Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quick Post of Animation Finals

Here's my 3D final, the lip sync is maybe like 5 frames off after it got uploaded to Facebook but its mostly there.

and here's Robo-Nader

both of these things will be up on the website pretty shortly.

Monday, December 8, 2008 Number Five is Alive

In amidst of all my animation finals (both are turning to be quite swell, expect to see them up in the next couple of weeks) I found some time to make use of my domain name I had for the past couple of years. Sadly my wait to get was trampled after the previous owner died of heart disease and their family sold the domain name to a sleazy link farm. So at the moment, unless I want to fork over eighty bucks to a third world country and get my domain back it will stay Besides I'm sure there are a few other more musically and commercially inclined Chris Cooksons that are facing the same dilemma. Looks like our other Chris Cookson friend backed the HD DVD format in the business room...big mistake. Funny, I also backed that same horse a few years ago in fanboy related forum debates...the future is in Digital Destribution anyway.

Anyway, check out my website...

you can also checkout my FeedBurner friendly version of this blog on the site. Not that it makes much of a difference

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A quick little animatic of my 2D animation final so far

This is due in a month, I have about 36 seconds out of 1:52 completed so far. While this is an obvious statement, watching this will spoil the completed project when I put it up at the end of December so look out for that. I'm liking what I have though...

Monday, November 10, 2008

A slightly morbid little choose your own adventure game

See if you can make it to the end! If you can't see the embedded Flash applet below click here or copy and paste this link into your browser:

Friday, November 7, 2008

The happiest riot I've ever witnessed

Over the past couple of weeks I've never really had the time to sit back and really think about all the craziness I've been through over the past month. I haven't actually seen any movies apart from whatever shows up in my mailbox from Netflix or whatever I can find on the newly Mac compatible Watch Instantly feature, but I've still have an incredibly busy month. While my trip through the Greenwich Village Halloween parade was fun and rightfully chaotic (especially when joined by someone half-naked apart from a few Obama signs in our group) and my earlier visit to Blood Manor provided a shortly lived but fun, if not completely overpriced experience. However, the most memorable event in this past month wasn't even planned, it just kind of happened and it was a glorious moment I don't think I'll ever forget.

Throughout the election, I was on the edge of my seat. While Obama was always on top of the numbers, I was afraid that when the more conservative states votes started coming in McCain would slowly creep ahead in the race. After the knee-jerk second term election of Bush in 2004 my confidence in American voters was at an all time low. Pair this in with Obama playing an honest game while the republican party would send smears left and right at Obama (I mean, 12% of our country thought he was muslim apparently including my dad depressingly enough) I thought America would become confused and elect McCain president which would tragically put Sarah Palin an inch away from becoming president.

The news of Obama winning the 2008 election came out of nowhere to me. I remembered telling my mother on the phone that "I think Obama has this election" which was immediately followed by a reply of "Obama has this election" and the text "Obama wins the 2008 presidential election" flashing on NBC. Then immediately two minutes after reading the line the balconies in Willoughby erupted with whistling and chants that carried over to the apartment complex facing Willoughby hall and eventually over into the streets. It was all very surreal and the first time I've ever really seen non-sarcastic nationalism since the response to the 9/11 attacks. It even went as far as the point where people started to sign the National Anthem in Unison off of their balconies, this chaos lasted for about an hour and a half and was about as intense as three New Year's Celebrations at the same time.

All over Brooklyn I could hear cars honking and hear partying that sounded vaguely like wild animals over from the street. Apparently the roads and the sidewalks were blocked off with groups of people hugging and shaking each other's hands out until five in the morning. When cars would pass by, they'd let the car into the group prompting to shake the hand of the driver and getting them to honk their horn. Eventually the police came and ushered the people out of the street onto the sidewalks effectively ending their celebration though I still heard cries of Obama at 6 a.m. from my bed...and I had all the windows shut.

The image on the right I found from a quick search on Flickr for Myrtle avenue after Obama's win. While it was much more chaotic than this, its a pretty good idea of the magnitude of the event. Also remember this was at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night still absolutely insane.

This is also the first post I'm putting up through Google Documents instead of from the embedded tools on Blogger, we'll see how this works.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Chris Cookson makes art at art school apparently

I haven't really gotten around to updating this blog as much as I'd want, but at least I've got some pretty pictures out of it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Chris Cookson is still alive...and blogging

Lately, I've been pretty bad at updating my blog, most of my free time now is split between doing homework and hanging out with much overlap between the two. When I lean more away from more learning Maya tutorial-esque work I'll probably find some time to post a couple of things here. In the meantime I can go over the countless movies I watched while scribbling my animation homework and my impressions of my first non-foundation month at Pratt.

So far, the first month as a Digital Animation major has been rough but I've learned a ton already. Unlike foundation year, most of the week I only have 2-3 hours of classes a day with the notable exception being Thursdays where I have both my 3D and 2D animation class. In comparison to Foundation year's six hours of class a day plus four hours of liberal arts sandwiched somewhere in-between the week. Factor in an hour of homework per hour of foundation class and your left with maybe 5 or 6 hours of sleep a day.
While I'm getting about three times more homework per hour of class than last year, I'm also getting at least 8 hours of sleep. A rarity in college, though I'm sure that's likely to change once my classes get further into the nuts and bolts of Maya.

While this year is not completely void of the inflated egos, pretentiousness and overwrought discussions over common sense which drove me half insane last year, most of the teachers and students I'm in with are in it for the love of the craft which makes the hours or work seem worth it if only to see what other crazy awesome things the rest of the class came up with. I'm also surprised to see how much I'm loving modeling class so far, its a far cry from my 2D and 3D animation classes which are both as awesome as I expected them to be but I never thought I'd enjoy "designing a home for rats" as much as I am now.

My birthday also came around with a subscription to Netflix as the gift. As someone who'd often prowl the forums of Quick Silver Screen for DivX movies to place onto my Xbox 360, Netflix is a huge step up. Pair the DVD shipping with Handbrake or MacTheRipper (my Macbook Pro has trouble buring dual layer DVDs however) and you could potentially get your hands on any movie that you'd ever want to watch more than once. For the few times I was able to find someone with a PC, the Watch Instantly feature on Netflix has been quite awesome. I'd almost install Parallels and Windows XP exclusively to run it but with 120 GBs on my HDD and often with only 10-40 GBs of free space, I don't want to partitian out any more space than I already have. The system is a bit counterintuitive thanks to the MPAA's strict enforcement of DRM but if you install all the right components its a strong feature. I can imagine this being the future of Netflix in 10 years after DVDs and Blu-Ray discs get the shaft in favor of iTunes-esque downloadable content.

I haven't watched a movie in a theater since I came back to Pratt, not for a lack of time thing, there's just little I want to see right now. I guess I kind of wanted to see Burn After Reading and Hamlet 2 but none of them really struck me as something I'd want to go out of my way to see.

The movies that I have seen were the steroid documentary Bigger Stronger Faster, which played out like Bowling For Columbine had the guns been replaced with steroids and anecdotal evidence replaced strictly with scientific facts. While I found its ironic pro-steroid in the context of America's artificial cheat to win culture view a bit jarring, this was a fun documentary in an age where most health documentaries focus on obesity. (4/5)

To me, Michael Moore's Slacker Uprising was a great idea for both him and his fans. Slacker Uprising is easily Moore's weakest film where all the intentions are there but its unsure whether it wants to be a concert film or a movie chronically the response to Fahrenheit 9/11 during the 2004 presidential election. By releasing this film as a free internet download Moore has taken his lemon and made lemonaide. In doing so he avoided the film getting eaten alive by critics (thus ruining his homerun reputation he had since Bowling for Columbine) and was able to get some positive buzz for his movie riding off the wave of Radiohead's In Rainbows internet giveaway. This is also the best way to get the message out to the young Americans that he wants to influence to vote, its really a win/win situation for him. Worth seeing but only because its free. (2/5)

I also rewatched The Lion King a couple of times while I was doing my modeling homework and then once more last night. Its a shame the Disney Vault is keeping me from owning it in my personal collection, this one had the best plot of all the Disney Animated films and had some of the georgious set pieces. I really wish I caught this one when they re-released it in IMAX a four or five years back. I saw this one a lot on VHS as a kid and I believe I even saw it in theaters though all I could remember was the death of Mufasa was incredibly depressing. The version I watched had a notably cleaner look for the IMAX release and an incredibly out of place new musical number for The Morning Report. Disney Animation has still yet to make "another Lion King" with each new movie getting more desperate than the next. I guess the Princess and the Frog looks good. (5/5)

Lastly, I took out a projector and watched the cult 1979 film, The Warriors. This is one of the few movies that I can think of that would really benefit from a video game release. The only thing that really holds up the film is its early 80s style action and dialogue and a few incredibly lame costume designs for the 100 rival gangs, including a gang of mimes. I never could fully get into this movie, for a movie with such a huge premise I felt kind of cheated that we never got to see The Warriors take on more that one gang at once, usually it wouldn't go much further than 2 or 3. With a paperthin plot and a pretty disposable set of characters I wish they would have had more fun with this one. Still I did enjoy a few of the action scenes. (3/5)

Apart from those I've watched the abysmal J-horror remake One Missed Call (1/5) along with the hilariously bad
Cobra (2/5) and the throwaway Kurt Russel rom-com Overboard (1/5). Short Circuit didn't really hold up to any of my memories (2/5) and Pee Wee's Big Adventure is every bit as amazing as I remembered it (5/5).

Friday, August 29, 2008

end of summer thoughts and Tropic Thunder

As August comes to an end, I might as well raise my post count for August to make up for my four posts last July. I'm back at Pratt Institute over this Saturday and classes start either Monday or Tuesday depending on whether or not Pratt recognizes Labor Day as a real holiday. My personal life's been fairly busy over the summer, between getting around to getting that driver's license I pushed aside for two years and a pretty awesome internship at Save the Children working on various web related assets I didn't really have much downtime so going back to Pratt feels more or less like getting back to what I've been doing the entire summer, save for 12 hour work days and five hours of sleep.

I'm spending my past few days off packing my stuff for the big move in on Saturday and enjoying my newly purchased Xbox 360 playing a mix between The Orange Box, Viva Pinata and The Darkness as well as a watching a few DivX files that I was able to snag off of Veoh. For most of August I spent my time playing The Darkness (a steal at $9, pick it up if you haven't) and I'm maybe about four hours into Half-Life 2 from The Orange Box. I never really saw myself enjoying either of those titles as the only FPS games I've really played over the past generation were the Metroid Prime trilogy and arcade style multiplayer titles like Timesplitters 2. The Darkness really never felt like a first person shooter game between the emphasis on your large heart eating tentacles and most of the action sequences being more of a puzzle than an adrenaline also kind of helped that the cursor's auto-aim made it pretty easy to nail headshots in the single player campaign. Also while the dialogue and voice acting is a bit questionable at times the overarching story is quite good. The Achievements are really easy too, which is a huge plus.

Likewise, I've been having a blast with the first four hours of Half-Life 2. Despite being four years late to the game it really hasn't aged much at all and the graphics on my 1080p television are about on par with most modern Xbox 360 titles and I haven't seen a single title with such an ingenious use of physics for puzzles and its use of the game engine to tell a story as opposed to cutting in and out of cutscenes. On top of that I played through the Internet and critic darling Portal yesterday and while I enjoyed the game's creativity I didn't really see it as the second coming or anything. At the moment I feel the same way about the game as I did when I got around to seeing Napoleon Dynamite a year and a half after the film was in theaters. While I could admire the film for what it was I found it annoying when I could recognize just about every other unfunny line from a hoody I've seen in the mall. A lot of the slick writing that Portal has, was driven into the ground by getting quoted and referenced by internet forums and by the end of the relatively short two hour playtime I found myself doing too many of the same things to solve puzzles and I feel if the game was any longer the concept would run thin. I'm pretty confident the Xbox Live Arcade semi-sequel Portal: Still Alive will get lower than expected reviews.

Onward to movies:
Tropic Thunder - Honestly, I've never really been a huge fan of Ben Stiller. Even when he was at his "best" in There's Something About Mary, he's mostly been exclusively in mediocre films over the past six or seven years and I was caught by surprise when I saw Tropic Thunder's 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. At first I thought it was like Talladega Nights or Blades of Glory where the film received positive press from the tongue-in-cheek celebrity and pop-culture references wrapped around the premise of an incredibly dumb movie. While Tropic Thunder had a lot of those elements the real beauty of it was in how it transcended the celebrity cameo stage and went on to lampoon just about every aspect of Hollywood and the ego-driven Academy Award seeking actors. While Tom Cruise's cameo was a little grating at times, especially when they had him dancing to rap music, this was counterbalanced by both a hilarious and surprisingly well-acted comedy role of Robert Downey Jr.

The Wackness - Oh god, The Wackness just about represented everything I can't stand about most indie movies, it was a completely pretentious movie that believed it was more original than it actually was with a cliche-ridden story and "editing" that at times felt like an overblown music video. While what was there wasn't really that bad especially with the film crammed with quite a few deliberate references to 1994, it was never particularly any good in any of the scenes. I guess it had Ben Kingsley making out with one of the Olsen twins in one scene, which may make it worth it but the chances are you'd find that scene on YouTube before the film even hits DVD.

Re-Animator - I caught this screening as a part of The Avon Theatre's Cult Classics summer line-up. Like their screening of The Animation Show they featured some vintage trailers at the beginning which ran maybe 10 minutes too long. Luckily, Re-Animator was a fantastic movie that served functionally as a well-written and directed horror movie as well as a hilarious B-movie due to the special effects not looking nearly as impressive in this CG-ridden effects day and age. Granted, Re-Animator had some black humor sprinkled around the film and the violence was over the top...I'm also sure the film's persistent effort to show Barbara Crampton's breasts did little to make the audience take the film seriously...there was also an evil zombie cat in there too that was killed with a shovel...and a talking severed head. On its own merits, this was a hilarious and well-made B-horror film that should probably have a place in my DVD collection.

The Pixar Story - Really good documentary, at times it felt almost like a promotional video for Pixar animation studios but with it being cut up into a special feature on the WALL-E DVD it all makes sense. The best part would have to be when they shown an early storyboarded version of Toy Story which under Jeffrey Katzenberg's (now of Shrek producing fame) suggestion was "edgy and adult" which was ultimately panned by Disney. I'd wait for WALL-E to come on DVD to see this again but pretty well made otherwise.

Singin' in the Rain - I'm not one for classic movies but this one caught me by surprise. Its weird to watch a film that was made in the '50s that is nostalgic of a simpler time. I loved the musical numbers, the direction made each song feel really fresh and I'd never know that the majority of the songs were never written for the movie. Completely awesome and many of the jokes were every bit as funny and snappy as they were in the 1950s, a rarity for a G-rated film.

I watched Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden (1.5/4) sadly it wasn't half as good as his earlier documentary Supersize Me and it felt incredibly fabricated. I also loved Clerks 2 (3/4) and Uwe Boll's Postal (0.5/4) was every bit as unwatchably bad as I was expecting but it might just be worth watching just for Uwe Boll's incredibly shameless and hilarious cameo in the film.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hell froze over, Chris Cookson got an Xbox 360

Last generation, Microsoft's Xbox left a bad taste in my mouth. Between the thing's massive child killing bulk and hideous industrial design, it looked like something that was trying to hard to appeal to immature 13 year old boys and little else. The console had some of the best games of the last generation with the Halo franchise generating critical acclaim and record breaking sales and Knights of the Old Republic putting Bioware on the map as a Western RPG powerhouse. Ultimately, the console lost Microsoft $4 billion but they wound up in a secure 2nd place position worldwide, pulling ahead of Nintendo's Gamecube despite the Xbox's weak Japanese sales but nowhere near touching the dominance of the Playstation 2 last generation.

Fast forward to this generation, the Wii flew under most analyst and developer's radars and is now the #1 selling console even beating out the Xbox 360 which was out a year longer than the Wii. Sony's Playstation 3 was a sales disaster and the Microsoft Xbox
360 firmly sits in second place. While the Wii's hardware is flying off the shelves the software sales are actually lower than the 360 implying that many might just purchase the Wii system as a tech toy with the packed in Wii Sports demo as opposed to a full-fledged multimedia console. Most of the best selling games are either first party tiles (much like the Gamecube) or the most casual poorly reviewed shovelware titles like Carnival Games and High School Musical: Sing It becoming million sellers. While I could ignore the onslaught of low-budget cash-in titles with Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy being close to perfection but after seeing Nintendo at E3 touting the embarrassing Wii Music as their holiday killer-app and an all too similar looking sequel to Animal Crossing as their "hardcore" title, I felt as though Microsoft's Xbox 360 had more titles coming for Nintendo fanboys than the Wii did.

Over the years Microsoft has been slowly going after my heart between buying out Rare, getting an exclusive karaoke title from the creators of Elite Beat Agents and a three game exclusive trilogy Silicon Knights, the guys who did the cult classic Gamecube title Eternal Darknes
s: Sanity's Requiem. Now that Rare's finally back up on its feet with Kameo and Viva Pinata getting rave reviews and a third entry in the Nintendo 64's popular Banjo-Kazooie franchise. With my summer job and all, I actually had enough money to pounce on the Xbox 360 as soon as I saw the 20 GB model for $270 at Circuit City and a copy of Viva Pinata to supplement that Forza Motorspot 2 game that Microsoft kindly handed out at their job recruiting presentation at Pratt Institute. I also picked up The Darkness and the Ratatouille video game off of bargain bin shelves. You can keep track of my various Xbox 360 related antics on the right nav of this blog.

My first surprise with the Xbox 360 came with just how feature rich it
was. Even if you took out the entire next-gen game functionality you'd have a product that would rival the Apple TV. The console could play all Quicktime, Windows Media, Xvid and DivX encoded videos off of a burnt DVD/CD, your wireless network or any USB device plugged into one of the systems three USB ports. You can also charge your iPod and stream your songs and playlists to the Xbox and play it instead of the normal background music for any given game. Factor in its easy connectivity to the TiVo-esque Windows Media Center and the fact that its a functional upscaling DVD player and you have a system that rivals whatever you can find on cable TV at any given moment. I mean, if you know how to use BitTorrent and search Veoh properly, there's an endless amount of entertainment you can potentially get on this time. It was a fantastic feeling to tell my family about the Helvetica movie caught a screening of and listened to a Q and A with the respective director at Pratt and be able to watch it within three hours of telling them.

As a Nintendo fanboy I was kind of afraid that the Xbox 360 would mostly o
nly have American first person shooters and action games, not to mention a slew of bratty foul-mouthed 12 year olds on Xbox Live. While both of the statements are still kind of true in my mind, the console is still pretty solid if you just avoid Xbox Live altogether. I remembered how devastated I was when Microsoft bought Rare back in 2002 and I viewed their final Nintendo published game, Star Fox Adventures as the last swan song for the company I also felt that after a number of key members left the studio for Free Radical and Zoonami I didn't think the company could ever return to its former greatness. After playing around four or five hours of Viva Pinata, that couldn't be further from the truth. I remembered laughing when I heard that Microsoft was trying to market the title as the next Pokemon with merchandise and a television series, while those ambitions never really caught on, the game has a deceptively simple concept but it contains a lot of depth. Like its more complicated than Animal Crossing but more linear than Harvest Moon, I'm not exactly sure how well the game could really appeal to kids but its a lot of fun and I feel like it could have been a real hit with the Nintendo audience. Likewise, Xbox Live Arcade has a wonderful selection of Nintendo fanboy friendly indie titles. I'm strongly tempted to pick up Braid, Bionic Commando Rearmed to that swanky downloadable version of the Dreamcast Soul Calibur.

Between playing through tons of demos and watching quite a few movie files I had on my harddrive, the Xbox 360 was totally worth it at $270 and if you factor in the price of component cables, its actually $15 cheaper than the Wii at the moment. While the Wii is a great choice for non-gamers, if you already have a nice HDTV and are fairly tech savvy I'd totally recommend taking a second look at the Xbox 360. As it currently stands, its a much better value than the Wii and it offers a much more sophisticated and polished experience for the price. While I still love my Wii quite a lot, in the meantime I'll stick to catching up on all the games I missed out on for the Xbox 360 and wait for the entire "casual" Wii game fad to pass and Nintendo to get back to making titles that require creativity and time to make and not just a marketing budget.

In defense of Beverly Hills Chihuahua

(note: this was a guest post I did on The Movie Watch a couple of weeks back now that I have another new post coming I figured this was the right time to post this.)

As long as I'm a new contributor on the Movie Watch, I might as well blow any reputation I might have in my first post. Ye
sterday I read that Ezra said that he'd rather watch the direct-to-DVD sequel to 101 Dalmatians. While I would not expect Beverly Hills Chihuahua to be the next Citizen Kane or anything after seeing the latest trailer it looks far from a throw away family film.

I'll admit it, I was as negative as everyone else when I saw the first poster for this movie. It didn't really show much besides for two chihuahuas, an Aztec temple and a large marquee bragging about the voice roles of George Lopez (ugh) and Drew Barrymore. Many felt it looked like the worst movie of the year, though with films like Meet Dave and The Love Guru (yes, I've seen them) I'd beg to differ. The second punch to this movie's face was the teaser that was attached to WALL-E. This teaser really said little what the movie was actually about and for 90% of the people in the audience it would be the only footage they'd see from the actual movie before its September release. For the seasoned movie viewer the teaser really had nothing to offer besides for poorly animated Chihuahua's playing the drums. With the inevitable pop-culture references as implied by an old DJ BOBO pop song blaring in the background with Chihuahua's singing and dancing behind it. This teaser made the offensive trailer for Madagascar seem tame. The fact that this movie also is helmed by the director of the live-action Scooby-Doo movies and Big Mamma's House didn't do much to win me over on this movie either.

However when I saw that new trailer that was posted by Disney up on YouTube more recently it was a very different movie than the gimmicky dreck I was expecting. The new trailer seemed more like Homeward Bound with a pretty inoffensive and subdued sense of humor. The trailer even did the miraculous job of putting the teaser into perspective making the little prologue about the Aztecs before the opening make a lot more sense. The trailer also had very little CGI apart from the obvious moving lips on the dogs whereas the teaser was completely 3D animated. The other surprise was that there were no pop-culture references in the full trailer either apart from that Scarface line but that's so deeply embedded into our culture I don't know if it even counts. In a world where the trailer for Madagascar Escape 2 Africa was getting an uproarious laugh in the movie theater this is a great thing. Sure, it had its share of lame jokes in the trailer but so do a lot of Disney movies. If you judged Enchanted by its trailer it would look pretty formulaic as well. Disney is concerned first and foremost with families and if showing a gang of chihuahuas playing the bongos was enough to get the kids excited, then it will ultimately be
a success.

The new trailer made me develop quite a soft spot for this movie. It reminded me a lot of the movies I've been forced to sit through in elementary school just to get the mangey kids quite for an hour or so. I had no clue at that time what the general fan consensus those movies had. In fact, a lot of the films I fondly remembered received terrible reviews, such as Mouse Hunt whereas Babe was nominated for an Academy Award and I had no idea at the time. I was crushed when I saw Roger Ebert's scathing review of Home Alone when they opened up their review archive to the internet. But at the same time I agreed with a lot of his criticism. He may have missed the point of a simple dumb family movie. Roger Ebert had a point in that it would have more emotional resonance if they showed Kevin as a vulnerable and defenseless kid in the face of criminals, but it would seem entirely out of place among the various slapstick gags that were to follow. If screenwriter John Hughes were to follow Ebert's advice he'd have to retool the film entirely for something that's already become a classic family movie in its current state.

To get things straight I'm still not going to go out of my way to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua, that is unless by some weird miracle it winds up getting a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, this is definitely something I'd watch on a lazy sunday had it been on Disney Channel or something and in comparison to other non-Disney family dreck like Fly Me to the Moon and Space Chimps this movie's looking pretty promising for its fairly young audience. At the very least prints of Salvador Dali's short film Destino will be screened before all the prints of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, that's worth the price of admission alone or it could make a better stoner film than Pineapple Express, and that's saying a lot.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

have you seen Pineapple Express...on Speed (Racer)?

I've been anticipating Pineapple Express for a really long time, especially after I first saw the Red Band trailer in early 2008 with MIA's Paper Planes featured pretty prominently. I actually almost saw a test screening of this back in February. On my way back from an art history museum visit I hung out in Union Square for a bit and they were handing out free passes to see this the next day outside the movie theater. When I came back the next day for the screening they apparently moved the showing to some weird theater over in Queens and I was really too late to catch any of it. Since then I've watched the trailer a lot more times than I probably should have and imagined the movie to be more about two slackers who get forced into having a purpose who would normally not want one at all.

Did it live up to the hype or my mental image of it? Sort of. Pineapple Express was much like the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie in that it had a lot of funny one-liners but nothing quotable enough to remain in the bowels of High School hallways or annoying people at frat parties. The film was a surprisingly violent mix between Hot Fuzz and Cheech & Chong with a bit of Judd Apatow's signature conversational improvised humor thrown in for good measure. While its not half as good as this year's other Judd Apatow produced comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall it was certainly a funny movie. In comparison to the ultra low-standards of the stoner comedy genre this could have a place as one of the few drug comedy films that I could actually stand.

The reason why the bar is so low for drug movies is that stoners are incredibly easy to please. Pretty much if you show the main characters doing some illegal substance at ANY portion of the movie it would immediately get their seal of approval. I can imagine this film living on in the poster section of an FYE or something because just about every scene has the main characters on some drug or another and for that reason I'm sure it will become a cult druggie classic alongside the terribly overrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My rule on stoner films applies to just about everything, while I could understand how stoners could like films that glorify marijuanna use like How High, the Tenacious D movie and the Harold and Kumar series (amoung others) many stoners also love Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream and that's about as strong as an anti-drug movie can get.

Pineapple Express strays from the typical stoner comedy formula by trying to add some heart to its various preaching to the choir related antics. This comes off as half-realized as in one scene you'd see Seth Rogen in tears over his crumbling relationship with his high school aged girlfriend (which was played off as a joke 9 out of 10 times) and in the next they'd have a fight scene which would amount to Spider-man's James Franco getting kicked in the crotch. While this works when it plays off of the buddy-action movie archetype it seems lost when they switch to their action movie satire elements.

Ultimately, Pineapple Express was decent but it has a few very apparent flaws that really hold it back from being a generation defining movie like Seth Rogen and Eric Goldberg's Superbad. As someone who doesn't do drugs and was not under the influence of any substance when watching this movie I found a lot of scenes to be pretty funny, which considering I'm not in the "audience" that this movie really panders to I guess that's the biggest compliment this film can get. If you're a fan of Judd Apatow this film is still worth a look, it's certainly watchable which puts it leagues above the abysmal Drillbit Taylor, just don't go in expecting a cinematic revolution or anything.


Here's a quick run-down of some of the other movies I watched between now and my last blog post...

Hot Rod - I know this film ultimately was a huge failure in both the box office and with critics alike but I always kind of wanted to see this ever since I saw the trailer for it before Transformers. While it didn't look like high art or anything it looked like it had a few funny parts and it had Arrested Development's Will Arnett in there who's proving himself to be a bigger tool than Jason Bateman. This was originally written to be a Will Ferrel and despite not having any of the same writers as your standard Will Ferrel "sports movie" it definitely had the same sense of humor with our protagonist never successfully completing a stunt throughout the entire film. While it was not perfect and I found the movie perhaps a little too silly for its own good, it definitely wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting and was totally worth the 90 minutes or so I spent watching this when I downloaded it off of Veoh.


A Tale of Two Sisters - After seeing DVDs of this film included as a giveaway before a screening of Tokyo Gore Police at the New York Asian Film Festival I've been extremely interested in seeing this Korean horror flick. Like most successful Asian horror films, this one is getting an Americanized remake in early 2009 and I'm pretty sure the remakes will be more along the lines of The Grudge and The Host than the Ring. What really holds this film together is the terrific performances given by each of the members of the cast which really sold its ghost story premise to me. The scares here are mostly psychological and its commendable for how little gore there is in this movie with it being used to accentuate the scares as opposed to just grossing the audience out.


Be Kind Rewind - This is one I really wish I saw in theaters, while the actual "sweding" part of this movie was pretty miniscule in relation to the trailer the film here itself was good enough where it didn't really seem to matter. Be Kind Rewind had a great and quirky cast of characters but it still felt incredibly genuine taking place in only one city block. I'm not really a big fan of Michel Gondry but I kind of loved the very light brand of comedy in play where by the ending the movie gets very sentimental and all the humor kind of fades away into obscurity.


Drillbit Taylor - Had this not already been written by Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow I'd deem this as a PG13 watered down imitation of Superbad, the only difference being this one has Owen Wilson playing a body guard of sorts. While I do believe a lot of the awkwardness that made Superbad funny could be re-imagined in the form of a PG13 or made-for-TV movie the problem with this one is that it was still trying to be edgy while holding back from stepping on the few land mines that would guarantee an R-rating. While this was not completely terrible the main cast of kids felt kind of bratty and the bullies were portrayed with about as much depth as an episode of Doug. Owen Wilson was still very funny in this but he really didn't get too much screen time, it felt like they were really just using him to shoehorn ticket sales for an otherwise bland high school comedy film.


Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny - Dear god! If it weren't for the film's occasional catchy musical interludes, I'd be strongly tempted to give this a half a star. While theoretically I'd like this movie it felt more sloppy than it was surreal and it tried just a little too hard to be non-sensical. You'd be better off just listening to a Tenacious D album instead, they're a lot funnier.


Speed Racer - This was another one that I found the test screener of randomly uploaded onto Vreel. I was in the minority of people who actually was supportive of this movie since the trailer first emerged on the internet. The Wachowski brothers seemed to be making an adaptation of the English dubbed version of the TV series as opposed to a darker re-imagining of it. The real problem with the movie came with the length of the movie, clocking in at 2 and a half hours with most it that being dialogue. Had it been an hour shorter, it would be a lot easier to forgive the film for its flaws and praise it for its awesome race scenes but in the meantime it's simply not worth seeing. Maybe if you could rent it on DVD and skip to all the racing scenes it would be worth it but only if you pay less than a few dollars for it.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Animation Show 4 rundown

I've always wanted to see the Animation Show but it was typically too far away for me to ever really have a chance to see it, I caught it on MTV2 once at 2 am and I thought it was pretty neat. This year my local Avon Theatre had a screening of the show tucked away in their Cult Films series for August, I'm typically not a big fan of the place for their overly pretentious attitude, high prices and simply not knowing enough about film to really warrant such an attitude but I figured its better than dropping the $18.50 and two hours of my time to go to New York to see it.

As a huge fan of both Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt I was hoping they'd have more of an influence on the films screened there (both of which surprisingly did not have any films in this year's Animation Show). Its not like Don didn't have any new films in his queue, because he did and it was absolutely fantastic. I don't know why they didn't just top off the show with his short film Everything Will Be OK. I saw it at an ASIFA screening at Pratt and it was easily his deepest film yet if they couldn't fit it in the show's lean 90 minute run time they could have EASILY taken out some of the weaker shorts in the festival.

This year's festival was totally worth seeing but not all the shorts were a home run or anything. Luckily, the bad ones were forgettable enough where you couldn't hold it against the festival and were equally weighted out by some good shorts. Its obvious that they held off their heavy hitters like Bill Plympton until the end, they ended it with a fairly lengthy 3D animated short commissioned by the festival which was pretty cool considering it was from some fairly unknown Polish Animators.

The first real surprise was Angry Unpaid Hooker this crudely animated short didn't really have more than a few drawings in the entire piece but that was what made it all the more endearing. It reminded me a lot of UPN and later Adult Swim's mildly successful series Home Movies where a long string of improvised and frank uncomfortable dialogue made the short funny in the most deadpan sort of the variety (here's a link to the short off of someone's blog). PES's Western Spaghetti was also very good much like his other stop motion short films but its one of those things that I've already seen on YouTube though it was a lot cooler to seen on a theater screen without questionable compression. This Way Up was one of the few CG entries in the Animation Show that I actually liked, there were parts that reminded me a bit of the land of the dead moments of Corpse Bride but overall I was won over by its morbid sense of humor and level of exaggeration that you rarely see in 3D animated shorts. My other favorites included the noire comedy short Key Lime Pie, Bill Plympton's Hot Dog short and the incredibly artsy and meticulously crafted Jeu from the National Film Board of Canada.

Likewise, I found a few of the shorts just offensively bad. The first of which Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker was probably selected for its blend of 3D animation and 2D both of which I felt were kind of lacking, the animation was a little too limited for my tastes especially when up against the smooth frame rate of the computer generated backgrounds, this one was really just tailored for druggies and I didn't really find much artistic value in it maybe if it was a bit shorter. A series of Yompi the Crotch-Biting Sloup stop-motion short films were also sprinkled throughout the show and unless you find the title as the highest level of humor, you won't really get too much out of it. Lastly the French Prof. Nieto Show Ep 1 didn't really feature too much animation in it at the end of the day and really just came off as more prentious than it did funny for me. The rest of the short films were all in the "okay" category with Psychotown,
Operator and Blind Spot providing a laugh here and there.

Ultimately the Animation Show had enough solid short films for me to warrant a recommendation and I'll see it again next year if they'd bring it back to Stamford. My theater was only about a third full and compared to the immense lines at New York City's IFC Center I doubt The Avon Theatre would really be a high priority for them. While I don't think I'd spend hours of my time to see it nor would really go out of my way to buy the DVDs from past festivals, it was enough fun with a crowd of people to have a good time.

I also saw a few of my classmates from high school there randomly at the screening. That was kind of rad.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Good evening Commissioner...WHY SO SERIOUS!!?

I know I haven't gotten around to my impressions of the Sony E3 Press Conference but I was pretty indifferent towards it and at this point I don't really think it would be worth it for me to really write anything apart from the "I didn't really find anything too captivating or offensive about it" at this point in time. I'd rather write about the several films I've seen over the past month that I've never really gotten around to blogging about because I was still unsure what exactly my impressions were on them...and I also saw The Dark Knight today, a film that I've been following the hype for over the last two years.

As of writing this I'm over in the Cape Cod, without anything beyond a stack of my DVDs and my MacBook Pro without an internet connection. I really wanted to see The Dark Knight on Friday night especially after hearing all the positive buzz from both the critics and a handful of my co-workers that were lucky enough to catch a midnight showing of it. My hype for the Dark Knight started immediately after I saw Batman Begins, at that time I was unfamiliar with the other works of Christopher Nolan and I used bouts of multiple viewings of Memento and The Prestige to pass the time in-between what little details existed for The Dark Knight. I followed the viral websites, between the first e-mail campaign unlocking the first image of the Joker one pixel at a time and the I Believe in Harvey Dent viral websites. I even went to see I Am Legend in IMAX solely to catch the first seven minutes of The Dark Knight. In fact when I first heard of Heath Ledger's death I was devastated not for his Academy Award winning performance in Brokeback Mountain but more because he was the first actor that I really felt "got" the Joker and it would be the last time I'd really see the role achieved so perfectly.

Onward to the geekery:
The Dark Knight - As you could tell from my blurb above, my bar was set ridiculously high for this film. Even more than what I had for Batman Begins and for that it was a culmination of all my Batman: The Animated Series watching as a kid. Luckily, The Dark Knight did not disappoint and it did to Batman Begins what the Empire Strikes Back did to Star Wars. The Dark Knight did more than just apply the "more of the same" formula to the already successful Batman Begins, nor did it give us something totally different, rather it perfected what was introduced in the previous film and gave us an elaborate crime drama that is completely believable and realistic, something that you'd rarely see in a superhero movie.

One of the smartest choices Nolan made in The Dark Knight was the ideal of not giving the Joker an origin story and rather just have him exist. While the Joker implies that he may have had domestic problems, he changes the story of his scar several times throughout the movie. This gives us the portrait of an intelligent psychopath, it was best described in the bank heist scene in the beginning of the film where he was called "a nutjob who painted his face white". Even his walk would have both the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performance mixed in with the clumsiness of Cosmo Kramer. From the Joker however, we're given the story of Harvey Dent's transformation into Two Face where he originally starts as a public and cleaner cut lawyer version of Batman and then becomes a criminal mastermind. Nolan's depiction of Two Face is about as disturbing and grotesque as something can get in a PG13 rated movie, with the revelation of his face after the acid burn being one of the highest points in the movie. While Two Face is given a fair amount of screen time its pretty obvious that they were building him up to be the villain of the next movie much like how they built up Batman's character in the previous film. A quick note to anyone who's going in to watch the film, I was trying to find out whether or not Two Face did or did not have his wisdom teeth, you can see his full jaw and I tried to count how many teeth he had, I couldn't tell sadly :(

The use of 3D animation for Two-Face's burnt face and real-life pyrotechnics for the explosions and stunt doubles was also very commendable. While they weren't able to pull off anything a third as over the top as something you'd see in a Spider-man film, it was also a lot more immersive. For what stunts they did have, you'd see trucks flipping over and buildings blowing up, for all of this the lighting, the camera's focus and the physics were all exactly on the mark which is a refreshing change for someone who's used to looking back and seeing Spider-man immediately transition into 3D animation when swinging around buildings. For the parts when they used 3D effects such as Harvey's face (much comparable to the octopus guy from the Pirates of the Caribbean films) it was not used to recreate an actual human but rather to create something creepy, moving the negative effects with the uncanny valley over in its favor.

The Dark Knight was an incredibly sophisticated film for something of its budget and I'm really surprised they decided to stick to the PG13 rating instead of going for an R. I doubt your average mall going consumer would even have the attention span for this movie, with most of the writing being focused on the drama with an occasional splash of action. It never felt like it held back because it was written around the confines of a PG13 leaving most of the really disturbing stuff offscreen but I wonder how different it would have been had they decided to show a few of the more graphic areas of the film and maybe treated it more EXACTLY like a crime movie and put a few splashes of profanity here and there. I'm not saying the movie needed it but when going for realism, criminals are far from role models and I doubt they'd exist in the 1950s era values of the MPAA. Many reviews compared The Dark Knight to The Godfather Part II and Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker to Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs.

Overall, the Dark Knight is EASILY one of the best movies of the year in a firm second place to WALL-E. While it may not be the typical lighthearted subcomedy superhero film, Batman is not your typical lighthearted superhero. While I don't know if this movie would be too dark for young children, I'd give it a whole-hearted recommendation to anyone else who wouldn't mind sitting through a 2 and a half hour long movie with the occasional action scene thrown in.


Other movies:
Batman Gotham Knight - Much like what the Animatrix was for The Matrix: Reloaded, Batman Gotham Knight is an Anime adaptation of the Batman Begins universe (Batmanime?). Produced by Bruce Tim and featuring many of the writers and voice actors from Batman The Animated series mixed in with six different anime directors ranging from companies like Studio 4c (the opening short looks very close to Michael Arias's Tekkonkinkreet), Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers) and the guys behind Ghost in a Shell. In theory, this could be liberally the best thing ever. Despite its pedigree, the biggest flaw in this comes from the fact that it tries to have six different self-contained short films that all tell one overarching story. This works, sort of well but ultimately it limits each team into telling a very specific kind of a story. While the dialogue heavy portion from the Ghost in a Shell creators made sense I would have rather had Studio 4c work on something more fluid and action oriented than just three skater teens reminiscing about their previous Batman related experiences. There was also some inconsistency between the teams with some portraying Bruce Wayne as the tough guy that he should be while others shown him as a pretty boy. I guess this is exactly what you'd get if you asked American's to make a Godzilla movie (which happened in 1998), while we'd understand the basic idea of the character we wouldn't really have much reverence for him because he was not a solid part of our popular culture. None of the shorts featured The Joker either, which is a huge disappointment in my mind. To have a Batman movie without the Joker is like a Superman movie without Lex Luther. He would also be the best character for multiple interpretations from the Japanese. Instead we were left with Dead Shot, Killer Croc and The Scarecrow, all are pretty firmly on the B-list of Batman.

The 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray releases of this film also include five episodes from Batman: The Animated Series that were hand-picked by Bruce Tim. Pair that with the collectable tin and art book from Best Buy and you have a solid purchase for your average comic book geek and otaku. I can't quite recommend this though because maybe only half of the shorts in the film I'd really consider worth watching while the other ones aren't particularly offensive but they aren't really memorable either. Its worth seeing for the multiple very different interpretations of Batman but they sadly are all very short lived. The anime idea was much better suited for The Matrix.


Wanted - Dear lord! this was one of the most derivative non-comedy movies I've seen in a long time. In fact, me and my friends were laughing pretty consistently throughout the entire movie in the theater. With a very little amount of rewriting this could have become an Edgar Wright style satire movie on the entire hardboiled action genre that was created by the one-two punch of The Matrix and Fight Club. For what it was though, it was a fairly amusing movie that will probably entertain 90% of the beef-heading crowd that would go to see it. You still got to hear Morgan Freeman say a few very awesome four-letter words, there are a lot of fast cars, a few good action scenes and Angelina Jolie shows a lot of skin, which is probably a plus for the celebrity gossip reading monkeys that would probably go out and see this film.

The real problem with Wanted was that it didn't really have much of its own unique vision but rather it was just trying to be exactly like something else. Like you even had a deadpan Ikea obsessed Narrator who joins an underground anti-corporate society where he gets punched in the face and beaten up by his peers. Factor in hundreds of slow-motion shots and bullet time effects and you have something that's trying a bit too hard to be Fight Club with the commercial success of The Matrix and 300. Say what you want about either of those films being overrated, but they at least knew what kind of movie that wanted to make.

On top of that, halfway through Wanted I felt like they were running out of tricks. While its cool to see a car skid into someone with a door open to pick them up, its only fun the first time you see it and when you do it a few more times it felt tired. Even the fairly lame sequence where two bullets collided with each other in midair could have been forgiven had they done it just once, but after four times I couldn't hold in my collective shrug anymore. If they were going to do that, they should have included it in the narrator's intensive training and them make it out to be kind of like swordplay with guns. Factor in a couple of sex scenes that reeked of "Oh, SEX!!! yeah, I've had that" and you have a movie that is only good for 13 year olds who are trying too hard to be "cool" or "edgy" but don't have the capacity to be either of those things.

For what it was, Wanted was a fun movie as long as you lower your expectations for for just a dumb action movie that has a few moments that are kind of fun.


Hancock - This is NOT a movie I'd want to pay money to see so I'm glad that I saw someone uploaded a handicam version of it onto Veoh, going into it I knew it was going to be terrible but I was hoping it would be more the Wild Wild West kind of terrible and less I, Robot bad. I recognized Jason Bateman was in it, and he's been the biggest tool in Hollywood since Teen Wolf Too and even his good roles in Arrested Development and Juno, they had him play a fairly door matt-esque character. Hancock actually was a really dumb and fun movie for the first 40 minutes but then when decided to try to be a "serious" superhero movie.

Without spoiling too much, Hancock started to add rules to Will Smith's heroism such as a weakness to his invulnerability, only to use them a scene later. While Hancock had a few really funny parts in the beginning and the idea of a Superhero that no one wants is an interesting concept, ultimately Hancock falls apart with a hashed together ending which just served as an excuse for the inevitable Hancock 2.

Though, on the bright side of things, P. Diddy's review of Hancock is funnier and more entertaining than ANYTHING in the movie.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

E3 2008 Impressions: Nintendo

With Microsoft's press conference being done and dusted we were left with whatever Nintendo or Sony had up their sleeves at this coming E3. I never even watched Sony or Microsoft's presentations last year, I mostly only just caught up on the big announcements with my handy RSS reader. All I could really remember from Nintendo's conference last year was the immense feeling of disappointment after seeing their real big guns just amounted to the announcement of the Wii Wheel and Wii Zapper peripherals both of which amounted to really cheap hunk's of plastic that simply just hold the Wii remote in place, apart from maybe a couple of hours of experimenting with both respectably I preferred the typical nunchuk and Wii remote combo, or in the case of the Wii Wheel using the Classic Controller for Mario Kart. While they did show Wii Fit (which I have no interest in buying) which turned out to be quite a huge seller and announce dates for Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (the latter of which was delayed by a good three and a half months) I really didn't have that much to look forward to. This year, I've felt a lot of the same things with the notable exception being that I still have no idea what Nintendo's big blockbuster game of this holiday season will be.

Nintendo's Press Conference:
The Good:
  • Animal Crossing: City Folk looks like everything I was really hoping for, this wasn't a flooring announcement or anything but if its half as addictive as its Gamecube and Nintendo DS counterparts this looks like it will be quite fun, the City gives off kind of a Harvest Moon vibe to me but it fixes a lot of what was wrong with the random events in the prior installments. I'm also really glad to see that they finally put their foot down and made online play a big deal for this one, hopefully by then we would have something better than the friend code system for this.
  • The surprise announcement of the Wii Speak accessory for Animal Crossing was sort of a mixed blessing for me. I liked the idea of a Microphone that can pick up every voice in the room but why didn't they release this for Super Smash Bros. Brawl? that game is far more suited for voice chat than Animal Crossing, and will this wind up like the voice chat in Pokemon Pearl and Metroid Prime Hunters where you could only chat to registered friend code friends. If that's the case, then it would be barely worth it.
  • Of the three third-party titles that Nintendo highlighted, the clear winner was Call of Duty: World at War. From the brief clip it probably had some of the best third party graphics on the Wii and its one of the few times I was proven right when a developer stated that "they developed the Wii version from the ground up and that its not a PS2-port" where I'd actually believe them.
  • The WiiMotionPlus accessory looks like everything the Wii remote concept was promised to be at Tokyo Game Show back in 2005. I was impressed by the amount of precision the device had and I'm excited to see how some third parties will approach the accessory. I really wish this kind of thing was a mandatory update on all future Wii remotes and an add-on for all existing ones. No developer would want to touch it if its sold separately.
  • Luckily the WiiMotionPlus will be bundled with Wii Sports Resort much like how a Wii remote was bundled with the mediocre Wii Play. This one shows a lot of promise, especially with the new 1:1 sword fighting minigame that Wii owners were practically begging for since they first saw the controller. I wasn't impressed with how much the frisbee minigame relied on the sensor bar during the live demo but I'm sure these issues can all be addressed by its Spring '09 release date.
  • The drum kit in Wii Music looked really intuitive, especially using the Wii Balance Board as a kickpad.
  • There was a new trailer for MadWorld which showed off more of the gameplay though nothing much was really revealed from it.
  • The Japanese GBA cult title Rhythm Tengoku is coming to the United States in form of the Nintendo DS game Rhythm Heaven. The title looked like a combination of the quirky random microgames from WarioWare with all the fun of those oh so popular rhythm games. Elite Beat Agents proved that the Nintendo DS is an excellent system for games that would allow you to tap on the screen, this will probably be pretty awesome.
  • They announced that there would be a new Grand Theft Auto game on the Nintendo DS, but it could easily just turn out to be another Grand Theft Auto Advance and play like the archaic top-down Grand Theft Auto games. If it plays like a GTA III era title, then I'm pretty interested.

The Bad:
  • Why did they devote 10 minutes of precious E3 time to the terrible looking Shaun White snowboarding game from Ubisoft? its bad enough seeing those poor graphics blown up on a large screen but was it really necessary to hear a boring 5 minute story about someone breaking their wrist snowboarding to lead into this? I'd stick to my SSX Blur for the Wii...I could at least stay on my board for that one (the people demoing this either really sucked or the game was poorly made, I'm leaning more towards the poorly made part).
  • Wii Speak will be sold separately from Animal Crossing for $29.99. With such little support I don't think anyone would want this thing, it kind of reminds me of the Broadband adaptor on the Gamecube which ultimately was really only used for a couple of Phantasy Star games and LAN features for Mario Kart and Kirby Air Ride. The broadband port was so useless that it would later be the basis for the Gameboy Player attachment for the Gamecube.
  • There's nothing there to convince me that the new Star Wars: Clone Wars game is really anything more than uninspired shovelware. The gameplay didn't look that much different than the already disappointing looking Wii version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and does anyone even care about the Rayman Raving Rabbids franchise anymore? I think by now most hardcore Wii owners are far tired of minigame collections, just give us a real Rayman game already.
  • Wii Music was one of those things where I was initially very excited after seeing the drum kit and all but my enthusiasm was pretty much gone as soon as Shigeru Miyamoto came on stage and explained that it's impossible to lose in Wii Music and it pretty much amounts to miming playing an instrument with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk while the game does 90% of the work for you. I can't really see this having any lasting value and I broke out laughing seeing four people waggling their Wii remotes on stage with a forced smile on their face. I'm really not feeling this one.

While far from a mess, Nintendo's press conference totally ignored the demands of the "hardcore" Wii audience (and by that I mean, people who play the Wii for more than a couple of weekends) and was focused mostly on corporate bragging and gimmicks. While Animal Crossing was a satisfying announcement, the title is FAR from a traditional game and I would have much rather had at least a teaser for a real Zelda title or something. I'm a huge Nintendo fanboy and this conference just left me with lukewarm feelings.

Monday, July 14, 2008

E3 2008 Impressions: Microsoft

E3 at one time was the Superbowl of games, with stampedes of eager college students and press running in to soak in as many of the new holiday season titles that they could in a meager three or four days. Last year, they scaled down the size of E3 considerably inviting a fraction as many people and moving the date of the expo from May to July. Instead of cramming all the developers into a sweaty hanger, they instead opted for a hotel driven display where the press would have to get on a bus to go between different titles. This lead to a fairly disappointing expo with most of the games on display just being rehashed demos that most of the press members already played in some form at other public events. While there were some surprises like the announcement of the Balance Board accessory for the now unspeakably popular Wii Fit, most of the announcements just amounted to corporate gloating and confirmations of titles most people already new existed.

Fast forward to 2008, this year the scaled down E3 seemed to be taken a bit more seriously as a press outing. With announcements of Microsoft's Xbox 360 price drop and their Avatars leaking out through the internet and Nintendo's official confirmation of a new Animal Crossing game and a mysterious and ambitious Wii MotionPlus accessory this E3 is clearly a whole new animal than we've seen last year. The first conference up was Microsoft's, which I was checking up on the live-blogging and Twitter feeds at work every time I had one of those 30 second breaks waiting for computer related frustrations. As soon as I got home, I watched IGN's prerecorded coverage of the event and was both impressed and disappointed at what Microsoft had to offer.

The Good:

  • Fallout 3 looks really violent and really awesome. I haven't actually played any of the other titles in the Fallout series but I immediately appreciated its subtle 1950's bomb scare style humor and its use of nuclear zombies and severed limbs. While its a multiplatform release (with the exception of my poor neglected Wii), the Xbox 360 version looked pretty solid.
  • As a fanboy of both the American Elite Beat Agents and the Japanese Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! franchises, I was pleased to see iNiS was developing the karaoke title Lips. While on one hand it looked like a washed up version of Singstar, I'm pretty excited for what's to come with the motion sensitive microphone, even if its for some Guitar Hero-style titling gimmick. I'm a sucker for Karaoke, it was a blast at Pratt and its my favorite aspect of Rock Band by far.
  • Resident Evil 5 is shaping up to be the same kind of faux-zombie killing fun that I played to death on my Gamecube and Wii's Resident Evil 4.
  • Portal: Still Alive sounds really cool, I like the idea of it being a downloadable title from the start this time but I'm not too fond of that Xbox Live Arcade exclusivity. It was born to be a PC game.
  • I thought Gears of War was pretty rad from what little I played of it, Gears of War 2 looks just as fun.
  • The original Banjo-Kazooie is coming to Xbox Live Arcade, that's pretty sweet. Here's hoping for some graphical updates to it.
  • The Avatars while being a blatant rip-off of Nintendo's Miis, seem to be a lot more open to third party usage in titles. I've also been kind of a Mii addict so whatever this brings, it gives me a small reason to be excited.
  • The Netflix partnership for streaming movies to your Xbox 360 is a fantastic feature and a great kick in the face to Apple TV. Not digging the exclusivity though.
  • The Square-Enix announcements really came as no surprise to me but I'm pleased to know that the RPG-starved Xbox will at least be getting some non-KOTOR style RPGs. Final Fantasy XIII makes sense with the Unreal Engine being designed for cross-platform support, not too excited for The Last Remnant or Star Ocean though.

The Bad:

  • Microsoft seemed unsure of whether or not it wanted to appeal to the "hardcore" crowd (and by that I mean the immature teens and frat boys who play the Halo games) or the "casual" middle-aged Wii crowd. They opened with the "this conference may be tough to stomach" line with the "hyper violent" (and I put that in quotes for a reason) line-up for the rest of 2008 and 2009 but then they went on to introduce a new Wii Channel and Windows Media Center-esque GUI for the Xbox 360 and the introduction of Xbox Live Avatars which look like blander versions of Miis. Microsoft isn't fooling anyone with this.
  • I don't think anyone will use the Xbox Live Primetime service for longer than a week. The live-game show idea is novel but game shows are more of a passive experience brought together by the liveliness of the host and a few especially smart or dumb contestants, without there being a human presense it just seems kind of lame.
  • Resident Evil 5 looked a little "too" close to Resident Evil 4. While RE4 was one of the best games I've played of all last generation, its really disheartening to see the zombies animate in the same exact way to each play they were shot. While I'm sure they were technically superior to the three year old Gamecube game, the graphics weren't nearly as impressive to me. It wouldn't take much work to port this thing down to the Wii so why can't Capcom take a hint from the fantastic sales of the shovelware Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and give us a real Resident Evil game?
  • I'm a bit disappointed to see Mega Man 9 is also coming out to the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, I saw the WiiWare release of it as a kind of love letter to Nintendo fanboys. I'll still buy it though.
  • Microsoft really shouldn't brag about sales of third party titles being stronger than that of the Wii and PS3 versions combined. Most of the ones they were touting were First Person Shooter titles where the Xbox 360 version is the one that the development team is primarily concerned with, of course the Wii version's going to sell poorly, 9 out of 10 times its a hashed together port of the perfunctory PS2 version.
  • NetFlix shouldn't be "exclusively" on the Xbox 360. With the popularity of services like Hulu and the not-so popularity of Joost we really just need to be able to access these from a television hooked up console to really escalate these services beyond the unwatchable realms of a PC-screen. Why not open it up for a PS3/PSP firmware update or a Wii channel? then everyone wins.
Most of Microsoft's big announcements have already been leaked out onto the internet weeks before they presented it. While their hardcore titles were every bit as awesome as I expected they really fell on their face with their new casual branding. I'd almost say it was a great press conference but I was mostly met with indifference on this one.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A whole Lot of Red, White and Blue, not so much

After loving The Machine Girl so much, I became a lot more open to Japanese horror films. So it came at no surprise that I sarcastically entered a contest to win tickets for Tokyo Gore Police on Twitch Film...and I won. With the New York Asian Film festival occurring at the IFC Center in New York City I knew I absolutely couldn't turn down a chance to be in with all the Kung-Fu movie buffs in New York City. Upon reaching there I was not disappointed. Despite the IFC center being located on the seediest sex shop ridden area on this side of Greenwich Village I knew I was at the right place when the girl working at the table was trying to buy my Forbidden Planet shirt off of me, of course I'd never sell off an awesome piece of '50s nostalgia but considering how the average person only notices that shirt is either the Comic Book store of the same name or the film where Robby the Robot came from, I was fairly impressed.

I was surprised by the crowd at the festival. While there were a few of the stereotypical 18 to 20-something comic book geeks and a couple of fellow Pratt students more than half of the crowd consisted of middle-aged hipster couples most seemed to be every bit as excited for the non-stop gore and graphic violence as the youngest ones in the crowd. The man immediately in front of me in line was a grey-haired man going to see Tokyo Gore Police alone. While he was not really in touch with the Internet hype for this flick, he clearly was a connoisseur of trashy Asian cinema mentioning several different directors that I never heard of and how he has a place that sells cheap kung-fu DVDs right next to his apartment. I asked him what he thought of the Machine Girl, he told me it was "okay" but "the gore was not as ridiculous as BLANK but if you want the gore to go alongside a good plot see BLANK but then again BLANK had a five minute cameo of Quentin Tarantino in the beginning". This was one of the few times in my life as a film geek that I felt totally inadequate compared to the amount of fanboyism that surrounded me.

The crowd here reminded me of what you'd see at a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture show. Before the screening of Tokyo Gore Police started, the event curator gave a brief synopsis of the film explaining that "it has gore...a lot of gore...and police but they are a gritty kind of police that we're not used to...and a plot somewhat like Robocop and Starship Troopers". Posters were handed out to a crowd of excited hands as they geared up for their giveaways. They collected e-mail addresses on forms in a cardboard box for a raffle that according to the form "has really great prizes and really terrible ones". The first thing they raffled off was a NYAFF branded bag full of schlocky DVDs and Japanese beer. When they announced the winner was Stanley Glick everyone recognized his name and cheered. They apparently recognized him as the cult blogger from Asian Cine Fest. Afterwards, winners could pick from one of three DVDs. The first being A Tale of Two Sisters which the curator said was now a piece of nostalgia being that Tartan Asia Extreme recently closed their doors a week ago, this was followed immediately by a loud booing from the audience. I could only recognize them as the label that crowded up my local Blockbuster's foreign section and the label on the relatively awesome film Oldboy. This was followed up with fanfare when they pulled out Shogun Assassin 5 (the first Shogun Assassin movie inspired the popular film Kill Bill) and the Korean horror flick Phone. The two other winners included a bubbly middle-aged woman who waited in line for 3 hours (!) to see Tokyo Gore Police and a young blogger that went by the name ZombieAssassin9099 which lead to a huge laugh from the audience. The director then said there would be random trailers for some of their other 27 festival films afterwards. They played the trailers for Fine, Totally, Fine which looked like what would be a chick flick with absurdist interludes and Strawberry Shortcakes which looked like a Japanese take on Sex and the City.

Onward to this week's film geekery:
Tokyo Gore Police - when I came in to this film I was expecting some sort of self-parody over the top gore film along the lines of The Machine Girl, especially after seeing the ridiculous trailer for it. Tokyo Gore Police however played off more as a straight out comedy film with random interludes of public service announcements, comedy vignettes and recruitment advertisements for the graphic but noble Tokyo Gore Police squad. While these segments were all really funny, they constructed a bleak vision of the future where violence is accepted as the cultural norm and where the violent exploits of the police are followed like the WWE and a spunky blond haired Emergency Announcer that seems more MTV than local government.

But rest assured, Tokyo Gore Police didn't take itself too seriously. The plot revolved around a genetic researcher who was trying to figure out what genes created a serial killer in order to find a way to eliminate the possibility of a killer altogether. Long story short, his research was a failure and he injected himself with the genes of Charles Manson. From then on he was capturing innocent locals and inserted a key shaped brain tumor into the heads of his victims changing them into crazy zombies with regrowing hideous limbs. If your trying to make sense out of the plot your missing the entire point of the movie. It really just seemed like an excuse to have ridiculous scenes such as a Geisha dressed assassin basking with an umbrella in a rain of crimson blood, a living chair made out of the organs of a person, a guy who shot severed hands of fists and middle fingers out of a rocket launcher and a man who after getting his legs severed would propel himself in mid-air with blood fountains and would fly out with his katana for an action scene. There were a couple of other noteworthy scenes but I'll end it there to keep in the element of surprise and to maintain my blog's relatively G-rating.

Tokyo Gore Police clocked in at about 2 hours which seems a bit long for a gore film but among a crowd of hecklers and cheery-eyed inner children it definitely didn't feel like it. Tokyo Gore Police really did a stellar job switching between some great cinematography, and fights and flat out comedy. There's really nothing else like it, I suppose it would be what you'd get if you asked the guys at Monty Python to make an action movie but the themes from Robocop really set it apart from seeming like random humor just for the sake of random humor. On top of that, the special effects in here were surprisingly good. The buckets of fake blood and corn syrup all had the right color and consistency while the key shaped brain tumors looked every bit like brain tumors. If you watch the NSFW five-minute trailer you'll have a good idea of what to expect.

Media Blasters is currently looking for a theatrical release of Tokyo Gore Police under their Tokyo Shock label. I remember reading that between The Meatball Machine, The Machine Girl and Toyko Gore Police we're experiencing a renaissance in Asian slasher movies. While I have not seen The Meatball Machine (yet) if the quality of The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police is any indication I have to totally agree with this statement. The DVD release of Tokyo Gore Police will be out around the holiday season, making it the perfect gift for the cult movie buff in all of us. I'll definitely be picking this one up.