Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pacific Rim review

Before I begin this review I'd like to warn you guys that there will be some spoilers. So if you haven't seen Pacific Rim go see it now before you read this. It's well worth your time and money, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

When I first heard about Pacific Rim I was immediately hyped for this movie. It's one thing to finally get a movie that takes mecha and kaiju, two of my favorite things about Japanese media, and bring them together for a giant rumble, it's another to finally have an original film in a world where adaptations and sequels reign supreme. Sure, original films aren't extinct (yet) but they're hard to come by in mainstream media. Normally, you have to go onto the independent circuit to find original stories and most of the time they fail to grab you the right way. The last feature film I saw that I considered to be "original" (in that it's not based on previously existing media) was Oblivion, and I loved the heck out of that movie.

In my pattern of thinking, Pacific Rim was a movie that encapsulated genres that Del Toro and his co-creators loved as children. This was a similar thinking process the Wachowskis had when filming the original Matrix. They had a love of anime, sci-fi, and kung-fu movies and wanted to make a movie that had all those things and went about making a plot capable of having those aspects. It was the fact that Del Toro and company were inspired to make a movie, as opposed to be driven to revive a dead franchise due to brand recognition, that attracted me to this movie.

So, does Pacific Rim manage to hold its own, or does it fall apart due to poor manufacturing? Well that's a complicated question to answer as the film does get so many things right, as well as many other things wrong. While it succeeds in delivering a spectacular action film overall, some aspects of the film hold it back from being as good as it should be. Whether it's the characterization to the plot, there are some things that just could've been better.

To start, I'd like to mention just how fun this movie is. I sometimes feel I had more fun watching this film than I really should have, and that's because it is a genuinely fun film. Watching giant robots punch and hack away at giant monsters is, naturally, going to be fun to watch. You'd have to try to make it dull or down right unwatchable. You can't help but get sucked into the action when you see the Jaegers take on the kaiju. Right then and there, that should be enough for most people. The trailers for this film have made this movie out to be a giant slugfest between monster and machine and you get what's advertised. Better yet, the action is actually easy to follow (suck it Michael Bay!), that is, if you're not watching the movie in 3D (suck it James Cameron!).

I actually viewed the film in both 2D and 3D, and while the 3D isn't terrible (and let's face it, on a good day 3D will lightly rape your eye sockets) the movie has a tendency to rain on you to get the feeling of depth. Sadly, this can render some of the action scenes completely incomprehensible. However, I attribute this to the fact that the crappy 3D glasses the theater gave me kept getting a glare. (I will probably end up writing a whole other entry on 3D for another time.)

The film is rich in visuals, from the giant Jaegers to the set designs, and it helps craft a world that I wish I had gotten to see more of before the credits rolled. A majority of the film takes place in a giant Jaeger silo called The Shatterdome, and this place is just brimming with amazing design. I'm a sucker for old, metallic, war bunker-like designs, and The Shatterdome feels like a mix between an old WWII bunker and the Nebuchadnezzar from The Matrix. However, if military bunkers aren't your thing the film also shows us a bit of a city that was built around the bones of a dead kaiju. Sadly, we never actually get to explore the world after the kaiju in that much detail and most elements the film presents are easily lost in the background.

This is one issue of the film: it never truly sells us on a world devastated by the kaiju. Most of the time, the movie just tells us what the world's like, instead of showing. We get to see fragments from news reels and television shows about how humanity responded to the kaiju threat over the years, all set to a narration that explains the gist of what's going on, but we never truly get to see this for ourselves. Not only that, but most places we do see don't look all that worse off. For instance, we see a kaiju attack Australia, and everything is rather pristine for the most part, even the Sydney Opera House is still standing after all this time. We are constantly told that humanity is barely holding their own against the kaiju, but we never truly see it. Sure, we get the point that things are dire due to the fact that there are only four Jaegars left to defend humanity, but it wasn't enough in my opinion.

When it comes to the overall plot of the film, well I honestly can't say I was expecting something on the level of The Dark Knight. And I feel it would be a little unfair to expect a movie about giant robots fighting monsters to have a tone of brooding and deep storytelling (even though some animes have done it in the past). No, the plot manages to be just what a film like this needs to be: simple. Sure, it could've done something to keep the plot from being stale, but overall it does what it sets out to do: to justify the reason why we have giant robots fighting giant monsters. However, I do feel the plot is a little too upbeat for its own good, especially considering what it presents us with.

While I am more than sick and tired of movies about darkness and brooding, the fact of the matter is that a lot of the characters in Pacific Rim manage to be a little too upbeat than they really should be. The film constantly tells us that the world is on the brink of total destruction, yet no one really acts like it is (apart from Idris Elba's badass commander Stacker Pentecost). This is especially notable with characters faced with severe trauma the likes of which no one has ever experienced. The best example of this is in Charlie Hunnam's character, Becket. The beginning of the film has Becket lose his co-pilot and brother during a kaiju battle. This would be scarring for anyone but, due to the technology used in piloting Jaegers, pilots are mind melded together as one entity. The film tells us Becket is horribly traumatized by this experience, but we never really see it. Once, and only once, in the movie do we see this trauma interfere with his ability to pilot a Jaeger. After that, he's fine. The film doesn't explore how Becket must feel after, essentially, feeling a part of himself die right before his eyes. This is sad considering the film presents us with a unique way to explore it, through the mind melding experience the film calls "drifting." And it doesn't take that much time to get him back into a Jaeger after that.

This is, sadly, due to the fact that the film is aware that the real selling point are the epic fights. However, this results in some very shoddy pacing that jumps through important character moments to get to the next big set-piece. This can be seen throughout the film where we go from Charlie Day's eccentric kaiju researcher Newton to emotional bonding between Becket and Rinko Kikuchi's Mako in the span of seconds. The various plots feel disjointed and rushed, which can be somewhat jarring. The film manages to forget that no matter how awesome the fights may be, it won't matter if we don't have a bond with the characters.

Speaking of characters, the film is full of them! Characters ranging from partially fleshed out to outright cartoony can be found here. As I mentioned above, the film doesn't spend much time on the characters, and it suffers for that. The most interesting character is Mako, and Rinko Kikuchi manages to be lovable enough to keep her character from being flat. This is the same for most of the characters, as all of them manage to keep from being outright annoying, even the jerkass Australian pilot who serves as Becket's nemesis for most of the movie manages to be at least likable in some sense. However, it's Charlie Day's Newton and Burn Gorman's Dr. Gottlieb that stand out as truly cartoony characters, Gottlieb more so than Newton. Both rant techno babble at light speed to the point where they nearly become grating. And then there's Ron Perlman's Hannibal Chau, a black market dealer in kaiju body parts who, apparently, doesn't know the meaning of subtle. While Perlman manages to be entertaining as the gold-plated criminal, he really stands out among the more grounded characters. Overall, I never found myself hating any of the characters, and I was a bit bummed out when some of them died. However, I do feel the film could've done more with the characters, as well as handled them more efficiently.

    As I continue to analyse the film the more flaws I keep turning over, yet, at the end of the day, the film is greater than the sum of its parts. While it definitely could've been more, it certainly could've been less and when it comes down to it Pacific Rim manages to be entertaining without insulting your intelligence. The actors manage to make more of their characters than what was probably on paper and it would've been really easy to make most of these characters boring if not downright unlikable. The story serves only to take us from one big fight after another, which may be unforgivable but you can't really blame the filmmakers for doing. Many will come for the fights, and will undoubtedly be satisfied with the fights the film gives us. When you get right down to it, Pacific Rim is an example of when style manages to outdo substance. It's a ridiculously fun movie to watch, and you will most likely end up liking it more than you really should.

I give Pacific Rim 8 giant mechs wrestling with kaiju out of 10.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Not forgotten.

Yep, it's been a long damn time since I last wrote in this blog. Of course, this is because I've been busy writing for a new website (and loving it) as you all know. Along with that I've also been working on crazy book ideas, running around like a decapitated chicken, and enjoying my extended vacation while I work to get established at a new university. Naturally, I've neglected this blog, which I feel bad for because I feel it is the source of my success so far. So I've tried to make an effort to start writing here again, posting my more personal opinions of films and games, while also continuing to do reviews for movies you can find on Netflix. However, I'm also mulling around with the idea of putting up some of my own fictional works here to fill in the huge gap I've left here due to my preoccupied mind.

I'll be posting my own review of Pacific Rim here in the next couple of days to start getting this blog back into working form. And will also restart some of my abandoned reviews I promised you all so long ago. I hope you all are enjoying your summer so far!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Expect Delays

What can I say? I'm very busy. More busy than I ever have been in my entire life, in fact. I have other projects I really need to get done, plus college stuff that needs tending to. I am telling you this because I won't be doing my Chzo review any time soon now. I do feel bad about having to do this, especially when this blog has been a crucial part of my current success, but I need to focus my energies on more important matters.

I will still do reviews whenever I can, but in a limited capacity. I know I don't write enough on this blog as it is, but I really have no choice.

I do apologize to the ten or so people who read my blog, because it's you guys who keep me going, I'd rather have you than a slew of readers (well actually I wouldn't mind more traffic, but that's beside the point). The only thing I can ask of you is to be patient. The stuff I'm working on right now is big, life changing, stuff here, and it's a serious gamble for me. You could say I've gone all in when I don't know what the cards are, I will either win big, or I will lose terribly. However, with some tenacity, and a whole lot of luck, I might just pull it off.

So for now, consider the blog in a state of hibernation... I will catch you guys on the flip-slide... hopefully...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tales Of High Adventure And Cosmic Horror: Announcement

I've decided to introduce a new segment where I review various point-and-click adventure games made with the Adventure Game Studio game design system. This is mainly to increase the entries on the blog because thing's have been going slow. I'm not going to any new films, nor am I playing any new games anytime soon. Not to mention if I do I'll be reviewing them for Nerd Like You. While I have said before that I would provide more spoilerific reviews of the games and films I review over there, I've found that it is just not needed. I've looked over my recent reviews and felt I got my point across without providing spoilers, and doing so would be redundant.

While I will provide reviews of films if I do indeed find I can say more, and I will still do reviews of movies you can find on Netflix, the fact of the matter is that I need a new source of reviews. The readily available games for the AGS system not only provides plenty of fun and interesting games, but a lot of them are surprisingly well done. So, over the next few weeks, I will be going over Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's cosmic horror game series that many have taken to calling the "Chzo Mythos." However, before we can take a look at this series we need a bit of background (not only that but I am still in the process of playing the first game for the review).

To begin let's go over just what the heck the Adventure Game Studio is for those who aren't aware of it.

The Adventure Game Studio is a freeware game design program used to create adventure games similar to the old Lucasarts games like Maniac Mansion and Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis. It was created in 1997 by Chris Jones and has grown in popularity among fans of the old adventure games of yore. Over the years aspiring game designers and hobbyists have been crafting their own adventure games.

Which brings us to our first entry in this a new segment for the blog: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's Chzo Mythos! I will be reviewing the first game in the series, 5 Days a Stranger, next week.

In the meantime, head over to Nerd Like You for plenty of awesome articles written by yours truly, along with other awesome folks!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

"When good LARPS go bad." A Review of The Wild Hunt

I have never had the opportunity to play a tabletop role playing game, nor have I ever been in a "LARP" (Live Action Role Play). I have wanted to play tabletop games, but have yet to do so, and while I can see the fun in a LARP I simply have no real interest in joining one. However, RPG's have always been a staple of nerdom that still carry that stigma of being... well for lack of a better phrase "weird."

However, being an aspiring writer and lover all things creative I can appreciate the level of creativity required for both RPG's and LARPS. To not only imagine a world of high fantasy and adventure but to live and breathe it. I can respect that, in fact I am envious of people with such vivid imaginations. RPG's truly are a testament to the wonder of human imagination. However, to most "normal" folk, it is a sign of mental instability and in film this is taken to extremes.

Take the classic Tom Hanks film, "Mazes and Monsters," where Hanks plays a person who kills people because he thinks he's really a character in a fantasy world.

And then there's The Wild Hunt, which is by far the most disturbing film I've seen involving larpers (those who LARP).

The Wild Hunt is a 2009 horror film that takes place in what I can only describe as the single most awesome LARP I have ever seen in my life. Nerf swords and bed sheets are nowhere to be seen in this film as the camp the larpers use not only looks like an authentic medieval landscape but everyone is wearing very impressive costumes and wielding rather imposing replicas of actual weapons.

Now, I do not know if there are actual LARPS like this (I remind you I have never been in a LARP) but the overall quality of this game is unlike anything I've ever seen. The camp just exudes awesome from the realistic medieval feel to the fantastic costumes. There's even a replica Viking vessel on it's own gimbals so it rocks in a realistic fashion!

Into this world of Vikings and elves comes Erik (Ricky Mabe) a young man with the whole world on his shoulders. He struggles to tend to his invalid father while going through a messy breakup with his girlfriend Evelyn (Tiio Horn). This wouldn't be so bad if Erik's brother, Bjorn (Mark A. Krupa), would help with their father instead of playing in the aforementioned LARP every waking moment of his life. However, in an attempt to patch things up with Evelyn, Erik travels to the camp the LARP takes place in and tries to find her.

The film keeps you on your toes for the first two thirds as you try to figure out just where this film is going. It has a very bleak tone throughout that is made fairly clear in the beginning as Erik struggles with his mundane life. However, once he makes it to the camp and begins to interact with the larpers you do get a hint of some actual fantasy adventure as Erik, in typical reluctant hero fashion, joins up with one of the game's moderators and other players, including his estranged brother, to find Evelyn. Only to find out that her role in the LARP is a princess about to be sacrificed in the titular "Wild Hunt" which will grant her faction an advantage in an upcoming battle.

This portion of the film steeps you in a world that you could mistake for a fantasy movie as Erik and his fellowship travel through the woods in search of the princess. This fantastical facade is intermittently disrupted by the typical rules of the LARP, but that only makes you feel like you're part of the game even more as the film progresses. It's actually a lot of fun to watch, at least until after Erik "rescues" Evelyn. This is where the film returns to "reality" and the bleakness of it all comes crashing in.

Recall that I said The Wild Hunt is a horror movie, and while the film does have some disturbing imagery thanks to Evelyn's faction looking like those beast-men from The 13th Warrior, the true horror beings when Erik's meddling effectively ruins the entire game for everyone. This is the final straw for many of players who just throw out the rule book and begin murdering each other in droves.

While I've pretty much spoiled most of the film already I won't spoil the ending, needless to say it's definitely depressing. As I said before, the best way to describe this film is bleak. It's only during the LARP that the film feels like it's more than what it really is, and that is the whole point. The film explores the theme of escapism and the bleakness of the real world. Bjorn is an excellent example of this, as he has escaped into this fantasy world to get away from the horrors of real life, like having to cope with his dying father, only to have reality bash down the gates of his fantasy world in the worst way possible.

In most stories the characters go through a change during their journey that is, in most stories, a change for the better. However, in this film, that isn't so true. Yes the characters change throughout the course of the film, but it isn't all a positive change, because the world portrayed in The Wild Hunt isn't one of high fantasy, it's real. The film itself becomes a sort of mirror for reality for us to look at, and it reminds us just how bleak our world really is and why many of us, myself included, escape it through fantasy.

And now that I've depressed you all, here's a picture of a kitten to brighten up your day.

(Image sources: Wild Hunt Poster, Kitten)