Yes please

Yes please

O, Zombieland. You inject not only life into the well worn zombie genre, but into this blogger’s fingertips as well. Shaun of the Dead this isn’t, but that’s a good thing.

Zombieland is about a group of people played by Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin who survived the zombie apocalypse. Woody Harrelson in particular shines as a macho, zombie slaying warrior and he nails his part perfectly. The rest of the cast does a good job, but the funniest performance of the entire movie comes from a surprise star cameo that I won’t spoil for those of us that haven’t seen it. Jesse Eisenberg plays the awkward teenager character perfected by Michael Cera in every role he’s ever been in, and Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are believable in their roles as the female con artists.

This movie is a lot of fun. There isn’t a whole lot of downtime or wasted scenes. The constant stream of character beats, humor, and zombies keeps the movie fresh from start to finish. Occasionally the movie steps back from all the humor and absurdity to reveal something about one of the main characters and their lives before everything went to hell. These small scenes never take you out of the movie and are believable, a sign that this is more than just mindless entertainment. I know, a good movie hidden under a zombie movie. Whoda thunk it? This focus on characters and character interaction elevate the movie to a higher level than similar movies that focus on sex and shock kills. Not that there aren’t any gruesome deaths in this movie. There are. Plenty.

If you’re looking for a good movie to kick off the fall season, this one. Right here. More than just zombies, Zombieland is the best romantic horror comedy of the year. Even if it is the only horror romantic comedy of the year.

We're here to evict you, fookin prawn

fookin prawns

Fred’s take:

District 9 is brilliant. Luminary. A fucking torch in the desolate landscape that is this thing called culture. And this is true on all levels. Yes, it is an exciting and well-paced action movie. The alien tech in here is just ridiculous. More people explode than you could ever possibly expect, and that is awesome.

But you can go see poorly directed and confusing action with way more explosions in GI Joe and Transformers 2. So why should you care about District 9? Because it has the thing that those movies forgot about – characters. Neill Blomkamp does a masterful job of creating characters that you actually care about. The main character starts off as an asshole but becomes the hero you’d hope him to be in a believable fashion, while the other major character you follow is an alien that is incredibly expressive without ever saying a word that you would understand.

And District 9 is smart. It is a story that you have not seen before (unless you watched Blomkamp’s short film that he expanded for this). None of the usual cliches from sci-fi are present here. I don’t even have the words to express my sheer joy and wonder at having seen this movie. Go watch it if you like an action movie that also has brains and (dare I say it?) heart.

Back up, BAMF coming through

Back up, BAMF coming through

Matt’s take:

District 9 is the sci-fi movie I’ve been waiting for. It proves you can marry the explosions of The Transformers and the brains of Moon and come out the other side with one of the best movies of the year. And these explosions have purple electricity arcing through their smoke clouds. Take that Michael Bay.

District 9 is all about the alien Prawns (a derogatory name given to them by humans) and their oppression at the hands of MNU. Wikus van der Merwe (played by newcomer Sharlto Copley) comes into the scene as the leader of an MNU initiative to relocate all of the Prawns to District 10. He starts the movie as an ignorant, bumbling racist, but he’s not unlikable. He almost comes across as childlike with his sweater vest and parted hair and the way he gets excited when he talks about his wife. He’s a very human character that I could relate to and his evolution over the film is believable and even heart wrenching at parts.

Blomkamp should also be lauded for giving the aliens emotion and making me care about them. Here are these hideous bug creatures that would terrify me if I bumped into one in a dark alley, but by the end of the movie I found myself completely sympathizing with them (it doesn’t help that there is an alien child that’s really cute).

This might not just be one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen, but one of my favorite movies period. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I am very much looking forward to the next movie Neill Blomkamp has up his imaginitive sleeves.

You will not often see me writing up reviews of video games for the simple fact that I am of that breed of casual gamers whose last video game related purchase was the second super smash brothers (brawl? royale? gangbang? mosh pit? the game cube one.) I generally just play video games when with other people in a social setting. So I leave such opinions to my far more qualified colleague.

But at Comic Con I was able to play video games that have not yet been released and as such I will offer up what thoughts I have based on the less than five minutes of game play I was afforded by the sweaty, throbbing mass of body parts that is San Diego once a year.

Dante’s Inferno

Okay, so this was the game that I had the most fun playing. I was a fan of the original Devil May Cry back in the day, and this game reminded me of DMC on acid. In the tiny part that I played, I used a giant scythe to cut down skeletons, then performed a combo on a dude riding a three-story minotaur so I could use the minotaur to rip the head off of the skeleton barge that I was using to fly through whatever God-forsaken part of hell that I was in (yeah, at no given point did I really understand why I was doing what I was doing, not that it mattered). The action was crisp and the attacks, thanks to the scythe, were new and interesting. It was easily accessible and, if I still bought video games, I would probably be waiting for this one to come out.

Dead Space: Extraction

I have never been a fan of rail shooters, whether it was Time Cops 2 at Chucky Cheese’s or this Wii bullshit they’re pulling out now. We have the technology, allow me to move on my own accord. The fact that there is a co-op for DS:E at least means that I could see myself having fun playing this with somebody else. But that’s the only context.

Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves

Man, I don’t even know the last time I tried shooting something with a playstation controller that didn’t involve materia and at least one talking animal. While it had smooth gameplay when watching other people play, I was sort of spastic with the whole thing. Still, there seemed to be smooth transition from shooting to hand-to-hand combat when in close with the enemies, including from-behind spine breaks, always a crowd pleaser. Got to play this alongside a guy dressed like Francis from Left 4 Dead who couldn’t figure out until the round was over that he was on the same side as the other players and supposed to be shooting the NPCs.

Left 4 Dead: 2

Really, what else do you need to know about this besides the title? The only new hand weapon I got to play with was what looked like a cricket paddle (?) in a Louisiana swamp, and it had the same sort of awkwardness as when you’re carrying around fire-extinguisher or gas cannister in preperation for when you might need it. But the new guns were fun, and it was nice to have a completely fresh map where you have no clue where you need to go or what the fuck might jump at you when. And we were either playing very easy or else both the tank and the witch have been made much easier to kill.

And that is a summation of my VG experience. There will probably a recap of the webcomics people I hit up soon, and another two-man wolfpack review in honor of Mystery Team, which we also got to see at Comic-Con (Spoiler: It’s goddamn hilarious).

signing off//

All Moon miners should be required to wear Aviators

I want a pair

The questions about morals raised in Moon are more hard hitting than those in the film adaptation of The Watchmen. It has more science in its fiction than the new Star Trek did. The human drama contained in five minutes of this film is unreachable by anything done in Wolverine or Transformers 2. As of right now, Moon might be my favorite movie of the summer (it’s a tough call between this and Star Trek).

I've got nothin

I've got nothin

Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a moon miner named Sam Bell. The part was written specifically for him by first-time director Duncan Jones, and the movie is a throw back to hard sci-fi films such as Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sam Bell is in a lunar mining base at the tail-end of his three year contract when things take a turn for the weird. His only company out on that lonely piece of real estate is the base’s robotic caretaker Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey. One of the great things about Gerty is that he expresses his emotions through emoticons on a screen. This little trick does so much to add to the robot’s character.

O, Gerty

O, Gerty

Sam Rockwell also does an amazing job as a blue collar guy who starts losing his cool when things start going wrong on the moon base after three years of isolation. The film is carried by his excellent performance since he’s the only character on screen for ninety-eight percent of the movie.

This movie deals with some deep themes. What does it mean to be human? What’s real and what isn’t? What can being isolated for so long do to a person? I saw similar questions raised in I Am Legend, but a weak second half and a botched ending prevents those questions from being answered. No such problem exists in Moon. High Five.

Two other things in this film bear mentioning: the music and the special effects. The soundtrack was composed by Clint Mansell, and it ranks right up there with his work in The Fountain. Gosh the music was good. Hauntingly good. I bought the soundtrack off of iTunes when I got home and I listened to it the whole time I wrote this review. How many times do you have to hear me say it’s good?

The special effects are spectacular. Looking at them, you could not tell this movie was shot on a 5 million dollar budget. The outside of the moon base and the rovers all look very industrial and cool. They’re not cgi though, they’re all done in miniature. Something about using miniatures just looks good, and I enjoy seeing movies where film makers go this route.

Look at that view

Look at that view

Moon is the kind of science fiction movie that you don’t see anymore, the kind that makes you think and brings a healthy dose of realism to the table. That unto itself is impressive. Even better is that the film is pulled off so well, with an amazing performance from Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey’s lovely voice (it really is quite smooth). Unfortunately, Moon is in limited release, so it might not be playing in your town. If it is, and this is the kind of sci-fi that gets you all hot and bothered, don’t hesitate to see this film. I’m looking forward to buying it on DVD and watching it again.

ha books! am I right folks?

ha books! am I right folks?

The 6th Harry Potter, here at last. I braved the hordes of dressed up preteens last night to witness this, the near zenith of the cultural phenomenon produced when J.K. Rowling tapped into a worldwide blah blah blah. At this point, you probably know the drill. Lots of books sold. Lots of money made.

But what about the movie? I’m going to skip the plot stuff, because either you’ve already read the book and know what’s going to happen, you haven’t read the book and so don’t want anything runined, or else you purposefully avoid all things Harry Potter. If it’s that last one I feel sorry for you.

this is the entire movie. right here.

this is the entire movie. right here.

The movie itself is alright. While I haven’t read the books recently, I’ve been told by those in the know that several plot elements were dropped. In general, yes, things must be cut from a book (especially books of HP’s girth) in order to be shaped into a movie.  But so much damn time was spent on the relationships and the comedy that they clearly could have fit more important plot into the story. Although judging by the squeals, ahs, and catcalls of the audience around me, they made a smart demographics call. (Seriously, if you wanted to get arrested as a pedophile your best bet was to go to a midnight screening by yourself. 90% children barely in high school.) Any kind of thrill I got from watching it seemed to come from my emotion memory dredging up what I felt when I first read the book and then saying yes, this goes with this part.

On a visual level it was a great movie. They apparently had to tone down the original color scheme, and it was the right move. Everything is bleached all the time, and is one of the few elements that really lends to the sense of foreboding that the movie needs, seeing as how it’s all leading up to the big finale of the 7th book (i.e. people die). Again this comes back to the problem of the focus on relationships, which means less focus on the increasing threat of death eaters. The few wizarding fight sequences were awesome and made me wish that there’d been more.

this is the entire movie. right here.

this is the rest of the movie.

And the acting! As one reviewer said, Hogwarts is a school blessed with a staff made up of the great names of English acting (except for Patrick Stewart, who is once more shafted for any part. What’s a Shakespearean starship captain got to do, Hollywood? When you going to respect?). They all do a wonderful job, but the kids come up short in such exalted company. The worst of the four is Bonnie Wright, playing Ginny Weasly. She really seems to be sort of operating in the “go and do what the director tells me exactly” school of acting. Radcliffe and Gint are both serviceable, and Emma Watson is the one that does the best. I will admit, it doesn’t help them to have  a script with some clunker or cliched lines in the teenage drama vein of “been there, done that”. And how many times must we have a close-up of moodily Radcliffe staring at something?

Wrapping up: it was okay, and surprisingly funny. But the movie also just sort of rolls along its path to the two-parter awaiting us at the end of this crazy train. As an ‘experience’, a part of the mythos, it’s worth seeing. Mostly, though, the movie just made me want to read the books again. Which I suppose isn’t such a bad thing, all in all.

signing off//

Shiny

Shiny

I thought this movie would be awful. I heard it was bad from reviews. It has Keanu Reeves starring as the alien Klaatu. His acting in Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more monstrous than the King of Vampires himself. It’s also a remake of a 1950’s sci-fi movie that I’ve never seen. None of the above left me feeling optimistic. To my surprise, the movie had a few things going for it besides a some cool special effects shots.

Keanu isn’t a terrible actor in this movie for the same reason Arnold Schwarzenegger is good in the Terminator movies. They’re both playing as these emotionless, robotic characters. Keanu Reeves managed to pull off being an aloof alien visitor quite well.

BAMF

Lookin good

His reason for visiting the Earth is a pretty neat spin on the usual alien invasion motif. Usually when an alien shows up, they want to erradicate us and strip mine our planet and move on, a la Independence Day, Slither, or War of the Worlds. In this movie the alien wants to save the Earth by destroying humanity. His argument is that there are so few life bearing planets in the cosmos that they can’t waste one on us. I like the idea that there are so few planets capable of sustaining complex life that when one is threatened the aliens are willing to intervene on it’s behalf so they don’t lose it.

The other cool moment in this film is when the alien meets with a Nobel Peace Prize winning scientist (played by John Cleese). They discuss that the human race is about to pass the point of no return from which we will no longer be able to save the planet. From this we discover that the alien race was in a similar situation at one point and that only then did they turn around and do what they had to to save themselves and their planet. The scientist argues that humanity needs its chance to show that we can turn around and save ourselves. We can be just like the aliens and adapt so that we don’t perish. It was a thought provoking scene.

All of the above stuff I enjoyed. It might have an environmentalist message that borders on being preachy, but I liked it. However, that’s not to say that I liked everything about this movie.

Klaatu isn’t just rolling around by himself. He has a female scientist with him who was part of the first contact effort and her son. I had an extreme dislike for her son. He was basically just representing racist America. “Why are we helping the alien? He’s the bad guy! If dad were here he’d stop him!” You have no idea how many times this kid went on about how if his soldier dad were still alive he’d be shoving his boot up Klaatu’s ass. Every scene up until this kid realized Klaatu is the good guy he just hates on him and it gets annoying very, very quickly. There was a good way to handle the theme of racism in the movie, but this wasn’t it.

Less talking please

Less talking please

The military was painfully incompetent at some points. “Hmmmm. I think it’s a good idea to interrogate the alien in our secret military base instead of letting him talk to world leaders like he requested.” or “The alien’s cloud of nanomachines is wrecking us! Instead of reasoning with the alien lets try and blow him up. I bet that’ll stop his robot cloud THAT HE IS NOT CONTROLLING.” Although I will say the special effects shots were good. They may have been making some stupid decisions, but they looked pretty cool when they payed for it by blowing up or being eaten by a cloud of robots.

I didn’t hate the time I spent with The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was a flawed movie, but it was still entertaining and presented an interesting spin on the alien invasion movie. I haven’t seen the original, and I feel like if I had, I would have a lower opinion of this movie. As it stands I would say this movie is worth a rental.

Time Wasters

July 10, 2009

So I have a 9 to 5 job that involves sitting in front of a computer – who doesn’t these days. And like many office dwellers, I have found ways to pass the time; a little Facebook Scrabble here, some textsfromlastnight there, a Cracked or Pitchfork article in between. And God help me when it comes to twitter.

But one of the most entertaining of these sites is FML, whose last two initials stand for “my life” and hopefully the first one you can guess. This is pure schadenfreude, the horrible auditions of American Idol combined with the ball smacks of America’s Funniest Home Videos with a tiny dash of To Catch a Predator thrown in. If I feel bad laughing at these stories I only read the “most deserved” entries – there at least I seem to be part of some Karmic wheel of retribution. Besides, I suspect those people just want the attention, no matter the cost of public embarrassment.

So when I was recently linked to the website MyLifeIsAverage, I couldn’t imagine that it would be interesting. It sort of says as much in the title. I mean, I don’t waste my time playing the Sims, you know? Why would I want to read about these people doing what I’m doing.

But it is fascinating, in a sort of meta take on the social media that is the internet. By itself the website would not work. It requires the reader to understand the structure and terrain it exists in, its relation to other major milestones like FML.

Once you have that understanding, MLIA has its own sort of brilliance. Some of the posts are clear responses to items on FML, where the twist at the end of the vignette is that there is no twist. But the more sophisticated posts are the ones with the least subterfuge. They unfold with reassuring ease into a life that you already know:

Today I decided to clean up and organize my room. In the first drawer I cleaned out, I found my old gameboy with my favorite game in it. Instead of finishing my room, I played gameboy all day. MLIA “

MLIA is a mantra, whereas FML is a curse or a bemoanment. FML requires that everyone else either commiserate or say you deserved that one. MLIA is acceptance. It is the lotus path. It isn’t somebody shouting at you through the highspeed DSL “LOOK AT ME!” It simply is.

Today, I will post this article. And some people will read it. MLIA.