Epic

‘Gears’ franchise migrates… North?

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‘Gears’ franchise migrates… North?

Microsoft Studios announced its acquisition of the Gears of War franchise from Epic Studios, its original creators, today. This includes not only upcoming games that will be developed under the studio, but also the previous iterations of the series and all merchandise thereof.

The reigns for the development of future games in the franchise have been handed over to the Vancouver-based subsidiary studio of Microsoft, Black Tusk.

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Epic’s Epic Edition of Bulletstorm: Get It Now!

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Epic’s Epic Edition of Bulletstorm: Get It Now!

Yes, I am telling you to go ahead and buy a game that you won’t have your hands on until February. I know most people might pre-order a game a month ahead at the most, unless it is something so huge that you know it will be good (how early did you pre-order Cataclysm?).  But yes, I am telling you to pre-order a game that critics have yet to play and has not made a name for itself with previous versions.  Completely makes sense, right?

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Australia

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Baz Luhrmann’s few movies can be described as anything from whimsical tweaks to wild, ecstatic fantasias, but rarely have they followed any sort of formula. When I say that Australia is a good old-fashioned Golden Age of Hollywood romantic epic, I mean it in the best sense. The wild setting of Australia’s Northern Territory, the impossible gorgeousness of leads Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, and the story’s 1939 period and high stakes — it’s so grand and glorious and familiar, yet the Australian setting makes it exotic and new again. Australia (like all Luhrmann’s movies) demands viewing on the big screen — not just for Mandy Walker’s lush cinematography or the intensity of the sequences writ large — but for the sublime collective experience of being in a room with hundreds experiencing the movie together. One moment in particular elicited a mass groan of ecstasy from our packed audience, which then elicited empathetic giggles from everyone. You’ll know the moment when you see it.

The story, while engaging, is pretty standard fare, predictable by the rules that cinema has taught us. The real pleasure is in the rediscovery of what it must have felt like to see those old classics for the first time. I am not necessarily equating Australia with Gone With The Wind, even though I really did love both films; my point is the event of seeing a classic film on the silver screen with a full audience around you is an increasingly rare experience. In the film, we get a taste of what it was like back then to see the Wizard of Oz for the first time, and Luhrmann even manages to make “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” sound new and poignant again.

Kidman might lose the ranch to Carney the cattle baron (or his henchman Fletcher) unless she gets the lone wolf known as The Drover (Jackman) to help her. Nullah is a “half-caste” (born of white and aboriginal parents) child hiding on her property to escape “rescue” by the Aboriginal Assimilation missions. (For a thorough exploration of this terrible Australian legacy, see the wonderful 2002 film Rabbit-Proof Fence.) And there’s a drought. And World War II is crouched on their doorstep. And Jackman has to ride horses in open-necked shirts. The whole situation is fraught. The film is not over the top like Moulin Rouge; it strikes just the right tone of seriousness and reverence for the subject and it is crammed with action, excitement, loss, and romance.

Kidman (sporting the first suntan she ever got in her life) is clearly having a fantastic time with her buttoned-up Brit character (and no doubt being immersed in her native Australia), and it shows. She is always best as an actress when she is relaxed, and her barramundi-out-of-water Lady Ashley character is delightful. Jackman has to do no work to remind us he’s Sexiest Man Alive, but don’t forget this guy is a quadruple threat singer-dancer-actor-athlete — and he too is having a ball playing the rough and rugged Drover. Australian machismo makes that of other nations look pasty and wan in comparison. Jackman’s tanned and ripply form next to the porcelain waif Kidman speaks volumes about the colony’s divergence from the motherland.

David Wenham (Fletcher) twirls his wicked moustache with panache and bile, but thankfully never quite gets to the cape flinging “you must pay the rent” malevolence that a lesser actor might have limned. He is the lynchpin to the story, keeping the large-scale epic drama really an intimate conflict painted on a huge, luxuriant canvas. At last we come to first-timer Brandon Walters as Nullah, the boy mystic who sings his aboriginal magic and tightens the bonds among the other leads. His performance is fantastic and his eyes are as deep as Australia is wide.

If you can forgive the Elton John song over the credits (I could, my companion could not) I think you can walk out of the movie theatre feeling you got your money’s worth. Thanks to parking fees, I actually paid $25 to see this movie, and I still feel OK about it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 11/26/08
Time in minutes 165
Director Baz Luhrmann
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Titanic

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Full Freakin Price with Popcorn – NO DRINK!

I know full well that by now, you have probably been inundated by folks creaming over this movie. They are correct to do so. It has everything you could possibly want in a movie, squeezed into a bladder-bursting 3hrs and 20 minutes. There is talk of “it’s a real classic” and “Jim Cameron had better get the Oscar this year” – perhaps, perhaps…it would be unfair to the many great movies that have come out this year to dismiss them in the face of this expensive monstrosity, but BY GOD this is one fabulous movie. In fact, I was often so absorbed in just taking it all in, that I missed gobs of key dialogue.

You may know that it cost $200 million plus. You may not realize how much of that money was NOT spent on computer effects. In fact, the ONLY disappointment I felt watching this film was with the computer generated effects. Some long, lovely, sweeping shots of the boat deck as it sails are positively Myst-like. It’s a shame, too. Every CGI house in the world is listed in the credits it seems, and one of them did the cold-air breath on all the actors. *That* looks fabulous.

NOW. The real effects (i.e. the things they did with 3 dimensional real world objects) are absolutely mind boggling. Hair raising. Heart-stopping. Gorgeous reproductions of Titanic debris as it was when it was new. Most footage of sea-crusty Titanic debris underwater is REAL. Cameron developed the submarine crawlers and probes that took better actual live footage of the wreck than has ever been taken before. Titanic does have the best art department in the world and they will work for the rest of their lives with this on their resume, but the wreckage and the undersea footage is THE REAL FREAKIN TITANIC.

A wonderful shot, taken by the probe, pilots us through a ruined corridor, familiar from watching the action of the film, past a fireplace and a doorway we recognize from the Movie part, and then it seamlessly fades into how it looked back then. Stunning. Wonderful. As we drift through the silent, multi-ton/psi world that is the Titanic’s home, a faint faint echo of the music of the Titanic wafts through the soundtrack. I was literally breathless.

THEN we have this great story with a smart, independent rich girl (Kate Winslet, perfect) who fears wasting away in her shallow life (Billy Zane, wicked and handsome) falling in love with a sweet boy from steerage (Leonardo DiCaprio, bringing nothing new but nothing unwelcome)- oh, yes, and then the ship sinks. We are completely involved with their story, and their plot line is strong enough to be its own film; then, because we are so With them, when the ship is going down, we are totally emotionally caught up in the terror and the surreal fear. Oh and if you are a kook like me, you will have eyes all a-bug at the incredible spectacle of a REAL GIGANTIC 90% scale version of the Titanic sinking in real water with hundreds of real people screaming and clinging and slipping and OH my god the humanity!

On TOP of this we have a lyrical performance by Gloria Stuart, as the grownup Kate Winslet, and Gloria made me cry in the first 30 minutes of the movie. She is simply divine on camera. By the end, and I am NOT making this up, a large grown man 2 rows back was SOBBING UNCONTROLLABLY. Oh and then we have a half-developed plot about uncovering a lost diamond and some incredible hats and gowns and music and equipment and wonderful sound design and WOW. At points, my jaded, multiplex self would prepare to snort at anything maudlin, and then Cameron would just slip in and NOT manipulate me and not patronize me and it was wonderful.

Towards the end (am I giving anything away by saying the ship goes down and..er…some people die?), a nameless pair of extras, an old couple, await their death in their stateroom, and thinking about it now makes me cry. We never saw them before (or since!) but it was a beautiful moment. The characters are well drawn overall (not so much in the present day framing story) and the disaster, the fear, the BOOM of the whole thing was just so vivid. Showing a computer reproduction of the disaster in the present day segment helped us comprehend the terrible truth of the 1912 segments.

Industry types: Russell Carter, director of photography. Hire him. Deborah Scott – costumes. Hire her. Writer/director/producer/editor – James Cameron. This is a symphony. Cameron is known for being a tyrant on the set and pushing the budget envelope way past all semblance of reality, and the results are all up here. Two studios had to finance this to make it happen, and I don’t think Fox or Paramount are going to regret it. So flee the theatre before Celine Dion (UGH!) ruins the mood but be sure to clap for the art department and the stunt people (crew list roughly equivalent to the population of Rhode Island). It’s truly marvelous. Do NOT get a drink before you go in there, but the time flies by.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/23/1997
Time in minutes 194
Director James Cameron
Studio Fox/Paramount