Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End video game review.

"Sic Parvis Magna." In English, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake's motto translated to "Greatness from Small Beginnings", eventually becoming a calling card for supposed descendant Nathan Drake. Once a novice fortune hunter and delinquent, the wise-cracking and lovable everyman has fought, traversed, and leaped his way through countless lost civilizations (that he would accidentally destroy), soon becoming a legend in his own time with each journey.

But the motto does more than relate solely to him. Moving away from system defining platformers like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter in favor of an epic, pulpy adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was a fantastic system seller combining the mile a minute thrills in gameplay with the great characterization and wit of a summer blockbuster, with the sequel Among Thieves raising the stakes and entertainment value while giving the characters deeper development, on its way to becoming one of the greatest video games of all time.

But following the also epic third entry, Drake's Deception, Naughty Dog were interested in more things than just treasure hunting. Taking a break from Nate's daredevilry, first time director Neil Druckmann led his team at the company through a very bleak post-apocalypse with The Last of Us, merging spectacular, subtle storytelling with deep and intense gameplay, proving that they had earned Drake's motto. Now armed with the experience of both franchises, the studio returns for one last adventure to give their star player a satisfying send-off. The result is as deeply affecting as it is heart-pounding, with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End combining the best of both worlds, while cementing Naughty Dog as the best game developer currently working.

Friday, May 27, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse movie review.

Of all the continuous superhero franchises in the world, none have proven more resilient than the X-Men films. With the dust having settled after the catastrophic failure of Batman and Robin, director Bryan Singer took it upon himself to bring the iconic residents of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters to the big screen. Essentially serving as the template for all modern superhero films to follow like Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, X-Men and its sequel X2 skillfully introduced and fleshed out the iconic characters, telling great standalone stories while also building to greater things in the future.

But like any series, it reached its low point with the incredibly disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, and only adding insult to injury was the much maligned error of judgment X-Men: Origins, which many assumed would be the death of the franchise. Flash forward to 2011, where Matthew Vaughn took the reigns and restored the series' goodwill balancing seamlessly between thrills and character drama, while Days of Future Past blended both the past and present cast members together in a spectacular crossover/reboot. Now serving as director for the fourth time, Singer returns to complete the retooled trilogy with X-Men: Apocalypse, but will history repeat itself again?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brief thoughts on Captain America: Civil War.

It's actually been over two weeks since I first saw this movie, but I never really got around to forming a write-up on it. Blame a severe recent bout of writer's block on that one... that, and most of my free time has been dominated by Uncharted 4. I figure I might as well come up with something short for this one, so better late than never.

Kicking off the third phase of Marvel's ongoing universe, Captain America: Civil War concludes the first Avenger's ongoing trilogy, pitting him against Iron Man in a struggle over whether the heroes should have their ongoing actions monitored by the government, all the while a sinister new force begins to rise. The film had a lot of promise to live up to after The Winter Soldier's success, and in short, the movie's very good. In fact, having come out only weeks after Batman v Superman, it succeeds in every single area where that movie failed.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Nice Guys movie review.

The buddy cop subgenre was once one of the most popular trends in cinema, often allowing a film to be a great deal of fun due in no small part to the pairing up of two oddball personalities clashing with each other, and would tend to lead to hilarity because of it. For years, however, the mold has slowed down considerably in favor of superpowered heroics and the like, and aside from exceptions like 21 Jump Street has not been given much exposure beyond cute callbacks.

One of the key figures who helped define the mold was writer Shane Black, best known for jump starting the Lethal Weapon franchise, and who later turned to directing his own scripts with the 2005 cult hit Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a movie that I admittedly would not consider myself a fan of. However, it did showcase a particularly unique directorial vision that could have paid off with stronger execution, and I'm happy to say that his latest feature, The Nice Guys, does exactly that, perfecting all of Black's most notable stylistics as a writer and establishing himself as a comedic talent to be reckoned with.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective - #13-15: Alice, Peter Pan, Lady/Tramp.

With the government relinquishing control back to Disney, and restrictions having been lifted as to what Walt could make, he soon turned his attention away from package films such as Make Mine Music and Melody Time, and returned the studio back to its whimsical, fairy tale roots with Cinderella. Still considered one of the crowning achievements of Walt’s time at the studio, it ushered in a new age of continuous successes. This gave Walt the opportunity to make the films he’d planned to make since teasing them in Pinocchio, which included Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Even when Walt found himself drifting away from the feature film market to focus on his theme parks, and the planned EPCOT (which became its own theme park after his death), his presence was still felt in every film the company released.

Monday, May 9, 2016

My Top Ten Favorite Video Games of All Time...

Tomorrow will see the highly anticipated release of Naughty Dog's fourth Uncharted entry, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to say...

I love video games!
There's not a moment I can remember when I wasn't a gamer. Ever since my early days playing my SNES, I've played through multiple generations of games, played on a great number of shiny new systems, stared in awe at new technological innovations, watched the rise and fall of many prominent developers both mainstream and independent, and I've loved every minute of it.

The medium has come a very long way in its evolution, growing from the bare bones story of a plumber jumping over an ape's barrels, and hostile marketing campaigns where Sega took shots at former competitor Nintendo, mocking the SNES with the "Blast Processing" of the Genesis, and more and more the medium has crafted epic and cinematic tales that rival even Hollywood. It's actually funny how industry insiders and fans across the world try to debate whether cinema or television is the dominant artform, as I feel video games have managed to overtake both. This is largely due to one reason; the choice that games offer, and the further investment. It's one thing to watch a great movie or TV show and feel powerful emotions onscreen, but it's another thing entirely to take those same emotional responses, and enhance them by allowing you control of the situation, letting you experience all of those grand moments right alongside the playable characters.

But even then, the medium still has a long way to go. In recent years, a fierce debate has stirred up over whether video games can be considered high art. While many have embraced them for their powerful innovations and growing emphasis on thematics, others still see them as little more than time wasters. Or there are those who take all of the wrong examples from what the medium can do, and blow it out of proportion. Series like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty in particular have become all too easy targets to attack whenever fierce anti-gaming activists (including disgraced former lawyer Jack Thompson) need an example of how poisonous the medium is, and the violence they instill in youths. Right, because movies or TV or even the actions of older generations wouldn't have the same exact impact, and series like GTA and COD are only small pieces of the medium's bigger picture, which has developed into more thoughtful and powerful directions than those people would give it credit for.

The format may not always be perfect, and much like movies and TV shows, it will always have its share of utter failures and condescending efforts aimed at the lowest common denominator, but just like movies and TV shows, the good of what it can do will always outweigh the bad. The format continues to evolve every day, with more and more games paying greater attention to deep storytelling with great commentary. Whether or not you think video games are high art, take your side because the argument isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

And so, with all that addressed, I'm going to count down my favorite video games of all time. It's quite a hard list to narrow down considering all of the fantastic games that are out there, and some reportedly excellent titles that I sadly haven't gotten around to yet. There's more that I'm likely to discover that may make it on this list someday, but as it is right now, this is as confident as I'll ever be. But before we get to the main event, here are my top 10 honorable mentions.