Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Mighty Heart (Drama 2007)

This film is the story of a journalist who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan a few years back. The movie mainly concentrated on the character of Mariane Pearl, as she tried to deal with the situation as tons of peeps around her tried their best to find her husband.

My feelings are mixed with this one. Although it’s always sad to hear about someone getting killed by some extremist, you also have to see that his profession was that of a journalist. He was trying to get an interview for an article he was working on, while in hostile territory, when he was set up and nabbed. Shit happens when the environment in which you are working in is not all that friendly. There is a full-faced risk that comes with the job and unfortunately, luck wasn’t with him in regards to this event.

I find the title of this film a little bit presumptuous. The guy was a person. I’m sure he was a decent guy overall, but I’m sure he wasn’t totally good. For example, from his Wikipedia page, he was a frat boy, which already makes him a tard. “A mighty heart” should be reserved for a person who is a career humanitarian or someone who gives a lot to others and receives very little in return. This guy was a journalist getting paid to do a job. There’s nothing special about him or his profession that would warrant this label to be associated with the title of this film.
Rating - C

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Good Luck Chuck (Comedy 2007)

Since when did Dane Cook become an actor? I saw a few of his stand-ups on Youtube and he’s a pretty humorous comedian, but acting? No.

This movie was one of the most unbalanced films that I’ve seen in a while. The beginning was laugh out loud funny, but then it turned into a pseudo-sappy film and became stupid. Yeah they had the slow music and everything. When you’re trying to make a funny movie, make it funny. Knocked Up did just that. You had a humorous premise mixed in with some serious subject matter. Did it try to get all sappy? No. It maintained its humor throughout the whole film and that’s how it became a memorable comedy.

Dane Cook was overacting on all of his lines and Jessica Alba was inconsequential. Dan Fogler was a funny character, but he was also too much over the top. This was a film that started out O.K., but was destined to flop in the end.
Rating - D

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Witcher (3rd Person RPG PC Game 2007)

Ever since I was a small little tike, I’ve always liked RPGs. The first one I ever played was Dragon Warrior, on the old school Nintendo. Of course Final Fantasy got released in or around the same time and I got hooked on that too. Over the years RPGs have gone through many transitions, some of them being good while others being very bad. I suppose it’s a good thing that people are still trying to keep the genre alive considering that one of my favorite genres, space combat simulation, is beyond dead. This game started out as a normal RPG, but the separate elements that make up the whole package ultimately lead to its demise.

Story
The plot was pretty bland because they used the old amnesia excuse and called it a day. Your character is a wandering witcher (guy who kills baddies) who has no past but can put up a good fight. You meet up with a few other witchers and are soon attacked by unknown baddies. After the battle ends, everyone goes their separate ways to try to figure out who attacked you and why they wanted to steal some magical object that was in the possession of the other witchers. Cdprojekt obviously didn’t invest in a creative writer to think up this story.

Cinematics
The intro cinematic was a pretty good one, but I’ve seen better. It sorta gave you a pulse as to what the game was all about, but all those good feelings were short-lived.

Gameplay
I didn’t like the gameplay all that much. It worked off of the Aurora engine, and because of that, it kinda sucked. You had 3 choices of what “view” you wanted: high 3rd person, low 3rd person, and “over the shoulder”, which was a very close 3rd person with FPS-esque controls. All of these sucked because you never knew if the game was turn-based fighting like KOTOR or action-based like Zelda. Leveling was overly complicated as was the skill tree. Magic was lame because of the engine, and there was nothing else to fighting besides different battle stances, like with a warrior in WoW.

Controls
The controls sucked. Using the WASD keys for the “over the shoulder” was a lame way of moving your guy around and clicking a million times, like a chick playing Mindsweeper, was equally as lame.

Graphics
This was a fairly demanding game, so I had to lower the resolution and kill all of the graphic settings in order to make it playable on my lappy. When I maxed out everything, the game looked very pretty, but alas.

Sound & Music
I didn’t notice any of the music or sound because I was too busy clicking my stupid character and coaxing him to whip out his sword before he got his ass kicked because he involuntarily decided to sheath his sword a few seconds after every battle.

Overall
The game sucked. I’m sure if I had gotten further into it, maybe there would have been some little things that I would find amusing. But if the gameplay and controls were such ass, then what’s the use? I believe I had similar feelings when I played NWN2. Even though I tried to like this game, I just couldn’t stand how it played.
Rating - Low

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mr. Woodcock (Comedy 2007)

The previews for this one looked humorous enough to watch. Billy Bob Thornton has been in a few films that I thought were funny, namely Bad Santa and Pushing Tin, so maybe he could still deliver. As for Seann William Scott, I believe that his role as Stifler, from American Pie, will continue to haunt him for a long time. Just like how Mark Hamill will always be Luke Skywalker, Seann will most likely be unable to break away from his flagship role, which means that he will probably not be offered many gigs. Other major actors don't seem to have this problem, but I got my money on his career being stifled.

This movie was just like the preview, but it didn’t add much more in terms of new, humorous scenes. It’s one of those stupid comedies that passes the time with very low expectations.
Rating - C

Skinwalkers (Action 2006)

This movie was a bucket of shit. I don’t know if it ever reached theaters, but if it did, you will know that whatever organization that chooses what gets put on-screen and what gets sent to DVD is a corrupt one because this was really freakin’ bad. Someone totally got paid off to look the other way with this film.

Whenever you do a vampire or werewolf movie you have to make it cool, in terms of background story, special effects, and ambiance. Underworld did a terrific job with this and even Blade II was above average at times. This film seemed to be a low-budget crapfest with a very limited number of actors and almost no extras. The story wasn’t explained thoroughly enough, all the characters were uninteresting, the girls were unattractive, and the plot was pointless.

It’s a plain and simple one-liner: Don’t watch it.
Rating - F

New Family Member!

Yesterday morning was an exciting day for the family as my sister gave birth to a baby girl. Hellz yeah, go girls. We can all teach her how to be a badass in this modern world, for who really wants a male child. All they will do is grow up and enjoy stupid things like playing sports, wearing hats, and dressing like a poser.

So yeah, the baby was close to 7lbs. and was healthy all around. They are much like puppies in terms of entertainment value though. They sleep, eat, piss, crap, and sleep some more. Supposedly her eyes are blue/gray, but that will change into something different as she gets older. I find it humorous how my sister, of all people, is now a mother. Hilarious for all of those who know her.

Of course seeing this baby does not, in the slightest bit, stimulate any thoughts of getting one myself. I get a funny feeling whenever I see a nice looking car, becasue I want it. But after seeing this super small human, all I thought was how great it was not to be one of the parents. I like sleeping.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield (Action 2008)

So we just watched this movie this afternoon and out of 4 people, you have 2 of them with headaches, 3 of them want their money back, and my eyes totally hurt. This film was a mystery from its first introduction because the trailer was very cryptic in terms of what was causing all of the on-screen ruckus. It was filmed using the “shaky cam” method, so it was just like The Blair Witch Project. Obviously, this makes a lot of movie goers nauseous, and because of that, it might leave a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths.

This film was about some creature attacking Manhattan and how a group of friends went to save a chick and then themselves. During the turmoil the military got called in, the monster itself dropped off little mini-monsters that looked like the bugs from Starship Troopers, and we all discovered that this guy’s video camera was a super camera. It had a flashlight, night vision, could withstand getting chomped on by a monster, could survive a helicopter crash, and had a Wonka everlasting battery.

This movie was yet another one with a lot of potential, but it landed on the grass instead of on the runway. The characters were realistic and believable, as was everyone’s reaction to the monster attack, so that was good. But having only this was ultimately not enough to push the story forward. We all came to see the damn monster and we barely got a glimpse of it. We also never got a back-story or explanation of what the monster was and where it came from so what the fuck was that? The special effects were good, but again…we want to see the monster, not a huge dust cloud that forms around a collapsed building or an exploded missile. The chick was hot though, go Odette Yustman. What an odd first name. But it's a hard thing to appreciate when you're feeling like you're going to yack.
Rating - B

Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Animated Fantasy 2008)

What a disappointment. For any fans of D&D fantasy novels, the Dragonlance series was probably the best out of the bunch. So it was to my delight when I found out that they were making a movie, 24 years after the first book was published. My first thought was that it might be another LOTR, but no, to save money they decided to make it an animated film and boy was that a shitty decision.

The story followed the book fairly well, although it was more of a reader’s digest version and did nothing in terms of plot or character building. The animation was total ass. It looked like He-Man mixed in with some awful CG that I’ve seen on some after school cartoons. The voices were from some famous peeps like Kiefer Sutherland and Lucy Lawless, but they could’ve just used anybody and it would’ve turned out the same.

Overall, the movie sucked pretty bad. This is one example of a book being 1000x better than the movie. The reason for this can be blamed squarely on the stinginess of the multiple companies responsible for its production. Why even waste the time making a film if you don’t have enough money to make it good? If they would’ve given Peter Jackson a couple hundred million, he could’ve made this into a money-generating epic, spanning at least 6 movies. But since they took the cheap & lame route, this movie will soon become a quickly forgotten memory.
Rating - F

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Passage to India (Drama 1984)

I’m sorry, but old movies suck. Perhaps they were all judged on different sets of criteria back in the day, but none of these old award winners can hold a candle to today’s modern drama.

This film was directed by the same person who did Lawrence of Arabia, another craptastic film that I recently reviewed. The story followed around this white, British chick as she left England to go to India to meet her fiancé. Drama ensues when this unstable female accuses a very nice, Indian doctor of attempted rape. The main beef of this film was racism and how the colonial English were very elitist and did everything to maintain their supremacy over the local population. Perhaps this was an indirect way of bringing to light the less publicized social issues of the time. Sadly they were around 60 years too late.

I don’t see what was so cool about this film. It was very plain and wasn’t very interesting at all. Some of the acting was good, but again, it was nothing to write home about. The main female actor, Judy Davis, has a face that makes you want to throw garbage at. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t like it.
Rating - D

The Ultimate Gift (Drama 2006)

Only on a plane would I ever watch a film with a title like this one. It pretty much has religion stamped right on its cover, and everyone knows my opinion on religion.

Yeah the whole movie was totally predictable and totally cliché. All of the characters fit their respective stereotypes perfectly, as the audience was forced to follow around the main character as he was introduced to different experiences in life, which ultimately made him a better and more down to Earth person. Yeah…bullshit. This was an extended after school special that would’ve been more appropriately placed, if it had debuted on the Lifetime channel. You would really have to be a simple-minded person to be moved by this film.

Thankfully I haven’t seen anything that is similar enough to this movie for me to make a comparison, but take my word for it that it sucked. It was unconvincing on many levels and it also lacked overall finesse. I would probably even use the word corny.
Rating - D

The Jane Austen Book Club (Drama 2007)

This was the first movie I watched on the plane back home, so I was fairly awake throughout all of it. Unfortunately, my unwavering attention didn’t assist in improving my overall opinion of the film.

I haven’t read any of Jane Austin’s books, so I’m thinking that fact could’ve made all the difference, but who really knows. The plot followed around a bunch of people who were in this book club that only discussed books written by our famed writer. From what I could tell, the story was trying to make analogies, comparing characters from the books with characters in this film, as each person tried to solve life’s problems with Miss Austin’s writing as a guide. That seems pretty weak from my point of view, but perhaps her books really do contain some sort of mystical advice that only fictional, 19th century relationships can give.

The drama was slow, the characters were dull, and I could give rat’s ass about the whole premise. Maybe an avid reader could shed some light on this purpose of this movie because I know I can’t.
Rating - C

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Welcome Home

I guess I should let everyone know that I’m back in the U.S. for a 7-week stint and I’m currently loving every minute of it. What am I doing? Well, I’m using hella fast and reliable Internet, downloading so much stuff that my primary hard drive is already full, buying loads of stuff online, driving around in a car, using my credit card for all my purchases, and enjoying the clean air that I’ve most definitely come to appreciate. It seems as though there is so much to do and so little time, but I’ll try to get all the stuff X’ed off my list as they come. Good thing is that today is the weekend so I’ll be making a bunch of calls to all my peeps.

My sister found out today that she is gonna get a C-Section next Saturday so that will totally be the highlight of the trip. She was trying to coax the doctor to do it earlier, like in a few days or something, because she wanted to watch the playoffs, but the doctor did not share her enthusiasm of football. Yeah she totally should have been the guy in this family for I care not a bit about any of that nonsense.

The flight here was a bust. Note to self, look at what type of airplane you will be flying in before you order tickets because if you don’t, you will be stuck in an old Boeing 747 with no AC plugs. I think that we flew on an Airbus during the first China trip last March and that plane had AC plugs. Sigh… So yeah, what did I do during all of the 13 hours in the air? I watched The Jane Austin Book Club, Rush Hour 3, Ratatouille, and The Ultimate Gift. Reviews for the 2 new ones will be up when I have time to write, not that I’ll need much space. But yes, I didn’t sleep a wink during the whole flight and was totally exhausted when I got home. Good thing was that there was zero jet lag because my sleeping patterns were not really messed with minus that one day.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Black Sheep (Horror Comedy 2006)

LOL, yes, killer sheep. Inside some people lies a very easily entertained side of their personality who can appreciate exaggerated gore and blood. Much like other B horror movies, this film was meant to be stupid and overly bloody. Some may say that this genre has too much low-brow humor, but I think it serves a purpose of not taking films so seriously sometimes.

For what it was, it was a fun movie. I did a good amount of laughing even though all of it was pointless nonsense. It can easily be one of those films that are playing in the background while you’re doing something else. Giving 100% of your attention to watching this is definitely a bad investment of your time.
Rating - C

Monday, January 07, 2008

Saw IV (Thriller 2007)

I’m sure people have heard the statement, “quit while you’re ahead”, and most people can understand its meaning. Unfortunately, the makers of the Saw series don’t really seem to have a grasp on that whole concept. This film is the 4th iteration of a series built on gore, and it’s certainly not for the squeamish. The stories with the first two were pretty good, as the plot twists during the end sequences made for a satisfying “Eureka”. The third one was still O.K., but it didn’t provide anything new in terms of plot. And unfortunately, this 4th one followed the same, stagnant equation.

Seeing a new mechanism that can deal out pain and death is nice and dandy, but exactly how many can you actually watch while still finding the concept interesting? Everyone has their own number, but I can safely say that I’ve reached my limit. If you only have these psychopathic devices as the main form of entertainment, it does get old. The plot twists are sometimes cool, but not when it happens out of the blue and doesn’t give the audience any sort of hint as to “if” someone is a bad guy or not. Showing how someone is bad without providing any sort of foreshadowing is lame and is not creative at all.

Using the same equation for 4 movies displays a distinct lack of originality. I would say, “I hope that this is the last one”, but the ending of this film was left open-ended, so there will most likely be another one; and it’ll probably be exactly the same as the others. Stop with this series already!
Rating - C

Saturday, January 05, 2008

I Am Legend (Drama 2007)

This was one movie that I was hella looking forward to. A post-apocalyptic world, vampire-like monsters, a dog, an AR-15, what’s not to like? The screenplay as it turns out. I don’t know if the book is anything like the movie, but I felt as though so much more could have been done with this one.

Will Smith did a phenomenal job at presenting a good, solid front of a person who, through routine, managed to keep his sanity through the tumultuous aftermath of death, disease, guilt, and loss. Some scenes that showed the monsters as having some level of intelligence were not explained thoroughly. This would have been a perfect opportunity to do some plot building. If they also would have provided some flashbacks as to what the main character had to go through immediately after New York was sealed off, it would have improved the background of the character to a much greater extent.

The dog scene was probably one of the saddest moments in film history. Goes to show how great it is to have a dog, both as a buddy and a child. Towards the end of the movie, the whole religion twist was pretty lame and I didn’t like that part at all. Why did they have to inject God into the mix? I mean really…as the main character stated, “there is no God”.

Overall it was a good film that, once again, illustrated the excellent skills of a famed actor. But I blame the screenplay for being a little weak. You guys almost had it.
Rating - B

Sunshine (Sci-Fi Drama 2007)

This movie was a “diamond in the rough” of sorts, but I’m sure this opinion will differ among people. It reminded me of The Fountain in terms of cinematography and the debatable factor of how good the movie was or was not.

Personally, this one won points with me because the music integration (MI) was so damn good during multiple scenes. It has been a long time since a film has stood out because of this attribute. Unfortunately, the makers never made an OST to go along with the movie’s release. The background, ambiance melody was also very spot-on considering that it was based in space. A lot of time and energy was put into the MI, so I definitely appreciate the effort full-heartedly.

The only negative part of this film was the addition of an extra character towards the end of the plot. It seemed lame and inexplicable; so much so, that it totally ruined it for me. Most of the positive points that the movie gained during the beginning and middle were eradicated in one fell swoop. I suppose it was necessary to add this character to have some “drama” injected into the story, but fuck that. If they wouldn’t have added the character and just continued on, using regular human nature as the driving fuel, this film woulda been great, to a whole different level.

Even though I’m sure the movie deserved a lower score, I will give it a high one because it was so damn close… The writer, Alex Garland, needs a little bit more direction, but I think he has the potential to do great things in his writing career. And check it out, he wrote The Beach, another favorite of mine that could’ve been great.
Rating - B

Friday, January 04, 2008

Living in China (January 5, 2008)

Well I just got back from Xi’an last night and I have to say that I still don’t like traveling. Hours and days are spent waiting for something, may that be a plane, a taxi, or just sitting on a bus. I would much rather be home, sitting on my ass in front of a monitor.

We got a pretty fair price ($85RMB) for the taxi ride to the airport, but of course we used a Chinese-speaker to arrange that. The flight was pretty straightforward and much like any average flight in the U.S. When we arrived, nobody was at the airport to pick us up, but we soon discovered that the peeps were holding up an email address instead of an actual name. One thing to take note of though, calling the hostel’s number from my cell phone didn't work. I even tried putting a “1” and/or the “86” country code, but no beans. So in a last ditch scenario, I would have no idea how to call a land line from my phone. Either that or the number was written down incorrectly.

We arrived at the hostel, paid $120RMB for the ride, and got into our room. Accommodations were ok, but a Motel 6 in the U.S. still beats out these places in terms of quality. The front desk peeps spoke English and were very friendly, so that was a helpful bonus.

The next day we woke up and tried to buy a train ticket and find the buses to the Terracotta Warriors. There were a fuck ton of people at the train station. I guess this is where the billions of Chinese congregate, as the “common people” usually use this as their primary form of transportation to or from different cities. From what I saw there were 2 lines: a short line for trains leaving very soon and going to a close city, and a huge indoor room where all of the other tickets could be purchased at. Of course there was a huge line for the regular tickets, so we just skipped out on that and tried to find our bus. The bus was #306 or something close to that. They were located to the right of the train station and there were a bunch of them, just sitting there waiting for passengers. I guess they have enough people heading towards the tourist sites to justify having a bunch of buses ready to transport peeps. We, of course, didn’t see this pack of buses and started wandering around the inner city wall.

Yes, I forgot to mention that this city is surrounded by a huge-ass outer wall. I’m sure it would look hella menacing if I were on a horse, riding towards this city back in the 15th century or so. But yeah, because I was traveling with a white American, we got accosted a bunch of times with offers of tour guides and private cars. Yeah everyone is out to make a buck, but they try to rape you with charges. The bus ride to the site was cheap: something like $7RMB. Yeah that totally beats the hundreds of Yuan the private places wanted to charge. Go buses…at least in this country.

So here comes story time. I’m sitting there, listening to my MP3 player in one ear and chatting with my traveling compatriot in the other, when I suddenly hear a noise and then feel a splatter. An old lady to my right had just vomited all over my leg and the seat next to me. The hag actually bypassed the isle and got me, 2 seat-lengths away! How is that possible!? I actually didn’t get mad at all, as I reached into my pocket, whipped out some stolen KFC napkins, and began wiping myself off. Good thing was that she only had some watery rice for breakfast. I think I woulda pulled a Stand by Me move if it was anything solid or spicy. But yeah, for the rest of the day I had to walk around looking like one dirty-ass hobo.

The site museum for the Terracotta Warriors was pretty straightforward. There were 3 “pits” and one gallery. Pit 2 was closed off for renovation, but I’m sure it would’ve looked just like the other two. Yeah I don’t know what people see in actually “going” to a place to see something. There was nothing that added to the “experience” in terms of being at the site vs. seeing it in a book or something. Different strokes for different folks I suppose.

Afterwards we headed home and prepared for a Tang Dynasty Dinner. The hostel arranged it for us so we didn’t get to pick what we wanted to eat. When we got there all we got were dumplings...tons and tons of dumplings. I’m a fan of the fried dumplings, but not the steamed ones that my mom can make, so yeah…blah on the food.

The actual theater performance was really neat, with lots of music and dance. You got to appreciate the fact that they are performing live. These actors and musicians have lots of talent and passion, sad how their lives are not as stable as most others who have “real” jobs, but I’m sure that's universal.

The next day I got on a plane and headed back to Beijing. When I got there, none of the taxi drivers would take me back to Yanjiao for $100-$200RMB becasue they were all asking for $300-$400. I found out later that a “fair” price woulda been around $190RMB. Bastards. So yeah, I had to pay $83RMB to take a taxi to the bus stop and then I paid my usual 5RMB to get on the bus to take me home.

Even though this little trip was only 3 days in total, I was exhausted. I’m not built for traveling, but at least I can cross this city off my list.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Living in China (January 1, 2008)

So last night was New Years for us in Beijing. Yay! As per usual, one of the other foreign teachers made all the plans and I just rolled with the group. I wasn’t expecting anything special, but I certainly wasn’t expecting something that felt like a combination of a dive bar and a Chili’s. I didn’t take any pictures of the food because there was nothing special about any of it. We had an O.K. steak, blah fajitas, and reasonably fair king crab legs. I also ordered a carne asada taco as well as a ground beef taco for myself. The main course meals were decent enough, but the tacos were so damn nasty. They tasted like elementary school hot lunch leftovers, I shit you not. The group drank margaritas and beers, so many people got lit, as they should have.

We missed the actual ball drop because they had no TV in the place. Everyone kept tabs on the time by looking at cell phones, but that was lame because everyone wasn’t synchronized. There was no champaign, but they did give all of us these red tubes that looked like fireworks. They worked by twisting the bottom of the tube and a small compartment of compressed air would eject out all of these streamers and shiny, paper things.

Our taxi ride back was a little crappy too. We got 2 taxis with 4 and 3 people in each one. Mine had 4 passengers in the car: 2 Chinese girls and 2 American guys. One guy was macking on one of the girls, one girl was drunk and was feeling car sick, and little old me was left to fend for myself. The taxi driver was all sorts of nervous and had no idea where he was going, so he kept on asking questions in Chinese, but I couldn’t understand a single word he said. I would nudge one girl and she would kick the next girl. The default response was “I don’t know” in Chinese, and that just made the taxi driver even more freaked. To make a short story even shorter, I had to direct this driver using my crappy Chinese skills, as I substituted an assload of words I didn’t know with their English counterparts. I don't think the driver understood much of what I said, but I do know that he thought I was a real dumb Chinese person as he kept on looking in the rearview mirror and scoffed whenever I replied to him.

When we finally got back home, 2 of us yacked while everyone else went to a bar until 4:00AM. Unfortunately I was one of the yackers; those tacos didn’t settle well at all. Today wasn’t fun either because I was still paying for yesterday’s food choices.

Overall the night was fair, but it could’ve been better if the food was of better quality. I’m not complaining though, cuz I didn’t plan a thing. But if I would have planned it, I think I would’ve seen this: Worst Food Award

I will be departing to Xi’an tomorrow to see some sites before I come back to give out a final and to pack for my trip home. I hear that there are sick sandstorms in the west of China. Terrific, go nature.