from someone that they listen to everything, I laugh. With 11 siblings ranging from the ages of 22 to ... somewhere in their mid 30s, and 10 nieces and nephews ranging from newborn to graduated from high school ... I HAVE HEARD EVERYTHING. Whether I like it or not, it is very hard to surprise me when it comes to music. I have actually heard Satanic Metal Folk Polka, and I am not making that up.


And while the mood may take my ADD and I might get the urge to fly all over the map, there are certain brands of music that always brighten my day. Alice Cooper and Poets of the Fall are two of these. Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of the best bands of all time (seriously don't believe me? Randomly pick from their discography and tell me the majority of their songs weren't classic hits). But I'm here to talk briefly about Dream Theater.

The first time I heard these guys was in 1998 when they released Metropolis: Scenes From a Memory and I fell in love. It was the first time I encountered Progressive Rock/Metal, and 22 albums of King Crimson later I ... still like AC/DC, which according to my brother makes me a freak of nature, but that's not the point.


Prog Rock has become a pretty large part of my music library (not just because the average song is 10 minutes long), because there is real talent involved. While the rest of the music world is drifting off into corporate synthesis, Prog Rock is still a small isolated corner of "F*** YOU WE ROCK."

Now, over the years, I grew less and less interested in what Dream Theater had to offer. They had started so strongly, and broken the mold for themselves time and again, that ... sooner or later it felt like they had built a box around themselves. Also, I was never a fan of their drummer Portnoy. Out of the whole group, I felt like the guy was a tool. He was talented and probably pretty likable, but something about that blue goatee just got to me.


So when he was replaced I was super excited, (and I could dedicate an entire blog post to my belief that they should have picked Marco Minnemann) it was finally a chance for the band to go in a new direction! Breath new life into the band!


The next album was pure Dream Theater, and I mean that in the unexciting way. THEN THIS ALBUM CAME OUT. They let Mike Mangini write on this album, and while it's not strictly a new direction, there is an epicness to the sound and scope of the album that had me sit through all 1:08 several times. 

If you are a fan of this band, it is a lot of fun and carries with it the weight of albums like Octavarium and In the Presence of Enemies. It's good to be surprised again. 

~ Godzello

On Expendables 3 Trailer

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 21:09


Okay, so, I spent the weekend marathoning Nostalgia Critic reviews. It was fun but not overly helpful in exposing me to new stuff to write about. When I started this blog, one of my first (lengthy) posts was about the trailer for the Avengers, which leaves me wondering, "How did I know so much about a film I had never seen?"

But I think I'll fall back on that model with a movie trailer that actually got me oddly excited. I haven't kept it much a secret that I've a tender soft spot for the Expendables films. Despite growing up a decade too late, my Mom's bad parenting skills assured me that I was never without ... well, the cast of the Expendables. I was actually more familiar with the old faces than any of the new in either film, and in keeping with that, the trailer for the Expendables 3 is no exception. 



So what do we actually have? Not much. The movie, as always, is riding on nostalgia for these actors who, short of movie magic, are barely threatening and have been since the turn of the century fourteen years ago. We get a slam-bang montage of the actors set to appear (and it's a hellova lineup) set to classic rock.

Will the movie stand-up? I'd like to think so. I mean, it's really not a hard formula and these are the guys who built the formula. They're the original parts of the equation! I have a modicum of faith that Stalone and Co. can turn out another example of bad but lovingly crafted 80s explosions. 

On Community

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 19:56

Once every couple years I stumble blindly and haphazardly into a new sitcom. It happens one of two ways, I either fall into it before it hits super-big (How I Met Your Mother, season 1), or I find it while digging through Netflix (like Spaced). 
This leads me to a show that I avoided at first (have you ever had a friend who hypes stuff up to the point where you don't want to acknowledge it, even if he might be right? This friend nerdgasmed over two particular franchises that I tried to ignore, 1) was Doctor Who, and 2) Community.

After a second friend (I HAVE FRIENDS, DAMMIT!) sat me down during a 6 hour Stand Up Comedy marathon involving Chris Titus, Robin Williams, and Hal Sparks, and she made me watch Donald Glover. I vaguely made the connection at the time, but didn't pursue it in any meaningful way. Honestly, even though it's only been a week, I can't remember what prompted me to watch the first episode of Community. We'll chalk it up to chaos theory.

And like many people before me (but not enough to make the show as sensational a hit as HIMYM) I fell in love with the misadventures of a pack of Community College misfits who are both recognizable and completely unique. I think this has to do with the strength of the casting. Unlike most sitcoms I've seen, they buckled down and really dedicated some heavy-weight talent to each character, so while they start off as stereotypes (as blatantly pointed out in the opening scene) they are portrayed by talented enough actors to run the gamut of absurdity. 


This, I feel is what separates the show from most sitcoms I've watched. While the show promotes Jeff

Winger as the main character, it really does operate as a powerful ensemble. Winger might be the red ranger of the group, but even Chevy Chase's cantankerous Pierce is in many ways, irreplaceable. The show takes great strides to never marginalize any of its cast without ramifications (see again, Pierce). And for all the surrealism surrounding the hi-jinks the characters get into, they retain surprisingly human relationships with one another. It helps ground the show's more offbeat elements. 

Community breaks apart the medium in a way I haven't seen done before (at least not that I can think of right off the top of my head) and is, as much as I hate the word, Meta. It deconstructs movies and shows with complete confidence and even a bit of swagger.

One of the main highlights of the show, whether it was originally intended or just happened that way, the best friendship between Troy and Abed ranks up there among bromances with Turk & JD, Bill and Ted, Ros and Gill, and/or Calvin and Hobbes, but there is something fresh and fun about their interactions. Also, I have to take a moment to appreciate the sheer existence of Abed, a character so amazing that for two days this week I actually talked like him. I'm an acting major and I can't always control it. I may have locked myself away in my room for the duration of my mimicry.


One last thing that sets the show apart from most sitcoms is, 3 seasons down and other than sporatic sexual flings, the characters don't fall into the inevitable trap of relationships. If anything (speaking as a former Community College student) the lack of heartfelt romantic relationships minus the hormone fueled bang in the janitor's closet is pretty much how I remember my time there, and it adds a level of tension to the characters relationships you don't get elsewhere, when the characters will-they-won't-they gets dull and the audience loses interest once they do. 

Which leads me to my next point, much like Spaced captured British culture in a totally sincere way, I would contest that Community is the quintessential American sitcom. It celebrates its heritage in a variety of homages that, I'm still constantly surprised the show could pull off, shifting from Western, to Star Wars, to Noir, to Procedural Cop Show, with uncanny ease. It's actually really impressive. 


Alas though, I'd argue due to production issues and several cast members leaving the show to pursue, you know, their lives, the show was cancelled, BUT in this day and age, there is still (according to Wikipedia) hope of a renewal of the show.

#SixSeasonsAndAMovie
~ Godzello


THROWBACK THURSDAY: On Roller Coaster Tycoon

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 16:18


So originally I wanted to rib on Iron Man 3 for my first Throwback Thursday post. Then last night, while digging through old CDs, I came across a copy of the original Roller Coaster Tycoon, and in a fit of I-Don't-Want-To-Go-To-Bed-Before-3AM I fired up the old girl, dusted the polish, and spent a good ten minutes trying to remember the interface. Also, I might have stolen said CD from my best friend, the Jew. I feel I should apologize. 

Alas I enjoyed the game too much to feel sorry. 


This game dominated my childhood. Before the age of 9, I'm pretty sure it was the only game I owned other than a 3D version of Clue and a copy of the Mummy that wouldn't play on my Dad's computer in the basement. Mine was a video-game-free childhood, filled with romping adventures in the backyard and books way too advanced for my age, like Tolkien, Donaldson, and that one time I tried to read Bertrand Russel. I gave up because I couldn't keep track of all the Greek Philosopher's names. But that? That's not important. I'm here to rave about a video game that overpowers all other memories.

Funnily enough, I finished Forest Frontiers in a single sitting, which, while not hard, I remember being a hellova lot more difficult as a single-digit-aged munchkin. When I was growing up, all I cared about was building the coolest, topsy-turviest most badass-omest roller-coaster in the ever of all time.

Now? I was concerned with the effectiveness of my maintenance staff. I had mapped out where each handy-man would go, and his specific duties to ensure the most efficient running of my first park in over a decade. Apparently, I grew up. 

There is no god.

~ Godzello

On The Unbelievers, Hitch, (and a touch of atheism)

Wed, 06/04/2014 - 21:39

So, since starting this blog, I've tried to steer clear of some of my more ... conversationally volatile personality traits--it just never seemed like a proper place to throw down the gauntlet. I just want to talk about pop culture.

But, here it is, formally, I'm an atheist, and a pretty combative 'militant' one at that, and what that means is my soulmate is a Jew, obviously. 

So recently, there's been a lot of growing hype about the documentary The Unbelievers, and while I agreed the majority of it, and I appreciated what it was trying to do ... I didn't really like it all that much. There was a strong focus on Krauss and Dawkins, which is great (I've read Dawkins, but I haven't gotten around to Krauss). I guess I just didn't really know what the show was going for. It didn't seem like it was trying to humanize the guests, or to show their day-to-day. Most of the clips used are already free on Youtube, and honesty, I far prefered the simplicity of the Four Horsemen discussion with Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. At least there I knew quite simply what the idea behind it was.

Honestly, I decided to use this as a springboard to mention Hitch, a documentary made singlehandedly by Kristoffer Hellesmark. This is the author's note to the video ...

"I was looking for a documentary about The Hitch to watch but I could never find one. I waited and waited. Finally I figured: 'Why don't I just make one?'. That was the inspiration for this project. I did not make it to gain financially as I do not own most of the footage used. I simply wanted to in my own small way, further the legacy of Christopher Hitchens."

It's really engaging, following the life of journalist Christopher Hitchens as told through a combination of his lectures, debates, and interviews, and it really is quite moving, driven entirely by the impact of Christopher Hitchens' own words.

'The Hitch'- Christopher Hitchens documentary

On 'Calvin and Hobbes' and 'Dear Mr. Watterson'

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 22:04

Not quite hitting the heavy stuff or the blockbusters, but this one is near and dear to my heart. I don't actually recall a time before Calvin and Hobbes. I'm pretty sure my father had the books on the shelf from the get-go and was just waiting for me to catch up. Although, I'm pretty sure my first Calvin and Hobbes collection was, There's Treasure Everywhere. 

So when I first saw the trailer for Dear Mr. Watterson I got very excited. I'm always interested in documentaries and seeing as Calvin and Hobbes had such a lasting impact on me, I was curious to see how it effected others. 


I personally was not disappointed. In the spirit of keeping things brief, I'll refrain from regaling you with tails of my wild party days as a six year old, but I will say that they had a profound and lasting effect. It was great fun seeing Watterson's more public peers discuss amidst interviews his effect on the profession as a whole, and to learn more about what was happening behind the scenes. 

If you have Netflix and a loving nostalgia for Watterson's immortal classic, definitely worth checking out.

Like right now.

NOW!

Then, afterward, go exploring. 

~ Godzello

On Don Jon

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 22:34

This is something of a step-down from X-Men, but, what can I say, my roommate won't share his copy of Watch Dogs, and it feels dirty writing about a game that your only experience with is hanging over your buddy's shoulder breathing on his neck. 

I had heard Don Jon was on Netflix, so I decided to sit-me down and give it a peek. I honestly wasn't expecting much, and it wasn't until about twenty minutes in I realized I was actually having a blast with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut. Show's what I know, eh? 

Most Idiotic Review

"Don Jon is a sex comedy that just lays there and expects you to do all the work. Gordon-Levitt's direction is repetitive and dry, and his screenplay is a collage of badly cut out pieces from other movies. Its desire to be liked damns it, and the entire porn plot feels tacked on ... " 
— Odie Henderson, (Roger Ebert)

Far be it from me to attack a person for differing taste, but this review seemed out for blood from the opening line (spending most of the paragraph attacking Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson's accents (which I enjoyed but, oh well, obviously I'm just easy to please). 

A lot of this I'll deal with on its own, but I really found Gordon-Levitt's direction to cleverly utilize the motif of repetition and his script to operate as quite a successful satire for the entire genre of romantic comedies.

Most Accurate Review


"Funny, touching, smart, and supremely confident, Don Jon is also Gordon-Levitt's feature directorial debut, and it establishes him as one of Hollywood's most exciting new directors."

— Jess Cagle, (Entertainment Weekly)


I don't know a lot about directing, but the film didn't feel static to me, nor overly frenetic. The editing/directing seemed to flow smoothly to me, and at moments did indeed make me laugh out loud.


Don Jon titular character is addicted to porn, finding it far preferable to the real thing. Through his interactions with two women in his life he reevaluates his life. Since the movie is playing the satire card, it, in its own subverted way, adhere's to RomCom conventions, or, as Jon lists them, "the love at first sight, the first kiss, the breakup, the make-up, the expensive wedding, and they ride off into the sun." Except, you know, not. Cause that's not the joke.

The main focus of the film, told through Jon's eyes are his relationship with two women, his girlfriend, the dime, the perfect 10, Scarlett Johansson, and an older woman he meets at night-school, Juliane Moore. One teaches him his expectations aren't realistic and the other how to properly lose himself in another person. If these are spoilers to you, you have a very slim grasp of Hollywood convention and storytelling structure, and I cannot help you.

Honestly, I liked the characters. Some are painted as less sympathetic as others, but, I didn't feel like they were unrealistic. I know people like that. Hell, I made some similar mistakes to Jon (minus the porn addiction ... I think). I spent years chasing the girl I thought I should be--the Dime, the Great White Buffalo (I recently rewatched Hot Tub Time Machine) and man I got burned for it. Since Jon narrates the entirety of the film, and Joseph Godon-Levitt remains an engaging actor, I might have found myself more engaged than if a weaker performance had been given. The same goes for the rest of the cast too. But as is, I'll accept it. Besides, Jon's monologues early in the film about the reality of sex vs the fantasy of porn made me laugh. 

Personally, I look forward to seeing what other work Joseph Gordon-Levitt does in the future. 


On X-Men: Days of Future Past

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 15:11

In all honesty, I'm daunted by this post, as conversations with friends about this movie have shown, there is no end to what I have to say about it, but being the internet, I'll try to accommodate those of my audience who are goldfish.  

The first X-Men film was released July 14, 2000, so I was nine years old. I've seen every one of the movies since then. I've regretted that decision several times. The point I'm trying to make is that I grew up on these movies. Before the movies, I grew up on the cartoons. For many reasons, these characters have made a lasting impact and hold a very dear place in my heart. According to James McAvoy, director Bryan Singer, "treats the world incredibly seriously, and I think he treats it with a lot of integrity and passion. I think he feels very protective over the universe, partly because he loves it, but also partly because he owes a debt to it as well." 


So here we are, fourteen years later, and I'm still nerdgasming all over the franchise, but damn, what a ride, and one of the few times (sans knowledge of the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse) that I've walked away from any of these movies with such a solid and resounding sense of resolution. 

So, in the words of the ever-lovable Bilbo Baggins, I must ask myself, "Where to begin?"

Most Idiotic Review

The film squanders both of its casts, reeling from one fumbled set-piece to the next. It seems to have been constructed in a stupor, and you watch in a daze of future past. 

It's not hard to find people who disagree with you on the internet, and it's not hard to find people you disagree with so vehemently that you feel the desire to ninja-kick their scrotum through the top of their skull. I'll really delve deeper into these areas further down the page, but in as non-spoiler way as I can, I'm going to tackle what Ol' Robbie had to say. 

I study theatre. I am a third year acting major, and while I am still learning every day from an amazing set of professors and fellow students, (not to mention the skilled men and women of USF across the street) and these actors were not squandered. Time and again, numerous members of the cast (especially the delightful James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) find themselves in emotional situations and you can feel the actors chewing on their lines. There is a real relish to many goosebump inducing scenes. 

If anything, Bryan Singer manages to balance several movies in one, the dystopian future and the period 70s, on top of being a superhero movie. Neither of these two worlds ever feels dull, as the characters race forward with very clearly defined motivations. There was some complaint that the film lacked a definitive villain, to which I'll respond with a quote from a writer quoting a writer. Marc Webb (of the Spider-Man reboot fame) said, “Tom Stoppard was on Charlie Rose’s show once and he said what makes great drama is competing ideas of what is good.” I don't think any comic-book superhero movie has nailed that so successfully as Days of Future Past. 

In regards to Robbie's second sentence, I think it's a breathtakingly stupid statement, but it does show that critics still love their darling little witticisms. You can practically hear him guffawing as he pours another glass of champagne and pats himself on the shoulder. An unprecedented amount of effort went into the creation of this movie (and a shitload of money—pardon my French). You can clearly see the devotion the people involved had in crafting this movie. Then again, Robbie Collin's aesthetics and the philosophy of film, so what the fuck do I know?
Most Accurate Review

"Wow! DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the greatest, most complete and staggeringly entertaining #xmen movie to date. Incredible. Movie of the summer!" 
— Sean O'Connell, (@Sean_OConnell) 

As generic as this is, I really can't disagree with it, but to fully explain my feelings, we're about to enter the Spoiler Zone. 

* * *

Without delving too deeply into the plot (Wikipedia has a whole section devoted to that), here's the gist. In 2023 shit has gotten real. Robots called Sentinels have nearly wiped out all of mutant-kind and their human supporters, leaving only a handful of our beloved X-Men (from the original trilogy amidst some new faces) to band together to fight for survival. They intend to use Kitty Pryde's phasing ability to travel into the past to ensure that this future never occurs. Being the poster-boy for the franchise as a whole, Wolverine is selected for this job (in the original comic, Shadowcat is the time-travelers). He is sent back to 1973, reuniting with the cast from 2011's X-Men: First Class, where they must track down Mystique before she kills Bolivar Trask, the man originally behind the development of the Sentinels, who's death solidifies the worlds' belief that they need protection from the mutants. 

Whew! 

Now that's out of the way I can jump into some really juicy stuff that mixes plot and character, because it's damn hard to separate the two when they're well done. The movie is character driven, plain and simple in a way that even the Avengers couldn't hope to match. While Avengers was a fantastically fun romp, it suffered because, as I put it, it was the movie it needed to be. It needed to bring the characters together. It needed to have internal strife among the team. It needed etc yadda-yadda-yadda. Days of Future past really doesn't. Right from the get-go the characters are on board (or within a few scenes). The strife between characters grows naturally from, you might have guessed, Erik and Xavier's differing world views leading them to believe fully in their own courses of action. But, and this is fantastic, Mystique is the key to all of this. The entire plot hinges around a woman, but her choices, and not the two men trying to dominate her life. I'd say there was some powerful storytelling going on there.


Also, you might have noticed, I managed to get through most of the plot and climactic moments without referencing how Wolverine saves the day. He doesn't. He is an integral part, fights his damnedest, but the franchise has progressed past having conflicts that can be resolved by stabbing things. Wolverine is, dare-I-say-it, a team-player in the film in ways he hasn't been in the past, and Hugh Jackman shines in a way as a fully integrated member of the ensemble. 

Lastly, because of the nature of the time-travel (the two timelines are in sync, so there is a one-to-one progression in both the past and the future), the tension only continues to ramp up as both timelines approach their climax simultaneously. That said, the filmmakers were not afraid to use the time travel (or more importantly, the driving hope of changing the past) to depict the future as a absolutely terrifying place. There was a fearlessness in the future scenes are characters you know and love, and have seen on the big screen for 14 years massacred and brutally murdered. I found two consistent thoughts going through the more detached parts of my brain that weren't screaming. 

1) "They went there?!" 

2) "Wait, this is PG-13?!"


Since this is the Spoilery section of this post, I'm not afraid to say that during the climactic moment when the sentinals have finally broken in, killed ... pretty much everyone, and the timeline resets? You could hear my entire row exhale a shuddering sigh of relief. The tension was unbelievable. The last time I had a moment like that was during Toy Story 3 during the furnace scene. /shudder/

In Days of Future Past we get to see, actually a lot of character development, in the past the primary focus is on Xavier and Mystique, who the writers managed to take at pivotal moments in their lives, and entwine them with saving the world—Xavier no longer calls himself the professor (being a drug addled shut-in trying to block out the pain and loss he's suffered since the events of First Class) and has to learn how to hope again, and Mystique is on her way to becoming the stone-cold-blooded assassin we saw in the original trilogy, and while Wolverine's journey into the past kickstarts these, he by no means plays much of a direct hand in shaping them. Magneto, like the rock that he is, remains fairly unchanged, but in no sense of the word do I mind (the inclusion of Magneto's involvement in the JFK assassination was splendid). Michael Fassbender is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors of all time, and while the physical resemblance is somewhat lacking, he carries such gravitas in his roll that it is hard not to see some of Sir Ian McKellen in his portrayal, and the same goes for McAvoy's young Xavier. The scene where Patrick Stewart has a "Glimpse into the past," and both Xavier's talk to one another left me with chills.


Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't applaud the portrayal of Quicksilver, who steals most of the scenes he's in, which, considering the actors he's sharing screen-time with is no small feat. A true pleasure, and while it's a shame we didn't see more of him, it kept the characters inclusion short, sweet, and to-the-point.

The link between the two timelines, Wolverine, is an older, more nuanced character than we've seen before and Hugh relishes in several scenes that show a softer side of Logan. The one in particular that left me with chills was this exchange between Jackman and McAvoy ... 

"Whatever happens today, I need you to promise me something. You've looked into my mind and you've seen a lot of bad, but you've seen the good too, the X-Men. Promise me you'll find us. Use your power, bring us together, guide us, lead us. Storm, Scott ... Jean. Remember those names. There's so many of us and we will need you ... Professor."

"I'll do my best." 

"Your best is enough, trust me," delivered with complete earnestness by Jackman. 

In the future, although we don't get to see any (not really) of Anna Paquin's Rogue (I can't even nerdrage at Rogue mistreatment anymore, it's more like a nerd-sigh), and most of the mutants we see don't have a line of dialogue between them, we get to see the reunion of the Professor and Magneto, and one of the major overarching feelings you get, even as survival becomes less and less likely, simple regret that their friendship was so wasted, and like their younger acting-counterparts, McKellen and Stewart are magic onscreen together.

It's the secondary characters present in the Future who have the best of the mutant battle scenes, and the filmmakers really outdid previous films by showcasing the X-Men who really know how to aid one another in battle. I'd have never really expected to see Blink's teleportation and Collususs organic metal form being a surefire tagteam combo, but the movie makes it work in a visually fun and interesting way. Although ... no fault of his own, but I wish they had replaced Warpath with a fully powered Rogue. Alas, though, yet again ... grrrr, moving on.



Days of Future Past carries with it the same thematics that we've seen for many of the films, prejudices and fear and loathing (and not the fun kind), but includes a bigger emphasis on faith in people. Since the climax of the film had less to do with the knockout drag-out fight than an emotional turning point for a set of characters, there is more weight on having faith in people, not just the titular characters, but in humanity as a whole, and, echoing Xavier's sentiment, the future doesn't have to happen, "Not if we show them a better path." 

To wrap up, the film is a dazzling spectacle. The 70s setting does at times feel restrained, but to a degree, this helps keep the existence of the Sentinels less fantastical by keeping the world they exist in more grounded, a trick that Bryan Singer has repeatedly shown he has a knack for. On the flip side, while we see very little of it, the future is as dark and atmospheric as the best of the Terminator Franchise's depictions of after Judgment Day. 

There is a fantastic moment, midway through the film, when we return to Cerebro, and the iconic blue hallways. In interviews McAvoy stated that between that set and being with Hugh Jackman, he really felt like he was in an X-Men movie. 


I can say more, but for anyone who's stuck around this long, I'll say thank you kindly, hope you enjoyed my thoughts, and go have some fun at the theater. 

On To the Moon

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 20:39


This man is capable of complete
emotional devastation.
I'm constantly reminded by my new college buddies that I should be a gamer. I bear all resemblance to a gamer, talk about games comfortably, understand the basic ins-and-outs of the idea; I just never get around to actually playing any games which confuses them.

Y'see, I stopped getting invited out to movies for being a 'jaded bitter movie cynic'. Some day, I'll admit, I'd like to be able to consider myself a professional writer, which has no relation to quality, it has to do with a regular paycheck. That said, I have an obsession with ideas of quality. Every piece of fiction, of whatever medium is worth turning over and scrutinizing and ultimately judging 'can I do better, and how?' With this mentality, most everything I uncover is ... shit. (I'm looking at you EA and Blizzard).

But I have a friend who is almost as nuts as I am and he recommended To the Moon, the indie game released a little over a year ago by Canadian designer/composer Kan 'Reives' Gao

Wow.

Okay, I feel an explanation is owed. I do not hate games like Halo and Modern Warfare (aka FPS) because of the style. Yes, I do suck at them, but over the years some of the games that really revved my gamer engine were Heavy Rain and Alan Wake. Neither of these games had a strong 'game' aspect. It was more like interactive storytelling. God forbid the writer prefers games with strong emphasis on story. And I blame gamer-asshats for steering the gamer ship in this direction because I was told about a week ago that story isn't what games are about, rutting Super-Smash Bro. fans ....

So four-five hours after receiving To the Moon, I had run the gambit of possible emotions (giggling laughter, bereft tears, and raging anger (yep, all three of the feelers) because of SPRITES. That was a new one. I mean, in a day and age where the focus is on the never-ending arms race for better graphics, the sprites are the ones that really got me.

SPRITES
You might notice that I'm either really easily distracted or I'm dancing around the subject of what the game is actually about. I'd be much happier to just say 'go play the damn thing', but that won't really do.

You progress this interactive story (even I have to admit, this isn't so much a game as a pop-up book with a mouse), with two characters (Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts) who work for Sigmund Corp. where people on their death beds can have their memories rewritten so that a single wish can be fulfilled and they can die regret free.

Right off the bat we have a existentialist tragedy, and as the two characters progress backwards from their client John's most recent memories toward his childhood, mysteries regarding his mysterious wish to 'Go to the Moon', his wife, and his whole life pretty much are unveiled. I mean, I spent the opening of the game just rolling with the punches, seeing where it would take me and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted over and over again. I didn't know where the game was taking me, (I hate spoilers so I was literally flying blind) and ... hell, I don't really know what else to say. It's easier to rant about things I dislike.


Also, I have to shout out to the Soundtrack, which I thought was stellar. And the fact that Kan Gao, so far as I can tell designed the game almost single-handedly is really inspiring. He is a masterful storyteller with a quick wit necessary to offset the deep emotional impact. Never before has a game managed to make me cry and laugh in the same scene and I'm not ashamed to admit that. Ah, hell, what can I say? I'm a sucker. Definitely one worth checking out.

On Godzilla (2014)

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 22:28


When the line was uttered, "The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around," was uttered I could only think of one thing.

If they were going to homage Blue Oyster Cult's iconic song, go all the way and actually say, "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man." I mean, seriously.

Most Idiotic Review

"The right way to balance seriousness and silliness in a Godzilla film, it seems, is to have a thoughtful script about nuclear dread offset by some spectacular scenes of behemoth-vs-humanity devastation. Mr. Edwards' method is to switch things around, so that the screenplay is laughable but the mood and visuals are as drab as possible. His main achievement is to make Mr. Emmerich's version seem halfway decent after all." 


Okay ... I don't know how to respond to this honestly. I could start with a simple, "Did he see the same movie as me?" Whereas I spent the movie noting lessons well learned from other such classics as Jurassic Park, Jaws, and King Kong, the Economist saw "unremitting dullness," and " a long, glum slog with a murky colour scheme best described as "50 shades of grey." I guess I was leaning forward in my seat for reasons beyond excitement, tension, investment, and anticipation. And to compare to the 1998 film in such a way, which honestly never got under my skin the way other people felt it did is just plain laughable.

Most Accurate Review
"As in the classic, they hold the titular monster back for quite some time, and while the slow burn may not agree with a modern audiences’ desire for rapid-fire storytelling, once the monster action really gets going it is glorious to behold, with the finale a thing of utter, spectacular beauty. I’ll confess, I would have liked to see more of that action, and Godzilla earlier in the film, but am equally struck by what is in many ways a bold and well-thought-out pacing choice."

I personally couldn't agree more. Without delving into spoilers too deeply, every glimpse of the monsters pulled me further forward in my seat, and by the climactic battle I was rearing to go full force, and for all of the beautifully crafted hero shots of our titular monster, I felt chills... that might have been a side-effect of the theater shaking though. Dat roar, mang.

I agree with some reviewers that the characters were ultimately dull. That said, they're not the star of the film (who admittedly wasn't on-screen all that often, but still). My main retort was that they were, in my opinion, believable characters with some pretty basic driving motivation. They were not Whedon characters, nor do I think they should have been. Every human on screen represented the blank-slate character we see often in Video Games like Bioshock: Infinite and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These characters aren't meant to be driving forces of Oscar-worthy drama at the end of the day. They're supposed to be in the right place at the right time so that the filmmakers have an excuse to showcase the 350 primordial alpha hunter decimate entire cities. That said, I still found myself rooting for Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character 'Whatshisname' (a quick Google-search tells me it was Lieutenant Ford Brody), and also, did anyone else find his voice hilarious? He still has a young teenager voice, like in Kickass, but he's bulked up enough to look like Bane Jr, so that every time he spoke I had to resist the urge to giggle. 


And just as a teaser, like the movie's advertising this whole time, the King? When he finally appears, he delivers in all his glory. I whole-heartedly believe that if you're a fan of the big guy (and you can tell I am, look at my screen-name), you'll enjoy this movie. I found that the filmmakers came to the table with a love of classic monster movies and the skill to pull it off.



On BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 18:44

For me, this has been a journey seven years in the making. I love Bioshock. I've loved it since the first time I watched a friend play it in his basement back when we were both pimply High Schoolers with bad fashion sense and overblown egos. Age has at least improved the fashion sense.


So here we are, the end of a journey, a real saga. Give me a second, this is a real moment for me. Before I wrote this, I went back and replayed Bioshock, and feel like I might have overloaded my brain on Ken Levine games. If I survive writing this blog, I might crank up my copy of System Shock 2 and frazzle what's left of my brainpan. Here we go.

Set December 31, 1958 (roughly two years before the evens of Bioshock) Booker DeWitt, the protagonist of Bioshock: Infinite, is a private investigator working in Rapture, Andrew Ryan's underwater Objectivist Utopia before it's fall. He is hired by the mysterious Elizabeth, another character fans of Infinite will recognize, although she is far more somber than the wide-eyed girl we saw asking Mr. Dewitt what could be better than dancing on the shores of Battleship Bay. 

In keeping with the mystery of Burial at Sea, I won't spoil what our beloved Booker and Elizabeth are doing in our beloved Rapture, but I will say that, yes, their presence plays merry-hob with the canon, the timelines, quantum travel, and a logical plot structure, but maintains the same kick in the family jewels that preceded the end credits of Bioshock Infinite. Personally I was delighted seeing a deeper connection between the worlds of Columbia and Rapture, and how cleverly the writers slipped the gameplay of Burial at Sea in between the existing framework of the previous games, allowing for character crossover and fleshing out I'd never anticipated.

On an interesting note, there is a welcome change in gameplay, even between Episode 1, where you play as Booker, and Episode 2, where you play as Elizabeth. To me it was one part Bioshock, one part Infinite, and one part Thief. There is a combination of Bioshock's inventory (in Infinite, you could only carry two weapons at a time), but the plasmid/vigors from Infinite. The skyhook also makes a reappearance, and although the sudden inclusion of tram-lines in Rapture seemed mildly ham-handed, I was having too much fun Sky-Line Striking Splicers to care. Also, best moment ever was when I had Elizabeth open a tear to bring in a Motorized Patriot to fight a Big Daddy. 


Also, speaking of Big Daddies in Episode 2, when playing as a de-powered Elizabeth (having collapsed from her quantum-superposition) Big Daddies are terrifying, and the whole game takes on a far more threatening air. Elizabeth is not a melee power-house after all. 

As one of my last points, I just want to comment on possibly my favorite aspect of the game. I loved seeing Rapture at the height of its glory. Seeing how far the technology has come to allow for such an immersive exploration of the city was as exciting as anything else in the game. Like it's counterpart Columbia, both cities are so lovingly crafted by the designers they are among the most actualized fantasy/sci-fi realms I can name.  

In an interview, Ken Levine, Lead Writer & Creative Director stated, "I think you'll get a deep level of closure that you don't expect ... Fans of both the original game and Infinite are going to walk away pretty satisfied with feeling a sense of completeness in the end of [Burial at Sea] that they really haven't had in a Bioshock game before."











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