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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Elysium

District 9, the turtleneck and shades-wearing alternative to the Yankees cap and cargo shorts of Avatar, was a good movie. But let’s be honest here: it wouldn’t have been called “The best sci-fi movie of the decade” without the well-known Cinderella story of its creation.

That story is one of Afrikaner and film geek Neill Blomkamp, who made a short special-effects reel with his friends that impressed overgrown nerd Peter Jackson so much that he signed Blomkamp on to help make his planned movie of the Halo games.

Now, a quick side note: A Halo movie, even done by these guys with undeniable passion for the series, would have been dumb and bad. In fact, now that they’ve got Ridley Scott signed on instead, it’s looking to be equally dumb and bad as the last sci-fi movie he made – seriously, check out that fake Idris Elba – but at least it looks to be more harmless than that other movie he’s been threatening everyone with. So yeah, one of the many reasons District 9 is so good is that it prevented another, much worse movie from being made.

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Pacific Rim

Whatever I have to say to praise or criticize it, I have to admit that Guillermo del Toro’s Sino-American nerd-pleaser Pacific Rim is no Star Wars. Star Wars was just the biggest thing on the planet for months, whereas Pacific Rim never even cracked the #1 spot in the box-office rankings. [Yes, I’m still sour, whyever do you ask?]

And anyway, Star Wars’ gigantic success was due to a dozen unrepeatable factors, not the least of which was that there was jack-all else in theaters at the time – the #2 spot at the box office in 1977 went Smokey and the Bandit. A decent movie, I guess, and one which definitely had some cultural impact, but definitely not anything close to George Lucas’ genre-defying and genre-defining space opera.

But in many respects, Pacific Rim is cut from the same cloth as the third-most popular film of all time (numbers one and two should be obvious). Both are very personal and childlike pieces, almost autobiographical in their obvious inspiration from the writer-director’s childhood favorites from Japanese and American entertainment. They both have a simple and direct narrative arc, with a minimum of plot or character development, and an emphasis on relationships between the characters driving the action.

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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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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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Oblivion

Oblivion is the sort of thing I really want to encourage. After the lukewarm reception of yet another reboot of a popular franchise (In this case, the pretty darn good 2010 film Tron: Legacy), the creative team behind it turned around and used the resulting mountain of moolah to finance a heady sci-fi original property that uses top-notch visual effects to explore deep themes of the self.

But why has this movie not made more of a splash? A year later, you’ll barely find anyone who even saw it the first time, much less remembers it. And I think the reason for this can be summed up in three simple words: Ambition exceeding ability.

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Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

Well, let’s plunge ourselves back into the unpredictable rip current of Doctor Who. Now, I bashed the previous episode, 2012 christmas special “The Snowmen”, because it had a dumb plot and an inconsistent tone. At the time, though, I was pretty happy with it. The point of the episode was to introduce a new companion, and it did so pretty well: We got to know the compassionate teacher and lady-out-of-time Clara Oswald. Though she seemed a little generic, I was looking forward to future episodes fleshing her out and establishing her as something other than another tiresome “Most important person in the universe, with a love-hate relationship with the Doctor” companion.

Well, here we are at the season premiere (I’m not going to split hairs with Brit vs. American terms, or with the wonky series division the BBC has – the run of episodes from now until “Time of the Doctor” is the 2013 season for me). Let’s see how things pan out, and whether promoted internet weird guy Stephen Moffat can work his customary magic to restore my faith and fandom in the show.

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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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Dead Space 3

yearlateds3

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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Doctor Who: The Snowmen

yearlatesnowmen

Things like last year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Snowmen” are the reason this site exists: When I first saw it, I thought it was a decent episode – that its main flaw was that it relied too much on setting up questions to be answered in later episodes, but I was eager to see those questions resolved all the same.

Now, armed with the knowledge given to me by this past year of Doctor Who, I can make a more definite appraisal of this episode, and thus I can safely say that I really don’t like it.

In many ways, it typifies writer and showrunner Steven Moffat’s approach to the show, of late – we get armfuls of banter, grand spectacles filled with raw emotion and theatrical symbolism, goons with creepy faces, recognizable references to the classic series… but it’s all done without any sense or consistency, and so quite a lot of it just doesn’t work for me.

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