Thursday, October 25, 2012

Prometheus (2012) dir Ridley Scott

Achtung!  Spoilers!

The long and short?  If it hadn't been an addition to the Alien mythos it still would have been a very well polished but ultimately lacklustre plug-and-play sci-fi movie (that would have been compared to Alien anyway).  Now before you start jumping up and down and getting your internet panties in a wad, take a breath, maybe go get some sunlight and fresh air, and come back to this review.

Prometheus was not a movie I was expecting much at all from and from the opening credits I was intrigued and pleasantly surprised.  It's a stunning piece of science fiction and as a ship geek I thought the craft was stellar.  The set design and awesomely awesome technology sold me the instant I saw it.  David (Michael Fassbinder) drifting alone through the ship, educating himself, emulating O'Toole's T.E. Lawrence, and keeping watch over the human passengers was a solid hook for me (and personally I could have watched a movie solely about the development and journey of self-awareness of an artificial human in such an environment).  The sections of the film centered around David were the most engaging for me (then again I'm fascinated by A.I. , cybernetics, and all that shit).

Even when the humans began to emerge from cryo-sleep and I tried my best not to immediately tick off the boxes in my head of stereotypes and play "oh look it's..." the movie still kept me engaged.  Okay, star map to our creators left...blah blah blah gotcha "Is this gonna be a stand up fight, Sir?  Or another bug hunt?"  Let's get this shit moving.

Humans and David arrive at the planet of the creators (oh look a LV planet - *cough* hint *cough*) and they go into an alien structure and begin exploring.  Okay, so far so good.  Still engaged and then there's an incoming storm!  Back to the ship!  But wait - what happened to the comic relief duo?  Oh they got left behind!  There's a ping!  Oh noes.  And then the movie just kind of lost me.

Frankly, it was a combo platter of pseudo-intellectual sci-fi hibbety-jibbety with "thinly" veiled allusions to modern societal woes, vaguely nonsensical monsters (yeah, mutagenic properties, gotcha) which - for me completely take the horror and appeal out of the Xenomorphs, and there's a bunch of crap about characters with barely any development oh and then they get offed so I didn't need to worry about them anyway.  Then there's the self-sacrifice and some drivel about holding the creators accountable.  The end.  Oh wait, chest burster.

I realize I'm being snarky but the second half just lost me and yanked me back into reality.  During the second section I kept thinking, "What?" or "But..." and then got some Gummi Bears and looked at the pretty pictures.  It was as if the movie wanted to be Solaris-y but then also had to be part of the Alien series (or failing that a horror-y sci-fi flick) and had to do some mental gymnastics to make it all work. 

After watching it I thought about it and then watched a documentary about something immemorable and went to bed.  I thought about Prometheus over the course of the day before sitting down to write this.  I have decided to look at it as if it were not part of the Alien series and instead look at it like a sci-fi movie done by one the genre's best directors and two writers, Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof (Spaights' first major script and Lindehof wrote for Lost - a show I found insufferable).

Again, first half pretty awesome and then second half falls apart through a lack of character development (Charlize Theron was wasted in this movie and I think she's one hell of an actress but she had nothing to work with), vaguely sketched out the aliens created us in their image but made mutagenic "weapons of mass destruction" (no seriously, the Captain says, "Weapons of mass destruction". I shit you not.  When he said that, I said, "Oh for fuck's sake." and went to take a piss without pausing the movie) to eradicate us because...uh...wait...a friend sent me this link which kind of sums up how I feel: Enchanted Mitten.

And then the aliens, mutated worm thingies, whatever...something something...we've got to hold someone accountable...

I keep thinking of recent sci-fi movies that really worked for me (off the top of my head): District 9, Sunshine, Children of Men, A.I., Chroncile, hell I even liked the remake of Solaris (though I need to watch it again since I was kind of drunk).  Prometheus doesn't work as well as those do, which is kind of sad because I really wanted to like it.  Come to think of it, I feel the same way as I did about Inception (though Inception was a better movie despite all the dream jive that had been dealt with in Satoshi Kon's films - that's a whole nother can of worms).  Great concept, visually stunning, undercut by shoddy writing and a pretention that it's offering a lot more than it really is (which smacks of laziness and bullshit in college papers).

I have to get this off my chest:

Alien fucking rules.  You wanna see a horror space flick the way it's supposed to be done?  Watch that again.  I've heard it called boring.  Yeah, that's character development and pacing and setting (important elements of making a great film).  Claustrophobia, fear of the unknown (on a myriad of levels), madness, and a tension that ratchets up to 11, a space ship that looks like it's a living thing and not just some shiny Starfleet plastic boat.  Robble robble robble.  Gripe gripe gripe.  Plus the Xenomorph was actually scary, some ancient sentient gribblie instead of some stupid ass "weapon of mass destruction".  Okay, I'll take my medication now and get back to sittin in my rocker. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Raven (2012) dir James McTeigue

One of my horror movie buddies and I watched this about two weeks ago and we were both kind of surprised.  At the end of it we both said, "Huh, that was a lot better than I expected."

Hell of a way to start a review, right?  I guess I have developed a sort of mentality (flawed, I admit) in this age viral marketing, glancing at metacritic reviews, and only allowing myself to see one trailer for a movie in which I feel I've got a pretty good handle on a movie before I sit down to watch it.  Frankly, this is a shame because it's rare for me to be surprised by movies or my expectations are such that I don't really give a movie the viewing it deserves (for example my first viewing of The Innkeepers wasn't glowing but after a second viewing I enjoyed it a lot more - though it's still not as top shelf as House of the Devil).

I figured The Raven was going to be a period piece thriller with John Cusack being John Cusack and put it on the back burner of my faulty memory until I saw it for rent and figured, "Meh, why not?"

It's actually pretty good.  I wasn't blown away but I was actively engaged (considering some movies I've seen recently that's pretty fucking important) and there were a couple of moments of real suspense.  Cusack is one of those actors who I have a hard time forgetting that I'm watching Cusack but his performance was such that I got caught up in the story and action and forgot that I was watching Cusack (if this sounds absurd think of how many movies you've seen Johnny Depp in and there's no suspension of disbelief because it's always Johnny Depp.  You're often conscious of the actor and not the role they are playing).

There really aren't any flaws to The Raven - except that it suffers from the "too dark" thing some movies have these days.  To clarify, maybe it's the HD factor but it seems like a lot of movies - particularly period pieces are just shot in the Fincher school.  Darkness and shadow are key elements of suspense/horror/thriller etc but there seems to be a lack of richness and depth to the darkness.  For example, Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) is drenched in shadow but you never find yourself squinting at the screen.  Neil Marshall's The Descent (2005) takes place in a realm of total darkness but he creates a deep sense of claustrophobia and fragility of humanity with his use of negative space.  The Raven is just a dark movie.

Cinematography nitpick aside, it's a solid weekday evening movie.  There are thrills and chills and yeah the plot twist isn't that shocking but it's worth watching (it's a fuckload better than From Hell).

Oh, another nit pick - completely inconsequential - the end credits are completely incongruous from the rest of the movie.  Seriously.  While they are really sharp, if they were played at the beginning of the movie you'd think the movie was about Edgar Allan Poe as "The Raven" a Victorian superhero who battled supernatural baddies by night and wrote about them by day.  Actually, that'd  be kind of cool.  Well, cooler than this Abe Lincoln fighting vampires bullshit.  Ha!  Just had an image in my head of Poe growling "Nevermore" before cold cocking some goon.*

*If I see this in a movie or on the internet in the next few months I expect full credit.

Excision (2012) dir Richard Bates, Jr.

Every so often I watch horror movie that actually kinds of weirds/creeps me out and in a good way (e.g. Brett Leonard's Feed and Lucky McKee's The Woman).  Then there are others that weird and creep me out and leave me vaguely disgusted and feeling like I missed the boat because of my gender (Grace and May are prime examples).  Excision falls firmly into this latter category.

Bare bones, it's the story of Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) a highly disturbed young woman (scrofulous private school upperclassman outcast) who comes from an upper middle class Virginian family.  It's a combination [psycho]sexual awakening and descent into madness film that at times is difficult to watch for several reasons.

The primary reason is McCord's portrayal of Pauline reminded me of the feral eponymous woman from McKee's film only with a more sophisticated intellect and Eihi Shiina's Asami Yamazaki in Miike's Audition (1999).  Excision is definitely in the category of ero-guro, which I've become (moderately) less of a fan of over the years.  Pauline is seriously fucking disturbed and despite some mitigating factors which are developed throughout the course of the movie as potential catalysts for her madness I found her to be a fairly unsympathetic character.  If that was the intent of the makers and actress, they certainly succeeded.  I realize that a protagonist does not need to be sympathetic (or even create a sense of empathy) for a film to be "enjoyable".  Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) caused in me a sense of dread and revulsion but I still enjoyed it (though the last time I saw it was when I was into some really bizarre, gruesome, and down right vile movies).

I found myself aligning with the other characters in the movie (casting was really good with cameos from John Waters, Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell).  Traci Lords, Roger Bart, and Ariel Winter (as Pauline's mother, father, and sister respectively) turned out some excellent performances - Lords in particular.  At first Lords comes across as a domineering ball buster of a matriarch but while I still didn't like her I found her to be an empathetic character (even though I wouldn't piss on her if she were on fire).

The second reason is, well, Pauline's sexual fantasies are from the internet school of "Things You Can't Unsee".  Not as bad as some of the truly grotesque diseased mind stuff out there but some of the imagery I'm not going to be able to forget easily.  What makes them worse, in a way, is how well shot and sound-mixed they are.  At one point I thought, "Wow, this is really well done.  That is some fucked up shit."

The third is simply Pauline is hard to look at.  In the horror literature class we've been going over works in which the outward appearance of the villain directly correlates to their inward personality.  Standard stuff for horror fans but instead of being a feral woman or deformed hillbilly it's an upper-middle class young woman. Sure, we've seen the geeky outcast who gets picked on because she's not "attractive" cookie cutter Princess girl but Pauline is just kind of nightmarish in her appearance.  She reminded me of some rode hard and put away wet meth-head lot lizard mug shot.  It's kind of brilliant and kudos to McCord for taking the role (I'm unfamiliar with her TV work and don't remember her in movies like The Haunting of Molly Hartley).  I'm interested in what kind of roles she'll take in the future.

My final reason is, well, I find some horror movies with a female protagonist outside my ken.  I love movies which develop a non-traditional character who is far from the hetero-normatives.  However, with Excision (and the aforementioned Grace), there's just something so bizarrely foreign about the protagonist and their motives that I just suffer from a severe disconnect.  This is probably the same factor which didn't let me get through all of Girl Interrupted.  Though Richard Bates, Jr. wrote and directed the movie, I just had a difficult time getting past my gender bias of, "This bitch is fucking crazy and I hope someone puts her in a padded room stat."

I also realize that I've come to dislike (more accurately feel deep discomfort by) movies with extreme examples of mental disturbance.  Not through personal experience per se but because deep psychosis exists in the real world.  There are rare instances of people (regular folks not Charlie Mansons) of having a total break from reality and committing truly heinous acts against other people.  Excision gives the viewer a glimpse inside the head of a person losing their grip.

Despite what may seem like a negative review, Excision  is a well executed horror movie in every respect and I recommend it strongly to fans of Grace, ero-guro, and the like.  It's one of those movies I'm glad I watched but won't be watching again (much like Hard Candy or Fruit Chan's Dumplings).

If you're looking for something "fun" for the Halloween season look elsewhere.  I also do not recommend it for a social viewing.    

Friday, October 19, 2012

Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty

Gearbox Software has been crafty as all get out with its DLC.  Mechromancer was released a week early with no warning.  The first full DLC Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty was released Tuesday.  I have to admit, I kind of love being caught off guard by surprise DLC - especially when the content is so damn strong.

I jumped into Scarlett at level 21 and over the course of two evenings bopped up to 25.  I'm really quite pleased with the new areas and all they hold.  Like the rest of B2, there's just more of more.  New enemies (a few of which I actively hate - not because of their models or AI but because of how gnarly they are), new challenges, new characters, and - of course - new guns.  One pistol in particular is a beast.  It's not a game breaker but it definitely dishes out the hurt.  I've also developed a fondness for a particular shotgun (though I've been saving most of the good ones I find for my fellow Vault Hunter Amazonbutterfly) which is just a beast when going up against Hyperion bots.

There are a number of new areas I'm particularly fond of - one is more claustrophobic than Lynchwood though it features a multi-tiered playing field (so does Lynchwood but this section is closed in and there's not as much wiggle room in combat).  A refinery section makes for some intense firefights - though I have to admit I use one of my standard tactics of: sprint into the room, spawn everything, sprint back to a bottle neck, and then shoot the fuckin bejeebus out of anything coming into the bottleneck.  I prefer urban/industrial levels in games because they tend to suit my preferred style of play (stealth/sniper combined with fast paced constant movement).  In open areas I tend to get mobbed and pulled down by weight of numbers (more accurately I end up running like hell and hucking AoE (Area of Effect) grenades in my wake.

Scarlett's story is tailor made for loot hounds and treasure junkies.  Basically, there's a shit ton of treasure out there, go find it.  The treasure hunting side missions are solid and enjoyable, though there were one or two moments where I couldn't find the objective and said some very bad words and made my angry thinking face (it's not pretty, I think my lips turn white and my eyes get this Treasure of the Sierra Madre glint).  The loot is pretty fuckin sweet too, as well it should be considering how hard earned some it was.

Gearbox has also included some top-tier level 50 combat (which I am woefully under-powered to tangle with at this point) with an added incentive of the big bads dropping a unique currency which in turn you can buy...I dunno probably something wicked awesome.  It's also suggested in game that these big bads aren't necessarily easy to take down solo.

I am very, very pleased by this first campaign expansion.  Bethesda and Bioware could learn a lot from Gearbox.

A note (or several) on the level 26 Mechromancer:

All of my points are currently in the "Best Friends Forever" tree.  At 31 I'll pick up the top tier skill of "Sharing  is Caring" which grants Deathtrap (the robot) the same shield as Gaige.  Considering some of the shields I have, I'm kind of stoked.  At first I thought this would be overpowered and with a spike shield it certainly will be but I'm wondering what kind of tactical changes I'll have to make.  I've been sitting on choice electrical damage gear in anticipation of building the "Little Big Trouble" tree.  I'm interested in how that'll work considering most of the time I rely on either fire or corrosion.

I've changed my gaming style with this class.  Oddly enough, probably thanks to the large bonuses I accrued through completing challenges, I've become more aggressive.  I'm not ready for Gunzerker but I've become far less static in my solo play style.  What could conceivably be a very boring class to play has turned out to be a hell of a lot of fun.  The Mechromancer is suited for and allows for a faster style of play than I used with the Commando.  It's not because she's squishier and needs to Legolas out the way of danger, she just plays different.  For example, with the Commando I tend to play a defensive/ranged gambit, using a turret in the way I would use a Bishop (supported by Knight).  With Mechromancer it's more of a Queen/Rook combo (with robot as Queen and Gaige as Rook).  With a full complement of grenades (I finally leveled up enough to have access to my favorites I was using with Commando - Homing Slag Cloud Transfusion x6) and a slew of elemental weapons (a particular favorite is a Dahl assault rifle that carried me through my first play through) I can dish out some serious support fire while Deathtrap is getting stuck in.

I've noticed one good thing about Deathtrap and one bad.  The good is, if my health is full, health bonuses from Transfusion grenades go to him.  That's pretty cool.  The bad is that sometimes Deathtrap is fucktarded.  There have been quite a few times I've been ass deep in combat and numbnuts acts like a Sim refusing to sit at the dinner table (thus earning Deathbot the nickname "Dumbfuck").  90% of the time Deathbot is a Cuisinart of destruction, "snikity-snak Wolverine berserker style" but then - particularly when confronted by a high level enemy - 10% of the time he must be listening to Muzak "Girl From Ipanema".  Deathbot is much better suited for dealing with swarms than individual big bads.  Which I guess is cool, unless I'm crawling around desperately plinking at a boss trying to get a Second Wind.

When all is said and done though, I love Dumbfuck.   Not as much as I love my Maliwan shotgun but close enough.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Avengers (2012) Dir. Joss Whedon

I watched The Avengers last night, mostly out of boredom.  While Iron Man (2008) and The Incredible Hulk (2008) were fucking awesome movies (The Incredible Hulk in particular was just top shelf).  Captain America, Iron Man 2, and Thor all kind of sucked and I don't know much about Hawkeye or Black Widow so I wasn't expecting much.  Perhaps if I was a fan/more familiar with The Avengers I'd be more involved in the movie but I ain't so I wasn't*.

The first half bordered on nap time.  There was a dust-up between egomaniacal Thor and Iron Man, which was cool.  I'm not sure if the whole Loki thing is the way the Avengers assembled for the first time in the comic but damn if I don't give a shit about Loki.

The second half was pretty awesome and the action was genuinely satisfying.

I'm not sure why people were pissing their underoos about The Avengers.  At least it was better than Thor.

*I didn't grow up with comics besides stuff like Sgt. Rock and The 'Nam and horror comics.  That being said, I'm not a huge fan of "superheroes" (Batman and the Punisher are okay in my book) and missed out on a lot of comic book nostalgia that probably fuels fandom for dickbags like Thor or Superman.

Borderlands 2: Mechromancer first impressions

Gearbox rolled out their Mechromancer DLC a week early and I nearly peed on myself.

The new character's name is Gaige and her special ability is summoning an ass kicker of a robot.  Unlike Axton's turrets the robot dishes out melee attacks and takes the fight to the enemy.  It's a real beast of a machine that has quite a few upgrades.  Gaige herself has three skill trees: Best Friends Forever, Little Big Trouble, and Ordered Chaos.  Best Friends Forever grants the most bonuses to the robot, Little Big Trouble has some beastly bonuses to element effects for Gaige, and Ordered Chaos is, well I'm not sure, a combo platter of stat boosters combined with a stacking Anarchy bonus that boosts damage but lowers accuracy.  I'm really sure how Ordered Chaos works but it seems like a fast strike skill tree.  I won't use it because it doesn't appeal to my play style.  I'm going for Best Friends Forever and the sweet ass electricity damage bonuses in Little Big Trouble (including electric dmg possibly causing burn damage).

There's been a bunch of press about lead designer John Hemingway's quip that the Mechromancer is "girlfriend mode".  As in, it's an easy class for new/inexperienced players to get into - particularly with some of the skills in the Best Friends Forever skill tree.  On one hand I'm thinking, "Dude, just because a player might be a girlfriend doesn't mean girls are n00bs."  On another (just pretend I have a lot of hands) I'm thinking, "Y'know, yeah calling the Mechromancer 'girlfriend mode' sucks but it's kind of cool to have a character that inexperienced players of any kind can pick up and have fun with."  On another I'm thinking, "Fuck you, Mechromancer is awesome, fun, and my game play experience is only easier this time through is because I dumped all of my old sweet gear Axton picked up - and all the money - into my Mechromancer."  Hell, I spent an entire evening just playing slots and hoarding eridium (and gear) for my new character.  I've also been tearing through the challenges in the areas available to me (thus giving me even greater bonuses to those I racked up with Axton).

While the bonuses, gear, and loot make life easier the Mechromancer skill tree has not diminished the difficulty of the game (True Vault Hunter Mode was brutal with Axton).  At level 13 (even with bonuses and better equipment than I started Axton with) I'm still having to fight tooth and nail with equal and higher level mobs.  Mr. Robot helps but he's not a crutch or game breaker.  Tactically he's a greater benefit than Axton's turrets or the Gunzerker's rage mode (I haven't tinkered with the Siren yet).  He'll kite and just be a general pain in the ass while I hang back and snipe/toss grenades/pop barrels/etc.  I'm a big fan of summoner/resurrection/mind control classes (the Siren has a skill I'm kind of keen on which allows you to turn enemy against enemy) in games.  I firmly believe in flying monkeys and hired goons.  Why expose yourself to unnecessary risk?

Gaige also does well in multiplayer with Assassin - though during that session I was primarily playing her as kite for Goliaths.  I'd be curious to see how she holds her own along with a Gunzerker or Siren.  We shall see.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Borderlands 2 - First playthrough (no spoilers)

Yup, got through my first playthrough with Commando Lvl 34.  Started over again in True Vault Hunter mode.

I have to say that the climax of B2 was far superior to its predecessor.  Truth be told though I'm looking forward to playing through the story again - there were a couple of sections that really shone and by the last third of the game the main story just clomped along to the end.  I knew I would be restarting the game though so that's all good.

For the first playthrough I clocked in roughly three and half days of gameplay with only two incomplete side quests (arena fights).  Probably about half of that time was me just dicking around finishing side quests and challenges.  I still have a mountain of challenges left (mainly finding hidden icons and co-op challenges) so I'll plink around with those until the Mechromancer comes out. 

And that's the long and short.  As always, if anyone wants to get some co-op in, hit me up. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Hole (2009?) dir Joe Dante

Apparently this movie is from 2009 even though I hadn't heard hide nor hair of it since I saw a trailer for it last month and rented it yesterday evening.

That bein' said.

Joe Dante had a massive influence on me as a kid and in my development as sci-fi/horror fan.  Gremlins (1984), and The 'Burbs (1989) are two of my favorite movies of all time (The 'Burbs ranks especially high). I felt that Small Soliders (1998) was a disappointment but I haven't rewatched it since I saw it in the theater.  I was a little disappointed by Dante's "Masters of Horror" releases but then again the "Masters of Horror" series was generally disappointing.  After seeing the trailer for The Hole I have to admit I squeed a little.  It looked like a return to the Dante I grew up on, kind of absurdist, kind of bizarre, twisted humor, and moments of brilliance.

The Hole is a Dante movie and certainly hearkens back to a time when kids could say "dickhead" in a movie meant for kids.  There are some solid creepy moments - I got goosebumps and had to make a conscious effort not to think about them when I went to sleep.  The three young adult actors are solid, I particularly liked the younger brother.  Thematically, it's a cut and dry classic 80s young adult horror film but the way it's handled isn't particularly cheesy.

I need to think of The Hole as a young adult horror movie, not in a nostalgia sense, and in doing so I think I'm appreciating it a lot more.  It doesn't have the "pop" some of the horror/adventure movies I grew up on (The Goonies, Fright Night, Gremlins, Monster Squad), there are moments where the movie felt kind of flat.  The kids' interactions with grown-ups seemed forced (which in retrospect make sense) and one scene which didn't make a whole lot of sense plot wise ended up being a catalyst for a moment of adult honesty which got me a little misty.

The Hole is definitely on my to buy list, not because it's all that great but I think it's a movie a lot of people could appreciate - plus some of the scares are fucking great, prey upon entrenched fears, and teaching kids and grown-ups how to live beyond their fears.  I'd let my kids watch it if they were the age I'd let them watch movies previously mentioned (if I had kids).    

Iron Sky (2012) dir Timo Vuorensola

Dude, Moon Nazis.

I was pretty hyped to see Iron Sky because, well see above.  It's one of those completely absurd bizarro movies that cult statuses all over itself before it even comes out.  The viral campaign was pretty strong but I avoided most of it simply because I didn't want to know much about the movie before seeing it.

Watched it last night and, meh.  It was okay.  The effects and ship design were brilliant.  Technically Iron Sky is fuckin rad.  It was really well shot, edited, and the special effects were fantastic.  Other than that, I didn't bite.  Okay, the ending amused me to no end.

Other than that, eeeeeeeeh *shrug*.  Maybe I didn't "get" the movie or maybe the anti-American sentiment was too ham-fisted or maybe I just don't go for cult movies the way I used to.  I didn't get a whole lot of laughs out of it (though there were one or two moments I chuckled and said, "Okay, that's good.").

All in all, disappointing and over reaching.  The effects and combat are top notch though and worth watching only for those sequences.

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