Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Wrestler Redacted

As detailed in my column in Wednesday's paper, Mickey Rourke had announced at the Screen Actors Guild Awards that he was going to appear at Wrestlemania, and possibly even wrestle.

This was followed by a genuinely awful exchange between Rourke and WWE Superstar Chris Jericho on Larry King Live, during which Rourke was clearly not playing ball with the pro wrestler.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but in my article I expressed the opinion that Rourke should not appear at the event, and instead concentrate on his return to acting, and being taken seriously by Hollywood.

A massive influx of comments took that as to mean that I hate wrestling, most of which probably came from this guy:

"It's still real to me!"

Now today, Mickey Rourke's agent announced that he's pulling out of the Wrestlemania appearance, to focus on his acting. Now I don't want to say "I told you so," but...

Now I'm not going to do the victory dance yet, because there's still a chance that he may show up.

When the WWE is involved, the words "too shameless" have no meaning, so there's no saying that they didn't say he won't show, just to further the storyline.

Also, its perfectly believable that he's saying he won't show for now, just to keep it from harming his chances at the Academy Awards, only to re-announce his participation after the ceremony.

So there's no saying what's really going on, until we get some de facto confirmation from either the Roure or McMahon camp.

I for one, would like to see Mickey Rourke's experience in a wrestling ring to remain in Darren Aronofsky's film.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ROUGH riders

These are words I thought I'd never type, but Central Michigan University could use to learn a thing or two from Corey Densmore.

Personal opinions of the guy aside, he is putting on the best concerts in Mt. Pleasant right now.

His Diamonds in the Rough promotion is bringing bigger-named acts like The Hard Lessons or Dan Deacon and pairing them with the local startups he nurtures, like The Valley Ghosts and Ultramark, and it makes for an astounding show.

Last night's show was incredible. The Valley Ghosts, Frontier Ruckus, Mason Proper, The Great Lakes Myth Society and The Hard Lessons, all playing in the historic Broadway theater. It was up-close, personal, hip, high-energy, and all flavors of fun.

In comparison, CMU Program Board's "big" winter concert was Friday night. They brought Josh Gracin, the country-singin' American Idol also-ran.

Sure, he's a name, but is the music any good? What's wrong with bringing up-and-comers who play genuinely great music instead of has-beens and never-wills that may have a marginal level of name recognition?

Why bring Josh Gracin or Yung Joc when you could pay less for Great Lakes Myth, or Otto Vector? You might not get the mass of country fans, but good people who like good music would attend, and you wouldn't lose money on the venture.

Also, just in case somebody from Program Board is reading--would it kill ya to book Lemon Demon?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Advanced Manliness

I, for one, am pumped for "The Expendables."

Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, "Expendables" is a straightforward men-on-a-mission action flick about a group of mercenaries overthrowing a dictator in South America.

Starring Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and MICKEY ROURKE, this ridiculously cool-sounding project starts filming next month with hopes of being the premiere testosterone-palooza of 2010.

And then today, this picture of Stallone, in shape and made up with the tattoos for his role of merc Barney Ross, hit the Web:


That makes me, as a 21-year-old keyboard-jockey, whimper with jealousy and latent homosexual urges.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'm going to the store for whey protein and those p90X videos.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

2008 in video games: A Top Ten Adventure

2008 was a great year for gamers, with enough A-list games to leave even casual gamers penniless and friendless. Here is my incredibly opinionated and biased cream of the crop.

10. Prince of Persia

It was a fight between "PoP" and "Gears of War 2" for this spot. While "GoW2" is a stellar game, it suffers from "Halo 3"-itis, offering little more than the features offered in the original game.

"Prince of Persia," on the other hand, offers gameplay completely different than previous entries in the series, and a visual design like none seen before. The gameplay, though overly forgiving, is engaging and exciting, the story and characters are compelling, and the visuals are ethereal and beautiful to watch in motion.

In this house, artistry and innovation win over name-power.

9. Fable II

Still rather simplistic for the "Life simulator" designer Peter Molyneux touted the first game to be, it was a fantastically detailed adventure-RPG that was worth the hours and hours of gameplay. A messed up economy system couldn't keep the main gameplay of adventure and combat in a world that reacts to your decisions from being tons of fun.

8. Dead Space

Ironically, the year that fresh breath is given to survival-horror games is the year that there is not a new "Resident Evil." The story is stellar, the environment is eerie and invokes a space-version of "Bioshock" at times. The sound design is also extremely commendable, and all-around the production values of this game are absolutely top-tier.

7. Left 4 Dead

Squad-based, first-person zombie-killin' action adds an exciting breath of fresh air to the over-a-decade-old survival-horror genre. Either online or with live friends, multiplayer is this game's golden goose. The dynamic between the players is fantastic, as the four survivors quite literally live or die by each other.

6. Far Cry 2

A first-person sandbox adventure in a nondescript warring country, where your character can affect the outcome of the conflict, while trying to survive his affliction of malaria.

A few strange choices keep this from being an absolutely amazing game, and travel time can be killer, but the gorgeous environments, fun run-and-gun gameplay and first-person sandbox dynamic makes this game worth the hours of driving a jeep through the gorgeously rendered jungle while popping malaria pills.

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

The best fighting game of the year wasn't Soul Calibur 4, and most certainly wasn't Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. That honor goes to Smash Bros., which, like those other games, had some very strange guest stars. Whoever thought putting Sonic and Solid Snake in a balls-crazy party-friendly fighting game with Mario and Pikachu should get a medal.

4. Fallout 3

This game blurs the lines between FPS and RPG the way only Bethesda can.

Following up a ten-year-old classic game is a daunting task, but this game passed all expectations. Sprawling, complex, engaging and fun, "Fallout 3" will suck up hours and hours of time.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4

This game is absolutely bugf*ck insane. It's overblown, over-indulgent, and you'll spend as much time watching the game as playing the game.

Still, it's an absolutely fascinating experience like no other game can provide. The Big Crazy lends to the Magical Moments that will stick in your gamer-brain for the rest of eternity. The Metal Gear vs. Metal Gear fight, the honest-to-God espionage section in Eastern Europe, where you are required to be stealthy in a way you never have in a MGS game. It's absolutely insane, but it's also insanely satisfying, and is probably the number-two killer app to have on the Playstation 3.

2. LittleBigPlanet

...And this would be the number one killer app for the PS3.

This absolutely brilliantly platformer blends the line between gamer and game designer. Infinitely replayable by downloading levels others have made, the level designer to create your own is one of the most robust and flexible tools released to the public for making games. You can make your own platforming levels, but you can also use it to turn the game into something else: You can make your own storylines, turn it into a murder mystery, a trivia contest, a role-playing game. There probably are technical limits to LittleBigPlanet's creation system, but it's more likely to reach the limits of the imagination first.

1. Grand Theft Auto IV

The GTA games have become such huge productions, it's always shocking that they are some of the most coherent games, with stories that aren't only gigantic, sprawling, and interactive, but also incredibly well-written.

The tale of Niko Bellic is one of hope, heartbreak, and disillusionment of the American Dream. It's also a bloody, insane tale of theft, murder, car chases, shootouts, and explosions that takes place in a gorgeous, gigantic city that seems to live and breathe around Niko. Not only is this the Game of the Year, but one could spend an ENTIRE year playing nothing but this game and never be tired.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2008 in bad and disappointing movies: A series of Top Five Adventures

I have a confession to make.

I haven't seen "The Wrestler" yet.

I wrote out my Top Ten Movies of 2008 post, and put the wrestler on it, but felt it would be best to wait until actually having seen the movie to post it. So that will probably be up at the end of the week. Until then, you'll have to settle with a pair of top fives, for the worst and most disappointing movies of the year.

Most disappointing movies of 2008

5. Cloverfield

There was a lot of hype and high hopes for this movie, and although it wasn't necessarily bad, "Cloverfield" certainly did not live up to expectations.

This super-cool concept was marred by hammy acting, a ridiculous looking monster, and camera work that would make the Blair Witch lose her biscuits.

4. Hamlet 2

The advertising and trailers for this movie promised a raunchy, controversial, creative comedy, and what audiences got was a pretty safe movie that never moves beyond the raunch introduced in the trailer.

"Hamlet 2" never delivered any huge laughs, but Steve Coogan's wild-eyed, lovable performance in the lead saved the movie. The problem is that it shouldn't have to.

3. Hancock

What this movie promised was a wise-eyed sendup of superhero movies, featuring an alcoholic superbeing and the PR guru trying to clean him up. And that's what we got--for the first half of the movie.

At almost the exact halfway point of the movie, the focus shifts from Hancock's behavior to his relationship with the PR guy's wife, played by Charlize Theron, who has similar powers to Hancock, and claims that they share the same fate

 At this point the movie stops being funny. Very soon after, it stops making sense. Somehow Hancock and Charlize are linked, and when they get close to one another, their powers weaken. But it doesn't seem to always work like that all the time, and the climax of the movie hinges on logic that either wasn't explained or isn't there at all.

A great concept marred by sloppy handling. I would actually like to see Will Smith come back for a "Hancock 2"--with a new director and screenwriters that can do the movie right.

2. Speed Racer

Now don't get me wrong, because I actually liked "Speed Racer." Visually, it was the most stunning thing I've ever seen. It was colorful, visceral, completely fresh and altogether insane. And John Goodman suplexes a ninja.

However, as far as being a coherent film, it falls a little bit. The plot is both sloppy and simplistic, dialogue is stilted and there are only a handful of worthwhile performances.

Those looking for more visual innovation from the Wachowski Brothers were doubtlessly thrilled by this movie. Those that were hoping the Wachowskis would climb out of the hole they dug themselves with the "Matrix" sequels and create another genuinely great movie remain wanting.

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

19 years.

Movie lovers around the world waited 19 years for a new "Indiana Jones" movie, and this is what they got. CGI gophers and monkeys. Nuclear bomb-proof refrigerators. Unbearably phony Russian accents. Shia LaBeouf. The list of complaints goes on an on.

I think this movie recaptured the look of the old "Indy" flicks on the most superficial levels, but absolutely failed to FEEL like Indiana Jones. The action never stops long enough for tension to builds. The characters never stop to THINK. There's never any feeling that Indy is in peril after the first 15 minutes because HE ALREADY SURVIVED HAVING AN ATOMIC BOMB DETONATED ON TOP OF HIM.

Spielberg and Lucas have already begun talking about an Indy 5. Unless they are planning to get back to the high-tension adventure escapism of the previous films, I think the majority of the viewing audience would rather if they didn't bother.

Worst movies of 2008

5. Punisher: War Zone

Yes, it was a bad movie. It bombed, and rightfully so. But that's not to say it wasn't fun.

The story is childishly simple. The editing is pretty poor. The acting--save for Ray Stevenson, the best Punisher ever--is atrocious. The villain is laughable. This is not a good movie.

But Stevenson's psychotic, determined Punisher and his hard-core crimefighting make this movie an absolute riot. The Punisher grabs a bad guy and PUNCHES A HOLE THROUGH HIS FACE. Another bad guy is jumping from rooftop to rooftop, only to get hit midair by a rocket-propelled grenade and disappear into a red mist. Wayne "Newman" Knight shows up as a weapons-dealer, for crying out loud.

I recognize this as a bad movie. But it was the most fulfilling, entertaining bad movie of the year, so I guess it can take that as a victory (because the movie certainly had no victories in the box office). This is a movie to watch with buddies on a Bad Movie Night. Wait three years, and this will play on TBS from then until forever.

4. Max Payne

I would have not thought it possible, but "Max Payne" manages to essentially be an even less-intelligent "Punisher" movie. It tries to be visually interesting but ends up distracting, the story is essentially gobbledygook, the action is uninteresting, and star Mark Wahlberg does nothing to save this sinking ship.

The movie's one saving grace may be the brief appearance of Olga Kurylenko, who would later be seen as the Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace." I don't think she had really been in anything significant before this. Don't by any means think I'm calling "Max Payne" significant, but that's just an interesting little piece of trivia.

3. Doomsday

CMU film professor Ken Jurkiewicz loved this movie. I love Dr. J, but on this point I could not disagree with him more. This movie is derivative of things like "Road Warrior" and "28 Days Later," without managing to be half as interesting. This is not a horror movie, and tilts more towards action, but the copious amount of gore in this movie is played more for gross-outs than thrills, and the lingering camera on decapitated heads and acts of cannibalism both throws the movie completely off-pace and makes the audience totally uncomfortable. Not even worth seeing for a laugh.

2. TIE: Disaster Movie/Meet the Spartans

I don't want to dignify Friedberg and Seltzer by putting their cultural regurgitations at the top of this list. They're crap. Everybody knows it. I'm pretty sure even Friedberg and Seltzer know it. Nobody could churn out movies like this so quickly and humorlessly without knowing that what they are making is total drivel. In an economic climate where so many people are desperate for jobs, how is it that these two hacks are still making movies?

1. The Spirit

I can't believe anybody thought this was a good idea. Frank Miller, a comic book writer that has no experience directing, and hasn't even written a good comic in ten years, turns in the most flaccid, ineffective, poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted attempt at cinema to make its way to theaters in a long time. He surrounded himself with talented people and adds a black mark to their IMDb pages--legendary cinematographer Bill Pope, for example, who still makes this movie look as good as possible.

Don't see this. Don't buy this. Don't give movie studios any motivation to give Miller another directing job. This movie sucks so bad.

Your geek movie update

We take a break from your regularly scheduled end-of-year-list programming to give you an update on upcoming geek movies:

-A Japanese trailer for "Watchmen" has found its way online, showing some new clips, detailing how the story's history is different than the real world. There's a scene of a legendary American assassination and then a main character walking away with a sniper rifle. I got chills, and am thrilled that Zak Snyder seems to be pulling no punches.

Although Fox has won the initial property rights for the movie, WB is not slowing down at all with its publicity for this movie.

Curiously, the latest in its monthly behind-the-scenes features was posted to MySpace, which is indeed owned by News Corp., which also owns Fox. Does one hand at News not know what the other is doing, or is this foreshadowing of an inevitable out-of-court settlement?

-DC cult favorite Western comic "Jonah Hex" has long been in development for a movie adaptation. "No Country For Old Men" and "W" star Josh Brolin has been attached to play the scarred hero for a while now, but the production finally has a director.

Jimmy Hayward, who has previously worked primarily in animation, will direct "Jonah Hex." Hayward most recently made his directorial debut with "Horton Hears a Who!" and before that worked in Pixar's animation department on all their features from "Toy Story" through "Finding Nemo," and before that worked on geek-favorite 3D cartoon "Reboot."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 in Movies: A Top Ten Adventure

This is the one I'm expecting to cause the most disagreement.

10. Burn After Reading

Even the Coen Brothers' B-game is better than most directors' A-game. The sloppy, confusing plot and a conclusion basically say that life is sloppy and confusing and why should movies be any different. Even though it is basically a cinematic "Eff You," an ensemble of stellar knock-out performances make this movie a must-see.

9. Tropic Thunder

This is the funniest comedy of 2008.

Sure, there may be other movies that are considered comedies higher up on the list, but "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" also has some heavy elements of tragedy, and "WALL-E" holds a heavy message, and plays more for emotional resonance than guffaws.

As far as movies designed to make you chuckle, "Pineapple Express," "Role Models," and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" have nothing on "Tropic Thunder."

Biting, offensive, violent and intelligent, "Thunder" is Ben Stiller's best movie since "Zoolander," and features two of the best comedic performances of the decade, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise. This is the movie to be quoting with your friends for the next three years or so.

8. Iron Man

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. brought something to this movie that has been desperately missing from superhero action movies--intelligence.

Although its comic book smarts would be topped later in the summer by a certain other superhero film, its fun-loving vibe, quotable quips and super-likable lead man remained tops.

7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A heartbreaking look at the 20th Century brought to life with stellar performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette in the leads.

Allowing a few of his strange choices in handling this story, director David Fincher constructed this film elegantly, and it was probably the best Christmas release, if not the highest grossing.

6. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen found his niche years ago, and has spent decades carving it out. Possibly his best film in years, it features a stellar performance by Javier Bardem, who is decidedly much more charming and much less creepy than in "No Country for Old Men."

5. Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood is so manly that his sweat is 80 proof.

This movie about a crotchety, racist war vet (who may be wearing Dirty Harry's underpants) protecting his neighbors from gang violence shows not only that Clint Eastwood is a skilled director, but he's still got the charisma to carry a movie and the ability to do action. It doesn't reach the bar of "Million Dollar Baby," but it comes darn close.

4. Frost/Nixon

Before seeing this, I wasn't sold on Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, and the trailers didn't win me over.

But oh man, do not count this guy out. It is an astounding performance that gets in the head of the former President, and embodies him in the way no other actor has. Ron Howard doesn't let the movie get carried on this performance, however, and turns in his best film since "Apollo 13."

3. The Wrestler
Mount Pleasant isn't getting "The Wrestler," so I'm writing this based on what others have said, because I don't want a repeat of last year where I named "Grindhouse" movie of the year because I had yet to see "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood."

Mickey Rourke won a Golden Globe for this last night, and it's easy to see why. He may be a difficult-to-work-with man-diva, but when he commits to a role, he puts his blood, guts and soul into it. That, along with a killer supporting cast, brand new song by Bruce Springsteen, and sublime direction from the superb Darren Aronofsky will almost certainly have me driving to Lansing to see this movie because Celebration Cinemas of Mount Pleasant seems to actively avoid showing awards-season movies.


This movie has heart, soul, charm, intelligence, and a message. Oh, and it's freaking GORGEOUS to look at.

How Pixar keeps picking folks out of their animation department that have never directed before and keep turning out gems like this is beyond me, but I hope they continue. Andrew Stanton makes magic with this movie, making some of the most expressive, emotive, relatable robot characters ever in a movie, and telling an amazing story where the main characters almost NEVER talk.

Also, any director of an animated movie who decides the only live-action character in the film should be played by Fred Willard is absolutely on the right track.

1. The Dark Knight

Call me a fanboy. Call me a nerd. I can take it. This was the best movie of the year.

Comic nerds will always talk about the psychology of Batman in great depth, as a reaction to the mainstream public who see him as a childish character with homosexual undertones. This movie outdoes even the most fervent Batman fan in terms of asserting the character's depth and assertiveness, and fictional value.

This film takes a character that has been a part of the public consciousness in one form or another for 70 years, and boils him down to the core of his character in a fascinatingly twisted, noirish moral tale.

At times Batman has been a hero, a detective, a martial artist, a father figure, a violent loner, and so many other things, but that's not the true character. The true character is the one seen here: The man who wants to play God, who goes to the depths of hell to win, because he believes with every ounce of his being that he can not afford to lose. He is whatever Gotham City needs him to be, even if it's not what anybody wants him to be.

The mentality of the character has some fascinating political parallels, but there is so much more to this story than that. The movie is an outstanding crime film, a moral drama, a dark comedy, a rather traditional noir film, and the best superhero movie to ever come out, all wrapped in one package.

So much could be said about Christopher Nolan--who may very well be the Fritz Lang of this generation--for his directing ability, his supernaturally good script, and capability to handle this insanely, obscenely huge production with grace.

Let us not forget Heath Ledger. The last few years have given us a string of fantastically iconic villains. 2006 had Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in "The Departed." 2007 had Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men." However, I don't think 2009, 2010, or 2011 will give us a villain as haunting, nuanced, or scary as Heath Ledger's Joker.

I'm not one of those guys that thinks nobody should ever play the character again. I would love to see a talented actor put another original spin on it. However, I don't think anybody will EVER top Ledger. This performance was lightning in a bottle. It was his 7th Symphony.

Every performance, every crewmember, every word on the script, came together to make this movie magical. This is the are genre film that transcends its genre to become a bona fide classic. This is what Silence of the Lambs was to horror.

So that's my stand on 2008 in movies. Now argue with me.

2008 in Internet Fads: A Top Ten Adventure

To gear up for the new year and the return of Central Michigan Life to regular publishing next week, Lifeline Online will be posting a series of "Best Of"s for the past year. Movies, music, internet fads, and even Central Michigan University itself will all be itemized and evaluated, with a grand finale of the 10 most important cultural figures in next Monday's paper.

We'll kick it off with the ten best Internet Fads of 2008.

10. "I'm F---ing Matt Damon"

It's very occasional that Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show is funny. You've basically got "This Week in Unnecessary Censorship" and this:

9. "Charlie Bit Me"

Sometimes exceedingly adorable children is all you need to get a video featured in national commercials.

8. "Italian Spiderman"

This may be quite obscure, but it also happens to be the best thing ever.

7. Miss South Carolina 2007 Caitlin Upton's incoherent response

6. Y'arr, New Facebook ahoy

A beta version of a new interface for hyper-popular social networking ubersite Facebook was put up in Summer 2008, and the new interface became permanent in September, to the loud complaining and protesting of many a high schooler. Those who took the time to learn and use the new streamlined system, however, were generally happy with it.

Another related change occurred on September 19, in observance on International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Facebook added a new language option, English (Pirate). As verbalized on this very blog, it is awesome.

5. The Internet vs. Scientology

Scientology got a one-two punch of mob-rage and idiocy this year.

Scores of mass-coordinated protests and rallies against the Church of Scientology were carried out in front of Scientology centers around the world several days last year.  Carried out under the name "Project Chanology," the protesters coordinated their protests mainly over the imageboard 4Chan.

4. Joker becomes a meme

After the dynamite opening of "The Dark Knight" this summer, the internet was infatuated with the late Heath Ledger's Joker. One could not go onto a forum without seeing "Why so serious?'

3. Puppy Cam!

A webcam trained on a box full of Shiba Inu puppies became one of the most fad-tastic stops on the Internet last year, and were featured on everything from CNN to Bill O'Reilly.

Because who doesn't love puppies?

2. Twitter

This social networking site, revolving around 140-character or less mini-posts, has seen its user base double in the last year. Media outlets from newspapers, websites and TV networks to Joe the Blogger are all twittering up a storm, with no sign of slowing from the Little Social Network That Could.

1. Rickrolling

The Internet knows the rules and so do I.

Technically beginning late 2007 in the dark orifice of the Internet known as the 4Chan imageboards, the act of Rickrolling is tricking somebody into unexpectedly watching a video of the '80s hit "Never Gonna Give You Up," by Rick Astley. Starting in the early part of the year, the phenomenon grew astronomically.

Rickrolls found their way to sporting events, and board meetings, and YouTube got in on the fun for April Fools' Day, turning every link on their frontpage into a Rickroll.

During the madness of the election, an Obama-themed spinoff known as the "Barackroll" became a huge hit, made from clips of Barack Obama's speeches edited together so that he sings the entire song.

The swan song for this phenomenon came at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, when Rick Astley appeared on a float and performed approximately a minute of the song, effectively Rickrolling an entire national holiday.

2008 will forever be remembered as the Year of the Rickroll. Mainly because, God willing, this fad will not continue into 2009.