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Captain America: The First Avenger – Film Review

TITLE: Captain America: The First Avenger
STARRING: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci
DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
STUDIO: Marvel Studios, Paramount
RATING: PG-13
RUN TIME: 125 minutes
RELEASE DATE: July 22nd

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-time Ninja

This summer has been dominated by comic book movies; Thor and X-Men: First Class were fun surprises, while Green Lantern was fun but not as good as I thought it would be. Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the films this summer that I didn’t have much hope for; maybe it was the director, maybe it was the cast, maybe I was worn out from the string of comic book movies, or maybe all I could think of was the 1990s Captain America film that traumatized me when I was a kid. Well, Captain America has finally arrived and it is definitely one of if not my favorite comic book movie.

In World War II, Steve Rogers (Evans) is deemed unfit to serve in the military because of his sickly body. His determination catches the attention of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci) a scientist who is creating a Super-Soldier serum that can take a person and transform their body to peak human condition. Rogers is transformed into the super-soldier called Captain America and takes to fight to the evil Hydra led by the Red Skull (Weaving).

Like I said earlier, I was a bit worried about this film but from the opening minutes all my worries just stopped. Director Joe Johnston, who had also directed The Rocketeer, another favorite film of mine, brings to life the 1940s setting and created a great adventure film that just happens to have a superhero in it. Even though the film is all about the Marvel Comics character and ties into the upcoming Avengers film, it never forgets to craft a great story with interesting characters instead of throwing as many easter eggs as they can into the film to tie into the next movie. Even though it’s not its primary goal, the film seems to cover all the major parts of the Captain America mythology beautifully and the little tidbits we get of the larger Marvel Universe are great and never feel forced into the film. The action scenes are fantastic and spaced out enough to make room for good character development.

Some critics have not enjoyed the 1940s setting and tone much, but it is an integral part of the experience. Captain America is different from the recent trend of cinema superheroes that seems to follow a path of being a reluctant hero who takes a whole movie to come to terms with his new role, he is a true hero who knows what the right thing to do is and just does it. The era its set in is essential to the character and to evoke the pulp hero movie feel that the creators were going for, but it’s also interesting to see how the setting affects the audience. When a prisoner is brought in for interrogation, the scene is shot to include a dripping water spout, a hospital bed, and drop of blood; these shots evoke the idea of rendition and torture that have become well-known in this post 9-11 world and mixing those ideas with the settings and beliefs of the 1940s is very well done.

The acting and writing in this movie is part of what sells the entire thing. Evans may not have been the most obvious choice for Steve Rogers, but his performance is very good and has earnestness to it that makes Captain America seem like a believable person. Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter is another great character; she is just as much Steve’s equal who inspires him and not just a standard love interest or damsel in distress. All the characters in the film are well acted and could have come off as one-dimensional or boring, but the actors and the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely managed to make these characters accessible to modern audiences while still maintaining heroic ideals of the era.

If there are any flaws to the movie, it’s that I wished the film spent more time with Captain America and the Howling Commandos. It was an interesting part of the story that could have shown Captain America adapting to the realities of war and would have been fun to watch. And while the 3D conversion is good, it doesn’t make the effects that much better, apart from the few shots of the shield flying towards the screen. However, these are very small complaints about a film that is a joy to watch and great way to get people excited for the Avengers film while standing on its own as a great movie.

RATING: 9.5/10

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Larry Crowne – Film Review

TITLE: Larry Crowne
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Gugu-Mbatha Raw, Cedric The Entertainer
DIRECTOR: Tom Hanks
STUDIO: Universal Pictures
RATING: PG-13
RUN TIME: 99 min
RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

So we’ve all pretty much gotten used to the idea that summer time is littered with films like Transformers. It can be very entertaining, but movies about people going through normal problems usually to have to wait until fall or winter. Tom Hanks’ latest film, Larry Crowne, is being released this summer to draw older audiences and those that are not entertained by giant robots to the theater. While the film is fun, there is really nothing there for people to care about; it’s like the vanilla ice cream of movies.

The titular Larry (Hanks) is fired from his retail job because of he doesn’t have a college education. With his house on the verge of foreclosure and no luck getting a job, Larry decides to go to community college.  Along the way he is recruited into a scooter gang by Talia (Raw), and gets cozy with his speech teacher, Mrs. Tainot (Roberts), who is fed up with her job and husband (Cranston) who sits around all day trolling on internet message boards and looking at porn.

This film is engineered by Hanks to play to his strengths as an everyman and he does a good job. It is a lighthearted look at a man who seems to lose everything only to gain more than he hoped for. Hanks is fun as usual in a sort of charming, inoffensive way. The supporting characters have enough quirky moments to make for an entertaining film. The positive message about a very nice man who survives losing his job and home while getting a new life in his middle age feels pretty good especially at this time of year. The movie comes up with enough to prevent it from becoming a waste; there is kind of an unsubtle love for Star Trek in the film with one character doing a speech about why he loves the series and George Takei playing an economics professor.

The problem is that there is no real conflict, and for that matter no real story development. Hanks loses his job and he has to go to community college. That is all the conflict in the story. He doesn’t actively go out of the way to change anything else in his life, other people do it for him; his growth as a character is stunted and has no weight to it. Julia Roberts is okay, but sometimes she comes off as unsympathetic. Raw’s character Talia sets a new standard for manic pixie dream girl characters. She is constantly irreverent in a kind of annoying way, reinventing Larry every second she sees him. The fact that she only seems to exist to change Larry when he seems comfortable with who he is takes away from her character and Larry’s.

I called this film the vanilla ice cream of movies for a reason. Its fun and okay, but there is nothing substantial about it that will stick with you for a long time. I’d recommend it if you want something other than Transformers.

RATING: 6/10
Images from rottentomatoes.com.
For more Tom Hanks, check out
Toy Story 3.

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Green Lantern – Film Review

TITLE: Green Lantern
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RATING:
PG-13
RUN
TIME: 105 min
RELEASE DATE: June 17, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

Readers of this website are pretty familiar with the fact that Green Lantern is one film this summer that the PI crew has been eagerly waiting for, and dreading whether or not it would suck. When the early reviews started to come in, we started to worry whether or not this movie was going to be a complete train wreck. Despite what other critics have said, Green Lantern is a fun movie that pays respect to the comic, but it has some problems.

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is a test pilot who is chosen by the Green Lantern Abin Sur to protect Sector 2814. The Green Lanterns are a group chosen by the Guardians of the Universe to fight evil with the use of rings that create anything the Green Lantern can think of. At the same time, a scientist named Hector Hammond (Sarsgaard) is infected by Parallax; a malevolent entity that is powered by fear, wiped out whole planets and has killed a number of Green Lanterns including Abin Sur. Hal must overcome his fears and accept his role as a Green Lantern to defeat Parallax and save the universe.

Green Lantern is not the superhero film that many fans wanted it to be, but it is still a good, entertaining movie and not the waste of time that some of the critics have made it out to be. Reynolds may seem like the wrong choice to play Hal Jordan as he has to carry to whole movie, but he proves that he is more than capable of doing so. He is easily able to pull off the more humorous and lighthearted moments of the film, he can play the Green Lantern moments sincerely so that they don’t come off as campy, and he can even display some emotional range to show his conflicted emotions about whether or not he is fit to be a Green Lantern. Sarsgaard is a good villain for the film, he starts off as an odd, creepy scientist but he slowly becomes more menacing over the film as the Parallax entity take him over more and more.

The film has a good handle on the mythology and makes the scenes with the Green Lantern Corps on Oa have this grand space opera feeling to it that can suck people in.  Sinestro, played by Mark Strong, provides a strong sense of what the idealized Green Lantern is and how important the corps is to the universe; Strong is great in this role and he feels like the right actor for the role considering we know where he will end up.

The effects and the action scenes are excellent; they pull the movie through when the story isn’t enough and make this film into solid entertainment. There is more time spent on Earth than in outer space because it is an origin story; while there are problems, there is a pretty fun tone for enough of it that the shortcomings can be overlooked.

This brings me to the problems that the movie has. The outer space sequences are all great, but there are too few of them; the bulk of the time is spent on Earth, where there is some interesting stuff, but there are gaps in the story that drag the film down. Director Martin Campbell is known more for his James Bond films, and while he does a decent job in this film, he could have used more work on the outer space sections of the film because he feels more comfortable with the story on Earth.

The screenplay is where some of the other substantial problems come from. Some of the story elements on Earth aren’t developed well or just feel forced. I don’t need to be constantly reminded Hal is scared cause his dad died in an accident over an over again. Other parts have been done before in other superhero movies and they have become a bit clichéd. Blake Lively’s character, Carol Ferris, could have also used more work. It has nothing to do with her performance, which is good, but the way Carol is written is troubling. She comes off as very strong woman who doesn’t put up with Hal, but then she falls into the standard damsel in distress role that goes gaga over the hero in his costume later on in the film. It could have been a much more well written character, and there are hints that she is but overall it is pretty standard for a superhero movie.

The biggest problem for this movie is behind the scenes. The running time for this film is an hour and forty-five minutes, which is too short for a superhero movie. In my opinion, a good superhero movie needs to be 2 hours plus to adequately get the story across and deliver the action. Green Lantern feels like its running time was cut down a lot to deliver the final film. Because of that, there is a sense of some important stuff that was left on the cutting room floor that would have added to the story and made a much stronger film. Also, I saw the film in 2D so I don’t know what the 3D looks like; but I know it was converted into 3D, not shot in 3D, and it’s been said that it makes the film dark and murky.

There are problems, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Green Lantern is a fun movie for the summer that I will be seeing again and I hope it makes enough money for a sequel that will improve on this film.

RATING: 7.5/10

Front page image and interior stills from comingsoon.net.

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The DCU Reboot: Relax, This Has Happened Before

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

“Reboot.” That one word can set message boards on fire and inspire soul-crushing depression or white-hot rage (or on the rare occasion it could be a harmless reference to cartoon series from 1990s). With the now infamous DC Comics reboot just a few months away, comic fans everywhere are ranting on message boards, arguing with their comic shop owner, or dreading the day when continuity gets ripped apart again.

I’m sorry, did you miss that last part? I said again; reboots are usually bad things, with very exceptions. Batman Begins rebooting the Batman movie series after Joel Schumacher took his pathological hatred for superheroes out on innocent people is a great example of a reboot done right.

But the reboot for DC is looking pretty bad. Superman’s costume looks like crap, Hawkman is an archaeologist specializing in alien ruins, and Barbara Gordon can walk which I interpreted as DC wanting to fuck with Alan Moore some more. “Hey, we took some of Moore’s celebrated works and made several movies that Moore would rather hang himself with the film used in production than see. What other ways can we fuck with him? I got it will start taking apart pivotal storylines from the comics! That’ll piss him off!”

But just because DC is throwing some of the continuity out the window with this reboot, I say comic book readers should not go crazy. There are plenty of reasons to not get excited positively or negatively for this reboot and here are a few of them…

REASON 1: This Isn’t The First DC Reboot.
DC is rebooting all their comics?! This is unbelievable!! I have never seen anything so horrible!! Unless you count the reboot with the start of the Silver Age comics, the reboot following Crisis on Infinite Earths, the smaller reboots following Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis, or when a creator takes over a title and decides to shake things up (I don’t want to even think about all the retcons). The sad fact is that comics have been continuously rebooted and retconned a hell of a lot times.  This reboot is just the latest in a series of attempts to get new readers and expand market. It is usually a bad thing, but we have been through this many times and have come out stronger. We don’t have to go crazy about this one.

REASON 2: The Reboot Could Lead To Something Good.
When someone thinks of Green Lantern, most people think of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. They probably don’t think of Alan Scott and his magic lantern that doesn’t work against wood. But with the dawn of the Silver Age, the character changed to the version comic fans love and has a major motion picture made about him (and if the dark ritual that I sacrificed a goat during worked then it will be a good movie). Many things that come out of reboots are best left forgotten, but there is always something with every reboot that fans will like, i.e. Tim Drake as Robin or Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern as a result of DC “modernizing” their characters in the ’90s.

REASON 3: Geoff Johns.
He may be considered the architect of the whole reboot, but there is nobody else I would want to reboot the entire DC Universe.  He has successfully brought The Flash, Justice Society of America, Hawkman, and Green Lantern back to life and has turned them all into successful books with great storylines that not only bring in new readers, but pay respect to the continuity they had built up. This reboot will undoubtedly change most of the characters, but with Johns at the helm the core of these characters will remain the same. Which leads to my next point…

REASON 4: The Core of the Characters Will Stay the Same.
Is Batman going to fight crime by mowing down criminals with a machine gun? Is Superman going to be a hipster douchebag? Is Lex Luthor going to be the nicest man in the DC Universe and play with cuddly bunnies? Is Green Lantern going to be a different color Lantern? The answer to all the questions is no. The surface details, the timeline, the stage of people’s relationships, and costumes are they only thing that will change in DC’s biggest characters. The things that drove us to these characters will stay the same and will continue to drive these characters. Now, I’m not going to deny the fact that there are still some pretty big changes to the DC Universe and some of them suck harder than a black hole, but this brings me to my final point…

REASON 5: If It Sucks, They’ll Change It Back
How many times has a company or a creator come up with a concept that is terrible only for it to be retconned? This happened because the fans were upset and wanted it changed. To some this may seem like blind optimism, but think about it. The goal of the reboot is to attract new readers to the comics that might get interested in them after seeing the movies. But this usually doesn’t work as well as they would hope, so what’s the next logical step? They will start redoing the comics to bring back the things we, the fans, loved; you can already see some of this in the fact that Green Lantern isn’t being changed much and that Grant Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated is only delayed a year and not cancelled. They are preparing for the eventuality of this thing failing, cause they know that the driving force of this industry is us and they know to keep pursuing a reboot that is not working the way they wanted is foolish.

If you take away one message from this column, let it be that reboots have happened, they usually suck but sometimes something good happens, we have creators that care about the material, if this reboot starts to blow up in DC’s face they will change things back. But most of all, the things that made us care about the characters will still be the same and they will be things that keep us coming back to read about a world where wrongs can be righted, good wins over evil, and a man can fly.

Front page image from majorspoilers.com. Images from DCComics.com.

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Super 8 – Film Review

TITLE: Super 8
STARRING: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, Riley Griffiths
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STUDIO: Paramount Pictures
RATING: PG-13
RUN TIME: 112 minutes
RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

Who doesn’t love a nice bit of nostalgia? It’s always fun to look back on the things we liked when we were younger; sometimes it’s a chance to remind people about the things they loved growing up and sometimes its chance to laugh at things you thought were good. Super 8 has been built up in a lot of ways as a modern E.T. from the footage that has been seen, with and Steven Spielberg serving as executive producer It doesn’t quite reach that level; but it is a bit of nostalgic joy ride through other films, mixed with some modern filmmaking and great storytelling

Four months after the death of his mother, Joe (Courtney) and his father, Jackson (Chandler) are struggling to get through it. Jackson throws himself into his work as a deputy and Joe is helping his friend Charles (Griffiths) finish his zombie film to enter in a film festival and developing a crush on the film’s newest cast member Alice (Fanning), whose father had some part in the death of Joe’s mother. In the middle of shooting a scene, a truck causes a train to derail, and with dogs running away, machines being stolen, people disappearing, and the Air Force searching for their missing cargo, the kids discover a secret that they have to find before all hell breaks loose.

Like I stated earlier, Super 8 comes off as a nostalgic movie in many ways. The setting and the overall tone are drenched in relics from the lates70s and early 80s: Walkmans, Blondie, fear of Russia, etc.; it’s filmed with a genuine love of the period and makes people miss this particular time. The film obviously has similarities to films such as E.T. and The Goonies, the interaction between the kids and how they dealt with this completely insane situation they find themselves replicates those films very well. It’s not just a shameless ripoff of those films, though; Super 8‘s story is a little bit more complex. It is more than a coming of age film, it is a bit of mystery film, and a bit of a scary alien movie; there are a few good scenes that will have the audience on the edge of their seat.

The coming of age aspect feels like a true coming of age story. The journey Joe has to go through to become his own man and deal with the tragedy in the beginning feels genuine (even though it is set in the middle of an alien trying to escape the military). The child actors are great in this film, they never feel disingenuous and they remind the audience of times when they were younger with their friends. The adults also do a great job with their roles; Chandler is great as a father who can’t understand his son.

There are some problems though that holds this film back. The first is lens flare; they were tolerable in Star Trek, but director J.J. Abrams really overdoes it in this film. The second problem is that as the film goes on, the adult characters become more like devices to convey story details and less actual characters. And third, the ending was okay but there should have been more to it to resolve some of the struggles that the characters have had to deal with.

I’m not prepared to call this the best movie of the summer like some critics, but it is fun, nostalgic film with a great story and is not a reboot, sequel, prequel, or superhero movie; and isn’t a nice change of pace something we could all use now.

RATING: 9/10

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X-Men: First Class – Film Review

TITLE: X-Men: First Class
STARRING: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RATING: PG-13
RUN TIME: 131 minutes
RELEASE DATE: June 3, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

I first heard of Matthew Vaughn when he was picked as director for the third X-Men movie, but the job went to Brett Ratner instead and the rest is history. Well, Vaughn has gotten a second chance at directing an X-Men film and the results make me wonder why the hell this guy didn’t make X-Men 3, because X-Men: First Class is a great super-hero movie.

The film is a prequel (I know that term turns some people off, but give me a minute to explain) that charts the creation of the X-Men, around the Cuban Missile Crisis. Set in 1962, Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Fassbender) are both mutants with incredible powers who have lived very different lives. Xavier grew up wealthy with his fellow mutant Mystique (Lawrence); while Erik watched his parents murdered in a concentration camp and was tortured to make his powers stronger. Despite their differences, they must come together to teach other mutants how to use their powers and stop mutant mastermind Sebastian Shaw (Bacon) from starting World War III between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Although I was excited that Vaughn was directing after he nailed Kick-Ass, after X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine my optimism in another X-Men film was pretty much destroyed. But this film has combined so many things that I love beautifully: it’s a super hero movie, it’s a ’60s spy movie, it has a kind of alt-history feel to it, and it raises a couple of interesting points that makes the distinction between hero and villain blurry. As a super hero movie, this film delivers great action and generally stays true to what comic book readers have come to expect from the characters. The actors do an amazing job of breathing new life into these characters, especially Fassbender who actually makes me care about Magneto, a villain I have loathed since I first read about him.

The 1960s setting and James Bond tone that exists for two-thirds of the movie is done very well and it’s an interesting setting that hasn’t really been done before in super hero movie without coming off as extremely campy.  It has an optimistic and colorful tone that symbolizes the beginning of this new evolution of humanity that mixes well with the sad truth that humanity may never accept mutants and a war may be inevitable; and towards the end tone shifts beautifully to symbolize the fact world has changed and the darker paths the characters are about to travel.

Our introductions to the characters, how their interactions shape the events on screen, and the struggles they go through that make them into the people we see in the other films is very fun to watch.  The main theme driving the story of the X-Men is the idea of discrimination and how people in a minority deal with being outcasts; and while some critics feel this idea has been done to death, the film goes back to the beginning of the issue and it is dealt with on a more personal level. The struggle of how to deal with a society that may not accept them is exemplified in a great way by Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s Beast as they deal with the fact they have mutations that can’t be hidden. While I usually believe in Xavier’s point of view, the film makes the issue more complicated and makes the audience feel more sympathetic towards Magneto even though his eventual goal is to wipe out all humans.

There are two problems I have with the film: one is an actual problem with the film and the other problem is more personal. While most of the characters get their moment to shine, there is still so many of them and the rich mythology X-Men has that condensing it down to two hour plus film means some things aren’t handled as well and feel a little underwhelming. Personally, I could have used more scenes with McAvoy and Fassbender, they have great chemistry and the film is more interesting seeing their friendship in the film knowing how it will end.

This is a great super hero movie and nice surprise for the summer movie season that I hope everybody sees. However, my fears that Green Lantern will be the one superhero movie this season that sucks has increased. Please God, don’t let it suck.

RATING: 9/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.
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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Film Review

TITLE: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally
DIRECTOR:
Rob Marshall
STUDIO:
Walt Disney Pictures
RATING:
PG-13
RUN
TIME: 137 minutes
RELEASE DATE:
May 20, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

It’s hard to think of a role that defines Johnny Depp more than Captain Jack Sparrow; he has single handedly turned what could have been a cheesy, poorly done, based on a theme park ride film and made some pretty good entertainment out of it. Granted, the sequels were not that good (and calling them that is me being generous), but Depp is always fun in these movies and elevate the films to some pretty good summer entertainment. While Depp continues to be the best part of the new film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the rest of it could have used more work.

The film opens with Jack Sparrow (Depp) being arrested by the King of England; the rumor is that Jack is putting together a crew to go after the Fountain of Youth, which he isn’t but someone impersonating him is. The English are sending a ship captained by Hector Barbossa (Rush), who has his own ulterior motive, because the Spanish also know of the Fountain and have sent ships to find it first. Jack catches up with the impostor; his former love Angelica (Cruz) who is gathering a crew for her father, the pirate Blackbeard (McShane). Blackbeard believes he will be killed in two weeks and the Fountain is the only thing that can save him. With Sparrow swept up in the race to the Fountain, he will have deal with zombies, magical ships, and mermaids long enough to gain immortality.

Like I said in the beginning of the review, Depp is the best thing about this movie. He may not have his whole heart in the performance, but he is just as fun to watch as ever. He is fun to watch, but I was just as interested in Rush’s Barbossa, I always liked his character and seeing his story play out helps buoy this film. The effects and the cinematography are gorgeous and really capture the sense of adventure that the film is trying to create.

There are still a number of problems that hold it back. The story is poorly done and the bulk of the characters are one-dimensional that the audience can’t feel anything for and the actors don’t do much to make these roles better. There is a romance that develops between a missionary (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) that feels poorly tacked on and trying to recreate the relationship between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley from the first three movies; it’s not developed well and grinds the film to a halt. There are also some illogical parts to the story; when you finally realize what the Spanish intend to do at the Fountain, their whole purpose makes less sense, becomes an unnecessary part to the story, and they border on becoming deus ex machina. The action scenes in this film feel less spectacular than the earlier films, and while the previous installments got a little crazy with some action sequences, even the sword fights (the most basic part of any pirate movie) lack excitement.

Depp and Rush are the only thing holding this film together, the rest of it feels like generic summer entertainment that really doesn’t do much in the way of captivating people with a good story or at least great action. There is enough for me not to completely hate it, but not enough to recommend it to anybody.

RATING: 4/10

Front page photo and interior still from rottentomatoes.com.

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Brink – Video Game Review

TITLE: Brink
PLATFORM: 360, PS3, PC
DEVELOPER: Splash Damage
PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks
ESRB: T
RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

Summer is a particularly weird time of the year for me. The heat can drive me crazy, the number of reality TV shows that pop up degrades my faith in humanity, big summer movies make fill me with excitement and make me wish for something a little less epic, and the number of good video games drop significantly. I’m not saying good games don’t come out in the summer (I am really looking forward to L.A. Noire), but compared to the fall it is pretty sparse. Brink has confirmed this belief by being a sub-par shooter that took time from me that I want back.

Brink is set in the year 2020; climate change has started to have disastrous effects on the planet. In response, a massive, artificial island called The Ark is created; it is a completely self-sustaining, eco-friendly, city that is a refuge for humanity that no one can leave. The sea levels start to rise and the Ark is sent out to sea to survive the disaster and ensure humanity survives. Soon, refugees from all over the world come to the Ark to try to survive and make a better life. The Ark becomes overpopulated, its resources are strained to the limit, and a war has broken out between Ark Security trying to maintain order and the Resistance who want to leave the Ark and search for survivors.

The story is a good example of what my biggest problem with the game is; this a pretty good story and it has potential to make the game great, but it feels incomplete and never that much past the intro. The story isn’t the only thing that feels like it could have used more work The level design looks great at first but it quickly becomes repetitive and the levels are the same for the two different campaigns. The player can play two different campaigns: as a member of Ark Security or as a member of the Resistance.

The differences between the two groups are superficial; the outfits that each group wears are different but there is no difference in terms of abilities, weapons, or even missions. The missions are pretty much the same, just opposite objectives; Resistance members have a mission to rescue a prisoner and Security’s mission is to kill that same prisoner in the same setting. I could tolerate this if there were a lot of missions to work with or a story worth caring about, but Brink has neither. And the Freeplay section of the game uses the missions from the Campaign section as a framework; this blocks whole possibilities for multiplayer fun.

Brink delivers one or two good things but fails in a number of important areas. The SMART system (short for Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) they have designed to have players parkour over obstacles with the push of a button is a good idea, but actual use in the game has problems because you have no idea what surfaces you can interact with and if you hit it wrong way nothing happens. You are offered a number of guns to use in the game, but none feel particularly special and the difference between them is not that big apart from a few guns. You can gain attachments for the weapons by completing the Challenges section of the game, which gives players different challenges to get them used to the game’s different classes, to customize your weapons. The customization of not just weapons but the player’s character is fun for a minute and has some benefits, but never affects the gameplay in a way players would actually care about.

Multiplayer with people is fun for a bit, if the online section works properly. Every other time I played with a strong connection the game either froze, glitched, or lagged. In single player, the AI for both the enemies and your allies is poorly done; a medic can be 6 feet away from you with the ability to revive you but will completely ignore you. Your character can get enhanced damage or health if you have the right class or an ally who helps you; but they are not very effective and it doesn’t change the fact that most enemies take you out in a couple of shots. The graphics are pretty good, but the textures pop out frequently and the level design becomes pretty bland as the game goes on.

There are one or two good things in this game. The customization of your character’s body type changes the way you play; you can be a heavy body type mowing down opponents with miniguns or a light body type using your agility to get to your objectives. The different classes including soldiers, engineers, operatives and medics give players different ways to play the game and handle situations; this combined with the body types can give players new ways to play the game every time.

Even though the game has a couple of good things, it does not feel like a complete game, the fundamental parts are a done very poorly, and the customization options are just a nice decoration to distract from the fact this game has a lot of problems that make an incredibly unsatisfying experience for the gamer.

RATING: 2/10

Front page image and screenshots from splashdamage.com.

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Thor – Film Review

TITLE: Thor
STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Jaimie Alexander
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
STUDIOS: Marvel, Paramount Pictures
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME:
114 min
RELEASED:
May 6, 2011 (USA)

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

I was not that excited to see the Thor movie, but I knew we would have to get it because he is one of the most important characters in the upcoming Avengers movie. The comic book series has never been that interesting to me. Combine that with Kenneth Branagh directing his first superhero movie after directing mostly adaptations of Shakespeare plays, and I was not thrilled at the prospect of seeing this movie…

Well somehow all this has come together to prove me wrong. Thor is not just a great superhero film, but also a great movie to begin the summer movie season.

Based on the Marvel comic book series and Norse mythology, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the god of thunder and the next in line to rule Asgard after his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), dies or goes into a type of hibernation called Odinsleep. The Asgardians’ enemy, the Frost Giants, have broken into Asgard trying to steal their source of the power that Odin took from them in their last war. Thor believes that they should strike back against the Frost Giants and gathers warriors to attack their home, which ends up starting a war. Outraged by his actions, Odin strips Thor of his powers, his mystical hammer, and banishes him to Earth where he meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a physicist who promises to help Thor get his hammer back if he helps him with her research. In Asgard, Thor’s mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has taken over Asgard and is planning something diabolical to murder Thor.

That description doesn’t make the movie seem incredibly appealing, but Branagh has worked wonders with this film and was able to take big mythological storyline that is hard to get into and turned it into great adventure film that will appeal to everybody. It has enough nods to the comic series to please fans; and speaking as a comic book fan I have to applaud Branagh for taking a storyline I thought was unfilmable and making a great film out of it. The majestic nature of Asgard and the modern day Earth have two different tones to them and they are both handled great. The shift between the adventure in Asgard and the more comedic and tragic elements of Earth give the film a nice mixture that should please the audience and balance out the film. While the comic series the movie is based on can be difficult to get into, Branagh manages to make it accessible to an audience but doesn’t lose any of the myth and wonder that people responded to in the comic.

Hemsworth is the one who has to carry this film and he proves himself worthy of the task. He can shift from an all-powerful action hero role, to a comedic performance, a god who has to deal with being mortal, and he plays each role great while still maintaining the core of the character that is a heroic god. Doing just as well and in some ways better than Hemsworth is Hiddleston as Loki. He is the villain, but has an aspect to his backstory and performance that makes you feel sorry for him and the sense that he truly believes he is doing the right thing. He never feels like a completely evil villain but you see him grow into one over the course of the film. The rest of the cast does an amazing job with their roles and the only criticism I have is that I felt they could have spent some more time developing or focusing on one or two characters, but it doesn’t affect the film overall.

The only major negative thing I can say about this movie is the fact that the 3D is pretty bad in this movie.  The effects and setting would be spectacular in 2D, but the 3D adds nothing to it and sometimes takes away from the movie experience; I walked out of the theater and my eyes hurt for 5 minutes.

This is a great movie, a great way to introduce people to Thor, and a great start to the summer movie season that still has three more high profile comic book adaptations to come. But now that Thor has proven itself as a good movie when I didn’t think it turn out so well, I have to wonder which superhero movie will let me down (I really don’t want it to be Green Lantern).

RATING: 9/10

Photos from rottentomatoes.com.

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Crysis 2 – Video Game Review

TITLE: Crysis 2
PLATFORM: 360, PS3, PC
DEVELOPER
: Crytek
PUBLISHER: EA
ESRB: M
RELEASE DATE: March 22, 2011

By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja

There is one thing I truly miss about PCs, the games. I switched to a Mac about 4 years ago and while I love my Mac; I find myself longing for loading a game on my PC and shooting through it. The first Crysis was a PC-only game that was so popular and well-received that it made me jealous for the SOBs that got to play it. I heard the sequel, Crysis 2, was going to be available on Xbox 360 and I was incredibly excited; but after playing through, my faith in console games was restored because Crysis 2 is nothing to get overly excited about.

Following the events of the first game, the alien virus from the first game has been unleashed in New York City and has thrown the entire country into chaos. You play a marine who is nearly killed trying to enter the city on a mission to rescue a scientist. You are saved by Prophet, one of the super soldiers equipped with a nanosuit from the first game, before being getting a nanosuit of his own and given the task of stopping the aliens. The player now has to fight an army of soldiers from an evil corporation hoping to exploit the crisis, as well as the aliens, who just want to conquer the planet.

The story is pretty standard fare for an action sci-fi game; you got aliens taking over the world and a human super soldier who is supposed to stop it. This is the same for most video games like this; it doesn’t help Crysis 2 but it doesn’t hurt it either. What does hurt it is the backstory from the first game — which really would help players enjoy the game — is mentioned only in the briefest of ways and this really hurts the overall experience.

The gameplay is also a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, the action is fast paced and fun, just when you get used to the experience of fighting soldiers you switch to aliens who present a fresh challenge in the middle of the game. A part that I especially liked was the ability to customize your weapon with various attachments in the field; you don’t have to find a special station or anything similar, you can set it up whenever you want if you have the attachments. The game’s combat visor is an interesting addition, allowing you to view the battlefield and see the various ways you can take out the enemy; this is good idea that allows you to fully experience the environment and new ways to play the game apart from the running-n-gunning. The multiplayer leaves something to be desired. Despite the fact you have a suit with super powers, the overall experience is like bad ripoff of Call of Duty and has all the fun you expect from something like that.

The suit and the powers you get from it are fun to play around with, but the lack of variety with suit powers makes it pretty boring fast. The powers are useful, but if you give a player a nanosuit with incredible abilities, you better come up with more than a shield, a cloak, and infrared vision. Another problem that I have with the suit is the lack of guidance, you get a quick overview of the suit powers but afterward you have to figure it out on your own. I understand from a narrative point of view why this is, but the lack of some tutorial or something to help you get used the suit powers takes away from the experience and pisses me off when I realize I could have done something the entire game and don’t realize it till the end.

I won’t say much about the graphics and sound other than the fact that they are fantastic. But great sound and graphics don’t make up for the rest of the game’s shortcomings. If they did, then the Transformers films would be cinematic masterpiece and not the pain-inducing movie experience that happens every two years. The gameplay and story are either not up to par or are generic enough to have been seen in other games, some of them better than Crysis 2.

RATING: 6/10

Front page image and screenshots courtesy of EA.

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