Friday, March 16, 2012

X-men: Destiny

When I initially had heard about this game, the concept sounded really good.  An X-men game that gave you choices, allowing you to side with the X-men or the Brotherhood in battle, and also gave you the chance to upgrade your powers in an RPG fashion.  But then the reviews started coming out and most of them were lukewarm to negative.  So while I didn't rush out to buy this one at full price, when I saw it on sale I decided to approach it with an open mind and see what my own personal thoughts were on the game.

First off, the graphics look pretty good.  While there was something a little odd about the way Cyclops looked when he talked, all the characters look like their comic counterparts and are animated well.  There's also a good amount of detail in the backgrounds and not a huge difference between the actual game and the movie clips, which is always a plus.  But of course this is a modern game so you really shouldn't see any less than that at this point.

I played through the game as Aimi, a Japanese girl whose parents put her on a boat to America without warning because apparently bad things were happening in Japan.  Fortunately for her she speaks perfect English, and even says "Akuma" like an American would.  No, seriously, at one point in the game Nightcrawler's Japanese pronunciations are more authentic than hers.  Anyway, we're never told who her father is, but both Nightcrawler and Wolverine know him, and we see him walk away from the docks exploding into flames, so I'm not sure if he's supposed to be Sunfire or not.  It certainly seems like a possibility.  Once in America we witness a rally that is supposed to promote peace between humans and mutants after an attack by Bastian has resulted in the death of Professor Xavier.  The rally is disrupted, seemingly by Magneto, and a large earthquake (which I think we're supposed to believe Avalanche might have caused, despite the fact that we never see him in game) rips up San Francisco.  From there on you're fighting through the ruins, running into both X-men and Brotherhood characters who urge you to pick a side while you fight off the Purifiers (humans who hate mutants) and U-men (humans who extract mutant powers and apply them or sell them to others).

You have a choice of what your main power will be as you start  the game.  I chose an obsidian rock based power which allowed me to both hit harder and at later points in the game increase my defense.  This is almost entirely a beat em up game, where you're mashing the weak attack and occasionally using the strong attack to knock down enemies again and again and again.  Of course this really isn't all that different from what happened in the fantastic X-men Legends games, and really what I expect from the action RPG genre.  As you progress through the game you gain more powerful attacks, the best of which is the Obsidian Titan, where you basically turn into this huge rock creature and pound enemies to death while not taking any damage.  Once you finish the game you can start again and keep all your powers as well as suits you've collected, and my second run through was largely me turning into this creature over and over again, and I have to admit it never stopped being satisfying.  The only limitation of the power is that you move pretty slow and you have a time limit to using it.

The suits you collect are both costumes that make you match the styles of various X-men and Brotherhood members, as well as items called "X-genes" which give you bonuses, usually to increase your mutant power meter or help you dodge attacks.  They're basically like the items you equipped in the X-men Legends series but specific to a certain mutant.  I was able to collect all 4 of Northstar's items, and once you equip all 4 you can activate X-mode in battle.  It's a very powerful form of attack,  but like the titan mentioned above does have a time limit.  My one frustration is that while I searched pretty thoroughly on both of my playthroughs, I was unable to complete any of the other sets.  And in one case I should have had Gambit's but I died on a challenge and the item disappeared from my inventory and was no longer in the space I had picked it up before.  Very annoying.

Storywise,  I felt that nearly all the character portrayals felt authentic, with the one exception being Colossus.  Unless he's gotten really angry in more recent issues of the comics and I'm just not up to speed.  I'm used to a more easygoing portrayal of him anyway.  Aimi's story is fairly thin, but I think it works - she's initially upset about her father essentially dumping her off, but she finds her purpose in the end.  In terms of the overarching story, it's okay and it makes sense.  I was a little disappointed personally.  They mentioned mind control and someone who was trying to start a war between mutants, and I was really hoping for some Mr. Sinister/Apocalypse involvement but I guess that's just the 90s X-men fan in me.  This is definitely a more modern story and I can understand why they would choose that instead.

The boss battles do a decent job of mixing it up a little, forcing you to think strategy rather than just pounding on enemies.  However they also feel borrowed from other games.  The first one you fight is a mech, making me think of the Metal Gear Solid series.  The second is a U-man who keeps feeding himself a serum highly reminiscent of Joker and his goons in Arkham Aslyum.  You get the idea.  I also found that switching from "New Mutant" (easy) difficulty to "X-man" (normal) on my second go through made the boss battles much harder even with my upgraded powers.  But I am not very good at video games so take from that what you will.

Speaking of me being not very good, there are some platforming elements in the game, mostly related to you hanging on to ledges and jumping from place to place to climb structures.  I had very little trouble with these sections at all, and I'm usually absolutely terrible at 3D platforming.  Of course the fact that all useable structures are flashing the whole time takes out most of the challenge...

I would guess that a lot of modern players would find this game too easy, and nearly all of us will find it too short.  If I can defeat a game twice in two weeks, then there isn't a whole lot to it.  There's also barely any difference at all whether you choose the X-men or Brotherhood.  Both will offer you challenges that will lean you one way or the other, but all that really means is that when you keep picking Brotherhood factions the X-men will beg you to reconsider, then ask you for help anyway.  The perfect example of this is that about 3/4 of the way through the game, Northstar walked up to me and asked "Brotherhood?  Well, I  guess it doesn't really matter since we're facing a common enemy."  When you do pick your side, the only thing that changes is who is fighting beside you at certain points of the game, and the ending.  And the ending isn't much more than "Welcome to the X-men/Brotherhood."  I also felt pretty dirty choosing the Brotherhood side.  There wasn't much to support their case but nothing they do is all that evil either.  I mean, sure, they want to take out  the Purifiers, but the X-men fight them too, so...

I'll admit I'm curious to play the game as the other two guys just to see more about their stories.  Grant seems to be the neutral character, or at least his origin has nothing to do with mutants and is about the fact that he wants to be a football player.  Adrian, on the other hand is the son of a Purifier, so I would think that would have potential to be a little more interesting.  I'm also curious to try to play with the other powers. I'm not expecting too much difference though.  I noticed in a lot of places people were addressing me in gender neutral terms, clearly as a way to avoid having to change dialogue depending on what character you picked.

Overall, if you enjoy action RPGs or are an X-men fan, I do think this is worth picking up on the cheap.  While it's disappointing that some characters just aren't here (Storm and Rogue are two I definitely missed) I do think this is a decent X-men tale and not a horrible way to spend 5-8 hours of your time.  There's a whole middle section dedicated to Gambit, and his accent doesn't suck!  That makes it worth it right there.  The main problem with making this game so similar to X-men Legends is you remember just how much more rich that game was in terms of content and wonder why they couldn't have put the same effort into this one.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

They Might Be Giants (1971)

I can't help but wonder how many people are going to initially see this article and think "I knew the band had been around for a while, but that long?" and I think that's a fair mistake.  In actuality this post is not about the band, but rather the film from which they took their name.  From what I can tell they chose it more because they liked the sound of it rather than having any particular fondness for the film, but I still couldn't help checking it out.

Its plot is really a set up I'm guaranteed to like:  In what is essentially a modern version of Don Quixote, the story follows millionaire and genius Justin Playfair who is thoroughly convinced he is Sherlock Holmes and that Moriarty is out there plotting against him.  His brother tries to get him committed, and the psychiatric hospital assigns a Dr. Mildred Watson to decide if he's sane or a hopeless case.  The film manages to be a Sherlock Holmes adventure, a Don Quixote adaptation, and a whimsical comedy all in one.  I also found it interesting that with all the talk of CBS's show Elementary currently in development that here we have a Sherlock Holmes set in New York City with a female Watson.

George C. Scott's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is so good that I felt the need to check his filmography to see if he had played him on the screen before.  He hadn't, in case you were wondering.  There are also a few moments in the film where he seems to realize that he's really not Sherlock, and he plays it with such confusion and despair that you truly feel sorry for him.  Joanne Woodward's Dr. Watson is a character I'm a little more conflicted about.  She starts off as a bit of a stereotypical spinster, a character that I think the writer might have thought was a strong woman but really just comes off more blustery and angry than needed.  However, much like Sancho Panza, Dr. Watson's feelings for her companion change over time, and she softens into someone much more real in the process.  By the end of it I was much more fond of her and of the relationship she and Justin/Sherlock shared.

I think there's something to the fact that I really want to keep referring to the main character as Sherlock even though he's technically not.  He can't play the violin (which is shown in a very funny brief moment), but he does have Sherlock's incredible ability for deduction.  He reads people easily, both Dr. Watson and a messenger who delivers a threatening letter to his home.  Sherlock decides the letter is a secret message from Moriarity, and he uses deduction to go on what seems like a wild goose chase but always ends up finding some sort of conflict for him to resolve anyway.  As such the film becomes a series of moments: a woman who goes to the phone company for information, and the worker who can't give it to her because she'll be fired but desperately wants to help, an old couple who have locked themselves inside their apartment since the Great Depression and built a beautiful garden to live off of, and so on.  The movie does its best to string all these moments together at  the end, though I find it a little ironic that it's completely lacking in logic when it does so.  However, I found myself with a rather large grin on my face in spite of it all. What it lacks in logic it definitely makes up for in charm.

That messenger I mentioned earlier is played by Al Lewis, best known as Grandpa Munster.  Justin's sister in law is played by Rue McClanahan, who we all know as Blanche from the Golden Girls.  Even Paul Benedict has a small part as a man selling chestnuts on the street.  The unknown actors are just as amusing as the known ones, and they compliment Justin as a group of eccentric characters that are adorable to watch, particularly in a zany scene that takes place in a grocery store toward the end of the film.

The name of the film is a Don Quixote reference, and is explained within the film itself.  Sherlock tells Dr. Watson that where Don Quixote got it wrong was that he assumed all windmills were giants.  However, we all need to think they might be from time to time.  If man didn't wonder or pretend, we would not have made the various discoveries in science and technology that have been made over the years.  It's the message of the entire film, begging us to come along and pretend with Justin for at least a little while and maybe learn something from it.

As such it is fitting that the end is left open to our imagination.  Is it really Moriarty approaching Holmes and Watson or just a coincidence?  It's up to you to decide.  What I found the most touching was that by the end Watson believed along with him, and even if they were both wrong, they would be wrong together from now on.

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this film.  It's possible that some of its zaniness or saccharine sweet message to believe in the impossible might be too much for some, but for me that's exactly why I like it so much.  It can't hurt to give it a chance and see if it charms you as much as it did me.  Unfortunately,  you can't purchase it on DVD right now, let alone Bluray, but it is available to watch on Netflix Instant, possibly viewable on Youtube, or you might get really lucky and find an affordable VHS copy.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Scream 1-4

This may be kind of a cheat, but too bad!  Everything I have to say about the first Scream I already said on the latest episode of Strangers from the Internet, so I'm going to point you there to hear about both my history with the film and what I think of it now.  As a bonus you also get to hear what Bethany thinks of it, and hear us discuss "Buffy vs Dracula" and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  Yay for content!

That said, doing the episode made me want to finally sit down and watch the sequels for the first time.  When you see the spoiler warning under each film, I'll be revealing the identity of the killer(s), so if you haven't seen the films yet, those are the paragraphs you want to skip.

Scream 2

Unfortunately, I can't say I have as strong an impression of the second film as I do of the first.  I never watched this one back when it came out, and it may be because of how scared I was of the first film at the time.  It came out just one year later, and honestly it feels rushed.  Once again Sidney's boyfriend seems a little off, and he has a creepy acting best friend.  Randy's still in love with Sid, Gale is still trying to sell books and get the story for her TV show, etc. etc.  The main thing added to the mix is Cotton Weary being released from jail.  However he's not that different from Gale, being in all this for his 15 minutes of fame and cash.  The characters argue about whether sequels can be better than the originals, and most of their arguments end in favor of the original.  It feels like both Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson knew they couldn't top the first movie and therefore didn't even try.

I will say though that for the most part the actors are putting in some really good performances.  I mostly know Liev Schrieber as Sabertooth in the Wolverine film, but I really liked him here too. It was also fun to see both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Laurie Metcalf appear. Neve Cambell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, and Jamie Kennedy all fit back into their roles easily (granted after a year that's not that hard to do) and I liked that we got to see a little more than the cookie cutter roles for Gale, Dewey and Randy this time around.  I was also pretty upset to see Randy die, even though I knew it was coming.  We were all secretly rooting for him, right?  Especially since Jerry O'Connell was playing that boyfriend role about as bland as you could possibly make it.  Singing on top of the tables in the cafeteria wasn't romantic - it was childish and annoying.  But maybe that's just me.

I was really bothered by the soundtrack whenever Dewey and Gale were alone together.  I don't know if they were trying to cash in on Courtney Cox and David Arquette's real life relationship, but I totally did not care about their romance at all and that sweeping cheesy music whenever they were together just made it so much worse.  I was really hoping Dewey would die in this one, because he was kind of a useless joke.

SPOILERS: The worst of it though was the big reveal at the end.  I was okay with the idea that Mickey was being a copycat killer and going to blame the movies for it.  However it probably would have made a little more sense if he had waited until Stab had actually been out for awhile.  I mean yes he knows what happened already since it was based on a true story,  but that would mean hearing the story would have made him do it, and not the films like he wanted.  It's a shame because it's a great topic to touch on, one that was heavily debated in the 90s, I just didn't think it was executed well.  Billy's mom being so angry is what really didn't make any sense.  She abandoned her husband and child.  Why would she care?  If Sidney's mother was the problem, then Ms. Loomis would have taken Billy with her when she left her husband.  It doesn't help that I saw this coming, and I honestly didn't read any spoilers ahead of time.  I could just tell that "Debbie Salt" was not quite who she appeared to be.  She cared a little too much about what was going on all the time, and not like Gale did.

Scream 3

Fortunately, I felt a lot better about the third film.  I'm kind of boggled as to why the second film seems highly regarded and this one not so much.  According to Wikipedia they were both plagued by last minute script changes which leads to some aspects of the storyline not really going anywhere, but I still felt like this one brought something new to the table rather than just rehashing the first film.

The new additions to the cast are decent, with Jenny McCarthy doing about as well as expected (and honestly less annoying than most work I've seen her in) and Parker Posey clearly having a lot of fun as the actress who portrays Gale in the Stab films.  The Jay and Silent Bob cameo felt random and weird, but the Carrie Fisher cameo was pretty fun.  I also liked the way the original Scream sets were rebuilt and worked into the film.

I was once again annoyed to have to watch Gale and Dewey bicker and then fall in love again.  It was as if they felt like simply having them be a happy couple simply wouldn't work.  I will say for the most part it was better written this time, at least.  The time does feel a bit wasted though, especially since we have a character like Detective Kinkaid, who seems to have an interesting back story yet is never truly explored.  Also, if I'm not mistaken, Roman is taken in for questioning and yet we never get a clear reason for why they release him.  Or at least if we do it happens so fast that I missed it.

SPOILERS:  I actually liked the ending this time around.  While we don't really have any clues leading up to the big reveal, that feels genuine, as there wouldn't be any real way to do so.  And given the time Maureen was missing, it does make sense that she could have had a child.  I also really liked the way Sidney reached out and held his hand when she thought he was dying for the first time, as I myself felt kind of bad for Roman in my own way.  I'm not saying he was justified in his actions, but you do have to feel bad for a kid who was rejected by his own mother.

Scream 4

A lot of times a large gap between sequels can create a problem where the director or screenwriter may have lost their vision for the work, or the actors may have forgotten who those characters were.  But sometimes, that time and distance is exactly what a franchise needs.  This is definitely the case with Scream 4.  While the first movie was fresh and exciting, the two sequels largely rehashed what had already been established, because there was only so much you could say about the state of the horror genre at that time.  But now,  more than ten years later, the horror genre has evolved once again giving them plenty to say on the whole thing.

I loved the commentary on both the torture porn films like Saw and Hostel as well as the fact that there are so many remakes out there these days.  I also liked the fact that one of the main horror experts this time around was a female, a nice acknowledgement that there are so many of us girls who enjoy the genre. 

There was little I didn't like, but that opening sequence was one of them.  The individual scenes are good, but having so many repeated openings like that got really tedious.  I suppose it was their way of messing with us and creating humor, but it just went on way too long.  Though it did mean getting to see Anna Paquin and Kristin Bell, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much.  The other thing I didn't care for too much was Gale.  I appreciated the fact that they were trying to evolve her character a bit, but I just didn't like what they changed her into.  Maybe I've just seen the "writer with no ideas" character so many times in fiction by now that I'm sick of seeing it.

There were lots of great additions to the cast this time around.  Bringing in a younger generation was an iffy prospect, but I thought Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, and Eric Knudsen were all great choices.  I was also really excited to see Mary McDonnell show up, though she was sadly underused.

SPOILERS:  I remember reading a lot of nonspoiler reviews back when the film came out, and they all mentioned a twist, and that a lot of people didn't like it.  I just want to state for the record that I absolutely loved it!  While we had technically already seen a female killer in this series, I loved seeing a young one this time around.  I also really loved her motive.  It is completely believable in the current state of the world today.  Between the internet, the tabloids, and reality TV, it could happen.  Watching her injure herself was also great, as I felt it really showed her dedication to the whole idea. 

I do feel like I need to watch the film again though to see if there's any holes in the twist.  More than anything, I felt like Ghostface looked really tall this time around, and neither killer really fit the build.  These films are designed to keep you guessing the entire time, and I really did suspect just about everyone at any point so it's possible I was so focused on solving the mystery that I may have missed something.

While this was originally meant to be the start of a new trilogy, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.  At least I haven't heard anything yet.  Honestly, I don't know how you could, seeing as how they killed off the entirety of the new young cast.  But I am glad that we at least got this one chance to revisit the characters.
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