June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
AMC’s The Killing wrapped up its second season and the Rosie Larsen murder case. There is some question as to whether there will be another case, but as how things wrapped up in the show and in the actors’ careers, which are on the up-tick, it remains to be seen. The finale has left that point open ended.
This season was mostly an exercise in pain as the lead characters continually were smacked around (sometimes literally) and tortured in their pursuit of Rosie Larsen’s murderer(s). Ominous and powerful forces arrayed to try and keep Linden and Holder from finally fingering the cabal behind the murder. The crime was solved, but only one arrest stuck with those just as culpable going free (and ultimately rewarded) or otherwise eluding arrest by other means. The only positive, if it can be called that, is that the Larsen’s get some measure of closure via a final message from Rosie, but she is still dead, so it is what it is.
While it is hotly being debated as whether or not that the case (or the show) ended well, I think it was extremely brave to end on a realistically Pyrrhic victory. Those who are guilty yet have power DO get away with things that the plebeian masses cannot. The sacrifices made by Linden and Holder ring hollow in the outcome. Despite knowing who killed Rosie, no real “bad guy” was actually going to get punished, even though the actual “doer” was arrested and will go to jail.
The finale ends with Linden getting out and walking away from Holder’s car when they are supposed to respond to a new murder. This tells me at least Linden, most likely, will not be in The Killing, season 3. That is, IF there is one, since the actor portraying Holder, Joel Kinnaman, is a rising star and is cast to be the titular character in the Robocop reboot. Overall, the final season was an inverted roller coaster, plunging the characters through hell, only to break even with the real world. However, the gritty realism and less than perfect protagonists, expertly acted, made the journey and final twist worthwhile.
June 19, 2012 § 3 Comments
I want to preface this review by stating that there is not many sci-fi franchises I like better than the Alien cycle. Aliens was the first film I ever recorded off TV (my uncle’s house had HBO) with a VCR. The “Alien Trilogy” was the first boxed set of VHS tapes I ever bought. I played all the “Aliens” arcade and home video games and the ones that would spawn the Alien vs. Predator films. I steeped myself in the background. As I write this review, the Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual sits on the shelf above me. I even had the privilege and delight to read the game design document that Icarus Studios pitched to 20th Century Fox (I assume, I never was clear on the client) for a three faction MMORPG.
I love Alien, which I saw after Aliens, and how it is profoundly Lovecraftian in its suspenseful build up and how it is three parts horror, one part Sci-Fi. Also, the story of Alien is more or less the retelling of Stoker’s description of Dracula’s journey on board the ship Demeter on his way to London. Alien is a combination of gothic (the ship Nostromo and the refinery it tows even looks like a castle) and Lovecraftian/monster horror. Better yet, it is well done and one can delve into many, many aspects of the film, which I have attempted when presenting academic papers on Sci-Fi monsters and robots to my peers at conferences.
Suffice it to say, I have given more than passing interest to these films. Ridley Scott, a frequent subject of my academic delvings, started his career in science fiction with Alien, and after his next film, Blade Runner, would not revisit the genre until Prometheus, thirty years later. (Ironically, a Blade Runner sequel may follow this film.) I was extremely interested in this film, and what it would add it to the greatest Sci-Fi cycle. It is as if Scott is returning to the old neighborhood home and, honestly, Prometheus is really almost more of a new coat of paint on Alien than a new film.
SPOILER WARNING (but hey the trailers show everything anyway)
The film takes more than a few pages and ideas from Von Daniken and the more recent “Ancient Aliens” TV show on cable. At the start of the film the audience is treated to a sequence with a robed entity, marooned/sacrificed on a primordial Earth and a large UFO saucer leaving him to, ostensibly, seed the ooze with DNA to create life on Earth. OK, so I wouldn’t have guessed that the Engineers/Pilots (the IP called them “Pilots” first) looked like hair-less, albino, NBA players.
After this reveal we pretty much do not have any of the suspense or horror of the previous films. This story has played out a few times over the course of the series. We know that a crew of humans will go out and a single person(or a few) will come out. We see some variations on the Xenomorph, and some things with tentacles which may be the Lovecraftian nod, if ham-fisted, but the grown up “child” of Elizabeth really looked like a scaled down version of the “alien” from Moore’s graphic novel The Watchmen. Even the latest Predator film, Predators, managed some interesting twists beyond the previous four films where these ultimate hunters appear. Even, Cameron’s “sequel” to his Aliens, Avatar, managed to be more interesting, and if you squint and notice the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” even that the film fits into the series better than Prometheus. If anything, Prometheus muddies the Alien IP and story chronologies further.
The only thing slighty positive I can say about the film is if you never saw any of the others it may stand up to scrutiny better. However, this was not the audience Scott should have been aiming for. He certainly is not taking out the dents and tarnish that have been appearing on his oeuvre. It really sort of makes me dread what he has cooked up for Blade Runner.
June 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
id/Bethesda’s Rage is a sub twenty-hour first-person shooter/racing/sandbox hybrid game that ambitiously tries to cover all those bases but falls short on almost all counts. This game could have been the Fallout killer with a decent spin on the apocalypse, via asteroid rather war, and its great combat, creature AI, vehicle mechanics, along with amazing art and graphics. However, the sandbox is illusionary, the side-quests sparse, gameplay and pacing is odd, and the story ends unsatisfactorily.
For example, the game does not allow you to drawn guns inside “quest hubs” and create emergent gamelay from having to deal with guards, quest giver reputation, etc. I can play Fallout and pretty much do what I want, I just have to live with the consequences. Rage would have better served with implementing a faction system connected to the “job board” side quests. That way I could shot some tool in the face and still get back in the town’s good graces.
The non-instanced driving is more or less predictable with enemies spawning in the same locations time after time and more or less with the same capabilities. Car mob variety and more random spawning could have went a long way here. Also, enemy scaling to your capability would have made free-form car combat more engaging. By the time I was engaging end-game Authority vehicles in the final drive, I was one-shoting them.
The story’s premise is promising but the story arc itself stops short of a real conclusion to what you were fighting for and the off-screen adversary (whose voice is heard, but character is never seen) is not encountered. Pacing wise, there is one, “real,” boss-fight and it happens about half-way through the game. The final battle is basically a “hold-out” or normal enemies in waves. By this time you have robots and sentry guns doing a lot of your fighting.
The game features one “tutorial” area and two quest hubs, with fast travel between the hubs available, but for what end, I cannot guess other than the game WAS supposed to be larger than what shipped. Also, the NPCs mention other places that the player never sees, such as the town of “Gun Barrel.” This place sounded cool, and made me think I could make or buy guns there. Alas, it’s not in game.
This brings me to the crafting part of the game, while there is a fair amount of stuff you can make, most of it I never used. It would have been nice to be able to make ammo other than wingsticks. Also, the R/C bombs had limited areas where they could be useful. It would have been nice if there was an encounter where you had to face off with enemy vehicles while on foot using the crafted items and foot-based anti-vehicle rockets that were inexplicably vailable. (IE I never found a use for them.) I suppose if you wanted to walk to the quest hubs/dungeons this was possible. However, the lack of cover and distances involved would mean getting run over, most likely.
Overall, I feel that this game suffered from over ambitious design that collided with development realities. It tried to do a lot and ended up not doing many of the aspects very well. There may be hope for a “do-over” as PR boss Peter Hines stated recently that Bethesda believes in the IP and that it’s “certainly our hope and certainly our intent” that it turns into a big franchise. This makes for an interesting situation considering Bethesda/id/Zenimax already has several IPs to juggle: The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Fallout, AND this Rage IP. While I would love of them to continue this IP and style of game, maybe Zenimax should combine the Rage/id team, and their combat and vehicle play, with the Fallout team for the story, content, and sandbox. I wanted Rage to be Fallout with vehicles, or at least a single player Falllen Earth, but alas it fell far too short.
June 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
So, here’s the problem with Prometheus: It’s an empty epic.
It seems to want to ask big questions while splashing generous helpings of special effects and gore across the screen, but when the credits rolled, I didn’t feel like many questions had been answered.
Instead, one just kept repeating itself in my mind: What the hell was that?
I felt like the movie had so much promise during the slow boil of the first hour, but once we were on the planet and chaos started breaking out, it was just one crazy illogical moment after another.
- Whose big idea was it to bring along the idiot cousin who’s apparently only trained to point and wave at strange alien lifeforms?
- Did the Prometheus really not come equipped with a back door security camera so they could check out a hyperstrong zombie stopping in for supper?
- Weyland’s top-of-the-line androids were ALWAYS a cross between HAL 9000 and Hannibal Lecter? No improvements? They didn’t get smaller like modern computers and turn into Peter Dinklage?
- Really, the only solution the three pilots could come up with was launching an escape pod to the ground and then ramming a big alien spacecraft? Weyland can afford androids and auto-surgery suites, but they can’t scrimp a few pennies together to buy so much as a slingshot for defense? And what the hell was with the hands-in-the-air rollercoaster pose right before the crash?
The movie’s full of interesting moments, vivid visuals, and some visceral incidents that had me cringing in my seat. But when all was said and done, I felt like it hadn’t accomplished anything except unveil a few explanations and echo some things that happened in the original Alien movie (including not just one but TWO severed heads reacting/doing things).
It’s a really pretty disappointment.
June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Set in fly-over-country Wyoming, Walt Longmire is a cell-phone hating, county sheriff and recent widower. It is hinted at that he has been derelict in his duties since the death of his wife, holding on to her ashes in a tea box in the kitchen. He has three deputies: Branch Connally, played ably by Bailey Chase who I really liked on TNT’s Saving Grace cop show, “Vic” Moretti, played by Starbuck, erm, Katee Sackhoff and portly “The Ferg,” who probably took the deputy job after not getting accepted to the University of Wyoming.
Branch wants to be sheriff, as a election billboard states, causing Longmire to crash his police SUV after being unable to return his eyes to the road. That conflict promises an awkward work environment.
Vic is 6 months into the job after duty as a Philadelphia homicide detective. She doesn’t seem to like the environment, and after using a blow dryer to melt 100 yards of snow, there has to be a back story as to what would bring her to Wyoming.
Not on the force, but nicely played by Lou Diamond Philips is Henry the barkeep at the local watering hole and closest thing to a best friend and informant to Longmire. Also, an apt teacher of “OITs,” Old Indian Tricks. This character promises some neat “pop.”
The show subtly clues in the viewers with hints to fill in the back story of the characters. The characters seem to be the driving force behind the show’s plot rather than the crime (sub)plots. Frankly, crimes are depicted the same over every crime drama, and it’s the characters that need to be interesting to hold me as a viewer. The Wyoming setting and its vast vistas deviod of other humans makes for a character unto itself and promises to be a friend AND foe. Despite being 2012, this is still an untamed frontier.
I will watch Longmire next week and if your TV viewing schedule has time, I recommend giving this show a shot.
June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’m pretty sure my favorite shows are starting to merge.
It could be I’m just crazy or maybe my laser eyes are wearing out, but I could’ve sworn I saw Lori do nothing on the far horizon while Carl traipsed amidst the zombie army marching south toward the Wall at the end of the Game of Thrones season two finale.
My feelings about this scene kind of sum of my feelings about the episode as a whole: It was mostly great, except when it wasn’t. The moment when Sam Tarly cowers behind the rock and sees the horseback walker looking right at him? Absolutely fantastic. But the crowd shot of the shambling blue-eyed masses? Eh. Haven’t we been there many times before? Didn’t we see a bigger, more fearsome bunch of zombies lurking in Atlanta during The Walking Dead? That bunch of corpsicles is the looming threat to Westeros? They’re the winter that’s coming? Really? I just saw what Brienne did to three solid Stark fighters in this episode. I’m pretty sure she could throw an iron elbow at a thawing northern walker and take it out.
So, here’s what worked for me in the finale:
- Brienne’s brilliant handling of the warriors who wanted to kill Jaime, and Jaime’s awed expression after she gives two of them a quick death, and one of them a bit slower.
- Tywin’s horseback visit to the Red Keep in King’s Landing. Kind of the horse to relieve itself before presenting its rider to the king! And, yeah, when Sansa looked relieved at Joffrey casting her aside for Margaery, I thought pretty much what Baelish said moments later: It’s just going to get worse.
- Varys’s maneuvering to survive with Cersei and the Lannisters securing their grip on the city.
- Robb telling his mom what I’ve been saying for two seasons: She’s too reckless to call anyone else on taking unnecessary risks.
- Theon Greyjoy’s stirring Henry V/Agincourt speech to the sellswords in Winterfell (and the subsequent blunt-force interruption as they betrayed him).
- The revelation of Jaqen as a Faceless Man. Arya’s making some strange and interesting friends!
Where the episode fell short was in how underwhelming it could be in points where it should have been far more astounding. Maybe it’s due to special effects budget limitations, but the House of the Undying sequence didn’t live up to my expectations – it amounted to re-dressing a couple of sets, a couple of fire effects in a shadowy chamber, and Danaerys sticking her chest out. And I’m dangerously losing interest in Jon Snow’s misadventures north of the wall. It’s like the scene in Clerks 2 where Randall describes Lord of the Rings as a bunch of guys walking and walking and walking, except in this case the walking is occasionally punctuated by a woman in a fur coat smacking Jon with the flat of his own sword, which he ultimately uses to stab his boss to prove himself worthy of the Wildling King-to-be-shown-next-year.
Maybe it’ll improve for me on re-watching, and maybe it just suffered from having to follow a much more tightly focused and action-packed episode like last week’s “Blackwater.” It just felt anticlimactic, like last week’s was the real finale but this was more of an epilogue.
June 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
While perusing Netflix, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and watch one of the numerous sci-fi films I had viewed as a child. Nine times out of ten most offerings in this genre will not hold up very well with age. This time I was pleasantly surprised.
1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars was most likely a film produced by Roger Corman in order to cash in on the coattails of Star Wars. At the time, this film was also one of Corman’s biggest budget films, however from judging the budgets of his other films prior that means coming up with around the amount of dough needed to feed a family of four at McDonalds.
That said, the film’s premise is fairly solid and uses Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as its base. Ironically, with the casting of Robert Vaughan in this film he has been in two remakes of Seven Samurai, more or less reprising his role of Lee from The Magnificent Seven. Also notable was George Peppard’s “Space Cowboy” role which was quirky and endearing, the character possessed with a Scotch, soda, and ice dispensing utility belt along with a Rebel flag bearing spaceship.
Overall, the production value and special F/X are above average for the time period and budget. The dialog has some expected Corman camp, but is otherwise bearable. The make-up and creature F/X could have used a bit more budget, specifically Nestor and Cayman. However, the ship models and interiors are above average being on par with ILM of the day. Notably, this film was James Cameron’s big break as the special F/X and art director. Also, while scanning the credits I found John Sayles as screenwriter and Gale Anne Hurd, a frequent Cameron collaborator (and one-time spouse), who now produces this blog’s favorite TV target The Walking Dead. It’s always interesting to see the early work of current movers and shakers.
I frequently have written about and prepared course syllabi on Video Games and Film. With this viewing I suspect this film may have influenced the Star Control series of video games. The games’ themes and the matching of disparate races and ships are quite similar to those depicted in the film.
Overall, there are much worse films offered on Netflix streaming and this was worth the 104 minutes to (re-)watch.