Tuesday, July 26, 2011

inFamous 2 electric boogaloo (pun intended)

The first inFamous came around in a much needed time for Sony. It was the only good PS3 exclusive to come out in a while, and it did help a console struggling to find it's footing against the Halo monster. Unfortunately, it wasn't an amazing game. It felt unpolished and repetitive a lot of the time; plus finding the damned blast shards was a total pain in the ass.

The only things I was really expecting with inFamous 2 were improvements on those issues, and looking at it from that perspective they over-delivered. The diversity in powers and abilities help keep the game fresh You won't just unlock everything half-way through a playthrough and get bored. The missions themselves are varied and just not as tedious. Plus, they added a blast shard detector, even if it's the last power you unlock.

Story wise, the second is much improved, probably thanks to how the characters are written and how they interact. For example, a character like Zeke, who is supposed to be your best friend/powerless sidekick, was annoying as a mosquito while driving in the first game. Here he is much more useful and funny. It might help that Cole treats him like shit most of the game, but he deserved it.

Other characters like Quo and Nix liven up the cast, which is a step up from the first game that had very few characters at all. They also add the concept of adding characters to each 'side' of the game, basically picking between your allies depending on the actions you take.

The whole 'good/evil' thing is obviously still there, it's supposed to be the thing that holds the game together, but it seems to fall at the wayside. The only things really affected by this decision are the powers you unlock, like a quarter of the missions and side missions, and the final battle itself, and the ending. The bulk of the game is the same thing no matter how you act, making this system kinda dumb. On top of that, one would think that it would be easier to be evil and not worry about harming bystanders if they got in the way (which they do, a lot) but the powers you unlock on the good side are actually better this time around.

Dick Cheney wants you to pick the red one... He's always watching.
The other problem with this system is that it hinders Cole's character development in the story. Since most of the cutscenes are generic no matter how you're playing he needs to maintain a neutral stance. The only way for this type of thing to work is if there's (at least) two sets of cutscenes. In this game you have a handful of deep and interesting characters (by this genre's standards), except for the protagonist, who is bland and dull all the time because he needs to keep himself close to that middle line of neutrality for the plot to work.

Making matters worse, when you decide to be evil, you don't get to be 'badass evil'... You get to be 'douchebag evil'. What do I mean? Lets put it this way... You would love to be The Joker from The Dark Knight; all awesome and badass, with great lines and blowing up shit with style. But no, you get to be The Riddler from Batman Forever... All cheesy and whiny, kinda cowardly and with horrible one liners. I understand that they're trying to guilt you into being good and stuff, but if you're going to give us the option of being evil you should try to make it mostly enjoyable, not just sickening. It's a game, not a guilt trip.

That said, the endings don't compare. The 'good' ending, while decent has nothing on the 'evil' one. The final sequence on the Dick Cheney playthrough was awesome heart wrenching. Truly the mark of good character development (not Cole's). Even if the blue ending is the canon one, the red one is a definite must, it's quite enjoyable.

All in all, inFamous 2 is truly a vast improvement over an already pretty good first game. With improvements in the obvious areas, plus a much better story, Sucker Punch really upped the ante. The formula works, and I expect a third, no matter how it ended. If they keep improving at this rate, that third game could really be something special. Lets just hope they don't fuck it up.


Monday, July 25, 2011

A Review of Bad San-- I mean Teacher

Bad Teacher

When I went in , I had really low expectations for this movie. The trailer did nothing to make me think that this was going to be worth my time and money. I thought the only funny scene in the trailer was the one with Jason Segel arguing with the little kid about LeBron James. I went to see it because I was bored and a friend asked me if I wanted to go see it. I wasn't expecting to see it in the theaters, but since I did, here's my review.

The movie stars Cameron Díaz as Elizabeth Halsey. She is a high school teacher who was about to marry a very rich guy and never teach again. The rich guy finally figured her out and Elizabeth is forced to go back to the school. It's obvious that she never really enjoyed teaching and that she felt that she deserved more. She's a bitch, a gold digger, a drunk, completely insensitive and really has no redeeming qualities... and that's the reason why I liked the character and because of that, the movie.

Teacher Amy Squirrel is played really insanely by the damn crazy hot Lucy Punch. She goes a little bit overboard with the character and I'm not sure how the kids are learning anything with the short times we see her interacting with the students in class. Justin Timberlake plays substitute teacher Scott Delacorte, an heir to a big fortune which Elizabeth is trying to seduce. We never really know if Squirrel is just using him or if she really has feelings for him, but I guess that doesn't really matter. I liked the scene at the bar with the band because Timberlake is sort of winking at us with his terrible singing.

Jason Segel plays Russell Gettis, the school's gym teacher. This is a character that really saved the movie for me. Why he was attracted to Elizabeth was beyond me, but he is probably the one that feels like a real person you would meet. A guy that takes his job seriously but can also let loose and have fun.

If only Cameron Díaz looked like this... Now THIS is a very bad teacher.

I think the movie's trailer kind of misled me. I never really noticed it was an R rated movie until I actually saw it. I thought it was one of those teenager friendly comedies that don't really take any chances and this one does a little bit. The drug use and the car wash scenes were interesting because I wasn't expecting them.

Jake Kasdan directed Walk Hard a couple of days before this and it was a movie that I actually enjoyed. He does a serviceable job here to get something that is an ok story and manage to end up with a somewhat funny movie. My biggest problem with it is that it goes a bit too far in terms of how crazy these people are acting. Nobody gets murdered, but you feel that given thirty more minutes, the bodies would start piling up.

In the end, this is an ok movie that is probably better than it had any right to be. I'm not a huge fan of Cameron Díaz, so I thought she was ok, but what I think saved the movie was the fact that they kept her somewhat reprehensible throughout. She doesn't undergo some great transformation after an epiphany, but she does start to see the error of some of her ways... of course, all this while doing some pretty reprehensible stuff. This movie wanted to be Bad Santa and while it failed to do that, it was still funny enough.

6 out of 10

Request: Citizen Kane

I'm not going to try and write something original that's never been written before about this movie. It would be impossible. This movie has been scrutinized to no end by countless film critics and cinemaphiles for decades. Considered by a lot of them as the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane is ingrained in American culture as is its creator Orson Welles. When Welles adapted H.G. Wells famous novel The War of the Worlds to a radio program, he gained immediate fame and notoriety. Welles moved on to Hollywood where he surprisingly got a deal with RKO Radio Pictures to make the movie he would co-write, direct, and act in the lead role... all this on his first feature film. Surprisingly the film was originally a flop, but about a decade later it was re-released to critical acclaim. This film has been an inspiration to filmmakers for a long time.

The movie deals with newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). He had just died after a long life of politics, news and eventually seclusion in his very own castle aptly named Xanadu. In order to make the news of Kane's death more exciting, a reporter is charged with trying to find out what the word Kane uttered right before he died meant. "Rosebud" is the simple but astounding plot device that makes the film go. This means that the reporter has to go back to the different characters in Kane's life in order to hear the story of his life from their point of view.

Citizen Kane was an incredibly innovative movie when it came out in 1941. It doesn't take long to see the interesting things that Welles and his crew were able to implement. For example, the use of a newsreel in order to basically tell you everything that happened before going back and retracing it all in flashbacks and memories of his friends and enemies. The interesting thing about it is that subtly you get to see different sides of Kane and you never get a clear picture as to who he really was. The news man who had a soft spot for the working men, the charismatic politician looking to rid the town of crooked politicians, the charming boss, the hard ass boss, the oft times violent recluse... they are all the enigma that is Charles Foster Kane.


If you look at that scene, one of my favorites from the movie, you can see one of the sides of Charles Foster Kane.

Another trick that Orson Welles implemented was the angles of the camera work. If you watch the movie, you might notice that during some scenes, the camera goes from a low position and looks up at the ceiling. That makes Kane seem larger than life, which he was, but with only this, Welles could convey it even more poignantly. Look, I won't claim to be an expert on this kind of thing, I'm just pointing out the stuff that I found interesting in the movie.

Also, I think the film benefited greatly from being in black and white. The shadows throughout the movie make it feel eerie and mysterious. For example, when the reporter goes to read Walter Parks Thatcher (the man responsible for sort of keeping the boy Kane's money and sort of raising him as well), it feels like the reporter is doing something wrong. You get the feeling that something is going to happen. Similarly, the use of echoes in this scene and in the scenes in Xanadu, especially heighten the sense of foreboding and emptiness.

"When did I get inside the movie Hostel!?"

I'm not going to keep ranting about the technical aspects anymore. Does the story hold up? I think this kind of story is timeless. Sure, the reporter in this day and age would be using mostly the internet but still, our fascination towards personalities like Charles Foster Kane and their lives remains intact. The search for "Rosebud" is intriguing and the ending (which I will not spoil) shows a different side of Kane that we hadn't seen before in the whole film.

If you get a chance to check this movie out, do so. I remember someone telling me that this movie was boring. I can't help but disagree more wholeheartedly. It's an enthralling film that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The praise that this movie has gotten is well deserved. The plot is intriguing and groundbreaking for its time and the acting by Orson Welles is something to behold. Credit to the supporting cast as well, especially Dorothy Comingore as Kane's second wife Susan Alexander Kane and Joseph Cotten as Jedediah Leland.

I can't possibly recommend this movie more.

10 out of 10

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Final Fantasy History Month: A Veritable Classic (My FFIV Review)

Continuing with my string of reviews, I now set my sights on FFIV, since I had to skip over III due to technical difficulties. So, here it is:
Yes, I have the DS version. Why? Obviously, because it's Golbez and not Kain on the cover, duh.
Now, first, I need to go back to commenting on the graphics for this one (and eventually III), since the dev team completely remade these games from scratch, although with this one they left the story intact. Also, it's one of the few ones I have played in their original format and thus have a basis for comparison.
The difference truly is staggering this time.

Besides the obvious aesthetic improvements that the shift from 2D to 3D brings, it also vastly improved the storytelling and even introduced voice acting, which helped give those important scenes a lot more emotional impact. Hell, there's even some CG cutscenes thrown in for shits and giggles.
Pictured above: the original angsty FF protagonist.
Now, this significant graphics boost completely changed how I viewed this game. The first time I played it was a couple of years back, on my old SNES. I wasn't terribly impressed due to issues with the script, mainly, and piled on top of that were the alright-but-not-helping graphics, which were a big step down from my usual 3D fare on the PS2 and such. Eventually, I didn't see what the big whoop was about the game, and I quit somewhere after defeating the antlion in the cave. A few years later, I decide to give the game a second try, on my new DS, this time, and boy am I glad I did. With the script cleaned up to not induce any more headaches, and pretty graphics to keep combat lively, I was hooked. Unfortunately, this remake introduced a few more things which would make this game a pain in the ass for me. All of which are good when you have time, but not when you're blazing through the other five games in order to review them. The graphics are a no-contest. A+

Next, we have the sound. This is one of the few Final Fantasies whose score is actually very enjoyable, especially the arrangements they come up with for the piano collections and other assorted media. While not many of the tracks are terribly memorable, they make the game that much more interesting and help a great deal with the mood. Heck, the regular battle theme is one of the most memorable ones around (although every time I hear the opening bassline, my mind switches to FFIX, but that's a different matter altogether). I'm no music expert, so my judgment on these aspects of the games is always painfully brief, but I can say with a lot of confidence that this one has one of the better scores in the series. All the pieces just give you the right mood for the moment and nothing feels out of place. Plus there's the great track "Battle With the Four Fiends", which plays during... the battles with the Four Fiends and Golbez. It is one of my favorite boss battle tracks, since it is so darn catchy and it feels, playful, which helps you not come to hate the boss battles once you get stuck on one. The soundtrack receives a solid A.
Have some pretty art to break up the monotony.

Next up, the gameplay. For the first time in the series the ATB (Active Time Battle) system is introduced. Instead of the usual turn-based combat, there is now a small bar that slowly fills up and once it does, it is that particular character's turn. Naturally, this changed a lot of things, since it used to be that the 'haste' and 'slow' spells merely increased the amount of 'hits' your character landed on the enemy and therefore inflicted more damage, or the inverse. With the ATB, however, 'haste' and 'slow' now had their titular effects on your gauge and thus opened up a ton of new strategies and forms of time management during battle. Another change is the removal of FFIII's Job Class System, where all party members could freely change their classes outside of battle to suit your current needs, but this was done for a reason which has to do with the story, and it works just fine either way. There is also the small detail that you now have five party members instead of the usual four which seems to be the norm in FF games, and throughout all of the game, people switch in and out of your party (again, for plot-related reasons). For the most part, though, the gameplay remains unchanged. You go around the world, fighting monsters, and you know the rest. Ah, and of course, not sure if it was there in the original, since I never got too far into it, but we also have the Augments. These 'augments', are abilities which party members that leave your... party, give you once they are gone. Say, for example, you used to have Prince Edward the bard in your party and then he left. Now, in his place, you have the 'Song' augment in your inventory, which you can use to have one of your characters learn the titular ability and use it in battle. Sounds pretty straightforward, but it gets more complicated, as only specific combinations of augments and characters will yield better, advanced types of augments which will make your life much, MUCH easier, and in the late game give your characters some nice stat boosts. Ah, yes, I almost forgot. This game is insanely hard. Like, nightmarish. I was fairly overpowered by the time I approached the final dungeon, around level 78, and once I set foot in that place I got my ass promptly handed to me in a silver platter with a lace napkin underneath. Of course, the whole game is an offender in this aspect, since being at a high level does not mean your party won't be wiped by a random encounter out in any field of the game. Enemies here love to play dirty and they will spam insta-death attacks and similar strategies any chance they get. But it's not unbearable, if you take your time to enjoy the game. And finally, there's the little side quests which you can opt not to do and will have no major impact on your gameplay. The gameplay, at least the DS version, get an A- because it is really, truly, hard. Portable, my ass.
But it's so pretty...

And finally, there's the story. On one hand, I like the story because it is well written and most, if not all of the characters are likable, and on the other hand, I personally blame it for giving Square the idea that it needed angsty and broody protagonists to make their stories better. But I get ahead of myself, and what better place to start than the beginning. You play Cecil Harvey, a dark knight in service of the kingdom of Baron, and captain of the Red Wings, the best damn airship fleet in the world. As of late, the king, a normally peaceful man has started to attack other countries and you are concerned with this, but out of loyalty, you carry out your duties all the same. After returning from a particularly brutal mission, you confront the king and for this, you are stripped of your captain's rank and sent to deliver a package to a small village of summoners. Of course, this package was a trap and the village ends up burning down, killing all the summoners, save for a young girl named Rydia, who later joins your journey reluctantly. The game then focuses on Cecil's journey as he strives to atone for his past actions and stop Golbez, the man behind everything, from gathering the crystals and destroying the world. Also in the cast we have Kain, captain of Baron's dragoons and Cecil's best friend (who happens to suffer from chronic backstabbing syndrome); Rosa, a white mage, accomplished archer, and Cecil's lover; Rydia, the little summoner girl who's parents were accidentally killed by Cecil; Cid, Baron's chief engineer and good friend of Cecil's; Edge, ninja prince of a kingdom destroyed by Baron; and many others which help Cecil along on his journey.

Now, on to the finer points of the plot. I really like how Cecil's atonement is handled throughout the whole game. Especially with the voice acting. It really helps to convey how sorry he is, without coming off as too whiny or too wimpy. The way the rest of the cast interacts with him is also very well handled. For example, at first, Rydia is completely unwilling to speak to him, but after snooping in on a couple of deeply apologetic moments he has, she very slowly starts to come around, eventually forgiving him, realizing the he truly did not burn down her village willingly. We also have the entire village he is sent to destroy at the game's beginning (not the summoner's village, the one before that), whose inhabitants go so far as to turn you into a frog or pig if you speak to them, and who come around after your switch from dark knight to paladin (though they still transform you after this, out of sheer spite). Then, of course, there's the interactions between the other characters. Kain is a particularly obvious example, always jealous of Cecil 'till the actual ending scene and acting accordingly. There's also Tellah and Edward, the former, blaming his daughter's death on the latter and spending a good chunk of your early game trying to find and kill him, while delivering the infamous line, "You spoony bard!" (now with voices!) when he does find him. And of course there's all the other characters, which all get their time in the limelight, making them all equally interesting and important to the plot as Cecil himself. But what would this game be without it's star character and the driving force behind the plot? Ladies and gentlemen, we also have Golbez, the main villain and, as Ray was so kind to point out to me, the only undefeated villain in the whole franchise. This man is always a step ahead of the party and every single part of his plan revolves around either fucking shit up for you, or making you open up a path for him to fuck shit up subsequently. In short, he is what existed before Xanatos, of the Gargoyles. Not only is he crazy prepared, but he is always more powerful than you, which makes him one of the few villains who runs from you not out of cowardice, but because he has tight schedule to keep and can't be arsed to finish you. He also has control over the Four Fiends, who are some of the more fun boss battles in the franchise, with Rubicante, the Fiend of Fire, coming to mind. He is fought after a particularly grueling dungeon, which is likely to have left you in the red, and what does he do? He prefers to fight like a gentleman and heals your party up. Of course, it's still a hard as shit boss battle, so the refill is greatly appreciated. There are many other great things that I would love to mention, but I want to keep this as brief as possible without doing a n injustice to this fantastic game, so that's it. Story, solid A+. Not because of epicness or none of that, but because it is coherent, and all of the tense moments are appropriately so, something all previous FF games had failed to do until now.
The aforementioned Rubicante, preparing to flash your party and scar them for life.
So, bottom line, this is one of the best old-school FFs there are. The other one, of course, is VI. And between these two, it's always a tough pick. Some pick this one as the best because it's the first one to truly succeed and therefore, has seniority. Others pick VI because it goes for broke and makes the story as epic as can be (within console limits, of course). But my reasons are neither of these. Personally, I would tie them both at the top, since they are both magnificent in their own right. But I choose VI just ever so slightly over this one because its world is bigger and more fleshed out, at the cost of overshooting its mark and coming off as trying too hard. While I love that IV has the most solid story of them all, VI gives me the warm fuzzy feeling I can only get from learning as many details about my characters' lives as I want. Plus, it has Kefka, one of the greatest FF villains ever, by virtue of his sheer insanity and being the only one to actually succeed in his goal of world destruction. But I digress, my point is, FFIV is tied with VI for best in the franchise and with good reason. Most of this is, of course, due to it being the DS version, which in my opinion is the definitive version, seeing as it offers the best possible experience. That whole 'After Years' crap is not relevant to me, and neither should it be for you.

Fefi's Personal Score: 9/10
'Fair' Score: 9/10 (What, you actually thought I'd give it a lower score this time?)
This man taught Xanatos all he knows. Plus, he rocks the spiked armor like no other villain can.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If Not Now, When? - Incubus tones it down

"Jump, jump, jump!"
How much anticipation is too much anticipation? That might be the question that hinders Incubus' latest album If Not Now, When?.

It's been five years since Light Grenades came out. That's a whole lot of anticipation after a really good album, it leaves some pretty big shoes to fill. And I hate to say it, but after such a well rounded album like Light Grenades, INNW? feels kinda flat.

I'm not saying it's a bad album by a long shot. It shows musical growth from a band that has really evolved over time. And I really do like the songs, it's just the tone of the album, it's so monotonous. Any song on here could stack up nicely on it's own in the right moment. But as a whole, it's just too mellow for my taste. And if you listen to the whole album it just feels like one long soft song.

It does have it's high points. Certain choruses and riffs tend to stick in your head for a while. But nothing overly memorable. I will say that the rhythm and lead guitars have seemed to find a special synch that they hadn't found yet, and it shows in some songs. And of course Brandon Boyd always does a spectacular job with vocals. But they seemed to falter when it comes to the crazy sounds and awkward effects that I've learned to expect from Incubus, they're just not there.

I'm not using it as an excuse or anything, and I'm kinda known for not losing faith in bands after a blah album, but every alt-rock band tends to go through an overly-mellow phase. I mean, the Red Hot Chili Peppers did By The Way, just to follow it up with Stadium Arcadium (my favorite album ever), and it's not the first time that a band has squeaked by with a decent album just to come back with a great one. It might just be wishful thinking on my part, but I really haven't written off Incubus just yet.

But for now, we have this; If Not Now, When?... Well, I can't answer that. I just know we have decent elevator/backround music for a really easy going party from Incubus. And that's not really a bad thing.


Netflix Reviews #3


What's better than Liam Neeson destroying Europe? He did it first with the pretty awesome Taken and now with this movie, he basically does it again. I wouldn't mind watching more action movies with Neeson at the helm. This one wasn't better than Taken, mostly because of the writing and directing, but this movie is interesting mostly because of the fantastic supporting cast. Dr. Martin Harris is in Germany because of an important scientific conference but before he can get to his hotel with his wife Elizabeth (January Jones), he has a car accident in which he forgets who he really is and begins believing some other reality. Illegal immigrant Gina (Diane Kruger) helps him to find out who he is because someone has taken his identity. He goes to a detective (Bruno Ganz) and the truth is unveiled. I won't ruin it for you but its not that hard to figure it out. The performances from Jones, Ganz, and eventually Frank Langella are pretty damn good and keep you entertained throughout. There are some inconsistencies in the reasons for their actions (which I won't ruin for you) but its a nice action flick for when you are bored.

"Find me a Chuck Norris, a Jack Bauer and a Liam Neeson before Rebecca Black takes over the world!"

7 out of 10

Source Code

This movie stars Jake Gyllenhall as Colter Stevens. He is a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan of whatever place in the Middle East he was supposedly at who is now trying to solve a terrorist attack by actually getting inside the body of one of the passengers of the train that was blown up. Now, I'm all up for interesting premises, but the dialogue here is so fake that it feels like when a grown up who doesn't know anything about computers starts talking about binary codes and hard drives. The science here is ridiculously stupid. If you are going to try to explain the science, at least try and do a decent job of explaining. How could they create the train and everything inside if it all blew up? Don't you need a brain of one of the dead people in the train or something to have a working layout? And how can one brain be able to create a whole train with every detail, let alone a whole city... it makes no sense. The movie could have been cool but its so dumb it hurts my head. I'm really surprised because I really loved Duncan Jones' previous film Moon.

4 out of 10

Due Date

And I thought Source Code would be the worst movie out of this batch. I was so wrong. This movie tried to be a buddy movie and it failed horribly. The last few really cool buddy movies like Superbad, I Love You, Man, The Hangover and even Bridesmaids had something that separated them from this dross... the main characters actually liked each other. From the beginning its obvious that Robert Downey Jr.'s Peter Highman and Zach Galifianakis' Ethan Tremblay/Chase will never, in any scenario, really like each other. All the characters in this movie are pretty damn despicable. The only one that doesn't do enough to show us how crappy she can be is Michelle Monaghan as Peter's expecting wife. Most of the movie is so incredibly goofy that whenever they try to have a touching scene I couldn't help but expect someone to scream "Gotcha!". Even Jamie Foxx as one of Peter's friends is unlikable. What a failure of a movie. I've liked some of Todd Phillips previous film but this one just lacked any sort of real feeling.

"Help! The makers of this film have me man-napped!"

3 out of 10


When I read the premise of this movie, I couldn't believe it. I didn't see how this could work unless it was going to be one of those horror movies that rely on the gore to tell their story and forget about the thrill and the suspense. This movie was directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein who I had never seen a movie of and I'm not surprised since this is his first full feature film. What a strange premise for a movie. A woman is born with what they call "vagina dentata". This mythological legend is all about fear of sex and fear of womanhood. Yes, she has teeth in her vagina. Jess Weixler plays Dawn, the lucky toothed lady. I think she does a pretty good job at conveying her fears and at the same time finally embracing her "gift". I really don't know what to say. I couldn't help but laugh at some of the campiness, but at the same time I was freaked out whenever a penis was cut off. I guess that is what it set out to do. The whole point of this movie was to freak a whole generation of men. It worked.

5.5 out of 10

The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie - Return of the Peppers!

First of all... You're going to have to listen to this...

That's right ladies and gentlemen, we have our first single, and I really like the sound they're going for.

It's subtle, yet funky. And as far as the Peppers go, these are some of the most coherent lyrics I've heard in a while. As far as I know right now this could be the mellowest or the heaviest song on the album, and either way I'm fine with it. If half the songs on I'm With You gets stuck in my head like this, then they've done a great job.
I love it just for the cover.

Flea has a nice little baseline in the song, and we even get some cowbell (and now you're picturing Will Ferrell's hairy gut), but the song-stealer in this case has to be band newcomer Josh Klinghoffer who has some pretty elaborate layering in his guitar work. On top of that the chorus riff he used is just as catchy (if not more) than the chorus itself, I've been humming it since I heard it.

Has it reached Stadium Arcadium levels for me? No, but it did get me excited for the release, which is still over a month away. So yeah, expect another bloated music review.

Chiko can rant too: When did children start deciding what Mainstream is?

It’s been on my mind for years now… This whole bizarre phenomenon that started with music and TV. These days we have Justin Bieber… But it’s been going on for a while now. Somehow 8-14 year olds end up deciding what music becomes popular, and to me, it makes absolutely no sense at all.
Sure as hell not the voice of my generation.
To be brutally honest, I blame Disney. Somehow they’ve found a formula where they put a musically oriented show on TV, produce it’s own music, and put it out there. It sounds pathetic, but it works. They’ve easily made billions (with a B) off of this plan. This has become the norm, to the point where I’m legitimately surprised at how many networks have shows revolving around musical acts. Channels like Nickelodeon have wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon.

I mean seriously, lets run down the “memorable” ones: Hilary Duff, her sister, The Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, Miranda Cosgrove, Miley Cyrus… At this point I lose count. I'm amazed to say that some of these acts are just so generic that they make the boybands look like Zep by comparison.

Also, I blame this “anyone can sing” trend for being the cause of people like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian suddenly deciding to put out songs or whole albums. This whole “so easy a caveman can do it” attitude is killing music faster than the internet.
"Oh yeah, my first single drops on iTunes next week."
Speaking of the internet. If we need proof that this phenomenon has reached an all time low, you need look no further than Rebecca Black. The fact that this little girl became such a viral hit dumbfounds me. The fact that she's such a (and I use this term as loosely as possible) hit proves that we have decided to reward the shitty with some sort of fame, and that seems totally ridiculous, at least to me.

I remember the days where mainstream music was actually decided by people above the age of fourteen. You needed to at least be slightly edgy to be recognized. When I bought my copy of Enema Of The State I did it not only because the album is awesome (STFU it is and you know it!), but because it felt cool, everyone who was older and cooler than me was listening to it, and of course, it grew on me.
Poop jokes and porn stars. Those were the days.
Then again, I might just blame that douche Simon Cowell for making American Idol, a show that in ten seasons has made one legit star. The fans seem blind to it, but in all honesty, has anyone other than Kelly Clarkson (not counting that other douche Ryan Seacrest) ever done anything significant after being in a black hole of a television show.

Okay, back on subject... What’s going on with youth today? And even worse… What’s up with teenagers? And seriously… People my age, listening to Justin Bieber, watching Hannah Montana… What the fuck is wrong with you people!? It makes no sense. Since when is music for infants hip? (did I just write the word hip?)

I’m just saying… If music needs a whole daily half hour on TV to advertise… It’s probably not that good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

FF History Month: The Red-Headed Stepchild of the Series (FF2)

So, onwards with this task born entirely out of self-loathing for myself and my social life. Final Fantasy 2. What can I say about you? Well, for starters, I will throw you a frickin' bone and not call you the worst of the old-school FFs, although you certainly are odd and hard to deal with. You were fun to play, but ultimately, you still ended up dead last in my list for a bunch of reasons which I will enumerate below. So, without further ado, I give you Final Fantasy 2: The Review.
Obviously, Emperor Mateus used to be a part of Twisted Sister.
I'm not touching the graphics issue. We're already agreed that the original was mindblowing for its time, etc., etc. Here's the damn screencaps:
Before selling out.

After selling out.

So, sound. Well, actually, I'd have to say that this is the Final Fantasy that impressed me the least music-wise. I mean, the tracks were appropriately generic as in Final Fantasy, but somehow they lacked the catchiness of their predecessors. I litterally cannot, for the life of me remember one single piece of the score for the game. Not the field music or the battle music. Nothing. I won't say it was bad, but if you can't even make the tunes catchy, then you're clearly not trying hard enough. I give the music a C-. For effort.

Now, on to the juicy bits of this game, and the reason why it's considered the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. Well, the old-school ones at least, FFXII gets that particular honor among the recent 3D ones. As per usual, the bulk of the game is spent walking from point A to point B trying to stop whatever calamity will happen next from befalling the next town. As you walk, you kill monsters, and these monsters are battled in good, old-fashioned, turn-based combat. Now, here's where the formula gets switched up. Instead of having the traditional level up system where you kill monsters for experience, you go through a process which is called 'stat grinding'. Stat grinding, as the name implies, is the act of performing a particular action, say, defending, over and over to increase the stat that directly correlates with said action. Naturally, this made powering up your characters a lot easier, thanks to the fact that all characters had the ability to dual-wield anything, including shields. So basically, all you had to do was spend two to three hours maxing out your defense/evasion stat and casually strolling through the rest of the game as all the enemies in the game struggled to score a hit against you. Unfortunately, this had the side-effect of people criticizing the game because it was very easy to beef up your characters to godly levels and therefore taking all the challenge and fun out of the game. On gameplay, this one scores a solid 'A' for innovation. Also, it's fun to be overpowered. Screw all of you 'challenge gamers'.
Here's some Amano art to make this more colorful.

Finally, the part that makes or breaks an RPG for me, the story. I am... Not very impressed by it. It is like a plot taken straight out of a shonen anime. Now, it's not terrible. It's just very predictable most of the time, and really, quite a few of the plot twists that are supposed to shock you just fail to do so (I'm looking at you, Leon). In a nutshell, you play as Firion(el), Maria, and Guy; three friends who are on the run from the Palamecian Empire and embark on a quest to prevent it from expanding all across the globe. Along the way, you make new friends, lose some old ones, lose some of the new ones and pretty much just run from one town to the next just in time to see the Empire blow shit up magnificently. I don't mind the characters, because overall, they're pretty down-to-earth. No rousing speeches, no silly team pep talk (well, almost), just three kids trying their hardest to stop a madman hell-bent on conquering the world. My only true complaint, character-wise, is The Emperor. This is a guy who people keep building up for you throughout the whole game, and when you finally get to fight him, he's a pushover. And if you're well prepared, he's still a pushover in the final battle. But hey, at least he's VERY hammy, which makes his very few lines quite entertaining to read. My main gripe with the story, as I said earlier, is its predictability and just all-around failure to successfully impress you during the big moments. Naturally, this is still the second of a long line of FFs, but I still feel that a tad more effort could have been put into making the script work. I think the problem with this one, is that a lot of the backstory was presented in a tie-in novel which, really, no-one these days will be able to acquire, or be arsed to read, for that matter. The story lands itself a 'B-', because there are still some damn good moments in that game.

So, overall, this is a game which tried to innovate, but went too far and got struck down. In other words, the least interesting of the Final Fantasies. While certainly the lowest on my list, it is by no means a bad game. Good for playing over a long, lazy weekend.

Fefi's Personal Score: 7/10
'Fair' Score: 6/10 (More like a 6.5, but decimals are a no-no here)
A more 'modernized' version of The Emperor for Dissidia. Sadly, still rocking the hair metal look.
Next time, it's my (longer) review of FFIV, because my copy of III got busted and I only recently got my hands on a new one.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Winter is coming... indeed! Season 1

Game of Thrones

I have to admit from the get go that I am a huge fan of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series of which A Game of Thrones is the first book. Also, I'm a huge fan of Sean Bean and think he should be in a lot more movies that he usually is. So, with that in mind, let's get on with this.

Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy series not a lot unlike what Lord of the Rings was. The one important thing that separates this from Jackson's trilogy is that there is no elves and no dwarves or orcs or any of that. Sure, there are some supernatural elements like the Others, but this season in particular deals with the very human challenge and intrigue of a world filled with factions and wars. The political intrigue was as good as any ever imagined in Foggy Bottom.

Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) is the Warden of the North, a kind although sometimes cold and distant man who helped the current king Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) take the throne from the crazy king that came before them. Baratheon though is one of those men that relished the chase more than the actual throne. He is married to Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady), the daughter of the most rich family in the Seven Kingdoms. You know what, I won't even try to explain the plot because this is a complex series and I wouldn't be able to do it justice.

The important thing is that HBO (as expected) went all out to make this series a hit and it worked. The tension between the feuding families is apparent, the backstabbing, the secrets, the difference between being an honorable man and sneaking to get what you want. You do certainly get a sense of the difference between the cold people of Winterfell and those from the south. The series mostly touches the tribulations the Stark family goes through in order to do what is right. Eddard, Bran, Robb, Jon and even Arya get the spotlight shone on them. We all know that Bean, Heady and most of the cast are talented actors, but this wouldn't have worked if the kids weren't pretty good as well.

There is also a parallel storyline that deals with Daenerys Targaryen, the sister of the 'heir' of the throne of the Seven Kingdoms that escaped when Baratheon took the throne. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the series and while most of the characters have some kind of development, it is obvious that this is the important one to see. Daenerys is an intriguing character.

The fight scenes, the cinematography, everything about it feels right. I don't think I can make this series justice while writing this. HBO was the perfect channel to show this series in. All I can say is watch it. I'd understand if you don't like it since its fantasy and a lot of people don't like that kind of thing, but this series is just damn good.

9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Request: Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda became a pretty big hit for DreamWorks back in 2008. It was a fun little movie with some really nice martial arts and a likable main character voiced by Jack Black. It was one of the few times that I've seen a panda used as a main characters in a movie and it works. People love pandas... maybe a little bit too much since we are always worried about their sex life. But I digress, Po is a character that people initially liked because he was always out of his element and still managed to do whatever he sets out to do. Whether it is becoming one of the Furious Five as the legendary Dragon Warrior or being able to live up to his master Sifu's expectations. He is basically the perennial normal good guy that ends up saving everyone. I felt that this sequel lost some of the charm that made the first one so much fun.

I have a big gripe with this one more than the last one, but it applies to both movies. Po is supposed to be part of a team. We hardly get anything from his team other than Tigress (Angelina Jolie). Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Lui, David Cross and even Dustin Hoffman (my favorite character in the first movie) are hardly in this damn thing. Shen (Gary Oldman) is, to me, a weak antagonist. Sure, he has done some terrible things and all of that jazz, but Tai Lung was a better bad ass. A peacock is not very scary. By the way, talking about misuse of characters... Master Ox and Master Croc are the biggest pussies I've ever seen. Criminally misused.

"I might look cool, but my kung fu is weak."

Now, I have to give props where props are due. The first fight scene at the music place was one of the most entertaining and creative martial arts scenes I have seen in a long time. The music playing hand on hand with the fight. Every time a blow hit, it would become part of the music. It is really something to see. The last "fight" scene with Po and the fireworks is also really good. The visuals throughout this movie were fantastic.

I thought the plot was mostly good. The idea of the old versus the new, industry versus the classical way of doing things, technology versus culture was very well done. The fear for the old ways and the ways of kung fu are really felt by the watcher as you see the carnage that Shen's weapon unleashes. The biggest problem I had with it though is that a cannon is not very useful when you are fighting against one agile martial artist. For a battle against a bunch of people, then fine. This sort of reminded me of the final battle in The Last Samurai where the samurai that are left ride against the mini-gun.

My biggest gripe with the film was the whole Po back story angle. In the first movie it was funny that a goose had a panda as a son. The fact that he was adopted and all of that wasn't touched on that I remember. This time they attach this lame and cliched 'your parents were killed by the bad guy because of a prophecy' crap that we have seen in a million other movies and discover when they first have the nightmare. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to put it together, but they drag this on forever. They could have done something more creative and not wasted so much time on this. What happened was that the main story was sort of lost in the shuffle and characters never develop. Might as well call his team Furious Five Member #3 and so forth. Tigress is the only one that gets some development but only for like 5 seconds.

At the end of the day, this is a fun although darker (why is it that everything has to be darker all the time??) sequel which has some of the charm but never fully realizes its potential. The martial arts are awesome and there are some really cool scenes, but the lack of any character development (even for Shen) except for Po really hurts this film. Is it a bad movie? Not by any means. It's just not that great.

6 out of 10

July is Final Fantasy History Month. Yes, I did just make it up.

So, due to unfortunate circumstances, I have been stuck in my house for the whole summer. On the one hand, boo for me. On the other, it has given me plenty time to appreciate all these video games I have at my disposal. Being the huge RPG nerd that I am, I decided to play through the first 6 Final Fantasies and see how they stacked up nowadays.

First up: Final Fantasy, the one that started it all.

Hold on to your long-johns, we're about to get retro up in this bitch.

I decided to play the updated PSP version, since the original had a horrible five cast limit per spell level, and that shit don't roll with me.

First up, the graphics. Naturally, the original graphics would not stack up very well nowadays, but back then, this was pretty damn cool:
Mind blowing.
And now, for the latest, and what I presume will be the last update, they look like this:
So, for what essentially set the ground for every other JRPG out there, the graphics are a-okay.

Next up is the music. It's naturally nothing too fancy, just your usual string orchestra crap which I must admit, is quite catchy when you get lost on the map and have no damn clue where to go next. The game also comes with the bonus dungeons that have bosses from the other final fantasies and their theme music also gets a nice tech bump, which makes these bonus battles all the more exciting (Gilgamesh, anyone?). So the music is par for the course in a FF game, fun and fitting, but ultimately forgettable unless you're a fanboy (like me!).

Gameplay-wise, the game follows the standard turn-based combat format. The higher your characters' speed stats are, the better your chances are of striking first and ending the battle without any major casualties. The magic system uses the more recent MP, uh, system instead of the original 'five casts per day' limit, which you had to use an inn or a tent to refill. This came as a big relief, since I like to cast the big, flashy spells on the grounds that they look fabulous and awesome. But as far as strategy goes, you can just make a team of physical attackers and just punch through the game in a heartbeat. Alternatively, you could take up the four white mage challenge and have fun until you reach the final boss, which is easily defeated by this setup. Naturally, game progression is as cryptic as can be, since there is no quest log or anything to remind you of where to go next unless you speak to every NPC to get vague hints, but I suppose that's half the fun of playing this game.
All in all, if you're not in the mood for this game, the gameplay can get to be a tad frustrating, so I can only say the fun that is had depends on the person playing it, but I'd give it a solid C+ considering it's a 20+ year-old game.

And finally, there's the 'story'. Technically, it has one, but since you have to piece it together from your tasks and whatever the NPCs tell you, it can be hard to make out. I'm not even going to say it's a spoiler, since it's such an effing old game. You start out accepting a quest to rescue a princess from a rogue knight, Garland, and eventually end up protecting the world from dying thanks to the work of the Four Fiends of Chaos, which are destroying the crystals that control the elements of the earth. After much hard work, you go back 2,000 years in the past to defeat... and this is what I consider to be quite the surprising plot twist, back when it was released, anyway... Garland! It appears he was summoned back to the past by the very Fiends you had destroyed earlier when you first defeated him and had trapped the heroes in an endless time loop and it is  up to you to end it by defeating him. Final battle happens, the loop is broken and all your hard work disappears, since technically, none of the previous events ever happened. Messed up shit, if you ask me.

So, my final verdict is the following: It's a game that is over 20 years old and is very fun to play on the go, hence all the mobile remakes. With all the little touch-ups it has received, it is more than bearable to play in this day and age. For the casual, non RPG hating, gamer, this means that it could be played and beaten with no major problems. For the RPG lover, it has more than enough bonus dungeons and difficult bosses to keep you entertained for the few days it'd take you to beat it. For the Final Fantasy fan, just get it, if you didn't already have it.
The Warrior of Light compels you to play this game.

Fefi's Personal Score: 8/10 (Actually, I love the damn thing)
Reasonable Score: 7/10

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

::REVIEW:: Torchwood: Miracle Day - Episode 1: The New World

I have a confession to make: I've never been a huge fan of Torchwood.

In fact, during my initial viewing of the previous 5-year run of Doctor Who under the guiding hands of former show-runner Russell T. Davies, my only interest in its spin-off series has been marginal, at best, having only watched a handful of episodes without much care.

Then, last year, as anticipation on anything Who-related mounted drastically with the release of the Series 5 Blu-Ray set and the coming Christmas Day Special, A Christmas Carol, was nearing its air-date, I found one curious, little tidbit of news that caught my attention: Torchwood was moving to Starz in 2011 with a new surname attached to it, Miracle Day, and a seemingly simple hook: one day, every person on Earth becomes incapable of dying. "Death is not an option."

Throughout filming I kept up with the production sporadically and soon, as the premiere got closer and closer, my interest began to pique. So last week, I decided to watch the preceding 5-part Series, Children of Earth, and it made me lose my entire faith in humankind as I fell head-over-heels for a show brimming with outstanding moral quandaries and ideas about the human race and the darkness that lies within all of us.

Needless to say, I was ready for Miracle Day. So how did it stack up in the end?


The show starts two years after the events of Children of Earth and the silent war with The 4-5-6. The Torchwood Institute is now nothing more than a myth; its ruins less than relics of a simpler, less complex time. Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood's last commanding officer and an immortal from the 51st Century (played to perfection by the incredibly talented John Barrowman), is on a self-imposed exile from Earth after committing an unspeakably cruel and unforgivable act in order to save the planet from The 4-5-6. And Gwen Cooper, a former cop and Jack's second-in-command (played by the beautifully intense Eve Myles), is living in hiding with her husband Rhys and baby daughter Anwen, after the members of the institute were marked for death by the British government.

This is all you need to know prior to the beginning of Miracle Day regarding the characters and the first episode, aptly titled The New World, (three guesses as to where it's filmed) does a fantastic job of setting up the pieces across the board while building up the premise of a World without Death at a brisk and flashy pace. By the end of the first episode, the full implications of such a premise are laid plainly for our consideration and we're left salivating for the next installment.

New characters include Rex Matheson (played with fierce determination by Mekhi Phifer), the CIA's golden-boy, and his friend Esther Drummond (played by the wonderful Alexa Havins), a watch-analyst for the agency, who both get involved with Torchwood through circumstances beyond their control, yet it never seems like their integration feels forced. In fact, I was surprised by how well the script by RTD brought them all together and how truly genuine the chemistry felt between all of the actors.

And that, for me, is the most crucial element: the script.

I'm not a big fan of Russell's tenure as Doctor Who head-writer. His only three episodes I genuinely love are The Parting of the Ways, Midnight and The Waters of Mars (which he co-wrote with Phil Ford and won, deservedly so, the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form). Out of 30 or so episodes he wrote from 2005 to 2009, these three are the créme-de-la-créme. The darkest, most vicious stories you're likely to find in a family show going on 48 years strong now, in which the eponymous hero faces his own potential for evil and how his very existence influences the lives of those around him and turns them into weapons, for good or ill. Powerful, thought-provoking storytelling befitting a more adult show, yet perfectly at home in the family-friendly world of The Doctor, The Oncoming Storm.

Which is why Davies shines all the more in Torchwood. Here he can cut lose and be as free as he wants with his vision. And what a brilliantly malicious and ambiguous vision it is! Russell excels in highlighting the worst attributes of the human spirit. His characters are highly flawed individuals who strive to be better with every breath they take. His stories are metaphors of the worst that is within us and how we, as human beings are prone to do, can easily do wrong, even when trying to do the right thing. A more cynical person would merely describe him as a nihilist, yet underneath that darkness, lies hope in that we strive to better ourselves for the sake of our future.

If the first episode of Miracle Day is any indication, we're in for a very special treat that doesn't come along very often in television.

I can't recommend this series enough.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - A(nother) Review

I don't know where to really begin.

Maybe it's the fact that I hold a special place in my heart for "nigh-unwatchable" crap, hence my unadulterated love for Power Rangers: The Movie, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros. and Batman and Robin (of which I remain unflinching in my conviction that it's the better one of the first four films). Maybe the movie just caught me at a particular point in time when my brain and all its sensibilities simply decided to skip town altogether and went off to have a torrid romance without me knowing about it. Maybe I was just looking for something dumb to keep my mind occupied after being bombarded consecutively with ideas and premises impossible to ignore from other media (Torchwood, I'm looking especially at you, you bastard). Or maybe it really was a fun movie.

Either way, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

It was ridiculous, childish, predictable, drawn-out, incredibly immature, somewhat misogynistic and it clearly wasn't shy about its total lack of character development. It's Michael Bay. It's pure Michael Bay. It's everything we've come to know, and sometimes even love, from him and he didn't disappoint by "phoning in" his performance. The man delivered on the expectations placed on his shoulders with aplomb and I commend him for it.

We knew exactly what we were getting with this movie whether we liked it or not, so I decided to leave my brain at the door and just go with it.

Truth be told, and since I'm well-aware how close to blasphemy this might come off as, I'm choosing my words very carefully, I had more fun watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon than I did during the entirety of X-Men: First Class.

Now, don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved that film. My unabashed love and adulation for Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender notwithstanding, I considered X-Men to be a very thought-provoking, fun, character-driven drama disguised as a 60's Cold-War spy thriller for ambience (i.e. Ian Flemming on crack). It is, by all accounts and considerations, my favorite movie of the Summer, so far (still waiting if Captain America will be the one that clinches it).

Yet, as much fun as it was, Transformers had absolutely no expectations of me as an audience member, and I had none for it as well. The movie went by in a breeze and while I do attest to the length of the final act to be overblown, it didn't bother me. All I cared at that moment was that I was laughing hysterically at every turn, the action sequences were much easier to follow than in the previous two films and that Leonard Nimoy got to pander to his Trekkie audience by spouting that one classic line of his from The Wrath of Khan (if you've seen that one, you'll know it's coming here because the screenwriters telegraphed it from a mile away).

My one, true gripe is the very end of the film. If this is supposed to be the end of this trilogy (though I highly doubt we've seen the last of this highly-profitable franchise), I wished more effort was put into their send-off. Instead of a few more minutes of little character moments so the audience can wave at them as they sail off into the sunset, the film ends almost as soon as the action ends. Optimus Prime gets to speechify a little like it's become tradition for the past two films but you almost get the feeling Master Bay originally wanted to end it with a bang and had to settle for a whimper. So, might as well make it a very short whimper.

Regardless, for there to be genuine character arc resolutions, I'm assuming that, at least, the characters have to be more than plain caricatures. Unfortunately, we don't have anything resembling more than just that in this film. Fortunately, that's exactly why it works.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the very best-looking and loudest B-Movie you're likely to find anywhere on the market. The film looks fantastic, but it's dumber than every single plot of CSI: Miami put together. And I respect Bay for not even bothering to pretend to do otherwise.

I'd never buy it, and I'm sure I'm unlikely to watch it again, but I do recommend it. It's two-and-a-half solid hours of dumb fun. Leave your intellect at the door and enjoy the ride.

If you take a piece of shit, and make it large scale, it's just a large piece of shit: The Transformers 3 Review

I'm going to warn you, this review might contain more than my usual amount of profanity. You see, some people seem to enjoy saying "I told you so." But me, I'm the total opposite. It pisses me off when people don't listen to reason, and the fact that I warned them just irritates me, because I was right the whole time.

That said... I fucking told you so!

Before I even begin, I need to point out that I found the first Transformers movie watchable. I mean, it was way overhyped, but even if it lacked character development at least the story was bearable the ending felt true to what I grew up watching.

Now (and this might sting a bit), the second movie is without a doubt in my top five pieces of shit I actually paid to see. First of all, it suffers from the worst case of what I like to call "Jar Jar Binks Syndrome" I've ever seen. There are almost as many comic relief characters in the movie than there are regular characters. And I'm not even going to go into robots with balls.

I'm saying next to nothing with this statement, but Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is a better movie than Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, if only because of the fewer Jar Jars, the slightly improved story and the better villain. But right there is probably my main problem with the two sequels; Megatron is and will forever be the main villain in Transformers, but in these two sequels he becomes nothing but a side character who enables the arrival of some "bigger threat" to the Autobots. He can't just be a side character, Megatron is supposed to at least be on equal footing as Optimus, he can't just get his ass handed to him every movie.

But not only is Megatron downgraded to a side character, but we get stuck with a whole bunch of generic gray and silver robots that are never even developed as characters. That's a huge problem. Look at it this way, the Trannies, much like G.I. Joe at the same time, were team based cartoons. We had the Autobots and the Decepticons, just like we had the Joes and Cobra. In both cases each member of each team was a genuine character, not just an extra standing around waiting to get killed off, and that's why it meant so much when one of them actually got killed off. You would never see Corporal John Smith fighting next to Duke and Snake Eyes, because he doesn't belong there. I'm just saying, if they spent more time elaborating other robot characters instead of focusing on Shia LePoop's relationship problems, his parents, his job hunt, his crappy car, and his gripes with the government we might actually care when a robot gets shot like we did with the cartoon.

Sometimes these extra bots get so generic it's hard to tell when they're good guys or bad guys. There's this one specific scene where four robots come off two buildings into an intersection and one of them yells "Well I guess we have ourselves a Mexican standoff", the only problem is you can't tell which ones are the good guys until we zoom in on their faces. Obviously the Decepticons are the ones with sharp teeth. Duh!

Then again, it is Michael Bay, a director who isn't really known for being subtle. But in this movie he just really takes that to new heights. It's like he really thinks his viewers are that dumb. Lets give an example: Rosie Huntington who plays the new girl who's name really doesn't matter gets a car from her boss, played by McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy (who pretends not to be a villain for the whole movie but everyone knows he is). Funny part is that when she gets the car, not only do we see it's a shiny new Mercedes, but LePoop proceeds to Google it, show us the website, recite the full name of the model (Mercedes SLS AMG 4500), we then stare at the damn thing for about five minutes, and then he starts a fight with the girl about it. Just saying, this is the mother of all product placements
Could it be?
Now, Mr. Bay, after this much build up for product placement, do you really expect me not to believe this thing is a fucking robot in disguise? If you guessed no, you probably loved this movie.

But like most action movies, it hinges on the final battle scene. It's just that in this case it's the most drawn out thing ever. I honestly thought the movie was almost over as they headed into Chicago, boy was I dead wrong. That "Chicago destruction scene" has been the selling point of the movie since the hype machine began in January. Except in this case it isn't much of a battle, we just get Shia and a bunch of army dudes running around like ants being chased by the magnifying glass.

With buildings collapsing and just mass destruction the best thing I could compare this sequence to was that city part in Uncharted 2 for the PS3. Except that Trannies does wrong what Uncharted does right. You see, Drake and his companions are likable characters, and when they're in a collapsing building you genuinely get nervous for their safety - meanwhile, by this point in the movie you're so tired and annoyed by these characters that you almost wish that a building would fall on them so you could just get up  and leave.

And there's my main point. Uncharted takes these characters that you like and care about and puts them in these larger than life, dangerous situations. But it's not the situations that get you into the story, it's the characters. Sure explosions and pretty effects help, but they won't do much if you're wishing death on the protagonists every time they're in danger. Putting things on a grand scale is fun when done right...

Remember the original Transformers Movie, the animated one with "Weird" Al Yankovic in the soundtrack? Well, Optimus Prime gets killed in the first twenty minutes of that children's cartoon. And honestly, that death overshadows everything done in this current franchise because it was well written and the characters mattered.

Trannies 3 isn't a horrible film. I really expected it to be much worse. It might just be me yearning for nostalgia, but I just can't help but think that with the direction of these movies they will never compare to the depth of some of the animated versions (not just the original). My advice that no one will listen to: Dump most of the human characters, the animated versions had one or two at most. Concentrate on what's in the title. The fucking robots.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 1 Review

When I first saw a poster for the series The Walking Dead, I was skeptical. A television series with zombies? It sounded weird to say it out loud. Movies like Dawn of the Dead (original and remake), 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead had already made zombies cool. People have been enjoying zombies in book and graphic novel form as well. Television just didn't feel like the right medium for zombies because the makers would never be able to have the same freedoms as the other mediums. Basically put, how can you make a good zombie series without some incredibly nice gore?

In comes AMC. The channel has gotten a lot of press in the last few years with series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Apparently they told the makers of this series that they could do whatever they needed to do to make this a hit and the result is pretty amazing. Now, the show is based on a graphic novel of the same name written by Robert Kirkman, that I have never read. After checking some of it out, it seems to me like the show was pretty much loyal to the original story but also taking some interesting liberties that make the transition from graphic novel to television show better.

The characters are pretty damn similar for the most part.

One of the interesting pieces in this series to me was creator and director of the pilot Frank Darabont. He took this graphic novel and turned it into a viable, tense and incredibly well done series . The pilot he directed is almost a movie in a of itself and it will hook anyone who watches it. The main characters Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane Walsh (John Bernthal) are established and they are likable everyday people. There are a couple of scenes that Darabont really makes shine and those are the first time Lincoln wakes up and is staring at the barricaded door where the zombie hand reaches out and the scene at the end of the pilot when Lincoln walks through the park and eventually finds and shoots a zombie torso that had tried to attack him earlier in the episode. There is something about the camera work that makes this series shine. What else can we expect from the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile? This guys knows drama and horror.

There are only 6 episodes on this season, but they are all pretty damn good. An episode like "Guts" is surprising to see on tv. The rest of the cast work well with each other. There are various interesting side stories, but the main story will always be finding a way to survive. You can tell when its a good zombie movie when you don't know if the title refers to the zombies or the surviving humans.

Zombies have always been metaphors for humanity at their basest most reptilian forms. This series does a great job not only with some top notch directing but with a good cast, a great script and some really good special effects. Really high recommendation. Watch this unless you are squeamish.

9 out of 10