MeekinOnMovies On…The Golf Club

It is almost impossible to remember how tragic a place this world is when one is playing golf. ~Robert Lynd
Game: The Golf Club
Developer: HB Studios
Price: 39.99
Did I Pay For it: No.

Golf is a game of mitigated triumph; a nice drive then a pitch that slices so hard it ends up in the thousand acre wood. Playing the round of your life, only to six putt on the final hole and end up with a score akin to a high powered NFL offense. Phrases like ‘beginners luck’ qualify the good play of newbies, and wind and lie and balance dull the sting of defeat. 
So, the last thing a golf videogame needs is a frustrating interface and long loading times – both which serve to rub salt in the wounds of a bad round and break the flow of good one. 
The current king of digital golf is Tiger Woods PGA tour. A franchise more omnipresent than spectacularly good. It’s a quality game of golf, sure – but between strange in-air spin, fade, and draw controls, EA’s classic far-too-long loading times, and a lack of any personality have rendered the franchise stale and lacking in a true identity. Lets face it, if the biggest feature of a new release is the option to play as a kid Tiger Woods, something has gone terribly wrong.

The Golf Club, a new, indie, golf game on Xbox One, PS4, and PC solves quite a few of those problems. Save for some first-week server jitters and several annoying bugs, The Golf Club may very well put a dent in the windshield of Tiger Woods’ interactive golf dominance – all for a discounted price of 39.99. 
It’s reasonable to think the cheaper price point would result in a lack of polish, and in some areas that’s true. While the graphics are about as pretty as you can expect, golfer customization is bare bones, with several clothing options, but no way to modify the face or hair or girth of your character – which is fine considering you’ll be staring at his backside most of the game. Obviously the developers couldn’t afford Jim Nantz, and instead went with a sardonic, low-key caddy type figure who comments on your shots, sounding like a happier Norm Macdonald. There’s also no licensed golfers or courses present in the game, but thanks to the insanely powerful course creation tool, you’ll be playing on a proper approximation of Pebble Beach in no time.

You’ll also occasionally see graphical glitches, and to my chagrin, aiming a driver shot at a club house results in the ball sailing though like it’s a mirage or hologram, to the point where you could quite possibly end up swinging from inside of the hollowed out geography of a structure.

But those are small caveats as long as the on-the-course stuff feels right, and boy does it ever. Organic is a word that gets thrown around a lot for lots of games, and it fits here, too. Swinging, putting, slicing, lofting, all feel *right* after a touch of a learning curve. Right stick swings, left stick aims, hold a button to adjust loft and fade, one to change clubs, another to change shots, and a shot preview button that gives you a general idea of where the ball would land on a solid thwack. 

Explaining this to a non golfer is complicated as you can see above, but put this game in the hands of anyone whose poured 6.50 in a Golden Tee machine or played any Tiger Woods game, and they will find the lack of clutter and straightforward approach refreshing. There’s no putt previews, or tapping a button furiously to ‘power boost’ your drive, and the game is tuned juuuustttttt well enough where after about 10 hours with the game I’m coming in at -3 on familiar courses. 

Which is encouraging considering online tournaments and tours are a major component of The Golf Club’s package. If every tournament had a leaderboard of 16 or 17 under pars, not only would the game become something…broken, it’d prevent many players from any serious attempt at tackling (and winning) a tournament. Right now, high scores on courses range from the -6 to -9 under range, which is still inflated, but not outrageously so. 

Part of this is due to the complete lack of golfer stats. There’s nothing worse than playing a game online, only to get schooled by folks who simply have more time to pour hours into the game and grind XP, to the point where they’re hitting 400 yard drives and sinking 50 foot putts with ease thanks to their 99 ovr golfer. Here, everyone is on an even playing field, permanently.  

The mechanics are great, but the pace is the real showcase. You can play a lot of Golf Club in a relatively short amount of time. Playing an 18 hole round, followed by a 9 hole course, clocked in at a brisk 38 minutes.  You’re in and out of holes quickly, with no loading, easily skippable hole introductions and leaderboard updates, and zero unwanted downtime from shot-to-shot. It’s wonderful.

But yeah, about those bugs. For starters, if connected online and disconnected while playing Adhoc with a buddy as a ‘guest’ under your XBLA gamertag, and you’re kicked from the net and bounced back to the main menu, resuming that tournament eliminates your friend and makes it a one-man show. Additionally, the game hardlocked twice, and on one very special night, prevented the second player’s controller from registering any input at all. These are only an issue when playing couch co-op, and I would imagine patches, updates, and server tweaks will render several of these problems moot in the near future.

Regardless, like a punch shot on a steep decline, when it works, it fucking rolls. In and out of a round and a half in under an hour? A round that felt challenging and fair, briskly paced but calming and serene thanks the musical score you half expect Enya to pop up on? And a feeling of confidence in my growing skill to keep me coming back for more even after this review is posted? Sign me up. 

If you like Golf games at all, give this a shot. If you’re the kind of person who finds ‘real’ golf games boring, and finds Hot Shots Golf a little too silly, this could be the perfect game for you. It’s simulation of golf, but the stuff that gets in the way – namely the pretension the ‘majesty’, are happily gone in favor of pure golfing bliss. Is it the best golf game of all time? No. That honor goes to Kirby’s dream course or Lee Carvallo’s putting challenge. But it is the most refreshing game of links in quite some time. It’s intuitive and smart, and if you play it, and like a foursome with that a-hole who made you get up at 6am to get to the course early, there’s no going back to how it was. 

MeekinOnMovies On…Is Brock Lesnar the new Undertaker?

Credit: WWE.com / Satan
 “Well, there are really only two ways to do it. Think of something that
makes you really sad… or forget you’re you and really forget you’re
pretending…” – Nick Nolte

It’s possible I was running purely on Mountain Dew (I guess advertising works) when I watched Lesnar vs. Cena at Summerslam about…15 hours ago. By the time it was over, things felt different. Intentional or not, Brock Lesnar finally appeared to ‘get it’. Special attraction or not, there to collect a paycheck or not, mercenary or not, the Brock Lesnar we saw at Summerslam was the Brock Lesnar I’d been waiting for – The Brock Lesnar Steve Austin referred to on his Podcast as what could potentially be if he fully invested in the world of sports entertainment..

This Brock, lording over the conscious corpse of the WWE’s poster boy had a ferocity we hadn’t seen in awhile. Sure, fans believed Brock was a monster, Paul Heyman believed Brock was a monster, and that chair he broke over Big Show’s dome believed he was a monster too, but until last night, I wasn’t sure Brock did. After last night, like Undertaker, Brock is now something more than human.

And if you’ll afford me the opportunity, I’d like you all to hop in my magic school bus as we travel up my own ass, and discuss the craft of acting.

 If you regard the poster, you’ll notice two things. First, regardless of what you think of the guy, John Cena looks genuinely concerned for his well being.

Second, you’ll notice Brock Lesnar is clearly attempting to scare a five year old child at a haunted house by making his face look as close to a pumpkin as possible. But if you look into Lesnar’s eyes, they seem…confused, like he isn’t sure what the fruit  he’s doing, but someone told him to make a scary face, so here it is. Can I have my check now, please?

And that’s a problem. It’s also a problem in sit-down interviews where Brock is clearly reading, or repeating lines verbatim a producer or writer told him to say like he’s on Total Divas.

I call this “confessional syndrome”. You’ll notice it in early seasons of popular reality shows like Pawn Stars, as the people in it get used to the idea of ‘playing themselves’. There’s the natural stuff, when Rick is negotiating and essentially doing the job he’s had for years, and the ‘storyline’ stuff where you don’t quite believe anything that’s happening, because the folks it’s happening to don’t either. If you want a fantastic example of some terrible reality TV ‘acting’, check out the first season of American Choppers.

If you’d like another example from actual drama, watch The Usual Suspects again and pay attention to Stephen Baldwin; from how he holds gun, to how he says his lines, to how every scene he’s in tries to make him look like a bad ass, but instead he looks like someone trying to ‘act’ tough.  
If the people saying their lines don’t believe their lines, or act in an unbelievable way, it shows. And to act well, you need to believe. It’s not so much what you say, but how and why you say it. 
If you’ve ever listened to a grade school classroom
recite The Pledge of Allegiance, they’re all saying it, but not many of em’
care what they’re saying so it feels a little hollow. As Brock Lesnar often did since his return

As a poor man’s example of…serviceable acting, here’s a video I did with a friend for a class she had. I was almost in a bunch of trouble for this thanks to the bathroom part, until my cohort revealed it was all pre-staged.

For whatever reason my friend was capable of reacting realistically to the idea of a crazy person hiding in her bathroom, and I was a believable enough weirdo to the point it’s possible I’d do such a thing, at least enough to make the folks watching seriously question if we were being ‘real’ or not.

If my buddy didn’t ‘act’  freaked out / pissed off / annoyed in a genuine way, and I didn’t let out that really fucking creepy laugh, folks would thought it was a dumb gag. They believed we believed so they weren’t sure if it was real until we told them it wasn’t. I’m not saying we’re good at acting, but I’m confident in saying I’m more believable as the kind of asshole who would play such an annoying prank, than Brock was in his various interviews before Summerslam .

But during Summerslam’s main event, somewhere in the middle of those sixteen German
Suplexes Brock gave the human body pillow that used to be John Cena, he ‘got’ it. Look at the eyes again. He’s not contorting his face, he’s not trying to look tough, he is tough and pissed, and triumphant. 

He’s no longer ‘playing’ Brock Lesnar:
Tough Guy, he is Brock Lesnar: Tough Guy. More importantly, I believed Brock Lesnar believed he was Brock Lesnar: Tough Guy. He just engaged in legalized manslaughter, and came away with barely a hang nail. Before, he looked the part, now he *is* the part.

And what is that part? Undertaker 2.0. Putting aside obvious similarities: a portly manager who does most of the talking when not bowing before him in worship, an imposing frame, and ‘special attraction’ status, the number one thing that allows the WWE to slot Brock Lesnar into the ‘Taker role is that they’re now both supernatural characters.

In different ways of course. If Brock Lesnar ever comes down the Wrestlemania ramp, rolls his eyes back in his head, and removes his hood to the sound of cracking thunder, it’s game over. Brock Lesnar is supernatural in that there has never been a WWE Superstar with a more legitimate ‘real life’ resume.

Of course WWE can’t come out and say “Well you know, Brock actually beat people up whereas we’re just pretending here!”, but for smarks and marks alike, we believe Lesnar can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants to anyone he wants at any point and time, and after the insanity of last night’s match, the question of “Who the f*ck can ‘realistically’ beat this guy?” enters our mind the same way it did with Taker and his Wrestlemania streak.  

He’s a real fighter who’s slumming it in the world of sports entertainment, and at Summerslam, Brock finally found a way to channel that “real fighter” mentality into a worked match that resulted in a truly menacing aura – something Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock couldn’t quite figure out. Unlike his first match against Cena at Extreme Rules, where he toyed with Cena like a cat who caught a mouse, at Summerslam, Brock was a killer whale ripping a baby seal apart limb from limb. Finally he’s being portrayed, and is portraying himself as, the brute we always wanted.    

Thus, we have a living legend on our hands. Sure, you could argue Jericho and Triple H are still around and are future Hall of Famers, and so is Big Show if we want to be generous, but those three have been on our television and in our faces for years. At this point, they’re family – we know mostly what we’re getting, and that’s tricky because the thing about legends is they’re enigmatic.

We’ll never know if Brock has a real passion for the business, we’ll
never know what’s fact and what’s reality as it pertains to his
character and backstage personality – he’s protected in a way that allows the WWE and the IWC at large to play with our expectations, just like the Undertaker – whom we *rarely* heard from unless he was ‘in character’. There’s also the idea that the WWE needs Brock more than Brock needs the WWE, and with Heyman legitimately having the ear of Lesnar, I find myself filled with a sense of optimism.

It’s wonderfully exciting, isn’t it? Brock Lesnar is now a other worldly figure in regards to the WWE Universe.
Only top stars wrestle him, and only the tippy top stars (or soon to be
owners) beat him. His super power doesn’t come from a demonic urn, but
instead a dastardly reputation and now – thank God – a truly menacing persona in the ring. When all is said and done, Lesnar may not end up with the same incredible legacy and oodles of respect Taker has, but I don’t care.

Because I believe Brock doesn’t care, either.

MeekinOnMovies On….Popeye (1980)

“I don’t have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They’re upstairs in my socks.”
  – Groucho Marx

My sister grew up the biggest Michael Jackson fan. The weekend she visited me in Chicago, he died. She couldn’t sleep. She loved Jackson, and played his music with pride through the trials and creepy accusations, trusting the art and not the artist, while every person she knew, myself included, would continuously take cheap shots. 


Hours after the news broke, we walked down Michigan Avenue and cars rolled by blaring ‘Beat It’,
‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, and other classic Jackson songs. My sister…was annoyed. She liked Jackson when no one else did, and now everyone was back
on his bandwagon like they never once called him a pedophile or pervert. It didn’t feel…fair.

But it wasn’t up to my sister to to judge how people took Jackson’s death, just like it’s not up to me to judge how folks react to Robin Williams’, as memes and quotes and ‘best tribute yet’ articles take the place of genuine original thought. So, I thought late Tuesday evening, What can I watch with Williams in it? How can I honor Mr. Williams’ legacy in a way that isn’t typical? I looked at The Fisher King, Awakenings, and our family’s decades old Aladdin, The Bird Cage, and Mrs. Doubtfire VHSes. Then I saw it.


The Popeye movie. One of the first movies I ever watched. My great Grandpa brought it sometime before he died, and was babysitting, so I must have been under 5 years old. I hated it. What a perfect little personal tribute, re-visiting a movie with Robin Williams in it I watched before I even knew who Robin Williams was, before the world even knew who Robin Williams he really was. Surely, this movie would make a bit more sense now that I’ve maturagated.

Well, no.

Robert Altman’s 1980 Popeye is…inexplicable, but I’ll try to explain it anyway. As a prelude, here’s Shelly Duvall singing a most remorseful song about Bluto’s sole redeeming quality.

His…largeness.

If the name Popeye, or Whimpy, Bluto, Swee’ Pea, and Olive Oyl don’t
ring any bells for you, worry not, whipper-snapper, knowledge of the Popeye canon will only
serve to make this movie even more baffling than it already is. The setup is a Popeye origin story. Popeye, played by Robin
Williams, arrives in town via dinghy in search of his pappy. All he has
to go on is a picture frame…which says “my pappy” on it – one of
numerous sight gags played totally straight, and it’s accompanied by a heart-wrenching moment as Popeye says if he can’t find his Pappy, worse case scenario they’ll see each other in 30 or so years when they’re both dead.

Popeye rents a
room from the Oyl family, and the rest is more or less
history. A love triangle (sorta), an abandoned baby, happily paying
Tuesday for a hamburger today, spinach, “I yam what I yam and that’s
all that I yam,” and so on. The gang’s all here as they say.

But…man is this Popeye movie weird. Not bad weird, but not good
weird, either. Picture watching a full grown man in a diaper juggling
ostrich eggs on a pogo stick to ‘Oliver!’ soundtrack. You have no idea what the hell is going on, but it’s clear a lot of love and time and care went into creating…whatever it’s supposed to be.

The
best way to describe the whole affair would be to imagine if the 1960s

Batman sitcom took itself even the smallest bit seriously. Silly
costumes, prat falls, sight gags, sound effects – they’re all present
and accounted for, but none of the characters, not a one, wink at the
camera to let us know this is a comedy,  even as Bluto stalks around a
room
pulling flowers off a daisy going “She loves me, she loves me not” and
pummeling anyone in front of him whenever he lands of “loves me not”.
Then Bluto busts out into a song called “I’m mean” and you just kinda go
with it. It’s camp without the marshmallows.

But if anyone can own a movie dances the line between comedy, musical, drama, and high-art farce, it’d be Robin Williams. And Williams’ Popeye is…interesting. A great deal of his dialog
had to be re-recorded as the microphones couldn’t pick up his kind of low, mumbling, Nick-Nolte-after-a-bender growl, and often times his mouth doesn’t sync up with
the audio, resulting in this live action flick having cartoon-esque voice over work that’s kind of hard to hear sometimes.

But when it works, it works. Popeye is a kind man who means well despite his total lack of education. The movie’s most interesting moments feature Popeye standing up for himself or others, and despite routinely butchering the English language – “Another thing I got is a sensk of humiligration. Now, maybe you swabs
can pool your intelligensk and sees that I’m axking you for an
apologeky.” – his noble spirit shines through loud and clear.

Anytime Popeye subverts the idea of what a ‘tough guy sailor’ should be, it captures a strange kind of magic. Especkially during a boxing match where his foe’s mother is ring-side and Popeye refuses to fight in her presence. The scene is so chaotic and silly and flat out weird, that this subtle gesture results in a busted gut. There’s another tender moment, where Popeye (Or Mr. Eye as the Oyl family refers to him as) reflects on the abandoned baby he and Olive came across – “If I was gonna be Swee’Pea’s mother, I should’ve at least let Olive be
his father. Or viska versa. I ain’t man enough to be no mother.”.

Thus, Popeye is not easy. It’s not an action movie, that’s for damn sure, and it’s a strangely subtle comedy considering the insanity of the wardrobe and forearms on display. So, we’re in a territory where I have absolutely no idea what the
fuck to think. The characters are
nothing if not interesting, the scenery is nothing if not pretty, music nothing if not catchy, and
there’s certainly nothing else on God’s green earth like it.
There’s also the fact superstar producer Robert Evans got busted trying
to buy cocaine on set, and Director Robert Altman spent so much money
on building the sets that they forgot to leave room in the
budget for believable special effects so the big climatic fight at the
end feels a little..flaccid, which is to say the story behind the movie
is just as bizarre as the movie itself. 

Popeye Village still stands in Malta.

Aside from whether or not Popeye is ‘good’, the message it communicates absolutely is. The message? A person need not be intelligent to be a good person. Nor do they need to be articulate to be polite, or educated to be smart. They need not be well balanced or large or rich or pay for their meals. They need to mean well, and do well for others when they can, and that’s all you can really hope for in another soul.
Like the late Robin Williams, “Popeye” the character and Popeye the movie are enigmatic. They’re all surface level cartoons, larger than life, silly, and maybe you only understand about half of what’s coming out of their mouths and a third of what’s turning the gears behind the curtain. Regardless, there’s a zen-like simplicity to Popeye and his “I am what I am” mantra. We are who we are, and that’s all that we are, but unfortunately, for many of us, that’s not enough.

MeekinOnMovies’ Midnight(ish) Magical Mystery Movie Marathon: Part 2

I played ‘Journey’ yesterday. It’s a platforming game on the PS3, focused on visual beauty and abstract emotions, kind of like porno. While there are very few specifics about who you are, or where you are, you do, in a sense, know where you’re going. I mean, whatever your culture, you get the gist of what  ‘toward the light’ means, ya know? 
It’s a Hornswoggle short game, but upon beating it, I found myself filled with a warmth I’m pretty sure wasn’t pee. You know how when you hear a song with no lyrics it still makes you feel…things? That’s Journey. You don’t know why, but without a single line of dialog, it reaches out and touches you like that time at Summer Camp.
As I continue to tackle the mountain of movies I haven’t seen as a proper adult,  I’m gravitating to the unique, visually interesting, or foundational – Like Journey is. Casablanca, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, and more modern movies that transform a camera lens into a portal to impossible sights and unexpected thoughts are the word of the day. I’d rather watch a flawed movie like Ender’s Game over something like ‘Primal Fear’ which is a more profound movie, but ultimately kind of flat in the visuals department. Big Fish entertained me more than Good The Bad and The Ugly, even though Ugly is clearly the more important and ‘better’ film. 
Thus, presented for your dada-esque entertainment, another selection of movies seen by me in the past couple of weeks. Lets get started.

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Run Time: 122 minutes

‘Well, on my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It’s called
Footloose. And in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire
city full of people with sticks up their butts that, dancing, well, is
the greatest thing there is.’ – Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, ‘Guardians Of the Galaxy’

  
Southeastern Massachusetts is not a hotbed for comic nerdom. In 2013 I
attended the ‘Avengers’ marathon in a packed theater in Chicago, and a few months later attended a “Dark Knight Rises” marathon
near my hometown, and there were seven people total.Yet
within an instant of buying my ticket, there was a strange energy
surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy. 

I’ve never seen so many ‘admit ones’ in my life. This
means we were all pencil-necked geeks with no life, hoping to get a gleam at Zoe Saldana’s perky gamoras, or we
believed so hard in the Marvel Cinematic universe, we chose the closest,
crappiest theater, one that still had ‘Ride Along’ standees in the lobby and
a “Carnevil”
arcade game charging 75 cents…erm, ‘3 tokens’ a play, to show our support.

And my Thanos, was our faith rewarded. Guardians Of The Galaxy is a ribald, silly, and ultimately warm space adventure that feels a bit like Star Wars had a baby with a Disney animated movie. 

Our Guardians are Star Lord / Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt who
brings a nonchalant but cocksure vibe to the role. There’s a lot of Han
Solo and Mal from Firefly in his character. Abducted from Earth in the
1980s as an adolescent, his most precious possession is a walkman and tapes of classic pop
songs his mother made for him before dying of cancer. In fact, it’d make
sense if he modeled most of his adult ‘persona’ on Solo considering his frame of reference. 

There’s Rocket Raccoon and Groot, who give off a strange “Of Mice and
Men” vibe if Lenny was allowed to be willingly violent and George
was…a raccoon. Rocket is great, and Groot steals the show
multiple times, yet again adding another notch in Vin Diesel’s belt of
awesome performances where he has less than a page or two of true dialog
(see also: The Iron Giant).

Then there’s Drax, played
by Grandpa Dave with a deliberate earnestness. His character is reeling
from the death of his wife and child, and revenge is on his mind. He
also has trouble with metaphor, which results in a bevy of creative one
liners and gags. Imagine if Spock
had an anger problem and an HGH prescription, and you’ll get the idea
here. Zoe
Saldana adds green to her color-coded career, after Avatar blue and
Star Trek Red, and is a perfectly serviceable straight man to the
surrounding cast of crooks, losers, and fauna. 

 

The cast has great
chemistry, especially when you consider two of our Guardians are
computer generated voodoo. How this group of misfits grows together and eventually fights and cares for one another I’ll leave for the movie to explain, but it’s worth noting that it never felt forced, the characters bicker and annoy each other for a majority of the run time, and the antagonism is great fun. 

The plot is complex, and involves all manner of Macguffiny names and objects and characters, but the casual chatter between the characters and rapid fire gags keep everything from feeling self important or exposition heavy. Even if you’re not invested in things like the infinity stones, Thanos, or credit cookies, you’ll have a great time here based soley on how well this cast plays off each other – to the point where you almost bemoan the fact it’s an action movie with space battles.

A little thing about action movies; Generally speaking you’ll have 2-3 ‘set pieces’ per action flick. Iron Man 1: The escape from prison, the Iron Man flying around taking care of business bit, and then the big fight with Iron Monger. The Incredible Hulk: The fight in the factory, the fight outside of the university, and then the big showdown with Abomination. This is the language of action cinema, and while Marvel is many things, they are not in the business of breaking the mold regarding how action movies are structured and escalate.

And while the action falls into familiar tropes of escaping a prison or saving a planet or assaulting a space station, at least they’re done in a left-of-center way that makes them pop. James Gunn has his roots in indie cinema, and happily subverts cliches while at the same time delivering some great action movie visuals, like a sequence where Star Lord ventures into the bleakness of space to save a character he isn’t even sure likes him. Interesting is the fact this scene works. A moment ago he was mumbling about Footloose, and now, bathed in the vastness of space, he looks like an actual action movie hero.

The above scene (and many more) because the movie is flat-out funny. There’s gags and pop culture references galore, and it’s easier to make you cry for someone after you’ve laughed with them. By not taking itself very seriously, and making us laugh so hard, this flick ends up
getting you in the feelings quite a few times, mostly because we didn’t
expect to be got there at all. You will feel true empathy for Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and Quill, and
will likely relate to them all in personal ways, too. At one time or another, haven’t we all felt like an alien amongst our people?

I find myself forgetting that these Marvel movies are for kids too. Sitting in that theater, giggling out loud at the ballad of the great hero Kevin Bacon with a group of 60 admit ones, feeling sad for Rocket, or mouthing “What..the.fuck..?” uncontrollably every time Drax opened his mouth, made me feel like a kid, I can’t imagine actually being one, and how wide open my mind would be blown. 

If I was 10, or 11, or 12, seeing this movie would have been foundational to my personhood. It’s silly, sweet, edgy, poppy, and above all else, actively wholesome – It would be the movie I’d play with friends while running around the back yard, arguing about who got to be Star Lord and wear my dad’s leather jacket, tasking the tallest kid to stick some twigs in his hair to be Groot, and arranging the chairs on the front deck like the cock pit of The (Alyssa) Milano.

I’d hate to be JJ Abrams right now, because I think Guardians just out Star Warsed, Star Wars.
——————————-

Super
Director: James Gunn
Runtime: 96 minutes
A lot of folks probably haven’t heard of, or blew off, James Gunn’s indie film Super. Super follows Rainn Wilson’s religious Frank, a well
meaning but weird (and he knows it) fellah whose Wife, played by Liv
Tyler, leaves him for a drug dealer played by Kevin Bacon. After mourning, and a feeble attempt to get her back,
a vision of God and his friendly tentacle helpers cut Frank’s head open
and touch his brain with apparently devout power. 

He decides to become a
superhero, and we’re off to the races. If by some chance
you have seen the trailer, you’re probably thinking of it as a farce and
a knock off of 2010’s Kick Ass. It’s not. This is Taxi Driver in Spandex.

Early in the film a young
Frank is whipped by his dad for having naughty pictures of Heather
Locklear under his bed, because it wasn’t right in the eyes of God. This
scene explicitly details how Frank could become a person mentally
unbalanced enough to put on a red suit and hit people in head violently the name of
justice and God.

Super
is profound in that it works on several levels. As a new-moon dark comedy,
character study,  and yes, superhero movie too. There are creative and brutally realistic action sequences, but perhaps
the most surprising level is one of poignancy. If Guardians of The Galaxy is warm and wholesome, Super is understated and painfully somber. We feel for Frank and understand him.

See, Frank is very binary. Whether you’ve killed, or cut in
line, or dealt drugs, you’re getting the same punishment; a pipe wrench
to the skull. You’re either in the wrong, or you’re not. There’s no
degrees, no slaps on the wrist, and as Frank says, “The rules were written a long time ago,
they do not ever change” – we just assume certain rules are more breakable than others. Frank does not.   
He’s
clearly a mental case, but an understandable one. By the end of the
movie, after everything has resolved itself, you’re left feeling the kind of peace that gets caught up in your throat as you try desperately not to say something retarded like “that was beautiful,”.

Because
Frank and the other characters are unbalanced and flawed, and the fact that this
movie is, well, a movie and not a franchise, I found myself caring for
the fate of everyone. In Batman you never felt Batman
was in any real danger. You really think they’ll knock of Spider-Man
anytime soon? Here, all bets are off and there is no smart money.

I
loved this film, and I loved Rainn Wilson in it. Director James Gunn takes us into the nitty gritty of a well intentioned sociopath who thinks being a super hero is a good idea, and when Wilson takes on a side-kick, who is equally as crazy, played by Ellen Page (who does a truly frightening maniacal laugh) you get a sinking feeling these folks are not long for this world.

Special mention goes to the music and score, and the ‘two perfect moments’ theme that runs throughout the movie is uplifting, serene, and the kind of melody you hear in your head when pondering the life, universe, and everything. Two Perfect Moments

Anyway, if you’re looking for something a little insidious that pairs well with psychological study or a big fat pound of existentialism, this is for you. It’s an adult movie
for adults about the fine line between nobility and insanity. No tie-ins, no action figures, no happy meals. This isn’t a
franchise, it’s a film, and a damn good one at that.
———–
Big Fish (2003)
‘And what I recall of Sunday school was that the more difficult something became, the more rewarding it was in the end.’ 

Big Fish is essentially ‘It’s A Wonderful Life” if none of that bad stuff ever happened to George Bailey, and Frank Capra dropped acid watching The Wizard Of Oz, then made a movie right after. It’s the story of a son who’s attempting to make heads and/or tails of his Dad, who has a habit of telling a story about his life, then expanding it in a way that is seemingly impossible. He tells tall tales. Big fish stories, if you will.

But really the plot is just a setup for awesome vignettes, all delivering an old-fashioned
earnestness that harkens back to simpler times that never really were. There’s
a scene where Ewan McGregor ganders at a girl at a circus. Their eyes meet
in the crowd, time slows down, and in a flash, she’s gone. He falls instantly in love with this woman in the way we were told
it would happen, but rarely does.

What follows is a series of events that would make anyone’s heart grow three sizes that day. To a bright smile juxtaposed elephant poop, to a field filled with a sea of bright yellow daffodils, to a monologue that is so sweet it gives you cavities, to a fist fight McGregor refuses to take part in because ‘he made a promise’, Big Fish becomes movie Synethesia. 

Synesthesia causes your brain to correlate sounds into shapes, colors, and patterns, you see. It’s nature’s Winamp visualizer, and only one in two thousand people have the right hardware to run it. This movie does the same thing, but it goes from your eyes and ears to your soul. On the surface this means the flick wants to make you feel sad, or excited, or scared, but there’s an involuntary element, too.

There’s no telling what specific sliver of your psyche a powerful scene will slam into windshield of your mental dashboard. In this case, the scenes involving this grand romance will remind you of the one who got away, or the one you caught and held onto.

Big Fish is great at doing this kind of thing, all the while never explaining its motivations, so everything is ambiguous enough to keep you guessing. Is Spectre a metaphor for heaven or hell? Does it matter? Does it matter if the stories real as long as the morals are? 

And God help you if you’ve lost a parent at any point in your life, getcyha tissues ready. By the end of the flick you never do get the answers to the questions the movie asks, but that’s okay. In this case, the questions let your imagination fly high and wide, and answers would only bring you back to boring, bland, droll, reality. 

Best Scene:

———————

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
“Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”

If
for some bizarre reason you wanted a window into the
kind of thing me thinks is sexy, look toward the scene
above, in which three ‘sirens’ sing an old Irish lullaby and prowl
toward the three protagonists of O Brother, Where Art Thou, drenched in
water and bathed in sultry allure. If everything but my voice hadn’t already hit puberty, the
sequence depicted in the above picture would have kicked it through.

For
the past week or so, my subconscious has barnacled itself to this
scene, and this movie. The acting, the music, and the dialog. Especially
the dialog, as characters
talk in a southern-fried poetic verse. It’s fitting a movie
based on an epic poem (Homer’s Odyssey) is
written in this tense. The whole endeavor is an LP in movie form. Like an album, it stirs your emotions without being specific, with the poetic nature of the dialog allowing for
some wonderful lines that would only make sense in such tense,
including my favorite, “They desecrated a burning cross!”, which is a
turn of phrase worthy of celebration.

Because the dialog and images and motions of the movie are unfamiliar, they’re more stark when you see them. Even if you don’t like this movie, you have to admit there’s nothing else quite like it. As a bonus it serves as a great gateway to getting into old works that
may be a little…tricky on the ears. It may take a moment to parse the
accents and the vernacular, but once you do, you’re treated to some
sparkling exchanges. Even better, if you can get into how cool this
movie sounds, I would suggest running to your closest theater company
that specializes in Shakespeare and take in a show. 

Best Scene:
——————————————-
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope
around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting.
At one point I found myself in the mood for an old movie. I gave The Thomas Crown Affair a shot and disliked it quite a bit after sitting through the whole thing waiting for a payoff that never came and sitting through Faye Dunaway’s ‘acting’, and figured the mother of all westerns would be a nice change of pace.

And that it was. I’ll avoid getting into an argument about iconography here, but I will say the impact of the whole ‘dollars’ trilogy on our world is too massive to quantify, especially the music, which has been heard in so many different places I didn’t even know it was from *this* movie until watching it. 
Specific mention who goes to Clint, and seeing this flick is sort of like seeing the genesis point for literally every stoic action protagonist ever. Snake Plissken, Aiden from Watch_Dogs, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, and on and on and on and on and on. 

If you take all that extra-textual stuff away and survey it as a regular movie, it’s pretty good, but a bit dated, and really long. Both of which are fine with me. I enjoy movies that are ‘epic’ and good and ‘different’, and this got me itching to see Lawrence of Arabia again, and put Patton in my Netflix Queue. 
The finale of the movie is a classic stand off with a twist for the ages, too, and worth the ride alone if you’re into seeing foundational films that are great in their own right.
——————————————
Coming Soon: Casablanca / Enders Game / Face/Off / Now You See Me / Thor: The Dark World / Desperado / Jackie Brown / Reservoir Dogs
/ Dusk Til Dawn / Pulp Fiction / Inglorious Basterds / Death Proof /
Django Unchained / In Brughes / No Country For Old Men / The Fifth
Element / Zodiac / Kill Bill Vol. 1 / Kill Bill Vol. 2 /Apocalypse Now /
Pain & Gain / The Talented Mr. Ripley / Das Boot / The Fan / The Departed

MeekinOnMovies On…DDP Yoga: Part 3

秋 7 回立ち上がる 8 – Japanese Proverb

You can’t tell in the photo, but within moments of the picture on the left being taken, the right back leg of the chair I was in collapsed under my own weight, and I spent the night passed out in a three-legged chair.
It was not a proud moment. It was 5 months after high school graduation.

The photo on the right was taken 20 minutes before a date with a very lovely girl with a degree in environmental sciences and an affinity for adventures and cheesy movies and third base. It was a day in which I displayed a confidence I didn’t know I had.

For a time I was bad with that confidence. I had more energy and thereby took on more responsibility
at work, I was churning out a novel’s worth of writing content for WhatCulture and got burnt out right quick, and happened into a couple of romantic relationships with women
who lived pretty far away. Those romantic relationships turned into romantic dinners, turned into
popcorn at the movie theater, turned into skipping my workout to go
spend 40 minutes getting cardio in a different way, if you get what I’m
sayin’.

Thus, what I call being a hopeless romantic, and what
medical professionals refer to as a serious chemical imbalance, has pros and
cons. When I fall for something, I fall hard. Pulp Fiction blows my
mind? I watch everything Tarantino did within a week. Pretty girl asks
me out? I’m half ready to propose on the spot.  But with a snap
of the fingers the shine comes off the apple.

And then…I was hired at a clothing model.

About three and a half months into my DDP Yoga adventure, I was hired (presumably by a blind person) to wear and model fat guy clothes to the tune of 25
dollars an hour, and all the polo shirts I could eat. This isn’t why I stopped, but it was a good an excuse as any to not continue.

My daily yoga went from every other daily yoga, to changing the workout from the longer, more intense “Energy” workout to the easier and shorter “Red Hot Core”. All the mostly healthy choices I made turned into ‘some’ healthy choices, and I found myself at Wendy’s eating a god damn delicious Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich I swore I’d never eat again…with a large Dr. Pepper.

It was a dark time. I fell out of DDP Yoga the same way a hung person falls out of their boxers – I was flopping around feeling like the world’s biggest dick before I knew it. People complimented me on the weight loss while I was buying junk food from Wal~Mart. People added me on Facebook based on the previous two DDP Yoga entries here, and I preached what I lapsed in practicing.

Then, two things happened about a month ago. First, I read Scott Hall no-showed an event. Whether or not it had anything at all to do with his various demons and shenanigans, it hit me a bit. My entire life I’ve been very…cyclical. I like something, get into it, get out of it, then never go back. I did not want to be one of these people again. If I couldn’t work my creative muscles, I would work my actual ones.

Second, a friend of mine who was doing a “Couch to 5k” stopped the program, and upon asking her about it, she said she felt like a big poop for stopping. “Well,” I said, “The only thing that would stop you from feeling like a big poop would be to start again, right?” She smiled at these words of encouragement.

And in a rare moment of someone actively taking their own good advice, just like that, I was back on the wagon. Energy every day. On days I was sore or busy, Red Hot Core. I was on fire. I worked and worked, mixed Yoga with golfing and hiking, and other physical activities I never liked, but now found myself at least…serviceable at, and actually enjoying my ‘active’ lifestyle.

I don’t know what my modeling boss is going to say when they see there is far less of me than last time, but hey, if I get to hear “You’re too skinny!” for the first time in my life, it’ll be worth it.

I weighed myself for the first time in months, and found I was hovering at a nice, odd, 270.8 pounds, down 20 pounds from the last time I stepped on the scale, and down quite a bit more from my all-time high water mark of 320 pounds. I put on a shirt I knew was too tight on me when I was in college, and low-and-behold, it fit wonderfully. I took the photo you see above, and posted on the DDP Yoga Facebook page because if you can’t tell by now, I crave attention like a commanding officer entering the barracks. 

I was greeted with the following message a few hours later:

It’s entirely possible this was some sort of form letter, but regardless, as far as encouragement goes, I couldn’t ask for more. And encouraged I am. Back on the horse, feeling good, having waded through a valley that I rarely come out of when it pertains to health and fitness.

So, why did I stop? Why does anyone stop? That I can’t tell you. I can tell you people don’t start again because it’s scary.  We only see before and after photos because the middle is murky. We’re told the best way to get back on the horse is to simply get back up on it. But the problem is the horse just threw you off its back like a sack of potatoes.

It’s not getting back on the horse, it’s the fear the horse can throw you off again that sucks. It’s the worry that all the hard work, and tough choices, may not pay off, even though they clearly have, so why bother continuing to make them?  90 percent of the game is half mental. Unfortunately for fat folks, those lacking in confidence, and people who are terrified a work out will leave them behind and feeling fatter than ever, the mental element is the trickiest part to conquer. In my most private moments, I look in a mirror and despite my better posture, loose clothes, real biceps, and healthy complexion, still feel like the guy who got dumped for a lesbian at a sophomore Halloween dance.

But that’s what photos are for. That’s what scales are for. For the first time, ever, suddenly the scale in my laundry room is a comfort. I look at the photo of myself in that Foodler shirt – which I used to wear under all my clothes and tuck into my underwear to make me appear skinnier, and marvel at loose it fits. I tried on a shirt I bought in 8th grade, and it fit. When your mind plays tricks on you, rely on the facts.

The Mirror has…5 faces.

And the facts are as they have always been. There are no secrets. There are no cheat codes. There’s hard work. And that’s scary because working hard on something only to fail is petrifying enough to stop you before you even get started. But DDP Yoga is a good kind of hard work. If you can find
20 minutes a day and a DVD player, and read the booklet, and will
yourself, come hell or high water, to do it? You’ll be blown away by the
changes. But God, you gotta keep at it, because if you stop after seeing what it does for you, it’s impossible to live with yourself.

In the words of REO Speedwagon, if you’re tired of the same old story, well baby, turn some pages. In this case, Diamond Dallas Pages.

…Shut up.

MeekinOnMovies’ Midnight(ish) Mushroom Movie Marathon: Part I

“It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.”

After May and June, months where I wrote about 60 thousand words, I was pooped. Kaput. I had ideas and thoughts and topics I could write about, but they
were weak, listless, and got jumbled up somewhere between my brain,
arms, fingers, and keyboard. 

So for the first time in a long time I said fuck this being a writer thing foe a minute, got a big ole bag of
shrooms, and spent all my free time watching every movie I could get my dilated
pupils and rapidly growing and shrinking and breathing hands on.

5 days and 30 movies later, I was a new man. I discovered filmmakers I disregarded, re-discovered movies I had seen as a kid but never understood, and studied any detail I could. This wasn’t a vacation, it was meditation. Picture someone stranded in the desert with tattered clothes, coming
across a can of soda, popping it, drinking it, and making that
“Ahhhhhhh” sound of refreshment. That was me.

I was watching to enjoy, not review – but I am who I am, so here I am
anyway to tell you about why you should see these flicks if you can. The first batch of movies I watched were 90s flicks. Maybe it’s the lack of CGI, maybe it’s the idea that an ‘action’ movie back in those days weren’t all slam-bam action epics, and maybe it’s because I grew up hearing about all these movies as a kid, and wanted to go check them out as an adult.

Thus presented for your apathy are interesting takeaways from the first portion of my fungi-infused sojourn. I hope you enjoy.

 I’ll Do Anything (1994)
Before “As Good As It Gets” James L. Brooks made this movie. This movie,”I’ll Do Anything” was initially filmed as a big-budget musical before test audiences reacted with such vitriol he axed the musical numbers and re-wrote a bunch of scenes. 
This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but instead what you get is a movie with the whimsy of a musical, where characters are a bit more animated, a bit more eccentric, monologue often with wonderful results, and the score feels like a carnival.
For starters, this flick was written by James L. Brooks who had his hands in ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘The Simpsons’, and a bunch of other TV properties too. Regarding ‘The Simpsons’, it turns out the episode Brooks had the most to do with, creativly, was the “Lisa’s Substitute” episode If you’re seen it, you know he knows his way around a joke as much as he does a tender moment. 
The plot concerns a struggling actor who through a series of circumstances ends up responsible for his daughter, and is woefully unprepared to be a full time father. He eventually ends up dealing with a big time movie exec played by Albert Brooks, gets involved with the ‘who the HELL is that foxy lady’ Joely Richardson, who toward the end delivers an emotional reaction to a certain character’s actions that deserves wild praise.
And then we have Nan, played by Marge Simpson herself, Julie Kraver. Kraver is damn brilliant in this movie, and she is worth the price of admission alone. It’s impossible to find clips from this movie online for some reason, so here’s some choice dialog from her character: 
Matt Hobbs: (asking Nan about moving from Washington DC to Hollywood) Washington, boy, that must have been a big adjustment.
Nan Mulhanney: It wasn’t that bad. Both places have a lot in common: Over-privileged people, crazed by their fear of losing their privileges. Alcoholism. Addiction. Betrayal. The near total degradation of what once were grand motives. The same spiritual blood-letting. I kind of do miss the seasons, though.

Burt: Wanna have a little sex?

Nan: You know, I’ve never hung up on anyone in my life. Because what if the next thing they said solved everything? But I feel I must end this conversation.

Burt: That’s “no”? Hello…?
Anyway, if you’re looking for a surpsingly warm and silly and laugh-out-loud hilarious movie that’s right up the alley of film buffs – including a wonderful scene that explains how ‘acting’ works in a way that makes total sense, I’d seek this one out. If you have Comcast On Demand you should be able to find it under the “MoviePlex” premium channel. 

Trailer:

Shroom Thought: The fact this movie isn’t more popular is a travesty, and I must now Tattoo Nick Nolte’s mug shot on my body.  
—–

Out of Sight (1998)
“It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.” 

I caught this movie on Crackle, which is kind of like the Salvation
Army Thrift Store of movie apps. As a kid I remember this flick getting
previewed over and over again on the guide channel, using words like
slick and steamy and sexy.

For what it’s worth, I generally dislike ‘sexy’ movies. In much the
same way  a strip club is an expensive way to get an unusable boner, a
movie featuring a lot of soft-glow love scenes feels like a good way to feel like sleezeball in front of strangers. If
I want to watch people having sex, I want to watch them having sex for real, presumably on a porno site, not
pretending to have sex. So when stuff on Showtime or HBO has that mandated 2-3 minutes of boobage you’ll see in pretty much any of their shows, I’ll roll my eyes.

It’s not that sex in movies is bad, it’s just sex for the sake of sex is bad. In a movie like Jackie Brown, the lone sex scene is played for laughs and conveys something about the characters, instead of conveying naked bodies to the eyeballs of the audience.

So when I say that ‘Out of Sight’ is one of the coolest, sexiest, slickest
movies I’ve seen in quite some time, I mean it. The plot features a
professional bank robber, prison escape, and diamond heist, but is more
about the moment to moment energy of the characters. The way they talk,
the way they act, how they zag when we expect them to zig. 

I’m reminded of something billionaire philanthropist Montgomery Burns said, about how in his day the starlets could tantalize the audience by simply raising a finger or showing a little leg. Here, all it takes a trunk, a little red lighting, and a conversation between Clooney and Lopez that’s weird, esoteric, and forces a smile on your face like you’re watching something you shouldn’t.

In addition to the trunk portion of the flick, there are two scenes, the opening bank robbery, and another involving a ‘date’ between Jennifer Lopez’s character and George Clooney that belong in “That was so fucking cool!” wing of the library of Congress. 

You can watch this movie, for free, right now, and quite frankly, it may be the most fun two hours you have all week.

Best Scene:  



Shroom Thought: Hey, is Michael Keaton playing the same character from Jackie Brown?! (He was!)
—-

Crimson Tide (1995)

Yeah, horses’re fascinating animals. Dumb as fence posts but very
intuitive. In that way they’re not too different from high school girls:
they may not have a brain in their head but they do know all the boys
want to fuck ’em.

Crimson Tide is what I like to call a TNG movie. When Star Trek tossed the science with the 09 reboot, a little part of me was sad. I grew up fascinated by the inner workings of the Enterprise, specifically the Enterprise-D and getting into the nitty gritty of how all the fictional systems functions.

Crimson Tide does a lot of the same things, replacing a space ship with a submarine, and fictional techno babble with, well, real techno babble. If you’re the kind of person inclined to watch a movie because you like a good story, AND you like to know how something foreign and complicated works a bit better, Crimson Tide is one of those ‘entertaining and unintentionally educational’ flicks. The recent ‘Captain Phillips’ was a lot like this too – showing us a lot about how a giant barge and its crew actually functions and works, so when stuff goes haywire, we understand the hows and whys.

Of course that’s just a potato bread bun surrounding the beefy acting of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, both good men acting in what they believe to be the best interest of their country, and their duty to the Navy. The tension between the two is like a tea kettle. It boils over, simmers, and after the dust settles both men realize the other was only doing their job to the best of their ability.

This is a wonderful thriller and great fun to watch with parents or loved ones who don’t like hyper violence or intense vulgarity. There’s also some great talking points to pull out of the flick if you’re looking for them. But even if you’re not rest assured you don’t need to look very hard to enjoy this movie a great deal.

Best Scene:


Shroom Thought: I wonder if modern day Submarines get good Wifi?
—-

 A Serious Man (2009)

“…with the right perspective you can see Hashem, you know, reaching into
the world. He is in the world, not just in shul. It sounds to me like
you’re looking at the world, looking at your wife, through tired eyes.
It sounds like she’s become a sort of… thing… a problem… a
thing..” 
There’s a girl I’ve known for about a decade now who is essentially a big yellow light. We’ll go to a salmon run, watch the fish, and she’ll sit a bit away from me, then message me the next day saying I should have kissed her. A few months later I’ll suggest we go look at the stars in a field and smoke hookah, and she’ll decline, only to text me the next day saying how beautiful the sky was and wondering if I saw it. 
I *hate* yellow lights. Which is a problem, because A Serious Man is essentially Yellow Light the movie. There are no real answers to the biggest questions, and you can either soldier through crises or become paralyzed trying to make concrete sense of it all. Either way, you’ll never know.
This is a two paragraph way of saying fuck those cock-teasing Cohen brothers. 
With due respect, of course. Normally I can understand when a movie is good and not my cup of tea, or bad but enjoyable. But for whatever the Cohen brothers are laying down, I’m not picking up. On the first try at least. The Cohen’s make me feel like a moron. I haven’t seen their entire catalog, but what I have seen has always left me with a “huh? Did I miss something?”.
The Cohens remind me of the Hemmingway short story ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ about a couple waiting on the train tracks on their way to get an abortion or on their way back from one. Nothing is every directly communicated about the abortion and the schism in their relationship, but the characters, prose, and construction of the story make it clear what they’re upset about, even though you’re never told with 100 percent certainly. 
And while I appreciate the sentiment, life has enough uncertainties as it is. ‘A Serious Man’ is about a man in a crisis of faith and confidence, as every one of those uncertainties break in the worse possible way. It’s ultimately a bleakly dark comedy with moments of gentle insight and understanding. There’s a scene involving an elder Rabbi, a tape recorder, a stoned boy on his Bar Mitzvah, and a surprising display of respect for Jefferson Airplane that touches the soul like an unexpected compliment from your company’s CEO. 
Still the movie requires studiousness to understand and find fully enriching, and it may not hurt to have someone well versed in religion to ask questions of, depending on your ability to pick up on the definitions of things based on context.
Regardless, the sign of a great movie is that you’re thinking about it days after you’ve seen it, as I have. I don’t know what to think, but I like that its making me think regardless. I’d check it out.
Best Scene:
Shroom Thought: I think having an Italian mom is like having a Jewish mom except you eat better and she has a mustache.

Coming Soon:  Desperado / Jackie Brown / Reservoir Dogs / Dusk Til Dawn / Pulp Fiction / Inglorious Basterds / Death Proof / Django Unchained / In Brughes / No Country For Old Men / The Fifth Element / Zodiac / Kill Bill Vol. 1 / Kill Bill Vol. 2 /Apocalypse Now / Pain & Gain /

MeekinOnMovies On…Outlast

Game:  Outlast, 
Developer: Red Barrels 
Platforms:  Windows, PS4, Xbox One,   
Did I Pay For It: No
“Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror.
Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they
are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” –
Walter E. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now

There are people who like horror movies and games, and those who don’t. Those who don’t
develop a utility belt’s worth of ways to avoid looking at the screen when a jump scare or gross-out fest is imminent. This is not a good thing. It’s always better to open up our closets, check for monsters, and actually find one,
than it is to leave the door shut and let your imagination
churn through irrational fears and paralyzing contradictions for eternity.

Making a ‘friend’ of horror doesn’t make horror any less scary, just real. Understandable. Quantifiable. You can take action upon it. A lump on your left testicle is terrifying, a lump on your testicle that’s cancer is terrifying as well, but comes with a plan of action and some level of understanding of what’s in store for your twig and berries.

Which brings us to Outlast on Xbox One, a horrifying first person game taking place in a ‘haunted’ insane asylum, with a deliberate “Blair Witch Project” aesthetic thanks your character’s trusty handy cam. Some down-right horrid shit happens at
Mount Massive Asylum and by the time the game is over or you quit, you’ll be up to
your eyebrows in it.

You are Miles Upshur, a freelance journalist tipped off about strange happenings at this mental hospital by an anonymous source referred to as ‘The Whistleblower’. The setting seems a little cliched, but the game’s atmosphere and story is presented with a deft touch. Succinct, well written notes and memos from various employees and patients fill in the margins while major characters will haunt you in person, flick lights off and on, and generally terrify you in classic horror game style.

A good portion of the story involves
inhumane studies done on the inmates on lucid dreaming and the power our
unconscious mind has over our waking thoughts.Imagine how crazy you’d
be if you woke up one day to find the actions you carried out in your
most private of nightmares really happened. Imagine if you didn’t know
when you were dreaming or when you were awake, then imagine you’re being
manipulated by people supposedly trying to help ‘cure’ whatever mental
illness you supposedly have.

Playing Outlast is a vulnerable experience filled with
escalating apprehension. Your only real tool is a camcorder with a night vision mode that depletes the battery quickly. The camera is also used to highlight missions objectives and interactive objects, and recording specific events unlock little bits of exposition from your character.

This mechanic works in conjunction with various sliding, climbing, and jumping skills your character has, and while things never turn into a first person Mario Bros. you’ll be surprised how mobile Miles Upsur turns out to be.

He is not a very skilled fighter however, and there is no combat in Outlast. Step out of a hiding spot too early? Dead meat. Peek through a door (you can
open doors fast or slow, actually) and make eye contact with a crazy person? Run for your
life. If you get grabbed by a wandering inmates, you can fight them off by mashing a few buttons, but otherwise the game plays up its Blair Witch Project vibe and features a lot of running away and hiding from things you saw or heard and hoping they go away.

You will see and hear many things, and they will look great. Especially from the POV of that there camera. It’s surprising the
whole ‘found footage’ thing hasn’t been done in gaming, especially since
it works so well here. Being in a pitch dark room, turning on the
camera’s night vision, and finding yourself greeted face-to-face with
something you didn’t want to see – and never want to see again, is a
common occurrence  If you like horror games, this is awesome. If you
hate them, it makes you want to stop playing.

Outlast uses Unreal Engine 3.5 which blasts you in the face with awesome lighting affects. Light beams through a window and casts shadows on rotating, hung, corpses, there are faint blue glows from computer monitors and busted televisions – the game is a marvel to look at in the dark, light, or greenish hue of night vision.

With the beauty also comes a narrative richness. Outlast gets points for the lucid dreaming stuff because it’s a real thing. The mysteries of what we dream about and why are endless, and
the fascinating nature of lucid dreaming – I.E the idea that you have
full control over the reality your mind presents you while in a dream,
generates questions and ideas and thoughts that can exist outside the game. It’s kind of like how Casino makes you want to learn how Vegas ‘really’ works, or how The West Wing could inspire you to be a politician or a lawyer or Jewish. Outlast prompts you to explore the stuff it’s talking about in a way not many other horror games do.

And many times diving into that stuff is as terrifying as the game itself. Which is to say America’s treatment of the mentally ill is…not great. Here’s a taste of what went on in my home town in the 60s. ‘Insane’ people were locked away, treated like dogs, poked, prodded, bullied and disregarded. A quote from the above link? “One “paranoid” patient, told he has shown no improvement, argues that
the prison is making him worse, not better. This sounds like the simple
truth, and the film leaves us with the impression that institutions like
Bridgewater are causing mental illness, not curing it.”

It’s also entirely possible I’m the only person on the planet who got to pondering about how to lucid dream, and the crappy shit we do to crazy people after playing Outlast. Regardless, it’s here if you wanna look for it, and what you’ll find is fascinating and soul-wrecking.

Also here is a really good, definitely scary horror game that does some new things well, and the stuff we’ve seen before done pretty good, too. The story is full of extractable nuggets about a variety of things, including a character obsessed with this thing:


Outlast is game I would never buy. When I put that “Did I pay for it” thing up there a few reviews back, it wasn’t to show off and say “look at all the free shit I get” while wagging my internet dick in your face, it was to provide perspective. I would have never played Outlast unless it was sent to me, nor would I have dove into lucid dreaming, the history of insane asylums, or learned what in the blue hell that creature above this paragraph is.

Did Outlast change my mind? Would I buy it now? Probably not. It’s so good at doing the things it sets out to do, I didn’t ‘enjoy’ it. I’ve never found the fun in being spooked and terrified. Paying money for long stretches or apprehension that are paid off by bursts of true shock and terror, is not my cup of tea. Regardless of Kurtz’s quote, Life has enough horrors to befriend on its own, I don’t need my entertainment to provide them in bulk.

But I’m also not the kind of asshole to say that just because I don’t like something, it objectively sucks. Everyone has their taste, and clearly Horror is a popular choice for many people. In which case you could argue that the fact Outlast made me stop playing because it was ‘too scary’ could be the stuff box quotes are made of.

“This game made me realize I’m the pussiest pussy to ever pussy! 5/5” – MeekinOnMovies

MeekinOnMovies On….Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark

Game: Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark
Platforms: Played on Xbox One, available on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, 3DS,
Price:
59.99
Did I Pay For It:
No

“Can I play a game?”
 
“Is it violent?” Said mom, aware that the majority of modern day Xbox One content was pretty gross.
“Nah, it’s a new Transformers game, ‘Rise of The Dark Spark'”

“They’re still around?”

“Yup – but since there’s a video game about them I don’t need my imagination to have fun with them like I did as a kid!” I made a motion like I was cradling my precious Optimus Primal and Dinosaur Megatron toys in my hands and smashing them together Psshshhh Boososshhh Chishhhhh.
You never remember the day you stop playing with your favorite toys. Everyone put away their Hot Rod, Starscream, Soundwave, and that giant Godzilla toy with the removable tail for the last time at some point, but the specifics are always murky. But the (un)fortunate reality of the situation is Transformers: Rise of The Dark Spark does it better than your imagination ever could.

Situated as a tie-in game with Transformers: Age of Extinction, Rise of The Dark Spark is actually another game in the War For Cybertron series developed by High Noon Studios, even though it was technically developed by Edge of
Reality- the guys who did the ports of the Tony Hawk games for the n64. Regardless, the game feels right at home right away.

This is a high-octane third person shooter without cover mechanics or regenerating health, with a strong focus on weapon upgrades, tech modifications, special abilities, blowing enemies into circuit boards, or melting them via corrosive poison like a 50 foot tall Wicked Witch of The West. It’s a blast.

Initial impressions are positive, and the first robot you control is Drift, a samurai robot voiced in the movie by Ken Watanabe. The game gets the tutorial stuff out of the way early, and by the 20 minute mark you can transform, boost jump, melee, and you’re also introduced to the endless number of meta objectives.

For example, while Drift is given a photon cannon, he says he’d prefer to use his sword. If you beat the level without firing a shot, you’re rewarded with a ‘gear box’ which holds all kinds of upgrades, like weapons, character skins, and more. The fan service in this game is insane.

The action is equally as insane and pretty tricky, and you’ll die a lot as success requires a fair amount of strategy. You’ll need to strafe, flank, conserve high-payload ammo for when you need it, and generally avoid running directly into the oncoming fire of multiple enemies. You may find yourself wanting to play Transformers: Rise Of The Dark Spark as a brainless action game, but it’s…I’m sorry…more than meets the eye in that regard.

Speaking of your eyes, and what’s pleasing to them, on the Xbox One everything has a shiny gloss, and the metal reflections go a long way to making your favorite characters look better than ever. There’s very little texture pop-in, and while the graphics won’t blow you away, there are plenty of great explosions and neat touches that will get your pulse pounding, and watching certain characters transform is almost as cool as it was when you were a kid.

If you were a kid with a bevy of Transformers toys, Rise of The Dark Spark also serves as one final trip to the toy store. You’ll see the Insecticons and remember which of them you had and which of them you wanted. You’ll see Starscream in all his blue and red and gray glory and immediately remember how jealous you were of your friend Dave across the street who owned two of him. You’ll play as Soundwave and instantly flash back to that time your Dad stepped on poor Razorbeak and cut his foot.

You may also remember the stories you told while smashing these robots together on your bed which doubled as a battlefield, or kitchen table whose edge was a perfectly fine place-holder for an active volcano.

When it comes to the story in this game, well…meh. The last two games in the series – War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, told a pretty creative origin story about how Optimus Prime and the Autobots fled Cybertron for earth, and the last one ended on a cliff-hanger that would hopefully result in the next game in the series re-telling a good chunk of the Generation 1 mythos in its own special way.

So it’s unfortunate that this game is actually kind of a mid-quel, taking place between those two games, while also slamming in the Autobots and Decepticons from Michael Bay’s Transformers games and very direct references to the *actual* 80s cartoon. This is all thanks to a macguffin known as the “Dark Spark” which allows the person who controls it to jump between dimensions and alter the very fabric of reality. 

Which remains odd, even though Transformers has always been a pretty theological property. Depending on your favorite
‘generation’ you’re dealing with ancient guardians, various matrices of
leadership, sparks of power and / or darkness, Energon, something to do with being enlightened as a ‘Prime’ and lonely
monkeys in the desert which is surely a metaphor for something.

It’s all pretty strange and hard to really dive into, and once you toss in alternate dimensions and more than one version of some of our favorite heroes and villains, the whole thing becomes a mess. An entertaining and really fun mess, sure, but eventually you just go with the
flow and enjoy the cool moments without actively trying to make sense
of anything.

It’s sort of like how X-men is supposedly a metaphor for inequality and homosexuality and racism, but all the popular stories seem to involve aliens and space travel. Transformers doesn’t need all this extra stuff to tell an entertaining yarn about giant robots punching each-other. 

Anyway, if the worst thing you can say about a game released as a tie-in to a movie where the plot isn’t important, it that the story kind of sucks, you can’t really complain. This game is quality. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, there’s
a ton of supplemental content, including multiple multiplayer
modes with a bunch of customization, a horde mode, and more.

Most importantly, it’s old-school in that if your 12 year old brain pictured the perfect Transformers game, it’d look quite a lot like this, and you’d never pick up your toys again.

And yes. Stan Bush is present and accounted for. 
——————————————————————

MeekinOnMovies On…1001 Spikes (or a Red Hot Poker Up The Ass: The Game)

Game: 1001 Spikes
Platform: Xbox One (also available on PS4, Vita, PS3, Wii U, Steam) 
Did I pay for it: No.  
Price: 14.99
Like a stern high school teacher looking over your shoulder during a test and coughing in your ear when your answer to the essay question is only two sentences long, 1001 Spikes guilts you into bettering yourself. You cannot come lightly to it, else perish on a forgotten trap or die jumping directly into an arrow you really should have known was coming.

Taking a retro 2D platforming art style, offering same-screen multiplayer, and hundreds of levels, 1001 Spikes will conjur up ghosts of the first Spelunky, but outside of the visual style and genre and requiring keys to progress to the next level, the games aren’t that much alike. Yes, there are traps and spikes and enemies, but Spelunky encouraged speedy and skillful play and 1001 Spikes demands focus and patience. It’s the difference between The Fast & The Furious, and Drive – both movies features cars and violence, but they could not be more different. Additionally 1001 Spikes is a bit more streamlined. You have a jump button, and attack button, and that’s it – whereas Spelunky involved item shops and all sorts of goodies and nicknacks to aid you on your journey. 
Though by the end of 1001 Spikes fifth level you may be rooting around the level for some cyanide to end your suffering. When people say Golf is a bad way to ruin a good walk, they’re essentially saying the intense challenge and frustration of golf results in a stressful, but ideally rewarding experience. 1001 Spikes is the same way. 
Namely because 1001 Spikes does a wonderful job of setting the rules. You know what a given level is going to entail, you just need to be prepared and maintain focus long enough to succeed – It’s like taking that aforementioned test, if you’re prepared, it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. There are few ‘gotchyha!’ moments, and despite using 200 of the 1001 lives you’re given at the start of the game, I never felt cheated or unfairly punished. Instead I turned the rage inward, blaming myself because I either took a shortcut I shouldn’t have, or miss-timed a jump I made a dozen times before out of frustration with my own skill.
1001 Spikes is from Nicalis, the creators of the excellent Cave Story, and they share similarities in their zen like nature. They require peace of mind. With distractions, slamming doors, people talking in your ear, or worries about what tomorrow will bring, 1001 Spikes will eat your lunch all day long. But in a meditative state of concentration, the progress you make is as rewarding as it is enthralling – it’s acing a test you actually studied for. It’s getting a birdie on a par 4. It’s asking the cute girl from the movie theater out on a date while maintaining eye contact and not stumbling over your words. 
You find yourself surprised by what you’re capable of. 
Which is to say that in its best moments, 1001 Spikes helps transcend your own perceived limitations. There will be frustration and seemingly impossible challenges, and you will fail way more often than you succeed. But because the failure is your own fault, victory is your own doing too – and all the more sweet because of it. To paraphrase Taylor Mali, 1001 Spikes makes you work harder than you ever could, coughing in your ear that you better not dare waste its time with anything less than your very best.

MeekinOnMovies On….Why Are You All Dicks To Me?

But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations.

Mayhaps it’s time I stood up for myself. I’m not trying to go crazy, or lash out, or condescend to anyone, and I’m only going to do this once.

The value of a critic, especially a critic in today’s day and age, isn’t to tell you what to see or what movies are worth your money. With the way film works now, seeing a movie early and first and spoiler free is almost always the way to go.  A critic is about validation, or lack there of. Seeing a movie everyone says is good – like Argo, having a negative reaction, and finding someone paid to think and write about film who agrees with you is what people go for now. Which is fine.

I’ve been watching movies / playing games quasi professionally since 2010.  You can find all the movies I had to review for that movie review show I made, here. I’ve been writing creatively more or less since 2001.  Recently I’ve been paid to do so, decently well, for a website I won’t mention else be labeled a shill. Before that I was paid decently well to manage the work and writing and ‘legacy’ of Roger Ebert, and before that it was pro-bono.

My point is that it’s clear I’m not handsome enough, popular enough, rich enough or confident enough to be taking any of this lightly or to be doing it because I only got lucky. Yes, I lucked into some great chances, but I made the most of them, and if my pile of student loans and general output doesn’t tell you I love media in all its forms – movies, games, television, books, theater – you’re nuts.

Of The AFI top 100 movies I’ve seen 61 of them, and naturally countless more not on the list. I’ve been on film sets, edited short films, whether or not any of the results are good, the fact I’ve done it, and had my hands in it, I’ve seen actors blow up at Directors over their lines, I’ve rigged up PVC pipe to create the illusion someone puked all over their boyfriend.

Being on set, and doing these things, and understanding the work and nuance and patience and strife that goes into making a film, even a BAD one, is the difference between some guy who watches a lot of movies and someone who feels qualified to speak about them on a larger level.

And I am qualified to speak about them.  If you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, I’m willing you bet you haven’t read much of what I wrote. And in fact, to prove it, if you respond to this post without using the codeword pumpkin kitten, I’m going to assume you skimmed over this, too, and just like giving me shit because it’s the internet and being mean on the internet is a wonderful way to fill whatever voids you have in your life when it comes to assertiveness, directness, clarity, and insecurity.

Similarly, if you think that somehow missing a ‘classic’ movie makes me a fraud, you’re a dope. You tell me to go watch Armageddon again? I was god damn 12 when that movie came out.  You say it’s terrible that a movie ‘expert’ hadn’t seen Apocalypse Now? Why the fuck do you think I got around to seeing it? There are holes in everyone’s catalog, Roger Ebert is missing reviews for quite a few popular flicks, and I’m sure the guys on ESPN or Fox Sports haven’t seen every ‘great’ football or baseball game, just like every famous chef hasn’t had every single ‘great’ dish from across the globe.

Shit, there’s stuff Scott Keith hasn’t reviewed, lets all call him an idiot.

If you want to challenge me on something I say about a movie or a game or TV show, if you disagree with me that I think something is good or bad or bad in the best way, that’s fine, but getting personal so quickly and so immediately is a sign of insecurity and often times jealously. If you truly had a point you wouldn’t need to call me an idiot to do it. If you truly cared about what I said or about engaging with me, or anyone else on a human level, you would not need to resort to cheap shots and dumb insults I’ve heard millions of times before.

If you take one thing away from this over-long and pretentious and pissed off rant, let it be this: If you don’t think I mean well, you’re nuts.

But damn it is hard to care about you assholes when everything I say, or type, or write is disregarded in favor of cheap insults about my weight or voice – all things I’m keenly aware of and have heard thousands of times before and bring up often. You think a person who writes on the internet doesn’t have thick skin? You think a fat guy isn’t used to being called fat? Why call me terrible, then answer the question anyway?

So why am I telling you all this when surely I shall be met with vitriol and scorn and general internet dickwadary, becuase I guess I’m an optimist. Despite the generally horrible and terrible things you all say about me, I maintain that behind each of those words and usernames and hollow insults is someone who’s an actual human being with hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities and is just as much a person as anyone else.

I do not understand why, for the life of me, I am met with this insanity. Is it because I’m on a wrestling blog writing about stuff that isn’t wrestling? If that’s the case, fine, I guess, but I don’t go to 411mania or ESPN.com and complain when those outlets cover something other their chosen fields.

At best I like to think I provide a point-of-view that ISN’T uber movie expert guy who has seen everything and knows everything, because I’m not.  I like to think I know a little about a lot. A bit about writing, a bit about subtext, lighting, tone, pacing, theme, pathos, ethos, and so on. If you read my stuff and think I come across like a know it all, read what I’ve done again with an open mind. It takes a lifetime to become an expert, I’m *four* years in.

Everything’s subjective, and when it comes to art there are no right or wrong answers.  That’s what I try to say, that’s my voice. That’s what I think of when I review something – does a movie have value for all people, certain kinds of people, or no one at all. Can someone who’s not a super heady cinema snob enjoy movie X? Then I’ll suggest seeing it. If a movie is so far up its own ass that you REALLY need to get over the eye roll and pretension.

The only absolute is that negativity doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m on here because I swear to god I’m trying to entertain and spark discussion, especially when seemingly everyone is actively miserable about the WWE, it would make sense to have something a little less depressing to chat about, right?

Maybe misery loves company.

Love my QOTDs, hate my QOTDs, love my reviews, hate my reviews, love me, hate me, the fact remains I’m never boring. I’m not on here asking the same questions about god damn Lex Luger or Hulk Hogan or Triple H being an asshole, and clearly I spark SOMETHING in most people here, but maybe I’ll take off for a bit, maybe I won’t, who knows. Regardless, a little civility goes a long way.

Oh, and one last thing on that whole knowing what I’m talking about thing –  I brought a reference:

QUVENZHANÉ. A SMALL FORCE OF NATURE.


Interview with Quvenzhané Wallis from Paul Meekin on Vimeo.

MeekinOnMovies On…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The
Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a short story about a man with an
oppressive wife, who constantly has flights of fancy in order to escape
her meandering omnipresence. Due to its popularity and name recognition,
a movie about the short story kicked around Hollywood for awhile,
getting attached to names like Jim Carey before eventually finding its way
into the hands of Ben Stiller, who stars and directs the very loose
adaptation.  

Stiller’s
a great choice, as he’s an actor who built almost his entire resume on
willingly embarrassing himself in front of Robert DeNiro, Owen Wilson,
Vince Vaughn, and most recently Eddie Murphy. In Meet The Parents he was
brilliant at generating palpable uncomfortable silences that made the
audience erupt with laughter. In Tropic Thunder he directed Robert
Downey Jr to an Oscar Nomination for a comedy. Heck, the only
reason Zoolander succeeded is because he played the titular character
with such a serious earnestness you legitimately felt bad for the guy.

These
are wonderful clubs to have in the bag if you’re making a light hearted
drama about a guy who thinks too much. And boy oh boy, does he come out
swinging.


The story finds zone-out prone Walter Mitty (Ben
Stiller) as a weak-willed, shy, introverted photo processor for Life
Magazine. Naturally he’s attracted to a girl at the office, and in a
nice touch is so socially paralyzed he doesn’t anguish about asking her
out, no, he anguishes about sending her a ‘wink’ on Match.com.

Walter
has fantasies ranging from saving the girl at work from a fire, to
living with her in a weird Benjamin Button (another loose adaptation of a
short story) kind of thing, and even little things like the right thing
to say at the right time. The less outlandish ones sometimes go on for
awhile before we snap back and see the scene was all in Walter’s head.
These scenes are irksome and annoying, not without purpose – ultimately
giving us a window in Walter’s world as both he and the audience feel
the jerked around by his emotions. 

Eventually
Walter finds himself butting heads with a new boss, slowly befriending
the girl at work, Cherly (Kristen Wiig) and is ultimately charged with
the task of locating a missing photo that’s going on the cover of final
print issue of Life Magazine.

That
little motivating factor takes him from the dour grays and pale blues
of the Life Magazine office to the welcoming lush green pastures of
Iceland and the bone chilling cold of the arctic – ultimately exploring
himself along the way. 

We’ve
seen this kind of thing before – a person goes on a journey of
unintended self discovery, often in exotic lands, and arrives at some
form of personal enlightenment. See About Schmidt, The Best Exotic
Marigold Hotel, Forest Gump, The Station Agent, and
we can toss in that Julia Roberts flick where she goes to India.
The
point is these flicks come in numerous permutations from buddy comedies
to feminist rallying calls to even classic stoner comedies. 

Stoner
comedy? Yep. The movie has a lot in common with John Cho’s arc from
Harold
and Kumar Go to White Castle if you replace weed with geeky
photography talk. There are moments of broad comedy, unexpected
enlightenment, uplifting resolution, and a drunk guy (not Neil Patrick
Harris) flies a helicopter! 

Walter and Harold’s change in outlook
doesn’t happen right away, and they aren’t so inept at the start of the
movie that their change is impossible, either. But most importantly
they’re uplifting in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or overtly
melodramatic. 

Especially
in Walter Mitty, where there are no grandstanding proclamations of love
or tell offs to the boss, and instead the confidence comes via posture
and eye contact. Ben Stiller looks almost like a completely different
person by the end of movie, and the change is so subtle you don’t notice
until you do, ya know? 

The
Secret World of Walter Mitty is a light hearted movie with a gentle
touch
that is entertaining enough for the masses, and speaks to a specific
kind
of soul who may stare at the wall too long or pour countless thoughts
into his coffee instead of his conversations. There’s a not-so-subtle
subtext in how Walter goes from the dingy
basement of a dying magazine to the top of a Himalayan mountain in the
span of a two hour movie, perhaps saying that the way he got there was
as simple as realizing he could.
————————————————————————
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Watch_Dogs: 10 Reasons it Sucks

MeekinOnMovies On….Godzilla (2014)

Godzilla
Directed By: Gareth Edwards, 
Starring: Godzilla, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Tyler Johnson

Between the Roland Emmerich comedy…thing, and the Japanese movies
that haven’t aged well, for a time Godzilla was most valuable as an idea.
We saw movies that aped Godzilla’s genre for low-fi horror movies like
Cloverfield, or big budget, tonally bizarre flicks like Pacific Rim.
Even watching “Godzilla 2000” requires accepting it as a cheesefest and
not so much as an actual movie made with dramatic intent.

However, 
thanks in part to director Gareth Edwards and some deft directional
choices, it’s clear the King of Monsters is back, and anyone who wants
to take his crown better bring their “A” game.  

Since
Godzilla movies are a lot like pro wrestling in that they’re ‘fake’,
we’re
pretty sure we know who’s going to win, and in the meantime we’re hoping
to get a healthy dose of chaos and destruction,  we should take a look
at the under card. After a prologue sequence reminding us of all the
terrible things folks have done with nuclear weapons, and a short scene
with Ken Watanabe that may purposefully be similar to one in the last
Godzilla remake, the movie opens with Bryan Cranston at the center of a
nuclear meltdown in Japan that ultimately claims his wife.

Flash
forward a dozen or so years and we watch catch up with Cranston’s son,
Ford, returning home from the military, only to be forced to go to Japan
to bail his dad out of jail, who then reveals a massive conspiracy,
then they go to uncover the truth, and blah blah blah blah eventually
the secret is let out of the bag, and there are monsters in our world,
and they’ve woken up from hibernation.

Obviously
the plot isn’t important in the sense that we really care about the
characters or what they have to say, or how their world-view should be
respected, but the movie gives it an earnest shot and the results are
pretty good. Cranston has a wonderful bitchfest about his wife to a
one-way mirror, and Ken Watanabe looks every bit at stoic and troubled
as you would hope him to be – just a hair south of the point where he
would feel like a South Park parody.

More
important that realistic plot details is how these disaster movies
approach their world-wide atmosphere. The Dawn of The Dead remake
handled the world changing implications of its story by combining fake
news footage, a haunting Johnny Cash song, and footage of real riots and
violence to convey the world as we know it is over. Similarly,
something like Godzilla appearing would be a massive news story
world-wide, and it’s treated pretty well here, with constant news
updates in the background on TVs, including a very “Cable News” info
graphic of the monsters that landed a chuckle.  If these scenes didn’t
work, none of the stuff occurring in the movie would be all that
enjoyable or dramatic, because it’d feel like a fantasy movie with no
longer-lasting consequence.

There
are quite a few action sequences involving the monsters, including a
chilling sequence in Hawaii and a fun gag in Las Vegas. The highlight of
the movie involving non-monster-on-monster combat involves a sequence
on a bridge that is truly pulse pounding.  

Eventually
Godzilla, the two other monsters, the Army and their plan involving
nuclear weapons, Ford, and the wife he’s been trying to find the whole
movie collide in a Californian Battle Royal for the ages as Godzilla
engages in an inter-gender handicap match against his two foes. 

I’d
rate it about ***1/2 stars. It was fun and got the job done, but
considering the under card had so much world building and explaining to
do, it would have been impossible for the brawl between the three beasts
to deliver, and considering this is Godzilla’s first PPV in quite a
while, we all knew he had to go over and go over strong. 

What’s
nice is that even the heels get some sympathy and you understand their
point-of-view as well, which makes the whole brawl feel like an
inevitable confrontation than a staged fight, and the resolution a
solemn victory instead of a celebrated one. The way they turn Godzilla
face is clever, too.

Ultimately
if you like Godzilla movies or anything featuring giant stuff
destroying smaller stuff, this is a great movie to catch with a group of
friends for a matinee where you can chortle at the screen a bit and
giggle at the occasional portion that makes you roll your eyes. But
the joy in Godzilla is that those eye rolls come from a place of respect
as opposed to disgust or reaction to cheesy effects. It’ll be because
there’s a scene that made you scoff, or a monologue given to a naval
captain that felt a just a touuuchhhh too heavy for a summer action
movie, but you appreciate the effort and can’t wait to see more anyway.

 
MeekinOnMovies…The Blog
MeekinOnMovies On…WhatCulture.com 
MeekinOnMovies On…Facebook

MeekinOnMovies On….You Don’t Know Jack

You Don't Know Jack

You Don’t Know JackiOS / Android / Facebook / (Ouya?)

In this world, there are few places for B-type personalities to massage their egos. You can write a
13,000 word diatribe defending the “Star Wars” Prequels,get a writing gig, kick-start that graphic novel. but the ability to have an honest-to-goodness pissing
contest is the privilege of the macho. So they play
trivia. 

But once people know you’re good at trivia, they don’t want to play with you any more – especially if you celebrate correct answers like Superbowl touchdowns.

Until…you meet a pretty girl. I wooed her with a trip to the giant
Dave & Buster’s trivia machine, the sly
maneuver of giving my prize tickets away to a kid, and not much else. Trivia came up again, and I mentioned
owning “You Don’t Know Jack”. 

Her eyes lit up, and I was suddenly
inviting a girl back to my place to play video games. This is why I fondly refer to the ‘old’ You Don’t Know Jack as the game that got me laid….

So years later when I saw that same girl’s Facebook page
light up with stats and updates about her “You Don’t Know Jack” scores,
I was instantly curious. Little did I know a mini phenomenon had swept
the nation. You Don’t Know Jack was mobile! There were
people, all across the country, playing this game? And they wanted to
win? And they liked the jokes? And I can play DIRECTLY against people on FB
whom I base my entire life worth upon my sense of superiority over? 

At this rate, You Don’t Know Jack is going to be the
best man at my wedding.

So I downloaded the game and immediately had trouble doing much of anything because the game
doesn’t play nice with 3G connections. After getting myself a more
stable connection, I found myself enthralled. “You Don’t Know Jack”
gives you an asynchronous gaming experience that actually manages to
feel simultaneous thanks to some ingenious voodoo.

It works like this: You Don’t Know Jack is broken down into a series of episodes. Your Facebook friends play the game, and their score for each question is calculated,
and pushed to your phone or iPad while you play that episode on your
own time – so it looks like you’re playing against four other friends.
So while your buddy Joe may have played his episode against completely
different people, for your experience, it’s as if you’re playing Joe in
real time. It works splendidly. Many a delight comes from watching a
friend you know get a particularly easy question wrong, or shooting your
way to the top of the standings after answering a hard question the
fastest. This is totally addicting stuff.

You Don’t Know Jack presents itself as a ribald, irreverent trivia
show. There are fake sponsors like “The Warehouse Supply Warehouse”
(with all your warehouse supply, supply needs), and Nacho-pedic Beds
(and pillows). The writing of the questions and associated jokes is
fairly strong, and while there are a few groaners, the quality of
writing is incredibly strong considering the bone crushing amount of
content Jellyvision has pumped out in such a short time.

Annddd if you want to play a lot of that content, you’re going to
have to pony up some dough. While the app is free, and you get one
‘free’ episode per day, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to play
more than one a day, heck, you may want to play five, or six, or seven
games in a day. Which is cool. “You Don’t Know Jack” has successfully
brought the arcade to the iPhone, asking you to pony up about 2 bucks
for a thousand coins, which equates to five or six additional episodes
or so (depending on how many coins you’ve previously won, earned
bonuses, etc). I’m a big fan of this sort of structure in my mobile
games. If I want to play more, or feel like I should support the
developer, I can drop a buck or two and feel like I’ve done my good deed
for the day. Similarly, it’s also entirely possible to never pay a dime
for “You Don’t Know Jack” and have a daily dose of irreverent trivia.

The trivia itself is mostly a mixed bag depending on your tastes.
Hosted by the tastily named Cookie Masterson, each game is broken down
into 5 questions (and five associated wisecracks by Cookie). The topics
range in variety from pop culture to movies, to sports, to science, to English and grammar, and a variety of others. The faster you answer the
question, the more money you earn, and you lose more money for a wrong
answer if you buzz in quickly, too. 

The final round consists of a “Jack
Attack” which has you doing some quick-fire word-association, and there
are a few other trivia formats that occur occasionally through a game,
as well, such as a “Dis or Dat” which has you associating a phrase with
one thing or another, and the accurately titled “put the choices into
order and buzz in and see if you are right….Question”. The person with
the most money at the end of the game wins coins (used for purchasing
more “episodes”) and bragging rights. Yes, you can *actually* brag on
your friends Facebook walls if you enjoy the taste of victory with a
side of petulance.

On the subject of petulance, it’s entirely possible you’ll hate this
game for the reasons I like it. The so-bad-they’re-good jokes tickle my
fancy, while it may grind yours like sandpaper. The graphic heavy A/V
presentation could tax older devices and lead to lower scores, and it’s
entirely possible for folks to buy ‘Point Boosters’ for a round that
allow them to get 3x, 5x, or 10x the points for a correct answer.

Look, if have ever fancied yourself a trivia hound, you owe it to
yourself to at least give “You Don’t Know Jack” a try. It’s completely
free and playing your first few games will cost you absolutely zero
dollars, and barely 10 minutes of your time. It’s engaging, it’s funny
(to me), and hell, you may even get laid (or learn something!).

There’s also a healthy dose of Celebrity episodes, and the game is constantly updated with new jokes and questions. If you like trivia with a side of crazy – give it a shot. It’s free! 

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MeekinOnMovies On….Trials Fusion

Trials Fusion

Trials Fusion is an unholy marriage of Sonic The Hedgehog and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. While masquerading as an over-the-top motorcycle racing game, in reality it’s a tough-as-nails platformer. 

Seriously. Between the flips, jumps, spikes, flame pits, loop-d-loops and bounce pads, I half expected Doctor Robotnic to swing a giant wrecking ball at me at the end of the first world.

It’s also a game I’d never buy. When the kind folks at Ubisoft graciously gave me a review code thanks to this blog’s surprisingly pungent demographic, I figured I’d see if the title was worth a go for people who wouldn’t normally seek this kind of thing out. 

In a word? No.  


In more words? It depends. I
played the first two Trials games with friends, loved the multiplayer,
and found much joy in the nearly endless number of free downloadable
levels.

So playing the game by myself makes first impressions strange. The title menu is a strange techno / EDM / Sci-fi infused vomit of color and options, and the vibrancy is striking compared to the understated nature of the first games. In fact it seems bigger and brighter is theme of Fusion, and by the end of the tutorial mission I had already performed more jumps over bigger gaps doing more flips than I could ever pull off in the previous titles. 

But while jumps and flips are nice, in reality Trials
Fusion takes the unsung hero of motocross – balance, and applies it to
videogame platforming. you’ll be adjusting your weight from the front to the back of the bike in order to change your spin and angle upon approaching the ground. Land too slanted you’ll topple over, land too flat and you’ll lose all your momentum.

As a result, going as fast as you can in this game isn’t
always the best course of action. When you have a motorcycle between
your digital legs, that’s a hard ball-bearing to swallow. Much like how Sonic the Hedgehog promotes its speed, but also requires great reflexes and even occasionally patience, Trials Fusion promotes its insanity but requires deliberate thinking. 

But, if
you’re willing to suppress your inner speed demon, you’ll find a
challenging experience with a rewarding aftertaste (if your mouth isn’t
filled with dirt or snow). There are times you’ll come across a seemingly insurmountable wall, only to adjust your balance juuusttttt enough to make it over – and in that moment you’ll feel more accomplished than all the triple back-flips in the world can offer.

Each level features objectives to complete in order to unlock more stuff, and while some are simple – do X number of flips, don’t crash, and so on – some of them are downright insane – including one that requires you to crash your bike in a way that launches you, ass-first, onto a flag pole. This is not only possible, but by the time you reach this point in the game you’ll be so comfortable with the controls you’ll be excited to see if you can do it the first try. 

There’s dozens of tracks available after you make progress in the campaign mode – unlocking new bikes (and an ATV), gear, and assorted goodies along the way – but the real showcase is in the absolutely bizarre stuff folks online come up with.

There’s a level that involves you toppling ass over bike for roughly two solid minutes down a stairway, completely without control, only for the game to ask you to stick the landing after this dizzying display.

Thus you would think Trials Fusion offers infinite repeatability, and if you don’t have any IRL friends, it does. Getting gold medals on tracks and trying to top leaderboards are the kinds of challenges that can make a person play this game for years if they so choose.  

But if you’re looking to sit down and play with like, a real human being, you might be a little bummed. There were only 8 relatively sedate levels to partake in, and with races only being a couple of minutes long, we had seen and done it all in no-time flat. There was nothing new to discover in that mode. 

Ubisoft has said all kinds of new content is coming to the game to sure up the multiplayer experience – but that has yet to materialize.

Ultimately I’m not super stoked about Trials Fusion – it’s a weird title when you think about, a platformer with no jump button, and a motorcycle game that requires more strategy than reflexes. But that also makes it unique and something worth coming back too when other titles fail to scratch whatever itch it is you have. 

Because it’s so weird, because it’s so unique, because it’s so not what you think it would be – you kind of have to applaud it for the effort, even if the result isn’t up everyone’s alley – kind of like that not-action-movie with Ryan Gosling, Drive. 

HOWEVER, because you guys are Blog Otters for life, I will say that this game’s wild-west themed iOS / Tablet cousin, Trials: Frontier, is completely free and perfectly suited to the platform where you’ll be playing in 10-15 minute bursts, as opposed to the hours you’d want to invest in a given console play session – and I like that version quite a bit more than this one, simply because a game that’s ‘pretty good’ on consoles can quickly become ‘really great’ when you have it everywhere you go. Trials Frontier is free-to-play so it’ll occasionally bug you to sign up for X or Y, but the gameplay is so sold and such a blast on mobile that you forgive it immediately. 

Anyway, Trials is a franchise that I’m happy exists, even if it’s not what I personally seek out when it comes to games – I’m happy I played it, have it, and can encourage others to enjoy it if they think they will (and you would), but for whatever reason, Fusion didn’t gel the way I though it would.

MeekinOnMovies On…..HItman:GO

“Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.”

 – Frank Lloyd Wright

The Hitman Series is a weird one. The first game came out over a decade ago, and there’s been four sequels since, all with interchangeable subtitles like “Absolution”, “Blood Money”, and “Silent Assassin” that conjure up a mind’s eye view of generic power fantasy blech.

In reality Hitman games are pretty heady – or at least want to be. From all kinds of religious subtext and orchestral arrangements, to trippy content and no-win plot scenarios, Hitman’s failing seems to be one of half measure. It can’t be the post-modern, dour, slow-burn thriller like the movie “Drive” is, and it doesn’t want to be the ballsy over-the-top campy game like “Max Payne” either. As a result the games live somewhere in the middle; truly bizarre titles with a variety of interesting – if not completely compelling, narrative ideas.

I bring this all up because despite what you may think, it has quite a bit to do with Hitman: Go, a simple, addicting, challenging, elegant, board game recently released for tablets.

First impressions are interesting. Without a tutorial, welcome message, or blinking cursor, Hitman: Go settles on its splash screen with quiet confidence. Upon hitting “Go” and selecting a board, the design will strike you immediately. 
Imagine if Frank Lloyd Wright designed a board game where everything looks modern, retro, and minimalist all at the same time – it’s like you’re exploring a scale model of a house he was intending to build. It’s wild.
It’s this presentation that solidifies the fact the folks making the Hitman games are brilliant cats. This *is* a board game first, and a videogame second, and the details are sublime. 
Guards all appear connected to some underlying mechanical device that moves them across the board on a track. Rocks you pick up for distractions are buttons you stand on to activate. Moving your character results insults in a satisfying click and clunk like you’re moving a high quality chess piece. 
Video game concessions are of course made – guards will turn around on their own with a little black question mark above their head, and hiding in bushes completely hides your character from view – all largely unrealistic things that couldn’t happen in a board game. But at one point toward the end of a tricky level, “The Ave Maria” kicked in and I was hooked by this game’s….well…everything. 

But what about the game part? Well, like the best board games, playing is simple in theory, but wonderfully complex in action. Each level presents a board, guards, a set few paths you can traverse, a goal, and often times a bonus objective like a suitcase. 
Getting around guards lethally or non-lethally requires thinking two or three steps ahead, with many levels giving bonus points for minimizing your moves. The key to all this is interrupting the movement patterns of the people in your way. If you can find a way to get a single step ahead of them via backtracking, throwing a rock, or simply taking an alternate path, you’ll often break the level right open and be able to progress to the end – and feel instantly compelled to go back and do it again for an optimal score.

Completing a level feels quite a lot like solving one of those tinker-toy puzzles where you have to twist the interlocking bolts in just the right way to separate them and feel like a super genius. You naturally do it again and again so you can perfect it.

It’s quite soothing, and playing through a level or two of Hitman: Go is a wonderful stress reliever from a long A/V heavy work day, and a nice way to get your brain cranking in the morning on the train commute in without bombarding your eyes with bright colors and fast paced actions. It’s the kind of game that pairs well with a cup of coffee and bemused existential ponderment.

The word that enters my mind when I close my eyes and think of Hitman: Go, is elegance – so much so that I’ve chosen to write this review in the more elegant of fonts, courier. 

This game’s choices in music, art and music direction, and gameplay and menu design show remarkable class and maturity. It’s wonderful that a game on a platform not particularly well known for its mature experiences, has such an unassailable identity – so much so that attempting to describe it feels futile – the experience is in seeing it and playing it and half-smirking the whole way through. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be struck by the screenshots and check this game out for yourself and find yourself happily engaged in the first Hitman game that truly feels at home.

4.5 Stars