Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Simpsons Game: A Wort Report Review

Whether you know it or not, the Simpsons have had a rich history in video games. From the early days of Bart vs. the Space Mutants to the Konami arcade game to modern missteps such as The Simpsons Road Rage and The Simpsons Wrestling, America’s favorite animated family has been featured in video games almost as long as they’ve been on television. Unfortunately, most of these games have been utter garbage. Hoping to shift this momentum of mediocrity, Electronic Arts released The Simpsons Game in October. Surprisingly it’s quite good, particularly if you’re a diehard Simpsons fan.

Although released following the Simpsons’ successful foray onto the big screen (The Simpsons Movie, for cave dwellers), The Simpsons Game has absolutely nothing to do with the blockbuster film. Instead, it’s a self-referential romp in which each of the family members discovers that they’ve been given video game powers from a mysterious game guide (for The Simpsons Game, naturally) that falls from the sky. Of course, they use these powers for good, mostly. Lisa (with her magical Buddha powers) foils Mr. Burns’ plot to cut down a forest to produce a line of luxury tooth picks, Bart (as Bartman) goes after a gang of bullies at the museum, Marge uses her crowd control powers to ban a violent video game and Homer, well, Homer competes in an eating contest after acquiring the power to get really, really fat. Then there’s the obligatory alien invasion (courtesy of Kang and Kodos), which forces the family to seek out help from the Internet, where they must play through various Simpsons games currently in development. Complicated? Sure. But it’s pretty fun.

The game skewers just about every game genre along the way, lampooning popular titles such as Gauntlet, Space Invaders, Pokemon, Medal of Honor, Shadow of the Colossus and Grand Theft Auto just to name a few. The writers and developers definitely knew their audience, and packed the game with a lot of gamer in-jokes. One of my favorite stages is “Enter the Cheatrix,” where Bart and Lisa must make their way through the various stages of game development while fighting off wave after wave of Madden football players before coming face-to-face with Donkey Kong….or a giant barrel-throwing monkey that isn’t Donkey Kong due to fear of copyright violation.

Graphically, the game looks amazing. If you’ve ever imagined what a 3D Springfield might look like, this is pretty much it. It’s done in a cel-shaded style (think The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker), with some 3D elements thrown in. From the first stage, which puts you smack dab in the middle of Homer’s imaginary Land of Chocolate (if you’ve seen the show, you’ll get the reference), you’ll know that you’re not just playing a cash-in licensed title. The Simpsons Game looks great, and for the most part, it plays great.

Gameplay is platform-heavy, with a fair amount of button-mashing combat thrown in. Fending off enemies is the most laborious task in The Simpsons Game, as the fight mechanics aren’t exactly solid. Enemies (who often respawn again and again) just sort of rush at you while you tap the attack button and hope for the best. Also, there usually aren’t more than two enemy types per level. For example in the Japanese level, you’ll be fighting dozens of sumo Comic Book Guys who never seem to let up. Would it have killed them to throw in some variety?

Speaking of Comic Book Guy and gripes, he often chimes in to point out gaming clich├ęs as you come across them, such as the inability to swim, exploding barrels, and, yes, lack of enemy variety. This lets you excuse some of the game’s lesser points, of which it has a few, but you’ll overlook them for the most part. When it sucks, it lets you know it sucks, so that makes it sort of ok. You’ll chuckle, at least.

Which brings me to my next point: This game features some of the best recent Simpsons writing outside of the movie. All of the cutscenes are animated in true Simpsons style, with roughly 40 minutes of new footage. This is like a fully interactive, brilliant episode of the series.

While it may only be worth a rental for the casual Simpsons fan, as it only takes around 8 hours to complete, hardcore fans should really consider picking up The Simpsons Game. It’s funny, it’s fun to play and lets you play Dance Dance Revolution with God at its finale. What other game lets you do that?

Super Mario Galaxy: A Wort Report Review

It’s hardly surprising that the best Mario title in a decade is also the best platformer in years. Super Mario Galaxy delivers on all levels, with its intuitive control scheme, innovative level design and player accessibility. Whether you grew up with Nintendo’s mustachioed plumber or are visiting this series for the first time, you’re going to have fun with Super Mario Galaxy.

The story’s pretty much what you’re used to. Bowser has once again kidnapped Princess Peach, only this time, Mario must go on an interstellar voyage to rescue her. Of course, he’s going to have to collect a fair amount of stars—familiar to anyone who has played the last two installments of the series—in order to power the spaceship that will lead him to Bowser.

Controls are fairly basic, and make use of both the Wii remote and the nunchuk attachment. Spin attacks are performed with a flick of the wrist, and the jumping mechanics are similar to previous 3D Mario outings. With many levels requiring Mario to travel from planetoid to planetoid, you’ll make use of Sling Stars and Launch Stars to progress, accessed through shaking the remote or using it as a pointer. Certain levels also require other unique uses of the remote, such as a surfing stage where Mario must mount a manta ray.

I know I’m not alone on this, but I thought that 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine was a massive disappointment. Billed as a follow-up to 1996’s groundbreaking Super Mario 64, Sunshine was a repetitive, gimmicky letdown that hardly felt like a proper Mario title. Thankfully, Galaxy looks, feels and plays like a true sequel to Super Mario 64 and may be one of the best games in the series. The platforming is challenging without being frustrating, and the level variety ensures that you’re never stuck in the same environment for too long.

While graphically the Wii doesn’t stand up to the visuals of the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, Super Mario Galaxy is a sight to behold. It’s colorful without being nauseatingly saccharine, and stands apart in the series while at the same time paying visual tribute to earlier entries in the series. Each level is swarming with Mario-esque bad guys, including goombas and koopa troopas, and you'll see plenty of familiar green pipes, mushrooms and gold coins mixed in with some new surprises.

Setbacks are minor. Some of the suits, such as Mario’s new bee outfit, don’t work as well as you’d like them to, and some of the environmental mechanics can be a tad frustrating, but chances are you won’t find yourself throwing the controller in disgust. You may throw it, however, because you forgot to tighten your wrist strap, but that’s your problem. Not Mario’s.

Remember what it felt like to fire up Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time? Or the way it felt to see the Mushroom Kingdom in three dimensions for the first time with Super Mario 64? That’s exactly what it feels like once you land Mario on his planetoid in Galaxy. Galaxy is the evolution of gaming’s most prolific series, and is everything you want in a next-gen Mario title.

While it’s always risky saying that one game is worth buying a system for, the latest Mario adventure really is one of those games. For anyone that has been dissatisfied with game variety on the Wii, Super Mario Galaxy is a breath of fresh air. Although, of course, there is no air in space.

What a Wiik

Time to pack away the artificial tree and shove the stockings back into the crawlspace until next December. I hope everyone had a great Christmas holiday. I know I did. From full seasons of Arrested Development and The Office on DVD to Guitar Hero III and The Simpsons Game for my Xbox 360, I have had one of the least productive weeks of all time. But I've been on vacation so I guess that's allowed.

One of the most welcome surprises this week came after a fateful trip to the local Toys R Us. I made the trip in search of a new guitar controller, since for some reason it felt wrong playing the latest Guitar Hero game without the latest equipment. Lo and behold, this Toys R Us had a huge post-holiday shipment of the impossible-to-find Nintendo Wii. With money to burn, I purchased the elusive white box, in addition to Super Mario Galaxy, the current flagship title for the system. Welcome to Geek Heaven. Population: Me. Since then I've gotten Super Paper Mario, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves and just about every classic Mario title on the Wii's virtual console. I also picked up an extra Wii remote or two. After all, why play with your Wii by yourself? Okay, that's the last dirty Wii joke you'll hear from me...today.

Hope everyone has a Happy New Year. I plan on writing up each of these bits of gaming goodness as soon as the holiday dust settles for good. Or maybe just a few of them. Whatever. You keep reading, I'll keep writing.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sweeney Todd: A Wort Report Review

It’s good to see that Tim Burton is stretching himself these days. While his past films have focused on alienated loners with dark pasts, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the story of… an alienated loner with a dark past…Oh man, I’m not doing this well at all. Okay, well you know how Johnny Depp usually plays alienated loners with dark pasts, in this film he plays murderous 19th century barber Sweeney Todd who is…damn…an alienated loner with a dark past. But he sings this time, so that’s something right? Edward Scissorhands didn’t have singing, did it?

Of course, I’m joking. It is Christmas Eve after all, and what better way to kick off the festivities than to review Tim Burton’s new song-filled splatterfest? Based on the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a London barber who is wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years. Upon his release, he learns that his wife was raped and murdered by the slimy Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who has adopted his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Under his new moniker Sweeney Todd, he opens a barber shop above a failing pie shop run by Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and plots revenge against Turpin. Reunited with his razors, Todd becomes bloodthirsty, and when he can’t lure the judge into his shop for a shave and a sliced throat, he decides to off just about everyone else in London right in his barber’s chair. They’re all terrible people, after all.

Of course, this begs the question: what do you do with the bodies? After slicing the throat of Signor Adolfo Pirelli (played brilliantly by Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen), he and Mrs. Lovett decide to grind him up and bake him into meat pies. Their joint death and cannibalism venture soars: London lines up for a taste of Mrs. Lovett’s delicious meat pies (humans apparently taste a lot better than alley cats), while Todd gives his customers the closest shaves of their lives before dumping their lifeless bodies into the basement. In other words, Sweeney Todd provides fun holiday hijinx for the whole family.

Having never seen the show, I was impressed by the singing abilities of Depp and Carter. Heck, even Alan Rickman surprised me. While the commercials have downplayed the fact that this is indeed a musical, the uninitiated may find themselves loving it just the same. With Burton behind the camera, Stephen Sondheim’s macabre tunes find new life. It’s no wonder Burton was drawn to this play when he saw it for the first time in college.

Is it gory? Absolutely. I tend to think that I’ve seen it all as far as on-screen bloodletting goes, but Sweeney Todd really lets the red stuff fly. It spurts, it sprays and even cascades from London’s better throats, and often becomes a character in and of itself.

Sweeney Todd is one of Tim Burton’s most daring forays in film, and I doubt any other director could have pulled off this adaptation as skillfully. This is easily Burton’s best film in years.

Walk Hard: A Wort Report Review

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a hilariously well-crafted send-up of biopics such as Ray and Walk the Line. However if you haven’t seen either of those films many of the more self-referential jabs at the genre may be lost on you.

In the film, Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) is haunted by the death of his musically-inclined brother, who succumbs to a “particularly bad case of somebody being cut in half” after an accident during a machete fight. Riddled by guilt, Dewey quickly picks up the guitar to honor his brother and embarks on the all-too-familiar road to rock superstardom. His journey takes him through just about every musical era of the past half-century, including pop rock, acid rock, folk rock and everything else in-between. Of course, it wouldn’t be a rock star biopic if he didn’t cross paths with some musical legends, and here they include Buddy Holly, Elvis and the Beatles, all played by faces you may recognize.

This is a definite star-turn for John C. Reilly, who is typically known for playing ancillary characters in films such as Gangs of New York and Chicago. You may remember him most recently playing second fiddle to Will Ferrell in the lackluster Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. While his role in Walk Hard is Ferrell-esque, particularly when Dewey has one of several drug-fueled freakouts, Reilly truly makes it his own. Here’s hoping that Judd Apatow, who co-wrote and produced Walk Hard, has some starring roles lined up for Reilly in the future.

Do some of the jokes fall flat? Of course they do. But so much about Walk Hard works that you won’t really notice. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are pretty hilarious. If Dewey singing the line “in my mind you’re blowing me…some kisses” to his soon-to-be second wife (Jenna Fischer) doesn’t make you chuckle, then you’re probably in the wrong theater. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a fun, welcome surprise this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hobbit Forming

I haven’t been this shocked by the Internet since two girls found one cup.

The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema and MGM Studios announced earlier today that a big-screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is officically in the works, with Jackson and his team at the reins. Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh are set to executive produce The Hobbit, in addition to a follow-up film that will act as a bridging chapter to the original Academy Award-winning trilogy.

“Peter Jackson has proven himself as the filmmaker who can bring the extraordinary imagination of Tolkien to life and we full heartedly agree with the fans worldwide who know he should be making ‘The Hobbit,’” said Harry Sloan, MGM’s Chairman and CEO in a press release which can be read here. “Now that we are all in agreement on ‘The Hobbit,’ we can focus on assembling the production team that will capture this phenomenal tale on film.”

The Hobbit and its sequel are scheduled to begin filming simultaneously in 2009 with release of the two films slated for 2010 and 2011. A director has not yet been announced.

For fans of the books and the previous films, this news should come as an early Christmas gift. However, it also raises some interesting questions. Will Jackson and company be able to successfully convey the somewhat lighter tone of The Hobbit? And what of this vague sequel? Will it be an entirely new tale, or will it delve into the many ancillary (and often confusing) volumes of Middle Earth lore?

For up-to-date info on all things Tolkien, head over to theonering.net.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mass Effect: Game of the Year?

Well I’m sidelined from work today due to a vicious head cold. And while I’d normally be napping this afternoon, the whole nasal congestion thing (with that weird nostril-shifting stuffiness) makes restful sleeping impossible. So here I am at my computer, setting up my digital soap box for another one of my rants about something or another. Today’s topic? Mass Effect.

I know I’ve already written about my first impressions of this Xbox 360 RPG/Shooter hybrid, but you’ll be relieved to know that I’ve conquered this beast of a game twice since its release, and I plan on hopping into the commander’s seat of the Normandy for a third time. Why? It’s damn fun, that’s why.

And it’s not just because it’s fun to shoot things. Tons of games (particularly lately) allow you to do just that. Rather, it’s the customization. From the moment you boot up the game for the first time, you have complete control of your character, from their background to their class to their appearance. Hell, you can even give them a first name. Commander James Shepard, if you hadn’t guessed, is a badass bald Adonis. Remind you of someone you know?

Sure, the story of Mass Effect is your typical space opera fare. Chase the bad guy from world to world before he uses a superweapon to conquer the universe. Been here before? Sure you have. But you can tackle the quest in any way you wish. Wanna brave the snow-capped peaks of Noveria before venturing to the war-torn world of Feros? Be my guest. The story unfolds a bit differently depending on which missions you take on first and who’s in your party. I won’t spoil anything about that here.

Some of the most fun in this game comes through conversation with NPCs (non-playable characters) in your party, on your ship and in the various cities that you visit. Every conversation brings you closer to being a Paragon (good guy) or a Renegade (total dick). I have to admit, earning Renegade points can be damned fun, but you’ll often find yourself feeling a little shameful for threatening total strangers. Or maybe that’s just me.

The main story took me about 12 hours my first playthrough, and a little less than that on my second. But I’m also the type of person that completely ignores the various side missions that are thrown your way. But since all of your gear and experience points carry over from playthrough to playthrough, you’ll be able to breeze through the main story on replays.

Is it the game of the year? As far as single-player campaigns it most certainly is. Sorry, BioShock. You were fun, but I really had no reason to play you again after getting both endings. Mass Effect’s universe is so immersive you’ll want to revisit it again and again to explore all of the options it has to offer before the sequel hits the shelves.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bat's Entertainment

“Let’s put a smile on that face…”

Okay, I know I’m going to catch hell for all the Dark Knight coverage but it’s all popping up at once and it’s all bat-tastic. The official trailer for the Batman Begins sequel has hit the Internet and if you’re not sold on Heath Ledger as The Joker, then you will be after watching this. The guy has nailed the voice, the look and the laugh of the character, and the rest of the cast isn’t too shabby either. Christian Bale. Morgan Freeman. Michael Caine. Gary Oldman. We’ve even got Maggie Gyllenhaal pinch hitting as Rachel Dawes after Katie Holmes (Cruise) Scientologied her way out of the series.

We also catch a glimpse of the Batpod, which seems to be the motorcycle equivalent of the tumbler Batmobile from the first flick. It works, but I hope there’s a reason for it in the story other than “we need a new vehicle for the toy line.”

But man. Christopher Nolan just might knock the ball straight out of the park for a second time in a row. Or the bat out of the cave, whichever metaphor you deem more appropriate.

Watch it, love it, and pretend you're not ridiculously excited as you slog your way into work in the morning.

Another Joker Poster Revealed


This wouldn't be a geek site if I wasn't keeping track of the latest news on this summer's The Dark Knight, so here's another teaser poster courtesy of AintItCoolNews.com. It's The Joker again, smearing a bloody smile on some frosted glass. The "Why So Serious?" line seems to be on a lot of the promtional material thus far and showcases one of the reasons why The Joker is so fascinated by Batman. It's impossible to get a chuckle out of a guy who dresses up as a bat.

Beowulf: A Wort Report Review

There’s no mistaking it: Beowulf is a visual marvel that gives audiences a glimpse, for better or worse, at a world of digital filmmaking that does away with physical actors in favor of computer-generated performers. Yet, one can hardly shake the sense that this latest film from director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) is more software than cinema. Zemeckis is given a chance here to show off his latest technological toys, which have vastly improved since 2004’s The Polar Express, done in the same motion-captured (and utterly soulless) style of animation. Despite its flaws, however, Beowulf is a treat for the eyes and easily the best film version of the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon poem.

Yes, we can all forget that terrible 1999 Christopher Lambert adaptation of the story, which sought to give the simple tale of man versus monster a sci-fi update. You read that right. It’s also far more enjoyable than 2005’s Beowulf & Grendel, a little-known film starring 300's Gerard Butler.

The story of Beowulf should be simple enough for anyone who has taken an English literature course. Danish king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is having a bit of trouble with a local troll named Grendel (Crispin Glover) and enlists the aid of Beowulf (Ray Winstone) to kill the monster and bring peace to Herot, the king’s mead hall. Of course, things become more complicated when Grendel’s mother turns out to be a naked Angelina Jolie (sans nipples) and, well, the rest is spoiler territory.

Spoiler territory for an 8th-century poem? Yep. You see, Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary took some necessary liberties with the latter half of the story, particularly the relationship between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf. I can’t say I blame them. If you’ve got naked Angelina Jolie on hand, it seems a crime to not fabricate at least one sex scene. Perhaps I’ve said too much.

While the animation is superb and the 3D effects are very well done, there’s still something flat about this film. Perhaps it’s the waxy digital characters, perhaps it’s the fact that the story, while it is the foundation for much of English literature, just isn’t all that substantial. At times, I felt like I was watching a very well-crafted video game cut scene. It just doesn’t pull you in. This is one film that would have benefited from a Sin City or 300 treatment. That is, actors in front of a blue screen. You’ll constantly be thinking to yourself “Wow, that looks like Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich (who plays the slimy Unferth), but they’ve got plastic complexions and their eyes look…off.” You’ll never feel like you’re watching a movie. It’s a fun, forgettable gimmick.

There are far worse films out right now (I’m looking at you, Alvin and the Chipmunks), and if you have any interest in seeing Beowulf at all, seeing it in Digital 3D is a necessity. Just don’t count on caring all that much about it once it’s over.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Dark Knight News

Whoever is in charge of publicity for The Dark Knight is well versed in the art of geek titilation. Set photos and promotional artwork have been trickling onto the Internet for the past few months, each giving fans just a small taste of what's to offer. These two gems hit this week and, while they give very little away, they're already generating a lot of buzz.



This first poster is pretty straightforward. It's obviously Batman looking out onto the city, but there's more at work here symbolically. That is, why is Batman inside a building? Shouldn't he be on the roof? Or is he looking out a window at Wayne Tower? And what of the vertical lines? This suggests entrapment imagery, but who is trapped? Is it Batman who is trapped or is it the city itself? The plot thickens.

The color palatte here is also a lot brighter than it was in promotional materials for Batman Begins. Could this be a thematic change? Seems kinda unlikely since the Joker in this film (Heath Ledger) is rumored to be decidedly twisted and even frightening. Speaking of him...



Well, that's kinda creepy. The Joker walking through the empty streets of Gotham, hiding a knife behind his back. He's sporting his trademark purple duds, which should appease fanboys, but I'm digging how subtle this poster is. It showcases the duality of the character: a Joker playing card in one hand, a knife in the other.

Of course, this is all needless speculation, but I think we've got a good film to look forward to this summer.

Until then, I'm sure we'll have plenty of promotional materials to pick apart, overanalyze and geek out over before the film's release.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Speed Racer Trailer

I didn't grow up with the "Speed Racer" cartoon show, so I can't really attest to the quality of its transition to film. Looks trippy as hell, and it actually just gave me a bit of a headache. I can already see the Mountain Dew tie-ins and the toy cars and tracks. I dunno if I'll bother, but here's the latest trailer that just hit the Internet. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Wort Report DVD Roundup

While this month has been crazier than usual—working longer hours and trying to balance a few other projects, I have had some time to sample the latest movies to hit DVD. While I already reviewed both Superbad and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End over the summer, the jump to DVD is a true barometer of quality. Can they stand up to repeat viewings? Do they warrant a purchase? Let’s find out.


Superbad:

Verdict? Buy it!

What else needs to be said? This is the best teen comedy to emerge in years and holds up fairly well compared to other Judd Apatow productions such as Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The characters in Superbad are likeable, the dialogue is hilariously filthy and there’s a heart at the center of it all, even though the film’s most staunch critics fail to see that. It doesn’t hurt that the unrated DVD version has a few extra minutes of footage not seen in theaters.

As for special features, you get what you’d expect from an Apatow disc. Bloopers, a Line-O-Rama feature (this will give you a sense of how these guys hone their rapid-fire improvisational delivery) and some great deleted and extended scenes. And that’s just the single disc version.

Pirates: AWE

Verdict? Rent Only!

I know I praised this flick when it first hit theaters back in May, and I admit that my adoration may have been a tad misplaced. On second viewing, this film is talky, needlessly confusing and worst of all: it’s kind of boring. It was fun seeing it initially, trying to figure out the film’s twists and turns (too many betrayals!) and seeing how the trilogy would turn out. But now? It’s a bore-fest up until the finale.

The main problem with the Pirates trilogy is that director Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio got the idea that the initial Pirates film was a hit because of its plot and computer wizardry. False. People flocked to see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl because of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. His speech-slurring and half-drunk swagger made Jack Sparrow one of the most fun-to-watch creations in modern Hollywood. Having Geoffrey Rush as the villainous Captain Barbossa didn’t hurt either. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were just along for the ride. If there was no Depp as Captain Jack, no one would have spent their $10 on a movie adaptation of a theme park attraction.

But what did the sequels do? They got wrapped up in their own mythology. So instead of a trilogy of films with character-driven plots, we have plot-driven characters. A labyrinthine series of events that serve only to split a one-film story into over four hours of pirate meetings and triple crossing. If you’re not a first-time viewer, the only thing bringing you back is the special effects, which is sad considering that this franchise was built on the performance of an actor, not on computer graphics. If you haven’t seen it and were a fan of the first two Pirates films, then by all means add this to your Netflix/Blockbuster queue. But as a repeat viewing, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is dead in the water.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The End of an Unheroic Season



Season Two of Heroes may have been, without a doubt, some of the most disappointing television in recent years. After a stellar first season, Tim Kring and crew have succeeded in removing everything that actually worked last year and replaced it with characters and storylines that serve only to fill up space. And, due to the writer's strike, a shortened season means a lot of buildup and absolutely no payoff.

But does the blame fall squarely on the strike? Hardly. We accepted the slow build in Season One. It brought the characters together, explained their powers, developed relationhips and gave us everything we'd expect from an origin story. If Kring had read a comic book (he says he doesn't, and most fans now believe him), he'd realize that once you get past the origins, a superhero story generally moves forward. Not at all the case here. Instead, this season negated just about everything that was accomplished in Season One. Sylar is still alive, the characters are still angsty, Peter doesn't know who he is (can we please ditch amnesia storylines?), and Hiro is wandering around feudal Japan which in NO WAY looks like northern California. And it all comes smashing together like some sort of glorious superpowered trainwreck in the final episode of the season, which aired tonight. Yep, two heroes are killed off (you won't miss them), Sylar escapes (again), and everyone is still angsty. I kind of wish Spider-Man 2 didn't make superheroes so damned sensitive.

I will say, however, that Kristen Bell is a great addition to the show. Not only is she gorgeous (see right), but she's obviously having fun in the role of Elle, a repressed, electricity-charged, sexy sociopath. What a combo. I hope to see more of her in Season Three. Assuming there is one after the inevitable fan backlash of tonight's finale.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Heath Ledger's Joker Revealed

For anyone with reservations about Christopher Nolan's upcoming Batman Begins follow-up, I present to you the cover of the latest Empire magazine, featuring Heath Ledger as the Joker.

While this "real world" Joker is nowhere near the cartoony nature of Jack Nicholson's 1989 portrayal, The Dark Knight's Joker is far more menacing. He's a pyschotic murderer, who just so happens to enjoy smearing clown makeup on his face. Whether or not this character is given a hefty backstory is irrelevent. This isn't some thug that got dumped into a vat of chemicals. This guy's just straight-up, bat-sh*t crazy. Pun intended.

I was skeptical about the casting of Heath Ledger at first, I admit. But this photo reveals the wiry, unpredictable Clown Prince of Crime of the comics. He’s the epitome of the chaos that Batman fights so hard to prevent.

Will the film itself deliver? We'll all find out when The Dark Knight hits theaters July 18, 2008.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Have You Answered the Call?

For the past three installments, the Call of Duty series has languished in the oft-trodden World War II era of gaming, allowing gamers to relive the “last great war” time and again. This month, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit store shelves rededining not only the series, but the first-person shooter genre as well.

At first glance, you’ll notice that the graphics in this game are phenomenal. This is easily the most photo-realistic gaming experience you’re likely to find anytime soon. Locations ranging from the Middle East to Russia are rendered with amazing detail, making the game’s most explosive, bullet-riddled moments downright visceral.

The single-player campaign, while short, offers a wide variety of mission types that should keep most players revisiting them long after the credits have rolled. Playing as both a British SAS officer and a US Marine, you’ll take to the ground as well as the skies to protect the world from a terrorist threat. It’s a brief, pulse-pounding and sometimes shocking roller-coaster of a game.

But a lot of you came just for the multiplayer, didn’t you? Well, CoD 4 doesn’t disappoint in that department either. Mixing traditional CoD mechanics with an RPG-like upgrading system, you’ll constantly feel rewarded, unlocking new gear and abilities as you "level up." Those looking for your standard “run-and-gun” gameplay may find themselves at the wrong end of a sniper scope more often than not. Halo 3 players steer clear. This ain’t a twitch shooter.

While I was skeptical at first—seeing as how we seem to be in the midst of a shooter glut on Xbox 360—Call of Duty 4 is one of the best FPS games on the system, Heed the call, buy the game.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mass Effect: First Impressions

The highly anticipated Xbox 360 shooter/RPG hybrid Mass Effect hit store shelves yesterday and having snagged a copy, I must say that I’m blown away. For the uninitiated (and, by default, better looking and more attractive), Mass Effect was developed by BioWare, the team known best for its work on Jade Empire and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I should add that Star Wars: KotOR is one of the best console RPGs of all time. Suck it, Square-Enix.

At the onset, I felt at home. The game controls a great deal like Star Wars: KotOR, but places far more emphasis on real-time shooting than on turn-based action. This keeps the pace frenetic and, combined with the RPG elements of squad command and leveling up, makes for a unique immersive experience.

The story’s also top-notch so far, although it really boils down to “chase the bad guy across the galaxy.” But what a galaxy! Unlike the aforementioned Star Wars title, which dropped you into familiar surroundings, Mass Effect is totally new. While it does borrow significantly from George Lucas’ universe and other sci-fi properties, it’s fresh enough to encourage exploration into the game’s mythology.

The branching conversations are also a lot of fun, and keep things interesting in-between melees. Wanna be a jerk? Be a jerk. Wanna be an interplanetary pushover? You can do that too. The multitude of options should keep you replaying this one until the inevitable sequel.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gone Baby Gone: A Wort Report Review

Having just seen Gone Baby Gone this evening, I’m at a loss for words. And as a writer, this means a few things. First, it means that you, the reader, will not be subject to my typical hyperbolic prose. Second, it means that I won’t be clicking away at the keyboard all night, which is a plus since I’m supposed to be at work tomorrow. Third, it means that I’m going to have to write something that I never thought possible: Ben Affleck is a good director. There, I said it. He takes what seems, at the onset, to be a simple story of child abduction and creates one of the most gripping films to hit theaters this year.

Casey Affleck proves his mettle as leading man material in the role of Patrick Kenzie, a Boston detective who is constantly trying to decipher the difference between right and wrong. Faced with one moral dilemma after another, the film begs the question again and again: what would you do in this situation?

I’m being vague here, obviously, because explaining any of the other characters and situation robs the film of one of its greatest assets: the element of surprise. I will say that Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris are phenomenal, with each of their characters emphasizing the moral ambiguity of the film’s plot as two characters who are trying to do the right thing but…well, you’ll see. The ending hits you like a shotgun blast and leaves you reeling for hours afterward.

One of the major things I took away from this film, and I’m not sure if other viewers would agree with me on this, was how Affleck characterized the city of Boston. Affleck’s Boston is gritty, often unattractive and populated by flawed, unappealing people. But there’s a warmth there, evocative of an artist coming to terms with his hometown and bringing to light his own roots in the most raw fashion possible. It's similar to Martin Scorsese’s relationship with New York in his own films. There’s love intermingled with disgust and a tinge of sympathetic admiration.

Gone Baby Gone might be one of 2007’s best films and one of its most pleasant, albeit bittersweet, surprises.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Busting Makes Me Feel Good

Apparently, the new Ghostbusters game is further along than we all thought. An official website is already up, complete with screenshots and other assorted game information. Children of the 1980s, prepare to have your minds blown.

Published by Vivendi Games' Sierra Entertainment label, Ghostbusters: The Game will take place in the early 1990s and continue the storyline of the first two films. Variety confirms that the film's original cast will return to voice the characters, with supporting actors Rick Moranis, William Atherton, Brian Doyle Murray and Annie Potts also returning.

The core version of the game will be released in the fourth quarter of 2008 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC while a more family-oriented version will be made available for PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS.

G4TV.com posted earlier this week some amazing gameplay footage that seems to recreate many key scenes from the first film, such as the New York Public Library ghost encounter, Slimer running amok in a swank Manhattan hotel and, of course, the climactic battle with The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. It seems like the game will bring players up-to-speed on the Ghostbusters mythos before jumping into new material.

Excited? You should be. This could be one of the all-time best movie-to-game translations we've seen, and Ghostbusters is a property with game franchise written all over it.

So next fall, who you gonna call?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…MASS HYSTERIA!

The Ghostbusters are gearing up for another outing, only this time they’ll be wrangling poltergeists on the Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PC and the Nintendo Wii. Billed as a direct sequel to 1989’s Ghostbusters II, the game will continue the adventures of everyone’s favorite blue-collar paranormal investigators, with cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson reprising their roles as Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddemore. Ramis and Aykroyd will pen the script.

While it may be a tad disappointing for longtime fans that a third Ghostbusters film will not be making its way to the multiplex, let’s be realistic: the cast isn’t getting any younger, and the last thing anyone wants to see is a lame, cash-in sequel. At least with a video game, the actors won’t be restricted by their age. The films adapt themselves perfectly to a video game format anyway. Could you imagine cruising around a free-roaming New York City in the Ecto-1? Or battling the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? Or carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on your back? Or asking librarians at the New York Public Library whether or not they’re menstruating? (What’s that got to do with it?) Back off, man, I’m a scientist.

Whether you’re a gamer or not, the idea that a semi-sequel to the first two films is getting made at all is fantastic news. While Ghostbusters II doesn’t match up to its classic 1984 predecessor, they’re both fun movies. Hopefully we’ll all be aiming “for the flat top” when this game hits store shelves in the near future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It's Like They Want Our Money...

I never thought I'd say this, but there are far too many noteworthy video games that warrant purchase this Christmas season. FAR too many. Call of Duty 4, Guitar Hero III, Rock Band, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed....All of these have strong buzz coming out of the gate, just as I was trying to wean myself off of Halo 3 (unsuccessfully). With the holidays around the corner, I just can't go around spending 60+ bucks on new ways to entertain myself. But the XBox 360, she is a harsh mistress.

I'm plagued by another question as well: Rock Band or Guitar Hero III? Who will win out in this virtual battle of the bands? Which game will make me look more ridiculous jamming to "Cherub Rock" holding a plastic guitar-shaped controller in my bedroom at 2 in the morning?

By the way, this entry doubles as a Christmas list. Hint. Hint.

Friday, November 9, 2007

100 and Counting

The Wort Report has officially gotten 100 hits since October 21st, so a hearty "thank you" to everyone that makes this site a part of your daily web routine.

But this is just the beginning of the journey, Wortmaniacs. Tell your friends, co-workers, family, pets and imaginary friends (both ninja and robot) to get clickin'. In return, I'll keep giving you the best possible information from the realms of film, television, books, movies, games and much more. And how can I make this possible? By reading about what the major sites are reporting on, adding some commentary and slapping on a picture or three. It's not lazy: It's the blogosphere!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

South Park Riffs on Guitar Hero

It's safe to say it: South Park is on a roll this season. Following up the phenomenal "Imagination Land" trilogy, the South Park gang set its sights on the Guitar Hero series in tonight's episode.

While one can argue that South Park is leaning a little heavy on commercials that advertise/satirize video games (the Emmy Award-winning "Make Love, Not Warcraft," for example), it's hard to argue with them when they nail their subjects so skillfully.

Tonight's episode saw Stan and Kyle attract the attention of a record producer due to their high score playing "Carry on Wayward Son" by Kansas. But their journey soon leads to hardships, as success strains their friendship and Stan throws his career away when he becomes addicted to Heroin Hero.

Kudos to Trey Parker and co. for several great moments. Randy's introduction to the game and his inability to understand why the kids don't just play real guitar, the kid so good at Guitar Hero he could play acoustic (tap tap tap tap tap), Stan and Kyle's reward for scoring 1,000,000 points. All classic send-ups of a game that has fast become a console sensation.

Catch the encore tomorrow, November 8th, at 10 p.m on Comedy Central.

Killing Bruce Wayne?

The Internet's a funny thing. In just over decade, it's gotten easier to spread false news on the Internet than it is to spread cream cheese on a bagel. Or butter on toast. Or Paris Hilton's legs. Whichever metaphor you choose, the point is that it's easy.

In my daily scouring of the World Wide Wasteland, I came across this little gem at comicbookresources.com. Turns out, DC Comics is planning on offing Bruce Wayne (Batman, for the uninitiated and the better looking and more popular, by default) in the summer of '08. Makes sense, seeing as how there's this big movie coming out in a few months ::cough cough The Dark Knight cough cough:: and a huge publicity stunt like this might generate some interest in the books again.

While an event like this would certainly boost sales, I dare say that Batman is more than just a costume, and DC may be shooting itself in the foot over this one. And come on, does anyone else believe they'd kill off Bruce Wayne for good? If that's the case, I've got a bunch of copies of Superman #75 that I'm sure are going to put your kids through college...

So who's going to don the cape and cowl in Bruce's, er, absence? Robin? Knightwing? Alfred? Eck.

Of course, they could always go with the obvious choice:



Hey, I'm just sayin'.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Who's Directing Clash of the Titans Redux?

Word on the street is that Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Planet Terror), is no longer attached to the remake of Clash of the Titans: the cult 1981 Greek mythology flick that gave us a claymation Kraken and a robot owl that was in no way an R2-D2 ripoff.

Hold up, they're seriously planning on remaking Clash of the Titans? Why does this make total sense? I'm not being snarky here. If any flick needs a remake, it's Clash of the Titans (or CotT if I want to be cool. Which I don't, because no one talking about Clash of the Titans is ever cool).

I love the stop-motion work of Ray Harryhausen, but man. How great would it be to see the monsters of Greek mythology tear it up onscreen?And with a script by Raiders of the Lost Ark/The Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan? Hot damn!

While Rodriguez has moved on, it will be interesting who else grabs the reins of this project. Guillermo del Toro? Peter Jackson? Uwe Boll?

Until the blogger's strike, I'll be keeping an eye on this flick as it materializes.

Thus Begins the WGA Strike

It's official, the Writer's Guild of America is on strike. With countless television and film projects on hold for the time being, this may be a great opportunity for Americans to open a book, have conversations with one another or, hopefully, visit my site more often. After all, I have dozens of DVDs that I've yet to blog about and stories about my Halo 3 service record that need to be told!

In all seriousness though, does anyone else find it a tad ironic that the writers are on strike when creativity in Hollywood is at an all-time low? Sequels and remakes are running rampant on the big and the small screens, yet the WGA is lobbying for more money. Who else is going to mine...oh, excuse me...reimagine...the 70s, 80s and 90s to create "new" content?

Now, if nostalgia went on strike...then we'd be in trouble.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Heroes Falls Victim to WGA Strike

According to an editor's blog at TVGuide.com, this season of Heroes will be ending December 3rd due to the writer's strike that is sending shockwaves throughout Hollywood.

The episode in question was originally meant to cap the current 11-episode storyline. Instead, it is being rewritten to end the season for good unless the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) reaches an agreement soon.

I'll be the first to admit that this season of Heroes hasn't been stellar. The show is plodding at times, with overt levels of angst. It's also juggling far too many characters and storylines, and seems to be introducing even more of them each week. In the end, it's too much build-up and, from the look of things, it won't be building to much.

But I love this show. It's engaging even when it's frustrating, and it's brought some great characters to network television. And I look forward to watching them grow year after year. But a shortened season may put this show's future in jeopardy.

Coming to Terms with Spider-Man 3

I finally got around to re-watching Spider-Man 3 this weekend, partly because I’m a huge fan of the character and the first two films in the series, but mostly because I refused to believe that this film was a franchise-destroying, unmitigated mess. The DVD answers some questions as to why the filmmakers made the decisions they did, but I cannot in any way recommend it for purchase.

I had seen the film in theaters and walked away with a major sense of what-the-hell. The first two acts are pretty decent, albeit a bit contrived and sopping with coincidence. The guy made out of sand was really your uncle’s killer? Your friend falls 20 stories and suffers short-term memory loss that just so happens to eliminate his desires to kill you? Then there’s the whole space goop meteorite landing right next to the only superhero in the world at this point? With no explanation as to why that happened?

I’m not an expert at writing fiction, which is why my latest attempts at storytelling are locked away in my hard drive or scribbled onto some notes in a drawer in my bedroom. But come on. A multi-million dollar franchise and THIS is the best they could come up with? I’m just baffled.

I won’t even get into how wrong this film gets the whole “evil Spidey” thing. Note to filmmakers: if you have to make your protagonist wear his hair differently and put on FREAKIN’ EYELINER to convey a change of character, you’re not doing your job. I did, however, really like the montage of “evil Peter” strutting down the street, snapping his fingers and doing his best Tony Manero impression. He’s a geek giving us his version of what’s cool and I get that.

Unfortunately, the movie dissolves like Sandman in a hot tub immediately after this sequence. A third act with freakin’ color commentary from reporters, with distracting cameos from Sam Raimi’s kids (Sam, kids don’t say “wicked cool” at all) and the most unsatisfying ending to a major motion picture I’ve experienced in some time. Why shoehorn a character like Venom into the film if you’re only going to short-change him? And kill him, preventing his appearance in any of the inevitable sequels?

The answer to a lot of the fan griping about this movie is revealed in the director’s commentary. Turns out, studio pressure killed this movie, forcing Sam to include the black costume storyline long after a script had been written. Why? Because the fans wanted Venom. That’s great, Sony. You sold some extra action figures. But your “fan service” was a slap in the face. I don’t blame the Raimi or the cast for wanting to disassociate themselves from this series for the next installment.

On a lighter note, the Port Chester High School Marching Band totally rocks during their short scene about midway through the film. But then again, as a former PC band geek, I may be a bit biased.

Monday, October 29, 2007

News Flash! Er, Flash News!

MTV.com is reporting that Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin will helm the upcoming superhero flick, “The Flash,” which will be a spinoff of George Miller’s upcoming Justice League film.

In the running (pun intended) to play the title character? Rumor has it Adam Brody (The OC’s Seth Cohen) may be attached to play Wally West. For those keeping track, this would also mean that Brody would be playing the role in Justice League. It’s fascinating how quickly Warner Bros. is churning out these DC Comics adaptations. I mean, Justice League is still in the planning stages and they’re already gearing up for follow-up projects? Did they forget how badly Catwoman bombed?

Warners: Take your time. We’ll be patient, I promise.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Radiohead Returns to Form with In Rainbows

It’s taken me far too long to write a proper review of Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows, partially because I didn’t want to short-change it after a single listen. Or a second or a third. After spending some quality time with its 10 stripped-down tracks, I can safely say that In Rainbows is Radiohead’s strongest album since OK Computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I thought Kid A and Amnesiac were breakthrough albums worthy of their praise. But they also require the listener to be in the proper mood for them, and be able to sit down and appreciate the album as a whole. If “Like Spinning Plates” hits my ears when my iPod is on shuffle in the middle of my commute, chances are I’ll skip it. Not a fault, necessarily, but Radiohead's early work on Pablo Honey, The Bends and the aforementioned OK Computer is far more approachable and more, dare I say it, listener-friendly.

Like most people, I liken 2003’s Hail to the Thief to a melancholic funeral dirge. The energy just isn’t there for a vast majority of the album and the gang just seems bored. Even Thom's soulful vocals can't save most of the tracks from being depressingly dull.

Thankfully, In Rainbows rectifies its predecessor’s faults. Thom Yorke seems to have purged himself of his techno-demons with last year’s synth-heavy solo project The Eraser, giving guitarists Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood plenty to do .

Favorite tracks? “Bodysnatchers” easily sits at the top, with its chaotic guitar distortions. I also liked the trippy “Faust Arp” and the socially critical “House of Cards.”

In Rainbows is Radiohead at the top of their game, mixing their best past sensibilities while at the same time moving forward musically.

Head on over to inrainbows.com and name your price for the download. Call it arrogance or generosity, but Radiohead is letting fans decide how much they’d like to pay for the album. A boxed version of the album, complete with a second CD, two vinyl records, artwork and a lyrics booklet will hit stores December 3rd. A standard version will be released in January.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Justice League Movie News!

Some of the geekiest news on the Internet surrounds production of a live-action Justice League of America movie, directed by George Miller. For the uninitiated (and by default better looking and more popular), the Justice League is a team consisting of DC Comics’ most prolific characters, including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman. Well, prolific and Aquaman hardly belong in the same sentence, but that’s for another article.

A lot of the wild casting rumors have sent tremors through Internet message boards. Jessica Biel as Wonder Woman? Ryan Reynolds as The Flash? Biel debunked rumors surrounding her interest in donning the star-spangled panties, but the major point here is that the cast is skewing pretty young. And, most importantly, it has nothing do with Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, nor the recently revived Superman series. Think of it as an alternate universe. And if you read comics, that should be fairly easy.

Now, take this with a grain of salt, but UGO has posted some script details, and things have gotten a lot more optimistic. The story concerns Batman keeping all of the other superheroes under surveillance, a two-on-one smackdown pitting Superman against both The Dark Knight and Wonder Woman, and villains Maxwell Lord and Talia al Ghul (daughter of Batman foe Ra’s al Ghul). The story also leads off with a superhero funeral, introducing each of the characters clad in black.

Again, take all of this unofficial buzz with a grain of salt. Ain’t It Cool News reported yesterday (10/26) that Teresa Palmer (Wolf Creek, The Grudge 2) will be playing the role of everyone's favorite Amazon in the patriotic corset. But, if you’d like some low-sodium Justice League news, you might want to wait until some official studio announcements.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Video Game Therapy

For years, video games have been stigmatized as a time-consuming, lazy and sedentary activity lacking in societal worth no matter how much they've come since their humble beginnings as a simple collection of flashes, beeps and boops.

Today they remain the cannon-fodder of lesser politicians, who find themselves grasping for an easy target to blame for America’s educational pitfalls and dwindling family values. And while the younger generation is surely lost (sarcasm) to the flickering lure of Master Chief, Super Mario and Solid Snake, the older generation seems to be reaping the benefits of this emerging form of entertainment, thanks to the Nintendo Wii.

According to a story published on newsday.com, the Wii is fast becoming a physical therapy tool for the elderly since its release last Christmas. Unlike Microsoft’s XBox 360 or Sony’s Playstation 3, the Wii forces players off the couch. Wii Sports, which comes bundled with the system, offers players the chance to play tennis, bowl and even box in the comfort of their own living room.

Studies such as this one seem to be popping up daily, with reports that regular gaming amongst elderly populations helps retain brain function and improve both visual skills and hand-eye coordination.

While I’m not advocating that video games are the best thing to emerge in the entertainment industry since the advent of the motion picture, they are viable medium that can not only provide escapist fun, but exercise the mind, body and even the eyes. With immersive games such as BioShock, Halo 3 and World of Warcraft, you might even get caught up in a great story or make some friends through online multiplayer.

But I digress. There’s an election on the horizon, and we all need someone to blame for society’s ills, don't we? And I hear there’s a new Grand Theft Auto on the way as well. That should fuel the fires of ignorance. After all, haven’t political figures taught us over the years that all games are about beating hookers, stealing cars and shooting cops? And who ever heard of a narrow-minded politician?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Planet Terror Hits DVD

New on DVD, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror represents the far superior half of the Grindhouse double feature, surpassing Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof as an exhilarating reproduction of 1970s trash cinema.

Planet Terror’s story is relatively simple. A military bio-weapon experiment results in a viral outbreak, turning hundreds of people into disfigured zombie-like creatures (or “sickos,” as one character calls them). We’re introduced to some colorful individuals, including one-man army El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), barbecue aficionado J.T. (Jeff Fahey) and the sexy Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton). You’ve also got genre favorites such as Bruce Willis, Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator) and Tom Savini (gore effects genius behind Dawn of the Dead) appearing in supporting roles. It’s a B-movie that’s completely aware of itself, but you’ll care about these characters and be surprised when you do.

Of course, if you’ve seen any of the promotional material for Planet Terror, you know that Rose McGowan is the real star, machine-gun leg and all. She plays Cherry Darling, a sarcastic go-go dancer with countless “useless” talents that come in handy throughout the film. Of course, she loses her leg when attacked by a group of “sickos” and is later equipped with an armor-piercing appendage, courtesy of ex-boyfriend El Wray. Sure, there’s explosions and blood spattering every which way, but I dare you to take your eyes off of Rose.

And that brings us to one of the main attractions of this film and just about anything else in the “grindhouse” genre, and that’s the bloodshed. It’s comically over-the-top here, and after the first few killings you’ll be immune to whatever gore this movie throws at you. That is, until Quentin Tarantino’s penis starts to melt in the final act. That’s just gross and wrong on all levels.

Special features on the bonus disc include all of the behind-the-scenes featurettes you’d expect from a Rodriguez release, similar to what he put together for the Sin City double disc. If any director makes you feel like a film student just by watching his DVDs, it’s Robert Rodriguez.

While it may be wise to wait for the inevitable “theatrical cut” of Grindhouse, featuring Planet Terror and Death Proof on one disc complete with the fake movie trailers shown in theaters, Planet Terror is a fine film in its own right. It’s a solid addition to any collection.

Robots in Disguise and on DVD

The two-disc special edition of Transformers hit store shelves this week and is a definite buy. Love him or hate him, Michael Bay (The Rock, Armageddon) has made a film that plays up each of his strengths—from the cavalcade of explosions to the car chases to the frenetic action sequences. Transformers is two hours of pure Bayhem.

Of course, the film has the weaknesses of just about any other Bay flick, namely in terms of characterization. While the film is grounded nicely in its simple tale of a guy (the surprisingly talented Shia LaBeouf), a girl (the stunning Megan Fox) and a car (the yellow Autobot Bumblebee), there are a handful of characters that add little to the plot. Anthony Anderson’s hacker character is pretty unnecessary, and John Turturro, who shines in other films such as The Big Lebowski, is wasted here as an over-the-top government agent.

But let’s be realistic. This is a film about alien robots beating the oil out of each other. If characterization ranks high (if at all) on your giant robot movie checklist, you may need to get out more. It’s fun, it’s loud and it’s a nice escape for a few hours.

And escape you will. As soon as Sam’s (LaBeouf) Camaro transforms and mixes it up with a transforming police car (the Decepticon Barricade, for those of you keeping track), you’ll be roped in. It’s the first of many action scenes that just don’t let up. There’s desert combat, a highway brawl between Optimus Prime and Bonecrusher and an all-out melee between all of the Autobots and the Decepticons during the final act of the film.

But it’s not all about the action necessarily. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Sam is awkwardly trying to hide the Autobots from his parents as Optimus and crew completely trash the backyard. The sequence has a Spielbergian touch (he did executive produce, after all), and provides a quieter moment to get to know the personalities of each of these characters.

While this movie is obviously aimed at a new audience (and to get today’s kids hooked on the toys), there’s plenty here for longtime Transformers fans to chew on. Peter Cullen, who voiced Optimus Prime in the original cartoon series, returns to the role while many familiar faces round out the remaining Autobots, including Jazz, Ratchet and Ironhide. The filmmakers played a bit more free and loose with the Decepticons, both in terms of character design and vehicle types. However, when Megatron (Hugo Weaving) verbally abuses Starscream toward the end of the film you’ll be eight years old all over again.

The second disc in the set is crammed with special features, including how the Transformers concept originated over two decades ago, what it took to get the project off the ground and how the elaborate special effects were created. You get a sense of Bay’s directorial style on the set (near-frighteningly intense), and why some of the decisions in the film were ultimately made (why Megan Fox? Bay wanted the hottest 18-year-old he could find). Bay also addresses some of the Internet whining that went on during the film’s production, including the uproar over making Bumblebee a Camaro (he used to be a Volkswagen) and putting flames on Optimus Prime. For anyone interested in how summer blockbusters like this come together, this second disc is a comprehensive look at the production from conception to finished film.

It won’t necessarily change the way you look at the world or at movies, but Transformers is a spectacle that you’ll want to revisit more than once, if only to soak in more of the action. The plot may be flimsy and a bit ludicrous, but if you can buy the fact that robots have come to Earth and disguised themselves as cars and trucks (all General Motors products, by the way), then you’ll pretty much believe anything else this movie throws at you. It’s a roller-coaster ride that’s well worth the price of admission.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Salad Fingers - Episode Two

I know I made some lofty goals and assumed I'd be able to update this week, but my brain is utterly fried. To celebrate this lapse of cognitive ability, here's my favorite episode of "Salad Fingers"

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How Does One "Superman" a Ho?

If you've heard a ringtone or turned on a radio in the past few weeks, chances are you've heard Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat," an ode to cranking Robocop and Supermanning young women. While I'm sure his reference to cranking Robocop has something to do with cyborg Detroit policemen, I could not for the life of me understand what it meant to "Superman" a "ho". Does it mean to blow up her home planet? Make her jump tall buildings in a single bound? Throw a big cellophane Superman logo at her face as seen in the second Christopher Reeve film?

What has young people across the country so entranced, forcing them to post videos of themselves on YouTube flailing about awkwardly in an attempt to dance the "Soulja Boy" or whatever you want to call it?

To fully understand this modern-day macarena, I headed over to urbandictionary.com, which clearly explained:

When you are mad at your girl for not having sex with you. So when she falls asleep you masturbate and cum on her back. After that, stick the bedsheet on to her back and when she wakes up it's stuck to the cum and she has a cape like Superman!!!

Well, there you have it. The song that thousands of teenage girls across the country are learning the dance moves to is a song about masturbating on a girl's back. I could go over what it means to "Spider-Man a ho," but that would be way too many superhero-associated one-handed sex acts for one night.

Soulja Boy also uses the word "ho" in the song 30 times. Isn't that kinda not cool these days?

A Zombie James?

I had one of those great weekends that brings you back to life after feeling less-than-alive for an extended period of time, thanks to good friends, late nights, and trying to play Super Smash Brothers Melee while eating frozen pizza and being too inebriated to properly smack the shit out of Captain Falcon. Good. Times. Me and my friends also checked out Six Flags Fright Fest which was great, albeit a tad crowded.

Also on their way later this week are two highly-anticipated DVD releases that warrant immediate purchase: Transformers and Planet Terror, which both hit store shelves on Tuesday. Both movies are a whole hell of a lot of fun. I mean, it's Rose McGowan with a gun for a leg fighting zombies and 30-foot robots beating the hell out of each other on the same day? What more do you want?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

speech

Since I'm about ten seconds away from a complete and total breakdown this week, here's a clip from "The Office" that made me crack a smile, albeit for a minute.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Father, The Son, and the Holy Needler?

I came across this little gem from the Denver Post during my coffee/early morning web surfing. Apparently, churches all over the country are using Halo 3 to attract young parishioners. But does the M-rated game work as a religious recruiting tool? Absolutely. It just doesn't seem all that appropriate.

Now, I'm a practicing Catholic, and I think that if religious leaders of any denomination want to test new waters to reach out to young people, then more power to them. I'm also fairly liberal, and don't see violent video games as necessarily being a negative influence on children if they're taught the difference between reality and fantasy.

But what I do have an issue with is that religion and Halo are two entirely different spheres. While multiplayer Halo matches offer a wide variety of gametypes, they mostly involve blowing up your opponents in a violent fashion. Then there's the single-player campaign which involves mass slaughtering of a group of religious zealots. Doesn't necessarily gel with the whole "Thou shalt not kill" thing. Insert your "well, actually" argument here.

What I DO like is that some religious leaders are using Halo 3 to talk about some of the game's larger themes. From the article:

The organization recently sent e-mails to 50,000 young people about how to share their faith using "Halo 3." Among the tips: Use the game's themes as the basis for a discussion about good and evil.

In that sense, sure. There's a lot to discuss, and I liken it to using Lord of the Rings or Star Wars in a homily to relate to young people some of the grander themes in The Bible. But a violent, albeit totally awesome, video game has no real place within a place of worship.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Have You Finished the Fight?

The dust has settled since the Tuesday release of Halo 3, which earned $170 million in 24 hours, making it the highest-grossing entertainment launch ever. Bravo, Microsoft.

My history with Halo begins on Thursday, August 14 ,2003. The day of the storied blackout that rendered the Northeast United States powerless. I was in the Port Chester EB Games, set to purchase an XBox and two games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Halo: Combat Evolved. Naturally, the power went out when I was at the register. So, I had to wait a day. Halowned.

When I finally got the game, I realized that I was missing out on something special in not purchasing an XBox earlier. The single-player campaign provided an immersive storyline, intuitive weaponry, and some great controls. I had previously been exposed to its multiplayer during my freshman year at the University of Connecticut, but I could never get used to it. Now, with the campaign under my belt, I returned to UConn ready to immerse myself in the Halo subculture. And it was fun. A lot of fun. It was easily the best time I've had with a video game since Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. Along with the rest of the sizeable gaming community on campus, I waited with baited breath for the 2004 release of Halo 2.

Luckily enough, I was working for the school paper during my junior year, and went to cover the midnight sale of Halo 2, which was released on November 9th. Dozens of gamers with no intention of going to their morning classes, lined up at the school's bookstore to be among the first to fire up the highly anticipated shooter. It was a fun story to write, and, while it's no Hunter S. Thompson piece, I think it turned out to be a nice read. It also gave me an excuse to buy the game since,well, I was there. And as a journalist I owed it to the public to get the full experience of the midnight sale. Yeah, that's the ticket.

While Halo 2 was a fun game, with some massive improvements on the first, the single-player campaign left me flat. Its ending, which leads directly into Halo 3, was far too abrupt to be satisfying and felt unfinished. Thankfully, the online multiplayer gave us the most comprehensive online experience on consoles to date.

Halo 3, on the other hand, never feels unfinished. The storyline is more than satisfying, wrapping up all of the loose ends of the previous two games and giving us plenty of reasons to revisit each stage. The story's pretty simple. Once again, you're the cyborg supersoldier Master Chief, putting the fight to evil alien religious zealots called The Covenant, who are attempting to activate their Halo superweapons. You'll come into conflict with The Flood (think space zombies) once again, along with a few surprises that should delight longtime fans of the series.

The graphics are polished, with everything from the shine of Master Chief's visor to the ripple effects on the water having a "wow, this is next-gen gaming" effect. And the AI is pretty amazing, from your allies to the brutes, grunts, drones, hunters, scarabs and other assorted baddies. Enemies scurry from grenades, panic when you take down commanding officers and get more aggressive when necessary.

The game should take you around 10 hours on most difficulty settings, perhaps less if you're taking advantage of online co-op, in which you can team up with 3 other players online to take down The Covenant. I finished on Wednesday night and was blown away by the final act, which was a great way to bring the series full-circle. However, one level toward the end, called "Cortana," was inexcusably difficult. I'm not sure if it was poor level design or downright sadism from the programmers, but this level was HELL to get through. It was easily the most frustrating first-person shooter stage I have ever played.

It took me so long to write about Halo 3 because you can't properly review a Halo game without acknowledging online multiplayer. I finally tore into it yesterday afternoon, which became last night, which became early morning today. It's just the most addictive online play I've ever encountered, with plenty of match types, weapons and vehicles to play around with, not to mention Forge, which gives you the option to customize multiplayer maps. This should have gamers hooked for years to come.

As for the online community, it's pretty good. I've met a lot of cool players on there, with a minimum of shrill, racist 12-year-olds. That's a good thing. But then again, I'm sure this game is on a lot of Christmas lists. So get the mute button ready.

Moral of the story, if you have an Xbox 360, you're only hurting yourself if you don't get this game. It succeeds at all levels, and meets each of its lofty expectations.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Halo, Goodbye

Hey Wortmaniacs. With much of my free time being gobbled up by the single-player Halo 3 campaign (review coming soon), The Report's going to be light on updates for the next few days. However, I did come across this little gem yesterday.

Apparently, the Family Guy Star Wars special was the highest-rated episode since the show returned from cancellation in 2005. Obviously, The Empire Strikes Back is next on the chopping block, with other Star Wars installments likely to follow.

I criticized the episode earlier this week, in that it played out as more of a re-enactment than a parody of the original 1977 Star Wars film. This article points out that some jokes, such as incest between Luke and Leia, were avoided to appease Lucasfilm, who allowed Family Guy to use the original music and sound effects.

It really is a trap. How can you parody something while maintaining a working relationship with its creator? Hence, we are left with a more-or-less straight re-telling of the story. Mind you, some jokes were pretty decent. However, it didn't have that typical Family Guy bite. And I missed that.

Rumor is, the reason Fox isn't re-running the episode is because a special-edition DVD is on its way. I expected this. If you head over to starwars.com you can already purchase animation cells from the episode and read up on how the episode came to be. You can also check out videos from the episode in case you can't wait for the Cartoon Network replay in a few weeks. It's synergy, and while some may call it crass, I can just call it brilliant. It's combining two already marketable brands which have an overlapping fanbase. Somone did their homework.

And by the way, I'd love to be able to frown on the whole Family Guy/Star Wars crossover, but I can't stay mad when a talking, plush Darth Vader Stewie might be in our future. I think I just gave someone an idea...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Family Guy: The Star Wars Special

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars film, Family Guy put together a one-hour tribute show, retelling the story using Family Guy characters. In many ways, it succeeded. Stewie as Darth Vader was pretty inspired, and many of the gags (such as putting a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on an Imperial Star Destroyer) were spot-on.

But at the end of the hour, it became apparent that much of the show was spent mimicking the film as opposed to lampooning it. In many instances, entire sequences of dialogue were left unchanged from the movie, thus exposing Family Guy's main weakness as of late: it mistakes repetition for satire.

During one scene the creepy old pedophile Herbert, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, sings an entire song from Dirty Dancing to Chris, playing Luke Skywalker. Okay, we got it a long time ago that Herbert has a thing for Chris. So for two whole minutes, there's no real joke, it's just "hey, that's from Dirty Dancing." I suppose it does let the writers, or manatees, as South Park suggested, breathe a bit. But I think I stand with a lot of Family Guy viewers in thinking that this character ran his course years ago. They ditched the lame vaudeville guys by actually having Stewie shoot them both onscreen. I think it's time we ditched Herbert in a similar fashion. But I digress.

There were other references too. Including a reference to National Lampoon's Vacation and, not one, but two references to Airplane. Granted, they were mildly amusing, but come on. The entire episode is a reference to a movie. You have an hour to make fun of Star Wars. You might want to make fun of it instead of ::insert word-for-word dialogue from another popular movie here::

And there's other laziness. The lightsaber-as-a-penis joke and a Grey Poupon reference (I think Tiny Toon Adventures cornered the market on that gag in the early 90's, guys) immediately come to mind. Now, mind you, these wouldn't have been so horrible if the jokes were as rapid-fire as they are during a regular episode. But whether it was pressure not to step on anyone's toes at Lucasfilm or the fact that they needed to cram the entire story into an hour, it just wasn't as funny as Family Guy usually is. And that's unfortunate, because this could have been one of the classic Star Wars spoofs. Instead it's more of a "hahaha, Brian is Chewbacca" sort of thing.

What I did like was the fact that Chris points out at the end of the episode that Robot Chicken already did a Star Wars episode. This sparks an argument between Chris (voiced by Robot Chicken creator Seth Green) and Peter (voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane). It absolutely broke the fourth wall and was amusing to watch for fans of both shows...It's too bad the Robot Chicken special was a lot funnier.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Transformers...in IMAX!

If you were living under a rock this summer or were otherwise incapacitated, Transformers was one of the most fun movies to hit the multiplex this year. Is it a great film? Not quite. But it's a phenomenal movie. I won't bore you with the difference between those two terms, but I will say that Transformers does everything it sets out to do. It won't change the way you look at life, but it features a robot peeing on somebody. That's worth at least ten bucks.

But if your thirst for robot-on-robot action has yet to be quenched, the film makes its way to IMAX screens tomorrow. Click here for theaters and showtimes near you.

TV Guide Talks to George Lucas

It's after midnight, I'm unshaven (my entire head feels like a brillo pad) and I need a beer. That about sums up how I'm feeling right now. My workday kicked my ass and dragged me through the mud, and my night wasn't all that swell either. So I'm sipping a cold one, Blue Moon's seasonal "Harvest Moon," which features an interesting blend of pumpkin spice for that "holy crap, it's fall" feeling. Anyhoo, on to George Lucas.

TV Guide scored an interview with the bearded one in which he describes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But, in typical Lucas fashion, he tells us absolutely nothing. Am I on the edge of my seat? Sure I am. I'm a red-blooded geek who dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi for three consecutive Halloweens. In high school. Of course I'm excited about this.

Lucas discusses the absence of Sean Connery as Indy's father and, while it sucks, I'm glad that they didn't shoe-horn him in at the expense of the story. That was one of my Star Wars prequel pet peeves. "Hey, it's Chewbacca! You remember him!" And so forth. But they have a strong cast thus far, and they seem to want to do this right.And it's also great to know that Connery is still honoring his Hollywood retirement and isn't reprising his role as Henry Jones for a cheap cameo and a not-so-cheap paycheck.


But check out the interview. Lucas talks a great deal about supporting indie (no pun intended) filmmakers. One forgets that before Lucas' millions of dollars in movie revenue and merchandising, he was a simple filmmaker working on a shoestring budget. Love him or hate him, you have to admire that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Death Proof on DVD

Remember that great idea Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez had a while back? Where they each made an homage to the schlocky trash cinema of yesteryear and presented it as a double feature, complete with fake movie trailers in between? Remember how cool it was to see Grindhouse in theaters last spring? Well, the heart of that project has been thoroughly yanked out in favor of separate DVD releases for each film. We're sorry you lost money on the theatrical run, Weinsteins. So I guess I'm paying twice for what is essentially one experience?

Tarantino's half of Grindhouse, Death Proof, came out on DVD today in a two-disc special edition. Exclusive to Best Buy is a special 3-disc set that comes in a nifty metal case. I opted for that one.

For those that remember, I wasn't too keen on Death Proof when it was in theaters. I thought it was talky, meandering and overall self-indulgent. But I think this dissatisfaction is owed more to the fact that Planet Terror, Rodriguez's zombie homage, was far superior. I doubt anything could top what was one of the most over-the-top action to hit the multiplex this year. Long story short, it was a tough act to follow.

The version of Death Proof released on DVD today is a bit longer than the theatrical version, and we do get more of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), the villainous stunt driver who gets off on stalking and ramming into young girls in his "death proof" stunt car. For this, I am grateful. Stuntman Mike is far more interesting than the prattling heroines Tarantino focuses on.

But I've gotta say, this film is still very uneven. Both sets of girls in the film still spend far too long talking about obscure movies and music, serving no purpose but to stretch the film's running time. Yes, Mr. Tarantino. We're aware that you enjoy obscure movies and music from the 1970s, but you're spending film time on it and the audience is getting bored. Also, it's not character development if we're dealing with archetypes here. This is a "grindhouse" film, after all. Pointless dialogue sprinkled with "fuck" is still pointless.

But is it a fun movie? Yep. Is it pretty damned entertaining? Yep. Should you check it out? Yep, if only as a rental. Criticizing Tarantino for being talky is like criticizing Kevin Smith for dick jokes. You know what you're getting into from the get-go. Plus, there's all kinds of bonus features on there that we probably wouldn't get if the two halves of Grindhouse were released as a single set.

Look out for Planet Terror on October 16th.