Sunday, June 5, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse



I’ve seen 4 Super Hero movies this year, though Deadpool sort of falls into its own category, the other 3 all have the mega conglomeration effect of doom where there’s a shitload of characters and it’s impossible to service all of them simultaneously. Batman Vs Superman had the fewest and somehow still managed to be the worst of the bunch, Captain America and X-Men both have an insane number and battle it out for the “not quite as good as Deadpool” throne. The thing with Captain America films previously is that they only had a small number of characters in them which allowed for a much different, enjoyable experience, but the new Cap is basically just Avengers 2.5, except Chris Evans is in almost every scene this time. Apocalypse has always been a super over the top megavillain so it makes some amount of sense that X-Men would try to have as many characters as humanly possible in there; additionally X-Men just works as a setting for massive numbers of characters to begin with.

So, the question is which film handles the burden better, and the answer is quite easy for me; in X-Men there are quite a few strong character moments for at least half a dozen different characters in the film, maybe more like 8-9; in Captain America there’s only like 3 or 4 even though there’s like 5 times as many characters than that in the film, so while the individual performance of Robert Downey Jr. might be the second best thing in either film (second to the mighty Fassbender, naturally) it doesn’t really make that much of a difference in the long run because there’s  just a shitload of dead weight along with him. That’s not to say X-Men doesn’t have its share of weak characters either, but the situations that they’re placed in at least work a little better and it doesn’t feel wholly manufactured. Hell X-Men actually has a fucking villain in it instead of some jackass that runs around behind the scenes because people didn’t like Age of Ultron that much.

Alright so enough of the comparison talk (mostly compensating for absent previous reviews), let’s dig a little deeper into X-Men: Apocalypse itself.  The best moments work extremely well, Magneto’s brief family life, another fucking amazing Quicksilver music montage, Wolverine straight murdering a bunch of people; but there is a fair amount of cheesiness to be had as well. Apocalypse is a really great villain for a cartoon and a pretty poor one for a film adaptation, that said I think the movie did a pretty good job of making it work, they even included “Yo this dude gets BIG!” without it being completely absurd. However there’s a lot of James McAvoy sweatily saying stuff to himself, and that kind of only works if Fassbender is involved somehow, since McAvoy is destined to be a pretty good foil for much better actors, beginning with the Last King of Scotland.

As far as the general cast of characters: Cyclops is played by the kid from Mud, Mud is the best theatrically released film from 3 years ago (in the era before Edge of Tomorrow and Mad Max) and a Palme D’or participant from 4 years ago, kid from Mud is a fantastic actor so good shit there. His older brother (?) Havoc is okay, I guess he looks like an edgy 80s cool kid or something? Seemed better than previous performances. Sansa Stark plays Jean Grey and her accent is even more weird this time, she’s not even in the same universe of attractiveness as Famke Janssen so needless to say it doesn’t work very well, apart from being a poor actress (though good for angst and still better than Daenerys). Nicholas Hoult is no longer Nux, sadness; he’s still good as Beast though. Angel is a terrible character in everything and he was vaguely passable in that role here. Nightcrawler seemed to be impersonating previous era Nightcrawler, whatever. Storm was evil for a while, so that was new; just gets way out acted by Oscar Isaac in every scene. Psylocke was around and did action stuffs, good for her. Quicksilver was absolutely great of course and Jennifer Lawrence was alright. Rose Byrne is in this movie, no fucking clue why.

Overall I liked this film a fair amount better than Captain America and it might be the best “Power of Friendship > Super Bad Guy” Superhero movie since Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s far from perfect but it does fit in rather well with the rest of the X-Men universe, which thankfully has always had a somewhat unified vision instead of just an identical template to work from like the rest of Marvel. Can Josh Brolin outdo Oscar Isaac is the question of the future, unfortunately I don’t know as much about Thalnos cartoon/comicwise so it’ll be a tougher performance to judge. I do love me some Brolin though.


Aside: Hugh Jackman has now been in 8 X-Men Movies, though he just had a (great) cameo in First Class, outclassing Robert Downey Jr.’s 6 appearances. Supposedly he’s not coming back but that seems to be a common tune for Super Hero actors. It felt like Christian Bale was Batman for an eternity but it was just 3 movies, and even the atrocious Tobey Maguire only graced our presence for a mere 3 as well.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Helldivers

Note: Written for Reddit so may sound weird in terms of formatting



Greetings friends, I achieved 100k kills today and gained the Platinum trophy (now in the hallowed echelons of 0.1%). I’ve been playing since the day the game came out, but instead of just mindlessly grinding out the last 55k or so kills I needed I stopped playing, anticipating an eventual PS+ release. I wasn’t aware that the PC platform was cross play so that never came to mind, and thus the waiting continued. And continued… Until one begins to question one’s sanity… Aha! At last almost a year later Sony finally caved and gave us a good PS+ game again. And so the game was fun for a time in multiplayer as more of the near release general insanity and less of the methodical efficiency reigned. Of course in remarkably short order that faded again and I was sort of wallowing in some odd boredom state, but then I realized this simple thing: Solo is fun when you’re fucking incredible at the game. Any solo or co-op game with an extremely high skill ceiling enables a sort of out of body experience where your hands and brain continue doing the motions but you consciously are simply observing yourself doing these nigh impossible feats. I’ve had this feeling before in a few different games, most recently Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, in which I was so much better at the Wolfpack mode than everyone else that I single handedly got the experience and credit gain nerfed (and shortly stopped playing thereafter, sadly the competitive multiplayer aspect was mostly ruined in Black Flag after being easily the best multiplayer experience for the entire generation for 3 games running).

But enough about that, let’s talk about me. As you may have surmised that is indeed my favorite topic. According to PSN Profiles I was the 14th Grand Lord ever to exist (used to be 2nd, I guess they demoted me in my 7-8 month AWOL period, but hey 14th sounds better), so yes in contrast to what some of you may believe I’ve been around since the dawn of Helldivers time. I was the top Illuminate player for much of the first major war and at that time being at the top of the leaderboards meant more than just sitting around sniping Enemy Master kills all day every day, you actually had to go out there and do some legwork yourself. I wrote up several tier lists around launch and they hold up reasonably well, of course not including then non-existent DLC. Back then everyone thought Justice was the greatest, of course they weren’t too bright.

For all you new guys and PC players the Illuminates used to be really fucking hard, like way harder than every other race by a factor of three or four; most enemies had almost twice as much life and the MC guys had much better tracking, did more damage, and the control switching lasted for much longer. So being the top Illuminate player was no small feat. Of course now I can just roll around with Double Freedom (which incidentally was also the best weapon against Illuminates back then, but not a single handed murder machine precluding all other stratagems like it is now) and just obliterate everything.

However somehow not playing the game for months and months made me much better against bugs while solo, that and I bought the Toxic Avenger which is just totally insane against bugs, but also a fun and dynamic weapon that’s interesting to use. Hence Bugs became almost as fun as the Illuminates, and now we have a double threat of satisfaction. As to the Cyborgs… well anyone who enjoys fighting them is obviously a communist (note I may or may not be a Marxist in real life) post the introduction of dogs.

I am not going to stop playing Helldivers entirely as I initially thought I would, the reason being there’s no other game to get that sweet euphoria of playing extremely well with no actual mental effort on my end; and games with super high skill ceilings are extremely rare. However with the release of Salt and Sanctuary tonight I’ll be focusing on that for a while, then Dark Souls 3 comes out and obviously same thing there, I spend about 5-6 hours a day screening, editing, and uploading Street Fighter V videos, and I start work (thankfully online) in April which’ll eat at least another 4 hours out of my day for 5-6 days a week. So I just don’t have much time, but I’ll try to stick around; I may for instance participate in the coming Illuminate Homeworld siege.

To the developers: Thanks for making such an incredible game with such a high skill ceiling. Make more DLC like the Avenger and less DLC like the Sickle. Hell if you had lead with the avenger I might have just bought every piece of DLC you put out (note: I may or may not have made like 5 times my investment back on Helldivers). Always backload the OP shit man, simple business strats. This is what happened to the guy who designed dogs before he designed them. Before you start work on the next game I’d recommend some personality readjustment training and/or more lobotomies. Lots more lobotomies.


Signed:
Valgresas, 14th Grand Lord, Epitome of Super Earth

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Deadpool



When I went and saw Deadpool there were but 3 trailers, all of them of course being Super Hero movies; and there’s another 2 aside from those coming out this year, racking up the total to a whopping six. The last time a Ryan Reynolds super hero movie came out there were but four super hero movies that year and everyone was having a crisis, bubbles, crashes, Marvel will only last for a few decades et cetera. But rest assured, Marvel may be dead as a fighting game aside from periodic necromantic wizardry; but Marvel movies are eternal. If you thought they’d go away before you died, well you were wrong; as the present Marvel slate is only setup until like 2030 or something, but the continued success of these films will extend it well into 2070 or so. Stan Lee will still be alive then, of course, making cameos.

Fret not friends, for Deadpool is fantastic; and well on its way to an absurd $130 million box office total. In fucking February no less. More words that start with F. Speaking of the F Bomb there’s plenty of those in this film, the action is frenetic, the nudity is gratuitous (off by one letter, damn), and the humor is on point more or less. I don’t think I disliked a single character in the film, a rarity for such a diverse set of characters; I’m sure if I ever go see Baffleck vs Superman I’ll despise at least a good 70% of the characters, especially the ones in the art museum sequence filmed like 5 miles away from where I am.

The structure of the film is relatively curious, but is simply used as a method to introduce fourth wall breaking and then proceed to pick apart every relevant movie in Ryan Reynolds’ storied Super Hero career amidst fondling Morena Baccarin (who’s been in a preposterous number of TV shows but never starred in an A-List film as far as I know, shoutouts to Stargate SG-1, she still looks exactly the same 10 years later), shooting/stabbing bad guys, and having a comedy routine with a blind lady and a random comedian dude (both wonderful performances). The film starts in the middle, mind blowing I know. There are really only two big action sequences in the movie, one right at the start and another right at the end, so the rest is pretty much all of the above instead, e.g. actual Valentine’s Day movie stuff. Dumb Humor? Check. Smart Humor? Check. Romance? Indeed. S and M? Oh yes.

As you may have guessed the theater was packed, granted we went to the busiest theater but still it was full to the brim with 16-19 year olds. To my right was a sagely fellow passing popcorn and pop with his friend immediately in front of me, both parties fumbling (with moves that Cam Newton would admire) with it and a phone throughout the film. I rarely have any issues with the theater going populace but these two dumbasses were just a tad distracting. The smell of booze was in the air; wonderful.  The friend I went with insisted on staying through the credits so I admonished him, pointing out loudly how absurdly stupid these two gentleman surely must be, and stood up defiantly. I then came back in the theater and watched the Stinger a few minutes later and it was pretty good. The most interesting thing is that Deadpool specifically mentions throwing away your garbage, and then this mass of irascible teenagers proceeded to do so; leading me to wonder what the percentage impact such a blasé PSA could have on the populace.




Aside: I legitimately think The Hateful Eight is a funnier film than this one, however that movie Tarantino could make while he was in a Coma with no real issue; and Deadpool is just about the hardest movie imaginable to nail; especially considering the lead they cast. They absolutely crushed it. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Revenant


After a handful of delays I finally got to see the Revenant last night at a near midnight showtime. The film is about 2.5 hours long so in the twilight of the Thursday midnight opening it might be one of the last opportunities to see a theater in a completely desolate state afterward; with nary an employee in sight. This film is fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which being its relative basis on a factual story. There are various elements that are constructed or adjusted for the film for obvious reasons but the actual core of the story, i.e. man gets mauled by Grizzly Bear, is left for dead, then crawls for 200 miles back to civilization seeking retribution, appears to be something that actually happened.

The first part of the film is a bit longer than I was expecting, but it did give the director an opportunity to introduce the characters and have them speak actual dialogue for a while. For the majority of the film very little is actually spoken, and I think the big reason why this is Dicaprio’s best performance to date is that he didn’t have to talk much (and about half of his dialogue is in a different language). A big issue Dicaprio and many other actors have is falling into the trap of playing almost the exact same character in every movie; regardless of the design of the character itself. This isn’t the same as being typecast, it’s simply a style of acting that lacks in range. However if you totally negate that aspect and make 90% of the acting physical: groaning, gurgling, crawling, limping; then it works pretty damn well.

Visually this film is absolutely gorgeous and was almost exclusively filmed in the wilderness of Canada (where the film is largely set) in natural light settings. The innumerable difficulties that this poses have been well documented, but it is certainly a fantastic achievement in cinematography alone. There is an odd obsession with the usage of rivers in the film which makes the exact way that Dicaprio survives seem a bit specious at times; but hey it’s a really ridiculous survival story to begin with so you should be able to bend your logic circuits a bit. I did find it odd that they never addressed Hugh Glass’ broken leg/foot directly, since setting a bone is a somewhat common film device lately why not have it in the Revenant somewhere, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.

The rest of the cast is very solid, Tom Hardy’s great as you might expect considering he’s Tom Hardy. Domhnall Gleeson delivers possibly his best performance ever, though it’s more an exceptionally competent role instead of an extraordinary one. The film has no real weaknesses and is basically a mish mash of Castaway, The Grey, and No Country for Old Men; with only the final film in that list really being on par with this one. Of course I still have to answer the big question, and no the Revenant is not better than Mad Max; it’s certainly the best not Mad Max of the year though.




Aside: I saw Snowpiercer recently since for some reason the upgraded Comcast interface is basically Netflix; really fantastic movie I’d probably stick it in 3rd for 2014 tentatively, behind Edge of Tomorrow and Birdman. Chris Evans is great in not Captain America roles (not to disparage the Cap), also worth watching in the Iceman starring Michael Shannon; another true story except about an incredibly prolific contract killer/family man.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Meaning of Life


“It’s a series of mediocre occurrences that add up to more or less nothing.” This was my response to a question I was asked today. The question was simply “Do you have any bad days?” Since my reflexive response to “how are you doing” in the hospital where I volunteer is just fine/good et cetera, as it is for most people. The sentiment itself is unremarkable, even astonishingly common in American society; I’d venture to guess 95% of people feel the same exact way about their lives as I do about mine. But what is remarkable is my oddly emotional response to having to say it.

Aside from sheer anger I rarely feel any particular emotion for long periods of time, my personality is just a continuous sardonic, purely logical observance of everything that goes on around me. I am, by my own design, bereft of most human emotional response systems. My goal once upon a time was to eliminate impulsion from my thought process, since being impulsive is the easiest way to fall into a trap in a strategic setting; so now I don’t have that more or less. I’m able to step back and take a prudent look at more or less everything. While I occasionally feel anger it almost never perpetrates a foolish action on my part, just because of the built up resistance to impulsion.

The admittance of my own mediocrity as a spoken word was enough to create some amount of sadness or depression in my mind; since it’s easier to skirt around the concept than address it so directly. I don’t believe all human existence is futile as some might and as the nihilistic sentiment above may perpetrate. I simply believe that most, even the vast, overwhelming majority of human existence is futile, that a scarce handful of great men and women dictate the course of history and everyone else is an irrelevant speck, more or less. I also believe the last person to fit that description in full died 195 years ago.


However the ability to become such a great person is not unique, surely, and the sheer population of the world strongly implies that there are thousands of individuals with an equal capacity for thought as any great conqueror or philosopher of old. So what makes them different than those that came before? Why, luck of course. Luck, providence, divine intervention, whatever you want to call it, what’s most important in dictating a person’s future is the situation into which they’re born, and while the population of the world increases the number of candidates for greatness it also has led to a general promotion of mediocrity and reliance on predictability. A person who is hiring someone in a modern climate wants a candidate to do exactly what is expected of them with little or no variance, the person who does exactly what they are told with no glaring failures and no remarkable successes. That is the ideal candidate for a job. Do you feel that you are unremarkable, identical to every other soulless cog in society? Well, good for you because you are that ideal candidate. Unfortunately for me, I don’t feel that way.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Hateful Eight


A good way to approach the Hateful Eight is to think of it as another Reservoir Dogs or 12 Angry Men; it is not by design or construction a Western persay; that is simply the setting of the proceedings. The film is basically a stage play with two different settings, one which dominates most of the film; it isn’t like Macbeth where there’s a dozen different locales so you could make a traditional style of movie out of it. With that in mind the film is almost three hours long, or about twice as long as the first two films. So, it should go without saying that the film does not have the rigidly perfect pacing of Reservoir Dogs (easily Tarantino’s best film) or the continuous momentum of 12 Angry Men, and on the grand scheme of things The Hateful Eight is ultimately inferior to a couple of masterpieces.

However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the film; I will say it is baffling just how pleasing a movie this is to sit through. Traditionally even the best three hour films have their tedium and boring moments, and at the end your ass is just sore from being in that damn chair for so long. Not so with the Hateful Eight; there is a short scene at the beginning of the film that drags for a few minutes but once you’re past that it’s nothing but solid Tarantino Dialogue and ridiculously over the top violence the rest of the way.

Another way to think of this film is in the context of Kingsman: The Secret Service, and I’d venture to say they’re basically the same movie just with different plots and genres. If you wanted 90 minutes of Sam Jackson laughing his ass off and swearing up a storm, this is your movie. Sure, sure there’s no “This a dope ass top hat!” scene and the funniest actual (unprintable by a Caucasian not named Tarantino) line is delivered by Tim Roth; but Sam Jackson is just loving this shit the entire time. Kingsman X Reservoir Dogs, the movie magic you never knew you wanted.

As for the rest of the cast, all of them are great. Haven’t seen Michael Madsen in a long time; and while he doesn’t have any “Stuck in the Middle With You” going on he’s still pleasantly satisfying. Mr. Orange returns with a British accent this time, Mr. Brown narrates a bit to explain why “Domergue’s Got a Secret.” I mourn the absence of Harvey Keitel, but all in all the entire cast performs just as well. Jennifer Jason Leigh is getting Oscar consideration and she certainly holds her ground in a fairly difficult role to sell, but like many of this year’s performances hers isn’t an astonishingly amazing one or anything.


If you have any remote interest in the American Civil War there’s a whole shitload of references to that, even moreso than something like Josey Wales; and I have to say Tarantino’s general knowledge of the time period is rather endearing. Even as someone who finds most of his work to be at least slightly overrated it’s hard to not admire his ability to make a three hour movie that’s not boring for any extended length of time; let alone with a single setting. I guess since I’m boxed into the idea of rating films I’d put this one roughly on par with Creed, joining a three way tie for 5th place.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars - The Force Awakens



I saw this on Saturday at the most expensive screen (not my choice) in the least popular theater in my area; there were like 20 people there or something out of 400ish seats. I’m sure if we had gone to the other theaters or cheaper showings it would have been packed but it was still a fairly small number all things considered. The film has received near universal praise so far, locking at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8 on IMDB, so you’d expect it to be incredible; but in reality it’s just another JJ Abrams movie. I saw this with my oldest brother and my Dad; I found the movie to be solid, my brother loved it and my father was disappointed; perhaps for 62 year old fanboyish reasons.

Abrams is a reasonably talented director and poor TV show organizer that’s superb at introducing new ideas and then not really delivering on them; as far as movies are concerned he’s able to make a tightly constructed, fun action movie almost every time out; but those are the extent of his powers. No Abrams movie was ever going to be utterly fantastic or anything, he’s just the ultimate safe bet for a very safe movie. The Force Awakens is basically just a New Hope with a slight reskin in almost every case; and I do mean slight. The film adheres so much to the traditional look of the original trilogy that various aspects of it look sort of “cheap” in a modern context. It’s certainly possible to use practical effects incredibly well and make a film not use that much CGI (a la Mad Max); but in the case of Star Wars I just want to see some cool shit; I don’t really care if it uses actual models of star fighters or what have you.

So, while a lot of cool shit does happen in the movie some of it, especially early on, looks a bit suspect. For comparison’s sake the game Star Wars: Battlefront (which my brother bought for some reason) uses the exact same aesthetic and looks fucking incredible at all times. There’s a lot of uncanny valley going on in the new film, because everything looks pretty much identical to things in the original trilogy but ever so slightly different; just a little off to the point where it could bother you. It isn’t enough to hamper the film too much but it does speak to a very restrictive set of options that the filmmakers were given with which to create a product; they basically said “Here’s Star Wars, don’t fuck it up!” and as a result we have this very crowd pleasing acceptable movie that is generally unremarkable otherwise.

That said the level of polish and attention to detail in the movie is incredibly impressive and it certainly does feel like Star Wars. There’s a variety of cool scenes and scenarios reminiscent of a New Hope, and some general joyous swashbuckling on the part of Han Solo that everyone will appreciate. The new characters fit rather nicely into their pre-existing molds and don’t really do anything particularly astonishing aside from that; both Daisy Ridley and John Boyega seem to be very competent actors but their roles are very simple and have almost no backstory beyond general vagueness. My Dad found this to be reprehensible for whatever reason, but this is probably just a thing with modern films where there needs to be more action so they can’t spend time hanging out with Lars and Beru and the Cantina scene can’t have a few minutes without something weird going on immediately. It didn’t really bother me that much; the characters themselves are just totally acceptable and within the norms of Star Wars more or less.

As far as specific things that people bitch about in the prequels I think a lot of attention was paid to that as well, the force is used much more simply and directly; the bad guy just gets pissed off and aggressive instead of simply being evil, and the Lightsaber duels are more like an actual sword fight instead of just a ton of choreography. That said I don’t think the new Villain is as intimidating as Darth Maul and his backstory is a little too loaded to work particularly well. He’s played by Adam Driver who I’ve previously seen in the Woody Allen Noah Baumbach movie While We’re Young. In that movie he’s just a really charming, relatively nice (though ambitious) guy and in the new Star Wars he oscillates from being evil to whiny and evil again. To be blunt it’s hard to impress me with a villain now since that’s like the one great thing about the last 15 years of movies, so if you’re just going to have a villain that’s okay it’s not going to bother me much. He was probably more intimidating than James Spader’s comedy routine in Age of Ultron.

The film is paced well, has interesting action sequences, and will be somewhat watchable in the future; though it’s never going to be a New Hope; just a very well-crafted imitation of a New Hope. To my surprise the references in the film are toned down relative to the new Star Trek movies and while there are some extended universe nods they’re just there for the fans and not a massive aspect of the storyline. There are some surprisingly brutal scenes in the old Star Wars movies if you think about it, like Lars and Beru being scorched to skeletons or Han Solo straight murdering a dude in close quarters; or various other scenes in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; but the new film is extremely safe on that front. 

The only thing in the movie that really takes a horrifying beating is a bulkhead and most of the rest of the “evil” scenes are played for comedic effect. I don’t think Disney is incapable of making an interesting movie that pushes violence boundaries and so forth, the original Pirates film is testament to that; but the Force Awakens is very nearly “PG” caliber in terms of the level of violence on screen. I get that it’s kid friendly and all that and I have no problem with PG movies (Mr. Holmes is my second favorite film of the year), but they could have tried to do something shocking aside from plot choices.


Overall I’m optimistic about the next 20 years of Star Wars movies and reboots and prequels and sequels and spin-offs; The Force Awakens is certainly a step in the right direction. Universal consensus seems to suggest that the Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series and certainly up there all time in terms of Action movies, but personally I like a New Hope the best and this movie had just enough of the right beats to keep me entertained. On the whole I think it’s around the 7th or 8th best movie I’ve seen this year out of like 25 in theaters, it’s certainly no Mad Max but I think it will hold up better on repeat viewings than Kingsman (though it is only slightly better) for example. Sicario is sort of an action movie so that would make it the third best one of those all year. Worth seeing if you like Star Wars, worth seeing if you don’t (actually from the general response those that dislike SW seem to like this one the best).


Aside: Christmas makes this unpredictable but it looks like the film is going to fall just short of beating Avatar's domestic run. Edit: Nope, definitely going to beat it. Probably not going to get a billion domestic but who knows. The brand is invincible.