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All reviews - Movies (3) - Games (1)

The Expendables 2 review

Posted : 5 years ago on 21 August 2012 05:47 (A review of The Expendables 2)

The Expendables 2 is a shot to the arm of pure, silly action-movie fun, and it stars so many heavy hitters it might break your brain to keep up with what's happening onscreen at various points during its slim 103-minute run time. Sylvester Stallone has obviously worked to hone the chemistry of this particular team-up, as the sequel fires on more cylinders than the first one's engine could handle. This time, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Jet Li are given more individual moments to shine alongside Sly, as are glorified guest stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and, yes, Chuck Norris. The icing on the cinematic cake comes in the form of Jean-Claude Van Damme, who hits a home run with his villainous character, Jean Vilain (get it?). Knowingly funny, yet still a little clunky, Expendables 2 is B-movie glee made by past-their-prime A-listers -- and anyone who knows what to expect will undoubtedly have a blast.

This time, the mission for Stallone's ragtag group of mercenaries is to recover a secret box from a crashed airplane. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a military-trained soldier who throws a gendered wrench into the team's manly ranks. Cue Van Damme, who defeats a new member of the team and runs off with the mysterious box. From then on, it's hunt and kill for the crew, who are aided time and again by their liaison (Willis) and fellow mercenaries played by Schwarzenegger and Norris. Thousands of rounds of ammo are shot, along with bazookas and plane cannons, while a whole lot of bad guys explode in a cartoonish fountain of blood similar to the ending massacre in Stallone's fourth Rambo film.

The movie has a lot for red-blooded audiences to chew on: Arnold blows away endless amounts of villain fodder with a giant thumping gun, Couture throws dudes around, Lundgren acts like a Frankenstein beast of a brawler, and Statham gets a fine moment in the spotlight with a fight in a church. Even Jet Li (underused in the first film) gets a kick-butt hand-to-hand (and cooking-pan-to-face) fight, expertly directed by Simon West (not usually known for being the tightest helmer in town). He wisely widens the lens and lets the audience see what's happening, with hardly any in-camera or post-production shaking added to the picture -- a definite improvement over the last film. The sequel raises the humor ante as well, with Terry Crews leading the pack in an amped-up role sure to tickle anyone who takes pleasure in this muscled genius' comedy style.

For everything it gets right, the sequel can't help but stumble a bit. The few times the movie slows down, it's a noticeable drag. Much of the humor errs on the obviously corny side, but if you are wooed by the picture's mix of Cannon Films-style mayhem and Hollywood nostalgia, you'll most likely end up laughing along with it. Stallone has effectively raised his own bar for the geriatric team-up, yet it still feels like there are more milestones to hit. The Expendables 2 is not perfect by any normal rubric, but it more than makes up for it in delirious charm and macho gusto. For now, that is more than enough. Oh, and Van Damme is just fantastic as Vilain. He really gives it his all in a performance that must make him proud. Along with the rest of the celebrated cast, we, the action-movie crowd, salute you!


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Total Recall review

Posted : 5 years ago on 6 August 2012 01:03 (A review of Total Recall)



The best thing that can be said about Len Wiseman's Total Recall is that it's a big departure from Paul Verhoeven's take on the same source material -- but while that means that fans of the previous version won't be able to scream "plagiarism!," it doesn't necessarily make this strobing, hyperfrenetic eyesore any easier to sit through.

The planet has been decimated by nuclear war in the late 21st century, leaving only two nations -- the United Federation of Britain and the Colony. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker with a stable job and a loving wife (Kate Beckinsale), but upon learning that a company named Rekall could grant him the memory of the ultimate espionage adventure, he decides that a virtual vacation is better than no vacation at all. But in the midst of having the new memories implanted, something goes haywire. Still strapped to the chair as the system breaks down, he's branded a spy as the authorities close in, and quickly flees for his life. Later, Quaid discovers that he has a secret identity, and he joins forces with rebel soldier Melina (Jessica Biel) on a mission to track down Matthias (Bill Nighy), the head of a fierce resistance movement that's been labeled a terrorist organization by the tyrannical Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Cohaagen seeks to control the entire free world, and now the harder Quaid fights to defeat him, the clearer it becomes that his memory had been altered long before he walked into Rekall.

As depressingly bleak, cluttered, and achromatic as its predecessor was colorful, quirky, and distinctive, Wiseman's Total Recall feels like one soulless, semicompetent scene placed after the next, with the occasional interesting plot point or inventive action beat injected into the mix. It all has the distinctive air of a dark and dreary cliché -- a movie so desperately busy that we never have the time to stop and realize that the most interesting ideas in the film are constantly being suffocated by hollow, drawn-out sequences set against a CG backdrop that never feels lived-in, despite the commendable attention to detail from the talented production designers.

Although the cast are competent enough to make the whole thing passably convincing, the two best actors (Cranston and Nighy) have very little screen time, and the two female leads are so bland and interchangeable that the only way to tell them apart is by who they're shooting at. Meanwhile, the dubstep sensibilities of the instantly forgettable soundtrack serve as the perfect audible complement to the jumbled mess unfolding before our eyes. Yes, Verhoeven's Total Recall may look hopelessly dated at this point, but at least it has outrageous special effects, clever social satire, and style to spare. Strip away all of that and throw in an army of I, Robots, and the result is Wiseman's vision -- a remake that's well-worth missing.


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The Amazing Spider-Man review

Posted : 5 years ago on 27 July 2012 08:12 (A review of The Amazing Spider-Man)



The Amazing Spider-Man is one confused mixed bag of a superhero movie. The first ten minutes say a lot about the dramatic tone that director Marc Webb was most concerned with establishing, although much of that particular air of self-seriousness just kind of lays limp, waiting for the next intermittent scene of humor to relieve the audience's yearning to just have a good time. It's true that the film only seems to pop when it lets loose the shackles of this oh-so-personal Peter Parker origin story. Indeed, the film covers much of the same ground that Raimi's first film did... too bad it seems laborious here -- that is, until the talking CG lizard turd shows up to declass the proceedings. Yet through it all, there are plenty of moments in the film that work: actors who brighten up a scene, genuinely funny audience-friendly bits, and Spidey images that are just neat to see. It's just too bad that one can’t sift the good stuff through a strainer and leave out the celluloid fat.

The script's pork lies mostly in this backstory that reinvents Peter (Andrew Garfield) as a loner orphan who conveniently finds a nondescript parcel belonging to his long-lost father, whose tale once paralleled a comic story that cast him as an American spy (itself an orphaned subplot cut out for the theatrical release), which leads Peter to conveniently jump to the conclusion that he should investigate and get this plot a-rolling. Lucky for him, the popular gal he's got his eye on, Gwen Stacy (charmingly played by Emma Stone), is a lab intern forCurt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the very man Peter is seeking out because he worked with his father. Though the i's are never dotted for Peter -- or the audience -- in this particular deadbeat dad/coworker relationship seemingly so key to the story, a common intellectual ground is found between the two while the inquisitive teenager is visiting the company that the one-armed scientist works for, Oscorp (cue sequel clues here). Soon, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider at the lab and we're off to the races, crossing off iconic character moments like a checklist (Uncle Ben dies, Peter seeks revenge and discovers powers while trying out his new alter ego) that eventually lead to the showdown between the now-vigilante Spider-Man and the Lizard, a mutated Dr. Connors who seeks the new evolution of mankind through cross-species DNA mumbo jumbo.

Clocking in at the theaters at fifteen minutes beyond two hours, the picture shifts from serious land to B-movie mayhem at around the halfway point and really doesn’t stop smelling funky from there on in. The lizard is a mess -- looks-wise, as well as in his poorly laid out intentions. The computer-generated villain mugs for the camera aplenty, with Ifans' voice absurdly spouting out dialogue that only underlines how dopey the end result is in comparison to the brooding drama that makes up much of the rest of the picture. Spider-Man himself barely grows out of his young cocky mode before becoming a non-expressive digital stuntman in much of the film's finale. It's too bad, because Garfield has it in him to be a good Peter, albeit a different one than we've seen before. Stone, along with Denis Leary as her father, provide the most well-acted scenes with Garfield that honestly work and provide the best backbone the flick possesses. Unfortunately, the cast's keen chemistry ends with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, both played by terrific actors (Sally Field and Martin Sheen, respectively) who are never given the right chance to connect with the warmth and emotionality of their characters.

As in most cases with Marvel movies not made in-house during this time, there's just something off with this Spidey outing that hurts it in the long run. Many will say it's missing the fun that Raimi effortlessly brought to the character -- a shared ingredient that made The Avengers such a crowd-pleaser. Comparisons aside, The Amazing Spider-Man just seems like too much of a compromised product. Its former indie director wanted it to be one thing, yet by definition of a modern superhero film, was forced to include expensive action regalia that he wasn't cut out to handle. Perhaps the film will end up being a necessary studio sacrifice just to continue on with the character in future outings. In that case, it'll be interesting to see what they learn from this semi-honorable, but ultimately shabby effort.


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Gears of War review

Posted : 5 years, 4 months ago on 23 April 2012 10:22 (A review of Gears of War)

Xbox 360 owners patiently awaiting the arrival of Halo 3 will find their time is much easier spent with Gears of War, a sci-fi shooter that nearly lives up to the crushing hype thrust upon it since its 2005 unveiling. While it doesn't have the epic feel of the Halo series, Gears of War is steeped in atmosphere and is a more cerebral shooter than one would expect, especially considering its theme has more mileage on it than most space shuttles. Played entirely from a third-person perspective, the design allows for more acrobatic movement than you're used to in a futuristic blaster, and the enemy AI is aggressive without being stupid, unlike some of your lunk-headed squad mates. Yet it's the presentation that will immediately draw players in, with visuals that easily eclipse all previous efforts on the platform.

The lead protagonist is gruff, battle worn and everything you want him to be, given the storyline's bleak outlook of mankind's fate, with a somber disposition and a steely eyed gaze that makes Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher look positively exuberant in comparison. The bombed out, desolate environments are not unlike war-ravaged cities of modern times, save for a reptilian-like race intent on eradicating the few remnants of humanity. While weaving your way past crumbling concrete, rain-soaked streets, and the rust and the rubble, you will notice plenty of battered objects to dive, roll, slam, or crouch behind, something you'll be doing quite often in the game, as using cover to your advantage is the only way you'll survive the intensely loud, intensely violent firefights that lay in store.

Real military tactics lend an air of authenticity to the gritty futuristic setting, with techniques such as maintaining suppression fire, flanking, and mantling over objects being essential parts of the action. The enemies are intelligent in this game, trying to flank or counterflank you, seizing opportunities to rush toward you while you reload your weapon, and barking out orders in some seriously deep voices. In an unusual twist, the process of reloading is an optional skill-based exercise that involves timing button presses as a horizontal meter swings back and forth. Time it right, and the character will reload faster and receive a temporary bonus to damage. Miss, and the weapon can jam. There are no real "missions" or diverse objectives to complete, other than getting from point A to point B, eliminating all threats in your path, and closing up portals by lobbing a well-placed grenade at their point of origin.

Gears of War is divided into five acts, with each act spanning three to eight chapters apiece. Unfortunately, a "chapter" consists of two or three shootouts as players advance through areas in a linear fashion, which means the entire campaign can be completed within eight hours. Helping players get the most bang for their buck are multiple difficulty settings, a slew of achievements to earn, and some of the best cooperative play to be found on the system. Multiplayer combat is addictive too, though it could use more game types and maps for it to stand shoulder to shoulder with games like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. While Gears of War is a little lean in places, the satisfying action and sumptuous visuals will help you forgive the game's shortcomings and embrace its ability to entertain.




Graphics 10

A new benchmark has been set on Xbox 360, with an exquisite amount of detail, smooth animation, and a gritty, grimy world that feels real.

Sound 9

Amidst the machine gun rattle, explosions, buzzing chainsaws, and the humorous radio chatter is an atmospheric soundtrack that heightens the mood in just the right places.

Enjoyment 9

Gears of War doesn't reinvent the genre, but its emphasis on real-world tactics and strategic firefights make for an enjoyable time. Team up with a friend and crank up the difficulty for even more fun.

Replay Value 8

The three included multiplayer modes are as addictive as the single-player campaign, but solo soldiers might be disappointed by the game's relatively short length.

Documentation 7

The manual clearly explains each of the controls, play modes, and weapon functions, and the game includes a built-in tutorial stage at the start.


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