Thursday, May 30, 2013

Now You See Me Review: It's Like Trying To Tell a Stranger 'Bout Rock n' Roll

"I wanna show you a magic trick, yeah I promise it's sick like whoa-oh-oh-oh."

[That was an excerpt from the Ke$ha hit "Booty Call." The following has more to do with a movie.]

"Look closely. Because the closer you think you are, the less you actually see."

Holy crap, I am so tired of this gosh darn quote. It's one the new film Now You See Me came up with all by its big boy self, and it wants you to put it in your high school yearbook. The quote references slight-of-hand, or, more applicable here, magic tricks. However, after a good old watchy-watch, I'm not entirely sure if Now You See Me pulls off its tricks the way it intended.

Now You See Me revolves around The Four Horsemen - not of the apocalypse or an all-male equestrian squad, but a group of street magicians brought together under unusual circumstances. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco conduct elaborate stage shows involving CGI bubbles, rabbits in boxes, and heists where the Horsemen don't keep a cent. Did that last one catch your attention? Well it sure did for Mark Ruffalo's offensively incompetent FBI agent and Morgan Freeman's hat-toting magician-turned-skeptic. Thus begins a long and winding tale of deception and trickery. Also, Morgan Freeman's face freckles. But I guess if you're going to disprove magicians, you need some sort of mask, like that guy in those videos I watched in freshman history class.

Ladies and gentlemen, with nothing up my sleeve, I give you...a public school education.
Looking back on it, the film's a friggin' mess. The plot goes all over the place and never wants to slow down; there were a couple points where I just wanted to take a breath and go over what just happened. While some might find the movie's pace refreshing, others will notice how exhausting the breakneck speed gets after about half an hour. Now You See Me also lacks a protagonist. With such an impressive cast, no one's that intent on stepping off to the side to let one person have all the fun. At first it seems as if we should support the Horsemen, but then the focus shifts to the FBI and Interpol, and then kind of Morgan Freeman but not really, and back to the Horsemen. The logical choice would've been to have Franco's inexperienced amateur magician be the springboard for the audience, but instead we were only treated to glimpses of that goofy smile.

He needs to get out of his brother's marijuana-scented shadow sometime.
Now You See Me also suffers from some pretty hideous CGI. Littered throughout the movie are scenes way too dependent on computer imagery that cheapen the experience. Had the filmmakers graced these moments with more practical effects, the film's more down-to-earth trick scenes could've felt that much more impressive. Speaking of down-to-earth, the movie is too quick to delve into the weird and fantastical. While the teleportation trick teased in the trailers is aptly explained, we still see holograms and bright lights that feel very out of place.

Weirdly enough, despite all its flaws (and it has many flaws), I rather enjoyed Now You See Me. It's a very entertaining film, and scenes like the introduction and Franco's fight with Mark Ruffalo stand out pretty memorably. The dialogue can be sharp, even if the characters feel less like they're playing off each other and more like they all want to do their own thing. Now You See Me feels as if it was written with magic tricks in mind. Setups given at one point lead to payoffs several scenes later that feel well-deserved, and trying to follow every possible nod in the present that might lead to a reveal in the future can get pretty fun.

In the end, someone could throw Now You See Me's awful quote back in its face. At times, the films thinks it's so close to executing twists and throwing off the audience that it fails to notice the big picture. The movie has a tendency to be so myopic for turns in the plot that it blinds itself to the mess it makes in the process. However, if you can turn a blind eye to the many sins it commits, Now You See Me can be pretty enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The New Xbox One: Nothing Like the Old...Xbox...One...

Halley's Comet. The United States Census. The changing of the console cycle. Events like these happen once, maybe twice, in a lifetime, and we are lucky enough to be in the midst of one such happening. There is a new Xbox on the horizon, and it goes by the confusing moniker "Xbox One," because there totally isn't another Xbox to which people have given that name. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to have basic cable, so I watched the reveal and recorded some of my thoughts. In case you missed it, the show was on Spike, your source for everything deep and cerebral.

Also, Manswers.
Since the PlayStation 4 announcement is still fresh in everyone's mind, Microsoft countered in one of the best ways they could, by actually showing the console. And darn if it is not sexy.

Admittedly, it's a bit boxy. But curves aren't everything.
The box itself has been upgraded with a Blu-Ray drive, a buttload of internal memory for what I can assume is a push for digital content, and an HDMI in port.. However, once the device is turned on, and the tiny Satan-wizards inside work their black magic, the Xbox One gets much more impressive. It instantly goes to the dashboard without any delay or need for updates, as mentioned in the presentation. While Windows 8 is an obvious inspiration, it has a much bigger emphasis on your recent activity and even what your friends are doing at the moment.

Xbox One's big push is to replace everything you need and everyone you love. It does this through "instant switching," kind of like multitasking on smart phones but on steroids. After plugging in your cable/satellite TV to the HDMI in port and connecting to anything else that you want to give you ADHD, the Xbox One allows you to switch between games, movies, and TV, almost instantly. Oh, I see what they did there.

Or maybe just between J.J. Abrams films and
"The Price is Right." We don't know for sure.
If you squinted, you could even see some games for the new Xbox. While we were promised 15 new franchises, we only got to see one: Quantum Break. Developed by Remedy, the folks behind the OG Max Payne games and Alan Wake, Quantum Break is...well, I don't know what it is.

Others included a new Forza and the inevitable Call of Duty: Ghosts. I found it odd that Microsoft decided to show off their innovation with a studio that's been putting out the same game since 2007. But maybe I'm being too hard on them; they do have some pretty novel features planned.

I'm pretty excited for this new console. The biggest question left is how much it'll cost; I assume we'll find out sometime before it launches later this year.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review: Set Phasers to Over-Used Joke

And there it is: Another summer, another blockbuster, and another sequel. Had J.J. Abrams made it under usual circumstances, Star Trek: Into Darkness could have been yet another soulless dip into the pockets of fans. However, being the go-to director of the two arguably biggest science fiction franchises in history, Abrams is not in usual circumstances. Star Wars Episode VII is fast approaching,  so he had to put out the good China. With this in mind, does Into Darkness provide a solid summer space romp while giving a promising peek into the future of Star Wars? This awkward and semi-formal  intro would have me say "kind of."

"It's this decent."
Star Trek: Into Darkness is not some weird VHS you found in your dad's box of "Things that Aren't Porn," but rather the sequel to 2009's reintroduction of the franchise, which I rather enjoyed. As a person who has never seen an episode of any Trek series (I'm sorry! Don't hit me...), I thought the reboot was a fun action movie that did a decent job of making Star Trek "cool," as if that was a thing Trek fans cared about. The sequel is pretty much what you'd expect. The Enterprise crew returns for a new adventure, a new villain, and a new everything else that isn't really all that new - but more on that in a bit.

What struck me the hardest about Into Darkness was its aesthetic. You can really see the amount of detail put into the costumes and sets. And while this isn't something that usually grabs my attention, I found myself staring time and time again at Zoe Saldana - like, you know, the stitching or whatever. The interior of the Enterprise is also pretty cool. There are multiple decks, hallways, and lots of glowy buttons that might do things. While these aspects of the film don't seem like they should be focal points, any other theatre nerds will love the care put in. Unfortunately, many of the scenes with heavy emphasis on CGI negate much of the goodwill earned in this department. And yes, we still have lens flares; but much like high fructose corn syrup and black tar heroin, they're fine in moderation.

Just as harmful to your eyes.
Unfortunately, much of Star Trek: Into Darkness feels pretty "been there, done that," in regards to either the previous Star Trek or other popular action films. The plot has everyone's favorite main points: an attack on a safe haven that kicks everything off, a villain who wanted to be captured, a secondary villain who was hiding in plain sight - you get it. Chris Pinewood Derby is still the cocky-yet-talented Kirk, and Zachary Quiznos is still the dry-yet-sassy Mr. Spock. They play off each other fine, but none of their dialogue reaches the same cleverness as that in last week's Iron Man 3. The same goes for the action sequences. Despite the head-squishing and base-jumping, I was never blown away. I promise I'm not being pretentious; the film isn't boring, but it does feel a little like a retread. And while we're on the subject of flaws, I must say that the cast's screen time is very unevenly distributed. Other than the main duo and the villain, we don't see a whole lot of the cast - everyone ends up feeling a bit underutilized and underdeveloped.

Into Darkness' saving grace for me has to be John Harrison, the film's villain. Eggs Benedict Cummerbund (the name puns keep coming) plays an incredibly pissed off Star Fleet Supersoldier wanted for terrorism or crimes against humanity or something. I don't think I can tell too much about him without spoiling most of the film. However, I loved the twist he throws at the audience. No, not the one that any person following the film's development already knows, but rather a change in the hero/villain dynamic. To reiterate what I said before, it's not really anything new; I just love how Cumberbatch plays with it. At one point in the film, I found him to be the most likable character.

And the most handsome.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is by no means a great sequel, or even a great summer blockbuster. However, it's not bad either. It's...kind of leaning towards the "good" end of decent. If you enjoyed the last one, you'll probably enjoy this one too. But if you aren't a fan of Abrams' work, you could probably do better with your night at the movies. Until next time.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Birdemic 2: The Resurrection Review: "Strange Things are Happing in the Environment"

"A tour de force, no other way to describe it!" -Monsieur Andre, The Phantom of the Opera

Wow. Just, wow. Birdemic 2.

To get it out of the way, those of you unaware should know that Birdemic 2: The Resurrection is the highly anticipated sequel to the...let's go with "film," Birdemic: Shock and Terror from 2010. Haven't heard of it? Then I'd like you to punch the testicles nearest you. I hope they're yours. After the tears have stopped and you can read this again, drop what you're doing (but please keep this tab open) and watch it on Netflix. Not committed enough? Here's the cliff notes.

That should be all the background info you need. If not, here's the plot from the first one:


So the sequel picks up in a new location: Hollywood, California. I know, because the opening credits took us on a walking tour of the entire area. Your favorite humans who say words and sometimes emote are back: Rod, Nathalie, the mustache guy who claps, the Alopecia guy who bears a striking resemblance to Woody Harrelson, we got 'em all. They join Bill and Gloria, a movie director with an affinity for independent films (but references films that most definitely are not independent) and a prosti-actress, respectively. Sorry, I was trying to type "prostitute" but "actress" came out. Once all the characters get together, they make a movie. Then, you know, birds.

And sassy gunplay.
"But didn't all the birds stop attacking and leave at the end of the last movie?" OH I'M SORRY, ARE YOU MASTER STORYTELLER DEAN KOONTZ?

Well, because plot holes are a thing the writer/director heard about in a fever dream, we go to rain storms of blood, brought about by Global Warming and capable of raising the dead. With that, all the birds rise up from the ground, along with cavemen and zombies. I mean spoiler alert. Once the fun begins, we follow our group as they survive in the most populated and apathetic apocalypse (birdemic?) ever.

Much has improved since the previous film. The crew has upgraded their single camera to one that shoots in 480p, so don't fear that you'll mistake the screen for your old Motorola Razr. Oh, did I say "much has improved?" I meant only that. The rest is the Birdemic you know and love.

Shots go on for way longer than they should. The CGI is ripped straight from a bowling alley's strike animation. The script doesn't make any sense, and has a misguided yet assertive environmentalist message. Actors don't have the slightest idea of what to do in front of camera, and to them, chemistry is only that section they failed when getting a GED. The list goes on.

And I love it. It's what the fans expect from the Birdemic crew, and boy do they deliver. Ask anyone who's been lucky enough to see it already about jellyfish, and they'll light up with joy.

One is an alluring creature who draws the
eyes to its curves. The other is a woman.
I only have one major problem with the film: It exists.

Now hold on a second, let me explain. What I mean is that the first film had a sense of "This is what we're putting out, isn't it great? Oh, you're laughing. But, look at what we worked so hard on! Stop laughing...Stop...*sob..." However, The Resurrection has reached the point where you know for sure that the filmmakers are in on the joke, rather than wondering throughout the film, and this takes away a sense of excitement. Had this been an original movie and not an official follow-up, my complaint would be a non-issue.

Even so, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection is an incredibly fun and entertaining film, and a cult following of the franchise is inevitable. You know how reviewers will spit out B.S. like "it's the feel-good movie of the year"? Well, I'd say that about Birdemic 2. I'm still smiling just thinking about it. After Birdemic 3: The Birdening comes out, I expect that all campy horror films will feature birds, just like all suspense novels should feature a golden retriever shoehorned into the story.

"She has a name. It's Trixie."
Hey guys. I owe you an Iron Man 3 review. But I don't have it. I saw it last weekend (very awesome, I highly recommend it), but my time has been taken by finals. I mean it, I'm so busy, I still haven't made it to the new issue of Batman. I hope you guys accept this as my humble offer; the theatre I saw this at advertised the showing as the "Virginia Premiere," so that's pretty cool. I'll see you guys again soon. Keep it swell.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Let's Try It With Some Enthusiasm

This article isn't geared towards the usual readership as much as it is towards those who don't invest in "nerdy" things like the rest of us. In arbitrary fake Loner & Friends language, we'd call them "People With Social Skills."

Disgusting, aren't they?
This past weekend, I had an interesting conversation with a friend on a bus. By friend on a bus, I don't mean a scary, possibly homeless man who tells you about how the gypsies stole his toes, but rather a person I knew on a private bus going to a specific destination. I'd also like to mention that the conversation was incredibly dull; its lack of excitement is precisely what made me think about it.

Sleep was nigh impossible on this mode of transit, so I had to resort to desperate measures: human interaction. I began speaking to this guy about (What else? Talking is hard.) the song on the radio, the lovably obnoxious Taylor Swift aria, "22." If you haven't heard it, watch the video below and stop considering yourself one of the lucky ones.

Isn't it the best? Anyway, I attacked the somewhat awkward situation with the best way I knew how: obnoxiously loud singing. He stopped me (for reasons other than the obvious) and asked what it was. In retrospect, I understand his lack of exposure - this song's a little too raw and real for the mainstream. At the time however, I said this.

"You haven't heard this before? I thought you were a Tay Sway fan. I remember you really wanted to see her when we planned to go to a concert a while back" (THAT'S how you provide context without spelling it out. Take note, Smallville.).

"Nope. I just though it'd be a good show."

Okay, so you show enthusiasm without being...enthusiastic? I was a bit perplexed, so I let that steep for a while. Next I noted his shirt, which referenced the band Neon Trees.

"Oh, hey, Neon Trees. They're a band that exists and makes songs. How'd you feel about their new album? I really liked their first one, but Picture Show took a really weird and angst-y direction that I wasn't too fond of."

"I just like 'Everybody Talks,' the single." spent probably $20-30 on a shirt because you like one song?

These little talks put a thought in my head: How can someone be so apathetic about things they supposedly enjoy? From what I've gathered, this all comes from the mentality that it isn't "cool" or "hip" or "dope" (The kids say "dope." I know for sure - observing kids is something of a hobby of mine.) to be enthusiastic or energetic about something that makes you happy. People have this notion that having a genuine sense of excitement for something you love should be abandoned once you reach adulthood. Anyone who holds onto a love for something that's so important to them they know every single fact about it and want to share that love with others are somehow classified as "nerds," "geeks," or "weirdos." And you know what, non-traditional readers whom I assume by now are the ones looking at this?

Us nerds couldn't be happier.

So what if I wear a Reverse Flash T-shirt that I have to explain to anyone who sees me? So what if I can go on a 15 minute rant explaining why people hate Batman & Robin (that I totally stole, by the way - Daniel, you know what I'm talking about)? I'm having fun, and you can't stop me.

I've always loved the phrase "Like what you like." I'm not sure where it comes from, so for now I'll attribute it to the great Aisha Tyler. Yet, I feel as if there needs to be an addition to that statement. Like what you like...and love what you like. Does that make sense? I hope so, it made so much sense when the voices in my head gave it to me.

In conclusion, unusual readers who may or may not actually exist, don't be afraid to get a bit nerdy once in a while. Everyone has their tastes, and there's nothing wrong with diving a bit deeper into them. Doing so opens up entire communities in which you're free to discuss, debate, praise, and commiserate with others who have just as much enthusiasm as you do. Just be careful. You don't want to end up on a Brony's bad side.

You guys are creepy. Stop trying to convince us otherwise.
So my school year's coming to a close, meaning that I should have more time to focus and work on this here blog. I'm also talking with a good friend of mine about doing some videos for his YouTube channel. I highly encourage you to check it out, especially the ParksNotes stuff. See you guys later.