Destiny Beta Reactions

Destiny_logo

What better way to spend time while the Destiny Beta is offline for maintenance than to write about the Destiny Beta! What a great Beta it is, too. And to think this is only a snippet of what we can expect when the final game drops soon. While it may seem silly to “review” a beta, which is basically an almost-ready test-phase, I wanted to highlight some of my reactions. I feel I’ve played the beta enough to cover all of its ground.

First things first, those graphics. Those oh so pretty graphics. Bungie is taking full control of the next-gen console (specifically PS4). I always thought Halo was kind of behind on this front (they weren’t bad by any means, but there were also better looking games. The pinnacle was obviously Reach). But Destiny is shaping up to look grand. The moment I knew this game would look fantastic when released was standing at the edge of the Tower, looking out into the distance. Just jump over the rail and stand out there. Do it. And dance while you’re there (I find the dancing one of the most enjoyable parts of being at the Tower, honestly. Fuck getting upgrades–just kidding, I really love getting upgrades).

There’s a lot to look forward to in this beta. You’ve got 5 story missions to complete before the Crucible (6v6 multiplayer) opens, and there’s a “Strike” mission that you can complete with a fireteam of 3. The story missions are kind of repetitive. Straight-forward get-in, get-out situations that bring you to the same place multiple times. But I’m sure the full game will be fleshed out and the story could be trash and still rock because Peter Dinklage is your guide.

d20130912-001_Amazon_LeftBB_FINAL._V356040032_

The strike mission is pretty damn hard. Granted, I beat it, but I did it on Level 6 rather than 8. I’m gonna beat it on the harder level. The key is consistency. After the initial wave of Fallen (not Transformers’ Fallen, these are way better) you go up against a giant mechanical spider-tank thing (that’s the best way to describe it) and then a giant glowing robot eye-thing (also the best way). Thankfully you get checkpoints after each, but good luck getting through each phase without dying tons of times. And if every squadmate dies, that’s it. You just gotta keep fire concentrated on the big fuckers no matter how long it takes.

And then there’s the Crucible. I always thought Halo had a pretty good story (maybe I’m in the minority) but it’s multiplayer was obviously a big draw. The same can be said of Destiny. While I’m hoping for a good storyline for the campaign, there’s no doubt that online multiplayer is the game’s backbone, and rightfully so. While the only mode open for the beta has been capture-the-flag type, it looks like there will be plenty to choose from once the full game is released. Destiny is going to set the bar for next gen multiplayer. If only we weren’t placed on the moon so many goddamn times.

Character creation doesn’t offer a lot of options. You get to choose between a class and race and then choose a color scheme and some extra features. It’s limited, but while the game is similar to an RPG, I’d say it’s more of a shooter with RPG elements. The upgrading is pretty great, though, and your character starts taking on a look of its own once you upgrade your armor and such. The level cap for the beta is 8 but looking through some of the weapons and armor for level 20 makes me want the game NOW. If you get accustomed to the gameplay and rock the Crucible enough, levling up becomes pretty simple.

screen-shot-2014-06-09-at-9-20-42-pm

Gameplay is a cinch. It’s very Halo-esque, but…better? I don’t quite know how to describe it. There’a a great variety of weapons to choose from. My favorite is the Scout Rifle I’m using now. Deals a lot of damage and once upgraded has great accuracy and range. I haven’t exactly used my secondary weapon all that much (the sniper rifle is good on the moon if you sit in a good location), but once you get heavy ammo it’s a treat to use your heavy weapon. I use the grenade launcher and love it, probably because I get to use it so rarely. My favorite weapon though isn’t really even a weapon. As a Titan class, once I get “super charged” I can literally punch the ground and send my enemies flying, killing instantly. It’s the best to get multiple people at once with it.

As for bugs and glitches, I was only booted from the system twice, which I think is pretty good for a beta. Other than that, I haven’t ran into a single problem. It’s impressive. Lets just say this is miles ahead of the Alpha, so I can’t wait to see what the actual game is like. The only reason I would have gotten an X-Box One is for Halo, but with Destiny I’ll get my fix and then some. This is only a glimpse at what the game has to offer and I’m beyond excited.

Advertisements

Out of the Furnace Review

Image

It seems to have all of the tools necessary for fixing up a great movie. An A-list cast in a revenge tale from Scott Cooper who directed Jeff Bridges in his Oscar-winning “Crazy Heart” role. But “Out of the Furnace” is missing something. Perhaps it’s the fact that the trailers mislead it as a heart-pounding revenge tale; half of that statement is right. “Out of the Furnace” IS a revenge tale, but in very few aspects is it heart-pounding. Rather, it’s an illustration of moral complexity, a very somber one at that, which is both good and bad.

The film takes place in a small, economically troubled town, where it’s inhabitants struggle to make ends meet. Russell Baze, played with quiet intensity by Christian Bale, works at the local steel mill, while his younger, hot-headed brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) has served multiple times in Iraq. Rodney owes a lot of money to this guy named John Petty (a respectably sleezy Willem Dafoe). So Rodney gets himself tied up in the world of underground fighting (think “Fight Club” minus the political undertones) to pay back his debt. Trouble is, this puts him in conflict with this other guy named Harlan Degroat (an impressively evil Woody Harrelson). Things go horribly wrong, and Russell has to take the law into his own hands. Oh, and there’s an irrelevant love triangle between him, Zoe Saldana and Forrest Whitacker.

In fact, the main problem with the film is that many aspects do seem irrelevant to the overall story, even though they’re supposed to be big contributing factors to it. Russell is sent to prison for drunk-driving and hitting another car (killing those inside). But how does this have any payoff? He seems like the same man when he gets out as he was before he went in. Does Zoe Saldana’s character have any importance to the overall narrative? Sure, it makes us feel a little something more for Russell; losing her creates more empathy for his character and also puts his ultimate actions in the end in a different light–he has nothing more to lose. But that’s merely all she is, a story tool with no real character of her own.

At the heart of “Out of the Furnace” is a deep tale about moral dilemmas–in Russell’s situation, or any of the characters’ situations, what would we do? But the trouble is that it lacks much heart in the first place. It’s a dark and gloomy film; it broods quietly in a corner in a season of Oscar stand-outs that are anything but quiet. It’s both its strength and its downfall. It’s not the typical action-revenge movie where the main character rushes in guns blazing. It tries being a little smarter than that. But it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Image

“Out of the Furnace” shouldn’t be condemned for trying to tell a more character-focused revenge story but it won’t make any waves either, and it won’t get widespread acclaim. It’s a better idea on paper than is executed. The actors are on top of their game. The idea is promising. Some scenes are even pretty intense–the ending will at least get you thinking. But the pieces don’t quite line up. It has the makings of a good cult movie, something that may be more appreciated as time passes. It’s kind of a shame, because it teeters on the edge of being a great film. But for now, it will remain out of the furnace but without most of its heat.

3 stars (out of 5)

The Lone Ranger Review

Image

A Lone Ranger movie today is a hard sell. Our most recognized heroes are dark and brooding (“The Dark Knight Trilogy”‘s Batman), young heroines that appeal to the young-adult book readers (“The Hunger Games”‘s Katniss) or colorful characters fighting world-shaking enemies (The Avengers). Where does the Lone Ranger fall, a character created in the 1930s and rooted in a time even earlier than that? Hollywood has recreated classic heroes for modern audiences before: Christopher Nolan did it with Batman and most recently Zack Snyder did it with Superman. Superman as a character, especially after the Christopher Reeve clone that was “Superman Returns,” was someone that needed an extreme makeover in order for audiences to embrace him. For the most part, “Man of Steel” succeeded. Despite a controversial ending, the film succeeded as a reinvention because it stripped the Superman franchise of all the familiar elements of the Richard Donner/Reeve era while also embracing who he is as a symbol. It wasn’t your grandpa’s Superman, but it was still Superman.

In the case of the Lone Ranger, the problem may be that he is, in essence, a “grandpa’s superhero.” He’s a Texas ranger in the 1860s with a strict moral code that included always using proper English and never shooting to kill. A hero worth admiring in the 1930s, even worth admiring today, but one that may not resonate as well. In an effort to bring this masked avenger to modern movie-goers, the team behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise infused the same type of thinking they used for those movies into the new “The Lone Ranger” movie: big, loud, far-fetched exploits and Johnny Depp. The problem is that they didn’t bring any of the fun and enjoyment from those movies over to this one. “The Lone Ranger” is an awful, tiring, obnoxious experience.

What makes it so awful? When you have a movie where the sidekick gets top billing because the studio isn’t confident in its main star, or title character for that matter, you already know you have problems. Armie Hammer plays the masked man and Johnny Depp plays his Native American savior/sidekick Tonto. Hammer fumbles and slouches his way through the movie, never appearing very heroic. His John Reid/Lone Ranger is a bumbling idiot, portrayed as a buffoon who gets lucky. Then you have Depp, white-faced to make him look less Johnny Depp-like but you never forget that it’s him. He pulls out every trick in his utility belt to give the movie an extra little sense of enjoyment, and sometimes he succeeds. But it’s hard to get past the fact that he’s basically playing a Native American Jack Sparrow. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are supposed to have each other’s back, but that’s thrown away in favor of a wannabe “buddy cop” relationship. The Ranger treats Tonto like crap, and vice versa. Even “kemosabe” doesn’t mean “faithful friend” in this interpretation.

So at it’s core, “The Lone Ranger” is a “Pirates” clone in the old west minus anything enjoyable. It tries way too hard to be a fun blockbuster and in the end isn’t fun. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (seriously, what is HE doing making a Lone Ranger movie) and director Gore Verbinski never seem to know when to quit and with a running time of two and a half hours (already too long in itself) it feels like four. “Go big or go home” clearly doesn’t work for a film that should have never been intended to be a “blockbuster.” But despite its insistence to cram as much unnecessary story, unneeded characters, and over-the-top action set pieces, it still manages to find time to get a little “dark” in spots. Villain Butch Cavendish eats someone’s heart right out of him and there’s cannibalistic bunnies. Why? I don’t even think the writers know.

Image

If the movie had been stripped down and did away with its unnecessary components, it may have been a tad more enjoyable; Helena Bonham Carter’s character is the definition of a throwaway character and the film is narrated by an aging Tonto display at a fair in the 1930s. Again, why? But for it to be a truly good movie, literally everything about it could be changed. I get that Disney wanted to try and cash in on the “Pirates” popularity and do something reminiscent of that, but it just doesn’t work. At all. Not to sound cliche, but I like to think of how better the movie had been had it taken a “Batman Begins” approach to the Lone Ranger and been more realistic.

Alas, that’s not the case, and we’re left with a rather dull effort despite how bombastic it tries to be. To its credit, when the famous “William Tell Overture” (The Lone Ranger’s classic theme) begins to play, I got a little excited. It’s followed by a train-chase sequence that’s actually kind of exciting. But by that time, it’s way too late. It was clear way beyond that point that this movie is a parody masked as a Lone Ranger film, never taking itself seriously and ripping the heart and soul right out of the title character. Who is that masked man? Who knows. Nobody asks.

1 star

World War Z Review

Image

So…sequel?

This was my first thought once the end credits began to roll for “World War Z,” the zombie epic from director Marc Forster based on the novel “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks. The ending is so vague, so abrupt, that it’s hard to imagine Hollywood not turning this into a franchise of sorts. And having began but not finished the novel (I got half way through), I don’t know how much the final film version borrows from it’s novel counterpart. At a certain point, I hit a wall while reading the novel and didn’t go any further. It’s basically broken up into a series of sections, with survivors from all over the world giving their personal accounts of the zombie plague. It’s like a documentary in novel form, which would have translated into a sort of “District 9” like approach if Forster and the writers had chosen to go this route for the adaptation. Instead, “World War Z” is an unexpected summer blockbuster, and instead of hitting a wall half-way through, the film never lets up.

It’s “War of the Worlds” meets “28 Days Later.” Brad Pitt is at the heart of this epic, playing United Nations employee Gerry Lane who has seen his fair share of conflict and mayhem across the globe. This is why he’s recruited to accompany a young scientist, thought to be humanity’s “best hope” for finding a cure to the plague, to South Korea. This is the first stop in a series of stops that include Israel and Wales, as Gerry traces clue after clue to find a way to stop the plague once and for all. Pitt carries the film on his shoulders. Lane’s commitment to protecting his family, who can only stay on the U.S. Naval vessel they’ve take refuge on if he agrees to help find a cure, gives the film a much needed beating heart among so many of the undead. Pitt is fearless in facing the zombie army.

It’s no secret that the film had its fair share of development problems, which included countless reshoots and rewrites, notably from “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof. Despite these problems, the end product turned out to be a solid entry into the zombie genre, anchored by the star-power of Pitt. Forster’s action sequences see an improvement from his James Bond disappointment “Quantum of Solace.” The film balances wide-spread chaos with confined terror in a way rarely seen in zombie films. Having a PG-13 rating, the gore takes a back seat to the action, but it’s no less thrilling.

The world-wide effects are felt as Lane faces this globe-spanning spectacle in four key areas. Lane and his family first face the terror in Philadelphia, and gets his family out of harm’s way. Once they hole up in an apartment complex and are extracted by a helicopter, Lane treks to South Korea where the first mention of the word “zombie” came out of. This leads him to Israel, then to Wales after a devastating plane crash. The first time the zombies show up on screen is a delight, even if it has a post-9/11 fear of terrorism feel to it. The apartment scenes are awesomely suspenseful, and the first time we realize that maybe “World War Z” has some scares to go along with its mayhem. It’s also made clear it has some silliness to go along with it, too, whether it’s someone accidentally shooting himself in the head (it’s outrageously funny, though) or a phone ringing at a terrible time. The stand out scenes, though, are in Israel, where the zombie-ladder we saw in trailers and thought looked stupid is given some context. When the zombies make it over the wall, it’s a free-for-all of epic proportions.

Image

Despite so many locations, the film is finely paced, even if it’s apparent that reshoots took place. Early in the film, Matthew Fox of “Lost” shows up for a full five seconds, and it would be safe to assume that his character had more screen time prior to reshoots. It’s probably for the best, though, as his character supposedly would have been part of a nasty “love triangle” to be developed more in future films. No.

Overall, “World War Z” is the surprise of the summer so far, an entertaining zombie film with an interesting solution to stopping the undead. Whatever problems took place on the set aren’t apparent in the final product. Forster proves he can direct action sequences as long as they include a surplus of flesh-eating monsters, and Pitt carries it with heart and bravery. Despite some silliness and an anticlimactic ending, the film is an unexpected thrill-ride.

4 stars

Man of Steel Review

Image

There is no kryptonite. No bright red underpants. No distinctive hair curl. Lois Lane is a strawberry blonde. Perry White is black. Jimmy Olsen is a woman. The Fortress of Solitude is an alien spaceship frozen beneath the ice. There is no Lex Luthor (that we’ve seen). There’s no John Williams score (which is fine. Hans Zimmer’s is brilliant).¬†And instead of jumping right into the Daily Planet, this Clark Kent is a nomad, picking up odd-job after odd-job under the guise of a fake name while on a spiritual journey. No, this is not your grandpa’s Superman. Despite the fact he’s lived on Earth for over two decades, this Superman is still alien to us, not only physically but emotionally. He’s detached, the only strong relationship with other people seeming to be his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. This Superman has a choice. His destiny is not set in stone, and he can either grow to be a force for good…or bad. It’s this uncertainty that is this Superman’s kryptonite. For all his strength, he’s still not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be used for. He just knows he has a purpose. This makes him vulnerable. But when he finally dons the suit with the S-shield proudly across his chest making him a symbol of hope, this is when Superman overcomes that vulnerability.

It’s this kind of thinking that makes director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s Superman much different from past interpretations. Superman has always been portrayed as the ultimate embodiment of good. There was no choice. Kal-El was always destined to be a savior and, while they always knew to keep his identity hidden from the rest of the world, the Kents raised him to use his powers for good. In this rebooted, bold incarnation of the character, he has the choice to go in the opposite direction than that of which we know. Kal-El/Clark Kent was obviously meant for great, heroic things. We all know he’ll don the blue suit and red cape and be that symbol of hope. But the fact that his path is so uncertain here makes the journey that much more interesting. Jonathan Kent, played respectably by Kevin Coster, is a stern fellow, more stern than we’ve ever really seen the character. He guides Clark, but not in the way you’d expect. He believes Clark was sent there for a reason, but he doesn’t pretend he knows the answer. He’s willing to let people die to hide Clark’s secret, not because he’s a dishonorable man, but because he has so much faith in the destiny of his adoptive son, and so much belief that the world isn’t ready for him yet.

This Superman is still trying to find his place in this world and by the end of the film I think he’s found it. Telling the origin story could have been a gamble that didn’t pay off, such as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which was pretty much the same origin tale with different actors. But it hasn’t been portrayed on the big screen since Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie.” While many aspects of the origin story are similar, a modern retelling still proved to be a gamble that paid off. This is the perfect set-up film, one that establishes Superman in a different way for a different generation. The film opens on Krypton. It’s an introduction that reminds me of Star Wars or Star Trek. This retelling is much more sci-fi than what we’re usually accustomed to seeing. Krypton is brought to life in a brave, albeit CGI-ed heavy, way. Russell Crowe leads the first twenty minutes with a Jor-El that does its best to step away from the Marlon Brando character we all associate with Superman’s biological father, diving and fighting his way through a mob of soldiers in order to save his newly born son from the decaying planet. We see Michael Shannon’s Zod in full-force, leading a military coupe as their world dies around them. It’s a chaotic opening that sets the tone for both the more somber moments and the high-flying action of the rest of the film.

Just as Superman’s destiny is not set in stone in the film, neither should his character. Many reviewers are calling this Superman, played by the square-jawed, soon-to-be-rising-star Henry Cavill, too gloomy. He’s never able to crack a smile, apparently. One shouldn’t expect Tony Stark-like charm from an alien being still searching for his purpose. There isn’t a predetermined set of rules that say Superman should be a lighthearted ray of sunshine. Yes, Superman in essence is not a “dark” character. His symbol after all does mean hope and he gets his powers from the bright rays of Earth’s sun. But for years people have been clamoring for a Superman that steps away from the boy-scout routine. Cavill’s Superman is more serious and, like Costner’s Pa Kent, more stern. He gets angry. He shows emotion. He doesn’t put up with bullshit-he throws down hard with Zod and takes down a spy drone plane. And most importantly, he’s willing to make the hard choices. That’s a Superman that needed to be seen on the big screen. But just because he’s a little more edgy, doesn’t mean he can’t crack a smile. Cavill doesn’t get to show off his pearly whites all that often, but when he does we ‘re reminded that there is something indeed human about this alien after all.

As for the rest of the cast, Amy Adams is a Lois Lane that can hold her own as she should be. I was very bothered by Kate Bosworth’s Lois in “Superman Returns.” She felt like a victim, waiting for Superman to save the day. This Lois seems much more willing to take charge. Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane don’t get much to do as Perry White and Ma Kent, respectively. Zod is a worthy villain to kick-off this resurrected franchise. Not to be compared to Terrence Stamp’s original performance, Shannon’s Zod is an angry, obsessive individual and while we’ve seen the villain on the big screen before, he’s still able to give Superman a run for his money in the power field, which Snyder uses to great advantage. While the fight scenes can often be dizzying, it’s nice to see Superman actually throw down with another on his level of strength. The property damage is undoubtedly through the roof, but one crater in the middle of a city is nothing compared to all of humankind being eradicated. Snyder impressively strips the movie of his signature slo-mo routine in favor of quick zoom ins-and-outs. The action feels heightened in a sense-maybe this is how Superman feels all the time.

Image

All this praise, where are the flaws? The film is not perfect by any means. Richard Schiff and Christopher Meloni play throw-away characters as your average scientist and army colonel. Because every super hero movie needs a specific scientist and army person to help save the day. The military takes to Superman’s arrival a little easier than maybe they should have. A huge part of the film is about how the world would react to Superman if he revealed himself, and yet there isn’t much focus on the reaction in the midst of all the building-toppling madness. But this is what I’d like to see in a sequel. Now that Superman has established himself, lets see some fallout from it. Like the Dark Knight trilogy in a way pokes at the economic crisis, lets see this new Man of Steel franchise take on modern social politics. Snyder and Nolan have crafted a very different take on Superman, but the character needed different. He needed “cool.” If people give it a chance, this Superman can accomplish wonders. It can be an ideal to strive towards.

4.5 stars