Emerald City Comicon Day 2

On Saturday, we got up early in the morning because our friend Anna was going to meet us at our place before we left for the con.  Anna only got tickets for Saturday, but this was her first con, and she didn’t really know what to expect.  Comic conventions are awesome and crazy wonderful, but they can also be chaotic, crowded, and overwhelming, so I have to give props to anyone willing to brave it for the first time!

Once we got there, we quickly picked up Anna’s badge, and then went up to the main hall by escalator again skipping the packed line to get into the showroom.  This time there was also a line to get on the elevator, though not nearly as bad.  What WAS bad were the convention center representatives, who I guess hadn’t really talked to the people running the con or something?  They didn’t seem to know how the line was supposed to be organized, or didn’t know how to handle the crowd, but they were just randomly screaming at people to go here, then go there, then you can’t be hear, contradicting each thing they wanted us to do with the next, and being very unpleasant about it at the same time.  So naturally, the crowd completely ignored them, which just made them more angry.  But then they started letting people into the top floor, and the line moved away from the convention center reps anyway.

For day two, we started by going to the “Wil Wheaton Vs. Paul and Storm” panel, which I guess is actually a show that they tour.  Paul and Storm are a musical/comedy duo I was not very familiar with, but Ellen was.  I was just figuring on going to see Wil Wheaton’s panel on Sunday, but Ellen really wanted to see this one too, and it was very much the right choice.  Their show was quirky and histerical.  I’ve always known Wil Wheaton was good public speaker, but he does stand up (I guess the show could be considered stand up?) very well, and played off Paul and Storm nicely.  Plus, I got to see the greatest 36 seconds on the internet (just google “kitty sail” and laugh…. and be sure to watch WITH music).

After that the three of us tooled around the show room a little bit, got a quick bite, and made our way down to the gaming area for a panel on Wil Wheaton’s web show, Tabletop.  Wil wasn’t their, just the producer of the show, but he was very informative and gave us a lot of background and behind the scenes info on the show.  He also gave us lots of suggestions on running our own game nights, and talked about what kinds of game were good for different situations, and what kinds worked well for episodes of the show (as well as what kinds didn’t).  While he couldn’t out right say it, he STRONGLY suggested the first season will be coming out on DVD in the not too distant future.  Then of course he took the opportunity to plug International Tabletop Day.  He told us all about what the day was supposed to accomplish, how to participate, suggested using the #tabletopday hashtag on twitter as much as possible, and the like.  Being a fan of the show, it was pretty cool!

After eating a real meal, we headed back to the show floor to check out the artists and booths.  One of the things that’s awesome about Comicon is just seeing all the artists there, signing autographs, talking to people about there work, and often drawing sketches for people (usually for a price, but what do you expect?).  We’d looked around the show floor before but this was really the first extended amount of time we’d spent there.  Then, I bumped into my old DM, Seth!  This is the second ECCC I’ve run into him, and it was great to catch up.  I have been too busy to play in his campaign for a while now, so this was fun!  At one point when we were on the show floor I found the booth for Working Class Villains.  They are a group of independent artists that produce action figure inspired works of art.  They had an incredible 3D representation of the dungeon of Castle Grayskull on display that you can actually look up online (they have it for sale on their website).

Our last panel of the day was Gillian Anderson.  I used to be a big X-File fan back in high school, and Ellen has recently become a fan herself, so we were kindof excited.  Well…. she’s certainly aged well.  She’s not really red headed anymore, but as beautiful (if not more so) than she was during the show.  But that’s really all I can say in favor of the panel.  She was a pretty terrible public speaker.  Nervous, flighty, talking a lot without really saying anything.  I guess she did have some bizarre questions to deal with (one young lady told her that Skully was her role model, and was Ms. Anderson familiar with Skully and Mulder slash fiction?…. yuck)  Her best moment was the last question where the guy just rambled on for 10 minutes until she pantomimed handing him a joint.

After this, I we went down to the bottom floor of the gaming area to try a few games.  We started with a few games of Tsuro, which is one that was featured on Tabletop.  It’s very light weight, and quick (you can play a game in 10-15 minutes) and will definitely be featured at our Tabletop Day game night.  We followed this up with a strange little game called Dungeon World.  At this point we were trying games brought by the Seattle Story Games group.  Story games are RPG’s that are more narrative based then character based, and often are played without a Game Master.  Dungeon World seems as though it tries to split the difference between more mainstream RPG’s (sharing a large amount of DNA with D&D specifically) and the more indie type story games.  While it does have a GM, it has a number of mechanics meant to help drive story, and give a greater amount of narrative control to the players.  I am not sure what I think of it.  Conceptually I like the idea, but one play through, though enjoyable, was not enough for me to decide how successfully it hit its goals.  After that, we played a lovely little game called Zombie Cinema.  This one was a full fledged story game, proudly showing it’s indie roots.  It’s a GMless RPG where the players ultimately build a Zombie movie from the ground up.  Intriguingly, and unlike just about every other Zombie themed game I have ever heard of, the point is not to get your player to survive, but to build the best zombie movie possible.  As such, getting killed in the game can actually be viewed as a GOOD thing!  I still need to play it a few more times to get a real feel for it, but I think I just might be in love with this game.  And it comes in an old fashioned video cassette box, how awesome is that??  (I’ve already ordered a copy, and will post a full review ASAP!!!)

Well, that about wraps it up for day 2!  I can’t believe how much we did over the weekend.  Up next, Day 3!

Movie Review: Warm Bodies

ANYONE who knows me knows I love me my Zombie films.  Lately there have been a lot of Zombie films too.  We’re sort of in a zombie renaissance.  I feel we’ve reached a point now too where there are so many that the only real point of producing new ones is to mess with the formula.  Perhaps that’s why Romero’s last two films were not really all that well received…  where he was once experimenting with the formula he himself developed, his last two were really more of the same.  Maybe I’m being a little harsh, I haven’t actually seen Survival of the Dead (so I am only going by heresay, but the heresay on it is pretty one note) but I can’t imagine anyone really standing up for Diary of the Dead.  It can’t stand up to any of his earlier efforts, even Land of the Dead (Romero’s only full on mainstream film I can think of).

In any case, I’m getting a little side tracked.  Continuing the trend of monkeying with the formula, Warm Zombies…  I mean Bodies was just released.  It’s not particularly heavy or deep, but it is a lot of fun, very sweet, and more then a little heart warming.  It may be the first Zombie movie I can think of with told from the Zombie’s perspective, with a zombie protagonist.  On that note it does cheat a little.  I don’t mind the inner dialogue of “R” (he can’t remember his name, only that it starts with R) but they do have trouble straddling the line of mindless automaton, and thinking and feeling zombie.  It’s a difficult juggling act, which they don’t completely succeed in, making the zombies a little inconsistent from one scene to the next, but given what they are trying to do with the story, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been handled differently.  Zombie movies tend to be very much about setting up a system of rules, and then showcasing what those rules mean for the universe, and here they aren’t able to follow there own rules 100 percent, so you end up with a few leaps of logic that don’t make a lot of sense.  It’s a minor nitpick though, and remember we’re talking about a movie involving walking corpses who not only eat human brains, but literally eat their memories.  That leads me to an interesting point in this film, they introduce a new rule to the mix where zombies experience the memories of their victims by eating their brains.  This to my knowledge has never been suggested before, but makes a good explanation for why zombies specifically eat brains, but still leaving the more general carnivorous proclivities intact.

One thing I find interesting about the whole genre, is by and large there has been a shift in tone from one of general hopelessness to one that actually feels rather uplifting.  This is strange because right now it seems to me that most movies and genres are actually trending the exact opposite.  Everyone seems to have a very poor outlook on the future right now, but looking at the modern state of Zombie films, you have a feeling of “We’re gonna make it after all”.  Maybe the makers of Zombie films just feel that hopelessness has been played out.  In any case, this movie has as hopeful a message as you could possibly want.  Not only would we survive the zombie apocalypse, but one day will learn to be best friends with the zombies!  (it doesn’t come across QUITE as cheesy in the movie)  This I think is very nice message for our times.  I think the hopeful outlook is something people need right now.

The actors mostly acquit themselves nicely, though the heroine is really kindof a bit bland.  John Malcovich is always a nice addition to any movie, and though he is a bit underused as the heroines obsessed militaristic father, his few scenes really shine.  “M” is also a very nice character played in an unusually strait manner by the usually comic Rob Corddry.  He is R’s best friend whom R often ALMOST has conversations with!  And of course we come to the protagonist, R, who really steals the whole show.  His “inner monologue” if it can be called that, really holds the whole thing together, and makes you feel for this mindless automaton.  He also handles his gradual transition from traditional moaning and groaning zombie to thinking feeling and speaking “almost” human quite well.  He is played by Nicholas Holt who seems to be a bit of an up and comer right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his career take off in the next few years.

All in all, 8 out of 10 stars!  (I’m not really very good at quantifying my ratings….  I may have to put some thought into a more coherent ratings scale!)

Bonus Review:  Die Hard 57 – Yippy-Ki-Yay?  Yippy-Ki-Nay Mother F&^%er!

Movie Review: Alex Cross

I’m certainly not the biggest Tyler Perry fan in the world.  So, when Ellen said she wanted to see Alex Cross, I have to admit to some morbid curiosity over how on earth Tyler Perry of all people could ever take over a role from the great Morgan Freeman.  Tyler Perry as it turns out, is no Morgan Freeman.  But in his defense, Morgan Freeman couldn’t have made this garbage heap of a “film” (quotes added for sarcastic effect) any better.  In fact Tyler Perry, in an unusual display of restraint on his part, is the best thing about this movie.  When Tyler Perry is the best part of your movie… you have problems.

Where to begin…  The script is the easiest target I guess.  If I turned this in for my final in my BEGINNERS screenwriting class, I would have flunked hard!  Alex Cross is a detective, a doctor, and a brilliant mind.  How do we know this?  We are told.  Repeatedly.  One character even goes out of his way several times to call him “Detective Doctor Cross”.  But the only actual detective work we see him do, is to “decipher” how On-star works, and “deduce” that a drawing the bad guy left at a murder scene is in actuality a mad fold-in revealing his next target.  Yeah.  He is followed around by his best friend, whose only purpose in the film seems to be to constantly spout “we’ve been best friends all our lives.”  He does NOTHING else in the movie.  I guess Hollywood felt the “film” (once again, sarcastic effect) didn’t have enough white.  Also in this movie is Alex Cross’s wife, who we are told is pregnant, whose sole purpose is to get killed, and provide motivation for our hero, and Agent Sever (Criminal Minds joke there) who is apparently banging Cross’s best friend.  This is, according to several characters, against the rules.  Why?  No one says, but then no one really seems to care that they are so blatantly breaking the rules anyhow.  She’ll be dead twenty minutes in anyway, only in the movie to provide motivation for Cross and Best Friend anyhow.  And I guess to up the white quotient a little more.  The script constantly “tells” us everything.  Characters aren’t developed, we are only “told” who they are supposed to be.  The story is completely incoherent, making one illogical leap after another.  At one point the “heroes” break into a jail, knock out and tie up a policeman, steal evidence, and give it to a man they know to be a murderer, ensuring he will get off scott free, just to get the name of the drug dealer to the man they are after.  And then there is Cross’s nana, who could have been Medea if Perry had decided he wanted a second role, but instead went to an actress with even less talent.

Which brings me to to the acting.  Tyler Perry actually tries to make his character believable, but he can do little with terrible dialogue, and brain dead decisions given to his character.  NO ONE ELSE is even trying.  His best friend says his lines, and checks out.  Rachel Nichols essentially plays the same character she did on Criminal Minds, and then dies.  The sarcastic doctor from scrubs plays….  the sarcastic doctor from scrubs in a police uniform.  And Jean Reno sits around looking embarrassed wondering where his career went.

With all this, maybe a descent director could have salvaged SOMETHING.  But instead, they hired Rob “Stealth, xXx, The Mummy 3” Cohen.  Ask for #@%^, and ye shale receive.

If you were hoping this movie would be good, sorry to be the bearer of bad news.  Save your money and go see James Bond when it comes out.

On a side note, I saw the preview for the next Twilight, and I’m left wondering what third rate video game animators they hired to do the awful special effects.

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

Saw The Bourne Legacy tonight.  In some ways, I find my thoughts on it are a bit colored by a screenwriting class I just took.
First off, I’ll say I think it’s the second best of the “Bourne” series.  The Bourne Identity is still the best one by far, but Bourne three is kind of a wash, and Bourne two is a total mess.  That isn’t to say  I don’t have problems with the film, as a matter of fact I find some HUGE problems in it, but what it does well, it does really well, and there is a lot more to it than 2 or 3.

So, my problems with it.  It feels like a movie with no third act.  The first act is incredibly long, taking almost an hour to set up the characters and the situation, then when the action actually starts happening in the second act, everything is drawn out waaaay too much, and suddenly the end just sort of happens, as if the story wasn’t finished, but it had gotten so long they felt they just had to stop the film where it was.  Jeremy Renner is also not as strong as Matt Damon.  Damon’s Bourne was just a total bad a$$, whatever other problems the later Bourne movies had, and Renner just doesn’t pack the bad a$$ package quite the same way.  Even worse, there is only ever one scene between Renner’s character and the main bad guy (Edward Norton playing…… um…… Generic Main Bad Guy) and it’s a flash back that serves no purpose what-so-ever in the story other then to have a scene between the hero and the bad guy.  The only character who provides any sort of physical threat to Renner is so underdeveloped he makes the assassins Bourne faced look like Hamlet in comparison.  Finally, towards the end a story element is briefly touched on suggesting that the Pamela Landy character from Bourne 2 and 3 is having the event of those movies unfairly blamed on her…. but it is introduced so late that nothing is done with the idea, so a viewer is left thinking “So What?”

Okay, so it sounds like I hate the movie, but it does have redeeming features.  I mentioned that the first act is long… but this is bad only because it doesn’t leave enough time for a third act (a problem made worse by the bloat of the actions scenes in the second act), but it’s a rather interesting premise, that the events shown in the previous Bourne movies had some far reaching consequences that we didn’t know about, and many other “programs” have become exposed because of those events.  Jeremy Renner plays the new protagonist, Erin Cross.  When the program he is involved in, Operation Outcome, is exposed, the decision is made by Edward Norton’s character (in a horribly bland generic bad guy role…. one of the most boring parts I’ve ever seen Norton play) to dispose of the program.  This means killing all of it’s agents, and the doctors associated with it.  Unlike Treadstone, the main program in the first three Bourne movies, this program involves assassins who have been augmented with a number of drugs.  This opens the door for some ethical questions regarding the planned alteration of people through drug use and genetic enhancement.  While long, and full of exposition, the story is actually compelling and interesting, and provides a much more developed story then any of the previous Bourne films.  While long, and VERY exposition heavy for an action film, I would consider the first act the most interesting part of the film, and ultimately its saving grace.  It also includes  a very tense and well done scene involving the dispatch of the doctors associated with program Outcome at the hands of a sleeper agent made to look like a random shooting.  Rachel Weisz is also worth mentioning, providing the strongest female role in the series to date.  She is much more intelligent and capable then either Stiles’ or Potente’s characters were, playing the loan surviving doctor who Renner needs to help him survive withdrawal from his drugs.  Erin Cross (Renner) it turns out was of a nearly non functional IQ level prior to receiving his drugs, and with the drugs no longer available, he stands to lose more than a person can imagine (going from a smart talented assassin, to a barely functional person with a deficient IQ).  While I thought Renner was not as strong as Damon, I will say his character had a warmth and certain level of compassion that Damon’s Bourne seemed to lack.

Over all, it comes out far ahead of Bourne 2 and 3, but far behind Bourne 1.  I think many problems with the film would be alleviated somewhat by a follow up picture to clean up the loose ends, and actually show Renner’s character taking the fight back to the man so to speak, so at this point I kind of hope for another film in the series.  It was nice to see the shakey camera work of Bourne 2 and 3 dropped, and I find now I would like to see a movie featuring Bourne and Cross meeting up.

So, my final grade, 6.5 out of 10.  A movie with no solid ending and bloated action scenes, that is rescued and elevated by a strong and interesting first act.

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I’ll do my best not to give away too many secrets of the movie!

First things first, this is the best movie I have seen in the Theater this year.  Better then Spider-Man, better then Prometheus, better then The Avengers.

Second things second, this is my favorite film in what I call the Dark Knight series, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.  It is my favorite, but whether or not it’s the actual best, well, there your mileage may vary.  Many are going to like The Dark Knight better, as it’s closer to source material, and some will like Batman Begins because it’s a more traditional comic book movie.  The Dark Knight Rises tries some different things than these two though, and in my opinion, succeeds for it.

Christopher Nolan, the director, drew on several Batman stories from the comics for this one.  The one that strikes me the most is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  While it takes little if anything from the actual plot of that story, it feels very much a spiritual brother.  In Returns, Batman puts on the mask again as an old man, years after retiring, to battle the Joker, Two Face, several gangs, and in the end even throws down with Superman.  In Rises, we have a Bruce Wayne who abandoned the Batman persona 8 years prior (at the end of The Dark Knight) who put’s on the mask again to fight the evil terrorist known as Bane.  And evil is about the ONLY word to describe Bane.  The Joker was scary, but Bane is downright vicious.  He thinks nothing of casually breaking necks, and seems to enjoy causing pain and despair even more then death.  The movie also draws heavily from well known Batman stories Knightfalls where Bane breaks Batman’s back, and No Man’s Land which saw Gotham isolated from the world by an earthquake, with Batman the only one keeping order in the city.  In scale, it’s vastly more epic and grand then either of the two movies that came before.  This one feels like it moves beyond the whole vigilante aspect of the first two, presenting us with something bigger.  Another thing this movie does is introduce a large number of new characters, including Bane, Catwoman (though never called Catwoman in the film), and the new characters John Blake and Miranda Tate.  These new characters are juggled to mixed effect with Selina Kyle/Catwoman and John Blake coming across very nicely, but Miranda Tate rather under developed, and at times taking actions that seem somewhat unmotivated (you know, like randomly hopping in bed with Bruce Wayne, cause, you know, we needed to see his vulnerable side…or something)

Okay, so how about returning characters?  We also have Bruce, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon returning.  Bruce is very different in this one, almost a broken shell of a man.  It’s nice to see Bale play him so differently from the first two, though I’m not entirely sure that the events of The Dark Knight merit him turning into a reclusive hermit and abandoning the Bat.  Alfred injects a good deal of heart into Alfred, and into the movie in general, and it’s a shame to see him disappear half way through the film, but at least he shows up again towards the end, and has his character’s story very well paid off.  Gordon get’s put through the ringer, but Gary Oldman does a very nice job yet again with his understated Gordon.

There are a few plot holes, but they aren’t movie killers, so I won’t go into them at depth.  The biggest has Bruce traveling halfway around the world with no explanation as to how he accomplished it.  As it plays out in the movie, it works fine I guess.  The movie also departs from the comics much more then the previous two, but given Nolan’s previous success with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I think he’s earned the right to spin things his own way.  I might mention that the movie almost requires a knowledge of the previous two though.  Rises picks up a number of plot threads from the first two, particularly from Batman Begins.  That being said, the three movie considered together very much form a beginning, a middle, and an end, making Nolan’s Batman more of a saga or an epic than any other take on the character.  It’s also worth noting that Rises probably has more in common with Begins, then The Dark Knight.  Thematically at least, it is very much in the same arena as Begins.  I have heard it mentioned in reviews that people feel there is not enough humor in Rises, but I would argue the movie is considerable lighter then The Dark Knight was, especially during the first hour when Bruce is sort of getting back into the game.  A lot of stuff with Selina Kyle/Catwoman is very funny and charming.

The actors across the board do great work, with Hathaway standing out as the new Catwoman.  The only actor who doesn’t seem up to par is Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, but that is more to do with an under written character then any problem with Ms. Cotillard.

Overall, this one gets 9 out of 10.  It’s a great cap on the Batman series, and it is nice to have such an epic and grand climax, rather then just turning out story after story ala James Bond!

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man over the weekend with my ol’ chum Manny, so here are my thoughts!
It’s been beaten to death online that the movie is unnecessary.  But it’s still true.  This movie teaches us the origins of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, except most of America already knows his origin.  His origins were already explained to us in a movie barely 10 years ago.  We needed ANOTHER Spider-Man origin like we need another Superman origin (oh dang, they’re working on THAT too!)

Okay, that gripe aside, how is the film?  It actually holds up pretty well.  It is not as good as Spider-Man 1 or 2, but it’s still a descent flick in it’s own right, and it’s a helluva lot better then Spider-Man 3.  While it’s not as good as some of the previous Spidey flicks, there ARE things it does better.  There are also things it does worse, and there are things it does…. different.

On the better side of things, characterization (with one glaring exception) and casting.  Sorry Toby, but I think Andrew Garfield fits the role better, and makes for a more believable Spidey.  One thing I liked about Spider-Man here, it takes the whole movie for him to learn something Toby Maguire learns in 10 minutes in the first film.  The Spider-Man mantra, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”.  While these words aren’t actually spoken in the film, the movie is in large part about him learning this exact lesson.  In Toby’s first outing, his uncle died, and boom, he’d learned his lesson.  Here, he actually has an arc.  Even after his uncle dies, he is more concerned with revenge, then actually taking responsibility for anything.  Seeing him actually grow into a hero rather then just becoming one is nice.  Also appreciated is his new love interest, Gwen Stacey.  Before this film, I was not that up on Spider-Man mythos, but now I see why many people say Gwen was the love of Spidey’s life rather then Mary Jane.  And it doesn’t hurt that she is played by Emma Stone, who is quite frankly a better actress then Kirsten Dunst.  Even better, Andrew and Emma actually have very good chemistry.  Martin Sheen comes off quite well as the new Uncle Ben, and Dennis Leary is great as Captain Stacey, both Gwen’s father and the police officer responsible for catching Spider-Man, who is viewed by the police as a vigilante operating outside the law.
So, bad stuff.  The story does not gel too well.  Much of it feels a little disjointed, and plot threads are left dangling.  It still works for the most part, and the good characterizations mitigate a lot of it, but it ultimately feels like a lot has been cut out, and its pacing is nothing compared to the original.  Also coming off not to good is the villain, The Lizard.  He seems to have no real goal or motivation other then making everyone awesome, which for some reason is done by turning them into lizard people.  He comes across as a shallow copy of Green Goblin from Spider-Man, and is a major week point in the film.

Now, the different stuff, the stuff I’m not sure what to make of.  Spider-Man now has an unrevealed backstory.  His parents worked with Dr. Connors when Spidey was a kid, and discovered something, and then vanished (dying in a plane crash?)  Nothing more then that is really revealed, but the way it’s presented makes it feel like something out of a Harry Potter flick.  Not surprising Steve Kloves is one of the writers of the film (he wrote all but one of the Harry Potter films)  This isn’t necessarily bad, but I have no idea where they are going with it, and the movie doesn’t really say, making us wait for the supposed sequel.  Judging from the post credit sequence, they will be picking this thread up again in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, with perhaps Mysterio as the villain (hard to tell who it’s supposed to be, he is covered in shadow, but his appearance and disappearance suggests Mysterio, and I think that would be awesome)

Like I said, not quite as good as the first two, but it’s strong enough to restart the franchise, so I still recommend it.

Overall, 7 out of 10.