Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Phantasy Star 2

I bought Phantasy Star 2 the other day... for my iPod Touch. Three dollars got me a pretty much perfect port of one of my all time favorite videogames. I probably wouldn't recommend paying three dollars for a game that originally came out on the Genesis twenty years ago (wow, that made me feel old!), but if you're a fan, well, it's a must buy. It's Phantasy Star 2. That's all you need to know.

Unfortunately, Phantasy Star 2 was way more fun to play on a TV with a controller. The graphics look identical to the original and hold up because event then it was a fantastic looking game with an amazing art design, but it just doesn't feel as fun to use a virtual control pad and buttons on a touch screen. But since there's no getting around that, there's no use complaining about it. I just don't think I could play this version in the same marathon-long sittings I used to do as a kid on my Genesis. It just feels weird and your thumbs get raw. But the game as a whole holds up. It still plays great and is a lot of fun. Phantasy Star 2 had one of the best written, most engaging stories of any RPG, and that transcends control and what console it's told on.
My main complaint, however, is that the sound is a little tinny. Phantasy Star 2 has my favorite soundtrack from any game of all time ever. Only Super Mario Bros 3, Castlevania, and the Final Fantasy games come close. I love the music in this game, and it just sounds a little tinny and somewhat staticy. It is still the same music, it just wasn't ported over perfectly for my ears. But it still has some amazing music, I just wish the audio presentation was of slightly higher quality.

Anyway, if you have an Ipod Touch or an Iphone and loved this game (or just love Japanese style RPGS in general), this is a great port of one of the best games of all time. And if you just want to hear the music, check that out here.

Happy Birthday, Chris Tucker

Happy birthday to my boy Chris Tucker. Chris Tucker is one of the funniest guys who's ever walked the planet and he needs to start making movies again. Seriously, it's been 13 years since he's made a movie that wasn't one of the Rush Hour movies, and it's been 3 years since he's even made one of those! Come back, Chris! The world needs your comedy stylings now more than ever.

Anyway, it's his birthday which makes me happy, if only because I'll take any excuse I can to post this clip:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Casino Royal

I was going to watch the Emmy Awards this evening, until I went through the channels and saw that Casino Royal was on ABC. This is one of those movies that, if it's on, I have to watch. It's simply not up for discussion. Now, I'm not going to give some typical, long-winded, overwritten review of this film. I'm just going to say this: This movie is friggin' awesome and it's on ABC right now. Go watch it.

Survival of the Dead

George A. Romero shouldn't worry about his legacy as a filmmaker. The original Night of the Dead trilogy guaranties that he will go down in history as an icon of the horror genre, and as one of the most beloved and influential filmmakers of all time. Those three films -- Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead -- are absolutely brilliant, enthralling, and as relevant today as they were produced. Along with his zombie films, he made a small handful of other minor masterpieces such as The Crazies, Creepshow, and Martin that would've made him famous even had he never made a single zombie film at all.

Now, I told you all that so I could tell you this: Survival of the Dead sucked.

Day of the Dead, the last film in Romero's original Dead trilogy, came out in 1985. He finally released another sequel ten years later. Land of the Dead was nowhere near as brilliant as the first three films, but it was a worthy successor and well worth watching. It was amazing to finally have another Romero zombie film, and even though it wasn't that great, I still hoped he'd keep making more. But then Diary of the Dead came out two years after that, and it was officially the first bad zombie movie Romero had ever made. It had some neat ideas and some good scares, but it was a huge step back from Land of the Dead in terms of scope and budget, and it just didn't really work on any level. And Survival of the Dead -- which just came out on DVD this week, if it ever even came out in the theater at all -- was even worse. Like I said, this movie sucked.

To begin with, it just wasn't scary. Romero has always been a master of suspense, so it was a real shame to see him put out a film with zero edge, tension, or scares. As bad as Diary was, at least it had some good set pieces and some genuine thrills. This movie just has people talking, then a zombie shows up and somebody shoots it. What's worse is that almost none of the effects are practical effects that look cool. It's all CG that looks bad. When that zombie got its head blown off in Dawn of the Dead, it looked awesome because you knew something actually got blown up. When a zombie's head gets blown up in this movie (in the first ten minutes), it was all bad CG that that just looked pathetic. And the effects from there just got worse and worse. I don't even think they used squibs for most of the bullet wounds. Almost every shot looked like bad CG blood splatter. Sad, considering how important real, practical special effects were to the success of the original trilogy. Get special effects master Tom Savini out of retirement already and make a real zombie movie!

And then we have the story, which was boring, engaging, and went nowhere. It was ostensibly about a Hatfield and McCoy type situation where one family wanted to kill all the zombies on their island while the other family wanted to keep them alive in hopes that a cure might come. Not a terrible plot, and certainly one that coul've been worth exploring, but none of these characters were the least bit likable nor the least bit believable. How could I possibly care about this dilemma, considering how the best thrill from seeing a zombie film is in watching zombies get killed. The film was told from the point of view of a rag tag band of survivors who wandered in to this situation, but they were all unlikable and annoying too. I didn't care about one character in this film nor enjoy anything about it at all.

The best compliment I can pay to this movie was that it wasn't so bad I didn't finish it. But, then again, I'm a George A. Romero fan so I felt a need to stick it through, even though I knew it was a far cry from his best work. Skip it. It sucked.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby

Today would've been Jack Kirby's 93rd birthday. Jack Kirby, in case you are somehow unaware, is almost universally hailed as the greatest and most influential comic book artist who's ever walked the planet. I don't have much else to say about the man, so I'll just post some of his artwork.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Grand Theft Auto IV

This might be the best videogame I've ever played. I don't mean to say this is the most fun game I've ever played, nor that it is my all time favorite. I just mean that, when considering what the producers and designers set out to create, the end result was so phenomenal it has to rank as one of the greatest achievements in the history of gaming. It's just amazing. But it ain't perfect.

If you've already played any GTA game, you'll know what to expect and feel right at home with this fourth installment. But if you've never played one but have played almost any action game released in the past five or six years, you'll still feel right at home, because that's how influential this series has been on the gaming industry. You roam around a giant city, collecting missions and jobs from characters that lead you to other characters with more missions. The fourth GTA game doesn't do much to break this mold, it just does it better than anyone has done it before.

If you loved the earlier GTA games, you'll probably love this, because it looks amazing, controls better, and gives you way more to do (for the most part, but we'll get to that). If you hated the other games, this will do nothing to change your opinion. It's basically the same game just with a lot more polish. If you didn't like the series before now, adding a cover system and the ability to make friends ain't gonna win you over. In fact, the cover system is often more trouble than it's worth, since you can get stuck to walls or pop out in the wrong way, and having friends is more of an annoyance than anything else. After your tenth invitation to go bowling or drinking, you're going to switch your phone off.

But this game is just so much fun and the city in which it takes place is so huge and expansive and alive. Just driving through the city is fun, especially with the revamped physics engine that makes things feel better and more responsive than most full racing games. The physicals are so fully realized, you can see the cars dip lower when you enter one, and some of the most fun can be had by just running in front of a moving car and seeing how far your body goes flying. Also, there are a dozen or so radio stations full of excellent tunes and hilarious talk radio shows. Oh, and there are lots of missions where you get to kill lots of people. You can carjack any vehicle - including helicopters -- and drive to any location on the map. There's no painted on backdrop on the horizon. If you can see it, you can get there.

If anything, the city is almost too big, so missions and objectives can take a while to drive to. That's easily fixed, however, since you can also take taxis or the subway, which act as "warps" to any location. Toward the end of the game, I was so sick of driving, I just took a cab everywhere whenever possible. This game's city has better public transportation than my actual home of Minneapolis. Also, the missions themselves tend to get a bit repetitive, since they all take the form of either chasing down a car in order to kill the driver, or just driving to a place in order to kill some people. But no matter the variation, it's always pretty satisfying. There are so many different cars and vehicles you can drive, with weapon choices ranging from knives to machine guns to grenades to rocket launchers.

Unfortunately, the story is where this game falls a bit short. Niko, the main character, is a very likable guy with whom it's easy to relate, but unfortunately his main story arc goes nowhere and leaves him fundamentally unchanged from when he began. Ostensibly it's about his attempt to live the "American dream," but it really loses steam toward the end and lacks focus. The game just gives you a cut scene introducing a mission, which rewards you with money and the opportunity to get new missions. There are lots of characters to meet, but the only likable ones are your cousin Roman, Brucie (the best character in any videogame ever, and I mean that), and Little Jacob, all of whom vanish almost completely toward the second half of the game. The characters that take over in the second part of the game are all generic -- and completely interchangeable -- Italian mobsters. I had a hard time telling them all apart, and eventually just skipped most of their cut scenes and never missed out on anything.

And then ending just sucks. In fact, it's hard to even call it an ending, since you basically just stop getting missions, but are still able to roam around the city and do various other tasks. There is just no real emotional drive to the story nor any real reason to complete missions except for getting money, which serves no purpose because there's so little to buy. By the time I beat the game, I had about half a million dollars with no real way to spend any of it. In previous GTA games, you had to opportunity to buy real estate, move up in rank in the crime world, and even take over the entire city. In this game, you start as a hired gun and stay as a hired gun until the end. Granted, having to weight train and watch how much you eat so you won't get fat in the other games was a tedious chore, but at least it gave you a real sense of connection with the game's character.

So after all of these complaints, why did I begin my review by calling it one of the best games I've ever played? Because no matter what, it's just so damn fun and addicting to play. The game's storymode might be fundamentally lacking, but as a tool to create your own fun, the game simply can't be beat. Even forgetting the main story missions, there are hundreds of other ways to occupy your time. You can become a drug runner driving packages all over the city, take hit man missions, steal cars for your friend Brucie, go on dates with girls you meet on the internet (plays your cards right, and you'll even get lucky... off camera, thankfully), enter various street races, or just catch a comedy act from Ricky Gervais or Kat Williams, go bowling, or play a game of pool or darts. And when you get tired of all that, just grab some weapons and create some havoc on the streets. One of my favorite ways to occupy time was to take a helicopter to a random rooftoop to take down unlucky passersby with my sniper rifle. What that says about me, I don't want to know.

The highest compliment I can give to this game is that since I bought it about two months ago, I haven't taken it out of my 360 yet, except to watch the occasional DVD here and there. It's even been about a week and a half since I beat it, but I still keep playing around almost every day. I still have more to do before getting the 100% completion achievement, and it's too much fun.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Losers

Boy, nobody liked this movie. The critics tore it apart and it made (according to boxofficemojo) only 28 million dollars or so worldwide. All things considered, it was a huge flop. But when you watch the trailer, it looks like fun and you wonder how it could be so bad. And it turns out, it is fun and it isn't bad... but it just wasn't great.

The Losers is based on a Vertigo comic series that I've never read. I have read some of the Jack Kirby issues of the original Losers comic on which the new series was based, but they weren't all that great. They were notable for having some great Kirby art, but not a whole lot more. According to a Kirby biography I read a while ago, Kirby agreed to take on the WWII comic because he was a vet who served in that war, but he never felt comfortable with a series that referred to American G.I.s as "losers." Truth to tell, I never knew from the comics why they were called the Losers, nor does the movie attempt to explain it as well. But anyway, we're here to talk about the movie, not Jack Kirby.

And the movie is pretty good, as far as these things go. It opens with a special ops team that risks jeopardizing a mission in order to save a bunch of children, and then end up faking their own deaths to... You know what? It doesn't matter. It's all just an elaborate set up to have a bunch of mercenaries willing to take an assignment in order to get their lives back and return home to American and to their families. Although, truth to tell, the guys are so light hearted and jocular that you never really get a sense that they want to return home, or get their former lives back, or do anything, really, except for sit around with each other and crack jokes.

But this film succeeds solely on the charm of the Losers. This is seriously one of the coolest casts I've seen assembled in a while. These guys are just likable and are given cool stuff to do and allowed to kill lots of people in very stylish ways. I've always liked Jeffrey Dean Morgan and thought he was a stone cold cool actor. He was great in Watchmen, he's always fun when he pops up on that show Supernatural, and he was great here in a role that played to his strength's perfectly. His chemistry with co-star Idris Elba (another actor who's also always cool) is incredible. These two should make a series of buddy cop movies together. They were fun to watch and played off one another perfectly.

And Chris Evans is always fun. He's just a funny,  likable actor. He's like Ryan Reynolds but more handsome and less smug, if that makes sense. His comic timing probably isn't quite as spot-on as Reynolds's, but he's more effortlessly charming and seems less smug. There's one scene where he has to change clothes in an elevator and it stops and the doors open so some chicks see him naked. He smiles and says something like, "You ladies liking the angle of the dangle?" That's just a bad line. Whoever wrote that line should be embarrassed. It's not funny and it doesn't even make sense when you think about it. But Evans made it work. I laughed.

I also really liked the other two Losers, Pooch and Cougar, but I don't know the names of the actors nor had I ever seen either of them before. Also, Zoe Saldana was in it as the hot chick, and she pulled it off ok. I don't actually find her all that hot (sorry!), but she's certainly a pretty girl with a lot of screen presence. But neither the actress nor the character did all that much for me. She was cuter in Star Trek.

Unfortunately, this film's major weakness is that the bad guy sucks. The main villain Max was written as a quirky, wisecracking, evil genius that seemed perfectly tailored for a quirky actor like Chris Walken or John Malkovitch. Too bad they got Jason Patric, who certainly cuts a fine figure in a suit and is probably a good actor, but he was really miscast here. He just doesn't have the gravitas or sense of humor for a role like this. He sucked and never seemed like much of a match for the Losers. Jason Patric is one of those actors whose name in the opening credits of a film always gets me excited, until he comes onscreen and I realize I was thinking of Robert Patrick. Now he would've been awesome as Max. It also didn't help that his main plan and intentions were kept nebulous and mostly unexplained. Who was Max and what was he trying to do?

Anyway, I liked it, but I didn't love it. It seemed too much like a great bunch of characters in search of a better movie. There was action and great camera work and stunning locations, but there was no real focus or sense of momentum. There were too many double and triple crosses back and forth, diverting plot threads that went nowhere, and a real lack of closure to almost every character's storyarc. But, again, it was fun to watch the Losers joke around and then kill bad guys. Too bad it made no money, because I would've enjoyed seeing a sequel.

Happy Birthday, Chris Pine!

Blessed Are the Geeks wants to wish a very happy birthday to Star Trek actor and all around nice guy Chris Pine. We didn't love his Star Trek movie so much here at BATG HQ, but we did think he was very good in it, and we also liked him in Just My Luck and the Princess Diaries 2. We hope he continues on to bigger and better things and that his career lives long and prospers.

Monday, August 23, 2010

John Tucker Must Die

Yeah, I watched this one too. Before I talk about that, let me talk about this: Back in the early 90s, when I was living in Europe, I saw a movie called "The Pope Must Die," starring British comedian and character actor Robbie Coltrane as the newly Jeelected Pope. When it was released in the United States, the title was changed to "The Pope Must Diet." That's just funny. That right there was funnier than anything in The Pope Must Die, which was funnier than anything in John Tucker Must Die. But enough about that.

John Tucker Must Die shouldn't have its title changed to John Tucker Must Diet. It should have it's title changed to John Tucker is Awesome, because the titular character -- and the performance by Jesse Metcalfe -- is the only reason to watch this otherwise forgettable, stupid movie. I only watched it because it was a Monday morning, I had the day off, and it happened to be on FX. I kind of liked it, but I can only recommend it to people who have the day off and it's the only thing on TV.

This movie is ostensibly about a group of girls who all had their hearts broken by John Tucker, the school's biggest hunk and all around player. They hatch some wild scheme where one of their friends gets him into a relationship so they can break his heart and get their revenge. Got that? None of it works, however, and whenever they try to humiliate him, he turns it around and embraces it and makes whatever works for him. Like the bit where they tried to humiliate him by having him walk around the halls in a thong (don't ask). Instead of being made into a joke, wearing thongs became the new cool thing to do because all of the guys worship Tucker. I liked this kid and laughed at his antics.

I suppose that is a detriment to the film since the women are supposed to be the heroes -- I think -- but none of their characters were all that engaging (although they were all very pretty) and their plans were stupid. Honestly, so this guy broke your heart. He's the school player. Own up to your own culpibility in dating somebody like that and move on!

 And at the end of the movie, nobody really learned anything or changed all that much. The nerdy girl was now popular, I guess. Luckily, Tucker stayed the same. He had some scene where he admitted that he finally learned how to love, but at the end they showed him hook up with two (!!) chicks he was obviously going to bang. Still, cute movie. I laughed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cop Out

Yeah, I actually watched this, and it was bad. How bad was it? It was so bad, there's no way I would've finished it if I didn't have a blog where I could go and tell people all about how bad it was.

On paper, it sounded like a trainwreck: A buddy cop movie starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan that is directed (but not written) by the always mediocre Kevin Smith. So why did I rent it (via Netflix)? I dunno. I thought maybe it would be funny. I like Bruce Willis and I like Tracy Morgan. I mean, I've liked them in other things. The best I could say is that I tolerated them in this. But they did their best.

Here's the plot: Bruce Willis is a cop who can't afford his daughter's lavish, $48,000 wedding, so he is forced to sell his prized possession: A 1953 Andy Pafko baseball card. It gets stolen before he can sell it, so he and his partner, Tracy Morgan, have to track it down in order to pay for his daughter's wedding and take down a Mexian druglord in the process. Got all that? Good, cause we are now going to talk about how stupid that is.

Who cares is Willis can afford the ridiculously expensive wedding for his selfish daughter? After watching scene after scene where he risks his life to find his baseball card -- even getting in league with the villain in order to do so -- we don't care at all about his mission. We just hate his daughter for being such a selfish bitch. Also, her wedding isn't even in jeopardy, because his ex-wife's new husband is willing to pay for the wedding anyway. Willis is only putting his life and his partner's life in needless danger simply because he doesn't want somebody else to pay for a wedding that costs too much anyway. Why didn't they just agree to split it? Or, better yet, don't have such a stupid plot that makes it impossible to care about what's going on.

Or, at least, make sure what is going on is entertaining. Unfortunately, this movie was just as boring and unengaged as it was annoying and infuriating. It wasn't unwatchable, and there were even a few scenes that made me laugh. Afterall, when you have a film with Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, and Seann William Scott, it's going to have some laughs. These three can't not be funny, so when the film has a scene where it's just the three of them sitting in a car, it's funny. But Kevin Smith's horrible direction almost ruined even such a simple set up as three guys in a car.

This movie just sucked.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Expendables

This may have been the best movie I've ever seen in my entire life.

And, no, I'm not going to qualify that by saying “at least, the best movie starring Sylvester Stallone,” or even “at least, the best action movie.” This was possibly the best movie I've ever seen in my life because it was almost as though Sylvester Stallone set out to make a film with a single purpose: to entertain Donald W. Pfeffer. Seriously, if Hollywood handed me a bunch of money and the freedom to make any movie I wanted, I would've made The Expendables. In fact, the only thing that keeps this from being the perfect film is that there are no dinosaurs. But it does have Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, so that's close enough.

But, seriously, this film was a love letter from Stallone to fans of classic, old school, bad ass action films. But, more specifically, it was written as a love letter to Donald W. Pfeffer. Stallone must read my blog because there's no other way such a perfect film could've been made that not only matched every impossibly high expectation I had, but drop-kicked those expectations and blew them away in nuclear explosion. I wouldn't be at all shocked to learn that, after every take, Stallone said to the crew, "that was good... but would Donald W. Pfeffer love it?" And, in the end, I did.

The Expendables is a film about a group of mercenaries who are sent in to some Latin American country to take down some evil dictator. And that's the entire story. There are a few little asides here and there (Jason Stathom's girlfriend may be cheating on him, Mickey Rourke gives the occasional tattoo, etc), but for the most part, it is just a movie designed to have an entire army blown to bits by Stallone and his crew, and the film is the better for it. If you are interested in learning some profound truth about the human condition, go rent My Left Foot or Sophie's Choice. If you want to watch a movie where the dad from Everybody Hates Chris shoots people with a gun so powerful it tears them apart at the torso, go see the Expendables. I guess this movie actually does say something about the human condition after all: our bodies look awesome when they explode.

Everybody already knows that this film has one of the best casts in action-movie history, but I'm going to take a minute to talk about just how epic and amazing this ensemble really is. Let's start by discussing the Expendables themselves and how each one connects to Stallone and to the action genre at large. Even the name of the film and group is already a reference to a monologue Stallone gives in Rambo: First Blood Part II about how he is expendable to the American government. Unless I'm reading too much into things.

The greatest action star of all time. I suppose that could be a matter for debate, but it's a debate I would win every time, hands down. He is just a virtuoso of the action genre, having written, directed, and starred in some of the most awesome movies ever made. Only Stallone could have created this film and assembled this cast. When it comes to the Expendables, he was the only one who was absolutely essential.
Stallone Connection: Stallone Himself

Jason Statham
The best current action star, and maybe even something of a young Stallone himself. It was important to cast a current star who is still relevant to the film industry, and Stallone made the right choice with the actor whose character is as much the star as Stallone. Even considering the huge ensemble cast, the film still plays as something of a buddy film between Stallone's Barney Ross and Statham's Lee Christmas. Yeah, that is his name. Don't ask me why. Anyway, Statham is awesome, having the brawn of Stallone and the martial arts skill of an Eastern action star, he also gave the film a sense of wit and grit.
Stallone Connection: He recently starred in the remake of Stallone's film Deathrace 2000

Dolph Lundgren
After Stallone and Statham, the actor I was most excited to see was Dolph. Most people won't remember this, but Lundgren was a certified movie star during the mid 80s and early 90s, featuring in such notable films as Masters of the Universe, The Punisher, and Showdown in Little Tokyo with Brandon Lee. Dolph is a great looking, physically imposing giant who's also a pretty good actor. Anyway, he was good in this movie, standing out as the Expendable with the most interesting story arc. Dolph pretty much stole the movie in my opinion.
Stallone Connection: Starred opposite Stallone as the villain in Rocky IV

Jet Li
Jet Li is a certified, world-renowned movie star, but I've never been that big of a fan. I have tremendous respect for his acting and marital arts talents, but I simply never got into his films all that much when I -- and he -- first got into martial arts movies. I was always a bigger fan of Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. But I give Li his props and think he's a fantastic fighter and actor. I just don't have much nostalgia for him or even know much about his films. He was great in this movie, although I wish he had had a chance to do a little more fighting.
Stallone Connection: None, but he did star in War and The One with Jason Statham

Randy Couture
I'd never heard about this guy until I heard about this film. I guess he's some kind of UFC fighter turned actor. Before today, I'd never seen him fight and I'd never seen him act. But judging by this, he does both fairly well, though he probably succeeds a little bit more at fighting. He had a good screen presence and got some really funny lines. I liked him.
Stallone Connection: No idea. Probably none. But he was in Cradle 2 the Grave with Jet Li. I never saw it.

Terry Crews
Now this guy should be in every movie, and luckily it seems like he is. He's just always funny, always imposing, and always cool. He didn't have a very big role in this film, but his few moments were memorable. His main characteristic was that he had a really big gun that blew people up. So that's pretty sweet right there.
Stallone Connection: Just that he's awesome.

Mickey Rourke
His role was that of an ex-Expendable, who runs a tattoo parlor where the team goes to relax and gather between missions. He also may be the man who sets them up with missions, but that's kept somewhat mysterious. Anyway, he plays Mickey Rourke. He only has a couple of scenes, but in a way his character is the heart of the movie. His big monologue about why he got out of the mercenary business is one of the best scenes in the movie, and it was powerfully acted and filmed. He should get an Oscar.
Stallone Connection: A fellow washed-up action star from the 80s, and I mean that as a compliment. Neither man would deny it. He was also in Get Carter with Stallone, but nobody saw that. 

And now for the villains:

Eric Roberts
Up there with Gary Busey as one of the all time great scenery-chewers. Really, if you're going to make an 80s throwback action movie, why not get Eric Roberts as the main villain? I can't think of anybody who is cooler and more obnoxious, in just the right measures and combinations. He did fine here as an a 80s movie cliche.
Stallone Connection: Other than being another relic from the 80s, he starred with Stallone in the Specialist and with Mickey Rourke in The Pope of Greenwhich Village. He was also in the Ambulance with Stan Lee, but that's another blog post.

Steve Austin
AKA, Stone Cold Steven Austin. Austin was a WWF (WWE?) wrestler who rose to fame after I grew out of wrestling. But he was so fun and cool, I did watch a few matches here and there just because of him. His trademark was drinking beer in the ring and then giving the crowd the finger. He also attempted an acting career, but it didn't really go anywhere. But he was good here as the silent but imposing muscle to Eric Roberts's brains. He got to beat the crap out of Stallone, and according to rumor actually broke his neck during filming. That's bad ass.
Stallone Connection: Um... he wrestled with Hulk Hogan, who acted in Rocky III?

Gary Daniels
Don't feel bad that you haven't heard of this guy, since his name wasn't even on the poster or mentioned alongside the other actors. But when he popped up alongside Steve Austin and Eric Roberts, I got excited. Gary Daniels is a kickboxer turned B movie star. More than that, there isn't much to say. I only saw one of his films (the abysmal Epicenter), and only because I bought it as a joke for my friend Anna. Anyway, this guy is actually a pretty cool kick boxer and a likable enough actor. He had a pretty good fight scene where he got to be killed by Jet Li. That will probably by the highlight of his career, but I think that's pretty cool.
Stallone Connection: Stallone put him in this movie. Maybe he said hello to him on the set. 

David Zayas
This guy was probably cast because he's a pretty good actor. I'd seen him before, but he certainly wasn't as big a name as these other guys. But, like I said, he stood his own because he's a good actor. Stallone had to cast at least one, right?
Stallone Conection: None. 

And then we have the cameos by:

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis
I don't think I need to introduce these two, since they are action icons themselves. Much has probably already been written about the single scene featuring these two and Stallone, but I thought it was amazing. Honestly, from start to finish (including the amazing intro and exit by Arnold), I was completely giddy and smiley and amazed. It was just perfectly shot, perfectly written, and acted to perfection as well. I finally got to see Arnold and Sly together on screen, and it was hilarious. This was the best moment in film history, and I'm only kind of joking.

So enough about the cast, how was the rest of the movie? It was awesome. Honestly, it was just one long action sequence starring the above mentioned actors. What's not to like? The story was somewhat cliched and unoriginal, but it worked as a hinge upon which to have a bunch of action set pieces involving armies of people getting killed. And, sure, the body count was exceptionally high, but the filming of the action was what sold the movie. Even if he stops acting (and let's home he doesn't for a very long time), Stallone could have a big career as a director. This is just an exciting, awesome, balls to the wall action film that never lets up. Honestly, the last 45 minutes or so was one long, sustained action sequence that was the best action sequence I've ever seen. And in a review that has used a lot of hyperbole for humorous intent, that was absolutely the truth.

The only real criticism I have is that some of the action scenes are more heavily edited than I would've liked. Considering how this is an old school action film, I would rather Stallone had used more old school action film techniques. The editing was very well done for the most part, but the inter-cutting was a little too fast during Jet Li's too big fights, which was kind of a let down. When you have a martial artist with the prowess of Jet Li, you set the camera down and let him show off his stuff. Also the car chase scene was filmed way too close, which distracted a bit from the drama and made it hard to tell the distances between the cars and to follow along with the driving. But none of this killed the film at all.  

Bottom line, if the studio wants a blurb they can use for the DVD box, here's my main reaction: If you have a pair of balls and a dick, go see this movie, or else have them removed and returned to god because you don't deserve to have them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

G.I. Joe: The Movie

Even as a kid, I thought this movie was stupid. I still loved it, of course, and probably watched it about 800 times, but it was stupid. It was stupid then and it's stupid now. And while I wouldn't say it holds up, I still kind of enjoyed it. Kind of. Even after all these years, I still could recite every line of dialogue, remembered every action set piece, and loved seeing all of these characters again. But I was just as confused and put-off by the same odd story choices.

The biggest problem with this movie was the introduction of Cobra-La as the new threat. In the comics and cartoon, it was always (with a few exceptions), G.I. Joe against Cobra, a "terrorist organization determined to rule the world." But here, we see that Cobra was actually the pawns of Cobra-La, a 40,000 year old race of super-powered snake-people. Even Cobra Commander and Serpentor were retconned into being members of this other race. Too stupid, too weird, and too gross.

There was just no thrill in watching the Joes fight against flying snake people. I want to see Joes in battle against Cobra. Lasers should be firing back and forth, helicopters and jets blazing overhead, and vehicles exploding everything. Weird snake missiles and giant insects just felt and looked wrong. Also, the mythology presented here just doesn't make much sense. The Cobra-La civilization ruled the world until they collapsed after the latest ice age, and yet they live in the Tundra of the North Pole, so clearly ice isn't a problem for them. Also, they sent out Cobra Commander to start a terrorist army to destroy the Humans so Cobra-Law can retake the globe... but why send out only one guy when they all have superpowers, huge monsters, and advanced weapons?


Animation-wise, this film is nearly identical to the look of the TV series, which is a bit of a letdown considering what I imagine was a higher budget. This wasn't such a huge problem since the animation on the show was great, but the stuff in this movie ranges from awesome (the opening sequence for example) to awful (the finale of the film sucks). The voice acting is still awesome, with all of the fan-favorites returning from the series. Michael Bell's work as Duke is still amazing to hear. However, watching G.I. Joe with an adult ear made it pretty clear that there are only about five or six guys doing to voices of everything, but they're all great.

I guess they blew their budget on hiring Don Johnson as Lt Falcon. Don Johnson is a wonderful actor, and as hard to believe as it may seem, at the time he was a huge star. But his performance here is terrible. To begin with, Falcon was a poorly written character who was introduced in the film and became the main character (which is weird because we didn't know he was or care about his growth from insubordinate ass to hero) and Don Johnson's flat performance did nothing to help him stand out. Falcon sucks. Even stranger was how they made him Duke's "half brother," even though he was clearly meant to be Hawk's son. He looks exactly like Hawk, wears the same color-scheme as Hawk, and even has the name Falcon! So why did they change that? Whatever.

Another change they made for the worse was how they handled Duke's "death." Duke took a snake-arrow (like I said: stupid) to the heart, had an awesome death scene ("Yo...... joe...."), and then died. They later threw in a line (spoken off-camera) about how he "went into a coma." They did this because the Transformers film came out at the same time and created a controversy when Optimus Prime died. As a fan of the character, I'm happy that Duke got saved and lived on to fight another day, but it was still oddly handled. At the end, you hear a voice on the radio say something about how Duke awoke from his coma and will be fine. Even as a kid, I thought that was a cop-out.

At the end of the day, I still like this movie because I love the original characters, think much of the animation is great, and Burgess Meredith's performance as main Cobra-La villain Golobulous (don't ask) is awesome. But as a film, it doesn't really hold together or offer much that can't be found already in the TV series. The entire concept works better as a series if only because each character is allowed to have their moments in episodes that revolved around their personalities and storylines. The film had to have one story that shoe-horned in every character, whether or not they had anything to do. Every character is inter-changeable and pointless, except for Falcon who sucks.

Anyway, here's the best part of the movie:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stephen King Career Restrspective Part 2

Here comes the second part of our two part Stephen King Career Retrospective:

Four Past Midnight
A collection of four novellas, all of them terrible. Seriously, they were all just weird, strange, and dumb. Sounds harsh I know, but how else can you describe a story about a kid who keeps a book out too long and then gets raped by the library police man?
Skip it

The Wastelands
The third book in the Dark Tower series, and also the best. This is a straight up mind-blowing, fantasy novel unlike anything I've ever read before or since. This is King at his most brilliant and, more importantly, his most entertaining and enthralling. But don't even think about reading it unless you've already read the first two Dark Tower novels. You'll have no idea what the hell is going on.
Read it

Needful Things
Almost a really good novel, but it was somehow written -- or at least marketed -- as "the last Castle Rock story," which is the fictional town in which King set many of his novels and stories. King spends way too much time on blowing up the town then he does on creating a really great, fully fleshed out story. But I did like it. It reads like King Lite, and it's good if you just want some thrills and action without much substance.
Read it

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stephen King Career Retrospective: Part I

I've already done one of these career retrospectives for my favorite movie star and my favorite director, so it's only fitting that I finally do one for my favorite writer. Or, at least, the man who used to be my favorite writer at one time or another. He's still one of my favorite writers, and he is certainly the writer of whose work I have read the most of (expect for maybe Robert Heinlein or Edgar Rice Burroughs), but I have fallen out of touch with his books as of late, or maybe he had fallen out of favor with me.

Anyway, Stephen King always has a place in my heart as the author of so many of my all time favorite works of fiction. Here is my (hopefully) complete run down of everything of his that I have read. I will try to keep my comments as brief as possible.

Oh yeah, and this is dedicated to by good friend Anna, who is an even bigger fan of his stuff than I am.

This is the first novel King ever published, and I'm fairly certain it was the first of his I ever read. I didn't read his stuff in order when I began to get into his work, but it just worked out that way when I started. My sister was a big Stephen King fan and had all of this books, and I chose this one to read first because it was the shortest. I remember loving it, but looking back with an adult perspective, I can't remember why. It's a story about a nerdy girl with psychic powers who gets humiliated at her prom and then kills everybody. I guess there is some subtext to be found, but that's the basic story in a nutshell. And boy is it hard to believe. I mean, I don't care how much of a bitch some kids are, nobody is going to dump pig's blood on your head during prom. And if that did happen, they wouldn't laugh at you, because they'd be too busy throwing up. But I liked it. It's a short, good, fun read, but I don't really recommend it in comparison to this rest of his ouvre.
Skip it

Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock

It's fitting that Alfred Hitchcock's birthday should fall on a Friday the 13th. In honor of film's supreme master of suspense, enjoy this scene from The Birds:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Babylon A.D.

It's a hard world out there for Vin Diesel. My boy gets no respect. His rise and fall must've been one of the fastest in the history of pop culture. He got knocked down as quickly as the moving going public propped him up. He's not entirely blameless, of course, since he made a couple of poor choices along the way, but still... no respect.

Vin Diesel is one of those actors about whom it is just taken as a given that he sucks, that he makes crap, and that nobody likes him. Of course, most of the people who say that have never seen a Vin Diesel movie, they just saw the trailer for xXx. Now, I'm not going to defend xXx because it was a pretty dumb movie (but I enjoyed it), nor am I going to mock people for judging that trailer without seeing the movie, since it was wholly representative of the actual movie. What does annoy me is when people see a trailer like than and then assume that Vin Diesel sucks. Why can't people just say, "Vin Diesel makes movies that don't interest me"?

Vin Diesel has worked with Sydney Lumet and Steven Spielberg. What directors have you worked with?

And it's just as hard out there for a Vin Diesel fan, of which I am most definitely one and will remain so until the day I die. Unless he keeps making movies like this one, that is. It wasn't that good.

 If you've seen one post-apocalyptic film about a grizzled loner who is forced to take on a job against his will until he has a personal epiphany and learns to put the good of mankind over his own selfishness, you've seen them all. Seriously, how many times do they have to make this movie? There's a reason why post-apocalyptic movies never make money: because they are all the same and they are never very good. This film almost stands out if only because the visual design and look of the film is so well done -- and because Vin Diesel is a really good, charming, likable actor -- but at the end of the day it's just boring and cliche.

I don't blame Vin Diesel for signing on, since he probably wanted to work with people like Gerard Depardieu and Michelle Yeoh, but I can't imagine that the script was all that great. A lot of the user comments and reviews online talk about how the studio recut the film and spoiled the director's original vision, but I couldn't see anyway this mess of a film could've been any better and more original. The story was boring and the action sequences were uninspired. I can't even recommend this film for fans of Vin Diesel, even though he was perfectly cast as a former merc who's completely believable as somebody who would kill and slaughter a wild animal, only to bring it back and eat it with a nice glass of merlot.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blackstar Warrior

Every few years you come across a youtube video that's actually funny. This is one of them:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

From Paris With Love

Now, I'm not going to go so far as to say that every movie should have a scene where John Travolta runs around with a bazooka, because that would just be silly (and it would be hard to justify it in a movie like Sleepless in Seattle or My Left Foot). But I am saying that if every movie had a scene where John Travolta ran around with a bazooka, well, every movie would have at least one scene that is totally bad ass!

Having said that, the scene in From Paris With Love where John Travolta runs around with a bazooka is probably the least bad ass scene in the movie. After all, when he uses the bazooka, he only blows up one car and only kills one person. In every other scene he's in, he kills about a dozen people. If any of these details interest or intrigue you, rent From Paris With Love, since it's a ridiculously fun movie directed by the guy who did Taken and features a bad ass John Travolta who spouts one liners and has a shaven head and goatee. If you don't like Travolta, don't see it! It'll annoy the shit out of you.

Personally, I like Travolta and enjoyed watching him in this, and it was obvious that he enjoyed making it. Almost as good -- though not nearly as fun because he was given the straight man role -- was that Johnathan Rhys Meyers guy. Rhys Meyers is a damn handsome man who is probably a good actor, but he's been so boring in everything I've ever seen him in. The Tudors would be an infinitely more entertaining show had they cast a more likable, charming lead... or so I thought until I saw this movie. He's actually really funny and likable here, achieving the almost Herculean task of creating a character who can share the screen with Travolta's completely over the top turn as Charlie Wax.

Anyway, I've already talked about this film far more than I should. I should've just told you about the scene where John Travolta runs around with a bazooka and let you make your own judgment about whether or not you should see it. But the answer should be yes.