Thursday, July 31, 2014

Freelancin': The Movies I Saw Last Friday that Weren't Lucy

It's a review of "Hercules" and "The Purge: Anarchy".  Only I had almost nothing to say about either, so let's just ramble about them in front of the microphone:

Friday, July 25, 2014


The concept of "Lucy", the new Luc Besson film starring Scarlett Johansson, is absolute nonsense.  It bases itself upon the myth that human beings only use 10% of their brains, leading people to imagine what incredible potential we might have if we were able to use the full hundred.  Unfortunately no, you did not fail your sixth grade math test just because of some cruel twist of evolution forcing you to use only a fraction of your potential, you just did not work hard enough.  Your brain currently is eating up 20% of the energy in your body, a massively disproportionate amount consider its size.  Within that organ, you are unconsciously commanding yourself to breath, determining body temperature, directing heartbeat, remembering your identity and opinions of this blog, imagining Scarlett Johansson naked and moaning, decoding the words of this sentence, and ignoring half of those because your brain is lazy and wants to skip forward down the paragraph.  All that takes 100% of your mass, which is all doing something right now, keeping you alive and making you you.

So therefore, one's brain would imagine, since its files on identity have given you the belief that movies that are based on bullshit pseudoscience are bad, that "Lucy" is a stupid movie that should be avoided.  However, your brain is wrong.  Pulp SciFi for decades has been dissatisfied with the incredible cognitive abilities of the mind and used the 10% myth to imagine all sorts of fantastic magic you could summon with a better brain.  Besson has trumped them all, saying, "no, just being really smart and motivated like that Bradley Cooper movie, 'Limitless' is not enough, I'm going to go seven billion light years further with it".  "Lucy" passes beyond the point of stupid absurdity to reach over-the-top parody, then keeps going to the point that it becomes absolutely brilliant, a wonderfully weird work of true 100% genius.

I fear that a lot of audiences are actually going to be disappointed by "Lucy", since the trailers have been proudly wearing its stupid premise on its sleeve.  They wanted a dumb superhero movie where Scarlett Johansson beats up Taiwanese gangsters with telekinesis but will instead get what is basically a big budget Phillip K. Dick novel.  We a movie that is part French punk action movie, part navel gazing philosophy on the nature of life and discovery, and part "Akira".  This movie is completely insane and in the very best ways.  It is the kind of movie that will instantly weird out audiences who were very comfortable using as little of their cranial potential as possible, and most terrifyingly, might even give the most dangerous thing of all:  new ideas.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Freelancin': America the Movie

I've dusted off my old Youtube channel, now with a brand new editor and a new microphone.  So hopefully this will solve that idiotic problem of black borders around all my videos.  Here is a review of "America: Imagine a World Without Her" by Dinesh D'Souza, a right-wing pundit reinterpreting all of history to prove we are indeed the best country ever... and that Hilary is the Antichrist.  Yeah, it's a very messy movie, and I had a lot to say:

Anyway, this movie is pretty much trash.  As a historian, or at least somebody with a history degree, it is offensively bad, D'Souza completely misinterprets the craft with a lot of very weak arguments.  But you know, as long as Obama looks bad, it should be fine.

More videos to come.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review of the Rise of the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes of the Living Dead

Back in 2011, the Planet of the Apes rose.  Now that same planet is dawning.  I cannot keep track of these titles, they both sound exactly the same, and have far too many articles.  Either way, seems like the Ape Planet is constantly getting started, but not really making much ground.  And if this Planet of the Apes prequel/reboot* franchise is hoping to continue, they're going to have to accept the fact this isn't the beginning anymore.  Is it not time to reach "Act 2 of the Planet of the Apes"?

The main point though is that this reboot or whatever of the Planet of the Apes series has been very successful.  I had a dim view of the first film, considering it to be very uneven thanks to James Franco and a few odd story decisions, but mostly James Franco.  Really though the new-ish franchise was just beginning, it didn't quite know what it was going to be yet.  The tone was off.  The things that worked, such as Andy Serkis as Caesar, were matched by things that didn't work, such as twerpy Tom Felton sacrilegiously stealing Charlton Heston's iconic lines from the 1968 original.  Importantly though, and I admit, I didn't give the movie enough credit for this back in the original review, it did have its own story to tell entirely unique to itself.  It is remake/reboot/whatever that is justifiable in its existence.  And it opened the door for sequels to expand upon that narrative.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is probably the most perfectly improved sequel that has ever come along.  It recognized the faults of the (kinda) first one, and logically moving forward in the story, fixed them, making for one of the best movies of 2014 so far.  James Franco's character is out, having been wiped out by the 'Simian Flu', a super virus he himself created while trying to create a cure for Alzheimer's in the first movie**.  In his place the hero has been made none other than Caesar himself.  The once lonely hyper-intelligent Ape now is the ruler of an Ape civilization in the redwood forests north of San Francisco.  The conflict this time comes from the first contact between this rising race of Apes and the last remnants of human kind, desperately holding onto what remains of the world they once ruled.  The new story is an intense study on a clash of cultures, nearly perfect in its tone and completing its aims flawlessly.  "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a film so well-made it retroactively changes my opinion on the first one - go watch that, if only to be set up properly for this installment.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Final Fantasy Explorers First Look

At E3 this year Square Enix had nothing at all to show.  Its booth was more barren than Betty White's womb.  And though that was really depressing and unfortunate, luckily SE did have things to announce... just not at E3.  One of those games was "Final Fantasy Explorers", a brand new multiplayer action RPG for the 3DS.  Now, a month later, they're finally showing some gameplay:

First of all, I have no idea why there was "Final Fantasy V" footage before the trailer.  But I will admit, I am about 100 times more nostalgic for that old game than I've ever been before.  Here I thought FFV was just a forgettable nothing title, but when you hear that old battle theme rocking, you just want to get Bartz back on Boco and start beating up dungeons with as a Mystic Knight.

Anyway, "Explorers".  I looks like fun.  Basically the combat looks like a multiplayer version of "Final Fantasy Type-0", only with a fixed slightly overhead view, solving that game's crippling camera errors.  It is also much more cartoony and kid-friendly, so instead of building mountains of bodies, you're just fighting big silly monsters with your friends.  And that is something I'm looking forward to doing when this game comes out.  Nobody is sure when that will be, but since it at least has a window of next year, it will probably be a few decades before "Final Fantasy XV".

Friday, July 11, 2014

Under the Skin

I love watching movies.  I consider motion pictures to be one of the greatest and most magical experiences that society has to offer.  A truly great film can take you away, filling you with excitement and joy beyond all good reason and judgment.  But I also understand, that though the footage on screen may be stimulating and incredible, the act of film making is not nearly as glamorous.  There is real work behind even something as fun and visceral as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier".  Some workers have to sit down and figure out where to point the camera, crew members have to organize shots, people have to set up cars and explosions, and actors need to go over scenes dozens of times.  This is a job like any other, and there must be days that have probably been just hideously boring.  Grips probably get tired of holding up boom mics, cameramen want to go home, and directors will sip coffee to stay awake.

Typically between that dull reality of mundane effort and the entertaining illusion of the medium is an editor.  That is still more basic work inside an office, cutting through mountains of footage in front of a computer screen.  Usually at the end, one is left with an impressive final product, one that gleams so naturally with its own charisma that the entire experience seems like an effortless adventure.  It works so well you forget the facade and believe in the fiction.  You never think about the hard work that went into it.  Because this is an adventure for you, it's an escape.  You don't want to imagine the poor bastard operating cranes for nine hours in the cold.  I only start to imagine the drudgery and misery of filmmaking reality when the movie itself is just amazingly boring.  Remember as tedious and unimpressive as watching a bad movie like "Under the Skin" is, it had to be 100 time as awful an experience to make.

"Under the Skin" has been billed as an artsy take on a SciFi horror genre product.  Scarlette Johansson plays a seductive alien in human skin, prowling around Scotland and devour men by luring them to their doom with her sex appeal.  Rather than jumping into the lurid details of the product - making a trashy pulp horror film filled with nudity and gore, director Johnathan Glazer has ignored the natural impulses of the story and made something far less interesting.  It is a slow miserable product of sustained uneventfulness, focusing on an emotionless robotic actress driving around the grey wastes of Scotland in a van, doing very little of anything.  It is the kind of movie that you imagine was made with no passion of any kind, you can only picture a depressed crew, standing around in tense silence, as they film absolutely nothing for days.  I feel bad for Scarlette Johansson, I feel bad for Johnathan Glazer, I feel bad for the cameraman.  They had to spend long bitter months making this movie, months of their lives they won't get back.  All I lost was two hours.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Final Fantasy Type-0 (Fan Translation)

Back in 2006, Square Enix was just announcing its grand plans for the next generation of Final Fantasy.  The PlayStation 3 era would not merely see a few unrelated numbered titles released as in days past, the new phase for gaming's greatest JRPG franchise was going to be an interlocked universe known by the hideously pretentious title of "Fabula Novus Crystallis".  At the center was "Final Fantasy XIII", but flanking it were two sister titles that would share the same mythology but represent wildly different interpretations of what Final Fantasy could be.  Those games were "Final Fantasy Agito XIII" for mobile phones and a PS3 action RPG in the vein of Kingdom Hearts, "Versus XIII".  The fans were ecstatic with excitement, not knowing what the disappointments to come.

Of course, we know now, eight years later, what a disaster the "Final Fantasy XIII" era has been.  FFXIII along with its direct sequels, have been terribly controversial games - in the opinion of some (including myself) the very worst games the series has ever produced.  "Versus XIII" suffered delay after delay, and still continues to disappoint fans even after a name upgrade to "Final Fantasy XV".  It skipped E3 this year and its final release is nothing more than fan hopes and dreams.  Meanwhile "Agito XIII" after six years of changing development and platforms,was released at the tailend of the PSP's lifespan.  Yet the tragedy of the FFXIII era continued.  "Agito XIII", now known as "Final Fantasy Type-0", never saw its way over the US, having come out well after the point that Sony had let its portable rot to make room for the PlayStation Vita.

Obviously this was a crime that could not go unanswered.  Should we in the West have to suffer because Square Enix was too incompetent to finish their game in a timely fashion, forcing themselves to release a game on an unmarketable console?  Should we have to suffer because Sony's line of handhelds sank into the abyss of miserable failure?  Certainly not!  That's why a group of courageous fans known as Operation Doomtrain took it upon themselves,* to create the English "Type-0" that the Japanese would not give us.  And so, just last month, the English patch of "Type-0" dropped, bringing the game to the Anglo world.

And then, only days later, Square Enix announced their own plans to port "Type-0" to the next-gen consoles and in English.  But this is SE we're talking about, it took them two years to get "Final Fantasy X" on a PS3.  Let's ignore the fact the game is indeed coming, find where Mom hid our PSP in the closet, and play this most obscure of modern Final Fantasy games.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

I've always hated Michael Bay's Transformers franchise.  My very first written film review was seven years ago when I saw the original "Transformers" in high school.  I so was utterly annoyed by it - more than any other film I've seen before (and probably since) that I had to go and rant about it in a form more substantial than merely shouting at friends and family.  It was rage and disappointment that needed to be transmitted not in temporary sound, but in a physical document on my high school student paper that would last for all time.  Or well, a week because everybody threw their paper in the trash when they were done reading, but you get the idea.  "Transformers" is still one of the worst movies I have ever seen.  The camera work was hideous and jumpy, the robot designs were nasty and incomprehensible, the film was ugly and filled with hateful comic reliefs and pandering attempts at humor.  But worst of all, there weren't any robots in it.  Transformers 1" had maybe a few brief flashes of robots, but it was more interested in dogs pissing, and uncomfortable masturbation conversations, and Megan Fox's ass.

Three movies later, Michael is still making the same franchise.  And I've been attacking it for about a third of my life-span now.  But now in 2014, specifically July 2014, there's a huge difference.  Back in 2007, and 2009, and 2011, I watched movies for movies.  I was there simply to judge and admire an art form.  Now I'm working forty hours a week, plus ten hours of commuting time, in a miserable job which exhausts me to the point I haven't written a blog post in weeks.  Now I am a member of the general viewing public of the United States.  I am a miserable workaholic suffering endlessly to survive just looking for a few hours of distraction so I can forgot how much of my early twenties are disappearing down the drain for $8.50 an hour, minus taxes and union dues.  Regular people don't watch movies to ponder camera work, scripting, or cultural impact.  They just want to go to sleep for two hours and let the pain stop hurting.  I'm one of you now.  So take me away, Michael Bay.  I'm ready.  Your metallic symphony of testosterone and stupidity can only be better than an average day.

And here's the freaky thing, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" actually is a far better movie than the previous three.  The camera work is still bad, but at least the editing is constrained enough so that you can make sense of what is going on in combat scenes.  The humans still take up far too much of the movie and are incredibly boring, but at least nearly all of the annoying comic reliefs and ethnic stereotypes have disappeared.  And the final climax is mindnumbing and endless, an unrelenting attack of violence, but there is one thing it isn't:  going to work.  So bravo, Michael Bay.  Instead of making one of the worst movies I've ever seen for the fourth time, you've simply made a mediocre to bad movie.  We've gone from offensive on every level to a movie that is plodding without any pacing but at least has robots, so there's something.  That, my readers - if you still exist after my weeks of abandonment, is real growth.