Entertaining Platt: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

July 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Do you smell that, Alfred? I haven’t bathed in years.

It’s Prometheus all over again.

Beautiful movie, one exemplary performance, and a lot of plot that makes no sense.

Christopher Nolan paints an epic picture, and if you take care to stare at it from a distance, you may not notice that it’s really just a bunch of silly squiggly lines going all over the place.

Anne Hathaway surprised me with her portrayal of Catwoman, although I think the movie should have spent more time exploring her origins than Bane’s.

And since we’re on the topic of Bane, while I enjoyed Tom Hardy’s work in Inception, I just thought his portrayal of the supervillain terrorist in Dark Knight Rises was maddeningly awful. It was like someone had thrown Patrick Stewart, Michael Chiklis, and William Shatner into a blender and spewed out this monstrosity.

Now let’s talk about the plot, with so many silly convolutions that I think even M. Night Shamalayan was sitting in the audience, mockingly shouting, “WHAT A TWEEST!”

I’m not going to ruin any big reveals, but I am going to point out some problems:

* How in the world did a bald man in a fetish suit and a cheap Vader mask manage to convince Gotham City to free all the prisoners, round up the wealthy, and bow to him just by reading words off a piece of paper that he alleged came from Jim Gordon?

* When he had millions of people to terrorize and a whole terrorist chain of command to manage, where did Bane find the time to take a day trip to Somewheristan with Bruce Wayne?

* Who provides the satellite cable hookup in the pit in Somewheristan?

* If Bane really wanted to torture Bruce with television, why not make him watch the Kardashians and Jersey Shore? That would’ve been much more cruel.

* A bunch of cops are stuck in a hole for at least three weeks – and none of them later seems to be filthy, hungry, weakened, or unshaven?

* Pop quiz, hotshot: Your only goal is to blow up a nuclear bomb in the middle of Gotham City. The bomb is in the back of a moving truck. Just a few minutes left on the countdown timer. The explosion is INEVITABLE. Batman is trying to herd you toward a place where the explosion can be neutralized. You’re a criminal mastermind. What do you do? Certainly, you stop the truck, get out, shoot the tires, and walk away to get your last latte at Starbucks. Or, in Dark Knight Rises, you keep driving.

* After eight years in seclusion, hanging up cape and cowl, Bruce Wayne’s only requirement for getting back in shape to fight crime is a quick physical and a fancy leg brace?

* Batman sure seems to get over that stab wound between the ribs pretty quickly when there’s a bomb that needs hauling.

* Sometimes it’s snowing in the finale of Gotham City. Usually, this is where Batman and Bane are. But the snow goes away whenever John Blake is around. Mr. Antifreeze?

Sadly, this is another situation where I went into the movie wanting and expecting to love it, and there are undeniably some visually arresting moments, but it does little more than tie up loose ends from Batman Begins. It pales in comparison to The Dark Knight.

Entertaining Platt: Ted (2012)

July 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Forget the blackjack…”

There’s a simple litmus test to determine whether you’re going to like Ted or run screaming from the theater in disgust:

Do you like Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy? Would you get a kick out of Peter Griffin in CGI teddy bear form? Do you have a high tolerance for fart jokes?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then Ted is for you.

It’s an unrelenting series of pop culture jokes and references, most of them offensive to one group or another, touching on everything from 9/11 to Aaron Sorkin’s airport mushroom bust.

I haven’t laughed out loud in the movies this much since The Hangover.

Highlights of the movie for me included:

  • “LOOK WHAT JESUS DID! LOOK WHAT JESUS DID!” as a TV preacher reacts to word spreading across the world about the famous teddy bear that came to life because of a little kid’s wish.
  • Patrick Stewart’s narration.
  • Ted vs. John in a motel room battle royale.
  • Ted’s perverse showboating for a cashier in the grocery store. “Oh. So that’s where we draw the line.”
  • An entire sequence in which Ted and John get wasted with Sam Jones (star of the schlocky ‘80s sci-fi flick, Flash Gordon). Unfortunately, Sam looks a lot like a leather satchel these days and he sounds like Bea Arthur, but he’s a good sport for sending himself up.
  • A cameo by Ryan Reynolds in which he proves more useful and amusing than in any of his recent starring roles.

It’s not a work of absolute genius, but it doesn’t have any pretentions of that sort. It’s not an art film, although the artistry behind Ted’s character design and emotional expressions is actually impressive.

Go into this movie looking for off-color laughs and lots of “They did NOT just do that” gags and you won’t be disappointed.

Entertaining Platt: Brave (2012)

July 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

Are ye sure we’re all related? Och!

Brave is a huge step forward in animation for Pixar, with its use of dynamic water, moody mist and hair that has its own personality.

But while it might revolutionize the company’s tools for digital storytelling, it falls short of shaking things up much for female protagonists in animated movies.

The movie does a decent job of setting Merida apart from your usual run-of-the-mill Disney princess by making her willful and independent. But the consequences that come about because she chooses to be who she wants to be (and runs afoul of her mother for it) are undeniably catastrophic.

She manages to almost spark a civil war between all the major clans because she wants to ditch that ancient tradition of arranged marriages. She strikes a deal with a witch (“Woodworker!”) that gets her mom and three little brothers turned into bears.

For the rest of the movie, Merida’s cleaning up the mess she made by trying to be her own person. It seems like a bit of a mixed feminist message. I don’t think anyone’s denying that, male or female, we should all deal with the consequences of our actions. But the movie can appear on a certain level to be a cautionary tale that warns against taking a stand for independence like Merida did.

In the end, though, the story seems to find a compromise as Merida’s mother forgives the whole nearly-getting-killed-as-a-bear thing, agrees to let Merida marry for love rather than politics, and then starts participating in mother-daughter cross country horse outings.

It’s a beautifully rendered movie, but the pacing of the story sometimes felt sluggish and protracted, which isn’t something I’m accustomed to experiencing in a Pixar film.

Entertaining Phillips: Prometheus (2012), the rebuttal review

July 1, 2012 § 5 Comments

Stand Back: Film Scholars at Work.

Today’s guest post comes from Rob Phillips, adding to the P-surnames. Mr. Philips is an educator by trade and film scholar by Master’s degree and former class mates w/ Peery)

I wanted to post a positive review since Mr. Platt, myself, and most others I know panned the film. Without further ado:

Ok, I finally got around to watching “Prometheus” today, read (Peery’s) review, and we had very different film experiences.   (Peery) had major problems with the structure of the narrative. Me, not so much. Scott knows the rules of storytelling, so I will make the case that he is aiming at something else entirely because he knows most in the audience would look up the backstory before the film or on their phones waiting for the curtain. He takes the air out of the narrative and suspense, not because he doesn’t know better.

This is a film in the hands of a director that is an expert at shaping an audience’s emotional experience. For this reason, I will argue the film’s aim is much larger in that Scott may be thumbing his nose at being pigeonholed by fan/audience expectations and has bigger ideological fish to fry. Only time will tell if this should’ve been a fall rather than a summer release.   Like “District 9,” this iteration of the series lights out for territories, as Huck did at the end Twain’s novel. She doesn’t want to go back, but rather “forward,” guided by some idealistic or Platonic notion about truth.

This film, like a lot of sci-fi stuff these days, strikes me as social/political allegory. Corporate, consevative, and typical pragmatic ideology crashes and burns or is thoroughly squashed (Theron and her stab at her Lear-like father). The ideology of hope, idealism, and faith in mankind prevails when they hurl a trillion-dollar spacecraft at an alien ship. The betting crewmembers and the “I-just-drive-the-ship” Captain sacrafice themselves for the betterment of humanity and become emblematic in so doing. From each according to his ability? The film strikes me as making a profoundly Marxist commenatary (dare I say in the form of a thinly-veiled “morality” play) that drives a stake in the heart of the “ethics” of greed and corporate ideology governed by said ethos.

Entertaining Peery: AMC’s The Killing. Season(Series?) Two Finale.

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.

Entertaining Peery: Prometheus. (2012) Scott.

June 19, 2012 § 3 Comments

The Space Jockey or “Pilot”

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.

I’m sure this film made his head explode

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.

Entertaining Peery: Rage (id/Bethesda)

June 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m filled with “Rage,” I guess.

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.