My thoughts on: Deadpool (film)

I am not a comic book fan.

For the better part of my life – and even to this day – I’ve found comics a difficult thing to get into due to all the stories running alongside each other, weaving in and out of each other, and just keeping up with it all.

To that end, comic book movies have been spectacular for me. Easy to follow (release dates), the library is small (handful of movies vs. stacks upon stacks of issues), and they don’t really weave in and out unless you are watching the team-movies (Avengers).

One of the things that comics contain that I’ve always been envious of, however, are strong characters that don’t make it to the big screen. Worse yet, characters that get brought to the big screen in a way that is a horrible disservice.

Deadpool is one of those characters.

Originally brought to movies during Wolverine Origins, the version of Deadpool that we received was horribly wrong. There was a taste of who he was, but that’s all it was; a taste of the character drowned in a pile of “wrong”.

Fast forward a few years, we had the leaked test render of a Deadpool movie with Ryan Reynolds as the titular character. It nailed the sense of style and insanity of the character so well that fans of DP (like me) were clambering for more like it was going out of style.

Now, we have that “more”.

Deadpool is a faithful and very well done origin story that introduces us to “Deadpool-proper”, even going so far as to ret-con Origins to strike away the bad.

For those uninformed, Deadpool is smart-mouth mercenary Wade Wilson. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer and joins a project to not only cure him of his cancer, but also give him mutant abilities. He winds up with a healing factor that Wolverine would be envious of, but it doesn’t cure the cancer – it accelerates it while his body is also healing from it.

The end result? The pain and disfigurement he goes through are enough to cause his sanity to snap, while his powers cause him to become – essentially – immortal. He understands that he is a comic (or in this case, movie) character, breaks the fourth wall like it’s going out of style, is offensive to an unbelievable degree, and will not shut up.

He’s known as the “Merc with a mouth,” for that very reason. Sure, he’s highly skilled with tons of weapons, but some characters consider his rampant jabbering and smart-ass demeanor his ultimate tool.

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard is Deadpool is to heroes what South Park is to cartoons. He breaks the stereotypes, is horribly offensive and violent, yet also has some character and soul underneath.

The problem though is that the character is considered a running punch-line in recent comic runs and video games. Before, in the earlier comic runs, we saw that he actually had a lot of personality and some soul buried beneath the disfigured skin and trigger-happy tendencies.

This movie, however, understands older Deadpool. He’s not a running punch-line in the film, showing some of the character that hasn’t been seen in awhile.

Don’t take that to mean he’s lacking in the smart-ass department though. He’s lobbing snarky remarks, condescending one liners, fourth-wall breakers, and everything else all the time while cutting off heads and filling people with holes.

Oh, and trust me, this film earns it’s R-rating. The same rating fans of the character have been praying for. PG-13 Deadpool is like a lobotomy.

The story is simple but well played out, the villains are awesome in their own ways, the sidekicks and friends are great to have around, and Reynolds absolutely nails the titular “hero”. It’s fairly condensed at 100’ish minutes, but it doesn’t waste any time. The opening cast-roll alone had the theater crying in laughter.

One of the things that the film actually does extremely well to offset Deadpool’s “nature,” is the pacing. The romance really works and you feel his horror after he is operated on. They work well to offset all the other times he is telling henchmen that he is low on ammo so they all need to share or ramming a sword through their brains.

If you want something “else” from your hero movies, are a fan of the character, or just want a good action-comedy to watch, Deadpool is right up your alley. For me, this movie has been worth the wait and development hell it’s been through.

Solid and awesome, great way to spend some time this weekend. Hell, I’ll even be going back for more.

Oh, and stick through the credits. You should know this by now, but it still amazes me when people up and leave during the credits at these movies.

My thoughts on: Stonehearst Asylum.

Been awhile since I’ve done one of these, but this feels like a good opportunity to do one. So, let’s begin!

Stonehearst Asylum (formerly known as Eliza Graves) is a thriller set in 1899 that stars Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, and David Thewlis. Additional stars include Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, and others.

Dr. Newgate (Sturgess) travels to the titular Stonehearst Mental Asylum from Oxford University to get clinical experience under Dr. Lamb (Kingsley), but things start taking unusual turns upon his arrival.

Now, how did I approach this film? Plain and simply (while showing biases), I saw it at my local Best Buy while gift shopping. I’d not seen a trailer for it anywhere (which I heard drops spoilers like a fiend), though had heard the title. Seeing that Kate Beckinsale had a starring role in it along with the description on the back of the box was enough for me to buy and watch it.

Yes, it is that easy to get me to watch a Beckinsale film. Sue me.

The film, based upon a story by Edgar Allan Poe, does little to hide the fact that it has mysterious affairs abound. Some plot points were easy to spot from a mile away, though the occasional surprise slipped in every now and then.

Something the film has in abundance, however, are themes that it tries to slip you. Some have a greater impact than others, but it’s actually both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it shows an ability to try and convey a message without coming out and screaming it from the hill-tops. The curse, however, is that since there is a hefty number of ideas it wants to put forward, it somewhat stumbles on delivering any one of them with full-impact.

The movie touches on the ideas of abuse or abandonment of those mentally ill, how a deeply disturbed individual can (for the most part) pass off as a normal person, the (to our modern senses) barbarity of past psychiatric treatments, the effects of PTSD, the sometimes violent nature of a disturbed mind, and others.

As you can see, that’s a bit of a list. When you start playing with that many themes, the impact from any one of them gets a bit muffled.

(To touch on the “barbarity of past psychiatric treatment” note, keep in mind the field and period. Injecting patients with narcotics, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, forcibly dunking them in water, and many other forms of treatment were considered necessarily effective. While we’ve made some strides in the modern days, psychiatric care has a rather heavy history behind it.)

The cast does a good – even great – job with their roles. Kingsley’s Dr. Lamb is interesting, Beckinsale’s Eliza Graves is easy to sympathize for, and the list goes on. What their performances highlight, however, is the script.

Like some of the patients at Stonehearst Asylum, the script is a bit awkward at times – sometimes in its favor and against it in others. As mentioned above, the film doesn’t really try to hide the fact that it has plot twists abound, but it did keep me wondering exactly which ideas it would run with.

Some sequences also feel somewhat jarring, though usually not by fault of the cast. One scene in particular, right before the end, felt somewhat awkwardly rushed in delivery. Since this same scene is explained in clear detail mere minutes later, it felt like it could either have had the last couple sentences snipped or rewritten.

At the same time, when it does deliver a plot point, you realize that it’s been hinting at it all throughout the film. Either through lines in the script or quirks from the actors, you know that the film’s been building up towards the reveals. Nothing feels like it is coming out of left-field, which is commendable.

The soundtrack fits the aesthetic: a somewhat quirky atmosphere with an underlying Gothic creepiness. Nothing in the theme felt out of place during the execution, so my hat’s off to the crew for keeping it consistent.

Worth a watch?: Yes, I think it is. I know I definitely intend to see it again, and knowing what I now know of the story, I intend to analyze it a bit more on my second viewing. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d give it a gander. From what I hear though, stay away from the trailers – I guess they drop spoilers like they’re going out of style.

At it’s core, Stonehearst Asylum is an interesting movie that definitely has talent, theme, and ideas. It always felt like it was just a step away from truly dedicating itself to those ideas, however, and taking the final plunge. Despite this, I found it humorously quirky in spots, but able to bite back with some unsettling themes and dread.

My thoughts on: Destiny.

“Masterful game-making” – The Escapist

“Activision and Bungie have a massive new hit” – Variety

“A Thrilling new franchise” – USA Today

“A more ambitious game than anything that has come before it” – Forbes

All of these glowing endorsements come from Destiny‘s own launch trailer. Now that the game has been out for a little time now, it’s time I gave my thoughts on the game’s narrative and voice-over.

Before I begin, do note something. I am only talking about the voice-over and story aspects of the game. If you want reviews for the rest of the game and its mechanics, I’d advise checking out the myriad of other reviews including Angry Joe, IGN, etc. I found the game to be slightly above average, though kind of addicting simply because of the loot.

Now, onto the show!

For those unawares, Bungie (the developers) were the founders of the Halo series. They bought themselves back from Microsoft and were brought into Activision’s fold to make Destiny.

With Halo as your previous works, that sets a pretty high bar. Right? Sadly, Destiny disappoints.

First off, have you seen the list of voice-actors in this thing? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion in Game of Thrones), Bill Nighy (Viktor in Underworld, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean), Lauren Cohan (Maggie in The Walking Dead TV show, Bela in Supernatural), Claudia Black (Aeryn in Farscape, Morrigan in Dragon Age), Nathan Fillion (Come on, do I really have to list his credits?), etc.

Awesome stuff, right? Too bad the vast majority of all the voice-acting feels soulless and void of life. That’s also just for what dialogue their characters actually speak, but I’ll get back to that.

The back-story is this…

Mankind has gone to Mars and made contact with this giant orbiting sphere that’s called “The Traveler.” Due to the things it teaches us, Mankind has a golden age in which Venus becomes a Garden-class world, Mars is settled, etc. AKA: Lots of good things happen.

Then, “The Darkness,” comes in and ends Mankind’s golden age and nearly destroys us. You are brought back from the dead to be a Guardian by your “Ghost” companion, an AI fragment of The Traveler voiced by Peter Dinklage. Upon your resurrection, you’re tasked with trying to push back against alien species fighting Mankind’s remnants.

And that’s the story as a whole.

No, seriously, that’s it. There’s a final boss, but there’s no real build-up as to even who or what it is. As I’m finishing the campaign, I’m feeling no more remarkable than when I started and, even worse, I’m left wondering what I even accomplished across this entire campaign.

This confusion is further expanded by questions that are left unanswered. Our Ghost tells us that we’ve been dead for a very long time and are going to see a lot of things we won’t understand. After that, we’re never actually told anything to bring us up to speed and get us informed. There are multiple moments like this throughout.

What doesn’t help this problem is the fact that, with what lore and background info that is actually there, over half of it isn’t actually even in the game.

As you play, you collect grimoire cards which give you snippets of lore and background info for the missions, the setting, and the universe’s history. Where do you view the lore from these cards? On Bungie’s website or phone app.

You read that right. Well over half the game’s background lore and even some mission briefings aren’t even in the game, they are on a website you won’t visit or a phone app you won’t want to install. You have to go ridiculously out of the way (and game) to get the big picture.

Even then the picture isn’t anything close to complete. There are holes in information all over the place, likely to be filled by expansion packs. Except, isn’t it a bit ludicrous that we’re hoping that we can buy expansion packs just so we can get an idea as to what is even going on or why we should care?

The voice-actors in that list above? They barely get a few minutes each with the exception of Dinklage. What’s worse, a number of grimoire lore entries have dialogue from their character in text-form that isn’t in the game. Worse yet, there’s more dialogue for those characters on those cards than there is in the actual game.

A nice example of this is a story that Nathan Fillion’s character tells as if he’s around a campfire. It was an interesting story, and when I was done reading it, I found myself craving the chance to have it in the game and actually voiced. You have a large list of good actors in your cast, squeeze some performances out of them and actually use them.

Bungie attempts to disguise their lack of story with subtle references in names and hinted concepts, leading you to think that the shallow pond is actually much deeper and you just don’t quite get it. Worse yet, to see it, you have to leave the game entirely in order to try and understand it.

Seriously, remember Mass Effect‘s codex? I wasted hours with the entries in that damn thing. You can’t tell me you couldn’t add a codex menu, an archive in your tower-base, or some bloody voiced comm-chatter.

In respect to the game’s narrative and delivery, Destiny is woefully lacking. It is a shallow experience that leaves me baffled at just how lifeless it feels.

From the people who brought us compelling adventures in the Halo series, filled with memorable characters who had more than their share to say, we’re left with Destiny. This new title is filled with no narrative substance that is left even emptier by soulless performances with only one or two exceptions (Lauren Cohan’s “Exo Stranger” stands out to me, though only from the two cutscenes she’s actually in).

Is Destiny the “massive new hit,” and “masterful game,” we’ve come to expect? No, it’s not. It had its sights set on a larger target, but it failed to suck me in and left me feeling like I could literally have grabbed any other shooter and played that.

My Thoughts On: Beyond – Two Souls.

It’s been a little while since I did a “My Thoughts On” article, but boy, do we have something to talk about.

Beyond: Two Souls came out for the PS3 on Tuesday, and I’ve been playing it non-stop since. Before I get into Beyond, however, I want to talk about my history with Quantic Dream, the studio behind the game.

I’d always known about Quantic Dream, but I’d never actually played one of their games before. My first experience with them actually came from a tech-demo they put together, called “Kara”. Check it out below if you like, I’ll wait

A seven minute tech demo that felt like a fully realized short story or film. It had more impact and delivery, to me, in those seven minutes than most movies get in a hundred and twenty, or most games get in 10 or more hours.

I was addicted, I needed to see what they could do with a full game, rather than just a seven minute tech demo. Thus, I went out and bought a copy of Heavy Rain.

I put it in and played it for three hours straight, then I never picked it back up again.

The story felt uninteresting, and the pacing was horrid; I felt like I had accomplished nothing in those three hours, and that I’d not even seen or experienced anything of consequence. With the pacing, I understand that you want to take some time to showcase a bit of who these characters are as people, and even a bit of what their lives might be like on a normal day. Still, it felt completely wrong and like the game was wasting my time.

When I saw the announcement for Beyond: Two Souls, however, I was captivated by the idea. I decided to give them another shot, so I picked up a copy of Beyond on Tuesday and have been playing it without pause. That fact alone should give you the impression that it is an improvement over my previous experience.

So, let’s get down to talking about what Beyond actually even is as a form of media and what it’s about. Shall we?

Beyond: Two Souls, while technically a video game, will challenge your definition of the medium. It isn’t something that you “play”, but more of something that comes out as an interactive movie experience. Make a note of all three of those words in particular, they are there for a reason.

The game differs from just about all others in that events play out on their own, you just happen to choose some dialogue options that affect the way you interact via conversations, or you interact with certain objects in the game that cause certain actions. It’s something akin to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, or for those of you familiar with the title, an evolution of Dragon’s Lair.

You don’t play the game, you merely interact with it and the characters therein. Actions taken throughout the game come in the form of quick-time events, something that is normally reviled in games. For this title and its story, however, it fits.

Everything about the game tries to emulate a movie, trying to act as a bridge between films and games. The camera angle and the way you see scenes, the film-like score by Hans Zimmer, even the casting choices; Ellen Page plays the role of the protagonist, while Willem Dafoe takes on the role of the biggest supporting character.

When you refine or strip down everything so you can leave nothing to get in the way of the story and immersion, however, you put just about every bit of scrutiny on those two elements. That in mind, how does the story, its characters, and that immersion hold up? For me, quite well. It’s got some rough patches, but it felt stronger than most other games.

You play the role of Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page), who has been bound to an entity known as Aiden ever since she was born. No one can see him except her, no one can hear him except her, but he can interact with the world and Jodie. Aiden is able to move objects (or throw them), possess or even kill people, act as a link so Jodie can experience visions, ect. He is helpful, but he’s temperamental, possessive, and fiercely protective of Jodie.

Because of how he can sometimes gets temperamental or bored, along with how defensive he can get, he often acts out on objects and people around her. This, as you might imagine, gives her some small blessings, but becomes a curse that derails her entire life.

The entire game plays through important events in Jodie’s life, ranging from when she was a small child, to growing up in a research lab under Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe), all the way into her adulthood. You, as the player, witness how Aiden’s presence drives people away from her, attracts the attentions of others, and how her link to him affects the world at large.

You also switch to Aiden, using his powers to interact with the world around you and even make some decisions. His powers are how you interact with the world and advance the story beyond Jodie’s own actions. Possessing people to open gates or even attack other soldiers, choking certain people to death, linking a vision to Jodie’s mind, ect.

So that’s the premise, but how is the execution? It’s a mix between a few scenes of brilliance, an overall quality of very good, but spots a few blemishes.

The story plays out of sequence, so you’ll bounce from a scene with Jodie as a young adult all the way back to when she was five, to then fast-forward to just before the present day. It works very well some times, but other times it seems to fall a bit flat and feels slightly disjointed. There are some plot-holes that can be noticed if you pay attention as well, but they aren’t too glaring.

The pacing was also a noticeable improvement over Heavy Rain for me. The first and second acts mostly avoid any sense of feeling “epic” or larger than life, with even some scenes acting as a normal moment in a normal life (cleaning up the apartment and cooking dinner for a date, as an example). Even then, however, we see how Aiden’s presence influences those events and the meaning of them.

In addition, the third act took a turn that felt a little far fetched, making it seem that it would maybe have been better off staying a bit more “grounded”. From what I understand, however, this is something of a recurring theme in Quantic Dream games.

At the same time, the game falls victim to violating the rule of “show, don’t tell”. As an example, it goes from one scene of us seeing a supporting character acting like a complete toss-bag, only to fast-forward to the next scene where Jodie tells us (through Aiden) that he’s smart and funny while providing no evidence to show how the character’s personality changed in between scenes.

Some of the dialogue also feels like it could have been written better, but the cast makes the most with what they have. The solid performances, when combined with the exceptional facial animation and detail, felt like it brought some scenes to life and made their impact that much more real.

I got involved in the story enough, mostly through the characters, that I was hooked to it. I’d even be lying if I said that some scenes didn’t bring tears to my eyes as you watch Jodie’s entire life story play out in front of you, all of her hardships included.

Keep in mind, this is not a happy story. It deals with abandonment, life and death, and even societal segregation. Jodie’s life is a mess because of Aiden’s presence, and him being there warps the meaning of the smallest and greatest of things.

From what I understand, there are more than a few endings depending on how you chose and influenced things, so I will definitely go back and do a new play-through at some point.

That, however, is what the game is in a nutshell. It’s going to attract and scare away players because of what it is and what you experience.

You’re not buying and playing a game, you are getting and interacting with an exceptionally long movie with quick-time events and some dialogue choices. You are playing more of a role as an observer who is able to influence the story, watching this tormented girl’s life play out before you.

Gamers who are looking for a challenge or engrossing gameplay will not want to even try it, because that is not what Beyond: Two Souls is about. If you’re like me and live for stories and characters, no matter the medium, then it’s worth considering.

I enjoyed my time with Beyond: Two Souls. I thought it was a unique experience in its form of delivery, and the story was interesting to watch play out. There were some hiccups along the way, yes, but I am willing to overlook them in favor of how I felt as everything played out on the screen before me.

If this story sounds like one that you want to experience, and you’re willing to recognize that it isn’t a game in the traditional sense, then I would recommend Beyond to you. I’d maybe suggest waiting for a price drop, since some might take issue with what amounts to a $60, 10-hour movie with QTE’s, but I would suggest trying it none the less.

~ James.

My thoughts on: R.I.P.D. (Film)

This weekend, after having an absolutely spectacular writing streak, I went and saw R.I.P.D. Now, I have some thoughts on it that I wanted to share for those that either have or have not seen it.

I won’t include any spoilers in here that can’t be gleamed from the trailers, so don’t fret.

I saw the trailers awhile ago. I’ve been seeing them for what feels like forever. Every movie, radio-station, and occasional TV ad has been hawking this thing for eternity. I also wanted to see it. To me, it seemed like MiB meets Hellboy or Constantine. It looked bad, but in that fun way that makes me feel entertained enough to have enjoyed myself and considered it “worth it.”

So, come Sunday, I went and saw it. Overall, if I had to make a vocalized expression to surmise my feelings on it, it’d be “Eh.”

The concept isn’t a bad one: Talented, skilled cops are, after death, given the option of serving in the Rest In Peace Department to capture the souls of the dead on Earth that hide and refuse to face judgment. As part of their work, they’re made to not look or sound like themselves back on Earth so that friends and family don’t recognize them and to prevent them from, essentially, breaking the universal rules.

Not bad, right? Not a terrible concept, some room to work with, plenty of options for stories, ect.

The problem is that I just didn’t get that much enjoyment from the film. I split from the norm is that I actually like Ryan Reynolds as an actor and he plays the newly dead cop that signs up with the R.I.P.D. Even still, I didn’t really feel much attachment with the character. It wasn’t a fault of his performance, but more of where he seemed to be told to focus his efforts.

Jeff Bridges also brings out a performance as an old-school lawman, adding a nice “timeless” feel to the R.I.P.D., but it sometimes felt like he went a bit over-the-top with the character. Grant it, the setting is over-the-top in concept, but the character kinda went further.

If you also watch the trailers, you’d imagine that there’s a hefty amount of humor, similar to MiB and such. The problem is, outside of Jeff Bridges’s character and a couple passive-aggressive lines from Reynolds, the attempts at humor felt dry and forced.

It also felt like they spent too much time lingering on the topic of Reynolds adjusting to losing everything he had by dying. Yes, I know, that’s actually something that should be there, but it felt like they focused on it a bit too hard. In MiB, for example, the focus was more on “J” being the rookie who was adjusting to the agency and all of the strange things there-in. Kind of a situation where one film dealt more with the past, while the other lived in the now.

The effects and visuals were nice, though some of the Deado’s (escaped souls) were so obviously CG that the quality reminded me of watching Van Helsing (I actually like that movie, so don’t flip me that much crap) in style and effect.

I have mixed feelings on R.I.P.D. I want to like it, even having gone in expecting it to not be winning any awards anytime soon, but it felt like it spent its time focusing on the wrong points. It felt like if they’d re-assessed the story and changed it up a little, it could have been something that was much more memorable than it was.

As it is, I am left with another piece of media that had a pretty slick concept, and even a great cast, but it just let the pieces fall in the wrong pattern. It makes me feel like the parts are greater than the whole, and that actually disappoints me with it.

Who knows, maybe a second watching will give me a more favorable opinion of it when it comes out.

~ James.