Lisa’s Editorial Corner: On Tornadoes, Rango, social media, and Charlie Sheen


Well, it had to happen but did it have to happen so soon?

So, here we are.  Just two weeks into doing Lisa’s Editorial corner and already, I’m worrying that I may have nothing to talk about.  Of course, some of that is because I’m a little bit preoccupied.  Somehow — don’t ask how unless you really want the details — I managed to sprain my foot on Saturday morning.  I stayed on the couch for the weekend but then, foolishly, I attempted to both work and dance on Monday.  So, right now, I am home, my foot hurts, and I’m having a hard time focusing on anything else.

(At the same time, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve sprained my foot and/or my ankle.  It sucks right now but I’ll be okay soon.  I’m taking off work on Tuesday, which means that I’ll get to make even more progress in cleaning out the DVR!)

Plus, as I write this at 1:30 in the morning, we are currently under tornado watch!  If a tornado does decide to show up, I am not looking to forward to having to hop my way into the downstairs coat closet.  They say that, if you don’t have a storm bunker like the one Michael Shannon installed in Take Shelter, the downstairs closet is the safest place to get in case of a tornado.  I have never understood why.

This is why I sometime hate social media.

charlie-sheen-5240

Since Monday is always my crazy day, I was not on twitter when the whole “Charlie Sheen Has HIV” story broke.  In fact, I didn’t know a thing about it until someone mentioned it in passing that night and, at that time, I was so busy trying not faint from the pain of my sprained foot that it really didn’t register with me.

So really, it wasn’t until I got home, took a handful of Vicodin, and logged onto twitter that I was really aware of what’s been going on with Sheen.  Apparently, this Tuesday (i.e., today), Sheen is going to be on the Today Show and is going to reveal whether or not he has HIV.  There’s something really ghoulish about how much some people are anticipating Charlie Sheen announcing that he is HIV positive.

It’s also sad that, judging from many of the comments on twitter, a lot of people don’t understand that being HIV positive does not mean that Charlie Sheen has AIDS.  Check out a few of the comments:

Keep in mind that I’m writing this at 1:33 in the morning and Charlie Sheen has yet to officially announce anything.  By the time this post is published and you read it, Sheen will probably have announced whatever it is that he’s going to announce but, for now, nobody knows anything.  There’s just speculation.  For all we know, Sheen is going to announce that he’s HIV negative or that he wants to be Donald Trump’s running mate.

In fact, the only thing we know for sure is that a lot of people seem to be positively gleeful about the possibility of Charlie Sheen having HIV.  I’ve never been a fan of Charlie Sheen’s and I found his whole “winning” thing to be more pathetic than anything else.  But it has always disturbed me that his extremely self-destructive behavior has always been treated as a source of entertainment.  What’s particularly offensive is that many of the same people who loved to watch crazy old Charlie talk about “tiger blood,” are now gloating about how Sheen’s “lifestyle” has caught up with him.  It was a lifestyle that was largely dependent upon and made possible by American’s own twisted love/hate relationship with celebrity.

The blogger known as Jedadiah Leland and I have often debated whether or not social media is worth all the trouble.  Usually, I think I can make a pretty good case that twitter does enough good that it makes all the other bullshit worth it.  But, when I see thousands of strangers competing to come up with the best joke about someone being HIV-positive, I start to think that he may have a point.

And since I’ve just been critical of twitter, I’ll wrap this up with a tweet from my sister:

The best laid plans of Lisa…

Before I got caught up writing about Charlie Sheen, I was going to devote a bit of a space to talking about how much I hate it when people show up late for a movie.  I mean, seriously — we all know that, if a movie is listed as starting at 7:00, the movie isn’t really going to start until 7:20.  That’s a 20 minute grace period right there and there’s really no excuse for arriving at the theater after that grace period has ended.  If you’re going to be more than 20 minutes late, either go to a different showing or go back home.  But for God’s sake, don’t wander into the theater and go, “Oh, the movie’s started,” and then stumble around looking for a seat in the dark.

To be honest, I’d rather be stuck in a theater with a screaming baby than have to deal with people showing up 30 minutes late for the movie.

As long as we’re here, check this out!

The evil clown who pops up to sing ‘Get Yourself High‘ in the Chemical Brothers’ live show has his own Facebook page.  I am so happy right now!  Unfortunately, there’s not much information on the page about the clown but I liked it anyway.  You never know when the clown might decide to open up about his hopes and dreams.

Clown

FLASHBACK TIME!

You know what you should find time to do today?  You should take a trip into the past and read the very first review that Leonard Wilson ever wrote for this site.  I present to you … Leonard’s 2o11 review of Rango!

One Final Thought…

At any given time, I usually have about a week’s worth of blog posts scheduled to publish on the various sites that I write for.  So, if I died tomorrow, my writing would actually outlive me.  Think about it — I could be dead and still giving you my opinion.  And if I am dead and I tell you to see a movie, you better see it!

Ghost Critic

Have a great week!

Steve Jobs (Dir. by Danny Boyle)


imagesI don’t have much to say about Steve Jobs, which has been playing here in New York in a limited release. This is how I know I didn’t care for it.

When you look at the list of people who came together to make the new movie about Steve Jobs, it’s almost impossible to think that the end result could be bad. You’ve got Academy Award Winner Danny Boyle, whose work I’ve enjoyed since Trainspotting. With a track record like 28 Days Later, The Beach, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire, he’s having a wonderful run. You also have Academy Award Winner Aaron Sorkin, fresh off both The Social Network, Moneyball and The Newsroom working the screenplay. With actors like Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave, Slow West) and Kate Winslet (Divergent, A Little Chaos) on board , it’s almost like having the stars align.

And yet, I almost walked out on Steve Jobs. It just wasn’t for me. Maybe I was just tired.

The film focuses on three places in the Steve’s life:

– The launch of the original Macintosh just after the “1984” Super Bowl commercial.

– The launch of the NeXt system, which Jobs created after being fired by Apple.

– The launch of the first iMac, just after Jobs returned to Apple as the interim CEO.

The entire first part was really good, with arguments going back and forth over the ability to get the on stage Mac to say “Hello”. Steve also argues with Chrisann Brennan over the financial support for her daughter, Lisa Nicole. Steve simply won’t admit she is his. When asked about the name of his first computer, Jobs goes to great lengths to explain that the acronym (Local Integrated System Architecture) is just a coincidence. When Lisa amazes him with her computer usage, he decides to support her mom with a check.

Every segment after that felt like a repeat of the first one to me, almost like Run Lola Run. In the beginning, it feels fresh, witty, nice. By the end, I was fighting to simply stay awake and care. What I hoped to see was more interaction with Steve and Lisa. If they were so distanced then, and grew close later in life, what was the catalyst? Was it the cancer diagnosis Steve had in the early 2000’s? We’ll never know, because the movie stops just before that time period. Did he suddenly realize that his heart wasn’t as small as the Grinch? What about Jonny Ive, who was responsible for much of Apple’s design after Job’s return? Nope, not even so much a mention. And I think this is the overall problem I have with the film. Yes, Steve Jobs by himself was a visionary, and as the story points out, he conducts the Orchestra, but there’s no reverence whatsoever to any of the other people that helped get Apple where it is. It doesn’t make the movie terrible for not covering these angles, but there are a number of missed opportunities as a result of using such a narrow range.

Fassbender was wonderful to watch onscreen, as well as Winslet. One of the odd things is that from a performance standpoint, everyone in Steve Jobs is effective. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fassbender get some kind of recognition come awards season. Even Seth Rogen did a good job, though his version of Wozniak was limited to constantly arguing for credit like Morrie in Goodfellas looking for his cut of the Luftansa Heist. There are points, however, where the banter just becomes a little too much.

Mind you, I loved The Social Network. I enjoyed The Newsroom.  A Few Good Men is one of my favorite films. I’ve even seen the man in person once. He knows what he’s doing when it comes to having people talk. Here, it just seemed like Sorkin said…”What if I created a play about how Steve Jobs could be.” and rolled with it. Supposedly, he acknowledged that much of the writing here isn’t entirely accurate. I can accept that, but I think the structure of the film damaged it all for me. I would have preferred more of a straight A-B narrative than what I received. Is that too long to put to screen? Perhaps.

Here at the Shattered Lens, Lisa Marie and I have gone head to head regarding Aaron Sorkin, sometimes yelling from our respective offices. She’s not a fan, but I’ve liked his work. The argument is that for all of his abilities when it comes to writing, he doesn’t really handle women well. It’s true. Women haven’t always fared well in Sorkin’s world, and watching Winslet, I was almost sure I could come back here and say in his defense…”Hey, Sorkin wrote a good girl that doesn’t just exist to help the male hero to succeed or as a target for males to pick on. This isn’t Demi Moore in A Few Good Men. Aha!!” I wanted to say that. I really did…but I can’t. As good as Winslet is here, her character is almost Emily Mortimer’s from The Newsroom. She does have some great lines, and her screen time with Fassbender is nice.

I did enjoy Danny Boyle’s direction here. The approach with using the different film styles (old style camera work for the 1984 Macintosh launch, conventional film for the NeXt Launch, and HD optics for the iMac release) was interesting, and I liked how he used the environment to tell the story. I have little to complain about there.

Note that the audience did applaud the film. There were moments where a phrase or two yielded some laughs. In that sense, maybe the film accomplished something. You’ll have to see it and come to your own conclusions on how it works for you.

 It just wasn’t for me, and I was really looking forward to it.

Quick Review: Marvel’s Ant-Man (dir. by Peyton Reed)


Marvel's Ant-Man

*** Wait a minute! Before checking this out, be sure to read TrashFilmGuru’s thoughts on Ant-Man and then if you like, double back here. Two opinions are better than one! ***

I walked into Ant Man with a bias.

As a fan of Edgar Wright, his departure on the film due to creative differences left me wondering if it was worth seeing. Mix that with the idea that Marvel diverged from the character’s comic book origins for a better fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it all seemed like a recipe for failure. This was going to be the Cars 2 of the MCU, I was sure of it.

Ant-Man isn’t as large a tale as Captain America: The First Avenger or as star spanning as Guardians of the Galaxy. At times, it feels like it the story would be better suited for an extended Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Crossover or a Netflix one shot instead of a big screen event. It actually reminded me of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in many ways, back when all of this was so small that audiences weren’t searching for tie-ins to next film in the line up or homages to The Story So Far. Ant-Man comes with the MCU connections (and comic book ones too), but if you walk in expecting revelations as big as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the film may be a disappointment. It’s just a hero, and idea that even small actions can have big effects. It’s easily the film’s greatest strength, that it’s so personal. The film’s best components are it’s casting (particularly in House of Cards & The Strain’s Corey Stoll and Fury’s Michael Pena), and the effects themselves. It’s a movie that’s well worth the 3D treatment, if you can catch it that way.

Ant-Man focuses on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former thief who is just trying to spend more time with his daughter, or at least be a hero in her eyes. Scott ends up meeting with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) who brings him on board for a job that just happens to cover his particular skill set. The job comes with a special suit that allows Lang to shrink down to about the size of an Ant, while at the same time allowing him to be much stronger. When Pym’s protege and rival Cross (Stoll) discovers another way to possibly make the shrink ability work, it’s up to Lang to try to stop the progress.

The film had 4 writers during it’s creation. It had Edgar Wright, who many moviegoers know from the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Adam McKay worked with Rudd in the past on the Anchorman films, and was responsible for Talladega Nights & Step Brothers. Both McKay and Rudd had a hand in writing Ant-Man. Finally, Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish was on board. The end result of all this is a film with a great deal of comedy influences in it, though not all of them hit the mark. I felt there were at least 2 moments in the film where Rudd’s character had a one liner that just didn’t hit the mark, or elicit a response from the audience. This isn’t a terrible thing, at most it’s just nitpicking. Overall, you could consider Ant-Man a comic caper with superhero moments.

Additionally, the writers had to also figure out how to make the character of Dr. Hank Pym useful in a storyline where one of his biggest arcs in the comics – creating Ultron – was already handled in a previous story. I like to think this was handled pretty well, as comic readers will already recognize Scott Lang as being the 2nd Ant-Man – or least this is what I learned from the Marvel Encyclopedia. They’ve managed to keep familiar storylines in place while still anchoring it to the larger tale at hand.

The performances in Ant-Man are good, though it’s the co-stars that potentially steal the film from the leads. Lang’s heist buddies, played by David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), Cliff “T.I.” Harris (Takers), and Michael Pena (Fury) were indeed funny in this. Pena in particular stood out as someone who gets ahold of information through some pretty wild sources. Michael Douglas was a strange pick for me when I first heard about it, but he’s actually a fantastic fit for the whole story. Evangeline Lilly looked like she had a lot of fun with this, though her character served as a second mentor for Lang. I wanted to see her do a bit more in the film, actually. Bobby Canavale (Chef, Third Watch) and Judy Greer (Jurassic World) both have nice supporting roles in this.

Corey Stoll has played an ass so much on-screen that I’m not entirely sure he isn’t that way off camera. Between Non-Stop, House of Cards, Midnight in Paris and now Ant-Man, he’s plays the kind of characters that were historically set aside for character actors like Jeff Kober or Michael Ironside. Honestly, they couldn’t have made a better choice here. Cross comes off like a variant of Iron Man’s Odebiah Stane, resentful, evil, and maybe a little crazed. Rudd, on the other hand, handles the Hero’s Journey with ease, bringing his own sense of comedy that works almost as well as it did for Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not perfect, but the character’s lighthearted nature is a good contrast from the serious gloom and doom that most of the Avengers are going through these days, and I feel Rudd did well here.

That’s another aspect of Ant-Man that needs to be recognized. The story in this may have a larger impact in things to come, but it felt really compact. Since the focus on the story involves Lang getting back to his daughter and stopping this one small thing, it takes a step back from the escalation we’ve been getting in previous MCU films. To me, since Phase Two started, every film’s been a stepping stone with at least one huge revelation somewhere that shows this is all much bigger than any one hero can take on. Discovery of the Infinity Stones, the big reveal of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the Winter Soldier and the events in Age of Ultron cover a large area. Maybe it’s better to say that they have an impact that’s covers a wide distance. With Ant-Man being the first film of Phase Three, it feels almost as if a step back it taken to something more personal. It’s not bad, but it’s different. It has the potential to leave viewers with a bad taste in their mouths if they were expecting something grand.

The effects in Ant-Man are good, really, really sweet. Quite honestly, it may be one of the first times where I haven’t found myself annoyed by what I call “The Zoic Effect” – that technique used in almost every film these days where you’re watching something and the director decides “Hey, let’s do a maximum level quick zoom on that target right there!”, because there’s a chance the audience might not see the subject. I believe Zoic Studios were the first to do that with Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, though I could be wrong. In Ant-Man, that rapid intense zoom is almost a welcome requirement when watching a little figure run and leap up and over objects. Add a 3D effect to all that, and I found myself enjoying that on the big screen. From a directing standpoint, it’s all very straightforward and you get an idea of the influences from all of the writers involved. Still, Peyton Reed (Down With Love) keeps from the film from straying too far away from it’s intended focus. Additionally, though the help of CGI, Disney/Marvel was able to digitize a younger Michael Douglas, and the look of this was even better than what they accomplished with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.

Overall, Ant-Man is a great addition to the MCU and on it’s own, it’s strong. I suppose Thor will still have to stay as the Cars 2 of that movie library. Note to viewers: If you’re planning to see this, be sure to stay until after the end credits. There’s a mid scene during the credits and one at the very end.

Scenes I Love: The Road Warrior


RoadWarriorHumongous

“…warrior of the wasteland, the Lord Humungus, [and] the ayatollah of rock-and-rollah.”

This past weekend saw George Miller release the fourth film in his classic Mad Max film series. Mad Max: Fury Road has been receiving critical-acclaim both from film critics and the general public. It’s a film that has shown the return of an action-film maestro to the forefront of a genre he helped create.

Leonard Wilson has made his thought’s known about Mad Max: Fury Road and all should check it out.

Yet, today I would like to share a favorite scene of mine from the second film in the series, Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior. This scene introduces the leader of the roving band of post-apocalyptic raiders who have besieged the small-community and it’s supply of precious oil and gasoline. Lord Humungus has become such an iconic figure in this series and in action-film lore.

The look of Humungus and his band of raiders would influence other post-apocalyptic films for years to come. It has even had a hand in creating the look for the Dr. Dre and Tupac music video “California Love.”

Brad Bird’s Interview at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival


Bird and Garofalo - Photo taken by L. Wilson.

Brad Bird and Janeane Garofalo have a sit down at the Tribeca Film Festival to discuss film, animation and the mediums in between.

This is going to be a long one, ladies and gents. My apologies if this becomes TL;DR material.

Here’s the short of it:

I was able to see Brad Bird speak at The Tribeca Film Festival. For the hour, he discussed the changes and challenges he faced with moving from animation to live action features. The audience was shown a set of clips – one from Ratatouille, one from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and one from his latest film, Tomorrowland. Near the last half of the interview, Bird fielded questions from the audience. I had a great time.

And here’s the Interstellar 3-Hour Neverending Edition:

When I was a kid, there used to be this show on network television called Amazing Stories. Produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, it ran for about 2 years or so between 1985 and 1987. It was kind of like a cross between Darkroom, Tales From the Darkside, and The Twilight Zone. One of my favorite episodes was “The Family Dog”. The big push with The Family Dog was that it was produced by Tim Burton and the animation style was the basis for his future films The Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie. I loved it. It was weird and funny, about a family that adopts a dog only to find that their house is robbed, with the dog inside and failing to stop the intruders. The dog is sent to a canine boarding school, where he’s reforged into a “white hot ball of canine terror” by Miss LeStrange (voiced by The Exorcist’s Mercedes McCambridge). There’s more to it, but after recording the show and watching it a zillion times, I paid attention to who wrote it.

And that’s how I started following Brad Bird.

Bird would later go on work on Batteries Not Included, and spent some time on the Simpsons before directing and writing The Iron Giant for Warner Brothers. While the movie wasn’t the commercial hit everyone hoped, it put Bird on Disney / Pixar’s radar, who brought him on to do both The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Pixar would end up adding Bird to their Brain Trust,   that includes Pete Docter, John Lassiter and Andrew Stanton. Bird’s big jump from Animation to Live Action would come with 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Next month (as of this writing), he’ll release Tomorrowland, which he shared writing responsibilities with Prometheus / Lost writer Damon Lindelof.

Bird was on hand at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Director Series in an interview hosted by his Ratatouille star, Janeane Garofalo. I was able to attend this, and took as many notes as I could. Some of this may be a little sketchy, based off of both what I wrote & how I interpreted it, to which I apologize beforehand. Although we were able to use phones for pictures, we couldn’t record anything. Assume that most of the questions and answers here are somewhat paraphrased.  More than likely, you can find recaps of the interview at the Tribeca Film Festival website.

At first, Janeane was a little curious about what she should ask, opening the floor with her humor, which had everyone laughing.

Question – So you said something about a tour taken as a child?

Bird spoke about a tour he took of Disney Studios, back when he was about 11. He saw the Jungle Book as a kid and just loved it. He also realized that there were all of these cool jobs in animation. According to Bird, he owned an album with some of actor Jonathan Winter’s voiceover work and would listen to that as well. Though his parents who knew a composer at Disney, they were able to meet with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Both Ollie and Frank were two of the original animators responsible for most of the Disney Classics, known as the Nine Old Men. Unexpectedly, Bird went home and ended up creating a 15 minute film for the animators. After that, they were eager to mentor him.

Garafolo praised Bird on how he’s taken Narrative storytelling to another level but asked about technical challenges in Animation.

Bird noted that from a tech standpoint, The Incredibles was a harder film to create because the design abilities were just being born. An example of this is the wet hair textures after the plane crash sequence. At the time, that was one of the latest things that Pixar learned to do. By the time Ratatouille came along, there were a number of improves, which made things easier. Bird went on to say that “People think there’s an easy “Make Movie” button that will produce work.” However, if you want imperfections, the computers had to be taught this. In Ratatouille, Bird described how working on the floors, the lighting needed to have a variant because tiles may be higher or lower than others or have damages. The computer would normally smooth out the surface, but they had to reprogram the system to support natural flaws. A later question that came up dealt with focus, where Bird found that CGI Cameras can act like real cameras. When you normally focus on something small with a regular camera, the depth of field becomes small. The computer would assume that the director wanted a high Depth of Field throughout, but again, Bird and Pixar had to train the machines to un-learn that.

At one point, Janeane started a question and asked about different genres in Animation to which Brad replied “Animation is a medium, not a genre.” There was a bit of back and forth chuckling between them, and their chemistry is just cool.

“With the actors you choose, how much control do you have in that?” Bird’s response was along the lines of it all being about actor interest. He had to “woo” Peter O’Toole for Ratatouille. Some actors thing that voice acting is easy, but it can be difficult. What takes an actor 5 minutes to say may take an animator weeks to come up (with regards to facial animations and the like, I’m guessing). Patton Oswalt would say sometimes that he was beat after a run. My personal speculation on this is that with animating, sometimes re-recording needs to happen to get a phrase sound right. I could be off here, but that was my interpretation of the statement. The audience was presented with a clip from Ratatouille where Linguini is introduced to Collette for the first time.

Janeane apologized for her French here. There was a bit of laughter as Bird shared a story of how with Janeane, she didn’t seem to take praise very well. He would have to pretty much tell her she sucked to motivate her, even though she did good. The conversation then moved on to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Ghost Protocol happened as Bird was working on a pet project he called 1906, the adaptation of James Dalessandro’s novel on the events surrounding the San Francisco earthquake during that year. He was very animated in discussing 1906. It was a rich project, but there were some problems getting all of the elements Bird needed into the story at the time. He didn’t want to make it a life project (without working on anything else), so he paused to jump onto Ghost Protocol. The audience was then shown the Hallway sequence from the movie, where Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise mask their entrance into a room in the Kremlin. The scene picked up some chuckles from the Audience with Pegg’s “face in the camera” moment.

A question came up on whether he was hindered in any way, working on a big project like Ghost Protocol. Bird wasn’t really hindered, but what attracted him to the film was that the franchise was willing to let him accommodate his individual style. The Brian DePalma version of the first Mission Impossible was different from John Woo’s work on the 2nd and J.J. Abrams work on the 3rd film. Bird added that he was given the chance to do “five out of six things” he wanted to do in a spy movie. Both Cruise and Abrahams were behind Bird on the film and he felt protected by them. On Cruise in particular, he praised his work ethic, pointing out that it was easy to have him climb the Burj Khalifa in Dubai because he keeps himself fit for every film. Garofalo took a moment to reference the HBO Documentary “Going Clear” with a “LRH” remark. “We could go on about that all day.” She said, though they moved on to their next topic.

Before continuing, Bird made a quick gesture to the screen and pointed out to the audience that he and Cruise talked about some Silent classic films and comedies. These were part of the influence for that particular hallway scene.

Janeane brought up a question on the toll with working on a big film (after doing animated features). Bird’s response was that it was like being thrown in the deep end of a shark infested pool. He jumped to work with Cruise and Abrams, and it was a lot of fun. “Big canvas stuff”, were the words used.

Control on Post Production came up (in terms of how much he had). So far, so good, was the reply. Bird stood up, leaned down to the floor of the stage and knocked on it. “Knock on wood.” He said as he sat back down with a smile before adding that he only had to bark a few times, if any.

With that, we were given a sneak peek at Bird’s latest project, Tomorrowland. In checking online, I found that it was an expanded version of the one showcased at Disney’s D23 Event last year. Unfortunately, the clip we were shown isn’t online in any form (at least I can’t find it online), so I’ll have to explain it here:


   The scene opens with a young child sitting on a bus, holding quite a large bag. Screeching to a halt, the bus driver opens the door and announces the stop. The driver tells everyone to “enjoy the future”. As the patrons go to leave the bus, they’re suddenly blocked by the boy’s bag, which falls into the main aisle. The passengers give him some weird looks, but he smiles, apologizes and  scoops up the bag, making his way off of the bus.

We’re given his perspective, a behind the character shot that showcases that he’s at the entrance of a festival. At the bottom of the screen, a caption appears, informing the audience that we’re at the 1964 World’s Fair, held in Queens, New York. We’re given a wider shot and it’s very much like Disneyworld, it’s bustling with people walking around and enjoying themselves. We focus on one area, with a name like The Hall of Invention. The boy enters and plops his bag on top a table where we find David Nix (Hugh Laurie) staring at him with a look of annoyance on his face. Note that his name isn’t given to the audience and that I’ve pulled it from the Internet Movie Database.

The boy unzips the bag, explaining that he had to partly disassemble it (it looking a lot like a vacuum cleaner) for transportation. As Nix looks on, he asks the boy who he is and what the contraption is supposed to be. The boy introduces himself as Frank Walker and states with pride that the device is a jetpack. He goes on to say that he’s still working on it, and as he says this, we’re given a quick cut to him standing in an open field. Wearing the jetpack, he dons a pair of goggles, a flight helmet and we see two sets of controls by each hand. The look is pretty much the whole James Bond Thunderball look.

The shot cuts back to the boy standing at the table, who adds…”though it doesn’t quite exactly….”

We’re back at the field, and the kid clicks the power button. Instead of shooting straight up high into the air, he is vaulted forward, bounces and taken through some cornfields about a good hundred yards out. The first thing I thought of was The Rocketeer (also a Disney Production).

“…Fly.” The boy says, finishing his pitch.

“And what would this be used for?” Nix asks, looking from the machine to Walker.

“It would be fun.” Walker responds.

Nix shoots him down, stating that fun isn’t what anyone’s looking for. Clearly, he seems to already be looking at the idea of monetizing or weaponizing it.

“If someone walked up to me and showed me a jetpack, I’d think that would be pretty fun.” Walker says something to this effect. A young girl in a dress comes into view just off of Nix’s left, who’s been watching this play out. She approaches Walker and asks him a few questions that leave him at loss for answers, which the audience seemed to really enjoy. After the stammering on Walker’s part, Nix interrupts the girl (who we find is named Athena) and sends Walker on his way. The girl watches on.

We find Walker sitting on a bench outside, clutching his bag. People walk back and forth around him. To his right, we see Athena take a seat next him on the bench, but facing the other direction. They talk for a bit without looking at each other.

“Look over there, at your five o’clock.” She says. Walker looks ahead and to his left and then to his right, a little unsure. She looks at him as if he’s little crazy and gestures to her left. “Don’t know what 5 O’Clock is, it’s that way.” Which brings more audience response of chuckles. Looking in the direction she points out, she sees Nix pass by with someone else. Athena asks him to follow them, “but not too close”. She then proceeds to put something in his hand and leaves. Opening it, it reveals one of the Tomorrowland pins before fading to black and cutting to a scene where he’s in his garage, arguing with his father (played by Chris Bauer, True Blood’s Andy Bellefleur).

“But I can make it work! I can figure it out!” Frank says. His father asks him to let it go and stop tinkering with these silly notions. There seemed to be a divide between the theme of Frank’s optimism and his father’s point of view before we fade to black again and the lights come up.


The audience loved it. On Tomorrowland, Bird pointed out that he and Lindelof asked “Why did the Future change?” The attitude of the world was “We can figure it out.”, Which seems missing today. The magic of World’s Fairs are dispersed. Janeane shot back that are a number of people out there that are changing things and used Elon Musk as an example. Bird added that the Zeitgeist is doom and gloom, and any hope of a bright future is somewhat stemmed. People seem resigned that we’re going down. “You have to do things, to change things.”, He said. On a personal note, there appears to be a lot of Optimism in Tomorrowland, something that Bird seems to carry with him.

Syndrome from The Incredibles

Brad Bird took questions like Syndrome – “You! Up there in the back with the red hat! Your question, give it to me!!”

After all that, a few questions from the audience were given. This was fun, with Janeane started the picking and then Brad targeting the hands that flew up. It was like watching Syndome use his wrist lasers in The Incredibles. They included the following:

What was the Sixth Thing (for the 5 out of 6 things he was able to do in a spy film)?

“That would be giving up the idea.” Bird laughed. Most of the ideas are reusable somewhere else. He had a concept for an animated version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, but some of the ideas for that feature ended up becoming part of The Iron Giant.

How do you handle lighting in Animation vs. Live Action?

– When dealing with lighting, it’s almost the same way. A shorthand of cinematographer’s work was used to build setups. I can kind of see where Bird is coming from there. If you look at How to Train Your Dragon 2, the cinematography there was assisted by Roger Deakins. Lighting’s just as important in animation as it is in any medium. It’s just teaching the computer to handle it or drawing from that (at least, that’s my thought on it all).

How different is TV Work from movies?

“If you slow down, you can get eaten alive.” Bird said. He used the I Love Lucy chocolate assembly line as a reference here, stating that he learned a great deal on his time with the Simpsons. TV forces one to make very quick decisions. Iron Giant’s budget was different from Ratatouille’s and there was room to build more from that.

On creating genuine peril:

Bird loved that Disney wasn’t afraid of creating general fear in children, citing Pinocchio’s donkey transformation as something that terrified him. If animation should do anything, it should try a “balls out horror movie”. Dead Space: Downfall came to mind, personally.

Ever consider doing a live action / animated feature (like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

– Some of those work and can play together. Others come out pretty bad, like the Pagemaster. Bird wouldn’t be entirely opposed to doing one, but he didn’t appear to be too enthralled about it.

What are your processes for generating Ideas?

Here, Bird said that it’s different for each film. As an example, he wanted to do a film called “Ray Gun”. The idea came from a song he heard on the radio that he thought sounded like the Peter Gunn theme. Janeane smiled and caught the song right away – “Planet Claire” by the B52’s. Basically, it’s coming up with answers that entertain you.

With that, he and Janeane thanked the audience to tons of applause, and a bit of optimism. Below is the song that Bird was referencing:

Song of the Day: Orphans of Doom/The Awakening (by Basil Poledouris)


Basil-Pictures-2

We’re closing out another year and it’s always time to reflect back on the events the we all experienced.

Here in Through the Shattered Lens we saw a new writer join the ranks with the arrival and addition of Alexandre Rothier. We also saw more and more of our writers grow in confidence with their writing. This didn’t just translate into more writing from them, but better as well. There’s Dazzling Erin with her constant surprise of finding new artists to share. Then leonth3duke who finally made the jump to truly appreciating horror. Leonard Wilson continued to find his voice with each new review he wrote.

I can’t forget necromoonyeti who continues to be my source of all things music and with each new band written I pick up something new to experience. Semtex Skittle showed the world his appreciation not just for the franchise of Final Fantasy but Sailor Moon as well and to that otaku are grateful. Speaking of otaku there’s the site’s own big bear of one with pantsukudasai56 who always brings in his choice recommendations in anime.

Then there’s Dork Geekus giving us his thoughts on things comic book. We also have trashfilmguru gracious enough to take time to share his unique take on horror, comic books both high and low-brow who also keeps the rest of us from drinking the Marvel Kool-Aid wholesale which makes for a better site.

Finally there’s my co-founder and partner-in-crime Lisa Marie Bowman who upped her game as she literally propped up the site at times with her voluminous, insightful and unique brand of writing. I will be forever grateful for her continued support and for becoming one of my closest friends.

I’ve chosen the latest “Song of the Day” as an analogue to what I saw myself and this site go through this year of 2014. I had just lost my father at the tail end of 2013 (it is a loss still felt even today) and then had fallen deathly ill around the holidays. Through it all I was thankful and proud of the work my fellow writers were able to do in my absence through my grief and sickness.

Basil Poledouris remains an artist I’ve admired from the moment I heard his music transform John Milius’ screen adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian barbarian from just your standard violent sword-and-sorcery matinee piece to something close to a perfect blend of epic fantasy and primal storytelling. Poledouris would go on to make other memorable film scores, but it’s his work in Conan the Barbarian that always remains his most iconic piece of work.

With the final denouement that follows the climax of the film we have a somber piece titled “Orphans of Doom/The Awakening” closing off the film. I chose this piece to symbolize the year Through the Shattered Lens went through. The piece begins on a somber note with the use of a choir adding a layer of the ethereal, but as the piece continues to it’s conclusion it gradually segues into something triumphant with hope for the future.

This song perfectly encapsulates Through the Shattered Lens circa 2014 and it’s my hope that brighter future awaits me and mine as the new year dawns.

Quick Review: Exodus: Gods & Kings (dir. by Ridley Scott)


Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-EdgertonOkay, let’s face it.

After Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments”, it’s pretty hard to come up with another story about Moses that comes as close to it. I’ll admit I have a personal love for 1998’s The Prince of Egypt.  Ridley Scott makes a great attempt in his new film “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, but it comes off feeling like the result of having one person relay a story to you through 3 other individuals. By the time the story reaches you, it’s no longer the same tale.

This is a hard review to write with regards to avoid spilling details.

Exodus follows the story of brothers Moses (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Trilogy) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton – The Thing, The Great Gatsby), sons to the great Pharaoh of Egypt (John Turturro). Both brothers are seasoned warriors, but with the passing of Pharaoh, a truth is brought to light that forces Moses into exile. During his time away, he finds God and makes it his mission to free his people. Ramses refuses to listen to reason, and some drastic measures are taken to help convince him.

That sounds great on the surface, but it’s the execution that’s flawed. And this is Ridley Scott of all people. I loved Kingdom of Heaven and moderately enjoyed Robin Hood, but I just didn’t completely feel like I was invested in this film.

Biblical tales are tricky. Stick too close to the source material and you can have a heavy-handed story that says what it should, but could bore some audiences. Take too many liberties, and you can have audiences excited, but leave some upset or shocked at what’s presented (like with Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ). Here, the liberties are taken to a place where most of the movie doesn’t even require Moses to be in it. The argument could be made that the other films did this too – that the acts occurred with Moses as a harbinger of what was to come. Exodus makes it more of a difference of opinion on how to handle Ramses. Moses elects for a more battle hardened strategy – let the people fight for themselves. This left me wondering where they found the time and freedom away from the Egyptian Soldiers to learn what they did.

On the flip side of the coin, God decides to handle it Their own way. This leaves our Moses in a position where he’s at odds with the Almighty, a sharp contrast to the Moses that followed the Word to the letter. To an audience that can’t help but make comparisons, it’s way off, though it’s supported by the theme that one shouldn’t say things just to placate others and that they should follow what they believe. What came before basically said..”Okay, I don’t know what your plan is, but you’ve shown me your wonders, I believe in you and you’ll guide me right.” Exodus says..”Okay, you’ve got a plan I’m not too cool with, so…uh…just give me a chance to save / warn the people before your wrath comes down.”

There were four writers on board for Exodus. Both Adam Cooper and Bill Collage worked together on Brett Ratner’s “Tower Heist” and Jeffrey Caine is known for “The Constant Gardner” and “Goldeneye”. Steven Zallian (Moneyball, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, American Gangster) was the fourth. I’m thinking with all those fingers in the pie, the movie was bound to go in a different direction. Again, it’s not terrible, just different.

The casting for Exodus is okay. The strongest performances go to both Bale and Edgerton, and I’ll state here that I had more fun watching Edgerton on screen than I did with Bale. I haven’t seen him play the villain like this since The Guardians of Ga’Hoole and he does a decent job here. Bale does well, but it’s like watching Batman again. Not saying he’s typecast because of it, but seeing Christian Bale yell is almost expected in a movie these days. Reunited with her Aliens director, Sigourney Weaver has about 10 to 15 minutes total of screen time in the film, and Ben Kingsley might have the same amount. Aaron Paul spends most of his time making that stare he does when he see something incredible. There’s not a lot for any of these actors to chew on, but they try their best with it.  Both Indira Varma (Game of Thrones) and Ewan Bremer (Jack the Giant Slayer, Trainspotting) are on hand as Ramses’ advisors. They don’t really count too much in all this.

Visually, the effects for the Plagues are very good. I honestly think those segments were the best in the entire film. The rest, I’m not so sure. The Red Sea sequence, when it happens, it done in such a way that the mysticism is just about sucked out of it. I’m sitting there hoping for a big reveal and found myself asking if that was it. Perhaps it was the angle where I was sitting or the theatre I saw it in, but it wasn’t as clear as it could be. It seemed like I was watching a 3D version of the film (I went for the regular one). The fight sequences were also done very well, many of which were similar to Ridley’s Robin Hood or Gladiator. Also note that at 154 minutes, it’s a long film. I pulled my iPod Nano out of my pocket twice to check the time.

As for the kid factor, I would say that teens and older can see this. There’s quite a bit of violence early on, along with some bloodshed, but nothing too extreme. In terms of sexual situations, there really aren’t any.

I think overall, my expectations for what this could be were larger than the final product. Had I never known of any film prior to this, Exodus would have more of an impact for me. As it stands, I’d watch it again, but probably when it hits Cable.

Quick Review: Birdman (dir. by Alejandro González Iñárritu)


birdman-clickTo help you understand how little I knew going into this film, there was a time where I seriously thought Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was a film adaptation of the old Hanna Barbarra cartoon character. I later found out it wasn’t (to my disappointment), but that it was a Michael Keaton movie helped to keep my interest. If Harvey Birdman is what you’re expecting, stop right there. You’re looking for the wrong film.

Here’s the short of it:

If you enjoy the Theatre, Birdman may be right up your alley. With a focus on a play, it takes the view through the nuances of getting the play into action. There are terrific, funny performances throughout (particularly from Keaton and Edward Norton) and it just flows so incredibly well. Birdman explores what it means to be into your craft (in this case, acting), the nature of what Fame actually is these days, and how much a person is willing to get/keep it. You could basically watch this back to back with Black Swan.

From a script by Iñárritu, along with 3 others, Birdman is the tale of a once famous actor dancing a fine line between total irrelevance and greatness. Hoping to reclaim that fame, he attempts to produce, direct and star in a Broadway play, but not everything is going to plan.

Forget any promos and just see it. I skipped a lot of the advertising for this and after watching the movie last night, I saw a commercial for the film that already feels like it gives too much of the film away. If you’ve followed them all, you’ve seen most of Birdman. Had I not already watched Richard Linkater’s “Boyhood”, I might consider Birdman one of the best films I’ve seen this year, especially in terms of the way it was made.

The Long Haul:

Let’s start with the Cinematography, but this will the element that stands out more than anything with this film. Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men) is at the top of his game here with the use of a seemingly single tracking shot that lasts almost the entire movie. The camera moves from scene with such fluidity that I wonder if it’s entirely CGI. Most of those shots have to be.

Remember that part in Goodfellas where the camera stayed with Karen and Henry Hill on their first date, moving with them through the back of a restaurant all the way to when they took their seats? Or more recently, True Detective’s fantastic shot of an escape/arrest that had McConaghey moving behind houses and over fences? Or the opening “unpacking” tour of the haunted house in The Conjuring? Those are tracking shots. It’s one long take from Point A to Z, instead of cuts at B, C, and so on. If anyone makes a mistake during filming, the crew has to move back to the start of the take and try again if they want the entire shot to be seamless. I have no idea how it was pulled off in Birdman, but it’s beautiful to behold. If the movie gets nothing else come Awards season, Cinematography should be theirs, right now. One could argue it moves like a found footage film sans the shakiness, but you’d have a hard time selling me on that one.

My only nitpick about Birdman, the only problem I had with it was the representation of Critics. Not that what’s said about them is entirely incorrect, but I kind of hunkered down in my seat at some of the commentary. While I wouldn’t consider myself a Critic, I do share my opinions on films. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all out to gut the next release on Friday.

It seems almost too appropriate that Michael Keaton – once a Dark Knight himself – has this role. He’s had his ups (Batman, Beetlejuice, and my personal favorite, Johnny Dangerously), his downs (That horrid Robocop remake, blech) and his in-betweens with Need for Speed earlier this year. He carries the character with a depth that rivals Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in The Master. It’s strange, but it works.

At one time, Riggin Thompson (Keaton) was famous in Hollywood as the superhero Birdman, but after passing on a second sequel (much like Keaton leaving Batman behind and passing the baton to Kilmer and Schumacher), he hasn’t found much fame since then. The story starts with Riggin hoping to reclaim his former glories with a revival of “The Things We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway. When one of his theatre cast members are injured on set, they recruit a popular actor (played with a slightly over the top Edward Norton) that may prove too much to handle. Add to this Riggin’s shaky relationship with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), an off again / on again love interest (Oblivion’s Andrea Riseborough) a lawyer trying to keep him afloat (Zack Galifinakis), and a voice in his head reminding him of the problems he faces…well, he’s just a mess. Then again, everyone here is a mess in their own way and maybe because of it, they all kind this good sense of chemistry.

The film is backed by a percussion score from Antonio Sanchez, which doesn’t get in the way at all. I’m not sure I’d call it a soundtrack, though. The music sounds great outside of the scope of the film, but you probably won’t recall the music afterward in the way you would for a soundtrack with a full on orchestra.

Birdman is the first film I’ve watched by Alejandro González Iñárritu. I remember that he was nominated for an Oscar with either Babel or 21 Grams. I feel like I’ve missed out on something grand because Birdman is good. Not that “good” you say when when someone puts a broken bone back into place (“Yeah, I’m good.”, he cried), but that “good” that comes from your first taste of creamy Tiramisu. (“Omigod, that is goood!”, he purred). It’s definitely one I can consider catching one more time before it ends it’s run in the cinema.

 

Horror on the Lens: Alien Isolation (Dev. by Creative Assembly, Published by Sega)


Alien-IsolationThere’s a quote from one of my old White Wolf books – I think Richard Dansky wrote it in Wraith:The Oblivion – that goes like this:

“The other aspect of horror is its sense of finality and the inability of a character to change it. If terror is the moment when the monster charges down the hall, horror is the instant you discover your feet are rooted to the spot.” 

Everyone who’s seen Ridley Scott’s Alien remembers the scene where Lambert is cornered by the Alien. Yaphet Kotto’s Parker is yelling at her to get out of the way so that he could use his Flamethrower, but she replies, crying..”I can’t!” I always thought that all she had to do was just kind of jump down and crawl or roll and then Parker could blast the damn thing. The movie would end. There’d be a gaping hole of acid in the Nostromo, but our heroes would get in the lifeboat and leave.

And yet, in playing Sega and Creative Assembly’s “Alien Isolation”, I found myself in almost the exact same position, huddled inside of a locker minutes after being introduced in the Alien and utterly terrified to move. Even worse, I’ve had situations where it appeared and I’m frozen in place, completely drawing a blank on my next move. I owe both Brett and Lambert an apology, rest their characters souls.

In the game you play Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley in the Alien films. In the special edition of James Cameron’s Aliens, there’s a brief scene between Burke and Ellen Ripley mentioning her daughter. For you trivia fans, the image used in that film was actually Sigourney Weaver’s actual mother. Anyway, It’s been 15 years since the disappearance of the Nostromo and Amanda is searching for any kind of clue that will help her find her mother or find out what happened to her. Supposedly, the flight recorder for the Nostromo was recovered and taken to Sevastopol station, a ship of roughly the same size. Basically, it’s a starship the size of Hogwarts. After finding herself separated from her crew, she has to both get her answers and find her way out of the station.

Easier said than done, of course. This game knows no mercy, even on it’s easiest setting.

The lighting effects are wonderful in next gen (especially PC). That molotov will only make the Alien mad.

The lighting effects are wonderful in next gen (especially PC). That molotov will only make the Alien mad.

The first rule of Alien Isolation is knowing that there are no safe places. Where most games have mechanics that allow you to take a breather to gear up and plan ahead or pause to get out the right weapon, Isolation will keep flowing as you take action. In Metal Gear, your game pauses when you use your backpack to look through your weapons. In Resident Evil (at least the earlier renditions), you had areas that were designated Save Rooms, places where the monsters couldn’t get at you. Alien Isolation does just the opposite.  Unless you’re checking your map for your next location, the game doesn’t pause. I’ve died while reading information on a workstation. I’ve died while rewiring a door. I’ve even died while putting myself in a locker and walking away from the console for food. It’s a strange kind of game design that forces you to keep one eye on what you’re doing and the other scouting around you to make sure you’re not being stalked. You essentially become a meerkat, poking its head up and going..”Did you hear something?”

And the sound is downright fantastic, especially where the Alien is involved. This is where the true horror lies. Anyone who is familiar with the Alien franchise knows what a Xenomorph looks like. We’ve seen so many of them over the years that they’ve lost that fear factor. The horror doesn’t come from having it charge you, but knowing how close it can be before everything gets to that point. There are tons of playthrough videos out there, and it’s great to see the reactions of players as they navigate this. If I worked at Creative Assembly, I’d chuckle at some of them with pride.

Case in Point: In one area, I open a door to a hallway. It’s clear, but I hear something behind me, causing me to duck behind some boxes. Taking out a noisemaker, I figure I can throw the noisemaker out the way I came (before the door closes) and quickly make my way towards my objective. As I slowly step backwards and to my left ready to pull a Romo-like pass, I just happen to turn to look at the direction I need to go.

The Alien is right there in that entraceway, standing at full height and is peering into the room behind me. There’s a collective “Holy shit!” from everyone in the room I’m in, and I freeze. It must have shot up a vent and came down a vent behind me somewhere. The Xenomorph doesn’t see me, and goes into the room it was looking at. This frees me to make my way down the hallway I need to travel, leaving a trail of fresh urine in my wake.

Heavy footsteps echo in the dark, and when it moves from the ground to the vents, there’s a distinct difference. The game begs to be played either on an extreme surround sound system or noise canceling headphones. If you even more courageous, you can enable your Xbox’s Kinect or PS3/4’s Camera – the microphone in both will pick up the sounds of your room. So, if you’re hiding in a locker with the Xenomorph outside and a friend yells out…”Are we ordering Chinese tonight?!”, the Alien will assume you’re a tender morsel dipped in duck sauce and take you out.

From a control standpoint, Alien Isolation is simple enough that you might not forget what to do when in a panic. For the more complex acts, like lighting a flare and throwing it, you’re given on screen instructions to help you follow through. This becomes a hit or miss at first. While you’re learning that action, there’s always a chance you’ll find yourself under attack by the Xenomorph. A training room feature would be nice here, but at the same time, you’re figuring out what to do with these items just as Ripley does. You’ll find yourself scouting safe areas (and by this, I mean under a table somewhere for a minute) ahead of time to craft different items out of the spare parts you find. At your disposal are flares, medkits, EMP’s, Noisemakers, Smoke Bombs, and more. Of course, before these items can be made, you’ll have to search around for the actual blueprints (which can be anywhere). The game will thankfully teach you how to use items as you get them (if you pay attention). Eventually, you’ll get Molotovs and Flamethrowers, but the Alien understands the nature of fire. To quote Newt, “It won’t make any difference.”

As Ripley turned the corner for a bite to eat from the lunchroom, she suddenly lost her appetite.

As Ripley turned the corner for a bite to eat from the lunchroom, she suddenly lost her appetite.

Saving the game can also be a nuisance at times. Rather than having an autosave, the system incorporates the added task of having to find Save Stations disguised as phone booths to save your progress. Just as with everything else, you have the ability to die if any enemy happens to be near. It can become annoying if you’re in an area where you have a large task and find yourself all the way back at previous place once you die. It’s a drawback, indeed, but it also inspires the player (or it did for me anyway) to treat these stations like an oasis in the middle of a long stretch of desert. You’d think you were playing Ninja Gaiden sometimes, without all the flipping.

Navigating Sevestopol is done in a Metroid / Metal Gear like fashion. Basically, some areas will be locked to you without the right tool. Once you find it (be a blowtorch or a wrench), you can come back to that area. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this just yet. It’s not exactly linear in that sense, but at the same time, I stopped playing Metroid Prime for almost the same reason. If it works for you, you’ll love it. If not, you might find yourself groaning in agony. If you’re lost, your handy Motion Tracker will help you find your nearest objective by way of a marker on the outside of your display.

4

Even in Space, the Alien can hear that beep. Put that Motion Tracker away if you have it in your line of sight. Note the marker on the outer edge telling you where to go.

Alien Isolation is slow. I mean………slow. Not in the story so much, but in the movement. You’ll want to run from point A to Point B, but with the enemies around, you’ll will sneak around for nearly the entire duration of the game (from what I’ve played so far). Don’t even bother sprinting, especially on the hardest difficulty. If you feel you’ve enough patience to play the game in this fashion, it’s a treat. If you’re hoping for something more Splinter Cell / Metal Gear like in that you’re stalking prey, it’s not happening here. Alien Isolation may have On Site Procurement of weapons, but you’ll find these are to be used sparingly, either due to the lack of ammunition / fuel, or from the echoing boom from firing the weapons. In using them you’re indirectly screaming “Hey! I’m right here on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor, kill me now! Do it!! I’m Here!!”

There are other threats on Sevastopol. You have the remaining humans on board who are just trying to survive, synthetics that can swarm you (like Bishop or Ash but not as technologically advanced), but these are enemies that can be defeated depending on what you have on you, and even then, they’re formidable. The Xenomorph, however is an 8 foot beast who delivers a one hit kill to you every time. Its presence will have you hiding in a locker frantically checking your motion tracker – but note that even enemies can sometimes hear the beep coming from it. You may even contemplate how long it’ll take for you to adjust to living in said locker for the rest of your days. According to Creative Assembly, the Alien was built with an adaptable AI that changes on the fly. I’ve had strange interactions in my experiences:

The Alien has no set patrol patterns as far as I can tell. You can watch it walk into a side room from a hiding point at the other end of the room, only to find it double back to the next room you enter. Despite how slow or silent you can be, the doors you move through still make noise, so as you progress, you never really “lose” the Alien so much as you throw it off for a minute or two.

The senses on this thing are creepy. If you are walking fast enough to hear your own feet on the floor, I absolutely guarantee you the Alien knows, too. Again, the Motion Tracker is your friend when it’s at a distance, but it’s also a problem if you’re close. My rule of thumb is that if I have a visual on it, the Motion Tracker isn’t necessary. Even then, use it sparingly to find where you need to go.

Vents. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had a chance to escape via a vent and chose a closet or death over it. I’m told you can use these to move around and escape even, but I haven’t even bothered.

Visually, I’ve played this on both the PS3 and the PS4. There’s nothing wrong with the PS3’s version of the game graphically (which is amazing), but if you have access to one, the lighting engines are just better on the next gen consoles. Shadow affects are nice between the two, but there’s a better gradient on the PS4’s newer hardware and smoke / fire effects are that much stronger on that system. Also note that the PS3 runs the game at about 720p, while the PS4 easily handles a 1080p playthrough. I am told that there can occasionally be some glitches where in crawling, you can fall through a room, but I have yet to run into these.

Renderings of the Sevastopol feel like they’re taken right from the first Alien film, as Creative Assembly was pretty much given as much access as they could get to 20th Century Fox’s archives. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to walk those dark halls of the Nostromo with a giant man sized Bone Dragon at your heels, this is the game for you. From the title sequence alone, you get an idea that CA were fans of the first film, and tried to design a game that does its best to immerse you into that universe. It doesn’t get everything right, but it does present the player with a sense of fear and stress unlike anything I’ve played before. Perhaps it’s just me.

In terms of drawbacks, one of the problems comes in the renderings of humans. They don’t seem to have the same sense of care that the Alien gets, most of them walking around with “dead eye” syndrome (like in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). The voice acting is okay, but isn’t particularly memorable. It’s like watching a Friday the 13th film. Do you really remember Kevin Bacon’s last lines before he was killed? Maybe, maybe not, but you do remember how he died.

ps4_online_preview_screen001_copy

If this is what you see from your Point of View, you’re probably already dead.

 Part of the soundtrack is built off of Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, and the same also features that weird “space wind” sound occasionally, which is so damn eerie. This may actually be (despite it’s flaws) the best movie tie-in/adaptation I’ve ever played. Most movie related games are either rushed projects (I’m looking at you Gearbox. I love Borderlands, but I remember the bad taste of Aliens: Colonial Marines) or fail to completely capture the feel of the movie. I’m very eager to see what Creative Assembly does next, Alien related or not. I’ve truly had fun with this game, despite it being as frustrating as Dark Souls.

Overall, Alien Isolation is a solid game for any fan of the original film. It’s the closest you’ll get to experiencing that universe (or at least playing the ultimate version of Cat & Mouse), even though the slow pace, saving mechanic and unforgiving AI may prove frustrating / unexciting to some.

Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean Dublois)


how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Ah, Berk. That fictional far away land where Dragons once plagued humans, until a young boy made friends with a Night Fury and changed everything.

How I’ve missed this place.

Fox & Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 brings us back to its dragon riding fun, taking place 5 years after the events of the first film. While the story doesn’t have the same level of depth as say, Kung Fu Panda 2, it still manages to be an enjoyable thrill ride when the dragons are taking flight.

Since this is an animated feature, let’s do visuals first. The animation is roughly the same as the original, with a bit of aging here and there for the main characters, but both the colors and the depth of field are a major standout. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) was brought back on board as  a consultant for the lighting, focus and color tones and it definitely shows. If at all possible, this film should be seen in its 3D format. The flight sequences are a joy to behold and when they’re not flying, you shouldn’t find yourself squinting and pinching your nose too much. Chris Sanders wasn’t on hand this time for the writing and directing, although you can still see his designs all over the film.

Additionally, there were a number of technical changes that improved the process. Just as Pixar did with Renderman, Dreamworks ended up creating their own software, Apollo. Apollo uses two tools – Premo, which allowed the animators better control of characters through the use of Wacom tablets. Even more magical is Torch, a lighting system developed with Deakins’ assistance that allowed for more natural setups in animation. One of the best uses of this is when Hiccup is surrounded in a dark room and needs to use his sword to illuminate the area. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s used in other Dreamworks projects.

All of the familiar characters are back – Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is a little older, and much wiser than in the original, with he and Toothless mapping the lands around Berk during their flights. Hiccup’s flair for gadgetry hasn’t left him, as in this film, the character is introduced almost as a medieval Batman. Between he, his father Stoic (Gerald Butler) and his girlfriend / Dragon Racing Champion Astrid (America Ferrera), they get the bulk of the screen time. His friends, played by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse,  and Kristen Wiig, felt more like cameos than anything else here. Then again, they really didn’t have that great a part in the first film. Toothless, the Unholy Offspring of fire and darkness itself, is still as cuddly and emotive as ever, despite not being able to actually speak. Through the film, both Toothless and Hiccup find themselves growing up in different ways and their relationship is at the heart of everything here. Hiccup and Stoic still have family issues, this time centering around Hiccup preparation for becoming Chief of the town after Stoic steps down.

When Astrid and Hiccup discover dragon hunters (Lead by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, whose character here still knows nothing), they find a new evil on the horizon in the form of Drago (Guardians of the Galaxy and Blood Diamond’s Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army to do some harm.

Where the movie may stumble is in its last act. It felt abbreviated to me, but as this is meant for children, I suppose it’s not meant to be that long of a film. Clocking in at 102 minutes, it moves fast. For a kid’s film, Dragon 2 rises to some interesting heights that even adults would appreciate. The film doesn’t assume you need to be retold everything you may have missed in the first film, though it does reference some elements of it. The themes of the story are coexistence (between humans & dragons), leadership, friendship and family, and they’re done well.