District 9

August 20, 2009

As an action movie, District 9 is exceptional. It takes risks. For one, the inventive step of taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa instead of the typical alien landing spots in movies like New York City. Another, making the aliens look pretty inhuman (unlike the inoffensive aliens in Alien Nation, which I’ve seen D9 compared to). That you ultimately get over their offputting appearance and sympathize with them (I really cared and rooted for Christopher Johnson, and somehow his kid was adorable), shows how well the film works. But what really distinguishes D9 and what it has really been praised for is its metaphor for Apartheid. It doesn’t shy away from condemning humanity – it gets pretty dark.

Though I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed with how it went for the high action route. For the first half it runs with the Apartheid/xenophobia premise, employing a faux-documentary approach with interviews, news footage, and first-hand recording. And it was really compelling, because it was an interesting world Neill Blomkamp set up, if just for the sociological angle. But Blomkamp soon breaks completely with the documentary-format completely (which felt like a pretty rough break of style for me). Michael Phillips makes a good point on that. It strays into the violent, high-body-count kind of action movie (which I have a conflicted relationship to), but, then again, the graphic violence might be understandable given the context and subject matter. According to the LA Times article: “Grappling with the larger social commentary about apartheid and minority rule he wanted to make, however, Blomkamp worried the film would become too serious and oppressive and that it ‘wouldn’t be entertaining on a popcorn level.’”

But maybe it’s nitpicking. Even if it aspires to be “entertaining on a popcorn level,” D9 distinguishes itself from other action blockbusters for its inventive, daring, and rich premise that Blomkamp doesn’t shy too much away from, especially with the challenging themes and implications.

Damn Interesting

July 29, 2009

I think this may be my new favorite blog.

I’ve had some time to think.

BLACKEST NIGHT: TITANS #2
Written by J.T. Krul
Art and cover by Ed Benes & Rob Hunter
Variant cover by Brian Haberlin

Titan-on-Titan violence! Black Lantern Hawk has his talons set for the female Hawk and Dove! Meanwhile, Red Star faces a frightful family reunion with Black Lanterns Pantha and Wildebeest, and Donna Troy faces her worst possible nightmare! Plus, Black Lantern Terra terrorizes Beast Boy! Continuing the 3-issue miniseries from writer J.T. Krul (JSA CLASSIFIED, Fathom) and superstar artist Ed Benes (JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA)!

I’m cautious. I’m happy Pantha is being used, though not how she got there. But I have some uneasiness.

I worry she’s just going to be the butt of bad, overdone head jokes.

I worry it might end up being a horribly cliched resolution – Red Star learning to let go and leave Pantha and BW to rest (despite, of course, other dead heroes coming back anyways).

I’m hoping they bring back the dead like Pantha after the event is done. They can’t keep Martian Manhunter dead, can they?

In Control

June 15, 2009

Microsoft’s foray into motion controls, dubbed Project Natal, made a pretty big splash at E3.
The Milo demo was a pretty impressive demo of the capabilities of the device, showing off the various ways you can interact with the game. But Richochet is probably closer to what the actual gameplay will be.

But can you get rid of the controller all together? How will Natal handle other genres of gaming? Can you play something like Street Fighter just by flailing around? Is it easier to use buttons with encoded actions, or miming actions?

Despite striking first and successfully with the Wii, it still requires a controller for input, especially if you consider retro and indie gaming. Shigeru Miyamoto, in fact, argued that controllers are a necessity (full interview) for gaming.

As someone who thinks of things from the perspective of creating interactive experiences, I really think that you do need something. I don’t think as a creator that I could create an experience that truly feels interactive if you don’t have something to hold in your hand, if you don’t have something like force feedback that you can feel from the controller. That’s why I think the Wii remote, particularly with Wii MotionPlus, makes for such a strong experience.

I think that some of their designers are going to be faced with that question going forward, and they’ll have to find solutions to that, and perhaps that’s why you see for one of the devices that it’s not simply a camera, but that you’re holding some kind of wand with lights that change colors. I think those are interesting ideas, and there are interesting ways that that could be developed, but those are challenges that they’re still facing and trying to learn to overcome.

Granted, it’s still way too early to fully judge what Natal will become, but it’s opening up a new road.

Yuri Norstein‘s dreamlike Tales of Tales has been dubbed the best animated film there is. It’s a real beautiful film, with some haunting imagery.

Here’s the short, split into three parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Silent Wii

April 1, 2009

Looks like my initial disappointment with the Wii might be made up: there will be a “reimagining” of the first Silent Hill for the Wii. An intriguing aspect of the game:

“One of Shattered Memories’ most significant and intriguing additions—your answers actually affect how the game unfolds. And it doesn’t end there. the game “watches” you constantly, and your behavior throughout can determine when you’ll meet certain characters, which scenes you’ll witness, and a variety of other factors.” “In Silent Hill games, the town always gets inside the protagonist’s head,” say Hulett. “But now, it’s getting inside YOUR head.”

That really has my attention. I think Silent Hill 2 did something similar to great effect where your actions lead to different endings. It’d be interesting to see how this implementation works for the new Silent Hill, since it opens up new layers and experiences.

Recently Consumed Media

February 17, 2009

- I really enjoyed Coraline. You can see that – from the animation to the set design – a lot of love and care went into making this movie. There are some gorgeous scenes (such as when the alternate world breaks down). I’m happy to see it employed stop motion animation, which always, I think, gives the movie a certain charm and aesthetic.

I managed to see it in 3D, which was nice for the movie, but I’m not too sure I’d like to see it in other movies. It looked great (though I had to put the 3D glasses over my regular glasses, which was kinda awkward), but I think 3D only works for certain kinds of movies, not quite for, say, dramas.

- OK, I’m hooked on Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. I’m a big Tezuka fan, and I love House, so this medical drama is right up my alley. In fact, House owes a lot to Tezuka – the titular main character is a mysterious, complicated man recovering from a disfiguring operation; both deal with rare or special cases with huge risks. House, though, edges more toward a traditional detective story structure (where the diagnosis is the “criminal”), while Black Jack is mostly the drama.

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