So what if Spiderman is black?

Driving into work today, I was catching up on the Nerdist podcast and the episode I was listening to guest starred Donald Glover, he of Community fame (he was also a writer on my other favorite TV comedy, 30 Rock). Of course, Chris Hardwick brought up the internet campaign that had occurred earlier this year, where people on Twitter and the rest of the internet had pushed to have Glover cast as Peter Parker/Spiderman in the upcoming Spiderman reboot, directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer). It was kind of a weird, random occurrence where Glover, during the wild casting speculation, joked that he might be a cool Spiderman.

Donald in his Spiderman pyjamas on Community, 3 x 01

A huge amount of people rallied behind him, but eventually it was for naught when the talented Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) was cast as Peter Parker. Of course, people were angry and people were happy at the decision. You had people one side shouting “RACISM” and on the other side, comic book purists (and maybe actual racists, who knows) were shouting “HELL YEAH”. As for my side, it’s hard for me to say. While I generally prefer an adaptation or remake or whatever stay true to the source material, if they ignore the source material and make a good movie out of it, then why the hell does it matter?

Glover was pretty humble on the Nerdist podcast but at the same time brought up some good points that I feel like I have to echo: for one, Spiderman isn’t Shaft or Black Lightning – a superhero who is defined by his race. He’s just a geeky, awkward kid who’s experienced a lot of loss and has to deal with that loss while still trying to do some good in the world. Glover also wanted to stress that the fact that he didn’t get chosen or even get an audition wasn’t racism on the part of the director or the studio. On the podcast, he quipped that if Sony Pictures could make money off a movie about Hitler starring Will Smith, they’d probably greenlight it in a heartbeat. In the end, everything in Hollywood ends up being a financial decision, so maybe a black Spiderman just wasn’t bankable at this point in time.

How it all started

As it stands, we have another really talented actor cast as Spiderman, and Glover still has his entire career ahead of him. Maybe when they reboot the series in another 10 years (it’s inevitable folks), the world will be ready for a black Spiderman. It’s all about baby steps – hell, people are still bitching about James Bond being a blonde.

"Yeah, we're cool... for now."

What I hope to see (and see changed) in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

If it wasn’t evident from my last post, and my general attitude here, I’m a huge fan of Bethesda and their Elder Scrolls series. I’ve easily put over 150 hours into Oblivion since it came out in 2006, so I think I’m pretty well hyped for the next instalment, called Skyrim. But, being such a huge fan and accounting for the number of hours I’ve put into the series means I have a pretty good idea about the flaws that the last game had. So here’s a brief but important list of what I hope Bethesda adds, changes, and tweaks for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Change the engine
This is something that has been confirmed by Bethesda. The Gamebryo engine – which looked amazing in 2006 but has since aged very badly – is out, and Bethesda says that there will be a brand new engine on display for Skyrim. A new engine would fix a lot of things. While the environments in Bethesda games have remained great, the character animations and modelling have seriously lagged behind industry standards. So what is it – a third party engine? Something they made from scratch? A fancy new idTech engine, borrowed from the recently acquired John Carmack? Only Bethesda knows, and they’re keeping their cards pretty close to the vest – I’m sure we’ll see more details in the coming months, with an 11/11/11 release date for the game.

Change the combat
While I found Oblivion to be a very immersive and at times exhilarating experience, the combat in the game definitely wasn’t. It was very much a block -> attack affair, or if you were doing ranged combat, backing up while firing arrows or magic spells. It got boring and brought the game down a bit. I hope they revamp the combat system, make it a little more immersive. One of the best parts about Mass Effect 2 is how improved the combat was over the original, and I’m hoping Bethesda can pull a similar feat with Skyrim.

Hire more voice actors, damn it!
This has been a big complaint with Oblivion and Fallout 3 – every third or fourth NPC sounds exactly the same. It’s an easy fix – just hire more people, and definitely write more random dialog. Having to hear the same conversations between NPCs over and over and over is very grating, and pulls you right out of the game, which kills any immersive quality the game might have had.


A more interesting main quest

Another common complaint with Oblivion was that with such a huge array of interesting characters and sidequests to do separate from the main quest, why would anyone even touch the main quest? When most people did, they found it boring and claimed it lacked the flair and charm of the rest of the game, and I have to agree. The main quest in Fallout 3 was a little more interesting, but not by much. I can’t really toss out any suggestions here, I’d just say that they should make the main quest just as interesting as the sidequests, so that people don’t think it’s just something to slog through.

That’s my two cents about Bethesda and Skyrim, if you feel like I missed something, feel free to drop a comment.

11/11/11 — Elder Scrolls V comes out, and my social life dies for good

The VGAs, that annual parade of incompetence and disrespect toward the entire video game industry is happening right this moment, and the one thing they’re good for – showing off video game trailers – made me jump out of my pants. That’s because Bethesda finally announced a long awaited sequel to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion called Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Just seeing the words on the screen made my eyes boggle. I’ve been waiting for a new Elder Scrolls game since Oblivion dropped in 2006.

If you’re curious, Skyrim is

the northernmost province of Tamriel, and is a cold and mountainous region. Although it is one of Tamriel’s less hospitable provinces, it has been home to both elven and human civilization since time immemorial. It is currently inhabited by the human race of Nords.

Thanks to The Unofficial Elder Scroll Wiki for the above information.

Between this and Mass Effect 3, also announced today, I believe I’m set for the next few years for RPGs.

 

New Bodycast episode is up

So Josh and I come back from a 8 month hiatus to record another inane episode of The Bodycast, our podcast for Digital Body Count. For those technologically challenged people who hate iTunes, you can download it here, just go File -> Save Page As once it’s loaded. For those who are awesome and use iTunes (I love you all) just go here and subscribe or download the latest episode, it’s super easy! While you’re there, take the time to rate and review, we need every listener we can get, and your words of praise (or scorn) might just help us out. If you’re looking for our back catalog, just go to the top of the page here and click on Bodycast, and you’ll find every episode we’ve ever done.

In behind-the-scenes news, we’ll probably end up being a little more consistent and prolific with this podcast; we’ll try and do one once a week, but guaranteed we’ll do at least one episode a month. Next episode we’ll be doing a roundup of the year’s best stuff, including games, movies and possibly music.

Why The Expendables sucked, and yes, I am a man

The hype leading up to The Expendables was almost at Snakes on a Plane-levels. A throwback to classic 80s action movies starring all your favorite 80s action stars? What’s that, Jean Claude Van Damme didn’t want to be in it? Oh, Kurt Russel, Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes turned them down? Oh okay – so this movie had TWO of your favorite 80s action stars – Sylvester Stallone (writing and directing, and trust me, this ain’t no fucking Rocky) and Dolph Lundgren, who in real life is actually a very smart man, but in this movie sounds like a fucking retarded infant. Oh, and Bruce Willis and Arnold the Governator show up in brief, throwaway cameo roles.

I still don’t get why Stallone was so into making this movie, aside from the monetary angle. In interviews he talks about it being a final goodbye to the action star and those crazy, violent action movies of the 1980s, but didn’t he already do this in the absolutely ridiculous and yet totally awesome final Rambo film? A lot of themes in Rambo show up in The Expendables – the aging hero finding his place in the world, the war-torn country that needs the help of mercenaries, the cost of war on a person’s psyche- but I wouldn’t put Stallone above pilfering from his own movies.

Now, a lot of you might say “Yeah, but it’s just an action movie, like those one’s from the 80s. If you want plot, go watch some arthouse movie, you idiot” (an actual quote from someone I know after I expressed disdain for The Expendables). I’ll spend a good portion of this review/rant explaining how the action itself was terrible, but in the interest of being thorough, I’ll rip this entire movie apart. Let’s start with the characters.

Now, every single character in The Expendables is bland, flat and stupid. If you didn’t learn everything you needed to know about a character within 2 minutes of being introduced to them, then I think you might have some mental deficiency and you should probably go to the doctor. Ensemble movies generally mean that character building and depth take a backseat to whatever’s going on with the plot, but hell, they seem to spend so little time with minor characters like Terry Crews and Randy Cotoure that it makes me wonder why they didn’t at least develop Stallone or Statham’s characters. Jason Statham, especially, is so fucking boring in this movie that I cringed everytime some of Stallone’s stilted dialogue came out of his mouth.
I like Jason Statham. I think he did great in movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and his recent movie The Bank Job was pretty damn good, mostly because his characters in these movies don’t do much action. Statham is excellent as the dry wit, the straight man in the conversation, setting people straight and acting like a general scallywag. But then came The Transporter, and suddenly this bald Englishman was a bonafide action star, and every movie he’s had a leading role in since then (except for The Bank Job) has been either mediocre or utter shit.
Jet Li felt criminally underused in this movie. While Li has never had Jackie Chan’s charisma or on-screen presence, he does have a certain quiet charm and I’ve been a fan of his since Romeo Must Die. In The Expendables, all Li seems to do is bitch about how he needs money for his family (turns out he doesn’t actually have a family, so really, he’s just being a greedy bastard) and be the target of jokes regarding his height. Real snappy dialogue here, folks. What use is a martial artist in a movie about guys with big guns? In a couple of scenes here and there, Li gets to kick some ass, but it’s not enough.
And what about Stallone? Well, Stallone is Stallone, playing Stallone as he has in every other movie in the last 20 years. While I really enjoyed the recent Rambo film, it was a standard Stallone performance, wooden, sullen and shallow. This movie is much of the same. Stallone is starting to sound old, and most of his dialogue comes out as mumbles. This is the leader of the Expendables?

As for plot, well, it’s paper thin. Again, people say “it’s an action movie, what did you expect”, but come on, if this is supposed to be a throwback to those awesome action movies of the 1980s, then why not hold it to a better standard? First Blood, Predator, Die Hard – all of these movies came out in the 80s, and they still hold up today. First Blood actually had a far deeper plot than a lot of people give it credit for.
So we’re supposed to care about this crew of mercenaries who ride around on motorcycles. They all go to this island that’s under the thumb of a mean ol’ dictator (David Zayas, whom you might recognize as Angel from Dexter – fucking hell, he is a bad actor, especially in this movie) who is actually a puppet of an ex-CIA agent (hilariously evil Eric Roberts) who’s exploiting the country for natural resources, accompanied by his mostly silent henchman (Stone Cold Steve Austin, going for broke with his acting skills here). Sound familiar? That’s because two other movies came out this year with very similar plots – The Losers (you can find my lengthy rant about that shitfest here) and The A-Team. All three of them deal with a team of mercenaries attempting to take out a rogue CIA agent who’s doing some nasty shit. They get to the island, they meet up with the rebel leader who is actually the daughter of the mean ol’ dictator, Stallone and her have kind of a love thing going on (or mutual respect for each other, who knows) and we get to watch a scene with waterboarding (mmm, that’s topical!). In the end, shit blows the fuck up and we get to see a lot of pointless gunfights and explosions. Seems like a good enough segue…

The action in this movie fucking sucked. It might sound like a cliche, but genuinely good action scenes have me on the edge of my seat. I can feel anxious for a character, and whether or not they’ll make it out of a scene alive. In The Expendables, I always knew that every single “good” character was going to be okay at the end of the movie because the characters don’t have time to deal with loss, emotions or anything deep, because “dems issues for girls, why don’t you go watch a romantic comedy if you aren’t manly enough for this movie?”. Amazingly, this became a huge selling point for the movie – if you don’t like it or you don’t see it, clearly you are some kind of homosexual, or you’re not a man, at the very least. Only girls wouldn’t like this movie because you need brass balls to watch this movie (ironically, the only woman who was there while watching this movie with me liked it). But the action in this movie was so poorly choreographed, so spazzy and all over the place that I found myself bored, suffering from a headache from the consistent, constant cuts and wondering if Sylvester Stallone has ever heard of a storyboard. I’m estimating here, but I’m certain that during the climactic gun battle, there wasn’t a single shot that lasted more than three seconds. I’m not a fast-cut hater, I loved the frenetic style of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. But generally, the action scenes were so pointless and aimless that I found myself not caring at the outcome. Well choreographed and planned out action scenes stick in your mind for years. Just a few examples: the lobby fight in The Matrix, the street shootout in Heat, Arnold fighting the Predator in Predator, Rambo taking down cops in First Blood, the nightclub shootout in Collateral, the Marines facing off against the xenomorphs in Aliens, and pretty much the entirety of Die Hard. I saw The Expendables in August and can barely remember any of the lame action (I’m referring to a downloaded version for the purpose of this review, so sue me). It’s a hard point for me to sell, since most people are just happy with explosions, big guns and digital blood (they couldn’t even bother with squibs and blood packs). But I wasn’t at all enthralled. I was just really fucking bored.

In the end, I get shouted down a lot for my opinion on this movie. All the people that went with me to see it liked it, and the box office returns tell me that most of North America liked it too. It was a real shame that this managed to beat out Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a movie that is infinitely better than The Expendables. It also kind of surprised me that this summer, we had two movies – Inception and Scott Pilgrim – that had much better action than a movie that was marketed as the definitive action movie of the year.

Review: The Town

I generally don’t like it when people start to use the term “city as a character”. They aren’t many filmmakers out there that who can actually boast that they’ve done that, like Michael Mann has done with Los Angeles, or Martin Scorcese with New York City. After seeing The Town, I can safely say that Ben Affleck is well on his way to earning that relationship with his hometown, Boston. Even in its grittiest neighbourhoods, the city shines, and I’ve really developed a desire to go there after seeing it featured in this movie, The Departed and the TV show Fringe. Now I won’t be getting spoiler-heavy in this review, pretty much everything I’ll talk about will have been featured in the trailer or is common knowledge by now.

The Town is well produced, and well directed, full of little moments that make you laugh and think. I have to hand it to Ben Affleck, he really has an appreciation for the craft of filmmaking – the big car chase scene near the middle of the movie is shot entirely on location in the North End of Boston. Anyone who lives there will tell you that having an actual car chase in those narrow streets would be impossible, let alone shooting one. The action is intense but at the same time almost minimalistic – there aren’t any big explosions or slow motion dives. It’s just cops and robbers with automatic weapons shooting the shit out of each other, trying to stay alive. Production wise, this movie is off the charts, and hats off to Ben Affleck for wrangling it all together for his sophomoric project.

The writing is competent. The screenplay is based off a book by Chuck Hogan called Prince of Thieves, which I haven’t read yet but plan to. Quick pointless tangent – Chuck Hogan is also writing a series of books with Guillermo Del Toro (director of Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) called The Strain Trilogy. The second in the series, called The Fall, just came out recently and I would really recommend the books to horror/apocalypse fans.
Affleck and his co-writers Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard do a good job of illustrating what Boston is like, and how the people in the neighbourhood of Charlestown talk, interact, live. Again, I don’t live there, but people have told me that it’s a somewhat accurate depiction. This might seem light a cliched thing to say, but the characters felt real. Even the standard unhinged psycho, Jem (Jeremy Renner), was far more realistic than other heist psychos (Waingro from Heat, for example). As Affleck’s character Doug screams at him during the movie “All you care about is coke and XBOX…” This is such a great line that sums up his entire character. He’s not your garden variety psycho who goes around murdering prostitutes, he’s just someone who grew up in a broken society, and he simply doesn’t care. Violence doesn’t give him joy, but it doesn’t affect him negatively either. I could have watched a whole movie just about his character, to be honest.
One slight problem that I had with the movie’s development was the relationship between Doug and Claire (Rebecca Hall, who did an excellent job). It just seems to happen, all of a sudden. I guess love can be immediate, but generally real relationships aren’t really like that.  I feel like 15 minutes added to the 2 hour runtime of the film could have really helped to explore their relationship and help explain why they had been grown together so quickly.

The acting is excellent by almost everyone, especially the aforementioned Renner. The only person I’d say was miscast was Blake Lively. That’s not to say the Gossip Girl did a bad job, but she was outclassed by everyone else in the cast, and when she attempts a Boston accent, she either comes off sounding like a reject from Jersey Shore, or a Russian call girl. Either way, she didn’t help the movie much.
I read Roger Ebert’s review of The Town recently, and while I agreed with him on most points, I found myself disagreeing when he talked about the predictability and boredom of the film when it came down to the action scenes/gunfights. He felt like the characters were in no real danger, and that when someone was going to die, you saw it coming a mile away. While I’d say this only really applies to one of the deaths in the film, I was quite enthralled by most of the action scenes. There’s a scene where one character (again, not naming any names for fear of spoilers) chases another character around a car, firing at him wildly with an automatic weapon. I felt absolute genuine tension in that scene, and had no idea what the climax was going to be and who would end up dead. Compare this to the action movie of the summer – The Expendables – where I knew that every character in the movie would end up fine, thus draining the movie of any tension that it ever had (and it didn’t have much to begin with). Like my first time watching Heat, I felt genuine anxiety over which cops and which robbers would end up dead in the epic gunfight, and this is the best compliment that I feel I can pay to The Town – it is one of the best heist movies I’ve seen since Heat, recreating that tense atmosphere, assembling a cast of mostly real and believable characters, and a determined effort to make the movie as a tribute to traditional filmmaking, rather than post-production extravaganzas that we might be used to nowadays. But most of all, as a bittersweet acknowledgement to the towns that these directors love so much.

So yeah, definitely go watch The Town. And to Ben Affleck – next time you make a movie, in the trailer, you can definitely put “From acclaimed director Ben Affleck” rather than “from the acclaimed director of Gone Baby Gone” – I think you’ve earned it.

Wherein I sum up TV shows with one sentence

Lost: What could have been a solid scifi series ended up being a serious character drama, but that was the intention all along, y’all!

The Wire: Good shit happens to bad people, bad shit happens to good people, get over it bitch.

The Sopranos: Oh sheesh y’all, twas a dream, or at least most of it was.

24: Torture porn for the PG-13 audience, mixed in with some solid drama, tension and ridiculous plot twists.

Deadwood: Get me my whiskey and my knife, c***sucker.

Mad Men: Yes, we get it, they’re alcoholics!

Rome: People in ancient Rome loved cursing as much as the people on Deadwood, and sex as much as those four women on TV who talk like stereotypically gay men.

Jericho: If all else fails, Skeet Ulrich will save the day.

The O.C: Welcome to the OC, bitch (don’t call it that).

30 Rock: It’s like a live action Family Guy, but, you know, actually funny.

Community: Chevy Chase does mad physical comedy and this show owns.

Top Gear: A trio of overgrown children do things we only dream about and almost look cool doing it.