Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Deathwatch (2002)

Deathwatch is an interesting take on the psychological horror genre. I won't say that this is the psychological horror film to end all psychological horror films, nor will I say that it's better than a ton of the mainstays of the genre like Jacob's Ladder, 1408, and Sauna, but I will say that this is a good film for satisfying a bit of a psychological horror junkie.

The film takes place in World War I in the trenches and follows around soldiers from Great Britain as they fight their way through the Germans. The movie has an interesting cold opening followed by a very different kind of set piece altogether. You might think that this is a film about war, and to a point you would be correct, but this is a film about war like Sauna and The Objective are movies about war. There's no real war that we see on screen, rather most of the movie shows us imagery of war and the horrors one could see, from madness, to losing limbs, to forgetting God, to being shellshocked, and others. I feel that this movie shows a decent psychological approach to war, especially World War I and its trench warfare and lack of good medicine.

The barbed wire imagery is especially telling, and I feel it makes this movie even better. I'm not going to praise this movie up and down. There's a lot wrong here even if some of it is done pretty well. The acting is decent, but some of the actors are better than others. Andy Serkis really stands out in his part, blowing away the other actors in this by a long shot. The CGI stuff (I suspect it's CGI at least.) looks pretty fake, but then again this is a 2002 movie, and I guess I can forgive it a bit, since it alternates between looking really good and looking pretty bad. The fog effects are sometimes very good and other times pretty awful.

There are gore effects well, and I do understand why they're there, but I also think some of it was completely gratuitous. I feel that the filmmakers really shied away from very visceral imagery, but at the same time seemed to revel in gore, which makes absolutely no sense if you haven't seen the film. I almost feel like they showed us the wrong scenes as gory save one towards the end that I felt was especially justified to show. Most of the gory scenes felt tacked on and needless where a lot of the scenes that should have had gore shown in them really did shy away from the gore. It really made no sense to me, especially in a horror movie like this.

The cinematography is decent, but not amazing. This is not a masterful psychological horror movie, just an interesting and decent one. Most of the scares come early on in the movie as does most of the atmosphere. By later on the movie really kind of loses all suspense and becomes a glorified slasher film which really took a lot away from this film. It was too predictable, too easy to figure out. There were no interesting twists or turns, no huge revelation, no interesting plot. If you've seen any given psychological horror movie, you've seen this one. The thing going for this one is that it's different. The characters are interesting, it takes place during World War I, and it has a lot of war imagery when most psychological horror doesn't. That's not necessarily a huge plus in my mind, but I do think this movie really does work decently and was kind of enjoyable if not even close to the best film of its genre.

There's not much more I can really say. The ending was silly, the story moved slowly despite being a short film, and I never really felt engaged with anything besides Andy Serkis who was playing, like always, a crazy person.

Man, if I could I would just make a movie about Andy Serkis flipping out. I could watch that guy flip out all day. The best parts of the movie for me were him flipping out at people. I can't stress that enough. If you have some kind of deep Andy Serkis flipping out fetish, this is the movie for you, otherwise just go watch Jacob's Ladder since it's a better war-driven psychological horror movie by far.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

"There is no way out of here. It will be dark soon. There is no way out of here."

You said it, Torgo. I don't think I'll ever be able to get this film out of my head. It's like a disease that won't let up... It's like I've watched the movie in The Ring except it's not some creepy little fifty pound girl who's going to come out of my television and get me, it's a brain aneurysm caused by anger and confusion over this film and just how bad it was.

I watched this film not knowing what to expect. I knew it was bad... Hell, I knew it was REALLY BAD, but I thought that maybe somebody got it all wrong... maybe they didn't know what they were talking about and this is really and fantastic and underrated gem of a movie. No... no... It's not. Don't watch this film. Don't even think about watching it. It's not fun, not enjoyable... it's like getting repeatedly stabbed in the chest with all the pain that entails, without dying, and also being completely bored and wishing you could just end it all right there and then.

Am I even making sense anymore? Okay, this film, nowhere near as bad as the abomination that is Space Thunder Kids, but it's bad. The film is amateurish, and is shot like a really bad high school student film. The acting, although bad, is actually usually palatable when the main female lead isn't on screen. The main female lead, I believe her name is Margaret or Maggie... possibly both... I don't know or care and I'm not going to use my brain to think about it... well, she happens to be my least favorite character is any film I have ever seen. I wanted her to suffer in a way I've never wanted any character to suffer. Useless doesn't describe her... I want a word that is more intense to describe her... rocklike... a big sack of nothing... DAMMIT, WOMAN! Why couldn't she do anything? Why did she get tired constantly? Did she have brittle bone disease? Some kind of horrible disease that make her weaker than a newborn kitten that also happens to have no legs, and may in fact be pond scum. THAT DOESN'T EVEN MAKE SENSE!!! I hate that woman so much! She gives human beings a bad name. No, Maggie, when it seems like some creepy guy might try to take advantage of you, you do not just stand there staring at him awkwardly, not backing away or trying to get away at all... you don't do absolutely nothing... The only thing that saved you was that Torgo was a decent dude, who although a bit of a moron himself, was smarter than your stupid idiotic self. WHY THE HELL DID YOU KEEP CHANGING YOUR STUPID MIND ABOUT WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO DO!!?!? Why did you fall on the ground every five seconds? Were you that tired? How can any human be that tired and not be on a freaking respirator in some hospital somewhere looking for a lung transplant or dying of awful cancer or something. I'm not even saying this in jest. What the hell was that woman doing?

Moving on, I need to talk about some of the positives of this film to get the awful taste out of my mouth. I liked the music mostly, believe it or not. It was pretty decent and it set the mood pretty well. Torgo, the caretaker of... wherever they were... was pretty awesome. I would have watched a film of him just talking or doing stuff. Hell, a film of Torgo doing his taxes would have been more enjoyable than this. The Master's mustache was pretty awesome. I think that's it for positives.

Since most of this film is made out of negatives, it's really hard for me to precisely focus on what the worst things are, although I am damn well going to try.

The dubbing was awful. The cinematography (That is way too technical a word to call the crap that is this film.) is atrocious. I'm pretty certain every cut is awful... right before the editing cut the character might be running away and then it cuts and the character has stopped, turned around INSTANTANEOUSLY and looks very comfortable talking to another character.

I've never seen a movie make a cat fight (and by "cat fight" I mean women fighting each other for some reason only they seem to know) unappealing and frankly weird. It was awkward and uninteresting. I'm not the kind of dude who even cares about stuff like that because it's sexist or whatever... but I was bored to tears of the movie by this point, and I see that these chicks are going to start fighting and I start thinking, "Man, this might get at least a little fun to watch." No. It wasn't fun. It wasn't fun at all. It was like watching grass grow. Worse. It was worse than watching grass grow.

The movie was boring, made no sense, had little to no quality to it... had stupid women... stupid men... stupid everything... and I just... I want it to end! Stop playing those images in my head! Torgo, save me!

I can praise Torgo. He was really the sole saving grace of this film. (Okay, he didn't save it, but I enjoyed when the dude was on screen.) He really was the only decent thing to see here and I thought he was entertaining.

Okay, on to more negatives: "Well, sound does travel a long way at night." 




I don't think night has anything to do with the way sound travels, genius. I don't think darkness or light HAS ANYRHIGB TO DO WITHT HE WAY SOUND TRAVELS.  I know there are typos there in the previous sentence. I don't even care. I can't type without almost throwing my computer across the room I'm so angry at that STUPID line. So, that's the best I can do without breaking anything. I'm not ever reading that sentence again because I'll probably start spitting blood out of every orifice in my body hoping I can create a rage explosion rather than just plain flipping out and watching my brain rip itself out of my head and hunt down the actor who said that line, living or dead, and telling him about simple physics and sound waves... AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I'M GOING TO THROW MY TOASTER THROUGH DEATH ITSELF BECAUSE OF THIS MOVIE!!!

Okay... hey, Torgo... no, I'm fine. I'm fine. Thanks, buddy... No, I'm calm. Look, I'm very calm. Okay... yeah... Do I need to keep going, Torgo? Please, I want to stop. I don't want to remember anything else...

Okay... okay... you're right... I'm almost done. I'm almost done...

So, the noises in this "film" are atrocious. There's an EXPLOSION at the end that's supposed to be thunder and instead sounded like nuclear fusion. I seriously thought that the shack had been H-bombed out of existence... not even kidding. Oh, and earlier in the film some... uh... I'm going to say that they were supposed to be animal noises... were going on, and it sounded like a whole bunch of people were howling and vomiting off-screen. They must have been watching the finished version of this film because those were the exact EXACT sounds that I was making after I saw this film.

This movie is more of a comedy than... uh... whatever it was supposed to be. There were a few times I laughed, but I don't think I was supposed to laugh. I don't think I was meant to laugh. I don't think they wanted me to laugh... I don't want to laugh anymore... TORGO! TOrgo, I don't want to laugh anymore! Make them stop... I don't... no... no... The movie's not funny, Torgo... It's a bad film... full of bad people... bad everything... I want it all to stop. WHERE'S MY TOASTER!? I'M GOING TO TAKE YOU DOWN, MASTER!!!!

Give me a second.

Okay... okay... Torgo gave me a strange look and now I feel a little better. DO YOUR TAXES, TORGO! I'LL BE FINE HERE REVIEWING THIS MOVIE!!

So, a lot (and when I say "a lot" I simply mean, "more than there ever should have been") of the film has a couple making out in a car and drinking... at various different times... and the police come and tell them off... Why not, I guess? I guess it makes sense. (No, it doesn't. it has nothing to do with any of the main story of the film and is, in the end, completely useless and astoundingly stupid.)

Torgo, I think that's the end of my review. Are you proud of me for keeping my sanity?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Inception (2010)

Okay, I have to collect my thoughts after watching this film. Wow. Just wow. I'm almost speechless. This film was beautiful and extremely well done. This is the kind of movie that every single movie should be. It was wonderful from beginning to end. It surprised me... no, it stunned me. I was expecting something decent and kind of watchable, something like the other films of Christopher Nolan (the director), like Memento or, God help me, The Prestige, neither of which I liked very much. This film was sublime. It was long, but never felt long. It was beautiful and always felt real even though most of it took place within dreams.

It was an exciting experience from beginning to end. The storytelling was top-notch even if it was predictable. (And it was predictable, incredibly predictable.) That's not necessarily a bad thing though. I thought that the film going the way it did was the only way the film could have possibly worked. Any deviation and the film would have been phenomenal and especially not to me.

I'm not saying this is a perfect film, and sure I can criticize and nitpick some small things. The beginning of the film goes very slowly. Some of the characters feel a little thin and kind of unreal, and the whole science-fiction premise is kind of barely based in real science at all. Despite those tiny... and I do mean tiny... flaws, the film is wonderful. Due to the nature of the film and the interpretations you could come out of the film with, the characterizations could make PERFECT sense, as can the slow start, and even the science-fiction premise.

I like films like this. Actually these are the films I not only like, but really love. They are vague and have a huge amount of interpretations and conclusions. This is why I love Jacob's Ladder and 1408 and speak of how good those films are at every turn. Those films have multiple interpretations. They both have such odd things happening that it's hard to believe they are happening in reality. Inception is exactly the same even if it isn't a horror film. It deals with the same arguments of fantasy versus reality and the real versus the unreal. It doesn't show all its hand, and it proves, in my opinion, that even a popular movie can be intelligent and philosophical, unlike drivel like The Matrix.

The story is basically one of a man, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), trying to find a way back to a normal life after finding himself in a bit of a bind. He is a professional dream thief with his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). They essentially try to steal information from people in their dreams by making a dream world and breaking down a person's mental defenses.

The story unfolds and we find out that Cobb wants to reunite with his children whom he is estranged from for various reasons that I'm not going to spoil. Cobb isn't allowed into the United States for a certain reason and soon after Cobb and Arthur's job fails, the person who they were supposed to steal information from, Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), approaches them with a new contract. They accept and the story unfolds from there, bringing other characters into the fold such as Eames (Tom Hardy), Yusef (Dileep Rao), and Ariadne (Ellen Page). (I like how they named her Ariadne since she's "spinning" the web of the dream. Really big pun there, folks.)

The story is labyrinthine and beautiful, a tale being woven together through dreams. As the characters go deeper into the dreams, we, the audience, go deeper as well. We learn the secrets as characters learn the secrets... we feel their pain, know their confusion, fight their fight. It's beautiful and satisfying in every sense of those words. I found myself utterly taken in by the plot, following it as closely as a deer follows headlights. What I'm trying to say is that the story is wonderful and brilliant. It's incredibly hard to find something I dislike here. I love the vagueness of it all. I love how some things don't seem to make a ton of sense. I love how some things aren't explained.

Hell, this movie can make a great comparison piece to Black Swan. This movie succeeded where that one failed. This movie left me wanting so much more whereas Black Swan told me way too much. This movie was visually stunning, but didn't rely on that alone, whereas Black Swan only had visuals to fall back upon because its psychological and plot elements were badly done. The film is so much better than Black Swan that it's hilarious. To me this isn't so much a comparison as it is a slaughter. Inception wins by a landslide.

Another obvious film to compare this to is What Dreams May Come, a beautiful movie that shares some similar elements to this film. I don't even really want to go into it that deeply because both films are so beautiful and stunning that I'd rather not spoil anything about them. If you've seen both films, you already know what my comparisons are, and if you haven't seen both films, then go see them immediately, you stupid fool.

There I go calling my readers "stupid fools". Oh, well... can't do much about it now. It's not like I can just erase it or anything... well, I can, but... then I'd have to move my finger and everything... *sigh*... I simply can't be bothered.

I'm going to gloss over the visual effects here. The movie is beautiful, enough said, but it's not the visuals of this movie that make it beautiful, it's the story, the subtle art of the cinematography, the wonderful editing, the great direction, and the amazing acting. Everything comes together and creates a world and a story that I find hard to look away from. This is a movie I didn't want to end because I wanted to see more. I wanted more to happen... and yet it ended exactly where and how it should and left me smiling.

I do have to mention the acting again. It is superb. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio both really did an amazing job, as did Ellen Page. I've never even seen her in anything before, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt for that matter either, and they both do a wonderful job. It was wonderful to see Ellen Page's awe as she descends into the dream for the first time. And watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt was fantastic. He had an interesting character with a unique outlook. He was pretty cool.

Okay, I'm practically gushing over this film... but, to me, it really is that good. I would happily watch this Inception over and over again, like I would do with Jacob's Ladder, 1408, and Stay if I had the time. It's such a beautiful piece, both psychologically and emotionally, as well as visually, and it's kind of inspiring to know that a film like this can go on to not only be made, but to do well in popular opinion. I haven't even touched upon some of my favorite sequences, as the team, gradually decreasing, goes from a dream into a dream within a dream and into a dream within that dream and so on. It works out so well, showing the tension  on every level of the different dreams. Some of the emotional bits towards the end are absolutely fantastic and beautiful (I keep using that word!) and work so well in my opinion. Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but if you have a heart at all you have to empathize with Cobb and maybe even want to cry a little bit... not that I did for I am a man, but it does get kind of sad, you know? And I wouldn't necessarily blame even a manly man for crying a little tear out of his eye a little bit at the ending sequences... Yeah...

Anyway, I'm going to stop gushing. Go and watch this film. It's really good and really fun and pretty darn wonderful. It was a great film experience. It made me happy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Black Swan (2010)

So, I went to my annual movie theatre trip tonight and saw Black Swan. It's actually great timing that I saw it when I did because I can compare the movie to Pandorum which I saw earlier today.

Black Swan is a film that has received critical acclaim. The critics absolutely love it. It has cinematography of an art film, but the genre of a psychological film, and some very good acting performances. What I have to ask is why. Why does this film get such good ratings and Pandorum doesn't? This film was well done, but certainly nowhere close to perfect. Darren Aronofsky is a good filmmaker, but he does seem to have issues with certain things. I can safely say that the man likes making his movies into art, and also that I really don't like the endings of the man's films.

The plot here doesn't really even matter. There's a production of Swan Lake by a ballet company and Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a quiet ballet dancer who really wants the role as the Swan Queen. That's about all you need to know about the plot. We're introduced to a few issues throughout, such as some possible emotional problems Nina might have, as well as the demanding pressures of her part and how she wants herself to be perfect.

The psychological aspects of this film come out as Nina changes from the person she has always been to somebody else. Certain themes pervade the film, such as sexuality and lust, a darker half of oneself, and going mad. The sex theme is probably the most interesting to explore. It seems that Nina's introduction to "exploring" herself releases something inside of her, maybe something that had long been hidden away. She becomes empowered as she finds her lusts, but also self-destructive. This is an almost purely psychological film, showing madness as something that can warp one's own reality. I find the idea fascinating, but the execution seems to be lacking.

The acting was very well done. The cinematography was superb. The dancing was beautiful. Hell, most of the scenes in this film look more beautiful than real life. My problem is that the actual film is all over the place. Hectic would be a good word to describe it. The film doesn't have the focus it should have. It focuses on the plot rather than Nina's psychology, which actually takes away from the message the movie was trying to get across. The psychological elements in this film are where the real interest lies, but they're often not really touched upon, or very vaguely shown. I feel like this kind of film needs to either embrace the psychological elements of the film or scrap them... and I feel this film took a very middle of the road approach, which didn't work out.

I look at how wonderful Pi was. It explored the human psyche and the insanity of the mind, and if this film were more like that this could have been great... but instead this film focused too much on an uninteresting plot and psychological details that either went nowhere or were done badly.

I do have my complaints about this film about what it should have done... as well as what it did wrong, but I did enjoy it, maybe not as much as Pi or even Pandorum, but it was really well done. The shots were beautiful. The actors looked like real people in a real story. I liked it... well, I liked it pretty decently until the ending. I don't know what it is about Aronofsky, but any movie he makes I hate the ending of. The last fifteen or twenty minutes of this film was kind of stupid. I loved the last shot and some shots in between, but I found the whole ending sequence fairly stupid and easily predictable. I'm not going to spoil anything. I'm simply going to say that I didn't like it and do not think it worked at all. At a basic level, with a movie with as much realism as this movie showed, the ending should have been better than what they had come up with.

I did like the different aspects of Nina shown in this film though, as well as the beautiful and creepy shots involving mirrors. I thought those were extremely well done. The whole dual nature really was wonderful to see and easily one of my favorite parts of this film. My favorite part of this movie was honestly some of the shots that felt derivative from other, better films... one in particular that I swear was stolen straight out of David Cronenberg's The Fly. I also liked the creepy little man on the subway. Man, he was awesome... and I also felt he was indicative of Nina's own sharp madness by that point in the movie, brought out by newly found lusts, a darker nature, and her own loss of innocence.

This film could have been so much better. It could have been better than Jacob's Ladder, and yet it fumbled in the end-game. The ending made me cringe when it should have made me cry.

I would rather see Pandorum again over this movie any time... and that's why I feel that the critic rating system fails. Yeah, this was a very well made movie, but at times it didn't quite hit my enjoyment center. It didn't speak to me like Jacob's Ladder did. After seeing this film I told one of my friends that I saw it with, "This movie would have been excellent if it had been more like Jacob's Ladder." and I'm sticking with that thought. if Jacob's Ladder is the pinnacle of psychological films then this film is a nice little peak far under it. It's not that it's bad. It's only that there are many other films, especially psychological films, that are better. Go watch Jacob's Ladder if you want a fantastic psychological film. Go watch this film if you want to see some top-notch cinematography. Again, I'd still watch Pandorum over this movie any time.

Critics are morons.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Evaluation: 'Salem's Lot (1975) by Stephen King

I may have spoken of this in my first October Nights review of the television movie Salem's Lot, but since I don't remember, I'll reiterate myself for the masses, yes, the absolute masses of people reading my reviews. 'Salem's Lot is my absolute favorite Stephen King novel. To me, this novel is better than anything else he has ever written. Now, also keep in mind that this was the second novel he ever wrote. Yeah... yeah... I hope you understand where I'm going with this.

Now, it's not that I don't like a lot of his other books because that is grossly untrue and I'd probably go berserk for even trying to think it. Some of his other novels are fantastic. Duma Key and The Dark Tower series come especially to mind, but I also love many of his other works. Some of his short stories and novellas are absolutely brilliant as well, but I'll get into more detail about them when I review some of them whenever I do that. I will say that some of his legitimate novels are absolute rubbish and that I'm not afraid to say that. Actually many of his better known works tend to really rub me the wrong way.

Getting back to 'Salem's Lot though, this novel is his best to me for many reasons. It may not be as perfectly written as many of his later novels, it may not be as subtle nor as creepy as his other novels, and it deals with vampires, something that Stephen King has had almost nothing to do with before or since except in a few Dark Tower novels for brief periods. So, what makes this novel my favorite? What makes me love this novel more than the rest? What draws me back for more?

Well, one of my favorite novels has always been Bram Stoker's Dracula. I love that novel. I'm pretty certain it is the perfect vampire novel. I happen to like vampires. I think I mentioned that in my freaking review of vampires. They are my favorite presumably not real creature/horror monster. I think the idea of them is fantastic and works so well as something both exciting and creepy. That isn't to say that vampire fiction is all good. It mostly sucks. (Ha ha ha...) I make a stupid pun, but I mean it. Vampire fiction is mostly terrible, but the few shining gems really did make an impression on me.

'Salem's Lot is, at a basic level, a retelling of Dracula with a modern day small town instead of some British gentlemen and a castle. It also doesn't set itself up to be a vampire story. In fact, the whole story is set up to be a haunted house story. It seems like everything is leading up to the Marsten house and finding out that the place is haunted and everything, but no, Stephen King does something nobody reading that book would have ever expected: He brings a random vampire named Barlow into the mix along with his creepy hairless familiar-thing, Straker. Now, that actually sounds awful, but it works in the book. It really does.

The characters are absolutely fantastic as long as the character isn't one of the three leads. Ben Mears, Mark Petrie, and Susan Norton (the three leads) are the worst characters in this novel. They really come off as very one-dimensional characters, but that's okay, since some of the best Stephen King characters ever come out of this novel: Father Callahan, Doctor Jimmy Cody, Matt Burke... these characters are the reasons that the novel holds up so well. They work so beautifully in the world this novel takes place in.

This novel also happens to be Stephen King's first novel to focus on an entire town rather than a few individual characters... It is, in style, a lot like Needful Things, The Tommyknockers, and, seen in a grander scale, The Stand. It was the first time Stephen King used this style and it works here better than the rest of his novels in my opinion. It works really well, I think, because the main character here is the town itself. Yeah, that sounds a little crazy coming from me, but that's exactly how it feels. 'Salem's Lot is its own entity, a town already cursed by many things, becoming gradually less human because of a vampire outbreak and possibly its own disease. The town is diseased, you see. It's cursed and everything. That's why Barlow comes to the town. That's why he picks that town to feed. Or at least that's what we can assume. It sounds good though, doesn't it? It gives the vampire some motivation, some characteristics. He's drawn to a place of evil. So, in many ways the novel is a haunted house story... or rather a haunted town story.

I'm sure a more astute person could write essays on how 'Salem's Lot is a metaphor for the degradation and falling apart of small town America, or that it says things about AIDS, or some similar kind of STD that vampirism usually suggests. These are apt metaphors, and work really well, but I'm not really into examining something with that much academic acumen. I think a vampire is a vampire and the town is a town. You see bad towns from time to time. Who's to say some vampire won't try to make it his own village of the damned?

Why would Barlow do it anyway? I mean, what's his motivation here? Is he trying to create an army? His own town? A vampire refuge? It doesn't make a lot of sense. I guess he could have been really inept and couldn't control the very vampires he made, and they in turn started turning everybody else into vampires. That explanation works, but really takes away from Barlow as a character. I guess the more apt thing to say is that Barlow just wanted to screw up things in the town of 'Salem's Lot. He wanted to go and mess everything up and destroy the town. I guess that makes sense. But what would have happened once he finished with the town? Would he have moved on? Huh... that actually sounds really cool...

I guess my point is that this is a novel that should be read by pretty much anybody who likes old-fashioned vampire stories. I think this is one of the legitimate best novels I have ever read and really does work quite well. I love this novel. I love so much about it. Sure, it has its flaws, but it does work very well, and holds up very well despite being written thirty-six years ago. Hell, the idea of small-town America and its portrayal sounds exactly like it does today.

I love this novel and I have to add that again. Go ahead and check it out. I'd rather not tell the story again or spoil this novel for you. Check it out for yourself if it sounds interesting. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Video Game Assessment: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

After the abomination and train-wreck that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, don't you just want to relax with some good treasure-hunting that doesn't involve stupid plots, terrible CGI, Shia LeBeouf, or a guy escaping at ATOMIC BOMB by hiding in a friendly refrigerator. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, an action-adventure game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Entertainment for the PlayStation 3 (PS3), is as close to a good Indiana Jones story as we're going to get without Indiana Jones. This video game is at a very basic level Indiana Jones in its better days crosses with something like National Treasure, but without being National Treasure. It's also a video game, and adventure really does seem to translate better in video game format than in movie format. I guess it's one of those things. How many other really good adventure movies are out there besides Indiana Jones, National Treasure, and The DaVinci Code... and even most of those aren't good by any stretch of the imagination. I do like the first three Indiana Jones movies. They're fun rides and that's what this game is. It's an action-adventure styled in the good parts of the adventure genre.

I liked this game. I liked it a lot. I thought it had a lot of very interesting stuff in it. It had interesting villains, heroes with motives beyond simple video game or movie logic, and banter that was incredibly well done. The gameplay was fluid, and the cover-based combat was mostly pretty good besides a few exceptions which I'll get to.

Honestly though, I don't think this game is about the gameplay mechanics or the combat, the shooting, or the leaping around like a gigantic monkey. (I'll get to that too...) This game is about the story. It's about the characters. Those are the things that make this game every bit as memorable as something like Indiana Jones, because there are characters that are memorable, situations that are fun and interesting without being stupid or absolutely unrealistic. The world feels real. Hell, with the graphics on this thing, the world looks more real than real life. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. I've heard the term "scenery porn" thrown around talking about this game and it's a good description. The scenery here is simple breathtaking. If I weren't actually trying to beat the game and kill the bad guys in the game I could just stop and stare at the beautiful mountains and forests that this game has to offer. Oh, and the rain and snow! I've never seen rain and snow really captured like it is in the game. It looks like real rain and snow, and also acts like real rain and snow. I guess my final word on this matter is that this game is visually stunning and can really show what our current generation consoles are capable of.

Now, getting back to the critiques and analyses of the actual game... Uncharted 2 was called, by most, the game of the year for 2009, and now I see that it was for good reason. With the varied environments, great character interactions, great shooting mechanics, and great story, it's hard to see another clear contender for the best game of 2009. I'd nominate Dragon Age: Origins, but that game also had some weird bugs in the system, and had mostly terrible gameplay and graphics, and the story was nowhere near as epic as Uncharted 2. I liked Dragon Age a lot, but it's nowhere near the level of what Uncharted 2 is.

Now, I'd never call this game sublime or wonderful. Maybe it was the difficulty setting I had the game set to, or maybe it was that I was being constantly distracted by the pretty colors in the environments, but I was constantly dying. Most of death of poor Nathan Drake (the player character) were because I had no idea where the hell I was supposed to jump to. And now I get to the real meat and potatoes of my annoyances with the game and why it could never be one of my favorites despite all of the praise I gave it. The jumping mechanics, although fun at first, do tend to get old very quickly. Yes, game, I understand how to jump. I don't need to have a jumping puzzle that takes me an hour to get through involving a bunch of clockwork gizmos. Yes, it looks very cool, but Nathan Drake must have jumped or fallen to his death in the one huge jumping puzzle I'm describing a good... oh, let's be conservative and say twenty times. I'm not saying that the jumping puzzles are hard exactly, but it can be really hard to see where the hell you're supposed to jump to, and you pretty much only have the option of trial-and-error, where error is Nathan Drake's death. I think if the game had fewer stupid jumping puzzles I'd have less a huge issue with the game.

As for other issues, why did I have to do the same jumping puzzle twice? It's not as if I screwed it up badly the first time I did it. Why do you want me to waste time seeing something you already brought to my attention? I don't forget things right after I play them. And the fact that I can go back and play the chapter again in freeplay mode... well, I guess I don't quite understand why I had to do it again... That made me ornery.

Also, some of the levels seem to be reminiscent of other older games... hell, most of this game reminds me of a game I played on the PlayStation 2 a few years ago called Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. This game could be a remake of that game. They share a lot of similar environments and set pieces... they even set off to similar areas with similar goals in mind. There are jumping puzzles in each game too... sometimes terrible jumping puzzles... jumping puzzles that will haunt me...

There's a train level... and what I mean by that is a level that takes place on a moving train... that takes place about halfway through the game. I hate that level and all levels like it. I played Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire back in the day on my good old Nintendo 64. I remember that stupid train level. This level in Uncharted 2 was as annoying as that one was. Hell, I'm pretty sure levels like that must come with the genre. I don't remember if Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb has a train sequence, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had that train chase sequence at the beginning of the movie...

Those are a few complaints that I've found about this great game... and even though I complain, I played through those levels to get to the parts I wanted to play. Now, I was also playing on a hard difficulty setting. Maybe parts of the game would have been much more enjoyable if I had played it on a leisurely easy setting, but being the hardcore man that I am, I had to play it on hard and subsequently died a lot, although honestly the things that killed me mostly probably had nothing to do with the difficulty settings... mostly jumping. I died a lot while jumping... or when I tried to get Drake behind cover or over cover and he wouldn't listen and died from a shot to the back.

I am going to tell one hilarious anecdote that happened during the final boss fight. I was fighting the final boss (fairly obvious from when you first meet him that he'll be the final boss) and as I was fighting him I jumped and landed on his head and directly next to a vine. Drake looked like he was falling, flailing his arms about and everything, but he was just hanging in midair. It was hilarious. I died, obviously, but it was worth it to see the game bug out like that. I guess my point is that sometimes there can be really funny bugs in video games.

I guess my ultimate assessment of this game is that although flawed in small ways, it is both beautifully stunning and enjoyable. It's an Indiana Jones of the modern age, when current Indiana Jones is awful and we have nothing else to hold on to except a smug man named Nathan Drake and his adventures finding old stuff. I'd go and play this game a million times over rather than watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that insipid piece of garbage.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Animal Contemplation: Squirrel

The squirrel, nature's evil nut-collecting rodent. I'm not going to go on a crazy megalomaniac rant about how I think squirrels are out to get me or why you should fear these cute balls of absolute terror, why you should lock your doors, run, hide, get out the anti-squirrel spray, and pray for a zombie apocalypse to kill these suckers off. I'm not going to start raving like a lunatic and waving my hands around saying things like squirrels are the most evil animal in the world and have attacked me on numerous occasions appearing much smarter than I would have ever thought. They seem to know how to team up with one another... and even worse, they seem to know how to enact revenge against a singular entity. I'm not going to say those things because it will probably take away all of my internet credibility and make me into a laughingstock amongst my peers and then... and then...

Wait, I don't care. I did a review on the majestic pangolin once. I think I'm shameless already. So, I guess the squirrel-lawyers should bust out their legal books and sue me for libel, because I'm about to shoot some possibly libelous TRUTH at my readers.

Look at that face. It's the face of pure evil.
I guess instead of doing something cool and neat like the rest of you hip people for a "new year", I'm going to inform you on the horrible things squirrels are and what they do. You think they only have cute little faces and store those nuts in their cheeks, and are sometimes really fat and kind of wobble when they walk... and you basically have to laugh at them or feel like you're going to explode... well, you're wrong! WRONG, I SAY! Squirrels are masterminds of the highest echelon, born from constant hate and an irrefutable passion for said hatred. Oh, don't even tell me I'm wrong. Have you ever seen one of their overly cute faces with their big eyes just look at you? They stare blankly at you, STEALING YOUR VERY SOUL! Oh, you think I'm kidding, don't you? Well, I ask you one thing, have you ever stared in a squirrel's black eyes long enough to find out? Would you like to after hearing all of this? would you chance it? Yeah, that's what I thought.

I can tell you stories about squirrels, terrible war stories about what they've done to me, how they've accomplished their goals of ruining whatever life I could have had. I've barricaded myself inside of a small room for years now. I don't go out, I barely eat, and I never sleep. I have these monitor devices watching the perimeter... telling me when the squirrels are active. They watch me all the time...

OH NO! A squirrel just went past my window. Oh dear... AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Whoops... my finger seemed to just hit the "H" and exclamation mark key a ton. Sorry about that. The squirrel went away. It was a false alarm. See these little creatures used to attacked me. They've made concerted efforts to make my life miserable. Every bad and terrible thing that has ever happened in history has involved squirrels. Adolf Hitler-Squirrel, Josef Squirrelin, the Squirrelocaust, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Squirrels Booth, a squirrel biting my finger that one time when I tried to give it a cracker and it thought my finger was the cracker, and the most obviously evil squirrel incident, that time when squirrel George Lucas made the Squirrel Wars prequel trilogy. I think that's the worst of all and unforgivable as well.