Movie Review: Looper [2012]

Looper [2012]

Looper [2012]
Director: Rian Johnson
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels
Runtime: 118 minutes

After 2005’s criminally overlooked Brick, it’s great to see director/writer Rian Johnson and lead star Joseph Gordon-Levitt collaborating once again. This time around, with a clever time travel sci-fi premise and a bigger budget, the results are even more impressive.

Looper takes place primarily in the not-so-distant year of 2044, with the focus being on a group of assassins known as “loopers.” Their job is to wait in a cornfield for their victims to be sent back to them from the future (2074), blindfolded, where the loopers promptly shoot them and collect their rewards. It’s a relatively easy job, but their one rule is to never let anyone escape, even if that means their future selves.

Looper [2012]

That’s exactly what happens to Joe Simmons (Gordon-Levitt). When presented with the prospect of killing his future self (played by Bruce Willis), Simmons hesitates, and as a result his target gets away. Now on the run from the mafia, Joe has to hunt down himself in order to complete his job. The plot gets a bit convoluted from there, adding in some romance with a single mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), and a mission to kill the future Rainmaker, a crime lord who is wiping out the loopers one-by-one. There’s a lot to digest, especially since time travel is involved.

Multiple viewings are definitely going to be helpful in analyzing and understanding Looper‘s multiple layers, but this is still a film that can be appreciated on its surface. For one, time travel is just one aspect of the film, and it is not the primary focus. This is more about the struggles of a particular character (Joe), in which time travel just so happens to have caused the conflict. Now, there are potential discrepancies with the time travel logic in the film (as expected with this subject matter), but for the most part, it works.

Looper [2012]

When I heard that Gordon-Levitt and Willis would be playing the same character, I had to do a double-take. The two really look nothing alike in reality, but thanks to the wonders of Hollywood makeup, the resemblance between the two in Looper is uncanny. Both stars deliver strong performances to boot, with the centerpiece of the film being an especially entertaining diner conversation between the two. Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels also excel in their supporting roles, each integral to the film’s development.

In the end, Looper is a rather intelligent film that is both fresh and entertaining. There is a lot to take in, but it’s a fun ride, and it makes for one of this year’s more enjoyable experiences.


Movie Project #23: The Fly [1986]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Fly [1986]

The Fly [1986]
Director: David Cronenberg
Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz
Runtime: 96 minutes

David Cronenberg’s The Fly starts off innocently enough as a simple sci-fi story. Jeff Goldblum is Seth Brundle, a reclusive scientist who meets journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a networking event. Brundle has been working feverishly on a scientific breakthrough and jumps at the opportunity to show off his work to a pretty lady. Veronica follows him to his home/lab, where she makes the stunning discovery that Seth has a set of “Telepods” — teleportation devices that can transport inanimate objects from one area to another.

Teleporting living creatures is still a work in progress, as his most recent attempt ended up with a baboon bloodily turned inside out. Somehow a spark ignites between Seth and Veronica, and they begin spending more time together. A romantic encounter reinvigorates Seth, and this leads to him figuring out a way to successfully transport living objects.

The Fly [1986]

One night, paranoid that Veronica is hooking back up with her former partner, Stathis Borans (John Getz), Seth gets drunk and decides to test his Telepods on himself — the very first human subject. The teleportation is successful, but there is one small problem (literally) with the test: there was a fly in the tube with Brundle.

It takes some time for the effects to kick in, but Brundle eventually begins turning into a fly. This is when the movie transforms itself from not just sci-fi but to full-blown horror as well.

The Fly [1986]

Parts of Brundle’s body begin falling off. His fingernails. His ears. He starts vomiting profusely. He develops the ability to cling to walls and ceilings. All of this is captured expertly by Cronenberg and his makeup crew, with some disgustingly impressive gore and so-called “body horror” effects. Seriously, this film has a reputation for its graphic special effects, and it does not disappoint at all in this regard. The Fly actually won an Oscar for Best Makeup, and it still holds up remarkably well today.

Underneath the horror and sci-fi elements is a tragic love story between Seth and Veronica, with Stathis finding himself entangled as well in the bizarre happenings. There is a surprising amount of depth to The Fly, and for those who can handle the excessive gore, there will be something for everyone to enjoy. Goldblum and Davis are fun to watch together, and the story, while familiar, is a good one. Chalk this one up as my favorite Cronenberg film so far.


Movie Review: Prometheus [2012]

Prometheus [2012]

Prometheus [2012]
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-Fi
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
Runtime: 124 minutes

Ridley Scott’s latest film is one that I had minimal interest in at the beginning of the year. Sir Ridley has been very much hit-or-miss with his work in the last decade, and a return to the deteriorating Alien universe seemed to have all the makings for another disappointment. But then the viral marketing kicked in.

First it was a video of Guy Pearce, as the character Peter Weyland, delivering a speech about his vision for the future. Soon after came a new batch of breathtaking promotional images. Longer trailers were released, as were teaser clips. In April, a video clip introducing the David 8, a robot played by Michael Fassbender, began making its rounds. My level of anticipation began to grow with each new piece of promo material, and by the end of May I was genuinely excited to see what Prometheus had to offer.

While the movie’s marketing campaign ranks as one of the all-time greats, it may have been a little *too* good. Could a film looking this awesome possibly deliver the goods? Well, yes and no.

Prometheus [2012]

As far as recent sci-fi films go, Prometheus is one of the better ones I have seen. I am generally not a huge sci-fi guy, but I was hooked right from the beginning. It helps that the film’s concept is an intriguing one — one that asks all sorts of questions.

Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green star as Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, respectively, an archaelogist couple that has discovered an amazing star map that may shed some light on the origin of mankind. After receiving funding from the Weyland Corporation, the duo join the crew of the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map and see if their findings are legit. When they reach their destination, it doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the fan. They quickly realize that they are not alone.

Who/what else is on this moon? Why did the star map point in this direction? Is this really the home of the creators of the human race? What’s up with this black gooey stuff? Why is there a giant statue head inside this large dome? Why is there a decapitated body inside? What does all this mean?

Prometheus [2012]

The characters, not to mention all of us viewers, ask so many questions but get so few answers in return (certainly not unexpected given that Lost creator Damon Lindelof co-wrote the script). There are some serious thought-provoking ideas in place here, especially when it comes to religion and evolution. Prometheus is one of those movies where you’ll want to talk about it with your friends immediately afterward. There are just so many big ideas mentioned that it would be impossible to get answers for all of them. Undoubtedly, this will infuriate some, but it will at least lead to some fruitful (albeit often polarizing) discussions.

Prometheus is hampered a bit by its batch of characters. With such a large crew on board, it’s difficult for the majority of them to receive fleshed-out storylines, and therefore we don’t really feel too attached to most of them. They also have a habit of falling into sci-fi/horror stereotypes, occasionally acting irrationally for no reason. In a way, this is expected for the genre, but it does feel a bit out of place when compared to the cerebral nature of the overall film.

Prometheus [2012]

Regardless of their actions, not enough can be said of the very impressive cast. Noomi Rapace is tremendous to watch as her character evolves into a spiritual successor for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and it’s great to see her continue to succeed in Hollywood. The other absolute highlight of the film is Michael Fassbender’s performance as the android, David, in a role not too far off from 2001‘s HAL 9000. Quite simply, he owns the screen every time he makes an appearance. Charlize Theron fits in well as the supervisor from Weyland Corporation, a strong assertive female with a strict set of rules for her ship. I was also particularly pleased with Idris Elba (Stringer f’n Bell) and his charismatic ways as the vessel’s captain.

Prometheus is a visually stunning film that delivers some impressive eye candy (which everyone can enjoy), and it has a killer concept with a bunch of great ideas. It doesn’t quite live up to its lofty potential and excessive hype, but it’s still a damn good sci-fi film that is engrossing from beginning to end. Fans expecting a direct prequel to Alien will be disappointed, but if you go into the movie with an open mind you should walk out mostly satisfied.


Movie Project #16: The Truman Show [1998]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Truman Show [1998]

The Truman Show [1998]
Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney
Runtime: 103 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see The Truman Show. Maybe it was because I thought it would be too similar to Edtv, a likeminded film I remember seeing around that time period (though now I honestly don’t remember much about it). Perhaps it was because I had reservations about Jim Carrey in this type of role. Whatever the case, I am glad that I included this in my new project and finally seeked it out.

Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, a man who is unknowingly under surveillance 24/7, the star of a TV show he knows nothing about. He has been filmed since the day he was born, set up in an artificial world built under the watchful eye of its creator, Christof (Ed Harris). The life designed for Truman is not unlike what you would find in Suburbia, U.S.A.: he has a loving wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), a stable desk job, and a best friend (Noah Emmerich) to drink beer with. Every detail has been thought out, and a large number of viewers watch his show every day.

The Truman Show [1998]

Things begin to go awry when Truman suspects something is off with the town he lives in. Strange happenings occur on the 30th year of the show. A falling spotlight from the artificial constellation above nearly hits him on his way to work. Later, his car radio picks up a strange feed from the show’s crew, and Truman hears them describing his actions in real time. The kicker, however, is when Truman sees his allegedly dead father on the street dressed as a homeless man. Before he gets the chance to talk with his “father”, the man is whisked away on a bus by the powers to be.

Now questioning just what the hell is going on, Truman becomes determined to leave his town and see what life is like outside of Seahaven.

The story sets itself up as a drama, but also as a sneaky satire that lends way to some amusing moments. There are several funny jabs at in-show advertising. Characters make sure to show product logos at all times, and occasionally make the sales pitch to go along with them. Even Truman’s wife is in on the act.

Jim Carrey was given a chance to show off his dramatic acting chops in this movie, and he passes the test with flying colors. Right from the start, Truman is easily likable as Carrey injects his natural charisma into the character without going overboard. He still has his funny moments, but they are much more subdued (when compared to, say, The Mask or Ace Ventura).

The Truman Show [1998]

I was also impressed with the rest of the cast, a laundry list of strong names that add quite a bit to the film even in small roles. Laura Linney and Ed Harris are terrific, but the pleasant surprises of seeing Natascha McElhone (as Truman’s forbidden love interest), Paul Giamatti (a control room director) and Peter Krause (Truman’s boss at work), among others, were great as well.

In a way, The Truman Show was a bit of foreshadowing for something that would happen the year after its release: the debut of CBS’s voyeuristic TV show, Big Brother. Looking back now, the movie is even more relevant today with the unfortunate rise in popularity of these so-called “reality TV” shows. Hell, the film even has its own psychological delusion titled “The Truman Show Syndrome“.

I quite enjoyed The Truman Show, and I am happy that I saw it for the first time in 2012 with several years perspective. It’s not a perfect film — there are some ideas that I would have loved to have seen elaborated — but its sharp satire and strong cast really hit the spot for me.


Movie Review: The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]

The Hunger Games [2012]
Director: Gary Ross
Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Runtime: 142 Minutes

I don’t know what’s more shocking — the fact that a movie about kids killing kids has been a monster box office smash, or that author Suzanne Collins claims to had never heard of the Japanese cult hit, Battle Royale, before writing The Hunger Games. Of course, stories about people killing people for the sake of sport are hardly anything new. Before Battle Royale, there was The Running Man, and shortly after its release came Series 7: The Contenders. While an intriguing concept, it is amazing that such a violent storyline was written with young adults in mind.

Set in a dystopian environment, The Hunger Games shares its name with an event set up by a repressive government. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are selected from each of twelve districts via a lottery to become participants (or “tributes”) in the games. The goal is to be the last person standing. If not, you’re dead.

The Hunger Games [2012]

We follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old who boldly volunteers to take the place of her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who was initially elected to participate. The other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who we later find out is in love with Katniss. Since The Hunger Games event is presented as a television broadcast, the creators try to stir up a romance between these two for those watching in the districts. In fact, the creators have full access to the games and can alter the environment in order to pique the interest of its viewers. This adds an interesting dynamic to what is essentially a spectacle of murder.

Although 24 children are selected as tributes, we really only get to know two (Katniss and Peeta). This fits in line with the idea that nearly all of them will die, but it does not translate well to the film. When one minor character is killed off, director Gary Ross tries desperately to tug at our heartstrings, even going so far as to show an extended, impromptu burial. While fans of the books may appreciate this scene, it felt forced to me and I was rather apathetic about it all.

The Hunger Games is a PG-13 movie, which is a tad peculiar considering its violent concept. Ross is able to get away with this in part because of the sped-up action scenes. We rarely get a clean look at any deaths mainly due to an overreliance on “shaky cam” techniques. Some of the fight/action scenes are almost unbearable to watch because of this, and it is hard to tell what is actually happening. I get the reasoning for going PG-13, but I can’t help but feel the movie would be improved if the action sequences were better executed (i.e. more graphic, matching the theme of the story).

The Hunger Games [2012]

The movie’s greatest asset is its cast, led by the surprisingly badass Jennifer Lawrence. Her stock has been rising steadily over the last couple years, but this role has just taken her to another dimension. I can’t think of a better lead for this film. Other noteworthy inclusions are Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic mentor, Stanley Tucci as the vastly entertaining MC of the broadcast, the stern Donald Sutherland as President, Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket, and Lenny Kravitz as fashion extraordinare Cinna. Even Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are competent in their roles.

While I don’t quite get all of the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, I still enjoyed the film well enough. The lack of character development is disappointing, as is the overuse of the shaky cam, but underneath there is still an absorbing sci-fi story with a unique dystopian setting.


Movie Project #47 and #48: Tokyo Story [1953] and Army of Darkness [1992]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Tokyo Story [1953]
Tokyo Story [1953, Yasujirō Ozu]
Starring Chishû Ryû, Chieko Higashiyama and Sô Yamamura.

My first Ozu film is a sad one. This highly-regarded classic follows the lives of a Japanese family in the country’s post-war recovery period. An elderly couple take the all-day train trip to Tokyo to visit their children and spend some time with them. The children, however, are all busy and have little time to be with their parents. Their eldest son, Koichi (Yamamura), is a doctor who is always on the go, and their eldest daughter, Shige (Haruko Sugimara) is a busy hair salon owner. That leaves the couple’s widowed daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara) as the only person who is able (or willing) to sacrifice work to be with them. Everyone means well, they just can’t help always being occupied.

The movie takes a depressing turn in the second half, as the mother grows ill on the return trip home. The children make immediate trips to be with her, but nothing changes. They spend little time with their parents and ultimately leave earlier than expected. In this regard, the film is bleak and depressing, yet it is also realistic. Everyone has their own lives, and sometimes it is hard to break away from them even to spend time with their loved ones. Ozu paints this in a very straightforward manner, and we are merely seeing what is a common occurrence. The movie is remarkably well-made, but it crawls along at such a slow pace that extreme patience is needed for most of it. Tokyo Story demands attention, and while I appreciate its value, I found it to be one of the more challenging films in my project. 7.5/10

Army of Darkness [1992, Sam Raimi]
Army of Darkness [1992, Sam Raimi]
Starring Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz and Marcus Gilbert.

To prepare myself for Army of Darkness, I re-watched The Evil Dead (it had been several years) and also checked out Evil Dead II for the first time. Both were a lot of fun, though I think I prefer the original due to its stronger horror emphasis. Evil Dead II sent things in a more comedic direction, and Army of Darkness took this idea and ran with it. With only a slight reliance on horror, the trilogy’s conclusion opts for a greater slapstick influence. While I was entertained for the most part, I can’t say I was a big fan of some of the humor presented. There were a handful of scenes that annoyed me more than anything, such as when Ash (Campbell) is fighting several miniature versions of himself.

Still, I loved the movie’s cheesy one-liners, several of which were later unashamedly ripped off by Duke Nukem. The epic battle between the medievil soldiers and the army of dead was great fun, and the special effects were aesthetically pleasing. I can see why this has a cult following, and I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I would rather watch the first two in the trilogy if given the choice. 7/10

Movie Project #31 and #32: Jaws [1975] and Dark City [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Jaws [1975, Steven Spielberg]
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.

I had seen parts of Jaws over the years, but had never sat down to watch the entire movie. I am kind of amazed that it has taken me so long to do so, as this is a top-of-the-line summer blockbuster flick. It’s impressive that a movie of this caliber can wait until the hour-past mark to actually show the great white shark. In fact, I found the first half of the movie to be the most fascinating, as we are watching an unseen creature terrorize a small island town. This is when the horror elements kick into full gear; we know a huge shark is out there, but since we don’t see it we feel somewhat invincible to a potential attack. But then, of course, the shark kills a couple people, including a child, and all hell breaks loose.

The second half of the movie focuses on three men — the town sheriff (Scheider), a ‘professional’ shark hunter (Shaw), and an oceanographer (Dreyfuss) — as they head out on a boat to kill the shark. I wasn’t as enthralled with this part of the film, although it did have some great moments (such as the hunter’s lengthy story about his time on the Indianapolis). Still, I enjoyed the cast, especially Dreyfuss, and John Williams’ epic score makes things even better. I can agree that this is one of Spielberg’s best. 8/10

Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Dark City [1998, Alex Proyas]
Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly.

I added Dark City to my project because I have some friends that absolutely love it, and because it was listed as Roger Ebert’s best movie from 1998. While watching the film, I was intrigued by its neo-noir style. It has obvious similarities to The Matrix, which was released one year later, and I can see why it has a bit of a cult following now. The dark atmosphere, dystopian city and intriguing sci-fi plot were all things I enjoyed from the movie. Unfortunately, the acting hampered things a bit for me.

Rufus Sewell seemed aloof and disinterested in the lead role, and I still don’t know whether I liked or despised Kiefer Sutherland’s overacting while playing the stuck-between-good-and-evil Dr. Schreber. The visual style is impeccable, but at the same time, the movie almost feels amateur-ish. I enjoyed Dark City, but I can’t help but feel that a better movie could have been made, considering the interesting sci-fi story and (normally) strong cast. 7/10

Movie Project #27 and #28: Blade Runner [1982] and The Night of the Hunter [1955]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Blade Runner [1982, Scott]
Blade Runner [1982, Scott]
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young.

I was already somewhat familiar with Blade Runner thanks to the countless samples that have been used in the worlds of industrial and electronic music. The film’s gritty cyberpunk setting is simply awesome, and the intricately detailed environments are what impressed me most. This is one of the first “neo-noir” films that I have seen, and I really enjoyed it. It’s clear that this has been VERY influential to media of all types, and one of the first examples to come to mind recently is the much-loved video game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That simply would not have been possible without Blade Runner.

I loved the replicants, especially Rutger Hauer’s character. It was a lot of fun seeing him play someone so deranged and unbalanced, and his final battle with Ford’s Rick Deckard was of epic proportions. I also developed a fond likeness for Darryl Hannah’s character and her odd-yet-sexy fashion selections. One minor issue I had was with the occasionally slow pacing, but I remained enamored with the stunning dystopian city of 2019 Los Angeles regardless.

I watched the theatrical cut, and didn’t mind Ford’s voice-over narration, though I can see how that would annoy some. I am pretty curious to check out the alternate versions now, and I get the feeling that this movie is one that will get better with each viewing. 8/10

The Night of the Hunter [1955, Laughton]
The Night of the Hunter [1955, Laughton]
Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish.

Three words: Robert freakin’ Mitchum. His role as the “Preacher” Harry Powell is the stuff of legends, and he is easily one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history. This is a guy who has “H-A-T-E” and “L-O-V-E” tattooed on his knuckles, and doesn’t bat an eye when it comes to murdering women and children. He is a sadistic man masquerading as a reverend, and he is played to perfection by the charismatic Mitchum.

Equal parts horror and thriller with a touch of Film Noir, The Night of the Hunter is very tense. Watching the two children run away in terror from their new stepfather is frightening, and there were several moments that modern horror films have clearly copied over the years. It’s a shame that Charles Laughton didn’t direct another film because this one is truly remarkable. This is one of my favorite selections so far from this project, and it is unlike anything else I have seen from this time period. Magnificent. 10/10

Movie Review: Contagion [2011]

Contagion [2011]

Contagion [2011]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Pandemic movies are hardly anything new. More often than not they tend to delve into far-fetched scenarios where zombies run rampant and feast on human flesh. In this regard, Contagion is almost like a breath of fresh air. There are no zombies, and the situation is entirely feasible.

The movie focuses on a rapidly progressing virus outbreak, not unlike the swine flu, that kills those that come in contact with it in a matter of days. It is unknown where this virus came from, at least initially, and it becomes a worldwide concern as the medical community frantically attempts to develop a vaccine. Meanwhile, people everywhere are freaking out, causing mayhem to the streets and others while trying to avoid getting sick. To put it bluntly, this is total chaos.

Contagion [2011]

Rather than dwelling on an individual story or small group of people directly involved in one aspect of the pandemic, director Steven Soderbergh chose to follow people from all over the world. The movie keeps tabs on regular folk, doctors, scientists and even conspiracy theorists. The fact that the movie is spread out with so many different subplots is both a blessing and a curse. I loved the global feel of the movie, as we saw viewpoints from all over the world. However, with so many characters introduced and then dropped in and out of the main storyline, it becomes difficult to feel any connection to them. The multi-character arc is a great idea, but a few characters here and there could have probably been cut out.

I also noticed some issues with the movie’s pacing. Even though it is labeled as a thriller, Contagion really lacks any sense of excitement. The general feeling of hysteria is always there, but the movie tends to rely too heavily on random subplots that offer little emotional weight. As a result, there are moments where things feel like they are crawling along. This is a bizarre problem for a movie that pushes through over 100 days of action in under two hours.

Even though it is difficult to get behind some of the characters, it must be stated that this is of no fault to the cast. Several of the actors have been nominated for Academy Awards in the past, and they certainly do as good as they can with their small roles. Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law seem to get the most screen time. Damon is great as a normal guy who just so happens to be immune to the disease. After his wife and one of his daughters die at the onset of the virus, he attempts to recreate a normal life with his remaining daughter. Fishburne is in excellent form as Dr. Ellis Cheever, an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jude Law delivers perhaps the most enjoyable role of all as a conspiracy theory blogger, even taking a cheapshot at blogging in stride.

Contagion [2011]

Other noteworthy additions to the cast include Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle and John Hawkes. Winslet in particular shines in her limited role, as she usually does. Cotillard’s character arc is perhaps most frustrating, as she enters and then disappears from the movie at long intervals. Again, kudos to everyone involved for getting all of these big name actors, but it would have been great to have them fleshed out some more.

Regardless of these faults, it would be inappropriate to call Contagion a bad movie. It has an excellent cast and a great concept, and I really enjoyed the tense soundtrack as well. The problem is that it simply could have been a lot better.


Video Game Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
System: Playstation 3 (also available on Xbox 360, PC, and Mac)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Release Date: August 23, 2011

Talk about a mashup of genres.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution has elements of stealth games, first person shooters, sci-fi thrillers, RPGs, and tactical espionage. It is a smart and cerebral adventure, one full of conspiracies, twists and turns. Quite frankly, this is one of the most mentally stimulating titles to come out on this current generation of video game systems.

A prequel to the original highly-regarded 2000 PC title, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in a dystopian futuristic Detroit. To be exact, the year is 2027, and a major class divide is running rampant. On one side, there are the “Naturals”, normal humans who are against any sort of genetic body modifications. On the other side are “Augs”, humans who are augmented with mechanical implants that push the boundaries of human ability.

Caught in the middle of the escalating war between the two sides is Adam Jensen, a gruff-talking security expert for Sarif Industries, one of the largest augmentation companies in the country. After a rival company attacks Sarif’s headquarters and begins torching the place, Adam becomes gravely injured and is near death before being taken in and, unwillingly, given augmentations. These modifications save his life, and when he gets back to full strength, his boss sends him out to find those who attacked the company. What Adam uncovers goes far beyond his wildest expectations.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

As a cyberpunk-themed story, Human Revolution is incredibly well written and always intriguing. While the main quests add up to a lengthy adventure, the side quests help flesh out the story more and are oftentimes just as enthralling. Typical playthroughs will last for 20+ hours, even if optional missions are ignored.

There is just so much to see and do in the game, and it helps that the environments are so fascinating. Futuristic Detroit is dark, grimy and full of seedy characters. The city is big enough that it is possible to find new things while just wandering around, but it is scaled to the point where it’s easy to walk from point A to point B without there being lengthy gaps between action. It’s amazing how well-crafted the game’s settings are.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect (and possibly biggest selling point) of Human Revolution is the fact that you can play it any way you want to. While the game prides itself on its stealth capabilities, you don’t have to sneak around. You can go in guns-a-blazin’ and shoot up everyone you see if that’s how you would rather play the game. Adam’s augmentation system allows you to build up his capabilities to suit your style, and upgrades can be earned by gaining experience and finding relevant items scattered throughout the city. While Adam starts off with fairly meager augmentations, he will be spectacularly built up by the end of the game, provided you allow him to be.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

In my first playthrough, I opted to do a hybrid of stealth and action gameplay. Both styles were a blast to mess around with, and it was easy to switch between the two. Sneaking around was perhaps most fun, which is a bit of a surprise to me since I usually prefer intense action sequences. There’s something to be said about crawling to a side of the room, staying in cover, waiting for an enemy to turn away, then taking him down with a quick knockout punch, all while surrounding enemies are oblivious. I also loved exploring areas to find ventilation shafts, which in turn would take me to previously inaccessible areas.

Exploration is a large part of the game, especially if you want to really dig into the story. Scattered throughout the environment are eBooks, “personal secretary” notes, and private emails, all of which add to the overall story when read. Considering the sheer amount of detail that went into the plot, it’s worth finding as much as you can (especially when you stumble upon some of the many humorous Easter Eggs).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]

One of the most efficient ways of obtaining information is via hacking. This is done through a mini-game that is confusing at first, but easy to get the hang of after a few tries. Basically the idea is to navigate through a series of nodes in order to reach the end target while trying to get it done as fast as possible in order to avoid setting off alarms. This is exciting in its own way, as it is always a race against the clock. As a bonus, there are hacking augmentations that can be used to make things a bit easier if you are having problems.

Flaws are few and far in between. The most glaring issue is one that will only affect those wishing to play the entire game without killing anyone — a handful of boss fights interrupt the game’s flow and can cause great difficulty for those armed with nothing more than a tranquilizer gun and some health packs. I found these battles to be a challenging change of pace for my style of gameplay, but this can certainly be a problem for those going all ninja-like.

Also, while enemy AI is generally rather sharp, there are occasions where adversaries get hung up in certain areas, allowing themselves to be casually picked off one by one. These moments are not that common, however, and do not hinder the overall combat experience.

Visually, Human Revolution succeeds in delivering a gritty and unique cyberpunk-style environment. Character models are well-designed, and animations are generally pretty solid outside of occasional awkward clipping (such as when attempting to drag bodies to another location). The aural experience is nothing short of phenomenal. The game’s soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, a perfect fit for game’s setting. The voice acting is of the utmost quality, with Adam Jensen’s surly Clint Eastwood/Keanu Reeves imitation leading the way.

In short, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the better single-player experiences you will find today. Sci-fi aficionados will love the story, shooter fans will dig the impressive amount of weapons and slick combat action, and RPG lovers will enjoy crafting Jensen in their own image. There really is something for everyone here, although the game’s slow pace may take some getting used to. Kudos, Square Enix, for delivering such a deep adventure that makes the player really feel like THEY are in control.