Movie Project #22: Stand By Me [1986]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Stand By Me [1986]

Stand By Me [1986]
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Raynold Gideon (screenplay), Bruce A. Evans (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Adventure/Drama
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell
Running Time: 89 minutes

Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body, is a favorite of many, but it took some time for me to warm up to to this coming-of-age tale.

Set in the 1950s, the film early on feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to provide that bubbly feeling of nostalgia. Songs such as “Rockin’ Robin” play in the background as our protagonists, a group of 12-13 year old boys, play cards, smoke cigarettes and mess around with guns. They represent a time since past, and Reiner does everything in his power to make us feel sentimental about this era. It’s all a bit much at first.

It was the kids that wound up winning me over on the film.

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Movie Project #17: The Iron Giant [1999]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Iron Giant [1999]

The Iron Giant [1999] 
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Tim McCanlies (screenplay), Brad Bird (screen story), Ted Hughes (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure
Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston
Running Time: 87 minutes

I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with animated films. I have quite enjoyed nearly every Studio Ghibli release I have seen, but I could do without most of the modern Disney and/or Pixar films. I added The Iron Giant to my project this year to add a bit more variety, though I have to admit I went into my viewing with a bit of trepidation.

It turns out I needn’t worry at all. Not only is The Iron Giant one of the highlights of my project so far, it’s also one of the better animated films I have seen in some time.

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Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

Godzilla [2014]

Godzilla [2014] 
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Max Borenstein (screenplay), Dave Callaham (story)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe
Running Time: 123 minutes

Sixteen years.

That’s how long it has taken for another American attempt at a Godzilla film after Roland Emmerich’s critically-maligned 1998 blockbuster. With up-and-coming director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, and soon-to-be director of Star Wars), a star-studded international cast and a massive budget, all of the pieces appeared to be in place for a proper reboot. Yet while impressive in spots, Edwards’s Godzilla unfortunately manages to be underwhelming overall.

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Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Movie Project #1: First Blood [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

First Blood [1982]

First Blood [1982]
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll (screenplay), William Sackheim (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
Running Time: 93 minutes

Before watching First Blood, I envisioned the character of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) to be a shirtless, testosterone-fueled one man army armed with a machine gun and endless ammunition. This is the image that I had been fed through the pop culture canon over the years. I was a bit surprised, then, to find a mentally damaged Vietnam War veteran in place of the fearless commando I thought I knew.

First Blood begins with a shaggy-looking Rambo wandering the streets of a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), notices him walking about and forcefully “offers” a ride out of his town. After being dropped off, Rambo simply starts walking back the way he came, drawing the ire of the sheriff. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy and drives him back for a night in jail. Once there, the rest of the police force joins in on giving Rambo a hard time for no good reason. A few officers attempt to give him some unwanted grooming; when a razor is pulled out, Rambo has a flashback to being tortured in ‘Nam, and he panics. He fights his way through the entire building, steals a dirtbike and heads deep into the mountains, now a wanted fugitive.

The police force, equal parts stubborn and embarrassed, refuse to back down, and soon tracking dogs, the State Patrol and the National Guard are all brought in. Little do they know that Rambo is a former member of an elite Special Forces unit, and the odds are actually against *them* to survive. Rambo’s mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), arrives in an attempt to talk sense into both sides, but by then it’s all too late — this is war.

First Blood [1982]

The idea of Rambo taking on an entire town’s worth of enemies is a bit ridiculous, but it never feels as outlandish as other 80s action flicks. Stallone does a tremendous job of getting us to be on his side, even as he lays waste to a poor, innocent town. He even gets to show off his acting chops in a surprisingly touching final act. The closing scene with his Colonel is what really pulls everything together, and it provides some sort of meaning to what had until that point been a relatively run-of-the-mill action film.

First Blood still has its issues — the policemen are stereotypical villains with no depth, for one — but damn if it didn’t leave on a high note. Now if only that godawful “It’s a Long Road” song didn’t play over the end credits…

7/10

Movie Project #49: The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]

The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]
Director: David Lean
Writers: Carl Foreman, Michael Wilson
Country: USA/UK
Genre: Adventure/Drama/War
Starring: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa
Running Time: 161 minutes

David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai is not a conventional prisoner of war story, even though it appears to be at first. At the beginning of this 1957 epic, a large group of British soldiers are led through the jungles of Burma to the closest POW camp — all while whistling the catchy opening strain of the “Colonel Bogey” march. It is here where they meet the local commandant, a very stern Japanese man named Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa). His orders are to make these prisoners finish the construction of a railroad bridge over the nearby River Kwai.

Saito immediately discredits any notion of fairness by ordering everyone, officers included, to begin work immediately. The senior British officer, Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), cites the Geneva Conventions and refuses to make his fellow officers work. This draws the ire of Saito, who forces every officer to stand all day in the sweltering tropical heat. Nicholson is sent off to “the oven”, a small box for solitary confinement.

At this point, it appears the film is going to be about the conflict between the Japanese and the British officers. Yet it is here where things go in a different direction.

The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]

Three prisoners attempt to escape — two are shot dead, the other is wounded but manages to get away. The surviving escapee, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Shears (William Holden), stumbles onto a village and eventually ends up in the open arms of the Mount Lavinia Hospital. Just as he begins settling into a relaxing life on the beach, he is approached by the British Major Warden (Jack Hawkins), who forcefully coerces him into “volunteering” for a commando mission. The goal? To blow up the very bridge the prisoners are working on.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, Nicholson is suffering from a very bizarre variation of “Stockholm syndrome” where he changes his tune and pushes his soldiers to do the best job possible on the bridge, even going so far as to tear down the original one in favor of starting from scratch at another point of the river. These two subplots eventually merge together at the end of the film, an absolutely thunderous, unpredictable climax.

The journey to this point is admittedly a bit of a taxing one. The film takes its sweet time setting up its plot devices, and it could use a bit of trimming at certain points. At the same time, the film is visually stunning, especially on the big screen (which I was fortunate enough to see). The Burmese jungles (actually filmed in Sri Lanka) are beautiful, with long sweeping shots of the scenery. The environment is also used to wonderful effect in the form of its sound effects — the bird calls, running water, etc. are constantly heard in the background. And of course, the whistling is insanely catchy, and it has been in my head for days.

The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]

The cast here is phenomenal, with Alec Guinness being the biggest highlight. In fact, I found myself wishing more time had been spent on his plight rather than that of the impending commando mission. Both stories are tied together perfectly at the end, but it’s Guinness’s character’s spiral into madness that I found most captivating.

Really, that’s what the film is all about — madness — and it’s even the very last word uttered on screen. Perhaps the most glaring example is how Nicholson and Shears, both prisoners of war, have completely different goals. One wants to finish the bridge as a matter of British pride, the other wants to blow it up to save his own ass. Altogether, it’s a really interesting take on the tolls of war.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is quite lengthy, but it is a viewing experience I will never forget.

8/10

Movie Project #44: Barry Lyndon [1975]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Barry Lyndon [1975]
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick (written for the screen by), William Makepeace Thackeray (novel)
Country: UK
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Romance
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger, Leon Vitali
Running Time: 184 minutes

Barry Lyndon has always seemed like an outlier in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography. When most discuss his work, they bring up The Shining, A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey (among others), but his 1975 epic period piece is often neglected. Despite my deep love for the director’s work, both the length of the film and its 19th century setting have pushed me away from watching it. Yet I should have never doubted Kubrick — this is a masterful piece of filmmaking.

The film tells the story of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), a fictional 18th century Irish peasant who somehow weasels his way into British aristocracy. His tale is fairly inconsequential and he’s not much of a likable fellow, but it is told in such a way that it’s hard not to remain engrossed.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Barry’s childhood is shaped by the death of his father, who was killed in a duel. As a teenager, he falls in love with his older cousin, Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton). Barry becomes enraged when she ditches him for the wealthy English captain, John Quin (Leonard Rossiter). The two men decide to settle their dispute in — what else? — a duel. Barry wins this battle, but is forced to flee as a result.

While on the run, Barry’s life begins to shift rapidly. He is robbed by the notorious highwayman, Captain Feeney (Arthur O’Sullivan), sending him deeper into poverty. This prompts Barry to join the British army, who are in the midst of the Seven Years’ War. It is here where his less-than-moral traits begin to surface. He deserts the army, gets caught by the Germans, enlists in the Prussian army, begins cheating at card games, and once again flees from his military position.

And that’s merely the first act.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

The film’s second act follows Barry’s life as he manages to marry a well-off widow, the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berensen). He takes her last name (now Barry Lyndon) and settles into an aristocratic role that he hardly deserves. There is no passion in their marriage, and they seem to only stay together for their young son (and Barry’s love of money). Lady Lyndon’s son from her past marriage, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), hates his stepfather, prompting many confrontations between the two. In his later years, Barry’s life begins crumbling with multiple tragedies and a rapidly increasing debt, and we watch his eventual demise.

There is a lot to digest in this film, but its slow pacing makes it easy to take all of this in. Some may consider its deliberateness to be dull or boring, but there was never a time I wasn’t engaged. This is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of filmmaking, with immaculate design and elaborate setpieces. Three of the film’s four Oscar awards were even due to its visual prowess (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design). Its soundtrack, a blend of Irish folk and classical music, is absolutely perfect for the film’s setting, and it nabbed a fourth Oscar for Best Musical Score.

Barry Lyndon [1975]

Ryan O’Neal is an interesting selection for the male lead, but his narcissistic portrayal of Barry is spot on. As I mentioned before, this is not a very likable character, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to his story, even if I also happened to be incredibly detached. To be fair, Lyndon is hardly the only selfish character in the film — nearly everyone has their negative traits on display for all to see. The supporting cast, mostly made up of character actors, is fantastic, with Leon Vitali’s emotional performance as Lord Bullington being a major highlight.

Yet with all of this praise, Barry Lyndon remains a tricky film to recommend. On one hand, it is a technical marvel that is absolutely gorgeous. On the other, it is a very slow period piece about a number of detestable people. For me, the sheer beauty of the film made the three hour runtime decidely worth it, but it’s not one I will go to as often as some of Kubrick’s other work.

8/10

Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Grand Theft Auto V
System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre: Action-adventure
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: September 17, 2013

I have a confession to make: until Grand Theft Auto V, I had never completed a GTA game. I have played every game in the series, and had a (mostly) positive experience with each one, but I would always seem to lose interest at around the 10-15 hour mark. That is not the case with Rockstar’s latest blockbuster, the first GTA game to finally get nearly everything right.

One of my biggest pet peeves with the series has been its lack of mission checkpoints. There was rarely anything more frustrating than starting a mission, driving to point A, accomplishing set goal, getting killed on the ensuing shootout back, and then having to start it all over again from the very beginning. That is not the case in GTA V — now there are multiple checkpoints within each mission, ensuring that any tedium is kept to the bare minimum.

Another huge, huge addition to the series is a brand new quick save system. That’s right — instead of having to drive to a safe house and walk into your bedroom, you can now just open your cell phone and save at any point you wish. In essence, by fixing these two major issues alone, Rockstar has succeeded in creating what is truly the ultimate Grand Theft Auto experience.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

In another bold move, the game has three protagonists instead of just one rags-to-riches story. These characters — Michael, Franklin and Trevor — are all wildly different and can be switched between at your leisure. Michael is a rich ex-convict who is going through a mid-life crisis, and he can’t resist the urge of getting back into the tempting world of crime once again. He befriends Franklin, a repo man who is trying to get out of the hood while pursuing higher levels of crime. Later, Trevor, an old pal of Michael’s, is introduced, and he is the epitome of the stereotypical GTA gamer’s play style. Trevor is a wild, out-of-control white trash psychopath who has no problems killing and torturing others. He is completely ludicrous, but he is responsible for many of the game’s most memorable moments. All three characters have their own personal missions while also working together on the main storyline.

The absolute highlight of using these three characters together comes in the form of elaborate heist missions. These require intense planning, and the game gives you two different ways to pull off these robberies. One is usually stealth-oriented, whereas the other is guns-a-blazin’. A lot of piecework is required to be successful, including recruiting NPC helpers (the better ones require a higher cut of the score), getting proper getaway vehicles and of course, scoping out the area beforehand. There are only a handful of these heist missions, but they are easily the most fun I have had in any GTA game’s main campaign, period.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Switching between the three characters is quite easy, and it works surprisingly well. For example, during a heist you can switch from one character who is engaged in a gunfight at ground level to another character who is ready with a sniper from above. Being able to switch back and forth adds a new dimension to these missions, and and they are a blast to play.

Of course, if you really want to, you can avoid missions altogether and just go buckwild in the massive world of Los Santos. Unlike in previous games, the entire map is open to you right from the start, and boy is it massive. The city is full of life, with yuppies walking down the sidewalk with frappucino in hand, bar patrons lounging around outside, people walking their dogs in the park… it truly feels like a living, breathing world. Outside of the city, there’s an impoverished, redneck town (where Trevor’s trailer is located), as well as a large mountain that is begging to be explored.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

The game is full of bonus side quests and little Easter eggs, some of which may not be discovered for months. There are tons of random events, and each character has their own unique interactions. For example, Franklin can tow illegally parked cars to earn more money, while Trevor can work as a bounty hunter. Trevor also has the distinction of being able to kidnap random citizens and then drive them to a cult at the top of a mountain, where they will exchange money for their next human sacrifice victim. Basically, you can be as evil as you want in the game.

Other improvements in GTA V include far superior car handling (especially compared to GTA IV) and much better combat controls. The gunplay, especially, is a huge step-up, as now it is much easier to lock onto an enemy. Also, dying in the game no longer erases your weapons — you will respawn with everything in tact, which is a another nice bonus.

Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]

Now, GTA V isn’t quite perfect. For one, helicopters are incredibly awkward to control, and they are mandatory for a few missions. While I was able to handle most missions with relative ease, I found myself dying much more frequently when I had to fly. It makes sense that there are flying missions since Trevor was a former certified pilot, but I could have done without being forced to use them so often.

There are also problems with the game’s writing and use of satire. The GTA series has always been tongue-in-cheek, and this game is no exception. However, some of the satire and jokes just come across as lazy. For every genuinely amusing moment, there are plenty of groan-worthy spoofs (i.e. FBI = FIB, Facebook = Lifeinvader, etc.) or overly juvenile gags. The game’s characters are also hastily written, and their reasons for working together are vapid at best. Still, shallow writing aside, I am willing to overlook most of these flaws simply because the game does so much right.

Put simply, Grand Theft Auto V is a remarkable achievement in gaming. There is just so much to do in the island of Los Santos, and every foray into its world produces new experiences. The game looks incredible — try not to be impressed the first time you dip your toes in the ocean — and it has a killer soundtrack to boot. There’s even a brand new online mode that is essentially its own full-fledged game (which will get a separate review later). In short, this is the GTA that I have always wanted, and it is easily one of this year’s must-play games.

10/10

Movie Project #32: The Wages of Fear [1953]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Wages of Fear [1953]

The Wages of Fear [1953]
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Writers: Georges Arnaud (novel), Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi (adaptation)
Country: France/Italy
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli, Véra Clouzot
Running Time: 131 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the greatest thrillers ever made. I had also never seen a film by Henri-Georges Clouzot.

Accolades: Golden Bear from 1953 Berlin Film Festival, Palme d’Or from 1953 Cannes Film Festival, BAFTA Award for Best Film from any Source

Somewhere deep in rural South America, the impoverished town of Las Piedras has become something of a final destination for many foreign drifters and washed-up laborers. The nearby American oil corporation, Standard Oil, essentially controls the town and the surrounding area, providing the main source of income for most of the townfolk. The corporation’s practices are hardly ethical, and it’s common to hear of explosions and other horrific accidents on the oil fields. Given their reckless work environment, it’s no surprise that Standard Oil would send a man to Las Piedras to recruit four desperate civilians to perform an incredibly dangerous — and possibly suicidal — task.

The request? Drive two large trucks filled with highly volatile nitroglycerine over 300 miles across some of the continent’s worst terrain. One mere bump could set off a fatal explosion.

Unsurprisingly, given the extreme poverty in Las Piedras, it doesn’t take long for some men to take up the offer. A combination of pride, machismo, and the $2000 price point prompts four men to embark on the treacherous journey.

The Wages of Fear [1953]

Mario (Yves Montand), Jo (Charles Vanel), Bimba (Peter van Eyck) and Luigi (Folco Lulli) are these brave men, all four of whom are ex-pats looking for a way out of town. They pair up, two per truck, alternating turns driving across bumpy dirt roads, unstable bridges, and rocky mountain passes.

The Wages of Fear is essentially split into two halves. The first hour or so is methodically paced, as it introduces the main characters and shares a bit of their back stories. At the same time, it does grow somewhat tedious, as unimportant characters are given too much screen time, and it’s never quite clear *why* these European ex-pats ended up in this particular town.

However, when the actual driving begins, the film really kicks into high gear. There is an overwhelming sense of dread throughout their journey, as the men’s courage is constantly put to the test. There are many, many moments where it seems like the end is near for them. For example, one stretch of the road — dubbed “the washboard” — is especially rough, consisting of nothing but bump after perilous bump. In order to traverse through this area, they have to keep their foot on the gas, maintaining a high speed until they reach the end. It’s an unbelievably tense moment, especially as they had made it a point until then to drive very slowly.

The Wages of Fear [1953]

An even tenser scene — and arguably the film’s most famous — has the men trying to navigate a hairpin bend in the mountains in order to get around construction. The only way to do so requires them to back up on an unstable wooden platform, where one crack would send them flying off the cliff to certain death.

The Wages of Fear is filled with suspenseful moments such as these, and it truly earns its status as one of the all-time great thrillers. This is a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, and given its French/Italian origin, there is simply no guarantee that there will be a happy ending, adding even more to its effectiveness. Although the film takes some time to get going, it more than makes up for it in its white-knuckle second half.

8.5/10