Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bioshocking

What's happening, Wortmaniacs? You know, usually when an idea pops into my shiny noggin, I'm forced to see it through to fruition no matter what. Today, that idea was that BioShock the hot new just-released XBox 360 game, was something that I just had to own. Alas, I'm a week too late according to the four stores I ventured to during my lunch break and after work.

Asking clerks if they have any copies of said game can be a daunting experience, as the "no we don't" is typically accompanied by a look usually reserved for questions like "do you carry unicorn testicles?" Needless to say, I'm one Bioshock short of...owning Bioshock. But the good news is I've made some fairly decent video game purchases in the last couple of weeks.

Madden 09, for example, is a worthwhile purchase and is far from a roster update. It's a full-on better game, with improved controls, play selection and graphics. That's not to say I don't frown upon the Madden zealots that crowd the video game stores at midnight of release and skip work the next day to play what is essentially the same game they've been playing for years. Of course, this could all be bitterness stemming from jock passion for a decidedly nerdy hobby. Just stay away from the comic books, frat boy...

Monday, August 27, 2007

An Open Letter to Stephen Sommers

Dear Mr. Sommers,

Rumor has it, you have been tapped to helm the upcoming G.I. Joe live-action film which is currently being fast-tracked into production after the success of Transformers, another 1980s Hasbro property. While it's safe to say Michael Bay is no Steven Spielberg, you are no Michael Bay. You're not quite Uwe Boll either. You're somewhere in the middle. And that still has a lot of us worried.

Now, good sir, we're all well aware of your previous work. You scored big with The Mummy. We can all respect that. It's not a smart film by any means, but it's pretty fun in a Saturday matinee kind of way. Then you gave us The Mummy Returns. Not only did you go back to the well, you loaded it with sugar and caffeine, bottled what was in there and sold it to the mass audiences like a hip new soft drink. While it certainly gave a fair number of audience members a rush, indicated by its box office draw, it left most people with a headache.

Then there was Van Helsing, which, despite giving us ample Kate Beckinsale cleavage, was once again all style: zero substance. How could someone with Universal's entire catalog of monsters create such an ADD-addled mess of a film?

And now there's G.I. Joe. A property that has, if you think about it, been a hot commodity for half a century. It could be a high-octane, nostalgia-fueled thrill ride like Transformers, or it could be, well, like your last few films. Transformers could stand to be a little lax on characterization because they're, well, robots. These characters, on the other hand, have intricate backstories that could work as well as X-Men on the big screen...if taken seriously. I, like anyone else that tuned in to the show day after day until we had those cheesy PSAs memorized, merely ask you to resist all of your previous instincts and take your time with this one. A generation will thank you.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Best regards,
James Wortman

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Superbad? Superawesome.

Superbad is one of those rare teen sex comedies that transcends its genre and truly captures what it's like to be a teenager on the cusp of high school graduation. That brief, three month period of adolescent invincibility that we all embrace before embarking on the journey to college and, with it, the unknown.

Superbad
is produced by Judd Apatow, comedy's "go-to" guy at the moment, with directorial triumphs The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up under his belt. Despite what Superbad's commercials would have you believe, Apatow didn't direct this one. Rather, it was helmed by Greg Mottola, a relative newcomer. Fear not. This film is hilarious and, in this writer's humble opinion, it trumps Knocked Up in terms of rapid-fire dialogue and pacing.

This movie was written by Knocked Up star Seth Rogen, who has been an Apatow fixture since Freaks and Geeks nearly a decade ago, and his friend Evan Goldberg when they were only thirteen years old. It shows. In a good way. It's a simple story of three high school losers trying to score booze, which in turn would secure their places in the pants of three lovely young ladies. The two main characters, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), are going to two different schools in a few months while their considerably dorky friend Fogell (Christopher Mitz-Plasse) is a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor who goes by the name of McLovin. Or so says his fake ID.

Rounding out the rest of the cast are Rogen and SNL's Bill Hader as two man-child police officers. I'm sure there's a lesson with these characters about growing up, but it may have been lost somewhere in-between the dick jokes. But it's there.

If it sounds like something you've seen before, that's because it most certainly is. Scoring booze and getting laid is at the center of just about every R-rated teen comedy ever made. What sets Superbad apart is how none of it feels glossy or manufactured. The characters talk and act the way real teenagers talk. There's no politically-correct filter here, which gives the film both its edge and its charm. This is probably why you haven't seen any of the best jokes in the trailers or television spots.

Superbad
is a beer-soaked coming-of-age story propelled by its uproarious dialogue and its memorable characters. You'll be quoting it for days. Just don't do it in front of your grandmother.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dear Diary: Braaaaaaaaiiiins.....

Zombie film auteur George A. Romero has posted some new pics from the set of his upcoming film Diary of the Dead, which can best be described as The Blair Witch Project with zombies. I'm interested to see where Romero goes with this, as it's an infintely better concept than another "the zombies are so like us" allegory.

Don't get me wrong: I love Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. They're undisputed horror classics that every movie fan should own. But then there's Day of the Dead, which, due to severe budget constraints, looks and feels like a cheesy Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie. And 2005's Land of the Dead was friggin' ridiculous. If zombies' brains are literally decomposing, how the hell are they getting smarter? Zombies don't fire guns: They eat you alive.

But given the approach Romero is going after, using handheld cameras and telling the story from the point-of-view of a small group of survivors, Diary of the Dead could give us a fresh approach to zombie survival stories in a genre that's beginning to look a little crowded.

I'll be flogged for this, but I found the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake to be a lot better than the original. Shaun of the Dead gave us a brilliant romantic zombie comedy (rom-zom-com) and movies like 28 Days Later have reinvented the zombie concept and have made it even more terrifying. That's not even mentioning video games like Dead Rising and the Resident Evil series (and, yes, the terrible film adaptations of that series) and the must-read Max Brooks titles: The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z.

Is there still room for George Romero in the genre he created? I certainly hope so. Check out the stills at the film's MySpace page here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

There and Back Again

Lord of the Rings fans rejoice! Despite a storied dispute between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema a few months back, Jackson may be in line to direct The Hobbit, a film adaptation of the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

While this news is far from a confirmation that the studio or Jackson are going forward with the project, it is comforting to know that the bridge has been rebuilt. Or that Narsil has been reforged. Whichever "broken things made whole again" metaphor you like. I just like mine to be more nerdy than yours.

I couldn't be more excited. If a movie version of The Hobbit is indeed being made, it only makes sense that Jackson and his team are the ones to do it. It needs to feel like the first three films, and getting Ian McKellen back as Gandalf would really tie the whole series together.

I truly think Jackson has the potential to be the next great filmmaker. While King Kong was widely criticized for being far too long and wasting time on useless subplots, Jackson has a great sense for visuals and characters. Lord of the Rings could have been a disaster in the wrong hands, but Jackson captured the spirit of the J.R.R. Tolkien epic and made it work. Was it 100 percent faithful? Of course not. But it would be fair to say that a more literal adaptation would have been horrifically boring.

Rest assured, I'll be following this saga as it unfolds.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Delays, Heat Waves and HD

And here I thought today would be pretty lowkey. My last day of work before a much-needed day off, a relaxing night at home, cracking a brew or two and throwing on a DVD. Alas, last night's storm had left Manhattan and all railways therein completely and utterly f*cked.

It took me an hour and a half to get to Grand Central, much of which was spent crammed into a standing-room-only rail car complete with an air conditioner that decided that it wasn't necessary to circulate air on one of the most humid days on recent record. Bang up job, Metro-North. Good show.

I couldn't nap, and I couldn't even enjoy my recently revamped Nano, with about 20 percent less "songs that I skip when I put it on shuffle." I just stared out the window as my sunglasses continued their journey down the bridge of my nose. Sweating? Sure I was. My shaved head was glistening like a freshly washed tomato. But I bet it's not half as good in a salad.

The other saga concerned my dealings with a certain corporate megastore and its inability to process order cancellations on time. You see, I am currently in the market for an HD TV to put in my bedroom, having found one online at one particular store I decided to order it. Thinking it over, I realized that I wanted the thing sooner than later, and changed my mind. I would pick it up tonight after work, set it up, and generally be kicking ass in life at least for a moment. But alas, said store has not yet processed the whole "do not want" thing, and yadda yadda yadda. Long story short, I can't get my TV yet. Angry James led to Disappointed James led to Blogger James. A downward spiral to be sure.

Tomorrow is another day. A day at Six Flags Great Adventure in fact. Meh. Could be worse.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Super Mario Bros. Movie: A F**king Nightmare?

Remember the Super Mario Bros. movie? The one that featured Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as everyone's favorite Italian plumbers? Remember how it had nothing to do with the video games and blew consistently and thoroughly?

If you answered no, I envy you. I mean really, look at that poster above, with the quote "It's a blast!" from The Washington Post. I'm fairly confident that the rest of the quote reads "...in the face with a loaded shotgun."

Arguably, this cinematic bowel movement was the first in a long, long line of horrible video game-to-movie adaptations. The only watchable one? The first Tomb Raider. Only because it featured a lithe Angelina Jolie and her two co-stars. I'm talking about her breasts. But you knew that.

As for Super Mario Bros., just how did so many good actors get roped into this thing? Bob Hoskins? Dennis Hopper? John Leguizamo? Well, that last one was a clown in a fat suit a few years later in the detestable Spawn movie, so he doesn't necessarily count in this case. But seriously, what the hell? The movie had something to do with a meteor and some snot fungus. Oh, and everyone ate fried lizards. Everything that made the games great, right?

Well, this rant all has to do with this article I came across from the UK's The Guardian, in which Hoskins refers to the film as a "f**king nightmare," and calls the husband-and-wife directors "f**king idiots." It's little things like this that just make my Sunday that much better. Check it out here.

The Color Yellow is Kicking Ass This Summer

It's official: The Simpsons Movie is a box office juggernaut. Despite this weekend's release of The Bourne Ultimatum, which I have yet to see, Homer and the gang have raked in over $236 million worldwide, with a domestic weekend gross of 25.6 million.

This adds to a theory that I've had since Transformers came out of the gate with a $70 million plus opening weekend, which is that audiences are immediately drawn to yellow movie characters. Bumblebee? Yellow. Homer Simpson? Yellow. Read between the lines people!

Yellow: The color that's saving Hollywood. Blue? Red? Green? Hang your heads in shame.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hot Fuzz: A DVD Review

Hot Fuzz, the cop movie parody from the guys that brought you Shaun of the Dead, arrived on DVD this week, and is worth picking up whether you caught it during its theatrical run or not. Like its predecessor, it demands repeat viewings.

The film tells the story of London cop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) who is promoted to sergeant with one catch: he's being transferred to a small country town, Sandford, because he's making everyone on the force "look bad." As it turns out, the small town is hardly what it seems on the outside. Teamed up with the oafish Danny (Nick Frost), Angel has to get to the bottom of a string of suspicious murders while Danny teaches him the finer art of jumping through the air while firing two guns at once.

I say that because this film, while primarily about a city cop trying to cope with policing a small town, is a send-up of big-budget cop films like Point Break and Bad Boys 2. While Shaun spoofed the zombie films of George Romero, Hot Fuzz takes pot shots at Michael Bay. And it works.

Alas, it's just not as good as Shaun , at least not during the first viewing. When watching it again, you'll noticed how layered the film is, and how every character and every situation pays off later. Shaun similarly gets more enjoyable each time you see it, but Hot Fuzz lacks that "wow, this is brilliant" charm on first viewing of its predecessor. It's very good, but fans of Shaun of the Dead may be disappointed at first. If this is the case, watch it again. And then 3 or 4 more times just for fun.

If you like British comedy with some gunfire and explosions thrown in, you'll love Hot Fuzz.