“Monsters” review: Sci-fi done cheaply beautiful

A beautifully shot, yet flatly acted romp through the Infected Zone.

Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing

Whitney Able in "Monsters"

When disaster strikes, panic ensues. As the situation turns dire, logic seems impossible and grief sets in. What happens when we move on?

Where the typical monster movie ends, that’s where “Monsters” begins.

Set a year after NASA discovers a possibility of alien life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, a probe sent to collect spores from the planet crash lands in the Mexican ocean. Soon after, new life forms are discovered and half of Mexico is deemed the Infected Zone.

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), an American photojournalist, is sent on a special assignment to escort his boss’s daughter Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) back from Mexico into the US.

After failed attempts to easily and safely return home, Kaulder and Sam must take their chances through the Infected Zone.

At its core, “Monsters” is essentially a road movie. The exotic scenery, the varying modes of transportation, the consistent yet so far away destination are all elements of the typical road movie, but aliens are thrown into the mix. This dangerous factor does not seem to create any sense of dread upon the journey though. Maybe due to the acceptance of the creatures or just pure ambiguity, nothing seems to phase the main characters in their unfortunate ordeal.

Trying to capitalize on their real-life relationship, Able and McNairy’s on-screen chemistry comes off as strangely dull. With flat line deliveries and boring conversations, the use of improv was wasted from these two actors.

Though not masterfully acted, “Monsters” has its scenery to rely upon.

Vast landscapes and thick jungles littered with the ravages of the creatures convey the film’s strong points. The delicate cinematography shows where this first time director’s (Gareth Edwards) roots and strengths lie. Edwards lets each shot tell its own story, but that, in turn, takes away from the actors. Paired with a subtle ambient score, “Monsters” is more a visual and aural treat than a narrative driven film.

As a cheap complete indie package, “Monsters” excels in aspects like CG, even surpassing some blockbuster films, cinematography and score to hide its minuscule budget, but its plot holes and flat performances keep this film from being the breakout sci-fi hit it has the potential of being.

Originally published on Oct. 28, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/arts-entertainment/monsters-review-sci-fi-done-cheaply-beautiful-1.2386106

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Machete review: Mexploitation at its sharpest

Machete is bringing back the exploitation films of yore into this crisp and clean age.

Property of Rodriguez International Pictures

Cutting down corruption, one limb at a time.

As the film grain hits the screen in this high-definition era, there already is a feeling of being duped.

Machete is bringing back the exploitation films of yore into this crisp and clean age. With an absence of logic and bloody blade, Machete is a disgustingly ferocious satire on America’s immigration issues and the sensibility of taking themselves too seriously.

Machete follows the exploits and “Death Wish”-esque revenge trail of titular character Machete (66-year-old Danny Trejo), a legendary straight cut ex-Federale literally cut loose by Mexican drug lord Torrez (the ever substantial Steven Segal). Machete’s incorruptible ways sends him from his loyal life with his wife and child to the deepest depths of sorrow with Torrez killing his family and marking Machete an enemy of Mexico and an immigrant worker in the United States.

As a day laborer, Machete meets Luz (the subtly angry Michelle Rodriguez), taco shop owner and image of the Mexican revolution against Senator John McLaughlin (the very faux-Texan Robert De Niro) and his campaign for harsh immigration laws.

As Machete gets deeper involved in corrupt American politics due to businessman Michael Booth (Psycho 3’s… um Lost’s Jeff Fahey), he becomes ever entwined with Immigration Officer Sartana Rivera (the post-baby Jessica Alba) and her struggles with what is right and what is wrong. From just a simple revenge plot to a full-blown revolution, Machete delivers on its explosions, plot-wise and action-wise.

Director Robert Rodriguez continues the Mexploitation genre he started. All the elements are in place. Drug lords, immigration, corruption, revenge and the search for redemption.

Though not as serious as his films in the Mexico trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico), Rodriguez ups the fun factor by making the absurd commonplace.

There is no need to question why Machete can fly through the air on a motorcycle firing a mounted mini-gun or how a man’s intestines can support his weight through a window. It just is. Rodriguez has made what he wants to have always seen in a movie and he isn’t alone.

With these absurd ideas come and an even more absurd and surprising cast. Seeing Steven Segal as a Mexican drug lord speaks volumes by itself, but adding in Don Johnson, Robert De Niro, Cheech Marin, Tom Savini and Lindsay Lohan essentially playing herself flushes logic down every Hollywood agents’ throats.

Performances from Alba and Rodriguez are as bad as predicted but considering what this film is, everything is forgiven and actually very welcomed, contributing more to that exploitation film feel and its welcomed flaws. Machete is a very redeemable oxymoron.

Though Machete has many of its flaws on its sleeve, present and proud, this self-aware attitude makes up for any of those shortcomings then gives Hollywood logic another shot to the head.

Originally published on Sept. 13, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/arts-entertainment/machete-review-mexploitation-at-its-sharpest-1.2328852

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War freezes over in Killzone 3

The war against the Helghast heats up in the tundra in the next installment of the PlayStation exclusive shooter series, Killzone 3.

Photo by Kenny RedubloThe trials of the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance against the Helghast continue with increased brutality, having players assume the role of Killzone 2 protagonist Sergeant Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko armed with new tools, weapons and moves to take down the fascist-like oppressors.

Prominently displayed at the Sony PlayStation booth, E3 attendees were given the chance to demo the game in either 2D or 3D, a first for the series and following Sony’s push for 3D gaming. The demo was split in three parts: infiltration, jet-pack and WASP, showcasing the new features of the game. The first section focused on the on-foot combat of the game, where Sev infiltrated a Helghast base with Master Sergeant Rico Velasquez as his trusty brothers in arms. This section introduced the new melee system that features up close and personal knife kills and neck snaps, adding to the brutality of the war and desperation in the new arctic environment.

The second section featured the Helghast jet-pack. Able to jump to new areas and different flanking tactics, the jet-pack provide the biggest change to the series so far. Enemies and players can fight in new high flying ways.

The third section feature the new weapon the WASP, a multi-firing rocket launcher. Players are faced against a Helghan tank with which players only means of victory is the WASP. Many players at the demo had difficulty figuring out where the WASP was on the map and were trying to defeat the tank in different ways with no success until a rep told them where to go. The game is still the pre-alpha development stages so the developers have time to provide a better way to guide players to the right objectives.

For being very early in development, Killzone 3 is shaping up to be a worthy and prettier successor to an already visually and mechanically solid title. Other than supporting 3D gaming, Killzone 3 will also support Sony’s motion controller, the PlayStation Move, increasing immersion in the war against the Helghan. Killzone 3 is aimed to release in Feb. 2011.

Originally published on June 19, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/e3-2010/war-freezes-over-in-killzone-3-1.2275722

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In the belly of the beast: PixelJunk Shooter 2 Impressions

Going with the flow, PixelJunk Shooter’s dynamic fluids and scientist rescuing antics return to the PlayStation Network with new creative game play mechanics like light and corrosive acids.

Photo by Kenny RedubloContinuing right after the first game, players find themselves rescuing more scientists from peril in even more perilous landscapes while discovering the strange inner workings of an alien planet and its inhabitants.

The E3 demo showed off two levels that introduced new mechanics unseen in the PixelJunk library. In the level “Inner Space,” the dynamic of stomach acid is introduced, where if any is splashed onto the ship, the outer hull will corrode until it is rinsed off with water.

The acid gives the game a more urgent feel and makes the players focus on the careful exploration and control of the ship.

In the level “Lights Out,” the light and dark mechanic is introduced, where players must tread carefully and quickly through the dark environments or the alien equivalent to the boogieman will destroy the ship. Though sometimes frustrating after many retries, this mechanic also adds to the sens of urgency, but also displays the harsh and dangerous enemies of the game.

Though the game play is essentially the same as the first title, these new mechanics keep the series interesting and challenging while maintaining their signature visual style of high definition vector graphics and lively color palettes. More details on the release date will be revealed later in the year.

Originally published on June 19, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/e3-2010/shooting-in-the-belly-of-the-beast-pixeljunk-shooter-2-e3-impressions-1.2275736

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Harry Potter and the Gears of Wizard War

Harry is back. Older, wiser and more bad-ass. Maturing with its audience, the video game for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a dark change to the series, mirroring games like Gears of War and Dead Space to convey that Hogwarts is at war and all rules are off.

Branching away from its light-hearted platforming roots, Deathly Hallows is a full fledged cover based third person shooter. Harry’s circumstances have changed drastically this time around. After being exiled from Hogwarts and on the run from Voldemort’s dark influence on the wizard world, Harry is in desperate times. All he can do is fight back with everything he’s got. And he’s got quite an arsenal.

Each spell at Harry’s disposal is very much an equivalent to any weapon in a third person shooter, but with some twists. Stupefy acts as Harry’s pistol, damaging enemies with single shots and reliable accuracy. Getting to the big guns, spells like confringo and expelliarmus act as a rocket launcher and shotgun, respectfully. Other spells like confundo are non-lethal spells that turns the target against their allies to disarray their tactics.

Harry’s spell repertoire add a good sense of variety to the combat, but pausing the combat to switch spells on the fly needs some work to obtain that seamless feel to the combat. The heads-up display is at a bare minimum like in the title Dead Space to add immersion in the game world, but the camera movement feels disconnected to the player and can create some problems in combat. The developer still has some time to iron out these quips before the film’s release in November, but other than that, the game is looking to be an interesting and welcome change to the series. Harry’s fight against Voldemort will not go out without a confringo.

Originally published on June 19, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/e3-2010/harry-potter-and-the-gears-of-wizard-war-1.2275742

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Learn to get your swag on with Dance Central

With a two-step and a poker face, Harmonix glides into the dance game foray with Dance Central for Kinect for the Xbox 360.

Photo by Kenny Redublo

You've never had so much fun while embarrassing yourself while sober.

Ranging from dance jams from the 80s like “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc. to modern hits like “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga, the music rhythm game giants are taking the new tech of the Kinect and teaching gamers of all kinds how to bust moves like the pros, somewhat successfully and always embarrassing to onlookers.

Presented at the MTV Games booth, attendees were given the chance to demo the game with the help of some of the game’s choreographers. Though intimidating and down right odd at first, many couldn’t help to grin after their first slide step.

Dance Central is easy to play. Just get in front of the Kinect camera and start following the dancer’s moves on the screen. For the rhythmically challenged, there is the option to “break it down,” displaying step by step how to perform each move in the song. After practicing each move in detail, players can go and perform them to their best abilities. Like any Guitar Hero or Rock Band song, the game judges how well dance moves are performed and gives a star rating at the end of the song. Based on the difficulty setting, the number of dance moves can change, the less moves being on easy and more being on hard. The difficulty setting also manages how fast the dance moves come up, with hard resulting into a well stitched together dance routine. No matter what difficulty the song is on, the sight of seeing people trying to dance and claiming they’re playing a game can gather crowds, as displayed at E3.

Songs on the demo’s setlist included: “Poison” by Bel Biv Devoe, “Body Movin’ (Fatboy Slim Remix)” by the Beastie Boys, “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga, “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc., “Galang ’05” by M.I.A., and “Hella Good” by No Doubt. Each of the songs displays different styles of dance, ranging from hip hop to house to disco, showing how versatile the game can be.

With previous dance simulators requiring some sort of dance pad or remote control and giving a sense of just pushing buttons or waving arms, Dance Central seems like the game to finally motivate people off their couches and onto the dance floor. Dance Central releases alongside the Kinect for the Xbox 360 on November 4 and BYOB.

Originally published on June 19, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/e3-2010/learn-to-get-your-swag-on-with-dance-central-1.2275749

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Setting the world on fire with the new Twisted Metal

 

Photo by Kenny Redublo

The pioneers of car combat are back with Twisted Metal for the PlayStation 3. Straying away from the dark atmosphere of Twisted Metal: Black on the PlayStation 2, the series’ first foray on the PS3 hearkens back to their roots with the almost Running Man-esque game show feel mixed with Mad Max style factions and gang wars.

The demo shown at the Sony booth showcased the 12-player online multiplayer team deathmatch mode with teams named after series’ characters Sweet Tooth (clowns) and Dollface (dolls).The fight took place on the suburbs map, echoing its roots from Twisted Metal on the first PlayStation. Sticking with the original concept of the world being the Twisted Metal tournament’s battlefield, the map complements the chaos the car combat creates. With houses being demolished and city streets littered with explosions, this contrast of everyday life turned explosive is the series’ trademark.

The game essentially plays like its predecessors with modern refinements. Each car is equipped with a variety of firearms like missiles, napalm canisters and a unique special attack ranging from flaming chainsaws to hospital patients strapped to stretchers with explosives. It’s as insane as it sounds.

Sub attacks like freeze rays and shields were previously performed by combinations entered into the directional pad, but are now streamlined to just use one direction like pressing up to freeze opponents. With these refinements, combat is much faster and more efficient than its predecessors.

Though team deathmatch was the only mode on display, more are to be announced throughout the year and the details of single player campaign will be revealed sometime before its 2011 release window. With a 16-player online multiplayer and the quirkiness and solid gameplay of the original series, Twisted metal is a more than welcome return to the beloved PlayStation series.

Originally published on June 19, 2010 @ StudentVoiceOnline.com

Original post: http://www.studentvoiceonline.com/e3-2010/setting-the-world-on-fire-with-the-new-twisted-metal-1.2275739

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