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.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

"It's Always Worse With Bears" My review of Pixar's "Brave"

I love Pixar. Let's just get that out in the open right here and now. Since day one with Toy Story, to their "stumbles" like Cars, and their masterpieces like Wall-E I have followed their work wherever it takes me. I love the simple yet groundbreaking stories they weave and the amazing animation they use to tell them. Just take a look at Toy Story, which was released back in the late 90's and it still can hold up against most animated films distributed today.

Pixar has, by nothing short of a miracle, managed to maintain a soul in the face of the corporate world that film and animation exists in today. It is their defining characteristic, as well as the reason, I believe, why they're so successful. Like anything people do, whether it be crafting stories to serving fast food, it shows when a person has a passion for what their doing. With a studio like, for instance, Dreamworks you can see some passion has indeed been put into the films they've created. However, think about how many Shrek and Madagascar films there are, as well as sad attempts to cash in on Pixar's success (such as Shark Tale to Finding Nemo...). It's just not the same. There's a visible difference between Pixar and Dreamworks films, and I believe it's the heart the Pixar puts into their work that is the reason for this difference.

So it's no surprise that I liked their latest film, "Brave." I've reached the point where simply knowing something's a Pixar film is a promise of instant enjoyment. They have managed to earn that from me after years of impressing me with their work. Brave continues to prove my faith in Pixar isn't misplaced.  It's a great, hilarious, and imaginative fairy tale that never fails to deliver on an emotionally engaging story about a girl and her mother and how they learn to accept one another for who they are and grow as a result.

To start, I'd like to begin by talking about the Pixar short before the movie. The Pixar shorts are one of my favorite aspects about a Pixar film. It's a simple little appetizer to whet my appetite for the feature presentation. In this case, Pixar's short film was called "La Luna." La Luna was a beautiful short about tradition and how traditions evolve from generation to generation. It was clever, imaginative, and I loved every moment of it.  Now, onto the actual film itself.

The story and characters in Brave are everything I've come to expect from a Pixar film. The story is simple, yet tells an original and emotionally engaging story that will make you laugh and pull at your heart strings. The characters feel three dimensional and believable, at least the primary cast does. The most stand out character being Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald). Merida is by far the most interesting, and human, protagonist Pixar has ever presented. She feels like a real person with her own thoughts and feelings yet isn't perfect. She is also selfish but that doesn't make you hate her. You root for her, you understand her problems and feel for her. She is a free, and wild, spirit. This, of course, doesn't sit well with her more reserved and "queenly" mother who is at her wits end with her daughter's insistence on being free to make her own path. This conflict is the heart of the film. As the film continuously has the two women butting heads for what they think is right. Eventually, Merida storms off and discovers a witch in the woods who gives the princess a spell that should "change her mother." Of course, this spell does more than Merida is hoping for and she must find a way to break the curse before it's too late.

It's somewhat standard fare for a fairy tale but that doesn't matter. Pixar manages to make everything feel new and interesting thanks to clever writing and lovable characters. The second primary character of Brave is undoubtedly Merida's mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), who, despite wishing her daughter would be more lady-like and less of a free spirit, doesn't come off as a bitch. That must have been the most difficult thing to pull off because it would've been so easy to make Merida's mother less sympathetic than she is in the movie. Elinor truly believes she is doing what's best for her daughter, she clearly loves her, but you also feel her frustration when Merida is being rebellious. The true root of the conflict between mother and daughter is the fact that neither one understands the other. There is no true antagonist in the movie (apart from a bear that is part of a sub-plot) but if there is one it is the differing perspectives Merida and Elinor have.

There is also Merida's father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly). King Fergus is probably one of my more favorite characters in the movie. He is a humorous, jovial, king who obviously passed his passion for adventure, and his carefree attitude, to his daughter. Despite the fact that Merida constantly defies her mother's wishes, Fergus simply laughs it off and finds his daughter's free spirit to be endearing. The banter he and Merida share during the archery competitions reflect this really well, as well as shows how he is no help to his wife who scoffs at him every time he enables Merida's behavior. You also have Merida's younger brothers, fiery haired hellions who provide a number of laughs, and the three other clans in the kingdom all of which have their own unique characters who share numerous hilarious scenes together.

I also loved the movie's soundtrack. I've always had a soft spot for bagpipes and Scottish music in general and the film's use of traditional Scottish music as well as the songs sang in Gaelic by singer Julie Fowlis really got to me. Another spectacular aspect of this film is just how beautiful it is. Pixar continues to be the pioneer of computer animation and Brave is definitely a sight to behold. The most notable technological marvel of the movie is Merida's fiery mane. Her meticulously animated locks are one of the most important aspects of the film because represent her fiery spirit. Her hair is an extension of her character as well as her predicament. She desires to be free but her mother insists she be more reserved, this is clearly represented by the rebellious strand of fiery red hair that Merida allows to fall from the confining headdress that is attempting to keep the wild spirit at bay. It's the first thing you notice about Merida and you have to commend the job Pixar did bringing her hair to life.
In fact, you have to commend Pixar on making yet another great film. It's not every day you find a new and original fairy tale full of colorful characters that has an engaging story. There's really nothing bad I can say about the film.

In summary, Brave is another great Pixar film with interesting characters and an interesting plot that doesn't disappoint. I give Pixar's "Brave" 4 arrows out of 5.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Netflix Treasures: "The Caller"

Netflix always has something interesting to offer if you're willing to look for it. However, some people don't have time to sift through the garbage like Chop Kick Panda and need someone to point them to films worth putting in your queue. Of course I am only one person, with one opinion, and I can't promise that every film I review here will be to your liking. However, I do encourage you at least take a look at the films I recommend here because you may be surprised.

Today, I have an interesting little horror/thriller titled "The Caller."

To start off I will say that what this film lacks in interesting characters it makes up with a rather interesting plot. It's interesting and horrifying in a new and unique way that makes The Caller worth watching. The plot is fairly simple. A young woman named Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre) has moved into a new apartment in the wake of a destructive divorce with her abusive husband (played by Eureka's Ed Quinn sans beard). After she purchases an old telephone she begins to get calls from a woman named Rose. After constantly insisting that Rose has the wrong number the two form a sort of friendship and begin to talk about their problems. However, things begin to take a turn for the weird when Mary learns that Rose is calling from 30 years in the past which Mary shakes off as someone pranking her.

This is where things seem to devolve into a more cheesier version of the Dennis Quaid film Frequency (which I actually like), however, things do pick up as the story progresses. When Mary's conversations with Rose turn dark Mary tries to distance herself from Rose and ends up forming a relationship with a man named John (played by True Blood's Stephen Moyer). As this goes on it becomes increasingly clear that, hoax or not, Rose is becoming a serious threat to Mary and then it turns out that Rose may be telling the truth about calling from the past. The first signs begin to show when Mary discovers new markings and changes in her apartment that weren't there before. Then, as Rose slips further into madness she begins to prey upon the people Mary cares for, in the past.

This is where the horror of the film really shines. While the time travel logic is more "timey wimey" and less Primer, it is easy to follow and definitely adds a new twist to time travel that is truly terrifying. As Rose preys upon the past versions of Mary and those she cares for, with Mary being completely powerless to do anything as she watches her friends get erased from from history. It's what makes The Caller a standout in a stale genre. It provides an interesting and new idea that is genuinely scary. It's not the idea of someone attacking you from the past that is scary, it's being unable to stop them that inspires fear. It's that fear that makes The Caller something above the dime-a-dozen supernatural thriller films out there.

It's definitely worth a watch, if not because you find the idea of someone hunting you in the past scary, then for a rather entertaining thriller movie that can kill a couple hours. I definitely recommend it.

No New Ideas: Prometheus is just AVP with no Predators

When I first saw the first trailers for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" I was undoubtedly stoked. It was Scott's return to the Alien universe he helped create as well as science fiction in general. This seemed obvious since Scott seems to have a reignited interest in the genre as he is also making a return to the film that is definitive sci-fi: Blade Runner and as well as being the host of the Science Channel's "Prophets of Science Fiction" series. And as the review of Prometheus on my old blog has stated before I really like Prometheus despite its flaws. However, there was a nagging feeling I kept getting in the back of my mind ever since I first saw the trailers for this movie. It was a feeling that ate away at my psyche up until a few days ago when the realization hit my like a ton of bricks.

Prometheus is just Alien vs Predator without Predators.

Okay so it's much more than that, but that sentence pretty much sums up my realization very simply. However, for those who don't understand what I mean I'll lay out both movies for you and show you what I mean.

To start off we have the overall premise of the two movies. Both are pretty much the same when taken at face value. Which is really surprising considering Prometheus is awesome and AVP isn't. Of course this all falls into how the films were executed and Prometheus was executed brilliantly by a guy who has such works like the first Alien and Blade Runner under his belt while AVP was directed by the guy who did the Resident Evil movies. However, what still stands is that both films follow the same basic plot. Don't believe me? Check this!

So for Prometheus we have a story about a group of explorers who discover that there is evidence of an extraterrestrial race present at the dawn of mankind who may have helped us evolve. The explorers travel to a distant location, in this case another planet, far from civilization to uncover answers to humanity's origins and discover a lost pyramid structure built by the aliens that turns out to be a trap full of nightmarish alien monstrosities designed to kill them. 

If that sounds familiar that's because it's the exact same plot to Alien vs Predator! Which goes something like this: A group of explorers discover that there is evidence of an extraterrestrial race present at the dawn of mankind who may have helped us evolve. The explorers travel to a distant location, Antarctica, far from civilization to uncover answers to humanity's origins and discover a lost pyramid built by the aliens that, surprisingly, turns out to be a trap full of nightmarish alien monstrosities designed to kill them.

Do I have your attention now? Good because that isn't all these two movies share.

You may recall in Prometheus that the entire expedition is funded by the Weyland Corporation (which eventually becomes Weyland-Yutani later down the road). In fact, it's personally funded by the CEO himself, Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce in old guy makeup). It's at this point I should mention I assume you've seen Prometheus by now and don't mind SPOILERS. Anyhow, it turns out Weyland, who is a dying old man, believes this expedition could be his key to immortality and goes along on the expedition (in secret of course). 

In AVP you have Weyland (played by Lance Henriksen and wishes he was in old guy makeup) a dying old man who has personally funded the expedition in the hopes that this discovery will immortalize him in something more than just being a billionaire CEO. Of course, to ensure he gets this form of "immortality" he goes along on the expedition.

It's almost like Prometheus writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof sat down in a room, trying to come up with the story, and decided they'd "just do that crappy AVP movie, but better."

Similarities don't end there either, though. Oh no. It appears the so called "DNA" that Prometheus shares with Alien comes more from these crappy crossover movies than it does the original films.

If you can recall, in AVP, (if you can't I wouldn't blame you, the movie blows) there is a scene where the main female protagonist, or as most Alien fans call her "The Ripley," finds one of the expedition's security officers loading a gun and chastises the woman for bringing a gun on a purely scientific exploratory expedition. The resulting retort from the security officer being one of witty logic stating she'd "rather not need it and have one than need it and not have one." 

Well the same things happens in Prometheus where Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a.k.a. The Ripley, notices one of the ship's security officer's toting a giant flame thrower and complains about it on the grounds that this is purely a scientific expedition. The officer scoffs at her idiotic objections since they are heading into a situation where there could possibly be hostile alien forces and says something along the lines of "bite me, I'm keeping my flamethrower for when the shit hits the fan."

Other similarities include The Ripleys' romantic interest in both films being horribly killed upon being infected by an alien pathogen. In AVP it's the Italian guy who gets facehugged and is shot in the head to spare him the pain. In Prometheus it's Halloway when he gets an alien mickey slipped into his drink via David and he later willingly gets immolated to spare himself the pain of the infection. Another one is where a horrific stereotype dies a hilariously horrible death, in AVP it's the Scottish guy and in Prometheus its a British Stoner.

However, the most damning similarity between these two films is the final scene which are pretty much the same shot for shot. In Prometheus we get a shot of a proto-alien bursting out of an Engineer's chest which proceeds to shriek at the camera with its alien mandibles extended. In AVP we get a shot of the Predator/Alien hybrid bursting out of a Predator's chest, which shrieks at the camera with its mandibles extended.

So what does this mean exactly? Some may wonder what the whole point of this article is since I spent so much time thinking of similarities between these two films. Was there a real point or did I just want to have fun ruining your image of Prometheus forever? Well a little. However, the real point here is that the fact of the matter is there really are no new ideas anymore. What makes Prometheus such an original and engaging film is what AVP lacked, and that was substance. Prometheus dared to make you ask questions, and had fairly interesting characters that asked those questions. AVP, on the other hand, is a cheesy monster bash.
It's all in the execution, and Prometheus was a well executed movie.      

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Impressions: Dead Space 3

So I've recently finished watching a twenty minute video that presents the first official gameplay footage for Dead Space 3 (the link to which you can find here) . If anyone reading this also follows my twitter page you'll know my initial first impression of Dead Space 3 was rather negative. This was in response to the first trailer that came out a few weeks ago which I found to be a bit... disappointing to say the least.

I mentioned how the game looked to be more action shooter and less survival horror (much like another popular survivor horror title I now supremely dislike), as well as pointed out some glaring similarities it has to Lost Planet. So far, while my thoughts are still in the early stages of forming considering the game isn't even out yet, my thoughts on Dead Space 3 are very negative.

So has any of this changed with the new gameplay footage? It's safe to say yes.

To start off, I will focus on what I liked about the footage. Gameplay still looks to be similar to that of the previous two Dead Space entries. This is a good thing considering the fact that this game is looking to turn into another action shooter. The setting for Dead Space 3 is, I'll admit, something new to behold for the franchise. While I'm still on the fence about the designers' choice to set the game on a "Hoth" planet when there are so many different setting that would've fared so much better for this franchise (my mind instantly goes to worlds like that in Aliens and Prometheus: a dead or primordial world with a landscape composed of ancient lava flows and wind storms composed of ash that go on for days at a time) I can still accept the fact that the new open spaces bring a breath of fresh air to a series that has always been made up of cramped metal corridors. Another aspect I found myself liking was the inclusion of cooperative multiplayer. While some things Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis said about the inclusion of extra story content you can't find in the single player campaign, which called back haunting memories of Mass Effect 3's terrible Galaxy At War system that had multiplayer games effect the outcome of the single player story, here it feels like the differences between co-op and single player campaigns are minor to the overall story but the co-op does add some welcoming character moments. This includes banter between the series protagonist Isaac Clarke and the new guy John Carver which I couldn't help but enjoy as they fought a giant, out of control, drill in one segment of the game. So far, these additions to the series seem to be fairly interesting and add something new to the series, something that I really wanted in Dead Space 2.

Onto the aspects I didn't like about the video. First off, this doesn't have anything to do with the game but the video itself, Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis just comes off as obnoxious as he describes the scenes he's presenting. Repeatedly using phrases such as "super awesome" to the point he was reminding me of the notorious Mr. Caffeine. The aspects I saw in the gameplay footage that bothered me included the lack of the traditional laser sightings on ever weapon the player uses. This has, seemingly, been replaced by a traditional set of crosshairs. However, this may only be for the weapon we see Isaac use in the footage (the only one he uses in the footage mind you) and we may still see the laser reticules make a return with trademark weapons such as the always versatile Plasma Cutter (which I do hope is in this game). Other issues I have with what I saw are minimal at best. While I'm still on the fence about the inclusion of human enemies, plot and story wise it does make sense to have Unitologist soldiers trying to kill Isaac so I can't really disagree with their inclusion.

Apart from that, my first impressions of Dead Space 3 are now a bit more positive than they were previously. I'm really trying to keep an open mind on this one because this could still be a great game. I'll have more for you as more of the game is shown.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Netflix Nightmares: "Chop Kick Panda"

If you're like me you're very much aware of the "mockbuster" genre which notorious studio The Asylum monopolizes on. If you aren't aware of what I'm talking about here's a bit of a run down: The Asylum is a sorry excuse for a film studio that cashes in on more popular movies by filming "mockbusters" movies that are titled to sound like more popular movies like Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds and The Asylum's H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, Battleship and American Battleship, Alien vs Predator and Alien vs Hunter. 

Of the number of mockbusters The Asylum has pumped out some are mildly amusing and most are tantamount to cruel and unusual torture. However, the film of the day isn't by any means an Asylum flick. I merely wished to elaborate on what a mockbuster is and what The Asylum is because when I tell you that The Asylum isn't the only studio that is in the mockbuster business. Just let that sink in for a moment...

...There are OTHER studios out there who make crappy rip-offs of popular films...



Ladies and gentlemen... I give you...

Chop Kick Panda...

The story behind this one is fairly simple: my friend and I were in a masochistic mood. We wanted to subject ourselves to something so evil and painful that we'd want to lobotomize ourselves with a bendy straw. Actually, it's even simpler than that. It looked like a terrible movie we could have fun riffing on. But this movie practically makes fun of itself.

If you've watched the actual movie this movie rips off (Kung Fu Panda if you live under a rock) just take it and divide it by 100. This is a simple minded, half baked, poorly made movie that lasts a grand total of 41 minutes! Sure, every minute is injected with the screams of millions of mircowaved kittens, but at least it's short. That is the only positive thing I can say about this movie: that it is no longer than an episode of Spongebob Squarepants.

I never thought I'd actually miss hearing Jack Black's voice! This movie made me miss Jack Black's voice! It's that bad! This movie is so bad it doesn't show the name of the studio who produced this steaming ball of concentrated evil, like the studio is embarrassed that it made it! When a movie's so bad you aren't willing to admit to making it you have truly created the anti-movie. If only Michael Bay were as conscientious of his sins against cinema as the studio who made this movie.

What really tosses my brain into a salad shooter is that someone actually got paid to write this movie. It really makes me question my previous impressions of humanity when people could willingly make a movie like Chop Kick Panda. It's the epitome of everything that is wrong with humanity, and after I finished watching this movie it took me weeks to get my jaw up off the floor.

It is by far one of the most horrible things I've discovered on Netflix, and I still can't believe it exists.   

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Netflix Treasures: "Lo"

I'm starting something new for my new blog. I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time but haven't been able to until now. Netflix Treasures and it's antithesis Netflix Nightmares are part of a new review series I've set up where I find rare gems within the bowels of the Netflix repository of movies and give them a review highlighting the good and bad and whether or not you should watch them.

First on my list of Netflix movies to review is a true treasure: "Lo."

The story behind how I discovered this gem is part of the reason why I like this film. You see, it was Halloween 2010 and a friend and I have a tradition of watching a horror movie to get into the spirit of the holiday. After scouring Netflix for what seemed like a decade we stumbled onto a film simply titled "Lo."

The summary detailed the story of a young man who must enter the bowels of hell to save the woman he loves and faces demons trying to get in his way. This movie sounded like a truly epic story full of scares so we clicked the play button and watched the film unfold before us.

It started out rather simple. A young man with a spell book creates a circle which he uses to enter Hell. The beginning really isn't that spectacular in any visual sense, but it definitely threw us off balance considering what the synopsis had promised. The young man, Justin (played by Ward Roberts), is cast into a room of darkness with only the candles circling him to provide light. Demonic sounds permeate his trip into the underworld and are quickly silenced as he sits in darkness. A demon approaches him and it is revealed that this demon is the titular Lo summoned by Justin through the spell book.

Immediately my friend and I were hooked upon seeing Lo. The makeup effects used to create Lo are really great. He is a pasty, broken, shell of a creature that crawls on its stomach due to a crippling injury to its legs as "punishment" for an unknown crime. However, when Lo begins to converse with Justing things get screwy.

To put it simply: Lo is hilariously evil.

Like Christopher Walken's portrayal of Gabriel in the Prophecy films Lo comes off as a silver tongued monster with a snarky wit. He hilariously calls Justin "dinner" in order to threaten him and between genuine acts of horror and evil will remark with witty put downs that illicit laughter rather than horror. Essentially, evil is hilarious, and Lo is definitely evil.

This revelation really twisted our perception of the movie as it quickly turns into something akin to Evil Dead 2, and this isn't a surprise to a more eagle eyed viewer who may have noticed "Lo" is in the horror/comedy category. Lo is hilarious as Justin attempts to order the demon into doing his bidding. Lo, while reluctant to take orders from a puny mortal, seems more interested in scaring Justin into leaving Hell before he becomes dinner for Lo or some other demon.

Lo's character immediately sucks you in with his truly devilish charm. And when his threats don't deter Justin we are then shown "flashbacks" into Justin's past to explain the events that drove him to enter Hell. Upon seeing how these flashbacks are shown my friend and I couldn't help but laugh at the cheese factor this movie has. Essentially, flashbacks are set up on a traditional stage complete with a happy and sad face (played by real people) hovering over the scene. The sets look cheap but aren't out of place in a play. This decision definitely threw us off kilter as everything seems so corny and cheap, but the story being told is very important as we watch how Justin met April, the woman he is determined to free from Hell.

It is here my friend and I turned to riffing on the film as the level of corniness simply begged for it. However, as time went on the story dragged us in, while still being hilariously corny.

I will go no further in explaining the plot simply because you yourself have to watch "Lo" in order to find out. I say this because regardless of what I said previously about how corny the movie can get at times with it's theater play flashbacks, corny musical numbers, and somewhat corny makeup effects (for the other demons, Lo is the exception) "Lo" is really a magnificent tale of love and sacrifice that is undoubtedly inspired by the story of Faust (which is mentioned in the story as it progresses).

However, the film does have it's flaws. The acting can be very cheesy, if not down right childish, but as you get used to the theme of the film it becomes endearing. As stated before, it can be corny at some points, and it's very clear this was made with a very small budget (which makes the makeup effects for Lo even more amazing) but regardless it tells a very engaging story with plenty of twists that will leave viewers with plenty of stuff to think about for days. If anything, it should leave you entertained with the few musical numbers sang by one of the demons and his cohorts.

While I can't say this movie is for everyone, if you enjoy an original story that takes an original approach to things then this movie is really up your alley. For some it will come off as a silly independent film with cheap effects and a cheesy script, for others it will be one of the best stories ever told on screen.

To this viewer, and his friend, this is undoubtedly a Netflix Treasure worth adding to your instant queue.

"An End Once And For All" My Thoughts On Bioware And A Message

Okay, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who follows my twitter account that I absolutely hated the ending to Mass Effect 3. Over the course of my short life, this is by far the biggest betrayal I have ever faced. A betrayal that left me hollow emotionally and grief stricken for months. I literally went through all the stages of grief over what is basically just a video game. However, it's clearly not just a video game to me. We all have that passion for something that is seemingly trivial if you look at it from an objective point of view be it books, movies, video games, or marriage. What matters (and what I will always respect regardless of how trivial anyone's passion may appear to be) is that you were capable of having a strong emotional reaction to that thing you're passionate about.

For me this was Mass Effect.

My friendships were practically based around this series. Friendships forged in the fires of galactic war and the passion for the epic story Bioware was presenting to us. Which makes what happened to Mass Effect 3 all the more painful because it also put me at odds with the best of my friends. That is how powerful this game is. Like Thor's hammer coming down on Captain America's shield the ending to Mass Effect 3 resulted in devastation and left those in its wake dazed and confused. We (the fans) wanted to know what happened.

Of course no one really knows what happened apart from Bioware themselves, but they will probably never tell us. This is probably the most irritating part of what happened between the loyal fans and Bioware: the lack of communication. Be it corporate PR strategies, embarrassment, or because they really do stand by their game and its horrendous ending they aren't willing to explain the thought processes behind the ending.. Regardless, there are many people, myself included, who would love to have been a fly on the wall at the Bioware offices during the production of the game. Just to see where things went wrong.

The resulting fan rage doesn't help anyone, of course, but what else can us fans do? This really is the first time I've ever really had a true episode of nerd-rage, something I thought myself above, and it has both blinded me and opened my eyes to many things. In the end, I am really no better for what happened. I know that it may sound melodramatic to say that Mass Effect 3 emotionally scarred me for life, but that is the honest and simple truth.

To elaborate, you must understand that this is a game I, and many other people, poured my money, love, and passion into. Think of the Mass Effect series as a house that is being built, that you and others are building together because you truly desire this house to be built and you want to see the final product. The house gets built, and the more of it that is completed the more beautiful you realize it is.Then imagine that, on the final day where the last shingle is being placed onto the roof, the primary group of people who have helped build this house, fund its construction, and supervised everything decided to take a bulldozer to it at the last minute without telling you. How would you feel? Betrayed? I'd go with betrayed.

Now sure, you yourself didn't fund this project and the ones who did do have a right to do what they please with the house you're building but that doesn't take away the sting of realizing the effort you put into this house has been for nothing. Surely you must feel like you've wasted your time building this house. I know it's just a metaphor but it's the only way I can clarify my feelings about what Bioware did.

I can't argue with Bioware's choice to go this route because, ultimately, its their game. They wrote it, programmed it, and shipped it for us to enjoy. I can respect that fact, much to my chagrin. That doesn't mean we didn't have a part to play in this series though. After all, any franchise is only as great as its fanbase and Mass Effect and Bioware had one heck of a fanbase. This is thanks to both their imaginative and creative games as well as their unique relationship with fans. You don't see this level of communication between a developer and its fans, and you probably never will ever again. So why is it that this aspect has changed all of a sudden?

It'd be too easy to blame EA. Far too easy.

But blame doesn't change the fact that what happened in Mass Effect 3 can never be undone. It is, as a certain Time Lord would put it, a fixed point in time. It's now set in stone. I know there are many people out there who really do hope that the Extended Cut DLC will undo everything (and if they feel like it does then that's even better) but take into consideration the fact that, had this ending not received the negative feedback that it did even by a fraction, does anyone really think Bioware would be putting in the effort and resources to create this extended cut?

Of course I base this on the assumption that no one at Bioware was expecting this ending to be met with this much hostility. Which seems to be a fair assumption otherwise we would be expecting an extended cut to have been released much sooner. Top off the fact that if this had been pre-planned from the get-go it wouldn't just be extra cinematics but actual gameplay.

Again, I don't know what went on in Bioware, I'm merely going off my best possible assumptions. Needless to say, it's hard not to see this Extended Cut as being the PR department's saving throw against the negative criticism the ending has been faced with.

I know I am coming off as being negative but that's the point. Because the truth hurts, and it can come off as being negative. No one likes to hear the truth and the truth is this: People aren't stupid and the fans of these games proved that by pointing out the glaring flaws in this game's ending, flaws that the creators somehow managed to overlook. We're smart enough to see through the bullshit. Just look at the numerous reactions to the statement Bioware made when they announced the Extended Cut. And yes there are those who do see hope in this Extended Cut as well, but for this fan simply clarifying things isn't going to help.

At this point, the only thing that could fix things between me personally and Bioware is a genuine apology and an explanation as to how they managed to screw this up. But I'm not going to get that and I accept that. The next best thing would be for the ending to be undone, but as I stated before, what's happened has happened and cannot be undone. Which is why I have chosen to never pick up another Bioware product for as long as I live.

Bioware, if you are reading this, this is my message to you stating that you have forever lost me as a customer. You have betrayed my trust in you as a competent developer of quality products and I will never do business with you ever again. It's as simple as that. I will say that our business together has been great over the years, and I genuinely regret this decision considering our past relationship. However, this betrayal of trust cannot be forgotten nor can it be undone. It has been nice doing business with you but we must now part ways.

Welcome To The Neighborhood!

So for the last few years I have been using an old blog that has been registered under my old yahoo account. This has always provided me with a lot of stress and irritations as I primarily focus on using my gmail account nowadays for business and extracurricular activities. In order to further immerse myself in my gmail account I have created this "sister blog" to my old blog.

This is a change I have been wanting to make for a while. I've been tired of flip flopping between my yahoo and Google accounts and with this new blog I wont have to. So from now on, any and all reviews, musings, and horrible poetry will be presented on this new blog.

Have a good day and I hope to see you all soon!