Monday, February 16, 2015

"Shadow of Mordor" is one of the best of its genre

By this point in my life/gaming career, I've played all the "Batman: Arkham" games and even "Sleeping Dogs." I'm a huge fan of open world/action games, especially the ones with the free-flowing combat system that the former series pioneered. So while waiting for "Batman: Arkham Knight," enter "Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor." As the name suggests, it's a game based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I've definitely been a fan, but I cooled down on the high fantasy since it was almost a good 10 years between the release of the first "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the new "Hobbit" movies. I'm still not quite the fan that I was as a junior high student, but I definitely appreciate the franchise. Digression aside, Tolkien's world is actually a perfect setting for a game similar to "Batman: Arkham" or even "Assassin's Creed." In fact, I'm not sure why one wasn't made until last year. Oh well, better late than never. Oh, and this one stands tall as one of the best of the genre.

Set between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," "Shadow of Mordor" tells the tale of Talion, a ranger (like Aragorn), stationed near Mordor to keep an eye on the place. Smart move from the higher ups in Gondor, since Sauron could potentially make a comeback anytime he wants. One fateful day, the garrison gets overrrun by orcs commanded by three of Sauron's top lieutenants. The rangers hold out, but everyone ends up getting killed, even the families of said rangers. Technically, Talion dies, too. That is, until an elven wraith (who was summoned by Sauron's lieutenants) picks him as a host body and brings him back as sort of an undead warrior. It's kind of like T'Zarkaan and Malus Darkblade from "Warhammer." So then they team up to take down Sauron, one orc at a time.

At first glance, the gameplay in "Shadow of Mordor" is extremely similar to those two open world action game examples I cited at the beginning. You dish out damage, and you get to counter attacks. If you've even picked up a "Batman: Arkham" game, you'll feel right at home. The only difference here is that you actually get to kill your enemies, since Talion isn't exactly Batman as far as morals go. At a certain point in the game, you actually get to charge your sword and perform insta-kill executions when you get to a high enough combo. Those animations never get old. The movement controls are also like every other game in the genre that has come before it. But that's where the "Batman: Arkham" comparisons stop.

What is done differently here is something that is truly revolutionary as far as games go. Enter the Nemesis System. Rather than going for the no innovation route that "Batman: Arham Origins" went down, the people at Monolith did something that no other game has ever done. The Nemesis System isn't something I can really describe in one sentence. I'll just describe it like this. Ok, imagine you screw up in a game, and one of the enemy mooks kills you. Now imagine that for killing you, said mook gets a promotion and becomes even more powerful than before, essentially becoming a mini-boss. Oh and every time you encounter this mini-boss, he remembers you and trolls you for not killing him. That's a nemesis orc. Any nameless mook that kills you can get promoted to captain and become more powerful the more times he kills you. Having enemies that actually come back to haunt you adds a layer of dimension absent in most competitor games along with a potentially endless cycle of gameplay content.

The Nemesis System also adds an element of strategy that none of the rival games have. See, each of the orc captains and warchiefs (the 5 orcs in charge who play a vital role in the campaign) have their own strengths and weaknesses. One orc might be killed by you sneaking up on him and delivering a stealth kill while another may not even be damaged by your regular attacks. No two nemeses orcs are the same. Having such an imbalance between enemies may come off as frustrating at times, but that's exactly what makes this experience so compelling. As such, it definitely pays to collect intel before you go fighting one, so you can know exactly what you're getting yourself into. I mean, you can choose not to, but the game will be a lot harder that way. And this is where "Shadow of Mordor" shines: in its freedom to choose whether you want to do it the easy way or the hard way (which often ends up becoming the very VERY hard way depending on the orc's strengths and weaknesses).

Another thing you can do is control the minds of your enemies, known in the game as "branding." You don't get this ability until roughly the second act. It's an ability that can be the difference between having a manageable time and having a really bad time in the finale, without giving away too much. It's a lot of fun to brainwash enemies under your control and have them do your bidding for you. Of course, you can technically choose not to, but it makes the game during the second half much harder and less amusing.

While some of the gameplay mechanics aren't new to the genre, the Nemesis System and branding make "Shadow of Mordor" stand out in a genre that's starting to get crowded.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Godzilla movies from worst to best (Part 3)

Here it is, folks. The last part of my Godzilla movies ranked from worst to best. These are the ones that I consider to be the creme of the crop, that is, the ones that I consider the absolute must watch films of the series. So without further ado ...

10. "Godzilla: Final Wars" - While the whole concept of aliens using the kaiju as their own personal super weapons is certainly not a new idea, this entry takes that plotline and basically takes everything up to eleven. This is the last of the Toho-produced entries, at least until 2016, so they gave it a pretty fancy sendoff with slightly higher production values (READ: PS3-level CGI rather than PS2). Final Wars has been compared to a greatest hits album, which it kind of is. It's essentially a microcosm of everything that makes the Godzilla franchise so enjoyable and ridiculous. Honestly, if I had to recommend a good starting point for new fans to get a feel for what these movies are like, this would be it. An overpowered Godzilla who tears through his foes like me going through boxes of thin mints during girl scout cookie season certainly adds to the awesome.

9. "Godzilla vs. Megaguirus" - Admittedly, this entry is ranked a lot higher for me than it is for a lot of other people's lists. I'm not other people. For starters, I really enjoyed the human story, as it was a pretty good (for Godzilla movie standards) tale of revenge that got its tone set within the first five minutes of the movie. And although the titular Megaguirus might resemble Battra a little too much for viewers wanting something original, I'll give them props for making her a completely earthly creature rather than some run-of-the-mill alien. The insect queen role was also a relative breath of fresh air. Then this Godzilla movie has something a lot of the others don't have: a scene that will make the skin of some viewers crawl. Yes, I'm talking about the scene where all the Meganulon dragonfly things are just on the building. That's a whole lot of nope.

8. "Godzilla against Mechagodzilla" - This is the first millennium series movie to feature the rebooted Mechagodzilla, which sports my favorite design in the series. I would say that for a Godzilla movie, this one's pretty dark since the first few minutes feature a close-up view of soldiers in an overturned jeep getting crushed by Godzilla in (for series standards) pretty graphic fashion. The human story is not dissimilar to that of the previous entry, only it's more of a tale of redemption rather than revenge since the protagonist feels guilty for the deaths of the guys who got crushed. Then there's this scene of the new Mechagodzilla (which is built with the bones of the original Godzilla) going haywire and destroying everything like Eva-01 in that one episode of "Neon Genesis Evangelion." Cautionary tale about technology much? I'm probably over thinking this one.

7. "Destroy all Monsters" - Arguably one of, if not the most, iconic Godzilla movies. While the special effects are obviously really dated and honestly kind of fun to laugh at, back then this was something groundbreaking and epic, kind of like "The Avengers" or what "Batman v Superman" aspires to be like. It was an mash-up the the world hadn't seen. While "King Kong vs. Godzilla is more like "Batman v Superman," "Destroy all Monsters" is more of "The Avengers" of giant monster movies. There's a threat caused by an alien race that wants to take over earth that no one kaiju can handle, so they all get together to handle it. And while dry-humping King Ghidorah doesn't look as epic today, back in the 60s, that was probably the equivalent of Hulk tossing Loki around like a ragdoll. This is one of the best, especially if you look at the time when it was released.

6. "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" - The two best kinds of Godzilla movies in my opinion are the ones where he's portrayed as a force of nature or the ones where he encounters an enemy that takes him to his absolute breaking point. This is one of the latter. Godzilla in this entry encounters his match in the form of a cyborg replica that kicks his ass all over the place for most of the movie. Other than Ghidorah and Destoroyah, Mechagodzilla proves to be one of Godzilla's deadliest foes, arguably more so because while the former are both pure evil, they're living beings while Mechagodzilla is a cold, unfeeling machine. The thing about him being used by apelike aliens that used human faces to disguise their true appearance was also fairly surprising for a Godzilla movie since all aliens that came before were basically humans with a weird fashion sense.

5. "Godzilla" (2014) - This one is ranked a lot higher than many others might have ranked it, and here's why. Yes, the movie did have its fair share of problems from the acting to a tendency to cut scenes at their juiciest moments. I'll argue that the latter problem was actually a strength of the movie in the sense that showing off Godzilla too early and too much would have taken away from the gravity of each appearance. And speaking of that, every time Godzilla appears in this film, it's a moment that (in my opinion) might make your jaw drop and heart stop while you just admire the sheer awe inspired by the king of the monsters. From a film making perspective, there are actually some great lessons in creating suspense and atmosphere (the train scene with the female MUTO creature and the HALO jump). The MUTOs are pretty cool for new kaiju, as well. Most of all, the real reason why last year's "Godzilla" is ranked so high is because compared to the last attempt, an American studio finally managed to get it right. And in every moment Godzilla appears, it's evident that Gareth Edwards has a respect and reverence for the character that Roland Emmerich never had.

4. "Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster" - If Godzilla's Batman, then King Ghidorah's the Joker. If he's Texas A&M, Ghidorah's that one university down the road ... I think they call themselves Longhorns? You get the point. He's Godzilla's foil and archnemesis, the one that he often requires outside help to defeat. This is is first appearance, and it's probably the best movie outside the original 1954 classic of the Showa era. It has everything: a James Bond-esque human story involving an assassination attempt, the introduction of Godzilla's most iconic and powerful foe, and it also has the first monster team-up (although this isn't quite as big as the one in "Destroy All Monsters"). It even has this scene where Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra all "talk" to each other when deciding that Ghidorah is the greater threat. Put all these elements together, and you have one damn good movie.

3. "Godzilla vs. Destoroyah" - Designed to be the swan song of the Godzilla franchise before Roland Emmerich ruined it so badly that Toho had to make more movies to distance themselves from that remake, this was at the time the penultimate Godzilla movie for a number of reasons. He's not as iconic and possibly not as powerful as Showa-era Ghidorah, but Destoroyah certainly looks meaner. If Mechagodzilla's the Terminator, Ghidorah's the Joker, then Destoroyah's Bane. He's the villain designed to test Godzilla and take him farther than any kaiju has done before. He does that by seemingly killing Godzilla's own son in front of him and being so powerful that nothing short of Godzilla going into nuclear meltdown mode can put him down. If the franchise ended here, it would have been like "The Dark Knight Rises" in that Godzilla gets put to his greatest test yet. Add in some genuinely heart-wrenching moments along with a scene that, as a bonus, pays tribute to "Aliens," and you see why this is the swan song of an era.

2. "Gojira" - It would be too easy to rank this as the best one, so I won't. This is the one that started it all. Unlike pretty much the entire series, this first entry is actually a very dark, very depressing movie that only wanted to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb before the metaphor got made into a Saturday morning-type hero. For the time it was made, it was pretty graphic and probably would have brought back some really bad memories for a lot of viewers. Even this first Godzilla looks meaner than most of the other incarnations over the years. Surprisingly, some of the best scenes here aren't even the ones featuring Godzilla (like the scene where the mother comforts her children right before they get killed along with that entire scene in the hospital in the aftermath of the initial attack). The human story is definitely a good one, and it culminates in the use of one of the most horrific fictional weapons devised. Despite its high place on the list, this isn't a good starting point for newer fans in my opinion, due to the heavy nature of the film.

1. "GMK: All-Out Monsters Attack" - Are you surprised this is #1? Well here's why. As I said, Godzilla is at his best when he's portrayed as an unstoppable force or when he's put to his breaking point. In this entry, Godzilla is seen at possibly the height of his power in the entire series save for possibly "Final Wars." Nothing can stop him. Not even the combined might of Baragon, Mothra and King Ghidorah. He just tears through them like dogs through living room furniture. And this Godzilla incarnation is the most evil one since the original. How evil? In one scene he nearly gives a bed-ridden hospital patient a heart attack and relieves her by walking by the building ... only to come back and purposefully target her room with a smack from his tail. Oh, and turns out his evil comes from the souls of soldiers who died during World War II. So there we go. This Godzilla is the most evil and powerful one put to screen, the tone of the movie is closest to the original, and there's a message about not forgetting your country's veterans. We have a winner.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Godzilla movies from worst to best (Part 2)

20. "Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla" - Per the usual, this entry has an overall plot structure that's been recycled several times in the series: Earth gets threatened by yet another space monster, and only Godzilla can stop it. This time, in the words of M. Night Shyamalan, there's a twist. The space monster is an evil clone of Godzilla, and it's caused by something that makes the Hesei series considerably stronger than its predecessor: continuity. During the events of "Godzilla vs. Biollante," some of Godzilla's cells managed to get launched into space, and when they came in contact with a black hole, Spacegodzilla was born. Try to stay with me. I'll give it major props for making an effort to establish a single universe with an over-arching story by tying in to a previous entry, but the overall unoriginal plot structure keeps this entry at the tail end of this part of the list.

19. "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2" - This is not the first film to feature Godzilla fighting a robotic doppelganger, as the title suggests. However, it certainly is slightly better than "Spacegodzilla" for a few reasons. For starters, I like how it starts out introducing the UN-appointed anti-Godzilla group, a paramilitary organization of badasses dedicated to stopping the Big G whenever he surfaces. However, in introducing those people, that's where Mechagodzilla gets introduced, and this one is completely different from the original. Instead of being an alien super weapon designed to help said alien race conquer earth, he's a human super weapon designed to counter Godzilla, since a bunch of karate and judo black belts can't really do anything against a pissed off, skyscraper-sized atomic beast. Otherwise, it's like the original "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla," only MechaG is good, and Godzilla is the aggressor. This entry also introduces yet another Baby Godzilla. And this one's probably better than Minya. Solid entry, but Mechagodzilla is much more effective as a bad guy.

18. "Godzilla 2000" - Here we go again with the space monsters. From my understanding, the reason why this (and the entire millennium series) was made was because Roland Emmerich and co. did such a good job screwing up the Godzilla character that Toho wanted to make their own new movies to completely wash the bad taste out. Compared to some of the other entries, "Godzilla 2000" feels somewhat smaller and more personal because it does a good job handling its human characters, who are completely relatable. At least they come off more so that way than some of the humans in earlier entries.The new monster, Orga, is also pretty cool, even if he only has a few minutes of screen time before he gets put in his place. This was a solid way for Toho to draw attention from the 1998 remake, but it's definitely not their best effort.

17. "Godzilla vs. Biollante" - This was one of the more fun entries to rank. It's ahead of two of its contemporaries because it sets the stage for a lot of things that happen in the Heisei series. The space-born Godzilla cells that eventually become Spacegodzilla  get launched in this movie. Recurring character Miki Saegusa also gets introduced. Major props to Toho for establishing continuity that up until this point, the series hadn't seen. Then there's the new monster, Biollante. She has an appropriately tragic backstory for an anti-villain, and there are aspects about her that are genuinely creepy. Of course, when you get a plant/Godzilla hybrid monster with the mind of a human girl, that's what happens. Finally, this is the most "80s" of all the Godzilla movies. It starts out with a shootout that wouldn't be out of place in a contemporary Schwarzenegger or Stallone movie complete with a cheesy musical number that's almost impossible to dance along to. Not bad, Toho.

16. "Godzilla vs. Mothra" - Ironically, this is one of the very first Godzilla films I watched. By all standards, it's not a bad one at all. It has for me, one of the most relatable human characters in the trouble making Fujita, who gets arrested at the beginning for something I could see myself getting arrested for. Being a Mothra movie, yes, the twin fairies are in it. And by the time I got to this entry, I've heard the Mothra chant so many times I can hum it in my sleep. Then, it introduces Battra, sort of a foil to Mothra that looks like Mothra's meth-addicted cousin. I liked this one more than the Heisei entries I just mentioned, even if the plot revolves around more mumbo jumbo about keeping balance in the world.

15. "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS" - This is the second to last movie that Toho made. The millennium-era version of Mechagodzilla got introduced in its superior predecessor "Godzilla against Mechagodzilla," and this had a similar plot, so it feels like a rehash. There wasn't that much that made this all that different from its predecessor, where it established that Mechagodzilla, aka "Kiryu," was a sentient cyborg with the original Godzilla's consciousness trapped in a mechanical body. And he was screaming "kill me" the entire time. Overall, it's another Godzilla fights his machine clone entry, and "Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla" and "Godzilla against Mechagodzilla" did it better.

14. "Terror of Mechagodzilla" - As far as the Godzilla vs. his mechanical clone entries go, this is one of the better ones. Once again, aliens are using the evil robot to destroy/conquer earth, and now they also have help in the form of a mind-controlled one-shot kaiju called Titanosaurus. At this point in the series, it's already been established how deadly Mechagodzilla is, and Titanosaurus is no pushover, either. So Godzilla has his work cut out for him in one of the Showa series' finer entries. There's even this weird human subplot with a young woman's dad supposedly being dead, but he's not dead. And she's a robot! It's pretty good, but you can't beat the original.

13. "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" - Out of the entire series, this entry has the most ridiculous plot. There's a lot of time travel, and King Ghidorah's origins get redone. I liked the nod to WWII where it showed the pre-atomic Godzilla defending a group of Japanese soldiers probably more out of being territorial, which caused one of the soldiers in the scene to remember and even owe Godzilla his life. There's this plot where a group of future humans want to subjugate Japan on account of Japan's not becoming the lone economic superpower making the future better, so they send these genetically engineered things called Dorats (that look like Furbies or something) back in time to a nuclear test, where they mutate and fuse into King Ghidorah. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills after saying that. Then Ghidorah gets trounced by Godzilla (who just happens to be acting like a territorial animal, and rightfully so) because Japan doesn't want to put up with any of that future nonsense, then Ghidorah gets rebuilt to fight Godzilla again, and Godzilla even has a bro moment with one of the soldiers he saved during WWII before killing him. Wow, just try to digest all that.

12. "Invasion of Astro Monster" - This is the first Godzilla to truly introduce the concept of aliens trying to pull the strings and invade earth. Like many invaders, the aliens come off as friendly, but I've seen enough sci-fi flicks to know where that's going to end up. In this case, they claim they have a recipe for a cure for cancer, but in reality, it's an ultimatum for humanity's surrender. Then they want to use King Ghidorah for the purpose of subjugating earth. In my opinion, this is the first Godzilla film to truly introduce those overt sci-fi themes like aliens and humans going into space (yes, I'm aware that King Ghidorah came from space, but the sci-fi feel of "Ghidorah" is not as overt as it is here). What it does right is pioneer the whole idea of an alien race using the kaiju as weapons with which to conquer humanity. That, friends, is a theme that Toho would then end up beating like a dead horse.

11. "Mothra vs. Godzilla" - Some might argue that I should have this entry a little (or a lot) higher on the list because it's the first on-screen meeting of Toho's two most iconic monsters. This is a notable entry in that it's the last time (at least for the Showa era) that Godzilla gets portrayed as the bad guy. It also cleared it up for me since I hadn't seen that many movies with Mothra till this point that as far as kaiju go, Mothra isn't quite as durable as some of her peers. In fact, it takes the efforts of two Mothra larvae to beat Godzilla after the original gets her butt kicked. Well, that's still pretty embarrassing considering that cinema's biggest, baddest monster got his butt kicked by two oversized caterpillars spitting silly string. It's still the first meeting of two cinematic icons.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Godzilla movies from worst to best (Part 1)

As you've gathered, I'm a Godzilla superfan. No, actually that might be the understatement of the year. The OG has been a presence in my life almost as constant as asthma and eczema, and unlike the latter two, he's been a welcome presence. I'm glad as hell he's finally getting the respect and recognition he deserves thanks to last year's brilliant re-imagining. Because the next Godzilla movie is a 2016 Toho production with the next American movie due out in 2018 (yes, that's too damn long), "Jurassic World" is set to occupy the cinematic niche that "Godzilla" did last year. And while I may like "Jurassic Park" as a franchise slightly more, no other movie character has held my unwavering fandom throughout the years like the OG himself. So much that last year, I spent the entire summer collecting all the Godzilla movies from 1954 to the present. Watching them all back to back took some time, so now I get the unenviable (to most sane people) task of ranking them. I'll start at the worst then work my way forward.

30. "Godzilla Raids Again" - This turd gets the honor of worst Godzilla movie. Most people start off their worst to best lists with the 1998 remake, but I actually liked this one less. The reason why is because the original film "Gojira" was such a brilliant piece of cinema, and this one was clearly made and even more clearly rushed to capitalize on its superior predecessor. The fact that the English dub calls Anguirus "Gojira" and Godzilla "Gigantis" in a hilariously bad attempt to set itself apart from "Gojira" really doesn't help its case. The effects are also inferior to those of "Gojira." This one is at the bottom because its predecessor was so brilliant, and it did a complete 180 from that in an attempt to capitalize on the first one's success.

29. "Godzilla" (1998) - The only reason this isn't dead last is because I enjoyed it as a kid. I think I was 7 when it came out. From the point of view of a young child, every movie was the best movie ever, especially if it has a dinosaur and lots of things going boom. Well, mutated iguana, technically. To be fair to ol' Zilla, he and his movie work if you view him as a standalone monster completely different from Godzilla. Of course, this movie literally took everything that makes Godzilla what he is and threw it out the window. And the producers still decided to name it "Godzilla" despite its lead monster getting dropped by missiles that the real Godzilla would have viewed the same way we view mosquito bites. And then there's the babies. I could have sworn they were trying to remake "Jurassic Park." Again, I guess that's enjoyable and works to a certain degree, but only if you don't view it as a true Godzilla movie.

28. "Son of Godzilla" - As far as things go, all this movie did was introduce Minya, AKA Godzilla's son. It also cemented the turning process of these movies going from serious to cutesy. "Astro Monster" and "Sea Monster" got the ball rolling, but the introduction of Minya all but confirmed that this was now more for children. I mean, depending on your perspective that's not inherently bad, but I think that Godzilla is at his best when he's at his darkest. Being a father doesn't scream "darkness" at all.

27. "Godzilla's Revenge" - People usually rank this one pretty low, even lower than the previous entry and probably for most, just above '98. That's not the case for me. I actually enjoyed this one. Of course, as with the '98 Godzilla, in order for this entry to be passable, it has to be viewed as a movie that only happens to be related to Godzilla. And unlike '98, this entry has the actual Godzilla in it, which is better than having your only association to the character be the name. No, this is more of a coming-of-age film targeted at young children. As a former victim of bullying, I related. If you view it as what I just said, it's passable. If you view it as a true Godzilla movie, yeah, you're gonna have a bad time. Oh and Gabara is one of the lamest, most annoying kaiju, so there's that, too. Also add in that this was what they came out with right after the brilliant "Destroy All Monsters."

26. "Godzilla vs. Gigan" - Despite introducing one of Godzilla's nastiest enemies, Gigan, this is a mostly unforgettable entry because this is the point where in the series, all the Godzilla vs. plots start to become blurred to the point where they're all mostly the same. Gigan was definitely a highlight, and I liked how he was introduced as King Ghidorah's lackey, but none of the Showa-era mass monster battles compare to the one in "Destroy All Monsters."

25. "Godzilla vs. Megalon" - This entry wasn't very different from its predecessor. The only difference was it introduced the sea-dwelling Megalon and the robot Jet Jaguar. The former commonly gets portrayed as a "bro" of Gigan in other media yet only makes one film appearance in the entire series. Jet Jaguar is cool but again, underutilized. And despite being almost exactly the same as "Godzilla vs. Gigan" but with those new characters, this entry is slightly ahead of its predecessor because it gave us the most ridiculous offensive maneuver Godzilla's ever used: the dropkick. Just youtube it. It's so dumb and out there, it's awesome. And hilarious, every single time.

24. "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster" - If there was ever a Godzilla movie that you'd show at a pool or beach party in the middle of spring break, this one is it. Heck, it even starts out with a musical number that wouldn't be too out of place in a Beach Boys song. Even in keeping with the south seas beach theme, the big showdown between Godzilla and Ebirah (the titular sea monster) ended up having more in common with a friendly game of beach volleyball than a death match between two titans. And like many other Toho kaiju, Ebirah hasn't been used all that much. Of course, when you're just a giant lobster/shrimp with no other abilities, you can't really stand up to some of the other nasties that Toho has conjured up.

23. "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" - During a time when being a hippie and getting high was the norm, yes, I'm talking about the counterculture movement, this Godzilla film was curiously released. From the opening moments, it's clear that if the Godzilla film series were a family, this would be the pot-smoking hippie that would be played by Jon Heder in a movie. The movie even has a very strong environmental message, something about pollution. The titular smog monster, Hedorah, is a not-so-subtle metaphor for pollution that continues to plague the world even today. And we get to see Godzilla fly. This is one of the peaks of ridiculousness of even the ridiculous Showa era. The only reason this entry is ranked higher than all those other Shows-era films is because it tried (and partially succeeded) in being somewhat darker and being a metaphor for one of human society's many problems.

22. "King Kong vs. Godzilla" - This was actually an OK movie. I liked how this is essentially the Super Bowl of giant monster movies. And you know what? It actually had a decent story. American and Japanese companies even got together for the American release and made it a joint effort, because this was undoubtedly the "Batman v Superman" of 50 years ago. I like that they made Kong a drunk of a goofball, and they definitely needed to give him a few upgrades (size, electrical harnessing ability) in order to fight Godzilla. This is overall a pretty fun movie, and actually one that I'd recommend as a good entry point to the series. Ultimately, though, I find Godzilla best when he's at his darkest, like Batman, and this is more fun.

21. "The Return of Godzilla" - You know, this one's not bad. It's essentially a retelling of the original "Gojira" story but set against the backdrop of the Cold War. As far as Godzilla movies go, this one's pretty good. The effects are definitely a step up from the Showa films, and I liked the humans' better attempt to fight him off. As I said, Godzilla is at his best when he's darkest, and this is a good film, but dropping him in a volcano doesn't quite have the same oomph as the oxygen destroyer did.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

3 games I'd actually like to see

The release of "Shadow of Mordor" this week has been making some waves. Apparently, it could really be a sleeper game of the year candidate. I'm a cheap PC gamer, so I'm probably not going to get it till the price drops on Steam Sale, but apparently it has the best qualities of games like the Batman Arkham and Assassin's Creed games combined with an open-world setting like Skyrim. So if a game about Middle Earth like that could be made, what other badass ideas could we possibly have for new experiences in a market flooded with run-of-the-mill titles like Call of Duty? It really got me to thinking. Here's what I came up with.

1. Mortal Kombat action-adventure styled game starring Sub-Zero and Scorpion: They hinted that this could actually be a thing in the arcade ladder ending for Sub-Zero in the 2011 Mortal Kombat game. Actually, scratch that. Shortly after "Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks" came out, there was actually another one of those games set in the MK universe called "Fire and Ice." No, that's not referring to condoms, that's referring to Sub-Zero and Scorpion. So that nearly happened, then they pulled the plug on it. Real smooth. That's almost as bad as when Atari canceled the PS2 release of "Godzilla: Destroy all Monsters Melee." Anyway, if a game starring Scorpion and Sub-Zero ever got released, I could see it being done similarly to God of War. Of course but with elemental powers and co-op. And fatalities you can do on the fly.

2. Open-world game about the life of Miyamoto Musashi: Honestly, I don't know how a game about Miyamoto Musashi hasn't been made, yet. During his lifetime, the man was a pure, unadulterated walking machine of death and badass in the most awesome way possible. Plus, the time when he lived was fairly ... unstable and would definitely make for one of those open-world games where a lot of people are trying to kill you. It could make for a world like "Shadow of Mordor" or even Skyrim with a free-flowing combat style like Batman Arkham, only you're using a samurai sword. Ok, so it would basically be like Shadow of Mordor but focused on a person who really fought and killed. But you say Dynasty and Samurai Warriors touched on similar themes? Yes, but those weren't really realistic, were they? No, they were not. This one would be.

3. First-person shooter set during the Vietnam War: "Call of Duty: Black Ops" touched on this, but that was only a few levels. I'm talking about a story-driven narrative set during the entire war from start to finish. You know, kind of like when FPS games actually had campaigns that people played. If we had a Vietnam War game with a story like "Brothers in Arms" that had the type of action that "Call of Duty" and "Battlefield" have in their campaigns, then you'd get something I might actually buy.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" redeems the past

Time has gone by fast. My top two most anticipated movies of the summer have come and gone, and they were both amazing. Here is my review of the second one (the other was "Godzilla"). I remember really becoming an X-Men fan in 2003 around when "X2" came out in theaters. At the time, it was probably the best superhero-film out. It had good acting, good writing, and a sense of mystery because of the Weapon X flashbacks and the Phoenix teaser at the very end. I wanted the next one to be awesome so badly. Too bad it wasn't because Bryan Singer made the boneheaded decision to direct "Superman Returns" instead of the third "X-Men" movie. The result was a double-feature crapfest that most fans don't want to forgive not forget. Well fans, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" will make you both forgive AND forget "The Last Stand."

The aforementioned movie was based around X-Men's most beloved story arc of all time: The Dark Phoenix Saga, a story so beloved that it's #1 on my greatest comic book stories of all time. If that's #1, then Days of Future Past is probably #2 in Chris Claremont's unprecedented run on the series. Well, they basically took a shit on #1 with its screen treatment. And then they redeemed themselves with #2. They redeemed the shit out of themselves.

The storyline may sound familiar, but at the time it was written, it was ahead of its time for several reasons which are discussed in that comic book storyline post. Basically, it's a dystopian future not unlike the one portrayed in "Terminator 2." Mutants and the humans who support them get rounded up in concentration camps while those who resist are exterminated. By machines called sentinels. The X-Men are one such faction actively resisting the sentinels' oppression, but to do so they must be careful because those things literally cannot be stopped. They're like an entire army of terminators on steroids. So one day, Professor X gets tired of jumping from safehouse to safehouse and decides to do something about it. One member of the team, Shadowcat, somehow has the ability to transfer a person's consciousness back in time to said person's younger body. So they do it with none other than Wolverine in an attempt to prevent an assassination that will literally screw everyone over. Hijinks ensue.

The most common praise of the first 2 X-Men movies was their dark, cerebral tone along with well-developed characters. In contrast, #3 kind of felt rushed in an attempt to sacrifice plot and characters for pants-shitting moments (it didn't succeed ... ok it kind of did in some aspects but mostly not). DOFP returns to the glory days of the original movies while retaining the breakneck pacing and wit that "First Class" had. And actually, the humor is quite strong with this one, but it manages to still be rather dark and serious. It's a good balance, and that's part of what makes it such a strong movie.

The acting is also extremely top-notch for a superhero film. Literally everyone involved does an outstanding job. Special praise goes to Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and of course, Hugh Jackman since those are the main players (also of note: he may be the time traveler, but DOFP actually does not at all focus too much on Wolverine). Evan Peters also did a good turn, stealing every scene he was in despite not being in the movie for all that long. I know the acting was good because this was the most emotional X-Men movie yet. This was the polar opposite of "First Class." Especially with Professor X. When the man actually drops an F bomb in anger, you know he's not a happy individual. And if you saw "First Class," you'd know why. Either way, DOFP does an extremely good job at picking up those pieces of that break-up. The acting in the future scenes was about as good as you'd expect from the cast of the original movies, but the focus here is on the newer cast members. However, the scene in which Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy meet onscreen is a must-see and arguably the highlight of the film from an acting standpoint.

The effects were also top-notch. From the way they handled Quicksilver's speed to Magneto using a stadium as his personal mothership, everything was just mind-blowing. And the Blink portals in the future. Holy shit. Iceman using his abilities like never before? I need a new pair of pants. The sentinels were good, too. The past ones were kind of ho-hum robots, but the future ones were genuinely frightening and a legitimate threat to the X-Men. Think of them as, yes, an army of T-1000s. Everything was just so well-done, but I wouldn't expect anything less after hearing what the budget was. Hell, even the way they implemented the iconic theme music from "X2" was just awesome. When a movie's theme music playing in the title crawl gets my adrenaline pumping and makes me want to start yelling the way I do when the Texas Aggies enter Kyle Field, I know I'm in for a hell of an awesome ride.

But the reason for DOFP's perfection to me is as much what it accomplishes as it is the content of the movie. Like I said, the third movie was bad, and coupled with a disappointing Wolverine first solo outing, that left a bad taste for a lot of fans. And then look at what Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. accomplished. One managed to win a freaking Oscar, and another made the first shared cinematic universe that actually worked. While I don't think anyone is going to be winning Best Actor here, the performances were certainly a high enough caliber. But what it truly accomplished, without too many spoilers is a case in which a movie actually erased the continuity of a previous film and possibly established not one, but several potential alternate continuities in a franchise. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that usually only gets done in actual comic books. I won't say how, but it did. It's incredible. If I recall from an earlier post, Fox put all their cards on the table for DOFP because they wanted to compete with Marvel and Sony. I think it's about to pay off. The balance of humor and seriousness is good, the performances are extremely strong and most importantly, the bad taste from "The Last Stand" was literally wiped out.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" gets a 10/10. This is the X-Men movie I wanted immediately following "X2." It took Bryan Singer and Co. 11 years to make that happen, but they made it happen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Godzilla" review: The king has returned to us

I don't remember if I put "Godzilla" at #1 or #2 on my top 5 most anticipated movies of 2014 list. Either way, it was at the top. Having been a fan of the big guy pretty much my entire life, I've seen pretty much everything starring Godzilla. I even liked the atrocious Roland Emmerich remake that came out in the late 90s because I was a 7-year-old at the time who didn't know any better. I still respect that sense of nostalgia that the movie gives me, but in hindsight, it was a steaming pile of radioactive crap that stinks worse than anything the titular character could probably ... defecate. So when they announced a reboot of the remake, I was cautiously excited. But still excited because dammit, it's Godzilla!

I wasn't too excited when they revealed production details. The director was this dude Gareth Edwards who I've never even heard of up until now. The actors weren't cast until last year, but now that I've seen the movie, none of that matters. Forget that Gareth is a director with one very low budget indie film to his name. I honestly could have given less of a shit if another actor other than Heisenberg aka Bryan Cranston was cast. It's about the monster. And folks, they got this one right.

If you're at all familiar with the Godzilla character, especially the original 1954 movie, the plot shouldn't be too complicated. I mean, this isn't exactly "Inception" we're dealing with here. Giant monster awakens, destroys city, goes back to the ocean, repeat. The only difference here in either a bit of homage or continuity screwing, they decided to tie "Godzilla" to its earlier predecessor. Only at the beginning of the movie I think they woke him up with nuclear testing then tried to kill him with more nuclear testing. Or something along those lines. The logic of trying to kill something radioactive with more radiation makes less sense than the actual plot point.

So then we fast forward to the late 90s when Heisenberg is working at a Japanese nuclear plant (on a side note, I took 2 years of Japanese in college, and Cranston's Japanese spoken lines actually are not bad for a non-native speaker here). He's some sort of head honcho, and under his watch the plant gets destroyed by an earthquake, and his wife dies. Then he goes crazy, but not in a Walter White sort of way. Or at least everyone, including his US Navy EOD tech son thinks so. Only he's not because it wasn't an earthquake. It was a completely new monster called a MUTO (massive unidentified terrestrial organism). Long story short, it awakens because some dumbass decided to build a nuclear power plant on top of the resting place of a creature that feeds off radiation. He then decides to go get laid. And then somehow Godzilla wakes up as well and decides that he has the MUTO munchies, and our plot kicks off from there.

The biggest difference between this and its late 90s predecessor is the treatment of the source material. As much as "Independence Day" was a mega-hit, it was still a B-movie at its heart. Sure, you can call "Godzilla" a B-movie as well, but only after he was turned from scary-as-hell atomic bomb metaphor into a Saturday morning cartoon-type hero. When Emmerich made "Godzilla" in the late 90s, well, I'd say he probably got drunk and made the movie after watching "Jurassic Park" one too many times because that's what it ended up like. A cheap ripoff of a sci fi classic. Gareth Edwards on the other hand seems to have nothing but utmost reverence for the source material. Although it has a monster fight in the spirit of the campier outings, "Godzilla" in terms of overall tone is much closer to the 1954 original. It's dark, serious and a metaphor for the arrogance of mankind and the destructive power of nature. Ironically, the whole dark metaphor thing was what Godzilla was originally intended for. In that sense, you can argue that "Godzilla" is the "Batman Begins" of its franchise in the sense that it's taking a character who was originally intended to be dark and serious and returning him to those roots, after way too many campy cheesefests. In fact, news broke today that they're already at work on a sequel. So then it could become the "Dark Knight saga" of its franchise and return. I'm OK with that.

The acting was ... about as good as you expect in a movie about giant monsters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is passable but not spectacular as the leading man. Elizabeth Olsen doesn't do much other than provide occasional eye candy and gaze meaningfully at the camera. The clear standouts are Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe, and even between those two Cranston stands out more. Ken Watanabe isn't given much to do other than play the part of the really philosophical sounding Asian dude (I'm Asian in real life so I reserve the right to make stereotype comments). Cranston's performance, while somewhat brief, is very reminiscent of his best moments in "Breaking Bad." It's a good anchor for the rest of the film. But at the end of the day, an anchor is a small part of the ship. Crucial, but small.

The most praise goes to the way the monster battles are handled. To those expecting "Pacific Rim"-styled action, well, this is not really that. As I said earlier, "Godzilla" has more in common with 1954's "Gojira" than any other movie in terms of its tone. The monster battle does happen, and when it does, it's executed perfectly. But it's not totally what the movie's about. Most people probably have never seen the original, and in it I think Godzilla himself only had like 17 minutes of screen time. And up until the monster battle, Godzilla himself is treated like the shark from "Jaws." He's more of a presence. And it works very well here. If he were to be revealed early on and paraded around for the whole 2 hours, the movie itself wouldn't have been as satisfying. But as with "Jaws," once the titular monster is revealed, you'll shit your pants because the build-up was damn well worth it.

So to sum everything up, "Godzilla" for me hits all the right notes and restores a character from campy cartoon hero to the unstoppable force of nature he was always meant to be. It's not "Pacific Rim," so don't go in expecting that. Otherwise ...

9.5 out of 10