27 August 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: A Monster in Paris

Tonight's #2LR Too Late Review is A Monster in Paris.  Yeah, I hadn't heard of it either.  That's okay, though, feel free to check your Netflix instant queue, that's where my wife found it.  The movie is a family movie, and it's perfectly suitable for kids (not like, say, Shrek with the occasional joke that the kids ask to have explained and you feel slightly uncomfortable).  It's in the cookie-cutter CGI mold, so if you've seen, for instance, Megamind or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you'll be familiar with the art.

Getting back to how obscure this movie is, this movie is really obscure.  I don't know if any additional hits will generate from me writing about it here, but that's okay; me remembering the movie and telling you readers about it is fine, too.  I'm writing this description just as much for me so that I can remember the movie as I am writing for you readers to enjoy.

  Spoiler Space ahead (and this time, it really means something!)

The movie is set in Paris, 1910.  The backdrop is a Paris that is partially submerged from a flood that no one really expected.  Film projectionist Emile is shown first, daydreaming about his crush Maud, but gets interrupted by best friend Raoul.  Before Emile can ask Maud out for the first time, Raoul drags Emile away on a whirlwind adventure running Raoul's delivery route.

At the last stop of the night, they come across the greenhouse and lab of the curator of the botanical gardens.  He has a monkey valet (!) that is intelligent enough to provide cards to respond to questions.  After repeated warnings, Emile and Raoul end up playing in the lab, first creating a giant sunflower and then inadvertantly splashing an unoffending flea.  The flea grows to seven feet tall and runs off before attacking.

The police commissioner, Maynott, gets wind that a "monster" is loose in the city and uses it as a crisis to punch up his candidacy for mayor of France.  (Noun, verb, nine-eleven!)  There are various sightings of the bug through the city, e.g. an old woman, a man and wife, etc.  Eventually it comes to the doorstop of one of Paris' leading clubs, The Rare Bird.  There's a featured signer there... no, not Ol' Blue Eyes, but a girl that Raoul is crushing on but doesn't want to admit.

The singer, Lucille, also gets startled by the seven-foot flea.  The flea saves her when she swoons, making sure she doesn't hit the ground.  She comes to while still in the flea's ... uh, arms, I suppose, and scrambles back to the relative safety of the building she just left.  The flea remains outside, and then... starts singing.  (Keep following me, don't get sidetracked.)  This happened from one of the other potions that Emile and Raoul were playing with in the botanical gardens.  When the monkey was hit with it first, he gains a beautiful singing voice, and the flea is no different.  The flea can't seem to communicate by talking, just singing... much like the real-life Flea.

Lucille is enchanted by the singing and sets about disguising the bug from the city's rampaging policemen.  She manages to find a leftover mask from The Phantom of the Opera and adds a white variant on the Zorro costume for the giant flea, which she renames Francoeur.  Francoeur shows an aptitude for the guitar, and ends up on stage with Lucille when she performs next... his odd falsetto voice providing counterpart to her smooth alto as they sing a tribute to La Seine.  Go ahead, check the link out... it's only 166 seconds, and the music gets your toes tapping at least.

Afterward, Lucille and Raoul (remember, one of the two male protagonists) manage to find their mutual attraction.  As they troop down to the dressing room, Raoul and Emile find out that Francoeur is the giant flea, the Monster in Paris, and now they've been inducted into the little gang.  Commissioner Maynott receives word that Lucille is hiding the flea, and searches her quarters, but Raoul and Emile hid Francoeur well enough to avoid detection.  When the police depart, the conspirators decide on a plan, essentially staging Francoeur's death during a rally for Maynott's run for mayor of Paris.  One of Maynott's assistants sniffs out the subterfuge, and the subsequent scenes all converge on the Eiffel Tower, currently standing above about fifteen feet of water.

The penultimate scene throws Maud back into the mix, as the now four friends and the monkey try their darndest to keep Maynott from killing Francoeur.  The movie kind of loses steam at this point, I'm sad to say... the denouement was a bit surprising in that it felt like the screenwriters didn't know how to really end it well, unless you think about it a bit.

There's a final encore at the club where Lucille sings, and a short vignette about how Lucille and Raoul first met.  Then come the credits.

Spoiler space over

This is easily one of the most obscure movies I've reviewed.  It also manages to give its characters more than a bit of heart, including not just resorting to "big, ugly, scary mean person" as shorthand for the antagonist.  The antagonist is shown as venal and lazy, and with the depth (or lack thereof) on his character it's not a guilt trip that you root against him.  In this movie, people were *people*.  Heck, the monkey and the flea were even people, with the monkey providing comic relief and the flea filling in as the Frankenstein's Monster reluctant scarer du' jour.

It also helped that the music was enjoyable.  One of my own family members was not present for the Youtube scene I linked above, and I'll repost it here if anyone skipped Spoiler Space.  The actress who played Lucille did a terrific job through the singing portions, and while it was disconcerting to hear Julian Lennon singing higher than her, it actually kind of worked.

There's plenty of humor, there's very little (if any) blue humor, and it was a marvelous way to pass a quick ninety minutes.  There's not too many movies that can say the same thing, even if the moralizing was laid on a bit thick (look, ma, the giant flea wasn't the monster, it was the mean police commissioner!).

Final rating: 3.2

23 August 2013

Pissed beyond belief.

Laptop #2 was an HP Pavilion dv7.  I say "was", because it's a fricking brick now.  Well, not entirely... but the screen is now officially dead, and I've been told by the estimable people at Best Buy that it costs between $300 and $700 to get it repaired.  NOT worth it, considering that it was $700 to begin with.

So, yeah.  Thanks, HP, for giving me a laptop that CAN'T EVEN LAST TWO EFFING YEARS.  I bought it in December 2011... and now it's not a laptop anymore by August 2013.  Terrific job, you guys.

Anyone know who makes a laptop that can last for more than two years?  The Asus barely made it to the two-year mark, dying in July 2011 after I purchased it in August 2009... yet, the same Best Buy technician said that those were the BEST TWO brands.  (Wow... really?)

20 August 2013

Hitman: Absolution Review (XBOX 360 Version)

You know, I was originally going to come up with a joke title for this review, like 'Batman: Absolution' or 'Hitmans Creed', but then I remembered that those games were actually good and fun to play... this game, not so much. And if I sound more bitter than usual for this review, that's because I am.

Warning: Mild Spoilers follow:

The Hitman series, at least for me, didn't get really good until the fourth installment 'Hitman: Blood Money' which I consider to be a masterpiece of stealth gaming and a title that I'm proud to have in my collection and replay at least once a year. It's always a drag when I realize a sequel is inferior in just about every way except graphics, naturally.

'Hitman: Absolution' is yet another example of a beloved series being dumbed down in order to reach a wider audience and losing focus on what made the series great to begin with. And this time not only does the gameplay suffer, but the story and the main character, Agent 47 as well. Wonderful.

Let's start with gameplay. In past Hitman games, going in guns blazing usually got you killed pretty quickly or at least raised your notoriety to such a high level that it made the game needlessly difficult, though granted, it was fun to blow off steam sometimes for tough levels that you could try again later when you got it out of your system or just wanted to see how hard the game could get by ending every mission in a bloodbath.

In 'Absolution', gunning down everyone in sight is not only considered a practical option, there's now a point-shooting mechanic where you can mark several targets at once and then sit back and watch 47 murder all of them in cool slo-mo. Except Hitman isn't supposed to be a John Woo film. Or Rambo for that matter. Not to say you don't have the option of being meticulous and stealthy with your kills but with the new shooting mechanics and lack of long-term consequences, it just seems like the game fully expected and in some spots, encouraged the player to lose patience with it and start blasting.

Also, this game has Eagle... sorry, I mean INSTINCT vision which slows down time and lights up your target like a roman candle and makes them easier to spot in a crowd. Now I can understand how some people would prefer this to looking for your target on an interactive map and that the map isn't as necessary because the areas in this game are smaller, but it just felt out of place for me, like Agent 47 had suddenly developed superpowers and yes, I know being able to spot a moving target as a red dot on a map isn't exactly realistic either. Maybe this is just a nitpicky moment for me, but I really didn't care for this kind of mechanic in a Hitman game at all.

Another thing that REALLY annoyed me was respawning enemies. When people died in previous Hitman games, they stayed dead unless you restarted the mission. This one, they come back if you die midway through the mission for NO GOOD REASON and FUCK YOU to whoever came up with that idiotic design decision. As for the multiplayer, I didn't try it so I can't comment on that aspect of the game.

Unlike previous games, 'Absolution' doesn't assign specific missions by your handler, Diana, whom I can't really discuss without going into heavy spoilers, and the entire game has you trying to protect and later rescue a mysterious teenage girl whom two baddies want to exploit to serve their own ends. More on them later.

There's also no newspapers detailing your exploits or raising your notoriety, no weapons or tools to buy, no pre-mission briefings or optional missions to take for personal gain, just you and whatever you can find in the location you're at, which would've been interesting to do for maybe one mission or two, but was it really necessary for the ENTIRE GAME?

Also, the levels in this game are much smaller, each one feeling like you're in a single large room instead of exploring a entire area. Maybe this was necessary in order to maintain the level of graphic quality with a smooth frame rate but it felt more like a big step backwards to me.

Speaking of a step backwards, let's talk about disguises. The effectiveness of disguises in early Hitman games could be twitchy and even if you did nothing wrong, you could be found out. In 'Blood Money' they improved this mechanic by having suspicious people walk up to you and either politely ask or loudly demand for you to explain your presence in a restricted area. If you failed to respond after a few moments, THEN they would pull out their guns, which was a big improvement over them IMMEDIATELY pulling their guns to blow you away if you so much as sniffed your nose the wrong way.

Well, apparently the developers of 'Absolution' decided that people should see through your disguises quicker despite what you do, forcing you to either constantly change clothes during the mission or kill the person currently annoying you. The fact that the game now allows you to stuff two bodies in a bin, instead of one as in previous Hitman games suggests to me they expected you to choose the latter option. ^_^;

Now I'll try my best to summarize the story for this game: YEE-HAW! Well, that was easy. Seriously though, it's like the developers of the previous game were replaced with good old boys and they looked at the Mississippi missions from 'Blood Money' and said "Hot Damn! We should make the whole game like that!" Maybe they should have called this game 'Hitman: Deliverance'. ^_^;

The game's... secondary villain? Primary villain? I dunno, there were a few of them and not one of them seemed all that more important than the others... is some stereotypical redneck that we're supposed to believe heads a R&D facility when the character isn't qualified to run a pie eating contest. The other villain is a typical bland American bad guy who also seems woefully unqualified as the new head of the ICA. Also notable is that both of these baddies have hot female assistants that are clearly more intelligent than either of them but they add virtually nothing to the story.

Speaking of adding nothing, let's talk about the Saints for a moment. And I don't mean the Saints of 'Saints Row' although Johnny Gat Vs. Agent 47 would be an interesting fight. I personally had no problems with the sexy killer nuns trailer that got so many people upset, because I figured those characters and their bizarre choice of costume would be explained in greater detail in the game.

Well, unless their role was drastically reduced because of all the negative publicity, the Saints had practically no presence or impact in the game at all. They were just another hit squad that appears in one level that were ridiculously easy to pick off one by one. No backstory, no explanation why they dressed like fetish nuns, NOTHING. And I don't care if the novels (which I haven't read) or the Hitman Wiki explains them in more detail, the game gave us nothing to go on and the whole exercise was in my mind completely pointless unless it was simply to generate controversy to sell the game, in which case, mission fucking accomplished but IMHO, the execution (no pun intended) stunk.

Now I'd like to discuss the main character, Agent 47 for a moment. For those new to the series, his basic backstory is that he is a clone that was trained as an assassin. He killed his creator and briefly attempted to live a normal life but found it to be impossible. He accepted this truth and what he was and became the perfect Hitman. And while he is not completely without emotion or empathy, he never lets it interfere with his job. He is also NOT a fool who takes on situations beyond his abilities to handle or acts like an idiot unless the player decides to play him that way during a mission.

In 'Absolution', Agent 47 commits several acts out of the player's control which can only be described as FUCKING STUPID. Chief among them, he gives up his famous silenced baller pistols to an informant in exchange for information, which he would NEVER do in a million years. Did the game have so little confidence in its enemy AI that it felt the need to make Agent 47 as vulnerable as possible? Or maybe they did it so they would have a weak excuse to explain away a later scene where the Redneck's main henchman, who's basically Bane from 'Batman' without the mask, knocks Agent 47 out when he attempts to GAROTTE him. REALLY?

I'm sorry, but I simply can't summon the suspension of disbelief necessary to buy that the world's greatest hitman is so stupid that he thinks he can strangle to death a man several times his own size when a bullet would do the job far more safely and efficiently. But no, the game needed to have Agent 47 unconscious and vulnerable and this was the only way the developers could think of to do it. ^_^;

Let's see, what else did I miss... Yeah, the graphics look nice, I guess. But the scope of the game felt reduced with the smaller rooms so it didn't really impress me. The music was crap, but then that's no surprise since Jesper Kyd wasn't involved in scoring this game and personally, I'm kinda glad he wasn't involved with this shit. Oh yeah, there was also a sequence late in the game where a big deal is made of Agent 47 getting his famous trademark silk suit back... which he then promptly leaves behind getting into disguise to infiltrate a building. Unless, of course, you go in guns blazing. 9_9

So yeah, I pretty much despised this game. I only played through it once and I have honestly no desire whatsoever to do so again. If you've never played a Hitman game before, I strongly urge you to pick up 'Hitman: Blood Money' for the 360 or PC instead as it is SO much better, IMHO.

18 August 2013

#2LR - Highlander, with Rifftrax

Diving right in, as there's not been too much content lately...

Tonight's #2LR review is the '86 cult favorite Highlander, featuring Conor "Le Frenchy" MacLeod and The Kurgan, not to mention Sean Connery as the world's most macholy fey Spaniard.

Spoiler(?) space below:

The movie opens with pro wrestling... I was really curious why the playacting fighting, especially since the first fight between "Frenchy" MacLeod and the odd German/Wall Street suited-type dude was just as playacting.  At one point during the fight, it broke into the floor exercise, with multiple handflips backward by the German dude, who at this point I was mistaking as a member of the East German women's gymnastic team.

Throughout this scene... really, throughout the whole movie, we get treated to an extended flashback of "Frenchy" MacLeod's childhood in Scotcherfrance.  It seems that he was intentionally wading into a battle with another clan, and this is where we first meet The Kurgan, who oddly already knows that MacLeod is a (or will be an) immortal.  Yes, Kurgan's first name is "The".  Anyway, The Kurgan manages to run Frenchy through, but before The Kurgan can remove Frenchy's head, Clan MacLeod comes to his defense and drives off The Kurgan.  (HOW??)

Back in the present, the cops find out about the deheadening, and we end up treated to The Last Grizzled Cop <tm> and the Forensics chick.  Forensics girl finds the German's sword left behind, and marvels that it would be worth "one meeel-yon dollars" (oh, wrong movie).  She happens to be a published expert on the subject of medieval weapons.  Meanwhile, our buddy Frenchy gets caught doing eighty-eight miles an hour out of the parking garage, looking like the guiltiest New Yorker ever.  He doesn't get charged (?!), and leaves the station.

Later, after a bar pickup gone back, MacLeod runs across The Kurgan again, but Forensics gets a front-row seat to the battle.  The battle ends up being a screwjob, with a police helicopter serving as the plot fodder.  Both retreat, but The Kurgan ends up blabbing more of MacLeod's past.

Afterward, MacLeod finds another Immortal, who for some reason isn't fighting him (or vice-versa).  The other Immortal ends up running across The Kurgan, who beheads him without too much muss or fuss, and the police end up learning that MacLeod is at least not the only one removing heads around New York.

The action goes away for a while to try to set up MacLeod's tragic backstory, to give Sean Connery some screentime in a desperate bid for legitimacy, and to try its awfully hardest to make Forensics Chick into the female lead.  Needless to say, all fail miserably, especially Point #3.

Back in the present, The Kurgan runs across MacLeod lighting candles to his old sweetie in a church.  Immortals are forbidden from fighting in the church (why?  Because THE KURGAN says so, dangit.), so The Kurgan resorts to verbal taunting.  Not only of MacLeod but of the whole church, almost saving what little of the film he could.  After uttering his famous line ("I have something to say.  It's better to burn out than to fade away!"), the movie is allowed to plod to its conclusion.

The Kurgan takes Forensics Chick in order to trap MacLeod, and it works.  After another tepid sword battle where the combatants may not Glow but their weapons do, MacLeod manages to separate The Kurgan's head... bummer.  Frenchy's prize(s)?  Forensics chick and the ability to die, along with "being one with all living things".  You can tell that this was back in the day, long before movies were written purely to set up sequels, and the ending just didn't matter.

Spoiler space over

This movie was... well, it is a choice piece of 80s nostalgia, at least.  The fight sequences aren't exactly Hong Kong action, especially with the sword-waving.  It certainly has its unintentional comedy though, which seemed to have saved the movie.  The Kurgan was far more fascinating than I would have thought based on his first appearance... the skull armor, in 15th century Scotcherfrance?  The church scene was absolutely STOLEN by The Kurgan, for the better.  I miss him already, and many other movies could use a character like The Kurgan as an antagonist for extra enjoyment.

Sadly, The Kurgan couldn't save this.  I know that this is a cult favorite, and I am certainly NOT one to speak down to cult favorites (*cough* MST3k, Firefly, Star Trek, etc.) but I did see my answer when I went to the Wikipedia page.  This sentence was waiting:

"Gregory Widen wrote the script to Highlander, which he then titled Shadow Clan, as a class assignment while he was an undergraduate in the screenwriting program at UCLA."

I have two words for that.  "It shows".  The back-and-forth flashbacks were odd, the casting was FAR odder, and while the movie could have had some interesting implications if they really carried through "The Prize" successfully, it was a complete cop-out to receive great power limited by mortality.  NOT an astounding prize, and while they did put together sequels, I'm certainly not watching them.

My apologies if I'm missing anything in this movie, but it heartily deserves its 1.3 .  The Kurgan, you get 1.2 of those points, and the other tenth is for Sean Connery's "Spanish" outfit, a visual feast of red velvet and regret.

The Rifftrax, however, gets the film a solid 2.8.  Mike, Kevin, and Bill did as best they could, and this is one of those movies that at least tried their darndest to build the mythos and plot.  It's just too bad that the script was so hobbled, much less "Frenchy" MacLeod and Forensics Chick, both woefully miscast.  The Rifftrax comes highly recommended for those people who love Highlander, who enjoy laughing at the 80s, or who don't mind sitting through long portions of a movie (aka "the swordfights") without much to recommend itself.

Forthcoming, the promised essays on spoof movies.

03 August 2013

Five weeks later...

I apologize to the readers of this blog, I've pretty much taken a six-week hiatus from writing.  I will have a few more reviews to post soon, including a general overview of the television show "Castle" and hopefully a couple more films too.  I have been out of town for much of July, in Florida and in Michigan at different times, as well as being sick for much of the past week, but I should be able to post new content soon.

Thanks for your patience!