Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Best moments in film history: John Doe in “Se7en”

May contain some SPOILERS !!

For most of its running time, Se7en is a non-remarkable crime drama starring a young Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow.

It is only when a great actor by the name of Kevin Spacey comes into the picture, quite dramatically I might add, that Se7en is taken to a level of thrill and excitement that did not seem possible for most of the film.

Spacey plays a psychopath named John Doe who believes he is to set an example about the evils of society by making his severely flawed victims suffer their worst nightmare before they finally die at his hands. He chooses his victims carefully, based on the seven deadly sins, each one being guilty for committing one of them.

What is remarkable about Spacey’s John Doe is not what he has done, but the convincing way in which he portrays a man that is void of any moral compass, of feeling any sort of remorse, who is not able to feel bad for any of his victims because he feels they are not worthy of clemency. At first, John Doe surrenders while covered in blood in the police station. The detectives don’t understand why he would, knowing by then that his plan was not yet complete. John had killed only 5 of his victims, 2 were still missing. Somerset, who is the more inquisitive of the two detectives in charge, challenges this notion, always suspicious that there is certainly more to come. As the audience, we relate to Somerset as we automatically think that a serial killer as grotesque and merciless as John Doe would never give up when he is so close to completing his so-called “masterpiece”.

By the end of the movie we know that his plan was indeed complete and that he left it to the inexperienced and anger-prone detective Mills (Brad Pitt) to have the power in his hands to make it possible. The cleverness of his plan is shocking and we, as the audience, are probably as surprised as the characters in the movie.

At the end, we are secretly in awe of Spacey’s Doe for the precision of his plan. His serial killer is the incarnation of psychopathic behavior. He welcomes death, in fact, he looks forward to it, knowing that once he passes he will probably be immortalized by the media. What is unsettling about Spacey’ performance is that we believe in what he believes. He is so convincing in what he says that we cannot argue against it. We are lost in Spacey’s eyes, devoid of emotion or fear. His voice is malignant yet thrilling, revealing in hints and pieces that we are speaking to someone who cannot be persuaded or coerced.

Spacey’s performance is all the more thrilling and relevant because the film desperately needed it. What the picture lacked for most of its running time, Spacey’s Doe brought it to the fore and exceeded our expectations, delivering a surprising knockout punch to the story.

Spacey’s brief performance in Se7en elevated the film and he was the deserving recipient of several awards for his extremely electrifying portrayal (surprisingly overlooked by the Oscars). His John Doe, in my opinion, rivals even that of Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter anyday.

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Gran Torino (2008)

And so my IMDB challenge and Clint-Eastwood cycle continue. Today I will touch upon a film I watched over a month ago that I never got to review until now.

While some details might disappear in time, what remains important and true about a movie that I saw more than a month ago is still fresh in my mind. In a way, it sometimes proves more useful to let a film seep in and settle until I am prepared to emit a judgement that is not limited or determined by my initial impression, which can be severely flawed.

Having said that, Gran Torino, directed and starred by Clint Eastwood, has lost some of its initial appeal and I have come to view the film as one that is strong and solid as its core but a bit weak as a whole.

In a gist, Gran Torino is a story about self-discovery and personal growth. Of course, the film touches upon other subjects such as racism, intolerance, urban decay, violence, cultural division and family relationships. However, in the course of almost two months since I had the chance to watch it, Gran Torino stuck in my mind as a piece of work that tries to explore the idea that race, gender and racial lines can be overcome and that, as a result, we can learn more about ourselves and the world.

This is the journey of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) in Gran Torino.

Having lost his wife, Walt is presented to us as a grumpy old fellow that is as stubborn and stuck in his ways as they come. Walt has a very specific image of people in his head, often letting his first impressions dominate his behavior towards others. He is disappointed and bitter about the passing of the only woman that he tolerated and that tolerated him in return. He is also frustrated at his surroundings. Walt has a family that seems to have fallen for every stereotype of the contemporary suburban household. He is also in the middle of a neighborhood in Detroit that has progressively deteriorated. What used to be a blue-collar prosperous community, now has turned into a culturally diverse community of immigrants (some illegal I presume) of limited means and very different values to what he is used to.

Walt does not want to leave his house or his belongings. He had picked the land decades ago and he would stick by it to his death, or until it miraculously begins to turn around. Why should he leave? he thinks.  He feels he is more worthy of the land than any of his new neighbors, having worked for decades to own what he owns, saving a good part of his income to build his favorite toy: a 1972 Gran Torino.

When his most-prized possession is threatened, all of the frustrations and misconceptions of Walt come to the surface. Slowly but surely, Walt is forced, by an unlikely series of events, to get closer to the same next-door neighbors  he has grown to despise for quite a long time. These include a couple of Korean teens that after having been in the wrong, show him that they are good at heart, forcing Walt to reconsider and ultimately embrace them as a kind of protector to the many outside threats present in modern-day Detroit.

As he grows closer to his new friends, Walt becomes more involved with their isues and especially with their problematic connections to gangs that rule the community. Eventually, Walt realizes that life has given him a new purpose and, with that, new responsibilities. In his new role as patriarch of the community, he is willing to go far and beyond what everyone expects in order to give his friends a better future, ridding them forever of the threat of the gangs that seem determined to ruin their lives.

As it is common in Eastwood’s body of work, the film works itself out to have a meaningful message submerged in between the lines of the script. He builds his movies to what usually seems to be an unavoidable end that we try to avoid as an audience, but that ultimately comes to its tragic, yet uplifting conclusion. Usually, the climax of Eastwood’s films comes in the form of violence which represents a perfect vehicle for his underlying messages about humanity to come across with a splash.

Gran Torino is, in this sense, yet another careful study about humanity and, more specifically, about our ability to sacrifice for others while getting rid of our misconceptions about cultures and styles of life that are foreign to us. As accomplished as the story is, Eastwood’s Gran Torino fails to reach great heights because of the unpolished quality of the film. The casting is good, but not great, and Thao, played by Bee Vang, seems like a specially odd choice.

Sometimes there are movies that benefit from having an unpolished quality, which can enhance the realistic sense of a film. However, Gran Torino feels unpolished in a way that is often apparent and awkward, getting in the way of our experience as an audience. There are scenes that seem to have been rushed, perhaps falling victim to the low-budget and to the directorial style of Eastwood, who usually encourages very few takes and little rehearsal. Such a way of filming can accomplish great results with a talented and experienced cast, but not as much when the actors lack the expertise and/or the talent to make it work on the big screen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Niels

The Best Moments in Film History

With today’s post I start yet another series in this blog of mine. My attempt will be to talk about, as briefly and concisely as I can, about what I consider to be the most memorable moments in the history of film. This new series will have its own sub-category under the umbrella of FILM (please refer to the categories tab).

In this series I will be focusing on specific scenes or sequences that left the biggest impression on me. Some will be violent, others will be surprising, a few will be charming, and there will be some that are highly emotional. Some will be extremely famous phrases or scenes that are known by most of the populace, but I am certain some will be a little more obscure. There are many great films that do not have one particular moment that sticks out and, for that reason, I will stay away from trying to come up with one.

For now, I will give you a preview of my favorite moments in film by revealing the first 50 I could come up with off the top of my head. I expect to be touching upon these over the next few months, probably covering anywhere from 1 to 3 moments per post.

If you haven’t seen some of these films, I suggest you thread carefully for there may be some SPOILERS.

1. Se7en – John Doe’s reveals the last piece of his murder series

2. Apocalypse Now – Colonel Kurtz talks about horror

3. The Godfather – Michael Corleone murders the drug lord and the chief of police

4. Taxi Driver – Travis and the mirror

5. Ikiru – Mr. Watanabe sings while sitting on a swing

6. Braveheart – William Wallace calls for “freedom!” just before he is executed

7. Alexander – The Battle of Hydaspes

8. The Great Dictator – Chaplin breaks the silence to call for world peace

9. City Lights – The girl recognizes the Tramp

10. The Shining – “Heeeere’s Johnny !”

11. Schindler’s List – The Girl in the Red Dress

12. Milk – Dan White goes on a killing spree

13. Unforgiven – William Munny steps in the whorehouse to seek for revenge

14. The Departed – The cellphone rings

15. Alien – The birth of a monster

16. Children of Men – War pauses as a baby cries

 

17. Little Miss Sunshine – The family dances

18. Lost in Translation – Bob Harris whispers in Charlotte’s ear

19. The Shawshank Redemption – The Hole in the Wall

20. Toy Story – To Infinity and Beyond !

21. Amelie – He is still standing by your door

22. Groundhog Day – Phil tries not to fall asleep

23. Silence of the Lambs – Dr. Lecter’s first appearance

24. Pulp Fiction – Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace dance to a Chuck Berry tune

25. Big Fish – A dying father is laid to rest at the sea

26. Singing in the Rain – Gene Kelly sings in the rain

27. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – “Luke, I am your father”

28. Saving Private Ryan – D-day landing

29. Battleship Potempkin – The Odessa steps

30. Life is Beautiful – The allied tank

31. The Sixth Sense – “I see dead people”

32. 2001: Space Odissey: HAL-9000

33. Goodfellas – “You think Im funny?”

34. The Godfather II – The Kiss of Death

35. A Streetcar Named Desire – “Stella!”

36. Network – “Im mad as hell!”

37. Big – The giant piano at F.A.O Schwarz

38. Citizen Kane – Rosebud

39. The Wrestler – The final fight

40. The Godfather III – Michael’s mute scream on the steps of the Opera House

41. Full Metal Jacket – Suicide at the barracks

42. Patton – The speech

43. Inception – The zero-gravity fight

44. Beauty and The Beast – The dance

45. Aladdin – “A Whole New World”

46. The Matrix – Dodging bullets

47. Up – The opening sequence

48. M – Citizen’s arrest

49. Inglorious Basterds – Colonel Landa interrogates a French dairy farmer

50. Capote – Truman weeps before Perry is hanged

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Unforgiven (1992)

I have found great pleasure in my IMDB challenge, but none greater than the movie I am about to review: Unforgiven. This film will mark a fitting beginning to what I call my Clint Eastwood cycle, which would concentrate in all of the movies that he has been a part of that are also in the TOP 250 films at IMDB.

I have already watched “Gran Torino” more than a month ago and I have struggled to find the right ideas to talk about the film, but given the fact that I will be concentrating on Eastwood in the next few weeks, it is definitely time to also give a review of that film in an upcoming post I am already preparing.

Now back to Unforgiven….

I very much doubt Eastwood will ever do a better film and in the coming lines I will try to explain why.

Unforgiven feels like a great Rock n’ Roll song. For most of its running time, it remains an object of mystery, muted in its reach at first, gaining power and punch as it slowly unravels in order to finally open itself to the audience in a crescendo of violence that seemed both unreachable at first but always unavoidable.

Clint Eastwood is not only the director of this exquisite film, but he also stars as the movie’s central and most interesting character. He plays William Munny, a retired assassin of the Old West who, after having married, tried and succeeded for some time to change his ways and raise two children with very modest means. The film opens with a simple shot that pays homage to a time before ours (and to previous Westerns) where a man, probably Eastwood, stands next to a beautiful tree digging the final resting place of his young wife who had, as the film explains in two simple paragraphs, just perished due to small pox.

Along with his story, the film presents us with the town of Big Whiskey, an outpost that is typical of the Wild West. The whorehouse has been visited by two foreign cowboys, one of which, in a fit of rage, has cut up the beautiful face of one of the “whores”. He is stopped only by the feel of a gun next to his temple carried by the owner of the establishment who ties them up and waits for the town’s sheriff to impart some justice. It is at this moment that we meet “Little Bill”, masterfully played by Gene Hackman. He quickly appears to be a figure that demands respect. Bill stands with confidence, knowing exactly what he will do even before he takes a good look at the two men. He deals a magnanimous hand, setting the criminals free once they commit to compensate the owner with a few horses.The only voice that rises and protests to the glaring injustice is “Strawberry Alice”, the “matriarch whore”, fearlessly played by Frances Fisher. Her protests are dismissed by men but not quenched, as we soon learn her women have impressively gathered a thousand dollars to reward anyone who avenges them and kills the two cowboys.

Eastwood’s Old Wild West in Unforgiven is different in that it presents us with characters that have lived and gotten used to the terrible cruelty of the West, who now face extinction as a more lawful and organized modernity seems to creep around them without notice. Gene Hackman is the man that brings order with an iron fist, but also with a certain degree of equanimity gained by his many years of experience and his calm yet fearsome demeanor. When he learns the whores have posted a reward asking for the killing of two cowboys, he quickly focuses on keeping Big Whiskey free of assasins who would surely come to collect the bounty. No longer this is the Old West of duels and self-imposed justice. This has become the West of the sheriff and the American government that is clearly represented by the flags hanging on both sides of the County Office.

In this context, Eastwood meets a young cowboy self-nicknamed “The Schofield Kid”, played by a debutant Jaimz Woolvett. Here is a new breed of cowboy, eager to claim a bounty not fully knowing the risks that are involved with a killing. He comes to Munny to propose him half of the bounty if he joins him in this quest, having discovered that the old man who can’t even manage to organize a herd of hogs was once a feared gunslinger. Munny has seemingly lost his strength and poise, and with marriage, he also seems to have lost his desire for “meanness” and “wickedness”. First he dismisses the bashful Kid, but later comes to his senses and decides to join him not before enlisting his old partner, played by the everlasting Morgan Freeman.

There is obviously a need for money as poverty has taken over and defined Munny’s life for the last few years. He constantly repeats he has long since retired from his old habits, quitting Whiskey and staying away from his gunslinger past as long as money allowed him to. He repeats he is now “a changed man” over the course of the movie, almost as if he needs to remind himself that he no longer has it in him to kill for money.We start suspecting though (with some skepticism) that Munny does have it in him still and that, beyond the bounty, he secretly desires to prove himself, even when all we see is a shadow of his former glory, aged by the harshness of the Old West.

With Unforgiven, Eastwood seems to have become a part of the scenery. He seems to fit in the desert. Munny feeds from the scenery as if he were a true part of it. It is a quality that Eastwood has gained, as an actor, not only with his age, but with the experience given by the many Western classics he was a part of. With Unforgiven he has clearly decided to close a chapter in his career, presenting us with an Old Wild West that is changing its ways, with seemingly washed-up old timers that are no longer good for a fight.

Munny seems to drag the group’s feet, but in his silence and contemplation, there seems to be a dark man capable of anything, just waiting to come out. Eatwood suffers during the trip and almost meets his death because of a great beating he suffered at the mercy of Little Bill. He takes every punch and kick like he deserves it, as if he wants to die. He crawls away from the whorehouse in pain, but also with the persistence and psychotic resolution of a predestined assassin of the West. Once he gets back up and meets the victimized whore outside a barn, he starts gaining his confidence back and, with that, some of his old vicious self. The old assassin is slowly revealed and with that, Eastwood’s commanding presence on the screen grows larger.

What ensues in the last few scenes, as Munny’s wickedness and thirst for revenge in the form of violence fully awakens, is one of the most electrifying action sequences ever put in film. It lacks the glamor and the perfectly tuned craft of today’s action movies, but it plays effectively as the awkwardness and imperfection gives it a sense of realism that would otherwise lack.

Eastwood directs Unforgiven with patience, in a manner that recalls the work of the previous masters of the best American Westerns, while defining a fitting end for an era of movie-making that saw Clint Eastwood rise as one of its most prominent stars. Unforgiven also reminds me of another masterpiece, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which a delusional and psychotic cab driver is treated as a hero, after he explodes in an act of violence that had seemed at odds with his personality for much of the film.

For its beautiful scenery, the rawness of his camerawork, the perfect casting, his patient yet electrifying storyline, and for his indelible presence in the movie, Eastwood managed to produce a work that is flawless in its genre, and that is superior in its detail and intricacies to anything he has ever been a part of before or after.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (flawless)

2011: a horrible year for movies and for my pocket (so far)


I have seen around 13 movies released in 2011 and the verdict is in: 2 in 13 movies are great, another 3 are good enough to satisfy and the other 8 are either okay, not good enough or god-damn awful.

These are statistics, for as poor as they may seem, that are probably too flattering for the movie industry. Once you consider the fact that I tend to avoid films that seem a complete waste of my time (for audiences and critics alike), then you realize that even after you try to be selective, Hollywood makes sure that you’ll end up regretting your decision to sit and watch a movie.

Due to the unstoppable decay in the quality of films Hollywood puts out and my limited movie-goer budget, I have only sat in front of a big theater screen 6 times this year, spending around 6$ every time (and that is after a 5$ discount I get). The rest of the films released in 2011 I have rented, mostly from RedBox, which is where I have found the true garbage of Hollywood due to the tempting 1$ per night deal.

For my IMDB challenge, I usually resort to Netflix in the form of their instant online offerings or the one-at-a-time USPS movie rental that costs me 8.99 $ a month.

All in all, I probably spend 17 to 20 dollars a month in movies (monthly Netflix at 8.99$ + RedBox at 1$ for 2 to 4 movies a month + Movie Theater at 6$ for one film per month). The number goes up to around 105 to 120 $ for the first six months of the year. However, these numbers tend to be considerably higher as the movie offerings in the summer (blockbuster season) and Christmas (Oscar-worthy season) seem more appetizing and I find myself in the theater a bit more often.

Here is a quick recount of the movies I have seen this year starting from the worst and leaving the best for last (I may be missing one or two forgettable films). This could get long, so bear with me.

Just Go With It (Redbox rental – 1$): out the window goes my so-called “selective” nature on a night of boredom. Mind you, I would never pay to go into a movie theater if I see the name “Adam Sandler” associated with a film at any level. His movies have gone from the somewhat bad (earlier in his career) to the disgraceful status as of late. That his films do well at the box office is yet another testament to the poor taste of the average movie-goer (who is not to be confused with the avid movie-connoisseur). In any case, Sandler and his co-star Jennifer Anniston match perfectly in making horrible cinema with dumb-down plots, unfunny jokes, poor acting and a complete lack in making works or art.

Rating: 1 out of 5 (horrible)

I am Number Four (Redbox rental – 1$): In this case I was searching for a guilty-pleasure type movie and what I found was yet another mediocre film filled with gorgeous young Hollywood characters (not to say actors). Number Four is mildly entertaining here and there, but the concept is poor (not to say stupid), the effects are not convincing (not to say stupid), the acting is flat (not to say awful), the dialogue is pedestrian (not to say stupid) and the plot is a bunch of stuff put together by the minds of one or two nerds without much imagination and nothing better do.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 (very bad)

The Roommate (Redbox rental – 1$): some of you might have started to notice a pattern. Most of the movies that seem to be falling in the bad category come directly from RedBox and its tempting 1$ rental scheme. The Roommate starring Minka Kelly and Gossip-girl turned movie star Leighton Meester is wildly uncreative. I mean, how many times do we have to see films of young women going psycho-stalker for love, for acceptance or for friendship? There are elements that are acceptable in this film, like the explosions of violence and sexuality convincingly displayed by Meester. Besides all that, the cast surrounding the famous Gossip girl is flat-out awful, only servicing the film with their pretty faces and youthful exuberance.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (bad)

The Green Hornet (Redbox rental – 1$): Another comedy by a slimmed-down Seth Rogen on a remake of the tv series that famously starred Bruce Lee as Kato, now played by Jay Chou. The biggest pleasure we can find in this movie is not in the dumb-down storyline and lackluster performances of big names like Cameron Diaz, but rather on the larger-than life role of the fabulous Christoph Waltz as the evil Chudnofsky. Everything else about this film is subpar and it would also be a waste of time to tell you precisely why that is.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (bad)

Little Fockers (Redbox – 1$): The third installment of the famous pairing of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. All of the joys of the first two are now reused in this one with a bit less of the disaster-prone quality of Stiller and more of the obnoxious paranoia of an increasingly unlikable Jack (De Niro’s character). What seemed like comedic before, now seems repetitive and not very funny. The script seems to have been put together in about 5 seconds in detriment of less screen time for the always entertaining Barbra Streissand and Dustin Hoffman.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (bad)

Paul (Theater – 6$): It seemed like a risk to watch a movie about a rather common-looking Alien with human-like demeanor voiced by Seth Rogen. The risk proved true at times, but not at others. It is really not Rogen’s fault that he’s been so overexposed (although he should start saying no to scripts) instead it is a far too common problem in Hollywood to cash in on once cool and different actors/comedians and shove them down audiences throats so often that the effectiveness of films like Paul is significantly reduced. As for everything else, the movie resorted to the typical formula of road trip buddy type movie but with a slightly more nerdy, awkward and British pairing than we are used to seeing.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (average)

Insidious (Theather – 6$): Here is perhaps the best half hour to 45 minutes of film I have seen this year. Sadly, the movie didn’t know what to do with itself and it ended up ruining everything it had built so wonderfully at the beginning. The last half was as bad as the first half was suspenseful and incredibly terrifying. Once we begin to see what is truly happening and the film begins to take itself too seriously, we’re lost in a pointless and unsophisticated back-story that makes everything rather comical and unimpressive.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (average)

Thor (Theather – 6$): When it comes to superheros, Hollywood has been able to find ways, for years now, to profit from the inventive minds of the people at Marvel and other comic book publishers. Thor is yet another installment that follows the never-ending formula of the powerful brat that needs to learn within less than two hours of film how to become a great man and, in the process, fall in love with a girl he just met. Taking out the very unoriginal premise and the unconvincing twists that the story tries to provide, there are moments of humor and entertainment in Thor that make up for a good part of the absurdity.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (average)

Gnomeo & Juliet (RedBox – 1$): I had the feeling that this animated movie worked within all the expected parameters of a typical family film. It took a common story of the seemingly doomed and tragic romance and adapted it to a setting that we haven’t seen before: the garden gnome world. The film offers some clever humor and it manages to make fun of itself quite often, but it never tries to fully defy the expectations and go off the script to give us something truly original.

Rating: 3 out 5 (above average)

Kaboom (Theater – 6$): An indie film about a group of young students at a college where strange things happen. Kaboom is fresh, sexy and exciting for most of its running time, or until the mystery surrounding the group starts to take over the film. The cast was surprisingly apt and the stars were successful, for most of the time, to walk the fine line between characters that belong in comedic parodies and realism. As the movie progresses, so does the strange mystery and with that the movie loses its freshness and its grip, leaving me with the feeling they were trying to rush to an odd conclusion.

Rating: 3 out of 5 (above average)

Super 8 (Theater – 6$): The childish and innocent quality of Super 8 is the movie’s most interesting aspect. The young teenagers embodied their character with ability and talent. Their relationships are convincing, real and entertaining. A good part of the audience probably felt more identified than the rest as the movie tries to capture, rather successfully, the feel of suburban America in the late 70s to early 80s. As long as the movie focused on the talented Hollywood bunch it assembled, the film remained magical and untouchable. The movie loses its character as more stuff happens and we discover more and more about the mystery. Once again, director J.J. Abrams builds up our expectations too high to then be unable to match them with a rather tacky and expected ending.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Rango (Theater – 6$): Rango was a true piece of originality that is defined within the ancient formulas of Hollywood. We have a guy who does not know exactly what he is or where he belongs, faith has it that he is put in a very difficult situation, and when faced with adversity, our hero rises to the challenge unexpectedly and heroically. However, Rango gives us a richly detailed set of characters, an ever-formidable and complex central character voiced by Johnny Depp, and a context that feels familiar yet fresh and surprisingly beautiful. In many ways it is an animated Western that takes cues from all sorts of pop culture sources, which most of the time are effective comedic relief in a movie filled with adventure, political undertone and extremely detailed characterization.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (great)

Bridesmaids (Theater – 6$): I’ll keep it simple for what is the best movie I have seen this year. This is a incredibly hilarious film with jokes that feel modern, that don’t seem forced, and that stick every single time. There were entire scenes that had me laughing uncontrollably, and even after the movie had ended. The audience sitting with me in the theater applauded and seemed genuinely happier coming out than when they came in. This is what comedy is truly about. Bridesmaids sticks to the formula just enough to make it familiar, but it remains always clever and unpredictable in the direction and tone of its humor.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (excellent, a masterpiece of comedy, comfortably in my own personal TOP 250 films of all-time).

Niels

My life through videogames (part 2)

Continued from a previous post that you can find here

In my early teens, I received yet another gift from my parents, the occasion was probably Christmas. It was the Nintendo 64.

I had more games for this console than I ever had before. I enjoyed a plethora of games, among which I can recall Perfect Dark (incredibly entertaining shooter), Donkey Kong Country 64, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 (which didn’t leave as much of an impression as the Super NES predecessor) and, most importantly what some consider the best game of all time: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

For me, it was the first encounter I have had with the famous Link. Until then, I hadn’t had the pleasure to enjoy the RPG mostly because I did not know English very well (my first language is Spanish). Once that limitation was out of the way, The Legend of Zelda came to me by pure peer pressure as I was repeatedly told by friends and gaming magazines that it was one of the best games ever put together. Always a sucker for the greatest accomplishments in any art form, I followed what the vast majority was saying and I decided to purchase it, just a few days after its release in my home country.

I guess what followed can only be described as an adventure that kept me interested and that challenged me with contrived puzzles and incredibly large environments I hadn’t had the pleasure to enjoy until that point. I can still remember the cut scenes, the bosses, the endless dessert and the many types of costumes you could wear that would give you special abilities. The Legend of Zelda was, above all, an aesthetic accomplishment that pushed a sweet simple story through gorgeous visuals and richly detailed environments that still look decent today. The game remains one of the most influential and iconic developments in the history of video-games and I could not agree more with the consensus.

Being a fan of soccer, I enjoyed a title called International Super Star Soccer (sounds important doesn’t it?), which quickly became MY favorite sports game EVER. It was, to that point, the first soccer game that allowed me a greater amount of control, letting me direct shots, control the swerve of the ball, control the power of shots with amazing accuracy and even do very complex dribbles that heavily relied on the quickness of my fingers. Of course, the game was not particularly pretty to look at, and there were ways to do “trick goals”, but it mattered little as the accuracy of the control was beyond anything I had experienced until then.

As it turns out, the countless hours spent playing ISSS 64 made me a true expert. To this day, my cousins talk about how dominant I was like it is some kind of legendary feat that has not been attained since. Friends and cousins tried many times to defeat me, but they always came up short. In fact, I am confident, without fears of appearing incredibly childish and full of myself (too late for that anyway), that at my best moment with that game, I could have beaten even the most talented gamer out there. It was a kind of mastery I have not reached ever since. It was almost as if the game was perfectly suited for my style of play.

The Playstation 2

A few years passed before I had my hands on the next generation of consoles. My pick, above competitors like the long-forgotten Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube and the new XBOX was, as my title says, the Playstation 2.

What can I say about the Playstation 2? I still play with it often and, with great patience, I have amassed a decent-size collection of titles as I waited, for years, to get some of the best games at a lower price. In fact, I have been slow to catch up to the times and since I’ve gotten this console, I have seen the XBOX 360 and the Playstation 3 be born and grab all the headlines as they are clearly the two most advanced video game engines currently in the industry.

Here is a brief summary of some of my favorite Playstation 2 games:

Gran Turismo 3: when I purchased the console, this was the game that came with the box. It was one of the first releases and it certainly helped catapult the new Sony console to be the most successful console of the 132-bit generation. It was a racing game of gorgeous visuals that offered players a great variety of vehicles of all kinds. Unfortunately, the almost endless selection of “wheels” was counterbalanced by a very limited variety of tracks and options.

Tekken Tag Tournament: I was never the best when it came to fighting games. I was always the guy that was pushed around by gamers who mastered an endless array of tricks and combos that left me agonizing after just a few seconds. It had happened with Street Fighter and with Mortal Kombat, and to a lesser degree with Killer Instinct. However, Tekken allowed me to develop as a player and be a great opponent to even the most talented of gamers because there was less of an emphasis on crazy combinations and more on cool and effective moves that were not particularly hard to use.

Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas: I owned them all and I was able to finish III and San Andreas. This, of course, is another highly influential game that has left a mark on gaming history and even on American culture. In fact, it was hard to avoid, when in college, the many references that guys and even girls would make about the famous game, not to mention the several get-together I was a part of where the only entertainment on offer was the game on the TV screen. Beyond the fame, GTA was different and highly addictive. Its seemingly infinite cities grew larger and more detailed with each installment and, with that, the amount of fun. Its loose gameplay allowed everyone to roam around for hours on end simply causing mayhem in new entertaining ways. The stories that drove the game forward were amoral and they idolized violence like no other game before it, but they were framed and produced with a great deal of care and artistry that made it a must-have for every gamer out there.

To be continued on another post…… tune in for more Playstation 2 games and my adventures with the Wii

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Apocalypse Now (1979)

My challenge to watch the IMDB TOP 250 films of all-time continues.

Today is yet another pleasurable encounter with my keyboard as I get to review a very unique and accomplished film: Apocalypse Now.

At 153 minutes, Apocalypse Now is a very long movie that fails only in its lack of momentum which, at times, can make the movie drag a bit in its final few scenes. However, the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, moves with a gentle pace so we can absorb and get to know the Vietnamese jungle intimately at the time of the American occupation following the rise of Comunism in the Far East. It is a film that, without a doubt, pays homage to its title by attempting, with great success, to capture the apocalyptical devastation caused by the war in the hearts and minds of the people of Vietnam, of American soldiers, and of a country that had grown doubtful of the whole military campaign.
For most of its length, the film follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) on a strange mission to assassinate a rogue Green Beret beyond the thick jungle and into the depths of remote Cambodia where he is believed to be. We first encounter Willard laying anxiously on his bed, back in the United States, narrating his inability to lead a normal life while his mind and heart had stayed in Vietnam. He waits for a new deployment, abhorring his new uneventful life away from the chaotic setting of the war. When Willard finally gets his wish and is reassigned to the war, he narrates from the future, explaining that the place he was headed to was the worst place in the world.
It comes as no surprise that the movie becomes more about the path than about the destination. After meeting with some officials that include a very young Harrison Ford, Willard is assigned a small group of soldiers to navigate across Vietnam and into Cambodia. Along the way we are reminded of the objective of the mission by Willard’s narration, but it slowly fades into the background as we are presented with the horror of the war and the collapse of the American endeavor.
First, Willard meets an official, masterfully played by Robert Duvall, who is portrayed as an odd mutation of the rigid West-Point trained officer, always walking with confidence and unafraid of his surroundings, as if he knew he wasnt meant to die in the war. Such confidence borders with insanity as he seems detached from what is happening around him and asks the impossible from his troops, repeatedly risking their lives more for his depraved entertainment, than for a true military purpose.
Like the officer, Willard encountered one odd situation after another, showing us an American force that was poorly trained, managed and directed, with soldiers that had lost their grip on reality, leaving morality far behind.

In this context, Willard begins to find a strange wisdom in the words and actions of the mad-man he is supposed to kill. Willard doubts the purpose of the mission more and more as it becomes clear to him that a rogue Green Beret is just a small problem in a war effort that is falling apart in front of his eyes.
In the more than 2 hours of the film, Willard remains the more sane of all characters, even when he is part of a mission with little purpose and that is depicted as a consequence to the insanity of the circumstances.
By the time Willard finally meets the rogue Colonel Kurtz, he is only with a couple of soldiers, trapped in a foreign world where madness was apparent everywhere, yet no one seemed to notice.
Sadly, the film anticipates the moment so much and for so long that even if the Colonel, played rather subtly by the great Marlon Brando, had been wearing an elephant head for a hat, we would have felt a bit let down by the “monster” Willard was supposed to encounter.

Above all, Apocalypse Now is an effective atmospheric poem about how pointless and tragic the War in Vietnam was. Marlon Brando, in this sense, becomes Coppola’s flagship to represent the ultimate American tragedy: a promising, smart and courageous leader of men driven to despair and insanity by the horror of a needless war.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)

Niels