Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Night with Lara Croft

If you weren’t already aware, a playable demo for the upcoming Tomb Raider: Underworld unearthed itself on Xbox Live on October 28 and it already looks like Crystal Dynamics, the team behind Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Anniversary, is ready for a three-peat. Aside from some camera issues, Underworld is pretty slick overall. The graphics showcase some impressive attention to detail and Lara Croft controls far more smoothly this time around, with a few more tricks added to her always-expanding acrobatic arsenal.

While the first two installments of the Eidos Interactive franchise showcased innovative level design—particularly for the mid-1990s—It was all downhill from there. Following initial success, it seemed as though less effort went into creating levels and puzzles that were actually fun as more attention and craftsmanship went toward rounding off Lara’s increasingly gravity-defying breasts. I'll admit, the 14-year-old version of me would have loved that job and I doubt I’d turn it down today. But I digress.

With 2006 came the multiplatform release of Tomb Raider: Legend, which made our favorite buxom treasure hunter relevant again outside of the so-so Angelina Jolie films. The following year, Eidos released a revamped and updated version of the original Tomb Raider, featuring new graphics, controls and slightly tweaked level design. What was old became new once again. And so here we are in 2008, awaiting the November 18 release date of the eighth (wow) game in this franchise.

In the demo, Lara is on the coast of Thailand exploring ancient ruins (are there any other kind?). Players will notice that the environments seem a bit more interactive than in the previous two Crystal Dynamics title—for example, Lara will physically push ferns and bushes aside as you move her through them. It's a subtle but effective showcase of the game's physics engine. Not so subtle is Lara's ability to actually kick attacking animals in the face. Have you ever kicked a tiger in the face? Lara Croft does it all the time.

As of this writing, I haven’t gotten all that far in the game, since I’ve developed a nasty habit of inadvertantly hurling Lara to her death in a piss-poor application of the “look before you leap” philosophy. But Underworld looks great, plays great and retains the thrill of exploration that was omnipresent in those early Tomb Raider titles.

And for those interested, yes, Lara’s boobs are still too large for her to be able to move the way she does and no, in this case I’m not a stickler for accuracy.

For more information on Tomb Raider: Underworld, visit tombraider.com.

Image courtesy of Eidos Interactive

Guinea Pigs and Pan Flutes

I’m normally a hardcore South Park supporter. You know the type. The people who seem personally offended when you admit to them that you missed the latest episode. “Dude, you’ve gotta watch the encore tonight, man. It works on so many levels.” Yeah, I’m that douche. But mostly I’m right. South Park is one of the best-written shows on television today and its consistent blend of topicality, irreverence and absurdity keeps it interesting after being on the air for over a decade.

However, the recent two-part “Pandemic” episode has me a bit flustered. Well, more flustered than I usually am. Why? Because I don’t think I liked it very much. I can appreciate that it managed to tie a worldwide epidemic of pan flute bands (pandemic…get it?) to a Cloverfield parody in which giant guinea pigs ravage major cities around the globe. I even liked the inclusion of the boys’ classmate Craig, through which co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to be mocking how absurd the show is getting in its twelfth season. A plot to raise money by forming a pan flute band leaves Craig, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman lost in the Andes Mountains. Craig provides a running commentary.

“Do you know why nobody else at school likes hanging out with you? Because you're always doing stuff like this,” Craig says. “You're always coming up with some stupid idea to do something, and then it backfires, and then you end up in some foreign country or in outer space or something. That's why no one likes hanging out with you guys.”

Craig is awesome. The rest of “Pandemic” and “Pandemic 2: The Startling?” Not so much. South Park works best in the realm of the bizarre, but the giant guinea pig Cloverfield spoof just wasn’t funny enough to spread over two episodes. And the plot with the boys was pretty boring, all things considered. What would have been a fine 22-minute burst of insanity became an exercise in “how far can we take this premise” and it backfired, in my opinion.

But judge for yourself. Head to SouthParkStudios.com to watch the two-parter in its entirety.

Image Courtesy of Comedy Central

Robert Downey Jr. to Reprise Iron Man Role in Three More Films

He may be in England filming Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes—in which he will play the iconic detective—but most movie fans worldwide are already anticipating the actor’s return as Iron Man, whose summer 2008 film debut earned $318 million in North America alone. Those same fans will be delighted to know that Downey will suit up for two more Iron Man sequels in addition to an Avengers film, which will unite ol’ Shellhead with the Hulk, Thor, Captain America and other Marvel heroes. The Associated Press reports that Iron Man director Jon Favreau will executive produce the Avengers film, due out in theaters July 15, 2011. Marvel Studios has yet to announce a director.

Iron Man 2 is slated to blast its way into theaters May 7, 2010. Favreau will return to direct, once again teaming with Downey as the titular superhero/billionaire industrialist and Gwyneth Paltrow as his leggy assistant, Virginia "Pepper" Potts. Series newcomer Don Cheadle steps in for Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who may or may not take to the skies as War Machine, his armor-clad alter ego.

Haven’t seen Iron Man? If that’s the case, I’m sure the rock you’ve been living under for is pretty damned comfortable. Hell, it must be. If you’ve really been that resistant to seeing good movies, do yourself a favor and pick up the DVD for the best superhero action you’re likely to find this side of Gotham City.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Christopher Nolan Says Dark Knight Sequel Not Guaranteed

It’s safe to say that most audiences were completely blown away by The Dark Knight this summer, and were clamoring for a sequel as soon as they left theaters. However, director Christopher Nolan says that he’s not necessarily planning a third installment in his Batman franchise.

The Los Angeles TimesHero Complex blog caught up with Nolan to talk about The Dark Knight’s critical and financial success, with the film fast approaching $1 billion worldwide as of this posting.

"I can’t get my arms around it, to be quite frank. It’s mystifying,” said Nolan. "It’s terrific but at the same time it’s a little abstract, the numbers are so big.”

When asked about the possibility of another installment, Nolan explained that he didn’t make the Batman Begins sequel with a third film in mind.

“Well ... let me think how to put this. There are two things to be said. One is the emphasis on story. What’s the story? Is there a story that’s going to keep me emotionally invested for the couple of years that it will take to make another one? That’s the overriding question.” He added, “On a more superficial level, I have to ask the question: How many good third movies in a franchise can people name? [Laughs.] At the same time, in taking on the second one, we had the challenge of trying to make a great second movie, and there haven't been too many of those either. It’s all about the story really. If the story is there, everything is possible. I hope that was a suitably slippery answer.”

The last time someone else took the helm of a Batman franchise two movies in we ended up with nipples on the Batsuit. And, in all honesty, I don’t see how a third Batman film in this series would be able to top The Dark Knight regardless of the director. If Nolan decides to leave the series alone, here’s hoping that Warner Bros. does too.

Dreaming of a Wii Christmas?

For the third holiday season since the release of the Wii, Nintendo expects that supply of the popular system may not reach its continuously strong demand, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"We're flowing products into stores on a very regular basis,” said Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. “Once you see it on the shelf, you ought to buy it. While we're bringing 50% higher level of supply into the market this holiday, we don't know if the demand will be even higher than that.”

In the same interview, Fils-Aime told the Times that the worldwide and domestic economic crisis has done little to affect strong sales of the system.

"We have not seen any negative impact. The sales data show both the Wii and the DS up in September over a year ago,” he said. “The Wii continues to be largely sold out at retail. We know consumers see our form of entertainment as a strong value because the entire family can play and because each game has more than 50 hours of play time.”

That’s all well and good, but I advise gamers to have a look at the Wii’s release slate for the upcoming holiday season. There’s Wii Music—which is being savaged by the gaming press—and, well, little else. Now look at the lineup for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Fable II, Left 4 Dead, Resistance 2, LittleBigPlanet, Fallout 3, Gears of War 2…need I go on? I, for one, wish that the folks at Nintendo would worry more about developing quality games and less about manufacturing false demand.

Did I say false demand? Yep. Don’t believe this hardware shortage hype for a moment. Nintendo absolutely has the production capabilities to get enough Wiis onto shelves so that anyone that wants one can buy one. After all, they’ve been in the hardware business longer than either of their current-gen competitors. Perhaps creating an artificial product shortage disguises the fact that the system hasn't had more than a handful of noteworthy games since its 2006 release.

Nintendo may have the “casual” market locked up with their gimmicky “wiggle the controller” titles, but I know that the system has more to offer than just that. I love the fact that the Wii has done wonders in getting new people into the hobby, but Nintendo has made little effort to sustain that audience. Once the initial “wave your arms like an idiot” euphoria wears off, most Wii owners will find themselves browsing Nintendo’s back catalog with the Virtual Console to get a taste of what the company was like when it cared more about “game design” than appealing to “non-gamer” consumers. When a video game company tosses aside the people who actually care about the medium in favor of those who don’t, Mario weeps. Luigi, however, remains indifferent. He's a jerk.

Hands-On with Fable II

Like most Xbox 360 owners, I've been spending a great deal of time these days immersed in Fable II, Peter Molyneux’s follow-up to the ambitious yet somewhat disappointing first installment released for the original Xbox in 2004. It promised a great deal, but I never felt as connected to the game’s world as it clearly wanted me to be. Thankfully, Fable II thus far is stacking up to be a vast improvement on its predecessor.

As far as its storyline, it’s pretty typical of a fantasy adventure. Taking place in the realm of Albion 500 years after the original game, the player takes the role of a young boy (or girl) who discovers that they are a Hero of legend. Unfortunately, that revelation makes way for tragedy, when the villainous Lord Lucien attempts to murder the Hero and his/her sister once he learns of their powerful lineage. The Hero survives the attempt and is nursed back to health by a mysterious woman named Theresa, who sets him/her on his quest—track down the other three Heroes spread throughout Albion, find Lucien and kill him.

The mundane story actually works to Fable II’s advantage, however, as it encourages the player to make their way through the game at their own pace and in the manner of their choosing. The real story is whatever they make of it. Like in the first game, every conversation, action and gameplay decision has consequences throughout Albion. Take out a gang of bandits and townspeople will cheer your name. Brandish a weapon in the middle of a pub and the other patrons will shriek in terror, and their opinion of you will sour. It would be easy to write off this mechanic as a novelty if it wasn’t so well-implemented. Lionhead Studios has crafted with Fable II an organic world that surpasses even Grand Theft Auto IV in providing the player with a living, breathing environment to explore (or exploit).

At the beginning of the game, it’s wise to start earning gold, which the player can either pilfer from local shopkeeps or earn honestly through backbreaking labor. I chose to hone my skills as a Bowerstone blacksmith to get some new equipment, stock up on potions and get my hands on some real estate. Yep, you can buy pretty much any piece of property in any town in the game and either choose to live there or rent it out to earn extra cash. Of course, you’ll need a home for your wife and children if you choose that gameplay route. In an early mission, a jilted ghost asks you to seduce his living bride-to-be and then break her heart. Softie that I am, I instead proposed to her and bought her a humble house in the Bowerstone marketplace. Once married, you can sleep with your spouse and, provided that you wear a condom, you’ll remain child-free. I, on the other hand, am now a proud father in the game. Note, this is all separate from the whole “save the world” storyline, but it’s all very well thought out nonetheless.

On the combat front, this is one of the most accessible action games on the market. Genre newbies will get along just fine by button-mashing, while more skilled players will find satisfaction through cycling through magic spells and taking a more active role in each battle. By dispatching enemies, the player can upgrade their Skill, Will and Strength attributes to earn new magic spells and abilities. While just about any role-playing game or action title these days has upgradeable attributes, the player always feels in full control of their character’s development in Fable II—for better or worse.

As in the original Fable, the player’s decisions ultimately influence whether your character is good or evil, which in turn affects how the citizens of Albion react to you. As of this writing, my character is a generally well-liked person, but time will tell if juggling a career, a family and the fate of the free world turns my character into a major dick.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gears of War 2: "Last Day"

November 7 simply cannot come fast enough. This ad for the highly anticipated Gears of War 2 was designed by the same team that came up with that memorable "Mad World" television spot for the first Gears installment way back in 2006. This commercial features the track "How it Ends" by DeVotchKa, along with some pretty phenomenal visuals. Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

LucasArts and BioWare Go MMO with Star Wars: The Old Republic

On October 21, BioWare and LucasArts announced their latest plan for the highly popular Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) video game series. As opposed to a single-player follow-up to 2004’s KotOR: The Sith Lords (developed by Obsidian Entertainment), BioWare has opted for a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called Star Wars: The Old Republic. The series made a splash on the original Xbox when the first installment hit shelves in 2003, however there appear to be no plans as of this writing to release the title for consoles.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the game is BioWare’s most ambitious title yet, with a writing team that is three to four times larger than that of a normal game. It will follow the same storyline as the previous games in the KotOR series, taking place thousands of years prior to the events of the Star Wars films.

"People have asked us why we're not making Knights of the Old Republic III," BioWare senior content producer Dallas Dickinson told the AP. "Our response is that we're actually making Knights of the Old Republic III through Knights of the Old Republic X — and we're releasing them all at once."

This is all well and good, but it is troubling that a developer like BioWare that has made a name for itself with quality single-player experiences, like KotOR and 2007's Mass Effect, is jumping on the lucrative (and increasingly cramped) MMORPG bandwagon. Also, don’t forget that the Star Wars brand already tried—and failed—to enter this market with the abysmal Star Wars Galaxies in 2003 (my apologies to the tens of people still playing that game). But BioWare assures us that things are different this time around, promising to keep missions varied as players find themselves caught up in a brutal conflict between the Jedi and the Sith.

"In an MMO, you usually do what you're told, whether it's go kill 10 dudes or find this artifact or whatever," said BioWare creative director James Ohlen. "You never get to make meaningful choices that are tough to make. That's something we're going to have in our game because Star Wars is all about the struggle between good and evil, light and dark."

I have faith in BioWare, and have yet to play a game they’ve developed that hasn't blown me away. However, part of me is still wishing that they had just went ahead with another single-player KotOR as most fans of the series were hoping they would. Some of just aren’t into MMORPGs no matter who’s making them. And, since this series found its footing on consoles, not releasing this game for Xbox 360 (and, alright, Playstation 3) would be a slap in the face to those of us who aren’t PC gamers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seth Rogen Calls Ghostbusters 3 a "Terrible Idea"

Shortly after the September announcement that Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (The Office) were penning a screenplay for a third installment in the Ghostbusters franchise, the Internet was abuzz with casting speculation. And since he has been in just about every blockbuster comedy released over the past few years, Seth Rogen (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express) was tossed into the mix fairly early on. I can certainly picture him with a proton pack. Can’t you?

Eisenberg and Stupnitsky previously worked with Rogen on the yet-to-be-released Year One, a film directed by Ghostbusters co-creator Harold Ramis (you probably remember him best as Egon Spengler). You also saw him play Rogen’s father in the Judd Apatow-directed Knocked Up back in the summer of 2007.

However, at a press junket to promote his next film, Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Rogen told Collider.com what he really thinks about all this Ghostbusters sequel talk.

“It’s hard to imagine that would be good, isn’t it? I mean just as a movie fan I am the first guy to be skeptical of that,” Rogen told the website. “It sounds like a terrible idea when you first hear it. At first hearing it sounds like the worst idea ever. I dunno. Maybe. I mean, that would have to be one motherfucking good script.”

Okay, so he’s reasonably cautious, and added in the interview that his involvement would all depend on “how bad the script was.”

Count me as one of those kids of the 1980s who’s hoping for a script that is, as Rogen put it, “motherfucking good.”

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
hits theaters on October 31.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sometimes, Goonies Do Say Die

While Josh Brolin has achieved critical acclaim for his portrayal of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s biopic, W., he may always be remembered for his breakout role in Richard Donner’s The Goonies, which has remained a family favorite since its 1985 release. For years, there have been rumors that the original gang of adolescent treasure hunters may return for a second installment, but attempts always seem to stagnate in the planning stages. On October 15, Variety reported that those plans are about as dead as One-Eyed Willie himself. And if you’ve seen the movie (how could you not have?), that’s pretty dead.

Donner told Variety that the most recent efforts to get a second Goonies project off the ground fell through, saying "We tried really hard, and Steven [Spielberg] said, 'Let's do it.' We had a lot of young writers submit work, but it just didn't seem to call for it.”

He added, however, that The Goonies may resurface as a musical on Broadway. “Wouldn’t that be great?” Um, nope. Sorry. Never. Unless there’s an elaborate Sloth tapdancing routine or an intricately-choreographed musical number based around the “Truffle Shuffle,” I’d rather my childhood remain at least reasonably intact.

Brian and Stewie Take on Hitler

I was certain that the storyline for tonight’s episode of Family Guy would offend on pretty much every level. When Mort Goldman mistakes Stewie’s time machine for a toilet (he had taken both a laxative and a stool loosener), he is transported to Warsaw, Poland on September 1, 1939. For those of you who paid attention during history class, that was the day that the Nazis began their invasion of Poland. Transplanting Family Guy’s token Jewish stereotype to this time and place seemed to be in fairly poor taste, even for a show that prides itself on shock humor.

However, I’m happy to report that while the episode was still wildly offensive, it was no worse than any other episode of the oft-controversial series and never stepped over the line to become overtly anti-Semitic. After Mort disappears, Stewie and Brian travel back in time to find him and sneak him into England. Of course, they soon get caught up in World War II, and their adventure brings them to Berlin, where they come face-to-face with Adolf Hitler himself. Shenanigans ensue.

As expected from this premise, “Road to Germany” is rife with gags referencing Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones films, and the show’s writers even worked in a nod to 1933 Marx Brothers’ classic Duck Soup. The episode also features a brilliantly well-timed jab at McCain/Palin (Stewie finds one of their campaign pins on a Nazi’s lapel). I could probably take this opportunity to criticize Family Guy’s continued reliance on references and cut-away sequences as opposed to jokes evolving from a storyline, but that would be like criticizing South Park for being preachy. It is what it is, and if you don’t see that by now, why are you watching?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cloning Around

Okay, I admit it. As a critical, long-time Star Wars fanatic, I find myself enjoying the computer-animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series on Cartoon Network. While it may be kid-friendly—as Star Wars always has been and should be—it has a lot of that “gee whiz” Star Wars magic that was sorely missing from the prequel films, which should delight older fans of the saga.

That said, I thought the Clone Wars film released theatrically in August of this year was pretty terrible—kids’ movie or not. The plot wasn’t all that engaging (rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s son?) and a movie theater screen was not the proper place to introduce the series’ puppet-like stylized animation, which bears more aesthetic similarities to Thunderbirds than Pixar's award-winning and more realistic work.


After three weeks and four installments, The Clone Wars shows tremendous promise. The October 17 episode in particular, “Destroy Malevolence,” was pure, unadulterated old-school Star Wars fun. Topping off a three-part story arc, the episode followed Anakin Skywalker, Ob-Wan Kenobi and Padmé Amidala as they infiltrate the villainous General Grievous’ super-powered warship (the Malevolence) and, as the title suggests, destroy it. There are shades of A New Hope throughout the episode as our heroes race through corridors dodging blaster fire, and, surprisingly, there is actual chemistry between Anakin and Padmé in this series. Star Wars fans have been waiting nearly ten years to see what that actually looks like.

Star Wars die-hards—myself included—were quick to pounce on series supervising director Dave Filoni’s animated take on George Lucas’ universe early on, but it’s clearly found an audience and seems likely to sustain it. Variety reports that the one-hour series premiere on October 3 pulled in 3.96 million viewers—a record-breaking number for a Cartoon Network series. I’ll refrain from saying that the Force is strong with The Clone Wars, but it’s clearly far better than most feared, and looks to introduce an entire new audience to these characters and stories. And who can honestly argue with that?

Ghostbusters Game May Have a New Publisher!

According to a tip sent in to gaming blog Kotaku, Ghostbusters star and writer Dan Aykroyd told Dallas radio station 105.3 KLLI on October 14 that the multiplatform Ghostbusters: The Video Game is about a “year away” from release. The game—which has been stuck in video game limbo since Activision Blizzard acquired all titles previously being published Sierra and Vivendi—is rumored to be released by Atari, although the company has yet to release an official confirmation. Mr. Aykroyd, to quote, well, you, "We're ready to believe you!"

Aykroyd continues to live and breathe the Ghostbusters franchise, so this rumor may hold water (or slime, in this case). The game’s Amazon.com page has it listed for a June 30, 2009 release date, which is fairly close to the 25th anniversary of the original film’s June 8 opening. That’s a golden money-making opportunity if I ever saw one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cartman Gets His Ass Kicked

As a rule, cancer just isn’t funny. So when I learned that this week’s new episode of South Park was titled “Breast Cancer Show Ever,” I cringed just a little bit. Thankfully, there was a lot more to this episode than some off-color cancer humor.

When Cartman crudely interrupts Wendy’s presentation on breast cancer awareness, she vows to beat the hell out of him. Naturally, this gets all of their classmates amped to see the two face off after school while Cartman tries everything in his power to get out of fighting her, including intentionally getting detention by taking a crap on Mr. Garrison’s desk.

This episode was reminiscent of what South Park was in its early days. You won’t find much in the way of profound hidden meaning or layered political messaging in this fairly straightforward episode, but you will see Wendy beat the snot out of Cartman at its finale, something that he’s really had coming for the past few years. This wasn’t a great episode—the plot wore a bit thin halfway through—but there were plenty of great Cartman moments throughout, and it was nice to see Wendy featured so prominently. However, even an average episode of South Park is better than most comedies on television.

Head over to SouthParkStudios.com to watch this episode in its entirety.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gears of War Mongering

Start revving up your Lancers now, gearheads, because Gears of War 2 hits store shelves on November 7. Gaming blog Kotaku went hands-on with one of the game’s most talked-about online multiplayer modes and, yes, there is no way that I could possibly want to own this game more than I do right now.

The mode in question, Horde mode, sends wave after wave of enemy troops (for the uninitiated and probably more attractive and popular, they’re called Locusts), and it’s up to you and your friends to mow them down. The idea of a mode based solely on cooperative survival and teamwork is intriguing, particularly since playing the campaign cooperatively in the first Gears was far more satisfying than duking it out in the competitive modes. Those are all there too—with some cool-sounding new ones thrown into the mix—but I know I’ll be playing Horde extensively as soon as I work my way through the single-player campaign.

Click here for more Gears 2 coverage from Kotaku, and be sure to reserve a copy of the game for yourself at your local retailer and plan your sick days accordingly.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Piss People Off

Chances are, you’ve seen ads for the upcoming R-rated Kevin Smith comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno, starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. However, you may be seeing a whole lot less of them before the film hits theaters on October 31 as several network and cable channels, newspapers and other media outlets begin pulling its advertising for its use of the word porno, which is apparently too damned filthy for some people.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that Fox Sports received complaints from viewers after running Zack and Miri ads during L.A. Dodgers games in September and promptly dropped them. Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch told the AP that one viewer was shocked to see one of the ads come on while he was watching a game with his son.
"He was explaining to his son what a squeeze bunt was. Commercial break, the ad comes on, and the kid asks, `Dad, what does porno mean?'" Rawitch said. "Dodgers baseball has always been about family, and we've always been sensitive to the type of advertising that runs on our games."
Here’s an easy answer: “It’s a movie for grown-ups.” End of story. I understand the importance of protecting children from negative influences, but let’s be honest—most prime-time advertising is not aimed at children and it’s really up to parents to contextualize any information that their kids are exposed to. Can we no longer have advertising for beer, liquor or pills to treat erectile dysfunction? Those’ll require some explaining as well.
Diane Levin, a child development specialist at Boston’s Wheelock College, said she believes that the advertising for the film is sending the message to children that pornography is an acceptable career choice.
"It's drawing attention to a movie which is mainstreaming and normalizing pornography, saying if you need money, this is what you do,” Levin told the AP. It’s like all that advertisement for The Dark Knight, which was a blatant attempt to mainstream vigilante crimefighting, being serious and punching people in clown makeup. Can’t movies be movies anymore? Do they all have to be teaching tools, even if they’re in no way marketed toward impressionable young minds? Will we soon no longer be able to include the words sex, kill or war in our film titles because they might raise questions among the under-10 set?
New advertising will eliminate the movie’s name entirely, reading, "Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a movie so outrageous that we can't even tell you the title." It’s not a bad compromise, but I’d hate to see this controversy tank what may be one of Smith’s best films.
At least I’m not squeamish about the title. Learn all about Zack and Miri Make a Porno at its official site by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

“Next Time, Baby?” Not for Terrence Howard.

While summer 2008 blockbuster Iron Man all-but-promised that Tony Stark’s best friend Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard) would make an appearance as armor-clad hero War Machine in the next installment, the Academy Award-nominated actor will not be returning for the 2010 Marvel Studios sequel, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Instead, “Rhodey” will be played by fellow Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash), who was approached by Marvel Studios after negotiations with Howard fell through.

Iron Man 2
reunites director Jon Favreau with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, who will reprise their roles as Stark/Iron Man and his assistant Pepper Potts. Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) is writing the screenplay.

An Unexpected Dinner Guest

Monday, October 13, 2008

What the Hell is Gamer Grub?

Earlier today, when I was clicking through the Penny Arcade archive, I came across a comic strip lambasting something called “Gamer Grub,” which appeared to be a brand of snack food targeted exclusively at the video gaming set. Naturally, my interest was piqued. I just had to know what this stuff was, and the search was on. Four seconds later, I found myself at the Gamer Grub website. Well, to be realistic, it only took me about two seconds to actually get to the bloody site and the other two were spent pondering why I gave a fuck about something that touts itself as “the first performance snack formulated especially for gamers.”

According to the product’s website, the benefits of Gamer Grub include—but surely aren’t limited to—“great tasting flavors,” “ergonomic packaging,” “no keyboard crumbs” and “no greasy fingers.” Ergonomic packaging? Sure, I’ll give them that. The canisters that this stuff comes in look easy to wrap your hand around, leaving your other hand free for World of Warcraft or any other one-handed activity (such as high-fiving your grandmother, flipping off your dog or whatever other demanding one-handed activities you can think of). The cup-like packaging will prevent crumbs from falling onto your keyboard—unlike those asshole potato chip bags—and your fingers are left grease-free because you never have to touch the stuff. But “great tasting flavors?” Let’s review:

Action Pizza: “A great tasting, healthy pizza blend with a satisfying crunch.” (WTF is a “healthy pizza blend?”)

Racing Wasabi: “Wasabi and honey mustard? Trust us—the combination creates a crunchy, mouth-watering bite. Watch out, it’s addictive!” (Lolz! I will!)

Strategy Chocolate: “A sweet chocolate and cherry sensation, velvety in taste for deep thought. Tell us how you like it; we ate all our samples.” (I’ll take their word for it.)

Sports PB&J: “No need to get out of your seat and stop playing to make a PB&J sandwich. Just pop open a can and continue to play. Your taste buds will not know the difference.” (Yep, because the last thing anyone interested in athletics wants to do is something as demanding as GETTING OFF THE COUCH TO MAKE A SANDWICH!)

It’s a good thing that Gamer Grub doesn’t get crumbs on the keyboard, because most people choking it down when it hits retailers will be too worried about cleaning the vomit out from underneath the caps lock. Hell, I’m nauseated just reading about the stuff. Not only is the concept insulting to gamers—who have come a long way from the basement-dwelling, sedentary losers that we’re often depicted as—but the fact that Biosilo Foods seems to have randomly assigned flavors to different gaming genres is a mystery to me. What if I’m a strategy gamer and I love pizza? What if I enjoy Mario Kart Wii but can’t stand wasabi? Why must you mock me, Gamer Grub?

I needed to read up on the “science” behind Gamer Grub, and learned that this stuff includes a blend of vitamins and minerals that “supports fast reaction times for maximum gaming performance.” You know what else promotes “maximum gaming performance?” Actual meals. And sleep.

Are you hungry? Put down the controller for five minutes and make a sandwich. Have we gotten to the point where we can’t tear ourselves away from Call of Duty 4 long enough to take care of basic human needs? Wake me up when they start marketing D-Pad Diapers for those all-night Gears of War sessions.

Read all about Gamer Grub by clicking here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. It’s Intense.”

Ah, Fright Fest at Six Flags Great Adventure. There’s something oddly amazing about spending an October Saturday strolling through a summertime amusement park elaborately decorated for the spooky season. Giant spider webs, torches and a “blood”-spurting fountain are just a few of the accoutrement that are sure to get you amped for Halloween festivities. It all certainly worked on me.

For the second year in a row, A group of my friends and I made the trek to Jackson, New Jersey this weekend to take in the park's autumnal celebration of all things that go bump in the night. On Saturday, the skies were clear, the air was cool and the coasters were calling. We rode oldie-but-goodie “Batman: The Ride” first, forgoing the long lines for the brand-spanking new “The Dark Knight Coaster.” I could have personally done without the Prince soundtrack music blaring through the speakers while we waited on line and I’m still a little miffed that Great Adventure has made no attempt to update the ride to reflect the new Christopher Nolan films, but I guess it is important to honor the past. Still, it would have been ten times cooler to pose in front of the Tumbler as opposed to the Tim Burton-era Batmobile that has been on display at the ride’s entrance since the early 1990s.
Throughout the day, we also rode “Nitro,” which drops you 215 feet at 80 miles-per-hour; “El Toro,” which boasts a terrifying 76 degree drop and “Superman: Ultimate Flight,” which is, hands-down, my favorite roller coaster of all time. It lays you face-down as it takes you through loops, spirals and curves to simulate the sensation of taking flight as the Man of Steel. You’ll probably have to wait a while to get on—it’s one of the park’s more popular rides—but it’s completely worth it.
I should also take this time to applaud the ride’s operator for providing me and my friends with entertaining material for the entire ride back home to Westchester, NY. He was trying to be enthusiastic over the microphone but, after a long day of revving up ride passengers, I don’t think he had it in him anymore by mid-evening. His unenthused proclamation of “yeah, yeah, yeah. It's intense” brought our enjoyment of the ride to bold new heights, despite being as exhilarating as a bowel movement. Can I write a letter to Great Adventure asking them to give that guy a raise? Ironically?
Of course, once night falls during Fright Fest, the ghouls come out. As you walk through the park, you’re likely to come across more than a few crazed clowns or chainsaw wielding psychopaths that are more than willing to either eat your face or pose for a snapshot or two. There’s also Halloween-themed shows and attractions scattered throughout the park. Be warned—the really cool ones cost money. So does the delicious, delicious funnel cake.
Fright Fest runs every weekend at Six Flags parks through November 2. Click here to learn all about the festivities and to order tickets online.

Have You Seen It? Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead is one of the easiest films to recommend to just about anybody. It’s witty, subversive, hilarious and loaded with gratuitous violence and gore. It’s also a romantic comedy. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

I was first introduced to this film on DVD in the summer of 2005. I had previously been aware of its existence, but the idea of a zombie genre spoof didn’t really hit home with me at first despite everyone telling me how great it was. If I could travel back in time, I would kick my former self square in the ignorant nuts. Shaun of the Dead is now one of my favorite movies and it’s the perfect way to get yourself into the Halloween spirit this year if the whole “economic crisis” doesn’t have you terrified enough.

The movie centers around Shaun (Simon Pegg), a 29-year-old slacker, who is trying to get his life together, reconnect with his mother and win back his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). Shaun’s quest for self-improvement is further exacerbated when the dead rise to feast on the flesh of the living. Armed with a cricket bat and his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun is thrust into a leadership role for the first time in his life as he fights off the undead hordes and his own inadequacies.

If you watch Shaun of the Dead once, you’ll probably laugh at the running jokes, the visual gags and the over-the-top violence. That’s a given. But the film will only grow on you as you begin to realize that every joke, every moment and every character nuance is important to the overall plot. You don’t need to notice them on the first go-around to enjoy the film, but by the fifth viewing, you’ll find pleasure in discovering that Shaun switches to from Coca-Cola Classic to Diet Coke after deciding to turn his life around (and lose some weight). See? There’s triumph in being an obsessive nerd…or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Shaun of the Dead is a film that you simply need to see if you’re a fan of comedy, romance, horror or any combination of the three that you can think of. Oh, by the way, you’ve got red on you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

“Well, Well, Indiana Jones!”

South Park kicked off the second half of its twelfth season last night and…wow. It’s pretty clear that the series' writer/director Trey Parker was not all that impressed by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom and the Crystal Skull.

In the episode, titled “The China Probrem,” Cartman suspects that the elaborate opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympic Games were signaling a Chinese invasion of the United States. As is the case with most Cartman-centric storylines these days, Butters tag along as he takes customers and staff hostage at a local P.F. Chang’s. This plotline has its moments—particularly Butters accidentally shooting people “in the dick” (not cool)—but the episode truly shines in its secondary story.

At the beginning of the episode, Kyle is clearly traumatized. He and his friends were forced to watch as one of their close friends was raped. Of course, we soon learn that their friend is Indiana Jones. The assailants? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Yep. South Park went there. To prevent this from ever happening again, the boys call for the arrest of Spielberg and Lucas for sexually assaulting their own creation. Poignant.

But the joke doesn’t end there. We actually get to see Lucas and Spielberg rape Indy through some downright disturbing scenes in homage to Deliverance and The Accused. It takes balls to go after two of the most powerful filmmakers in the world like this.

Oh, and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull will be released on DVD October 14, but I doubt anyone will look at that film the same way ever again. Personally, I thought Crystal Skull was a fun movie (and hey, so did Butters), but I have to appreciate the satire at play here.

Check out SouthParkStudios.com to watch this episode in its entirety. Just don’t do it at work.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

McCain and Obama Square Off on Comic Book Shelves

As of this writing, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are embroiled in a critical town hall debate at Nashville, Tennessee’s Belmont University. While both presidential candidates are touching on some key policy issues, the dorky part of my brain is left wondering why no one's asking the important questions. They may both have plans to remedy the United States’ ailing economy, but how would each of them fare against a Skrull invasion? Could McCain kick Batman's ass?

Crazier crossovers have happened. On sale Wednesday, October 8, the illustrated life stories of Obama and McCain hit comic book stores courtesy of IDW Comics. Reuters reports that each issue runs 28 pages, with a bound edition combining both biographies available in bookstores.

"It really is a kick to do something that is something so out of the norm for comic books," Scott Dunbier, special projects editor with IDW told Reuters. "I think that people who normally don't go to comic shops are really going to be part of the audience that pick this up."

With comic book film adaptations all the rage these days, get Christopher Nolan on the phone. You know you’d pay ten bucks to see Obama Begins. On the other hand, Iron Maverick is probably more of a rental.

The Wort Report Has a New Home!

Don’t be alarmed, Wortmaniacs. Earlier this week, The Wort Report went through some changes and, as is the case with socks, underwear and lightbulbs, change can be an amazing thing. From now on, you’ll be able to find my geeky rants and reviews at WortReport.com. New URL, same great taste. However, if you can, in fact, taste the Internet then you’re probably doing it wrong.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Harrison Ford Talks Indy 5

In an October 3 interview with the Los Angeles TimesHero Complex blog, Indiana Jones star Harrison Ford said that series creator George Lucas is already plotting a fifth installment.

"It's crazy but great," said Ford, 66. "George is in think mode right now." If I had Lucas' money, I'd probably be in "think mode" about what kind of extinct species I'd want to bring back to life, deep fry and cover in chocolate. But that's just me.
The fourth Indy film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, grossed $318 million in North American theaters and $770 million worldwide. According to Ford, this success in reviving the franchise has gotten a lot of the right people talking about continuing the series.
"It's automatic, really, we did well with the last one and with that having done well and been a positive experience, it's not surprising that some people want to do it again," Ford told the LA Times.
Crystal Skull was far from the Indiana Jones sequel that everyone was expecting, but with nearly two decades of anticipation, living up to that massive hype would have been impossible. I could have personally done without some of its goofier moments—the infamous “nuking the fridge” scene immediately comes to mind—but it was a fun enough sequel that just happened to delve a little too often into “no friggin’ way” territory. As for a fifth Indy? It's totally unnecessary, but I can’t really feign disinterest in the further adventures of our favorite ophidiophobic archaeologist.