The Dark Knight

IMHO, the movie thankfully exceeds the hype.  Heath Ledger’s performance is impressive, but does not carry the movie.  The sheer endurance and onslaught of the story is magnificent in itself  Christian Bale’s raspy voice ‘behind’ the mask isn’t ideal.

Movie Review: Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer

I think this Fantastic Four sequel comes off as one of the better sequels this year, except for the point that the plot is glaringly obvious very quickly.  That and the fact that you know a major character isn’t going to get bumped off anytime soon (otherwise they never would have managed to make enough comic sales out of it).

Think Terminator 2’s T-1000 android in liquid metal human form and a bit more athletic looking and you get the Silver Surfer.

The basic premise for this movie is that Sue Storm and Reed Richards are having difficulty trying to get married, with their fame and Reed’s compulsive working habits getting in the way, when along comes this surfer dude to prepare the world for certain doom from a world-foe that really doesn’t have a presence in terms of a character.

If you’ve seen a preview, you know that there are some power swapping antics involved, though they really don’t have as much fun with this as they could do.  This time Chris Evans (Johnny Storm) and Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm – the Thing) are comic relief though largely settled into their mainstay of evil-doer fighting, noting that we don’t see any of their day-to-day hero antics other than in relation to the main plot, i.e. not like your average Superman movie where you get to see a few old ladies saved from improbably disaster.

Apparently there are already plans for a Silver Surfer spin off.  With the charisma of a statue, I’m not sure how this will play out – will they keep Laurence Fishburne’s voice on Doug Jones’ body?

The movie was fun, but Jessica Alba (Sue) still seems too young for Ioan Gruffudd (Reed), largely because there really isn’t any chemistry there.

Movie Review: Ocean’s Thirteen

Yes, Ocean’s Thirteen is the third (and hopefully last) in this series of movies.

This one really wasn’t too complex (i.e. disappointingly no real brain power required to figure out the minor twists), though entertaining enough.  It wasn’t really that funny either.  I think we’ve all become just too familiar with the banter between Danny and Rusty and the play of Linus as a parallel running character.  Watch it if you liked the first two, but don’t expect something better.

It’s been a less-than-stellar sequel run this year overall.  Of course there have been a few opening records set.  What amuses me is that all the professional reviewers seem surprised that sequels don’t have any staying power passed the first weekend.  Perhaps it’s because they are highly anticipated but not that good, plus they are all coming out one after the other each weekend stealing each other’s trailing thunder.

So in terms of major franchises, I think that leaves Fantastic Four, Harry Potter, Die Hard and Bourne to give it a go this summer.

Movie Review: Mr Brooks

Kevin Costner is back with some style as the disturbed but structured Mr Brooks.

Ever since Waterworld (which I personally liked), he’s not had any major successes, though the Guardian last year was quite good (except for laying the Hero angle on a bit too thick).

Apparently it’s Kevin’s custom to take a year off after making a movie, so he would seem to be in no rush to boost his box office presence.

The movie gets right into it from the beginning and has sufficient suspense throughout in terms of what will be Brooks’ fate.  His alter-ego cohort is played by William Hurt, though there’s nothing that William can make his own in this script.

There’s a parallel story going on with his police nemesis played by Demi Moore (though she also couldn’t really bring any distinct differential to this character).

Mr Brooks’ wife is played by the lovely Marg Helgenberger, and you’d almost expect her to get out her CSI kit but for the fact she’s oblivious to what’s going on.  She doesn’t really factor into the story as much as their daughter does – and is somewhat underused.

The big ‘surprise’ actor in this movie is comedian Dane Cook who does a reasonable job of focusing the stereotypical self-deprecation or insecurities of a comedian, into the curious and disturbing nervousness of a wannabe bad guy.

The movie’s pace is a patchwork of slow and steady (a reflection of Brooks’ meticulousness) combined with bouts of stark violence or action.

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Don’t go into this POTC movie expecting to see a lot of Jack Sparrow humour, or in fact any of the chaos-driven outlandishness, wit and funny out-smarting/lucking that made for great entertainment in the first two.  There are a few laughs, but a whole load more action this time around.

Expect a swashbuckler of an action movie with lots of complex allegiance switching.  Expect to be totally lost if you have not seen the first two movies or have forgotten most of the plot.

If you put those two paragraphs together, you may like me, be a bit disappointed that you have to watch 2 hours and 48 minutes, waiting for Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) to do something really humourous again, instead of overusing one particular special effect on his character.  On the subject of special effects; it’s very easy to take them for granted in this movie, because none of the main characters have any cool magical attributes so no new crews of supernatural monsters – Caption Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) doesn’t even turn into a skeleton in the moon light anymore and just “arghhh”s a lot when he talks.  No real scary creatures or a spector of supernatural mystery.  The one big character reveal isn’t very well hidden.

Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) wins on character acting.  Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) was a wasted character as were the other pirate lords – they served as follow-on obedient merry-go-round stereotype humour figures.  Keith Richards‘ involvement was over-hyped.  There’s just one line in the movie that confirms his connection to Jack Sparrow, though you’d have had to miss a lot of TV to not know what the connection is.

If you blink, you will miss some of the single lines that explain the plot (which can be hard amongst all the sound effects), that is, if you even care about keeping track of it by the second hour rather than just watching the action.  With a movie this long (are typically shot out of order) isn’t not surprising that the love tale between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) held little magic until the end – and be sure to wait until the end of the credits. 

There’s one character from the previous movies that does die in a last minute heroic way.

This review is probably as much relatively longer than other reviews I’ve done, as the movie was, compared to what it could have been (and that sentence was probably just a little less complex than the movie plot), and I’ve picked out quite a few of what I believe to be disappointments in the movie.  However, I’m waiting for CNN to post the movie earning for the weekend (a long weekend in the US) to see if it’s beaten any of Spidey 3’s recent records.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

UPDATE: According to CNN, it broke the US Memorial Day weekend record, but not the Spidey 3 record.

Despite all I’ve said, this was a highly anticipated movie, likely appearling to a wider audience and it did deliver high entertainment/action value for money.  It is a Jerry Bruckheimer movie with the all-out intensity and heroes-win(ish)-by-incredulity finale that you’d expect – though not quite dumb enough luck to make it Jack-Sparrow-amusing.

Movie Review: Shrek The Third

Shrek the Third is not surprisingly the third of the Shrek movies.

It has plenty of gags and is reasonably entertaining, however (as with many 3rd movies) it’s lacking in a few ways:

  • There really aren’t any new characters worth speaking of.  Fortunately it’s easy to not notice that it is Justin Timerlake playing the main additional character.
  • The old characters are getting a little weary and Mike Myers sounds very despondant throughout most of the movie, and the reason for the fear his character gets, is not really explained.  The finale is lackluster compared to previous endings.
  • The fairy god mother is not in this movie and her son makes an insubstantial villan.
  • A lot of the gags were shown in the previews.  The best scene for me is still the one where Pinocchio is trying not to lie.  This was shown in early previews, but was fortunately held out of more recent ones.

A reasonable end to a now tired trilogy.

Movie Review: 28 weeks later

Hoping to build on interest from 28 Days Later in 2002, the new 28 Weeks Later continues the story.

Robert Carlyle is probably the best known star in terms of world-wide viewers (from The Full Monty).  When you consider that it was mostly a cast of 7 (Robert, two women, two army guys, and two new child actors), they did a good job of carrying the movie.  The use of different scenes and locations likely added to this.  I think location change and pacing is what makes many good action movies appealing including James Bond movies.

The movie begins with an incident of moral scruples and anguish (shown very well through Robert’s character) that will prove doubly haunting (albeit in a very co-incidental/human-radar way) through the rest of the movie.  It ends with the option of a wider playfield for another sequel, which only occurs because adults fail to communicate something important to children.  That depth of moral dilema (and the fact that not everyone ‘good’ survives) is what makes this movie rise above the average gore-fest.

The movie was entertaining and worth seeing if you liked the first one – just don’t expect any conclusion.

Xbox 360 vs. Sony PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii

I’ve had the 360 and PS3 since their launches and the Wii for just over a month (though it seems longer after my Zelda binge, despite it being two weeks ago).

Overall, 360 is the winner and here’s why:

  • Xbox Live – it’s the 2nd version; Sony and Wii don’t have a story for multi-player games and have weak online marketplace experiences;  PS2 did have some online multi-player support but it was game publisher specific.  Once your firewall was set up for Xbox or Xbox 360, everything just seems to work and the game lobby experience is sufficient and consistent.  Microsoft is a software company and they have played that to their advantage.  Sony is touting an upcoming ‘Sims’ or ‘Second-life’ type experience but it’s too late
  • Price – the blu-ray disc in the PS3 is a compulsory purchase even on the lower model (that they have apparently discontinued) and it may have cost Sony the industry lead they had; having a PS2 compatibility board in there cost extra money, and while it beats Xbox 360 (with it’s slow-release compatibility list), anyone hard-core enough to buy a system at launch will probably keep their old systems hooked up anyway.
  • Interchangeable rechargeable controllers (with the right battery pack) –   the 360 controllers should have come with the rechargeable batteries from the start and I went for the standalone 2-battery charging station which prevents any battery issues; the PS3 batteries are not removeable, and the Wii only seems to have limited 3rd-party solutions available
  • Games – there has been very little PS3-only goodness here and even though Xbox 360 didn’t have a large number of launch titles, they have had a year to bring them on now, giving them the hard start; Wii will still attract people for cutesy games.
  • Dashboard and in-game interface – Nintendo and Sony have finally caught on to the idea Microsoft has with the original Xbox – having a consistent in-game interface to the dashboard is very compelling.
  • Media experiences – the 360 can be a media extender to Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate or XP Media Center Edition, but if you’re like me, you’d put the computer in the same room as the 360 where the big screen is, so this isn’t the big deal that Microsoft says, and if you want TV in other rooms then it’s something to consider but they you’re probably wondering why there’s no media center extender experience for the Windows desktop; if Microsoft plays it’s cards well in the IPTV industry then the next Xbox (once broadband is 10Mbps+) could be the set-top box of choice

For the truly serious technologist or addicted gamer, there are 3 consoles in play.  For the serious gamer, there are 2 (360 and PS3).

It’s really about the experience and the gameplay – Microsoft has it hands-down on experience, and is getting their on gameplay because it’s Microsoft with a huge developer following and they’ve had a year head-start.  A few more good titles and a killer Halo 3, and things could forever become Pepsi.

For the casual gamer with kids there’s the Wii – it only has 480i (in North America or 480p with component cables) and there’s no digital audio out – but the novelty is there and some games (like Zelda) have pleasant graphics once you get passed the very obvious resolution drop.  Wii sports is family fun but it didn’t take long for us to realise that you can sit on the couch and just flick your wrist with far more precision (so RSI is still on the cards for some).  Wii may have one of the strongest back-wards compatibility stories in terms of taking Game Cube games, controllers and memory cards.  The Mii characters you can build for yourself are limited (despite the many choices) but fun for a while.  The launch games are disappointing (esp Mario), however you can buy a fair amount lot of Wii equipment and games before you hit the price of a PS3 with no games.

If you are into gadgets and technology and you are choosing one then get a 360 and make sure you get the Elite (with HDMI output).  If you have $2000 to spare, get all 3, accessories and a switcher, then spend another $2000 on a 47″+ LCD/Plasma screen (making sure it’s native 1080p, not 720p with 1080i support) and of course another $1000 or so on digital sound receiver with 5.1/7.1 speakers.

Game Review for Wii: Zelda – Twilight Princess

Not a very, um, manly soundly game title but it is nonetheless the latest in the Zelda series where you play the young male hero named Link in this 3rd person 3D action/rpg/platform/puzzle/fighting/fantasy/rpg game set in a fairly large world.

I completed it in about 60 hours (over two weeks of evenings and weekends) – I have binges of game play, then nothing for months – and it was quite addictive and enjoyable in places.  60 hours isn’t quick, but at least I feel like I got an hour’s worth for every dollar.

The game starts off very slowly and it seems like it’s going to be quite dull, but over time, the items at your disposal become far more interesting and practically an extreme sport for some.

The Nintendo platform has a reputation for child-friendly cutesy games and visually this Zelda edition is no exception for the mos tpart, but it is rated T for Teen.  The story, environments and characters get a little PG in terms of potential scariness to <10 year olds perhaps (not to mention the dodgy balloon-ride man), and the skill and patience required to beat the bosses at higher levels is something only the die-hard 5 year old video game addict would put themselves through.  I’m not sure what rating previous Zelda games had, but I could easily see parents buying this game, thinking they were getting something that starts off with cute music, but actually turns into something else.

Once you get passed the slow start, the game is very engaging, and the world map starts to grow (with city, castle, villages, open plains, underwater, snow, sand, twilight worlds…).  Also, just when you think you’ve got all the pieces to put the world to rights, the adventure takes a new turn and you’re collecting for something else.  The number of successive bosses at the end is perhaps too many.  One could easily lose the background plot if the game is played over a long period of time.

Most of the challenges support the main plot and you have a guide available – she (once you figure out the gender) provides useful tips for the most part.

The use of the Wii sensor technology is mostly limited to the controller being a sword (and something else with the nunchuck), and you soon turn off the cursor as it’s not necessary and as annoying as having tinkerbell buzzing at you all day (you’ll see what I mean if you play it).

It was annoying that there can only be 3 save slots (a Nintendo trait it seems), so if you have more than 3 people in your family…  I also didn’t like that you can’t save the game after you finish it to do further exploring (put I did save before engaging the last boss).

If you like open world adventures with fantasy characters and a good balance of exploration, dungeons, puzzles, fighting and a very light sprinkling of rpg elements then this is a very engaging game – it’s not for young children, but then you wouldn’t want the embarrassment of them beating you anyway right?

Movie Review: Next

I saw Next last night, starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore & Jessica Biel.

While Nick fit the part, there was no wow to his performance.  Julianne’s FBI agent part could have been played by a no-one.  Jessica walked around in her underwear a bit which was OK, but as with the other characters, this wasn’t a real deep-character kind of movie.  There was the opportunity for romance between Julanne and Nick (which seemed more logical given that they appear to be close in age than Nick and Jessica who didn’t make a convincing couple).

There’s a brief appearance by Peter Falk which really felt like they were just rolling him out to show you that he’s still kicking.

Don’t go to this movie if you are looking for explanations.  Go to it if you want to see how cool a foresight ability could be.

Some people have said the end was disappointing.  I’d say that if they had played on further from the end shown (which I can’t explain without spoiling it) that the ultimate end would have been boring because nothing exciting would have resulted, other than perhaps some canoodling a few weeks later.

This should have been a Jerry Bruckheimer movie to have made the action sequences really pop and appeal to a younger audience (marketing-wise) though I’m not sure they would have appreciated the end either, or that he could have squeezed enough out of this relatively short movie.

I enjoyed watching the character’s talent in action – his skill combined with a specific limitation made for a novel but consistent (e.g. superman+krypton) fallible, if perhaps somehwhat too jaded/bitter, super hero.