So What If I’m A Fangirl?

December 15, 2009

SimAnimals Africa

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Early this year, Electronic Arts put out a game titled SimAnimals which allowed gamers to manage and play with an assortment of cute woodland animals. It was a part of the popular The Sims series, albeit with animals and plants rather than humans and neighborhoods. The game did well enough to get a sequel in the form of SimAnimals Africa. The new title reminds me a bit of EA’s old game, SimSafari, due to the exotic location, although this new title is certainly better visually than its predecessor and has more interesting animals at the player’s disposal. Even so, it lacks in the long-lasting department and in creativity, which is a shock considering how ambitious the game appears to be at first glance.

The title takes place in Africa as the player is instructed by special animal totems about the ways they can help make certain areas of Africa be healthier and happier. The animals there need help, and the player is required to make friends with the animals and find ways to make them happy. The player utilizes an omnipotent hand and can look down on the landscape or focus in closely on each animal. Bonding happens as the animal gets attention from the hand, and it can be fed, pet, played with, and moved around. A new experience here is that the player can actually become the animal and then run around to accomplish certain goals. Each animal has their own special abilities, such as the giraffe being able to swing fruit down, the elephant shooting up water, and the lion devouring everything in sight. Like in SimAnimals, the animals do fall in love, breed, and have cute little babies to coo over. Also as before, the predators try to eat the prey, and this can lead to some very emotional moments after the player spends time with a zebra only to have it eaten. It’s the circle of life!

Visually this game is very cartoon-like and this works brilliantly for the style and atmosphere. It is colorful and pleasing to look at, plus there is a jungle musical beat in the background that helps the African vibe. The visual glitches from the first game seem to be gone, and this time around the animals look well detailed and attractive. The player can ‘level up’ their animals by playing games with them or just giving appropriate attention, and then the animals will be capable of doing greater acts. For example a hippo digs holes, and after reaching level two in strength it can dig in areas it was too weak to dig before. Other animals are more interested in being the pets that are smothered with love by the hand, and those special creatures get more attention from the rest of their herd. The Wiimotes are used in logical ways, such as petting the animals by moving it up and down, and by pressing buttons at the right time to catch flowers in the air. The animals have want meters such as food, drink, and play, and there are less concerns this time around about making plants grow and overpopulating the area.

The game has a strong concept, and with the neat African theme it really should have been better. However, the problem is that it all gets boring very fast.  Even though it is not exceptionally long, one will be tired of the game before reaching the end.  I finished it in only a few hours, and after the millionth time petting the zebras until they liked me, it was, simply put, boring. Everything is repetitious, especially the mini-games because there are really only two of them: a ring toss and a drum jumping game. Both are entertaining the first few times, but not after that.  Perhaps if each animal had their own special mini-game it could have been spaced out better. There are only eight species too which is a real problem, especially considering the rich world of Africa they had to explore. In SimAnimals there were almost too many animals, but at least that never got very boring.

Some of the changes made in SimAnimals Africa are great ones. Interacting with the animals is more entertaining with special mini-games and it makes everything more personal. Each area has its own set of level making decisions that are small and easy to navigate. The game looks better and moves more fluidly, and while the camera is not perfect, it does not distract from playing. The set up of the game is interesting, it is just that the execution feels lazy. There is so much more that could be done here, and since it really works early on, it is disappointing that everything becomes repetitious and tedious. If they threw in more diverse animals and made each one distinctly different, with special mini-games and perhaps even petting techniques, it could have worked. As it is, SimAnimals Africa feels more like an expansion pack then its own game.
That being said, this is probably a great game for a very young gaming audience. It might keep the interest of anyone between six and nine, so for that age bracket this is a successful game. Fans of the first game will find much to like about this sequel, although they might be unhappy with the lack of species and smaller world.

The Dolphin People Book Review

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Torsten Krol is a fairly new writer, but he’s caused positive waves since his arrival with the novel The Dolphin People. Since then he’s also published Callisto, and he has not done any public appearances. There are some rumors he might be another author hiding behind a pseudonym, but there is no proof of that so far. The Dolphin People has recently been released as a paperback. Set post-World War II, it features a family of former Nazi-sympathizers who go on a journey in Venezuela. After a horrible accident they are forced to live with natives of the jungle.

Erich is the teenage protagonist of The Dolphin People, a 16-year-old German whose father just died while serving in the Nazi army. His uncle Klaus decided to do the right thing for the family by offering to marry his brother’s widow. Erich and his little brother Zeppi fly to Venezuela with their mother and attend the small, private wedding ceremony. Klaus is a handsome and well spoken man, supposedly a doctor, who changes the family name since they might be on lists of wanted Nazis. He buys a plane trip out to a new job, but the plane crashes on the way there and only the four of them survive. Not long after, as they wait for rescue, they are found by naked and dangerous-looking natives who escort them to the village in the jungle.

There they meet another white man, an intellectual named Gerhard, who has been with the tribe for many years. He tells them that the natives believe they are dolphin spirits turned into humans, and they had better play along if they wanted to live. Erich finds this something of an adventure, slowly starting to get comfortable in his new surroundings by shedding his own clothes and befriending the hunters. He finds love (or lust) with a native girl, learns a disturbing secret about his little brother Zeppi, starts to understand where the Nazi party went wrong, and watches his mother’s sanity slowly drain away. By the end of the book Erich is changed, no longer the arrogant and brainwashed boy he once was, and with family ripped to shreds he must learn to decide for himself what is right.

This is an interesting and disturbing tale, and it mixes a coming-of-age story with a historical setting. It is written in the first person as Erich’s story, so the reader gets to clearly see the journey, especially in his feeling toward his uncle Klaus and the Nazi party he worships. Erich is not necessarily a good boy by any means; he can be very selfish and arrogant, and he does not often think ahead. Like any teenager he makes mistakes, but in this case the consequences can be dire. The details of how each person in his family unit manage to break apart due to their capture is downright fascinating, and it is probably best that we see the story from the only one that manages to stay completely sane.

The back states that it is a black comedy, but there was nothing particularly funny about the book, nor did there need to be. The narrator may have occasionally found things to laugh about in his very dire situation, but for the reader it is a tense experience. We wait for the inevitable trouble to start, whether it is when the natives realize they are not dolphins or if they do try to escape, and Gerhard’s original choice to stay and live there might have been the wisest option. The Dolphin People is somewhat of an obscure and fantastical story, but it still draws a reader in through sheer curiosity. None of the characters are particularly likable, although they are understandable. Man turning animal in extreme cases of fight or flight is not a new theme, but it works even now because analyzing human nature will never get boring.

The Dolphin People is available in paperback now in stores everywhere. It is an adult book with language, violence, and references to sex and nudity. This book may appeal to fans of stories like Lord of the Flies, but with a Nazi spin.

Favorite Celebrity Siblings

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The movie “Brothers” comes out this weekend, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, and Tobey Maguire, and it got everyone at thinking about brothers … and sisters. About celebrity siblings to be exact. There are some incredibly talented families out there, and while that occasionally means high family drama, sometimes the siblings who come out of it become celebrity gold. Here’s a look at some of the best celeb siblings out there right now.

Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine

There are still people in the world that have no idea that these two Oscar winners are even related, and this is not really surprising. Both have a tendency to focus on the work rather than the celebrity circus, and both have been generously rewarded for their ethics by several awards and critical acclaim. Shirley won a Golden Globe for her very first acting role in “The Trouble with Harry,” but she is best known for “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolias.” Warren on the other hand is a star in his own right, a Hollywood hunk who also was nominated for a Golden Globe on his first movie “Splendor in the Grass.” He’s best known for “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Bugsy,” and for being nominated in four major awards for the Academy Awards all for the same film (acting, writing, directing, and Best Picture). He accomplished this twice! These two are definitely heavy hitters in the acting world even after fifty years … and then some.

Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine

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Janet and Michael Jackson

While the fans still mourn for Michael Jackson’s passing, it is his family that truly suffer without him. While the Jackson family has several siblings that had fame with “The Jackson 5,” it was specifically youngest child Janet and brother Michael that shot into the spotlight. While both had their stints in acting, it was really their singing and dancing talents that caught the world’s attention. Even decades after the height of their popularity and after numerous scandals and personal troubles, they are both pop icons that will never be forgotten in the music world.

Janet and Michael Jackson

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Maggie & Jake Gyllenhaal

The Gyllenhaal’s started slowly creeping into the spotlight during the 2000’s, and now there’s not a celeb fan in sight who don’t know about Maggie and Jake. Both siblings got their big breaks from indie films, and they are better known as cult classics than big blockbuster sells. Maggie starred in films like “Secretary” and “SherryBaby,” and Jake stole hearts in “Donnie Darko” and “Brokeback Mountain.” Honestly it looks like these two are just getting started, with Maggie branching out somewhat into the theater and Jake headlining a huge film “Prince of Persia” for next year. These two heartthrobs took the indie world by storm and are now seeming to move into the mainstream, so keep an eye out.

Maggie & Jake Gyllenhaal

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John and Joan Cusack

John and Joan Cusack are a set of siblings that most people know are related, and this is because they like to be in the same films together. A lot. Examples are “Sixteen Candles,” “High Fidelity,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Say Anything,” etc etc on and on. They have an excellent on-screen chemistry which apparently comes from their genuine affection for one another off-screen. Joan is more famous for playing supporting roles, nominated for two Oscars in that category for “Working Girl” and “In & Out,” where John tends to go the dark comedy way with movies like “Being John Malkovich.” He’s also somewhat of a romantic comedy star, with films like “Must Love Dogs” and “Serendipity” under his belt. This sibling set are a bit on the odd side, a little quirky you could say, and that’s why we love them.

John and Joan Cusack

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Ben and Casey Affleck

Although Casey Affleck is slightly less known than his brother Ben, who famously won an Academy Award for writing “Good Will Hunting” with best friend Matt Damon, he actually gained great notice before that film even came out. In 1995 Casey starred in “To Die For” as a sociopathic teenager, and that’s a memorable role to look back at if you’re just jumping on the Casey Affleck bandwagon. He’s gotten more attention now due to his Oscar nomination for “The Assassination of Jesse James,” and for the critically acclaimed movie “Gone Baby Gone.” Old fans of Ben Affleck know him more from his Kevin Smith days, but after the success of “Good Will Hunting” he went on to do blockbusters like “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “Daredevil.” He’s started to flex his directing muscles recently, having directed “Gone Baby Gone” with his brother starring and an upcoming movie titled “The Town.” These two may be a new sibling duo to fear, with one behind the camera and one in front of it.

Ben and Casey Affleck

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Donny and Marie Osmond

It’s hard not to put Donny Osmond on this list since he just won the “Dancing With The Stars” championship and has shot back into the public eye. This former teen idol has done a great deal of things other than dance, such as run a talk show, write books, and race cars. Most of his life has been spent at the side of his sister Marie. They were a brother-sister team who sang their way into country hearts everywhere, and they cut several solo albums as well as gaining fame as a couple. They even had their own variety show “Donny & Marie.” Both siblings have appeared on Broadway to great acclaim, and continue to have singing careers today. They have a squeaky clean image and are considered ‘wholesome’ performers.

Donny and Marie Osmond

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Honorable mentions: The Wilson brothers, the Coen brothers, the Arquette family, the Baldwins, the Olsen twins.

Beverly Hills 90210 Season 8 Review

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In the ’90s it would be nearly impossible to find someone under the age of 30 who didn’t know about Beverly Hills, 90210. Its intense popularity lasted long after that, and only recently spawned its own modern spin-off, 90210, with several of the old cast reappearing.

The show was a dramatic soap opera, focusing on the lives of a group of friends in California from high school to college to post-graduate life. For ten years it dominated and turned all of the cast members into real stars and heartthrobs, although many of their careers did not stick. The seasons have been slowly released on DVD and now season eight is out for all those fans of the show to relive. And anyone who never saw it before is going, “Oh my god, is that Hilary Swank?” Welcome to Beverly Hills, 90210 season eight.

The gang is now officially out of college and have to find their footing in the real world. Kelly (Jennie Garth) and Brandon (Jason Priestley) struggle with their relationship as they move in together and eventually get engaged. Both have serious dilemmas of their own when Kelly gets amnesia for a few episodes from a traumatic drive-by shooting, and Brandon gets arrested and refuses to give the name of his source for an article. Donna (Tori Spelling) goes into business with Valerie (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) who starts stealing her clients, of course. It’s Valerie. She’s the bad girl! She has a scare of her own later in the season when she realizes her way of living might be seriously dangerous as she waits for the results of an AIDS test.

David (Brian Austin Green) digs himself a deep financial hole and uses loan sharks, causing some real problems for him and for the people around him. This leads to Donna kicking him out of their apartment, so they have an angsty back and forth for most of the season. He befriends Valerie again which leads to all kinds of badness, because remember, she’s the bad girl. Steve (Ian Ziering) gets very serious about a single mother, and he spends most of the season dealing with her and how he feels about becoming a surrogate father.

There’s partner swapping and drugs and insane drama like always in this season. Two new big characters are introduced, although only one of them stays. Carly is played by Hilary Swank, who is now an Oscar winner, which is hilarious if you think about it. Everyone starts out somewhere, right? Her character dates Steve for most of it, and she has a pretty solid role as the single mother. She was quite likable. Then Vincent Young joined the cast as Noah Hunter, and he stayed on the show after this season. Noah was the bad boy to replace Dylan’s (Luke Perry) character, and he bounced between Valerie and Donna.

Season eight was their attempt to deal with life after school, and while the show floundered a bit at times the drama over work stuff could be rather interesting — more so than the same old romantic entanglements everyone could see coming a mile away. No one watches Beverly Hills, 90210 for exceptional acting or serious stories, but for the fun of the show. It’s dramatic and amusing and a real guilty pleasure. The show was wearing down a bit by season eight, and it would only last two more seasons, but it still had plenty to offer for diehard fans.

The DVD set comes with seven discs with the full episode list of the season, and not much else. The picture is very clear and not grainy in the least like some television show adaptations from the ’90s, so it looks great in the DVD format. The sound is solid, with dialogue being just as strong as the music and it’s very easy to follow. The show offers several different languages in subtitles, but there are no real extras coming with this box set. That’s a little disappointing, although it makes sense that it would be hard to get a lot of the cast members to offer anything for this release. Most of them have moved on. But they couldn’t get any of the crew or producers or directors to say a few things? This season took a big jump from the others since it was the characters moving to a new big step in their lives. It’d be great to have some commentary or even a behind-the-scenes look at the season.

Fans of the series will not mind the lack of extras, however. They probably own all the other seasons and just want to keep completing their collection. If you’ve never seen Beverly Hills, 90210 I wouldn’t start in season eight, but it is a good turning point for the characters so hypothetically a new viewer could jump in here. It just wouldn’t be the smoothest transition. It was great to revisit the sometimes silly but often heartfelt world of Beverly Hills, 90210, and the season eight DVD set is a must-have for fans or collectors of the series.

Comic Review: Angel #28

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A lot of fans of the Angel comics were sad to see that Brian Lynch was ending his run as writer, since he and Joss Whedon started this comic up, and it was great to have him at the helm again. The question is who could possibly follow up Lynch, and the answer was Bill Willingham. Whoever made this decision should get a prize, because Willingham’s whimsical interest in the supernatural and heroism (from Elementals and the brilliant Fables series) fits right in with Whedon’s sense of humor and imagination. He is joined on his run by artist Brian Denham, and the series will pick off where it left off.

The Fall has come and gone and now Angel and his crew are famous in LA for their role in saving the city. Angel #28 starts a new storyline called “The Crown Prince Syndrome” and stars Connor for most of it. Angel’s miracle son is surprised to find three demons from his past Hell world trying to kill him, and while he fights them he considers his past and reconciling the two sets of memories he has. This is all common knowledge to most Angel fans, so it is a little weird to be rehashing everything. People who have been reading the comics so far know that Connor is Angel’s son by Darla, and that he was raised in a Hell dimension. Angel made a deal with Wolfram & Hart to give Connor a better set of memories and a better life. The monsters are giant lizards and he is about to get the drop on him, when strangely dressed strangers come to help him.

They treat him like he’s a royal prince, and as a teenager this is probably the quickest way to rub his ego. He’s the miracle child, the son of two vampires, and so this leads him to take the leadership role when he gets back to Angel Investigations. Gunn, Spike, Illyria, James, Kate and Dez are all there, and so is George. No one knows where Angel is, and they banter about him running off after some girl. They discuss if it’s because of his “I cannot be with you!” drama, and it’s hard not to snicker. Girls just love the broody, angsty men! Spike babbles on about a story of his in Vegas that no one cares about, and he sulks that everyone is talking about Angel. Soon he’ll be going “Angel Angel Angel!” to the tune of “Marsha Marsha Marsha!”

The important part is that no one seems to argue when Connor decides to inherit his father’s position as leader. Really? No one? Alright. Then the comic flashes to Innovation Labs where Angel is strapped up in a top secret place, animal blood coming to him from feeding tubes, and he is bored. That is an amusing reminder of when Cordelia became a higher being and was seen whining in the skies about being bored. No one knows where Angel is yet, but they’ll soon get concerned and kick this storyline off for real. At the end of the comic there is an extra story about a man named Eddie Hope, who seems to be a demon of sorts that is collecting baddies who got out of Hell into the city. It will be interesting if he comes into play for the actual comic, because he seems like a character with real potential.

It’s not a bad beginning, and the art is colorful and interesting. The switch from the brighter base with the main characters to the dark shadowy labs was really interesting. It made a sharp contrast and really set the mood well. It also takes very clean artwork to show each of the characters in a detailed enough way that the reader knows instantly who is who. Willingham is a great storyteller, so it is worth checking out this new storyline to see where he is taking the Angel gang.

October 21, 2009

Nintendo Wii Review: Dead Space: Extraction

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In 2008 Electronic Arts put out a terrifying survival horror-action video game titled Dead Space that was met with approval by the critics and gamers alike. Tense, scary, and remarkably set in outer space, the game covered Isaac Clarke’s journey through a mining ship as creatures came out of everywhere trying to eat him. As the story enfolds thanks to holographic blips and found information, the player had to use strategic fighting with the very creative weapons scattered about the station. Now when EA announced that they were putting out another Dead Space game, everyone was delighted … but then the details came out. A prequel game set on a Wii console? There’s no way that bloody, vicious high-def game on PS3, 360, and PC could be replicated on the most casual gaming system, right? Well any doubters were wonderfully wrong, as Dead Space: Extraction delivers!

The game takes place before the original story begins, and approximately around the same time as the events in the animated film Dead Space: Downfall. Where in the original game the human miners were already turned into elaborate alien beings, this is when things first began to break down. You’re part of a group of space colonists who are fighting the alien Necromorphs as they mysteriously start taking people over and turning them violent. It sets off after a mysterious marker is found in the very beginning, and the workers all try to find sanctuary and simply get out … alive. If you’ve played Dead Space, you know where this story is going, but it’s still fascinating to watch.

One interesting factor is that you switch protagonists as things become more dire. Anyone around you could die at any given time, including the person you are currently playing. This makes everything more tense and adds danger to every door you open, because this could be the room where your soldier or his team dies. The aliens become increasingly scary and dangerous, having their own weaknesses and strengths, and you often have to think on your feet. The excellent use of the Wiimote for action lets you shoot guns, use telekinesis, shake glow sticks to see in dark places, reload, switch weapons, and the excellent Stasis ability that freezes your enemies in time so you can get a leg up on the fight. There are several guns you can switch between and upgrade as the game goes on, and you can learn to use boxes or explosive barrels for a strategic advantage in a dangerous place. The action is consistent and often startling, sudden attacks and random puzzle moments causing your pulse to jump because any slower and those damned Necromorphs will be on you! Ahhh!

For the Wii, the graphics are excellent and work incredibly well with the style put forth in the first game. It is dark and polished and creepy, futuristic yet brutal all at once, and the designer for Dead Space: Extraction embraced the particular style. It is not quite as scary as the first game, as sometimes on-rails game have trouble since you know the story is moving at a predetermined pace. There were plenty of times when I got swarmed and could simply keep them at bay swinging a glowing axe until I reloaded. It does seem slightly simplified in case casual gamers wanted to give it a try, but there are difficulty levels to sort through if you want more of a challenge. Even experienced gamers might have trouble aiming the Wiimote and taking out the limbs of aliens rushing at you, especially if you turn the difficulty up to the highest. The voice acting is good and the characters have developed personalities and motives … although mostly that’s just ‘please please please let me live.’ Good luck to them.

After the run-through of the game’s story, you have 10 challenge modes on top of it. There’s also co-op for two players, although that can get a little confusing since you both are hovering over the screen with guns and can criss-cross the shots. Good communication will solve any muddled gameplay with a friend, however. Generally, Dead Space: Extraction was a welcome surprise, an on-rails light action game that is genuinely scary and entertaining, plus it respects and acknowledges ties to its predecessor. They pushed the powers of the Wii so that it looks and feels better than ever, so anyone who says the Wii can’t do an M-rated shooter should bite their tongue. While it may not visually be the same as the 360 or PS3, and even if it wasn’t as spine-crawlingly scary as the original, it was an exceptional addition to the Wii. It’s proof that the system is capable of more than just casual gaming, and that’s what the industry needs to do: push the envelope and believe it will be worth it.

Dead Space: Extraction was a delight to play, although I’ll now be having nightmares for the next few weeks of blowing off spidery limbs and ignoring creepy whispering voices in the darkness. If you were a fan of Dead Space, this is a must-buy. If you didn’t give the first one a try, there’s no harm in starting the series now since this is technically the beginning.

Dead Space: Extraction is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for violence and gore. This game can only be found on the Nintendo Wii.

DVD Review: The Proposal

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The romantic comedy is a rather popular genre even after decades of seeing cute stars meet and fall in love over and over again. They are generally feel-good movies you can go to with your significant other, or perhaps with a giggling group of friends, and live vicariously through the sometimes cheesy, sometimes clever plot on screen.

For every successful rom-com there are about a dozen failures, but no one expected the level of success that this year’s The Proposal attained. Released right in the middle of summer, the movie grossed around $160 million domestically and it was only made for $40 million. This is basically a slam dunk in Hollywood, and it went on to great success worldwide. Now that it’s coming out on DVD, there’s no doubt we’ll see another huge bundle of money being shipped to the powers that be, so the question it … does this romantic comedy really deserve the amount of money and notice it received? The answer is yes, pretty much!

First of all The Proposal is an excellent representation of how the business world has changed. Sandra Bullock plays a high-powered, intelligent business woman named Margaret Tate who is generally hated by her subordinates but knows how to sell books as an editor-in-chief. Ryan Reynolds plays her assistant, Andrew Paxton. The gender role switch here is a strong point of the plot, with Margaret being in command and control, while Andrew resents being tortured and pushed around by her at all times. Everyone hates Margaret for her ruthless manner, and in many ways she could represent the current ‘vision’ of strong but cold women in power. But that’s not all there is to her, as Andrew is about to find out.

Margaret is from Canada and unfortunately her immigration status is under fire and she will have to return to Canada. Panicking about possibly losing her job, she announces that Andrew is going to marry her, thus securing a green card. He isn’t all too happy about the idea until she promises him a promotion for going along with the lie. They both realize they are getting into some dangerous waves when the immigration officer makes it clear they have a lot to prove. The duo go off to Ryan’s home in Alaska to meet his family and prove that they are a loving couple. Lying to his family is a little more difficult than lying to a stranger, especially for Margaret, who grows fond of her future in-laws. Mary Steenburgen plays Andrew’s mother, who is loving and welcoming from the get go, while Craig T. Nelson plays his much colder and less approving father. Betty White is a scene stealer as his charming and eccentric grandmother.

As you can expect, Andrew and Margaret start to fall for one another while put in this wacky situation. Nothing is particularly surprising in romantic comedies any more, and you get what you pay for. This movie has a lot more bite than expected, with both actors having genius comedic timing and snark. Their chemistry feels genuine and is probably the biggest selling point of The Proposal. This may be the most successful movie Sandra Bullock has ever made, and this must come as a relief to her after many hiccups in the rom-com genre. Ryan Reynolds is emerging as a handsome, charismatic star, although fans of Van Wilder knew someday it would come to this. The movie is satisfying and amusing, and for a modern American woman, rather appealing due to its strong, successful female lead character. If romantic comedies are not your thing, this probably won’t suit you. It doesn’t add anything particularly new to the genre; it’s just fun.

I got the Deluxe DVD Edition of The Proposal which includes the movie, extras, and a digital copy you can view on your computer or portable player. The extras include an audio commentary with  director Anne Fletcher and screenwriter Pete Chiarelli, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and outtakes from the set. There are some very funny actors playing secondary characters in this movie, including The Office‘s Oscar Nunez, and The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi. Plus  the girls get to see Ryan Reynolds (mostly) naked and ditto for the guys and Sandra Bullock. Who can say no to that?

The Proposal might not be the funniest or the smartest romantic comedy ever made, but it’s definitely got all of the pieces to become a memorable addition to the genre. The actors are great, the story is wacky, and they could make an entire movie out of Reynolds and Bullock sarcastically sniping at one another and it’d be a hit. That’s basically what the movie is anyway. This is definitely worth a buy if you’re a fan of rom-coms, or a rental for a nice intimate night at home with a loved one and a bowl of popcorn. The Proposal comes out for DVD and Blu-ray October 13 and is rated PG-13.

Where The Wild Things Are review

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This is going to be a hard review to write, because there are so many things to say about the new movie Where The Wild Things Are. A book could probably be written analyzing this film and the emotions it provokes. It is based on the children’s picture book written by Maurice Sendak, and for over 40 years it’s been one of the most famous and popular books for children.

Technically the book itself is only ten lines long, with the pictures offering a lot more of a story, so when Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers got their hands on it they really had their work cut out for them. How do you make a ten line book into a full length movie? In their case, with exceptional style.

Max (Max Records) is a typical little boy; he has too much energy, loves playing games, has a vivid imagination, and just wants some attention. It seems that his parents went through a divorce and he’s having some trouble coping with his emotions. In the beginning he tries to get his sister and her friends to have a snowball fight, but the fun goes sour when they destroy his igloo. Max cries and the audience cries for him, because it must be said that Records plays this role with perfect innocence and sincerity. He is not overly precocious or wise beyond his years; he is Max. While his tired single mother (Catherine Keener) tries her best to show her love for him, Max loses his temper when she brings home a date. He runs away and sets off on a journey like no other.

Off on a distant island, Max creeps into the home of the Wild Things. These giant monsters are having troubles of their own, as one of them has decided to leave the pack and the current leader Carol (James Gandolfini) is having trouble with it.

His feelings for the missing KW (Lauren Ambrose) are complicated, and he takes it out on the forest with violence and fury. The Wild Things plan to eat him at first, but Max stands up to them and tells wild stories about being the King of the Vikings. Carol is so delighted to have someone to fix everything for them that he promotes Max immediately to King. The other Wild Things include negative Judith (Catherine O’Hara), calm Ira (Forest Whitaker), loyal Douglas (Chris Cooper), silent Bull (Michael Berry Jr.), and attention-seeking Alexander (Paul Dano). At first everything is fun and exciting with the beasts, especially when KW comes back to meet Max, but it soon breaks apart and Max learns that his adventure may not be what he expected … or what he wanted.

This movie is beautifully crafted from beginning to end, and the visual scheme is very loyal to the original artwork from the book. It’s a dark and earthy place that Max finds, with the neverending forest and random sandy desert. The Wild Things are not fully CGI, which is probably the best thing about them; it’s a mix of CGI, live action, actual costumed actors, and animatronics. The actors say that they were often in a room together and forced to be very physical with one another, just like the characters they were voicing. It adds a certain authenticity to the way they talk and act with each other, and you can sense the genuine connection and emotion between the characters because of it.

In many ways I think this movie was made more for adults than for children. In fact, I can see where some parents might be nervous about bringing their kids to this film. Then again, there are plenty of movies that you might think are inappropriate, but children end up loving. Most of the scary parts go over their heads and they embrace the whimsical nature of fantasy stories.

I think each parent can decide if their child is ready or not for this, but honestly it might disturb the adult more than the child. It’s mentally engaging on a mature level; adults understand that the Wild Things are merely facets of Max’s personality, and his way of coping with the unexpressed rage and sorrow in his heart. Carol is his fury and his pain, KW is his independence, Alexander is his loneliness, Douglas is his loyalty, Judith is his negativity, Ira is his unconditional love, and the Bull is his silence. It is very unlikely that young children will pick up on the psychological complexity of this film, and they will likely just enjoy the forest romp and sand fight. In the end it will probably be more memorable to the adults in the audience, who remember being innocent children with so much conflicting emotion and no place to direct it.

Where the Wild Things Are haunts me in a way; there is a sorrow in seeing childhood from a distance, and missing it/pitying it all at once. Jonze brings us the bitter truth about the things that children do not say, and it’s tragic. And it’s beautiful. This is a wonderful movie with depth and excellent acting all around, but it might be a little tough for people to swallow. It’s not the happy-go-lucky children’s film everyone was probably expecting. It’s a step above the typical children’s film, not talking down to the young audience but rather embracing it … and still speaking directly to the parents at the same time.

You might not want to see the movie again and again, but it’s worth seeing at least once, if only to experience the vision. Where the Wild Things Are is rated PG for disturbing images and some violence, and it is out in theaters today.

Our Favorite Cameos

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Our Favorite Movie Cameos
There are a lot of modern movies that love to give little winks at the audience, and one of the easiest ways to do that is through the use of cameo appearances. A cameo is when a well known celebrity or important person shows up for a brief appearance in a movie. It can be a non-speaking random role, or perhaps a whole scene that steals the show. Whatever the case may be, oftentimes in a film the cameo ends up being the most memorable part of the whole movie. Take “Zombieland” for example, out in theaters now, but there’s no spoilers here. Just go see the film and you’ll see. Here’s a look at some of the best big star cameos! Be aware there might be some language in the clips below.

Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder

Tom Cruise is one of the super stars in Hollywood, but he’s been criticized a lot in the past few years due to his vocal love of Scientology and his verbal diarrhea over his love affair with Katie Holmes. Still, Cruise proved that he’s not only a great actor but has a wry sense of humor as well when he showed up in “Tropic Thunder.” While a bit bigger than your typical cameo role, Cruise hid his good looks and winning smile behind a fat suit and a bald cap as studio executive Les Grossman. Foul mouthed, disgusting, callous, and generally unpleasant, Cruise provided some of the funniest moments in the film and had everyone buzzing afterward.

Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

Neil Patrick Harris, affectionately known as NPH to friends and fans, grew to stardom as a child actor for the television series “Doogie Howser, M.D.” For years NPH had guest roles in movies and television series but nothing too serious, and he moved to the Broadway stage. It was a quick guest role in “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” that brought him back into the Hollywood spotlight, which was solidified not long after by a starring role in “How I Met Your Mother.” NPH plays a fictionalized version of himself in the stoner flick, appearing to be a drugged up womanizer with no boundaries. He reprised this role in “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” and you cannot think of the two films without going picturing NPH snorting coke and riding a unicorn.

Danny Glover in Maverick

This cameo is amusing only to fans of the “Lethal Weapon” series, but those fans were probably rolling with laughter when they went to see “Maverick.” Danny Glover and Mel Gibson played partners in “Lethal Weapon 4,” so apparently when Gibson started this movie they thought it would be funny to wink wink nudge nudge at the audience. Glover comes in as a bank robber and in the scene he and Gibson look at one another, almost in recognition, and then go ‘nawww!’ It showed the actors – and the writers of the film – had quite a sense of humor.

Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’ End

Ever since Johnny Depp said the inspiration of Captain Jack Sparrow came in part from The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, fans were wondering if the musician would appear briefly in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Richards did delight audiences when he agreed to come on set for the third film, and not only that but he played the father of the very character Depp based on him! Richards happily got into pirate gear and even played a quick tune on a guitar as Captain Teague.

Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny DeVito, Steven Spielberg in Austin Powers in Goldmember

The third “Austin Powers” movie was an enormous success worldwide, which wasn’t really a surprise considering how favored the entire series was once it exploded onto the scene in 1997. One of the best parts about the third film was the opening sequence in which several big names appeared. They were making a movie inside of a movie, with Spielberg directing and Cruise playing Powers, Paltrow playing Dixie Normous, Danny DeVito as Mini-Me, and Kevin Spacey as Dr. Evil. It’s still funny even after all these years to see the actors laughing at themselves, and it came as a surprise to most audiences since very little world was released about any of the cameos.
David Bowie in Zoolander

David Bowie is one of the most celebrated singers of the last thirty years, so it is no surprise that people would be clamoring to get him to cameo in their films. The singer has worked in films before, but it was a random surprise and delight when he showed up in “Zoolander.” The silly film is written, directed, and starred in by Ben Stiller, and it is numbered as one of Bravo’s 100 funniest movies. In the famous walk-off scene with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, David Bowie shows up as guest judge to everyone’s delighted satisfaction. Who else but this fashionable musician to judge a model walk-off?

Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

There are a lot of genius quotes and moments in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” but several of these lines are given by Ben Stein, and he’s only in the movie for a scant few minutes. As a droning teacher at Bueller’s high school, Stein mutters the famous lines “Anyone? Anyone?” and “Bueller?” This perfectly counteracts the excitement and joy of Ferris’ day off, and what exactly he is missing (nothing!) at school. It’s hard to think of the film without hearing Stein’s deadpan voice, but would someone just answer a question already? The poor guy keeps giving the students chances!

October 20, 2009

Everything Geeky – New Comics

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As a comic fan, I’m often asked by non-comic geeks what series they should try out to get started in the vast world of comic awesomeness. This is a pretty general question, since it all depends on your personal taste.

There are comics for just about anyone of any age, although there are some more critically acclaimed than others. It’s also difficult to encourage people to start in the major comic books because of the hundreds of thousands of issues they’ve missed already. Sure Spider-Man is pretty much the same character he was a few decades ago, especially after “One More Day,” but occasionally a villain or character will pop up and you’ll go, “Who is that?” Then you have to wikipedia them and that links you to another storyline, which links you to another character and a few hours later you’re still just confused.

Anyway, trying to get started in an old comic title is a story for another column, but this one is about independent storylines that are either complete or easy to pick up on. They don’t require you to read the entire scope of DC or Marvel comics to follow, and while none of these have been made into movies (yet), they probably will be sooner or later. It’s good to read them now so in a few years when the movie comes out you can sniff and go, “Well it was fine, but the comics are soooo much better.”

Y The Last Man – You can find the entire “Y The Last Man” on trade paperbacks now in ten volumes. This will make it very easy to read this engaging and entertaining story from start to finish. It’s about Yorick Brown, an oddball young man who favors magic and escape artists tricks. Just as he’s about to propose to his long-time girlfriend Beth, who is abroad in Australia, a calamity hits the earth. At once, every single male human and animal on the planet dies gruesomely with no warning. Every man except for Yorick and every male animal but his pet monkey Ampersand. Yorick just wants to find Beth and make sure she’s okay, but as the last man he gets drawn into an important mission to find out the truth of what happened to the earth. With Agent 355, a government agent who acts as Yorick’s bodyguard, and Doctor Alison Mann, a geneticist who could learn the answers to the plague, Yorick travels the world looking for the truth and his one true love. It’s a fairly dramatic story but with plenty of humor. The characters are all engaging and the situation is fascinating to say the least. This comic is somewhat adult with sexual situations and language, but most ages and genders should enjoy it.

Fables – “Fables” is the only series on this list that is still being published, but you’ll soon see why. It’s a reinterpretation of very famous and well-known fairy tale characters into the modern day. The Fables lived in their own mythical Homelands until a horrible creature called The Adversary conquered it and drove them out. They now live amongst us in New York City, although those Fables who cannot appear to be normal humans are hidden at “The Farm” in upstate New York. The series is a mixture of fantasy and storytelling of the highest degree, and then it blends some mystery, romance, tragedy, and drama in there for good measure. The main characters are Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf, for example, and Prince Charming is a womanizing jerk, Beauty and the Beast are in couples therapy, and Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk) is a con artist. How could you possibly go wrong taking something nostalgic and beloved and putting a new modern twist on it?

Transmetropolitan – Okay, first things first, “Transmetropolitan” is not appropriate for children or young teenagers in any way. It’s a very adult comic, so if you’re a bit squeamish about language, violence, or sex it’s probably not for you. If you’ve got a cast iron stomach and a spine made of stone, this comic was made for your enjoyment. Fans of Hunter S. Thompson will loooove it. Based in a cyberpunk future world, the comic surrounds the life and work of Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo journalist who reluctantly comes out of retirement. Spider owes two more books to his publisher so he comes back into The City to find a proper story. He decides to take on the President, his former nemesis, and the newest rival to the Presidency in a no-holds barred journalistic piece ripping them to shreds. Spider is ruthless, disgusting, insane, and strangely admirable in his obsessive need for truth and honesty in a decadent world. The world of “Transmetropolitan” is dangerous and a little depressing, but it’s like a car crash: almost impossible to look away from once your interest is peaked.

Preacher – Here’s another rather adult comic; the best ones often are because they openly deal with the more serious issues. This one deals specifically with religion, the South, death and life, and power. The main character is a miserable preacher named Jesse Custer with a sordid and tragic past who is possessed by a supernatural being named Genesis. The possession causes his church and everyone in it to die instantly. Genesis gives him the power to force anyone to do what he wants, using “the Word of God.” Jesse decides to go on a search for God to get some answers about Genesis and where his life is going from there, but God has abandoned Heaven and is in hiding. With his ex girlfriend Tulip and his new best friend Cassidy, both with secrets of their own, Jesse wanders the United States looking for God and answers. This is a great series to pick up if you’re a fan of westerns, for its style in both art and dialogue is very reminiscent of old western films. It does have some blasphemous elements to it so some people might get offended, but in general the original story and the memorable characters are worth trying out.

The Sandman – Neil Gaiman is something of a celebrity in geek culture, since he’s a writer of one of the best graphic novel series of all time and regularly publishes wonderful fantasy novels. Several of his stories were made into movies (“Stardust,” “Coraline“), but his most noticeable and famous piece of work was the series “The Sandman” for Vertigo Comics. This series was on the New York Times Bestseller List, it won the World Fantasy Award, and it’s highly acclaimed by critics and fans alike. The series is about The Endless, a group of supernatural beings who represent several major parts of human existence: Death, Destiny, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. The story mainly features the story of Dream who starts the series being kidnapped and held prisoner for years. After he escapes he returns to his destroyed kingdom to pick up the pieces. “The Sandman” heavily features mythological stories, fables, and tales from all different cultures, and usually embraces the fantastical as true and real. It jumps from Ancient Greece to the Crusades to modern day all in one chapter, but it’s organic and fractured, almost like a dream itself. The series is also well known for having some of the best art in the industry, with several big name comic artists trying their hand at the issues and making their own marks. This is a very long and complicated story, but it’s worth trying out. The journey is painful and beautiful and like nothing else you’ve read.

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