Saturday, December 15, 2012

Spoilerific Reviews: "The Journey Begins" The Hobbit Part 1 Review

If there is one movie everyone's been anticipating to see, it's Peter Jackson's return to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The level of excitement for this prequel series has undoubtedly reached Star Wars levels of excitement back when The Phantom Menace was first announced. However, does The Hobbit succeed where the Star Wars prequels failed? Let's find out!

DISCLAIMER: If the title wasn't a big enough of a giveaway, this review will be filled with a treasure trove of spoilers about the film that would make the dragon Smaug envious. So if you haven't seen the film I suggest you go see the film right now, because it's definitely worth your time to watch.

With that little annoyance out of the way let's delve back into the world of dwarfs, dragons, and The One Ring.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fantastic film that shouldn't disappoint anyone who even remotely liked The Lord of The Rings trilogy. In spite of being a prequel the world of Middle-Earth feels new and exciting whilst also feeling familiar at the same time. From the very get-go we are treated to the familiar lands of The Shire where Ian Holm returns as Bilbo Baggins, on the eve of his 111th birthday party and the start of The Lord of The Rings.

Immediately Bilbo sets us up with some backstory about the Dwarf lords who lived under The Lonely Mountain and how the diabolical dragon named Smaug forced the dwarfs to flee their kingdom and become nomadic. After attempting to reclaim another former land of theirs, the mines of Moria which will sound familiar to anyone who saw the first film, from orcs the dwarfs eventually settle into their nomadic lifestyle. However, there is one dwarf, the legendary dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who still wishes to reclaim The Lonely Mountain from the clutches of Smaug.

This is where Bilbo comes in. The young hobbit, played perfectly by Martin Freeman, is met by Gandalf the Gray (once again played by Ian McKellen) who asks Bilbo if he wants to join him on an adventure. After meeting the rest of Gandalf's company, a group of dwarfs led by Thorin, Bilbo learns that they need a hobbit to sneak by Smaug, who doesn't know the scent of hobbits. Naturally, like any true hero on a journey, Bilbo declines Gandalf's offer at first. However, Bilbo's natural curiosity about the world beyond the Shire calls him to join Gandalf and the thirteen dwarfs on their journey to The Lonely Mountain.

To start, I should clarify in that I saw the film in good old regular 2D at a standard 24 frames-per-second. So have this fact in mind when I say that The Hobbit is a beautiful movie to behold. The sweeping landscape shots are just as amazing as they were in LOTR, and the makeup effects for all the dwarfs were very well done. It was refreshing to see such a variety of dwarfs in the film, and might I say Armitage's Thorin Oakenshield gives Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn a run for his money in the "sexy fantasy hero" department even though he's supposed to be a dwarf. The other dwarfs, all of which I won't be going into too much detail because there are so many, are also very well done and memorable. However, it's Freeman as Bilbo that really stands out as it is clear he was born to play the titular hobbit.

While I couldn't shake the obvious parallels between Freeman's Bilbo and his role as Arthur Dent in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Freeman really gives a memorable performance managing to hold his own against powerhouses like Ian McKellen. Speaking of which, McKellen, in spite of looking a bit older, hasn't lost his step as Gandalf. This time around it was nice to see a more adventurous Gandalf who would utilize his magical abilities much more often than we see him do in LOTR. I particularly enjoyed when he improvised some fireballs by setting pine cones on fire with his previously established ability to light small fires with his fingers.

The film mainly follows Bilbo and the dwarfs as they make their way through Middle-Earth, however the film does jump away from their journey to either show us a flashback to a previous battle in history or to entirely different characters to setup what will undoubtedly be plots in the second and third films.

It is here that I must confess that I haven't read the novels, not The Hobbit nor the LOTR trilogy, and I honestly have no true intention to do so. They are dauntingly thick books and I barely have the time to read (or write for that matter) a regular sized novel let alone four. However, I am aware of the fact that Peter Jackson and company are stretching out the films into a trilogy while The Hobbit remains a single novel. Though, in either case, I'm glad we're getting another trilogy and not just a one-off return to Middle-Earth. However, I did feel this movie dragging on a bit as I watched in the theater.

At nearly 3 hours long I was surprised it wasn't longer, because it sure FELT longer than that. However that shouldn't be considered a truly negative criticism about the film, as I was entertained throughout the entire film. Though, as I think about how long most movies I go see are these days it surprises me that we don't reinstate intermissions between the first and second halves of a movie because by the end of The Hobbit I was exhausted! So much happens in this movie, and it is somewhat surprising that we have two more movies after this! As Gollum said at the end of The Two Towers: "We have a long ways to go yet..."

However, it was clear (at least in my eyes) that nothing in this movie was intended to "pad" the movie in order to help stretch it into a trilogy. Everything you see feels relevant to the story. Take the introduction to Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy), a wizard who is rather fond of nature. It is clear that his discovery of a necromancer in his woods will be a key plot point later on in the next films. And that hedgehog! Oh man that scene with that dying hedgehog got me like no other friggin computer generated animal has gotten me before! I even remember the little bugger's name: Sebastian! I nearly bawled like the baby in my theater when I thought he died! I cheered when Radagast managed to save his life! (Note: if anyone wants to get me a Christmas present, find a plush Sebastian the Hedgehog, because I would totally love one now!)

Speaking of computer generated critters, the creatures in The Hobbit are almost, unlike in the LOTR trilogy, completely done with computer effects. I was somewhat miffed by this, especially when the orcs in the previous films had been, almost entirely, done with practical makeup effects. However, I was glad to see some practical orcs here and there and the cg isn't that terrible. The Pale Orc, Azog The Defiler, was a very menacing creature and I wasn't entirely distracted by the fact he was done entirely with computer effects.

The one creature that did turn me off, however, was The Goblin King, who has forever put the miracle of jiggle physics into a dark, dark, place it will not return from... *shudders* It was a bit irritating that this creature was done with CGI when a practical puppet, in tandem with some CGI to help, could've been so much better. Or maybe I say that because a rubber puppet wouldn't have gainaxed so much in such a terrible, terrible, way...

Nightmare fuel aside, the effects in The Hobbit are fairly well done, even though I felt it relied a little too much on CGI. However, there are some really amazing scenes, such as the group's encounter with a trio of tolls, and the scene where the group discover themselves in the middle of a literal brawl between mountains. The Hobbit really adds the fantasy to this fantasy film, where the LOTR films seemed very fantasy-lite.

However, I can't do a Hobbit review without mentioning the creature that made such abominations like Avatar possible: Gollum. If there was one scene I'm sure fans of the books and LOTR films were waiting for it was the legendary showdown between Bilbo and Gollum. Andy Serkis once again plays Gollum, and it was pure movie magic to see the creature come to life once more. It was even better to see him and Bilbo play a game of riddles, Bilbo either winning safe passage out of the caves or losing and being Gollum's next lunch. It was a fun, and memorable, scene as Gollum's dual personalities argued on what to do with Bilbo once he lost. If there's one thing that makes The Hobbit worth seeing it's this scene. And the return (technically the introduction) to The One Ring was as chilling as ever when you first see it "abandon" Gollum. It's even more chilling since everyone knows the truth about the Ring, a true plus to this being a prequel.

While the film does start rather slow, with a few bits of action in the form of flashbacks to keep the film from feeling like a true hike through Middle-Earth, I have to say The Hobbit is a wonderful start to a new trilogy. The performances here are top-notch and the story fairly well done, if a bit long winded. I did have some issues with the over-reliance on computer graphics but I can't really complain, as long as the graphics aren't mediocre I truly don't mind. Though the gainaxing goiter on the troll king could've been toned down...

I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey four rings of power out of five for being a fairly solid first entry into a new trilogy of Middle-Earth movies.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Netflix Reviews: The Asylum's "Nazis At The Center of The Earth."

Like most entries in my Netflix reviews this movie has a story behind it. This story is in regards to The Asylum. If you don't know what The Asylum is, I will explain. The Asylum is a film studio that is notorious for creating cheap "mock-busters" that have a title sounding like a popular film. When Transformers was released The Asylum released Transmorphers and when Battleship was released The Asylum released American Warships. Evidently, back when The Da Vinci Code was in theaters, The Asylum produced a film called The Code Conspiracy. And the similarities between these two films begins and ends with the fact that they have the word "code" in their titles. 

The Code Conspiracy is by far the worst film I have ever subjected myself to. It is the bane of my existence, and if you made me choose between having to watch Twilight or The Code Conspiracy for the rest of my life I would pick Twilight. It's that bad. The Geneva Convention should make the film illegal because it is cruel and unusual torture. It was enough to put me off of any and all Asylum films for, what I expected, all eternity.

However this wasn't the case. I found myself back in The Asylum. This time, with a film humorously titled: Nazis At The Center of The Earth.

However, I did not realize it was an Asylum picture until the studio's logo popped up on my screen. Even if I had known this was an Asylum film I probably would've given it a look regardless. I mean, come on, it's called Nazis At The Center of The Earth for heaven's sake! No self respecting internet film reviewer would pass up the chance to see this film! So, I prepared myself for the inevitable pain I had come to expect from an Asylum film and dove right in. And what I found was one of the most entertaining film I have ever watched.

Now don't mistake that last statement as being genuine praise. The film (which I will shorten to "Nazis" for the sake of brevity) is a laughable excuse for a film that you'd only find on syfy as an original movie. However, in spite of this, I found I genuinely enjoyed the film, in a way one genuinely enjoys getting hung by the ceiling by their nipples. 

The trick, I found, to enjoying the film, is to go into it knowing you're not looking for a high quality motion picture directed by, say, Christopher Nolan. No, you know you're in for tons of wooden dialogue delivered by people who are "actors" that were scribbled down by someone who shouldn't call himself a writer. You know you're going to see dime store special effects that belong more in a Playstation 1 game rather than anything resembling a film. When you expect this, and are still determined to make the most of the bad situation you're in, you can enjoy Nazis. 

The film takes place in Antarctica, and like most films that are set in Antarctica you know that if it isn't John Carpenter's The Thing you know it's going to suck. The thing that somewhat resembles a plot follows a group of scientists that make the ones in Prometheus look credible. These scientists, led by The Son of Busey (Jake Busey. Don't let the fact that The Asylum has a recognizable actor in the cast fool you into thinking this is an actual movie.) discover a lost colony of Nazis hiding deep within the earth who have plans to begin a new Reich with immortal and cybernetic soldiers. 

The first half of the film is your typical B-Movie setup. We get to know the mindless drones who will stand in for actual protagonists as they do science-y stuff and try to figure out why people are starting to go missing. It's all terribly dull, unless you make fun of the fact that some of these actors look like aliens in bad human costumes. It's really a testament to The Asylum's cheapness when their actors don't look any more realistic than their special effects. You also get to see Jake Busey attempt to be a mad scientist which is hit and miss, mostly miss. Had it been Busey Sr. I could've totally bought the character as a mad scientist. Though I have to hand it to the Son of Busey, he does at least try to act insane, which is more than I can say for the other actors. 

However, once the second act being and our "heroes" actually discover the titular Nazis at the center of the earth the plot picks up. There are plot twists and betrayals aplenty as some characters are revealed to be Nazi spies while others decide to join the Fourth Reich and betray their countries. It'd all be truly gripping stuff if this were an actual film. Anyways, the scientists, who are all medical doctors and biologists, apparently, even though I was under the impression they were all geologists considering that they were studying ice cores in the beginning of the film, are forced to help the Nazi's perfect their face swapping technology to keep themselves immortal (no I didn't just suffer a stroke, that is really what happens) as well as utilize experimental stem cell research to ( ...and I am dead serious about this no matter how awesome it sounds...

...are you ready for it? Because it is so awesome it might just make your head explode...)

resurrect Hitler's decapitated head in a giant robot suit!

This is actually WAAAYYY better than what you see in the movie, but still..
So, basically, this whole movie is the video game adaptation to Id Software's Wolfenstein 3D! This is where the movie really becomes awesome as Robo-Hitler stomps on aliens-posing-as-humans-posing-as-actors and leads the new Fourth Reich to take over the world in a giant flying saucer. Why this wasn't given a bigger budget I will never know...

Meanwhile, our "heroes" manage to take on the entire Nazi army armed with Nerf guns (in that the Nazis are armed with Nerf guns. I know because I have the same pistol that is the standard Nazi sidearm, apparently...)

My guess is the Fourth Reich's plans involve littering people's backyards with thousands of those whistling darts. 
Thankfully, the Air Force comes in to take out the Nazi's flying saucer, Robo-Hitler gets infected with a flesh eating disease and falls into the icy depths beneath Antarctica (where I have no doubt he meets the alien queen from the first AVP movie and they join forces to to exact revenge on humanity with Nazi-Xenomorph hybrids), and the world is safe from the threat of having to clean up any Nerf darts. 

All in all, Nazis is, at its best, a hilariously bad film. However, unlike other Asylum films I've subjected myself to over the years it's still an entertaining film. Considering the fact that for any film, be it a Hollywood blockbuster or an Asylum mockbuster, I at least expect to be entertained, Nazis At The Center of The Earth manages to be more entertaining than most films in theaters today. It's certainly not the best film ever made, not by a long shot, but I still managed to have fun while watching it.

Do I recommend it? Well that's a tricky one. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys riffing on terrible movies, but if you're looking for an actual movie I'd look elsewhere.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Small Update and I'm writing for a new site!

If the handful of people who read my little reviews have been wondering what I've been up to I have been very busy. Mostly I've been writing, along with my usual procrastination. However, what I've been working on has been very good.

Firstly, I'm glad to say that my winging and shouting has finally payed off. I was recently contacted by the talented Susie McBeth of A Twin Adventure to be a guest writer for her new website: So far I've written a few articles for the site, including my review of Halo 4 if you've been looking for it here. In fact, you will most likely find most of my new reviews there, though I do intend to write more spoiler filled reviews here when I have the time to keep the blog alive. For now, expect a more spoilerific Halo 4 review soon.

In other news, I've been surprisingly busy with other writing projects, including Refuge, but have kinda hit a bit of a wall and have taken the week off to charge my batteries and get some actual work done. One of those things is teaching myself some 3D modeling and animation. I've recently gotten into 3D Animation after taking a course at college that I loved. It was amazing how much I already knew about animation from my geeky tinkerings and obsessive viewings of Pixar movie special features.

I got so into it that I had even decided to change my major from English Literature to Computer Simulation. However, bureaucratic red tape is keeping me from actually going about this. However, I have settled to continue with my English Lit degree and then study Computer Simulation afterward. Hopefully I don't go nuts from all the school but I'm certain my passion will keep me going.

I think that's about it for the update, as you can see I've been a busy bee, and I have all of you awesome readers to thank for that!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why A New Star Wars Film Is A Good Thing.

The news that Disney has purchased LucasFilm Ltd. for 4 billion dollars has caused quite a stir in the geek community. It seemed like just yesterday Disney had just purchased Marvel. Now, along with the likes of The Avengers, such popular film franchises now live under the mouse-eared shadow of Disney. So far, the reactions I've seen have ranged from happy surprise to good old fashioned nerd rage.

Anyone who knows me knows that I was one of the few people whose reaction to when Marvel was bought by Disney was a mix of apathy and apprehensiveness. However, as time went on it was clear to see that, at least for the Marvel films (I can't say much for the comic portion of the industry, I don't keep a finger on that pulse as much as I should), nothing really changed. It actually got better, in fact, I mean we got the Avengers and look at how successful that movie was! So who is to say the same Disney magic could work for film series that desperately need it, like the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchise?

I know I must sound like a nerdy broken record when I go on about how horrible the Star Wars prequels were, or how horrible the fourth Indiana Jones film was. So I just won't go there. What's been said has been said. However, I was well aware that more films for both franchises were inevitable. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing bigger, or more recognizable, than the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas made enough money to buy his own country on the merchandising alone. The impact the franchise has had on popular culture is still resonating with us, even though the first film came out in 1977!

That is a level of brand recognition no self respecting businessman can ignore.

Now, I know I may seem like I'm painting a gloomy picture with money hungry businessmen sucking what blood remains in the carcass of the Star Wars films after George Lucas took it out back and shot it with a double barreled shotgun. But I'm not, I'm really not. The fact of the matter is that, yes, I am excited to see what the future holds for Star Wars. I grew up watching the original, untarnished, trilogy. So understand that I am just as big a Star Wars fan as anyone else.

This whole thing, Disney buying LucasFilm and planning on doing more films, is very good news.

Why? Well, because we know what not to do. Just look at the prequels, they're basically a trilogy of "How Not To Screw Up Star Wars Sequels." If there's anything good that came out of the prequels it's that, but it's more than just that. The potential for good is just as likely as bad and here's why I think it's more good:

1. Bringing in new blood.
"It's now time for me to pass on Star Wars to a new generation of filmmakers." George Lucas said this in a statement after the news broke. This is the best thing I've heard him say in a very, very, long time. I really don't want to offend Lucas, because he's been given enough flack over the years, but him letting some new filmmakers cut their teeth on Star Wars is the best news since they announced they would be re-releasing the original, untarnished, trilogy on blu-ray (what do you mean they haven't? Then there's the first thing Disney can do!)

2. New movies means new characters and a new story.
While I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some actors like Mark Hamill or Billy Dee Williams reprise their roles in any new films, it's most likely we'll see a new slew of characters come in to take the reigns. Who these characters will be remains to be seen, they could be the descendants of our heroes (much like the novelizations), or completely new characters. In either case, these characters will need a new enemy to face, and new worlds to explore. The Star Wars universe is full of its share of scum and villainy, and with any potential film coming out in time to face The Avengers sequel along with whatever Christopher Nolan's cooking up next the characters and story have to be grand and epic!

For the time being, it's a good day to be a Star Wars fan. In spite of whatever you may think about Disney, or the Star Wars films, this is a big win. After Jar Jar Binks, you can only move up.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Loop de loop" Looper review

Once in a blue moon, a movie gets released that is both original and completely entertaining. It's a movie that isn't a remake, or an adaptation, or an adaptation of a remake based on a book. It's a movie that exceeds your expectations and leaves you feeling hope for the future of film. The last movie I recall that was this was Christopher Nolan's Inception. Today another movie has joined those ranks. That movie is Rian Johnson's Looper.

To start off this review I have to mention the first time I watched a Rian Johnson film. That film was Brick and also starred Looper star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I watched Brick on Netflix with my friend on a late summer night. Today, Brick is one of my favorite films. It was a unique mix of noir storytelling woven into a high-school drama (one of my least favorite genres). The two different genres complemented each other so well that it was actually really humorous and terrifying at the same time. If you haven't seen it, I recommend you do, because it's an entertaining and unique film.

So you can understand that when I heard he and Gordon-Levitt had rejoined to do a time travel film called Looper I was more than excited to see how things would play out. Looper was an original film, not based on anything nor is it a remake. That is RARE in this day and age where Hollywood thinks it's a great idea to remake The Three Stooges. How Looper got made in today's Hollywood seems like a miracle, and the results don't disappoint.

Looper feels like a classic sci-fi action film. The world created by Rian Johnson here is set in the future, but it looks and feels much like our present, only with small differences. Cars are old clunkers that have been retrofitted with solar panels to allow them to run. There are hover bikes, but they're less reliable than the clunker cars. Telekinesis is a common ability found in some people, but most consider it tacky and uninteresting. A majority of America's population is living in poverty. Even in the city the film is set in, which features some tall skyscrapers with futuristic helicopters and flying vehicles, the place looks like a dump. It has a slight Blade Runner feel to it, in that this is a dystopia people have, for the most part, gotten used to living in.

In this world Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a special assassin for the mob known as a "looper." Loopers are tasked with rubbing out targets the mob sends into the past from thirty years in the future. If you've seen the trailers you pretty much know this. The beginning of the film has Joe explaining in a narration how, in the future, time travel is only used by powerful criminal organizations for the purpose of disposing of targets. When the mob no longer needs a looper's service, they send the looper's future self for the looper to kill in order to "close the loop." Joe's explanation of the setup and how his job as a looper works is simple and straight to the point. The only explanation Joe gives for why the mob does this is because "disposing of a body is impossible in the future." And it's enough to satisfy you. Looper's concept of time travel has very little exposition, and what exposition it has is very effective. This is one of the defining traits of the film.

However, it's the film's characters that are really the best aspect of this film, with the plot coming in at a close second. Through the course of the film Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Joe comes off as a self-centered jerk. He's an addict who just wants to make enough money to leave the slums of America and travel to France. That's all he cares for, and the way he handles his job as a looper is rather clinical and unemotional. So when Joe is faced with his future self (played by Bruce Willis), he's actually more than happy to kill him upon first seeing him. Of course, future Joe manages to escape and young Joe finds himself in trouble with his employers.

In the middle of the film the focus shifts from Young Joe to Old Joe. We actually watch how Young Joe becomes the Old Joe who arrives in the past, and we soon realize that Old Joe has come back with a plan. As the film progresses your sympathy will jump between Old and Young Joe, both have their flaws, and both have their redeeming qualities. Looper will keep you guessing on who is really the protagonist and antagonist of this film, even though both are the same person. It's this ambiguity that makes Looper an interesting film to watch.

 As the film progresses we see that Old Joe's plan somehow revolves around a mysterious character from the future known as the Rainmaker who is systematically taking over all organized crime in the future. The Rainmaker is somehow tied to a mother (Emily Blunt) and her son (played by Pierce Gagnon who gives a really memorable performance) and Young Joe must figure it out before Old Joe, the mob, or both find him. Emily Blunt's Sara is a tough, down-to-earth, woman who simply wants to raise her son well in a time when most mothers sell their children for drugs. Her relationship with her son, Cid, is shaky to say the least, and they are both harboring a secret that is key to the future. Cid is one of those rare child characters that isn't annoying. He's smart for his age, the kid has a fair knowledge of electronics for being only ten, and the grim world he lives in has made him more aware of how terrible the world really is than a normal child should. You like Sara and Cid, and they both come off as deep, emotional, and damaged human beings. All they want is to live some semblance of a normal life.

This film will keep you guessing what will happen next at every turn. More genre savvy viewers will be pleased with how the film unfolds, because it never goes the way you expect, for the most part. Looper manages to make the time travel tropes we're all familiar with and make them feel new again. As for the rules of time travel in Looper, they're simple to follow and very, very loose. Looper is not the neatest time travel story out there, with it's fair share of paradoxes, but it doesn't matter. Everything that happens, happens, and the film takes advantage of it's loose time travel rules to have some real fun. One instance of this is a horrifying scene of a man slowly falling apart as his past self gets his fingers, hands, legs, and arms amputated. The effects used in this scene are effective and will make you cringe.

Looper is one of those rare movies that takes old tropes and ideas and spins them together into a fun, new, and completely original story. The characters are deep, interesting, and you're not really sure who to root for because everyone has complex drives and histories that make them feel like real human beings. For a time travel movie, it uses time travel as an effective plot device that makes for some memorable scenes and story elements.

To put it simply: Looper is a must see film for anyone looking for a great science fiction film.

I give Rian Johnson's Looper 5 looper blunderbusses out of 5.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

"The Beginning of The End" Fringe season 5 premiere review

So it has begun, the first step towards the end of probably one of the best science fiction shows in recent memory. Fringe has been one of my favorite shows since the very first episode, and now that we're on our way to seeing it end I (for obvious reasons) am not looking forward to seeing how it ends.

For some strange reason, 2012 has quickly become a year full of endings. I always like to attribute "themes" to years depending upon common aspects I run into in my daily life. For this year, coming to conclusions has been the main theme. Mass Effect, Fringe, Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy, and even Doug Walker's Nostalgia Critic have either ended or are in the process of ending. Some have ended in utter tragedy (subtle I know) while others ended on a high note with a promising future on the horizon. So you can see why I'm anxious, Fringe is yet another one of my favorite series on the verge of ending, and I don't want to have another thing to bitch about for the rest of my life.

However, looking at the fifth season premiere: "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" (damn that's a mouthful!) I can say I'm starting to like where the show is going. This is a big turn since I really wasn't a big fan of "Letters of Transit" which provided us with the setup for season 5. I didn't like the dystopian 1984-esgue future ruled by Observers. I mainly blame the Sliders (seasons 4 and 5) feeling I got from that episode, and it also didn't feel like Fringe. This isn't the case with "Transilience" however which basically picks up where "Letters of Transit" left off. Sure, that Orwellian dystopia was still there, but I kinda bought it this time and in fact found it to be a refreshing approach to the Fringe universe. I'm not saying it was perfect, but it was handled much better than it was in "Letters of Transit."

Fringe's previous season was fraught with issues as the show basically hit the reset button by deleting Peter from the timeline. This was an obvious attempt to mix things up and change the formula, which I actually encourage. Shows should never really stay stuck in their rut, they should evolve and grow as the story progresses. House suffered from a lack of this, and I always wished they'd make a change (and they never did sadly). So I gave the Fringe folks credit for trying something new, even if it wasn't really all that new. By the time "Letters of Transit" aired, however, I felt this just came too far out of left field. I never really bought the Observers as being malevolent. Sure they were creepy, but I always saw them as explorers simply curious about events in human history. The sudden twist that they were really planning an invasion never resonated for me until I saw "Transilience."

So when I say "Transilience" is a breath of fresh air I really do mean that. While getting to this point was shaky, the episode makes up for this with some solid storytelling and great performances from the cast (once again, John Noble gives a standout performance but more on that later). The overall feel of the Observer occupied earth is now more Blade Runner than 1984, though I couldn't help but laugh at the Nazi uniforms the human police force wore, someone needs to tell the Fringe guys about subtlety. In fact, my one complaint about this episode is the obvious political undertones. I will, reluctantly, admit this has a place in fiction, but I just hate it when it's presented with all the subtlety of someone repeatedly bashing my head in with a rock. And Nazi uniforms were like the writers waving their arms shouting: "HEY LOOK! THIS IS A METAPHOR! SEE? WE'RE SMART!"

My issues with the costume department aside, this episode provides some thrilling moments. I particularly enjoyed every scene with John Noble, especially when he was getting mind raped by the Observer. John Noble totally sells you on the idea that he's got someone worming their way through his head. I cringed at these scenes. The touching moments between the Bishops throughout the episode also should be noted. There was so much crying in this episode that I'm not surprised this episode wasn't called "Open The Flood Gates." While much of the backstory behind Peter and Olivia's loss over their daughter Etta is merely hinted at in conversation I completely believed that these two had gone through hell between the Season 4 finale to now, and I think it was a brilliant decision to just let the audience connect the dots instead of just showing us outright.

"Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11" was a great start for the last season of Fringe, and I'm glad that my qualms about "Letters of Transit" weren't found here. I found this turn in the story to be refreshing and I can't wait to see our heroes "make some Fringe events" of their own. While the episode does have its flaws, I can safely say I can't wait to see where this story will take us.

I give the Fringe Season 5 premiere 4 egg sticks out of 5.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"I am the law." Dredd review

I should clarify that I don't really read many comic books. Aside from a couple Spider-Man comics over the years I don't read comics all that much. So I never read the Judge Dredd comics. Along with that, I don't remember the Sylvester Stallone film at all. I know it was terrible, but that's about it. So when I went to go see Dredd I basically knew next to nothing about the world the characters inhabited apart from the basic premise. So I didn't have any real expectations for this film apart from it being a good action movie.

So it pleases me to say that Dredd succeeds in reaching my expectations. It's a competent action movie that hearkens back to the classic action movies of the 80's. It doesn't have a truly groundbreaking premise, but I never once felt this movie needed to be anything more than what it is: which is an action film. However this isn't a bad thing, this movie is exactly what it needed to be. In this day and age, where the phrase "big dumb action movie" has taken on a new meaning with the likes of Transformers, it's actually really refreshing to have an action movie that feels more like the films that created action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. It's a classic action movie, through and through, and it proves to be entertaining. 

In fact, from the very beginning of this movie I couldn't help but shake the feeling that Dredd felt like classic sci-fi action movies like The Running Man and Total Recall. Sure, the post-apocalyptic feeling could be attributed to this, in fact this film should be lauded for it's great set design and locations. I wasn't surprised to see that they filmed parts of this movie in Johannesburg, because it serves as a perfect analogue for a post-apocalyptic setting (no offence to the people of Johannesburg but the place looks like Los Angeles' crack whore sister). It's great, and not once was I taken out of the film because it wasn't too apocalyptic enough. And the main setting, a massive super structure called the "Peach Trees," looked fantastically downtrodden. 

However, it's not the locations and set design that make this film entertaining, it's the talented cast. Karl Urban's chin is great as Judge Dredd. He's a tough as nails, cold, and calculating dealer of justice. While the movie does hint at Urban's Dredd having some depth behind the mask, it isn't explored, yet doesn't really need to be. Dredd is like a Terminator, his motivation is simple and clear: dish out justice where it needs to be dished out. If anything, his actions in the film explore what kind of a person Dredd is, and he's a total badass. The more developed character is Olivia Thirlby's rookie Anderson, a Judge trainee who failed basic training yet is getting a second chance because she's got psychic powers. Thirlby's performance is arguably the best as we see her grow throughout the film from a timid rookie to a tough as nails killing machine like Dredd himself. However, because I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones, my favorite character is Lena Headey's Ma-ma. 

Headey brings her menace to the big screen and I never once felt like she wasn't scary as hell. The makeup artist here should be noted here because they are able to turn the beautiful Headey into a believable drug addict/kingpin. While the scars do this well enough (unless you find scars attractive like Krogans and myself do) it's the work they did to her teeth that really sell the illusion. Her teeth are browned and blackened much like a real addict's would be, and every time Headey grinned I cringed (eye gore and teeth squick me out more than anything).

The story is simple: Dredd and Anderson are trapped in the Peach Trees and have to fight their way to the top floor to apprehend Ma-ma. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that and that's a good thing. I know I usually harp on movies not having  a good or deep story, but when it comes to action films I make an exception. As long as the story isn't convoluted and filled with plot holes I don't mind if it just serves to put the characters into increasingly dangerous situations just to get to the action.

The action and visuals prove to be fun and explosive. Regardless of the fact that the film really doesn't provide anything new or groundbreaking the action works. It has a tinge of hyper-violence dashed into it to provide some interesting visuals. I had the misfortune of watching this film in 3D, however this film proved to be competent in making the 3D add depth to the film rather than have stuff fly out at you, however this was mixed with some amazing slow motion footage to provide some fun visual effects. The slow motion action scenes are filled with explosions, gunfire, and bloody gibs and it's spectacular! These scenes are the only time things really jump out at you but they aren't really obnoxious about it. It's all done rather competently.

You may notice I've used the word "competent" often to describe this movie. The fact of the matter is that this is a competently made film. It doesn't insult your intelligence and keeps you engaged in the action taking place. The characters and acting are good. Dredd is awesome, Anderson is a smart and amiable protagonist, and Ma-ma is threatening and terrifying. They story is simple yet well written. The action is fun, hyper-kinetic, and gloriously violent. Even the 3D is competently used. The movie is what it needed to be, and it delivers what you expect. It's a fun movie, one that proves to keep your attention and doesn't insult your intelligence. Sometimes, that's enough to satisfy your expectations. 

I give Dredd 4 Judge helmets out of 5   

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Beyond The Dark Knight" - The Future of The Batman Franchise and DC Superhero Movies In General

Every story has to have an end of some sort. This year has seen the end of many stories, some good, some bad, some simply okay. However, the one that everyone will undoubtedly remember will be the end of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy which ended with The Dark Knight Rises. Now, we are standing on the edge of one story ending and another beginning. It's only logical  to think about the future after the ending of one of the best comic book movie adaptations ever filmed. Everyone else is talking about it, so I decided to throw my two cents in for good measure.

This is a SPOILER filled entry so if you haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises (shame on you if you haven't) go see it then come back.

So The Dark Knight Rises marks the last Batman film to be directed by Christopher Nolan with Christian Bale as The Caped Crusader. If you've read my review of the movie you know that I loved the heck out of this movie a lot. It's always a special event for me when Christopher Nolan comes out with a new movie, the guy is my kind of director/storyteller. Sure, he may have his flaws, but he can craft one hell of a movie despite that. The Dark Knight Rises is by far his biggest movie to date, and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight legend. However, that conclusion now leaves us wonder where we go from here.

It's obvious that Warner Bros. has no intention to put away the cowl and cape for any extended period of time. It doesn't make any logical sense why they shouldn't, Batman is really their only successful superhero vehicle, apart from Superman who is getting a reboot with Man of Steel next year. Then there's The Avengers...

With the success of The Avengers it's only logical to think that Warner Bros. is looking to get a slice of the superhero team up pie with their line of DC superheroes in a Justice League film. The only issue with that idea is that Nolan's Batman has just finished and if the studio is looking to do a reboot they'd need at least five years (which is around the same time the first Spider-Man came out before the reboot). However you slice it, though, whatever their plans are for Batman they've got a lot to live up to in order for it to succeed.

First, you have Nolan's Batman movies, which have become the ideal that every filmmaker strives to when filming their own superhero movies. Numerous times, Iron Man 2 was said to be the "Dark Knight" of the Iron Man movies. However, I don't remember Batman getting drunk and eating doughnuts in a giant doughnut... The fact of the matter is that there are few people who can fill Nolan's very talented shoes, but that won't stop people from trying to fill them. With luck, they'll get someone with ambition and a creative flair to make the next Batman movie, someone who is willing to take risks and not just play it safe and make a watered down version of The Dark Knight.

Second, you have The Avengers. It's very obvious that The Avengers have influenced how superhero films are made, it's not just about the one superhero living in his own bubble anymore, it's the entire universe that character inhabits as well, and the other superheroes and villains that live in it as well. It would be too easy for Warner Bros. to just copy what the Marvel movies did, i.e. make entertaining fun "summer" action movies with little substance and character. Now, don't take this the wrong way. I loved The Avengers, and I rather enjoyed the Marvel movies that led up to it. However, if Warner Bros. dares to be smart, they'll steer clear of making "Marvel movies with the DC logo stamped over it" and instead make their own cinematic universe with it's own tone and feel. This is where I take you to how, I think, they could go with Batman and a DC Cinematic Universe.

1. Don't reboot Batman, make it a sequel.
The Dark Knight Rises is the end of Bruce Wayne's journey as Batman. Both Nolan and Christian Bale have expressed this very clearly. Bale won't return as Batman, and Nolan isn't directing another Batman movie. However, The Dark Knight Rises does leave the story open ended with the promise of a future.

That future is John Blake, aka Robin John Blake.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character in the film inherits the Batcave at the end of the movie. The last shot is of him discovering the Batcave in a similar manner to how Bruce Wayne discovered it in Batman Begins. Don't believe me? Well check out this video from youtube user mavman1994 who compared the two scenes here.

The film builds up the idea that Blake is Wayne's sort of protege, like all the Robins that have appeared in the comics. The scenes of him and Blake discussing the nature of Batman as a symbol and the fact that literally anyone could be Batman is important because it sets up the potential for Blake to become the next Batman. In the very comic books that inspired the film, when Bruce Wayne is horribly injured by Bane, it's Robin who is then tasked to take on the mantle of the Batman in his stead. So it makes logical sense that this "Robin" will do the same thing here.
But he could just be Robin, or even Nightwing, you ask? Do you really expect Warner Bros. to make a movie for just Robin or Nightwing? If that doesn't convince you then how about another scene from the movie?

Remember how Commissioner Gordon discovers the bat-signal has been repaired at the end of the movie? Well it certainly wasn't a bird signal was it?
With this in mind, and the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quickly becoming a big star and a go-to guy for action movies these days, it'd be much easier, and better in my opinion, for Warner Bros. to just do a sequel series to The Dark Knight trilogy with Gordon-Levitt as Batman. While we've already seen how Blake inherits the Batcave we have yet to see his transformation into the Dark Knight himself. That would be and interesting origin tale to explore in a potential sequel with Blake struggling to become the next Batman. I'd sure as hell watch that if they made it.

2. Set the other DC characters in Nolan's Dark Knight Universe.
You know what makes Christopher Nolan's Batman movies so distinct from other comic book adaptations? It's dark and gritty. Yes, I used those words, the words every Hollywood executive likes to throw around when they're talking about rebooting Spider-Man or The Fantastic Four. It's just a simple description for a more complex idea: the fact that Nolan made a world that has a guy who dresses up as a bat and beats up criminals in the late hours of the night but still feels like it's no different than our world.

Sure, it is still ridiculous when you look at it, but every Nolan movie still has that level of spectacle that makes it larger than life. However, it is much more serious than any of the Marvel films. Where Nolan's movies feel like they're grounded in real life, the Marvel movies have their heads in the clouds. Bruce Wayne is like Tony Stark, both are billionaire playboys who are heroic underneath, and both are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. However, Bruce Wayne is a serious man who takes his duty as Batman seriously, Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. chewing the scenery. Both are good in their own right, but you'll never hear someone say Christian Bale should have acted more like Robert Downey Jr. That's what make both series of films so great and unique.

So let Marvel make the fun, popcorn flicks full of over the top action and Whedonesque dialogue, they've made their claim to that form of storytelling. However, Warner Bros has their own format that can make them stand out against the Marvel movies. It's already evident that they're doing this with Superman, the Man of Steel is being produced by Christopher Nolan, and looks a heck of a lot like a Nolan movie even thought it's being directed by 300 director Zack Snyder. This a good thing, because if they can pull off a Nolanesque Superman movie then you can easily place him in the world of Nolan's Batman.

So what does that mean for the other DC superheroes like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, who aren't really the most grounded characters in the DC roster of superheroes? Well, for the Green Lantern movies the only ideal plan seems to be a reboot like how the Hulk got a reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No one liked Green Lantern, and if Warner Bros is able to ground that character in the Nolanesque world of Batman and Superman, which is a tall order indeed but workable considering the fact that if Superman can be grounded in the world why can't the Green Lantern? Wonder Woman presents less of a challenge because it would be very easy to make her an engaging and interesting character. There was already an attempt to make a television show for the character, which was sadly scrapped, but perhaps it was to make way for the silver screen?

In any case, I'm certain that grounding the characters in Nolan's Batman universe is possible, but incredibly difficult.

3. Still be fun.
The Dark Knight Rises proves that Nolan's Batman universe is more than capable of being fun despite being set in a very realistic and gritty world. Every Nolan movie had its share of fun moments, like Gordon's admiration of the tumbler in Batman Begins, The Joker's pencil trick in Dark Knight, and all the hilarious character moments between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne in Rises. I never expected a Nolan Batman movie to hang a lampshade over Batman's knack for a dramatic exit by having him turn to talk to Catwoman only to have her disappear on him. And all he says is "So that's what that feels like..." in a slightly amused tone.
It was a little bit of brevity that didn't take you out of the film, and it was very much appreciated.

4. Focus on characters and theme.
Every Nolan movie was full of deep and memorable characters. Batman Begins gave us an interesting look into Bruce Wayne as a horribly damaged person who is angry due to the loss of his parents. He learns to focus that anger, and fear, and turn it against his enemies. The Dark Knight had The Joker, the epitome of chaos and anarchy, who clashed with Batman's ideology of order and logic. The Joker just wants to see Gotham burn, not because he believes it's the right thing to do, but because it's what he just does. Even at the end of The Dark Knight, Batman tries to rationalize The Joker's plot to blow up the ferries as an attempt to "prove everyone is as ugly as (him)." However, we will never know if this was true or not because The Joker is insane, and insanity needs no logic. The Dark Knight Rises brought us back to Bruce Wayne and his dilemma of a life after Batman and his desire to protect his city, while also bringing in Bane who is the exact opposite of Batman in every way.

For any other Batman movie beyond The Dark Knight, if they go with my proposed route, John Blake's transformation into Batman and exploring his drive to fight crime would be great to focus on. For Superman, it looks like Man of Steel is looking to explore Clark Kent's feelings of being an alien from another world with superpowers, and where he belongs in life. This could be a great change of pace for a character who is really boring, in my opinion. When you're bulletproof and can shoot lasers from your eyes it's hard to really get invested emotionally.

For Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, well, until we see what happens we'll just have to wait and see what they do...

It's going to be interesting to see where the future takes us, I'm just hoping that it doesn't suck like Green Lantern did...

Friday, July 20, 2012

"The Legend Ends" The Dark Knight Rises review

The time has come once again for the last installment of director Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy. Undoubtedly one of the best comic book film series of all time, Nolan and company had a lot to live up to after the ridiculous success of The Dark Knight. So does The Dark Knight Rises fall prey to dreaded threequel-itus? No chance in hell!

The Dark Knight Rises is one of the best films of the year. Everyone in this movie was at the top of their game and it shows when you watch this movie. It is safe to say that this is Christian Bale's best performance as Bruce Wayne, a vast improvement over what we got in The Dark Knight (I always felt like The Joker stole the show). Whether he is in the cowl and cape or not Bale was always great to watch.

That isn't to say the other members of the cast weren't great as well. Michael Caine gives a heartbreaking performance as Bruce's butler Alfred. Marion Cotillard is masterful at playing the multiple sides to her character, Miranda Tate. Gary Oldman gives us a Jim Gordon who is plagued by the guilt surrounding the lie about Harvey Dent's death. Morgan Freeman is always enjoyable as Lucius Fox. However, it's Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy who truly give memorable performances as John Blake and Bane respectively.

Gordon-Levitt continues to become one of my favorite actors and John Black quickly became one of my favorite characters in this film. Obviously his best scenes are with Bale as the two characters' relationship is one forged out of an understanding about the anger that comes with losing a loved one. Blake sees through everyone's BS, including Bruce Wayne's, and is determined to do what is right.

Tom Hardy is down right terrifying as Bane. Every scene he is in he carries a gravitas that only a few movie villains in the past have been able to pull off, including Darth Vader. From the very get-go Bane is a force to be reckoned with. The movie builds up the inevitable first confrontation between Batman and Bane, and when it finally goes down you know Batman doesn't stand a chance. Every scene with Bane beating people up you see the brutality behind every punch. I'd even go so far as to say that Hardy's Bane surpasses The Joker as one of the most terrifying villains in The Dark Knight movies. This is because, while The Joker is a great mental foe for Batman, Bane is both mentally and physically superior to Batman.

Speaking of fights, this movie has a ton of 'em! Each and every one of them more grander than the last. There is one between Bane and Batman which I consider to be one of the best fight scenes in a movie for a very long time. It's clear that Nolan has definitely taken some of the criticism about previous Batman fights to heart. You feel each and every punch, hear Batman struggle to land solid blows on Bane with all of his might, and it is all so epic!

The story is an interesting mix of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. There are tons of aspects found in Begins that is here in Rises. In fact, the only thing that really returns from the previous film is the lie about Harvey Dent. Everything else feels like a much grander version of Begins, and that is perfect for what this movie needed to be. While the film can sometimes jump around rather quickly, leaving some slightly confused, it doesn't detract from the story all too much.

However, of all the Christopher Nolan Batman films this one is notable in not feeling like a Nolan movie. Sure, his touch is visible in every frame of film and the IMAX shots are astoundingly beautiful. However, the story is not what I've come to expect from Nolan. This is slightly a good thing because it gives The Dark Knight Rises a very unique identity like the previous films had.

This movie seems lighter than the others, despite how dark the story is, and that can be attributed to how epic the movie feels. But it's not just that, there are numerous scenes in this film that are genuinely hilarious yet don't stand out as being brevity for brevity's sake. My favorite joke is one between Catwoman and Batman, if you've seen the film you know the one I'm talking about, and it was a great joke.

I wish I could go into more detail but I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone. So I'll move on to another subject: the effects.

This is the most special effects heavy Nolan movie we have seen yet. We have Batman's new vehicle, aptly named The Bat, buildings and bridges being blown up, and of course that football scene. And every single one of them looks great. Not once did I catch myself thinking everything was CG, I was in the moment for the whole movie.

Of course, Nolan likes to keep things practical, and the practical effects in this movie are a spectacle to behold. The prologue with Bane, which everyone has no doubt seen by now, hijacking that plane is something straight out of a Bond movie. The hordes of people battling in the streets of Gotham while Bane and Batman duke it out on the steps of the courthouse. It would have been so easy to go CG for such complicated scenes, yet every single person you see on those streets is real and it conveys the epic scale of this movie like no movie, not even Lord of The Rings, possibly could.

So what did I think of the ending? Was is fitting, was it good, was it bad? Was it Mass Effect 3 all over again?

No, the ending of The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to Nolan's Batman trilogy and you will be pleased, and at some points positively surprised at how this movie ends.

Go and see it, you will not be disappointed.

I give The Dark Knight Rises 4 Batarangs out of 5 for a fitting end to one of the best comic book movie series of all time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

TV Reviews: Breaking Bad "Live Free or Die"

Breaking Bad is probably one of the best television shows to ever grace the small screen. Reaching the heights of shows like Game of Thrones it is truly a captivating show to watch. If you're like me and loved Bryan Cranston in Malcom In The Middle then his transition from TV dad to TV badass was unprecedented. So it's clear to see that I am a huge fan of this series.

And this series' previous season was probably one of the best on television at the time. The proverbial game of chess between Cranston's Walt and his drug kingpin boss Gustavo Fring (played chillingly by Giancarlo Esposito) was full of twists and turns and the stakes were the highest they have ever been on the show. The way that season ended was probably one of the best season finales to date. So how does the season five premiere "Live Free or Die" hold up in the face of that mind blowing season finale?

It holds up rather well in fact. As the episode begins with a flashforward, which has become a staple of the series, of Walt with a full head of hair and a beard now living under a false identity. Immediately everything has become interesting as you wonder just how the hell Walt ends up at that point. However, we must return to the present and see the fallout of Walt's victory over Gus.

The way this plays out is rather fast paced, more so than the show normally is, as Walt, Jesse, and Mike (who managed to survive the events of season four) team up to erase the surveillance footage from the super-lab that Gus had stored on his laptop. The story jumps from Walt realizing this as a loose end to immediately racing out to the desert with Jesse to catch Mike in order to figure out where Gus kept the footage. It is a bit jarring but for the sake of time it is acceptable. Of course, how Walt and Jesse go about erasing the footage was probably the most memorable aspects of this episode.

The main problem facing them is that the DEA has already gotten a hold of Gus' laptop and there is no way to steal it from the evidence room. The resulting argument between Walt and Mike on how to approach this situation, with Jesse trying to tell him his idea about using magnets to erase the hard drive in the background, was my favorite scene in this episode. It is hilarious and shows how far Jesse has come since the first season as he is the one who comes up with the winning idea despite being in the same room with resident genius Walter White. The looks on Walt's and Mike's faces upon hearing Jesse's proposal is priceless. What follows is even more awesome.

To start, if this idea doesn't get its own show on Mythbusters I will be extremely disappointed because this is right up their alley.  So, the guys plan to use a powerful magnet to erase the footage without even stepping inside the building it's being held in. What they do is rig up an old Uhaul van with tons of car batteries and magnetize it. The resulting scenes of them testing it with a laptop and then actually using it are just down right awesome. Of course, not everything goes according to plan  and, like every other episode of Breaking Bad so far, it has unforeseen repercussions that will no doubt come back to haunt the characters.

The B-story of this episode falls to Skylar and her reaction to Walt's "big win" over Gus. I found Skyler was rather irritating in this episode as she became distant, once again, (or as Walt Jr. called it in season three "bitchy"). At this point it seemed like a step back for the character, though it also makes a kind of sense. Walt has definitely changed, and that change is scary. For the rest of the episode he is in full blown Hiesenberg mode as seen with his confidence after the guys' "big heist" and the commanding attitude he had towards Saul. I can understand why Skylar would be scared of Walt, but it just feels too much like it did in season 3, and Skylar has grown since then. And, if anything, she should know by now that everything Walt does, just as she did with Beneke and his tax problems, is for the family.

Speaking of Beneke, he's alive! After that hilarious fall last season I figured we would see the aftermath (had I not been led to believe that he had been killed by the fall mid-hiatus). It was surprising to see him in that hospital bed. Of course, despite what he tells Skylar, you know he won't stay quiet for long!

Needless to say, Breaking Bad is back and the season premiere was ridiculously awesome.

I give "Live Free or Die" four blue crystals out of five for a truly entertaining season premiere.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Netflix Reviews: "Ink"

If there is a must see movie on Netflix, it is Ink. If I had to choose one movie in all the movies on Netflix for you to watch it would be Ink. This is one of those films that transcends being just another movie and is a genuine experience to behold. It is right up there with films like Lo as being one of the most memorable movies I have ever watched. It is original, simple yet complex at the same time, and at its core has an emotional anchor that manages to ground the fantastical elements in this movie and make them matter.

To call Ink one of the best movies I have ever seen is an understatement. To call it a masterpiece is like calling the Mona Lisa a painting. To put it simply: Ink is why I watch movies. Of all the gems on Netflix, Ink is the crown jewels. There isn't enough good things I can write about this film.

Of course, despite this movie being one of the best films I have ever seen, the particulars of how I came across it is rather ironic. Ink was put into my queue with the intention of riffing on what seemed like yet another lackluster science fiction fantasy movie. It didn't help that during my first time watching it I was actually going out of my way to riff on this movie in the most horrendous way possible. Of course, at first glance, Ink doesn't really have much going for it in the looks department.

Most of the special effects in this movie could be easily recreated on my bootlegged copy of After Effects. That isn't to say that the effects in Ink are terrible. On the contrary, they work for what the movie is going for and are actually rather imaginative. It's the simplicity that gives them its charm, even if they do appear cheap they work.

The biggest hurdle to overcome however are the makeup effects in Ink. While they aren't horrendous the titular character Ink has one glaring aspect that is bound to make anyone laugh at first glance. Ink has the largest nose ever created for film that looks like someone tried to recreate Mr. Burns' vulture-esque snout in real life. It was the crux of many jokes I made about this movie on my first viewing. However, as the story progressed and I began to learn about Ink's tortured past, the large nose became a part of the character and showed just how twisted Ink's spirit had become through self-loathing and despair. Once again, it worked because it made sense in the context of the story.

The story, in of itself, is the main reason why I love Ink. It is original yet simple despite its more mind-bendy ideas. The premise revolves around the existence of spiritual beings known as the Storytellers who bring good dreams to people as they slumber and provide them with positive emotions to help them live better lives. The Storytellers aren't alone, however, there is another group called the Incubi who are their polar opposites who spread despair and nightmares with their very presence. The battle between good and evil here is played out while we sleep with the Storytellers standing guard over us.

Into this world arrives Ink, a lost soul who has been twisted by despair and has become a force of evil who desires to become an Incubus in the hope that they can relieve him of his never-ending pain. In order to become one, however, Ink must kidnap the soul of a little girl and bring her to the Incubi. However, the Storytellers are hot on Ink's trail as they try to rescue the girl from his clutches. The only hope the little girl truly has, though, rests on the shoulders of her estranged father whom the Storytellers realize is her only hope to wake up from the nightmare world of the Incubi.

I won't go any further into the plot because I hope to have piqued your interest enough to watch this movie. Needless to say, Ink is a very unique film to behold.

The idea of the Storytellers and Incubi isn't so much as told to us as it is shown. The first scenes in the movie show us the basic rules of the world of the Storytellers and how they work. It is clear enough to visually understand that you really don't need exposition. That doesn't mean that there isn't exposition to help people understand. There is just enough for people to understand how this world works.

There are some aspects in the movie that are kept in the dark until you get much further into the movie. One example is the introduction of Jacob the Pathfinder. Jacob is a very interesting character because he comes off as a sort of Yoda-like character with an infinite amount of wisdom who is wrapped in a layer of crazy. He is effectively blind, shown via the electrical tape covering his eyes, but is able to sense what he calls "the beat of the world" which allows him to navigate and is also the source of his powers. However, all of this is left for the audience to make sense of as time goes on because there is no one in the movie to explain exactly what a Pathfinder is. It can be irritating at times though by the end enough is shown to understand. In the end, you come to like Jacob because he has some of the more interesting lines in the movie and is an integral part of one of the film's more memorable scenes.

However, the most important characters in the movie are Ink, the little girl Emma, and her father John. All three of which are skillfully portrayed. Then there is Leiv, a Storyteller who comes to Emma's aid and tries to understand Ink's motivations and dissuade him from delivering Emma to the Incubi. Their journey is the emotional heart of this film and the primary reason why it manages to be so successful.

Follow this up with some really well shot fight scenes that carry weight and drama behind them and you've got a movie that manages to stand up next to great science-fiction/fantasy films like Inception. While it may not have the same budget and spectacle like a film like Inception it has what matters: heart and emotion.

This is the only movie that has ever made me cry, and that is something to say after I watched Wall-E without shedding a single tear. I'm the kind of person who doesn't cry at the end of Old Yeller because it just seemed like the logical next step after a dog gets rabies. When I watch Titanic I'm angry, not sad, when Leo Dicaprio freezes to death because he didn't have the common sense to find his own piece of floating debris to sit on. So understand that when I say that Ink managed to make tears stream down my face and pull the cobwebby strings on my heart that that's saying something.

That is why I think Ink is one of the best films I have ever seen and that is why I recommend, no I demand that you put it in your instant queue.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Netflix Reviews: "The Stuff"

Yet another interesting gem you can find on Netflix. The Stuff is a fun sort of "invasion" movie that borrows numerous ideas from other films like Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, and numerous others and mixes them together into a rather satisfying treat. This is a film that reminded me of the days I used to read R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books when I was in elementary school. It has a light heart for such a grim story, much like most of Stine's books, and reminds me a lot of the slime saga of books in the series. If you enjoy horror movies with an extra serving of campy goodness The Stuff is right up your alley.

While the poster may fool you into thinking this is a straight up horror movie it is much more than that. It is a goofy take on the story of Invasion of The Body Snatchers replacing invading aliens with the titular Stuff. There are numerous instances in the movie that are more camp that horror. Such as the inclusion of numerous hilarious advertisements for The Stuff as its popularity grows. However, it is Garrett Morris' "Chocolate Chip Charlie" who practically steals the show with his over-the-top performance which you can't help but love.

The premise is fairly straightforward with numerous sub-plots that come together as the movie progresses. To begin, a group of men discover a strange substance seeping from the ground that they discover is unbelievably delicious. Naturally, they start to sell the substance, which they simply call "The Stuff," and it becomes a national phenomenon. However, not everything about The Stuff is great, as our protagonists soon learn as it begins to gradually take people over.

The protagonists include David, an industrial spy sent to discover the secret behind The Stuff; Jason, a young boy who hates The Stuff for a very good reason; and the small band of people who help them reveal the truth about The Stuff to the world. However, the most memorable character in the movie, I found, was Chocolate Chip Charlie a junk food mogul who is so hilarious and over-the-top he's up there with some of the more memorable loony characters in film and television like Jack Sparrow and Cosmo Kramer.

The horror elements here, while being very 80's, are still fun to watch. The Stuff is a film where the more ridiculous the effects are the better they are. There are numerous effects shots that, while being horrendous, you can't help but enjoy for their clever implementation. There are some better effects in the movie, but not many, and I can't go into them for the sake of spoiling the movie. Needless to say, though, it's fun to see squibs explode that have been loaded with white yogurt instead of blood for a change.

However, it's not all horror and camp here. The Stuff actually manages to examine our culture's obsession with junk food and the ramifications of popularizing substances that, while tasty, aren't exactly good for you. While it doesn't take a genius to really see the subtext it still provides an interesting subject to ponder on as you munch on your bag of Doritos.

While The Stuff may not be appetizing to everyone, it is definitely a treat to watch.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Do Whatever A Spider Can" - The Amazing Spider-Man (Video Game) Review

When it comes to movies and video games, there are two super hero franchises that stand above the rest. One is Batman, who has seen a remarkable comeback thanks to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and has changed how superhero games are made with the Rocksteady games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The other is Spider-Man who pretty much launched the long standing domination superhero films have over the box office thanks to Sam Raimi's films and is by far one of the most fun characters to play in a video game. Spider-Man 2, the movie tie in for Raimi's sequel, defined superhero games with an open world for players to swing in as the titular webhead. Every review you see for a Spider-Man game is almost guaranteed to mention the impact Spider-Man 2 had on Spider-Man games and other superhero games in general.

Since then, Activision, who has produced every Spider-Man game since the classic Playstation games in the late 90's, has continued to expand on that and make the next Spider-Man game even more innovative. This has had mixed results as most games just continued to use the Spider-Man 2 formula and just added their own plot to change things up (which isn't a bad thing, I have yet to run into a terrible Spider-Man game). However, every Spider-Man game has, at least, been entertaining to play.

If anything, it was Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows, that really perfected the structure of what a Spider-Man game should be like. It had everything, the sandbox city to swing in, numerous crimes to stop, and added a new combat system which utilized Spidey's powers and abilities to create a unique experience. You didn't just fight on the ground, you fought in the air and on walls and it was great and each style was unique in their own way. The best part about Web of Shadows was the introduction of the web-strike attack where Spidey could zip from enemy to enemy with his webs. It felt like how Spidey would really fight and it was satisfying to attack a string of unknowing bad guys in succession. If anything, Web of Shadows is by far the best Spider-Man game.

Then Beenox took over as the studio who developed Spider-Man Games. The result was Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time. While I, sadly, haven't played these games myself the reactions to these games were rather lukewarm. Unlike their predecessors these games didn't have you swinging through the city at your leisure, which was enough to put off many fans right then and there. So when the new Spider-Man movie was put into production Beenox was tasked with making the movie tie-in game and with it everyone was wondering if swinging would make a return. Thankfully it did.

 If anyone recalls my review of the film this game is based on some may expect this review to be a repeat of the same comments I made in that review. However, this isn't the case. In fact, The Amazing Spider-Man game is probably one of the few instances where the game is better than the movie it's based on. Story wise it is far more coherent and structured, though does suffer from some random occurrences but it doesn't detract from the story all that much, and manages to actually build a more interesting world than the movie did.

 Set after the events of the movie (which managed to spoil anyone who played it since it came out before the movie) we have Spider-Man faced with the aftermath of The Lizard's rampage through New York. There's a new CEO at Oscorp, Alistair Smythe, who is a leading researcher in robotics and nanotechnology. Smythe intends on removing all of Dr. Connor's research into cross-species genetics though it looks like Oscorp did some experimenting of their own with Connors' notes as there are more cross-species creatures including versions of Rhino and The Scorpion. Naturally, like with any evil corporation which takes pride in playing with genetics like a 10 year-old with photoshop, the beasties escape and Spider-Man has to deal with the resulting viral outbreak.

The game is pretty much a straightforward Spidey game from there on out. However, Beenox has managed to make the old gameplay mechanics seem new and fun. Taking some inspiration from Batman: Arkham City, this Spider-Man game features a similar camera set-up (with the camera tight behind Spidey's shoulder) and a similar combat mechanic. While some would say this game is merely knocking off what made Arkham City successful, I'd say this combat mechanic fits perfectly within the world of Spider-Man. In fact, combat is fairly entertaining as Spidey punches, kicks, and jumps around numerous enemies while dodging incoming attacks thanks to his spider-sense. If, anything, I'd say Arkham City's combat system seems to have been meant for a Spider-Man game in the first place.

Swinging through the city is back once again and the new camera set-up provides an exhilarating rush as you swing through the city. Though the mechanic has been tweaked somewhat, as in you're not truly bound to any of the buildings you swing on, this is meant to allow you to swing in a more visually satisfying manner and it pays off. Web-swinging has never been more fun.

Sadly, some elements from previous games haven't made their way into this one like wall crawling combat (though you never really have anyone to fight on the walls), but have now been replaced by another Arkham City inspired stealth system. Again, I personally feel that these gameplay aspects really fit perfectly into a Spider-Man game and don't see any problem in this (that's why I say "inspired" instead of "ripped-off"). In fact, it's actually more entertaining to see Spidey take out a mook with stealth tactics because he does so with that traditional Spider-Man wit. He will web down from the ceiling and playfully tap bad guys on the head with his foot before encasing them in a web cocoon and hauling up into the ceiling, and I laugh every time he does it.

However, Beenox has introduced a new mechanic that actually makes the game even more fun. It's called "web-rush." Web-rush takes you into a first person perspective, time slows to a crawl and you are free to scan the area for possible places for Spidey to zip to, collectibles such as comic books, and even enemies. It provides you with a new form of travel through New York that is even more visually pleasing than simple web-swinging. Web-rush also integrates Web of Shadows' web-strike attack system which is a relief because I loved that about WoS. 

While some will point out the similarities between this game and Arkham City, that shouldn't be a negative thing. After all, Arkham City was a brilliant game (one of the best superhero games I've ever played in fact) so having a Spider-Man game that is similar to it is actually a plus, in my opinion. Needless to say, it didn't disappoint me as much as it's film counterpart did.

I give The Amazing Spider-Man (The Video Game) 4 flying comic book pages out of 5. 

"Tangled In A Web" - The Amazing Spider-Man review

Spider-Man is one of the most pivotal cultural icons of the modern world. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't know who Spider-Man is. He's all over comic books, films, television shows, cereal boxes, music, and anything else imaginable. To say Spider-Man is one of the most important superheroes in history is an understatement.

It's safe to say that without Spider-Man we wouldn't have groundbreaking blockbusters like The Avengers and The Dark Knight. It was Sam Raimi's Spider-Man that began the reign of super-hero movies at the box office. Raimi's Spider-Man movies (sans the third one) are probably some of the best examples of superhero films. So, when Columbia Pictures decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise there was no doubt that what would be produced had big shoes to fill, so to speak.

To reboot the Spider-Man movies, especially after the big successes of the previous films, was a tall (and ballsy) order. In a perfect world (one where I am supreme ruler of the universe), when faced with having to reboot Spider-Man, I wouldn't have redone the origin story. The reasoning behind this is the fact that EVERYBODY knows the origins of Spider-Man. Thus, there is no reason to return to the very beginning.

However, I was willing to give The Amazing Spider-Man the benefit of the doubt because they teased us with hints about the so called "secret" behind the origins of Spider-Man.  It offered something new besides the usual "power and responsibility" origins everyone is familiar with. Trailers hinted at the possibility that Peter Parker's parents, who left him with his aunt and uncle when he was young, were somehow linked to Peter becoming Spider-Man. However, trailers lie, and while there is plenty in The Amazing Spider-Man that does hint at an underlying connection between Peter's parents and how he became Spider-Man nothing truly comes of it. Which is something that truly disappoints me.

Instead, what is presented is pretty much what you saw with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, just without the oodles of trademark Raimi cheese and more polished effects. While I still have my hangups about how this reboot seems to have popped up too soon after the last Spider-Man movie, having watched the first two movies recently I can admit that they have definitely aged with time, and not in a good way. However, while The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely much more serious in tone it is more erratic in story telling than its predecessors. It may be much less campy and more "dark and gritty" but it still feels as carefree and light hearted as the first Spider-Man. The fact of the matter is that The Amazing Spider-Man is just that: a remake of the first Spider-Man movie, with different aspects built upon a painfully similar story.

That isn't to say this is a terrible movie, not by a long shot. There is a lot to like about this new Spider-Man such as the performances in the film. Andrew Garfield, the new Peter Parker, is fantastic and manages to convey not just the angsty teen side of Parker but the brilliant scientist, and the snarky superhero. I'd even go so far as to say he is better than Tobey Maguire. Emma Stone is adorable as Peter's first love Gwen Stacy. Her best scenes are with Garfield as the two really pull off the cutesy teen romance really well. You also have Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben who I think could've been utilized much better in this film (I just like the fact I could make Illusive Man jokes in the theater). Denis Leary stars as Captain Stacy, Gwen's father, and almost steals the show. He's got some of the best lines in the movie and kicks some major ass. Then you have Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curtis Connors/The Lizard. If anything Ifans does manage to pull off the mad scientist role, however, I never really felt sympathetic to the character which really is a let down because that sympathy is what made The Lizard an interesting character in the comics. Really, Ifans never managed to make me feel sorry for Connors.

Another positive aspect of this film is the fact that it does bring forth plenty of new and interesting ideas, however, these ideas don't coalesce well enough to fit into a streamlined story. How they characterized Peter's transformation and how he changed as spider DNA intermingled with his was rather interesting. Him catching a fly and licking his lips like he was about to eat it was interesting. Indeed, Garfield's portrayal does have a lot of spider-like mannerisms in it. It definitely would have been an interesting take on the character had it been explored more. It would make sense for some of the instincts, not just the abilities, to cross over into Peter.

Another positive aspect of this film is that there are some truly creative scenes. My favorite being a scene where Spider-Man is searching for The Lizard in the sewers. He sets up a network of webs throughout the tunnels and then sits and waits until he gets a vibration from one of them, just like a real spider catching its prey. It was also great to have Spidey reclining back on his web to play a game on his phone while he waited because, if spiders could, they'd pass the time doing the same thing.

However, for every fun and interesting idea this film has there are also very questionable ones. While I enjoyed Garfield's portrayal of Parker I didn't like how this film turned him into more of a punkish skater. While it makes sense that he shouldn't necessarily be a stereotypical nerd, as he was depicted initially in the comics, because in real life nerds come in all shapes and sizes like everything else. It just didn't feel right to have him skating around. While it's merely a nit-picky part on my end there are also more troubling decisions made in this film. The largest one being how Uncle Ben's death is executed in this film.

 To be clear here, Uncle Ben's death is the most pivotal moment in the Spider-Man lore. It is what made Peter Parker realize that with great power comes great responsibility and what drove him to become Spider-Man. This is something that is, regardless of how many retconns and deals with the devil Spidey makes, that remains a solid fact. However, in The Amazing Spider-Man, Uncle Ben's death is pretty much pointless here. Sure, it plays out fairly similarly here. Peter lets a criminal go despite having super powers and it results in the criminal killing Uncle Ben. However, this film drags out a portion of this story, the part where Peter goes on a path of revenge to find his uncle's killer, and it results in a string of vigilante attacks as Spidey tries to hunt the guy down. That's all he does for the first half of the movie as Spider-Man he tries to catch the guy responsible. He doesn't even decide to do some actual super-heroing until he saves a child from a burning car. And with that, the main crux of the Spider-Man lore is rent asunder. Because Uncle Ben's death doesn't teach Peter to become Spider-Man, a man who uses his power responsibly, some kid in a burning car does.

I know it may sound like I'm just nerd raging here, and I'll even admit that it may be the case, however this was a story told so many times that people who know about Spider-Man just in passing know about the importance of Uncle Ben and his death. So, I ask you, how is it you can screw up something literally EVERYBODY knows about? I'd love to know, because the writers of this film obviously managed to do so.

The films also likes to jump from set-piece to set-piece without little or not background or establishment in place. People were doing things in places and I didn't know why they were doing what they were doing or where they were doing it. The Lizard spontaneously attacks a street during the movie even though everything had been pointing out the fact that he was actually supposed to be heading to a destination. Why did he make a pit stop to gas a city block? Then, after being told that The Lizard has launched a biological attack on New York, Captain Stacey doesn't reassess his pursuit of Spider-Man--whose crimes so far have been vigilantism, resisting arrest, and making the sides of buildings sticky--and divert his forces to stop the Lizard. Instead, he continues hunting down Spider-Man. Why? Because having a scene where Stacey pulls Peter's mask off in front of a bunch of cops would be awesome and dramatic  Sure, it looked cool, but in the end it was just an empty action set-piece. That's why I call this movie an incoherent mess. It had a ton of cool ideas for scenes but didn't seem to have a story to stitch those ideas together.

Now, I may be making this movie look like crap but I assure you it isn't. It's just not a great movie. Maybe I expected too much from this movie, but damn it I did expect more than what I got. However, that doesn't make it a crappy movie (like the movie(s) that were shown in the trailers preceding it...*cough*). I wasn't mad or angry when I left the theater. I was disappointed, because I expected more than what I got from it. It's, at face value, a solid super-hero flick. Most will enjoy it, I will just shrug at it.

Do I recommend you see it? Sure, you can. Though if you're a die hard fan of Spidey or are interested in seeing the so called "secret origins" of Spider-Man, you will be disappointed.

I give, The Amazing Spider-Man, 3 webshooters out of 5.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Netflix Reviews: "The Darwin Awards"

Have you ever heard ridiculous stories about people and the hilarious ways they managed to kill themselves? Like the guy who willingly slammed through a window and fell to his death because he believed the window was unbreakable? Or the the experienced parachutist who forgot his parachute? Have you ever caught yourself thinking that the poor folks who are dumb enough to commit such mind meltingly stupid acts are actually helping improve the overall stock of the collective gene pool by removing themselves from it?

Well author Wendy Northcutt seems to think so! Northcutt is the author of the Darwin Awards and creator of, which celebrate individuals who have died as a result of extremely ridiculous circumstances. These people and their stories have been seen on numerous shows over the years such as Mythbusters because some have taken on urban legend status. These stories have resonated so strongly that they even had a movie made about them which happens to be on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.

The Darwin Awards is a 2006 comedy film that stars Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder and is inspired by Northcutt's work and the stories they entail. The film also has some very entertaining appearances by actors like David Arquette, Juliet Lewis, Wilmer Valderrama, and even the Mythbusters themselves Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. The film is presented as a documentary being filmed by a college student as he follows Fiennes' character, Michael, a detective who loses his job after failing to catch a serial killer because he faints at the slightest sign of blood. Michael struggles to get back on his feet and decides to use his detective skills and encyclopedic knowledge of the eponymous Darwin Awards to help an insurance company profile individuals who may fall under the category of a Darwin Award. After impressing the company he is partnered off with Winona Ryder, who represents the more sane half of the duo and they travel the country investigating numerous deaths that are unorthodox to say the least.

Most of these cases are ripped straight out of the Darwin Awards website and anyone who watches Mythbusters will definitely recognize a number of the cases the duo investigates. While the stories may be familiar to anyone who likes shows like Mythbusters, The Darwin Awards manages to add clever, and sometimes very dark, humor to these stories to make them seem more original. However, the cases are only a minor aspect in the film.

The primary focus of the film is about Michael and his obsessive nature which is the root to his obsession with the Darwin Awards. He meticulously plans out his routine and goes to extreme lengths to keep himself from becoming one of the many Darwin Award stories he finds so fascinating. Of course, his overly cautious nature usually backfires, and nearly does kill him, such as when he attempts to take a shower in a hotel bathroom and uses bungee chords to keep himself from slipping only to get himself stuck upside down. Winona Ryder's character, Siri, is always annoyed by Michael's obsessive nature and tries to get him to loosen up.

 There is also a sub-plot focusing on Michael's continued search for the killer he let slip away. Every so often we see him pouring over newspaper clippings tied to the case and the film actually shifts from the Darwin Award investigations to the murderer near the climax of the film. While I didn't really find this sub-plot to be as interesting as the Darwin Award stories, it's function within the story makes sense in context.

 There were numerous things I enjoyed about this movie, and some things I felt indifferent to.The documentary style of filming seems a bit unnecessary because the film isn't always filmed in the documentary style. There are numerous scenes that are shot traditionally, mainly when the story shifts to the actual Darwin Award stories, so the inclusion of the documentary style is a questionable one. However it does provide a number of hilarious scenes where, during moments where Michael and Siri are in trouble, the camera man will not help them because the rules of a documentary include non-interference. However, even then, this film is shot rather professionally and clearly.

 The acting is fairly solid. Joseph Fiennes comes off as a genuine odd ball with little social skills and pretty much carries the movie all by himself. Winona Ryder is, as always, Winona Ryder. I find that she never really changes much from character to character. The other actors do very well with what little screen time they have and managed to provide numerous laughs as a result.

 Overall this is a solid comedy. I enjoyed the grim humor and this film never stops being funny. There are numerous comedy set pieces to be found here that will keep you laughing. However, the best, and most hilarious, part of this movie is the inclusion of Mythbusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. While I won't spoil to you what their role in the film is, needless to say it was a great pleasure seeing them appear, especially considering stories like the Darwin Awards are what they use to make their show. Their appearance alone assured that I would enjoy this movie.

 I enjoyed this movie, more than I expected, and I certainly recommend you add it to your queue.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"...And Life Goes On" My Review of Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

As most people who follow me on twitter and read my blog posts are well aware of, I was one of many people who found Mass Effect 3's ending to be unsatisfactory. I called it depressing, insulting, and a betrayal to not just the established lore of the series but to the fans who devoted much of their attention and care into it. I jumped on the Bioware Bashing Bandwagon calling the developers "lazy" "uninspired" and a host of other horrible names and curses that I, at present, cannot write on this entry.

I had lost faith in the developer's skill at designing the best games I know of, and as such decided to cut ties to them indefinitely. To call myself angry is an understatement. I felt, for all intents and purposes, betrayed. I had followed Bioware for many years, and devoted a lot of my time and money into their products. There was a level of quality I came to expect from them, an expectation and trust I only reserve for those who have proven they are deserving of it (Pixar is another such example of a studio who has earned that trust). To then have that trust be betrayed like it was when I witnessed the ending to Mass Effect 3 resulted in some of the darkest days of my life.

To say I loved the Mass Effect series is like saying I love my wife. To me, and many others like me, it is more than just a game, it was a part of my personal and social life. I forged friendships through this game, not just the crew of the Normandy but actual real living people here in the real world, and I have Mass Effect to thank for that. I say this because I seemingly cannot stress this point whenever I discuss Mass Effect. I must get across what these games meant to me in order for those who don't feel as I do to understand why myself and others were so affected by the ending.

It is the reason why I was dreading June 26th, a day I normally welcome because it is my birthday, because that day would be the most important day to everyone who ever cared about Mass Effect. For June 26th was the day that Bioware released the Extended Cut DLC, their answer to the outcries over the ending.  And today, June 26th, 2012, has finally come, and I have seen the Extended Cut for myself, not only on Youtube but actually in person. So, what is my reaction to the new endings Bioware has produced for us?

In short, these are the endings that should have been in the game upon release. These are the endings, for better or worse, that we the fans deserved to see because they are undoubtedly better than what we received.

To start I must note that I initially wanted to hate the extended cut. In my mind, I wanted to hate them because I couldn't see any way for Bioware to fix the mess the original ending made. I must also point out that ever since the ending controversy began I have always referred to the endings of Mass Effect 3 as singular, ending. This is because, as it stood then, whatever choice you made be it control, synthesis, or destroy, you pretty much got the same ending. So for the more eagle eyed readers out there you may have noticed I just referred to the Extended Cut endings as plural. That is because these do, in fact, feel like multiple endings.

While the end result is inevitably the same: the reaper threat is resolved, the additions to the decisions presented in Mass Effect 3 do truly feel like they vary. This was a primary complaint among many who felt the endings didn't vary enough. Well, in the case of the Extended Cut, that isn't an issue. The variation between endings is, surprisingly, astounding considering what we had with the original ending. The game takes into account your paragon/renegade score and that truly effects the outcome of the endings. An example of this can be seen if you choose to control the reapers. Your Shepard's personality is downloaded into the reaper collective and, depending on whether your Shepard was Paragon or Renegade, he/she either uses the reapers to help rebuild galactic civilization and maintain peace or uses the reapers to create a seemingly totalitarian system of control where Shepard rules with an iron fist/reaper tentacle.

This is what I wanted to see in the original endings. Our choices and decisions playing out and effecting how the endings turned out.

So what about all the nagging issues such as the massive plot holes and seemingly world ending events that transpire during the original endings? Well, for the most part, Bioware did the smart thing and either removed them or downplayed most of them. The Extended Cut explains why your entire squad is back on the Normandy even though you last saw them all on Earth. It explains why Joker took the Normandy away from the battle, and it made logical sense and Joker clearly didn't want to leave Shepard behind. It works. Sure, some of the explanations may seem hamfisted but it works and doesn't leave a huge plot hole you can fly a reaper through.

The destruction of the mass relay network is now either completely omitted from the endings or strongly downplayed. This was a major issue I had with the games because, as I have said before, destroying the mass relays is like blowing up every single stargate in the Stargate franchise, it breaks the fiction. Now, when you see the mass relays go up it is implied that the damage was superficial or that they were easily rebuilt. This was a smart move by Bioware because, even though I can see the thematic significance of the destruction of the relays (they are reaper tech designed as part of their trap after all), the game's codex specifically notes the relays are the crux of galactic civilization (again like the stargates in Stargate).

The crashing of the Normandy is also strongly downplayed in this version of the endings. We don't see the Normandy's engines blowing up as it tries to outrun the crucible shockwave. The damage to the exterior of the ship when you see it on the nameless Eden planet has been removed and we eventually see the ship fly once more before cutting to the credits. Instead, as the new scenes provided imply, it appears that this strange planet is most likely the rendezvous point the fleet was supposed to reach when the Crucible was armed. This is obviously meant to make it clear that the Normandy crew isn't stranded like the original ending seemed to suggest.

To put it simply: the doom and gloom that the original endings seemed to imply has been replaced by a much more welcome victorious feeling.

There are now epilogue scenes that also hint at what the future of the Mass Effect universe may be based upon your choices. Whether you chose control, synthesis, or destroy, you are now given a sense of closure that was lacking in the original ending. You see the galaxy rebuild, and depending on your choices there are variations on how that is accomplished and where the galaxy will go from there. It is what I, personally, expected when I first played the game.

There are also new dialogue options when you speak to the "Star Child" Catalyst. This was one of the things I severely hated about the original endings because dialogue has been the primary gameplay function in the Mass Effect series (despite what more action oriented players say) and to see that not in the original ending hinted that the developers either had no time or simply didn't care. Here, you do get to ask questions and argue with the Star Child about the choices he gives you. The Star Child doesn't really come off as malevolent than he did in the original ending and, instead, comes off as simply an AI designed to control the reapers. While some may find this to be unacceptable at this point there is no way to completely remove him, like Jar Jar Binks in Episode I he is an important part of the plot which cannot be removed. He, however, does give us more information than we had before, even if he still won't give us truly clear answers due to there "being little time."

Hell, if that doesn't please you, Bioware even gave us a new alternate ending. This was one I really wanted to see in the original game and was glad they included it: refusing the choices presented. Of course, this results in the Reapers winning but I expected this to be a possibility in the original game, especially considering the time capsule Liara made seemed like a serious hint at this possibility. Of course, this plot point finally gets the pay off it deserves and I loved the ways you could initiate it (either vocally refuse the choices the Catalyst gives you or simply shoot the kid in the head. Gotta give points for Bioware having a sense of humor.)

To sum it up: the extended cut of the endings is how the game should've ended from the beginning. Had this been the endings presented to us when the game was released I would've been pleased at how Bioware managed to pull it off. As it stands now, Bioware managed to pull their asses out of a huge fire (and without the help of a portal gun! GLaDOS would be impressed!)

Which brings me to  Bioware.

Throughout all of this I repeatedly stated my desire for Bioware to explain their decision and elaborate on why the chose to end the game as they did. I didn't want them to change the ending, I didn't even want them to clarify the ending. I wanted to understand why they wanted the game to end like it did. I wanted them to be honest and explain what happened that resulted in the ending I saw upon my first playthrough. I wanted them to accept responsibility for the mistakes they made and apologize.

Well, it seems I'm the one who should be apologizing.

So, I'd like to say that, like many, I have been a selfish, petty, and deluded human being. I made attacks and verbal accusations against a company I had come to respect and trust. While I can't say, at the time, that those actions weren't unwarranted. I can say that I am fully sorry for the way I have acted. Professionally, it was uncalled for. All I can hope to do now is let the folks at Bioware know that, as it stands right now, they have managed to regain the trust I had in them. They have regained me as a, albeit more cautious, customer and I hope to share more experiences with them and their products in the future.

I'd also like to thank them for giving me probably one of the best birthday gifts I could hope for: a reason to play their games once more.