Monthly Archives: May 2011

May 24th DVD New Releases

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Brotherhood – Movie Review

Brotherhood is a direct-to-video thriller that has a great premise:  frat house pledges have to rob a convenience store to prove how badly they want in, and when one of them gets shot in the process, the movie becomes a pressure cooker of young men panicking and going to extremes to cover their tracks.  The cast is made up of mostly young actors, only a few of whom are recognizable.  Trevor Morgan and Lou Taylor Pucci are solid actors, and both give great performances that compensate for some of the histrionics delivered by a few of the other cast members.

The tension builds throughout the movie as things go from bad to worse.  Essentially, the theme of the film is, how far will members of a brotherhood go in order to protect themselves, and each other, even in the face of a crime they have committed.  It isn’t exactly groundbreaking work, and viewers have to suspend disbelief a bit in order to accept some of the bizarre coincidences that create a kind of thriller-of-errors.  But aside from that, the movie should be a hit with the target demographic.

All Good Things

I have to say, for a movie that didn’t have a wide theatrical run, and received very little hype, this was a surprisingly good flick.  Based on (or “inspired” by) the story of David Marks, the son of a wealthy corporate mogul, who was suspected killing his young wife in the early 1980’s (she was officially listed as missing).  In the movie, Marks is portrayed as emotionally damaged by the experience of seeing his mother commit suicide as a child.  He tries to make a normal life with his wife, but his father keeps him on a short leash, and before long he’s back in the fold and showing signs of psychotic behavior.

Ryan Gosling has become one of the most dependable actors in Hollywood, and always seems to put a unique spin on his character.  He does a great job conveying the way Marks was on a kind of slow boil all the time, like an emotional time bomb.  I also really liked Frank Langella as Marks’ father, Sanford.  Overall, it’s just a great story of how someone can become twisted and broken inside by a life they don’t really want to live.  Should be a great sleeper hit.

Dead Space 2 – Hardcore Mode Is NOT For The Faint of Heart…

Like many videogames, Dead Space 2 features an unlockable, hyper-difficult “Hard Core” setting which unlocks after completing the game once.  To succeed on Hard Core, you have to dig deep for long-lost skills you left behind in the SNES era.

If you play DS2 and unlock the hardcore mode, you are only allowed to save 3 times. In the entire game. Period. Three slots, and they can only be used once each.  Oh yeah, and as if that kick in the cojones wasn’t enough, checkpoints are disabled as well.  That’s right kids, you have to be able to make it through multiple chapters at once without dying or turning off your console.

I’ve played some hardcore games before, including Demons Souls, and Dead Rising’s “Infinite Mode”, and this ranks right up there with the best of them.  If anyone has managed to pull this off, I invite you to take a bow.

On a skeptical note, if you look at the grand scheme of how EA Games presents this kind of challenge, once again, you can see the old cash flow bottom line.  Attempting this without any DLC would be tantamount to suicide for all but the most seasoned, patient gamer.  HOWEVER, should you opt to purchase some of the DLC content for real money, then you’ll receive certain weapons and armor which will make this a bit easier.  I don’t know whether to praise the company for its marketing genius, or hate them for corrupting the purity of gaming.

The Mechanic – Our Review

A loose remake of the old Charles Bronson flick by the same name, The Mechanic stars Jason Statham in the title role.  The movie was pretty entertaining overall.  Not quite as over the top and goofy as his last few outings, like “Crank”.  This one has a decent story behind it, and the two lead characters are fairly well constructed.  The action scenes are contrasted with more lead-up and back story, so the movie feels a bit more balanced than some of Statham’s movies.  Be warned though, it’s pretty violent, so if you’re a bit squeamish about seeing people get their melons popped, might want to give this one a wide bert.

L.A. Noire – Game Review

In 2010, David Cage, founder of Quantic Dream studios, released an intensely touted PS3 exclusive called “Heavy Rain”.  It was a game that promised to usher in a new era of interactive entertainment, blending 4 distinct stories into one central case involving a serial killer known as the Origami Killer.  The game was met with many positive reviews that praised its unique approach to blending film and videogame, but some gamers and critics were less than enthused about the awkward, at times cumbersome, control scheme.

Flash forward a year later, and Rockstar, famous for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, as well as last year’s hit Red Dead Redemption, is taking a stab at the same concept with their latest, L.A. Noire.  Set in post-war Los Angeles, the game follows the rise of a beat cop turned detective named Cole Phelps as he rises the ranks of the L.A. police force.  Taking a number of cues from past films of the genre, most notably Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential”, the game attempts to bring gamers into one of the richest, most detailed settings ever seen in a videogame.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Let me state up front that this review is only a commentary on the basics and beginning levels of the game.  Unlike some game review sites, I make no attempt to bulldoze my way through the game and then pass it off as a “thorough” review.  No spoilers will be given.

Fans of the film noire genre are going to soak this game up.  Every effort has been made to recreate the nuances, the music, and the style associated with post-war film.  It would not have surprised me in the least to see Humphrey Bogart stroll onto the screen glowering from under the brim of his fedora.  Music is actually used seamlessly to assist in the investigation of any crime scene.  If you get close to a piece of evidence, subtle tickling of piano keys alerts you to this, as well as a slight vibration on the controller.  This can also be turned off, if you wish to make the game more of a pure challenge.

Controls are simple and familiar to anyone who has ever played videogames.  The organizational interface is well executed, using a notebook to organize things like “persons of interest”, clues, and locations.  Waypoints can be set using the notebook as well, ensuring that you have a clear destination at any point during an investigation.  A game like this has the potential to be a frustrating train wreck if certain safeguards aren’t used by developers, and one genius idea they have is to use gold colored handles on any door to buildings with which you can interact.  I don’t know how many times I’ve run around open world games trying various doors to buildings that were only skins.  Whomever came up with this idea needs a raise.  Now.

As you play and solve cases, you gain XP which increases rank.  The higher rank you have, the more you can use “intuition points” to spend during an investigation.  These points basically allow you to highlight hidden clues on the map that you may be missing.  This feature acts as a kind of valve to let off some of the frustration if you get stuck on a case.  As an open world game, you can basically drive anywhere you like, but the story will steer you in certain directions in order to progress the plot.  Similar to Red Dead Redemption, small side missions will come to you over your dispatch radio and appear on your map.  You can choose to accept them or not.

From what I played, the game appears to be fairly large, and once you get tired of driving everywhere yourself, you can use the option to “let parter drive”, which is essentially a form of fast travel.

One aspect of the game that does require some commentary is the revolutionary facial mapping system.  If I could compare it to anything, it would be the way Jim Carrey’s face was mapped as computer animation for last year’s version of The Christmas Carol.  Everything from the hairline, down along the earlobes, to the underside of the jaw, looks like a human face (albeit slightly animated).  Words sync with mouth movements, eyes drift in conversation, and subtle “tells” will appear when characters speak.  These gestures are key to investigations, because you need to determine when someone is lying or not.  Part of this involves using evidence you have already collected.  Calling someone on a lie, or accepting truth at face value, will give you an influential edge as you push them for information, or even a confession.  This is why it’s incredibly important to gather every bit of evidence you can, and watch the faces of anyone you question.  Getting more questions right will increase your XP and move the case forward.

Although I have only had a chance to play a small portion of the game, I can say that it’s definitely going to be a winner.  Lack of any sort of multiplayer may not give it the longevity of Red Dead Redemption, but I think the developers have the right idea in making this SP only.  There’s an incredible amount of data in the game, and like many RPG’s, should offer dozens of hours of gameplay.  One thing I should warn people about is that because the developers are attempting to marry the gaming format to cinematic style, there are many cutscenes, and as far as I can tell, you cannot skip them.  So if this sort of thing drives you nuts, you might want to pass on L.A. Noire.  Everyone else should find it pretty entertaining.

Daydream Nation – Movie Review

You always expect a bit of offbeat, quirky element to any indie flick, but I have to say, this is one of the stranger ones I’ve seen recently.  Kat Dennings (herself a darling of the indie scene) plays Caroline Wexler, a high school girl who recently moved to a small town where it just so happens that A) a toxic industrial is raging out of control not far from town and B) a serial killer wearing a white suit is stalking teenage kids.  Seems like a stretch, but okay, I’ll go with it.

All the usual tropes are there:  embarrassing, awkward parents, stoner outcasts, and judgemental peers.  Most of this just serves as a framework for Caroline’s progression as a character.  She is obviously intelligent and creative, feeling stifled by this claustrophobic little town.  Things get really strange, however, when she enters into a sexual relationship with her English teacher (why does it always have to be the English teacher…why not the frumpy guy who teaches shop?).  Josh Lucas makes a bit of a departure here, playing the lecherous, emotionally damaged Barry Anderson.  I’ve seen movies before where a student becomes enamoured with a teacher, and some have even involved this level of sexually explicit love scenes.  But what got me was the way the film was almost dismissive of the fact that he was breaking the law.  He is basically portrayed as one corner of a love triangle, and any humor dealing with his being a teacher was done kind of wink-wink, tongue in cheek.  Some of it wandered a bit too far into ick-territory.

To tell the truth, I’m not actually sure if I liked the film.  It hooked me quickly for sure.  When I sat down to watch it, I wasn’t really in the mood for indie-angst, but the characters and voice-over narrative drew me in.  Even when the movie started to get weird and fray at the seams, I stayed with it.  I think that it will probably divide viewers.  Some will appreciate the absurdity that gets injected into character relationships in subtle ways; others will think its overblown pap made by people who need a bit more time to hone their chops.

The Rite (Movie Review)

The Rite is a competent, though uninspired, modern-day take on The Exorcist.  It stars Anthony Hopkins as an aging Jesuit priest named Lucas Trevant who lives in Italy, performing exorcisms on locals who are suspected to be possessed.  Relative newcomer Colin O’Donaghue plays Michael Kovak, a young student who has just finished his degree in theology, but has yet to take his vows as a priest due to a last-minute crisis of faith.  Kovac is sent to Trevant so that he may see first-hand the work of demons that possess unwitting innocents, and therefore restore his faith in God.

The film is a fairly compelling watch, with a dark tone throughout and some eerie scenes that convey a sense of evil being at work.  Both lead actors are very good in their roles.  The main problem with the movie (from a critical point of view) is that it suffers by comparison to the film that sets the bar for all films dealing with demonic possession.  Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” remains a film that is as disturbing to viewers as it was in 1973.  It’s a movie that was unconcerned with breaking taboos at the time, and much of the original content would probably not get past a ratings board today.  The Rite exists in the shadow of a film that sucks in everything around it.  In the final “possession” scene, when it could have gone for broke in terms of shock value, it kinds of folds.  I found it hard to take any of the demonic taunting serious when episodes of The Sopranos have more shock value in the dialogue.

However, don’t let this criticism turn you off seeing the film.  It has a lot going well for it in terms of a stand-alone movie.  Michael’s crisis-of-faith storyline is quite well done within the context of the main plot arc.  I really liked this young actor Colin O’Donaghue, and listening to him debate the nature of evil, or even the existence of God, with church officials made for some entertaining scenes.  It’s a movie I think is worth watching, as long as you don’t try to compare it to past masterpieces of the genre.

The Walking Dead Brings Romero’s Spirit To TV Land

When AMC network announced it was launching a six episode zombie-focused TV series, the news was met with mostly snickers and indifference.  Then the trailer was released, and that sound heard around the world was the collective thud of jaws hitting the floor.  Using the same premise as Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later”, The Walking Dead has main character Rick Grimes waking up from a comatose state to find himself in the aftermath of a zombie war.  Dead bodies litter the street, buildings are torn by gunfire and explosions, and the world seems like an empty place.

Although the general structure of the series is predictable (hero-meets-other-survivors-and-goes-on-quests), the writing and character development elevate this series to something much better than the sum of its parts.  Infused with both dramatic tension and well-placed comedic elements, the show manages to hook viewers from the start, and never lets go.  It’s got all kinds of gore for the zombie purists, but an emotional center that appeals to people who might never have imagined themselves watching a television show about zombies.

There was a time when television content was looked upon as the poor cousin of film.  While movies offered uncensored, cutting edge visual entertainment, TV shows were seen as something formulaic and dumbed down for the masses.  Not anymore.  While many people are accusing recent Hollywood productions of being uninspired, cable networks are using the lack of time constraints to really stretch their legs.  I believe HBO to be mostly responsible for ushering in this new mindset that TV can be as good, or better, than films.  The Walking Dead is another example of this trend, and is well worth watching.

Zediva lawsuit puts new twist on an old debate.

Arguments over DRM and copyright infringement have been going on ever since George Atkinson first set up shop in California, renting movies on Beta and VHS.  As owners of a video store, we understand that at some point, illegal and legal downloading, as well as video-on-demand, will usurp our business for good.  But in the meantime, it’s always entertaining to watch the companies fight over entertainment dollars.  Honestly, the law is so cryptic that I gave up trying to understand its nuances long ago.

However, I know enough about the issues that recent news about upstart company Zediva lawyering up to fight the MPAA over their rights to rent movies over the internet caught my interest.  In a nutshell, Zediva rents the movie to you by putting a physical copy in a DVD player, then streaming it in real time to you over the internet.  It requires a lot of hardware and some pretty sophisticated servers, but they claim that it falls within their rights under the law.  Their argument is that what they are doing is the same as what a video store would do.  They buy a retail copy of the movie, and play it on a DVD player.  No pirating or copying is involved.  If they have 10 copies of a movie, then only 10 can be streamed at once.  The MPAA doesn’t see it that way, and is bracing to bury the nascent company.