Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

I never meant to sit through all of Never Sleep Again, the four-hour documentary on Netflix about Freddy Kruger movies. I just wanted something to watch while I ate an ice cream cone and took a break from Watch Dogs. Yeah, I loved Freddy movies when I was a kid (one of the first things I ever wrote was Freddy fan fiction... about Freddy's estranged brother Eddy... and Evil Dead's Ash appeared in it... seriously), but at the age of 31, I probably haven't seen a Freddy movie in ten years.


Considering how long ago those movies were, it's amazing how it all came back. I remembered each and every character from the films and loved to see what the actors looked like today. There's a healthy portion of pre-MPAA-censored footage, deleted scenes, and a look into an unproduced script co-written by Peter Jackson in which Freddy himself is the victim. Robert Shaye and Wes Craven both are perfectly candid about what they liked and didn't like in the series.

Narrated by Heather Langenkamp, who's from my hometown, Never Sleep Again is a surprisingly entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the iconic films. Born from Kickstarter, I expected low-quality fan service here, but it brings the goods. Outside of Errol Morris docs, my favorite nonfiction films are American Movie and King of Kong. Frankly, I like quality productions about subject matter that, at the end of the day, isn't all that important. There's a lot of brain candy on the net these days, but very little of it is as well-researched and funded. This brain candy doesn't make you feel like you're only passing the time.

I may have written about it on this very blog, but the most perplexing (and unintentionally hilarious) Elm Street scene for me is the parakeet scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. See, a parakeet explodes in midair and the main character's father (Clu Gulager, also from Oklahoma) first suspects a gas leak before blaming it on a cherry bomb.


I have always wondered just what the hell was going on in the production team's heads when they were shooting that scene. How does something so silly get written, much less filmed? I can't even imagine the little girl on the set didn't point out to the director how utterly stupid it all was. Well, Never Sleep Again does shed some light on the scene, but not much. It basically boils down to A) the production was rushed and B) everyone who worked on it had a different idea of what kind of film they were making.

The time devoted to Elm Street 2, by the way, is the absolute high point of the documentary in terms of hilarity. I saw it twice when I was a kid. Either I don't remember picking up on the homosexual undertones or I was too young to notice in the first place. Cracked named it the most unintentionally gay horror movie of all time. The actor who portrayed the main character says their Risky Business homage is often looped in gay bars across the country. At any rate, I long maintained it was my least favorite in the franchise, but now I'm not so sure. Now I'm beginning to think "the Top Gun of horror films" may be one of the most interesting.

My favorite had always been the third one. They brought Nancy back and included adult characters who weren't just demonized stereotypes who seemingly hated their children. The arm-tendon marionette scene is burned into my memory. To this day, I still remember the cross-handle faucet that grabbed back every time I see such a plumbing fixture. The documentary claims the following scene is the fan-favorite Freddy kill:


And how did they get Dick Cavett to do a cameo in their movie? Easily. They simply told him Freddy would kill any celebrity of Cavett's choice and, naturally, he chose the "stupid" Zsa Zsa Gabor. That's exactly the kind of production detail Never Sleep Again has a ton of, and it makes it a very watchable film.

The best part is how every one of the interview subjects look back on their experiences with fondness. For some Freddy was their only brush with Hollywood. Others have had success elsewhere, but not quite as big. Robert Englund, who one might suspect resents Freddy, says, "Freddy has been very kind to me" towards the end of the doc. You get the sense that everyone who worked on the series had an absolute blast and that translates to us, the audience. I've been given new appreciation for the films.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Watch Dogs: First Impressions

I wasn't sure I wanted Watch Dogs, but thanks to Best Buy's rewards program, I got it for under forty bucks. I had to work most of yesterday so I didn't get to play it until later, but here's what I think so far.


I'm sure it was hyped beyond reason for most gamers, but I almost completely lost interest in it shortly after hearing about it the first time. So my expectations were kind of low. I remembered thinking that hacking while driving just seemed like it would be awkward. It's not, really. Then again, it's not really hacking, either.

The game's writing and presentation is the biggest letdown. After the expertly acted Wolfenstein: The New Order characters, Watch Dogs' characters just feel dull and empty. Early on the campaign concocts an opportunity to meet a hacker named BadBoy17, and nobody's going to be shocked to discover it isn't a seventeen year old boy, which is to say nobody but the main character, anyway. That he's so pissed to find out that his fellow hacker isn't what the handle implies is the kind of piss-poor writing I haven't seen in a AAA title in ages. How dare you hide your identity online, right?

While I loved Dark Souls, I would groan each time I was invaded by other players. I was just so enthralled by that fantasy world, I hated it whenever the illusion was shattered by gamertags like "EffUrMama69." Watch Dogs' world isn't so fragile. The invasions (and opportunities to invade other players) are a lot more fun. I can't believe I'm going to say it, but the 1v1 invasions in Watch Dogs have, so far, been more fun for me than the massively multiplayer free-roam in GTA Online.

I can say, for thirty-seven bucks, I'm having a blast. It's a fun game not to be taken too seriously. It's too bad the main character does. Oh, how I miss Trent.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I kind of saw Godzilla 2014

try to skip this trailer until you've seen the movie

Last night I went to see Godzilla at the drive-in during a thunderstorm. Whereas my limited understanding of the radar view on my phone's weather app led me to believe the storm would pass in "ten minutes, tops," it stuck around for half of the movie. Here's what it looked like:


Nonetheless, I loved it. Some of you may remember I loved Pacific Rim, too, but comparing the two films is kind of pointless. That won't stop me from doing it anyway: Pacific Rim was a good movie about giant monsters. The new Godzilla is a good movie about people. Hell, for a summer blockbuster it's fucking Shakespeare. Now, Pacific Rim gets extra credit for including a multicultural cast and not destroying New York for the umpteenth time (I think The Avengers set the bar far too high in that regard), but Godzilla 2014 takes everything the 1998 film did and does the exact opposite.

One of the reasons I often love big movies is they can design drama around something we've never seen before. The reason I hate big movies is they often squander the opportunity to take us somewhere new. In Godzilla there's a very intense, very emotional scene in the opening act. Bryan Cranston's character oversees a nuclear power plant in Japan that's been experiencing tremors too patterned to be attributed to earthquakes. He sends his wife (Juliette Binoche, further setting this film apart from traditional summer blockbusters) and a team of scientists into the core of the plant to investigate. I was wondering why people who work in such a large facility don't have golf carts or, at the very least, bicycles, but hey, when a movie hits this hard so soon and so well you find yourself suspending your disbelief almost immediately.

Without giving too much away, the plant eventually collapses on the horizon as their son watches from his classroom. Fifteen years later, the entire city is quarantined much like Chernobyl. The boy is now an explosives expert for the Navy played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He's married to Elizabeth Olsen who, like so many love interests in films like this, is a nurse. Well, not everything can be completely original. I would say that cliche is more sigh-worthy than a full-on groan, so we'll let it slide. The fact is, cliche or not, this is some solid acting here. When Cranston's son finds out his father was arrested—yet again—for trespassing into the restricted zone, the son travels back to Japan.

At this point I've probably said too much. The trailers don't necessarily give the best parts away, but they do rob you of the magic of seeing Godzilla for the first time. We barely see the monster at all for an hour or so and I don't mean the director is purposely holding back in the Jaws sense—Godzilla is barely even in the movie's first half. (That's not to say there aren't direct nods to Jaws and it makes me wonder how much of old Godzilla's influence was in Jaws in the first place.) Casual moviegoers may feel cheated by that fact, but it goes a long ways towards sustaining suspense and I can't say I was ever bored. If anything, the trailers make you think you're in for a disaster movie starring Bryan Cranston. You're not. If you go into it expecting that you're likely to be disappointed.

The fact of the matter is this isn't Godzilla terrorizing cities. This is completely different monsters terrorizing cities. Hell, it's more like monsters being unable to coexist with humans than "Watch out for that scary monster!" There's a scene where fighter jets begin falling out of the cloudy sky for reasons that aren't entirely apparent at first. That absolutely excited/terrified the hell out of me. And that's why I go to see movies like this: to see things as utterly insane as that. It's the kind of bone-chilling stuff that made our species gather around fires in the first place.

Great movie? You betcha. Go see it. Take the kids. I'm so glad that kids are getting imaginative monster movies again. The stuff certainly worked wonders on my imagination as a child.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Codelink v2 is a good replacement for Uplink fans

Despite having an unusually large collection of 2600, I know just about nothing about hacking outside of what I've learned in William Gibson novels and, let's face it, that stuff doesn't work in real life. Well, maybe I know more about it than the average person, but considerably less than anyone who actually does it. I loved Uplink, but the game is beginning to show its age. Enter Codelink v2, a 100% free hacking game that kept me up at least an hour longer than I planned last night. I haven't tried it yet, but apparently there's PVP hacking as well.


There's also a much simpler game on Android right now called Hack Ex, which is amusing for the first few hacks or so. Basically you set up a virtual computer and bank account on your phone and tablet, then use it to gain entry into others' computers and bank accounts. The pay-to-win aspect of it, however, is disappointing, and according to the grapevine it's currently overrun by scripters. I don't think that matters much in the lower levels. There's also complaints that the game loses its sense of reward the higher up the leaderboard you climb, so I'm not sure if I recommend it. Maybe check it out if, like me, you're hankering for some free, Uplink-like action.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order is hopefully a new trend in AAA titles

I can give you an idea of what kind of game Wolfenstein: The New Order is in a few words: dual-wielded sniper rifles. Seriously. Now you might expect that to be a bad thing, but it isn't. Silly, yes. Bad, no.



I've been a DOOM-head since the early nineties. I've played every Quake and Wolfenstein game that exists. Although I enjoyed DOOM 3 tremendously as a stand-alone title, it was still a disappointment when compared to its predecessors. And only the blindest of fans would claim Duke Nukem Forever was a great game. At the least, The New Order is the throwback game I wanted from DNF. At the most, it's one of the best shooters in years.

Do you know what it reminded me of the most in terms of exhilaration? Bioshock Infinite. That's how good it is. Hell, it's easily the year's best AAA title so far.

With a few tweaks, The New Order could be Inglourious Basterds: The Video Game. You play William B.J. Blazkowicz whose favorite pastime is killing Nazis. The game opens in 1946 and the first thirty minutes of the game aren't very impressive. It feels like Return to Castle Wolfenstein Lite, to be honest. Then, after a laboratory explosion leaves a chunk of shrapnel in B.J.'s skull, the character spends the next fourteen years comatose in a mental hospital. He wakes up just in time to slay the Nazis who have orders to shut the hospital down. In this version of 1960, the Nazis have won the war. The Americans surrendered after the bomb was dropped on New York. Famous songs of the 60s now have Nazi counterparts (see above video for House of the Rising Sun).

Severely culture-shocked, B.J. interrogates a Nazi commander with a chainsaw in order to find out where the members of the resistance are being held. Naturally, he breaks them out and finds himself battling the baddies all over the world... and the moon. Yes. The moon.

Now, I wouldn't say these are brilliantly written characters, but for a (former) id title, it's got character in spades. B.J. is a surprisingly sympathetic killing machine and his love interest—the woman who took care of him while he was in a coma all those years—is quite believably rendered both in appearance and voice. Having played Rage, I'm completely surprised by how real these characters seem in id Tech 5, even if they are presented as little more than caricatures. I liked these characters. They weren't just excuses to further the Nazi-slaughtering action. I have a feeling the writers fleshed these characters out a lot more behind the scenes because, while they appear simple, they don't feel simple.

Take, for instance, the paraplegic Caroline Becker. When she and B.J. are reunited in 1960, they take turns listing their injuries and injustices in an attempt to one-up the other. The pissing contest is concluded with a hug, at which point Caroline says, "Good to see you, William." For all the people complaining the game is short on character, I think they're missing the point. That's not what the game wants to be—it's the equivalent of complaining about the character development in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. As for what the game wants to be, it rises well above the call of duty.

Which isn't to say the game is flawless. You've no doubt heard a lot of reports the game isn't as linear as the demo which journalists first saw a year or two ago. These reports are misleading. You're constantly told what to do in great detail by another character("B.J.! Get up to that ventilation shaft and try to ambush the bastards!" etc.). On top of that there's almost always a little beacon pointing you towards an easy-to-miss objective. I understand younger gamers don't have the patience for getting stuck the way those of us older gamers do, but I do miss not having my hand held through each and every turn. Even so, there are a lot more secrets and hidden power-ups than any other game in recent memory. Completists certainly have their work cut out for 'em.

As for the multiplayer? There isn't any. I can't say I had a lot of fun with DOOM 3's multiplayer and what they tacked onto Rage wasn't even worth the bandwidth. I can't say I expected an id title to lack multiplayer, but I'm not missing it. They focused on what really counts: a kick-ass game with very little fat.

What makes the game really special is the way it feels, something that doesn't translate well to trailers and Twitch streams. You've got to play it yourself to truly appreciate it. And whereas there are so many games I don't even play to the end, I have a feeling I'll start this one a second time. Maybe that's the DOOM-head talking, but I have the feeling a lot of id-virgins will feel the same. This certainly ain't Call of Duty and I can only hope "The New Order" refers to a new trend in first person video games.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A sneak preview of what I've been working on

So yeah, this is what I enjoy to do with my free time.

a concept sketch from my notes

The first draft of my novel has been done for a while now, but I'm currently working on a reader draft for early criticism. I figure it couldn't hurt to post my query letter, so click the tab above (The Enclave) or just click here to get some more info.

another concept sketch

This project has consumed the majority of my time (not to mention daydreaming) for the last two years and then some. It's been hard not to talk about it until now, but talking about something before the first draft done is the equivalent of public masturbation. That and it's a surefire way to lose interest.

Again, here's the link. You'll find some more concept sketches and an early draft of the query I plan to submit. There's also an excerpt from the very first chapter.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kevin Spacey's in the next COD game


I'm probably over Call of Duty games, but with this (and Netflix's House of Cards), Kevin Spacey proves that had he been around when the film industry converted to talkies, he would have been among the few carry-over stars. I think what's notable about this is the fact that, more often than not, game developers put an actor's voice but not their likeness into a game, which makes about zero sense to me in most cases. Then again, it seems the uncanny valley here could be a bit too distracting for total immersion. 

More evidence of Spacey's forward-thinking, which seems to be in short supply in Hollywood these days:


Spacey's easily one of my favorite actors (I saw L.A. Confidential at the movie theater twice and remember taking notice of him as far back as Outbreak) so it's nice to know he's not one of the short-sighted nuts in the film industry. The one point I disagree with in the video above is watching a movie on an iPad is not the same as watching it in a theater. Why the hell do people do that?

Friday, May 2, 2014

The best (and worst) original Star Trek movies

Although TV-wise I'm a fan of The Next Generation, I think the original cast's Star Trek films are the best. Some say the odd-numbered Star Trek films are shit, but I don't agree, not completely. I think The Motion Picture has some worthwhile visuals, III's pretty watchable and part V has one of my favorite lines in movie history: "What does God need with a starship?"

in typical Star Trek fashion, it's heroic to question these matters

I absolutely love this series, even the bad ones. With the exception of The Undiscovered Country, all of these are currently streaming on Netflix. I'm not sure if they're a good point to jump on for potential fans, but you could do worse on a Saturday night than having an original Star Trek movie marathon.

In chronological order:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This one I love to hate. Well, hate is a strong word. A few years ago I saw the director's cut and reviewed it here. I don't care who you are, you'll like the sequel so it's worth sitting through this one even if you fall asleep... like I did.

The Wrath of Kahn

The Hollywood-level of action and conflict is cranked up to eleven in this one. Even so, it manages not to become bloated while retaining a lot of the stuff hardcore fans like. It's a surprisingly effective action movie. Although it's the fan favorite, it's actually my least favorite of the even-numbered films.

The Search for Spock

In case you haven't seen The Wrath of Kahn yet, I won't spoil where Spock is. The way they find Spock is a lot less magical than you expect, even if the science is stretched a bit thin. In this one, something happens that really cements Kirk's hatred for Klingons. That'll come around and bite him in the ass a few sequels later (The Undiscovered Country). It goes to show Star Trek has the potential to be a lot better when it has a less episodic story arc. I love Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon, but watching a younger version of Spock experience pon farr (links to the only episode of Enterprise I've ever seen) was pretty disturbing. The climactic battle is pretty unbelievable—not in the good way.

The Voyage Home

I think this is the first Star Trek anything I ever watched (I was three when it came out). All these years I thought there was no way I could possibly like it as an adult, but when I saw it again I fell in love with it. I typically hate comedies like this and it's very much a comedy. As is such it's the most bizarre Star Trek film ever made (see Spock spouting pseudo-obscenities). Even though the reboot series is borrowing heavily from this series' sequence of plots, there's no way in hell they'll borrow from this film. There's simply no way a movie like this can be made today, especially with a big-budget franchise. Although it's the film anyone can like, the effectiveness is much greater when you're familiar with everything that came before it. The hilarity of these characters being thrust into this situation will be lost on people unfamiliar with their typical personalities.

The Final Frontier

The Final Nightmare, The Final Friday, The Last Crusade... yeah right. Whereas the previous two films in the series were directed by Leonard Nimoy, this one's directed by William Shatner. If ever you needed proof of Shatner's ego, he opens the film on himself, bloated and about a hundred years old, climbing a mountain without any gear whatsoever. You know you're in trouble the second you see Spock levitate on jet boots. Look, there's a lot of shit in this one (it's easily the worst of the original films), but like I said above, it's got one of the best lines in movie history. Although the special effects took a hilarious downturn in quality, the film as a whole is not as bad as people claim.

The Undiscovered Country

This is easily the most well-rounded of everything we've seen prior to it. Ultra-serious actor Christopher Plummer makes a great Klingon. I must confess to having had a massive, prepubescent crush on Kim Cattrall's Vulcan character when this premiered on HBO. David Warner, who was in the last film, comes back as a short-lived Klingon who's attempting to orchestrate peace between his race and Starfleet. Unfortunately Kirk, who's experience all the way back in part III continues to make him despise Klingons, finds himself in the role of ambassador. Like The Wrath of Kahn (which this film seems modeled on, right down to the choice of director), it's an intense action flick which should have made a lot more money than it did. It's a close tie with The Voyage Home in terms of which Star Trek film is my favorite.

Generations

I haven't seen this one since it came out and don't remember much aside from the "surprise ending" that was one of Hollywood's worst-kept secrets. I liked it at the time, but that's all I can reasonably recall. I'm not sure I'd call it one of the originals, though, so I'll look into it more deeply when I review The Next Generation films.