Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Zoe Quinn Scandal: Nepotism and Censorship in Gaming

A firestorm has erupted in the video game community this past week, and before I get started on talking about that, let me offer this blanket warning that all the links and videos in this post may contain strong language and thus are probably NSFW.

The controversy centers on independent game developer Zoe Quinn, and it began with her submission of her game, Depression Quest, to the Steam Greenlight program that allows the Steam community to select games for distribution on that service. Since Depression Quest is a simple text-based game designed to get players to understand depression, it was widely panned by that community.

However, Quinn gained enormous sympathy from the video game industry, particularly among gaming journalists, following an incident with the image forum Wizardchan. After some uncouth posts criticizing her and her game appeared on their site, Quinn took to social media to accuse the self-described virgin adult male community at Wizardchan of harassing her both online and via telephone. Despite their assertions they had nothing to do with the attacks on Quinn, the Wizardchan guys were lambasted for being sexists and misogynists by her supporters and the gaming press, and there were accusations on both sides of people’s personal information being leaked and websites being hacked.

Ultimately, the game was green-lit over the objections of the larger gaming community, and in light of the Wizardchan incident, many suspected it was due to the influence of industry members sympathetic to Quinn’s arguments that the attacks and the criticism were just another attempt to keep a woman down.

Fast forward to a few days ago when Quinn’s ex-boyfriend put up an extremely long blogpost that lists his grievances with her and the reasons for their relationship failing. His post includes multiple screen grabs of their private conversations that demonstrate her being a serial liar who cheated on him with at least five other men, one of whom is her married boss and another of whom works for the prominent gaming journalism site Kotaku.

Now for some time gamers have been complaining about the nepotism and corruption within the industry, with gaming journalists and game developers frequently being caught in bed with each other. Since the “in bed” in this case was quite literal, all manner of Youtube videos and forum posts on the issue began to appear analyzing the post by Quinn’s ex and the positive coverage Quinn has received by sites like Kotaku.

The response to these commentaries has been a vehement attempt to censor any discussion of this issue, with moderators at gaming sites and sites like reddit.com pulling down any posts that had to do with this incident. Quinn herself directly targeted one Youtube channel called MundaneMatt with a bogus copyright claim in attempt to get his video on the subject killed. That resulted in many more angry videos, such as this excellent analysis of the entire sequence of events by a guy called InternetAristocrat.

And of course, Quinn and her allies have tried to frame the entire controversy as a bunch of angry white males out to slut shame a woman for sleeping around because gamers are misogynists etc.

This conflict has played itself out over and over again over the past few years as the social justice people have gone full court press on the video game industry, complaining that they cater to young white males and don’t highlight or hire women, gays, or minorities with enough frequency. When gamers push back on these notions, they are met with outright censorship and accusations of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and racism just like we see with conservatives and the War on Women.

If conservatives and libertarians were smart, they’d get into the gaming arena and help gamers who don't yet realize they're conservatives fight off the forces of so-called "social justice" that have invaded that arena of entertainment. Otherwise it will soon join the educational system, the news media, movies, and television shows as just another conduit for progressives to shove their ideology down people's throats.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net and http://realraw.us

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Not Quite Expendable Yet

Sometimes more is better.

I miss the days of the classic action movie, where one or two manly men fought their way through a small army of goofy henchmen and sub bosses to an ultimate showdown with a charismatic villain, all the while dropping one liners dripping with gloriously awful puns. The explosions were real and if somebody so much as bumped the camera, much less shook it, they’d be lucky to keep their job.  Yep, those were the days.  So when Sylvester Stallone sought to rekindle that spirit with the action hero team-ups we always wanted and never got, you can bet I was on board with this Expendables thing.

Thus far, the Expendables movies have been fun little romps, though not without their flaws.  The first one started beautifully but unfortunately transitioned into a more modern style of filmmaking that obscured a great finale with darkness, shakycam, fast cutting, and lame CG effects.  The second one did a better job on that front, but it also had a much less coherent plot. Then again, the Chuck Norris cameo alone made that film worth the price of admission, so now we've got The Expendables 3 with even more 80s and 90s action stars filing into the ranks.

Like the first two, this one is quite a mixed bag. The action choreography is great once again, but it’s also heavily obscured by the camera work and editing. Some of the sequences look almost like they have unfinished effects in them, and as many people have noted in their complaints about the movie, it’s only PG-13 which somewhat undercuts the whole gratuitous violence thing for which these kinds of films are known.

Of course, these movies operate primarily on the nostalgia of seeing old stars back in action, and on that front it delivers quite well with a bunch of classic faces that oddly enough includes Kesley Grammer.  Fortunately though Grammer is not an action star, he’s always dependable in almost any capacity. In this case, he’s the recruiter friend of Stallone’s Barney Ross tasked with finding some new blood that’s more expendable than usual.

Given Jason Statham is the closest thing we have to a modern day Stallone/Schwarzenegger and he’s already a member of the team, it’s a foregone conclusion the newbies are a group we've all barely heard of and thus have a hard time taking seriously when compared to the star power of their elder compatriots. That has raised some hackles since most everyone came to this movie to see our favorite sexagenarian action heroes blowing stuff up and aping their old one-liners, not a bunch of 20-somethings who have yet to make a mark on the world. On the off chance you might recognize their names, that group is made up of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, and Ronda Rousey.

Personally, I thought they handled the sequence with the “kids” rather well.  The setup for it is certainly abrupt, but the recruitment and the subsequent mission not only were enjoyable, but a good way to keep from overusing the in-jokes from all the classic actors.  And frankly, at some point these old guys will, in fact, be “too old for this shit” as evidenced by the fact that the climactic showdown between Stallone and Mel Gibson is shot a mile away from both men so that you might not notice their stunt doubles.  (You’ll notice.)  So at some point somebody has to take over, and why not see if you can’t create a new crop of action stars that are not comic book characters?

The young guns portion also introduces Antonio Banderas’ character, who you will either find terribly hilarious or totally insufferable.  I fell into the former category, which made the very pointed reference in his back story to the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi all the more poignant.  It’s perhaps the only real world call out that doesn't rely on some form of self-deprecation.

Of the remaining new old faces, Wesley Snipes’ character is pretty funny too, but he fades into the background early on. Harrison Ford pops in and out randomly, and he’s clearly just there to replace Bruce Willis, who bailed over a financial dispute, so there’s very little in the way of references to his movies. As I alluded to earlier, Mel Gibson handles the head villain duties and although there isn’t much to his character, he sells it incredibly well anyway which makes his return to the big screen quite welcome.

The Governator returns for a bit more screen time this go round, now that he’s back making movies again, but poor Jet Li could've stayed home and nobody would've noticed.  Sadly, Jason Statham gets horribly short-changed by being the middle child caught between the classics and the newbs.

An early leak of the full movie online combined with some bad word of mouth crushed this film at the box office, so who knows if The Expendables 4 will make it to the screen, but I still think this idea has some gas in the tank so long as Sly can decide what kind of movie he really wants to make.  Watering it down to PG-13 and turning the old guys into obligatory cameos just won’t cut it, but an over the top classic action movie where the students become the masters? That could be worth seeing.

*This post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net/


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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Comedians of the Galaxy

I'm high on believin' that you're in love with me.


Of all the trailers I've seen this year, the one for Guardians of the Galaxy was by far the most intriguing. It had an incredibly irreverent tone that’s sorely lacking around Hollywood lately and used a clever bit of self-deprecation to introduce a group of Marvel characters about which I knew very little. I couldn't help but wonder whether or not the entire movie would be as amusing as the trailer or if that was just a really great bit of marketing.

I was pleased to discover that irreverence permeates the entire movie, and it’s the comedic flair that saves it from being another Green Lantern. Like that film, Guardians seeks to establish too much too quickly, and so it’s stuffed to the gills with exposition, much of which is incredibly redundant. I don’t think I heard the name "Gamora" come up without a reminder that she is the “adopted daughter” of Thanos, for example. It also changes locations so frequently that it’s hard to ever get a feel for any one place, and the lack of travel time makes the galaxy seem considerably smaller than it should.

The group’s assembly is similarly rushed and kind of clumsy, but once they get together everything becomes much more entertaining. I wish the movie had started right at the lineup scene from the trailer and just cut out all of the unnecessary exposition at the beginning. It would've lent some mystery to how long these characters knew each other and that in turn could've obscured the fact that they’re willing to call each other family even though we've only seen them together as a group for like a half hour.

In any event, their banter is fast, furious, and terribly amusing. Each one has their own particular quirks, and those quirks are used to great effect in the group dynamic, such as Drax the Destroyer's (Dave Bautista) inability to grasp most metaphors. Still, the show really belongs to Chris Pratt's Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper's Rocket Raccoon. They’re the perfect kind of snarky anti-heroes, and without them, the rest of the characters would fall flat. Zoe Saldana's Gamora gets the worst of it, seeing as she’s a walking cliché without much else to her, but even the pretty wonderfully realized Groot needed Rocket to handle some of the thoughts that Vin Diesel and the animators couldn't convey with the words “I am Groot.”

One of my fears for this movie was that Rocket and Groot would look completely out of place given they are computer generated and the rest of the cast is not. Every so often the Uncanny Valley would appear, but for the most part they look like they are in fact there beside the actors.

Alas, the same can’t be said of the story, since there isn't much of one at all. There’s a MacGuffin everyone wants, and a super strong baddie who wants to use it to kill a planet full of innocent civilians. Since the Guardians are a group of misfits who aren't particularly super and don’t really care about being heroes, they’re at least interesting, but the villains are so unbelievably boring and cliché that they might as well not even be there. In fact I think you could replace Lee Pace with the MacGuffin itself and nobody would realize something changed.

And while it's nice Earth isn't in the crossfire for once, they do end up having a climatic battle above a city on a very Earth-like planet that we know so little about it might as well be Earth anyway. Not sure about you, but I feel like the whole “giant aerial battle to defend the major city from alien invaders” thing has been thoroughly played out at this point.

That said, that battle does include one of the single most out-there tactics a hero has ever tried on a villain. For all the movie's faults, it's things like that which make it so much fun that it's easy to let the other stuff slide. That and the incredible soundtrack rocking in the background, which consists in large part of awesome 70s and 80s tunes that come from Quill's cassette tape. There may come a day when I'll get Hooked On a Feeling out of my head, but it is not this day.

Marvel clearly gets that their audience came to have a good time, not to see a bunch of superheroes suffer through “real world” issues, which makes even these otherwise less than stellar assemblies an enjoyable experience. They're also willing to take a risk on a bunch of wacky characters like these to branch off from churning out sequels all the time, and for that I'm happy to say go ahead and see Guardians of the Galaxy. It might not be the best story you've ever seen, but it’ll make you laugh.

(It has a bit more profanity than any of the other Marvel movies though, so you might want to leave the youngsters at home.)

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Blue Shell Solutions

Don't mess with Luigi in Mario Kart


A couple months back Mario Kart 8 came out to give the Wii U a good paddle-shocking back from the edge of death, and with it returns one of the most infamous items in all of gaming: the Spiny Shell. Also known more commonly as the Blue Shell, it’s appeared in many iterations of the Mario Kart franchise over the years, and its notoriety comes from how infuriating it is to be on the receiving end of it.

For the uninitiated, Mario Kart is a deviously addictive little party game from Nintendo wherein players control their favorite Mario characters and their souped-up gokarts in a race across whimsical landscapes. It has created and destroyed more friendships than perhaps any other thing invented by man, due in no small part to the abundance of crazy items the racers can use to harass their fellow players. One such item is the aforementioned Spiny Shell, which when fired promptly homes in on the first place player and blasts them into the sky. Virtually unavoidable, that little blue turtle shell with the spikes coming out of it is a stream of vulgarities just waiting to happen.

Ostensibly the Spiny Shell exists to balance out a first-place player’s ability to open up an insurmountable lead over the other racers. Not only will the person out front likely have more skill than the others, they don’t face many of the hazards of riding in the middle of the pack such as other racers ramming them. In addition, they get first crack at any boosts or items on the track. Thus we have the Spiny Shell, which in theory would allow the players to slow down the top racer just enough to catch up.

In practice, the Spiny Shell serves mainly as a means for lower ranked players (and especially the AI racers) to troll the better ones. Now don’t get me wrong, that can make for some incredible entertainment, particularly if you’re not the person in first, but it’s certainly not terribly effective at bridging the skill gap that put the players in their relative positions in the first place. It merely gives one group a means to lash out at another in a futile attempt to feel better when they come up short by comparison. It neither imparts skill to them nor encourages them to improve. It can’t take away the drive, skill, luck or natural talent of the winner either, but it can frustrate them enough to stop playing.

This holds true for all schemes that seek to impose equality of outcome by attempting to redistribute success. Progressive tax systems that take money from the rich and give it to the poor never succeed in creating rich people out of the poor, nor have they turned the Warren Buffets of the world into paupers. Obamacare hasn’t made the poor healthier and the wealthy sicker. EPA regulations and fines haven’t stopped oil and gas companies from dominating the energy market, nor have the subsidies to solar companies made green energy more financially viable. Or to pick an example in the news today, giving Gaza to the Palestinians didn’t make them freer and the Israelis less democratic.

When the frustration of being harassed for their success grows large enough, people just leave the game. In the Mario Kart world, that takes the form of incredibly creative uses of profanity, flying controllers, and someone stomping out of the room ne’er to return. In the real world, it involves hiding money, skirting regulations, buying exemptions, or straight up moving out of the jurisdiction of those who would seek to use these Blue Shells.

So the next time a politician comes to you with a magic bullet that will make the less fortunate, less skillful, less talented, and/or less hard working get to a better place by shooting it at the folks who have succeeded due to their ability, effort, or dumb luck, just remember that like that spiny blue shell, it'll change very little beyond making someone else’s life miserable.

Also, Luigi will drive by your house and give you the death stare for it.


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Retro Review: Independence Day

In 1996, that would've been a tragedy.


Whether it’s A Nightmare Before Christmas on Halloween, Saving Private Ryan on Memorial Day, or Die Hard at Christmas, we've all got our favorite holiday movie traditions. For the 4th of July, there’s no better movie to watch than the aptly titled Independence Day. Conveniently abbreviated “ID4” by an incredible marketing campaign that helped push it to the top of the 1996 box office, it’s a funny, exciting, patriotic disaster romp that I love to watch every time America’s birthday rolls around and one of my top 10 all time favorite movies.

Looking back at it, Independence Day is remarkably tame compared to the destruction porn of today, as well as writer/director Roland Emmerich's later efforts. Instead of two hours of loosely connected edifice obliteration like we see nowadays, ID4 wraps up most of the disaster stuff by the end of the first act. By changing it up like that, the action doesn't get overwhelming to the point of monotony and we get to see actors doing stuff other than running and shouting.

That first forty-five minutes or so doesn't overdo it either. It plays out exactly like a good disaster film should: quietly introducing a looming threat and then teasing it just long enough to make the reveal satisfying. The new Godzilla did that using smoke, debris, and other scenery, but ID4 does it by introducing us to its characters. Just as the full alien menace might be revealed, it cuts away to meet a new group of people, and each group features secondary and tertiary characters who actually stick around for more than five minutes. That not only fleshes out the movie world, but also obscures who’s disposable since there are so many from which to choose.

When we finally get around to the city-sized alien spaceships, they don’t come out guns blazing; they settle in to a sinister hover above national landmarks. No swarm of alien fighters for some foreplay demolition either, just an eerie green spotlight on the target below. In LA, the spotlight shines in the face of Will Smith’s girlfriend’s stripper pal standing on the roof and mumbling “it’s so pretty.” Since we met her earlier, the knowledge of how utterly screwed she is builds tension in a way some random extra can’t.

Tension also builds from what doesn't happen at this point. Nobody shouts about rising percentages or counts the seconds to total annihilation. Even the ticking clock in the movie only appears a couple of times, but characters rush, drop things in haste, honk horns in frustration, bail from stopped vehicles, and anxiously check their watches in mid stride. When Jeff Goldblum finally shows us the clock hitting zero and ominously announces “time’s up”, we all hold our collective breath.

At last the special effects begin, which still look convincing today because they’re real explosions destroying scale models. CGI had just come on the scene, so it was only good enough to enhance a movie but not good enough to fully take over. That had two advantages. One, the best CGI today still can’t mimic reality perfectly, and two, spending all that time building a model and setting up a multitude of cameras to get that one shot right means nobody is going to obscure the final result. Thus it’s with a steady, distant camera we watch a wall of fire brutally smash its way through major cities.

And then, silence.

No slow motion pan of characters mutedly screaming in terror and grief while the sad music plays in the background, just the “July 3rd” title card and a lingering shot of destroyed New York City. That way everything gets a moment to sink in, and the date card gives our subconscious a frame of reference that adds a sense of scale newer movies undermine by jumping right off to the next action scene without rhyme or reason.

In the second act, ID4 shifts from a disaster film to more of a science fiction thriller, wherein a disparate band of characters come together as they try to figure out how to deal with an unstoppable killing machine. Since it avoids stacking coincidences as much as possible, the cast assembles with enough plausibility that we can focus our suspension of disbelief on the big things, like telepathic aliens. A lesser movie would've had Vivica Fox emerge from the rubble right next to the missing First Lady, run into Will Smith and the convoy in the desert, and then miraculously drive them all to Area 51 by random chance.

Meanwhile, the film builds on the despair created by the destruction in the first act. Our heroic Will Smith fueled counterattack turns into a desperate attempt to escape, and probably the only time in movie history the white guy gets killed off instead of the black guy. The alien prisoner intones that peace between us is impossible; they just want us to die. Nuclear weapons do nothing, the rescued First Lady dies anyway, and the optimistic environmentalist goes on a bender.

Were it Transformers: Age of Extinction, the goofy subplot about Randy Quaid's kid being sick would have appeared at this point to ruin all the other drama with its blatant attempt to generate sympathy. Instead, it’s cut in favor of better material. Unfortunately, so too are the scenes that explain how a Mac can hack an alien mothership, but you can’t have everything.

Once everyone is sufficiently depressed, we launch into the action-comedy finale. It’s also the part that aggravated tons of non-Americans. How deliciously ironic it is for people to complain about patriotism/jingoism in a movie that features an epic speech about humanity putting aside petty differences and uniting in common interest. I guess that line from the British guy about it being about bloody time somebody (America) came up with a counter-offensive was a bridge too far. Not that Hollywood is known for realism, but considering America’s military and economic might dominated the globe in the 90s, who else exactly would they expect to organize a worldwide counter-strike against an alien threat?

Anyway, ID4 sidesteps another action overdose by splitting up the cast so that Smith and Goldblum's characters embark on the quieter mission to the mothership while Bill Pullman and co. conduct the big aerial battle below. That makes both sequences feel longer without having to show a bunch of repetitive shots of F-18s blowing up and such. Plus there’s more room to insert comedy that would otherwise feel out of place.

Fortunately the filmmakers had the presence of mind to swap out the ridiculous ending where Randy Quaid randomly shows up in his biplane to sacrifice himself. Such edits seem to be infrequent of late. If somebody thinks something looks cool, it ends up in the final product no matter how much it ruins the flow, tone, or general consistency of the movie, if for no other reason than it usually cost a fortune to produce with CGI.

But even that silly ending could probably work with ID4’s superb soundtrack behind it. Whether it’s the terrifying alien attack, the quiet romantic moments, or the thrilling bombast of victory, David Arnold’s score sells every minute of screen time. Indeed, the hopeful little piccolo that kicks off President Whitmore's speech may be the only reason it comes across as fantastically rousing rather than pathetically cornball.

I could go on for pages more, but ultimately what we’re talking about here is fun. This movie is fun. It’s not bogged down with attempts to “ground it in reality.” It doesn't have all the color sucked out and replaced with muted grays and browns for the same. It has nods to similar past movies, but it’s not another rebooted retread of somebody else’s story. It doesn't rely on any one big star to carry the cast, though it did have the man they call Jayne in it, and the actors look like they’re genuinely into their roles. Despite the marketing campaign’s focus, the action doesn't overstay its welcome and therefore remains wonderfully exciting. It even makes you laugh from time to time to break up the tension. All in all, Independence Day is a textbook example of how to do the big summer blockbuster right.

So grab some popcorn and enjoy it again before they ruin it with a sequel.


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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Less is More than Meets the Eye

One city shall stand, one shall fall.
(Image by Sarjex - Check out her 
store)

Much has been said about Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise under his watch, and I’m certainly no stranger to opining about the writers that normally are in charge of these films. Fortunately Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have gone on to ruin somebody else’s franchise, and Ehren Kruger who previously played third fiddle to them has taken the reigns. With them gone, we finally get to see how much the dreaded duo influenced the direction of these movies, and how much stemmed from Michael Bay just wanting to blow stuff up.

At the core of Transformers: Age of Extinction there’s a really great movie about an altruistic alien race of transforming robots whose spirit has been broken by the willingness of humans to screw them over, and the single dad who restores that spirit after a chance encounter with their leader. Or there’s a story about a cynical government bureaucrat stuck in an “us or them” mentality and exemplifying the axiom “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Or it’s an action packed take on the “should” vs. “could” of technological development. Or…well you get the picture.

Maybe Bay & Co. just got tired of hearing how there’s no plot to these movies and decided to give us every plot they could possibly think up, because this one is stuffed to the gills. That is not to say these plot threads are raised and forgotten as they were in the Orci/Kurtzman scripts, but they are developed at the expense of one another. Subplots and scenes that would normally be chopped out in the interest of time/sequels simply stay in the movie as though the first cut got canned and shipped without ever going through the editing process. It becomes a veritable round robin of story arcs that eventually meet up with some robotic dinosaurs for Bay’s patented CGI Explosion Fiesta.

And as much as I love me some epic dinobot action, they’re really not relevant to any of the story arcs in this movie. They’re just an attempt to up the ante in a franchise that can’t really get any more filled with things going boom. It’s unfortunate because, well, giant transforming dinosaurs are perhaps the one thing we haven’t seen before in these movies, and it’s a shame to waste them.

At the same time, Bay leaves out the smaller, transitional scenes that could glue those cool sequences together rather than cut the redundant action bits. It would take a few scant moments to show us the relative positions of characters and their travel routes to alleviate the feeling that everyone conveniently teleports to where they need to be, but then we wouldn’t have time for Optimus Prime riding a mechanical firebreathing T-Rex. At least not without officially crossing the three hour mark this movie sneaks under.

The action sequences drag on forever as a result, even more so than what I previously complained about in Man of Steel. Funnily enough, a truck riding a dinosaur to fight a small army of walking cars while being harassed by a spaceship trying to vacuum them all up still caused less devastation than the new Superman.

There is one good thing about the movie being overlong, and that’s getting to hear Steve Jablonsky do his thing. He handles the score once again, and he’s pretty much the only guy who has done his job perfectly every time so far.

Despite the editing problems, Bay & Co. did learn some lessons from the prior movies. The transformers themselves are more starkly and solidly colored this time, and the use of shaky cam and hypercutting was lessened, although not eliminated. In any case, it’s much easier to tell which robots are fighting which, and they’re given considerably more personality this time around, not that it’s a high bar to clear.

The toilet humor departed with OrciKurtz and has been replaced by mostly witty banter, which is something right up Mark Wahlberg’s alley. He leads an entirely new cast that includes Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci, both of whom never disappoint. All three of their characters were interesting in their own way, with Tucci’s even breaking a long overdone trope, but they’re unfortunately all handicapped by the spinning wheel of subplots I mentioned earlier. With something like five villains vying for the title of Big Bad and a dozen good guys running around, nobody can retain focus long enough to feel like a fleshed out character.

That’s really the bottom line with this one: the clutter turns what could’ve been a remarkably interesting summer popcorn flick into too much of a mess to shine. It’s not as ridiculous as Revenge of the Fallen, nor as irritating as Dark of the Moon, but even the original Transformers was more coherent. Too disappointing to recommend outright, I can only say that nobody does over-the-top action better than Michael Bay and there’s no better place for it than in a theater. So if that’s your thing, go ahead and add to Age of Extinction’s $300 million worldwide gross.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lone Survivor Lives Up

They're the ones fighting.


As Allan Bourdius continued his awesome coverage of the 70th anniversary of DDay on Twitter, I noted my amazement that the entire venture didn't turn into a slaughter and complete defeat for the Allies given all the things that went awry that day. It’s a serious reminder that any plan can fall apart at the whim of Murphy’s Law, and unfortunately for the group of Navy SEALs at the heart of Lone Survivor, that proves true for them as well.

For those who don’t know, Lone Survivor relates the tale of retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell who, as the title suggests, is the only one of his comrades to come back alive from a borked mission to capture/kill a Taliban bigwig. Between a few goat herders, unreliable communications, the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan, and a small army of Taliban fighters, the SEALs' mission priority quickly shifts from reconnaissance to simply getting home in one piece.

It’s pretty impressive how well the film conveys the brutality and the desperation of the ensuing firefight. Between the acting, the cinematography, and some stuntmen who really know how to sell a fall, it’s not hard to find yourself wincing just watching it. Hollywood usually likes to exaggerate things for effect, so one might find themselves questioning the plausibility of these guys taking as much damage as they do and continue fighting, but from what I’ve read, the movie actually tones it down some. For example, Luttrell had to crawl several miles after shrapnel tore up his legs, but in the movie he’s only reduced to walking with a bit of a limp. Sometimes reality is simply more unbelievable than fiction.

And yes I did compliment the acting up there. I know people like to give Mark Wahlberg grief, but I can’t say I’ve ever had him ruin a film and this one is no different. Given his star power and the fact that he plays Luttrell, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see it turn into a one man action hero piece with every other member of the team used as red shirts, but fortunately this film didn’t do that. Instead we get a good look at team leader Michael P. “Murph” Murphy and fellow team members Danny Dietz and Matthew “Axe” Axelson, played by Taylor Kitsh, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster respectively. The actors do a fine job of conveying their personas without hamming it up or needing the script constantly double-back for a flashback or other random contrivance.

Of course, whenever somebody makes a movie about American soldiers that doesn't show them actively rebelling against the military, complaints about jingoism abound. I've seen that come up about this one too, but as usual it’s unfounded. The Americans are not portrayed as saints, and the Taliban are nameless and faceless because SEALs do not have time to ask for their personal histories in the middle of a gunfight. Further, there’s no moral equivalency to be drawn with the Taliban, who are in reality even more reprehensible than the movie portrays them. On top of that, one of the actual Hollywood embellishments of the film gives the Afghan civilians a chance to shine brighter, rather than minimizing or otherwise white washing their part in the story.

All in all this is a solid film, and despite knowing the story going in, I found myself really engaged and occasionally even surprised. It’s easy to forget what we as a nation ask our warriors to suffer through on our behalf, and it’s nice for once to have a movie that focuses on that rather than using them as props for a running commentary on the politics of the conflict in which they’re engaged. Director Peter Berg and his cast and crew said they set out to make an authentic movie that does justice to the men it portrayed and what they endured. As a civilian with no ties to the real life action heroes on which it is based, I’m hardly in a position to judge whether or not they succeeded, but I will recommend seeing Lone Survivor just the same.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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