Rise of the Planet of the Apes

One of the oldest formulas for stories – maybe even the single oldest, considering The Epic of Gilgamesh and so forth – is of a familiar world that encounters a strange world, and the clash between the two that is resolved at the end. If you think about it, most stories are about this in one way or another – after all, stories are about people who think in different ways, and coming from different worlds is an easy way to explain why they would do that.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about the most literal form of this story formula in a long time: It’s the post-apocalypse. There’s a deadly virus about, that kills people but grants apes superintelligence, and the apes’ civilization is flourishing as the humans’ is falling. There we go – two worlds, which obviously would think in different ways since they’re literally different species. Even with this, though, there’s a twist to the premise – the familiar world is the apes’, and the strange one is the humans’.
(more…)

Robocop (2014)

Let’s get one thing off the table here: Whatever I think of this movie I’m reviewing, there’s one completely objective issue I’m going to run into: It has the exact same title as the popular 1987 movie of which it is a remake. This makes discussion hard. So henceforth, I will call the original “RoboCop” – since, after all, it was made in the faraway mists of time when you were allowed to use CamelCase without leading your Wikipedia entry to ruin and misfortune. Conversely, the remake we’re talking about here will be “Robocop”. I’m sure that won’t create any problems.

A year later, there’s not a whole lot of love or hate for Robocop, passable little SF and action-tinged social commentary that it is. The consensus seems to be that remaking RoboCop was a bad idea in the first place since it was so good, but I think that’s not looking far enough into why that is.

(more…)

Futurama

You might have heard about the just completed quote-unquote “television event” on one of the Fox Network’s unruly children, where every single one of the 550-plus episodes of The Simpsons was shown in broadcast order.

I really don’t feel anything particular about it. I’m blessed to live near a wonderful relative who has every single Simpsons DVD there is, so I still treat myself to a classic episode every now and again. Seriously, I was struck a couple months ago with an urge to watch “King-Size Homer”, and I just…did. I felt like a god, I don’t mind saying.

(more…)

Star Trek Into Darkness

I am a Star Trek fan.

I won’t say I’m a Trekkie, because I’ve recently discovered quite a few people of my generation and below don’t even know what Star Trek is. I’m not joking about this – take my good friend Daniel. He’s smart, likes video games, has friends, and is a pretty good representation of modern geek/nerd/plain ol’ pop culture. And when I first asked him what Star Trek was, he responded “Oh, yeah! The spaceship show that had George Takei on it, right?”

I’m just gonna let that phrase hang there. Daniel’s a great dude, but sometimes I just have to look at him and stand back, and…whatever. Point is, I’m a Trek fan – I know my Romulan Ale from my Saurian Brandy, and my multi-modal reflection sorting from my multi-spectral subspace engines. So this review of the latest Star Trek piece, Team Abrams’ no-one’s-sure-what-to-call-it-quel Star Trek Into Darkness, will be heavily grounded in my long experience with the franchise. (more…)

Oz the Great and Powerful

This is not embellishment – that is literally what the Wicked Witch of the West looks like in this movie.

here are movies that were popular in their time, there are movies that defined and affected their genres for years afterwards. Then there are movies that have passed into the public consciousness – dozens of movies, to which everyone knows the setup, or a certain scene, or a few lines. There are too many of these to list.

And then there are a few movies that have been all but canonized. No matter who you are, where you come from, or even whether or not you’ve seen the movie, everyone in the Anglophone world knows the characters from Star Wars, the songs from The Sound of Music, the lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the scenes from Titanic

…But even beyond that, there’s a single film that absolutely everyone is had expected to have seen in its entirety. Maybe not the best, maybe not the most well-loved, but almost certainly the most popular movie of all time. I’m speaking of course, of The Wizard of Oz.

If you tried, you could probably recite several of the songs from memory right this second – go on, right now. If you’re in public, you’ll probably start a sing-along.

And so, you’ll definitely get the reference when I say that Disney’s latest follow-up attempt, Oz the Great and Powerful, “really was no miracle”.

I’ll say that adaptations of the original novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ are nothing new. A cursory Wikipedia search reveals that in the world of film alone, there are a ridiculously large number of prequels and sequels, ripoffs and reimaginings, disco versions and gothic versions of L. Frank Baum’s classic – including half a dozen before the one everyone remembers!

(more…)

Skyfall

yearlatefall

Daniel Craig’s term as James Bond can, I think, be considered the gold standard of continuity reboots. From the very first scene of 2006’s Casino Royale, where Bond battles a man in a public toilet before dispatching a nameless Russian guy with a quip and a smile, we’re introduced to the film’s mission statement: To blend classic Bond film elements with darker, more realistic modern spy movie tropes.

This formula worked wonders in Casino Royale, but was disappointingly toned down in Quantum of Solace, the sequel, which tried to minimize the Bond stuff to make way for the modern stuff, and made for an underwhelming experience. Luckily, since Skyfall was intended as a celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, Bond stuff was not only expected but mandated, and the contrast between the two gives the movie some really memorable scenes and images. But what catapults it to the best of Bond is more than that: Skyfall has an excellently realized story – a thematic character study and political spy-thriller both – assisted by a tight script and excellent performances.

(more…)

Dredd

Grrrr! Grumble growl grrrrr.

In this modern age of movies, of $200 million budgets fast becoming the norm, of Man of Steel and Pacific Rim losing huge amounts of money for their studios despite critical and financial success, of Peanuts The Movie and Finding Dory and Transformers 4, Dredd feels like a breath of fresh air.

It’s not a movie for everyone: An independent movie, adapting a long-running British comic with a good-sized fan base. Written, directed and produced by people in this fan base, for a sum of money that I have to refer to as “low budget” despite being several times more money than I’ll ever see in one place. A cast of accomplished character actors playing out a tightly focused story, with minimal characterization and next to no symbolism or message.

Though it’s by no means flawless, Dredd is one of those movies I support on principle. I thought that movies like it were the whole point of all this geek-culture-becoming-the-norm deal: niche films that get wide theatrical releases and big advertising campaigns like broader and more mainstream movies. But lately those have been few and far between, and so it’s nice to have the movie out there out there. (more…)

Black Mesa

It’s not Half-Life’s birthday – Blocky Scientist doesn’t get a candle.

It says a lot about video games as both an art form and a medium in general that Black Mesa, fan remake of landmark first-person shooter Half-Life, was even thought of, much less made. In Hollywood, remakes have never really been popular, even in the drought of intellectual property that has afflicted the film industry in the past decade – the logic usually being “How much could you change the original while still repeating it?” from an artistic standpoint, and “Why would people pay to see this when they could just get the original?” from the marketing side.

In video game territory, though, remakes are a near-necessity at this point. The trend of shunning backwards compatibility will continue into the next decade (I’m exclusively a PC gamer, in case you didn’t know), so remaking old video games for newer formats is the only way anyone without an obsolete system can play them – and since games more often than not sell themselves on looks, updating the game’s visuals is practically a necessity. I will try to focus solely on the changes to Black Mesa, rather than rehashing the original.

(more…)

The Amazing Spider-Man

No idea about scenes from this movie, folks. All you're getting is this. Enjoy.

No idea about scenes from this movie, folks. All you’re getting is this. Enjoy.

This isn’t a review of The Amazing Spider-Man. This is a boycott.

That’s right, I never saw last’s year’s third-string superhero movie, and I don’t plan to. It’s not the generally lackluster reviews it’s gotten, it’s not a response to its indecisive abstention from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s not the casting.

(more…)