Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stubs - On The Town

ON THE TOWN (1949) Starring: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin and Vera-Ellen. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, based upon the Broadway Musical. Produced by Arthur Freed. Run Time: 98 minutes, Color. U.S. Musical, Comedy

Three sailors, Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) are in New York with a 24-hour leave. Starting at 6 AM, they have until the same time the next day to see all the sights of the city that none of the men has ever been to before. All of them are from small towns and visiting New York is like going to Oz for them. Chip, armed with an outdated visitor’s guide from his grandfather, has a long list of sights, but the other two are more interested in meeting girls while they’re onshore.

Gabey falls in love with the photo of the June Miss Turnstiles, Ivy Smith (Vera-Ellen). And while they quickly run into her on a publicity shot, she disappears into the city and the boys take chase. Using the publicity poster for clues, they flag down a cab driven by Brumhilde “Hildy” Esterhazy (Betty Garrett), who takes a keen interest in Chip. Even though her shift is over and the cab is overdue, Hildy takes up the chase with the boys, so she could be with Chip.

Following the clue that she goes to museums, they head to the closest one they can find, a museum dedicated to Anthropology. There they run into Claire Huddesen (Ann Miller), a scientist who thinks Ozzie looks like a caveman. While Ozzie isn’t thrilled with the comparison at first, he does like the attention Claire pays to him. After accidentally bringing down a huge dinosaur skeleton, the five escape to the streets.

At Hildy’s suggestion, they break up into groups; she and Chip, Claire and Ozzie, and Gabey to go in search of elusive Ivy Smith. They agree to regroup on the Empire State Building at 8:30 that night. But while Gabey is determined, the others are more interested in each other than finding Miss Turnstiles. However, Gabey does find her at the next place he looks, Symphony Hall, in one of the practice rooms.

Ivy and Gabey agree to meet and Gabey goes away happy. But the title Miss Turnstiles is not as prestigious as he thinks it is. Ivy also has a real job to do, a cooch (burlesque) dancer on Coney Island. Her dance teacher, Madame Dilyovska (Florence Bates) insists on it so that she can get paid for the lessons. She threatens Ivy that if she doesn’t go to work on time, Madame will have to write to her parents for money, which Ivy doesn’t want. Ivy agrees to leave her date with Gabey at 11:30 to get to work and Madame promises she’ll check up on her.

Everyone meets up on the Empire State Building at the appointed time and everyone is happy, at least for a while. They hit the down and few well-placed bribes by Hildy and Claire get Ivy special attention at the nightclubs, keeping alive Chip’s vision of her as a celebrity. But at 11:30 Ivy abruptly disappears. Hildy tries to fill Chip’s void by inviting her roommate, Lucy Scheele (Alice Pearce) to join them. While Lucy is no substitute for Ivy, Gabey is nice to her and walks her home. After that, the five go out in search of Ivy, once again. But now, they’re running just ahead of the law as the museum is after Ozzie for damaging the dinosaur and the cab company is after Hildy for stealing the cab.

But they make it to Coney Island and find Ivy again. At this point, Gabey finds out that Ivy is from his same hometown in Indiana. Before things can go further, the police converge on them. The sailors try to disguise themselves as dancers in the show and when the police see through their costume malfunction, the boys narrowly escape but run right into a Shore Patrol van, which takes them back to the ship. The girls, meanwhile, caught by the police, talk their way out of their charges and take off for the docks.

There the three couples each share one last kiss, before the next group of sailors get their leave at 6 AM.

The movie is a fairly straightforward boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back type of story. But what makes it so much fun to watch are the musical numbers, some written by Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens and others from the original show with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the sheer talent of the cast. Perhaps the best-known song from the movie is “New York, New York”, not the other song of the same name that Frank Sinatra would popularize 31 years later. In this case, it is the Bronx is Up and the Battery’s Down song. But no matter how memorable the song is the cast always seems to be their all into every number.

One of the things that made ON THE TOWN such a unique film is that much of it was actually shot on location in New York City. There were soundstage sequences, but in many cases, the cast is singing and dancing in the Big Apple, not on MGM’s backlot New York set. Kelly and Donen share the credit for directing and the choreography is very inventive and interesting to watch throughout.

The clear star of the film is Gene Kelly. Kelly is the second greatest dancer in film history, only behind Fred Astaire in stature. Where Kelly is a physical dancer, Astaire is more about finesse and grace. Not only could Kelly dance, but like Astaire, he could sing. Comparing them is like apples and oranges and there were definitely roles that each was perfect to play. Gabey is the perfect part to showcase Kelly’s talents. But while both were great artists, Kelly seemed to make the artistry look more serious. There is a fairly long dance sequence, in which Kelly’s Gabey, retells the plot of the story up to that point in dance. While it shows off Kelly’s artistry, it also, momentarily, grounds the fast-paced story to a halt.

Frank Sinatra, best known as a singer, made ON THE TOWN just before his career stalled in the 1950s. But he was not only a great singer but a great actor as well. (He would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his part in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY in 1954.) In this film, he plays the overly shy Chip as if he really was uncomfortable around women. History would prove that he wasn’t.

In addition to Kelly and Sinatra, the cast includes Vera-Ellen, who was an accomplished dancer, and Ann Miller who was a legend in her own right, having danced in movies since 1938. Betty Garrett is another Broadway actress who successfully made the move from the stage to film and later in her career to television. Her Hildy nearly steals the movie.

It is worth noting that the two women Miller and Garrett portray are much more sexually aggressive than the men they chase. Maybe it’s the case of big city girls and small-town boys, but this wasn’t something that was seen all that often in Hollywood films up to that point. But it works well with this story and gives it a more timeless quality.

All the attention to the others in the cast is not to leave out Jules Munshin. Of all the cast, there is probably less known about him, but he is more than a competent song and dance man and perfect for the role of Ozzie.
This is a fun film to watch and one that I would recommend to see if you have not already. And see it again, if it’s been a while since you last did. Watch it for the talent of the cast and for the quality of the songs, but also appreciate its comedy, which is still fresh 62 years after its initial release. ON THE TOWN’s sense of joy is contagious.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Infamous: Festival of Blood - Worth Sinking Your Teeth Into

As it is the month of October, it seems only fitting that a company would release a Halloween-based title around this time. For Sucker Punch, it is Infamous: Festival of Blood. At first, I remained cautiously optimistic about the concept of Cole interacting with vampires in New Marais, let alone the fact that he would have vampire powers anyway. Once it was released, I decided to download it and found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought.

In this story, Cole McGrath explores the catacombs underneath the city of New Marais, only to be captured by vampires. As he is a Conduit, his blood is more than enough to awaken Bloody Mary, who sucks enough of it from his neck to regain her strength and youthful appearance. In exchange, Cole becomes a vampire and must defeat Bloody Mary by sunrise if he wishes to become normal again. This is all I really can say, as I don't want to give away too much of the already thin plot. Despite this I found it rather intriguing once they brought up the issue of Cole's morality as a vampire affecting his morality as a human.

Speaking of morality, the Karma meter is absent from this game, replaced instead with a circular Blood meter that fuels his vampire-based abilities. Refilling the meter is done through not only the classic method of sucking blood from a human, but also through staking vampires and breaking canopic jars, which also increase the meter's maximum size. One ability grants Cole a vampire sense that allows him to locate hidden vampires and jars, along with glyphs that reveal more of the history of Bloody Mary. The only other ability to speak of is the power of flight, which is actually really fun to use and feels like a natural step up from Cole's electrical flight powers.

Speaking of Cole's electricity, he can still use them alongside his vampire abilities since the HUD still contains the electrical nodes. Unlike the other Infamous games however, you cannot manually upgrade these abilities. Instead they get upgraded automatically by completing certain objectives, which is thankfully an easy task in itself.

As for the enemies, the vampires thankfully have a lot of variety to them. Since they can teleport around like Cole and they all have a different strategy to them, the fights become just as intense as any regular group of enemies from Infamous 2. The only disappointment may be in the last one, since it boils down to fending off enemies until Zeke does something. Even after that though, the ending is still satisfying.

For a game that costs only $10 ($8 if you're a PlayStation + member) and takes about half that in hours to beat, it's a pretty good one. It's short and sweet and introduces some fairly interesting concepts that I would like to Sucker Punch expand on in the future. I would also like to see more self-contained "What If?" scenarios in the future and see if they can use some of these ideas in a potential Infamous 3. In fact, owning Infamous 2 is not required to play this since it doesn't read your save game. I would recommend this title to anyone who likes the Infamous series or anyone who wants to see Cole do something exciting and new.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Batman: Arkham City - The Best Superhero Anything Ever

Cropped PC box art, because the internet rejected the NTSC PS3 box art for some strange reason.

After playing the masterpiece known as Batman: Arkham Asylum, I wasn't really sure what to expect from Arkham City. I mean, I had a vague idea of what would happen based on tidbits provided of the story and characters to appear, but I didn't know what direction the game would go in or how it would play out. Until last week, that was all a mystery that I spent a long time solving. The finished product has turned out to be so good by its own merits and as a sequel that I really don't know where to begin.

Perhaps I should begin with the combat. While the overall system retains familiarity from Arkham Asylum, it feels much more like a rhythmic dance where you learn more steps as you go. The general flow is fantastic, and combined with the ability to quick-fire more of the Dark Knight's gadgets made it feel more natural as well. Bruce Wayne gets to show off his full strength, but you also get the opportunity to fight strategically. Not only are there more enemy types to contend with that have a specific weakness, such as stunning a shield-bearing enemy with the cape and then dropping on them from behind, but there are instances where you have to keep an enemy conscious in order to interrogate them for the locations of Riddler secrets.

Not only is combat brilliantly done, but the enemies are also a bit smarter this time around. Not only will they now check around an unconscious body for Batman's hiding spot, they will even adapt to a certain extent, eliminating gargoyles gradually should you let them. It's also fun to listen to their dialogue, as with Arkham Asylum, since they not only have their own stories to tell but they can also fill you in on minor events in the story and give a unique insight on what goes down within the walls of the city-turned-asylum. In the times where Batman is a predator in the night, the dev team really made it satisfying to outsmart a room full of armored thugs.

And on the subject of the gadgets, much of them are carried over from the last game along with some new additions. These are mapped well onto the d-pad, allowing one to switch between them as they see fit. Weapons such as a freeze bomb or a remote disarming tool find practical use in not only combat, but also completing Riddler challenges and finding his trophies around the entirety of the city.

Since I've mentioned Riddler challenges a couple of times already, it's about time I clarified by stating that there is a lot you can do in this game, and I mean a lot. Not only are there a staggering 440 Riddler challenges to complete in the more open world of Arkham City, but plenty of side missions where the player gets to interact with more of Batman's lengthy rogues gallery, including the lesser known Mad Hatter, Deadshot, and Calendar Man (I am not intimately familiar with Batman's history or his fanbase, so I don't know how obscure some of these enemies are to them). Those who play a game to get 100% completion may like the fact that they'll be inside the city for a long time; I must have played the game for tens of hours and I've only completed about 43% of the game so far. This was what I liked about the game, since I really felt like I was getting my money's worth, but I was a little disappointed that the stat screen didn't tell me how long I was playing (otherwise I'd be able to give a more exact time estimate).

I realize that I've gone this far without talking about the story, penned by none other than Paul Dini. I can't exactly say too much about it, as it's very twist-laden, but I can tell you this much: The game hits, or maybe even punches you, right off the bat with a killer twist. Hugo Strange already knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne. He will stop at nothing to be able to tell the world about it, to the point of capturing him in an attempt to break him psychologically. However, Bruce manages to fight his way out into the open and suit up, beginning a string of events that all build tension towards the big mystery of the game, with layers of intrigue, alliances, and rivalries, as Batman also tries to find out just what Protocol 10 is. Sadly, I can only go this far without spoiling the plot, at least on his side of the story.

It may not be a surprise to some of you, but Catwoman is now a playable character as well. Rather than give her her own story mode, the brilliant decision was made to have her part in the events be interwoven near flawlessly into the story. While it's great to see how her sections help explain minor events in the overall plot, it's even more fun to control her. Compared to Batman's powerful approach to fighting, Catwoman makes him seem slow by comparison. This is probably helped by putting less emphasis on gadgetry, since she has all the tools a cat burglar would need or be able to fit into her tight suit, and instead diverting focus to her speed in combat that more than makes up for her lack of strength. In another stark contrast to the Dark Knight's style, Catwoman's preferred method of clearing a room seems to have more of a stealth approach in mind, which made pretty good sense considering she can climb across ceilings with specific surfaces.

While I do praise the Catwoman segments, I must bring up that accessing her can only be done through an online pass. As I acknowledge that this is rather unfortunate for those who wish to purchase the game used, I would recommend those people to either try and pick up a new copy to avoid paying for her separately, or purchase a used copy at GameStop where everyone will get a Catwoman code regardless of condition. In any case, you should definitely download her to have the complete experience.

The one thing the game manages to do very well overall, besides looking absolutely gorgeous, is building and keeping a suspenseful atmosphere, with a good score to compliment the tension. When there is a lot going on at once, it's easy to get the feeling that you never know who will need saving next or where a villain will strike. It helps that the ever-twisting plot thread successfully kept me on the edge of my seat. Aside from this, there are very smartly placed symbolic imagery. It's moments like when Catwoman manages to steal from Hugo Strange only to be torn between the loot and saving Batman, with her decision symbolized by the red and green directional arrows on the ground suddenly representing her karma or finding the exact location where Bruce's parents died so he can pay his respects that really help to establish the city itself as a character in its own right.

Now, after looking back on all that went on in the game, I can say that Batman: Arkham City is not only the absolute best licensed video game on the market, but perhaps even the best video game I have ever played in my entire life. With a near perfect arrangement of elements, excellent voice acting and characters, and an ending that hits you effectively with the emotional impact of a meteor, Arkham City is a game that elevates Batman to a new high that will be hard to top for quite a good while. It is, quite simply, a game that absolutely no one with the technology in their possession with the capability to play a video game should even think about missing out on.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stubs - Alien

File:Alien movie poster.jpg

ALIEN (1979) Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill. Run Time: 116 minutes, Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Horror

ALIEN is one of those touchstone sci-fi films that gets mentioned so often that you feel that you have to watch it again to remember what all the fuss is about. Terms like facehugger and chestburster originate with this film and get referenced in other works. And the film spawned three sequels, not to mention novels, comic books and toys. It is also considered by the American Film Institute (AFI) to be the seventh best science fiction film ever made. In 2002, it was inducted into the National Film Registry as a film that is “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”

The film tells the story of a commercial towing spaceship, Nostromo, on route from Thedus to Earth with a payload of 20 million tons of ore. While the seven man crew is in suspended animation, the ship is re-routed to a planetoid to investigate a transmission of unknown origin. Mother, the ship’s main computer awakens the crew, which is contractually obligated to investigate such events.

Lead by Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), the entire crew ventures down to the surface in a detached Nostromo. In addition to Dallas, are his Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) and Engineers Bill (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto). Dallas, Kane and Lambert set out to investigate the source of the signal and end up on a very large alien ship. There Kane stumbles upon a large floor filled with what appear to be eggs.

Kane notices that there is movement inside one of the eggs. When he looks too close, the creature inside attaches itself to Kane’s face, even through the mask of his suit. Dallas and Lambert bring him back to the ship and while Ripley wants to keep Kane in quarantine per procedure, but Ash opens the airlock and brings Kane and alien on board.

Attempts to remove the alien are problematic, as the creature bleeds acid, which eats through the floors in the ship, but stops before it breaches the hull. The next morning, the alien has detached itself and is found dead. Kane wakes up and appears to be no worse for wear. During the last meal before returning to stasis, Kane becomes ill and falls down on the table. And bursting through his chest is a baby alien, which the shocked crew cannot stop from scurrying away.

While they try to hunt down and capture the runaway, the crew falls victim to the alien. First to go is Bill, who looks for the crew’s cat in storage room inhabited by a now fully grown alien. Next to go is Dallas who is trying to get the Alien trapped in an airlock so that it can be shot into space.

Now that Ripley is in charge, she goes to Mother and discovers that the science officer has been ordered to bring the alien back alive and that the crew is considered expendable. When Ripley approaches Ash about the directive, he attacks her. When Parker and Lambert come to her rescue, he is destroyed and found to be a robot. Before Parker incinerates him, Ash warns that the crew that they won’t survive.

Taking Lambert’s advice to use the shuttle to escape, Ripley gets the shuttle ready, while Parker and Lambert gather supplies. When Parker and Lambert are killed, Ripley sets the ship’s self-destruct and escapes into the shuttle.

But just before she enters stasis, Ripley discovers that she is not alone. The alien has managed to sneak aboard the shuttle. She dons a space suit, straps herself in and jettisons the alien out an airlock. When it tries to fight its way back on board, she shoots it with a spear and roasts it in the fire of the engine.
The casting is near as perfect as the special effects. Everyone seems to be right, from Skerritt as the Captain to Stanton and Kotto as the disgruntled crew members who want a bonus from the profits from the ore they’re hauling. Hurt perhaps is under-utilized as Kane, but only because he spends so much time with a creature planted on his face.

The star of the movie is, of course, Sigourney Weaver. In only her third film, Weaver takes the lead in a major motion picture and becomes a major star in the process. Even at the time, a female action hero was new and Weaver was just savvy and sexy enough to pull it off. In the battle of beauty and the beast, Ripley doesn’t out muscle the alien, the way a male action hero might, but rather outthinks it.

With any film based in space, the special effects have to be good and in this film they are. The models used and space travel scenes appear to owe a debt to 1979’s STAR WARS. H.R. Giger’s design for the Alien even won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Re-watching the movie, I realized how slow-paced the first half is, but when the film finally kicks in, the action does pick up and the ending is worth the wait. ALIEN is one of those sci-fi films that have withstood the test of time. While it may take it’s time telling the story and has roots in such older films as THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), it puts a just imaginative enough spin on previous films of the genre to make it a landmark film.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dead Rising 2: Off The Record

After the success of the original Dead Rising, a sequel developed by Blue Castle Games followed and was met with great critical acclaim. It introduced the world to another protagonist named Chuck Greene, a former motocross champion who had to fend off the zombie horde in Fortune City while protecting his daughter. While I did think he was a likable character, I had never gotten to known Frank West at all due to my lack of an Xbox 360. Thankfully, enough fans missed him to warrant the release of Dead Rising 2: Off The Record. In this game, fans get to see how the events of the game would have played out with Frank at the player's control instead, and I found his version of the story a bit better.

The opening shows us that in the intervening period between Dead Rising 1 and 2, Frank West got to be down on his luck, but he still got by as an active photographer. As he gets sucked into the events of the second game, his story has a lot of the same cues as Chuck, but it has enough variety to make it different and interesting. Players also get to take advantage of his unique skill to take photos for PP, but this time without needing to worry about the battery life or amount of film in his now digital camera. While Chuck Greene was able to make plenty of crazy gadgets with duct tape, Frank West can make everything he could and more, a lot of which I had fun using.

The variety continues throughout the game and doesn't stop coming. There are plenty of new psychopaths to battle, with plenty of surprises and references to the first game that any fan would enjoy. A new expansion to Fortune City can also be explored, known as the Uranus Zone. It's alien themed and contains even more objectives and weapons to use, plus some killer rides and attractions, and didn't feel out of place within the confines of the game.

My favorite addition however is one that I had wished for since the original Dead Rising 2, a Sandbox Mode available from the start. The three save slots return, but now contain saves for both the Story and Sandbox, meaning players can have a file for each without the need to take up unnecessary room or save over their progress in either mode.

In the actual mode itself, players get to explore Fortune City at their own pace, battling optional psychopaths that appear at regular intervals and complete challenges for more cash or PP. Challenges vary from reaching a particular platform in the allotted time to killing as many zombies as possible. They can also be specific to the point of only allowing your camera for gaining PP. There are also some Co-op challenges, which enables a second player to control Chuck Greene, who controls exactly like Frank down to the camera tricks.

The greatest tweak of all is that while Dead Rising is built for multiple playthroughs, it is no longer a requirement to begin the story anew if you find yourself underpowered at any point. Instead, it is now possible to level up via the sandbox and seamlessly transfer your skills back to the Story. I liked how they addressed this, as I found myself having more fun without the need to constantly backtrack through the story like with Chuck.

The online multiplayer mode Terror Is Reality has also been scrapped from this game, but while it was good in theory and enjoyable in practice, it only ended up this way once you got past the various shortcomings it had with getting a single game off the ground, such as a painfully long queue time. Thankfully, the Sandbox mode more than makes up for it.

Off The Record manages to be different enough from its original counterpart to not seem like good DLC instead. There are plenty of new things you can do and it doesn't feel like a clone game at all. Plus it feels like a great bargain at only $40. If you've never played Dead Rising or its sequel, I would tell you to pick this game up now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Footloose (2011) - Same Tune, Slightly Different Steps


The original Footloose, released in 1984, wasn't that bad of a movie, but it isn't exactly something I would watch very often. When I heard there was to be a remake, I wasn't exactly sure how it would work, considering the product they were dealing with, but I decided to see it anyway. It was better than I thought it would be, but like a good cover to a classic song, not much is different about it.

If you've seen the original Footloose with Kevin Bacon, then you already know what happens in this new version. The only major changes, aside from the new actors of course, are that the event leading up to the ban on dancing is actually depicted rather than being revealed through dialogue, the time span is set to 3 years instead of 5, and a few scenes were either changed a little or switched around. Otherwise, it is essentially the same movie, including dialogue, with (sort of) updated technology (for instance, characters are seen to have iPods).

Though the music is generally the same from the original, it still manages to hold up well and gives you the feeling that you're still watching Footloose. The new actors pull off rather good performances and provide noticeably more racial diversity than there was previously. Plenty of homages are made to the original Footloose as well, such as the iconic yellow Volkswagon Beetle and red boots used by the characters Ren (Kenny Wormald) and Ariel (Julianne Hough) respectively. However, the large number of these nods to the source can bring to question why the remake was created in the first place.

Overall, the Footloose remake isn't a bad movie, but it isn't much different from its predecessor. However, it's still structurally sound and for the most part simply updates the setting. Whether you watch this film or the the original, you're guaranteed a good time and a very catchy song.

Stubs - Footloose (1984)

FOOTLOOSE (1984) Starring: Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest and John Lithgow. Directed by Herbert Ross. Written by Dean Pitchford. Produced by Lewis J. Rachmil and Craig Zadan. Run Time: 107 minutes, Color. U.S. Musical, Drama.

The original FOOTLOOSE, since there is now a remake, would never be referred to as a great movie, though it may well be on someone’s list of favorite films. It is sort of like cotton candy at the fair, it’s sweet, but doesn’t stay with you very long and indulging too much is bad for you. Now, watching the film won’t put on weight, unless you’re eating a big bucket of popcorn while you do, but it doesn’t seem to be the type of story that deserves multiple retellings. Once was enough.

The premise of the film is foot-loosely based on a law that had been on the books in Elmore City, Oklahoma. Dancing had been banned in this small town for 100 years, though the ban was actually lifted four years before this movie’s release.

FOOTLOOSE tells the story of Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon), who moves with his mother (Frances Lee McCain) from Chicago to the little town of Bomont, where the local minister, Rev. Shaw Moore (John Lithgow) has gotten the city to ban dancing and rock and roll music. The reason for the ban dates back five years when Moore’s only son was killed, along with others, after a dance and a car wreck.

Ren, the outsider in a small town, quickly draws the attention of most everyone in town, as he doesn’t belong. One of the first’s to notice him is Ariel (Lori Singer), the daughter of Rev. Moore. While Ren meets resistance at first, he quickly makes a fast friend with Willard Hewitt (Christopher Penn).

But with friendship come enemies and Ren makes one out of Chuck Cranston (Jim Youngs), Ariel’s boyfriend and high school bad ass. In what must be an homage to REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Chuck challenges Ren to a game of chicken. But rather than jalopies, the boys run tractors right at each other. In a twist, Ren tries, but can’t get out of his tractor because his shoelace gets caught on one of the pedals and Chuck is forced to leap for safety.

The hazing isn’t over, as one student tries to plant a marijuana joint on Ren in front of an all too convenient teacher. But while Ren is innocent, he develops a reputation as a troublemaker, but not because he smokes cigarettes and engages in underage drinking. Ren decides that all ills can be solved through dance and he goes before the city council on behalf of the high school seniors to have the law overturned.

When that fails, Ren finds a replacement location across the railroad tracks from Bomont. And with the blessing of Moore, who has softened his views about the evils of dance, thanks in part to his wife, Vi (Dianne Wiest), the dance goes forward. There is one last disruption, an impotent attempt by Chuck and his gang to stop it.

But in the end, all the senior high-schoolers of Bomont turn out to have a great time and despite a ban on dancing through their formative years all turn out to have a great sense of rhythm and have dance moves right out of the music videos of the day.

While watching the film is mostly a fun experience, the film does have more than its fair share of issues, most of them revolving around characters.

To begin with, Diane Wiest is pretty much wasted in the movie, as her part is somewhat pivotal but very, very small. She spends too much of the film in the background smiling or stirring a pan in the kitchen. Maybe it was early in her movie career, but she has far too much talent for the role.

John Lithgow’s Moore is not really that much of a bad guy. We do see him give one fire and brimstone sermon, but otherwise, he comes off as a moderate to a liberal preacher. Soft-spoken and almost a milquetoast father, his attempts to keep his daughter in line are limited to mostly disapproving looks, though he does slap Ariel once (more on her later). When some of the more religious zealots in town take to burning books they disapprove of, right off the shelves at the library, Moore steps in as the moral compass of the town. He must see the dichotomy of being a censor of music, but not books because it is soon after this event that his feelings start to change.

The biggest troublemaker in the movie isn’t Ren. It is the preacher’s daughter, Ariel, who is the definition of crazy bitch. Her stupid daredevil antics risks the lives of her friends (including Sarah Jessica Parker) and her then-boyfriend, Chuck, as she tries to move from a car driven by her friend to Chuck’s pickup truck, all the while riding down a highway with a big rig bearing down on them.

She is a girl with a reputation for being loose, though they never show her going further than kissing, we do see her and Chuck on a blanket outside after presumably having sex. (She does admit to her father that she is no longer a virgin.) Even Ren picks up on the fact that Ariel has been around the block a few times.

Ariel cheats on Chuck with Ren and when Chuck confronts her, she attacks him. When he fights back, she takes a pipe to his prized pickup truck, smashing headlights before he punches her. I’m all for not hitting women, but Ariel may be the exception. She is a troubled girl on many levels, but she is the one the movie wants us to root for Ren to win over. I wouldn’t wish her on my worst enemy, let alone the protagonist, I’m supposed to like, in a movie.

FOOTLOOSE is not really a musical by the definition most of us have for the genre. There is lots of dancing, but there is really no singing by the cast. The music doesn’t necessarily move the story along or comment about the actual events but is more of a backdrop to what is going on. And the music that these kids fight to hear is, for the most part, forgettable pop tunes. While Chuck has decals for Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead on his pickup, very little of the music in FOOTLOOSE is all that original or memorable. Maybe they shouldn’t have let the screenwriter help with every original song.

There is, of course, the exception of the title song, Footloose, which does last beyond the viewing of the movie. It may be because it appears three times, but of all the original songs, it is by far the one that stays with you the longest. Way to go Kenny Loggins.

This is the movie that made Kevin Bacon a star and he is good and likable in the film. Who hasn’t felt they were the outsider at one time or another in their lives? I’m not sure how many kids really wore neckties to high school or danced to get over their anger, but he is right for the part.

While this is Bacon’s film, I think the best performance may be that of Christopher Penn as Willard. Penn has a real presence in this movie as the hick who turns into a dance phenom under Ren’s tutelage. It is a lean, happy, playful Penn in FOOTLOOSE, and it is sad to think that his career in movies was so short.

Monday, October 10, 2011

God of War Origins Collection

File:God of War Origins Collection box art.jpg

I apologize for the lateness of this review, since I got this game as a gift after it was released. Moving on, a few weeks ago Sony put out God of War Origins Collection, which remasters the two PSP entries of the God of war series (Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta) in HD on a single disk, with the addition of stereoscopic 3D and Trophy support. Needless to say, this new collection is a vast improvement over the games' original counterparts.

One point of improvement that can be noticed right off the bat is the visuals. Since the PS3 is a more advanced system than the PSP, the graphics are a bit more impressive to look at, and you get a much better view of ancient Greece. Plus, due to this enhancement I was able to see things that I hadn't before in all the time I played Chains of Olympus, such as the locations of chests or cracked walls to smash with the Blades of Chaos. To comment on exactly how advanced these graphics are, Chains of Olympus now looks more on par with a later PS2 game, and a few times while playing Ghost of Sparta again I had to remind myself that I was playing a previously-handheld game (although admittedly one of the button prompts is a little low-res). This is backed up by a much clearer soundtrack, which allowed me to hear parts of it that I otherwise did not through PSP speakers. I cannot comment on the 3D option because I wasn't playing on that kind of television, but I don't think this feature is necessary to use to have a good time.

The biggest improvement, even more than graphics, is an updated control scheme. While the layout is similar to the original versions, you are now able to dodge roll with only the right analog stick instead of having to hold down both shoulder buttons while moving the only stick on the handheld. However, you still have the option to use the original control scheme during play and the command mapped to L1 and R1 can be used with L2 and R2 respectively. Then there's the addition of Trophies, which give more hardcore players to shoot for as they replay these games; they can even be a little humorous, such as one you get in Chains of Olympus for walking across beams.

God of War Origins Collection is a game I would highly recommend for anyone's PS3 library, especially if you have played these games before on their original platform. With two games in one package at an affordable price, this is a great deal for any God of War fan. For my individual opinions of Chains of Olympus or Ghost of Sparta, I encourage you to look at my previous reviews of those titles.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

After the success of Uncharted: Drakes' Fortune, developer Naughty Dog produced a sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, released 2 years later in 2009. This playthrough was my second, and I still loved it the second time, even more so than the original. If Drake's Fortune was an attempt at making a game feel like a Hollywood movie, then Among Thieves has almost succeeded with flying colors.

From the very beginning the game captures your attention and doesn't hold anything back. Already, Nathan Drake is on the brink of death. Within an inch of his life, he must scale a massive train car to get to safety to reach a cliff on the snowy Tibetan mountains. After going through a moment as amazing and powerful as this, I was glad to find that the game is liberally filled with more like it, each one equally filled with arresting tension and drama, from an intense train ride to taking out a battle tank in a small mountain village.

The plot this time revolves around the lost fleet of Marco Polo, and it is filled to the brim with moments like those found in Uncharted. It's amazing not only what locations the story hits, but also where Nathan Drake goes as a character. His voice acting, like all of the other characters, is still solidly done with great seriousness but also with perfect timing of his more lighthearted side. His situation becomes ever perilous, and he always knows what to say.

The gameplay mechanics haven't really received any additions, but rather the right tweaking of the first game to get it done right. The guns are more fun to use, and necessary, and there is a surprisingly great variety in the enemy types that make firefights more interesting and rewarding. Enemy AI is also improved, making them smarter and thus more satisfying to overcome. While I do like the different mechanics for throwing a grenade by assigning it to a single button, the ease of access is also annoying when I accidentally pressed the button to throw one. Otherwise, the cover system is improved and the blind fire system is a very nice addition.

As far as graphical capabilities are concerned, Naughty Dog really knew what they were doing and seemed to take  full advantage of the PS3's tech. Locations from Borneo to Tibet are beautiful to look at, with a stunning attention to detail and a smooth flow unmatched by most video games of this generation. The snow and water effects are impressive to see, as is the flow of the character models.

This greatly aids the level design. The levels feel more natural in pacing with less predictability in the location of a firefight, as well as a seamless transition between player control and cutscenes. Platforming is still linear, although the challenge is not lost at all. With variances like spinning gears and falling ledges, the game really knows how to keep players on their toes in moving around.

Uncharted 2 is a testament to game design mastery. From the biggest breathtaking set-pieces and moments, to even the most subtle of details, it's a real marvel to play through. This is a game that should not be missed by anyone who owns a PS3, with a video game that feels very much like an action blockbuster. However, I do recommend playing through the original beforehand, as some things make more sense or are much funnier once you know the continuing character relationships.