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.
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