Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 5 must-see movies for 2014

I'm aware that these are all special effects-heavy blockbuster types, but this is a blog about how I'm a GEEK, so it's going to be pretty inevitable.

1. Godzilla: This is a no-brainer to put it at the top of the list. Godzilla is one of those characters I've been a fan of all my life. The last time American filmmakers made a movie starring the titular monster, they screwed it up, badly. Admittedly, it was one of my favorite movies of my childhood, but then again Nickelback and Creed were two of my favorite bands in middle school when I didn't know any better. Judging from the trailer, all the things they got wrong in 1998, they're getting right this time. It's dark, presumably going to be very drama-heavy due to the casting of Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), and there's just this very lingering sense of helplessness and dread hanging around the movie, especially considering that Big G is going to be even bigger and meaner than ever.

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past: My favorite superhero team. Reunited. I mean, from the original movie that came out 10 years ago. Plus, the original X-Men are liking up with the crew from "First Class" for an adaptation of the storyline that I consider to be one of the greatest comic book story arcs of all time. The previews hint at a sense of darkness and scale that this franchise has not been to, along with character depth. If done right, this could stand alongside "The Dark Knight" and "The Avengers." As a lifelong X-Men fan, I really hope it does.

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: If this isn't on any most-anticipated lists, it should be. In a somewhat lackluster summer during 2011, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was one of the few movies that stood out to me. It kinda came out of nowhere and breathed life back into practically a dead franchise in a fresh way. The human performances were kind of meh, but Andy Serkis' character of "Caesar" set the bar for motion-capture. Keep in mind this is the same guy who did "King Kong" and "Gollum." Needless to say, I'm pretty excited for this one.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The Phase 2 movies of Marvel's Cinematic Universe have all been very decent. Decent. Not great. "The Winter Soldier" looks like it could easily be the best standalone sequel that Marvel has done. The political, almost Tom Clancy-esque feel is very different than other movies in the series, and that's a good thing. Plus, the trailer had a shot of the helicarrier falling out of the sky. If anything, this one could have the farthest-reaching consequences for the MCU.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy: This will be something new. It's a Marvel team that basically no one has heard of. Yet it has the chance to score big. Really big. It's almost like a combination of Stan Lee and Star Wars from what I understand. Not a bad thing. Plus, before he got his own movie in 2008, Iron Man was actually not a popular character. And look how that turned out. Plus, it'll be interesting to see Chris Pratt from "Parks and Rec" act like a tough guy/douche in a very different role from what he usually plays.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Call of Duty: Ghosts review

"Call of Duty" is a series that I have been familiar with for nearly 10 years. Unlike the "Modern Warfare" bandwagon jumpers, I stuck with the series since it hit it big in the mainstream in 2005 with "Call of Duty 2." I even went back and played the original one and its expansion pack, which while hits were not as popular because they were only on PC. Throughout high school, I played the spinoff games and watched as it evolved from a WWII series to a modern warfare series. At the time, it was revolutionary, but since then it has become kind of stale, with each entry bringing little new to the table.

"Ghosts" is the franchise attempt at a major reboot. The "Modern Warfare" saga is over, and I highly doubt they'll be able to squeeze anything out of the "Black Ops" saga after last year's Black Ops 2 seemingly ended things. "Ghosts" manages to be closer to "Modern Warfare" than "Black Ops," but it makes the story more personal. Rather than following a typical squad of soldiers, it makes the squad of soldiers a family. Literally, like a father and his two sons. The story is different in that the bad guys this time come from a unified South America, but come on, how different does it really make it? They all go down the same if they get shot.

Gameplay-wise, it's the same song and dance from "Modern Warfare." I had this same rant two years ago about how Modern Warfare 3 had the same gameplay as 2. Well "Ghosts" has the same gameplay as 3. Nothing new has been brought to the table. At all.

The graphics are the same as in the "Modern Warfare" series. Some people are telling me they've noticed an improvement. Maybe on the PS4 and Xbox One, but not on current-gen 360 and PS3. That's all I have to say.

As I'm one of the few people who plays the campaign in "Call of Duty," I was more interested in playing this one's campaign. I mean, I'd rather follow the semblance of a story than go online and listen to 12-year-olds talk about their sexual intercourse with each other's mothers. "Ghosts" has a few good moments in its otherwise very cookie-cutter campaign. Especially the villain. After Raul Menendez from "Black Ops 2," Gabriel Rorke is probably one of the better villains in the the franchise, partially because he's actually likeable. And dangerous. Nothing makes a deadlier villain than one who used to be one of your own. Imagine a guy who knows every move you're going to make because he trained you. That's Rorke. An extra shout-out goes to the blatant "Dark Knight Rises" moment that occurs a little more than halfway through. Also, the "Gravity"-inspired bits were amusing.

The multiplayer is where "Ghosts" really doesn't shine. It's the same as in "Modern Warfare 3," only now the maps are bigger and are more sniper and camper-friendly, which, yeah, gets really old really fast. Killstreaks are the same, hell everything is the same except for the overly big maps. During my recent visit home, my brother and I got so tired of the campers we actually switched back to playing "Black Ops."

Activision, how long do you intend to slap a different label on the same product and calling it a new game? Eventually, people are going to get tired of this shit.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins review

Let me start by saying that I'm a big Batman fan. Like many people my age or slightly older, I grew up watching the outstanding animated series on Cartoon Network. I've seen all the movies (that matter). Hell, I ranked "The Dark Knight Returns" as my #1 comic book story arc of all time in an earlier blog post. My fan ravings aside, on a more meta-level, Bruce Wayne himself is something of an inspiration for me. He sticks to his morals no matter what despite being able to kill most ordinary people about a hundred different ways with his bare hands. Even though he just leaves criminals as paraplegics, there's something to be said about a guy who won't sink to the level of the people he fights in order to fight them. And plus, he's just smooth. He always has everything under control. My only regret as a Batman fan is that he's everyone else's favorite superhero too.

So when they announced a new entry in the "Batman Arkham" series, I was pumped. I first picked up "Batman: Arkham Asylum" when I spent a summer in the Philippines during 2012. Admittedly, I was a little late. The game came out 3 years prior, and despite the critical acclaim, I was a bit apprehensive to play it because the gameplay was new to me. I mean, a typical third-person action game for me at that time would have been something like "Dynasty Warriors" or "God of War." I wasn't ready to handle Batman. "Asylum" proved me wrong on so many levels. I instantly fell in love with the flawless mix of combat and stealth that just hit the being Batman experience nail on the head. When I returned to Texas, one of the first things I did was pick up the sequel, "Arkham City." Like the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale movies, "City" did everything the first one did and made it bigger and better. It is undoubtedly the best licensed game I've ever played. For that matter, I would go so far as to put it in the top 10 GAMES I've ever played, especially from the PS3/Xbox 360 generation. When "Arkham Origins" was officially announced, I knew which game I was getting for the fall season, and it wasn't going to be "Call of Duty."

Like it says on the tin, "Origins" is a prequel. It has been described as a year two story. Batman isn't quite the seasoned crime fighter we saw in "Asylum" and "City," but he's no scrub, either. At this point, he's still kind of a myth and only used to fighting against common thugs, which is kinda one-sided and boring. Enter Black Mask. On Christmas Eve, Gotham City's most powerful crime lord puts a $50 million bounty on Batman's head, attracting eight assassins (READ: super villains). While Batman is only used to taking on common thugs, his peak-level strength and training make him more than a match for any opponent. The rest is history. I mean, we have the two other games in the series, so CLEARLY Batman doesn't die.

"Asylum" and "City" were known for several gameplay aspects, most notably the flawlessly-implemented free flow combat style. The stealth sections weren't bad, either. Those gameplay aspects that made the previous two games so great have returned, and they are largely unchanged. For the sake of innovation, that's not really a good thing. For the sake of playing as Batman again, that's not a problem. It all depends on your point of view. Gliding and usage of the grappling gun is literally exactly the same. The remote batarang is still a pain in the ass to control. While you do get a few new tools like the glue grenade and concussion detonator along with a remote claw that lets you set up tightropes, everything is largely the same. Correct me in the comments if there was anything else I left out, I just relied on my fists to get me through most of the game. Like I said, most of the gameplay is the same as the predecessors. However, that doesn't make it any less satisfying when you just rush into a crowd of 20 dudes and take them all out with your bare hands or slowly pick off a room full of gun-toting thugs one by one.

That being said, the boss fights were some of the most memorable ones I've encountered in this console generation, largely because of the presentation. Highest praise goes to the Deathstroke and Bane fights, particularly the former just because of how the encounter just sucker punches you by surprise. Copperhead and Killer Croc were kind of cookie cutter. Firefly was a little different but actually somewhat unnecessary and annoying if still very memorable. As of writing, I haven't fought Deadshot yet because that's not a story-linked boss, but I will avenge John Diggle's brother ("Arrow" reference there).

The graphics were largely the same as "Arkham City." Personally, I played on PC, and my rig is an extremely high-end thing that was custom built. As such, I think that "Origins" might have been even clearer, but, again, that might just have been my PC.

The soundtrack was top-notch, worthy of anything that Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer could compose. I loved the way it blended the dark, moody orchestral tunes of Batman's world with the lighter shades of traditional Christmas songs. Of particular praise is the way Christopher Drake used "Carol of the Bells" and "Overture" from the Barber of Seville.


Where the game really shines is its story. It starts out exactly how the trailers and advertising said it would: Black Mask puts a bounty on Batman's head, and eight assassins want an early retirement thanks to the $50 million. So you're wanting to find out why Black Mask has such a hard on for you. Now if you read the spoiler warning, you would know to not read what comes next. About a quarter through the game, turns out, it's not actually Black Mask who put out out the bounty. It's the Joker ... posing as Black Mask after he somehow infiltrated and took over Black Mask's criminal operation. While I did like how the assassins were tied into the plot, they are largely just plot devices with the exception of Bane, who plays a really big role in the story towards the end. Without saying any more, this particular origin story shines because it shows how Batman went from beating up thugs to being able to take on, well, super villains. More importantly, it showed how the Joker and Batman started their famous feud. And that alone was worth the price of admission.

The "Batman Arkham" series can be likened to Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. The first one was excellent and brought Batman back into the mainstream. The second one set the bar so high in its medium for all superhero-related entries. The third one was good due to similar direction as the first two, but because the second one set the bar so high, it ultimately fell short. In the case of these Batman games and movies, falling short still means "better than everyone else." Sure "Arkham Origins" has multiplayer which I haven't played at the time of writing (a good friend of mine said it was pretty good despite what most reviewers have said), but the real star is the single-player. It doesn't change anything and certainly doesn't raise the bar, but that's ok because "Arkham City" was already perfect. And perfect only comes once in a blue moon.

"Batman: Arkham Origins" gets an 8.25/10

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel review: The king has returned in spectacular fashion.

For the longest time ever, Superman has languished in mediocrity as far as movies based off of him are concerned. This in itself is an irony and really sad because Superman is the king when it comes to superheroes. He's basically the grand daddy of everyone from DC AND Marvel, and without him, superhero comics as we know and love them would not exist (and so would the movies, which have become such a pop culture staple). Sure there was that Superman Returns deal, but let's face it. It didn't really capture what our boy Supes is supposed to be capable of, and it bombed. And was the cause of X-Men: The Last Stand sucking due to Bryan Singer leaving its production for Superman. Yeah, not too happy about the double feature crapfest. Luckily, the powers that be decided to reboot Supes. Not a continuation of the Richard Donner movies, a complete new one, one for a post-9/11 America.

Much like the original Richard Donner film, Man of Steel opens up with a dying Krypton and Superman being born. It is then told via a series of flashbacks while Clark Kent works multiple jobs under different identities to cover up who he really is. Eventually a bunch of Kryptonian dissidents from the first act show up, threaten earth, and all hell breaks loose in more ways than one. It's a pretty straightforward plot, but then again, Superman is a pretty straightforward character. That's why he's Superman.

The acting was about as good as it should have been for a superhero movie. Henry Cavill did a pretty good job capturing that boy scout/do gooder mentality that Superman is universally known for. He wasn't quite emotionless, but every time he opened his mouth, he was basically the nicest guy in the world, until you piss him off. So in other words he was dead on. Michael Shannon did a good job as the Megatron-esque villain who only wanted to preserve his race, even if he had to wipe out an entire other world to do it. He was a decent moral foil to Superman. Ok, so that part was kind of generic.

For me, the real stars of the film as far as the acting went were Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Amy Adams. I will willingly admit that this is probably one of Crowe's best performances I've seen to date, especially because he was so...regal as Jor-El. Both Costner and Crowe were perfect father figures for Superman. Especially Kevin Costner. He just kind of reminded me of any typical father who wanted the best for his son. Amy Adams was a pretty good choice for Lois Lane. As I've tried to emphasize, this isn't an age of damsels in distress like it was in the 70s. This age needs a stronger female lead, someone who can take care of herself. Adams captured that strong, independent woman vibe perfectly while giving off a lot of this irresistible girl-next-door charm.

The musical score and the effects dominated. As far as the score is concerned, some people will argue that you can't beat the John Williams Superman March. And maybe you can't beat it. But you can certainly match it. Hans Zimmer is the John Williams of our time. Everything he puts his hand into is just so over-the-top and full of emotion. The score fits the movie perfectly here. It starts out slow and eventually crescendos into an orchestral climax that just so adeptly captures the magnificence of Superman. When you hear the score climax, you can almost imagine Superman taking flight in all his glory.

The effects were top notch. In fact, some of the best CGI I've seen. A lot of people will bitch and moan about how it was too gratuitous, but guys, this is Superman we're talking about. In a movie about Supes done right, there has to be a lot of destruction whenever he does what he does, especially when he happens to be fighting a bunch of villains who are probably on par with him physically. It was just plain spectacular.

All in all, Man of Steel had its flaws. Yes it had a generic story, yes it was gratuitous in CGI. But it's all necessary. This is a completely different type of movie from Batman. Superman is a much more straightforward character who will probably end up having much more straightforward movies. And as for it being really serious and not lighthearted. This is the post-9/11 America. We're a little more jaded and less perfect, and that's why Superman lost a lot of popularity in the first place. Well they updated him for the modern age. Ladies and gentlemen, the king has returned.

8.5 out of 10. Welcome back, Supes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why am I a comic book man?

Well, I'm a geek when it comes to a lot of other franchises and mediums, but my big thing is probably comics, especially anything by Marvel. I'm a pretty darn big fan. And the funny thing is, I didn't actually realize how much of a fan I was until I met Stan Lee in person at Dallas Comic-Con last year. A lot of my life and some of the ridiculous things I've daydreamed have been either directly or indirectly influenced by a lot of things that either Marvel or DC (but mostly Marvel) have done.

Let me start off by telling you something about me. While I do have friends, I've been a loner for most of my life. I do occasionally socialize, but they say no man is an island. I'm pretty damn close to one. Furthermore, I've always considered myself to be a social outcast, especially in middle school. You know who else are outcasts? Pretty much most characters in the Marvel Universe. Well at least all the ones that I can rightfully say I relate to. Wolverine, Punisher, Deadpool, the X-men and to a certain degree, Spider-Man. In particular, I always identified with Wolverine and the X-men from an early age. Wolverine just looked cooler than everyone else. Then when I watched the movies and started actually reading the comics (which I've just completed the 1963-2005 run recently), and I realized...this is me. Well, I don't have adamantium claws and a healing factor (though I sure as shit wish I did), but throughout my life, especially in college, I've had a somewhat hard time fitting in. When I did find groups, I've usually been that one guy who seems intimidating and scary that no one seems to trust. Then again, that's the same way the rest of the Marvel Universe feels about the Punisher as well. See why I relate to these characters? The big thing is, I am and always will be something of an outsider, and comic books show me not only is that OK, it's also BADASS.

Then there's the whole thing about how everyone in comics is ridiculously jacked. I work out pretty frequently, and I'm a pretty regular krav maga practitioner. Sometimes, I feel lazy just like anyone else. Trust me, if I could go my entire life sitting in front of my computer or PS3 I would. But you know what, I want to have a body like Wolverine dammit! I also don't want to be a wuss that can't defend himself with his bare hands if it came down to it (and I have a CHL). The point is, whenever I get lazy I just think of how badass most of my favorite heroes are. Then I stop being a little bitch and embrace the suck, just like Wolverine when he got his adamantium (twice).

That seems a bit shallow, but it's true. Also, yes, this is going to sound really corny, but reading comics, just this theme of good vs. evil has actually given me a sense of justice and morality that I probably might not have had if I hadn't taken the time to read. I know that there is evil in the world. Of course, there are extremes. You can be like Batman and have a sense of honor and not kill anyone, which I kind of respect. Then there's the Punisher, who kills people because they deserve it. In today's world, I've been around throughout many unspeakable acts of evil. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, 9/11, Sandy Hook. After those, all I wanted was for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Hell, sometimes I'd like to have caught those people myself. Some people tell you that life isn't in black and white. Sometimes that's not true. In fact sometimes it's complete bullshit. There's evil and then there's good. There are people who hurt people and those who sit and take it. Then there are the ones who do something about it or at least try to. I try to fall into the third category. It often seems in today's world that people are not worthy of anything, least of all protection. Eh, but that's what heroes are for. They just help out whenever and try not to ask for anything in return. Whether it's a soldier fighting for his or her country or pee wee little me helping someone out with a paper or some other petty menial task, you just do it because it's the right thing to do. We help people regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Unless you're a welfare mooch. Then get off your ass and help yourself.

So yeah, there you have it.