Monday, October 29, 2012

Bye Bye X-Play?

Not that I watch it too much these days, but apparently G4 (which I mostly enjoyed back when it was called TechTV) is discontinuing all its programming having to do with games. It wants to re-brand itself as something more akin to GQ, according to this article.
 Can't say that I will miss them too much, though I did enjoy G4's coverage of E3. Oh well.
Sessler emulates the look of his childhood hero, the  wrestler, "Kane."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: Quantum of Solace (2008)

And here it is, our last entry in the Nobody Reviews It Better series. Chicken Man takes you through a most tepid adventure indeed in Quantum of Solace. We certainly hope you've enjoyed our retrospective; it's been an interesting experience for us, and revisiting these films reinforced our love  for some (Goldfinger, GoldenEye), while for others we found a new and deeper appreciation (Timothy Dalton's two films). Keep it here for our review of Skyfall following its release on November 9, as well as an upcoming two part podcast on this same subject, which Thrasher is currently editing. James Bond will return, clearly.

Quantum of Solace was a short story that Ian Fleming wrote that has James Bond as a seemingly minor character. Coincidentally, the film of the same title seems to have little to do with James Bond as well. Immediately after seeing it, I wondered, if the characters names were changed and there was a different cast of actors, would anyone say, "Wow! This is way too much like a Bond film!"? Besides the Aston and the Walther (and perhaps a woman dipped in some type of commodity asset), hardly anything has the Bond signature. It could easily be just another nameless action movie. What makes it Bond, James Bond? Part of it is the gadgets, none of which are present here. Did his Aston Martin even have any rockets, oil slick, or ejector seat to speak of? It seems like those would come standard with Q Branch. Of course, the Bond girls are included, one with the silly name of Strawberry Fields. I actually liked what happened here with Olga Kurylenko's Camille Montes in that she seemed to have more of a friendship with Bond in achieving a common goal of revenge, rather than being the obligatory sex partner. Any such relationship of the latter type would have felt tacked-on, so I was pleasantly surprised that such an attempt wasn't made. And what about the villains and their villainous plots? The series is famous for these. Weren't some of the earliest films even named after them? Dominic Greene simply doesn't merit it and his scheme, if successful, would be hardly known by anyone. The man is a bit of sissy and rather than having a fearsome henchman like Odd Job, he has his bowl-cut sporting cousin named Elvis. Director Marc Forster said Dominic Greene is supposed to "symbolize the hidden evils in society," and what could be more evil than posing as an environmentalist in order to be more popular and get more funding? Almost as lame is his plan to stage a coup in Bolivia so that he can become the monopoly water provider in the country. Now, I am against government granted privileges to business as much as the next guy. However, it is quite likely that in the municipality in which you live that there is no competition allowed in the provision of this utility. Is James Bond coming to save you as well from the evils of monopoly privileges too? If only. As well, it is somewhat hypocritical of the British government to go around stopping the Quantum group's coups in Latin America when the British Empire has so heavily intervened in the affairs of others itself. In the end, Quantum of Solace just doesn't offer what has made the Bond series great (which might also include a good video game) and might have fit better as a DVD epilogue to Casino Royale.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: Casino Royale (2006)

Enter Daniel Craig in the chiaroscuro of film noir for a most unusual pre-credits sequence. Today Thrasher breaks down Casino Royale, a radical Bond film that thankfully challenged many of the stagnant tropes of the series. Regrettably, in the long run it may have been overaggressive in shrugging off much of what makes a Bond film distinctive. But that's a tale for Chicken Man to tell in the final installment of Nobody Reviews It Better.

When Bond looks at a bartender, who innocently, even expectantly, asks him how he would like his vodka martini mixed, and Bond replies, "Do I look like I give a damn?", well, that is precisely the sort of generic insouciance Daniel Craig needed to distance himself and the series from the bloated extravagance of Die Another Day. Such an unconventional response is an immeasurably important moment. It's a moment that signifies a significant change in the tenor of the series. Indeed, so much of Casino Royale is given over to reconfiguring Bond that it seems like Craig's Bond is not quite Bond yet, he hasn't earned that title; he's very much Bond-in-training. And quite unlike the others, you would never think to describe his 007 as a smooth operator. He fails at his job, and often. For his first real mission after attaining 00-status (has there ever been a starker contrast in the series than the one between the CGI-driven finale of Die Another Day and the film noir pre-credits sequence of Royale?), Bond must travel to Montenegro to enter an ultra-high-stakes poker game organized by Le Chiffre, one of the world's most notorious and terrorist-friendly bankers. During the game, Bond loses. It's something that would never have happened to Sean Connery, Roger Moore, or Pierce Brosnan; they were all faultless, invincible gamblers. Sure, Bond gets back in the game with the help of his old CIA pal Felix, but seeing Bond lose like this, even once, shakes loose decades-old expectations and prepares us for something new. That's what makes his unexpected, monogamous devotion to fellow agent Vesper Lynd work so unexpectedly; when you unseat one set of conventions, you make it possible to unseat them all, and Craig thankfully tosses aside the womanizing connotations of the role in favor of love, something Bond hasn't hasn't had the courage to try since On Her Majesty's Secret Service (and, to some degree, in the Timothy Dalton films). Lest you think it's all wine and roses, Casino Royale has many outstanding action and suspense numbers, even though I think the hand-to-hand fights, despite their suitably brutal presentation, are sometimes filmed in a confusing, headache-inducing manner. For all his "failings," though, this Bond emerges with our respect, and soon enough our sympathy. When the iconic theme music finally plays at the end (an astoundingly astute use of the music, I might add), he's earned it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dreamcast Review: Sonic Shuffle (2000)

One of the things that I love about Sega is how innovative it has been, though sometimes it has been ahead of its time. It pioneered technologies that only later became more popular: motion sensor controllers (in the Dreamcast's case used for fishing simulation) playing console games online with other players, or even the technique of cel shading (which started with Jet Set Radio and was quickly followed by Sonic Shuffle). However, innovation can also be achieved through using another's idea as a basis and improving upon it. Indeed, this is how the majority of innovation occurs. I believe this is what Sonic Team tried to achieve here, using the formula that made Mario Party so popular and putting the Sonic brand on it. Largely disappointing is the fact that it failed to impress. One of the big problems is that the time investment required to progress in the game is quite large: one "board game" takes easily an hour to complete and you must win or you are back at square one. This perhaps wouldn't be so bad if the board game itself were more enjoyable. It involves a LOT of waiting while other players make their moves. Not only that, but the mini-games that are the real draw of these party games are few and far in-between. Unlike Mario Party, where mini-games are played after everyone has had a turn, to play a mini-game in Sonic Shuffle, one player has to land on the correct space. Even then, a mini-game is not guaranteed as landing on this space may turn out to be something stupid, such as a "mini-event" where there is a silly story you have to sit through (even during a computer players turn!) and the player will encounter some insignificant beneficial or negative result (such as the loss or gain of some rings). Another often encountered space is the "battle" where you have to fight some insignificant monster (or watch your AI opponents do it). It does not add anything to the game except more waiting. When you finally do get to play mini-games, the experience is less than what it could be because they are often quite hard. This itself wouldn't be so bad, but since these games happen so infrequently, it is difficult to practice them enough to gain any proficiency. An option to practice mini-games outside of actually playing the board game would have been welcome. In the end, you will need to invest several hour-blocks of free time and plenty of patience to get anything out of this game. And I can't guarantee that what you get will not be a headache.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Movie Review: Taken 2 (2012)

Who didn't love the scary Liam Neeson killing machine we saw in 2008's Taken? The "I will find you. I will kill you," rings out just as awesome every time I watch it. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the return of Brian Mills in Taken 2. However, as the movie drew to a close I found myself hoping that there would be more. Apparently my lust for violence was unsatisfied. Let me qualify just what that violence is. It is not just any violence, but the justified sort from a skilled killer who has been deeply wronged. This is what we saw in Taken. Brian Mills showed a remorseless display of precise brutality: throat punches, point-blank face shots, electrocution. He responded physically how we feel emotionally towards such barbarism and evil as human trafficking. And perhaps it may be unhealthy or even somewhat sadistic, but I enjoyed this seemingly righteous dispatch of bad guys. With Taken 2, one feels the same justified indignation towards the antagonists, who are the family members of the many men Brian killed previously. There is nothing honorable about them; they desire revenge against Brian and his whole family and are unapologetic towards the deeds of their kin. I grew giddy with anticipation of seeing them dealt with. However, the movie got off to a bit of a slow start: for a kidnapping that the trailer told us would be happening, it took a long time to occur. After it did, the pacing seemed to somewhat slow down again, as we watched a captured Brian giving his daughter instructions on how to rescue him via phone. Unlike the first movie, which seemed to build and build toward the climax of finding his daughter and the men who took her, this one seemed to peak and plateau in a cycle. This being said, some of those peaks were quite good, my favorite being one of the first where we get to watch Brian engage multiple foes in hand-to-hand combat (I had watched the "Krav Maga" episode of Human Weapon two nights before. This scene was reminscent). My least favorite was the car chase with the daughter driving, with the repetitive dialogue and the fact that this girl who failed her driver's test twice was driving like a stuntman. In its consequent culmination, I did not feel the climax; it was as if the final showdown happened prematurely. Sitting silently during the credits, I felt myself imagining a post-credit sequence with a bunch of ninjas attacking Liam unexpectedly or him making the trip to Albania to end these crazy human trafficking families. I feel bad in saying that I had a thirst for a certain type of violence, and worse in saying that Taken 2 did not quench it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: Die Another Day (2002)

It's Thanksgiving today in our cushy Montreal office, so to celebrate, we offer you the second part of a 007 double-header this weekend. Thrasher returns to Die Another Day for the first time in 10 years, and believe it when we tell you, it hasn't aged gracefully. Unlike Moore-Bond's final outing, Brosnan-Bond was still more than suitable for the role; it's just the material that got bloated. Casino Royale was the recoil, and that's next up in Nobody Reviews It Better.

At least we got Nightfire out of all this.
Back in the Geocities days, I wrote this about Die Another Day: "I meant to say that [Halle Berry] is clearly not very good in her role as Jinx, and together with Bond they are content to trade insipid sexual innuendos throughout the film, something that was immensely annoying on my second time through." Go ahead and add a third time to that statement. Without question, Halle Berry is the worst of Bond's coterie of gal pals, and she doesn't just "trade" those insipid sexual innuendos with Pierce Brosnan, she speaks entirely in them. Pun is just about the only language she knows, and everything she says will make you cringe ("Ornithologist, huh? Wow. Now there's a mouthful."). It's too bad, really, because when she's not onscreen the film isn't that bad, certainly not as bad as I remember it. Of course, there's a rather odd plot involving a few North Koreans who use gene therapy to become snooty, sneering Brits, and a giant satellite laser called Icarus that melts away an ice hotel, but that's fine. It works generically, anyway, seeing as how most Bond narratives are pretty far-fetched. What matters most is that everything is executed well, and with conviction, and the first half of Die Another Day works. By far the best action sequence in the film is Bond's fencing match with "white" playboy Gustav Graves; it's so carefully constructed and exciting it manages to overcome the completely unnecessary Madonna cameo by sheer, boundless will (incidentally, I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention just how god-awful her theme song really is, about as bad as her acting). And for eagle-eyed Bond aficionados, there's plenty of Easter eggs and hidden references to find. But such references, cute though they may be, only serve to remind viewers of much older, much better, and much less anniversary-driven films. This becomes even more clear once Halle Berry, after disappearing following a short introduction at the beginning of the film, suddenly reappears for Round 2 of her pun war with Bond ("Oh yeah, I think I got the thrust of it."). Patience wears thin during these exchanges, and it seems as if their uninspired dialogue has been matched by a series of equally uninspired stunts in the second half. There's a phenomenally lame laser grid boxing match between Bond and Gustav's muscular bodyguard, and in the background Jinx flails around while strapped to a malfunctioning chair, still saying idiotic things ("Switch them off, or I'll be half the girl I used to be!"). Bond even goes surfboarding for a minute or two, and his CGI self hasn't aged gracefully over the past decade. Furthermore, there's a strange and intermittent use of slow-mo in the fight scenes that seems absolutely at-odds not only with the style of this film, but of the whole series as well. DAD may be an overblown mess, but there's still some enjoyment to be salvaged from the rubble. There's just a lot of rubble to clear first.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: The World is Not Enough (1999)

Nobody Reviews It Better returns once again, this time with Chicken Man's look-in on the third Brosnan-Bond, The World is Not Enough, one of the most prominent films in the CRN firmament. Brosnan was probably at the peak of his powers as 007 in this one, even if the material surrounding him was, as C-Man notes, uninspired. Considering the prior two films in the series, Brosnan put together a string of absolutely solid (or better) performances before nose-diving with his final film, Die Another Day, something which Thrasher will take up later this week. For now, though, enjoy this latest installment in our lead-up to November's Skyfall.

"I heard you hated Mamma Mia! too."
We have reviewed The World is Not Enough before. This was several years ago, but my opinion of it hasn't changed much (though I hope my ability to communicate has). As expressed previously, this is truly an action-heavy Bond film. It involves a bank escape via window, a boat chase, a skiing ambush, a gunfight in an underground nuclear research facility, a bomb defusal/chase inside of an oil pipeline, a face-off against buzz-saw wielding helicopters at a caviar plant, and a takeover of a submerged nuclear submarine. It seems as though Bond has adapted to the audience attention spans of the times. The Bond girls, as well. In the case of Christmas Jones, I find myself less impressed with Denise Richards these days, but she had amazing self-awareness for a Bond girl in that she even acknowledged the possibility that one could form jokes about her name. And, as Thrasher so astutely observed, the plot is predictable, and I would even go so far as to say uninspired. As was the case with The Spy Who Loved Me, the villain is an "anarchist" who wants to use nuclear subs to blow stuff up. This seems simply lazy to me, as it explains nothing in terms of their motivations. Instead, they are just one step up from the balaclava-wearing Molotov-throwing stereotype of anarchists. It is a misrepresentation of those who advocate non-aggression in human relationships and ironic considering the only use of a nuclear weapon in history has been by a state. Other than that, a villain who has no sense of touch or pain is very interesting and almost embodies the physical equivalent of a totally non-empathizing sociopath. This is how Bond villains should be (though "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger" might make better movie titles than "Renard"). He is a fitting adversary for Bond, who it seems struggles with his own demons of being a hired killer while also dealing with the aftermath. As he says to Renard, "I usually hate killing an unarmed man..." contrasting the lack of emotion Craig-Bond claims to have towards ending lives. I must say I find the former more interesting. There are enough Rambos for whom "killing's as easy as breathing." Make no mistake, TWINE is a great Bond movie and an even better video game. Sadly, though, this is Desmond Llewelyn's last hurrah as Q, with John Cleese being his short-term replacement. Q leaves us with some of his best work: his retirement fishing boat, winter coat with side curtain air bags, and a decked out BMW Z8 with remote control and guided rockets. He should have been working for Toys'R'Us rather than MI6. Clearly, grad student Q has big trousers to fill in the upcoming Skyfall. Can he do it?
"Now pay attention, 007." *Record scratch*
"My name is Q, and I make the toys
You're on a secret mission... now make some noise!"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Parker Trailer

Jason Statham, our favorite contemporary action star, has a new film coming out in January. Check out the trailer for Parker below:

It's like if Frank Martin in The Transporter got to play dress up and rub elbows with J-Lo. Should be right up there with Safe if the trailer is any indication.

"Oi, Raymond, you don't need your mouth to pee."

Thursday, October 4, 2012

PS1 Review: 007 Racing (2000)

It's not a bad idea, right? Perhaps 007 Racing is somewhat misleading as a title (it's not as if Bond has joined a Formula 1 circuit), but it's a bankable project theoretically. In execution, however, things fall apart rather quickly. Remember, 007 Racing was released on PS1 roughly a year before Agent Under Fire arrived on PS2. AUF had a much more refined "racing" component, thanks in no small part to the first draft sensibilities of Racing. There's not much of a story going on here, just a collection of mission briefings and vague allusions to the films. Similarly vague mission objectives present frustrating and artificial levels of difficulty. Replaying the missions so often (while Q repeatedly yaps in your ear with the same three or four disapproving soundbites) wouldn't be problematic if the graphics didn't insist on muddying the waters even further. Everything is so pixilated and poorly animated that it all becomes a nauseating, low-speed blur. Furthermore, there's little sense of urgency or speed; proceeding through the missions at little more than the pace of brisk walk is not only enforced by the cramped level designs themselves, but it's strategically necessary as well. More often than not, missions devolve into a demolition derby with stinger missiles that routinely do more damage to your Astin Martin than your adversaries. And it's not as if your car handles like a dream, either; it's slippery at "high" speeds and prone to ignoring your button commands whenever. It's hard to say which of these aspects make 007 Racing so difficult, but their gestalt certainly makes you want to turn it off with the quickness. This is not Spy Hunter; stick with that one instead.

Artistic rendering of 007 Racing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Nobody Reviews It Better: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

How do you follow up something as seminal as GoldenEye? For Pierce Brosnan, you kick back and settle in for the ride. In this installment of Nobody Reviews It Better, Thrasher catches up with Brosnan-Bond as he relaxes in the well-earned comforts of formula.

i totes got a licenz 2 kill, lol
Pierce Brosnan's 007 loves his toys, even more so than Sean Connery, and the scenes in which he remotely, and so deftly, maneuvers his new car with a cell phone is likely the best evidence of his growing technophilia. Though GoldenEye had its share of pocket-sized gadgets, Tomorrow Never Dies is tops in Q-labs exhibitionism, and yet, despite the increased sophistication of the electronics, it's a tried-and-true, traditional Bond film. Elliot Carver may be an intriguing, and very contemporary, take on the megalomaniac super villain, but he's still seeking out his worldwide empire, just like Dr. No, Goldfinger, Blofeld, and others. He plans to further his news supremacy via yellow journalism; specifically, he coordinates the disappearance of a British warship in the territorial waters of China, thereby pushing the UK and China close to war, and thereby putting himself in a position to assume the exclusive broadcast rights once the smoke has cleared. Bond is quickly sent abroad to sort things out before it all goes sour, and that's where he runs into Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), one of the more respectable (if not exactly well-rounded) female cohorts in the entire canon. Bond and Lin make for a pretty good team, and their motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Saigon is a ludicrous, enjoyable sequence. All the action is handled competently, even though some of the special effects and CGI have not aged gracefully (this is especially noticeable when Bond and Lin use one of Carver's banners for a makeshift escape). Still, though, it's obvious Tomorrow Never Dies is little more than a routine mission for Bond. Eventually Carver captures him, tells him far too much of his nefarious schemes, fails to kill him when it would be advantageous to do so, and so on. Maybe that's part of its charm; Dies may play it safe, but it proves the formula is still satisfying when followed properly. As Bond tells Carver, "You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot: give the people what they want!" And who would know this better than Bond? He's been doing it (better) for fifty years.

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