Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

This is one of those movies that were spoiled by other movies that came out in the same year. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was an overly serious version of a completely ridiculous concept, there was absolutely no fun to be had while watching that movie. H&G handles the drama and comedy very differently, there is a good mix of both and it never takes itself too seriously. Having Adam McKay and Will Ferrell as producers definitely helped with the comedy aspects of the movie but the action is also extremely well done even with the serious amount of CG that is injected into almost every frame of this film.

The movie starts with the age old tale of Hansel & Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton), who while in the woods, get lost, and are trapped by an evil witch. They then fight back against the witch and burn her alive in her own oven. But in this version of the story H&G decide to fight back against the various witches of the world and become professional witch hunters. They come across a plot by the witches that will eliminate all of the witches’ assorted weakness and make them all-powerful. As we get further into the plot we find out that everything that the duo thought was fact may not be true after all and they must quickly adapt to the increasingly dangerous mission that they have involved themselves in.

I am really happy that I did not write this movie off, like a lot of people did, because it is extremely entertaining. There is no point at which the movie takes itself too seriously and there is a steady stream of both comedy and light drama that keeps the movie rolling at a steady pace. There is running gag about the side effects of Hansel’s first encounter with a witch that is really creative and funny, and it is little things like this that make the movie so good. The variety of witches in the movie is astounding and at the end of the movie you get to see all of the different types of witches from literature and superstition all in one scene. All of these factors add up to make a badass movie, which turned out to be the best time I have had seeing a movie since Dredd. There was not one point in this movie that I thought a scene could have been taken out to make it smoother and everything just flowed perfectly. More movies need to strive to be this entertaining.

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton have established themselves as action heroes with this movie; each is involved in a couple of awesome fight scenes and makes everything seem a little bit more believable in an otherwise unbelievable situation. Renner gets to show off some of his comedy skills as most of his scenes are either played for some form of physical comedy or they play of the awkwardness of his character. Arterton on the other hand, shoulders most of the movie’s dramatic elements with Gretel being the more serious of the two siblings. Her version of Gretel is badass and with a little more recognition from the American moviegoers, she could have been next in line as the next female action icon.  They combine to make an excellent team and their chemistry is really refreshing, and by what I mean is that there are no awkward “brother-sister” moments in the film.

This is a movie that really deserved to be seen by a much larger audience in the US and it is a shame that the studio messed up the marketing campaign and kept delaying the movie’s release. It also did not help that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tanked during its release and that it was also a giant piece of shit for the most part. The silver lining to the situation is that this H&G absolutely crushed it overseas and will be getting a well deserved sequel in the near future. I also kept thinking about that the fact that this would have made a pretty amazing concept for a video game. The whole concept lends itself to Dishonored-type levels about hunting witches in a variety of different ways. It is just an idea that I am throwing out there for everyone to think about.

The bottom line is that you should take the time and see this movie. It is pretty freaking spectacular for a movie that I initially had such low hopes for. It is a good time and there is plenty of gore and violence to satisfy even the most hardened horror fanatic. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is in the same vein as Army of Darkness. So if you love AoD then you are absolutely going to love H&G. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Last of Us

The Last of Us is one of the crowning achievements of the current generation of video game consoles and is one of the best games to ever be created. Naughty Dog, the creators of the Uncharted franchise, have indeed created another special property and it remains to be seen if this will be a standalone game or if it will be followed by a few sequels. The combination of gameplay mechanics, story, and graphics make this a must buy for anyone that owns a Playstation 3. Uncharted was a huge accomplishment on both a story and graphical level but I was sometimes disconnected from certain characters in the story. The Last of Us establishes that emotional connection within the first hour of gameplay and I was hooked.

The story of The Last of Us follows Joel, a grizzled survivor of the plague, and Ellie, a young girl that possibly holds the key to curing the plague that has ravaged the world. There is a fungus that spreads in the air through spores that turns people into a weird cross between a zombie and a mushroom. It is much more frightening than the way I am describing it. Joel is a reluctant protector of Ellie, and there are events that you play through that give you a better understanding of why he is the way he is. He must take Ellie to a safe haven, away from the oppressive government, so she can be studied to see if she holds the key to put an end to the world destroying fungus.

This is a game that needs to be experienced, and it is incredibly hard to describe the story without giving away a huge chunk of the story. We see Joel’s progression from loving father to broken survivor, and then to steadfast protector within the span of this game. He is an everyman in this horrific world and is simply doing everything that he can do to survive in it. Ellie on the other hand has grown up in this crap world and knows nothing other than chaos. He is cynical, where as she is optimistic and is finally getting to experience a world that she never knew before. They form the main emotional connection in the story and they will be the only characters that you really care for in the game. There are some characters that you feel for but I for one really cared about the welfare of Joel and Ellie. There are certain points that I had no idea if either was going to make it out alive and Naughty Dog does a splendid job of building up the tension throughout the course of your adventure. 

The technical side of this game is just as fantastic as the story of the game. The graphics are some of the best that have ever been produced on the Playstation 3. Naughty Dog has had a stranglehold on having the prettiest games of this generation and The Last of Us was no exception. Character detail is incredible, the AI (both enemy and friendly) are sophisticated, and the environments are gorgeous.  The action is brutal and there is nothing like hearing the sickening thud of a metal pipe smashing into an enemy’s skull. The sound design for the game is award caliber and gives the game is drearily terrifying mood. The screams of the infected are horrific whenever you hear them because it signals that death could be around any corner. The dialogue for Ellie and Joel is varied and engaging but the dialogue for secondary character can sometimes fall flat, but that is a very minor gripe in what is pretty much a perfect gaming experience.

The controls, shooting mechanics, and hand to hand combat are the only places that some people may have a legitimate gripe with this game. After experiencing how tight the gunplay of the Uncharted series was, it was a shock too see the looser controls of The Last of Us. But when you actually look at the mechanics, they make perfect sense. Joel is a survivor that was never taught how to properly handle a weapon, so his aim isn’t always perfect like Drake’s was. The hand to hand combat is more barbaric than in Uncharted due to the fact that Joel is simply trying to survive each encounter. Every confrontation in The Last of Us is a kill or be killed scenario and that is the world that has been created for that game. Some people have taken exception to the gunplay in the game but it never bothered me. It just added to the immersion factor for me.

I am mainly a movie reviewer and I tend to think in movie terms or relate things to movies. This is the video game equivalent of Children of Men. There is a world in which there is no hope, a reluctant protector, and a young girl, who may hold the key to saving the world. There are obvious differences between The Last of Us and Children of Men but there are definitely more similarities than differences. I realized the connection about a quarter of the way through the game and it made me enjoy it even more than I already was. There is a sense of hopelessness and dread that fills every scene in The Last of Us and the same could be said for Children of Men. Both feature characters that try and keep hope alive in our heroes but it is ultimately their young companions that bring out the best in them and give them the strength to complete their missions, no matter the consequences to themselves. Children of Men is in my opinion as close to perfect that a movie can get, and The Last of Us stand right beside Bioshock Infinite as the best games of the current generation of games.

The Last of Us is Playstation 3’s best exclusive to date and with the exception of Beyond: Two Souls, it should stand as the best until the release of the Playstation 4 in December 2013. Naughty Dog has given us a game that is both exhilarating and terrifying, while also being extremely deep and emotional. This is the best game that I have ever played on PS3 and it is going to take some time to top this experience. This was a great swansong for the PS3 and I am eager to see what the PS4 will bring us in the near future. 

This Is the End (2013)

This Is the End is one of those movies that sounds awesome on paper but seems like it would be hard to execute in real life. I am a huge fan of Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen, so I was all in on this movie as soon as I heard that it was officially being made. If you get a chance check out the awesome short, Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, it is the basis for This is the End. In this movie you have all of the modern-day stoner/slacker movies idols such as Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson playing the central characters in the movie with cameos from just about every big name in the comedy world. It was great to see that what seemed great on paper translated really well to the screen and it looks like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg might be the next two big names when it comes to comedy directors.

At the start of This Is the End, Jay Baruchel travels to Los Angeles to rekindle his fading friendship with Seth Rogen. Jay doesn’t like L.A very much so he tries to stay away as much as possible but that has taken a toll on his relationship with Rogen, so he comes to have a bonding experience that consists of getting high, eating fast food, and playing video games. Seth has another plan in mind and he wants Jay to bond with his current group of friends that consists of James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson. Jay and Seth go to a party at Franco’s, and soon after they arrive a massive “earthquake” hits, killing a large number of the people at the party. The five friends hole up in Franco’s mansion and some apocalyptic shenanigans start going down.

This movie is simply hilarious, and every single actor in the main cast gets their time to shine. Rogen and Goldberg did an excellent job of balancing the amount of focus placed on each character but never forgot that this was a story about Jay and Seth. Their story is the heart of the movie and gives the movie some emotional weight. Laughs definitely come at a steady pace in this movie and there are never any “slow” moments to speak of. There are also a ton of references to past movies made by the group and Pineapple Express seemed to be the one that got a ton of focus. Pineapple Express 2 is a movie that I want to see get made and after seeing the “trailer” for it in this movie, I really hope it becomes a reality.

For a movie that is supposed to be focused on comedy, the action in this movie was really well done. The beginning parts of the apocalypse feature large action set pieces and comedy mixed together and it works from start to finish. The “creatures” in the movie are designed in a rather creative way and they are both terrifying/hilarious in certain instances. Danny McBride absolutely owns every single scene that he is in. There are a lot of people that do not like his brand of comedy but I find him to be hilarious, this movie showcases his talents and he gets most of the most memorable moments in the movie. There are also a few notable cameos in the movie that need to been seen to be believed, I don't want to spoil them by describing them.

It was refreshing to see a comedy take on the apocalypse as a backdrop because it is usually the focus of dreary dramas or over the top action movies. Instead we get a hilarious over the top comedy with an awesome cast and hysterical performances. I have seen countless crappy movies about the apocalypse and this was the first comedy that I have seen that focuses on it. Hopefully Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg continue to fuse different genres with their comedic style, so we can get another movie with the same quality as Pineapple Express or This Is the End.

This is the funniest movie of 2013. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have created a hilarious/horror mash up with one of the best comedic ensembles ever created. Check out this one if the normal summer blockbuster isn't your cup of tea and you want to laugh your ass off.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Purge

The Purge is a movie that I have been looking forward to from the very first time that I watched the trailer. The trailer, one of the best ever cut, fully hooked me and this became a movie that I had to see. The fact that Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey were the headliners of the movie made me even more excited for the movie to be released. I have to say that I was absolutely not disappointed with this movie at all. A summer horror movie with solid acting is pretty good in my books.

The Purge tells the story of a newly "reborn" America, where crime is almost non-existent and the same goes for unemployment. There is an annual event called "The Purge", where all crime is deemed legal for 12 hours and that includes murder. We follow the Sandin family on the night of The Purge, and the plight that befalls them. James, the head of the family, sells security systems designed to protect people's homes on the night of The Purge. He has the "perfect" family, a loving wife, Mary, and two children. After the purge commences, a man is being hunted in their neighborhood and is looking for sanctuary and is given it by James' son. The hunters, looking for the man then lay siege to the Sandins' house. What was supposed to be a night of safety quickly turns into a night of terror.

This is one of those movies that the actual world it is based in is more interesting than the actual story being told on screen. I was so interested in finding out what events led to the creation of The Purge and who the new founding fathers of The United States are. The reasoning for the purge is so that everyone can have a night to release their frustration and all of the rage they have pent up inside. I hope that there is a further explanation of the event in the inevitable sequel that will be made. The events in the movie are interesting but the world of the movie is just that more interesting. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are great in this movie and carry the movie and elevate it despite the low quality supporting actors. The only other solid actor in the movie is newcomer, Rhys Wakefield. He is super creepy in his role as the leader of the pack of hunters laying siege to the house. He is packed full of manic energy and is terrifying in the role.

The main setback in this movie is the dumb decisions that the characters make. Shining lights on doors when they are hiding, flip flopping constantly, and just major gaps in logic. Mary is one of the only characters that acts logically for the most part in the movie and in the end makes some extremely bold decisions. The children make some fucking terrible decisions and James makes a collection of boneheaded and smart decisions. This is a minor gripe in an otherwise very solid movie and hopefully the same mistakes are not made in the future sequels.

This is a very solid horror movie that makes some bold choices and builds a very rich world that hopefully is fleshed out in the sequel. Hawke and Headey are great in this movie and if you are a fan of horror movies then you should go out and see this one.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

East of West: Chapter 3

I have been saying that this is the best new series to come around in some time and this issue proved me to be correct. Jonathan Hickman has the makings of a masterpiece in his hands and I can only hope that he follows through on the promise of these first couple of issues. We get to formally meet Death's wife, Xiaolian, who also happens to be the sister of one of The Chosen. The circumstances of her detainment are explained and we get the opportunity to see her battle against the horsemen, albeit a very brief glimpse. With each new chapter, Jonathan Hickman continually feeds us new information and adds new layers to his characters, as well as making us ask new questions that will keep us reading well into the future. It is also an accomplishment that the two main storylines in the series do not seem neglected, they are both showcased for the proper amount of time to leave some mystery.

There is the running theme that love is a very powerful force and one that The Chosen and the Horsemen are desperately trying to stop. Death is motivated to be reunited with his wife at all cost and does not care who he has to kill to get to her. Originally, I thought that his quest was going to be solely focused on taking revenge on the people who wronged him, but now we know that he is partially motivated out of love for his wife. We also find out that Death's companions are also in love and are apparently from two separate tribes (Wolves and Crows?). I am really intrigued by their characters and would love to get more info on them as the storylines progress. Xiaolian's father, Mao V, also had to make a deal with The Chosen to keep his daughter alive and in the process put his kingdom in jeopardy. It seems like we have love on one side (Death and Xiaolian) and Hate on the other (The Horsemen and The Chosen), and the ensuing struggle between the two sides will be the main focus of the series.

I love everything about this series to this point, the characters are wonderfully crafted, the story is intriguing, and the art is phenomenal. There is one panel in particular, when the Horsemen attack Xiaolian, that is simply incredible (posted the image at the top of the article. The colors are great, the character design is creative, and the action is brutal. What more could you ask for? The only thing that I am worried about with the series is that when the main conflict comes to an end, where will the series go from there. I know that I am getting way ahead of myself but that is the way that I typically think. I am 100% on board for this series and it is going to take a hell of a lot to get me to stop reading this one. Next month cannot come soon enough, I really need to have chapter 4 in my hands, right now.

If you are a comic fan, this is one series that you absolutely must be reading. There is no bulky continuity to deal with and it is a story that is only three issues deep, so there is no excuses for not reading this. Go to your local comic shop and pick it up, I promise that you will not be disappointed. East of West is one of the rare series that I want to read the next issue immediately after I finish the newest installment and I am really looking forward to #4.