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’.
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games was a good book, and a decent movie. It had one really good trick – teenagers being forced to fight and die in the wild for public amusement, reality show styles – and it did it beautifully. Combine that with an interesting future world and tons of opportunities for catharsis, empathy, sympathy and for mood-swingy teenagers everywhere, and it’s easy to see why “I volunteer as tribute!” Became the “Yer a wizard, Harry!” of a new generation.

Compared to its overachieving older brother Harry Potter, though, the moody younger sister of the Hunger Games series isn’t nearly as good, for one very important reason: In the former, the narration was third-person limited. We could identify with Harry, but we got a healthy amount of distance that came in handy whenever he got too angry, too lovestruck or too stupidly focused on his hero complex.

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Thor: The Dark World

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Thor was bad because so much of it was what Douglas Adams termed “a beautiful void” (speaking of Adams, the movie is also one of the better adaptations of his works); very good looking, but with almost nothing in the way of character development or plot. Sure, people are talking and moving around with haste, but for long stretches of the movie it’s never clear what they plan to accomplish.

Thor: The Dark World recognizes this problem in its predecessor, and addresses it by giving it an even thinner, less interesting plot that only serves as an excuse for a veritable toy box of a film – a combination of loosely connected performances, set pieces, scenes, locales and pithy lines that exist mostly for their own sake rather than to combine into any kind of story.

As such, this review will be on its terms, not mine, presenting a binary judgement of each of these items in chronological order, with minimal connective explanation from yours truly.

Rest assured, the fact that I’ve got my hands so full this month with Catching Fire, Frozen and Day of the Doctor all in five days has nothing at all to do with this.

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THUMBS UP: It’s correct – Thor is the main character in the movie, and the Dark World is a crucial location

THUMBS DOWN: Even worse than Star Trek Into Darkness when it comes to the endless parade of “dark” titles – Knight, Shadows, Of the Moon…uh, City, Crystal, Star…Souls… (more…)

Batman: Arkham Origins

It’s scarily easy to make Batman look pathetic.

What’s this fall’s most-anticipated new TV show directed exclusively at nerds? Well, probably the new The Flash show, thanks to its devotion to comic-book style storytelling and reliance on sexy young men as major characters.

But that’s sort of irrelevant right now, since in a clear second place, we get Gotham, another DC universe adaptation, although how much of an adaptation it really is is sort of in doubt. Originally it was supposed to be a cop show based around increasingly more outlandish and supernormal criminals, who would of course be cadet Batman villains, but then it became apparent that this wouldn’t have wide enough appeal, and it became straight up Smallville with Batman instead of Superman.

I mention Gotham because it’s only the second Batman prequel to come out in a year – the other is highly successful video game and Grand Theft Auto V’s lone, audacious competitor, Batman: Arkham Oranges.

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Deus Ex: The Fall

A bit more of a conventional review today, folks…insofar as that term can be applied to several pages of discourse on a glorified expansion pack for a cult video game, prepared eleven months after anyone anywhere cared.

That said, let’s talk about that cult video game. Deus Ex, a 2000 RPG game, is the Gone With The Wind of video games. For ages it’s been frequently cited as one of the capital-letter Best Ever, and it features broad entertainment in perennial genres mixed with some seriously deep ruminations and excellent character development. For all that, though, it isn’t popular with modern audiences at all because of how mired it is in the bygone age when it was made.

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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…)

Iron Man 3

Twice in a row now with the baking sheets...

Let’s get real for a moment here, and say that the multi-billion-dollar juggernaut of the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs no introduction. I’ll just briefly run down the stuff you haven’t heard before: i.e. my opinions on the movies I’m too late to the party to cover.

The Avengers is a flawed movie, but I can tell already that it’s a classic of our times – no matter how contrived all the fighting is.

Thor is the worst film in the franchise at time of writing  – mostly for the long swaths of nothing going on that permeate most of the film.

– I don’t care about the Hulk enough to watch it.

Captain America: The First Avenger was lots of fun, but it really dragged around the middle and lots of the plot threads were left hanging by the rushed and incongruous “freeze” ending.

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BioShock Infinite

DISCLAIMER: It’s no secret that this blog doesn’t get very high viewership, or that writing down my rambling and snarky thoughts on these works of art is more for my benefit than anyone else’s. As a consequence, please note that this will go on for much longer than normal.

And once more with feeling – your playing experience will be very much spoiled by this review. If you just came here for a yea or nay, you should play the game, by all means – you’ll probably enjoy at least some parts of it.

References within references within references…this was fun to make.

It’s impossible to talk about BioShock Infinite without talking about its lineage. The game is the sequel to 2007’s BioShock, one of the best known and most influential games in history. BioShock is a true work of art, and unlike some other games which share that distinction it’s also a really fun game in its own right.

 

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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!

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Dead Space 3

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2008’s Dead Space was a self-proclaimed love letter to the sci-fi horror genre, and was one of the last specimens of a dying breed: The AAA-developed horror title.

Jim Sterling of the Escapist has gone over this in more depth than I care to, but I’ll sum it up: Because horror games have a niche market, big distributors and developers are less willing to take a chance on them over products with a wider appeal. Thus, horror games are usually the province of smaller developers. This has led to some big successes for startup companies, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: Source and Outlast. The drawback to this is we’ve lost the grand, theatrical style of horror games that we got until the beginning of the previous console generation; F.E.A.R., Resident Evil, Metro 2033…the list goes on.

Yes, major developers, we’ve all seen Aliens – we know that the logical progression for a horror franchise is to make it more action and character focused. The problem is that when you do that, it stops being a horror game and just becomes an action game with the lights turned off. All the franchises I mentioned above have neglected their horror roots in favor of becoming more generic shooters…except for Dead Space. The third and latest game in that franchise makes a decent attempt to stay a horror game, but commits a few unforgivable sins in the process.

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