Friday, August 30, 2013


I like to think of myself as some kind of a grand sage of the film world, quietly sitting down on my laptop in New Jersey pouring nothing but brilliance onto these blog pages as a masterfully analyze and understand every element of film culture.  And yet, with "Getaway", I am completely but a child, utterly confused by everything and amazed by every aspect of this particular production.  I'll start with the fact that this is one of the best films of 2013, but it appears I am entirely alone with that assumption.  Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a perfect 0%*, which is a score reserved only for the most awful of disasters or most disastrous of awfulness - you take your pick.  But I loved this movie, it felt fresh and unique and haunting right to the human soul.

But this was a conclusion I had to reach very slowly.  "Getaway" was nothing like I expected.  The trailers showed off a big stupid action car chase movie, starring not Ethan Hawke but a Shelby Cobra Mustang.  Actually, there's only one scene featuring a car, and its not even a chase.  Ethan Hawke is actually driving a Toyota Rav-4 minivan, about as practical and boring as a modern car can get, not fighting bad guys, but rather having a nice personal conversation with his wife while his daughters sleep in the background.  Its actually a brilliantly written scene featuring very natural dialog, something you wouldn't expect from a car movie that seems want to be more stupid than "Furious 6".  This is a masterpiece of false advertising:  not a single scene from that trailer actually shows up in "Getaway".

The title itself really tells the whole story.  It appears to be a monumentally clunky reference to the speed of the late Carroll Shelby's glorious engineering legacy.  But this is really cypher, the "getaway" in that title actually refers to an entirely mundane family trip to the Peloponnese, and more so Ethan Hawke and his wife, Julie Delpy's excursion to a garish hotel where years of resentment and romantic complication boil up into a feverish fight that threatens to destroy their unique bond.  Its all very high-minded stuff, the kind of thing you don't usually see get a wide release, which is probably why the studio buried it in deathly Labor Day release date.  The director, Courtney Solomon is best known for making fabulously terrible "Dungeons and Dragons" - one of those rare masterpieces of ill-conceived cinema that fails on every level.   "Getaway" is the exact opposite of that, and maybe that's the joke here.  Courtney Solomon took his awful tainted name and used it to bill a forgettable car flop and instead made a quiet, stirringly beautiful commentary on relationships, age, and the meaning of love.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Children, rejoice, the Twilight Age has ended.  "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" was not its killer, nobody could have killed a phenomenon such as Twilight - trust me, I tried.  Merely the legions of preteen girls and their sexually unsatisfied middle-age mothers moved on, finding some other fad to obsess over.  2013 has swung three times to rebuild the Twilight Golden Goose with three new franchises:  "Beautiful Creatures" - despite being a legitimately decent movie - drowned, "The Host" was a crime against all sentient life, and finally, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is best ignored entirely.  Teen supernatural romance has ended, as they say, not with a bang, but with an empty theater.

Where between the curiously well-made camp of "Beautiful Creatures" and the unabashed atrocity of "The Host" does "The Mortal Instruments" lie?  Right in the least interesting place:  mediocrity.  Its not surprisingly decent, nor is it so unbelievably awful as to be fascinating.  Its just a pretty lame supernatural adventure, and unfortunately, it carries itself with a kind of self-conscious embarrassed weight.  Almost as if its aware that its hunting after a market that no longer exists, and unable to understand what in the Hell made Stephenie Meyer's vampire nightmare so damn popular, its simply going through the motions, without much of a care if anything its showing or saying will really make an impression.  So naturally no impression is made by anything it shows or says.

As story, "The Mortal Instruments" is essentially every teen girl fiction story ever written:  adolescent discovers she has supernatural powers, making her essential to saving the world, also she meets brooding blond hottie who totally wants her froggy-style.  So its like Harry Potter plus Twilight, sounds like it would be relatively simple, right?  Not at all.  "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is one of the most confusing movies I've seen all year, not because it has a needlessly complicated plot with excess pointless characters and all manner of magic rules that are never well-explained.  But because it introduces all manner of usual plotlines, and just cliffhangers them all, perhaps hoping for a sequel.  So let's drive another two hundred miles on empty, hoping there will be a gas station offering less than three dollars per gallon, I'm sure that will work out just fine, "Mortal Instruments", don't worry.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

In the past month and a half, I have completed the entire four-part Metal Gear Solid saga, including a spin-off.  And let's just say, I probably overreached myself.  I've hit the burn-out point.  I can't take any more crazy espionage, retarded plottwists, or nano-machines anymore.  I need something new in my life, something to clean the pallet.  Something to get the bad taste of "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" off of my tongue.

Okay, "Metal Gear Solid 4" is not a baaaad game per se.  As in, its playable, the parts for the most part all add up to a decent-enough experience, and maybe if you're never played a Metal Gear game before, it will feel fresh and interesting.  But then again, if you're never played a Metal Gear game before, you won't have the foggiest idea of who anybody is, what is going on, why its going on, how any of this matters, and who this old dude is instead of Solid Snake.  The game doesn't even attempt to let new players in, it is completely obsessed with its own mythology, filling itself to the brim with references, cameos, reappearances, and plottwists, all to create some finale to mythos.  A mythos that was basically made up as Hideo Kojima went along, requiring various sloppy retcons and fudged math to create a Grand Unifying Theory of Metal Gear.  And it just doesn't add up.

At this point, the ridiculousness of the plotline is so bad its surreal.  There are points in this game's narrative that come off as perhaps an experimental satire so far removed from reality that its hard to tell what level of irony we're working on here.  If any.  Curiously, at the same time, the game jumps head first into an array of curious design decisions, all with the apparent intention of wiping out the stealth part of Metal Gear.  The gamepaly simply feels wrong:  my early attempts to follow the letter in the law of Tactical Espionage resulted in numerous deaths, until frustration wore in and I bought a shogun and destroyed every enemy in my least subtle impression of a Solid Snake Terminator that I could manage.  Only a serious hardcore fan could find much of anything in the plotline defensible, and the core gameplay is all bells and whistles, with very little substance.  "Metal Gear Solid 4" feels like a franchise trying its very hardest to self-destruct, and for better or worse, failing even at that, because "Metal Gear Solid 5" is coming out soon enough.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

You're Next

"You're Next" offers something of a nice challenge for the would-be amateur loser blogger film critic.  The first half of the film is painfully standard home invasion slasher affair, starring unlikable people, and never approaching true horror.  The second half is more of the same, only with many more people dead, and now a cast of the dumbest and least threatening villains to appear in a slasher movie since Matthew Lilliard was one of the psychokillers in "Scream".  However, at that point, the directing is so inept, the scares so lacking that we might as well be riding unicycles in a happy circus, that the film becomes hilarious.  To the point that the final confrontation isn't so much a desperate struggle of the Final Girl to beat the invincible great white shark in a mask that is the killer, as much as a very awkward and comically brilliant conversation.

Obviously, "You're Next" is not good horror movie, as it is never scary and its attempts at horror basically boil down to a few jump scares and funny masks.  One gets the sense that "You're Next" might even be approaching ripping-off a 2008 home invasion film starring Liv Tyler, also featuring impossibly ninja villains in funny animal masks, called "The Strangers".  Which I recall was a movie with a decent pace of suspense, only lacking a certain kind of reality.  Such as... three jackasses in masks, no matter how ninja-tastic, are not going to be able to beat off anybody, no matter how dumb with a shotgun, but we're getting off task.  "You're Next" is much more of a slasher, pulling together an entire family into a single big house in order to kill them off one by one.  Only, even by the gore-fest standards of a slasher movie, which is essentially sitting waiting to see in what slapstick way Jason Vorhees will kill these two teenagers screwing in a tent (maybe use that harpoon he got earlier in the movie?), "You're Next" is lame as well.  The villains aren't scary - they're actually borderline "Home Alone" slapstick victims, the kills lack any creativity aside from one notable one featuring a blender towards the end, and the heroine is too strong.  Then maybe its a survival movie featuring an Australian chick?  Then why are so many people getting cut to pieces.

See?  Here's my quandary.  "You're Next" isn't scary enough, it isn't gory enough, it only gets really funny towards the end, and most of it is approaching unwatchable.  It even has vague pretensions of real drama, casting a bitterly unhappy family as its victims instead of the usual fair of horny dipshit Jason-bait.  The humor is built up so subtlety that I wasn't even sure it was intentional until the conclusion.  So can I recommend a movie just on the strength of a beautifully hilarious final scene?  I dunno, maybe I can.  Its no "Conjuring", but it doesn't really fit into any of my pre-established biased categories, and I'm enough of a hipster to be impressed by that.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Star Wars Episode VII Concept: Shadows of the Republic

I don't think anybody has quite managed to appreciate the tragedy that is J.J. Abrams being the successor of George Lucas.  Of all people to inherit the greatest SciFi franchise of all time, why in the Hell would we want a man who markets, but doesn't create?  He builds up mysteries, but not content.  He sells, but he doesn't actually produce.  Some people accused Lucas of being a soulless toy industrialist who made the Prequels for no reason other than to accrue several billion more fortunes of Spanish bullion.  But at least Lucas, on some level, seems to be a man who wants to create good stories and relive his vigorous creative period, and actually appears to have been deeply hurt by the massive rejection the world gave to his second Trilogy.  Jeffrey Jacob Abrams?  He made "Star Trek Into Darkness", and even though nobody likes or even remembers that movie just three months later, I don't think he cares.  If there's any man alive who liked the Prequels, it was J.J.

Its all too easy to be cynical, but its hard to look at the Blockbuster steam of Hollywood and get very much hope for what this industry will do to Star Wars.  Especially Disney, which last year made a fascinating and classic old-timey adventure movie in "John Carter of Mars", but this year made... "The Lone Ranger".  You can argue all you want about soulless corporate filmmaking, but when that mindless party line winds up creating "The Lone Ranger", a movie about a subject matter so old that its guaranteed to fail no matter what - and even then was by all reports a hideous disaster* - I have my doubts.  But while fascinating disasters of groupthink overriding common sense sure give a nice feeling of schadenfreude when you get to read about the millions that Mickey Mouse lost, there are other films that are simply meaningless.  What can you take out of "Oblivion" or "Elysium" or "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"?  There's no auteur behind the wheel anymore, now we have a committee.  Every aspect of "Star Wars VII" will be scrutinized and sanitized and re-edited for the Chinese.  Exactly where in all that doublethink do you think fun movies get made?

So then I got to thinking:  I've done like four of these Star Wars speculation articles already.  I predicted that there would be a Sequel Trilogy two years before Lucas turned to the Dark Side and sold out to Big Hollywood.  Let me once misdirect my creative energies towards a project I can never finish, can never even start, and will never possibly ever come about.  (And even if it could come out, I'm already doing a fine job pissing off the creators of this project.)  Its time for more... Fanwank Corner.  This time, let's imagine the script for "Star Wars VII" - and almost certainly do a better job than J.J.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

I wasn't originally going to do this, but then I got a request for it.  And I truly have nothing else to talk about right this second, so let's go:  "I'm stiiiiiiiiill in a dream, SNAKE EEEATEEEER!!!!!"

Of the entire Metal Gear Solid series, "Metal Gear Solid 3" seems to be that one real hit, the one game that everybody has on the tip of their tongue when asked "what is the best Metal Gear game you've ever played?"  Interestingly, it actually is by far the worst selling console Metal Gear Solid game, selling about half the numbers of "Metal Gear Solid 2", and several million less than "Metal Gear Solid 4".  Yet while this game had about half the audience of the other Metal Gear games, it still stands out as the true classic.  After the dada nightmare that was "Metal Gear Solid 2" everybody from Hideo Kojima down just wanted to make a simple fun Cold War spy game.  And that's what he did, and everybody loved it.

For my own viewpoint, "Snake Eater" does actually do particular thing far better than any other segment of this series:  story.  "Metal Gear Solid 1" perfectly captured the mood of a modern action hero SciFi soldier, basically conquering forcing every other game starring Solid Snake to be either an homage or a parody to that first classic.  "Metal Gear Solid 3", however, doesn't need to walk in the footsteps of anything, since its so far removed from the other titles in the series, taking place some fifty years before every other event, we're effectively seeing a whole original mythology being born.  Even better, this James Bond-gone-wild stylized view of 1963's spy world grounds Kojima in a way that the other games could not.  We don't have any cloning, no nanomachines, no designer viruses, and nobody has the final boss of the last game living inside their right arm*.  There is a dude who keeps an entire colony of bees inside his lungs and uses them as a machine gun, but that's just part of the fun.  We've finally left the increasingly nonsensical web of Metal Gear Solid plotting to push into brave new ground.  It won't be until "Metal Gear Solid 4" that the relatively simple story of "Snake Eater" gets pulled into the bullshit and is completely torn apart in endless last-minute ideas.

I'm not going to say that "Snake Eater" is a bad game.  It is a satisfying experience of Tactical Espionage Action, with a great adventurous pace that is as close as Kojima has gotten to equating the brilliance of the original.  However, the raw gameplay mechanics are considerably worse than "Metal Gear Solid 2", with an indoors stealth engine being thrown right in the middle of the jungle, a place it was never born to experience.  It just didn't know how to cope, it wound up hiding under a tree for a few hours, got malaria, and was then devoured by a crocodile.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The year was 2001, the PlayStation 2 was then cutting-edge technology, and the greatest gaming generation of all time was about to begin*.  Hideo Kojima was standing in a situation that most game developers could only dream to be in:  the creator of one of the best games ever made now working on a brand new follow-up using vastly enhanced technology and seemingly unlimited possibilities.  Any "Metal Gear Solid 2" would have been a guaranteed Best Seller, such was the excitement of millions of gamers.  And Hideo Kojima had ambition to match that excitement.  He was going to create a game unlike any ever before:  This wasn't just going to be a new tactical espionage action game, this was going to be a mindbending genre-breaking experience, ripping the player out of easy and simple paradigms into a new world of confusion, satire, and gonzo madness.

And what was the result?  Well, "Metal Gear Solid 2" is still not a fondly-remembered game.  Much of this results from Kojima's elaborate joke, where for years this was marketed as another Metal Gear adventure starring Solid Snake, when in actuality, you can only play as Snake for about two hours, and then suddenly replaced with the rookie Raiden.  The world's reaction was at best mild annoyance, at worst a barrage of ad hominem attacks with not a small undercurrent of homophobic hatred.  (Gaming culture was not a very enlightened place a decade ago, and it hasn't evolved much.)  Worse, to Kojima's long confusing rants about Internet controls and loss of player control and God Only Knows how many other ideas wound up filling "Metal Gear Solid 2"'s gumbo of pretentious twaddle.  Most gamers simply shook their head unable to understand anything that was going on, creating an entire side industry of MGS2 scholars, similar to that of the "Chrono Cross" scholarship.  While some fringe intellectuals worship MGS2 for all of its weirdness, gaming history seems to have called this title a failed experiment, and cheerfully devoured the next Metal Gear game:  a simple fun call-back to James Bond in the 1960s, known as "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater".

I was actually rather excited for "Metal Gear Solid 2", because there really isn't a very large collection of games that anybody would call "arty" or "pretentious".  Honestly there aren't enough games that go off the deep end into merciless soups mocking their players and laughing at our dreams of super spy action.  I heard the dim claims of "Fission Mailed" and "I need scissors, 61!" and was into it.  Unfortunately, that's only part of the equation.  "Metal Gear Solid 2" for its first half is just another Metal Gear game, one which only at times manages to equal the design brilliance of the original.  But the final section of the game only half a lunatic adventure, the other half is long boring speeches about... well, I haven't even a clue.  I get the distinct feeling that "Metal Gear Solid 2" was quite simply a game that wasn't finished, leaving huge holes in its story not out because it was being coy with its players and leaving everything up to interpretation, but because a deadline was coming up, Kojima didn't know how to end the story, and just left it unfinished.

Monday, August 12, 2013


What is the point?  Why even write a review?  "Elysium" is not a movie anybody is going to remember in ten years, I doubt I'll remember it even tomorrow.  This is not a film of any historic importance - its a crappy, badly-made dystopian SciFi film, the likes of which have most definitely been seen before.  Many.  Many.  Times.  "Elysium" is a movie about dudes in big dumb robot suits fighting each other, but pretending to have some kind of social commentary.  And that kind of complete cynical falseness makes "Elysium" somehow worse than just being a dumb action movie, it comes off as a fraud to trick the empty-minded.  Sorry, this movie is despicable.

I don't understand, Hollywood.  I get your compulsion to make movies about dudes in big dumb robot suits punching each other.  That is fun for the entire family!  Its fine!  Its pure, its primal, it can tons of fun.  But why do we need to justify these big dumb robots suits with lame and meaningless constructs of dystopian societies?  Why can't a guy in a robot suit just punch another guy in a robot suit?  Why do we need to pretend to give a shit about the Third World by making our hero a member of the working class, fighting valiantly against Evil French-Speaking White People?  You think just because director, Neil Blomkamp made "District 9", a reasonable intelligent SciFi film with an original concept that "Elysium" isn't going to be as pointless and dull as the trailers so clearly showed it to be?  Sorry, no, Neil Blomkamp got his paycheck, and he cared as little as anybody else.  The hypocrisy of these movies is so blatant even in their casting:  Matt Damon is #5 on the Grand List of Whitest People Who Ever Lived, just below William H. Macy.  He is not a poor Mexican farmer getting his leg caught in barbed wire to get a job as a dish washer at Denny's.  Even worse, while "Elysium" juggles income inequality, healthcare inequality, racism, forced poverty, and god knows how many other hot button issues, it has NOTHING TO SAY about any of them.  Its just rich people stealing all the health care because... they wanna tan and have garden parties in space.  It references those real problems which cause real suffering to real people, all just to create a backdrop for why Matt Damon can punch people.

Just two years ago "In Time" came out, doing exactly the same thing.  At least "Elysium" doesn't base its entire concept around an economic system more insane than Communism, but its still just as empty of a movie.  There aren't people, there isn't any intelligence, there's just a few brief flashes of competently-directed action scenes.  And there aren't half as many action scenes are you'd need to keep your attention.  At least there's a cyborg redneck South African who likes to cook ribs with a katana.   Even the second-billed actress, Jodie Foster, couldn't give a shit, spending the entire film hamming it up in a bizarre posh accent.  "Elysium" is so desperate and pandering that it gives us a cute little girl who supposedly has leukemia, but somehow suffers from no symptoms and is only there to generate false sympathy.  Everything is empty, one-dimensional, and completely false.  Its worse than "Oblivion"!  "Elysium" is a false movie, do not be fooled by it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wolf Children

"Wolf Children" is the newest film from Mamoru Hosoda, the director of "Summer Wars" and one of my favorite movies of all time, "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time".  Considering how good those last two efforts were, it would be easy to imagine that his third film would be a lesser creation, as a human being could only posses a limited reserve of creative energy.  In that you are wrong, because the powers of Mamoru Hosoda are unlimited.  "Wolf Children" may in fact be his greatest film yet, a movie of scope and power unequaled by anything else in recent memory.

It was only two years ago that critics were fawning with praise over Terrence Mallick's "The Tree of Life", claiming it to be this unparalleled cycle of pure artistry.  I've heard some of the most glowing reviews possible for that film - never before has the word "art" been more poorly applied than to "Tree of Life".  If you're wondering of course, if I must play the Scrooge to everybody's festivities over morbidly obese American arthouse, what would I actually call great cinematic art?  What is the movie that really connects to all people in a universal representation of the human family, while being so fantastically well-shot that you well up in emotion over the power of it all?  Could we have a movie such as that and actually give a plot?  And characters?  Could some Japanese anime director who made his bones with mercenary grunt work with "Digimon: the Movie" really outdo Terrence Mallick, the darling of the arthouse crowd?  Absolutely.

Despite its fairy tale premise of being a single mother raising two werewolf children, "Wolf Children" is not a light children's tale.  It takes its concept very seriously, forcing its protagonist into a very difficult situation of raising children whom she may not be able to completely control, who she has to hide from the rest of the world, and on some level, whose biology is a mystery even to her.  But really, the fantastical elements are simply there to add whimsical energy to a story that is really about a mother watching her children grow up and letting them take their alternate paths in life.  For a cartoon movie, there is nothing cartoony about "Wolf Children".  This is Homoda back in his more serious examination of human relationships, not the comic excess of "Summer Wars".  The result is a movie which may be the prettiest damn film ever made.  This isn't a movie I'm recommending simply because "its fun" or "you'll laugh" or "the Minions are cute".  This is a movie I'm recommending because its important.  This is something that everybody should see, and maybe, everybody needs to see.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Metal Gear Solid

I recently purchased the "Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection" for one single fifty dollar bill.  And trust me, at no point during the last three weeks have I missed President Jackson's face decorating my wallet.  In terms of pounds of entertainment per cent, this is the wisest purchase I've made since I put a "Wind Waker" mini-disc into my GameCube.

Now "Metal Gear Solid 1" is not the first Metal Gear game I've played.  I actually finished "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater" first.  Typically the party line on this series is that "Snake Eater" is the best of the best.  In fact, having played several of these titles already, the real classic is none other than, "Metal Gear Solid: Coca-Cola Classic".  I may not wind up reviewing every single one of these Metal Gear titles*, but "Coca-Cola Classic" I mean, "Metal Gear Solid 1" happens to exist within a stellar semi-divine place as being one of the best video games I've discussed on this blog, living right up there with "Arkham City" and "Tactics Ogre".  And that is something I cannot ignore.

That's all a funny conclusion to make considering how obviously awful "Metal Gear Solid" is.  Let that line smash you over the face while I explain it.  The camera is top-down for no particular reason, deeply limiting your perspective in a 3D stealth game.  Actual combat is based upon praying that the auto-targeting controls answer your prayers or hoping that the sluggish first-person perspective will let you line-up your target fast enough before enemy bullets take the solidity out of Solid Snake.  The character models are almost embarrassingly basic, looking less like the heroes of a Tactical Espionage game than a couple of action figures being wiggled around by director Hideo Kojima hiding under a table, desperately hoping to keep his hand out of the shot.  They don't even have eyes!  Altogether its a stiff, sometimes ugly, and bitterly unforgiving experience, which somehow amounts to being one of the best games ever made.