Sunday, February 27, 2011

Red (2010) and The Tourist (2010)

(Spoiler free!!)

I'm not sure why I'm combining a review of these two movies together. Perhaps because they both contain actors who are well known, well loved, but are starting to push their age brackets. Perhaps because I watched both films recently, and while I greatly enjoyed both, feel there's little substance to really get into a good meaty review for either. Or most likely because, I'm lazy.

Let's start with Red, because I did.

I am a Bruce Willis fan. As such, no Willis movie is ever bad. It's just... not as good as other Willis movies. Having said that, however, Red is not bad, in fact it's quite good.... it's just, not great. I love Willis in it, I loved Freeman, Malkovich, Mirren and Cox, even the girl love interest was palatable. In fact the main characters and actors who played them were all terribly quirky and lovable. The action was fun, the story was... enough to make an excuse to blow shit up with Willis at the fore front, and was it just me, or would Karl Urban play a decent Alan Wake should they ever make a movie of that game? But I digress, everyone was good, all the actions scenes were good and reminiscent of a mix of the ol' 80s style action movies with a bit of twist and flavour with modern day campy, slick action flicks like Oceans Eleven. But I still felt like there was something missing, something that made this movie AWESOME or, I guess, really memorable. I enjoyed it, I would probably enjoy watching it again and again, and perhaps even grow a fondness and better appreciation for it over time mayhaps, but all I can really say for it right now is that, it was good. If you like fun action movies, if you like Bruce Willis, check it out. You won't be disappointed... but you might not be blown away, either.

Three and a bit out of five stars.

Now to The Tourist.

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Could they have possibly picked two prettier actors in the whole wide world? No, no they couldn't have. I am also a fan of both, and while they've both been in movies I've enjoyed, they've also both been in movies I haven't. They always give a good performance, but sometimes there's only so much that can be achieved within the confines of a movie.

Luckily for the both of them, this didn't seem to be the case here. This movie was a pleasure to watch, if you can enjoy a spy-action-love story movie that doesn't test any of its genre's boundaries. It's very typical fare, but it's fare that's done very well. Everything looks gorgeous and exciting, the tasteful humour is warming, the action well paced, the acting well played, and the twist - while predictable - is still enjoyable to watch unfold. This is that spy-love novel you pick up from a book store before boarding a plane. It's clearly produced for the masses, it's not terribly original, but you can't put it down, and guiltily enjoy turning each page.

Three and a half stars outta five.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

EA Sports Active 2 - First Impressions (and other exer-games)

Aside from zombies, another small and rather sporadic interest of mine is exer-games - games that revolve around exercise. I've always been the kind of person who is pretty disinterested in sports, and found most forms of moving my body to work up a sweat to not be very fun. However, it increasingly became apparent that if I continued my ways, not only would I start gaining unwanted weight, but I would continue to have terribly poor cardio and strength, and that's not very healthy or useful. Especially in a zombie apocalypse.

So I did what everyone else did and bought a Wii Fit. And quickly learnt it was a waste of money. Wii Fit, at least the original one, is not a terribly ideal means of getting fit. The exercises are limited, and you have to constantly select each one individually, breaking up the routine of your workout, which is terribly counter productive. If you're really dedicated towards it, and perhaps if you have little experience with any physical activity at all, Wii Fit is a good starter, but I would not recommend it for anyone who wants to be a little more serious with their workout.

Look at 'dem state of the art graphics and colour design!

I then got My Fitness Coach(: Get in Shape), and it kicked my ASS. The best way to describe this game is if you've ever seen those TV shows or Video/DVDs where some guy basically does an aerobics routine, and you follow along? That's this game, however, because it is a game, instead of just the one workout you repeat over and over, the game can mix up the routines and exercises, and you can change the intensity depending on your limits and wishes. There are also routines based on what you want to do - lose weight, improve cardio, build up upper body strength, or even, yoga routines, which are pretty cool. I tried yoga and pilates and aerobics at a gym once, and they were all pretty interesting, so I guess that's why this game appealed to me so much. Plus, as I mentioned, it actually made me feel sore at the end of it, made me feel like I was doing something, and made me work up quite a good sweat.

Nnf, nff, work it, Maya, get down wid yo bad self!

However, I ended up falling out of the routine of this game, I forget why now - if I just got busy or sick or bored, and as I have a habit of doing, once I stop doing something after a while, I have a hard time getting back into it. I decided what I needed was a new game to make exercising seem fun and exciting again.

And that's where EA Sports Active - the original Wii game - came in. And it was great. It was less aerobics, more a general all around workout - it was what Wii Fit should have been in my opinion - it had fun 'games', it had stretches and exercises, but they actually put them all together into one easy workout that flowed together. It was colourful and fun and challenging and I felt it for days afterwards. Sure, it wasn't perfect, that damn leg strap almost always fell down my leg while running no matter what I wore or didn't wear, sometimes the sensors didn't pick up my movements, and some areas of the body seemed to be brushed over more than others, but for an exercise game, it was about as good as it was gonna get at the time.

Let's dance!... awkwardly!

But again I fell out of the habit, and lately I've been wanting to get back into the habit again, and it just so happens they've brought out the sequel on all systems, EA Sports Active 2. My boyfriend actually bought me the PS3 version for my birthday, knowing I was interested, and I was excited to get it and see how it compared to the original.

My first impressions: actually, not good.

Mostly, because of the inconvenience Active 2 provides for first time users. My boyfriend also got himself a copy so we could work out together. Having never played the first one, he didn't realise the resistance band needed constructing. He got into his first workout and then the game said the next exercise was going to use the resistance band, and oh whoops, it wasn't constructed. And no where - NO WHERE - in the game or booklet that he or I could see, does it explain how to make the resistance band. Luckily I still have the first Wii version which has instructions in the booklet - but why OH WHY don't they have the same page in the new game? They have SO. MANY. INSTRUCTIONS on how to use the sensor arm bands, but NOTHING on the resistance band. By the end of it all, my boyfriend got so frustrated by everything that he gave up on the first workout.

Gee EA, way to get people motivated and feeling good about working out.  :/

The stuff of nightmares!

When it came time for my workout, I had a similar experience, but with the sensors. I still had my old red resistance band from the first game, so I just used that for my workout, but setting up those stupid sensor bands took forever. I also feel they occasionally get in the way of my workout - especially during floor exercises, like knee pushups or side planks, where the arms or leg sensors come in contact with the floor; even during hammer curls, I can feel the bands scratching my arms when I press my forearm to my bicep, which isn't bad per se, it's just more annoying than anything. I also cricked my neck during the reverse crunches (which OMG ARE HARD), because I couldn't get the right balance due to the sensor bands on my arms, and while trying to adjust and looked awkwardly up at the TV, I pinched something unpleasant.

I was also surprised to see that the stupid questionnaire health survey was back. My boyfriend doesn't really agree with me on this one, but I find the questions rather redundant. Maybe because I've already answered most of them a thousand times already in the first game, but I found them redundant even then. An actual food and sleep diary, perhaps on the online website, might have been more useful than the quiz, so you could properly track what you eat and see where you could improve on your diet and how much time you're dedicating to sleep. As for asking me how important I think exercise is each day or how hard I worked out or all that other wishy washy bullshit, it just annoys me and I never really know how to answer it so I just usually put a 5 or something. I've also heard mixed opinions about the whole 'eating more = healthier' debate too, so it's interesting they try and push that.

I also find it VERY frustrating that I can't work out towards my programed course WHEN I want to. Instead, I can only work out on the 4 days that I've been scheduled for. If it's my scheduled rest day, TOO BAD, YOU CAN'T WORK OUT. Well, you can, the game provides other one time work out regimes which is cool, but why can't I power through my program? I should be able to do that without having to try and trick the program by changing my schedule (which I haven't even verified is possible) or changing my ps3 date and time. It seems very counter intuitive. "Oh hey, I feel good, let's exercise today."  EA: SORRY, DENIED. "Wut?"

So, in short, some minor inconveniences and some disappointing carry-overs from the first game to the second, didn't leave me feeling as excited and invigorated about the game as I would have liked.

My downstairs neighbors especially love it when I do jumping routines.

I have used Active 2 a few times since my first workout, and having gotten over those first few hurdles, I can say the workout routines are as good as I were hoping for, and the added online community factor is certainly interesting, although not as comprehensive as I was hoping for, but seeing as it's still in its BETA phase, perhaps they'll improve it over time.

And I am feeling good about getting back into working out, so I suppose on that account, EA has done the job. Let's just see if I can actually stick with it long enough to get all the trophies, lol.

Additional note: I was trying EA Sports Active 2 out again today. Having completed my scheduled programed workout, I was feeling good and still had some time, so I thought I'd do a short preset workout to burn some extra calories. Not only did I notice that the sensor trackers are often very glitchy as to whether they'll track your progress or not, and not only does the game leave you little time to get setup between exercises and takes too long to explain new ones - or re-explain ones it's already explained, - but the game CRASHED on me entirely right after my cooldown. I guess I can't say whether this was the game, or the PS3's fault, but either way, I lost all of my data from the workout, since it apparently only saves at the end. Very, -very- annoying. (Also, the 16 minute time saver preset workout is brutal for only a quarter hour's exercise. Wow.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Buried (2010)

I will admit, I'm a bit of a Ryan Reynolds fan. There's something about his charm and sense of humour that I find very engaging, not to mention, he isn't bad eye candy, if you're into that sort of thing. However, and most importantly, I've always thought him to be a very talented and very underrated actor. I guess there's always a stigma about comedic or action hero actors to be somehow 'sup par'. Sometimes that holds true, but sometimes it doesn't, and I guess this is a more mainstream 'serious' film that should allow sceptics to finally see that, damn yo, dis boy can ACT.

I've known about the film Buried for a while, since I periodically like to check out what Reynold flicks are coming out, but I stayed clear of too much press, not wanting to spoil myself before I saw the movie.

There are no big spoilers in this post, but if you really don't want to know anything about the movie, read no further.

The basic premise is, Reynolds is a contracted driver in Iraq. He gets attacked, and wakes up buried underground in a wooden coffin - which is where we join him. The entire film is set in the box, there are no flashbacks or cuts to what's happening outside the box. We just stay with Reynolds for the entire agonising, emotional, and very suspenseful journey. He has a cell phone, the only means of which he can try and communicate with the outside world and hope to get saved.

A time limit, dwindling oxygen and light and a cell phone battery, an unstable and unsafe coffin, unsympathetic or ignorant or politically tied people on the other end of the phone, all add to the tension of Reynold's situation. The dialogue seems very natural, the acting is of course excellent, the lighting and camera work and pacing all add to a very claustrophobic and desolate situation.

The film is hard to watch - and there are scenes of violence, just as a warning, but the movie is hard to watch not only for these, but for the suspense and emotions the film portrays, and it portrays them very well.

However, it does very little to paint a pretty picture of what's happening over in Iraq.

If you're into suspense horror films or just horrible human dramas, check this out.

Four out of five stars.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

I just finished watching a delightful film by the name of The King's Speech. Here in Japan I'm in a bit of blackout when it comes to modern cultural phenomenons, such as films or music or other pop cultural events. So I'm unsure how popular or well received The King's Speech was, although I suspect - or hope - rather well.

I won't give away any spoilers, so rest assured. The premise of the film is about King George the VI (that's early 1900s for those unknowing, rather recent-ish history, so not exactly old enough to be considered a period piece). The King suffers from a terrible stammer, and he goes through a journey with an unorthodox speech therapist to try and cure his stammer, and to come to grips with becoming King, and with friendship.

All roles are acted well, especially by those of the lead characters. Helena Carter was wonderful in her role, both as royalty and as a very supportive and loving wife. Geoffrey Rush gave a great performance as he's always want to do, and trooping on for all us Aussies, but the star was Colin Firth, a magnificent King George the VI, playing a troubled, turmoiled but resilient man, on the edge of being a broken shell of a human being, but always fighting not to slip over that edge.

The movie is touching, charming, heartwarming and very engaging. The cinematography also lends itself to telling the story without being terribly obnoxious. If there are any complaints, it's that everything is so drab and uncolourful, but then this is England we're talking about, nearing the time of the second world war, so it's only fitting given the context.

Overall, if you have a couple hours to spend, you will not waste them watching this film. I'd highly recommend it, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Four out of five stars.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)


I just finished watching Resident Evil: Afterlife and well.... let's just say it was pretty much what I thought it was going to be.

That is to say, not much.

Not that it should really surprise anyone who watched the first three movies, which left -a lot- to be desired as well. But those are for a review another day.

Let's start with what they did right... ish. There actually seemed to be a lot more tips of the hat to the games of the same name, then there did in the other movies. We have some of the same characters, both 'good' and 'evil' and supporting (the axe guy and the dogs? Ok, pretty cool), and of course there is the Umbrella Corporation. It was nice to see everyone, even if the story is so convoluted and has so little connection to the games unless (and this is only supposition) you're a major RE/Biohazard nut who spends all waking hours piecing together every bit of history and timeline that ever is or was. And you know what? Who even cares, this is RE the movie, and after the first 3 movies if you haven't learnt to just stop caring, then what are you even doing here?

the love child of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mr Smith from the Matrix... if one of them was blond.
Milla Jovavich is lovely to watch as always, Wesker was pretty nicely portrayed actually, and Chris was ok. Everyone else was fairly forgettable, and was it just me, or were the two pretty long brunettes almost impossible to tell apart? When Crystal died, I honestly thought it was Claire who had kicked it, and was wondering why everyone was being so nonchalant about her death. Literally two seconds after she's eaten, they're grinning over a gun stash. Listen, Alice and Chris, even if that hadn't been your friend/sister, you could still show a little respect.

Whatever, right. This is Resident Freaking Evil. We eat pretty B grade actress for lunch.

Anyway, the story is rather unimpressive and unimportant. There's some place/ship called Arcadia they're trying to get to, it turns out to be ANOTHER instance of Umbrella experimentation, shit goes down, blah blah blah... Seriously, does Umbrella have NOTHING better to do than experiment on every last surviving human left on this planet? How will that help anyone?

Oh right, right, who cares. Not me.

The music is pretty meh, when there even is music. The camera work is also pretty lazy at times. I swear at one point I saw someone or some cloth or something get in the way of a panning shot, and another time where the camera just plain ol' shook because someone knocked it. In fact the whole film felt rather lazy and slapdash.

The first half was certainly the worst. I will admit, it picked up a little around the second half, and almost managed to be entertaining. That first half tho, boy, was it -bad-. It was over the top in a way that wasn't even fun or enjoyable, it was just ridiculous and boring. It was even worse than I was expecting of the movie, but then the last act somewhat saved the whole thing, and bumped my overall opinion up a tiny.

 Just admit you're gonna watch it for her, and be done with it.

So I guess overall the whole film was pretty mediocre and pretty meh and pretty uninspiring.

If you're a huge Resident Evil fan or aren't particularly fussy about your action films, then you might want to check this out... if your friend is loaning you a copy. That he burnt. So it's completely free. But I wouldn't recommend spending any money on this, because you'll probably be thinking afterwards about all the things you could have bought with that dosh instead, and what you could have been doing with that time.

In conclusion: Two out of five stars, or something.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Unfinished Epics

Those who know me or read my intro, will know that I'm a bit of a gamer.

I have a lot of games I really like, some of the more recent being Uncharted, Infamous, Resident Evil 4, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Little Big Planet and Borderlands.

I really love these games and would highly recommend them, not to mention a whole myriad of others. But if I was forced to narrow down my favourites to a more select few, to state which games -really- dug into my brain, really got me hooked and wet to play, I guess I'd have to say it would be Final Fantasy VII, and more recently, Dragon Age.

However, as a gamer, I feel the need to come clean. To confess a dirty little secret. To bear my soul and beg your merciful forgiveness.

.... I've never actually finished playing either of these games.

So how is it, that games that rank at the top of my list of all time favourite games that I love and obsess about, are one's I've never even completed?

I suppose with FF7, it was a matter of spoilers. I actually didn't play the game until I saw there was this movie called Advent Children coming out that looked really shiny. I was a sucker for anime and CGI at the time, and with a little digging, I discovered FF7... and pretty much spoiled the entire story for myself. In great detail.

You WISH you could be as bad a** as Cid Highwind.

So I guess when it came time to play, I could just sit back and enjoy playing. I didn't feel the -need- to have to rush through and get to the end, because I knew what would happen. I wanted to do aaaalllllllll the side quests, wanted to get all the materia and characters, wanted to level up like a mother effer. And then something happened and I couldn't play the game for a while, and I just never really got back around to playing it again. (Well, there was that brief stint on my PSP, but I haven't played that in forever either, so...)

And I guess there was a similar case with Dragon Age.

Alistair, the most broski bro ever to bro a bro.

When I first started playing it last year, I was hooked. I quickly racked something like 70+ hours playing it within a month or so, and having only got about half way through (in case you haven't figured it out yet, I like taking my time with games.). Then I got stuck in an area that I really didn't like, and went on vacation. When I returned, I really wasn't all that enthused to return to the drudgery of the environment I'd left behind. Finally, after weeks and months of procrastination, and with a bit of playing time here and there, I completed the dreadful stage, and that's about where I'm at as it stands. True, I've been rather busy with a lot of real life stuff these last few months, and I do intend on going back to it, soon I hope, but I haven't felt that -need- that I simply -have- to play more. I'm sure I will, once I load it up again, perhaps that's why I'm dawdling, since I'm worried I might not have the time to invest in such an epic RPG right now.

Or maybe I'm just subconsciously avoiding finishing these games, because then they'll be... well, finished. And it's hard to let go the things you really love.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. Yeah, that's probably it.

What are your unfinished epics?

Friday, January 14, 2011

All things zombies (well, kinda)

So I should probably put it right out there, that I'm a bit of a zombie fan.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't live, eat and breathe zombies, I don't have zombie bed sheets or spend all my free time plotting my escape plan in the event of a zombie apocolypse (although I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it once or twice). I'm no means a zombie expert, but I do like the idea of them, in the same way I like the ideas behind most things fantasy and sci-fi. And over the last couple years especially, thanks to a general increase of zombie popularity, I've been playing a lot of games and watching a lot of movies and recently I've started reading some books about zombies, and so it should be said that probably quite a bit of what I'll review here will contain zombies.

I should also mention that when I use the word 'zombie', I do so generally in  a very loose sense of the word. Zombie fanatics will probably tell you that these zombies in that move aren't REAL zombies because blah blah blah. I guess in a nutshell, the way it seems to be is, a traditional zombie is someone that has died, and has been reanimated, and is therefore usually slower and well, dead. An 'infected' new-age zombie person, is a person that has not offically died, but has been overtaken by some kind of virus or mutation or other outside factor, which has turned the person into a mindless raging violent creature, usually a lot faster, and possibly intelligent. I'm sure there are a whole bunch of other nuances on the matter, but I'm not here to argue semantics right now. The undead, the living dead, the infected, the zombie, if they're after my flesh, then it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me really. In fact the new infected zombie seems far more interesting to me, as they tend to pose the biggest risk, and seem to be the most plausible type of plague that might actually occur (scroll to the last story). (Or maybe not, supposing they're dumb, and dead, that is). But whatever the zombie type, they can all be portrayed well, or horribly, in media, and I'd like to discuss some of those cases in later posts.

So now that that's out of the way, a bit about what I've played/watched. I guess the big two zombie games I got into first were Resident Evil 4, and Left 4 Dead 2. The Dead Rising series, for all its horrible flaws, was also really, really fun. I recently also got Plants vs Zombies, which is far more addicting and fun then it really ought to be. Also, Crazy Dave is a boss. And CRAAAAAZZYY :)

Look out! He's CRAAZY!

Fido would have to be one of my all time favourite zombie movies. I've heard mixed reviews, but personally, it hits all the right places for me, and I thought it was brilliant (then again, I watched it without knowing anything about it, not even that it was a zombie movie, and I find that films I'm in a black-out about tend to impress me more, but nevertheless, this movie is great). I'm struggling so hard not to start talking about it right now; perhaps I'll have to watch it again this weekend and write up a review on it so I can gush all about it. I also remember 28 Days leaving a big impression on me, but it's been a while since I saw it, so I can't say too much on it just now. In fact, a lot of zombie movies I watched were many years ago, when I was quite a bit younger. I'll have to go back and rewatch them all with older eyes and see how they compare, and what I think about them now that I appreiate the 'zombie' more.

Yeah, Bro, I don't trust the girl in pink either. There's something fishy about her... unlike the zombie standing right behind you...

For Christmas, my boyfriend bought me three zombie books I'm really keen to get into. A Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, The Zombie Combat Manual by Roger Ma, and another by Brooks, World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War. I've started in on the Zombie Survival Guide, but haven't got very far yet. It's been a while since I've read books, and I've fallen out of the habit; but I'm enjoying it a lot so far, while simultaneously freaking myself out at how ill prepared I am when should a zombie outbreak occur, provided all the hypothesis in the book are plausible (and some don't seem terribly so, but I suppose it's not really written to be accurate, but humourous).

Anyway, that about wraps up my overview on zombies. Like I said, a lot of games and movies I'll talk about wont have anything at all to do with zombies on this blog, but some will, and hopefully you'll look forward to reading those as much as I look forward to writing them.

Cheers for now.