Let’s Talk About All the 2014 Movies, Part 4

23 Feb

The Oscars are over and I still don't care. Now we're getting into the movies I liked more, though the first one up is pretty borderline:

17. Noah

I’m almost certainly in the minority on this one. Thanks to the faith-based crowd, this bizarre biblical adaptation from arthouse director Darren Aronofsky did well at the box office, but not so much with critics… and most of the cinephiles and ex-film students I talk to.

Which I completely understand; this movie is weird as hell. But I like weird things, and I think that’s why it worked for me. It’s most similar to The Fountain, Aronofksy’s previous failed attempt at philosophical fantasy, another movie of which I am in the small pool of admirers. Aronofsky’s films are full of emotion, and I’m a very emotional person, which is maybe why I can forgive their faults, as not everything in The Fountain and Noah really works.

But c’mon, this movie had giant stone angels smashing dudes’ heads in! It has Unobtanium! Yes, God Unobtanium! In one of Aronofsky’s weirder inventions, the Earth-killing industry of Cain’s descendents is powered by these strange, glowing rocks that we see Noah breaking up to make a fire early on in the film. Noah and his brood, descendents of Abel, wear the shedded skin of the Serpent on their biceps, I guess to designate that they’re followers of God? It also glows gold and was another weird addition. (more...)

Let’s Talk About All the 2014 Movies, Part 3

19 Feb

20. Inherent Vice

Another awards season snoozefest. No seriously, I almost fell asleep during this movie. About 40 minutes in, I really struggled to keep my eyes open; my dad, who is turning 70 in April, did pass out. I think it’s partly because this movie requires so much brainpower. There are a million characters  with weird names and none of them will shut up. Your brain is constantly working overtime to remember who’s who and what they said and how it all interconnects.

The answer is it doesn’t. Nothing of any import happens in this movie and character arcs and motivations are thrown aside in favor of zany antics and a general air of surrealism. Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood are two of my favorite movies ever, and even when P.T. Anderson falters, like with last year’s The Master, he’s still doing something weird and different, so I’m always rooting for him.

But Inherent Vice feels like a low point for the director. Even his trademark cinematography seems tempered, all grain and bleach bypass but no heart. Everything is shot in medium close-up, and when it isn’t it’s for long, static wides, none of the energy of his previous films—there are no single take steadicam sequences in this movie. (more...)

Let’s Talk About All the 2014 Movies, Part 2

19 Feb

So, it occurred to me that by not putting a “Part 1” after the first blog’s title or saying “To Be Continued” at the end, that some readers were confused. I will rectify this with future installments.

Now, let’s get into the movies I kinda sorta liked last year.

24. Godzilla

Movie marketing is a veritable Pan, a trickster whose mission is to polish turds. Drive, a moody neo-noir thriller, was advertised as a Fast and the Furious action car chase extravaganza. Rent-a-director Brett Ratner’s Hercules was advertised as a Greco-Roman fantasy full of magical creatures, when in fact it was just two hours of The Rock flexing his pecs.

Often studios realize the movie they’ve been handed is difficult to sell, or rather, they simply aren’t smart or talented enough to know how to sell it. Is Chappie really “Humanity’s Last Hope?” Probably not, but it sounds exciting, don’t it?

Godzilla was pitched to us as the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight take on the titular lizard monster. In actuality, it was just a solid Godzilla movie with some really silly crap thrown in for good measure. So I get that some people were disappointed by how dumb it was, and I was disappointed Bryan Cranston wasn’t the main character, but for whatever reason I still managed to forgive it and enjoy myself. (more...)

Let’s Talk About All the 2014 Movies

18 Feb

With the Academy Awards going down this weekend, I felt it was my last chance to discuss 2014 in film. I won’t be watching the Oscars ceremony because I don’t care. They have never been particularly relevant to begin with, but in recent years they seem to have hit a new low. Besides, when you see the movies I liked, you’ll get why Hollywood’s biggest awards night means little to me.

Instead of doing a standard Top 10, I decided to just go through the entire list of the 27 films I caught this year and discuss each, some with a sentence, some with several paragraphs. Let’s begin with the WORST FILM I SAW IN 2014:

27. V/H/S: Viral

When done correctly, found footage can be the scariest horror genre there is, and I love many of its greatest hits: Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield being the first to come to mind. I love the V/H/S/ series even more, as an anthology seems like the perfect format for found footage. Both of the first two films had terrible wraparounds involving a haunted house filled with snuff films, but most of the first’s shorts excelled, and the sequel was even better. (more...)

Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 4

12 Feb

5. Assassin's Creed: Rogue

Rogue is the game that straddles the line between the four good and the four bad AC titles. It’s essentially a direct sequel to Black Flag, or rather, more of an expansion pack, and Black Flag had incredible gameplay, so in that regard Rogue mostly excels. It doesn’t add much, just improves upon its predecessor, while adding cosmetic changes like new animals and a new, snowy environment.

Rogue bridges the gap between Black Flag and ACIII and feels like a combination of those two games. It reuses a lot of assets from ACIII, including a mildly reworked version of its New York map. Unlike Black Flag, which featured one giant map of the Caribbean, Rogue is made up of three smaller maps—in addition to New York there’s two naval maps, the Hudson River Valley and Nova Scotia. The former is also mostly comprised of reused tree and animal assets from ACIII, but the Northern Passage map is all new, and the jewel of the game.

In one of the game’s better moments, I watched a flock of penguins dive into the sea as I approached a shipwreck I wanted to explore. Shay, another boring white man in an ever-increasing string of boring, grim white men, can use his ship’s battering ram to cleave the ice and travel safely through the North Atlantic, and can also break apart icebergs, sinking smaller ships in the ensuing tidal wave. I loved the North Atlantic bits and the tiny additions to ACIII and Black Flag’s naval gameplay but sadly, it only makes up a third of the game. (more...)

Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 3

9 Feb

6. Assassin's Creed III

Before Unity, this was the game that nearly broke the Assassin’s Creed franchise for me. Before it was announced, I had expected ACIII to be set in the French Revolution, like Unity ultimately was, because it seemed like the natural next step after three games set during the Renaissance. The American Revolution setting both disappointed and intrigued me. Despite being American, the Revolution has never fascinated me as much as it seems to with my fellow citizens, but it was a big departure from the narrow city streets of past games, and that piqued my interest.

I have already written much about the bloated mess that is Assassin’s Creed III, so I’ll be as brief as my long-winded self can muster. While running around on treetops is fun, one of the main draws for the AC franchise is freerunning, and ACIII essentially nerfed that. I think another reason I was sort of tepid on the Revolutionary setting was that Revolutionary America looks boring; the architecture is flat and square, there are no tall cathedrals, and while the wilderness is majestic, it was relegated to a single map. (more...)

Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 2

28 Jan

7. Assassin's Creed: Unity

Earlier this month I called Assassin’s Creed: Unity one of my favorite games of the year. I have since recanted those comments and redacted them from the site. It isn’t a terrible game, but my enjoyment of it petered out after a week, and it thus seems unfair to hold it to the same level as Shadow of Mordor or Dragon Age or even Destiny.

I wisely waited to play this game until after Ubisoft patched it to high heaven, so I rarely encountered any bugs and only experienced a freeze once. Releasing a broken game is a horrible thing to do to your fanbase and the consumer alike, and the way Ubi handled it, particularly the entitled, defensive attitude of many of their community managers, is equally indefensible, but it isn’t Unity’s biggest problem. The game’s biggest fault is that it simply isn’t very fun.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has often been accused of being boring and repetitive; it’s received this criticism since its very first title. The first game was divisive because there was clearly something amazing hidden within its monotonous structure and lackluster gameplay, and in many ways that original game resembles Unity. Both feel more like proofs of concept than actual games; in both cases the tech came first, the game second. But where they differ most significantly, the difference that makes the original AC a good game and Unity a mediocre one, is story and character. (more...)

Ranking the Assassin’s Creed Franchise, Part 1

22 Jan

Enough about feelings and life and all that lame shit, let's get back to what really matters: arbitrary rankings of videogame franchises. Assassin's Creed is one of my all-time favorites, but I am not a rabid fanboy, which is to say I'm not a total idiot. Thus, my relationship with Assassin's Creed is a love-hate one, and ever since its third entry it has been very hit or miss, with an amazing game coming out every few years or so. Here, I rank all of the main seven games, plus the Templar-centric spinoff Rogue and HD-upgraded PS Vita game, Liberation, from worst to best.

9. Assassin's Creed: Liberation

Perhaps Liberation should be given a pass, seeing as it is an HD port of a PS Vita game. "It was pretty good for a handheld game!" they declare to which I say "bah!" Even in the palm of my hand this game would have been more boring than Connor's personality. New Orleans and the swamps of pre-revolutionary Louisiana are a great setting, but as with Assassin's Creed: Revelations' Constantinople, it just doesn't feel authentic. The colors are drab and muted and varying shades of grey and grey-green. It's an ugly game, even with its HD upgrade.

No matter how you slice it, the game feels like a handheld port. The music sounds like it was recorded on a Casio keyboard and it loops the same ten tracks or so over and over. Since Assassin's Creed is all about collecting random shit in an open world, this gets grating after a few hours. Voice acting is fine—Amber Goldfarb, who voices the main Assassin, is particularly good—but like the music and sound effects, it all sounds really cheap, like it was recorded using a laptop microphone. (more...)

An Ode to Self-Awareness

21 Jan

2014 was the year I attained self-awareness. This is no small feat for a privileged white man, for we are told the world is our oyster at a very young age, and everything from sports to finance to entertainment hammers this idea over our heads. But I did it, and it has been quite a relief.

Since I was little, all I have ever wanted is to be loved. The thing is, I have been loved, and am loved, but that was never enough for me. I wanted people to prove it to me, with grand gestures and pronouncements, a bad habit passed down from my parents. Last year was when I realized I no longer needed that; simply knowing there were people out there who cared about me was all the fulfillment I needed.

I've tried so hard to ignore it, but the fact is I don't like Los Angeles. I have used the word "hate" in the past but it is too strong, for there is very little in this world I truly loathe in the true sense of the word. There is a lot to like about Los Angeles. I like the tacos, the Asian cuisine, the food in general. I like the beach. I like driving down Venice Boulevard towards my apartment and seeing a mountain in the distance through the haze; it makes me feel like I'm living in some modern interpretation of Minas Tirith. I don't like driving, but I like cruising around at night, lights reflecting in my rearview as I listen to electronica, pretending I'm Ryan Gosling.

I adore the movie theaters. I love how clean and professional they are, the assigned seating and friendly staff. I think I will miss those theaters most of all, and not just the Arclight, but all the AMC chains as well. I like grittiness as much as the next New Yorker, but much prefer assigned seating at United Artists to the drudgery of Landmark Sunshine or the Quad.

L.A. is wonderful for a very specific type of person; the problem is, I have discovered, I don't tend to like that person. I have met many people here whose company I cherish, transplants and natives alike, but the culture is just one I can never get behind. It's hard to feel comfortable and make friends in a place that grates you at every turn, so while I could have been a more positive person, I don't think my curmudgeonly attitude is entirely of my own making. Growing up, many of my high school friends pined for an escape from New York, but I was not one of them. I bought into the myth of the City as a boy and it never left me. No matter where I die, I will die a New Yorker, and as a New Yorker, it's hard not to despise the City of Angels. (more...)

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2014, Part 4

15 Jan

1. Person of Interest- "The Cold War"

"Wars have burned in this world for thousands of years with no end in sight, because people rely so ardently on their so-called 'beliefs.' Now they will only need to believe in one thing: me. For I am a god."

Game of Thrones may have absorbed me last season, but my highest compliments go to Person of Interest, the smartest show on TV right now. If you're in my demographic, you probably haven't heard of it, and if you have, you probably regard it with derision. Every time I bring it up people scoff at me; I theorize this is due to its airing on America's #1 Geriatric Network, CBS, and because it started off its days as a wee procedural. It has the names Abrams and Nolan attached to it, both of which has diminished in respectability in recent years, and it stars Jim Caviezel, best known as Jesus from The Passion of the Christ. So there's that.

For the first season and a half, this was a guilty pleasure for me. It had a cool premise, it dealt with topics I'm interested in— surveillance, counterintelligence, government overreach, global conflict— and featured Nolan-style action set in my hometown. It was September 2011 and I was already homesick mere weeks after arriving in L.A. Unlike some shows (e.g. Gossip Girl- don't ask), the NYC locations characters say they're at match up with the shooting locations and I appreciated that. The show was largely shot in Greenpoint back then, where I used to live, so watching POI made me feel warm and fuzzy despite all the gun violence.

When Sarah Shahi's Sameen Shaw was introduced in season 2 in an episode that recalled Season 7 The X-Files ep "Hungry," the show transformed into something truly special, and in Season 3 it ditched its procedural framework for pure serialization. This may have scared away older CBS viewers and put it in danger of cancellation, but the story has benefited from the shift. Before it was just the tale of two vigilantes using a government surveillance program to stop violent crime; now it's about two warring artificial super-intelligences and their various human agents. It's the most realistic depiction of an A.I. I've ever seen, and regularly tackles deep philosophical and moral quandaries week to week. (more...)