Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Netflix Review: Don Jon (2013)

The adult version of Gordon-Levitt morphed from Bruce Willis into Tony Danza.


Having known the basic premise of the movie, I find myself wondering why I ever bothered to watch it. The protagonist, Jon, has his simple pleasures in life: his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls, and his porn. His problem is that the latter seems to be his greatest preoccupation. What possibly drew my interest to this film was the idea that it might address the issue of porn addiction, something that would be pretty bold for a major feature film to do. However, it fails to do this and really offers nothing of value in its place.

It is intentionally repetitive in how it structures its narrative, but despite this self-consciousness it is not any less repetitive to the audience. The story moves as if on a treadmill; there is no progress or climax or resolution. Jon starts as a guy who likes to watch porn and to sleep around and is dissatisfied with it, courts and sleeps with Scarlett Johansson and is dissatisfied with it, sleeps with Julianne Moore, stops watching porn, and apparently finds things more satisfying even though he knows they have no future as a couple (she is 21 years his senior, after all). And then the credits roll, leaving me wondering, "What just happened?:

The characters are annoying throughout. Scarlett appears to be a strong reactionary to 2nd wave feminism, abhorring the idea that Jon would vacuum or mop his own floors. Are there really women who exist who prefer men who have a strong aversion to household cleaning? Tony Danza couldn't have been more obnoxious; I'm not sure if he was acting. Why am I still writing about this? Don't watch it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Movie Review: Chinese Zodiac (2012)


In this sequel (sorta?) to the Armour of God series (1986 and 1991), Jackie Chan plays a treasure hunter, and together with his merry band of thieves he goes about swindling ancient Chinese statues that represent the 12 signs of the zodiac. Though Chan is initially sponsored by a multinational with an interest in selling the statues to private collectors, he becomes convinced that his true mission is to return the statues to China. Some other jerks are after the statues, and eventually (eventually...) they come into conflict. Now, there's two versions of the film out there: one is the original Chinese version released in 2012, and the other is an edited version released this year by Universal. Unfortunately, both are boring films.

I picked up the original, unedited version of Chinese Zodiac at my local Chinatown market a few years ago. I was not impressed by the film at all. It's 20-30 minutes of decent material stretched to two hours. Clearly, Chan is no longer capable of the same virtuoso fights he was capable of even 10 years ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago. It's the law of the universe, this growing old business, but it's still disappointing. For about 20 minutes near the end of the film, though, Chan seems young again. He seems inspired. There's some decent choreography in a portrait studio and a lounge area, but the rest of the film is boring at best, and childish at worst. If this is Chan's last true action film, it's a depressing end to his career.

The edited American DVD release from this year is better simply because it's shorter. This version removes about 20 minutes of the meandering plot, and throws in some horrible (even by the standards of kung fu cinema) English dubbing, but it's not enough. Nonetheless, the edited version is your best option. There's even a career retrospective in the form of a highlight package that plays over the end credits. All it does is remind you of his older and much better Chan films.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Marvel Double Feature: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

We never reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), but I thought that the video game was much better than the movie. In my mind, this is a franchise that was unnecessarily rebooted, and as a result that first film was meandering, uneventful, and tonally schizo. However, now that the origin story has been established once again, hopefully this series will settle for spectacle rather than hammy drama. Amazing 2 is a much better film than its predecessor. I suppose it makes somewhat less sense than the first one, and dramatically it's flawed; there's way too many villains in this one, and as a result the film struggles with developing the characters of both Electro and Green Goblin. It's never particularly clear, convincing, or believable why either bad guy wants Spider-Man dead, or why they're working together, or why anything is happening. Peter Parker and his girlfriend Gwen are the only characters given any room to breathe between the special effects. They're the only ones who need it, actually. Their relationship provides just enough of that emotional stuff to make the skyscraper battles and so on meaningful. And without the origin story in the way, Amazing 2 has time for some otherwise meaningless set pieces, meaningless in the sense that they lack pretensions to anything other than visual novelty. Put another way, this is a solid action film that doesn't try to be anything else. Its too long, and there's too many characters in it, but it delivers just the same.


X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

This one doesn't, however. I like the X-Men series, mostly because the concept is at least kinda relevant socially and politically (also because the mutants' powers are neat), but Days is one of the series' weakest films. It has moments, but like many blockbusters it's neither fish nor fowl, neither action nor drama, but some unwieldy and weak thing in between. Days suffers from a great generic compromise. The action sequences, particularly those at the beginning and end of the film, really work; unfortunately, it's the dramatic stuff in the middle that really doesn't. Outside of Wolverine and maybe Professor X, I had no real inclination to care about these people. That would be fine if the film was all spectacle and no character, but there's too much half-hearted, emotionally empty drama, and it stretches out the film to a painfully long runtime. In other words, most of Days is boring. It gives too much screen time to boring, uninteresting, and unimportant characters. I suspect this is a fundamental problem with the X-Men franchise, as the numerous characters require a great deal of balancing and prioritization in order to build interest in them. A few X-Men films have successfully found this balance, but Days isn't one. The promise of the opening sequence is lost on the rest of it. This film could be a decent 90 minute action film, but the melodrama drags things on unnecessarily for an additional 40 minutes. Could be worse, I suppose, but I recommend The Wolverine (2013) instead.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Game Industry Becomes More Fascist


I thought this was a pretty interesting video about how various state governments around the country have provided subsidies to video game companies. From the economist's perspective, these subsidies would result in games being made that would not have been created without the subsidy, most likely of lower quality. But I wonder which game companies are receiving the bulk of the subsidies: large companies, indie companies, or are they spread around more evenly? (I think to ask the question is to answer it.) I've long been disappointed, perhaps until recently, in the state of gaming, where it seems that most of what is produced plays things safe, following the successes of first-person shooters, GTA open-world type games, etc. But other developments that have made game making more democratic give me hope. (You can see Indie Game: The Movie on Netflix for a taste of this, though it's a rather boring documentary).

Honestly, I don't think subsidies have or will result in a better gaming industry, but will simply send more money to the largest game companies. Indeed, it may even result in worse games since companies will receive money, not from pleasing gamers by creating wonderful games, but from their ability to lobby governments to extract wealth from taxpayers. It might be the case that game companies will be able to make a higher return on their money by paying for lobbyists than they would investing in new technology or more employees to make games better. Economically, this activity is called rent-seeking and is a dead weight loss to the economy. Gaming-wise, this may result in shoddier games from the subsidized companies. Hopefully developments like Steam and other outlets will remedy this, but the ultimate remedy would be getting rid of the subsidies entirely.

#StopCronyGaming


Monday, April 21, 2014

Movie Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Here's another reboot, this time for Jack Ryan, the American James Bond (you can tell the difference because Jack's collar is generally undone and sometimes he wears jeans). Tom Clancy's hero has been played by some decent actors before in a loose series of films that include The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994), and the Sum of All Fears (2002). These are all compelling, or at least decent, political thrillers based on Clancy novels (unfortunately, my favorite Jack Ryan novel, Executive Orders, hasn't been adapted yet). This one is not adapted from a novel, and it shows. Rather than the fairly realistic political backdrop to these other Ryan films, Shadow Recruit is more or less a straightforward action film. It's not a bad action film by any means, in fact it's quite competent, but as a sequel or prequel or whatever to the Ryan series this is a fairly by-the-numbers thing that scarcely benefits from the brand name.


Ryan is an economics student who volunteers for dangerous missions in Afghanistan post-9/11. While recovering from a pretty severe injury, he falls in love with his doctor. Rushing ahead 10 years later, she's totally unaware that Ryan is now an undercover Wall Street trader tracking suspicious market activity. He's sent to Moscow to investigate some firm, and that's when a hulking fellow tries to take him out in his hotel room. Ryan drowns him in the bathtub and the plot gets hectic from that point on. Virtually all of the action scenes are organized, suspenseful, and gloriously free from sloppy handheld camera movement. This is the kind of thing reviewers would describe as "taut," and for once I'd agree with them. Shadow Recruit pushes along quite nicely and never really gets boring. It never really gets great, either.

"Pay attention to ME~!"
Thespian Kenneth Branagh is the Russian guy, truly playing it to the back of the room with his hilarious Yakov Smirnoff accent. Everyone else is fine, even Keira Knightley, playing Ryan's needy, globe hopping gal pal. She follows a fine cinematic tradition of females who get in the way of espionage. In another familiar trope of the spy genre, and there's plenty of them in Shadow Recruit, she becomes tactically useful in distracting the Russian from some fine, Grade A American data theft. As for the Ryan character, Chris Pine has all the skills necessary to channel the gruffness of a counter-terrorist operative, plus all the teddy bear qualities of a man whose girlfriend is bothering him yet again with her need for companionship and intimacy and such. I welcome anything that distracts him from playing his smarmy dickweed version of Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek retreads. Shadow Recruit is decent. I'm not sure that the economic catastrophe plot is entirely plausible, but what's here is loud, dumb, and worth a few hours if you have little else to do.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Triple the Van Dammage: Maximum Risk (1996), Knock Off (1998), and Replicant (2001)

More Van Damme for you. Shockingly, I have even more of his films to watch and review in the future. Stay tuned to Code Redd Net for more clones, twin brothers, cops that play by the rules and cops that don't, and so on.




Maximum Risk (1996)

In this one Van Damme runs afoul of the Russian mafia, and by Van Damme I really mean Van Dammes, as he once more plays twin brothers. It all starts when French cop Van Damme is summoned to a crime scene by one of his partners, where he discovers that his twin brother from Russia has been killed by the mob. He then follows the trail of evidence to New York City and goes undercover as his deceased bro. This includes shagging his girlfriend and only telling her the truth after. JCVD's search for the truth is complicated by a few corrupt FBI guys. This is an excellent stupid action movie. The opening car chase is super fun, and the combat is pretty neat and well-done. Even the production values are better than usual for a Van Damme film. He even has a decent sauna fight, years before Jackie Chan did it in Accidental Spy. That's the thing with Van Damme: very little of what he does really stands out. Van Damme's best stuff is merely solid when compared with virtuosos like Chan. Van Damme is never boring, but he's never that exciting, either. But if you dig the action genre, there's nothing safer than choosing a Van Damme film at random. You know what's going to happen, and he consistently delivers totally competent, short, inoffensive, and dumb movies. You can unwind to Van Damme. In that sense, Maximum Risk works.


Knock Off (1998)

This is my favorite Van Damme film. He plays a fashion designer who pals around with Rob Schneider in Hong Kong. They're both involved in counterfeiting apparel, leading to one of the weirdest pieces of product placement in cinema history: a subject point-of-view shot from inside a pair of fake "Pumma" shoes. It gets weirder. The CIA then blackmail our heroes into working with the agency to bring down the Russian mafia. You see, it turns out that the Russian mafia is using these counterfeit jeans or whatever to smuggle small bombs across the world. You would think there would be a better way, but not for these guys. For some reason, fashion designer/martial arts impresario Van Damme is virtually the only one the government trusts to stop these terrorists. Our national security rests with the big oaf. Van Damme is up to the challenge, however. I love this film. Sure, there's fewer martial arts in this one than in some of his other films, but watching the final rain-soaked shootout is like watching a ballet on the moon, complete with knee-slides. It doesn't make a lick of sense. I feel like I write this for most Van Damme films. Bless him.


Replicant (2001)

There's a whole subgenre of Van Damme films out there in which our favorite kickboxing poseur plays long-lost identical twins, or brothers, or past versions of himself, or clones of himself. This includes classic films like Double Impact, TimecopMaximum Risk, and Replicant. In Replicant, definitely the best of the bunch, Van Damme plays both a serial killer and a clone created by the NSA from forensic evidence. It's assumed that the clone, fabricated from the serial killer's DNA, has some sort of psychic connection with the serial killer and can sense his presence or something. Goodness knows how exactly this happens, but it seems logical enough to the government. Since he's created in a lab, the clone is born with no prior experience and must learn how to walk, talk, interact and all that from scratch. In a fascinating montage, an adult Van Damme goes from crawling to doing his trademark splits in mere moments. Lots of conflicts follow: identities are mistaken, loyalties are questioned, sex is had, spin kicks are spun, you know. Van Damme gets plenty of philosophical mileage out of this whole "double" thing, and it culminates in a head-to-head fight between the original and the clone in a parking lot. This is the kind of action film I enjoy most; Replicant is both philosophically earnest and absolutely unafraid (or unaware) of its own stupidity. It's corny as all get-out, but it sure does try, and it's never boring. That's always nice.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Netflix Review: Bernie (2011)

Without a doubt, Bernie is by far the best comedy I've seen in years. It was refreshingly different from most trash coming out of Hollywood with a "comedy" label. It is based on a true story of a small town assistant funeral director who befriends an old widow who is universally hated by everyone in town.

The most appealing aspect was the charming and funny interviews with the actual people from this small town, seamlessly integrated into the film alongside the actors. These people are genuinely hilarious, showing the wit and humor found among Southrons, in a classier package than one would find in the likes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

As Bernie, Jack Black may be funnier than any other role he's ever played. The way he walks, how he interacts with older women, his ability to sing, and his enthusiasm for his job as a funeral director make him quite the character. This may be the best performance of Black's career.

There's really not much more I feel like saying about this movie, except that I highly recommend you watch it. 

PS3 Review: Hitman: Blood Money (2006)

I'm filing this review of Blood Money under PS3 because I own the Hitman HD Trilogy, which also includes Silent Assassin and Contracts. Of the three, Blood Money's HD version is by far the purtiest. Definitely pick the collection up if you don't already own the games for PS2. Nevertheless, this review still applies to the PS2 version.


Blood Money fixes virtually all of the issues I had with Silent Assassin and Contracts. Don't get me wrong, I love Silent Assassin, but it had some problems, specifically: uneven difficulty, too much trial-and-error progression (especially on the higher difficulties), guards with an often preternatural ability to see through disguises, and concomitantly, somewhat wonky stealth that works about as often as it doesn't. Blood Money fixes just about everything, though.

Unlike Contracts, which presented missions in a more episodic manner, Blood Money returns the series to a more straightforward, linear narrative. Missions are presented as flashbacks, introduced by cut scenes from the present that follow a reporter's investigation into the alleged death of Agent 47. These flashbacks do an excellent job of introducing each mission without interfering with or inhibiting a player's freedom to complete the job as desired, not as dictated by the plot (this is my main gripe with Absolution; more on that in a later review). Blood Money rarely requires you to go about the mission in any specific manner. Now, this is not to suggest that there is total freedom; there's certainly an optimum way to skin these cats, but it's rarely clear from the start, and as a result finding that optimum path feels organic rather than forced. The game is also more forgiving than the others in the series as there's a considerable margin for error, even on the higher difficulty settings, just in case everything doesn't go exactly the way you planned. Your creativity and skill, rather than your patience and memorization, win you those coveted "Silent Assassin" rankings. This is an especially nice touch given the long, involved missions in the latter half of the game.


For instance, consider "A New Life," one of my favorite missions. In this one, 47 is tasked with taking out a former mafia boss currently hiding out in suburbia with his family. You can complete the mission in numerous ways: you can tranquilize the guard dog from a neighbor's tree house, sneak into the backyard, and set the barbecue on fire; you can steal the outfit of a clown and infiltrate the birthday party; you can poison the donuts of the FBI, turn off the outside security cameras, sneak inside the house through the basement, and push the mafia boss as he's walking down the stairs; you can use a surveillance van to prank call the mafia boss, and when the poor guy picks up the phone, you can snipe him from a neighbor's garden; you get the idea. Each method has positive and negative aspects, and while some will undoubtedly score better than the others, the real replay value is in finding new and increasingly weird ways to off you targets.

This replay value is only furthered by an inventory system in which the money you earn from each mission can be used to upgrade your weapons, adding silencers, laser sights, larger clips, and so on. It's not as effective or integral as it could be, as the missions rarely demand that you constantly upgrade your tools. Still, though, it's a welcome addition if not a totally necessary one. But my only real complaint about Blood Money is the poorly implemented "Notoriety" system. As you play through the game, your actions in each mission attract a certain amount of attention: going in silent and eliminating only your targets keeps you a shadow, while additional casualties and gunfire raise your profile considerably. At the end of each mission you can bribe witnesses/police to keep your notoriety low. The problem is that you always have more than enough dough to pay these people off and reset your notoriety rating, thereby rendering the whole idea relatively pointless. The consequences of your actions in one mission, then, rarely affect your behavior in the next, unless you accidentally skip through the menu too fast or you spend an obscene amount of money on upgrading your inventory. The whole idea is more innocuous than anything else, but it could have added an interesting dimension to the game.

Overall, however, Blood Money is one of the best; it's easily the best game in the series, and certainly one of the best games on PS2. For a game without a multiplayer option, Blood Money has amazing replay value. Too bad Absolution failed to match it. More on that soon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

PS2 Review: Hitman: Contracts (2004)

http://patrickbrown.deviantart.com/art/Hitman-Contracts-The-Meat-King-327190947


Some think of Hitman: Contracts as the weakest of the trilogy (Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Contracts, and Blood Money). In a way, they might be correct. However, this is more a testament to the strength of the series, as Contracts is not at all a bad game. I think what people have in mind when they consider it to be the weakest link of the series is the story; while Silent Assassin and Blood Money have interesting narratives that culminate in confronting the worthy adversary of Agent 47, Contracts is told in the form of flashback missions that don't come together to make a story. It is somewhat comparable to 007: Legends, where as Daniel Craig sinks after being shot off the train by Moneypenny in Skyfall, he takes time to reflect on favorite memories such as Goldfinger, OHMSS, and Moonraker. These do nothing to tell the story of Skyfall, just as the old assassinations have little to do with advancing the story in Contracts. They are little more than a bit of character development and tying in some continuity between the original Hitman: Codename 47 and the trilogy.

Fortunately, the weak points would appear to end here. The gameplay resembles Silent Assassin closely and offers the familiar, open-ended style of missions, only now with greater autonomy in deciding how to complete missions. This was probably the weakest point in SA, where several missions appear to only have one way to complete them properly (by which I mean attain the mission-rating of “Silent Assassin,” which pretty much requires perfection; no alerts, no blowing cover, no dead civilians, no missed shots, etc.). Contracts is also more forgiving (at least on the easier difficulties), whereas guards in Silent Assassin seemed ready to shoot at you if you looked at them funny. This created what I thought to be a slightly more playable game. Several times in SA I saw no easy way to complete a mission other than precisely by the book or shooting my way through; there were no other options. In this respect, Contracts received less credit than it deserved.

But it's funny. If you've followed CRN for awhile, you might know that I tend to discount the importance of story-telling in games. The Timesplitters series is easily one of the best FPS franchises ever, yet story-telling was not one of its strong suits. This suited me just fine; with its quirkiness and oddball style of characters, it didn't really seem to need that. However, other series have led me to consider the narratives told in games to be more important. This is quite clear in my treatment ofSplinter Cell: Blacklist, where I felt that the character and spirit of Sam Fisher had been sold out (as had the stealth gameplay). And I think the same goes for Hitman in the sense that the story-telling is important. Without it, Contracts feels more like an expansion pack that offers many playable levels rather than a story of its own.

Bottom line is that Contracts is a must-have if one enjoys the Hitman series. One cannot like the rest without liking this one. It doesn't quite reach the standard set by Blood Money, and it doesn't add much to the Hitman mythos, but it is a solid entry in the series.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Double the Van Dammage: Hard Target (1993) and Street Fighter (1994)

Unfortunately, these are the last two films in my Van Damme quadruple feature DVD set. But don't worry, I bought another one, this time with even weirder straight-to-video stuff. It should make for some enjoyable Van Dammage in the future. Stay tuned.



Hard Target (1993)

This one's probably most famous for being really weird. Van Damme, sporting a mullet worthy of the Hall of Fame, plays Chance, a Cajun with a shifty past and some mad kung fu skills. He's hired some lady looking for her missing father. They quickly find out, however, that he was killed by a rich butthole who hunts homeless Vietnam vets for sport. Naturally, there's revenge to be had. Hard Target is an exercise in absurdity: each scene is exponentially weirder than the last, with the chase sequence in the Bayou being by far the weirdest. Even for a Van Damme film, this one is a bit out there. In terms of the martial arts, there's not much here. There's a few decent fights, but they're almost all filmed in super slo-mo. In a way, they're perfect for a poser like Van Damme, but the choreography is substandard, particularly in comparison with Van Damme's contemporaries in the genre. But as an action film more generally, Hard Target is beautifully unselfconscious. There's not a single halfhearted idea or concept thrown out there; rather, each stupid idea is followed to its "logical" conclusion. As long as you don't go in expecting a martial arts tournament, Hard Target is one of the better Van Damme films.


Street Fighter (1994)

And this one's probably most famous for being really awful. Truly, who knows what in the world is going on in this film. Our friend Van Damme is Guile, a military man tasked with finding the nefarious M. Bison, who has kidnapped some innocent folks and is holding them up for ransom. Bison has also turned one of Guile's pals into a green mutant because he hates him so much. Consequently, Guile gathers up some allies to launch an attack on Bison's hideout. It all leads up to one of the most nonsensical set-piece finales in any film. Street Fighter is poorly acted, poorly scripted, poorly shot, poorly edited, and poorly lots of other things, but really, the fundamental problem with the film is that there's actually very little fighting in it. There's plenty of action movies with more idiotic plots than this one (certainly with worse acting), but for a movie based on a fighting game, I need more than two or three combat sequences because the sub-slapstick comedy in this one was not working for me. This film makes the Mortal Kombat adaptation look Citizen Kane, if only because the brain trust behind Mortal Kombat had the common sense to make a fairly straightforward martial arts film. Street Fighter is somewhere between a made-for-TV children's special and a rather meandering adventure film. And in that sense, it's unsatisfying on nearly every level. The few scenes of one-on-one combat are ruined by a style of editing that most closely resembles epilepsy. And even for fans of Van Damme, there's little to like about the big lug's role: a few spin-kicks are thrown in there, sure, but not much else, not even the splits. Street Fighter doesn't even reach the ridiculous "highs" that something like Double Team stumbles fortuitously upon. I can only recommend Street Fighter for serious Van Damme devotees.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Double the Van Dammage: Timecop (1994) and The Quest (1996)

It's time for another Van Damme double feature/double review. This time, Van Damme packs up his suitcase for two adventures: one involving a trip back in time, and the other a trip to Thailand and Tibet. In both instances, he still has time to do a whole lot of stretching. Keep an eye on Code Redd Net for more Van Damme in the future.


Breakfast by Van Damme.
Timecop (1994)

In 2004, time travel has become so common that a law enforcement agency is needed to police it. Van Damme is an officer for this agency, and while he's an outstanding (and quite flexible, see above) agent, he's still consumed with guilt over the death of his wife. He's sent back to 1994, which is coincidentally the same year his wife was murdered by an up-and-coming politician. Naturally, Van Damme bumps into his past self and other things happen which lead to some fights and rayguns and so on. I assume there's plenty of plot holes and logical inconsistencies in Timecop because fluid time travel doesn't really make sense. But like any Van Damme film, I stopped following the plots a long time ago, and I recommend you do the same. Still, though, Timecop asks some basic moral philosophical questions, which it then answers in a rather trite way at the end of the film. For instance, Van Damme is told numerous times by his superiors that the job of this time travel agency is to prevent anyone from inadvertently tampering with the past, and thus from altering or erasing the future. In 1994, Van Damme not only encounters his wife, but he works really hard to save her. By selfishly devoting himself to saving her life, and thereby rewriting the past, is he not also endangering the future? Ultimately, what is the cost of his happiness for the citizens he's supposed to be serving? Besides Van Damme's selfishness, Timecop is a solid sci-fi/martial arts film. These two genres seem to work well together (shout out to Jet Li's The One). Much like the other Van Damme films I've reviewed lately, the martial arts choreography in Timecop is serviceable. Van Damme is much more of a poser than a performer. That's undoubtedly part of his charm, but don't expect to see
the same kind of physical creativity you see in a Jackie Chan film in something like this. Van Damme's martial arts rely much more on camera tricks and editing. If you can handle that level of artifice, then I can recommend Timecop.

Van Damme as sad clown.
The Quest (1996)

Van Damme plays an exceptionally well-trained martial artist and pickpocket who foolishly stows away on a shipping boat to escape the police. He's found, shackled, and forced to work on the ship, at least until Roger Moore shows up with his own crew of raiders. Poor Van Damme is then tricked by Moore and sold into slavery again on an island where slaves are taught Muay Thai. He becomes pretty good at it, and at that point Moore shows up again to take Van Damme to a mysterious martial arts tournament in Tibet. The Quest is basically Bloodsport with Roger Moore, and maybe a dash of Enter the Dragon thrown in for good measure. The first half of the film is a nonsensical slave narrative, and instead of making Van Damme sympathetic, it just makes him look like the biggest dope around. How long was he asleep in that ship? Could he not swim out of the harbor once he realized that the ship he stowed away on was moving? Why would a slave owner train his property in a deadly form of combat? And why would the slave not use his expert training in maiming and killing people to escape? However, once the tournament narrative begins about halfway through, this turns into a totally competent martial arts film. Even if it's a retread of Bloodsport, who doesn't like Bloodsport? Roger Moore is shockingly decent in this one. Unlike in his Bond films, Moore's essential sleaziness works well with his character's opportunism. Unfortunately, Van Damme and Moore never throw down: instead, Van Damme is challenged by a variety of fighters from different disciplines. The Quest does a good job of establishing the strengths and weaknesses of each style and tying them into the overall tournament narrative. In that way, each match in the tournament, whether involving Van Damme's character or not, has a certain level of intrigue. Rather than cutting together a two-minute montage of the tournament and only focusing on Van Damme, The Quest gives space to these other characters so that their eventual fights with Van Damme are more interesting. The Quest is worth recommending for this tournament sequence, but you can probably do the dishes or something during the first half and not miss much.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PS2 Review: Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Remix (2006)

The Midnight Club franchise is truly one of the biggest players in the street racing/car customization genre, and for good reason. It offers a diverse selection of cars, trucks, as well as a selection of sport bikes and choppers, and many different ways to customize them, including (but not limited to) chopping the top, underglow, lowering the chassis, chrome accents, body kits, rims, tires, hydraulics, etc. More than any other car game, I felt like with MC3 I was able to make my car my own, while others, such as Forza Motorsport or Need for Speed: Most Wanted, felt more limited, with my options mostly settled for me (with the exception of vinyl and paint. However NFS: Carbon had some interesting modification abilities for wheels, albeit cartoon-looking).

Of course, the ability to do stupid crap with your car is not at the heart of any racing game. NFS: Hot Pursuit 2 remains my favorite racing game even though it offered no modifications. Why? Because it has one of the finest and funnest driving experiences of any game. And though MC3 is not quite up to the same standards, it still offers hours of entertainment.

One of the difficulties I found with the gameplay was that my ability to win races depended just as much, if not more, on upgrading my car's performance to the greatest extent possible as my driving ability. I'm happy to say that there are many close races, but this must have left me frustrated at the time; one of my controllers will no longer vibrate properly because of my slamming it against an object whilst playing this game. No doubt, the large amount of traffic in this franchise leads to many collisions, and this can by very annoying. You will rarely feel the freedom of the open road because you'll be too busy dodging crashes. Another difficulty, and one that can also be very frustrating, is the difficulty of navigating the checkpoints. There aren't really racetracks in MC3 but rather series of checkpoints, requiring one to keep one eye on the road and the other on the HUD. For most ordered races these routes are fairly straightforward, but there are also unordered races where one only need reach every checkpoint in any fashion. These can require much trial-and-error to find the best ways to tackle them.

The frustrations aren't enough to keep MC3 from being a great racing game, though. Even with its age, it remains a gem and, in my opinion, is better than more recent next-gen entries in the franchise, such as Midnight Club: Los Angeles. If you want to find some racing on the cheap, MC3: DUB Edition Remix is a good bet.
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