Wednesday, May 22, 2013


There have been a ton of horror movies to come out over the past few years. Sometimes you get a gem and other times you get a piece of shit, Mama is a gem. For a movie that I had absolutely no desire to see, I was really surprised that it turned out as well as it did. Really thought that this was going to be Jessica Chastain's "slumming it" movie where she is just acting for a quick paycheck, but yet again she proved why she is arguably the best actress in Hollywood.

Mama tells the story of two young girls, who are abducted by their father after he murders their mother and brought to a remote location in the woods. There they meet a "spirit" that they come to call "Mama". Their uncle, Lucas (Coster-Waldau), spends five years searching for them to no avail until the rescue crew he hired suddenly stumbles upon their cabin. There they find the young girls in an animalistic state and they are brought to a center to be rehabilitated. Lucas and his girlfriend, Annabel (Chastain), take the girls in and have to learn to become parents. The couple and the children also have to contend with the no-so-nice "Mama" that is seemingly attached to the girls and doesn't want anyone getting close to them.

I initially wrote this off as another crappy early winter release and never gave it a chance when it was in theaters. Thanks to some positive word of mouth, I decided to give it a look when it was released on Blu-Ray. I was blown away with the quality of this movie, it might not tell a completely original story but it is extremely well executed. Jessica Chastain shows up and just knocks it out of the park, just like she has been able to do in all of her major roles to this point in her career. I also have to take the time and say that she might be the sexiest woman in Hollywood at this point in time as well. Her looks and her ability make her almost unstoppable. Her character is incredibly complicated for being a horror movie protagonist and Chastain really had to do some work to sell her initially unlikable character to the audience. By the end of the movie, you will be rooting for her character every step of the way.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka Jaime Lannister, plays Chastain's boyfriend in the movie and he is initially set up to be the main protagonist but is knocked out of action for long periods in the movie. This is mainstream America's first real opportunity to see him act and he was very good given the material he had. He simply wasn't in the movie enough to make a giant impact which was a shame but you can tell this was more of a vehicle for Chastain than him. The two child actors in this movie were simply incredible. They had to act like rabid little beasts for a good portion of the movie and then they each had to showcase a variety of subtle quirks throughout the movie. Each gave a fantastic performance and I hope they get recognized at some award shows for their hard work.

This is a horror movie that is buoyed by the performances and it need to be because the effects weren't anything special. Mama could have been just as creepy with use of shadows or by using a less over the top looking creature. There was nothing really wrong with the effects, they just didn't add anything to the story for the most part. The subplot with Lucas' brother murdering his wife and then abducting his children after the financial collapse of 2008 was kind of pointless and heavy handed. This subplot could have been replaced with something much simpler and it would have had the same impact. These are small gripes for what was a solid experience overall.

If you have been looking for a solid horror movie to watch, check out Mama. The performances in the movie should be enough to justify you sitting down and watching this. Jessica Chastain is phenomenal and shows how much range she has as an actress. I feel like I could watch her act in anything and not get tired of her. Go see this ASAP.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bioshock Infinite

I have been a fan of the Bioshock franchise from the debut title and it is one of the only series aside from Uncharted that I have played from start to finish. From the first time that I heard about Bioshock Infinite, I was instantly hooked and eagerly anticipating its release. The first trailer showed this idyllic utopia with a lot of odd little details. The uneasiness that the first trailer established is what initially drew me to the game. It stands on its own from the original two games and only loosely connected to those tales. On its own, Bioshock Infinite stands above most of the last generation, and the only game that I enjoyed more than it was Dishonored.

The story of Bioshock Infinite follows Booker DeWitt, a survivor of the Battle of Wounded Knee and gambler, who is hired to retrieve a  "girl" from the floating city of Columbia to pay off his debts. His target, Elizabeth, is a mysterious young woman with more than a few "powers" that come in handy from time to time. He is at direct odds with Comstock, the overseer of Columbia, who is a religious zealot that is a technical genius and a massive bigot. Booker and Elizabeth are taken on an adventure to discover their own origins and the mysteries behind Columbia.

The tech behind this game is absolutely stunning and is one of the most technically advanced games of the current generation. The graphics and framerate are smooth throughout and there is no slow down despite the huge amount of action going on at one time. The draw distances are impressive and all of the small details put into the backgrounds such as burning posters and groups of NPCs interacting with each other keep you engrossed in the setting. The game can be drop dead gorgeous in one moment and then brutally gory in the next moment when the action scenes begin. There is no shortage of blood and gore in this one with graphic up close kills and nasty "vigor" kills as well. The tech behind Elizabeth is incredible and it was the best AI companion that I have seen since Alyx from Half-Life 2. She is not just a drone looking to do your bidding but an independent entity that is helping you along your journey and at times is your most important asset. Other studios should take the time and really study the tech that went into Elizabeth when looking to make companions for their games.

Even the sound design of the game was incredibly impressive. There are so many lines of dialogue in this game that taking the time to record each one must have been a huge undertaking. Booker and Elizabeth have interactions for almost every single situation that they are in and even have extra banter for the quieter moments in the game. There are hidden voice journals to recover that unfold the mysteries of Columbia and you should seek them out if you want the full story of the game. The single creepiest sound effect in the game has to be Songbird's "song", it signifies some of the most explosive set pieces in the game and the appearance one of the most interesting characters of the game.

The controls are smooth and the combat is nothing revolutionary but it goes retain the same solid feel of the first two games. The game plays like a standard first person shooter but the quality of the presentation and story is what really takes it over the top. The one complaint that I have with the game is that the difficulty escalates way too quickly and there is no real way to adjust to it. I am by no means a novice gamer and I generally play on hard through my first playthrough of any game but this one put its boot on my throat and would not let up at points. The action was so chaotic and ammo was so limited that some parts were simply impossible. It is a minor gripe is an otherwise wonderful experience.

Controversy has followed this game from its release with people complaining about the game's depiction of violence, racism, and religious beliefs. The violence, while over the top at points, is nothing that has not been seen in dozens of games before. It is addressed in the game that Booker kills a huge amount of people and how it weighs on him throughout the course of the game. In most games the violence is never acknowledged but this one discusses it a bunch of times. Racism is shown because the idea behind Columbia is purity and Comstock is the tyrannical overlord who will do anything to keep his city pure. There is nothing horrible in the game in regards to racism but it is definitely present throughout the game. The religious beliefs in the game are primarily Christian and religion does play a massive part in the game. This is mainly due to the fact that that Comstock has a revelation about creating Columbia after receiving a baptism and having a vision of the future. Most of the controversy was due to the complex nature of the narrative and the importance of the themes to the overall story. Nothing was overly offensive and people need to chill out.

Bioshock Infinite holds the distinct honor of being one of the best titles on any platform, ever. It is an achievement on many levels including AI, graphics, and storytelling. This was one game that grabbed me and would not let go. If you are looking for a game that is not in the Call of Duty mold, then do yourself a favor and pick this game up as soon as possible.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pain & Gain

I have been looking forward to this movie for months. After seeing the debut trailer with "Thrift Shop" playing in the background , I was hooked. The combination of Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was enough to get me to see the movie without really knowing anything about it. But the one factor that had be nervous was the fact that Michael Bay was going to be directing. He might have random explosions happen in a tense dramatic scene or Bumblebee could walk on screen for no reason. You can just never really tell with Bay. 

Pain & Gain tells the real life stories of Daniel Lugo, Adrian Doorbal, and Paul Doyle as they plan and execute several kidnappings in order to get rich quick. Lugo is a down on his luck personal trainer, who wants to have all the things that his rich clients have. He convinces his friends, Adrian (Mackie) and Paul (The Rock), to aid him in his schemes and they have mixed results to say the least. But the real test comes when they get what they want and then get a little too greedy for their own good.

The first thing that I have to mention is the performance of The Rock, he was simply incredible in his role. He was funny, charismatic, and menacing at times.  He is usually thrown into the tough guy roles and people forget how hilarious he can be. He has some scenes that had the entire theater laughing out loud and was the most entertaining part of the movie from start to finish.  We need more of this from The Rock and less of the performances he gives in movies such as Faster and Snitch. The rest of the cast was pretty solid but no one really stood out like The Rock did. Wahlberg was as solid as ever and Rebel Wilson provided some great comic relief.  

There is no real "good guy" in the movie until halfway through when Ed Harris' character is introduced. He seems to be the only one who can tell that the 3 main characters are full of shit and really have no clue what they are doing. His character was a great foil to the three dumbasses and once he got their scent it was only a matter of time before he would catch them. He plays a vital supporting role and his performance reminded me how solid of an actor he is. But he has been great in past Michael Bay movie such as The Rock. 

The one thing that I feel the viewer forgets about this movie is that two of the three main characters are pretty shitty human beings. Doorbal and Lugo have no real redeeming values and are selfishly out for themselves at every turn. The only reason Lugo does good for his community is so he can hold onto the things that he stole. Doyle is tricked into the scheme and then realizes he can't bail because he is in too deep. It was shittly people ripping off shitty people. The humor and slick looks of the main actors masks the fact that all of the guys the characters are based on were in jail or are currently on death row. 

Michael Bay also realized that he had to reign in his "Michael Bay-ness" and actually try and get solid performances from his cast without the use of CG and explosions. To his credit he was successful in this endeavor and I really hope he opts to do smaller movies like this in the future. His smaller films such as Pain & Gain and The Island were great movies while all of his other efforts were mediocre at best.

This is Michael Bay's best effort to date and you should really take the time to see it. The Rock's performance alone is worth the price of admission. This was one hell of a way to kick off the summer movie season. If Bay can keep turning out movies of this quality, it would go a long way to repairing his reputation. but then again he is making Transformers 4, so any hope of another movie from him of this quality is a longshot.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Following- "The Final Chapter"

So we have come to the end of the first season of The Following. It has been a long and exciting journey to get to this point, with a few bumps and high points along the way. Kevin Bacon has firmly entrenched himself as one of the best actors on television. The show on the other hand has become a shell of the show that it was in its first five episodes. There is just a continuous stream of cliches and gaps in logic that are slowly taking away from the quality of this series.

The season long battle between Joe and Ryan was a little anticlimactic after the season long buildup. They are onscreen together for five minutes and their "battle" lasted three of those minutes. Joe is a fantastic antagonist but he is so over the top sometimes that he becomes goofy. He spouts of these grand declarations and his actions are rather brash for someone who planned so well for 90% of the season. Ryan acted according to logic for most of the episode for once and did his best to save everyone but he failed miserably.

The death of Agent Parker was pointless given how she told Ryan that there was no "death curse" and then immediately died. She was very underutilized in the second half of the season but was still one of the most interesting characters in the series. Her death was the most dramatic portion of the episode and had me on the edge of my seat. I really didn't think that they would have the balls to kill her but I was wrong. At least the writers didn't kill off Weston, or we wouldn't have any supporting characters to root for.

This was a decent close to the season and set up a lot of questions for next season with one hell of a cliffhanger. Claire and Ryan getting stabbed was pretty jarring but not unexpected. Having "the Angel of Death" come back for the finale was unexpected as I felt like they were going to save her thread for next season. She was forgotten for almost 5 episodes and then she just pops up and destroys Ryan and Claire's happy ending. She was the most interesting of the followers but she has had almost no character development since she was introduced. Looks as though she is going to be playing a big role in the next season.

This was a satisfying end to the first season of The Following, but it left a lot of opportunities on the table. With Joe's questionable "death" at the end of this season there needs to be another antagonist to come to the forefront of the series. Ryan needs to break the "death curse" somehow and Claire needs to stop being an asshole. The writers need to get back to the creepy vibe that permeated every moment of the first few episodes of this season. Overall this was a great start to an intriguing series and I hope the show runners take full advantage of the seeds they laid in this season.