The Purge

I saw the previews for this movie and immediately scoffed at the premise.  I suppose it’s an interesting thought exercise but as a movie plot… Ennnh.

We were looking for some good Halloween type movies and it turns out we may have seen every not shitty horror movie.  While I was deliberating over whether to risk a movie where a murderous bigfoot terrorizes a town, or the ghost of a shark terrorizes some fishermen, The Purge popped up in the list of horror movies and we decided we may as well see just how bad it is.

It was surprisingly not shitty.  For most of the movie, anyway.  The premise was just as shitty as it seemed like it would be, but they got past it pretty quickly and got right down to the suspense.

The suspense part was good. I actually really enjoyed the way it was shot and the tension was palpable at several points in the movie, which is all I really ask from a horror thriller.  Well that’s not true I also ask that it not be so stupid that I can’t stop laughing the whole time, and it surprised me there too.  The preview clips made it seem like the “purgers” were trying to get into the house kind of at random, but in reality the plot had some plausible explanations for all of it.

In case you didn’t have the opportunity to laugh at the premise if this movie yet, it is set in the future when the United States of America has decided that the best way to solve its issues with violence is to give everyone a period of 12 hours once a year where they can commit any crime they want and just get it out of their system.  Hate your boss? Just wait until the purge and then murder them!  This solution is so very effective that violence no longer exists.
The main character of the movie is a guy who has become rich selling security systems to people who want to lock themselves away safely for 12 hours once a year. Because somehow there aren’t more people taking advantage of that extremely obvious cash cow.

The purge begins and this guy’s young son sees a man running down the street begging for someone to help him.  The son decides to help him, disarming the system and letting the guy into the house. The guy is not only black, but also wearing dog tags to indicate he is a veteran, just to ensure the symbolism is obvious.  They did earn a few points from me for only showing the dog tags in every scene, and not having a character blatantly and repeatedly point it out.

The people participating in the purge are not pleased with this decision and give the family an ultimatum – turn the guy over to be purged, or you die too.

This is when we learn the security systems this guy sells are a very expensive equivalent to The Club. It’s a visual deterrent where they move on to a juicier target, unless they actually want to enter the house, in which case all they need to do is spend about 5 minutes attempting to break in.  Also there is a disturbing lack of copious amounts of guns which could mow down any assholes standing on your lawn while you remain safe inside.  That probably would have been the first feature I asked for when defending against a night of free-for-all murdering, even if I planned to never use it.  They proceed to spend a large amount of time creeping around inside the house and fighting, and it was pretty good for a tense thriller type movie.

Then the ending happened and I discovered why it has such a low rating.  Why.  Ugh.  The premise is so fucking stupid, all you needed to do was spit it out as a setup and then ignore it. Noooo you had to go try to make some kind of social statement. A terrible, stupid social statement.

Sigh.

It was okay but don’t expect any thought provoking social commentary, whatever their original intentions were.

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FORCED

You know what I’ve always wanted?  I’ve always wanted the raid fights from World of Warcraft, but for 2-4 players.  Something that requires a lot of strategy and coordination, with specific roles for each team member, but without the need to collect and manage a group of 25 or more competent team members.

That game is FORCED.  We’ve played it for about 3 hours and only made it to the second set of challenges, but I already feel confident enough to recommend it.

The premise is that you are gladiators dumped into a ring, and you must battle through a series of challenges.  You can choose one of four roles/classes, then proceed into challenge chambers and try to succeed.  Succeeding at a challenge involves your standard “kill shit that is attacking you”, “avoid things that will kill you” (I accidentally referred to a giant spinning death beam as a “Lurker Beam”.  Sigh.  If you don’t understand that then, well, good.), as well as the novel mechanic which is passing an orb back and forth. The orb will activate switches which do various kinds of things (heal you, kill enemies, blow shit up, etc.), it might activate blocks which need to be pushed onto switches, or various other kinds of goals. Each encounter has three objectives: Succeed, succeed really fast (time attack, usually requiring a high degree of coordination), and a sort of “achievement” style challenge which can be anything from “do this perfectly” to “do this crazy shit that no sane person would attempt”.  Each time you complete a challenge you get a gem, which is used to unlock abilities, perks, and keys to bind things to.  I had originally thought that beating the chambers was fairly easy and that the real challenge of the game would be to complete all the extra challenges.  Then we had our asses kicked repeatedly in chamber 2.

People keep saying it’s an ARPG/Diablo clone, and I can see why because I also thought at first it was going to be a WoW/Diablo game (in fact… I think their own site refers to it as a Diablo style game)… but it’s actually not much like Diablo, aside from having a third person isometric camera angle and shit to kill.  There is no loot or experience.  The only progression comes from completing challenges and unlocking more abilities.  The real challenge is all on you as the player to execute the encounter correctly, and the advanced abilities only make that marginally easier by giving you more playstyle options that might better fit your comfort zone.  Basically, if you enjoy beating a challenge for intrinsic reasons (because it is challenging and then you can tick it off the “done that” list), you will love this game.  If you enjoy beating a challenge for extrinsic reasons (because it drops shiny items), you might wonder what the point is.

I also don’t see how this game will ever be fun to play with random groups.  My god, the ways you can fuck over an encounter… I can see this game ruining a number of legit friendships when they’re actually putting in effort, nevermind random internet assholes trying to grief things.  One tap of the space bar calls the orb to you, which calls it off-course from wherever it was going before.  A lot of the orb objectives require precise timing and aiming, and we screwed the encounter over so many times simply by losing track of which character was ours amongst the swarms of monsters.  Much cursing was heard.  And that’s on the second chamber with only two people who are physically in the same room and can yell instructions to each other easily.  I can only imagine it gets worse at higher levels, never mind with 4 people accidentally hitting space… and maybe some of them aren’t on voice chat… and then that one asshole keeps doing it on purpose…
Yeah.  Play this game with friends.  Very good friends that you aren’t likely to want to strangle.

The really unfortunate thing is that the game is suffering some launch issues, and I feel like that, combined with the misinformed “just another ARPG” vibe people are getting from it, will really hurt its reputation before it gets off the ground.  The netcode is apparently a little shaky, and the developers couldn’t afford to have dedicated servers for it.  The result is that the host has a perfectly solid game, but there are some pretty gnarly lag spikes for most everyone else.  My husband and I are in the same room and he was still having some connection issues (LAN doesn’t appear to be an option either…).  I’m really hoping they can iron it out or get some dedicated servers up before they lose rep.

My one legit complaint with it is that the camera gets in the way a lot.  The camera follows the orb, so when you and your buddies split up, it just zooms out so that you can still see everything.  Except you can’t really see everything and sometimes it messes you up.  Cameras are such a difficult thing to do correctly… it’s really only an issue because the game requires so much precision.  The other issue is that I found it really easy to lose my character in the mobs of monsters, or lose track of which character was mine on the screen (something that happened to both of us frequently, and it’s really bad because you’re like “Oh if I call the orb now it will hit that pillar perfectly!  … why is it going THAT w…, oh FUCK.”).  We were both on sinus decongestants at the time which probably wasn’t helping, though…

The game is fairly unique and I really want to support co-op endeavors like this, plus the developers themselves have a pretty awesome origin story and I feel like I want to support these guys.  The first review they list in their trailer literally says “Fuck your game!”.  What other evidence do you need!  Buy FORCED.

Turbo

We’ve been taking a lot of sinus decongestants and I kinda wanted to do something completely effortless… so I watched some animated movies!  I haven’t really been keeping up with the animation scene, but today I watched two relatively recent ones: Turbo and Despicable Me 2.

Despicable Me lived up to its predecessor in that it had supervillains hatching ridiculous plots, crazy ray guns and gadgets, and low IQ minions.  All the humour was spot-on, and the plot was dumb, but enjoyable mostly because the timing of the writing was excellent.

Turbo was terrible.

The interesting thing about that is that it follows a very familiar “underdog” formula.  A down on it’s luck [blank] falls on hard times and decides to follow its dream of [blank], making new friends and learning valuable moral lessons along the way.  In this case the [blank]s are “snail” and “win the Indy 500”.

I am going to paste this quote out of Wikipedia (without checking to see if it’s properly sourced or anything first. I’m living dangerously!):
“For me, it was less about trying to make a racing movie and more about finding an underdog that I could really latch onto. I think that a snail is inherently an underdog. It’s smashed, eaten by people, the butt of slow jokes around the world. It just seemed loaded with obstacles. Obviously, the opposite of slow is fast, and that’s where racing came into the picture.”

That’s it.  That’s the extent of the writing in this movie.  “People like underdogs.  Snails are slow, and fast is the opposite of slow – let’s have a snail win the Indy 500!”  Usually the writing in these things is clever enough to hide the formula a little bit, but in this case the movie is like “eh, he gets splashed with nitrous oxide and that lets him move at 230mph.  The kids won’t realize how dumb that is, don’t worry.”  It also installed LED lights that leave a trail behind him, his eyes are headlamps, there are blinkers in his butt, a stereo he turns on by banging his eyes together, and an alarm he can’t figure out how to turn off.

It was really dumb, and this is immediately after I praised a movie which contains yellow minions wielding fart guns. It’s all about suspension of disbelief, man.  Of course a supervillain is going to have yellow minions and they’re going to create fart guns!  It’s a natural step in the progression!  Dumping a snail in nitrous is only going to result in a dead snail.  You could at least say it’s some sort of super experimental thing someone was working on in order to create a super car, but they just couldn’t get it working until whoops, a snail fell in and it looks like the formula only works when combined with living tissue!  See, I’ve already written a better movie, and it’s still really stupid.

This is all completely ignoring the fact that once he gains super magic racing powers and sets a world speed record, he is no longer the god damn underdog.

It wasn’t even just that, though.  All of the characters were terribly written, which is probably tied directly to the fact that no real worldbuilding occurs.  The snail colony at the beginning is full of non-characters who do nothing but belittle Turbo for having a hobby.  The only purpose for any of it seems to be to set up a transparent “never give up on your dreams” morality lesson (and maybe hopefully a “don’t bully people like those dicks are doing” lesson), except that in this case the dream is fulfilled by somehow gaining magic powers, which is maybe not the best lesson for the little ones.  The “working at the plant” joke was something that they clearly thought was pretty clever (evidenced by the long pause and camera pull-out to reveal the plant.  ho ho ho it’s a literal plant, get it?), but it was hollow because they didn’t spend any time doing any worldbuilding in the garden.  You realize why worldbuilding is so threadbare when you realize the movie is split between three different locations, none of which are lingered in long enough for any building to occur.  Just as we start to figure out who these characters in the garden are, everything is whisked off to a new location and we lose track of them.  The “racing snails” are hastily introduced about halfway through the movie, not developed whatsoever, then go with Turbo to the race and proceed to do absolutely nothing important or even interesting (my god how did they get Samuel L. Jackson in on this?).  The only character that has any development at all is probably the driver that Turbo idolizes, and that’s only because he turns into the villain so he’s there throughout all of these locations.  Then we have Turbo’s brother who spends the entire movie being negative as shit and completely unproductive (he witnesses his brother moving at 230mph and still does nothing but whine about what a waste of time it is to try to do anything with it), making you want to punch him in the face. Then he makes a crazy about-face at the very very end, just when everything seems bleakest.  Man oh man I did not see that twist coming.  I still want to punch him in the face.

You know what would have helped immensely?  Just cut the whole garden from the plot.  Start at the mini-mall with the racing snails as a diversion in the back.  Suddenly Turbo has a reason to be into NASCAR, he has a reason to want to be faster, it doesn’t take an amazing amount of serendipity for him to be randomly picked up by some guy who happens to race snails, we have more time to develop the supporting cast…. dunking him in Nitrous is still really stupid but the rest of the movie would at least support it better.

There’s a big difference between a plot that’s written to appeal to children, and a plot that’s dumped out because kids won’t notice the difference.  Your kids might like this movie… in fact they probably will like it.  But there are so many cleverly written movies nowadays that appeal to children, teach them things (without being sappy as shit), AND contain humour that still appeals to adults… that’s the standard that movies should be trying to reach.  Turbo is just an unfortunate cash-in attempt.

Mary and Max

I can’t remember how I found this movie.  I think it was when I was picking up random foreign films, since it came from Australia, but somehow we didn’t get around to watching it.  Last night we watched it and I went on a real rollercoaster, from “Wow this is awesome and unique” to “Woah, unexpected” to “I’m not even sure I want to write a review about this because I’m not sure what I think…”.  It was a GOOD MOVIE, don’t get me wrong, but much like “UP” you probably shouldn’t watch it if you’re looking for something to cheer you up, jesus.

The movie is claymation animation, which, according to evidence from some reviews I saw, probably fools some people into thinking it is for children.  It is not for children.  Good god no.  It almost needs its own genre… it’s a black comedy but also a drama and a bit of a social statement at the same time.  There’s a lot of very crude (non-North-American style of crude) humour (all well executed, I might add) layered overtop of a lot of very sombre issues.  The basic premise is that Mary is a lonely little girl who picks a name at random to write to because she wants friends.  She ends up writing to a reclusive man with aspergers, who also has no real friends.  They chat back and forth about the various issues in their lives, spanning many years of time.  Almost nothing good happens to either of them. Maybe that’s a spoiler but I almost feel like you should be prepared before you go into this thing because I sure wasn’t.  The ending was one of those bittersweet “I almost feel like this is a good ending and I’m kind of happy, but at the same time, fuck everything” endings.  I think that means it was a success… I’m not sure.

Probably the only thing I am going to actually bitch about is that the movie starts off saying “This is based on a true story”.  The events near the end of the movie were starting to make me a little skeptical (but then again, truth is almost always stranger than fiction) but it was convincing enough that I scampered over to Wikipedia to discover the origins of the movie.  I had to do a ctrl-f to even find the reference, and it pointed back to an interview where the writer said he had a pen pal once, and that’s pretty much the only thing not fabricated.  Disappointing, and downright false advertising, I say.  If I were giving it stars I would subtract one just for lying to me.

If you can handle the deceit and depression, I definitely recommend trying to find this movie.  It was unique and well orchestrated, and even though it was depressing I wouldn’t say it was trying to be emotionally manipulative, just blunt and raw.