Battlefield 3: “My Life” Trailer and 12-minute Gameplay Footage

One game which has been on my radar for months now and will be so for the rest of the year until it comes out in November 2, 2011. That’s a long time to wait for a game, but just looking at the footage and the trailer has sold me on this game. As much as I enjoy playing Activision’s Call of Duty series (both it’s Modern Warfare and Black Ops iterations) it will be nice to finally get something new to beat back that juggernaut.

One thing which the Battlefield games have always had above and beyond every other FPS shooters is the ability in multiplayer to not just be a boots-on-the-gorund grunt but also drive tanks and armored vehicles, pilot gunships and fighters. It looks like from this latest trailer (making great use of the song “My Life” from the Swedish band jj.) that driving tanks and piloting jets is still part of the gameplay.

For a game that’s showing gameplay footage at Pre-Alpha Stage of development this game looks beautiful. It’s only a wonder how it will finally end up looking when it’s gone gold and released to the general public. A general public with cash waiting to be spent with me one of said cash spenders.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 01 “Winter Is Coming”

[some spoilers]

George R.R. Martin’s historical fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, has been decades in the making and has gained such a massive and loyal following that when news arrived several years back that HBO will adapt the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, the news was welcome with cheers and some trepidation. Cheers because finally one of the most beloved fantasy novels of the last couple decades was finally getting a live-action treatment it’s fans were clamoring for. The trepidation came from these very same fans hoping that those involved in adapting the book didn’t screw things up and ruin something very precious to them.

Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have adapted what some consider a very complex and dense fantasy novel and came up with something that stays true to the source material while still keeping things from becoming too overly complicated. The first episode is aptly titled, “Winter Is Coming” and we see the show begin with an impressive panoramic scene showing the Wall in all its imposing grandeur as several member’s of it’s Nightwatch Brotherhood venture north of it into the snow-covered, icy wasteland in search of the nomadic wildlings. Their search find them not just a tribe of wildlings (not in a condition one would consider living) and something else which their Brotherhood were created to protect the rest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros south of the wall from. The Others make a brief and chilling appearance in the first ten minutes of the episode to give a glimpse as to the true danger poised to strike down on Westeros.

The episode soon moves to the kingdom who stands guard just south of the Wall and whose lord, Eddard Stark, stands to be one of the first line of defense against the winter that is coming and the dangers it brings. Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark is the sort of noble, uncompromising lord that stories of chivalry have taught readers for hundreds of years, but who really is the rare gem in a sea of rough and flawed stones that make up the other lords and knights of the Seven Kingdoms. We see him tending to his castle-fortress of Winterfell as he oversees not just his growing sons and daughters, but the sudden news that his old friend and liege, King Robert Baratheon (played with gluttonous glee by Mark Addy), will be arriving with his entourage to Winterfell.

The episode is slighty a few minutes above an hour in running time and in that time Benioff and Weiss were able to introduce a multitude of characters both large and small which would remain important throughout this series’ 10-episode run. We meet the rest of the Stark clan from Ned’s loyal and down-to-earth wife Catelyn (from House Tully) to his sons, Robb, Bran, Rickon and Jon Snow (Ned’s bastard son hence the “Snow” surname). Then there are his two daughters who are sun and moon in difference with Sansa the older and more social-conscious daughter to Arya the tomboy younger sister who wishes nothing more than to learn how to be a knight. Maisie Williams as Arya Stark is a joy to watch in her brief scenes in the episode. She fully embodies the spirit of Arya which has made the character such a fan favorite since she was first introduced by Martin to readers everywhere in August 1996.

Other fine performances of note in the episode were the ones put forth by Peter Dinklage as the dwarf Lannister brother to the gleaming beauties of his twin siblings, Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey in a haughty performance so similar to her Gorgo role in 300, but minus the nobility inherent in the title) and Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister (Nicolas Coster-Waldau playing the role as a bon vivant, pretty boy knight). It doesn’t take long to see Dinklage not as a dwarf actor playing a dwarf role, but just as Tyrion the bitter, world-weary son who knows his place in the scheme of things and have accepted them thus making him one of the most honest characters in this episode to date outside of Ned Stark.

The cinematography for this first episode was stunning to say the least. From the frozen forests and domain north of the Wall shot in such stark white and blues to the lush and earthy look given to the tropical domain of the Dothraki where the surviving children of the former king of Westeros now reside looking to find allies to retake their rightful place as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Even Winterfell is given such loving detail in how its shot to allow it to gain a semblance of personality. A personality of a kingdom harsh and one to brook the foolhardy and soft. Winterfell looks like a place that produces hardy, fatalistic, but able men willing to do that which must be done.

For fans of the book this episode shouldn’t be too difficult to follow despite all the characters being introduced. In fact, for a first episode it really packs in the details that set’s up what will become the many different plot strands that will begin to weave itself into complex tapestry of a tale that will take audiences from the stark realm of the The Wall and Winterfell to the lush seat of power at King’s Landing to the tropical and savannah flatlands for the Dothraki realm. It’s this attention to detail that may lose some non-fans of the books as it could be too much too handle right away. But I think viewers of HBO drama series of the past should be well-versed in juggling such amounts of details right from the get-go. If loyal fans of the Wire, Oz, Deadwood, True Blood and The Sopranos can attest to it’s learning how to handle such details in stride and just let the story take them away.

“Winter Is Coming” goes a long way towards quieting any lasting trepidations fans of the novels may have of this live-action adaptation. All the hype and media ad blitz HBO has created to push this series had given it a high bar to reach before an episode had even aired, but now that the first one has aired I’m happy to say that it more than reached that high bar and looks to surpass it with each coming new episode. If there was ever a scent that should truly sell this show to fans and non-fans alike it is the final three minutes. As lurid and licentious a sequence as it may be it is also one that sets the wheels turning for the rest of the series and show that Game of Thrones is not your typical fantasy drama on TV.

As an aside, the second viewing of this episode I ended up muting the early intro sequence and just listened to German power metal band’s song about Game of Thrones…it actually fit in well according to my fantasy nerd sensibilities.

Scenes I Love: Seven


My weekend was full of sleep, coughing and just vegetating in front of my bedroom tv as I tried to get better from my bout of the cold and flu. For some reason or another AMC channel decided to hold a mini-marathon of David Fincher’s classic neo-noir thriller, Seven, and I must say that I probably saw all three straight showings before sleep finally took over. It surely made for some very unusual, drug-induced dreams.

I’ve always seen Seven as Fincher at his most exploitative best. If there was ever a modern grindhouse exploitation film of the past twenty years I would have to consider Seven as one of them. From start to finish the film just felt grimy and made one feel dirty just for having seen it. Take away all the gloss and veneer afforded Fincher due to modern film technology and techniques this film was grindhouse to its core. No better scene exemplifies and solidifies Seven as a grindhouse exploitation film than it’s shocking, nihilistic ending which bucked traditional Hollywood happy ending (or at least and ambiguous one).

It’s been made famous due to the powerful performances from the three leads who dominate the scene. It is almost played off like a stage play with some gorgeous camera work from cinematographer Darius Khondji switching from Morgan Freeman to Kevin Spacey to Brad Pitt with mathematical precision as the scene unfolds through very strong dialogue by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker.

The performances shown by Spacey is both chilling and otherworldly as the sociopathic John Doe urging Pitt’s Det. Mills to become wrath and punish him for his sin of envy. Looking helpless and desperate is Freeman’s Det. Somerset trying to talk some sense and decency to the rapidly unraveling Mills who has just learned that what is inside the box he’s been screaming for is his wife’s head.

The fact that the unfolded and ended the way it did honors the grindhouse sensibilities of past exploitation films where the good guys never always win and even when they do it’s at a very heavy cost to the victor. This climactic ending to Seven is so nihilistic that when the film was first shown in 1995 many walked out grumbling at such a dark and heavy ending. Where was the Hollywood happy ending everyone was so used to. There was no cavalry charging last second to save the day. No deus ex machina intervening to show that Mill’s wife was still alive. No, Fincher and crew knew they had something special in their hands and went full tilt to see it through.

It’s no wonder I still consider Seven to be David Fincher’s best film to date.

Quickie Review: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir)

If there was a film which deserved better when it first came out in 2003 it would be Peter Weir’s epic adaptation of the Patrick O’Brian seafaring novels starring the character of Capt. Jack Aubrey. It was just bad luck on the part of Weir’s film that it came out the same year and month as the juggernaut that would sweep through not just the box-office for the 2003 holiday season, but all through the award-season. If Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World had only come out a year later there’s a great chance it would’ve been the frontrunner for 2005 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and many more. But the juggernaut that was Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would not be denied after two previous years when Jackson and his magnum opus were passed over.

To say that Peter Weir was at the top of his game with Master and Commander would be an understatement. Working from a script written by Weir himself and John Collee, the film would take several episodes from the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin novels and combine them to make a coherent and thrilling period piece that rarely ever get made anymore. This was epic filmmaking at its finest with Weir’s direction keeping the long-running time of the film from becoming too tedious. Yet, he was also able to keep the film from becoming one battle setpiece following another. There was enough of a balance between the quiet storytelling, especially between the characters of Capt. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (played by Russell Crowe in what had to be his best role ever) and his close friend and ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany matching Crowe scene for scene) to keep the film grounded in reality.

Master and Commander is set during the Napoleonic Wars when France and England battle it out on land and in the high seas. On one side is the HMS Surprize captained by Jack Aubrey which patrols the sea lanes from French privateers looking to attack and loot the rich English whaling ships to help fund Napoleon’s ambitions. The film is actually a cat-and-mouse thriller wrapped around a character piece as Aubrey’s ship and crew, outgunned and less armored than the French frigate Acheron it has come across during its patrol, must not just try and survive but find a way to beat it’s larger opponent. It’s during the quiter scenes in-between sea engagements that the film actually becomes stronger. We see life onboard the HMS Surprize as being quite harsh and primitive and not so glamourous as past films about sailing life would have audiences believe. The film shows how this harsh life for volunteers and press-ganged crew ratings creates a strong bond of fellowship amongst the crew members that when they believe someone is jeopardizing their lives they quickly turn on that individual. But it’s through the near-dictatorial handling of his crew which keeps both ship and crew from devolving into mutiny. Crowe does a great job of giving Jack Aubrey that balance of ruthless taskmaster whose word is law onboard, but also gives his captain that bon vivant flair which when used accordingly makes Aubrey a hero to the very men he has to lord over.

This benevolent dictator was balanced out by Bettany’s Dr. Maturin who acts not just as the scientific counter to Aubrey’s militaristic personality, but also as the conscience of the ship who looks first to the crew’s well-being. This dynamic between Crowe and Bettany kept the film anchored and stabilized as we see the long-standing friendship between these two get tested not just by the crisis they find themselves in but also the vast ideological differences between the military man and the scientist. Yet, despite all their problems and difference when things became rough the two would settle it amicably and concentrate on their shared task with their bond of friendship intact and much stronger after.

The film doesn’t shirk it’s thrills as Master and Commander provides audiences with some of the most thrilling and accurate portrayal of naval combat during the Napoleonic era. There are no steel-hulls or rapid-fire guns. The engagements between the HMS Surprize and the Acheron were all brutal affairs from the first time the latter ambushes Aubrey’s ship early in the film to the final battle which sees not just ship-to-ship fighting but boarding actions as the crew of the Surprize attempt a desperate gamble to take the fight to the bigger French privateer. It’s a testament to Weir’s direction that even through the chaotic nature of each battle he’s able to keep each scene easy to follow and allow for main characters to stand out for audiences to recognize.

It’s a shame that the film didn’t succeed in the box-office more than it did. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World showed that there was still old-school epic filmmaking left in Hollywood with filmmakers willing to tell a grand story with bigger-than-life characters on a broad canvas. The fact that it took an even more epic film to surpass Peter Weir’s film shouldn’t detract from this film’s accomplishments.