2013: Revenge of the Sequels

2013: Revenge of the Sequels

With 2013 only a stones throw away, it looks like we’re in for another good year at the box office.

Unfortunately for what you make up with in terms of movie quantity, you may be disappointed by the lack of originality when it comes to the scripts. We seem to be awash with sequels in 2013. Not only that, but action sequels!

  • Monsters University: Mike and SulleyMonsters University [sequel]. We all know the magic between Mick and Sulley, but were they always that close? In Monsters University we’re going to find out as we head back to their uni days of pranks, jokes and of course studying. Even with Monsters Inc being nearly 12 years old, I’m sure that Pixar will be able to pull another classic film out of the bag. Definitely looking forward to this animated sequel.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [sequel]. The first film came out in 2012 and was reasonably okay from the scripts perspective, but nothing ground breaking. What lifted the first film out of the 2012 tide-of-mediocre movies was the cinematography style it used to depict its gruesome look at society. Hopefully in Catching Fire the script will be better written, without compromising the look that the first one achieved. Jennifer Lawrence is staring again as the lead protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, hopefully this film will also include more character development. Catching Fire is currently scheduled for our screens in the last quarter of 2013.
  • The ImpossibleThe Impossible. Based on a true story as one family is caught with thousands others by the 2004 tsunami catastrophe. Ewan McGregor plays the husband and father of three children who are celebrating Christmas as the waves crashed over the islands of Thailand. Separated by the destruction and saved by nothing less than a miracle, the family members try to find each other, as well as bringing hope to those around them. For me, this is likely to be the tear jerker of the year I think. Hitting our screens on the 1st of January… cos this is what you need to see as you recover from your hang overs 😉
  • Iron Man 3 [sequel]. Tony Stark does not have an easy life, beside the billionaire thing. Even after saving the world, and various cities multiple times, his life just gets more and more dangerous. I’m not entirely sure how all these Marvel films are meant to hang together, but surely after Iron Man faces the ‘Mandarin’ we’ll be free of bad guys for once. Plus isn’t a Mandarin a type of orange? No doubt this will be a decent film, whether it’ll be another classic Marvel film depends on how well Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce and Gwyneth Paltrow come together on-screen.
  • Django Unchained. A Western film, shot by Tarintino, staring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. It is surely going to be good! Even though the film deals with racial prejudices, human bounty hunting and forced labour, Django Unchained looks like it could be a good balance of action, story and even comedy. Perhaps the true dark nature of the film isn’t shown in the trailer, but with Tarintino behind the camera it should be another great film. Check out the trailer below:
  • Les Miserables. The epic musical that is based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel is finally being turned into a film, one that I cannot wait to watch. I’ve listened to the musical version of the novel dozens of times, sometimes (thanks to YouTube) a few times a day while working on projects. Hugo’s novel examines the nature of law, death and grace, as well as the complex issues of philosophies, hierarchies of society and religious beliefs. All set to the most amazingly composed musical scores you can imagine. The Les Mis’ 25th anniversary performance is all on YouTube if you want to check it out. Thankfully this new film, staring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, is hitting the UK screens early 2013. Amazingness!
  • Now You See Me. A series of banks are robbed by a known group of illusionists, the only problem is that during the robberies they’re on stage in the centre of Las Vegas’ biggest and brightest casinos. Yet the crowds still reap the financial rewards of their criminal activities. With its mind bending trailer, this film looks like it could swing to either being a brilliant masterpiece  (i.e. Inception) or a disastrous flop (i.e. Next). I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there’s going to be a massive twist at the end of this movie. I’m very much looking forward to this one coming out in June 2013, hoping its a cross between The Illusionist and 21. Oh yeah its also got Morgan Freeman and Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) in it too.
  • Oblivion. Tom Cruise stars alongside Morgan Freeman in this futuristic spin on what looks like another “everything you’ve been told is a lie” kind of film. A blend of Minority Report, Inception, The Matrix and even some Star Wars thrown in for good measure. I’m not entirely sure how this film will pan out, it looks like it could just be the product of the films mentioned above, but it has lots of potential. Scheduled for an April release over here in the UK.
  • Superman... again!Man of Steel [sequel]. I’ve lost count of how many Superman re-makes and re-launches there has been, but none of them have ever had Zack Snyder directing them! Hopefully this re-make will appeal to a wider audience, no doubt that’s what they’re shooting for as it deals with Superman’s earlier years. Growing up in rural Kansas, Clark finally becomes a journalist, in between saving the world. How many times have we heard that told?
  • World War Z. Perhaps the 2013 film I’ve been waiting the longest for to come out. World War Z follows UN worker Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family as the world is torn apart by a global deadly zombie pandemic. Based on the book by Brooks (which is great BTW), this film has been long-awaited for by many. Sadly coming a year or two too late to ride the zombie-high wave caused by The Walking Dead, this film should still be a big hit. I’m quietly confident that this film will make it into my top zombie apocalypse films.
  • Star Trek into Darkness [sequel]. Trailer shown below. Sherlock Holmes is on the Enterprise! Okay perhaps not Sherlock, but Benedict Cumberbatch is staring alongside Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in this Star Trek sequel. Apart from a lot of destruction, death and fire, its hard to know from the trailer and posters what the plot for this story is. Cumberbatch plays the bad guy, that’s fairly obvious. Plus he’s bad enough to force a star-ship (probably not the Ente

Mayan’s, apocalypse & spheres

Mayan’s, apocalypse & spheres
We all survived – bring on Christmas!

I’m sure many people reading this know that the ancient Mayan civilisation predicted the world was going to end on the 21st of December 2012. Thankfully those ancient Maya must have their calculations wrong ‘cos the world didn’t end!

Ha, in your face ancient civilisation.

Strangely enough though, even the Maya didn’t think the world was going to end on the 21st. Yet we as a ‘more intelligent’ civilisation, interpreting their calendar, we thought they thought they did.

Ha, in your face modern civilisation!

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about…

The Mayan ‘apocalypse’

A pyramid built by the Mayan
A pyramid built by the Mayan

The Maya people lived from around 2,500BC to 900AD, at which point their empire collapsed. The Maya had a calendar very similar to ours, grouping their calendar into the equivalent of days, months and years. Their calendar also had an extra metric of time, a block of 5,125 years, called the ‘long count’. The current block of 5,125 years, ran out of days on the 21st of December.

The Maya however believed that after the 21st, a new era simply starts. The calendar resets. Much in the same way we’ll celebrate the 31st of December as the end of one era and the beginning of another. I’ve never heard people discuss the apocalypse or end-of-days before breaking out with Auld Lang Syne.

In fact, this ‘doomsday’ marks the end of the 13th era. So as a world, we’ve survived 13 doomsday’s already. Go us!

Yet even without the creators believing it, the modern world has been whipped up in a media frenzy about doomsday.

Faith, the Mayan and the media

Many religions mention an end-of-days, or apocalyptic time. Whether that be to mark the start of a new era, or to rapture people to their god is irrelevant to this article. I don’t have a problem with people having faith in a system that predicts the end of the world. People shouldn’t however, believe the world is going to end and then go look for a religion that fits it. Or worse, read the world’s going to end and then just accept it.

BBC onboard with doomsday scenario
BBC onboard with doomsday scenario

If you genuinely believe the world is going to end, you must have come to understand it from some point or another. You’ve also done more than understand it to, you’ve adopted that theory into your worldly beliefs. The source of your information is what your belief is based on.

As an example, I believe the rapture is possible in my lifetime. I believe it because the Bible talks about it. Jesus talks about it. My faith is in those things, not the rapture itself.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 99% of people who have heard of the Mayan date of the apocalypse did so through the recent flurry of media stories. A further 99% of those people, didn’t go to any museums or libraries to learn about it further. The majority of these people probably didn’t know the Maya existed until they read articles about the coming end of the world.

People have based all of their understandings from mainly one source, most likely one medium too. They essentially created a belief system off of the understanding the world was coming to an end. Ouch.

It’s easy to sit there and think people who believed this ‘event’ are gullible or less mature, yet as you’ll see below, people have now destroyed their lives based on this.

The media is an insanely powerful tool in any society.

No wonder James Bond tried to save us all from a media tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Mayan ‘Apocalyphiles’

Yes I’ve coined a new term. There’s probably already a term for it, but I like this new one. So I’m running with it.

Below is a few stories and pictures found online showing how the Mayan doomsday event has changed people’s worlds.

French village of Bugarach closes borders

bugarach-closed-off-franceThe police have had to stop an influx of people entering the village of Bugarach in France after some connection between the Mayan ‘prophecy’, the Bugarach mountain and UFO has come about. Apparently when the cataclysmic end of the world occurs, aliens will leave from this mountain and take some people with them. I actually don’t know how to even process this. Why would a south American civilisation pick a mountain in France for their escape route? Where has the idea of aliens being involved come from? All rather strange.

Bob around the world in safety

A Chinese farmer took the survival of the Mayan doomsday into his own hands, spending about $350k to build seven floating “survival pods”, or “ping-pong balls” as he refers to them as. Liu Qiyuan has spent 2-3 years building these guys, so he was well aware of the Mayan date before the media jumped on board. Gotta’ give him credit for that foresight.

Liu Qiyuan posing with survival podsSadly I have no idea how many of the 84 seats he managed to sell, but hopefully all of them at $4.1k or greater, otherwise he’s going to have some serious explaining to do to the banks.

Made of a mix of fibreglass and steel, and holding 14 people each, I’m not entirely sure what the plan was. Ride out the 3000 foot wave he had built them to withstand (???) and then casually bob around until they found land?

Man builds ark of safety

Lu Zhenghai builds Mayan ArkIf bobbing around aimlessly in the ocean isn’t your thing, then perhaps a nifty little boat would be better. Some guy has spent his life savings, some £100,000 to build an ark to literally ride the wave of chaos that we should have experienced.

Inspired by the 2009 film about this special date in December, starring John Cusack, many people have linked ideas from the film with everyday reality. I’m no expert in naval technologies, but my money would be on this boat not surviving any apocalyptic wave.

Panic buying in Russia

With pending doom around the corner, shops in Russia have been hit by panic buying survivalist. Demand for products have gone through the roof for candles, fuel, matches, torches, drinks flasks and tinned food. Needless to say I don’t think any amount of candles is going to stave off meteors or tsunamis, but you can never be too ready for the apocalypse (I have to say that, you never know when the zombies will rise!)

Surviving – what’s the point?

If tomorrow some archaeologists dug up ancient proof that the world was going to end soon, later to be conclusively agreed upon by dozens of experts in various fields and nations, why prepare to survive it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all up surviving the fall of society due to war, zombies or man-made scenarios. What I’m not entirely clear on, is why people would try to survive a scenario put in place by a god, ancient or otherwise.

If this hypothetical dug-up proof talks of worldly destruction, decided upon by a god(s), how is buying candles and fuel  useful? Will billions of other people die because they didn’t have enough tinned food? Unless the doomsday event specifically addresses that all logistics will fail around the globe, it’s unlikely to help.

By definition, “doomsday” means “The last day of the world’s existence”. So being ready for it with physical products isn’t going to be much good.

Police and US Military were issued orders of "shoot to kill" as the looting got so bad following Katrina
US police and military were issued orders of “shoot to kill” as the looting got so bad following Hurricane Katrina

On the other hand, if the people are panic buying products because they predict a collapse of society, due to the reaction of others to a non-existing doomsday scenario, that’s another situation all together. Society collapsed for large parts of the state of Louisiana in 2005 when we saw Hurricane Katrina tear through it, causing looting and desperate mobs taking to streets after the disaster. Nothing drives the need of survival more than the fear, whether real or implied, that society is going to be destroyed around them.

I think if this hypothetical proof were ever dug-up, societies all around the world would tear themselves apart in terror…

Ironically producing some sort of horrific situation that borders on the apocalypse.

Merry Christmas 😛

 

A couple of sources if you wanna read around the subject:

 

If you like’d this rather long post, I’d really appreciate a share or like. You may think otherwise, but a lot of work was put into this. Getting people’s feedback would be lush and make it all more rewarding. You’re a star cos I know you’ve already liked it on Facebook…  ;)

Battle Los Angeles (80%)

Battle Los Angeles (80%)

Battle Los Angeles starts us off in the thick of the action with explosions, confusion, dirt, shock and sporadic gunfire. We see the chaos of unplanned combat. While we’re still trying to get a grounding on what’s happening, we jump back 20 hours to before the invasion begins.

Hardly a great way to start a film, using cheap director’s tricks that many viewers find disconcerting. Time doesn’t flow backwards in normal life, it pans out in a linear chronological order. We like that order.

Meteors CNN? I'm not so sure...
Meteors CNN? I’m not so sure…

Saying that, I think the director (Jonathan Liebesman) can be excused partially; Battle Los Angeles was never going to be a film where the plot was anything but obvious. The technique also works to highlight how quickly the chaos has ensued.

Of course, opening with a bang also engages us quickly before we  jump back to more of a serene time.

 

Battle Los Angeles – Back to the beginning…

Once we’ve jumped back 20 hours, we get the action-film’s equivalent of character development. We’re introduced to Staff Sergeant Michael Nants (Aaron Eckhart) who’s just had his retirement reluctantly approved by a superior officer and close friend. SSgt Nants wants out for personal reasons, and his minds made up.

Unfortunately before he manages to enjoy a few cold beers on his porch, the shores of Los Angeles start getting hammered by dozens of small meteorites. With some lovely visual effects too. Sadly we quickly learn this isn’t a meteorite shower at all, or even confined to LA. This is an invasion.

Aaron Eckhart as SSgt Nants
Aaron Eckhart as SSgt Nants

Back into uniform and reassigned to a new platoon, SSgt Nants and his team are flown to Santa Monica Airport where they are to begin their mission. We’re now introduced to the rest of his unit, including one of my favourite female-action protagonists  Michelle Rodriguez.

Not only under gunfire, but also under a tight time-scale, the marines must fight deep within the invaded area to rescue trapped civilians. The White House has approved and initialised a fire-bombing protocol, to stop further invasion of LA. Time to target: 3 hours. Fire-bombing of urban areas; somewhat of a de facto response from governments in apocalypse films (28 Weeks Later anyone?).

Battle Los Angeles Critique

Needless to say that after the action begins, it doesn’t stop exploding, shooting or running for a good 2 hours. The special effects were very good and the scenes were similar to Cloverfield in the way you don’t actually see the aliens but know they’re only a street away.

Chopper's flying in LA troops
Chopper’s arrive amongst the invading enemy

One point of critique that this film suffers from severely is the use of action/military clichés. The entire film experience would have been better without these rather cringing moments, but perhaps Liebesman left them in to portray a lighter atmosphere among the chaos and scenes of destruction. He wasn’t shooting for an 18 certificate after all.

Before I make my next tiny critique, I’ll admit I have no military experience, only common sense and lots of hours experiencing military based media (movies, games, books etc). That said, the highly skilled marines make some very strange tactical decisions in this film. Moving from cover, giving their position away and walking down the centre of war-torn roads etc. Yes I agree it’s an entertainment film and not a factually correct manual for special forces, but it felt like it undermined the actors portrayal somewhat. Also as a counterargument to my criticism the film was about aliens invading Earth… so perhaps normal combat tactics can be ignored in these circumstances :)

Eckhart & Rodriguez

Michelle Rodriguez playing another tough-chick
Michelle Rodriguez

Most people are likely to recognise Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight, where he put in a really good performance as both of his characters. As SSgt Nants, he doesn’t let us down either. Nants is without a doubt the strongest and biggest presence on our screens for the whole movie. Throughout the film he excellently portrays a retiring forces Sergeant, as well as his motives and emotions. Very believable work Mr Eckhart, well done.

Michelle Rodriguez is one of my favourite female actors, fitting the tough-chick boots very well and appearing in such explosive films as Resident Evil, SWAT and Avatar. Her background of playing other military character’s must have boosted her performance here. Unfortunately the butt of many cliché moments in BLA, she still manages to put in a solid performance.

Battle Los Angeles – The crunch conclusion…

I originally saw Battle Los Angeles at the cinema and it definitely warrants a large screen with a loud sound system. A friend of mine perfectly described this film as the result of blending Independence Day and Black Hawk Down together into one 2 hour action film.

Is it worth watching?

Yeah I’d say so. If you’ve got a good movie set up at home I think you’d appreciate this film more than those who don’t. For the visuals and action scenes it’s probably worth grabbing on Blu-ray too.

I’m giving this film 80%,only being let down by cliché and overdone apocalypse action scenes.

Well done Liebesman, Eckhart and Rodrigeuz.

XCOM is back and better!

XCOM is back and better!

XCOMIf you had a PC back in the 90’s you may have played the addictive XCOM series of alien-hunting games. Me and my brother would play UFO Enemy Unknown (the first XCOM game) for hours, for the simple reasons it was a fun yet very hard strategic game.

Commanding a squad of little pixelated units deep into darkened American streets strewn with the urban signs of chaos, or trying to out smart extraterrestrial intelligence on where they’d place their units for the best killing shots.

Seeing movement and not knowing if it’s an alien preparing a lazer rifle or a civilian simply trying to stay alive.

Choosing whether to assault in through the front doors and possible into a lethal ambush where red pixels would certainly flow… or rip the back from a building with a rocket…

These were the decisions me and my brother faced on what seemed like a daily basis.

Most games back then, and probably still to this day, are easy to do well in. Of course they now need to be, who’s going to spend hours being frustrated by a computer game when there’s so many other game fixes available these days. But strangely this was probably the allure of this game; if you made a mistake, and you could easily, you’d usually be punished for it. Clicking a few centimetres wide on the screen would move one of your units from his cover and into full view of the enemy; there was no undo, no cancel, just the time to pray to the XCOM gods of random dice percentiles. Were you going to lose a large proportion of your team simply because your mouse hand got a bit twitchy. This play-well-or-die-trying allure has stayed with me to this day, still conjuring up exciting memories, some 18 years later.

So there was a lot of childhood regression going on in my head when I saw that XCOM was launching a new game this year. If you spent your 90s doing more ‘productive’ things, although I can’t think what they’d be, I’d recommend checking out the latest version that has just hit our shelves; XCOM Enemy Unknown. (Strikingly similar name there marketing departments!)

This game thankfully pays close humage to the original UFO Enemy Unknown game, in fact it’s unbelievably close. The turn-based XCOM series followed UFO Enemy Unknown with five, yes FIVE, sequels. However they degraded quite quickly, never surpasing the original.

However in the new XCOM Enemy Unknown game, you still have base management, research and engineering tasks, as well as a world-wide view of countries. The real missions handle almost exactly the same, albeit with a much cleaner GUI to handle the action. If you sent this game and a PS3 back to my 8 year self, I reckon I’d been able to easily pick up the controller and play it. You’re still torn between slow movement and over-watch (a XCOM god-send!), reloading while its calm and ‘safe’, running for hard cover, blind spots, destructive terrain and elevation.

I believe they’ve pulled a classic out of the past and polished it up, releasing it as another classic. Yet there’s still easily enough magic to call for the £40 price tag.

3 things I like about the new XCOM Enemy Unknown title:

  • The GUI, overall graphics and handling is wonderful. It feels like it was made to be played on the console.
  • Tactics actually work! More importantly though, they accurately change the future of the mission too. There feels like there’s a lot less randomness to this game than the original 1994 title, however that could simply be put down to the difference in a 8 and a 26 year olds’ brain.
  • Base management, of which I never particularly enjoyed in the original, has been made an enjoyable experience that again taxes your brain for a strategy. The beautiful 3D ‘live’ cross-sections of day-to-day life in the base really distracts from the fact you’re trying to balance work load of scientists, or power management for a base the size of a small city.

3 things I’m not so keen on:

  • Fast Game Progression. The first 5 missions probably saw their fair share of 5 new aliens, and I’ve only come across about 8 or 9 different aliens in the game so far. These new aliens could easily have been drip fed into the missions over a greater time span, increasing the longevity of the ‘ooooooo new alien’ experience.
  • Unit Promotions. Although I really like the idea of unit promotions, they just happened too quickly. Most of the early missions it seemed that 75% of the units got promoted every time, assuming they survived. Within a short time they had maxed out. Like the introduction of new aliens, this should have been spaced out over time to actually make promotion a rare experience.
  • Unit Classes. The class that gets auto assigned to each unit is a touch-and-go kind of thing, I’m still sat on the fense about this. I like the idea that you have support, snipers, heavies and assault; but not entirely sure I approve of the auto-assigned nature that you receive them. Also apart from the main weapon, is there much difference to them?

I haven’t finished the game yet, although I feel like when I have I’ll simply restart it on the hardest setting. Hopefully it’s replayability will stick with it, separating it from many other newish games. It also has a downloadable content section, so it’d be great if they pushed out (free) content in the future, extending the games life without just milking the alien-cash-cow.

If you liked the original XCOM then I’d definitely recommend getting this.

If you like turn based strategy games, not specifically just alien/military ones, then I’d also recommend this.

All in all, a great XCOM product, thanks guys!