Friday, February 29, 2008

Jumper: A Study in Physics

OK, this isn't really a study in imaginary physics, but my long-awaited return to the realm of online movie reviews. Why do I do it? Because all the other critics out there suck, that's why! Now lissen' up, I'mabouta lay some good quality reviewin' on yer eyes!

Jumper treats us to a fantasy that many of us have dwelt on at one time or another: teleportation. If you haven't dwelt upon it, then try dwelling now. Go ahead. I'll wait. I'm really patient that way. Think about it, the ability to go anywhere at any time. Hey, if you're in a knock-down, drag out fight with an old school rival, why not teleport him/her into a bank vault after hours? Not good enough, you say? You're in a fight to the death with a psychopathic zealot? A quick jaunt to the busy streets of London ought to do just the thing. See that double-decker bus heading your way? Why not take that along for the jump and see how your attacker deals with it? And yes, all of that is just as awesome as it sounds.

OK, OK, that's enough of the violent stuff. How about starting off your day with a sunrise in the Bahamas, breakfast in Paris, hot chocolate/coffee atop Mt. Everest, lunch in Budapest, dinner in Rome, and sunset in Iceland? Yeah, I know, the time frames are all screwed up, but you get the picture. Teleportation is a cool idea, one which had some great moments in X-Men United, but not nearly enough.

Which brings us back to Jumper. I was a bit wary of a movie featuring Hayden "I-killed-them-all-and-I-can't-stop-whining-about-it" Christensen of Episodes II and III fame. Thankfully, he did much better here as David. While his delivery could use more spirit, he was watchable. What do I need to say about Rachel Bilson, Millie besides hubba hubba hubba? (sorry mom) Unfortunately, she was not given the opportunity to show much strength as a victim caught in the crossfire of a secret war. Speaking of the war, leading the other side from the jumpers, the paladins, is our good friend Samuel Mutha F***in' Jackson as Roland (what kind of pansy name is Roland? Ask Samuel Mutha F***in' Jackson and you probably won't think that anymore.) When is it not a pleasure to watch him work? Even when he's on the other side, he's fun to watch. Jamie Bell, who was new to me (but not to fans of Peter Jackson's King Kong,) played a good foil to Christensen as fellow jumper, Griffin. Diane Lane rounds out the notable cast as David's mother, about which I will spill no beans.

Doug Liman, the director of a few of my other favorites including, Swingers, Bourne Identity, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, takes us on a wild ride through David's discovery of his power, his later discovery by the paladins, his mix-up with the hapless Millie, his recruitment of Griffin and final showdown with Roland. All while globe-hopping more than James Bond in his last three movies combined. It is an exciting ride with some good breaks to keep the pace just right. The plot made sense, the dialog was good, the acting was fair, the cinematography was excellent.

What was missing was a little more exposition. Why are the paladins so set on eliminating jumpers? Is it a divine mission or did someone wake up centuries ago and say, "I feel like committing genocide today!" While Roland gives us a little bit of the divine zealot, "Only God should be able to be in all places at once!" We don't get much by way of history beyond tantalizing glimpses of clippings and drawings in Griffin's lair (yes, lair, that's what he called it.)

We also do not get much to make us sympathetic to David. Sure, his childhood wasn't great, but he more than made up for it with a lifestyle most people could only dream of, financed in super-villain style. We're even treated to a scene of him watching flood victims while the voice over intones, "It would take a miracle to get those people out of there." I'm pretty sure a dude teleporting onto a rooftop and zipping a couple of people out qualifies as a miracle.

I would like to have seen more of Bilson, (who wouldn't, eh? Eh? Nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat! Eh? Eh?) Her character served more as a damsel in distress than a strong-willed waitress from Detroit, but in the context of the damsel, she did just fine.

I couldn't help but feeling as we watched, especially towards the end, that this was meant to be the first in a series. Maybe even a movie-theater pilot for a television series later on. Perhaps that's why we were only favored with brief glimpses into what makes this world work. If so, then I'm afraid its rather dismal showing at the box office will keep us from getting any more.

Boy, now it sounds like I didn't like the movie at all! I did! Heck, any movie that refers to Marvel's Team Up not once, but multiple times, is going to get a fair shake from me. The problems I mentioned above are not deal breakers, especially not for an off-season sci-fi action movie. I had a great time suspending my disbelief and munching my popcorn as jumpers jumped, damsels distressed, and paladins-um-paladeded. I'll be picking this movie up for my home collection when it hits DVD.

I give Jumper six out of eight teleportation after-effect swirly thingies on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything. Now, for those of you that agree with me on the Bilson topic, here's a bonus.

Oddly Related Note Dept.
Firefox's built-in spell checker tells me teleport should be deportee. What would Bush do for a few jumpers to take care of the illegal alien situation?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Disappointment in a Nerdy Way

I feel a little bad for Jon. He's been eagerly anticipating the third installment of the new animated movies that DC Comics have been releasing, The Judas Contract, featuring the Teen Titans. I understand the sentiment. Not only were the Teen Titans one of Jon's favorite teams growing up, but that particular storyline was very good. DC announced the first three animated movies a couple of years ago. They were to be about the death of Superman, a Justice League movie based on an excellent graphic novel, and The Judas Contract.

They already released the Superman movie, Superman: Doomsday. I picked up my copy of the Justice League one, New Frontier, last night. Not having time to watch the whole thing, since we'd be watching Beowulf (also freshly minted on DVD,) I popped it in long enough to see the coming attractions. Imagine my surprise when I found that instead of The Judas Contract, the next DC animated feature would be Batman: Gotham Knights.

Disappointing, really. As cool as Batman is, he's had plenty of time to hog the animation lime light. He's even had at one animated movie play in the theaters, for Alfred's sake! So, finding out that the next animated movie would be a lead-in to the upcoming live action Batman film, while understandable, was a let down nonetheless.

I can only imagine how disappointed Jon is. That's not all, though. The sneak peak of Gotham Knights confirms what may be Jon's worst fear for the iconic super hero. He's going anime.

Yup, the DVD will feature six separate stories, all animated by different Japanese directors and art houses. That means not just one feature depicted in Jon's most loathed art style, but six!

I'm not averse to anime myself. I enjoy the medium. However, I can't say I'm looking forward to Bruce Wayne's foray into the dense, steamy jungles of Japanese animation. While Jon and I don't share a hatred for all things anime/manga, we do agree that its affect on mainstream American comics is lamentable. Manga, for those who don't know, consists of hyper-exaggerated expressions and movements as well as silly idiosyncrasies such as an abnormally huge drop of sweat on a character's brow when they're frustrated or kitten ears popping up on a character's head if they're being mischievous.

These affectations have their place, they just don't happen to be where Batman is trying to instill fear in the hearts of evil doers or when Superman is trying to stop a nuclear missile from exploding. I guess what I'm saying is that I believe in a segregation of styles. "You've got your manga in my comics!" "You've got your comics in my manga!" It just doesn't work as well as chocolate and peanut butter.

There was a trend recently when exactly that happened. It seemed to hit Marvel comics harder than DC, with manga artists drawing titles such as The Uncanny X-Men. It was Not Good. I think I understand why they did it. Just a glance at your local book store will reveal the densely populated manga section that probably dwarfs the graphic novel shelves. Kids like the manga. Marvel wanted to recapture that demographic. It didn't seem to work, since more traditional art has been gracing the pages of mainstream comics again. I sincerely doubt it will be the last time I see it there, though.

As for the anime stylings of DC, I'm not sure if I'll pick up Batman: Gotham Knights. It's possible that I'm wrong. Batman may lend himself perfectly to the anime genre. It's more probable that the whole thing will blow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why MMOs Suck, or Do They?

What's this? A Web Log? A place where I can write thoughts, rants, and commentary? Why, that's brilliant! Why didn't I think of doing this before? What's that? I did? I've been here before? This is my blog? No! Really? Well then, I suppose I should write about something!

This could possibly break my self-imposed fast on MMOs.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I played the grand daddy of MMORPGs, Everquest, for a few years. It wasn't the first, but it was certainly the biggest until World of Warcraft came along. I was out of that world long before then, though.

The appeal of MMORPGs is not hard to define. The idea of a persistent world in which players can develop an avatar, form relationships, and take part in the stories in that virtual space is more than enough to lure in many people. Each MMORPG has its own quirks and features that expound on those basic principles.

A few things soured me on the genre. The biggest one is the implicit requirement to play with others. It may come as a surprise to some people that don't know me, but I'm a loner by nature. Stacy keeps me in circulation so I don't lapse too far, thanks baby. Reaching a point in the game that required me to join a group of complete strangers just to play further only served to encourage me not to play.

"But Scott," I hear you say, "Didn't you have friends that you could play with?"

Yeah, those friends would invariably either play at different times or play to the point where our avatars were no longer able to group together. "Sorry, man. I'll hang out with you for a little while though! Wait, my guild is raiding a dragon's lair, gotta go! Have fun!"


"No," you say, "That's not what I was going to say. Why not take that as an opportunity to make new friends, blah, blah, blah?"

Maybe you didn't read the paragraph where I said I'm a loner by nature? I've got friends and family. I don't need any more, especially not the kind that are obsessed with an online game like Evercrackquest.

Knowing that there was content in the game I would never see without spending hours and hours doing repetitive actions was even more disappointing to my completist nature. The game got to the point where it was a chore to sign on and kill the same monster over and over until I was strong enough to repeat the process with the next monster. I play games to have fun. When the game is no longer fun, I put it down.

So I put down Everquest. I also decided that the whole MMO lifestyle was not for me. I have other demands on my time that preclude devoting the amount of time required to really explore such games. Give me something like Mario Galaxies where I can play a few levels and turn it off, confident in the fact that when I turn it back on, I'll be able to pick up where I left off and eventually complete the game.

Even better, give me a game like LEGO: Star Wars with replayability that keeps me coming back for more and more. I'm eagerly awaiting LEGO: Batman and LEGO: Indiana Jones. You can imagine why the following article has piqued my long-dormant curiosity in the MMO realm.

LEGO Universe

The idea that I can build anything I can think of in the game and then export it to real life LEGOs alone is enough to get me to try the game out. Even if the MMO part sucks rocks, I could totally get into that part. I just hope they don't withhold the good LEGO bricks for people that complete crazy multi-part quests that require teaming up with complete strangers and performing the same actions over and over again.

Cuz then LEGO Universe can go to ****.