Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Ted

Version I Watched
: VOD rental, theatrical edition.

History: This is the feature length debut of Seth MacFarlane who is previously famous for shows like Family Guy and American Dad. The film was made for approx. $50 Million and in return it earned over $500 Million worldwide, roughly half of which was earned in the states alone. This currently is the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. While nothing is currently in the works Seth MacFarlane has expressed interest in a sequel.

Personal History: This was my first viewing. Can't say I knew a whole lot about it before this, but my interest was high knowing MacFarlane's history.

Review: I don't know how hardcore of a Family Guy fan I am anymore. Like most males between middle school and college aged over the last decade I have watched a lot of it so I am very familiar with it. I have also enjoyed the show immensely on again and off again. There was a period when I didn't really watch it at all because I was tired out of the direction it was going. But time spent away from it allowed me to appreciate it more. However I guess I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan of the show anymore. It still has enough that makes me laugh despite having a bunch of stuff that annoys the hell outta me.
Why am I talking about Family Guy? Isn't it obvious? While I think Seth MacFarlane is a talented guy he doesn't have a ton of variety in his work. At least what he does and what he's good at is really good. I can't count how many times he's made me laugh uncontrollably, practically falling over. This goes for Family Guy and American Dad, but not for Cleveland Show because... fuck that show. It's terrible. So Ted is expected to be a lot like Family Guy. History has repeated itself multiple times already and it's bound to happen again. Really it's hard not to compare Ted to Family Guy unless you've never seen Family Guy before. Is this bad? No. Actually quite the opposite cause TED IS HILARIOUS!

I'll get it out of the way first, Ted sounds a lot like Peter Griffin. I actually felt like he fluxuated between Peter and Brian with most of the time sounding like Peter. Hard to get out of your head unless, like I previously stated, have never seen Family Guy. I will also touch on how many Family Guy veterans are in this movie as well. A big one is Mila Kunis (Meg on Family Guy). I always felt her role on Family Guy was really ironic, too, as I'm sure most people do. Here's this amazingly gorgeous woman playing a homely, chubby, hated young girl in a cartoon. Oh well, that's the power of writing. Then also in Ted there's appearances by Patrick Warburton (Joe), and even Patrick Stewart who has played multiple roles on the show. In this case it's just similarity in voices and that's it. Good way to cast your regulars.

Ted does do a lot of things on it's own, though. I don't want it to sound like it's nothing but a live action version of a Family Guy episode (which it essentially does most of the time). For starters, Mark Wahlburg is a knockout in his role. His performance as an insecure man-child who is overly attached to his childhood teddy bear is excellent. I actually believed throughout a lot of the movie that he loved Ted more than he loved Lori (Mila Kunis). But while we're on the subject I briefly want to touch on the relationship between him and Lori. I just don't get it. Her character strikes me as the type who would have dumped him a long time ago because of the way he acts. If after four years your girlfriend still puts up with you sitting around most of the day smoking pot with your buddy, showing up to work late, and being a general bum then you better MARRY THAT WOMAN! Otherwise she is going to dump you any day now. Then again we're talking about a movie where a wish brought a teddy bear to life so I'm willing to let a lot of stuff go.
One nice attention to detail pertained to Ted's history. I liked how the fantasy of the story meshed with the reality of the story. A teddy bear coming to life is something that would not stay in secret for very long. So when Ted became an instant celebrity. He of course had the inevitable downfall like many celebrities who are famous for what they literally are. But at least it was addressed that he was famous for being a living teddy bear, if not briefly, which included an excellently edited piece like he was on Johnny Carson (I love it when movies do this. Much like Forrest Gump or the brilliant Death of a President). However I do wonder how there were no instances of people running into Ted and freaking the hell out cause he's literally a living teddy bear in modern times. There's no way the entire general public could know who he is especially if he was a brief celebrity. The only other thing I can think of is that living plushies is now a new norm in this world or he's a local celebrity. But since neither of these details are established it just seems odd how normal everyone acts around him. If anything I imagine every so often someone would react the same way John's (Mark Wahlberg) parents did when Ted first came to life.
Speaking of, I loved the intro to this movie. I had a special appreciation because in it John's father was played by Ralph Garman of Hollywood Babble-On fame (and Sharktopus). Still I thought it was a great back story about an outcast kid who can't even make friends with the kid who gets beat up all the time. Finding a friend in a toy is a common occurrance for a child especially when they're lonely. It's the perfect concept. And I think it transitioned into adulthood for John brilliantly. If someone where to joke around with me how a kid like this would be grown up and still attached this is exactly as I see it. I especially liked Thunder Buddies. I'm just imagine a young boy laying in bed alone with no one else but his teddy bear (alive or not) scared out of his mind chanting the Thunder Buddies chant. I get it. I see it happening. It's very young boy-ish.

So far so good! It's got a great set up, realistic in a way for what it is, has me laughing within moments of the movie starting, we're good to go. As it continued I did realize how crazy predictable the script got. I mean, like really predictable. It had just about every trope from a buddy comedy where a girl is in the mix and the lead role needs to grow up. Even the average viewer will be able to see where the story is going two steps ahead. Of course John is going to make a stupid mistake despite good intentions which will cause him and Lori to break up/have problems which will then lead down a path to something bad happening to Ted allowing it all to come together in an ending where everything is just peachy and wonderful. This didn't ruin the movie. It just limited it to what it could have been. Is it structured because it's a safe bet? This is MacFarlane's first feature so I guess it's understandable that it would structured in such a way. But he has such a big fanbase that it seems like he could go nuts with a full movie and it'd be successful. It's already R-rated so why not go a little nuts with the plot outside of what's expected? Or was it's because that's just how it turned out? Certainly a possibility. It's just really strange that he would write such a straight forward script when Family Guy tends to be a lot crazier in it's execution.
Another BIG problem I had with this is something I can't stand with most comedies in general. There's a time period where everything becomes super serious and it's usually a really awkward jerk in that direction. This is no exception and I CAN'T STAND IT WHEN COMEDIES DO THIS! Now there's just as much a place for drama in comedy as there is comedy in drama. The difference is that I don't remember the drama in There Will Be Blood dropping suddenly in the third act so Daniel Plainview could get stuck in a slapstick routine where he's constantly slipping on a banana peel and other assorted objects. When you make a comedy you should make it funny through and through, not force drama down the throats of unsuspecting viewers. Keep little pieces of drama in there for the sake of character development. However the people who paid to see your movie paid to see it and laugh as much as possible. Now Seth, when you ****SPOILERS**** decide it's time to make it seem like Ted may be gone for good after he is torn in half only to have it turn out well in the end anyway like the rest of us predicted ****END SPOILERS**** then it's an awkward turn for the style you were going for.

Despite these downfalls Ted still made me laugh more than most comedies I've seen recently. Even though it has all the low points of the Family Guy humor it had all the high points of Family Guy humor and then some. One of my favorite scenes was essentially a copy/paste of a Family Guy scene, but it was so fantastic! Watching Ted and John fight in the hotel room with the cartoon-ish sound effects and over the top throws and blows was incredible! Then of course there's the scene early on when Lori comes home to find that Ted hired four hookers and there's a literal piece of shit on the floor because of a game of truth or dare. Ted does more right than wrong. I can imagine sitting through this wonderful piece of comedy over and over again. I also look forward to picking up the DVD one day and see what the extended cut is like.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: RPG MANIA!

My favorite gaming console right behind the Sega Dreamcast would be the first Playstation (I refuse to call it the PS1 or PSone), and my favorite gaming genre right behind survival horror but ahead of platformers would be RPGs, I do like both Western and Eastern RPGS but I tend to prefer JRPGs. So PS1 and JRPGs. This is a fantastic combo. One thing I liked about the first Playstation was how many RPGs there were on the system. And while it wasn't my introduction to the genre it is where I fell in love with it. I did play a bunch back in the day like Wild Arms and Finaly Fantasy VII, of course, but I'm still catching up on a lot of classics and supposed classics.

I recently got my hand on a bunch more of these RPGs on top of some of the RPGs I already have. So over an indefinite amount of time I want to invite you to RPG MANIA! Some of the games I'll be covering over the next coming months will include: Arc the Lad, Arc the Lad II, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Tactics, Parasite Eve, Xenogears, and so on and so forth.

These games range in time to beat from not too long (Parasite Eve) to insanely long (Xenogears) so when certain ones come out will depend on what's going on at that time and if I'm able to get through enough of it to justify a review. As you may have figured from one or two of my previous reviews I don't actually finish all the games I review when I put up a review. I will eventually cause I'm a completist, but I just try to get through enough to get a good enough chunk of info for a review. Also, my initial focus is on Playstation RPGs, but I may cheat a little bit and review some for other consoles or were originally on other consoles. This first cheat would be Persona 3, which I promised ages ago.

I haven't decided which RPG I'll review first but hopefully it won't be too long before you do see it! Enjoy! And also be on a look out for some recent Dreamcast imports I picked up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: D

Availibility: Was released on Playstation, Sega Saturn, 3DO and PC. No ports or re-releases have been done.

Version I Played: Playstation version. Although the cover art I used was the 3DO cover art cause I really like it.

Review: This one is really hard to review. It's truly a product of it's time. D was released at a time when CD-ROM games were first coming out. This provided better sound, visuals, and full motion video could be included now (aka FMV). The biggest was the FMV. That's not something that could be done on a cartridge. Any cutscenes on a cartridge had to be done through creating a video with in game graphics. Now it could be done by pre-rendering CG video or even including actual movie footage/create a movie for the cut scenes. In other words this was the dawn of a lot of new bad ideas that will live on for a long time. Honestly a lot of the things that came up in this era of gaming are now looked back on as a big joke. The technology was sorta there only it was used in a sloppy way. Since it was so new nobody knew how to use it properly. They were considered revolutionary at the time but this was at a time when bits sold systems (for the most part) and people were still very concerned about the visuals and tech behind a system. So a lot of these new games with FMV were sold on the technology. In the grand schemes these wound up being more like tech demos of what could be done in the audio and visual department, only not the gameplay. As a result a lot of these games aged very poorly. That's why it's so difficult to review games like D. It did not age well. When this game first came out it got rave reviews. When people do a retrospective they call it horrible. That's why I need to review this one in the context of it's time. I know it hasn't aged well, but I will try to look at it in the way it was presented to a world who didn't have the gaming we do now. I do this out of respect.
I actually kinda remember when this game came out. Keep in mind I was anywhere between 8-10 years old so my memory fails me in some respects. There were only a few things I remember. One is the box art (The non-3DO cover art) cause it depicted a  black and white photo of a shadowed woman's face with what appears to be bloody tears. I also remember seeing some screenshots but never saw any video on it or played it. I had no clue what this game was really like only that it looked scary. Well, scary for a kid at least. This was a T rated game! OooooooOOOOOOooooo! Well unlike the hundreds of other games I've breezed past in stores and in magazines this is one that stuck with me throughout the years. I know it was because of the horror aspect. A couple of the screenshots I saw were decayed corpses with spikes through their bodies, much like it shows on the back cover. That kind of stuff will stick with ya for a while well over the typical platformer or shoot em up. I eventually picked it up when I was in high school. When I played it finally after all these years of waiting what I got was only partially what I expected. I will say I was not disappointed after all these years of waiting.
The story of the game goes like this. You play a young woman named Laura. One night your father, who is a doctor, goes crazy and kills everyone in the hospital he works in. Despite it being a crime scene you go into the hospital to investigate. While there this bizarre portal opens up and transports you to this giant, old mansion and the game begins. From here you have only two hours to complete the game. No saves, no checkpoints just straight through. By today's standards this seems strange but really there were a lot more games back then that required it than they do now. But it also could be classified as an adventure game which requires sometimes extensive thought to figure out the logic in the puzzles the game presents. So that type of game would typically have a save system so you don't have to go through the same puzzles over and over. Well, in this game you do if you don't get it done in time. A bizarre choice for this type of game but I think it works in a way. It gives a sense of urgency to get through the game, providing you with more of a fear of losing the game for taking too long. Also I think it may have been done to extend the replay value of the game. Once you know the solutions, or most of the solutions it won't take long to go through the game because it is really short.
Before I continue with that, though, I want to touch on the gameplay. This game took full advantage of the new technology by putting FMV into the game. The developer, WARP, took literally full advantage of this technology by making the entire game out of FMV videos. Thankfully this isn't in the same style as Dragon's Lair (although there is one sequence of the game that does turn into that). How it works is that there's predetermined positions you can move to and every time you hit the arrow button toward the next spot there's a brief video sequence to show the travel. Think Myst but with more animations. It's because of this free-ish flowing movement that I hesitate to call it a point and click adventure like Myst but I can't think of anything else to call it. It's technically a point and click but you use the arrow buttons on the controller instead so it feels more FPS-like but I dare not call it an FPS cause it's nothing like that except it's perspective. Because of the animated transitions between moves it does make the game move very slowly. If you go up the stairs into a far off room and need to bring a key back down the stairs and across the hall, only you didn't get the right key you needed, it's gonna take a while to get back to where you were. You can't skip any of these videos. So if you also select the wrong area or key item multiple times you may be looking at the same animation multiple times. Outside of the repeats you'll run into the slow pace of the game is actually really nice. I find it to be very atmospheric. Horror really should never be fast paced so this gives the game a prime surrounding for what it wants to accomplish.
So the game is a bit slow. How are the puzzles? An adventure game like this should at least have decent puzzles. Well the puzzles are alright. I don't have a ton of experience with adventure games outside of the Myst franchise. Most recently I have been playing through Phantasmagoria which does require a certain level of thought to understand the game's logic and complete the puzzles in there. D on the other hand has much simpler puzzles. Part of that could be because I believe this was intended for home consoles (despite making it's way to PC anyway) and this is an era when console games were far more simplified compared to the games coming out on PC. Also I think it was limited ironically because of the technology boost. Keep in mind that for the time this game looked amazing visually. The graphics were a knockout cause before this some of the best looking 3D in gaming was Star Fox which looks like paper mache. Having this power did sacrifice the variety a lower tech game would have. So while this game was on three Playstation discs (Although after digging around I found out the other consoles only needed two discs) because of how much space it takes up the game can only ever last two hours without potentially restarting the game. Whereas on this same console there would be Final Fantasy Tactics. A game with minimal 3D and mostly 2D sprites but is on a single disc and allows for tons and tons of hours of gameplay where no game could be done the same twice because of the variety (pretty much). Unfortunately this was a common theme in this technological advancement. So with that said the creators couldn't afford for the game to be more complicated or include more content because that would require more video, which would require more space, which would require more discs, and next thing you know it's another two or three discs. Then you start looking like Riven which had five discs because of the detail in the imagery. So even with the game coming out on three discs (which is usually a sign of a long game) it won't be as extensive an experience as you may hope.
Now the puzzles come in three varieties. There's pretty clever thinkers, the obvious and easy ones, and then the tedious ones. I'll give an example of each respectively.
One clever thinker was an early one in the game. Early on you find a blank piece of paper in a dresser. If you take it back down the dining room table where there's a large bowl of water and place it in there it'll reveal your next clue. The only reason I knew how to do this right away is because it somehow stuck with me after reading the clue in a magazine many years ago. Not too hard but I felt was clever enough to justify saying so.
An obvious and easy one is to use a numeric code you find on a door. When you find the number you go back to another room where you can enter the code. After it's open you get a key. Not much else to say.
Now there's also the tedious ones. The best example I can think of this is a moment late in the game when you're required to use a crank to rotate the round room you're in to different areas. This is the type of room with one door and depending on how many times you twist the crank you'll either turn around and see a full brick wall or a new door to a different area. A simple-ish puzzle, but also time consuming and very tedious. I say this because this is when the technology of the game get in the way. Unlike in an FPS where you roam free as quick as you'd like or even in a game like Myst when it's just images that are quick and easy to click through but in this game you are forced to sit through animations with every moment you make. So once you get to this crank you start by turning it (takes a couple of seconds), then when you want to check if you've turned it enough times you back up (another second or so), turn around (take a couple more seconds), then if it isn't in the right spot you need to turn back to the wheel (a couple more seconds like before), move back toward the crank (you see where this is going), and start turning it again (yawn). This is such a long process and will drive you to a walkthrough online if you haven't already. Also even if you know how many times to do it, it's still a long process. Sometimes you need to turn the crank anywhere between five to nine times! Add on not knowing when to stop and you're looking at the spot where you are close to running low on time or will be mad you ran out of time later because of this problem. There's only one part in the game that is worse than this spot and that's because the part I want to talk about is more frustrating than boring.
Earlier I mentioned how there's at least one spot in the game similar to Dragon's Lair and thank the Lord there's only one spot like this because it's the worst part of the game. During the crank yanking portion of the game you go down a hall filled with suits of armor and a deep pit at the end. What happens is one of the suits of armor comes alive and you're forced to fight. What follows is what would now be known as a QTE cut scene. No problem, right? No. This is so unresponsive and you're going to see yourself fall down that pit over and over again even on the first button press. I don't know if it's the Playstation controller or not but I think that it would have trouble recognizing the buttons I was hitting. Either that or the timining I hit it was off even though I was hitting it when it prompted me to. I never played the Saturn or the 3DO version so I don't know how well those controllers worked in this scene but the Playstation controller (and I was using a PS3 controller in my most recent playthrough) wasn't doing a great job. Either that or it's the game.
I really hating shitting all over this game because in the end I really do like it a lot. It's also really hard to look at it properly as I keep saying because of what it is and when it came out. It's just so sad how horribly this game has aged. You could almost see it as obsolete withing a couple years of it coming out. It was very of it's time but seemed to make enough change to warrant a sequel some years later. I think if I got it when it came out and I was of a more mature age I would have adored this big time. This type of game and it's atmosphere is right up my alley. It's got a silent protagonist who doesn't bombard us with exposition and therefore she remains very mysterious yet pure. You do have a real sense of being alone in this bizarre world which makes it even creepier cause you wonder what's going to happen next and what will come out of the next corner, if anything, but you're pretty sure there will be, but you can't be sure, and you're crapping your pants in the process! I think that's why I like this game so much. It's horror done in a very Japanese style it gives you an overwhelming sense that something is out there that wants you dead but wants to torment you first. As opposed to American horror which would be jump scare after jump scare. Althought I suppose that was done because of the tech limitations again but I can guarantee you that an American studio would have found a way to include more jump scares.
I think this is a horror classic. It's like almost nothing else out there. if you can get past how poorly it has aged and take it in within the context of the time then I think you'd have a great experience. However the best way to get into this game was to have lived through the era it was born in. Sadly many people would not appreciate what is great about this game especially in modern gaming. I would never try to push this one on anyone unless I knew for sure they would find some level of interest with it. Of all the people I've known who are gamers I intentionally presented this one to only one person and they did appreciate it on a similar level I did. Minus the poorly written plot at times I think this would make a great horror film as well. Just translate it almost straight and into a ninety minute film, heck it could even be a shorter one and still be good, and there ya go! I suppose it could also expand on an extra portion of the game where you find out more about Laura and a dark part of her past. Ah yes, the main reason to play through again after beating it the first time. To unlock the full video that exposes SPOILERS that Laura killed at ate her mother because she is a descendant of Dracula END SPOILERS.
As an added bonus I found a complete walkthrough of the entire game! It's technically the 3DO version and is the director's cut, and it's in Japanese so the little dialogue there is, is in Japanese. Strangely the text is in English. Regardless of these facts the differences aren't something that are easily noticed. This is essentially what the version I played was like. And a little piece of trivia. You'll notice the title says D's Diner, which was the original title in Japan.

If America Made It: Outside of concept designs and methods of execution I can't imagine this would be a lot different. These types of games were a bit deal in the advent of CD-ROM games. I guess the differences would have been more on the end of jump scares, and it may have been a point and click adventure style instead of the constant FMV approach WARP did.

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Version I Watched: Redbox rental copy.

History: Was released in American theatres on June 22nd 2012. It was made with an estimated budget of $10 Million. The worldwide box office brought in just under $10 Million making this film a financial failure in the box office. A fun fact with this film is the woman who leaves Steve Carell's character at the beginning of the film is played by Nancy Carell, his real life wife.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. I had never even seen a trailer for this one. All I knew about it was the poster and a synopsis, but that was enough to get me interested.

Review: As I stated in my personal history section of the review, there wasn't a whole lot I knew about this one going into it (which I think is helpful in most films unless you're going into a sequel). There was enough to get me interested, though, based entirely on specific elements alone. For first it game me the impression of a quirky, funny perspective on the end of the world. Also one of the stars is Steve Carell who I have liked in almost everything he's done. Even dating back to The Daily Show before he hit it big with The 40 Year Old Virgin. I even really liked Dinner With Schmucks, a movie not a lot of people seemed to like. Lastly it's from Focus Features who for the most part seem to have a level head on releasing great movies. This is the same company that has produced amazing films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, and Coraline. There was some irony in the fact that these details are also the reason why I was a little worried about how it would turn out. Between the theme of the apocalypse, Steve Carell being really good at dramatic acting as he is at comedic acting, and the fact that it's released by Focus Features means one thing. It's gonna be a dramedy and dramedies can be really hard to pull off. I remember going through a point where I was really into them and looking back I think it's entirely because they were different, as pathetic as that sounds. So going into this while I was still interested I kept my expectations low out of worry with how it would turn out blending the comedy and the drama. No sense dodging it any longer. Time to find out if this did the trick. I do want to talk about many specific things throughout the entire film rather than generally speaking so spoiler alert.
Well I liked the way this started. It didn't pussy-foot around the apocalypse. It didn't give hope that it wouldn't happened. It just straight up said it's gonna happen and there's nothing that can be done. Excellent way to start this out cause it tells you the tone without tossing you around deciding what it wants to be. So with the world for sure going to end everything goes to hell. Dodge's (Steve Carell) wife leaves him not that she finally has an excuse (some excuse, huh?) cause she never really loved him, the world is slowly shutting down, suicide, insanity, safe to say the world is going nuts. Somehow Dodge still goes on with his daily life for a while. He goes to the gym, goes to work, and goes about his daily duties as normal. This all seems really strange with, you know, the end of the world coming. I think almost everyone reading this would blow off work to be with family and/or friends and to do things they always wanted to do. Finish off that bucket list the best they could. Keep in mind all planes at this point are grounded so my bucket list of visiting Norway and Japan couldn't be fulfilled as I'm sure your wish to finally go to Italy or the land down under. Now the weirdest part about this depressing beginning, it's hilarious! The comedy of this dramedy really come alive with a dark sense of humor in the first half. The doom and gloom scenario is being played out greatly exaggerated and it actually caused me to laugh out loud multiple times. One of my favorites being Dodge's housekeeper who keeps coming back to clean his apartment as if she doesn't know the end times is coming.
This of course all changes after a girl comes in the picture. Keira Knightley plays Penny, a young neighbor of Dodge who lives with her bum of a boyfriend. She first meets Dodge after having a breakdown out on the scaffolding outside their apartment building because she missed the last plane back to England to be with her family. She winds up staying at Dodge's place that night (nothing romantic) and that's when the quirkiness starts and so the plot pick up. Shortly after meeting she gives Dodge a pile of mail that has built up in her mailbox because the mailman kept putting it in the wrong box. In this pile Dodge finds a letter from "the one that got away" who he always loved more than the woman he actually married and found out he was the one she was always in love with. Because of the guilt of not giving him this letter right away Penny insists on helping him find her while Dodge helps Penny get to a plane that someone he knows has to get her to England.
What the story becomes as of this point is similar to a road trip movie. A series of encounters of a wide variety all providing quick scenes to entice different emotions. In part it reminded me a bit of Away We Go (a movie that I felt was highly overrated) because that was the most recent example I could think of. While on this journey they encounter a good variety of reactions to the end times. Of course while they're in the city they run into the expected riot. Then once they're on the road they find a group of people overjoyed making the best of the end times, a man who is suicide but not in a traditional sense, and of course the guys who think they can survive because they're "prepared." Not a huge variety but a good grab bag of people to work with. My favorite of all these in the comedic sense was the scene at the restaurant Friendlys. The entire staff of the restaurant is making the best of their end days by having the best time they can. This T.G.I.Fridays looking restaurant is transformed into a wild party filled with touchy-feely waiters/waitresses, wacky menu items like a burger with a donut for a bun, and pot... lots of pot. Not to mention they were all, all over each other like a massive orgy was about to break out any second. End times I guess. This was easily the part that made me laugh the hardest because it was so wacky, wild and over the top. Sadly this is one of the best parts of the whole movie and it's before the movie is half done.
As the story continues the main problem I had was there wasn't an overall feel like the world was coming to an end. At multiple parts I actually "forgot" that the world was coming to an end and it felt like just a regular road trip movie. This mostly shows when they finally get to the neighborhood Dodge was trying to get to throughout the movie. This neighborhood is pristine clean and undamaged. Wouldn't the crazies in the city expand and loot the suburbs, too? It makes so much sense to do so. Also wouldn't some of the neighbors do the same? It just felt way too peaceful in comparison to the anarchy that was presented to the audience earlier in the story. The only part that felt somewhat realistic was the abandonment. The whole neighborhood felt very empty. This makes sense although far fetched because they went to be with family, but nobody's primary family location lives in this neighborhood? I find that a little hard to believe, too. Then again this neighborhood could also be filled with folks hung from nooses or with self-inflicted gunshot wounds for all we know.
The second best but also partially one of the worst parts of the story is in the third act. I say I really liked it because it's where the drama in the dramedy really shines but it's also a not very well executed conclusion to this story. What I liked so much about the third act was Dodge reconnecting with his father who he hasn't spoken to in over twenty years. I am a sucker for these parent/child scenes in movies. I can watch a million romance films and hardly feel anything because it's something we see all the time. Now the parent/child relationship is still commonly used but it hits me harder than romance films. Honestly in the scene when Dodge and his dad reunite and his dad apologizes for being a dick after walking out on him it made me choke up a bit inside. I was all over it. This is also a great example of Steve Carell and his dramatic acting. He did a top notch job in this scene alone. And his dad who was played by Martin Sheen also did a top notch job. I was really feeling the connection. Unlike the connection between Dodge and Penny which I felt was non-existent and didn't work. You see, the main problem with the romance is as soon as you walk into this story you know they'll wind up together in the end. It's painfully predictable. I didn't know if Dodge and his dad would find each other again. It came off as exposition to explain how he got to where he was in his life at first. So when they were reunited I was excited. When Dodge and Penny found their love for each other I expected it so I didn't necessarily care. Also it didn't make sense because outside of a fun road trip and a little casual sex it didn't feel like they could develop enough of a connection to really be in love. Well, I guess there is the impending disaster to pull them together. Lastly is their age. Having a large age difference is really difficult. It didn't work in Last Chance Harvey and it didn't work here. Hell, it worked better in Lolita and that was about a ped-head. Then again that was Kubrick and Kubrick is basically the best thing to happen to the cinema ever but I digress. I don't even know what else to say here. It wasn't in my eyes a believable relationship. It would have worked to have just a close friendship for the end of the world who can help make it pass easier. Sparks of love don't have to fly, just a close friend can be enough and maybe even more rewarding. Then you're not in torture of what sort of life you could have spent together with this person you just met and fell in love with days before the apocalypse!
I know what this movie wanted to be but I felt like it didn't hit the mark. As I'm sure you, my smart reader, can assume a dramedy needs to blend together the comedy and drama in a mix where you can't tell when it goes from one to another. This story hits you hard with comedy in one scene and then switches gears so hard it's jarring. Once again as I'm shitting all over this title I will say it was not a bad movie. I've seen much worse this year. The problem with this is that it's predictable and overall pretty mediocre. I also feel it's a missed opportunity. A comedic, maybe even parody of the apocalypse could be a great dark comedy. Too bad the only option that's really available right now is this one and it's not up to snuff. Again, not terrible. There are some very funny parts and superb performances. Also you can see all the wild ways Keira Knightley twists and twirls her face (Seriously, most of the time she is a gorgeous woman but then she makes these faces that looks like she was just twist and twirled through a blender). Again, not a bad movie, probably worth a lazy Sunday afternoon redbox rental for the performances alone. It won't be much of a miss if you don't get to it, though.
As a quick side note, watching this also made me think of Melancholia, another end times film. Unfortunately I found that one to be disappointing as well but when you're going into a Lars Von Trier film you tend to expect quality. Not to mention it was right after Antichrist which was amazing. I'll probably do a full Melancholia review one day but for now a quick comment. Between Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Melancholia I can't help but find it ironic that the apocolypse films as of late have been a disappointment, what with the Mayan calendar ending soon.

(No I don't believe the world is coming to an end this month)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Three... Extremes

My Version: Standard definition DVD. Purchased from a blockbuster video. Not a specialized rental copy since the label on the DVD says 'Disc 1' but I did not receive a disc 2 in my purchase. So if anything it's incomplete.

History: A collaboration of three short films from three different Asian directors. The first feature, Dumplings, is directed by Fruit Chan (Hong Kong). The second feature, Cut, is directed by Chan-wook Park (Korea), and the last feature, Box, is directed by Takashi Miike (Japan). It was released on November 17th 2005 in America with a very limited release of less than 20 screens. It made roughly $2,000 per screen during it's American run. I was unable to locate information on how well it did worldwide.
The order was originally Box/Dumplings/Cut in the Asian released but was changed to the order previously mentioned. It is also technically a sequel to a similar film, simply titled Three. Ironically there was also a sequel to the film being reviewed called Three... Extremes II. Calling all of these sequels from one another is odd because they only thing they have in common is that they are collaborations of short films that have no connection other than the horror theme.
The segment Dumplings would later be expanded into a full 90 minute film.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. The only connection or history I would have with this film is I am familiar with the work of Takashi Miike.

Review: Calling Three... Extremes one of a kind is and isn't what I'm going for in the following review. The concept of making one full length film out of three shorter features is nothing new, especially in the horror genre. There's films like Creepshow and Two Evil Eyes that both did the same thing. It's entirely what those short films are about that make them one of a kind and boy, oh, boy are each of these three are one of a kind in one way or another.
The first film is Dumplings. Dumplings is a story about two women. One is a chef who specializes in a very unique type of dumplings and the other is a customer of her's who is obsessed with her beauty. You're probably thinking the exact same thing I was thinking. A horror film about someone who cooks a particular dish with a unique approach? I know, I know. The first thought that comes in your mind is that it's made of people ala Sweeney Todd minus the singing. Well you're a little bit right. There are people in the recipe but now in the same sense. Basically the plot of this short is the customer is obsessed with her looks so she eats dumplings that contain unborn fetuses. The idea behind this plot has a striking resemblance to an episode of a certain animated show on a certain comedy network. Where that episode of South Park took it in such an extreme, satirical manner this story took it in a far more freaky way.
Without the satire it's a pretty freaky concept. There's even an abortion scene where a young girl goes to the cooks apartment and they have it right there in the kitchen into the kitchen sink. It's hard to talk about these shorts without giving things away so I won't go too much farther into the story so there can be some element of surprise to the story. With that said the customer obsessed with beauty finds out that depending on where the child was in the pregnancy will rank the potency of the fetus, giving stronger/different results for her skin and beauty. Safe to say, with this being a horror tale, the results aren't what the customer hoped for. This all rolls out to a pretty creepy result. Overall my short review on Dumplings is that it's a pretty standard horror story but does execute some good creepy elements. I would be interested in checking out the extended 90 minute versions to see where else it goes.
Next in line is Cut. Right off the bat I'm not sure what to think because this is a movie about a movie maker. It's an overdone idea that gets tiresome quickly. Luckily the whole movie making aspect of it only lasts through the intro to establish character. Once it gets to the scary bits it increases in value. In short it's a cut (heh heh) and dry horror story. Guy gets kidnapped by some psycho who wants to torture him and everyone around him. Now what comes up is my favorite visual in the entire story as well as this compilation film as a whole. They are in what appears to be the director's (who was kidnapped) home but it's actually the set for his newest film. It was a design choice by the in story filmmakers to duplicate his personal home for the film's set. The director is tied up across the room and is unable to move very far from the wall he is against. Across the room he sees a woman sitting at the grand piano. All around her are wires going off in different directions but mostly centered at her hands which are on the keys of the piano. From a distance it looks like some twisted puppeteer is putting on a musical show. Here's a shot of what I'm referencing.
I actually really liked this one more than the others. It's the type of horror story where the killer presents themselves to their victim for the purposes of torturing them mentally on top of the physical torture they'll put them through. That's the element that makes this way more creepy. The mask is off, it's personal. He doesn't just want you dead, he wants you to suffer in the process, and that suffering needs to be the worst way possible. I think that's why I liked this one so much. I do like the silly slashers like Jason and Leatherface, but this brings it to a different level when not only can you see the killer's face but get to know him, too. Stories like this always make me think of a Hannibal Lecter type of killer. This brings out his bizarre logic to his motives. And boy oh boy are his motives unique.
Basically it goes like this, the director is kidnapped by a man who has been an extra in many of his films. At the same time he kidnapped the director's wife, who is the one bound up at the piano, who is also a pianist. Then, lastly he kidnapped a young girl who is tied up on the couch across the room. The extra despises the director because how much of a good man he is. The intentions of the killer are to force this good man of a director to do something horrible or every five minutes he will cut off another one of the director's wife's fingers, which will destroy her ability to play. The horrible thing? Kill the small child.
What happens over the course of the next 30-40 minutes is a series of exciting mind games that honestly kept me on the edge, not to mention some twists and turns along the way. I obviously liked this one the most with how much I've been talking about it. It really captured my attention more than Dumplings before and Box after this (which I'll get to in just a moment). The ending has a couple of loose ends I don't feel tied up properly but this one was really engaging none the less.
Now we come to Box, the last in this trilogy of these shorts. Box was directed by one of my favorite Japanese Directors, Takashi Miike (Go watch Dead or Alive, it's an amazing yakuza film, I'll have to touch on that one sometime). Unfortunately because of this I think I went in with high expectations. Now what I got wasn't crap. What I got was really good. However it was also the most puzzling. Now if you know me you know I like mind-fucks in film and other mediums. Box is definitely one of those. Only I didn't find it as interesting or compelling as other stories like this. Throughout the story it pokes at the thought that this girl is responsible for her sister's death, and the title of the film is in reference to the box her sister was locked in when she died. What follows throughout the film is what appears to be supernatural occurrences*** only to be followed up by it being a dream, but is it? Wait, if this and that was a dream earlier is this really happening? Is this story based in the reality we know or not? What?
I felt a lot of elements of the story were a jumbled mess. I was never fully sure of specific, key details of the story. For example, part of the main story was that this woman and her sister were part of a stage show when they were children. The two of them were ballerina's in the show but also participated in some magic. So this show was... I don't know... like a variety show or something? Also the man they were with I... think... was their father? Again it's something that I don't ever feel is made clear. For all I know it was their uncle, brother, family of the friend, their parent's accountant, a hobo they found at the train tracks, and the list goes on. I felt the low level of clarity on this really hit the story in the wrong way because it can damage the creep factor. Horror is meant to scare and shock. If it's their father then the way he was treating them was both creepy and shocking. If it was anyone else whether it was in or out of their family it's still creepy and shocking, only it lessens the blow a bit.
I really wanted to like Box more than I did but that's probably the fanboy inside of me screaming because of who directed it. Again I want to point out it wasn't crap. I still enjoyed what I saw and could comprehend. I think I just need to view it a few more times on it's own I think to properly comment on it. I just don't have much else to say on it at the moment.
So as a whole Three... Extremes is a pretty awesome compilation of horror shorts. I give the grand prize to Cut as I found that to be the best one put together and was the creepiest of them all. These would especially be appealing to those who enjoy other Asian horror like Ring and Whispering Corridors (Among others). I do have one more thing to comment on before I finish this off. The order of the films.
As I stated waaaaay back at the beginning of this post the order of the shorts is different than it's initial, Asian release. It was originally Box/Dumplings/Cut. I really can't argue against them being in any order, only that some orders work better for different audiences. Since this flick is three shorts coming in at roughly 40 minutes a piece it's asking for two hours of a person's time, which is quite a bit for the average American audience unless it's a story about a sinking ship or walking for a really long time to drop a ring in a volcano. So execution in presenting these to an American audience is key and re-arranging doesn't kill the overall feeling of the film. If anything it may prevent the audience from ejecting it from their DVD player.
The order it was released in America is great for the audience it is being presented to. American's are an instant gratification group of people. If Box was presented first then their assumption would be that Sumplings and Cut would be just like that and if that turns them off they'll turn the whole film off not even giving the other two a chance. So putting the most post-modern piece at the end works out well. Re-arrange the other two any way you like but leave Box at the end so this doesn't happen. However if Cut was put before Dumplings then I think it's safe to say the film would only downward spiral from there. Dumplings is good, enough to keep you interested. Cut is fantastic! Keeps you waiting for what can come next in Box. And if Box floats your boat then you go out with a bang. If it doesn't then it wasn't a total waste of time because you just two two other great horror shorts right before it, especially Cut.
I really liked Cut. I would easily buy a DVD of it stand alone.