Monday, June 29, 2015

Review Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS3): For the win, superior to a shooter like Bioshock Infinite!

genre: fps, action, adventure, stealth

First person shooters simply don't do it for me unless an element is added that makes it appealing to me. In this case that is stealth. This Wolfenstein gives you the option to do sneak up on the enemies and take them out silently. Now don't expect a refined stealth mechanism. It is very basic but effective for the most part. And if you use stealthy methods often enough you get perks (skills, abilities) to aid you. There are perks for three playing styles and in my opinion these do make the game so much more fun. When you kill a soldier using a stealth takedown you won't be able to move or pick up a soldier. But as long as you don't do it out of sight the other soldiers will ignore the dead one. Not entirely logical but it makes sense otherwise stealth would not be functional at all. Sometimes though the watch commanders were able to spot me even when I was not really in their sights or was making noise. That was a little annoying at times especially if you are trying to play it as stealthy as possible but while going further into the game I let go of this and went the mayhem road since that was a bunch of fun too. Killing off enemies as silently as possible still is far more satisfying for me then doing it the cowboy way since not getting caught always makes you feel like a boss. 

The New Order surprisingly also has a well done narrative where it shows the horrors of Nazism and where killing of the Nazi's therefore is very therapeutic. Our hero also has been given some depth since his thoughts are vocalized. I really appreciated this since it added to the immersion and you could feel what was at stake. This game surprised me at times in how much time it had taken to depict some of the atrocious behavior on the Nazi's and their morality. In my opinion it is good to show these things so that new generations stay informed about this since we have to be vigilant of something like this not happening ever again.  

The dynamics between other characters also added to the immersion as you are given the choice to get to know them better through little tasks like for example finding toys for a guy named Max, a giant who has been lobotomized and therefore is very childlike. Next to the killing and violence it is nice that a game takes the time to look at the human side of things. 

Normally I don't care that much about collectibles and such unless they are worth looking for. And in this game they do. Most of them do offer you something like health, armor or weapons upgrades and others tell you more about the world you reside in now. Seeing how our hero B.J. has been in a coma for 15 years and is not aware of the full changes of the Nazi's winning the war that is a welcome addition. The New Order is filled with easter eggs here and there with one huge one called Nightmare. In the levels where you are at your hideout you can actually activate this nightmare where you get transported to a level of Wolfenstein 3D which was very nice. BTW sleeping also is rewarding so do it whenever you can. I like it that the game makes it worth your while collecting stuff. Too many games just add them as an afterthought but when done like this it actually adds to the replay value considerably.

Wolfenstein: The New Order also is full of epic moments and they always give you a sense of helplessness at first. Until the moment you are given the chance to overcome the situation. Always a plus and very satisfying. I am not going into these moments since they are best enjoyed not knowing about them. 

This game for me is one of the best first person shooters I have ever played. It sometimes is very relentless and unforgiving and therefore makes it challenging. Which in this case for the most part is a lot of fun. But the game does give you enough equipment, weapons and skills to deal with it as you see fit although some enemies have to dealt with in a certain way. That might seem limiting but it makes sense story wise. Because these enemies do add to the tension. Maybe I can't compare this to Bioshock Infinite but I am going to anyway since I do think that game wasn't nearly as much fun as The New Order was. Infinite was too conscious and too pretentious for it's own good but never backed that up with good gameplay. The New Order has a story that is good, serious and has place for humour. Next to having oddities and immersive gameplay. I simply enjoyed this game from start till finish and Bioshock Infinite I got bored with real quick. (For people wondering why that is. In short: I was not impressed with the story. It's nearly not as clever as everyone thinks it is and then what are you left with. Some average shooter mechanics, big deal. So yeah Wolfenstein: The New Order for the win. 

Review The Monkey King a.k.a. Xi you ji: Da nao tian gong (2014): Big uneven mess but stick with it and you will be rewarded!

genre: fantasy, action, adventure,

The Monkey King is a big uneven mess where low points are interchanged with some real high ones but where it requires some effort to get rewarded fully. 

You have to sit through some slow and agonizing first half hour before the (minimal) story gets rolling. However it takes an hour extra to really get to the good stuff. Problem with The Monkey King is that doesn't explain the mythology that well. You get introduced to all these deities and spirits where it is assumed that you know about them. I haven't read Journey to the West. Although I am familiar with some other adaptations like the ones featuring Stephen Chow (which are brilliant BTW). And of course Dragonball (anime). But those deviated from the source material quite a lot so those aren't that helpful. Seeing how this film is setup as the first in a trilogy, you would expect for them to explain a little more than they did. Sometimes you really wonder what is going on and why things are happening the way they do. Then I stopped worrying about that and just followed Donnie Yen as Sun Wukong (Monkey King) and his antics. Donnie Yen is quite phenomenal. He truly moves like a monkey would and above that he is able to act with his eyes since everything else is covered up with costumes and makeup. At one point it becomes quite clear of what is going on and from that moment you are treated with a lot of spectacle. Which brings me to the special effects. On the one hand you have some truly wonderful visuals and on the other the CGI is so bad that it becomes laughable. More so when instead of CGI you get to see people with some horrid looking masks portray animals that look far too fake to accept and overlook. You would expect this in a low budget film. Not in a box office hit as this one. However in the last half hour the special effects and visuals are consistent and impressive. In these last thirty minutes we finally to get to see The Monkey King realizing that he has made some mistakes and tries real hard to correct them. For me that was quit the highlight. And just when I was prepared for more the film ends just a tiny bit abruptly. Although it does seem to be a fitting end to the tale. When I was watching this I was not aware for the plans for the trilogy. But now I kinda look forward to that. The sequel however won't star Donnie Yen but Aaron Kwok as Sun Wukong who strangely enough starred as the Bull Demon King in this first part. (In case you were wondering, Donnie Yen is not returning due to his commitment to Ip Man 3. Which is very good news if you ask me.)

For the most part The Monkey King is a fantastic tale filled with wonderful action and nice visuals and there is enough (for me at least) to be looking forward to the sequels. But keep in mind that this film is a family movie and made to appeal to children. So a lot of is toned down. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review The Last Airbender (2010): Oh Come on this might not be the adaptation people wanted it to be, but it's not that bad!

genre: fantasy, adventure, action,

A live action adaptation of the popular cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender was bound to be met with some heavy criticism but to this extent is ridiculous. 

As someone who only has watched a few episodes of the cartoon I am not that familiar with the stories and the characterizations. So I am not restricted with knowledge that could get in the way. Because of this I could look at this film much more objectively. And I can honestly say that most people have been far too harsh on it. Don't get me wrong The Last Airbender certainly is flawed in a lot of ways but it is nowhere near the worst movie I have seen. It actually is a decent fantasy flick if you keep your expectations low. I think the hugest flaw is that this adaptation is missing spectacle and fails to impress with the way the action is choreographed. It's too slow and generic. Although I do think Shyamalan redeems himself in the finale where Aang accepts his role as the Avatar. Now I do not know if this message is done in spirit of the show despite I liked this take on it and definitely was the high point in this film. Of course I do concur that one highpoint like this is not enough. Then the cast. It has not go unnoticed that they cast white actors in pivotal roles while they were clearly meant to be Asian. I decided to not be bothered by this fact too much since it would ruin the viewing experience too much if I would. However I am not happy that the characters have not been given more depth. You can sense that underneath there is so much going on. Naturally you can't capture the events and essence of a whole show and their characters into a 100 minute film but still there are ways to show this in more meaningful dialogue or characters actions. I understand the disappointment from fans and non fans in this regard. The Last Airbender is lacking in too many departments to convince us of the epic tale that it could have been. For that I blame M. Night Shyamalan. He simply lacks the vision to make a fantasy movie of this caliber. His strength lies into slow and subtle buildups of stories, misdirection and implying stuff rather than showing. Here you need someone who has to do the exact opposite and go over the top. 

Overall I am surprised that I found this film to be decent enough not to qualify it as a waste of time. It has much more going on for it then against it. But yes it is far from the good film that it could have been. A real shame since I do think that this film deserves a sequel in more capable hands.

Review Cronos (1993): You would not want to be this kind of vampire. Eternal Life is so overrated!

genre: horror, drama

It is difficult to stray away from the conventions when it comes to mythical creatures like vampires and werewolves. Probably since these are what makes them appealing to us. Guillermo Del Toro however does exactly this. He tells us a new tale about a new kind of vampire.

And it is one that weaves in alchemy and more elements that seem logical enough. Cronos refers to a device that apparently comes with a few instructions. Once you use it your life is changed forever. Supposedly the advantages are not being able to die as long as you don't get pierced through the heart or burned. Apart from not dying there are only disadvantages and you really would have to be stupid to ever want that. Ron Perlman remarks something like this and he is right. In this story it is impossible to lead happy lives unless they are blessed with a loving and understanding wife and grandchild. Cronos is not really a horror but more a subtle drama where a lot is hidden underneath. It's one where you are wondering what the point of it all is until you realize that Guillermo leaves it all to you. This could be seen as a strong point or weak one. And I am leaning towards weak.

While I do liked this film enough I can't hide that I was very disappointed. After reading so much praise I was expecting a lot and I think Cronos simply does not deliver that horror goodness as it could have. The alchemist angle and the device is a very interesting one and I wished Guillermo would have shown and told us more about him. How was he able to make this device? Why did he make it? How did he lead his life? These are just a few of the questions I wanted an answer to. 

Cronos in my opinion is not a horror classic. For that it is far too subtle for it's own good. However it is nice to see a vampire movie where it is shown that being a vampire is not much fun.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Review Castle Season 7: Mixed feelings, when it's good it's super good. Otherwise it is very average! (Spoilers)

Season 6 of Castle ended with a very outrageous ending. Which was the start of one of the most questionable arcs. Castle somehow gets kidnapped right before his wedding which is a moment that would only draw a lot of unnecessary attention to it and does not make sense if you want to keep a low profile. Of course the reason behind this is to cause a big drama since people were counting on Castle and Beckett to be united as husband and wife. I myself was not amused with this. I thought this was incredible lazy writing and was wondering how they would explain all of this.

Then the first two episodes the writers insult the viewers even more by not explaining a damn thing and even trying to make Castle look like a shady figure with an agenda where even Kate is having doubts, damaging the relationship between them significantly. But what really angered me was the fact how basically was forgotten who Castle was and what he stood for. How could they disregard that so easily? Again lazy writing. It was just a way to cause friction. And I mean come on the whole arc was ridiculous right from the start. What was the big mystery behind it? Some former Al Qaeda member turned informant who used to go to the same school as Castle needed his help. They needed a civilian who would not be seen as a threat to approach him or something like that. By helping him out Castle prevented a terrorist attack saving thousands of lives. But of course this can't be talked about or discussed since it has to remain a secret. Castle being a good patriot therefore lets his memories get erased and replaced with some fake ones. Honestly that is just fucking insane. Let's assume for arguments sake that this is something to keep secret to this extent. Why then minutes after figuring out things and being told to keep his mouth shut he has no trouble telling his mother, daughter and Kate? He went to all kinds of trouble to keeping it from them all this time and now suddenly it's ok to reveal it. Sorry I am not buying it. This whole story was getting bothersome for the writers and they realized they did not have a brilliant way to resolve it so this is what they came up with. Not only was this anti climatic, it actually does not add anything to the character of Castle. You can take out this whole story arc and still it barely has any impact on Castle and Beckett. If that is not bad writing then I don't know what is. But wait it does not stop here. Now suddenly Castle at age eleven had an encounter with a serial killer but was let go and this was the pivotal moment that Castle decided to look for the story and become a writer. Please! This simply does not make any sense. Castle never ever mentioned this before. And it is not something you would ever forget or hide. What would be the reason to? There is not one good reason not to speak about it. Hang on though, this is not even the worst of it. Kate Beckett out of nowhere gets the chance to run for State Senator. Kate who dislikes politics with a passion, something she admitted in a few episodes prior to the season finale actually is considering this? Come on! This is so far fetched it's not even funny anymore. Very likely this is just another setup for a change in the dynamics of the show for better or worse. 

The triple killer arc was easily the best arc of the entire show. It pushed all of the characters in the show to the edge but never too far that it would stray away from who they essentially were. A lot of the other arc like the amnesia one simply disregarded logic and let the characters do things they would never do. And only to create drama and some cheap thrills. 

I don't know. I know that technically Castle still can be a good show if they manage to create some interesting main arcs or more interesting dynamics. However there is only so much you can do to characters without it becoming repetitive. I will see what season 8 will bring. If it does not change overall for the better I will quit watching it. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Review Poltergeist (2015): The best comedy I have seen in years!

genre: horror

The only terrifying thing about this Poltergeist is that they dared to release this and hoping to get away with it like this is a real contender in the genre. Did you really 
produce this crap Sam Raimi? Say it isn't so. Please.............

When I heard they were going to do a remake of horror classic Poltergeist I was very skeptical. However this time I wanted to keep an open mind and try to watch this as I have never seen the original before. I was fully prepared to back this film up and give it credits if it would deserve them. But OMG, this film is downright hilarious. 

I could go into mentioning all the flaws and mistakes but trust me that really would make for a very long article. The hugest fault of this remake is that it has absolutely no buildup of tension and dread. Things start happening in an extremely fast rate barely giving the viewer the chance to be scared. But even the moments that are supposed to be eerie and creepy simply lack any impact other than that the whole wrong approach of this horror made me laugh. This Poltergeist is a prime example of how not to do a reboot or remake. Gil Kenan obviously is a very inexperienced director and has no sense at all of how to make a horror film. I am not even talking about the excessive use of CGI. When used properly it can be very effective. But more about knowing what scares people the most. Often that is everything what you can't see. Where your own imagination and mind will play tricks on you. I mean what is more scary?  A clown doll in plain sight with his eyes open looking at you constantly where the camera zooms in slowly. Or a clown doll apparently moving around a lot where the camera is moving all around the place fast where you can't even register of what is going on? If you aren't aware of the fact that something is wrong, how will you get scared from it? Now this might not be the best example because the clown scene was one of the better ones. But it does show the incompetency of the director who desperately is trying to hide with heavy movements of camera and other effects that he hasn't got a clue of what he is doing. Another example is towards the finale where the light is blinking and showing you glimpses of something that would have looked far more creepy had they kept things dark and revealed that what we are supposed to see more slowly and clearly. 

In any case this remake fails on all levels and is a genuine travesty. I feel real bad for Sam Rockwell to be involved in this project. Avoid people. Or better still watch the original Poltergeist. It's a classic for a reason.

Review Underdog Kids (2015): I freaking loved this movie! Fantastic martial arts plus it makes you feel good at the end!

genre: martial arts, family, feel good,

Philip Rhee is back and how. Philip as Jimmy "The Lightning Bolt" Lee a former MMA champion reluctantly becomes a martial arts coach of a bunch of kids from a poor neighborhood and helps them become winners. 

The story might be predictable and not that original but it has it's heart in a good place. It was nice to see some issues being touched that some kids have to face without getting too preachy. Despite the light approach a few scenes will get to you since they are full of a sincerity that most people can relate to. In essence Underdog Kids is like Rocky and The Karate Kid combined. With one major difference. These kids actually are very skilled. The choreography is nothing short of amazing and you will see them do the most spectacular kicks and stunts. Philip Rhee who is 55 is in incredibly good shape and form also shows he still can crush heads like it is nothing. I sincerely hope he really is back to do more movies because I can't wait for him to do a proper action film. This one while good was more a family movie that also was very funny at times. 

Philip Rhee has made a wonderful feel good movie with excellent martial arts. What more do you want? (Underdog Kids is just as good as the original Best of the Best, for people who are wondering.)