Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mortal Kombat X

Wow. The last (and only) video game I reviewed was Injustice: Gods Among Us for the PS3. That was a while ago. Granted I stopped posting on this blog for a good amount of time so it shouldn’t be too shocking. I just find it funny that the game I am going to review now was made by the same developer – Netherrealm Studios. They are the creators of the hugely popular Mortal Kombat franchise and some other games in between. The newest game in that series is today’s topic – Mortal Kombat X.

This tenth game in the franchise sticks to its roots just like every other entry with only minor tweaks to the gameplay, features, graphical quality and playable characters. That sounds like a criticism, but its not. Mortal Kombat has always been at its best when it doesn’t stray from its origins – a 2-dimensional fighter. We saw what happened when it tried to go 3D. Mortal Kombat 4 was and still is considered to be the worst game in the series. Sure the three following console games (Deadly Alliance, Deception and Armageddon) went for a mix of both styles with varying degrees of success, but with 2011’s Mortal Kombat for the PS3 and Xbox 360 the developers went back to their roots and made the best 2D fighter they could with the tools available. That Mortal Kombat is now one of my all time favorite games (behind Mortal Kombat II).
So what is different about this sequel and how does it take advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One’s newfangled capabilities? The graphics have been given a massive overhaul and the characters are MASSIVE on the screen. There are times where they take up ¾ of the vertical real estate and as the combatants move further away from one another they grow smaller and smaller to reveal the epicness of the backgrounds. Some of which are stunningly detailed. The game always moves at 60fps, the models are well animated and the lighting effects are more than a little mindblowing. All isn’t sunshine and rainbows in this department though. I’ll explain later.

For the most part the game controls flawlessly. They are responsive, fluid and very intuitive for one familiar with the layouts from the previous games. Some button combinations are quirky when it comes to the preset combos, but with enough practice they become second nature (take my word for it… I still have combos from 1994’s Killer Instinct memorized).
The multiple modes offered are super rad and diverse. There’s no goofy Kombat Karts racing or Tetris-style puzzle minigames. One of my favorite new modes is the Faction War. Basically when you first boot up the game you are asked to choose one of five factions you will represent online – Lin Kuei, White Lotus Society, Black Dragon, Special Forces or Brotherhood of Shadow. Whenever you participate in a fight, be it online or off, you rack up points for your faction. If you complete specific goals during some of these fights you earn war points. These points are then tallied online once per week and one faction is selected the winner. Those allied with that particular faction earn extra Koins and experience points. It’s addictive knowing that your efforts are part of an online collective and you are anonymously contributing toward a common goal.

A returning favorite diversion is The Krypt. Each fight you win earns you Koins which you can spend in the Krypt, a labyrinthine maze of gravestones and other oddness, on artwork and other items. You can unlock new Fatalities, Brutalities, costumes and more here. The exploration aspect of this mode is addictive as well as you are tasked to find items relevant to specific characters form the main game that will allow you to enter new areas to spend your hard earned money.
The ever present Story Mode returns here. I really enjoyed the plot of the previous game, which went back in time to explore the events of the first three games in the series in more detail. Mortal Kombat X’s story takes place 20 years later and most of the characters have hooked up and had children, all of which are playable. Some fan favorite characters are zombiefied versions of themselves in the employ of the villain, Shinnok. The overly convoluted plot (which is to be expected once you reach the tenth game in a series) centers around Quan Chi finding an ancient amulet to release his master, Shinnok, from the Netherrealm so he can conquer Earthrealm. We see multiple storylines play out, from new character Kotal Kahn thwarting Outworld rebels led by Mileena to a group of newbie US Forces soldiers led by Cassie Cage attempting to prevent a war between the realms. We also get a closer look into what makes Raiden tick and from where he derives his power. Some if it is interesting for a diehard fan such as myself. Other times it’s a bunch of overly melodramatic gobbledygook to pad the length of the story. It’s silly but fun.

When it comes to the characters I’m on the fence. Some of the choices made baffle me in the extreme. Sure there are 23 characters selectable from the start (you unlock Shinnok for beating the Story Mode and can pay to unlock Goro if you didn’t pre-order the game bringing the total to 25) and each has three different fighting styles to choose from, but the fact that if the developers intended to introduce a series of newcomers who are the offspring of past characters (such as Jacqui Briggs, daughter of Jax) whose abilities closely mirror those of their parents, why include them to begin with? Cassie Cage is a combination of both Sonya Blade, her mother, and Johnny Cage, her father. Why make either of them selectable since Cassie is the best of both worlds? Sure they’re fan favorites, but I want to see new and interesting characters. I don’t get why the developers are constantly feeling obligated to perform fan service in this fashion. Have some balls. So instead of two more new characters to choose from we get two completely redundant ones.
Some of the new characters are suspect as well. While I really enjoy playing as Erron Black, D’Vorah and Kung Jin (son of Kung Lao), I really couldn’t stand Kotal Kahn, Ferra/Torr or Takeda Takahashi (son of Kenshi). Even Goro isn’t all that fun to play. They seem to have a lag with the performance of their moves that really annoys me. For instance, Kotal Kahn (can we fucking stop reusing the names of other characters please!) is a tall, slow fighter and his move set is such that whenever you hit the button to activate a punch or kick there is some animation that takes place before he does so. You are left open and vulnerable during this time and I cannot progress at all when I play as this chode. His disc throwing special move is especially frustrating as he has to wind up for a full second before he actually throws the damn thing, and in that time Liu Kang has already lobbed two fireballs at my face. Lamesauce.

I mentioned that the graphics are superb for the most part. I still don’t think the artists at Netherrealm Studios have ever seen a woman before because all of the ones in this game look like dudes with breasts and massive chins. The same issue popped up in Injustice (Wonder Woman looked like a drag queen) and it still seems to be one. I don’t get it. Also, while the in-game graphics are exceptional at times, there are others where the limitations of the programmers show their ugly little heads. Example – take your standard fight. The characters are large, detailed and fluidly animated. Once a victor emerges and the camera moves in closer to their face the models are super shiny and look as if they are made from plastic. This issue never pops up during the cutscenes which use in-game graphics as well. I assume it’s to simulate sweat or some such, but it looks horrible and really takes me out of the game.
As usual the Fatalities are a major highlight. The few available at the start are all pretty gruesome and funny, but the unlockable ones are even better and uber creative. The same goes for the Brutalities… although I still can’t figure out how to execute one. There are also Faction Fatalities that I have yet to see. I wish there were background Fatalities as in previous games. Maybe there are and I just haven’t uncovered them yet.

Now I feel the need to talk about the black cloud hovering over this game… all the fucking in-game microtransactions. This is becoming more and more intrusive on home consoles and I really wish it had stayed in the mobile gaming business. What exactly is there to purchase, you ask? Well, for starters you are constantly prompted to use “Easy Fatality” points, which replaces the standard combination of buttons with the press of two simultaneously for all characters. You are given a handful of these points at the start, but once they run out you can buy more for $5 a pop. There are multiple costumes, characters and other options you have to spend real money on instead of being given the choice to use the in-game Koins. You can even unlock the entire Krypt for $20! Why even include the Krypt if you don’t even have to work to unlock its secrets? There’s even the Season Pass which costs $20 and will get you every future DLC character (Tanya, Tremor, Jason Voorhees and a Predator). Basically when you add it all up the cost of these in-game purchases could cost you an additional $60, which is exactly the cost of the game itself. I’m sorry, but I’m not in the habit of dropping $120 on a fucking video game no matter how awesome it may be (and I collect retro games). Although I shouldn’t complain since I already spent $5 to unlock Goro since I never pre-ordered the game (you got him for free if you did). But I don’t give a shit about costumes and all that. Eventually it will all be available for free so I don’t bother. But the bright side is that you don’t have to spend any additional money if you don’t want to. It’s just there… tempting you to do so.
So in the end this game is a supremely entertaining, yet flawed, video game experience. I treasure each and every moment I can spend in the Mortal Kombat universe, and Mortal Kombat X is yet another winner. Sure there are some issues, but what game doesn’t have them? I have yet to find a “perfect game” (well, Super Metroid definitely is), but this will definitely hold me over until another rad fighting game comes along.

I will say that playing as a Predator sounds intriguing…

4 out of 5

This is a review of the standard PlayStation 4 version.

#MortalKombat #MortalKombatX #NetherrealmStudios #FinishHim #Fatality

Monday, April 20, 2015

Daredevil: Season 1

So I just finished watching the entire first season of Netflix and Marvel’s first team-up – Daredevil. It took me just over one week to marathon it in its entirety and I find that I have a lot to say about it…

You’ve seen 2004’s Daredevil, right? I’m pretty sure you have if you’re reading this blog since you’re my target audience. Love it or hate it, you honestly have to admit that it wasn’t the best interpretation of the beloved comic book character (but I will admit that the Director’s Cut was better). Not that I really care since I usually separate myself from my affinity for the source material when it comes to a film or television adaptation. Regardless, I had high hopes for that film when it was released back in the day and I wasn’t too impressed. So when I started hearing rumblings of a television series based off this character coming to Netflix I had very low expectations regardless of the streaming service’s high level of quality programming.

When I say that this series is better than most of the top tier superhero movies that have come out within the past few years, Marvel’s films included, you had better stand at attention and listen to what I have to say to justify that opinion. Here we go…
The series follows blind Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), lawyer by day and masked vigilante at night. He uses his remaining honed senses to fight the crime syndicates in Hell’s Kitchen that are run by the dangerous businessman/gangster Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).

10 minutes into the first episode I had completely forgotten about the 2004 misfire. Not only is this series written extremely well for what most people would consider an advertisement for the feature films, but virtually every aspect of it is exceptional in its execution.

Series creator Drew Goddard, who stepped away from the show to focus on the now abandoned Sinister Six film, handed the reigns over to Spartacus showrunner Steven S. DeKnight. Some might consider this passing of the torch a death knell since the two have a very different style of storytelling; one through dark comedy and the other through sheer brutality. Thankfully this is one of the few projects that have gone through this process that comes out aces in the end. The sensibilities of these two filmmakers combine extremely well with this material and I was happy to see that the comic book’s gothic and somber tones were not abandoned for out of place humor. Not that there isn’t comedy. There is, but it’s woven organically into the stories via the characters and it’s never overbearing or cheesy. It just comes off as natural as it should be. It combines the best of both, especially in the violence department. Damn if some of the events that take place aren’t fucked up in the extreme!
I was worried that the casting of Charlie Cox (Stardust) as Daredevil would be a huge misstep, but fortunately he rose to the task and completely won me over as this character. He’s fucked up beyond recognition both psychologically and physically, but has special abilities that circumvent the physical ones. In many ways he’s the Marvel universe’s Batman in that his insane quest to avenge his father’s death at the hands of mobsters has left him with no choice but to don a mask to dole out violent vigilante justice. Cox pulls this aspect of the character off flawlessly. And even throughout all the nasty business he participates in he remains likable and heroic. Not an easy task. He also has the blind act down pat which sells the character even more for me.

Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) gets to show off her range here quite a bit as Karen Page, taking her character from a weepy victim into some real dark territory. It was nice not seeing her constantly being utilized as someone needing to be rescued (Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man films anyone?) and being as much of a hero as the title character in some respects. Elden Henson (The Mighty Ducks), while being the comic relief as Foggy Nelson, is much more than that. His role is basically the heart of the main trio of leads, and he really gets to show his acting chops in episode 10, “Nelson vs. Murdock”. You can throw as much action at me as you like, but seeing two well written characters going at it verbally is much more rewarding and I was absolutely riveted during those scenes he shared with Charlie Cox.
When it comes to the supporting characters things are just as rad. Vondie Curtis-Hall (director of one of my fave 90s time capsule films – Gridlock’d) comes out of nowhere and nails it as reporter Ben Urich, Toby Leonard Moore (John Wick) plays the creepily understated Wesley for all its worth, Ayelet Zurer (Man of Steel) is as beautiful as she is fascinating as Fisk’s love interest Vanessa and goddamn if Rosario Dawson (Trance) didn’t rock my shit as Claire, Matt’s confidante and romantic interest. Sass + moxie = a winning combination.

However, I can’t heap the same amount of praise upon the most well known of the actors cast in a major role – Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk. While he certainly looks the part of Kingpin his dialogue deliveries and facial expressions are somewhat suspect. He has an annoying tendency to “Christian Bale-ify” his voice when he gets loud, and more than once I thought I heard his classic villain from Men in Black. His character is supposed to come off as scary and unstable, but most of the time his expressions make him look like a confused puppy or a lost child. He just didn’t work for me.
Even though I wasn’t a fan of D’Onofrio’s performance as Fisk, I admired the backstory given to make his character surprisingly sympathetic. Most of the episodes are written in the Lost style, where we get the main storyline in the present and a parallel one that follows one or more of the characters in the past. It works well and by episode 4 you have a fully developed roster that are likeable in the extreme. Most network shows aren’t to that point by episode 15, so kudos to the massive writing staff.

I also have to give a shout out to the fight choreographer and cinematographer. Most television shows that are action heavy tend to skimp on the fisticuffs or shoot them in such a way that you can’t see what’s going on to cover up the lack of budget/talent. Not here. Everything is filmed from a distance to allow the viewers to see every well timed kick, elbow and headbutt. Episode 2, “Cut Man”, is a prime example of what I’m talking about. The final scene is a 5 minute unbroken shot that follows Daredevil as he takes on a group of Russian kidnappers in a cramped hallway. Doors are ripped off the hinges, televisions are thrown, bones are broken and best of all – we get to see how exhausting a real fight can be.
As I’ve said countless times before I don’t bring fanboy baggage to the party when watching an adaptation such as this. I adore the comic books. Especially the Marvel Knights run that started with Kevin Smith’s take on the character that went full blown noir as it went on. But I can separate myself from that since I just want the series to be good based on its own merits. When it actually DOES pay homage to the comics and delivers on my inner geek’s hopes and dreams it’s a definite plus. From the Frank Miller inspired ninja outfit the title character wears for the majority of the series to small hints about the possible future appearance of Elektra, I was grinning ear to ear for all 13 episodes.

After I finished the series I immediately wanted more. I hope we do get it because there are so many places left to take these characters. But it does leave me hope that the other three (possibly four) Netflix exclusives will rock just as hard (AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and a possible team-up of all four for a The Defenders series). I hope they all don’t go as dark and brooding as Daredevil, but if this initial testing ground for Marvel’s televised shows is any indication of how cool these characters can be if done right I think I’ll be one supremely satisfied geek for years to come.

4.5 out of 5 

P.S. Where does Agents of SHIELD fit into the grand scheme of things?

#Daredevil #Marvel #Comics 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Run All Night

Liam Neeson is really beginning to show his age. Sure it was pretty cool to see the veteran actor being a total badass in the original Taken, but ever since that landmark only a small handful of his follow-up action films have been even remotely watchable (the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Non-Stop in my opinion). So what does a guy do when performing complex fight scenes and endless endurance tests begin to slip from his grasp? He transitions into the thriller genre where such tasks aren’t required.

Run All Night features Liam Neeson playing Jimmy Conlan, a fall down drunk hitman for the Irish mob who is left no choice but to kill his boss’s (Ed Harris) spoiled son (Boyd Holbrook) to save the life of his own (Joel Kinnaman). Now on the run from not only vengeance hungry gangsters, but also the police that assume he and his son are on a crime spree, he must take a stand against those he once called his closest friends.
Run All Night does nothing to re-invent the wheel. I just wanted to get that out there at the start. It is as cliché and predictable as these movies come. There’s the prerequisite car chase, shootouts, a quietly angry dinner scene where the villain lays out his nefarious plan for revenge, the hero getting his shit together and lots and lots of forgiveness. Whether or not these tropes come off as hokey or not depends on who’s directing the film. Fortunately Jaume Collet-Serra was the right man for the job. He’s a veteran of a few Neeson flicks (Non-Stop, Unknown) and apparently has a good bead on how to get the most out of his leading man. He also has a keen eye for action as well as when to milk the performances for all they’re worth. His visual style is pretty rad as well. I especially liked the slow motion pseudo-bullet time effect used during the opening moments of the film as well as his Google Maps style transitions. He’s come a long way since Orphan.
But the success of this movie rests on the performances, and thankfully this movie is filled with some fantastic work from the leads. Neeson excels at playing the menacing killer in the Taken films, but here he’s a broken man that is filled with regret and loneliness. He combats it with alcohol and it has cost him his family and the respect of his friends. Watching him get his life back together, accepting the fact that he was not a paragon of virtue in his younger days and trying his hardest to honestly re-connect with his son while bullets fly overhead pushes this beyond being just a generic thriller in my book. Rising star Joel Kinnaman (Robocop) is excellent as Neeson’s son. His performance is extremely naturalistic and believable; I actually felt the hate he had for his father based on his facial expressions alone. He’s no slouch when it comes to both the drama and action beats, which is why I feel he’s going to be a great leading man in the future. Veteran Ed Harris (Pollock, Appaloosa, Apollo 13) pulls out all the stops as Shawn Maguire, the head of the mobsters. Lately I’ve felt that he’s been going the way of Sir Ben Kingsley by taking on any old role that happens his way and muddling through to get a paycheck. This is the first time in a long while where the Ed Harris I remember from The Abyss came back in full force. He’s a slow burn hurricane of anger and resentment and his commitment to the part raised the film up another notch. I’m not a fan of (recent Oscar winner) Common as an actor, but here he is basically a mute assassin so I didn’t mind him so much.  Usually I find him as irritating as RZA when he tries to act.
Sure the film has some slower bits that drag events out a tad as well as a couple of overly melodramatic moments that irked me. It’s nothing major, just slight annoyances. I can’t complain too much because as far as I’m concerned this is the best Liam Neeson movie since the original Taken. The script by Brad Ingelsby (Out of the Furnace) is tight, the cinematography by Martin Ruhe is at times phenomenal and at others very minimalist and the score by Junkie XL is pretty decent.

Run All Night is a very entertaining and somewhat moving film that gives Liam Neeson his most substantial role in years (I really liked the redemption angle). The supporting cast is tops and its a very well made action thriller that exceeded any expectations I may have had when I walked in the theater.  I was expecting to be bored, but I was fully invested in it from frame one. That’s more than I can say for the last few Neeson flicks.

4 out of 5

Monday, April 6, 2015

Furious 7

I’m a huge fan of the Fast and Furious franchise which I think I mentioned in my review of Fast & Furious 6. Some are better than others, but the last two films have been fantastically ludicrous action flicks that are as much about fun as they are the tight knit family both on screen and off.

After the tragic death of Paul Walker I was wondering what would become of Furious 7. He died midway through production and I feared it would be cancelled completely. The writers, producers and studio eventually figured out a way to re-work the screenplay and a few months later filming was back underway with Walker’s two brothers, Caleb and Cody, acting as stand-ins for their late sibling. How did this new film hold up as an action film as well as being a send off for Paul Walker?
The psychopathic brother of Owen Shaw, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), vows to avenge his family name upon those who put his kin in a coma. He sets his sights on taking out Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of their non-traditional family unit. Lots and lots and lots of property damage ensues.

I felt that Fast & Furious 6 was very ridiculous, even for a dumb early summer popcorn action flick. But since each film seems to escalate in craziness I was able to let (most of) it slide and go with the flow of explosions and nutty car shenanigans. Believe me when I say that Furious 7 not only ups the ante when it comes to batshit crazy action, it goes so far overboard that its going to be years before any film comes even remotely close to surpassing it. And I loved every single adrenaline soaked minute of it. Well, maybe not every single minute.
First, I would like to congratulate director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2) from successfully transitioning from a low budget horror/thriller filmmaker to a full on helmer of summer blockbusters. He not only brings his signature visual panache to the party, but he also wrings some great performances (for a movie of this type) out of his massive cast. Every frame is filled with style and he really shows how far he’s come as a filmmaker since the original Saw. The real test came when Walker passed. Thankfully he kept the ship afloat and on course while managing to not only make a fun popcorn flick in light of the tragedy, but also a touching sendoff to honor his fallen cast member. Kudos to you dude. I look forward to what you choose to do next, be it Fast & Furious 8, The Conjuring 2 or something else entirely. I will be there with cash in hand, sir.

The cast is still in top form. One of the reasons I love these films as much as I do is the family angle and the fact that these actors were so close behind the camera really shows in their performances. It added a much needed emotional layer that the sometimes ham fisted scripts couldn’t provide. Diesel is the muscle and heart of the film with Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges filling in all the gaps. You can tell how well these people get along just by how they riff on and poke fun at one another in many of the (what I hope were) adlibbed moments of levity (“Can I check my email?”). If it wasn’t for this aspect I don’t think these films would work as well as they do. It was also welcome to see Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black return in a cameo to fully tie together the time-hopping storylines. I hope the makers of these films bring him back as a permanent cast member in the next film to fill the space left by Walker.
What really wowed me was Jason Statham as the villain, Deckard Shaw. The usual bad guy in these movies is surrounded by a crew of henchmen, is never fully developed or isn't really all that threatening to be honest. I can’t fault the actors playing these parts as the screenplay dictates how much screen time they are given to make their characters more than one-dimensional. But in the case of Deckard we have a villain who not only is a serious threat, but is scary to boot. He is also made out to be extremely intelligent and is always hot on the tails of the heroes. Every time they think they’ve got a leg up on the man hunting them he shows up armed to the teeth and ready to whoop some ass. His parallel story thread about taking care of his family was a nice contrast to the main one. For once this film has a memorable antagonist that is just as awesome as the main characters.

New cast member Nathalie Emmanuel isn’t in a whole lot of the film since her character of Ramsey doesn’t show up until well past the halfway point, but it feels like she might be a nice addition to the group dynamic if she continues on with the series. A serious WTF goes out to whoever decided to cast Kurt fucking Russell as the goofily named Mr. Nobody. I’m not knocking him. Far from it. Russell is awesome, especially when he put on his magic sunglasses and turns into Robocop for a few fleeting moments. He’s just not someone I would normally associate with these types of high octane (pun intended) action films anymore. If indeed he was cast to be a part of the films to follow… I’m totally on board. Snake Plissken conquers all he surveys. Ronda Rousey is just fucking sexy as hell. Seeing her in a fight scene with Michelle Rodriguez is one of the hottest things I’ve ever seen bar none.

And Tony Jaa!!! So. Fucking. Rad.
The action… Where to begin? I won’t ruin all of the surprises, but holy hell does this flick go above and beyond to destroy what you know (or think you know) about the laws of physics, human endurance or restricted airspace.  You want to see skydiving cars? Check. You want to see a dude run across a bus as it topples over a cliff and catch the bumper of a passing car before tumbling over the side? Check. You want to see someone get passed between two cars as they drift parallel to one another? Check. You want to see a car jump between not two, but three buildings in a row? Check. It’s mindboggling to think that someone actually came up with this kind of craziness and even moreso that it actually works and is a blast to watch go down. It’s all in the name of fun and the last 30 minutes is a non-stop series of insanity with cars of all makes and models tripping the light fantastic all across L.A. The fist fight scenes are also brutal and super awesome.

I wasn’t a fan of the film’s runtime which clocks in at around two and a half hours. There was a lot of filler that could have been excised with little to no impact on the story. The first 40 minutes is an overlong exposition/recap that fans of the series will find pretty boring and pointless. Some of these scenes are probably due to the re-working of the story to make sense of the new elements. Whatever the case may be, they weren’t needed. I also still despise the overly soap opera-ish amnesia plot device used to work Michelle Rodriguez back into the franchise which started in Fast & Furious 6. There’s a massive revelation in regard to this cliché B.S. that made me roll my eyes when it was revealed. I will also admit that even though I am an action junkie the finale got a little tiresome, especially all the drone stuff. I’m also getting sick of the current trend in action/superhero movies where entire cities are nearly leveled in their finales. All the Transformers flicks, The Avengers, Man of Steel… stop it. Please. Deserts need some Hollywood lovin’ too. And all the faux philosophical automobile crossover dialogue still sucks.
But how did the filmmakers ultimately deal with Paul Walker’s death? I’m pleased to say it was handled gracefully… and with some awkward CGI. It’s plainly obvious whenever one of his many body doubles are in play since Brian is covered in shadows, shown from behind or rapidly cut away from in major scenes. But whenever it was absolutely necessary to show his face you can tell that it’s a CGI map of Paul’s placed over someone else's mug. Sometimes it works (the scene where Dom’s house explodes) and other times it doesn’t (the final scenes). The longer the camera lingers the worse the effect begins to look. Fortunately it’s not nearly as fake looking as the Jeff Bridges de-aging in TRON: Legacy, but it still looks “off”. I give them props for trying since they didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Before the end credits roll we are treated to a nice montage of scenes from the previous films featuring Paul Walker set to a decent and somewhat bittersweet ballad, followed by the customary “For Paul”. This is the end of an era, and hopefully the beginning of a new one in the following films. If this is the last film the series I would be totally okay with it ending here since it does have a certain finality to it, but a couple of threads are left dangling and it has definitely whet my appetite for where the stories could go in the future. After seeing the opening weekend grosses I think its safe to assume that we’ll see Fast & Furious 8 in the summer of 2017. Bring it.
Furious 7 is just plain old dumb fun. No more, no less. For the seventh film in a series its better than it has any right to be, and that’s really saying something. Regardless if you’re a fan of the series of not you could do worse than to check out this rad as hell yarn of epicness at your local cineplex. As far as I'm concerned this is the best in the series to date.

4.5 out of 5

#Furious7 #FastAndFurious #RIPPaulWalker

Friday, April 3, 2015


Back in 2013 Neill Blomkamp seemed to be falling prey to his ego due to the clout he received from District 9 (which I loved), or maybe he was just a one trick pony. The jury is still out on his actual talent to tell the smart science fiction stories he seems to think he’s making, but his stock is falling fast, especially after the box office and critical drubbing Elysium (which I did not love) received.

Now along comes Chappie, Blomkamp’s newest science fiction yarn. The trailers were confusing and made it look like a big budget remake of Short Circuit that takes place in Johannesburg and is filled with non-stop ultraviolence. Is this his redemption or yet another failed attempt to spin a topical story to finicky audiences?
Damaged beyond repair, a South African police drone (motion captured and voiced by Sharlto Copley) is given an experimental artificial intelligence program by his creator (Dev Patel). Unfortunately the robot is taken by a couple of local gangbangers (Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser) to assist in a multimillion dollar heist just as the program is installed. Renamed “Chappie”, the robot slowly becomes more and more human, but can a machine actually become human?

There are a lot of philosophical questions bouncing around this flick and I’m sorry to say that there are no concrete answers given. Just when things become interesting the ball is dropped in favor of some of the goriest action scenes I’ve seen so far this year. Blomkamp seems to revel in introducing interesting concepts into his films, but never knows where to take them and how to properly cap them off without using over the top gunplay and rocket launchers.
I enjoyed most of the film. The character of Chappie is not only intriguing, but fun, adorable and maddeningly inept at times. I couldn’t take my eyes off him mainly due to the fantastic performance by Sharlto Copley. His motion capture is filled with nuance and heart since Chappie has no eyes and all of his emotions had to be portrayed with body language. It really blew my mind and is super impressive.

The amped up Johannesburg where the film takes place is dark, violent and oddly beautiful. It’s almost a character in itself. I just wish Blomkamp didn’t feel the need to set all his films there. It made sense for District 9, but here it was basically so he could cast the main stars of the film – South African rap duo Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of Die Antwoord. This was Blomkamp’s fatal mistake.
The acting in this film is pretty atrocious, especially in the case of Ninja and Yo-Landi who are essentially playing themselves. Seriously, they play characters named Ninja and Yolandi. The only difference is that the hyphen is removed from Yo-Landi’s stage name (her shrill, screeching voice is akin to hearing metal grinding on metal… I shudder just thinking about it). WTF?! They are so bad in this film that the usually annoying Dev Patel comes across as someone trained in the Royal Shakespearean Theatre Company. All they do is scream, curse and act like complete assholes (and from what I read were a nightmare to work with on set). I couldn’t tell if the dialogue was ad-libbed or not, but I refuse to believe that anything that spewed from the mouths of these two “musicians” was written by someone of above average intelligence. What’s worse is the fact that the script wants the audience to identify and sympathize with these fucktards, which is a crime in and of itself. I therefore retract my previous statement about the writers’ intelligence level. Even fucking Hugh Jackman, who is an AMAZING actor, is absolutely wasted here and plays, you guessed it, an asshole. The same goes for an absolutely wasted appearance by Sigourney Weaver. Why is this script filled with nothing but unlikable characters? Why?!
What does work? Chappie. If he wasn’t such a fully realized and wonderfully likable character this flick would have been a complete bust. But even that can’t save the film from its completely ridiculous and silly ending. Remember when I said that Blomkamp doesn’t know how to properly cap off his flicks? Well, he goes completely off the rails here. I’m not talking about the prerequisite action gorefest finale he’s known for. That was rad as hell. I’m talking about his lamesauce and insanely stupid epilogue. If there was any goodwill that I had for this flick before this garbage popped up it was completely gone after witnessing how dumb the story became. I won’t ruin it for those that haven’t seen it yet, but what the fuck was he thinking?! This is the final impression you leave with the audience before the lights come up and they file out of the theater. You want them to be saying stuff like “that was pretty good” or “I want to see that again”. Not “fuck that” or “I wish I got up to take that piss so I wouldn’t have had to endure the I.Q. raping I just received”.

Sure the score by Hans Zimmer is rad. Sure the action scenes are cool and frenetic. Sure the look of the film is gritty and enthralling. Sure the return of District 9’s faux-documentary wraparound storytelling device makes a triumphant comeback. Sure the FX used to bring Chappie to life is a revelation in technology and motion capture. Everything else is a misfire of epic proportions. Bad casting, acting, writing, directing and specific choices are what killed this flick. I just hope it doesn’t put the kibosh on Neill Blomkamp’s career before he has a chance to show us what he can really do in the realm of science fiction. I have high hopes for his already greenlit Alien 5. I just hope he doesn’t ruin that franchise by casting talentless douchebag rappers as Ripley’s sidekicks.

2 out of 5