Thursday, May 16, 2013
Many critics have accused Star Trek: Into Darkness of mere adequacy. I disagree. This movie is far more than adequate. It's more than good. It's quite good, though I think it falls short of such accolades as "great" or "brilliant."
Let's set the seen. having just save the Federation from Nero, the rogue Romulan miner, James T. Kirk is the captain of the Enterprise and a bit of a loose cannon. His freewheeling ways jeopardize his career in the very first scene of the movie, and that is all I will say about that.
Enter John Harrison, played by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch (a.k.a. the new Sherlock Holmes). Harrison is clearly intelligent, you get that just looking at him. He's also a terrorist set on causing problems for Starfleet... and that is all I am going to say about that.
Look, this is a movie filled with twists and turns that I do not want to give away. Take my word for it, the plot holds up. IT IS MORE THAN ADEQUATE. In fact, it's pretty damned exciting.
So are the special effects.
Cumberbatch is amazing, by the way. He's not an especially handsome man, but he doesn't need to be. He radiates intelligence. I suspect he is probably very bright away from the screen as well; either that, or he truly is the finest actor alive.
What Star Trek gets right is its equity. We know Kirk, Spock, Uhura, McCoy, and Scotty and many of us are invested in them. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and Simon Pegg have just enough of the original character DNA in them to fit into the roles while expanding them pleasantly. (That is especially true of Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana.) You see them, you care about them because, while they are new, they are also old friends... maybe even family.
Do I even need to mention that the special effects are spectacular?
Like Steven Spielberg before him, J.J. Abrams is a master at giving the audience what they want plus a bonus ten percent. Into Darkness is no exception.
In my opinion, calling this movie "adequate" shows a distinct lack of vocabulary. Certainly there are more adjectives to choose from than "sucks," "adequate," and "awesome." Perhaps we should add the word "terrific" to the equation.
On a scale from one-to-ten, Star Trek: Into Darkness scores just about a nine in my book.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Iron Man 3 is a fine movie. It doesn't need to be the best movie in the series to be fine. Hell, the first Iron Man remains my all-time favorite superhero movie. I'm in Tony Stark's corner; all he has to do is not become all mopey, like the Ang Lee version of Bruce Banner, and I'm his to command.
Iron Man 3 finds our hero, Tony Stark/Iron Man, retired, puttering around the mansion, and suffering post traumatic stress as a Middle Eastern terrorist named "The Mandarin" launches a war against America.
When his former chauffeur, Happy Hogan, is nearly killed in a Mandarin attack, Stark issues a challenge to the come and fight. He even lists his address... and of course the Mandarin comes calling in helicopters and nearly puts Stark down for the count.
Here is what I did not buy about Iron Man 3: Tony Stark's rather vapid bouts of post traumatic stress left me far from convinced; the naivete that led Stark to declare war on the Mandarin without considering the consequences or posting robotic guards around his mansion seemed less than credible; the Mandarin himself was among the sillier super villains I have ever seen, but the movie succeeded in changing my opinion on that score--all hail the great Ben Kingsley; and what happened to the cocky Stark quips!
My biggest qualms were with their misguided use of Guy Pearce, who was simply miscast all the way through. I am not entirely familiar with his body of work, but he was woefully miscast as Aldrich Killian. In the very beginning of the movie, the director put a shaggy wig on his head and gave him a cane, then told him to act like an ugly person. He didn't pull it off. He came across as a guy who thinks of himself as very good looking trying to hide behind a cane and wig as he pretended to be an ugly lame guy.
Ah, but this is Iron Man. It had lots of explosions and swank rich guy stuff and, in the end, it is very entertaining. A good movie? Yes, but not a great one.
I can't wait for Superman.
What, you think I'm joking? I am not joking. I disliked this movie more than I hated 10,000 B.C. I hated this movie more than Green Lantern, Anger Management, and Jaws 3D with 10,000 B.C. and Ang Lee's Hulk thrown in for good measure.
And the thing that really gets to me is that it's not really a bad movie. I'd give it a B, maybe a B-. It's a B in its own universe, but it's based on a book that most Americans are forced to read some time during their school careers, and I happen to adore the book, and so, I feel betrayed.
Now I know how the fans of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy felt after director Gary Jennings got his hands on Douglas Adams's masterpiece.
My problem with Baz Luhrmann's vision of The Great Gatsby is simple, he misunderstood the book. He appears to have believed that the book was good because the story and setting were good. Hell's bells did he ever get that wrong. The story is simplistic to the point of non-existence. It's nearly as simple as one-liner--'Stay in your caste or get gobbled up.'
Luhrmann got the story right, almost entirely right. He got the characters right as well. Leonardo DiCaprio was fine as Gatsby. There were times I thought he was playing Robert Redford playing Gatsby, but that was just fine. Carey Mulligan pulled off Daisy Buchanan, and Max Cullen was just fine as the man in the owl-eye spectacles. The way they had Elizabeth Debicki made up, she looked a bit like a lemur, but that was an artistic decision. Joel Edgerton, by the way, did an excellent job as far as the movie allowed it. This adaptation of The Great Gatsby took far too many liberties with the character of Tom Buchanan.
No, the casting was not the problem.
The setting was problematic. It's been ninety years since Long Island resembled the playground F. Scott Fitzgerald described in his book. This should have posed no problem for Luhrmann. I mean, it's been a while since the city of Rome looked like the one in Gladiator, but Ridley Scott made do. Luhrmann, however, went all in on computer graphics, often making them the stars of the show.
You see, New York and the 1920s are central to The Great Gatsby, they are not the soul of the masterpiece. The soul is the narrative itself, the fast-paced, witty, often judgmental voice of Nick Carraway. Despite the many things Mr. Luhrmann undoubtedly did right, he did little to capture that voice. In fact, he strove to embellish upon it, and that is why I hate this movie so very deeply.
Have you ever heard two people tell the same story one right after the other? Imagine Morgan Freeman telling the story of the three pigs followed by, oh, I don't know... Peewee Herman telling the same story. No, wait! Imagine James Earl Jones telling the story of creation followed by Jennifer Tilly. Better yet, think of the best story and monologue ever told by Jay Leno. Imagine Leno having the best show of his life, giving his material. He finishes and sits down to roaring applause and adulation. Now imagine Richard Nixon standing up and trying to say the same monologue. Sometimes Nixon gets all the words right, sometimes he ad libs. Sometimes he seems to leave the script entirely.
Now you know why I hate The Great Gatsby.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Graphic Audio is about to release the audio version of The Clone Sedition.
Talk about your little companies with a lot of heart, Graphic Audio has done so much to bring my Wayson Harris stories to life. The acting is good, the translations are faithful, the finished product never fails to impress me.
With the release of Sedition, they have caught up with the print publishing world and they have purchased the rights to produce The Clone Assassin as well.
If you haven't heard these audio productions, give it a try: Graphic Audio. These are not simple readings, they are audio dramas complete with a full cast of actors, special effects, and music.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
|GEEKandSUNDRY's New Video|
This morning JenMo sent me a link to a funny Boys2Men like video that does a great job expressing the general reaction to Wii U, even from many of the Nintendo's loyal fans.
Here is the link:
IT'S NOT Wii U, IT'S ME.
It may be me. I am older and traveling in different circles than I did a decade ago. Also, I, like all people, am not immune to the same kind of insular thinking that leads to so many social disasters. It may be that simply asking all the wrong people, but from what I can see, people are simply not all that excited about the upcoming generation of video games,
It's NOT just Nintendo, thought the Wii U may have contributed to it.
When Genesis and NES came out, people knew they were coming. I didn't get the feeling that the general population was waiting on pins and needles for the launches of PlayStation and Saturn, but the success of PlayStation guaranteed that the entire world was waiting for PlayStation 2. Give Sony credit, PlayStation was so brilliantly managed that it carved a legacy for a company that had only been in the console business for five or six years.
And don't forget Xbox. Microsoft entered the ring like one of those heavy-hitting boxers who can put opponent's away with a single punch.
With PlayStation 3, Sony stumbled with its $599-price tag, and Microsoft allowed Xbox 360 to be pigeonholed as a console for first-person shooters, in the last generation of games, but Nintendo was right there to pick up the slack. I still maintain that Nintendo did a better job of marketing than game-making with Wii, but what a marketing job Nintendo did! When I dared to say that "The Wii bubble was about to burst," in USA Today, I was besieged by angry Wii-nies.
When, one year later, I admitted--rather snidely--that I was wrong but that I still believed the Wii provided a crappy gaming experience, those same Wii-nies besieged me again. Maybe they make up a large part of the 3.5 million people who have purchased the Wii U because they were so happy with their Wiis.
The thing is, nothing kills a product more quickly than an initial surge of popularity followed by unfulfilled promise. Wii Sports was the perfect introductory title for Wii. It showed that console off brilliantly and lured 100 million people to purchase the console. (As of last month, Nintendo had supposedly sold over 99 million. I am sure they made up the extra 150,000 by now.)
The thing is, no one seems all that keen about Wii U. I played with one and liked what I saw, but I didn't go out to purchase one. Now Microsoft is talking about making people keep their console plugged in and online at all times. Microsoft's paranoia seems akin to the paranoia that led Nintendo to leave the N64 in cartridge-land.
Sony is in the perfect position to win this generation, but no one outside of the industry and the uber-hardcore elite seems to care that new consoles are coming.
Will this be like the end of the Atari Generation in the 1980s? I doubt it. Games have become an integral part of our society. I do think, however, the splash we get from the new consoles may not be anymore impressive than the big splash we got from the launch of 3DTV.
Monday, April 15, 2013
When I bought my first SEGA Genesis, I was a graphic artist at Sprouse Reitz, a dying five-and-dime chain that ultimately disappeared in 1993. I bought it used. The guy who sold it to me threw three games, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, and Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse.
I was well into my thirties and an avid arcade gamer, so I knew all about Golden Axe and Altered Beast. I'd played them when they first appeared in arcades. Castle of Illusion, on the other hand, meant nothing to me. What did I care about Mickey Mouse, I was an adult.
My attitude changed when I tried the games. Golden Axe was good, but short. Altered Beast, like so many arcade games, grew old the moment I no longer needed to worry about running out of quarters.
When I finally got to Castle of Illusion, I experienced an epiphany. What a game! The graphics were amazing for their time, bright, colorful, cartoon-like, and happy. The game looked like a Disney cartoon, albeit not a particularly well drawn one.
The gameplay, on the other hand, was superbly well tuned. Mickey jumped when you told him to jump. He threw apples at enemies and butt-bumped anyone who got in his way as he explored an enchanted forest, a Toyland, a giant clock, and an underground waterway as his hunt for the abducted Minnie Mouse led him closer and closer to the eponymous castle.
In recent months, I have considered buying an old Genesis just so I could play Castle of Illusion and maybe a few other old friends.
That thought came to an end five minutes ago, when I received an email from SEGA PR announcing the release of an updated Castle of Illusion on Live Arcade and PlayStation network. And when SEGA says updated, SEGA means updated.
The Genesis version of Toyland looked like this: As you can see, the graphics were bright and clear and very true to Disney. In 1993, this was cutting edge stuff.
The level was fun. You guided Mickey as he climbed ramp after ramp in a very, very tall and somewhat narrow level. To get to the top you needed to dodge or destroy toy soldiers, toy airplanes, and the occasional jack in the box. Fun stuff.
The updated version of that Toyland looks like this. It appears that SEGA has kept the game mechanics intact while bringing the graphics into the 21st Century.
It looks good, but the proof will be in the playing.
I have to admit, I am excited. Back when I was a practicing journalist, I used to fight hard to get that game included in "best of" lists all the time. I think its connection to Mickey Mouse has worked for and against it, depending specific editors. The thing is, strip away the Disney magic and the jump in graphics for its time, and Castle of Illusion is simply a well-crafted side-scroller. It was well made, no doubt about that, but there have been many, many well-made games over the years.
Since the release of Castle of Illusion, no one has pulled off Mickey quite as well in my mind. SEGA wasn't able to recapture the magic World of Illusion. SEGA went on to license Fantasia, and boy was that a disaster. Graphically, it was probably the most beautiful and artistic game to appear on the Genesis. Gameplay-wise, it felt like a thinly veiled attempt to euthanize Mickey.
Objects blocked the player's view of Mickey at inconvenient times, Mickey hesitated before jumping, etc. The game was beautiful, but it wasn't fun.
I was very poor when I bought that game. My wife said I could buy it as a combined birthday present and Christmas present, so I went o Babbage's Machine and bought it the week it came out.
The next day, I took it to the store manager and said, "This is a terrible game; I want to return it." He said I could only return it if it had a problem, and then he would replace it. When he looked in my eyes and realized that he was going to have to leave the store sooner or later and I was a crazed threat to his safety, he refunded my money. I think every impassioned gamer has a story like that.
Anyway, in my mind no one has ever quite captured the success of Castle of Illusion. Capcom took several shots at Disney bliss and never quite hit the target.
Virgin Interactive pulled off a real coups with Aladdin.
Sony Imagesoft, a company that never seemed to do anything right before the launch of PlayStation, released a phenomenal game called Mickey mania that not only took level queues from various classic Mickey cartoons, it emulated the evolution of Mickey artwork. The game started with a Steamboat Willie level and wound its way forward. Brilliant game, but as hard and inaccessible as Castle of Illusion was inviting.
In recent years, the brilliant Warren Spector, who started out working on Wing Commander games before taking the lead on such classics as System Shock and Deus Ex, produced the Epic Mickey series. I loved the look and the feel and the story of Warren Spector's games, but I felt like the game mechanic of drawing and dissolving objects got in the way of the adventure.
(A note, friends, Warren Spector is among America's most elite game creators. He belongs in the same pantheon as Sid Meier and Will Wright. I may not have liked his Micky titles as much as Castle of Illusion, but without System Shock, we may never have had BioShock, and his game Thief pretty launched stealth games even though it wasn't the first game to incorporate that mechanic.)
Saturday, April 06, 2013
Exodus Chapter 1
14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service. wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
That describes my days in retail, which includes stints at Ferrell's Ice Cream, McDonald's, Burger King, J. K. Gill Office Supplies, and Barnes & Noble.
You know, there's always that one customer. My all-time record holder was a guy who showed up at Barnes & Noble one crowded December night during the Christmas rush, and asked, "Can you help me find a science fiction novel?"
He needed help finding books like Old Man's War, Ender's Game, World War Z, and Storm Front, and then he started asking for recommendations. So here I am, carrying about a dozen books for this guy, forced to ignore other customers who are asking for help, and then he finally yells, "Oh, I'm not going to buy them. I just wanted to know which books I should buy for my Kindle!"