Kill ’em with your Awesome!

Another year, another season of video game reviews.  I am proud to say that this year will include some of the biggest games I have ever gotten to critique, including several that I have been looking forward to since I started these reviews.  Today, I kick off the 2012 Video Game Review Season with the third installment of what is fast becoming one of my favorite game franchises.

It’s the game that kicked off my VG review days, and it remains the most viewed post on this blog. Assassin’s Creed introduced me to a fascinating story world and an incredibly fun (albeit repetitive and clunky) open-world gameplay style, and while I felt that the overall story was neglected and malformed, I saw the potential the series carried.  And now, two games later, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is the realization of that potential, and is one of the most fun games I have ever played.

It’s kinda like Star Wars….but Different.  While this is the third installment of the AC franchise to be released (like Return of the Jedi), it fits into the middle of an interior trilogy following Ezio Auditore. So, it is actually more like Attack of the Clones, in that it is a latter made part of the whole, yet it fits into the story elsewhere.  In case you are still confused (and I think that very likely because I still am), think of it this way:

AC1  [Altaïr]
AC2 — ACB — ACRevelations  [Ezio]
ACIII (soon to be released)  [Connor]

As this depiction shows, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is actually at the center of the franchise thus far and, while I haven’t played the other two games yet, I venture to say that the overall structure resembles chiastic literary structure.  The first and second games acted as necessary exposition and development to get players to the focus point of the series – the middle – where everything comes together just right.

This is very clearly the pinnacle of series thus far.  The gameplay is at its best, the graphics are pretty good, and the storyline is the least unattended of the three.  Some would say that this might be because it is almost exactly like ACII but I will get there.  For now, I plan to break Brotherhood down exactly as I did the first two games – starting with a review of the Story, turning to analyze the Gameplay, briefly examining the Christian Element, and finally giving my Overall Critique of the game.

STORY:

In concluding my Assassin’s Creed II review, I said that “ultimately I think it serves a good exposition to the REAL STORY, which I am looking forward to getting in the third game….This is Better – I look forward to Best.”  Well, I didn’t get Best but I did get some development of the Real Story.

Briefly summarizing the plot, Ezio returns from the secret alien pit thingy and his visions of the fourth wall-breaking Angel-Lady to return home to Monteriggioni to be with his family.  He is rich.  He’s got the girl.  What could possibly go wrong…other than the son of bad guy he did NOT kill in the last game coming back for revenge, and let’s just say “itsa not gonna be me, Mario, anymore”.  From the smoldering remains of his home (and every bit of armor and weaponry he owned), Ezio travels to “Roma” where he starts the process of rising in rank and defeating the Borgia all over again.  As he progresses, building a larger and stronger base of Assassin’s in Roma, Ezio is elected to the role of Mentor (though he does more stabbing than advising to stab).  Ultimately he fights Rodrigo Borgia’s son, Cesare, and takes control of the Apple of Eden.
Well, that’s the B plot anyway.

As usual, the true story of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood was neglected in favor of the jumpy, stabby flashbacks.  In case you have missed it, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is based on modern day bartender-turned-Assassin, Desmond Miles who re-lives his ancestor’s pasts via a machine.  The story of his discovering who he is, as well as his fleeing from Abstergo Industries (Templars), plus the relationships he develops with the team that broke him out – all of this gets ignored because it is more fun to run around ancient Italy than to ACTUALLY DEVELOP THE PLOT!!!

Ubisoft Montreal did finally figure something out because they do begin to develop the story of the 2012 world (yes, the apocalypse apparently happens in 2012 in game-world as well as in the real world).  However, the characterization of Desmond, who should be the most well known and important character by now, is left to short conversations had with Shaun, Rebecca, and Lucy and even then those are more focused on the supporting cast than on him.  No joke, at one point the player is asked to exit the Animus so they can eat a sandwich and discover that Rebecca’s a vegetarian…which is crucial to the arc plot of course….

The problem is this:  AC Revelations (game 4) is supposed to be about Desmond’s journey to discover himself and to not succumb to the madness brought on by being in the Animus too much. And I find myself hoping he DOES become Ezio in the future because he would at least finally have some personality then!  I cannot root for a protagonist that has no character.  Literarily none.

The other main criticism I have for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood‘s story of the past is that it is basically a repeat of ACII.  You get kicked down to the bottom rung and slowly rise to power and take down the corrupt and evil government.  This one is just less vendetta-y (though I see the pattern of losing friends and family continuing for our hero).  The setting is different and the end goal slightly changed (kill two guys instead of one) and in the end it plays exactly like it did last time.  No real innovation there.

**SPOILERS**
Of course, the big story development is the final segment of the game in which Desmond and crew travel to the Colosseum and discover the hiding place of the Apple.  I was glad to final play as Desmond when he has something important to do, and I really enjoyed the ambient, though vague, world you enter as you descend into the ancestors abode.  The ending is one crazy cliffhanger – as is the norm for this series – but I still was want for more development of the world Desmond lives in. You know.  The one where holographic Angel-Ladies make you stab your love interest (still a better love story than Twilight…or Half-Life).  Just saying.
**END SPOILERS**

Overall I have to say that I am glad we started to see the bigger picture in ACB, but that we are far from the “Best” I was hoping for.  From everything thing I have seen, we might get that in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, but the developers have a long way to go before I will care at all about the true protagonist of this series.  The ancient world Assassin thing is fun but I need something more than disjointed episodic structure if you expect me to shell out another $70 for the two other continuations. Fledgling at best, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood yet again disappoints in unveiling the beautiful story-world they have created.

Come all ye who are burdened with budding story arcs and I will make thee
STAB THEM!!!

GAMEPLAY:

In entirely opposite fashion from the storyline, the gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is phenomenal!  I have always been more partial to Open World games than First Person Shooters or MMORPG’s.  Running around a huge environment with plenty of things to play with and try can be the most thrilling experience and, while its predecessors failed to fully utilize this opportunity, ACB makes great use of the open world map and could be the best third person game I have ever played!

What AC1 failed to do was make the vast world Altaïr lives in engaging or engagable.  Most of the landscapes and city structures are for decorative purposes only and leave the player with little to do than pass over them as they travel from Location A to Location B.  Assassin’s Creed II did a little better, allowing the player to buy and sell things, customize attire, and select weaponry for unique fighting gameplay.  Beyond that, the side quests were upgraded from long and pointless scavenger hunts to challenging and rewarding bonuses which enhance both story and gameplay.  However, ACII didn’t go far enough.  Very quickly one can purchase every weapon and upgrade, leaving you with nothing left to do with your mounting piles of florins.  And the hassle of returning to Monteriggioni to do any weapons-switching just became tedious.  Again, Good but not Best.

Best is what Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood gets for making the replay value substantially higher. One major addition was the bonus challenge of ridding the countryside of Roma from the Borgia rule via challenging assassinations.  While necessary for the story to progress, it was also fun to take out the ones not required so that the rest of my movements wouldn’t be plagued by the super-conscious guards from AC1.  Also, I really enjoyed the search for the Scrolls of Romulus, and while this side quest is just the updated version from ACII, it was still fun and I found the Armor of Brutus to be a satisfying reward.  Beyond that, landmarks were well implemented as things to spend my vast treasure trove on and the shop and guild quests added a nice touch of extra flavor.

But what really got me interested in the gameplay were two specific elements, the first being its Integration with Story.  I loved how gameplay was altered and affected by how the story was playing out.  My favorite sequence of the game is the one in which you chase a Cardinal up to the highest point of a cathedral and fight him in the rafters.  The chase is beautifully choreographed so that you use all of your skills on a set path, and the camera angles create amazing intensity making it a joy to play.  I also loved the integration of backstory via the Christina memories – fun challenges that more importantly developed the characters more.

The other new feature I loved about ACB was the recruitment and assignment of the Assassin’s Guild. Managing a team of growing young pupils was a true joy and I loved the strategy involved in choosing who to send out while keeping enough around to get you out of a jam if you need them.  It added a level of depth to the interactivity of the world that made the game all the more fun to play.

I only have three quick critiques about the gameplay and, while they are annoying as hell individually, they do not ruin the overall quality of ACB.  First, I noticed a glitch that seemed to occur fairly often. After I had unlocked Leonardo’s parachutes and had fully stocked up on them, they would magically vanish when I was already mid-air from jumping off a high place.  I rarely used them and yet would find my 15 parachutes to have magically dissappeared.  Frustrating and health-draining, I can’t call it enough to dissuade me from continuing to play.

One thing that did really bother me about the gameplay was the Quick Travel System.  The QTS was extremely handy when I didn’t want to run the entire map, but I could never remember what station I wanted to go to.  A map showing all of the possible places teases you as you scroll through every name until you find just the right one.  A much better option would have been to put a cursor on the map that snaps to each site.  That way I could choose much faster and stay true to the “Quick Travel” name.

Another significant annoyance in the gameplay was that the “Grab ledge so you don’t die” button the same as the “Let go of ledge to drop down” button.  Both actions are assigned to the Circle button and when you fall from a ledge that you were trying to grab onto because you kept holding down the button for the MILLIONTH time, you will know what I mean when I say that these two actions should have been separated.

On the whole though, I found the gameplay fun, engaging, and challenging in all the right ways.  I recently went back into it thinking I would play for an hour or so and nearly four hours later I realized exactly how addicting Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is.  I don’t normally play Multiplayer so I didn’t check out that feature but from the other reviews of ACB I have seen, that seems to be a great addition as well.  Overall I think this is the pinnacle of open-world play I have ever seen and I hope that the two remaining sequels can live up to that reputation.

CHRISTIAN ELEMENT

Because I have spoken so much in my other reviews about the religious aspect of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I am going to take a brief moment to go in a new direction.  As of late, I have had more free time than I would like to enjoy great games such as this one, and thus I have taken this opportunity to examine the reasons I play and love video games, and of what benefit they are to myself and to others.

This debate has raged on since well before my time and is still a hotly contested issue for parents and kids alike.  Youths love the thrill of pulling off the perfect combo or mastering a game 100%, while adults think it is a waste of time that detracts from social, physical, and mental development.  I wouldn’t dare begin to talk science about this because the only debate with more scientific discoveries on either end of it is whether or not food causes cancer.  Instead, I will quickly look at a few of the reasons I do play, and a few that suggest I should not do so as often.  And all of this will tie to Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood to maintain the appropriateness.

First and foremost, if you haven’t seen this video do so now.  In my years of playing games, this comes the closest to describing that cathartic feeling of beating a final boss or overcoming a challenge that has taken hours and days of my life.  I have fond memories of beating a particularly difficult mini-game with my good friend Isaiah while perched in an upper room of a rented house in Charleston, SC.  I remember when I beat a Pokemon game for the first time.  I remember playing Mario 64 with my dad for the first time one Christmas.  Video games leave us with memories of extreme satisfaction at having accomplished something great – like reading the entire Divine Comedy or seeing all of the AFI Top 100 Films.  That feeling of triumph over adversity taught me what it means to take on a challenge and fight my way through it.

Previous generations had wars.  We have simulated ones.

On the other hand, after spending hours playing ACB – beating the game and completing as many of the side quests as I could – I found myself tired and with a surprising feeling of discontentment.  While I enjoyed every second of playing the game, I realized that it would have been so much more fun to have played it with someone.  My memories of playing video games occurred mainly when I was with somebody doing something incredible.  Finishing Sly Cooper with Isaiah, ogling over the genius of Portal 2 with Yunji and watching Ryan play through it, finally beating the “Big Brother” Spec Op on MW2 with my friend Andrew.  Everytime I distinctly remember something from a game, it was because I could share it with my friends.  It is in the sharing of the moment that it becomes great.

So what does this mean for us gamers.  I won’t try to say that we should or should not play games because I think there is a time and a season for everything.  However, I will articulate my growing concern that I not play games because I “should”, my apprehension that I don’t need 100% on my screen to feel fulfilled in my life.  Simply put, I love video games and I am sure I will be enjoying them for years to come.  But I recognize that my childhood is ending and I must leave WASD behind for ASDF.  I intend to enjoy new titles as they come out and will always be a fan of the story-telling medium of video games, but I can’t keep spending my time alone in a room working my way through campaigns when I could be out living my own great adventure.

And if that adventure includes sharing a great story with friends, then I look greatly forward to that day.

On the plus side, it is making a whole new jobs market!

OVERALL

To wrap it all up, I really like this game. 🙂
Story-wise, it still isn’t the “Best” I was hoping for, but it shows all signs that the franchise is finally headed towards a developed arc plot.  The gameplay is the best yet and the open world mechanics lend for hours of fun even beyond completion of the campaign.  Ubisoft Montreal crafted the perfect third person adventure world and I can’t wait to see how they improve upon that in Revelations and the soon to be released Assassin’s Creed III.  Until then, I heartily recommend any fan of gaming to pick up a copy of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and enjoy countless hours running around Rome stabbing people…for justice…or Angel-Ladies.

Final Rating:  5//5

Well there you have it – one long and rambling review about a truly great game.  Please let me know what you think about this third installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.  If you are as frustrated with the underdevelopment of the main story as I am, I would love to hear your thoughts.  Also, if you have any tips for how to find all of those Borgia flags, shoot me a comment.  I have all but one and no idea where it is.

Thanks for sticking around.  I still have a growing list of games and movies to review so keep on expecting new content in the coming weeks.  Hopefully these next few reviews will come faster, as many will be Quickee pieces.  This is the first of several big Video Game reviews I have in the pipe so check back soon for a few more spectacular reviews.  So until then, have a good life and all and I will see you back here on the Soontobeangel blog.

P.S. – My clue for the next review is the following:  “Oh, the independent couleurs!”

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The Title Says It All

This week has been a very interesting period of film viewing for me.  With the exception of May 14th, my roommate Ryan and I watched at least one new film every day since school ended – thanks to theaters, the school’s library, and Netflix.  During this time of extreme cinematic and cultural growth, there wasn’t a film I looked forward to more than Lars von Trier’s operatic tour-du-force, Melancholia. Having done so well at Cannes and what with the controversy surrounding its director (largely blown out of proportion in my opinion), I had been enthralled by it’s trailers and had already fallen in love with Kirsten Dunst’s performance.  The visuals looked fantastic and the story seemed very intriguing.

So when I found myself not liking it, I was extremely taken aback.

I was thoroughly shocked by how underwhelmed I was.  Whereas I had gone into The Avengers with low expectations that were thwarted towards the positive, Melancholia did not live up to the hype I had built up for it.  Throughout the film, I caught myself struggling to enjoy it and despite my efforts to look for the good in it (which is what I always try do with films), there simply were things that I could not get over which ruined the film for me.

NOTE:  In the course of this review I am going to be airing a rather personal and perhaps controversial opinion about the subject of this film.  Please realize that my intention is not to be rude or cruel to people who suffer from serious psychological disorders, and that I do my best to respect all people for their beliefs and attitudes.

Breifly summing up the plot, Justine (Dunst) should be having the greatest day of her life.  She has just been married but cannot seem to overcome her crippling depression and her somberness on what should be a Special Day infects everyone around her, particularly her sister Claire (Gainsbourg).  After the wedding party gets a damp and dreary conclusion, Claire’s husband John (Sutherland) begins to study the rapidly approaching planet Melancholia, set to “fly by” Earth, while Claire and Justine’s misgivings about it leave a dark emotional cloud hanging around the family.

When talking about Melancholia, one cannot but pause in wonder at how masterfully the cinematics are accomplished.  The visual style is a wonderfully crafted dual-tone between the amber oranges of the sun and the party, and the morose blues that mimic the emotional tone of the film and reflect the ominous presence of the ironically-titled planet.  Filmed in documentary style, the viewer feels like they are one of the party guests, witnessing Justine’s collapse firsthand.

Beyond that, this is one of my favorite uses of score of all time.  Minimalism (even loud minimalism) is a wonderful change of pace from the driving Hans Zimmer scores of most films which could stand alone as narrative works.  Using the theme of German composer Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde and allowing it to under- (or over-) score the film was a brilliant choice.  It contains all the emotional poignancy the film needs and creates that wonderful contemplative atmosphere that I have come like so much.  We, the audience, are lulled into a state of thinking by the soundtrack alone which is a wonderful development in the world of cinema.

And finally, I have to credit the actors for giving truly excellent performances.  Kirsten Dunst rightly deserves her Cannes Laurels because she gave an incredibly true performance of a person suffering from a several emotional trauma.  Gainsbourg also gave a stand out performance as an almost Shakespearean character – falling into madness as the story progresses.  And the supporting cast did a phenominal job as well!  Sutherland was brilliant.  John Hurt was hilarious.  Skarsgard, Rampling, and even little Cameron Spurr all did a brilliant job.  I have to give credit to the excellent directing von Trier elicited from his cast.

And here comes the bad news…

However, while I can sing the praises of von Trier’s directing and his cinematic style, I can’t say that I liked his script at all.  And I don’t mean in the shallow “I didn’t like the movie” way.  I very simply found myself hating the protagonist.  As I warned earlier, this stems from my opinions on depression itself.

Ever since High School, I have struggled to accept “Depression” as a serious issue for people.  It seems to have become the ADHD of the new generation of hypochondriacs and probably because it is so damn convenient.  It is easy to look at yourself and say “I am sad; therefore I am incapable of doing things” because no one can really say you are wrong.  As I often say in jest, “Well you can’t with THAT attitude!”  Previous generations looked on this attitude not as a clinical issue but as weakness which needed to be stamped out by rigorous discipline and, while I wouldn’t dare dream of defending all of the ways that this was accomplished, I do believe that “masculinity” or determination as a positive attribute is all but lost in a new generation of “Meta People” (more on this in a later post).

However, while I view the common garden variety of “depression” as valid but sad excuse for inactivity (and understand that I am no less prone to this than any other), I must admit that there exists such a thing as serious medical depression, which for clarity and appropriateness I shall dub “melancholia”.  Melancholia is a verifiable mental condition which leaves its victims emotionally inept and physically disabled.  My contact with this form of depression is lax so I will refrain from speaking about it other than to acknowledge its existence and admit that I do respect melancholia as something which people genuinely struggle with.

Now that I have perhaps burned several bridges irreparably, if you will permit me to go a bit further, I will speak about the film Melancholia and why I found myself unable to like Justine.

The film opens with the humorous obstacle of driving a stretch limo up a sharp curve on a country road.  The newlywed couple laugh and enjoy the ridiculous moment.  And I like them.  I even liked them when they got to the Reception to which they were several hours late.  Watching the wonderful mood be shattered by old family drama was easy enough to take and I was so engrossed in the performances and the visuals that I was fully willing to accept Justine’s response to the fact that everyone was making such a big deal about making her Special Day perfect – with or without her.

However, I soon found myself losing touch with Justine as she sank further and further into that first type of depression I spoke of.  Of course I recognize this as an early phase of the later mood she experiences but at the time all I could see was a woman who had no reason to be somber being so. She stole away from the crowd which I could understand; a breath of fresh air must have seemed nice amongst the chaos of the party.  It was when she left her husband preparing to consummate the marriage to walk on the greens of the nearby golf course and promptly has sex with an intern at her workplace that I began to disconnect.

Ultimately the problem comes down to this:  this is a film about rich, white, American people who are inexplicably incapable of being happy with their existence.  People have told stories about this for generations (Pride and Prejudice, Importance of Being Earnest, anything by Dickens) and yet I found this one to be offensive.  I could not shake the thought that, “of course they are sad!  They have such a MULTITUDE of soul-crushing problems.  How on earth have they lasted this long?”

That is much more sarcastic than I intend but it is the closest I can come to summing up my thoughts on the first part of the film.  Dunst gives a phenomenal performance but I find myself despising her rather than feeling for her because she has no reason (social, medical, or otherwise at this point) to throw away her life and be in such a funk.

It is not until we get to the physically disabling depression stage in Part II that I am able to care about Justine or her family.  The first section focuses on Justine on her special day and provides the set-up for the plot about Melancholia approaching earth.  From there, we shift into Claire’s story as her husband, John, tries to reassure her that the planet will bypass earth and sail past.  Early on, Justine is brought to the family in a state of complete deconstruction.  When I saw her as disabled to the point that a simple bath was a physical impossibility, my compassion for Justine finally developed.  And because of the effect her problem has on Claire and John, the same occurred for them – over an hour into the film.

I understand that this film to be an exploration of humanity and mortality, as well as brokenness being the natural human condition.  This task of exploring humankind’s weakness and fragility is one near and dear to my heart, as I am currently writing a short film about that very subject.  However, I found this film challenging in that it was impossible for me to care for the characters when they were introduced.  I fell justified in saying this because I genuinely tried – several times during the film breaking out of the world and trying to re-enter with a more positive outlook.  Yet, despite my efforts and my profound love of the cinematics, I could not make myself believe that these people should be cared about.  Perhaps this was intended but I highly doubt it.

However, overall I would say that this was a beautiful and brilliant film.  Despite the misstep in the emotional connection department, I would not say that my experience was entirely ruined.  As expected, Melancholia delivered a magnificently crafted cinematic vision that is well told by every element.  The technical aspects are phenomenal and reason enough to see this film.  The story, when the characters become likable, is good and I like the messages the movie delivers, though they may not be what you want to hear all the time.  Certainly not a date or family-outing film, Melancholia is, I believe, important because it speaks a truth not said often enough: that we are destitute and in need of a Savior because we are such fragile and mortal creatures.  I definitely plan to see the film again and hopefully upon a second viewing my opinions will be changed for the better, but until then I will suggest that serious cinephiles find a bluray copy and be prepared for a seriously deep, visually gorgeous, thinking-person’s film.

Rating:  8//10

I hope you enjoyed the review, if you made it to this point. 🙂  I know I have brought to light a rather insensitive and frankly rude attitude toward modern culture and depression that has most likely offended a few of my friends.  If this be the case, I would love to hear from you  – for or against my opinion on the subjects of depression and melancholia.  Perhaps if someone has more firsthand experience with serious melancholia and shares, I could be better aware about how it affects people. Anyway, please leave a comment below about either my thoughts or about the review itself.  As always, I love to hear what you have to say.

Again, thank you for sticking it out with me for this long review and I hope you’ll check out some of my other stuff.  I am still extremely behind on my review roster because of this One-Film-Per-Day deal, so expect many more reviews in the very near future.  My next review is one I am very excited about and so I leave you with this teaser until next time:  “The Angel-lady made me do it.”

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The ______ Birthday Present Ever!

Back in April, I celebrated surviving 21 short years on this earth with a full day of classes and my first beer ever.  Despite the fact that it had to be on a Monday, it was a really good birthday (if you are ever in Azusa, CA make sure you hit up Congregation downtown).  My parents sent me a really nice letter. My girlfriend Emily gave me some coffee.  And Ryan gave me…..well, he gave me a heart attack:

First and foremost, know this:  I don’t do horror films, games, etc.  I have never particularly liked the “Jump out and Scare you” kind of genre because it really does get to me.  I got freaked out watching Resident Evil for heaven’s sake!  The only “horror” films I have ever enjoyed are Jaws and The Shining, neither of which are that kind of movie.  So when Ryan and our friend Kyle highly recommended that I see Cabin in the Woods, I wasn’t really convinced.  As I told them, it is not the kind of film I would pay to see in a theater.  So Ryan decided that he would make my birthday present a free ticket to go see it with him.  …Thanks.

All joking aside, I can honestly say I enjoyed the film.  There were certainly a lot of moments when I wondered “why I am watching this?” but overall it was a really fun and I can at least tentatively recommend it.

So the obvious question that every person seeing the film asks is this:  What the hell is this film about? Going in, I had heard that it is a horror film and that it messes with the genre conventions.
That’s it.

Think “Scooby Doo”.  Now stopping thinking “Scooby Doo” because this is nothing like that at all. Well, it is about a group of teens who go to a Cabin in the Woods (yup) and then junk happens.  I can’t remember who I heard say this but honestly the best way to see this film is without any preconceptions about it.  Basically, this review ultimately can be summed up by saying “Go see it. Trust me.”  It is an Incredible rollercoaster of a film, toying with you the entire time and being a thrill-fest of fun.

Three thoughts about it before I wrap up.
First, I find it hilarious that just when I started thinking Joss Whedon might be somebody I could wholly and unrestrainedly devote my fanboy attention to (just like we all did for Nolan after Dark Knight), this happens. 🙂  Unbeknownst to most until his name flashes twice in the opening credits, Joss Whedon co-wrote and produced Cabin in the Woods and his influence, I am sure, helped make this something special.  Two Whedon films in a week – looks like the beginning of a great summer.

Number Two **INVOLVES SPOILERS** so you are warned.
While I enjoyed the film, I have to say that much of the reason I had difficulty with it is that it sets itself up at the beginning as a “Sin–>Consequence” Horror film.  Think something like Cry Wolf or Friday the 13th where some injustice is done by a few foolish children and thusly they reap their own destruction, while the good and moral one/two somehow survive.  This is how Cabin in the Woods starts off, with the people behind the scenes saying that their job is to “get them in the basement” and then it is their decision.  This sets up the aforementioned narrative structure and led me to believe that the kids were going to do something at least somewhat wrong to deserve their punishment. However, the “sin” they commit is reading from a diary…and if that is wrong I think most Junior Higher’s would be viscously dismembered right now.  It is only much later in the film (say…Act III) where it is explained that this was a Zero-Sum game – the kids all had to die to placate some ancient evil being and thus there was NO choice involved.  I am still not crazy about this and the ending is certainly interesting (in a somewhat Defeatist way), but I would say that this is the one major flaw in the film that made it very hard for me to enjoy the first go ’round.  Perhaps a second viewing would help but I am really not feeling like putting myself through more trauma today. 🙂
**END SPOILERS**

Finally, I wanted to give a brief warning about Cabin in the Woods.  While it is a fascinating, fun, and hilariously gut-wrenching film, I can only tentatively recommend it because I don’t think everyone should see it.  I have already expressed my own fears about horror films and if you don’t like Hacker/Slasher films, this one is DEFINITELY not for you.  Also (and please realize that there are mountains of debate over censorship subtexted here) there are a lot of sensual situations in the film including female full frontal so please think very hard about what company you wish to see this film. There were two kids in the theater that couldn’t have been older than 16 and I certainly thought that this was not something they should have been seeing.  In fact, when we went to the theater, I was actually carded.  I had no idea why other than a vague notion that it could be thought that Ryan was buying tickets for a minor (me or otherwise) but when we sat down to watch it I understood why. Again, please consider carefully if you think you are up for this kind of thing.

Overall I can say that I had fun – that I laughed and nearly pissed myself several times.  If you don’t mind the extremes to which the filmmakers take it, I think Cabin in the Woods could be your kind of film.  I still think it isn’t my particular cup of chamomile (and it didn’t help that I am playing Bioshock right now either) but I definitely enjoyed it in the end and would recommend it to select audiences….of crazy people. 🙂

Rating:  8//10

Oh and if you do go, be sure to pay close attention to the board (you will know what I am talking about).  My favorite is “Kevin”.

Scariest. Effing. Moment. Of. The. Movie.

Thanks for sticking around!  I would love to hear your thoughts on this depraved film. 🙂  Maybe you can deal with this stuff better than I can (and Lord bless you for it).  Leave me a comment below with your own review of Cabin in the Woods.

I am quickly becoming a fan of the short blurb teaser for the next review.  Might become a new thing. At least I going to try it again here and see how that goes.  So until next time, thanks for tuning in and I will see you again for:  “The Saddest WASP Ever”.

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Whedon = New Nolan (until DKR)

Yes. I saw Avengers.
Yes. I saw it opening night.
Yes. I am still suppressing my internal organs’ desire to explode with joy.

Like the other $207.4 million of us, I went to see The Avengers on opening night.  The difference between the Costumed Nerds of the Night and myself was that I had extremely low expectations for the film.  None of the trailers had particularly wowed me and for the most part I expected a lot of things to go horribly wrong.  However, as I am sure you have surmised from every other review out there right now (and the $207.4 million 3-day gross), it actually turned out to be…well…not so terrible after all.

When trying to write this review, the main challenge I faced was that I thought the movie was spectacular…and so did everyone else.  As my friend Ryan has said, no point in calling something awesome when everyone else does.  So, the challenge was to find what I could say about it that few other reviews could.  Thus, the only place to start my review is to say that I really didn’t think this film would make any decent, let alone outstanding, impression on me.

You can ask nearly anyone in the APU film department and they will tell you that I had a real problem with this film well before it hit.  Namely, I could not understand how any filmmaker could pull off having so many big name characters (and stars) in one movie.  Like some around me, I figured it would turn into the Super Sausage-fest of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, with every other character being asked by audiences and critics alike – “Why are you in this movie?”

I expected Hulk to be a fun yet underdeveloped Boy Wonder to the Super Crew’s Batman.  While the trailers showed him doing some cool things, never in a million years would I have guess that their would be character development behind “Hulk? Smash.”

Also (and much more prominently), I had every intention of blasting Avengers in my review for being incredibly misogynistic in portraying Black Widow.  I have never been happy with the way the Iron Man franchise has portrayed women as helpless damsels in distress or, in the case of the Russian super-assassin in number 2, as a crude bit of sex appeal grafted onto a perfectly good film.  Thus, going into the male-dominated and over-populated super blockbuster that is The Avengers, I didn’t have high regard for how under-towed her character was surely going to be.

“And why the hell is Hawkeye even in this film?” thought my pre-screening brain.

Thank God!

However, I made one VERY massive mistake:  I failed to account for Joss Whedon.  I was not a Whedonite before seeing this film and, though I am watching Firefly this summer, I had no idea who this guy is.  Ryan and several others in my department seemed to be infatuated with him but I was in the dark.  So when he struck every chord perfectly, I was in cinematic shock for a week!

In case you have been living in another galaxy totally devoid of internet connection or television, the film is AMAZING!!!  It is extremely well balanced for any film, let alone one that has six above the line stars.  Whedon somehow managed to make the action fantastic, the character development compelling, and the humor hilarious!  The Nostalgia Critic got it right in his Bum Review:  “This is the greatest movie I have ever seen in my life!”

Okay maybe not that extreme but you get my drift.  I came in expecting something like Transformers 3 – a lot of fun and crazy action but little to no substance holding it up.  And yet I found the exact opposite.  As to the problems I expected to find, each one was beautifully handled and I dare to call it masterful.

What got my attention the most was that, instead of being filler characters or faces to pretty up the screen, the Black Widow/Hawkeye thing became the most interesting part of the film.  Partially that is due to the extremely low expectations I had for them coming in, but it is also, in part, because Whedon found the ONE AND ONLY way to make them both fascinating.  He actually stayed very true to the comics by having them in a very complicated relationship and gave them very excellent roles to play in the overarching narrative.  I am going to avoid spoilers but sufficed to say, “Scowly Arrow” plays a major role in the film as does my new favorite Russian assassin (sorry Felix Yusupov).

Beyond that, Hulk was handled very well.  Not spoiling anything, Banner’s story picks up AFTER the events of the other two movies (basically).  He references tearing up New York (Norton’s film) and draws his character from that backstory, which is really excellent.  It gives his character instant depth, both in the world of the story and internally, which is what he was sorely lacking.  Mark Ruffalo did a great job of bringing the clearly difficult character to life and making him fascinating.

The other thing that caught me off guard (besides the wit and general unexpectedness of the film as a whole) was the fact that Loki was actually a scary villain.  My problem with Superman and any team of Superheroes ever is that, much like Dragon Ball Z, enemies can only be ridiculously overpowered destruction mongers who for no reason want all of existence to end (cf – Doom, Lucifer, Kang the Conquerer, Thanos).  However, Whedon and Co. found the perfect way to thwart that trend by going with a villain who is physically inferior to the Avengers in every way.  Thus, Loki – God of Mischief – uses his rhetorical skills and superior mind to manipulate and connive his way to victory.  I love what Hiddleston did with the character and his words did much more for me than any super-punch from a giant alien titan could.  His craftiness was bewildering and his childish glee at rendering “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” incapable makes him one of my favorite villains ever.

Ultimately, I can do nothing but add one more “This film is awesome!” to the pile and say a hearty well done to the filmmakers for completely thwarting my expectations.  Everything in the film was well handled and seeing it at the midnight premiere is now one of my favorite movie-going experiences of all time.  Hat’s off to Whedon and Paramount for kicking off Le Summer Du Cinema in spectacular fashion.

Rating:  10//10

What did you think of the Avengers?  Did the expectations I had match up with some of yours or were you on board with them the whole time?  I’d love to hear your thoughts below and discuss exactly why this film is so awesome. 🙂

Welp, that’s one review down.  But believe me, there are plenty more on the way.  Thus far this summer, I have seen at minimum one film per day and so I have a lot of reviews to catch up on.  You can expect the next one early next week and we will see how it goes from there.  Just as a little teaser as to what is next, I leave you until next time with this clue:  “Coffee Mug Bong”.

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Summer Film Challenge 2012

Yup!  Just when you thought I was done with Summer Film Challenges, the year ticked over and a new one begins.  Most of you probably noticed that my “Summer” turned into Fall and then Spring. Well, this year I am more determined than ever to finish on time.

As introduction to this SFC12, my friend and co-challenger drafted a Preamble to our endeavors.  I hope you enjoy and stay tuned for a slew of reviews coming out in the next two weeks.

Ryan and Tyler’s Summer Film Challenge Extravaganza Part 2012 APOCALYPSE EDITION!!!! All Rights Reserved.

Four score and three years ago, our forefathers (meaning, us) set forth a new film challenge which challenged the very nature of film challenges.

Now in it’s third iteration, it finds itself in being the last iteration because the Apocalypse is nearly upon us. Dick Clark is dead, Kim Kardashian is dating Kanye, and our apartment is out of toilet paper… and something about a Mayan calendar.

So, we said to ourselves, “Selves, shouldn’t we make the most of the last bit of our lives and go out watching some fantastic films.” And our selves said, “No! That’s a really stupid idea!” And so we said to them, “Screw you selves! We’re going home!” (What we really meant to say was “go watch movies” but we never really liked our selves anyway, so who cares what they think of us?)

Here’s how this works. We challenge each other to watch movies that the other hasn’t seen but we think they should see. Then we review them, and get into heated arguments about why the other is totally wrong. In addition, we have added a short TV series to the challenge and a small number of classics that neither of us have seen, but probably should.

Thus we arrive at this moment, sitting at our desks randomly stringing a bunch of words together in the hope that they might make a little bit of sense. This is most likely a fruitless endeavor. And I’m thinking about giving up. I’ve probably lost all cognitive function and three years off my soul, so let’s get on with it.

Ryan:

1. A Town Called Panic
2. The Fountain
3. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
4. Howl’s Moving Castle
5. My Man Godfrey
6. Parie Je T’aime
7. Resident Evil
8. The Secret of Kells
9. Titan A.E.
10. Zoot Suit

TV Show:   Pushing Daisies

———————————-

Tyler:

1. The Apartment
2. Blood Simple
3. Dark City
4. 8 1/2
5. A Fish Called Wanda
6. Midnight In Paris
7. Pan’s Labyrinth
8. Raising Arizona
9. Sideways
10. Synecdoche, New York

TV Show:   Firefly + Serenity

———————————–

Both:

1. All About Eve
2. Animal House
3. The Deer Hunter
4. Field of Dreams
5. Planet of the Apes (1968)
6. Sophie’s Choice

It looks like this is going to be a really great season of film-viewing for the both of us.  I know I am looking forward to a bunch of them and am excited to see which ones surprise me.  If you missed our Film Challenge last year, check out this link to my reviews page.  Each SFC11 film is marked with an asterisk* and is linked to the review.  The page should also be set up for this Summer Film Challenge with ** by each film.

Thanks for tuning in.  I am really looking forward to another great summer of movies and sharing reviews with you.  Expect one every week (that is my pace to stay on top of this thing) and a few extra reviews in between.  So until Animal House arrives from Netflix, have a great summer and I will see you here real soon.

Oh….here is a hint to what my next review is going to be:  Scowly Arrow.  Enjoy!]

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