Saturday, April 24, 2010

Movie Review: I'm Not Going to Make a Pun About Kick-Ass or The Losers

Spoilers exist below, albeit in a somewhat subconscious way. Beyond mention of a few critical scenes that you might not see coming, I’m mostly just pointing out where things in one of these films find their way into the other. It’s cool, kids.

Anyone possessed of a familiarity with either myself in general or EgoPoisoning in particular may have been surprised that I didn’t post a review for Kick-Ass immediately after it hit theaters. Please believe I saw it then, and spent much time engaged in acts of gushery thereafter. However, I suppose that I decided writing a review was unnecessary: it was the #1 movie in the nation, and outside of my immediate circle of friends (Or rather, a large concentric circle around the smaller data point that was the guy who went with me when I saw it) and their steadfast refusal to consume the awesome, it seemed as though everyone went and saw the movie. As my bubonic memeticism drives me to fill folks’ heads and ears with things they ought to be consuming, but aren’t yet, Kick-Ass seemed to be doing okay without my help. Sure, Ebert hated it, but he also thinks video games not only are not, but cannot be, art. Big Doughy E, “You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in.”

Then my younger brother caught the flick after a week of my urging, and his response afterward was a resounding meh. Given that I readily idolize my younger brother—this is a man who asked his special lady friend to be his special lady friend by having Colorado rapper Black Prez write, record, and e-mail him a song to that effect in the time it took her to shower--learning that he didn’t dig the movie distressed me deeply. I hit him with a rapid-fire interrogation: “So what you’re telling me is, when a twelve-year-old impales a man’s hands with a rope-tethered kunai, leaps over him while wrapping the rope around his wrists, and then tugs the rope in order to draw his gun against his chin and fire a bullet into his own head…that did nothing for you?” After a few more such questions, my brother ultimately said that, even after having seen the film, I made it sound better than he found it while watching it. I said he just needed to watch the movie with my eyes, which is probably true but not biologically possible.

However, I can watch movies with my eyes, and I just finished watching The Losers, a movie I had initially been pumped for based on the trailers, and then swerved away from when I realized it was only rated PG-13, and finally decided to see (12 minutes before the showing, at a theater across town) on the recommendation of the illustrious Wesley Johnson. So what I’m really sitting down to do is talk about The Losers, not Kick-Ass, except that from the position of the brain situated behind my eyes it’s impossible to talk about the former without the latter. But when I say this, I mean it for reasons other than the superficial similarity that both films are based on comic books (in the case of The Losers, the comic is actually based on another comic). If I were going to make a comparison between The Losers and something else on purely superficial, it would be The A-Team, or the Expendables, or Xuande’s crew in Romance of the Three Kindgoms. The Losers follows a group of elite government agents, each with particular specialties including piloting vehiclesand talking really fast while being a fetchingly bestubbled Caucasian male, led by a grizzled strategist in disgrace. They’re framed and betrayed by a sinister government agent (Portrayed by an actor with experience playing a nocturnal individual). For serious.

So taking the aerial view, it is vastly easier to compare The Losers to other movies; Three Kingdoms obviously lacks an overabundance of Caucasians, but a ragtag group of mercenary warriors follow their grizzled, framed leader Liu Bei while pursued by the shadowy and manipulative Cao Cao. That’s my masters education at work, people.

No, where The Losers and Kick-Ass are disturbingly similar is in tiny, specific things. There’s a slow-motion fight in the darkness, while flames lick around the edges of the scene. There’s a shocking betrayal. And bad things happen to tiny children.

I want to stress that I enjoyed the hell out of The Losers. It’s a great action movie, full of entertaining dialogue. The villainous Max is superlatively portrayed by Jason Patric, who manages to be every bit as sociopathic and unhinged as Gary Oldman’s Carnegie without ever going over the top. He doesn’t chew the scenery, he doesn’t fly off no frothing tangents; when he does reprimand his underling it’s always very subtle, understated, self-aware…and hilarious. All of the characters manage to be likeable and expressive, conveying a subtle (And not-so-subtle) badassery that feels comfortable and well-worn. The early fight between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana has a charming pre-combat stretch on both actors’ parts that leaves the audience with no doubt as to what’s about to go down.

What fascinated me in watching it, though, was how I kept thinking that I ought to buy a ticket for the 7pm showing of Kick-Ass afterward. Partially this was because of the combat; it’s great in The Losers, very technical and weighty, but that fired a hunger in me to watch Chloe Moretz flow gracefully through a crowd of armed guards. Partially it was the difference in scope and scale of the emotional connection I was able to form with the characters in each film. It’s made clear, reasonably subtly, that one of the characters in The Losers has a pregnant wife; Chris Evans’s Jensen is also adorably fixated on his niece’s soccer team, even from Boliva. However, beyond these simple statements and occasional references to them, The Losers isn’t really crafted to give you a deeper understanding of what drives and motivates the characters; beyond the two connections I just mentioned there’s essentially nothing for anyone else in the film. Of course, part of the purpose behind this fits the characters, whose truest and deepest connections appear to be with one another, a group of brothers forged in battle to function as a single effortless unit. Which is cool, and well done. But it feels like small beer in comparison with the utterly heart-wrenching family dynamic portrayed in Kick-Ass, where Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage form a parent-child bond that puts 7th Heaven to shame.

But truthfully, at its core, I think what put me in mind of Kick-Ass as I watched the Losers was something that happens at the very beginning of the film, and could be a spoiler if you’ve never seen an action movie before. The Losers give up their spot on an extraction helicopter after aborting their mission due to the presence of a number of children. As they put the children on the chopper, one of the little boys tries to give Clay (the Loser’s leader) his teddy bear; Clay pushes it back into his hands and says “No Gracias. You keep your bear safe.”

If you don’t see a missile coming at that point, movies must be full of surprises for you, and I’m genuinely a little envious. I watched the helicopter rising back into the sky, and I thought about something that had troubled B.D. Ebert in the review I linked above, but from the opposite angle. In Kick-Ass, Chloe Moretz does get kicked around, smacked around, at one point brutally, viciously beaten…all by adults who are right there in front of her diminutive frame. It’s horrifying, and gut-wrenching, and it leaves a profound impact…because it’s the point of every scene where it occurs. The impact of the images, of what they say about her conviction as a hero and the upbringing that led her to that life, is never hidden or obscured. We see her gasping on her back, blood caking her nostrils, and are struck by her fragility and her ferocity.

In The Losers, 25 kids are blown up in the first ten minutes. They’re never seen again, and while their death is at least part of the impetus for the film’s plot, their tiny lives have less repeated significance than the bobble-headed Chihuahua that Pooch the driver puts onto the dash of every vehicle he nabs, or the cowboy hat Couger the sniper wears. In many ways, Kick-Ass and The Losers are using the same tools to tell a story, including the very human reaction that seeing children threatened elicits. However, in this I think the point goes to Kick-Ass, because there’s not a moment in that film where you can forget that Hit-Girl isn’t old enough to see her own movie.

Monday, April 5, 2010

MMO Adventures 3: Leaving Perfect World for DDO

The credit card was slippery in my sweaty fingers. My brow was moist with a feverish flush of heat. My finger hovered over the button…

My computer saved me from re-subscribing to WoW, however, by simply refusing to download the bastard. I tried for two days while visiting my girlfriend (Because, see, that meant I was off the computer, busy being a devoted boyfriend.) which is atop the week I spent at home trying first; it sounds like I’m describing efforts to conceive. However, after the second time it failed to function, I despaired. I had Perfect World, of course, and Perfect World’s not bad…but I can honestly say that if Perfect World has a story, I haven’t found it yet. Every time some apothecary tells me, completely seriously, that a giant dog had the wherewithal and drive to steal a crucial recipe…I just shake my head. Some of the quests are entertaining, though; I loved the guy who had nightmares of being killed by ambulatory cacti, despite the specific breed existing on the coast of a continent while he was standing inside a plant-free city at its center. I killed the cacti for him. I killed the turtles for some other dude, covering my roommate (Who is a tortoise, natch)’s eyes as I did so. I ground and ground and picked up iterative power increases and new abilities.

But ultimately, Perfect World is linear in a way I struggle to accept. It’s not even the linearity of the questing, the endless grind. It’s the fact that I have yet to find any uniqueness in character progression whatsoever. My Barbarian, for instance, can use all manner of polearms, one- and two-handed axes and hammers, and even paired hammers. Some of these weapons swing faster than others; for the uninitiated, this has an effect on your DPS (Damage Per Second). If one weapon deals 68-118 damage and has a swing speed of 1.9 seconds, and another deals 60-100 damage but has a swing speed of .8 seconds, the latter weapon provides better DPS. In other games, WoW for instance, swing speed really does matter. Certain classes and builds favor the quickest, nastiest weapons they can wield, because they’re dependent on abilities triggered off of critical hits (Basically, a really good result on the random number generation that determines if your attack is a success) or upon things that they apply, like poisons, with every hit. Other classes and builds prefer big, nasty, slow weapons with tremendous base and maximum damage; usually they’re going to employ a number of special abilities which ignore swing speed and inflict their damage based on the damage capacity of the weapon, such that what matters is how much damage your weapon is capable of.

In PW, though, none of that seemed to matter. If a weapon did more total DPS, you upgraded to it. It didn’t matter what the swing speed was, because the Barbarian really doesn’t care. The class is built off of a mana (and chi) energy pool, which runs out so quickly that you’re either spamming potions or just hitting stuff. Barbs also have a tiger form with totally different abilities, higher armor and speed but lower damage. In this form, though, your weapon swing speed seems to be utterly normalized, so your weapon again doesn’t matter. Even the existence of this tiger form provides few to no decisions. Are you tanking? Tiger form. Are you running somewhere? Tiger form. Do you want things to die faster? Manbeast form. It also think it’s a shame, a true shame, that every Barbarian turns into a white tiger…as you can’t actually make your character a white tiger-headed man. If I’m running around as a lion man, I want to turn into a lion; same for wolf and, for pantssake, Pandas.

PW has some amazing qualities, and it’s visually exceptional. Being able to totally recustomize your character’s appearance before each login was impressive as well.

But once I managed to log into DDO, I knew I wouldn’t be going back any time soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

I saw Clash of the Titans today. Simply googling that title further bolstered my already formed thrust for this review. Gentle Giant John Meo (I don’t know if John Meo is a gentle giant. I don’t know anything about John Meo) suggests that it will be a much-hyped bore; he apparently draws this opinion in part from the esteemed Doug Cooper (Don’t know anything about the Dougster either). Earlier today I was speaking with my boss and asked if she planned to see the film; she’s in a similar situation to that of my own lovely lady in that she’s been so long attached to a nerd it’s caused her own recessive nerdity to express itself fully. My boss said she’d heard the movie was cheesy. Really, really cheesy. This is not to say she wasn’t going to see it, but it did impact the likelihood of her seeing it in the theaters. Later, another coworker popped by the office (It used to be her office, but she moved down the hall and it’s certainly not my office, hence “the” office.) and when I mentioned my ever-increasing excitement to see the film she said it had received “mixed reviews.” I’m pretty sure that was a diplomatic way of saying that she’d heard it sucks.

People of the world, heed my words: Clash of the Titans does not suck. I try to refrain from being that guy who says “You’re just watching it wrong,” but (Like anyone who starts a sentence by saying “I try to refrain from x”) if you think Clash sucks, you are watching it wrong. You are watching it with unwarranted, unreasonable, unrealistic, or undeserved expectations. And, honestly, that’s fine. The movie is already made. It already exists, in gorgeous 3-dimensional sexy. If the flick bombs in the theaters it will simply reach DVD, and my collection, that much faster.

Real talk folks: Clash is kind of cheesy, but so is mythology. That is why mythology is awesome. Dudes are jumping onto the backs of giant monsters and stabbing them with enchanted dinnerware; ladies are beguiling men and magic-ing them into bestial forms; completely impractical pieces of metallic fruit drive entire countries to war. The Trojan War? Sex and the City-style cat fight. Do the characters in Sex and the City fight? I don’t know, I’ve never watched the show and really can’t back that comparison up. But mythology=cheese, and sometimes even camp, and that’s a glorious and beautiful thing. It’s a major part of why we even remember this stuff. So in Clash, when Perseus learns that Zeus slipped a magic roofie to his mom and made baby times, that’s what the Greeks say happened. Granted, Perseus’s mother was king Acrisius’s daughter, not his wife, and Big A Little c wasn’t besieging Olympus at the time, and Zeus didn’t appear as a copy of the king and then flash a little butt at the king when he stormed into the chamber after the deed was done; but is that somehow cheesier than Zeus appearing to Danae as a shower of gold? I submit to the reader that it is not. The change of moving Calibos’s identity from suitor-to-Andromeda to pissed-off-king is actually less cheesy, since it removes a tangled and somewhat wearisome romantic subplot.

As for the rest of the plot, the only really glaring change is the addition of those fellows you may have seen in the trailers, standing around in robes and having fewer than five fingers while they point at scorpions. I won’t go into their role in order to avoid spoilers, but I will make the claim that any movie already including giant sea monsters, giant scorpions, and giant snakes with the torsos of women attached where their head would be-with snakes attached to where the woman’s hair would be-really can’t be rendered more ridiculous(ly awesome) with the addition of some scaled desert-dwelling-dudes. There is arguably a larger alteration to the motivation behind the plot, but it remains “gods be capricious and petty, yo.” As for Perseus’s involvement, as much as I proudly wave the flag of a romantic I can definitely buy his character’s current motivation more easily than

This is not to say that the new Clash is simply a tired retread of the classic original. Clash has several new and delightful things going for it. The first is Gemma Arterton. Gemma is fast becoming one of “my” people, and I hope she keeps it up. What this means is that Gemma keeps showing up in awesome films that I want to see, and is hopefully approaching the point where her willingness to be involved in a project helps get it the green light, thus creating more films I want to see. In this she’s like a more (well, equally) attractive Orlando Bloom circa early 2000s; they’ve even both starred in movies with Liam Neeson and magic desert people! Gemma portrays the immortal Io, whose mythology for the film does not involve being turned into a magic cow and chased by a demon fly. Again readers, I ask you, is it possible for the background she does receive-lady who doesn’t get old-to be any cheesier than her mythological backgrounds? Would there be any great cinematic gain to remaining more faithful to the original plot for the character? I submit that, while Gemma could voice a cow beautifully, there is not.

The other major victory for the new Clash is the advancement in our special effects and combat choreography since the 1981 version. I mean no disrespect to Dominaar Harryhausen, who was and is a man of magic. His films shaped my childhood, my imagination, and my entertainment predilections. However, you can love caramel and dark chocolate; as much as I enjoyed the incredible scene where Calibos summons giant scorpions in the first film, the scorpions in the 2010 version are bigger, meaner, faster, and somehow more believable. What ultimately happens to them is ridiculous, and I will make neither excuses nor apologies for it because it is also awesome. The Kraken has been prominently featured in most of the trailers and commercials, so it’s not really necessary to say much about it; I assume you’ve seen it and can draw your own conclusions. Calibos is also awesome; he was always my favorite part of the original, and this version is much more powerful and sinister. The only complaint I raise is that he looks so much like New Mickey Rourke that it’s criminal they didn’t just cast him in the role.

However, I do want to say a few words about Medusa. I’ve seen countless Medusae in my life, particularly as a fan of fantasy films, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, and video games across all platforms. I battled my first Medusa in a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System; I decapitated scores of the creatures in the various God of War games. Clash of the Titans has the best Medusa I have ever seen. It’s not just that they went for a beautiful face, rather than the equally popular serpent-skinned face. This is important, though, because I’ve always felt that the idea that the Medusa is so hideous she kills with her gaze but still manages to be beautiful is the most chilling part of the creature. However, Clash also does a phenomenal job of conveying Medusa’s size and heft. Her tail is huge, thick, and agile, and the stinger at the end of the rattle is the sort of unnecessary yet totally like the Greek Gods touch I cherish. After all, these are the folks who gave us the Hydra (It’s like a snake, but it keeps growing new heads!), the Chimera (You know what’s scary? Take a big lion and give it a snake for a tail. And then make it breathe fire. And then? Then give it an extra goat’s head for no reason.), and the Sphinx (Let’s take another lion, right? Lions are cool. Then, let’s stick a lady where its head should be, and give her wings, and make her really smart.). There’s absolutely no reason that their giant super-archer petrifying-gaze snake lady wouldn’t have a rattle with a poison stinger on the end.

Clash of the Titans isn’t a movie about character development, emotional growth, or successful family dynamics. If you purchase your ticket expecting these things, you will be disappointed. However, I would challenge you to name the last 3-D blockbuster to focus on those themes. Or the last Greek myth. The movie is an excellent spectacle, an action-filled orgy of strutting about and hitting things with other things. If none of that sounds appealing to you, then there’s really no reason whatsoever for you to see it. If those things do appeal to you, you probably bought a ticket already.