Saturday, April 19, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer

If you bothered watching last year's "The Wolverine" (and really, I wouldn't recommend it), you would have been given a great final teaser involving the seemingly magical return of Magneto and Professor X to the X-Men film universe.  Here's the movie they're making out of that return... and boy does it look like a clusterfuck:

Apparently EVERYBODY is in this movie, up to and including Peter Dinklage, inexplicably.  He's built an army of robots that look exactly like vacuum cleaners to - you guessed it - kill all Mutants.  Therefore, somehow, Wolverine is going back to the past to meet up with the cast of "X-Men First Class", and do time travel stuff that will save the world.  You know, because the X-Men movies didn't already suffer from huge ungainly cast problems, might as well compound the error by doubling the cast with past and future versions.  I was really excited to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen back at the end of "The Wolverine" - they're really the heart of this X-Men franchise, not Hugh Jackman as Fox seems desperate to prove - yet this trailer has completely squashed my expectations.

What's becoming increasingly obvious to me is how cheap the X-Men franchise looks.  Back in the early 2000s, these really were the best superhero movies you could hope for.  Now of course in our much greater modern world of "The Dark Knight" trilogy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have much slicker professional superhero films.  Yet here we are again with this cheesy X-Men film, which feels not only like a throwback to the 1970s but also the early 2000s.  It looks like a mess.  And you know what happens when an X-Men movie is a mess.  Need I remind you of "X-Men Origins Wolverine" (which might somehow become canon again after this stupid time travel bullshit is over)?

Hey, at least Ellen Page is coming back for this.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bravely Default

"Bravely Default" is a game I have been eagerly anticipating for about three years now.  It has been a long difficult wait, seeing a fair share of deep suffering, and uncertainty as to whether Square Enix would allow the game to ever reach the United States*.  As the months of waiting turned to years, I became irrationally bitter at other Final Fantasy releases.  My manic mind stared at games like "Theatrythm Final Fantasy" and wished death upon its players and developers, for no reason other than the game's speedy localization.  Clearly turn-based JRPG withdrawal was doing terrible things to me.  But then, in February, the game was finally released.  God was in his heaven, all was right with the world.

Now you would never guess this from the title, but "Bravely Default" is actually the newest Final Fantasy game.  It isn't called "Final Fantasy" because Square Enix prefers to use that brand name to advertise its latest bloated psuedo-turned based, psuedo-real time disaster, like "Lightning Returns".  "Bravely Default" was made to be a side-project built to appease the old turn-based RPG fans:  the people SE considers to be ancient un-cool nerds barely worthy of their business anymore.  The entire game is a throw-back to the mid-90s era of JRPGs, specifically games like "Final Fantasy V".  It has fully turn-based gamplay, no Active Time Battle for this title, a relatively simple plot without huge FMV spectacle, a light-hearted cast who refuse to brood for hours like the so-called "cool" modern Final Fantasy characters are famous for, and it has a cartoony art style.  It's an adventure of four youths defeating evil, saving Crystals, defeating an evil Empire, and even using classic Final Fantasy Jobs and magic.  "Bravely Default" is ten times more of an authentic Final Fantasy experience than we have seen in years.  And of course, for that reason, it cannot be called "Final Fantasy".

But I'm not really here to bemoan the endless stupidity of Square Enix.  I have already covered that depressing subject dozens of times - and will continue to beat that dead horse until the Humane Society files a lawsuit.  Instead I am here to celebrate "Bravely Default", the greatest turn-based RPG to be released since "Dragon Quest IX".  It doesn't matter that Final Fantasy's head is neck-deep up inside its own ass, or that the top brass of Square Enix were honestly shocked that RPG fans still love turn-based classic gameplay,   I don't care what you call your Final Fantasy games, just as long as good old-fashioned games are still getting released - the kind Momma used to make.  We can still have a nice journey with new friends, save the universe, and have yet another great game on our 3DS.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Capain America 2: The Winter Soldier

I've had a difficult relationship with Marvel over these long four and a half years of Planet Blue.  I know the comic book fans have been living lives of unending euphoria and glee, but as for us non-comic book fans, let's be honest, the Marvel films have been pretty hit or miss.  I will admit that the Marvel invasion was definitely a step-up for superhero films as a genre.  I'll take the 2010 "Captain America" thirty times over the 1992 "Captain America", and I'll take it three-hundred times over the Reb Brown "Captain America" films from the 1970s.  Still that's like choosing between getting stuck in traffic for six hours or getting run over by an Abrams tank.  Neither choice is exactly on my bucket list, you know?

The early Marvel movies, such as "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk" were these awkward early dates, trying just a little too hard to impress.  Clearly Marvel had been off the dating scene for about a decade, and it came off more than a little desperate.  But then America decided this strange movie studio with its goofy superheroes was cute, and the courtship continued.  Marvel then moved for the grand romantic gesture - the big move to cement the relationship:  "The Avengers".  But you can't just pop the question like that, you have to get the moment exactly right.  So Marvel had to spend years setting up the universe, building these half-complete two-hour-long advertisements that barely counted as movies.  "Thor", "Captain America 1", "Iron Man 2", each one sadder than the last.  But now finally "The Avengers" came and passed, America said yes, we looked absolutely beautiful in our white dress, and now we will have to live with Marvel and superhero films till death do us part.

Luckily now that "The Avengers" has come and gone, the Marvel film universe seems to have finally reached a higher level of maturity and confidence.  "Iron Man 3" was not a soulless mid-chapter simply around to set up characters, it was a fully-fledged action comedy.  And here, with "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", Marvel continues to use its established characters to create huge involving stories which stand up entirely on their own.  They know by now that America will be hugely impressed by just about anything they do, so now they've taken to breaking into other genres.  "Captain America 2" takes the patriotic shieldbearer and uses him not to punch Hitler in the face, but rather solve a complicated spy thriller conspiracy.  Its a huge movie with impressive action scenes and some interesting twists and turns, a perfectly fine blockbuster.  The honeymoon period between America and Marvel shall continue, as superhero movies continue to rise in average quality every year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Freelancin': Game of Thrones Season 4

I started a job last week so I couldn't quite manage to get an episode of Freelancin' made.  Anyway, here's a rambling commentary on Game of Thrones' triumphant return to HBO.

Monday, April 14, 2014



So let me compose myself and pretend to be an actual critic again for a minute.  I was really looking forward to "The Raid 2: Berandal", the sequel to the 2012 ball-bursting, head-splitting, teeth-shattering chunk of badass that was "The Raid".  If you haven't seen "The Raid" yet, you will forever remain a child - an unfinished creature tragically ignorant of life's greatest pleasure.  And of course, that greatest pleasure is the gleeful sense of being a Roman Emperor, watching the brutality from your special box, as Indonesian gladiators break each other into pieces in symphonies of violence.  Do you cringe?  Do you giggle?  You could burst into spontaneous applause?  It doesn't really matter, because "The Raid" movies are a goddamn show, here to entertain.  Entertain they definitely will, be it gore in your eyes or smiles on your face.  So shove down the popcorn and watch the gore fly.

The plot this time is a direct continuation of the events of the first "Raid".  Where "The Raid" was an extremely simple story:  Indonesian cops breaks into a building, fight armies of thugs, fists fly, and then one dude gets his throat cut open with a fluorescent light bulb, "The Raid 2" takes the lead cop Rama, Iko Uwais, and places him in a hugely complex "Infernal Affairs"/"The Departed"-esque undercover operation filled with rival factions and moral grey zones.  Rama after infiltrating the local crime syndicates, becomes just one minor player within a Shakespearean history play of ambitions, conspiracies, and betrayal.  One thing that has not changed though is the primary rule of "The Raid" universe:  every problem can be solved easily with Indonesia's martial arts, Pencak Silat.  The greater your Pencak Silat, the greater your lifespan.

"The Raid 2" expands "The Raid"'s already incredible visual style and incomparably awesome action beats with a vast gripping human drama.  Even though the tone has gone from mere exploitation excuse plot to crime epic, the exploitation still went along for the ride.  "The Raid" was simply a thrill ride, just a pile of loops, corkscrews, and machetes to the face.  "The Raid 2", is in comparison, a real movie:  expressive, dramatic, and probably more than a little bit bloated.  But now you can have people getting beat down with blunt objects and a serious movie with character arcs and development.  "The Raid 2" therefore is everything at once - a huge feast of a movie.   Probably the best movie of 2014 so far.