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Friday, November 18, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 57 - My Favorite Martian (1999)

My Favorite Martian final poster and box art.
This will be a short one:

Years after the trend of rebooting classic television series to film died out, My Favorite Martian came about to give this trend another chance.  It didn’t work.  The movie was a bland, forgettable and stupid movie plagued with issues but none more so than the fact that Christopher Lloyd just didn’t have enough character.  He was playing a cartoon and was trying to squeeze laughs out of weak material and despite his comedic ability, was definitely unsuccessful.  This is just another one of Disney’s very painful live-action movies of the 90’s, and it easily ranks among the worst movies the acclaimed studio has ever released.

The plot centers on a Martian that crashes to earth and is taken in by a failed reporter named Tim (Jeff Daniels).  After he moves in, Tim tries to sell him out by publishing a story on him but the clock is ticking because it won’t be long before “Uncle Martin” (as the Martian insists on being called) fixes his ship and heads home.  Also, Tim is conflicted as he begins to befriend the Martian and now he must choose between his career and selling out his new interstellar buddy.

This film’s biggest offense is stealing the sound effect from R2-D2 getting stunned from Star Wars during a very lame chase scene.  Really.  That’s it.  The movie is utterly harmless, and toothless (unfortunately).  The problem is its slapstick humor, sloppy CGI and bad material hold it back.  It was directed by Donald Petrie who would go on to make some truly dreadful romantic comedies (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Just My Luck, to name a few) and was written by two women who have spent most of their careers writing cartoons.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem.  This movie is written like a cartoon, not like a film, and is an example of what happens when the screenwriter doesn’t know how to put together a logical screenplay that can maintain interest for a feature length and stand the test of time.  This is a mostly-forgotten film mainly because, while no one was really offended by it, it was boring, and just plain silly.  

My Favorite Martian teaser poster.
On a more trivial note, I would like to draw attention the poster for this film.  The teaser poster (right) was pretty bare-bones but not all that bad, but the final poster (shown above) commits some of my most hated movie poster offenses.  First, it has one or more actors posing in bewildered and goofy poses (the "I-Dunno-What's-Going-On-Here-But-I'm-Wacky" shrug for instance) and the other looking either away or at the main character with a look of disgust or confusion.  This is obviously meant to convey a sort of silly attitude towards the events in the film as to say "this is a comedy" but it is a prime example of market obsoletism.  This trend has actually been around for many years and long before the days when we saw movie trailers on TV everyday, and before we could seek them out online, this was an easy way convey the tone of the film visually.  However, we didn't need this in 1999 and we do not need it today!  The second offense is that the poster tries to fill negative space with little objects and creates a sort of cluttered feel. Sometimes, simple is better.  This poster is just amateurish, and really looks like a bad Photoshop job (which it obviously was).  I know the poster has little to do with the quality of the film but I did want to point out the fact that the final poster for the film is one of my picks for the all time worst movie posters.  It fails to convey much of anything from the film and it looks like the work of a high school kid that won a contest to have his work featured as the art.  I mean, look at that image, now take out all the filler and text and leave only the two stars.  For all you know Daniels could have caught Lloyd with his wife in bed and with a shrug Doc Brown gets up and all poor ol' Jeff can do is sort of look at him with disgust while he turns and walks away.  Anything is possible!  Just use your freaking imagination!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 58 - Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

I’m not a fan of Eddie Murphy.  I think he can be funny, in fact, I know he can, but I really don’t think he’s leading man material considering his past efforts.  However, it is apparently obvious he’s far too full of himself to back down to let another star take the lead and thus we got the beginning of the downfall of one of the biggest Hollywood careers of all time.  Vampire in Brooklyn is a sort of throwback to Blaxploitation films but doesn’t really do a good job of parodying that material.  So where does that leave us?

Vampire in Brooklyn follows Murphy as a vampire who is the last of his line.  If he does not find a mate his line will end and his legacy will be no more.  So he learns (through plot contrivance) of a woman who was born half-vampire and pursues her.  In the meantime said woman, Rita (Angela Bassett) is experiencing the side effects of the convenient psychic connection she has with her half-vampire bloodline.  There’s also another love interest who longs for Rita and tries to pull her to the side of good... or something.

The problem with Vampire In Brooklyn is it wants to be a comedy and a serious vampire story at the same time.  Its mythology is founded in a series of contrived plot points rather than any established history and it just feels thrown together.  This was a transparent attempt by Murphy to cash in on the previous year’s success of Interview with the Vampire, the chilling adaptation of Anne Rice’s bestselling novel.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but at least try to do something clever or original.  This is a cynical film marketed with limited appeal and given the rush treatment typical of a Hollywood bandwagon film.

Now, those who know me knew I would go this direction, but the trend of vampire movies is back in full effect thanks to the absolutely dreadful Twilight franchise.  Today’s vampires are solemn, boring and just emo.  The vampires in the 90’s were basically the same, except they were played by bigger stars.  Therefore, we got to see people we were used to acting lively and energetically perform melancholy, sad, vampires.  I hate this presentation of vampires myself.  The display of the tragedy of immortality is such an obviously weak attempt to fabricate tension and emotion and I don’t want any of that crap in my bloody monster movie.  Granted, the original tale of Dracula had its share of this drama, but that was in a book.  Books are not movies.  They are paced differently and have a different feel about them.  If your film character is boring (as Murphy is here), you have a big, big problem.  I prefer my vampires to be menacing, powerful, fast, violent and charismatic.  YES!  That’s it!  Charisma!  The Twilight vamps don’t have it today, and Murphy didn't have it then.  

When re-watching this film, I tried to forget the fact that, while I think Eddie Murphy is a good comedian, he’s not a good actor.  I wanted to judge this film based on its merit.  That search for merit then yielded no results.  There was no reason for this film to be made.  It is a poorly-written, poorly-acted movie that fails on the horror and on the comedy fronts.  Still, I find the reason I hated this movie so much lies in the overall look of the film.  This is an ugly, dank and dismal movie and none of the characters are presented to be attractive.  Angela Bassett is a beautiful woman, so the fact that she is made to look so unattractive in this weak movie is very, very telling.  This is one of Hollywood's big fails, and was the movie that ultimately sent Eddie Murphy down the road to Razzie-ville.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Game Review: Part I

Up to this point, Uncharted 2 is my personal favorite PS3 game.  I think it exemplified the best in action gaming and had some of the best voice acting and story scenes of any game I’ve ever played.  I love the characters, I love the levels, I just loved everything about Uncharted 2.  I picked up Uncharted 3 at its midnight launch and began playing roughly thirty minutes later.  From the very beginning of the game, Uncharted 3 stood to dethrone its predecessor as my favorite game on the PS3.  By the time I completed the single player campaign, I consider it a strong candidate for the best game of this generation.

Now, full disclosure: I’m a fanboy.  I just may be the only Uncharted fanboy but I don’t care.  I adore this franchise.  I am a huge fan of third-person action games and they always tend to be my favorites (Shadow of the Colossus is my favorite PS2 game).  Uncharted has taken the genre to a whole new level, mixing great puzzles, polished shooter gameplay and terrific and intuitive platforming.  Throw in a few amazing cutscenes featuring the best acting from any video game I’ve ever played and it’s no wonder I find this franchise to be just infallible.  So, therefore, this review may be a little slanted.  I don’t want to come off too biased but I will begin my assessment of the game by saying, in my opinion, Uncharted 3 is actually a BETTER game than Uncharted 2.

The opening cutscene blends seamlessly into the first piece of gameplay, and instead of getting a traditional action camera, we see it all take place through a very cinematic, film-like perspective, and as the action progresses, the movie-like brawl continues to display solid cinematography, and this is a freaking video game!  Uncharted 3 manages to seamlessly blend the gameplay into the cinematics, and while we’ve seen this before, it has never been done this well.  It is never disorienting and always beautiful.  The simplest moments of action are transformed into engaging film scenes.  Just picture a really good fight FMV from any game and then imagine if that scene was playable. 

Considering how well-done these moments are, I must also acknowledge the fact that this game looks amazing.  Every little touch is spectacular, the faces almost always look great (more on that in a second), the environment detail crushes just about every other game (with a few notable exceptions of course) and despite all the detail in the levels it is rare that you come across a point where you don’t know what to do as key ledges and interactive objects have a subtle glow about them, though the game doesn’t often hold your hand in navigation either.

The character models also look great, and the subtle animations during dialogue scenes add life to the actors.  The full body animations of the actors are equally impressive and convincing, and all the touches like characters reaching for the wall and other objects when they walk by give more depth to the game.  The voice acting is also sublime, and every little moment of banter is highlighted with memorable and wonderfully-executed writing.  There are only a couple of moments where certain characters reach the uncanny valley (Elena and the villainess Marlowe, in particular).  It is a good sign when the character models only get sort of weird looking about 2% of the time.

Now, where a game really counts is gameplay and fun-factor, two things Uncharted 3 excels in.  The hand-to-hand combat is exciting to the point of being something you look forward to and the gunplay is comparable to the best shooters I’ve ever played.  There were a few points where Drake didn’t snap to cover properly, or jump ledge to ledge correctly, but these moments were rare to the point of being completely negligible.  The combat scenes in this game are always intense, stacking the odds against you time again.  My only major complaint is sometimes these scenes last just a little too long, where wave after wave of baddie spills into the area, and it sometimes feels a little bit like Whack-a-Mole, but the game does keep the pace up a vast majority of the time.

Uncharted 2 threw us in to a huge set of creative and complex levels and 3 does this well too.  There are moments that are filled with excitement and you really do feel like you are playing the starring role in a really great adventure film.  A particular level that takes place partly on horseback comes to mind as a candidate to replace the train wreck from Uncharted 2 as my favorite level in the series.  It is very apparent that a lot of love and imagination went into these levels and this goes double for the puzzles.
Gone are the cookie-cutter block-pushing puzzles we’ve grown to expect from games in this genre and they are replaced with complex logic challenges that require you to examine and in-game journal for clues as to what you have to do.  These puzzles are a lot of fun as they really do require you to think, but they are not so difficult that a savvy gamer would find themselves boggled by them.  I was never stuck at these puzzles, rather, I enjoyed them and they were a nice distraction from the combat that takes up roughly half of the gameplay. 

I have devoted these last two days solely to playing through the campaign and will do a write-up on the Multiplayer in Uncharted 3 in a separate review.  Now, the single player campaign alone makes this a candidate for Game of the Year, and it really is, in my opinion, one of the best games ever made.  It is so exceptional in its execution and so fun to play that I can’t really find too much fault in it.  There were few moments where I felt lost or stuck and these did not last long at all.  This is a delightful game with lots of tension and amazing action scenes, and it is now one of my all-time favorite games.  Like I said before, I’m somewhat of a fanboy, so you can take what I say with a grain of salt, but I do say, play this game.  If you love action games, if you love puzzle/platformers, or even if you just love great stories, play Uncharted 3, it is worth it for every enjoyable moment.