Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 10 Rottenest Tomatoes

Notice: kind of outdated as of 2014.  I have endured a crapload of cinematic trash in the two and a half years since this was first posted.

I've seen two particularly bad movies this month, which have together prompted me to compile my official worst-of list for films.  Allow me to show you my bottom 10.  Some disclaimers before we proceed: All of these movies must have been released to the public in theaters, otherwise every single Disney Channel "sitcomovie" would be on this list.  This is only a list of movies I've seen; that's why Arthur Christmas and Spy Kids 4D aren't on here.  I have judged these movies by motive first and execution second, so while Wall-e certainly looked better animation-wise and had better sound effects than some of the movies lower on this list, it sought to offend audience members and belonged higher on the list.  Astro Boy wanted to brainwash kids, while Clone Wars only wanted to entertain them; therefore, Astro Boy belongs higher.  If you know any movies you think belong on this list, shoot me a comment and I'll NOT check them out.

1. Astro Boy
This movie was not just technically horrendous, it was philosophically wrong and appallingly pagan.  The animation, plot, script, score, and voice acting were all bottom-notch, but the filmmakers also decided to send the message to kiddies that robots, man-made, unemotional objects, can be just as pure and noble as human beings, who are created by God.  In fact, in Astro Boy’s case, they can actually surpass human beings, and fire machine guns in their butts!  Heresy.

2. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Whose idea was it to make a PG-13 (should have been), sex-and-violence-packed movie out of an already junky children’s book?

3. Happy Feet
We humans are so environmentally evil and irresponsible we needed an animated movie about singing/rapping/dancing penguins to enlighten us as to our wrongdoing.  This love letter to Al Gore was painful to the eyes and the ears.  The 2nd incarnation of this bomb looks even worse with a global warming theme.  Spare the kids from the heathen indoctrination.

4. Wall-e
Once again, good robots solve for evil, irresponsible, polluting humans’ problems.  Pixar also constantly reminded Americans of their obesity issues throughout this “film”.  I remember that this movie looked appealing to eyes (though not nearly as detailed and colorful as Kung Fu Panda), but the depiction of humanity and undisguised attempt to make viewers feel guilty about themselves is unforgivable.

5. The Day the Earth Stood Still
I wouldn’t consider this as bad as some of the other films on the list if it weren’t based on a 1951 classic of the same name.  This Keanu Reeves remake completely changes the meaning of the original film, which was about man’s disposition to fear and distrust all strangers, and turns it into a simplistic and preachy environmentalist picture where the alien Klaatu is sent to eradicate all human life with the goal of saving the rest of Earth.  I remember Keanu (a sub-par actor, by the way) telling a scientist something like this: “If you live, the Earth dies.  If you die, the Earth survives.”  Being ordered to recycle during a movie is not my idea of entertainment.

Oh, and the behind-the-scenes features on the DVD show the special effects people setting a real car on fire and pulling it across a grass field.  Ethan hypocrites.

6. The Seeker
Another awful movie marketed at kids.  I think I was 12 when I read The Dark is Rising and wrestled my grandmother into taking me to see the Hollywood adaptation.  I wish I saw the trailer first.  “Based on the name of the main character of the book.”

7. Never Say Never Again
This has to be the worst James Bond movie ever made.  My dad and I used the fast-forward-button most readily, simply because the movie is extremely boring and loaded to the max with unnecessary footage.  I could honestly cut this action-and-adventure movie down to 15 minutes or less, and that's because we get one gratuitous sex scene after another with no character development in the long run for Bond, his date(s), or his nemesis.  Bond remains a womanizing loser throughout the whole movie, his women remain 1-dimensional hotties in (or out of) swimsuits, and the villain (who's arguably no less admirable than Bond) is a completely forgettable bad guy without any interesting motive, other than the usual, stereotypical desire for riches and power.  Also, for a James Bond movie, there's hardly any action.  I remember at most 5 action sequences in this movie, and none lasted for more than 5 minutes.  The special effects are pathetic as well.

(The poster isn't appropriate for my PG, occasionally PG-13 blog.)

8. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This was an obscene, licentious, ridiculously profane piece o' poo, which Dreamworks dared to market towards children under the age of 13.  All of the first movie's charm was replaced with unnecessary cussing, disgusting sex, nearly incessant OMGing, racist Jar Jar Binks sidekicks, and tiresome documentation of the escapades of unremarkable, deviant college students, in a movie supposedly about transforming robots.

9. The Last Airbender
This movie is an unmitigated disaster, and boasts probably the worst acting in film history.  The kids don’t so much play their parts as recite their lines in front of the camera in an always dull, emotion-washed voice with minimal adjustments in facial expression to express surprise, confusion, or happiness.  Admittedly, they’re not given much to work with, as the script is pathetic, loaded with corny dialogue and protracted explanatory speeches about the history of the Avatar world.  I.e., we don’t actually witness on film the fire nation declaring war on the other 3 tribes and terrorizing the land; we only hear Aang’s belabored explanations of those events.  Here’s one of Airbender’s cheesier conversations:
Aang: Do you have a spiritual place where I can meditate?
Moon-fish-girl: Oh, yes, we have a VERY SPIRITUAL place.

The Author’s remedy for this corny and repetitive dilemma:
Aang: I need to meditate.
Moon-fish-girl: We have just the place.

Exchanges like the one above combined with horrible acting – oh, and some dreadful dancing – did manage to garner some unintended laughs from me, so I do recommend renting Airbender (only for free!) if cheap entertainment is desired, despite its standing as one of the worst movies ever made.

10. Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Rather than putting this in theaters, George Lucas should have just made this the pilot to the Clone Wars TV show (which is unbearably corny).  This movie and The Last Airbender are on similar ground, but The Clone Wars is worse because it was based on good source material and had cinematic potential.  The Last Airbender is based on the first season of a rather cruddy Nickelodeon anime series (sorry, Blake), and thus has more room in my heart for forgiveness.  Edit: The Last Airbender was given a worthless 3D downgrade, and is guilty of robbing some gullible audiences of an extra 4 dollars.  Airbender's worse on that account.

Dishonorable mentions

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Just watched this a few nights ago.  Review hopefully coming soon.  Précis-review: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is a jumbled mess of poor cinematography, weak characters, cliché plotline, and corny references to the 1968 classic.  By giving the human characters speech, removing the themes of evolution, and making the apes only superior to the humans in their strength, not intelligence, the story is also stripped of all the drama it previously possessed.

Prince Caspian (2008)
A Disneyized retelling of C.S. Lewis’ powerful novel, this butchered all the theological themes presented in the book.  This brilliant article superbly summarizes my feelings about the book.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension
Who knew that a character with such an incredible name like Buckaroo Banzai could be given such a laughable treatment of a movie.  Buckaroo Banzai is an 80's cult "classic", and it definitely falls into the "so bad it's awesome" category of films.  Who exactly is Buckaroo Banzai?  Well, I wish I could tell you, but the movie does a really poor job of explaining who the heck its protagonist is and what his occupation is.  Wikipedia describes Buckaroo as "a renaissance man, a top neurosurgeon, particle physicist, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero."  While we were watching the film, my dad suggested to me that maybe the movie was just a big insider's joke for readers of the Buckaroo comic books.  Oddly enough, Buckaroo Banzai was made to sell comic books, not the other way around... anyway, the movie, largely bereft of any sort of plot structure or character development beyond the presence of a hero and a villain, boasts plenty of shaky camera, unexciting action sequences, cheesy alien makeup (there's also a brain thingy in the beginning and a slug-creature later on), dialogue so corny it's often outrageous ("Laugh a-while you can, monkey-boy."), hysterically bad cinematography work (Close-ups of Buckaroo's eyes and mouth during a torture scene in "the shock tower"), abysmal CGI, an unfitting soundtrack, and a nearly incomprehensible story line.  How can I enumerate all these flaws but still leave Banzai out of the bottom 10?  My reason is that Buckaroo Banzai is a true joy to watch.  As I stated earlier, it's so bad that it's awesome.  It's definitely worth a recording or rental if you're feeling down and need to smile.  It's just a shame that director W.B. Richter didn't make enough dough to helm the sequel promised before the film's credits.  As far as comic book heroes go, Indiana Jones was far more popular in his own time.

A Dog of Flanders (1999)
Star Wars meets "a boy and his dog" story.  It boasts one of the cheesiest plots ever, and the camera work looks as though it was done by a 5 year old.  Just watch the dance in the gypsy camp.  I chuckle at the memory.


A kiddie story about, well, something trite having to do with girl power. Here's my summary: a mischievous British girl outwits and escapes a pair of bumbling dog-catchers-turned-kidnappers, who end up driving into a river and getting all wet.

All the original Star Trek movies (yeah, even Kahn)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Portal: Sweet "short"cake

The Author is proud to present his first video game review ever.

Portal presents some of the best 4-5 hours you’ll ever spend playing a video game; and along with Bungie’s Halo 3: ODST and Halo Reach, it is one of the most cinematic video games ever created.  As you progress through the game, and the Aperture Science testing environment twists from playful into perilous, you begin to feel like you’re watching a high-quality movie, a driving science-fiction thriller complete with elements from Kubrick’s 2001.  I dare say, Valve’s Portal is the finest and most original puzzle game of all, even surpassing the Myst series and original Angry Birds (OK, pleasant as the handheld game is, it can’t compare to Myst).  My dad, although he hasn’t yet tried Portal, would probably argue its standing to Myst with me, but I believe that Portal has a better-paced story than all the computer games and is less demanding on the brain.  It all depends on whether you’re a casual or hardcore puzzle-solver; if backtracking, note-taking, and long, laborious experimentation is to your liking, then you’ll enjoy Myst more.  Portal is short, sweet, accessible to most gamers, and doesn’t take a whole lot of toll on the mind.

When you begin the game’s story, your player awakes in a bright room with glass walls.  You have no idea how you got where you are, or why you’re there, but a loud, computerized voice shortly informs you that you are a test subject for a company called Aperture Science, and that the “Enrichment Center” will have you undergoing several tests involving portals.  “These inter-dimensional gates have proven to be completely safe.”  At most there will be two portals opened in any room of the game environment, colored blue and orange.  The idea is simple: enter one glowing oval doorway and you exit the other.  Anyway, you decide to cooperate with the A.I., called GLaDOS, and you gradually advance through the different test chambers of Aperture Science Laboratories. Eventually you acquire your own Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or ASHPD for short), with which you can create your own portals in order to solve puzzles and progress through levels.  GLaDOS, who speaks most of the time in an emotionally washed feminine voice, at first seems helpful and friendly to you, but as the game progresses, she takes on a more sinister and hostile disposure.  She says thus much about the murky green water filling many of the test chambers: “Please note that any appearance of danger is only a means to enhance your testing experience.”  The first time you really become aware that you’re fighting for survival is when GLaDOS inconveniently replaces a test chamber with “a live fire course designed for military androids”, a room packed with destructive but oddly polite turret-bots, who apologize after firing on you: “No hard feelings.”  At this point, the game is remarkably reminiscent of the second half of 2001: A Space Odyssey, wherein the humans’ greatest robotic ally is corrupted and viciously turns on its makers.  But Portal is honestly many times better than that bore of a film.

Wikipedia has described in great depth the gameplay and tricks of Portal, so that site or the downloadable demo are the best places to learn more about the fictional science of Portals.  I’ll briefly describe one stunt that is very cool to execute with Portals.  First you fire a portal to the bottom of a cliff somewhere.  Then find any spot on a wall, or possibly the floor, that suits your fancy, and shoot another portal there.  By jumping off the cliff and entering the first portal you placed, you’ll come hurdling out of the second, either flying out of the floor and into the air, or leaping across a chasm through the wall.  Clearly it’s all about how “portals affect forward momentum.”  Awesome, huh?  The same move can be done with inanimate objects like weighted storage cubes or GLaDOS’ ever watching cameras scattered throughout the laboratory (yes, she has eyes everywhere just like Hal).

The writing of the game is very witty, and while I wouldn’t it call it hilarious or laugh-inducing like some other fans of the game, it’ll definitely smack a few smiles on your face.  There are only two characters in the story, yourself and GLaDOS, and the A.I.’s character is extremely well developed.  She is sarcastic, deceiving, tyrannical, flattering, and rather immature, despite having a ridiculously large vocabulary.  “Despite what we said earlier, our statement that we would not be monitoring this test chamber was an outright fabrication.  As part of required test protocol, we will stop enhancing the truth in 3...2…buzzzzz.”  “Very impressive.  You remain resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”  Your player, a woman named Chell (although her name isn’t mentioned in the game), never speaks, a wise decision which has worked massively in other games like the aforementioned Myst games and ODST.

Portal is a near perfect game, but if I can find something to complain about, it’s the length.  If you play through Portal quickly and don’t take too much time to lovingly experience the atmosphere (like I did), you can complete it in about 4 hours.  It took me around 300 minutes to complete the game the first time through, and I didn’t rush.  Because of this, Portal is closer to a long movie that you play than a normal video game.  Another beef I had with the game was the overuse of repeated graffiti.  The first time you find the sentence, “The cake is a lie,” scribbled on an otherwise clean concrete wall, you are pleasantly surprised, and that gets you thinking about the reward GLaDOS continually promises you to motivate your progression through the test chambers.  But after a dozen more times of viewing the same phrase, it begins to lose its charm.  Also, there’s the obvious fact that Portal has little to no replay value, depending on how much you love the game, because once you’ve solved the puzzles, it’s not that difficult to complete them again.

Luckily, Valve released a special edition of sorts for Portal to remedy the problem involving replay value.  Portal: Still Alive has 14 extra test chambers to traverse, which are still fun and challenging although they lack dialogue and don’t tie into the main story of the game.  The Still Alive version, which is downloadable as an “arcade” game from Xbox Live and the Playstation Network (boo!), also includes interesting commentary from the developers and voice actress Ellen McLain which can be accessed while playing the campaign.

So, if you’ve mastered the Halo series and want to try a different kind of first-person game with unique gameplay, witty writing, and intriguing graphics (I regret squeezing this into my epilogue paragraph, but I have to say: the environments of both Portal games are awesome and sometimes unnerving), take Portal for a spin.  It truly is a masterpiece.


Update: I got Portal 2 just a few weeks ago and it's my opinion that it's the best game ever made.  I've actually laughed out loud a couple times during this one.  Here are two of the better quotes from the game:
Glados: This next test involves turrets.  You remember them; they're those white, spherical things that are full of bullets - oh, wait - that's you in 5 seconds.
Same: Look, we've both said some things that you'll regret, but I think we can put our differences behind us - for science, you monster.