Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gangster Squad: The Review

So I went to see this movie with some bros on a whim because a few of the bros were convinced it would be a rip roaring good time. I saw it, and I didn't really have any intention of writing a review of it but two things changed my mind

1) I haven't reviewed anything made in the last couple...decades... in a while.
2) The local news paper where I live has a terrible person writing the movie reviews, and that person reviewed this movie completely wrong. 

SO here it goes. Gangster Squad, a movie that indeed features gangsters in various squads, as well as other formations. 

Lets start off with the aforementioned review. The reviewer in question, someone who I sincerely believe doesn't watch most of the movies they review, gave this movie  two stars under the premise that it is a "hard boiled crime drama." What? Drama? No no no, Gangster Squad is not a drama, nor would I really call it hard boiled. Heres the thing dear readers. What label we choose to apply to a given   movie/game/whatever stems from the core engagement that we seek or get from that movie/game/whatever. Take two big time AAA games, Halo and Fallout 3. Both have first person shooting as a core mechanic of game play, but they are generally separated into different categories, Halo getting the label of an FPS while Fallout 3 is usually considered an RPG. This is because the core engagement of the game, what you get from the game, is different. Halo your goal is to go from set piece to set piece shooting aliens in the face where as in Fallout you shoot guys to level up and customize your character and the way it performs, thus making it an RPG (for more discussion of this issue I suggest checking out the game gurus over at Extra Credits). So what does this have to do with Gangster Squad and the shitty reviewer? Well the reviewer called it something its totally not. Its not a drama, because its core engagement isn't drama. Its core engagement is balls to the wall action and testosterone at such a high level that I really haven't seen the likes of since The Expendables 2.  

The Review:
So this movie is essentially the A-team circa 1949. You've got Josh Brolin as Hannibal Smith, Ryan Gosling as the face man, and the rest of the team filling the roles of B. A. Barakus and Murdoch. Their mission; Wreck Sean Penn's organization and thus his face. Their method; full force badass tactics. Yeah there are dramatic elements whose level and hardness of "boiled" can be debated but really those bits are there just to launch the next series of double tommy gun wielding explosions. I mean, yeah, a movie that involves grenade fueled car chases, people getting drills in their faces, and a team of bad asses that include a cowboy gunslinger and his mexican pupil, a master knife thrower and Ryan Gosling being silly could be drama but in this instance, no way.

The Good:
This movie is basically an 80s action movie. Its got explosions, guns, babes, and way over the top characters doing way over the top things. The bad guy is super evil, the good guys are super good, and they clash in epic battles. The general aesthetic is good too. Despite being an 80s action movie set in the 40s, and how that would lead you to believe it would be silly/clashing, they do a really good job of making it work. Most of the crap going on is unbelievable to begin with so they didn't have much to worry about but its still nice that they paid attention to the little things in creating the look and feel of the world.

The Bad: 

Not...that much to be honest. Actually the worst part of the movie is two of its main characters. First, Ryan Gosling is supposed to be this suave savvy ladies man but in his attempt to pull off that character he comes off as a silly goober when he's talking normally and when he puts on the drama he comes off like a little bitch. Emma Stone plays the sultry love interest. Her role in the movie doesn't really do much to further the plot, nor is she involved in anything really important. Her existence leads to the death of one character I guess...other than that she is just there to be with Ryan Gosling and have some sex which...yeah...I guess fits in the motif of balls to the wall manly action, but honestly the movie could have been 30 mins shorter without her and wouldn't lose much. 

The Final Verdict:
Go see this movie. Its honestly the best action movie I have seen in the theaters for years. Action as a genre in hollywood has gotten so stale and boring and needlessly serious  that its refreshing to see something like this come along. Its a bit long for what it is and yeah Gosling could have been better but w/e its worth it. Though honestly if you wanted to wait until it comes out on video (look at THAT dated terminology!) totally go for it because 12 bucks for a ticket that allows you to sit amongst smelly fat people who are super rude is just a touch pricy. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Star Trek Adventures Part 1: Original Series

So everyone, let's rap for a moment.

I've been a nerd pretty much forever, from comic books to video games to miniatures and pen and papers. Through my nerd travels I have befriended many fellow nerds, and through them I have come to know a great deal about Star Trek. I knew all the crew, their stories, their positions and a lot of the other bits an pieces about the universe. Here's the thing though. I never...really watched the show. Yeah I have caught an episode here or there from the original series or TNG and I watched the movies, I even watched the original pilot "The Cage" with a pretty lady who told me it was the best nerd pick up line to offer to watch "The Cage" with them (maybe she was trying to pick up on me....! HINDSIGHT! IT BURNS!) Still, throughout all these years, I have never really taken the pilgrimage, never boldly gone where nobody has gone before. So, at the tender age of 24, I have begun my journey, and I am happy to report that the first leg is done. Star Trek, the original series, has been viewed in its entirety, and I am going to talk about it. 

So prior to this, my exposure has been watching the original movie like 3 times (which became increasingly difficult to manage stone sober the older I got. Holy crap does that movie hang around. Who knew you could get so much screen time out of Leonard Nimoy talking about penetrating alien orifice's) "Wrath of Khan" a shit zillion times (and it still, to this day, almost breaks down my manly visage of stoic badassness and causes tears to well up when Spock goes down) the whale one a couple times and "Search for Spock"once. Beyond that, not really much of the series proper. Boy, the movies didn't really prepare me for what I came across. Lets start with by talking about the conceptions people tend to have going in to the show and how they stack up with reality.

1) Serious Sci-Fi
Oooh boy. So I can't speak for the science of the time because I'm tainted by the science of the now but man, this show doesn't have much to do with science. Apart from the odd episode about a silicon life form and some playing around with ideas in physics, it would be a stretch to classify this show as anything beyond Science fantasy (the old distinction usually used for discussions of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, being applied to the former). Really what this show is, in so far as an intellectual exersize is concerned, is a baby philosophy romp mixed with the stoned musings of a sociology major. In essence, the episodes can be divided into the following two categories.

a) High concept: These episodes are the big brain questions and thought experiments that probably had just a touch of psychedelic influence. Questions like whether or not "Eden" is obtainable, and if it is at what cost (like would you want to live happy for the rest of your life if you came about that state by being sprayed in the face by some crazy plant?) questions about sexuality, gender issues, race, the appropriate use of power and its corrupting force. These episodes tend to be the most...dated, mostly because of the often repetitive nature of the subject matter (there are about four episodes dealing with perfect civilizations and our inability to obtain them) and also due to the really REALLY heavy handed nature of the moral messages.

Like why are these dudes fighting, they are almost identical?
Cause bro, one is black on the right side of his face and the other on the left!
Pfft, why would that make them hate each other? Something so small as color making two guys hate...
Mind blown
b) What if...: These are the big bong hit episodes that tend to be the more entertaining. What would happen if there was a planet who's only social influence was a book about mobsters in Chicago in the 30s? What would happen if they ran into an alien that was actually Apollo, IE the old gods WERE ALIENS! (History Channel, fyi, Star Trek did it first...and better). What if...
Space Rome
Space Hitler
Space Rome again except this time the are all telepathic and make a midget ride Kirk around while he acts like a horse

Space Abraham Lincoln Vs. Space Ghengis Khan

Personal Favorite
And like five time travel what would happen episodes. These generally don't have much in the way of messages, just playing around with some fun concepts. These are the episodes that are the most enjoyable and, as it turns out, some of the more memorable. People I talk to tend to remember the Tribbles episode (what if the most innocent, cute, harmless things turned out to be hardcore dangerous?) that one where the brains are betting on captured alien death matches (10,000 quatludes on the new comer!) and of course, everyone remembers Kirk Vs. Gorn, also known as THE BEST FIGHT SCENE EVER!

So yeah, in the end, not a whole lot of science. More thought experiments there to make a statement about modern society or just to play around with some totally far out concepts man. Like mind blowing.
Oh and I almost forgot. This guy:

Fabulous space criminal, ladies man, and generally great guy. I love his episodes. Thus

c) Mudd episodes, aka, pure awesome.

2) Kirk and space babes
So a lot of people go in to Star Trek thinking, "Man, I can't wait to see Kirk make it with all the weird alien chicks!"
Doesn't happen that much actually. At least not till mid-way in the second season. After that, not two episodes go by that Kirk doesn't use his Captain's charm to get out of some situation.

3) Crazy costumes and bad special effects
Oh yeah. Like all over the place. Check it.

Some people wear uniforms for martial combat. Some wear socks
and tights.

Nightmare Fuel
4) Everyones favorite crew palling around and solving problems! You know, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty!
So honestly, based purely on the show, the admiration of Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura escapes me. Yes they all represented huge leaps forward in furthering both the acceptance of race and other cultures on television, and deserve due credit for that, but as characters they just never did much. Like Uhura sings this song once, Sulu gets shirtless and chases people with a sword and Chekov makes some Russian jokes (and gets some ladies of his own) but ultimately they just are not featured that much and when they are they are generally dealing with the minutia of the ship. I mean, the total amount of dialogue each has combined wouldn't even come close to the run time of a full episode. Really, the show is about three bros and sometimes a fourth and their trips through space and friendship. Which brings me to my next point.

Why its popular:

So despite the fact that I do indeed love me some Star Trek and enjoyed this journey back to the franchises beginning, I have to admit, if I was a TV exec back then, I would have cancelled the show too. The third season, while featuring a few iconic episodes, just goes over the silly line, the bad line, and the forced lame-o moral message line too often. I mean I love seeing space Abraham Lincoln referring to Uhura as a "Negress" and then stealthing around in the brush during a battle, the former being cringeworthy historical intrigue (like watching almost any cartoon made before 1950, especially Disney) and the latter just being awesome. However, its also really really silly, just like the aforementioned two toned face guys episode, and by the end of it, I was glad it was over. However, there was something there in its short three season run the resonates to this day, something so awesome that it spawned six movies and millions of super hard core fans. For me, its because of our main characters. Its the relationship between Kirk, Spock, McCoy and sometimes Scotty and the way they approach situations that makes the show interesting and have lasting appeal. It's an amazing bromance space opera, and as such it lends itself to the kind of deep seated attachment that begets strong fan-bases .
Now I'm sure there are other reasons, such as the actual sci-finess of the show and its forward thinking sociological messages that people in the 60's may have actually thought was awesome. For me, its the bromance that remains, and will probably last for generations to come.

Would I recommend it?

Difficult to say. I had a hell of a time watching this show. But DAMN is it campy. So, here's how this breaks down. If you are a fan of...
Studying media history
Campy Sci-fi
Old school Bromance
William Shatner and his face

Then you should watch the show. If you are not a fan of the above, then maybe give the original series a pass, read about the important plot points on the Star Trek wiki and start with TNG and the movies.

Live long and prosper Lazer readers! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Planetside 2 - an MMOFPS

Happy new year everyone! (And I do probably mean "one," literally)

It's hard to believe (no it isn't) that we haven't had a post on here since June of last year! But that is going to change, because as part of my new year's resolutions, I've decided to post more stuff...and things...to the blog. So here is some stuff! (Things to come later)

Today I'm going to be talking about the newest child of Sony Online Entertainment, a MMOFPS called Planetside 2, the long awaited sequel to Planetside.

I haven't played a lot of the recent FPS titles for PC since I just got back into the PC gaming...uh...game...but I did use to play the old Battlefield series back in the day, so I got an early taste for multiplayer firefights on a massive scale. Of course, anyone who played those games knows that "massive" really meant running around by yourself a lot and maybe encountering base fights with around 30-40 people, not a far cry from the typical multiplayer FPS game, ala Counter-strike, etc.

However in Planetside 2, SOE has changed the game - we're talking 3 different continents of sandbox style fighting, with up to 2000 people on each continent. This can and does make for some very epic battles, with hundreds of people fighting to capture or control small territories at a time. And as for running around alone? Sure you can if you want to - be a lone wolf  or go as an infiltrator and get behind enemy lines to help destroy strategic targets for your faction. But team play is where it's at in Planetside 2. SOE has done an exquisite job of encouraging this aspect of the game and making it genuinely fun. Simply hit "insert" to be automatically assigned to a squad, or join an outfit (clan) and join up with ranks of like minded soldiers like yourself. Every squad is contained within a larger platoon, and each squad and platoon has a leader, capable of setting objectives on your mini map. You can communicate with your platoon, squad, outfit, or even yell out to others in your proximity using voice chat that supports almost 200 channels at one time.

Why is rolling with a platoon so much better than going it alone? One word: ZERG. Zergs are the equivalent of the US rolling through the gulf in Desert Storm, and when two opposing zergs collide, all hell breaks lose. The video below shows a night time battle (days turn to night and back again) in which a zerg meets another.

Sony does a great job rounding out the immersiveness of the game by using high quality sound samples and lighting effects that really bring Auraxis (the planet you're fighting on) to life. On the frontlines you'll hear the sounds of battle all around you, but should you find yourself shot down in the middle of no where, you'll hear the sound of crickets chirping, the wind blowing, wolves howling, and the low bass sound of shells falling in the distance.

The dynamics of sound in this game are spot on, and coupled with that is the music you'll hear depending on what faction you are a part of. I play as New Conglomerate, who are the freedom fighters/anarchists of the game. As such, their music is naturally totally badass heavy metal licks complete with face melting guitar tones and electric violin solos. This music plays when you are waiting to respawn and just as you are getting close to capturing or losing a base. Needless to say, PS2 knows how to get you pumped! Check it out:

NC capture music

Now, things are not all bacon and gravy just yet. The team at Sony still has some kinks to work out, such as encouraging more level combat between infantry, armor, and air forces (it's still the best out there though, in my opinion), increasing ground capabilities against aircraft, and revamping the XP system. But I have confidence they will address these issues in time. The game is still in it's awkward years, and we'll have to wait patiently as it grows. But it's still a solid fun time. And the best part of all?!


That's right, built with the League of Legends concept in mind, your experience can earn you sidegrades and upgrades (of course, you can still drop money to buy guns, but they're very pricey. I would highly suggest waiting for deals - SOE will occasionally double or triple the value of your money during these times).

So naturally you're asking, is it pay to win? Well, no, not exactly. It certainly doesn't hurt though. However I still roll with a lot of the default weaponry. For the most part, the default guns for infantry work very well, and are improved only with sidegrades, which can only be upgraded with XP. As for armor and aircraft, there are some definite upgrades that you might consider purchasing right off the bat, designed to efficiently kill infantry, armor, or aircraft, whatever suits your fancy.

Did I mention it's free to play? Stop taking my word for it, go download it, and give it a try. If you're like me, you'll enjoy the thrill, chaos, and hilarity that full scale PvP war tends to produce.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Miami Connection: The greatest B movie ever?

First and foremost, watch the shit out of this.


OK. So that looks like one hell of a time. I was crying tears of manly exuberance and flexing shirtless by the end of that trailer. Sadly, that mood didn't last because I couldn't for the life of me find a copy of it! DAMNIT! I was PISSED. So, I re-focused my chi, remembered the virtue of patience, and I waited. For many moons I sat in a state of near constant readiness for this view-stravagansa, and finally, one day at the local rental place, I got my wish. There it was, in all its majesty...well not quite...DVD instead of VHS but whatever, I'll watch it on its non-intended future format. I put out the call to some tight bros and a gathering was had, and Miami Connection was watched, and this is what I have to say about it.

First and foremost I was kind of shocked by this movie. Not by how bad it was or how ludicrous the plot and events were. No, I was surprised by how mediocre of a B movie fun time this was (initially). I mean, don't get me wrong dear readers. This movie has everything. We are talking rad 80s jams courtesy of Dragon Sound, motorcycle ninjas AND redneck ninjas who, during one scene, spend a minute or so talking to each other with no discernible dialogue until one clearly says "Salami", sweet/awful fight scenes, a dude with a mullet and a dad stash, totally baffling editing and scene selection, a whiney black guy crying for six minutes, even some badass Tae Kwon Do ninja death rage explosions. It also has...

Total Bros

Face to fist style

And this

You know, everything that would make this movie amazing. And it should. But...despite all of this, during the actual experience of this movie, I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed. Sure I laughed, and there were collective exclamations of WHAT THE FUCK? Even so, the laughs were spaced pretty far,  the enthusiasm sometimes kind of forced and afterwords I was kind of just like...meh. I had fun but really, if you were to talk to me right after the movie, I probably would have given it a strong 6. Watch it if you've got nothing else really to do, but nothing to write home about. 

However...days passed, and I began mulling it over in my mind. I began singing "Friends" with those who were present at the viewing like all the time. I thought about how awesome the word salami now sounded. I thought about using martial arts to destroy motorcycle cocaine ninjas. More importantly, I really really wanted to watch it again. I haven't yet, though not for lack of trying. But the desire is burning inside me like a fiery Stan Bush pump up jam. OR better yet, a song about friendship and martial arts sung by a mulleted man and his buddies. I don't know folks. This might either be a miss, or we could be looking at a totally A+ quality movie that hits you differently than your standard shitty movie fair. It hits deep, speaks to your soul, becomes one with your very being, and leaves you wanting more. So, try this movie  out, which may be the result of some Tae Kwan Do buddies, thinking they are great at martial arts who then all formed a band about how great they are and then SHIT the band was so great they made a movie out of the martial arts band. I can't say its the best B movie ever, but its certainly special. I live you with a few choice lyrics for inspiration from Dragon Sound.

Friends for eternity
Loyalty, honesty
We stick together through thick or thin

Friends forever 
We'll be together
Were on top 
Cause we play to win

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sledge Hammer: A Salute to David Prior

Back! After all this time, wallowing in the depression of having a bachelors degree and still slaving in the service industry, I have been brought back to the hallowed pages of the Lazer blog by a spectacular film, not surprisingly from the 80s.

You know, sometimes the way the little things in life work out is just awesome. Here I am, at the movie store with some bros I haven't seen in awhile, looking to rent the juggernaut of a B movie "Miami Connection" (which I will be reviewing soon) and low and behold its been checked out. SHIT I scream within my own mind, disappointment crushing in around me as a deep ocean crushes the hull of some badass submarine. Suddenly, excitement and commotion to my right, and I see my friend holding a dvd. Its called Sledge Hammer, and boy does it look shitty. HUZZAH!

We promptly rent it (as well as Nothing But Trouble, confirming Dilly's review as 100% on the money) and, for the next 87 minutes myself and my closest friends were treated to a master work of failure. This movie is so far beyond incompetence its staggering, yet not only does it exist but the director, David Prior, now and forever amongst my heroes, made a career from this shit show. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the review of what is quite possibly one of my top five favorite terrible movies of all time. 

To start, lets flesh out exactly what I mean by incompetence. A lot of the movies I watch have a great deal of incompetence (Troll 2, Samurai Cop etc) but Sledge Hammer really takes the cake. Its the most total and complete guide on what to do wrong when making a movie I have seen so far. Honestly, if you are an aspiring film maker, watch this movie, take notes, and never ever ever do anything you see in this movie. The movie opens with a scene which I can only assume accounted for 50% of the total budget, what with the REALLY bad sledge hammer to the head shot. Theres some gross sexy times between some gross people and a kid gets locked in the closet. This, for whatever reason, turns the kid into a sledge hammer wielding...ghost...murderer...I guess...its not really clear, though there is some lovely and long slow motion converge of the lock on the door being manipulated. After the scene ends with a skull splat we are treated to something like a 15 second establishing shot, maybe more. In fact, the vast majority of this movies 87 minute running time is establishing shots; Shots of the outside of the house, shots of people getting out of a van, slow motion shots of people walking and "being in love", shots of door knobs being turned in slow motion. Holy crap, this is one well established movie. The rest of the movie is a horribly cobbled together mess of characterization through dudes being totally shitty to their girlfriends, and youths being killed  in really confusing ways. The main actor is a muscle bound douche nozzle, also known as Ted Prior, featured here

who dumps mustard on his fiancĂ©s head, spurring on the greatest food fight in film since Animal House. His fiancĂ© looks and acts more like his little brother, which is why we nick named her little bro. Theres some total slob of a bro with a beard, his forgettable girlfriend, some blonde chick that wants to bone the most amazingly mulleted/dad stached actor ever, and finally some weird turd in the background that dies first and no one really seems to notice or care, all being killed by some crazy tall dude who is sometimes a little kid, both wearing a mask for some reason as they are both ghosts who probably don't need masks. Honestly, its a fucking dream team. 

This movie is a non-stop laugh riot. I can't really fault David Prior for his incompetence. This movie looks like David picked up a VHS camera, got some friends together for a weekend, watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and decided to make something like it without any of the creativity, effort, or affect, but adding a sledge hammer. I mean look at the bad guy, TCM all the way. 

On the Lazer scale, this is a solid FUCK YES rating. Watch it. Laugh. Live. BRO.