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Rough, Unpolished Game. Not For Everyone
Definitely rough and unpolished, but the PC version seems to be improving slowly as time goes on, and I must confess I find the game compelling enough to play regularly, regardless.
It plays as a sort of a poor-man's version of Borderlands 2; whether you enjoy it or not will depend entirely on what you like, and what flaws you're able to forgive.
I would recommend playing on a friend's copy, or otherwise getting a preview look at the game, before you drop money on this buy-to-play (no subscription fee) online game.
My opinions only. Yours may vary.
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales (2007)
A Conservative Start -- But Looking Forward To More
***The Short Verdict***
It's definitely made on a tight budget, but if you're a fan of Babylon 5 -- whether hardcore, or simply someone who enjoyed the series-long story arc while it was on -- I think you'll enjoy this if you pick it up.
I loved B5 for its series-long story arc, and for the breadth and depth of its storytelling (the new Battlestar Galactica wasn't first in that regard), but I don't own the DVDs and I haven't watched an episode in years. It didn't matter. This disc gives you enough right off the top to remind you of what you should know, and to get you back in the groove.
If you're completely unfamiliar with B5, you should consider buying the boxed DVD sets, and then pick this up. :-)
It's essentially two stories in seventy-two minutes and it shows as a labor of creative love.
Babylon 5 Creator/Writer/Director Straczynski's trademark sharp writing (and humor) are in full evidence. The acting is solid, even from lesser players. Boxleitner (Sheridan) has improved as an actor with age, in my opinion. He's subtler in many ways; less "showy".
The visual effects are beyond what I expected for this sort of Direct-To-DVD project. Very nice, and well-used. Since there are no commercial breaks (hooray!), shifts in the story are most often signalled by a quick cut to an exterior shot.
The visual effects detail is markedly better than on the original show. When I heard that this (projected) series would be using CGI green-screen for certain backdrops, I sort of cringed inwardly -- we've all seen how wrong that can go -- but, to my surprise, it was well done, particularly in the crucial aspect of "light-matching". In one setting, you can sort of notice that the background and foreground lighting don't precisely match, but for the most part, I was surprised and impressed by how well the CGI backgrounds were implemented.
For the B5 fan faithful, there are extras on this disc: "making of" segments; interviews; and even memorial spots where creator and cast reminisce about the two actors in the ensemble cast who have passed on since the series ended.
Creator Straczynski has said up-front that this whole direct-to-DVD distribution model for an SF series is a big experiment/gamble. He's also said that their budget (at least, if and until this proves to be a successful distribution format) is significantly less than what a regular, network-produced SF show would get.
To their credit, you don't see any "cheapness" here. I've seen cheaper-looking shows done by the Sci-Fi network in the US, for example. As above, the CGI visual effects are first-rate -- more than I ever expected.
The major way the lesser budget shows through is in the lack of physical sets. A lot of scenes take place in corridors, or smaller rooms. The C&C (Command and Control -- i.e. the "bridge") of the Babylon 5 station is mentioned, but we never actually go there.
Given the fact that this release is a "pilot project", I can understand the creators wanting to put their finite budget where it would have maximum effect, rather than spending money on building a bunch of standing sets which might potentially never be used again, should this distribution model fail, and we see no more episodes.
If this distribution model does prove a success -- and I hope it does -- I would expect to see at least a few standing sets built. I mean, how many times can station commander Colonel Lochley have meetings in her quarters, before it all starts to seem a bit odd? Still, what the episode lacks in physical substance, they cover with good lighting, inventive camera work, and solid editing. The score is orchestral and professional.
The only other place in which the lack of budget shows through is that both stories in the episode are very character- and dialogue-centred.
If you're looking for ferocious fights, with exploding scenery, and stunt people flying everywhere, it's not in this installment. We get some brief space-based CGI "blowin' stuff up real good", but nothing with live actors in fake peril.
The two stories here are all about character, and Straczynski's sharp dialogue. In fact, the first story in the pair is positively philosophical in tone -- bringing in topics like God, the devil, heaven and hell into the mix.
The actors are universally solid, so I found both stories interesting -- but if you're the kind of viewer who loses interest unless somebody's getting punched in the face, or something's on fire, this episode probably isn't for you.
I hope this DVD sells well enough to deem its distribution model a success -- not only so we can see more Babylon 5, with (hopefully) bigger budgets thanks to profits -- but so that it opens the door for other quality direct-to-DVD series of this type. I can't be the only one who'd like to see a little more Firefly, for example.
For that reason, I'd say buy this if you're interested. Send a tangible message that you like the distribution model, as well as the specific content, in a way that renting or pirating the DVD won't do.
Will we see more Babylon 5 this way? Time will tell -- but I certainly hope so.
Epic Movie (2007)
My only excuse is that I saw this movie by accident.
If I had known that Epic Movie was from the very same people who made Date Movie, I never would have watched it.
As it is, I saw Epic Movie on satellite, for $4.99, and it was **still** a total waste of time and money.
You know how some films are so bad, they're actually fun to watch? This isn't one of those films. Epic Movie is just truly, truly awful.
The bloopers that ran during the end credits were funnier than the entire movie -- and the bloopers weren't all that funny either.
I don't know what the filmmakers (if you can actually call them that) spent their money on here -- but I'm guessing that 75% of the people reading this now could make a comedy film which was in some way better than this one, given the same budget. Seriously, there's stuff on YouTube every week that's more worthwhile than this.
I'm not trying to sound clever or cynical here -- I'm trying to save you money, and precious time out of your lifespan. Don't see Epic Movie! You've been warned!
Last Days (2005)
Cynically-Made, Pretentious, and Heavy-Handed
I've studied film. I've studied art. I know about mise-en-scene, depth-of-field,the use of light and space in film, the symbolism of repetition, and the potential power of extended silence. I know where these, and other, film techniques originated, and I know who used them to signature effect first.
So, Last Days doesn't get a pass from me on account of its visuals or its technique. Van Sant's work here actually irritated me to no end, as he basically throws every Film Student and Art Student trick in the book at this film, apparently in the hope of fooling some people into thinking the work is "deep and meaningful" and above criticism.
That only works when your audience doesn't know the repertoire of tricks you're using. A magician rarely fools another magician.
Simply put, this is a cynically-made, cynically-constructed movie which uses art-house filmmaker techniques as a smokescreen to disguise the fact that there's no actual feature-length film here.
This movie could've made its few heavy-handed points about depression, despair, alienation, and exploitation in half the time, even keeping a number of the extended locked-camera shots which intentionally never cut.
For all his artistic pretensions in Last Days, director Van Sant doesn't even sense the irony as, like the characters he attempts to criticize, he exploits Kurt Cobain's life, dysfunction, and death to make money and further his own career.
This is a substandard USC Student Film desperately insisting that it's something more. It will waste your time and your attention. The actors work well with what they're given, but they're given next to nothing.
I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone, except as an example of how not to make an effective, artistic film.
Date Movie (2006)
Good Actors & Character Actors Wasted -- Stunningly Bad
You know how there are some movies which are so bad that they're actually fun to watch? This isn't one of those.
Date Movie is the kind of bad movie that makes you want to find the writer and the director and smack them both upside the head while shouting, "You wasted ninety minutes of my life AND you made me spend my money to do it! No more movie-making for you cretins 'til you put down the pipe and grow some brains!"
I actually feel bad for the actors trapped in this film. Nobody's big-time, A-List famous here, but there are a number of familiar faces you'll recognize from other movies and TV shows (besides the lead, Alyson Hannigan).
It was genuinely painful to watch all these actors try so very hard to make this movie funny and involving when the writing and directing was just so bad, just so absolutely lame throughout, that there was nothing they could really do.
Yes, this film has about eight truly hilarious jokes in it -- but unfortunately, three of them come in the first fifteen minutes or so, and this movie is about ninety minutes long. The rest of the so-called jokes are just unbelievably weak, or simply not funny. Some of the jokes are actually pretty offensive -- but not in that South Park "offensive but funny" way. They just kinda make you go, "Why the fugg did they do THAT???"
Seriously folks, stay away from Date Movie. I'm trying to save you some money here. Don't make the same mistake I did.
And if you see the director and the writer, tell them I want my rental money back -- and smack each of them upside the head for me. Twice.
Duct Tape Forever (2002)
This Movie Is Worth Seeing If You Enjoy Red Green
This movie is very easy to review: if you already like "The Red Green Show", then you'll like this film -- if you don't like Red Green, this movie isn't for you.
Writer and star, Steve Smith, stays true to his TV show's premise with this movie, determined to give his fans exactly what they expect from him. Call this movie "Possum Lodge Goes On a Road Trip" and you've pretty much nailed the short description.
So it's slapstick, absurd humour, a dash of dry wit, and general goofiness all around, with Smith ably assisted by all of Possum Lodge's usual suspects. Patrick McKenna (as nerdy cousin Harold) tops the most-wanted list, with Graham Greene as explosion-happy Edgar stealing a few scenes as well. Bob Bainborough is solid as Dalton, Peter Keleghan is hilariously demented as Ranger Gord -- and Melissa DiMarco manages to make what could've been just the "I'm the movie's recurrent sexy girl" role into something more, something with a comedic payoff -- something I won't spoil here.
Honestly, there are a lot of talented people here, supporting what is essentially a very light, goofy entertainment. If you're okay with this style of comedy, you'll appreciate what they do.
Canadian viewers will no doubt have fun spotting various Canadian entertainers in often-clever cameo roles throughout the film.
The movie even dips into a little bit of character development in the last act, shedding some light on the reason behind Red's constant repartee with his manic nephew Harold. This segment is well-played, and it adds a bit of unexpected depth to the movie -- but it doesn't divert from the film's comedic momentum for very long, so Red Green fans needn't worry overmuch.
"Duct Tape Forever" is a good film for what it is -- it plays out exactly the way a fan of "The Red Green Show" would expect. If you like Red Green, then you'll like this film. If you don't "get" Red, then chances are, you won't "get" this movie either. I'm sure there's a Peter Greenaway retrospective playing at a rep house somewhere for you ... :-)
Unbreakable Breaks Down (Possible Spoiler)
(Possible Spoiler! -- This Is Your Final Warning!)
I wanted to see Unbreakable very badly, but now I find myself wondering if, indeed, I saw the same movie that everyone else seems to be raving about. Whatever I expected from Unbreakable, I came away disappointed.
Without delving into to spoiler-ish details, I think I can say that there is a mystery -- or at least a secret -- at the heart of this film, and I saw through that secret very, very early in the film. I was amazed to find that what I had suspected so quickly turned out to be the truth -- and that nearly everyone else seems to find this revelation so surprising. So much of Unbreakable's dramatic energy seems to draw from the film's core mystery, that I couldn't even give the film a passing grade with my IMDb vote; once I'd seen to the heart of the film's mystery so early, there was little else left, story-wise.
The movie does have excellent acting from all its players. Samuel L. Jackson is flawless, as ever, while Bruce Willis seems to be making a smooth transition from Action Hero Guy to Everyday Actor Guy. Robin Wright is so good at inhabiting her character that you almost forget she's playing a role. Even the smaller roles of Willis' son and Jackson's mother are well cast and very well acted.
There is some clever cinematography (complete with a very dark yet naturalistic palette -- quite unusual, given the film's subject matter), some novel camera angles, and a number of very interesting individual scenes. Willis' first attempt at "fighting crime" (so to speak) provides a chilling sequence, well shot, and almost guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat from the tension.
Still, all these excellent parts do not make a satisfying whole, in my opinion. There's still the problem that Unbreakable seems to rely on its core mystery too heavily -- and if you figure out that fairly obvious secret too early (as I did), then the rest of the central story is likely to seem slow and rather predictable. I kept thinking that the film's slow and careful pace meant that there was yet more to be revealed than I had guessed at -- but sadly, this was not the case.
Unbreakable is not a bad film, by any means, but you could find it a very obvious and predictable film if you happen to figure out the central mystery early on -- best to rent this one, I think, so that you don't accidentally cheat yourself out of full admission price by guessing too well, too early.
Slam Dunk Ernest (1995)
Ernest Is Funny, But The Movie As A Whole Fails To Score
Jim Varney IS funny in this film -- assuming you enjoy the sort of absurd slapstick that lies at the center of every Ernest movie. The problem is, whenever the camera wanders away from Varney's rubber-faced goofing, the movie starts to wander as well.
The supporting cast does what it can (the men who play Ernest's after-work basketball teammates do especially well), but the story wanders, and the pacing is very slow at times. It's too "talky" at times to attract a kid audience, but not complex enough to hold an adult audience whenever the comedy quiets down. And there's the problem: the comedy quiets down too often, and when it does, the movie seems unsure of what it wants to do with itself. There's a cameo by Kareem Abdul Jabbar (an actor he is NOT!) and a rather bizarre about-face by the main female supporting character, which is never adequately explained, even by comedy-film standards.
In the end, Varney's antics as the lovable goofball with the heart of gold and the brain of lead save this movie from being a complete washout -- but it's really no thanks to the script.
In conclusion: Varney is still the best thing to happen to "lovable idiot" comedy since Lou Costello, but he succeeds in spite of this movie, not because of it. Better to rent "Ernest Goes To Jail" or one of the other early Ernest films, if you want to see just how much fun an Ernest movie can be.