Saturday, August 30, 2008

Don't You Love References?

Just hours after Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama delivered an exhilarating speech hinting at a better and brighter America on August 28, Disaster Movie hit theaters across the country. The film's release reminds us all that while we can hope for change, there are actually people willing to pay to see money for utter garbage. And those same people will be voting in November.

Date Movie. Epic Movie. Meet the Spartans. All written by the lame-brain “creative” team of Aaron Setzer and Jason Friedberg, a pair who have carved a niche for themselves in apparently idea-starved Hollywood by churning out feature-length streams of references. Not satire. References.
Say what you will about Family Guy, but at least Seth MacFarlane and his writers (manatees?) tend to know the difference between straight-up referencing something and satirizing it. Judging by the trailer and television previews for Disaster Movie (creative title, right?), the working script probably looked something like this.
Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hannah Montana, Paris Hilton, Indiana Jones, Sex and the City, Batman, Amy Winehouse, Juno, Amy Winehouse again, roll credits.”
Keep in mind that nothing listed above has anything to do with actual disaster movies. Early in their career, Setzer and Friedberg actually attempted to effectively spoof a genre in co-writing 2000’s Scary Movie, but it seems like these douchebags peaked creatively eight years ago. I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that these guys get to keep making movies, or that someone out there is genuinely interested in blowing ten bucks on lost time, lost dignity and lost brain cells. But, if you’re the target audience of these movies, it’s likely that none of those things matter all that much to you in the first place.
America, if you see Disaster Movie this weekend, you’re part of the problem.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Hands-On Look at Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Geeks rejoice! A brief playable demo for the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has hit the Xbox Live Marketplace. Taking on the role of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, code-named “Starkiller,” players are tasked by the Dark Lord of the Sith himself to eliminate a Jedi Master who is attacking an Imperial shipyard. Vader gives you free-reign to cut down anyone in your path—including Imperials—to ensure that the Emperor has no knowledge of your existence. If it moves, feel free to get stabby with your lightsaber. Barring that, there is that whole Force thing that enables you to throw enemy soldiers around like rag dolls or fry them to a crisp. Hey, Sith happens.

Judging by the demo, players have a lot to look forward to the multi-platform The Force Unleashed, which hits U.S. store shelves on September 16. Having played the Xbox 360 version, I liken the gameplay to the God of War or Devil May Cry series in that combat relies heavily on combos and special attacks that players can chain together with devastating results. The demo takes players through part of an early mission in the game—Starkiller’s Force powers are not fully developed—but one still gets a cathartic thrill out of dispatching an entire squad of Imperial Stormtroopers in mere seconds with a well-timed Force Push or lightning blast. If the game’s goal was to show just why the dark side of the Force is so appealing, then they’ve absolutely accomplished that goal. And because the much-touted environmental and body physics in this game are so finely tuned, the player really does experience the sensation of power that this title demands.

However, the demo isn’t perfect. Matt Sloan’s performance as Darth Vader seems a bit flat during the demo’s opening cinematic, hardly imitating the iconic aural menace of James Earl Jones. Also, while the demo is short and only hints at the gameplay possibilities, one hopes that there’s more to the finished product than slogging through easily-dispatched enemies. Sure, having full and unfettered control of the Force may be what Star Wars fans have always wanted, but button mashing is tedious with or without a high midichlorian count.

All in all, this is a promising demo that any Star Wars enthusiast should download immediately to tide themselves over until The Force Unleashed is available for purchase. Heck, even if you're just a casual gamer who can't tell an Ewok from an Ugnaught, the demo's worth a shot. If you’re not at least a little impressed by this demo, then, as Lord Vader might say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jedi Jailbait?

Yes, I sat through Star Wars: The Clone Wars and around 10 minutes in, I knew that I was not, in any way, a part of its target audience. It simply never aspired to that universal appeal that just about all of Pixar’s computer-generated films seem to have. But as a children’s cartoon meant to sell action figures, it’s probably not as bad as most critics are making it out to be. I grew up with the toy-centric Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, ThunderCats, The Real Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m obviously not offended by crass commercialism.

But I did find it disturbing when I came across an Associated Press (AP) piece that dissected the seemingly harmless teacher-student relationship between Anakin Skywalker and his plucky Padawan learner, Ahsoka Tano.

"Ahsoka Tano — who easily out-toughs even Princess Leia in her prime — is smart, sassy and skilled with a lightsaber," writes Josh L. Dickey of the AP. "And despite that she's merely a teen 'toon, Ahsoka kicks up more chemistry in a few scenes with the animated Vader-in-waiting than the real-life Natalie Portman could muster over three whole films.” He's referring, of course, to Anakin's secret bride and mother to Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, Padmé Amidala.

Dickey concedes that there’s nothing blatantly sexual or even romantic about this relationship, but goes on to speculate that the theatrical pilot for the Cartoon Network television series hints at possible sparks in future episodes.

Now, I’m surely not the first to admit that Star Wars is one of the most unsexy geek properties around, and any guy who can pick up a girl while wearing a “Han Shot First” t-shirt deserves more medals than Michael Phelps. But creating sexual controversy centered around the relationship between a twenty-something Anakin Skywalker and a half-naked underage alien girl just kind of gives me the creeps.

It’s bad enough that the series is portraying a soon-to-be mass murderer as a war hero, but do we need to make him a pervert as well?

When Star Wars becomes To Catch a Predator, that’s when I hang up my (plastic) lightsaber.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Undying Franchise

Hot on the heels of the May release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, series creator George Lucas told The Associated Press that a fifth Indy film may be in the cards, with Harrison Ford donning the iconic fedora once again.

By the end of Crystal Skull, many viewers speculated that Lucas and director Steven Spielberg were grooming 22-year-old actor Shia LaBeouf—who plays Indy’s son Mutt Williams in the movie—to carry the series forward with or without Ford’s involvement. Thankfully, Lucas affirmed that this isn’t the case.

"He is Indiana Jones," Lucas said of Ford. "If Indiana Jones wasn't in it, you'd have to call it Mutt Williams and the Search for Elvis.”

Lucas said he is eyeing another Indy sequel, which is currently in the plotting stages.

"The franchise really depends on me coming up with a good idea," Lucas told the AP. "And that series is very research-intensive. So we're doing research now to see if we can't come up with another object for him to chase ... hopefully we'll come up with something."

George, whatever you do come up with, make sure it involves a minimum of computer-animated prairie dogs, monkeys and insects. Oh, and please refrain from nuking fridges or any other kitchen appliances in any future installments of the series.

According to the article, Lucas is also planning on re-releasing all six Star Wars films theatrically and presenting them in 3-D (awesome), in addition to a live-action television series in the near future (fingers crossed). Star Wars: The Clone Wars—which precedes an upcoming computer-animated television series of the same name—hits theaters on August 15.

Charging the Batteries

For once, I can safely say that I’m entering the coming work week fully rested and ready to be productive. For two straight days, I slept in, watched movies, hung out with friends and generally turned off the part of my brain that tends to leap from one crisis to another.

No, I haven’t seen Pineapple Express, but from what I’ve heard, I’m sure I’m going to love it. As a fan of pretty much all things Judd Apatow—going back all the way to his short-lived series Freaks and Geeks—I know it’ll make me laugh my ass off. Between Pineapple Express and the upcoming Tropic Thunder, there’s plenty to enjoy at the multiplex this month.

Oh, and there is that whole Star Wars: The Clone Wars thing hitting theaters on August 15. Color me skeptical at the moment. I think it’s great that George Lucas it taking Star Wars in new and different directions, but I’m confused as to why he felt the need to further explore a time period that has been mined countless times already, from books to comics to a previous animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky. I’m not one to bash the Star Wars prequels—although, I still find them inferior to the classic trilogy—but I think that the general public is pretty bored with the pre-A New Hope era. There’s nothing more distancing than watching faceless automatons fight each other (for the uninitiated and therefore more attractive and popular, I’m talking about clones versus droids), but the fact that we’ve already seen how that conflict ends in Revenge of the Sith makes the entire thing seem frivolous. One of the chief problems with the prequel trilogy is that it spent too much time answering questions that we never asked. Wouldn’t an animated film and series chronicling the three-year Clone Wars era be doing just that?

Speaking of Star Wars (which I tend to do more often than is socially acceptable), I’ve been spending a great deal of time these days with Soulcalibur IV, which features playable characters from the Star Wars universe. As an Xbox 360 owner, I have the privilege of playing as Yoda, while my Playstation 3 brothers and sisters (mostly brothers, but female gamers feel free to speak up) have the chance to play as the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. Yeah, I’m kind of envious, but Yoda kicks ass in his own muppety way. Also included is Darth Vader’s secret apprentice—from the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed—who is playable on both versions of the game. It’s great to see these characters crossing over into a solid, mainstream fighting game like this, but I doubt I’m the first person to be thrown into a Wookiee rage whenever they run into someone online playing as Yoda. The little green bastard is tough.

Anyway, have a great week Wortmaniacs!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Dark Knight Breaks $400 Million

After its third straight weekend at the top of the box office heap, The Dark Knight continues to wow audiences and demolish box office records, Reuters reports. The blockbuster Batman sequel cleared the $400 million mark after just 18 days in U.S. and Canadian theaters, becoming the fastest film to reach that milestone domestically. The previous record holder was Shrek 2, which took 43 days to reach $400 million during its 2004 theatrical run.

According to Reuters, its distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, expects The Dark Knight to earn at least $100 million more in North American ticket sales, which would place it ahead of No. 2 all-time box office record holder Star Wars (1977). The No. 1 all-time box office champ, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), earned $601 million domestically.
King of the World? I’d like to introduce you to the Clown Prince of Crime.
For those who have yet to see the Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal Batman Begins follow-up, it lives up to its astronomical hype and critical praise. An Oscar-worthy performance by Heath Ledger brings the maniacal Joker to the big screen like never before, while Christian Bale cements himself as the definitive Caped Crusader. Not only is The Dark Knight a pitch-perfect comic book adaptation, but it’s hands-down the best film to hit theaters this year.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fools and Their Money

In another ridiculous "Nintendo Wii is good for you" story, a Manhattan gym is charging customers $110 an hour to "work out" with the console, which retails for approximately $250. Nope, I'm not making this up.

The gym in question is Gravity Fitness at Le Parker Meridien hotel, and its executive director told the New York Post that he thinks of the Wii as "just another tool at the gym." Well, there's certainly at least one tool at the gym.

There are plenty of things to blow your money on these days, but in today's flagging economy, why must we flaunt such financial stupidity? For less than the cost of three one-hour sessions, anyone can buy a Wii of their own, which comes packaged with Wii Sports and is easier to find now than ever before. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to fork over $110 bucks to pretend to play tennis for an hour.

And while I love the Wii and all that it has done to bring video games into the mainstream, could we please stop heralding it as a substitute for good old-fashioned exercise week after week in the media? Sure, it's better than sitting on your ass, but if you're serious about getting in shape, ditch the controller and go for a jog.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Montauk Monster: Fact or Fiction?

By now, you've probably caught a glimpse of the "Montauk Monster," a bizarre corpse that allegedly washed up on an East Hampton, New York beach in mid-July. Since a photo of the rotting creature surfaced on gossip site Gawker earlier this week, the Internet has been asking itself one question: "What the hell is that thing?"

Some guess that it's some sort of mutant, animal experts are sure that it's a dead dog or raccoon and others speculate it's a viral marketing stunt to promote a new Cartoon Network series about mythological creatures called Cryptids Are Real. I'm inclined to lean toward the latter, especially after reading this report from FOXNews.com, which reveals some conflicting stories about where the corpse ended up after the pictures were snapped. Information on this anomaly seems just a bit too calculated and drawn out to be legitimate. However, a part of me is hoping that there's something extraordinary at play here. What do you think?