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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" takes command (mild spoilers)

I'm a Marvel fan. I've met Stan Lee and have seen every single Marvel Studios film in theaters. This one was no different. But after the somewhat lackluster "Iron Man 3" and "Thor: The Dark World," we really needed "The Winter Soldier" to deliver to restore our faith in Marvel (yes, I don't care what your opinion was, the first two movies of the MCU's Phase 2 didn't quite meet the standard set by "Iron Man" and "The Avengers"). Well, kiddos, it delivered and then some. In fact, barring "The Avengers," this is the best film Marvel's done in quite some time.

The trailers made it look awesome, but when it first got announced, I was somewhat skeptical because of the choice of the Russo brothers to direct. I'd never heard of them. It was just that simple. At least all the other Marvel films had directors I'd heard of. But then when I heard of the tone they wanted to take, that was when I got interested. Rather than make this a period piece like the first Captain America, the tone they were shooting for was more of a political espionage thriller that just happened to feature Marvel characters. It has ended up becoming the boldest move of the franchise since the decision to create a shared universe (which is working beautifully, I might add).

"The Winter Soldier" picks up in real time after the events of "The Avengers." Cap is living in our nation's capital and doing black ops missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. (for the sake of my sanity in typing it out as an acronym, I'll simply just refer to it as SHIELD from here on out). Of course, Captain Rogers happens to be so damn good at what he does that he just grows tired of it, either out of boredom or because he doesn't like getting used as a pawn, or both. It is in this boredom and frustration that Nick Fury, the SHIELD director, introduces Cap to a plan that involves not one, but three helicarriers that will perpetually be stationed at a high altitude to eliminate any threat that may occur. This plot point in itself is actually somewhat relevant to our own society, but I'll get to that later.

Now being a man from the 40s where everything was a little ... simpler, Cap doesn't like this one bit. He then talks to Robert Redford, who happens to be the actual mastermind behind the whole thing, and then it all goes downhill from there after Cap doesn't agree with that guy from "All the President's Men." To sum it up, it's all a government conspiracy, and people die (or do they?). So then eventually, Cap along with Black Widow from "The Avengers" takes a little trip and finds out that this isn't actually SHIELD's plan. It was HYDRA's. Except, HYDRA is operating as sort of a little subfaction inside of SHIELD because of the boneheaded decision to recruit Nazi scientists of "strategic value" after World War II. It's actually a pretty brilliant plot twist for a comic book movie. Then Cap goes all 'Merica on us, takes the fight back to D.C., fights some dudes in some of the best action scenes Marvel's done. Yeah, it's actually more complicated than that, but I don't need to give away the whole movie.

The thing that really makes "The Winter Soldier" one of Marvel's best is how relevant it is to us today. It was filmed around the same time that the NSA got busted for spying on American citizens via mass surveillance of phones, emails, internet, etc. Now those that know me know I run a little right of center, but regardless of politics, I think it's reasonable to say that most people probably don't like being watched constantly. And that was one of the big themes of the movie: HYDRA, working inside SHIELD, somehow managed to cause enough fear and paranoia that people would actually trade their liberty for uncompromised safety at the cost of, yup, mass surveillance. It's not all that different from some of the things that we see on the news today. So without getting too political, props on the social commentary, Marvel.

One might think that Cap is the most one-dimensional of all the Avengers. Nope, I think that sums Thor up better. Chris Evans does a great job playing a conflicted man who is torn between loyalty to his superiors and the oath he swore back when he enlisted in the 40s (any readers who have served in the military know what I'm talking about). Because of this, Cap is actually the most interesting of the Avengers, even more so than Tony Stark. Oh and he can really fight. Thanks to the hours of training Chris Evans probably underwent, "The Winter Soldier" also has some truly awesome fight choreography. Scarlett Johanssen was also praiseworthy. A woman who can kick ass, is actually kinda funny and sexy as hell. Talk about a triple threat package. More praise also goes to Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, sort of a fellow military vet who has a lot in common with Cap. They did a good job retconning the character's origin to be more relevant while not taking away from him. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury is the same as in his previous appearances, and Robert Redford does a good job playing the guy who does have good intentions, but is really just an evil bureaucrat. The SHIELD black ops guys were cool but one-dimensional, so there's not much to say on that front.

Now the titular Winter Soldier. Wow. Out of all of Marvel movie villains, I think Bucky has to be my favorite one. Loki was more charming, and it doesn't help that Tom Hiddleston is the nicest person on the planet, but Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier is by far the most menacing villain in the entire franchise. Killian from "Iron Man 3" wasn't that scary, and neither were the dark elves from "Thor." Bucky, on the other hand, is kinda like a superhero terminator, inspiring the same kind of dread that Schwarzenegger probably did when he first appeared as the terminator. He's emotionless, cold and efficient. Not to mention strong as hell and able to give Cap a run for his money. As a family friend put it to me, "I'd rather fight the entire Chitauri army than one Winter Soldier."

Now if we put all this together, we have the finest non-Avengers entry in the MCU since "Iron Man" came out in 2008. 9/10

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sabotage: Definitely more than the trailers crack this up to be (Spoilers present)

It's no secret that Schwarzenegger's been out of the acting game for a while. He's made a few passable entries since his return like "The Last Stand" and "The Expendables 2." Those were merely passable at best. The former didn't quite have the over-the-top violence that action movie lovers like myself crave. So now Arnie's back with "Sabotage," which in the trailers is advertised as an over-the-top Expendables-style flick in which Sam Worthington looks like the lead singer from Five Finger Death Punch and Joe Manganiello looks like ... I don't really know, but he has cornrows. But in reality, the movie's not quite like the trailer, and that's a good thing.

"Sabotage" is an adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie story "And then there were none." It is a story that hasn't really received a proper screen treatment in my opinion, at least until now. Because of this, "Sabotage" is more of a mystery/thriller than a balls out action movie like "Expendables." But that doesn't mean there's no action in it.

The film starts out with Arnie's character watching a snuff film of his wife getting tortured to death by a drug cartel. It then cuts to "8 months later." Some people who saw the trailer might thing WTF since it makes us believe that Arnie's family got kidnapped halfway through. Nope. That little opening, which like the rest of the movie pushes the envelope of good taste in movie violence, sets up the plot perfectly. So then cut to the present, and Arnie's leading a team of elite DEA agents in a safehouse bust. It becomes clear the minute we see them that these guys have more in common with, say, bikers or military spec ops because of the way they dress and act. The point is, these aren't your average pole-up-their-ass Feds. These guys are hardcore badasses and conduct themselves as such.

So during the bust, they find a big pile of money, not unlike the one belonging to Walter White in "Breaking Bad," and decide to steal $10 million (of cartel money) for themselves and split it up. They bury it in a sewage pipe to retrieve it another day, of course until, surprise, it's all gone because someone stole it. Then the killing begins, and these badasses start getting picked off one by one.

The most noteworthy thing that sets "Sabotage" apart from its competitors is the violence. Ho-LEE SHIEETT. While again, this isn't quite the testosterone-fueled ride the trailers seemed to suggest, the ways in which people die here are staggeringly brutal, and I'm a guy who's seen a lot of action movies. They're also actually pretty plausible, especially the guy dying early on after his RV gets hit my a train (spoiler: it's really, really messy). There's also plenty of up-close shots of people getting shot in the head, and again, it all feels very realistic. One of the ones that actually made me go "DAMN" was when a car crashed into one of those wrecker trucks in a manner that the bed basically sliced half the car in half horizontally. This is not a movie you want to take the whole family to see.

Where "Sabotage" really shines is the plot. For an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, it's actually somewhat smart. Up until the very last act, we're led to believe that a group of cartel assassins is picking the DEA team off one by one because some cartel boss got pissed that $10 million, a pretty small amount for cartel standards, got stolen. Now anyone who's read "And then there were none" probably could have seen this coming a mile away, but it's really someone on the team behind it all. And said perpetrator somehow managed to make everyone think it was the cartel assassins. It's all pretty clever, watch the movie.

The acting isn't that special. Arnie's the same as in all his movies. Sam Worthington's not bad, it's just quite like him to look more like a heavy metal frontman. Joe Manganiello does decent as the squad's "big guy," and this is certainly a little different fare for Terrence Howard, who again handles it well. Back to Joe Manganiello, I still can't take seriously a guy who played a character named "Big Dick Richie" in "Magic Mike." The real standout is Mireille Enos, who is absolutely convincing as a federal agent who's not really all there if you get what I mean. She's sexy as hell and absolutely nuts, which I guess is a good fit for an undercover agent. Olivia Williams does ok as the uptight homicide detective I'm sure everyone's seen a hundred times.

To wrap it all up, "Sabotage" is definitely not what the trailers said it would be. That's a good thing. Sometimes trailers inadvertently show the whole movie, so it's good when the actual product is a little different. Like most thrillers, this one may have you on the edge of your seat through most of the film, but that really really gets amplified in the final act. The violence is some of the most brutal I've yet seen in any action movie, and that makes this not at all a family experience.

7.75 out of 10 for being somewhat different than the competitors.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"300: Rise of an Empire" review

When "300" came out seven years ago, it was a legitimate cultural phenomenon, at least among anyone male aged 16-25, myself included. And I'll have to admit, other than the overdose of testosterone that made everyone in my high school want to become a Spartan warrior, the film's use of CGI and slow motion was somewhat unprecedented. Also somewhat unprecedented was the way the entire main cast got into shape for the movie. Not since the 1980s had anyone seen so many buff bodies in a single movie. And although it was based on a graphic novel, "300" did well enough, and like anything that makes enough money in Hollywood, they made a sequel.

Fortunately, the original graphic novel is based on events set during a particularly turbulent time in Greece's history. So there was absolutely more than enough material to draw from in order to make a coherent follow-up story. And that's the thing. I can only call "Rise of an Empire" a pseudo-sequel because most of the movie isn't set after the events of "300." Instead, it touches on events that occurred before and concurrent to what was going on with Leonidas and company. The finale is set after Leonidas and the 300 got overrun. It's an interesting way to frame a follow-up movie.

"Rise of an Empire" starts out with Leonidas' widow (played by Lena Hedey of "Game of Thrones") recalling the Battle of Marathon, in which a then-nobody Athenian soldier named Themistocles managed to not only help an over matched Greek army drive back the Persian invaders, he also managed to kill the Persian King Darius. I won't really care much about spoilers because this is a fairly straightforward movie, and if you took any history classes, you should be at least somewhat familiar with what's going on here. Anyway, Darius dies as a result of his wounds, and his most loyal servant, Artemesia (Eva Green of "Casino Royale"), swears vengeance on the Greeks. But first, she somehow turns Darius' cowardly son Xerxes into the "god king" we all remember from the original movie. Xerxes (and Artemesia, who is manipulating him) blames all of Persia's previous problems on Greece and declares war again. And that's where our story really begins.

While "300" focused on the land battle in Greece's war against Persia, "Rise of an Empire" has a much more nautical feel to it. It follows the aforementioned Themistocles, who was actually present during events of the original movie (he narrowly missed the famous "THIS IS SPARTA" moment). While Leonidas wants to fight his battle on land, Themistocles challenges the Persians at sea. It's an interesting change of scenery and changes the overall hue from orange/bronze to blue. Either way, it's all still very obvious CGI done in the style that Zack Snyder made all the rage for stylish action movies. Like its predecessor, the battles here are over the top and a lot of fun to watch. The fact that most of "Rise of an Empire" takes place at sea make for a somewhat more tactical feel since it deals with ships and not just people. Leonidas was all about funneling large amounts of men into a tight space so that they could be slaughtered easily. Themistocles is more calculating and strategic, utilizing feigned retreats and deception that lead to some of the movie's best sequences. And for some reason, I found this entry to actually up the gore up from its predecessor. At least in the dismemberment arena. I won't say too much, but the finale is very satisfying to watch. However, the style of the action is not new. But that doesn't mean it's not fun, either.

These are not movies you watch for acting. Sullivan Stapleton, while passable, is no Gerard Butler in terms of stage presence (who wasn't even that good an actor in the first one to begin with considering how one-dimensional these roles are). The clear standout here is Eva Green. Her character of Artemesia is deliciously manipulative and quite frankly, sexy as hell. And that's what makes her such a great villain. She's not afraid to manipulate those around her to get what she wants. She's not afraid to sleep with the enemy. And like Darth Vader, she doesn't smile upon failure. Lena Hedey and David Wenham reprise their roles from the previous film, but they're honestly more like extended cameos.

Overall, "Rise of an Empire" accomplishes exactly the same thing its predecessor did. It introduces a very fantasized portion of Greek history to a new crowd, who might have been too young when "300" was first released. The score will get your adrenaline pumping, and there's a rather awesome use of Black Sabbath's hit "War Pigs" somewhere in there. It's a little less effective and jarring than its predecessor, but it still works. At least for an action-movie lover like me, watching these types of stylish, ultra-violent movies won't get old for a good long while.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expectations for "Godzilla"

I'm a bit of a fanboy of Godzilla. Even though he's technically little more than a rampaging monster, he's arguably my favorite movie character of all time. And now he's getting the big screen treatment again for the first time in 10 years ("Final Wars" came out in 2004). As of a few minutes ago of the time of writing, they dropped the second trailer for the upcoming movie. They dropped the first one back in December. Even compared to the first trailer, this one really ups the stakes. Trailer #1 was more of a teaser. This one gave us more glimpses of the titular monster and even more scenes of destruction without giving away too much. Thus far I am very very impressed. The fact that this and "X-Men: Days of Future Past" drop within a week of each other really is making me a happy camper.

Enough of the digression. Here's what it looks like this movie is going to bring to the table.

First of all, it's dark. I mean, during the 1998 movie it was raining the whole time. But that one was somewhat more lighthearted and more of a "summer blockbuster" because it was from the same guys that brought us "Independence Day." The new movie definitely wins in the scenery department because it has more varied locales, but that doesn't mean it's going to be lighthearted. The trailers have shown us that the mood for this movie is very, very dark. As in, the world is actually coming to an end, and there's nothing we can do about it kind of dark. If the opening narrative by Bryan Cranston in the new trailer is any indication, "Godzilla" will have a very lingering sense of helplessness and dread.

Like I said before, this time, the humans don't have the situation under control. In the 1998 film, the monster was killed with a few missiles launched from fighter jets. That in itself is an insult to Godzilla, seeing as the true King of the Monsters would look at fighter jets the same way we look at mosquitoes. The new trailer had shots of fighter jets actually falling from the sky and a monologue by Ken Watanabe talking about how man always feels like it's in charge of nature and not the other way around. Then there's the scenes of destruction that are clearly not limited to one city. Godzilla is a monster who destroys whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants this time. That kind of sets the tone.

The acting should also be top notch. It's got Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") and Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai," "Inception") in it. That should say enough.

The story also seems to have some kind of continuity with previous films. In the new trailer, Ken Watanabe's character mentioned that a creature was awoken in 1954 with nuclear bomb testing. Reference to the original movie? You don't say!

Finally, Godzilla is returning to his former glory. This will wipe out the bad taste that the 1998 movie brought. It's even a far cry from the campy Showa-era films that made him a protector who was willing to do battle with other monsters. In other words, the spirit of the original film is back. And that's how it should be. Godzilla is an unstoppable force of nature who treats the combined military might of the world with the contempt that humans show to insects. He's angry with us, he wants to destroy us, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

May 16 can't come fast enough.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Far Cry 3 review

I'm aware that this game came out in late 2012, so I'm extremely late in playing it. Well what can I say? I just get whatever Steam sales can get me at a super low price. I heard good things about "Far Cry 3" back when it came out, but at $60 a pop, games are a bit pricey. Of course, that's where Steam sales come into play. If you happen to be a PC gamer, all you have to do is wait a couple months, even weeks, then you might get a game for sometimes around 90% off its original MSRP. And oftentimes, those games will be a hell of a steal. So yeah, that's how I felt when I purchased "Far Cry 3" a year after release but for a mere $7.

It has been one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had thanks to the open world. The only other comparable free-roam games I've played that can come close are "Sleeping Dogs" and "Batman: Arkham City." The fact that I got it for the incredibly jacked up price of $7 made it even sweeter. And now I get to explain why.

Storywise, "Far Cry 3" is actually pretty original. Well, as far as gaming goes. It starts out when a group of roughly college-age kids go somewhere in the South Pacific for a vacation. And then it all goes to hell. Ok, so maybe it's not all that original after all since that sounds exactly like the kind of B-movie cliche-ridden rubbish that you'd expect in an MTV movie or reality show. That's where I'm partly wrong. Yes, it starts out that way, but then the main character, someone who in my opinion is not all that hard to relate to, out of necessity becomes ... something else. He gets forced to become a killer to save his friends from being sold off as sex slaves or die. In that sense, he's kind of like Oliver Queen from "Arrow." Well, maybe it's not that original, anyway. It's entertaining, though. And unlike Oliver Queen, it becomes clear that although he may embrace his dark side, Jason Brody is never 100% comfortable with it. The villains he goes up against are fairly memorable, too. Especially the batshit-insane first villain Vaas, who may just go down as one of the top villains from the past console generation. Hoyt is a little more one-dimensional, but that doesn't make him any less awful of a person. As for Buck, well ... just play the game. It's definitely a hard R-rated story, without saying too much.

The gameplay is like any first-person shooter, but it feels more realistic than say "Call of Duty." While "Far Cry 3" follows a narrative structure, it's an open-world game. And boy is the world big. Imagine if "Skyrim" was set in a tropical paradise. Well, maybe it's not that big, but still. Both islands in the Rook Island chain easily feel like they're about the size of Boracay (a popular tourist destination in the Philippines that is comparable to the tropical setting of this game). Oh and even when you're not playing any of the story missions, everything on Rook Island wants to kill you. Even the animals. I remember fairly early on in the game, I was still reeling from the shock of being captured by pirates. I decided to take one of the available cars randomly parked on the island for a drive when a jeep full of pirates drove past me. They then started cursing at me and although it took a few seconds to register, my next thought went something like this: "Holy f**k they're actually shooting at me!" That's what "Far Cry 3" is like. You don't start off as a hardened killer, and the game makes that very apparent. Of course, by the end of the game, I was able to take out entire strongholds of enemies with relative ease thanks to the abilities (which you unlock through the campaign and manifest themselves physically in the form of a sick tattoo) and the weapons (unlocked by activating radio towers a la "Batman: Arkham Origins"). If that's not character development, I don't know what is. Those pirates and privateers you face are also genuinely bad people, so there's something of a sick satisfaction when you pick off a lone group just for being there.

That last paragraph was getting too long. There's also the hunting and gathering aspect. As I previously said, even the animals want to kill you. And Rook Island is home to a wide variety of nasty predators ranging from bears to packs of rabid dogs. And the cassowaries. Those things are just evil. Fortunately, you can hunt them and skin them, as you'd be able to in real life. The skins can then be used to craft objects like holsters, bigger rucksacks, ammo pouches, etc. Plants can also be harvested for medicinal purposes. This sort of interaction with the world is what puts "Far Cry 3" heads and shoulders above its competitors.

Graphically, "Far Cry 3" is spectacular. Maybe not getting it on PS3 was a blessing in disguise because I've heard it's far superior on PC if you have a machine advanced enough to run it at max settings (I clearly do). Rook Island is the gorgeous landscape you'd expect it to be, and it would be paradise if it weren't for the drug organization that took over. In a blog post, I noted that it reminded me of a few islands in the Philippines I've been to, namely Boracay and Palawan. Although anyone should be able to appreciate the scenery. The character models are top notch as well, with some of the best textures I've seen yet. Of course, the magic of PC gaming enables us to squeeze that extra little bit that the Xbox 360 and PS3 weren't able to quite produce.

And there we have it. One of the best gaming experiences I've ever had.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Fantastic Four" reboot has been cast. Now what?

We have our official cast for the "Fantastic Four" reboot due out next year. It is supposedly set in the same cinematic universe as "X-Men" as Fox is trying to do the same thing that Disney/Marvel is doing. Normally, I agree with the casting choices. Normally. This time, I'm not sure I do. At least not 100%.

The confirmed casting is Miles Teller as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Kate Mara as Susan Storm/Invisible Woman, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/Human Torch and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm/The Thing. I'll just have to see the movie before I really judge, but here's what I think so far.

Miles Teller: I haven't really seen him in anything. The only thing I know that he was in was "21 and over." My brother noted that he's a fine actor but probably not mature enough as an actor to play Reed Richards. At least not the way Ioan Gruffudd (another actor I've met at a convention) was. Then again, it's based off the Ultimate imprint of the comic, so they're all probably going to have to be younger. We'll see.

Kate Mara: This is probably the only confirmed casting choice I'm supportive of. I haven't seen anything she's in, either, but I've heard she's really good in "House of Cards." She's also quite good looking, and that's a must for anyone playing Invisible Woman.

Michael B. Jordan: This one's been rumored as far back as I can remember. He's also been incredibly controversial because the fans cannot fathom a black Human Torch. I'm not racist. That would be hypocritical of me because I'm an Asian American. I enjoyed Michael B. Jordan's performance in "Chronicle," which was ironically directed by the same dude who's directing this reboot, Josh Trank. He's a good actor, and maybe this will work. They better find a way to make it work. Artistic license is one thing. Changing a 50-year-old, established character's race for the sake of progressiveness is another. The only reason black Nick Fury worked was because when they wrote him in the Ultimate Marvel universe, the creative teams wanted to use Samuel L. Jackson's likeness, which he agreed to on the condition that he star in a Marvel movie. Unfortunately, Human Torch is white in both the Ultimate and Mainstream universes, so it might be a little awkward and unfitting. Of course, we'll all get to have final say when they actually film then release a trailer.

Jamie Bell: I truly don't know how I feel about this one. I remember seeing him as a whiny young member of the ship in "King Kong" back when I was in high school. I also kinda remember him in "Flags of our Fathers" and "Defiance." Bell has been typecast in the past as somewhat more youthful characters. Of course, the most recent of those movies came out 6 years ago, and I'm sure Mr. Bell's matured as an actor. But he's also not Michael Chiklis, arguably the bright spot of the original "Fantastic Four" movies. Again, I'll have to actually see what happens when they film it, but I'll just say this. Jamie Bell doesn't strike me as ... masculine enough to play Ben Grimm. Michael Chiklis was spot on. Of course, if Jamie packs on more muscle and works on a rough-sounding and convincing Brooklyn accent that enables him to say "It's clobberin' time" effectively, I will eat my words.

So yeah, we'll see.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" first impressions

This movie based on one of Marvel's most obscure properties is coming out later this year. And it made my Top 5 most anticipated movies of 2014 list. I may be looking more forward to "X-Men: Days of Future Past," but "Guardians" is not too bar behind as far as my rabid geek anticipation goes. So the trailer dropped last night. Here are my immediate first impressions:

1. It's different, and that's good: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is doing extremely well, but thus far we have not had a Phase 2 movie that's blown everyone out of the water the way "Avengers" and even "Iron Man" did back when it was first released in 2008. The reason? They're not bad, but they're all the same. They all follow the same formula with the heroes picking up the pieces after the Battle of New York. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" looks a little better than its two predecessors, but otherwise, the formula is the same. They're all extremely predictable. "Guardians of the Galaxy" on the other hand is something entirely new. The trailer was extremely action-heavy, but the song it played said a lot about the movie's sarcastic and smart-assed tone. We could use a little light-hearted humor in the months leading up to "Age of Ultron."

2. It's a love-child of Stan Lee and George Lucas, essentially: From what I saw last night, "Guardians" looks to combine the best aspects of Marvel Comics and "Star Wars," which I did a lengthy post about earlier this week. It has the interstellar villains and smart-assed anti-authority protagonist types that made George Lucas' original works so endearing. The smart-ass tone of the Guardians themselves looks to be very reminiscent of the dry, witty humor that Han Solo and Chewbacca provided in the original trilogy, especially with Chris Pratt's Han Solo-esque portrayal of Star-Lord. But then we have characters like Drax, Rocket Raccoon and Groot who are all very much Marvel creations. It has the potential to be a literal match made in nerd heaven.

3. The ragtag band of misfits: We have a smart-assed pilot who's essentially the second coming of Han Solo, Batista as a green alien assassin, Zoe Saldana as a green alien assassin, and a talking tree and raccoon. You can't really ask for a more mismatching group of unlikely heroes. It's even more mismatching than the Avengers before they became the Avengers. And you know what? That's great, because those are the kinds of teams that audiences tend to root for. I know I do.

I couldn't really come up with more, and after that TL;DR post I just made, I thought I'd keep this fairly short and sweet. Only time will tell how "Guardians" will fare at the box office, but like "X-Men," I think it has the chance to utterly dominate and rise to the top of its genre.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Star Wars viewing experience 2.0

With the exception of the piss-awful prequel trilogy and George Lucas constantly micromanaging and changing things in re-releases, "Star Wars" is a franchise that I have nothing but the highest praise for. It's one of those things that can be considered nearly universal for anyone my age; ask almost anyone, I guarantee you they grew up watching the original movies in some way, shape or form. If I had to pick another national anthem for the USA, I might actually pick the theme music of "Star Wars," the one that blares over the opening title crawls that are unique to the series. But why did I revisit this classic series despite having watched the original movies multiple times in my childhood? Well now that I'm older and properly able to critique a movie, I thought it would be nice to watch the entire series back to back. Then there's this other one I call "the viewing experience 2.0," which I actually did not come up with. I came up with the name, not the watching order.

"Star Wars" is an episodic series with six wait for it, wait for it ... episodes. So generally speaking, we're supposed to watch them in order from 1-6. Well, according to a close family friend, who I will identify as "M" for anonymity purposes, that's only one way to do it. See, M actually made me aware of an alternative viewing order while were both at the Dallas Sci Fi Expo last week. He asked me what the proper watching order was. Logically, I just said "1-6." M then suggested starting off with Episode IV and V as George Lucas intended. It's only after we find out that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke's father that we take a brief flashback to Episodes II and III before concluding with VI. What about I? Well, other than showing how Anakin and Obi-Wan ended up as master and teacher at the very end, "The Phantom Menace" contributed hardly anything of substance to the core storyline as we know it. Of course, this is just one opinion. After all, the only thing we care about is how Anakin became Darth Vader, not Anakin as a little kid who also happened to play Arnold Schwarzenegger's son in "Jingle all the Way" (fun fact there). And for all its wooden, emotionless acting, the events of "Attack of the Clones" got the Darth Vader ball rolling. So essentially, the watching order goes like this: IV --> V --> II --> III --> VI. For the reasons I mentioned above, you can omit I.

And now it's time for a recap. Like I said, this the first time I've ever watched the movies back to back in a fairly short time frame. First time in almost 10 years that I've watched the prequel movies. So let's see what adult me thinks of "Star Wars" now.

A New Hope: Everyone's seen this one more times than they can count. It's arguably the most enduring, beloved tale of this generation. And the most imitated, with varying degrees of success. It still is. The story of Luke Skywalker coming from literally bumf**k nowhere to end up becoming the galaxy's savior is one that has this certain kind of magic, even though the thing that got this ball rolling was the execution of Luke's aunt and uncle at the hands of the empire, which in turn was caused by the not-so-accidental release of two certain droids. Whether you watch it one or 100 times, it won't lose any of that charm. Plus, the performances were all quite solid. And although it wasn't the only time in the series, that first time the Death Star got destroyed is just ... wow.

The Empire Strikes Back: This episode has a reputation as being one of the darkest movies of all time, which incidentally makes it one of the best. When the original trilogy was re-released in the late 90s, I found "Empire" to be quite upsetting to watch. To sum it up, the bad guys won, and all my heroes lost big. Luke lost his hand, Han got frozen in carbonite, and the future wasn't really certain for the rebellion at that point. It's so dark that Joss Whedon is actually using it has an inspiration for the second "Avengers" movie due out in 2015. Revisiting it as a (semi) grown man, that darkness is what arguably makes "Empire" the best movie in the series. All the heroes, especially Luke (after the reveal that turned out to be the greatest plot twist in history), hit their absolute rock bottom and realize that it can't get THAT much worse than how they have it. It's kind of like losing a pivotal sports game. It enabled our heroes to grow as characters and absolutely upped the stakes, which in turn would end up making the conclusion all that more satisfying.

Attack of the Clones: This is where the prequel has its use, as a flashback. We start here after the big "I am your father" reveal because it shows Darth Vader in his youth at roughly Luke's age. First of all, the acting in this movie is just the worst. Although Natalie Portman has gotten better, Hayden Christensen has no emotion or sense of delivery. I've seen more emotion in most action figures, and that ought to say something! The action here is pretty decent, with the big standout being the battles of Geonosis, especially the fight in the arena. Jango Fett is also worthy of honorable mention. The one thing story wise I liked was how the path to the dark side got started. Anakin and Obi-Wan are investigating an assassination attempt on then-Senator Padme Amidala. Obi-Wan ends up playing detective in an attempt to find out who ordered the assassination while Anakin gets left as a bodyguard for Jane Foster/that one chick from "Black Swan." Five guesses as to what happens when a horny 20-year-old who is getting that universe's equivalent to monk training gets left alone with a very attractive and wealthy young lady. Spoiler: it doesn't end well for anyone involved, and you bet he doesn't keep his vows.

Revenge of the Sith: The acting isn't a whole lot better than in its predecessor, but the story and fight scenes more than make up for that. In my opinion, "Sith" might actually be the most action-packed movie in the entire saga. I remember watching it as an eighth-grader and having my entire opinion of Master Yoda change in a millisecond. I mean, I thought the guy was cool before, but he was always this sort of Buddha-like figure. Then we really got to see him kick ass. And if anything, the ending almost makes up the general lackluster quality of the prequel trilogy. Call me corny, but the amount of feels that ending brought, wow. For all his flaws, George Lucas is a hell of a storyteller, and the way he tied "Revenge of the Sith" to "A New Hope" was just perfect.

Return of the Jedi: With our digression/flashback over, we switch back to the present day. The storyline in "Jedi" is a lot more straightforward than the one in "Empire," but I think that may be because of how dark and depressing "Empire" was. By the events of the present, Luke has become a full-fledged Jedi Knight and ass kicker. That in itself is more satisfying and relieving to see after the condition Darth Vader left him in last we saw him. But the thing that makes the last movie in the saga so satisfying is the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The events of "Empire" upped the stakes, and the Rebels definitely fought the good fight here. Only this time they won. Big. As in, the Emperor Palpatine was killed, and the Death Star II was destroyed. And although he spent most of the trilogy as the ultimate embodiment of evil, it was a nice touch to see Vader fulfilling that prophecy they kept talking about in the prequel movies, especially after we saw his origin story. Wow, talk about full circle. Then the final battles on and over Endor and the final duel between Luke and Vader comprised some of my favorite cinematic moments in my childhood. And they still are. Nothing has changed. Nothing at all.

Anything else to say? Not really. I think I've written enough, I really do. And if you're frustrated by how long this post was, well, good. Let the hate flow through you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dallas Sci Fi Expo after action report

I've been to a few conventions in my time. I've always enjoyed being around people who share the same interests as me, which is the reason I attend conventions in the first place. I'd been to a few Sci Fi Expos as a kid, but it was mostly to shop for action figures. Now that I'm an adult with somewhat of an income, I pay attention to the guest lists. The first Dallas Comic-Con I ever went to as an adult had the most notable guest of all: Stan Lee. The next one I went to had one of my biggest childhood crushes: the lovely Ms. Kelly Hu. That one also had Ioan Gruffudd from "Fantastic Four." However, Sci Fi Expo 2014 has had the most notable guest list of all for me with the appearances from Stephen Amell (Arrow), Karl Urban (Dredd, Almost Human) and Peter Weller (Robocop, The Dark Knight Returns). "Arrow" is my favorite show on TV, and "Almost Human" is a close runner-up. Plus Karl Urban's been one of those actors who's consistently been in movies I've watched starting with "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. And Peter Weller is a sci fi legend because of "Robocop." I just had to meet them.

The morning started with me actually not wanting to get up because of how sore I was from a hard workout the previous night and because of how cold it was. However, once my convention buddy arrived, I knew I had to just bite the bullet and leave my comfort zone (no pun intended). We started the morning by going to the ATM to get more cash, which I knew I would probably need, and then to McDonald's because I knew I was not going to leave the convention center until I'd accomplished all my objectives, no matter how loud my stomach nagged.

Predicatably, there were already people lining up to get in by 9:30, even though they wouldn't let regular guests in until 11. My buddy was lucky enough to have a VIP pass, so he got in early while I had to stand in line for an hour and thirty. It wasn't so bad because most of the line was in a parking garage, and a father and daughter next to me were kind enough to let me watch some anime with them.

That first line went fairly quickly when 11:00 rolled around. As soon as I got in, I made a beeline for the fourth floor where the celebrity guests were. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Stephen Amell's line wasn't a nightmarish mass of humanity, largely because most of the guests were still lining up. You could say that meeting Oliver Queen himself would have been like any one of my female teenage cousins meeting One Direction. It was just unreal. It was also surprisingly pleasant. A lot of celebrities have this diva attitude (like William Shatner from what I've heard), but Stephen has a reputation for being very gracious to and regularly interacting with his fans. When I met him, he looked me in the eye and simply said "Hey, John" as if we were two guys who could have went to college with each other. I then proceeded to tell him things that I'm sure he's heard a million times: "Arrow is my favorite show," "I'm rooting for you to be in the 'Justice League' movie," and "I wish 'Arrow' would run and run and run," to which Stephen simply replied "Let's get to season 3 first." I didn't really plan what to do, but I ended that meet and greet by getting him to say his trademark catchphrase "You have failed this city" while I recorded. He obliged, and I could tell he was slightly amused. About an hour later, I got a picture taken with the man during the photo op. Stephen Amell has officially become one of the most pleasant human beings I've ever met.

Next up was Karl Urban. I don't have as much to say here because I didn't speak to him as long because the line of fans for Karl was a coiling mass of humanity by the time I got to him. I didn't even get a picture with him because they sold out of photo op tickets by the time I got to him (Karl ended up doing a second photo op after we left, and I think that says a lot about his character). When it was my time to meet him, Karl, like Stephen, addressed me by my first name before I told him how big of a fan I was of his work, especially "Almost Human." He said that he had a lot of fun filming that series. I didn't get to talk as long to him, and I could also tell by that time he was quite worn out physically. Then again, I heard rumors that he flew in from New Zealand specifically for the convention. He also wrote a personalized message on the photo of Judge Dredd that I had him autograph. It read "John, I AM THE LAW." Wow.

Finally, I went to meet Peter Weller after debating whether or not I still had the intestinal fortitude to stand in another line. I decided to go the full 10 yards given that I might not get the chance to meet any of these people ever again. Peter's line surprisingly moved the slowest out of all three. Luckily, I started talking to two fellow nerds about various geek topics, mostly the recent and upcoming superhero movies, to pass the time. When I finally got to Peter, I shook his hand and told him it was an honor to meet Robocop and Batman at the same time (he voiced Batman in "The Dark Knight Returns" animated movie). Peter definitely had this grandfatherly quality to him, although he was more along the lines of the kind of old man who probably served in the army and less like my late grandfather who was a jolly old fellow.

All in all, I would sum it up like this: a good 85 percent of the time was spent standing in line. When I go to these things, I am usually more interested in meeting the guests than buying merchandise, simply because I've been buying merchandise my whole life. So yeah, by the end of the day, my feet were worn out. As in, I think that easily could have been the most tired my feet ever were. But by the time the dust settled, I'd met Oliver Queen, Judge Dredd and Robocop. Easily one of the best days I've ever had as a fan of science fiction.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Top 10 games of the last console generation (from a largely PS3 perspective)

The PS3/Xbox 360 generation has come and gone. Personally, I never thought it would, but it did. I guess this means I'm officially old now that I've seen 3 generations come and go. Anyway, as we go into the era of the PS4 and Xbox One, I take a look back at the games from the last generation that I liked the most. Keep in mind, this is only my opinion, and while most of these games have been critically well received, your opinion might differ. Another disclaimer before we start: I had a PS3, so some of these titles are inevitably going to be Sony exclusives. These are also games I've played at the time of writing (so don't be too butthurt that "Sleeping Dogs" is on this list, and "Grand Theft Auto V" isn't). Also, they're not in any particular order from best to worst or vice versa.

1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: When it comes to story, I don't think any other game I've ever played has even come close. "Drake's Deception" was pretty darn good, but it didn't have as much of the same emotional oomph as "Among Thieves." The scenery, the sense of scale, and especially the gameplay. Forget Spider-Man, Drake does everything a spider can. Naughty Dog really put themselves at the top of the industry with this title. Not that they were ever shabby, but it's a far cry from the days of "Crash Bandicoot."

2. Call of Duty: Black Ops: "Modern Warfare" was the one that put the series on the map. "Modern Warfare 2" made it even bigger in scale. However, "Black Ops" is the name that most people probably associate most with the franchise. Out of the many many entries in the series, this particular one probably boasts the most balance in its multiplayer, the mainstay of the franchise. It also has the best campaign and story.

3. Far Cry 3: Admittedly, I only picked this one up fairly recently and on PC because of a recent Steam sale. I've been blown away by just about everything. The tropical island setting (which I particularly like a lot because it resembles actual islands I've been to in my family's native Philippines), the hunting aspect and the overall realism. It takes open world games to a new level. Seriously, I just can't get enough. But arguably the thing I like the most is the protagonist. Jason Brody is not that much different from me or you. He's basically a spoiled college kid who ends up becoming a hardened killer because it's literally the only way he'll survive. I'm sure a lot of people can relate to the spoiled or even college kid part. The point is, he's really easy to relate to in the sense that he's not like a faceless run-of-the-mill special forces soldier you see in so many games or any of those other over-the-top action game stereotypes.

4. Batman: Arkham City: If you've read the section of my review of "Arkham Origins" where I give its predecessor a heaping praise, this speaks for itself. No other game has so deftly captured the experience of being the Dark Knight himself. The movie-worthy story didn't hurt, either.

5. Killzone 3: I could easily put "Killzone 2" on this list because that's what put the series on the map. However, 3 took everything that 2 did and made it even better. The graphics on 3 were better, the mutiplayer felt more balanced, and the whole "do or die" feel of the story made it an overall better experience than its predecessor. The brutal melee feature was icing on the cake. Seriously, you can't just swing a knife at someone in real life and hope it KOs them in one hit. Play "Killzone 3" and try the brutal melee. That's more or less what might happen up close.

6. Sleeping Dogs: Arguably more of a sleeper hit that might not be worthy of this list, but I'm putting it on here anyway. Other than "Far Cry 3," this title boasts one of the best stories of any open world games I've ever played. The fact that I played it less than a year after I went to Hong Kong in real life for my cousin's wedding certainly helped me appreciate it. Finally, imagine playing "Grand Theft Auto" with a protagonist who has the skill set of Bruce Lee and a combat engine similar to the "Batman: Arkham" games. And yes, you also get to use a variety of guns. This game is just awesome.

7. Tomb Raider: Although it takes a page out of the "Uncharted" series, this Lara Croft origin story manages to hold its own. The plot twist involving the storms is a bit silly, but this game manages to take one of gaming's biggest icons and make her into a more realistic character who is easier to relate to. It's kind of like Far Cry 3 in that sense, except Lara Croft was already a pop culture icon.

8. Mortal Kombat: I'm only referring to the 2011 reboot. Other than a weird part of my college years in which I consider Scorpion my alter-ego, this game is awesome. It boasts some of the tightest controls of any fighting game I've played, although it caters heavily to people who actually take the time to memorize combos. But where it really shines is the fatalities. Good lord, need I say more. This isn't an exaggeration when I say that it might just be the most violent video game of all time. I'm a bit desensitized, but more sensitive viewers might get nightmares from some of the creative and sick ways that people get killed in this game.

9. Bioshock: Infinite: I should probably include the original game instead of this entry, but seeing as I haven't played it yet, that wouldn't exactly be right. I'll just say that a lot of what made "Infinite" great probably made the first "Bioshock" really awesome when it came out in 2007. The themes and the story are just an acid trip that will make you question a lot of things. The gameplay is just awesome too.

10. God of War 3: This entire series is rage personified. Sometimes you've just had a bad day and want to take your anger out on the world. This series lets you do just that. It's obviously not as ground breaking as the first in the series, but it does bring Kratos from standard definition into high definition. The results are staggering. The only thing I can compare the violence to is "Mortal Kombat." This might not be the cup of tea for some gamers, but let's be honest. Playing as a one-man-army who ends up destroying all of Greek Mythology never gets old.

That's all folks. Let the butthurt begin (unless you read the disclaimers).

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why "X-Men: Days of Future Past" could REALLY hit it big

If you've ever been unlucky enough to stumble upon the random shit I post, chances are you know I'm a really big "X-Men" fan. Along with a select few other franchises, it's one of those things I just can't get enough of. So, here's a random glimpse into why I think the upcoming movie has the potential to stand with and even maybe surpass "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight."

1. A-List talent: Yeah those two movies I mentioned had some really solid performances. Hell one actually won on Oscar. Now here's the thing: "X-Men" has several Oscar-worthy actors. Not just one or two. Several. Let's see ... Hugh Jackman (nominated for Best Actor), Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart (if you're wondering why I should explain how these two qualify as "A-List" talent, please go get some culture and stop being such a dumbass), Jennifer Lawrence (actually won Best Actress), Michael Fassbender (one of Hollywood's top up and coming actors in my opinion) ... the list goes on and on. Hell, it even has Peter Dinklage from "Game of Thrones."

2. The sense of scale and ambition: I've heard rumors that DOFP is quite possibly the biggest, most expensive movie Fox has made since "Avatar." That could either make it or break it. I'm willing to put a little faith on the former based on the trailer and images I've seen.

3. The story: "Days of Future Past" is arguably the second most beloved story arc in X-Men's long and very convoluted history. As I've mentioned in previous posts, that particular arc made one of my "Best" lists on this blog. It is second only to "The Dark Phoenix" saga, but that one's screen treatment got royally fucked. Maybe now the powers involved know what's at stake.

4. Bryan Singer: The man has had hits and misses. Most directors do, believe it or not. I mean look at what happened to George Lucas, and he made possibly the most influential movie of our time. I'll admit that I slightly liked Matthew Vaugh's work on "First Class" a little more, but having Bryan Singer direct isn't a bad thing. When it was announced that he was going to direct, let's just say a lot of people did not take it well. Well sorry to take the devil's advocate side here, but let's take a brief history lesson here. Flash back to 2000. Superhero movies were still seen as fairly risky, yet Bryan Singer somehow made the original X-Men movie work. He made its sequel work even better, and until Christopher Nolan made his Batman trilogy, Bryan Singer's work on X-Men was the gold standard. What I'm basically saying is that we have movies like "The Dark Knight" and "The Avengers" because Bryan Singer somehow made "X-Men" work 14 years ago. And while he has made movies like "Valkyrie" (which I enjoyed. Yes, shut up I liked it) and "Jack the Giant Slayer," I think that can be forgiven as he returns to the franchise that put an entire genre on the map.

5. What's at stake: Like I said, this has the potential to be REALLY good or bad. It seems that Fox has really put all their cards on the table for this one. It's risky, but when you're competing with Disney and Sony, you need to be relevant somehow. Me personally, I like the ambition that the studio put in here. Also, if it wasn't a good idea that could potentially change things up in the superhero genre, I don't quite think Fox would have invested so much.

So there it is. If DOFP tanks, it tanks. These are just my reasons for why I think it has the potential to not tank.