Thoughts on Furious 7

Furious 7 — and the entire (The) Fast and (the) Furious franchise — doesn’t seemingly merit the praise I laud upon it. As an action series, there’s an expectation for it to hit specific beats and move on. And it certainly does that with aplomb; fast driving here, explosions there, punches aplenty, attractive women looking attractive… But at the same time, this series packs more heart into it, more appreciation for its characters and their diverse personalities and quirks, more respect for the audience than we would ever expect of normally-mindless action flicks.

Are there crazy physics-and-logic-defying sequences that stress the limits of suspension of disbelief? Certainly, and possibly more in Furious 7 than anything prior (and that includes Fast Five’s giant-safe-tethered-to-two-cars-driving-at-speed-being-used-as-sliding-wrecking-ball). If that’s going to be a problem for you, I might suggest sitting this one out. (The guy who sat next to me at last night’s IMAX screening was quite vocal in his disapproval of the stunts presented onscreen; I fear he may have been in the wrong theater. Or state.)

But at the same time, there’s a movie-long romance arc about Dom and Letty’s relationship (I assume you’re all equally on first-name basis with the characters) being strained by Letty’s persistent amnesia (let’s all just move on from that bit), and a respectful farewell for Brian’s character that doubles as a teary-eyes goodbye to Paul Walker.

There’s a revisiting of the scene and characters from Tokyo Drift — a film made ten years ago with none of the characters from the previous films as a crazy effort to breathe new life into a waning franchise, no forethought of an ongoing story, but which became the springboard for an arc spanning five films — to dovetail Han’s death/funeral with Owen Shaw’s drive for vengeance. No action movie I can recall has story seeds running through the veins of a decade of films; most exist movie-to-movie, trying to reboot a series with every release to sustain public interest, keeping only one or two actors in to maintain audience recognition (and probably to keep the budget down).

James Wan had a difficult task of taking over for Justin Lin, who had directed films 3-6 and established the long arc, and continuing those story threads into their next phases. He successfully weaved Han and Gisele’s death, Walker’s struggles with the doldrums of domestic life, Shaw’s defeat in Fast and Furious 6 acting as ghost from their past for a new antagonist in Jason Statham, and the aforementioned Letty amnesia into a beautiful tapestry, while still giving everyone in this (now slightly smaller) ensemble cast appropriate screen time to continue to develop their characters and simultaneously kick ass. He even brought in new faces such as the brilliant hacker Ramsey and the mysterious US government agent/benefactor/plot driver Mr. Nobody, both of whom I expect to see in future endeavors.

And there’s no doubt in my mind that there will be future endeavors. Although the actors got to pay their respects to Walker in character and let his character sunset in as fitting a way as I could have ever imagined, it’s also clear that their love for Walker motivated them to give this movie a proper heartfelt ending. That same motivation, that shared experience amongst cast and crew, will no doubt continue to drive them to keep telling their story as long as there’s a story to tell. They’ve lost someone special to them, and instead of throwing in the towel and canceling the film they can now be catalyzed to carry on. The cast, like the characters they portray, are family.

That mutual love, adoration, and respect is ever-apparent onscreen, and serves as yet another indicator that this series is special. The cars, the jet-setting, the action, the spectacle… It all hides something much more profound and powerful than I ever expected to find in movies like this. In the end, that heart is what will keep bringing me back.

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Some Stream-of-Consciousness Thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars

OB_IMG - The Fault in Our StarsVan Houten is as wrong about characters as a character/person can be. They do exist beyond the pages. But this book has taught me that their lives are just as fleeting as the supposedly more “real” lives we all possess. Characters are real, but just as assuredly do they continue living past the last chapter, they also eventually expire.

Hazel wanted to know what happened to the characters surrounding Anna because that will also be the mystery of her loved ones when she passes. She’s frustrated because she can’t know what will happen to Isaac, or Augustus, or her parents. When she dies, it’s the end of her personal story, but hearing what happens after Anna’s last sentence is cut off would ensure her that a world continues on.

I was so fearful that this book would pull a Van Houten and cut off Hazel’s sentence.

It occurs to me now that Van Houten’s cutoff robs the reader of important closure that they get when grieving the loss of a loved one. Augustus’ death is tragic, and I felt real pain and shed real tears as I read. It hurt like any loss I’ve ever suffered in life. I was Hazel for those pages. But Anna’s mother and hamster get no such closure. Their story is eternally paused, their opportunity for closure taken from them. As Hazel, I got to see the story continue. I got to experience how awful a world without Augustus truly is, but I also got to see that there WAS still a world to grieve in.

Van Houten got everything right about death and dying except for the eternity that follows. He thought a story can just be a first person perspective of a slow decline, but the story belongs to the other characters as much as it does to the protagonist. Anne Frank’s story is also Otto Frank’s story, and the story of the museum’s patrons. Anne Frank’s story has a chapter about Hazel and Augustus kissing in her childhood home, and of strangers applauding two teenagers finding love in a place normally reserved for reverence. The act happened in spite of reverence, and was itself a reverent act because it played a part in Anne Frank’s life after life.

The Fault in Our Stars is An Imperial Affliction is Anne Frank’s Diary is John Green’s dealing with the loss of Esther Earl (despite and because of his disclaimers).

That book thoroughly knocked me on my ass.

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Hollywood Unoriginality Ratio: Quantum of Solace

Geoff, Kyle and I walked down to Century 12 Downtown in San Mateo last night to take a gander at the latest James Bond flick. Though I have been a big fan of Bond movies in the past, I hadn’t seen one since The World Is Not Enough, as that film (and the previous, Tomorrow Never Dies) left something of a bad taste in my mouth. I still consider GoldenEye to possibly be the best Bond movie ever made, so it was disappointing that they couldn’t keep up the momentum. The later Brosnan films went heavier on the action and lighter on the comedy, which didn’t really feel very Bond-ish to me at all, so I wasn’t in a hurry to see it through to its logical conclusion.

Okay, I’m done with the Bond film name-dropping now. Quantum of Solace was a great film! Perhaps somewhat ironically, it was the turn to more serious storytelling that won me over. The movie portrayed a more inexperienced 007, but also a more passionate one, a more believable character with faults and moments of realistic clumsiness. Bond can make mistakes! I also found it amusing that the Bond girl with the stupid jokey name was the one to get killed early on. I was afraid I’d have trouble following a direct sequel film without seeing the previous, but I think I would have been okay even if I hadn’t read Casino Royale. A fine flick that sheds all the old clichés to deliver a solid compelling story! That’s what I would say about Quantum of Solace if I were the kind of person that writes movie reviews. Thank goodness I am not.

“Come on man!” I hear you protesting, “We must know what trailers preceded this movie you saw last night!” I do apologize for keeping you waiting. On the bright side, with this post several months after the last HUR, there’s no trailer overlap!

Seven Pounds
I had absolutely no idea what was going on in this trailer. Apparently Will Smith sells his house to some lady at the beginning, and then… no, seriously, what the hell was going on? The trailer seems to make allusions to there being seven different stories intertwined around Smith’s character, but gives no real sense of how anything is connected. Or which parts were even different stories. Anyone want to provide some input on this? Did it make any sense to you? Points for ORIGINALity are vastly cancelled out by generic vague boring trailer clichés.

The International
Stop the presses! Clive Owen plays a guy that shoots guns and protects a lady?!? It’s an odd typecasting, but I suppose it works for him. Make sure you watch this one for a glass-breaking shootout scene that would seem to exceed every glass-breaking shootout scene ever made before. In terms of how much glass is broken. That building looks like it was designed to be shattered by Clive Owens’ bullets. Hooray for more ORIGINAL screenplays!

Star Trek
Hooray for trailer #2! Whereas the first was basically the biggest tease in the world, the new trailer delivers some genuine content. Zachary Quinto was a brilliant choice for a young Nimoy-alike, even if I keep thinking he’s going to kill Kirk and steal his woman-seducing powers. Simon Pegg’s Scotty clip, though brief, gives me additional hope for a better film than *shudder* Nemesis. Finally, J.J. Abrams has proven himself to me with the amazing success of Lost, so I’m extra-pumped that this will breathe some much-needed new life into a dying franchise (thanks a lot, Enterprise). Of course it’s an ADAPTATION and a PREQUEL, but it’s also friggin’ Star Trek! I’ll go see it in theaters like I have every other one since Generations.

Yes Man
Wait, didn’t Jim Carrey already star in a silly comedy wherein he was forced to respond differently to situations, with supposedly hilarious results? I wish I could label this as unoriginal based on its similarity to Liar Liar, but luckily I don’t have to! It’s based on a 2005 biography of the same name! ADAPTATION. Also stupid-looking.

Bedtime Stories
Adam Sandler is doing kids movies now? For Disney?! I thought his whole appeal was his crude adult humor, and I can’t imagine he gets to do much of that in a Disney film. Instead he’s being surrounded with lavish CGI dream sequences. At least he gets sprayed in the eyes with flame retardant. ORIGINAL, though none of the storytelling segments appear to be anything but derivative. Also: was that music from the Back to the Future Part III score in the western story? Why yes it was.

The Day The Earth Stood Still
Color me very wary. I am a huge fan of the original film; it’s rare that science fiction stories are told so seriously as they were in that brilliant allegory. While this movie looks like a perfectly solid sci-fi experience, it would seem to bear little resemblance to its predecessor. The potential destruction of Earth appears to be happening in the movie, whereas the original gave warning of dire consequences if our ways were not altered. I suppose you need action to sell tickets. I probably will go see this REMAKE, mostly because Keanu Reeves makes me crack up whenever I even think about him.

Valkyrie
Welcome back to movies, Tom Cruise. Can’t say I missed you. Despite his presence, if we have to have ADAPTATIONs, at least they chose an interesting true story (the 20 July plot, specifically). I was amused to find that this story has been retold in movie form many times before, but hey, maybe there’s something new to add to it. Maybe they pull off the assassination this time! *fingers crossed*

TOTAL: 57.14% 4/7

As of a November 22nd screening of Quantum of Solace at Century 12 Downtown in San Mateo, CA, Hollywood is geared for a season of 57.14% unoriginality. Not a bad ratio at all, and beyond that, I might even go see a few of these! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rent Casino Royale. Thank you, Daniel Craig, for renewing my faith in the Bond franchise!

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LostWinds: Episode 1?

Two weeks ago, Nintendo finally unveiled their WiiWare download service, wherein developers can distribute small games through the Shop Channel for direct download. I must confess that most of the titles didn’t interest me at all (except Dr. Mario Online Rx, but that wasn’t available at launch), but after seeing a trailer for LostWinds via the new Nintendo Channel, I knew I’d have to give it a try. The novelty of tossing Toku around with the Wii Remote pointer function representing gusts of wind was too cool to pass up, and I’m glad to say I enjoyed every minute of the game.

That said, one aspect of this game bothered me: no one told me it was an episodic title.

Now I don’t have any inherent qualms against episodic games. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Sam & Max series, I bought Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One the day it came out and am loving it, and I eagerly await Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People‘s debut on WiiWare next month.

My issue lies with the fact that I bought LostWinds with no indication present that it wasn’t going to have an ending. I was getting into a serious groove, gaining new wind powers, becoming more skillful in my blowing-around prowess, and fighting a novel “put your newfound powers into practice” end boss, and suddenly the game goes into epilogue “To Be Continued” mode! Credits rolled just as I was really starting to enjoy the game! Witiff?

Please note that this would not have bothered me one smidgen if it had been clearly identified as part of a series on the box (er, the digital eBox). When a game starts with a cutscene talking about evils rising and a hero is revealed to stop said evils, you expect some serious evils-punching by game’s end, not another cutscene talking about how you really need to get around to that someday. Anyone that beat Golden Sun (and *sigh* Golden Sun 2) knows exactly what I’m talking about here. At least with Rain-Slicked Precipice, I know I’m in it for eighty-some-odd bucks by the time it finishes. How much will it cost me to see LostWinds through to its conclusion? And will I still be interested by the time I find out?

Oh yeah, for anyone that hasn’t yet finished LostWinds, Golden Sun, or Golden Sun 2… spoiler alert.

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A warning about reviews of classic games, and a review of a classic game: Battle Lode Runner

For the record, I totally side with Tycho’s stance on the matter (I probably sided with him before he even said it in the comic): game reviews with numerical values are pretty much meaningless when it comes to classic titles.

Battle Lode Runner - Title ScreenSo to summarize this post: this game is fucking Lode Runner. Any fans of the Lode Runner games (ones that own a Wii, anyway) should grab it up immediately, and for shame on you for not noticing its availability on the Virtual Console sooner.

For everyone that hasn’t played before, for whom the self-evident sentiment above is meaningless: Battle Lode Runner is a game worth playing. It has dinosaurs, robots, gold… uh, Chinese guys… The object of the game is to collect all the gold in the level and escape before the enemy du jour makes physical contact with you (game heroes are such xenophobes). The only means you have of protecting yourself (beyond running away like some kind of coward) is to dig a hole in the ground. If an enemy falls in the hole, they’re temporarily incapacitated, giving you a chance to dance on his stupid head. That pretty much describes it! Go get ’em! The puzzles quickly get downright insidious, so you’d better get the game mechanics down fast.

I used to play a great Mac version back when I worked at a daycare center (I watched kids sometimes too! Honest!), so I was thrilled at the opportunity to grab up a nice classic version on the Wii.

The NES version is okay, but the Turbo-Grafx 16 edition is better-polished and includes more robust multiplayer modes for only a dollar more. IGN’s review (I was curious) says you should get it because it was the first VC title not previously available in the United States, but that’s stupid; you should play it because Lode Runner is a great game that deserves more than the relative obscurity it has fallen prey to, and Battle Lode Runner is a solid entry in the series.

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A Brief Praising Of Super Paper Mario

Super Paper Mario - Dimentio - Bad Joke

Super Paper Mario is quite possibly my favorite game to come out for the Wii so far. Yes, I am indeed comparing it to Twilight Princess, and the Zelda game pales (pales, I say!!) in comparison. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game from the Big N that so perfectly captures the fun and joy of 2D platforming (New Super Mario Bros. didn’t even come close), while at the same time bringing in a fascinating new game mechanic (flipping into the Z-axis) and pulling it off so well. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they combine it with a great story and excellent writing; I can’t remember having laughed so hard at game dialogue in a long time (besides the unintentionally funny stuff… JOSEEEEEEPH!!!). And as a big fan of the 8-bit scene, I can’t help but appreciate it when Mario turns into a giant NES pixellated version of himself, or when he gains a tiny NES Mario posse to assist him (though they end up having the opposite intended effect: instead of them protecting me from enemies, I try to protect them from harm, but they really don’t make it easy; they seem to be designed to fall off ledges and bump into Goombas). If there’s one thing I could change, I’d allow the non-Mario party members to use the flip technique. I hate not being able to stay in Peach form for any extended period of time.

Oh, second thing: they really dropped the ball by removing a dash button. What kind of 2D Mario platforming game doesn’t have a dash button? The answer is the Super Paper Mario kind.

That’s about all the naysaying I’ve got about the game. Here’s a part I thought was God-damned awesome:

Super Paper Mario - Fracktail “I AM ERROR”

Of course, I’m the biggest Zelda II: The Adventure of Link fan on the planet (I checked), so I may be a little biased. Still, awesome beyond belief.

I’m fairly certain that anyone reading this blog is already intimately familiar with the game, and probably bought it before I did (lousy GameStop with their only having enough copies to satisfy pre-orders… at least Best Buy came through for me this time), but I cannot stress enough that this is a game that all Wii gamers need to own and play. So I’ll stress it some more! This game rocks the Wiizzy.

And now for some puns. The flipping mechanic adds a whole new dimension to gameplay. It really does provide a certain sense of depth that 2D games often lack. Okay I’m done.

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You make a garbageman scream

Read Narbonic, everybody! It’s Narbonically delicious! Also it’s temporarily out from behind its subscription wall, so move quickly. Stef got me hooked, and now I’m paying it forward. Read them all!

Unfortunately, now that I’ve read through it all, I am woefully out of things to do. I’m not bored exactly, but I am awake. Even though it shouldn’t be a mood, I’m using it anyway, because it fits. I am not asleep. Also there is some pizza.