Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pixels - Adam Sandler is a miserable human being who shuffles around with bitter contempt for his audience and humanity as he stares helplessly out with the eyes of one who is already dead. One day this guy is going be found rotting in the back of a Grand Rapids strip club half-eaten by mice after a cocain overdose and nobody should be surprised. Nor should you mourn him.

So should you be surprised that a Happy Madison production ripped-off from a third of an episode of "Futurama" sucks?  Not really.

Usually the most half-assed and pointless part of any modern movie are the stale, generic CG effects.  "Pixels" flips that script and creates a visual style that is entirely unique with lovable and exciting digital creatures that will wow audiences of all ages.  Then the movie casts Adam Sandler and pals in the lead roles, meaning that every aspect about the story, the comedy, and the characters will be lifeless and depressing.  So "Pixels" is a unique experience where I spent half the movie in pure agony, with my hands clenched white knuckle onto my theater arm rests and my eyes shut begging the higher powers of the universe that I only vaguely believe in to end my suffering, but then felt something that was almost like joy when Adam Sandler shut up and let the animators do their jobs.  No, this is a not a good movie.

That Adam Sandler stopped caring about anything roughly around the second act of "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" is not a new revelation.  Sandler has made his character from "Funny People" literal.  Hell, I already reviewed "Jack and Jill" which proved beyond all doubt that he cares nothing about anything.  And yet even though anybody who cared about film saw through Adam Sandler's thin veneer long ago, he still makes roughly twenty movies a year and almost all of them turn a profit.  I don't review Adam Sandler movies very often not only because his films are unwatchable on any level but also because his existence turns me into the worst kind of misanthropic asshole.  If you ever needed proof that ultimately the average theater goer does not care about quality, Adam Sandler is it.  He is one of their own:  aging, lazy, and irrationally proud of ignorance and mediocrity.  From there it is only a few short steps to deciding that all of Western civilization has failed.  That's how bad Sandler's movies are:  don't examine them too closely or else you'll find yourself in Montana writing manifestos while stocking up on ammunition, fertilizer, and underage child brides.

"Pixels" is probably the best Adam Sandler vehicle in years if only because at this point he has become too lazy to even be a proper lead anymore.  He stopped trying to devise wacky characters for him to play ever since "Jack and Jill", instead defaulting to basically playing a wish-fulfillment version of himself.  Sandler gave up on any attempt at arcs or development in his characters.  Slowly he has been having less and less screentime in his own movies to allow his entourage of charity-case comic actors like Kevin James* to take up the slack.  "Pixels" is about 20% Adam Sandler, 10% Kevin James, 30% Josh Gad, 20% Peter Dinklage, and 20% Q*bert - I listed them in ascending order of funniness, by the way.  But every character in this movie is horrible, and "Pixels" would have been better served as a short film of nothing but CG characters destroying the world (as it was before Happy Madison got their hands on it).  If there is any enjoyment to be found here, it is months later once "Pixels" is out on video, where you have a fast forward button to skip past the zombie-eyed comedians dishonest attempts at entertainment to watch the parts with actual spark and imagination.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Revenge of the Reboots Part 1: Terminator Genisys

Remakes, retreads, and rip-offs have been common in Hollywood for decades.  2015's summer film season is in no way special in this.  I have been writing this blog for five years now and trust me, these kinds of franchise reboots are nothing new, they have given me thousands of words worth of material.  Most of which I wrote in a very angry mood. Throughout the May to July period, something special happened, no less than three major reboots to classic SciFi franchises hit theaters.  This I feel, makes for a teachable moment.  One reboot was a piece of crap, one barely passed, and one was fucking awesome.  Let's use these three films to see what lessons we can draw.

Welcome to a trilogy of reviews I call "Revenge of the Reboots".

I imagine that the genesis* of "Terminator Genisys" went something like this:  Two screenwriters drove into Hollywood on the same day, each with their own script for a planned reboot of the 1980s James Cameron time travel action franchise, Terminator.  One screenwriter had this cooky plan of rehashing the plot of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" just with Arnold Schwarzenegger raising Sarah Connor.  Another screenwriter had a completely different script imagining a reborn Skynet reappearing in 2015 using our iPhones as a new terrifying way to start Judgement Day.  Then these two screenwriters, both rushing to make their meeting with the execs, smashed their cars right into each other.  Both were tragically killed, most of their scripts were destroyed in the fire.  But the execs were able to salvage the situation, they simply took what pages survived of each document and paperclipped them together.  Then it was time to make a movie - a disjointed, confusing, riddled with plot holes movie.

Guess what?  "Terminator Genysis" is the piece of crap.  The Terminator franchise has been long suffering, with "Terminator Gynisis" marking the third attempt in the past twenty years to turn these movies into a bankable annual phenomenon.  "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" could only regurgitate "Terminator 2" only with less success.  And "Terminator Salvation" was the kind of movie so bad that if there was any justice in Hollywood, the word 'Terminator' should have been banned from film titles for a century.  Maybe our children's children would be able to undo our mistakes and atone for the sins of that travesty.  Yet here we are, just six years later, with yet another attempt.  And if the goal was simply to show that it is possible to make a Terminator movie better than "Salvation", they succeeded.  If they had any further goals, well... that's a shame.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Harley Quinn DLC Review

This is a review of the Harley Quinn "story" DLC that I got along with my "Batman: Arkham Knight" pre-order.  The DLC actually seems interesting enough:  you play as Harley Quinn in a prequel to the main Arkham Knight storyline featuring her attack on Nightwing's city to rescue Poison Ivy.  That sounds fine. Harley is a great character even if her voice is mangled by an incompetent Tara Strong performance.  Her relationship with Poison Ivy is one of the most interesting and complicated ones in all of Gotham.  Plus Harley Quinn was apparently pregnant in "Arkham City" opening the door to all kinds of twists and emotional turns as she tries to get over the Joker.  Harley plays very differently from Batman:  she has no silent take-downs, but is more aggressive, faster, and can go berserker for one hit kills.  This should be great.

Instead this DLC is crap.  Allow me to give a summary of the entire thing:  Harley beats up some cops, then goes into a room to beat up more cops with guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops without guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops with guns, then goes go an elevator shaft, and finally beats up a few cops backed up by Nightwing, and rescues Ivy.  That's five fights total.  How long does that take?  Fifteen minutes.  Now I paid nothing for this DLC because it was a pre-order bonus, but somehow even after an investment of nothing, I still feel ripped-off.  This makes the worthless blue balls of "Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes" seem like a sixty hour JRPG like "Persona 3".  Just as soon you feel like you understand the difference between Harley Quinn and Batman's playstyles, the DLC is over.  This story mode is over so fast that I only ever got a chance to use one of Harley's gadgets, I do not even know what the other two do.

Okay, the game is lengthy in terms of Atari 2600 standards, but maybe the story makes it worth it?  Nope.  Harley Quinn's pregnancy storyline ends with no conclusion as Rocksteady decided to chicken out and retcon the pregnancy test you found in "Arkham City" as a false positive.  Harley as a character gets to do nothing but make some quips here and there, argue with the Penguin over her intercom, and talks with Poison Ivy for ten seconds before the DLC just ends abruptly.  Does any of this matter for the main story though?  Not even in the slightest!  Harley Quinn has barely anything to do in the main game.  Even after she beat Nightwing in a fair fight (which is pretty badass) Batman takes her her with a single punch, no boss fight.  I do not even think that the team behind this DLC even were in communication with the main Rocksteady team.  We're told Harley is trying to save Poison Ivy for the Scarecrow's plan.  Then in the main game, Poison Ivy wants nothing to do with Scarecrow's plan and does all she can to foil it!

So if this is the standard that Rocksteady is planning for the other DLC storylines to come, I'd say just save your money.  Sure Batgirl looks sexy in her upcoming story, but seriously think twice.  This is unacceptable for any price.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight - Almost the Ultimate Batman Game

There is only one superhero awesome enough to break the curse of licensed games, and that's Batman.  Screwing around in Lex Luthor's rings on the Nintendo 64 is for Superman, Batman on the other hand has been the star of one of the greatest video game franchises of modern gaming, the Arkham series.  That includes "Batman: Arkham City", one of my favorite experiences to come out of my old PlayStation 3.  Rocksteady has promised that this new game, "Batman: Arkham Knight" for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the PC* will be their final Arkham game, an epic and exciting conclusion to their grand Batman saga.

...Now before you put too much stock into that claim, remember the loophole-friendly words Rocksteady used.  They said this would be the last Arkham game, not the last Batman game, or even the last game in this particular continuity.  The "Arkham" part of the title has been having less and less relevance to events since "Arkham Asylum", to the point that "Origins" and now "Knight" have nothing to do with Gotham City's most infamous H.P. Lovecraft-reference medical facility.  So really the next Batman game - and trust me, there will be more Batman games - will only have dropped an anachronism from their titles.  Yeah, the game opens saying "this is how the Batman dies", but if you actually believe that promise you're probably the same gullible sort who did not guess this game's twist identity reveal a whole year ago (spoilers).

So "Arkham Knight" may not be a grand ultimate conclusion to all things Batman, but at least it can still be a decent Batman story.  And while "Arkham City" was one of my favorite video games, even I can admit that Rocksteady still had a long innovative way to go before they could create the ultimate Batman game.  Most of that particular innovation in "Arkham Knight" has been focused around the new Batmobile which has proven to be a controversial choice.  Gotham City is still empty aside from criminals and supervillains, so the town does not feel alive other than as a playground to be a bad dude kicking ass.  Still Gotham has never been bigger or more beautiful, gameplay has never been more varied, and there are few games out there that can rival "Arkham Knight"'s storytelling sophistication.  This is a game that truly knows what being Batman is all about, and even if "Arkham Knight" cannot be the definitive Dark Knight experience, it is a good one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 Review

Note: This post would have come up yesterday or even Sunday if not for this little thing called "E3" that everybody seems to be going gaga about. Reaction to that is coming up at the end of this week, once I've seen everything. I'm not there this year (sad face) but I'm still following the streams, sorry for spamming your twitter.

I guess it was inevitable in some way that the season adapting "A Dance with Dragons", by far the worst book of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series was going to be by far the worst season of HBO's smash hit "Game of Thrones"*.  "A Dance with Dragons" is not a very good book in my opinion, being full of unnecessary padding and leaving open far too many plot points to possibly justify itself. Where previous books of the series were in some ways stand-alone complete chapters, "A Dance with Dragons" is just a chunk of story that happens to be bound in a single volume, utterly useless without knowing what comes before or next. So when the show runners of "Game of Thrones", D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, decided that they were going to make huge changes to Season 5, I was pretty much behind it. Change away, I said, it cannot get any worse.

Guess what? It got worse. "A Dance with Dragons" is far from a good book, but it did have good qualities. It is amazing how much we have lost in order to condense things down. There is no Lady Stoneheart, nobody baked any Freys into pies, it seems the battle of Meereen is just not happening (not that it happened in the books either yet), so much of the tension of the Winterfell plothole is completely gone, Ser Barristan's most badass scenes are just not happening this time, etc. etc. Luckily though, even if you are not an avid book reader who obsessively devoured the first four books of the series in a single summer, "Game of Thrones" Season 5 is still impressively awful. Maybe you have never read a word of anything in your entire life, it doesn't change the fact this was still a disappointing and miserable season to watch.

In a lot of ways "Game of Thrones" has been too good to be true. GRRM has created a vast universe with memorable colorful characters, and the show runners have done a fantastic job translating them to the screen. Can you even imagine Tyrion Lannister without thinking of Peter Dinklage? How about the incredible work they've done with Ned, Varys, Davos, Arya, the Hound, Jaime, Tywin, even relatively minor characters like Balon Greyjoy? That one of the largest and most complicated fantasy series ever written has managed to make compelling television, even amazing television is truly an impressive achievement. Eventually their casting luck had to run out, so we ended up with the Sand Snakes. The pacing has been phenomenal, eventually that had to slow down as they ran into GRRM's slow middle portions of his story that ultimately go nowhere. So a solution needed to be found to keep the show interesting during an inevitable rough patch.