Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Murder On Deck 36 - Chapter Five: Conspiracy

“It’s just a junkie. A criminal.” The chief’s voice was condescending, a fact I didn’t appreciate at that moment. “It’s murder, and it’s connected to Evan Taylor’s!” I shouted. I shouldn’t be speaking to the chief this way, but I was beginning to get fed up with the chief’s ignorance of what was right in front of him. “It’s a random act of violence! Finding who killed this girl… There’s no trail.” The chief sighed. “You need to stop with this conspiracy stuff. There’s no connection—” “It’s the exact same wound!” I interrupted the chief. “It’s just a wound! There’s no connection, no arms dealer, nothing like that. They’re just two very unfortunate, isolated incidents.”
“I want to talk to the family.” I said. “Dr. Taylor’s. The wife made it sound like the family was pretty unhappy with Dr. Taylor’s choice to come to the lower decks, maybe that grudge was what led to his death.” The chief looked around slowly. He rose from his desk and walked to the door, closing it. Very quietly he said, “That’s not going to happen.” I still wasn’t pleased, but I spoke quietly too, though not sure why. “Why not? You can get me an elevator pass, if it’s for an official investigation.” The chief walked back to his desk, and rested his hand on it. While still looking away from me, he said, “I did a little research of my own on this Evan Taylor guy. Do you know who his father is?” “No.” I responded, shortly. I was a little embarrassed that I hadn’t done that research myself. The chief turned back to me, and said, lower still, in the lowest whisper. “Gregory Taylor. The chief of security for the entire ship. You won’t be bothering him with your accusations. The cases— Both of them— are closed. You’re dismissed, North.”
I left the Chief’s office in a huff. Everyone in the security office was staring at me. “What are you looking at?” I snapped at them. I was fed up. There was a connection between Cindy and Evan Taylor’s deaths. I knew it. And yet the chief was completely shut off from the possibility. I should be used to it I suppose. Down on Deck 36 most cases are never closed for this exact reason. Everyone is so afraid that rocking the boat will get them killed, that they just keep their heads down and hope to get transferred higher up. Rocking the boat too much can mean negative reviews from higher ups, which means you stay down in this stinking slum longer. But this was on a whole new level. I had a link between the cases, a solid link, and the chief wouldn’t even hear of it. Still it made sense. If I accused Gregory Taylor of this, it would be suicide for my career. A toxin for everyone involved, guaranteeing that they’d be stuck down here for the rest of their lives. Still if it were right…
As I stormed out into the streets, extra smoky today due to some sort of malfunction down in the engine section, Sarah called to me from inside. I kept walking. Sarah was just as frustrated as I was, I’m sure, we had vented our frustrations to each other, at that moment though, I didn’t feel like talking. I ducked down a back alley, hoping to avoid Sarah if she followed me out of the security station.
I kept trying to think of a connection, something more solid, so I could convince the chief to give me more resources, but I had nothing. If the wounds being almost exact matches wasn’t enough, and my story about Cindy showing up at midnight (Which was met with a response of “I don’t want to hear about any more midnight visitors of that kind from you again North.”) then I didn’t know what would. If I could only get the chief to reopen the case, maybe get me some extra manpower on the case to talk with people, ask about a new weapons dealer… What I really needed was to talk to Dr. Taylor’s family. The chief of security for the entire ship. That was major. Deck 210, very top floor. One of the most important men on the deck. But that just made him fit the profile all the more. As I thought about it, it made more sense. Gregory Taylor could easily afford a heat weapon. He probably had twenty different kinds in his quarters alone. Maybe he begrudged his son’s choice to come to the lower decks. Hated it even. Enough to kill. Then Cindy found a link, some evidence, something, and he had to deal with her. That would certainly explain what Cindy had meant by this being “bigger than you know.” The chief of security for the entire ship committing murder?
That’s when it crossed my mind. Johnny. How could I have forgotten? I should have gone straight from the crime scene to talk with him, but I rushed to tell the chief what I had found, falsely hoping he’d reopen the case. I pushed the thoughts of Gregory Taylor and the upper decks from my mind, and began to hurry down the dark streets, toward Hole in the Wall.
When I arrived, I knew something was wrong. The place was usually pulsating with loud music all hours, but as I approached the hole, it was dead silent. I ducked in, and didn’t like what I found. The place was virtually empty, except for Johnny and the brunette from earlier, sitting at a table by the opposite wall. The strobe lights had been replaced by harsh flood lights lighting the area between walls up. I could see around a hundred feet in either direction, beyond that, only darkness. I suppose the expanse between walls could lead me around the entire deck, but no one ever strayed too far from the dance floor in hole in the wall, unless they wanted a dark spot for… Privacy. There were probably all sorts of diseased vermin who had made nest in the darkness, and besides, there was no point in wandering in the darkness, since the expanse was just an empty void.
I could tell the two were upset. As I approached them, Johnny looked up at me and, obviously grief stricken, said “What do you want?” angrily. Obviously, word had gotten to him. The brunette whose name I didn’t know said something I couldn’t hear, obviously meant to be comforting, to Johnny, but he shook his head. “What do you want Ryan? Now’s not a good time. I just got word about—” “Cindy?” I asked, bluntly. Johnny’s brow furrowed with confusion. “How do you know about…?”
I explained the story to Johnny, beginning with her midnight visit, and then ending by saying that the chief still wouldn’t reopen the case. There was a long silence after I finished. I could tell the brunette was very upset by what I’d said. I imagine she must have known Cindy well. Finally, Johnny rose from the table. Walked closer to me, and said, looking me in the eye, “What do you need?”
I was a bit taken aback. “What do I…?” “What do you need?” He repeated. “For the case.” I thought for a moment. “Well it’s hard, I’d need the manpower to… figure out what Cindy knew… I mean, I’d need people out on the street asking about the new arms dealer… And…” I trailed off. “And?” He asked. I sighed, before continuing. “If it were any other case, I’d want to question the family. Figure out if any of them have a grudge against Taylor, or know who might. Unfortunately he’s from the upper decks, and without a pass…” I left out the part about Gregory Taylor, no need to mention that to Johnny.
The most serious I’d ever seen him look, Johnny turned to the brunette. He said, “Rachel.” And that was it. She’d clearly been listening to me, because she knew what Johnny meant. She reached down into her chest, and pulling out of her shirt was a small plastic card. She handed it to Johnny, and he turned back to me. “Something this valuable, had to keep it close to me. People expect that I’d keep something valuable on me, but the girls…” His voice faltered, I suspect he remembered that he was one girl shorter now. “…The girls are invisible during deals to most people. No one expects them to have anything valuable.” It’s times like these that remind me that Johnny, for how reckless and carefree he asks, is the best in the business because he’s smarter than the rest.
“I’ll send every man I have to start asking about this guy. Cindy was the best at finding people, that’s why she was one of my best people, but I’ve got a lot of manpower. I’ll tell everyone to drop what they’re doing. Put a bounty on information about this guy. As for talking to this Taylor guy’s family…” Johnny handed me the small plastic card, and my eyes widened. I’d never actually seen one of these with my own eyes before, and instantly I knew why Johnny wanted to keep this so close. The small plastic card had a picture of Hope on it, on a starry background. Underneath it were the words “ELEVATOR PASS - OFFICIAL BUSINESS - ALL DECK ACCESS”
“Rachel swiped this on some guy, an official visiting 36 years ago for some evaluation, making sure the engines were being kept running. It’s only good for one trip, so I’ve been saving it. Only good for one person, so I was hoping some day I might get more and be able to get the girls and I out of here… But this will work for getting you wherever you need to go.” I kept staring at the piece of plastic. “Ryan.” Johnny said, keeping the serious tone that matched his face. I tore my eyes from the plastic, and met Johnny’s eyes. “I want the man who killed Cindy. Find him.”
I probably should have told Johnny that I’d have to arrest him, and I couldn’t bring him to Johnny, but this was different. Last time it was business, but this time the killer had hurt someone Johnny cared about. And as I thought about all Johnny did for her, I realized that Johnny really did care about his girls, maybe even love them. For all his faults, Johnny was still a good guy. All I did was nod and say, “We’ll get him.”
I left Hole in the Wall. I took the piece of plastic, put it in my pocket, but never let go of it. I headed toward the elevators. I was getting to do something I’d wanted to for my entire life. I was leaving Deck 36.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Movie Review - The Beaver

The Beaver is a psychological thriller/horror film directed by Jodie Foster. I don't care if the trailer looks like a quirky drama, this crap is messed up. I don't CARE if Jodie Foster calls it a comedy-drama, this crap is MESSED UP. But is it any good? And just what makes me feel that this film can be seen along the lines of something out of a Stephen King novel?

Let me back up a bit, back to when I was seeing Source Code with a friend. One of the trailers in front of it was for the above film, a I laughed hysterically for all the wrong reasons. I couldn't believe they were seriously making a drama about THAT premise. And the dialogue was so silly! "I'M THE BEAVER AND I'M HERE TO SAVE YOUR LIFE." Really movie? Really? It looked like Oscar Bait, plain and simple, along the lines of such terrible, terrible films as Seven Pounds. Still, I was informed by people who actually knew what they were talking about that the movie was supposed to be quite good according to test audiences, so although I was skeptical, I kept an interest in the film, and kept tabs on it.

After release, the film grossed under a million dollars, produced on a budget of $21 million, and had a very brief run in theaters, although it was critically acclaimed. Even though the film had star power, since it stars Mel Gibson as the main character, Walter Black (we'll get there in a moment) and Jodie Foster as his wife (who also directed the film) not even the star power was enough to draw in an audience. Jodie Foster stated that she thought it was because the film was a "comedy-drama" and that audiences didn't know what to feel. Well let me solve that problem for you: You should feel utter horror.

You see, as I said above, the trailers, and likely the filmmakers, would have you believe that The Beaver is intended to be the story of a depressed man. While that's true, the trailer is misleading, because this film is NOT merely a drama. I'm fairly certain that this film was directed, written, and acted as a dark, disturbing horror film about a man's slow descent into utter madness, and then got a quirky indie/alternative soundtrack and was recut at the last second. It's the only explanation I can manage.

I say that, but even that doesn't sit right. The film doesn't even feel like it's been recut. This film is terrifying! It starts off oddly, as Walter, suffering from chronic depression, begins to use, as I'm sure you know by now, a puppet of a Beaver to cope. At first this is funny, but that fades quickly, and before too long I started worrying that the film would end with Walter wearing a suit of human skin.

You probably think I'm exaggerating, but I swear, this movie is dark. And not only in the way I thought it would be, with Walter struggling with depression, but some of the scenes with the Beaver in it are downright eerie.

But the film isn't all bad. Even the things I've said above aren't "bad" per say, just bizarre. And I actually did like the movie. The acting is good all around, and the dialogue largely feels realistic and sincere.

Actually what were probably my favorite parts of the movie, oddly enough, were the scenes having to do with the sub plot about Walter's son Porter. The sub plot, a romance between Porter and a girl at his school, was pretty typical teenage romantic plot fair, but something about it felt very sincere, and I thought the two characters had good chemistry. It feels so vastly different from the rest of the movie though, it almost seems like two films got squished together.

So should you see this movie? ...Yeah! Go for it! This film is good! It's... Bizarrely dark, more than a little disturbing, and kind of make you confused to watch because you don't know whether to laugh or cry (as I said, I settled in the middle in UTTER HORROR), but it's still a film worth seeing, that I would definitely give a recommendation.

And on that note I'm going to go NEVER SLEEP AGAIN.

No Chapter This Week

Yeah, so I've been preparing for school and stuff, starting back up on Monday, and I haven't had a chance to write a chapter for this week yet. Hopefully next week won't be TOO crazy with classes starting up, but I hope everyone is understanding of there being no chapter this week (and possibly next).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Murder On Deck 36 - Chapter Four: The Second Murder

The next day my head was still buzzing with questions. This Cindy girl, she was obviously in trouble. But who was after her? I’d seen her around before when talking to Johnny, she was one of his favorite girls. She always seemed harmless. In over her head. Another victim of the cannibalistic society of Deck 36 to be sure, but never dangerous. We’re all victims in our own way of this place. Even folks like Johnny who have things under control.
As I walked into the station I saw Sarah. I tossed around in my head whether or not to tell her about Cindy’s visit… Her warning. What troubled me was that I didn’t have anything solid to go on, and down here if someone tells you they’re in trouble you don’t tell anyone without a good reason. I’m not saying I thought Sarah was in on anything, she’s one of the few folks I trusted on the whole deck, but getting people involved gets them killed. I decided to keep Cindy’s midnight visit to myself for the time being.
It started as a pretty normal day at the station. Cases buzzing around, but nothing for me. Nothing for Sarah and I either. I sat around and dozed, still tired after a mostly sleepless night. I had been sitting at my desk without much to do for quite some time, halfway between the world and sleep, when I was shaken awake by Sarah. “Ryan, wake up. There’s been another hit, we’ve got to go check it out.” I stood and wiped the sleep from my eyes. “Where?” I asked. “The body was found in an alley somewhere, some girl. I think it’s by where you live, actually.”
Not unusual. I’d say I lived in a bad area, but all of Deck 36 was a bad area. Sarah had the exact location of the hit downloaded on a map. It was an old decrepit thing that barely worked any more, like most of the maps that were handed out to Security Officers as standard issue. As we neared the location where the body had been found, I realized how close to my quarters this hit actually was. It couldn’t have been more than a block or two away. “Where did you say this was, again?” I asked. “Oh I don’t know,” Sarah responded, only half listening to me, “The 63rd block?”
My stomach lurched. Each Deck was split into 120 “blocks” to make navigation easier. I lived on the 65th block. The murder had been just two blocks adjacent to me the night before. “Did anyone mention a time of death, when they told you about the case, I mean?” That got Sarah to look up at me, questioningly. “No… Why?” I shook my head. “No reason.”
It couldn’t be, I was sure of it. It was all a coincidence. A murder in my area isn’t an uncommon thing. Drugs, money, even looking at someone wrong, these were all things that could get you killed. Not to mention Johnny wouldn’t stand for it… No one would cross Johnny like that, not even the guy who was selling these heat weapons. Johnny wasn’t a complete sociopath, but I wouldn’t put it past him to have someone killed for crossing him like that.
But then we got there. Then we turned the corner into the dark alley. And I looked at the body lying on the ground, with a million thoughts jumping into my head. The wound. The place. The person. All my thoughts condense into one: Cindy. Lying on the dirty ship floor before me was Cindy’s dead broken body. Most of it, at least. To the right side of her chest was a large dark wound. A blackened hole burned straight through her torso, crisping her very heart. I recognized the wound instantly. It was the same wound that killed Dr. Taylor. Whoever was using the heat rifle had struck again, and judging from where the body was, it couldn’t have been more than minutes after Cindy had spoken with me the night before.
Cindy had come to warn me to stop digging into Evan Taylor’s murder, and mere moments later the same man killed her.
Whatever it was I was feeling at that moment, anger, confusion, and perhaps a tinge of fear, it must have shown on my face, because Sarah startled me as she said, “Ryan? What’s wrong?” I don’t look up from the cold body as I respond. “I knew her.” Sarah glances at the body, and says, “You did? Who was she?” I shook my head waking myself slightly from the shock. “She was… Her name was Cindy. One of Johnny’s girls.”
“One of… No… Who would cross Johnny like that? He’ll have them killed!” Sarah said. “Sarah, I think this goes a lot deeper than a new arms dealer. Look at the wound. It’s just like the one that killed Dr. Taylor.” Sarah looked at the wound, and I didn’t wait for her to respond before continuing. “First Dr. Taylor, then Cindy… Sarah, Cindy was the girl who Johnny sent to look into whoever had a heat rifle. I saw Johnny send her to look into this guy, and now she’s dead… And…” I sigh. Sarah picks up on my hesitancy, and says “And what?” more as a demand than a question.
“And she found me last night.” I responded. “What?” Sarah asks. “She found me last night. That’s why she was here. She must’ve been killed just after I spoke to her. She was scared, and she came to my quarters.” “Asking for help?” I shake my head. “No. Warning me.” “Warning you… Wait. You don’t mean…?”
I nod. I don’t need to say any more. We both realize why Cindy came to warn me. Whoever killed her has struck twice now, and all signs point to me being the next target.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Thoughts On Reviews

Hello. So, readers of my blog (yes, both of you) will probably know that I do a lot of reviews on here. You can find them all here. I thought, since it's one of the main things I do on here, I might as well spend a little time talking about my review philosophy, and a certain fallacy I think a lot of reviews, professional or otherwise, fall into.

The fallacy is, in short, the thought that the only point behind a review is to inform the reader of your own opinion of the film/book/whatever, something which I feel is only partly true.

I can hear the disagreements already.

Let me explain my point a little bit; While it's inarguable that reviews are subjective and opinion based, and in fact all personal taste is subjective, and there's no "right or wrong" taste (unless you like Twilight, obviously) informing the audience of your personal opinion should only be half of the point of the review. You see, there are two main reasons why anyone would read a review. People who have seen the film you're reviewing (or played the game, or read the book, and so on) want to see if they agree with your opinion of it, or hear alternative viewpoints and criticisms or compliments toward the work being reviewed. The second, and more obvious point, is simply to decide whether it is worth the money to buy the film/book/game/etc. And the review should, as such, attempt to inform both of these audiences equally.

Let's pretend for a moment that you want to write a review of a movie you just saw. Now, this hypothetical movie is the latest summer action blockbuster, and it's been being hyped for months. The trailers look interesting, and you decide to go buy a ticket to see it opening day. You sit down for two hours, and think it's the greatest film you've ever seen. You decide that you're going to go home and write a review of it on your blog, and post it for all your friends. (This is beginning to become uncomfortably familiar to me.) You sit down and write your post. In the review, you write about how it's the greatest film you've ever seen, and how it's changed your perceptions of how good a movie can be. You insist that everyone reading the review go see it immediately. However, you neglect to mention in your review that, while the action and effects were, in fact, the best ever seen in a movie, the acting and writing were awful. After all, though you know this is true and wouldn't argue otherwise, you didn't care about the plot and felt the action held up the film on it's own, thus making the plot, characters, and lame sex jokes in every scene (it's a Michael Bay film) irrelevant to your review.

Now suppose one of your friends, who for the sake of the argument doesn't like action films and instead only likes movies with intelligently written characters, reads your review and decides to see the movie you loved so much. He walks out of the theater instead feeling outraged at how terrible he thought the film was.

Now obviously, he wasn't the right audience for the film. Unfortunately, because of your review simply using broad language and not explaining what was good and bad about the film, he's going to feel cheated and not trust your reviews again. Maybe he'll even feel lied to. Obviously this isn't the best way to go around writing a review.

Now of course, if you loved the film for the action, that's your prerogative, and you have every right to tell people that on your blog. But a better way to about it would probably be to tell the audience, instead of simply that the movie was the greatest you've ever seen in your life, that the acting and writing weren't that great, but that you felt the unparalleled special effects and action scenes more than held up the film on it's own. Not only will you sound more intelligent in the end, but you'll end up pleasing your readers more, and will let people know whether they'll like the film, not just whether you did.

And this can go for any kind of review, of course. For example, Angry Joe, a reviewer of both video games and movies whom I have a lot of respect for, gave Mortal Kombat* a 9/10, but after watching his review, I know it's not a game I'd never be any interested in. It's a fighting game, a genre I'm not too interested in because I simply don't like it that much outside of Smash Bros.

That's what I try to do in my reviews, and that's my review philosophy. I try not only to tell my opinion of a game or movie, but inform my reader of why they may or may not like something. A game I really liked, and I still play quite a lot a whole year later, Beat Hazard, is currently sitting at a score of merely 70 on Metacritic, so obviously most reviewers weren't as in love with the game as I was. (Sidenote: The problem with the menus being laggy I mention in that review was patched almost a year ago, and Beat Hazard is still a phenomenal game in my opinion, though like I said, the flashing lights can be headache inducing.)

Now I may not always succeed in trying to bring through why you may like or dislike a game, and going back to some of my older reviews it's downright embarrassing, but I'm always trying, and back when I did some of those older reviews like Beat Hazard, I was still trying to find my identity as a blogger. Heck, I still am trying to find my identity as a blogger.

In fact, something most people will probably notice is that in my reviews I don't use a "rating score" at all, and even more importantly, in my video game reviews I end each one with a "Buy this game if:" and "Don't buy this game if:" quote. That's because, simply put, I don't believe in arbitrary review scores. Here, let me elaborate a bit. I just pulled three random issues of Game Informer out of my stack of 10 years worth of them. Let me pick three reviews real quick.

Mirror's Edge - 8 (Issue 188)
Wii Fit - 8 (Issue 182)
- 8 (Issue 213)

There you go. Those 3 games, according to the review score, are exactly equal. Wii Fit, Mirror's Edge, and Nail'd are all games worth exactly an 8/10 score according to Game Informer. (I know a lot of people have problems with Game Informer. Shut up. I'm making a point.)

My problem with review scores, in case I haven't made it apparent yet, is that it's impossible to tell anything about a game from a number alone. I mean really, what do we know about these games from a review score alone. We know, apparently, that they're all games worth an 8/10. That's it.

Now, looking more carefully at each game, what we actually know about them is that one is a first person platformer, one is a glorified yoga mat, and one is a racer of some kind, I don't know, I'd never heard of Nail'd before, and it's not really relevant. The point is that these are very different games, and putting the number "8" on each of them is virtually useless. What does "8" mean? The magazine describes it as

"Very good. Innovative, but perhaps not the right choice for everyone. This score indicates that there are many good things to be had, but arguably so."

In other words, an 8 means "READ THE REVIEW!"

I just don't see the point in applying arbitrary numbers to a review. The scores are just a more professional way to give people a TL;DR ("Too Long; Didn't Read") without actually saying anything. They're essentially the exact opposite of what I was just saying about explaining the merits and problems with the film/book/game.

Now I get most review scores are meant to accompany the review itself. Most reviewers would claim that a review score isn't meant to replace the review itself, and instead should be read in context with the rest of the review. You know my answer? Well if you're supposed to have read the review, shouldn't you know how good or bad you thought the movie/game was anyways, without the review score? Either 1, you're being lazy and don't want to write too much or too passionately about what you really thought, or 2, your review score is completely and utterly redundant. Neither are a good answer to why the review score should be around. That's why I don't use them, and that's why I don't like them. I know I've given Ebert a hard time on this blog before, but I did like the "Thumbs up, thumbs down" review mechanic, and I still have respect for him as a critic when he's in his element.

The only thing I will say is that it is nice to be able to tell at a glance whether a review on Metacritic is positive or negative, so that when I'm judging whether or not to buy a game I can go to Metacritic and pick both positive and negative reviews to get a fair assessment of what the good parts or bad parts of a game are. The problem with that, however, is that most people don't USE Metacritic for that, and instead only take one look at the metascore, and either buy or dismiss the game based on that alone, which ties back in to what I said before. Reviews should be about helping people decide whether or not to buy the game. I'm sure many people have been angry that they got a game they really didn't like because it had a high metascore, simply because it was a critical darling, and I'm sure many people have missed real gems that they would have loved (like Beat Hazard) because they have a lowly score of 70.

Another point that frustrates me with game reviews specifically is the inflation in game review scores. I'm not going to go too in depth with that point because the Extra Credits guys already tackled that topic, and they put it more eloquently than I ever could, not to mention the fact that I'd just parrot what they say, but the short version is this:

As it is now, there's a huge inflation with game review scores, to the point where an 8/10 score among game reviewers is typically an average to mediocre game, instead of a 5/10 which would make sense. As such games at 80/100 on Metacritic are to be taken with a grain of salt (Oh, and keep this in mind and read that Game Informer review quote again. They're one of the biggest offenders of this.) and anything below that is generally a pretty poor game, equivalent to only a 2/5 movie score or below. There's even a Trope about how stupid it is that 8.8 is considered a lukewarm review. The end result, obviously, is that instead of having the range from 5-10 to review games that are above average, you only get from 8-10. The result is a lot of scores of, well, 8.8 or such. It's stupid. (Note: If you want a review absolutely not guilty of this, who actually uses review scores better than anyone else I've ever seen, Angry Joe is awesome with this.)

The end result is that, when I go to look for reviews I know of a few critics whom I generally find informative, like Giant Bomb, Angry Joe, or, if he's done a review of it, Totalbiscuit, and listen to their comments, ignoring the metascore entirely. (Unless, like I said before, I was looking for various opinions on a game.)

So yeah. That's basically a really long blog post about my review philosophy. I hope it's been informative and has helped people understand my reviews better.

*Note: Obviously I'm not responsible for any content such as language or blood seen in the review I linked to. It's for an M rated game, the review will have blood in it, and the reviewer doesn't have as tame a mouth as I do.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Movie Review - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the classic Planet of the Apes film series. Unlike the last film, this one is not a direct remake of Planet of the Apes and, more importantly, didn't cast an untalented idiot as the main character... Seriously, who though Marky Mark was a suitable replacement for Charlton Heston? Really?

...But I digress. What's important is that Humans are Idiots-- Sorry, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is meant, if successful, to launch a new film series, hopefully reviving the franchise, and again, most importantly, keeping Mark Hackberg as far away as possible from it.

Since it's virtually impossible to say anything about this film without spoiling the classic 1968 film (which if you haven't seen yet YOU SHOULD) please refer to the following videos to get caught up on the original film.

So as you can see... Sorry what? Oh, ok. Folks, I've been told one of those isn't actually a clip from Planet of the Apes, I apologize for confusion. Anyways, in a nutshell, the titular planet of the apes, is in fact Earth.

Basically, Humans blew up the Earth, Apes became intelligent and took over. It's a great film. Go see it.

But have you ever found yourself wondering, "Hmm, I wonder what happened? I wonder exactly how the apes overthrew humanity?" No? Me either. That's why I went into this film highly skeptical. I liked the ambiguity of the original Apes movies. It let you use a bit of imagination to figure out what happened. But Hollywood decided we needed answers, and that they would be given to us in the form of James Franco trying to cure Alzheimer's.

So was I right? Is Rise a failure, or a victory? Does the franchise deserve to be relaunched, or should we hold on tightly to our 1968 Heston films, or can we finally say the Apes franchise is ready? It's been ten whole years since the Marky Mark disaster, after all. (Actually, I didn't mind that movie except for Marky Mark. Oh and also the ending. And the... Rest... Of the movie-- Ok yeah it was terrible.)

Well, I was actually pleasantly surprised by Rise. The film begins with James Franco (Harry from the Spider-Man films) playing a scientist attempting to cure Alzheimer's with a modified virus called ALZ-112. He gives several different variants to Chimps before finding one that works (ALZ-112) that repairs brain cells using the power of SCIENCE. Basically, it's a smart virus. (I can only assume it was also being developed to counter the STUPID VIRUS that spread to all of humanity prior to the film, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

In short, the day Franco is showing it to the people who will get the drug to the public, the chimp with the ALZ-112, Bright Eyes, goes ballistic and rampages through the building before being shot. All the chimps have to be put down, and Franco's life long work is, in short, over and done with.

...OR IS IT?!

Well obviously not, or it'd be a pretty short film. No! It turns out that Bright Eyes went ballistic because it was protecting it's newborn baby Chimp, Gollum. I mean Caesar.

And thus begins the ~2 hour film. Yeah, that was all the opening.

Actually, while we're on that subject, let me just say the pacing of this movie is really good. It has that perfect balance of both keeping the story active, and yet never going too fast as to make it seem rushed. It gives each of the characters enough time to be developed as characters. Even Caesar seems really developed by the end of the film, and you understand his motivations.

I was also very pleasantly surprised by James Franco's acting. I mean, not to diss the Spider-Man films, or him in those films, but uh... His acting was a bit...

Hammy? And let's not forget his unbelievable Oscar performance this year, where he basically stood next to Anne Hathaway being Anne Hathaway and was, erm... Boring.

Luckily, none of that came through in this. He seemed likeable, and realistic. Stupid, but realistic.

Oh and also on that note, let me just say real quick RODNEY MCKAY IS IN THIS MOVIE AND IT IS AWESOME. Oh, and so is Draco Malfoy. And that guy who's in a ton of stuff.

So yeah, good cast, and good acting all around. I really enjoyed the acting, and all of the characters are really likeable, except the villain, but that's intentional.

Speaking of transitions, CGI! The CGI in this film is great! Absolutely great! Perhaps not uncanny valley escaping, but really good! The amount of emotion the apes all get across is unbelievable. In fact, by far the best scenes of the movie involve all ape characters, partly because of just how incredibly good the CGI is, and partly because the writing for those scenes is really good.

In fact, the writing for this is the best kind of prequel writing (except for the stupidity of the humans), because this is the same kind of prequel that KOTOR is, for example. In fact, the film works the fact that it's set so long before the first film into the plot really well. Since it's so undefined what happened during this film, it actually keep you guessing how it'll end. (Hint: There are some apes involved.) In fact it even works some absolutely brilliant references to the Charlton Heston films (which Wikipedia says this is not, actually, in the same canon as, and that at some point if this film does well enough, we'll see a remake of the '68 film) both obvious that almost everyone will get, and a few that are hidden in the background. In fact I almost want to see the film again just to catch all the shout-outs, and when you can say you want to see a movie again so soon after watching it, I'd say the film is a success.

In fact, I can even see, very easily, there being another Rise film between this film and the remake of the '68 film. In fact, the way this film ends almost requires it, since let's just say it leaves a few... BIG... Things... Unexplained. I'd almost be angry if I didn't think they were planning to do Rise 2 before the full remake.

So was the film unnecessary? Well, surprisingly, I'm going to say no. What I didn't realize, actually until writing this review, was that this is not in the same canon as the Heston films, and they ARE planning on getting to remaking the Heston film. So you know what? I actually like that they went a different route. It's a lot more creative than the typical route of rebooting a franchise with a remake. In fact, this movie has the most in common with Batman Begins, in that it's telling the origin story before getting to the real story. And you know what? It works. It really works. This was a good movie, maybe even a great movie. It was the origin story we didn't know we wanted. And I'd give it a recommendation in a heartbeat.

In fact, I really only have one issue with the film. You may notice that I've been subtly alluding to a certain lack of intelligence on the part of the human characters.

Basically, every. Single. Human. Character. In the film. Is. A. Moron. All of them. James Franco? Yep. McKay? Yeah, him too. Malfoy? Oh heck yeah. James Franco's girlfriend? Yep. The entire U.S. Military? Well, they didn't show up for the titular rising, so yeah, I'll count them too. It would seem every human being forgot either A. That they had guns, or B. How to use guns. And it shows. And it's painful.

The human aspects of this film is just watching one moronic mistake after another, that in the end forcefully pushes the movie toward a climax. Now I know that sounds harsh, but understand, I really did like the film. A lot. And you should definitely see it if you're looking to see a movie any time soon. It's a good one to see in theaters. But the human characters are IDIOTS. All of them. I saw this with a group of friends, and right as the credits roll I turn to them and say "You know what I don't get?" And one of them responds "Why Humans suddenly turned into idiots?"

It hurts me to say this without giving examples, but unfortunately most the examples are very spoilery, other than the gun thing. And honestly, that's not even the half of it.

Still, as I said, I liked the movie a lot, and the stupidity of the human race isn't enough to ruin it, not by a long shot. They won over me, one of the biggest skeptics of the film, and I can now safely say that I'm looking forward to any future sequels to Rise.

Oh, and one more thing. I don't know if this movie was meant to be in 3D and those plans fell through, or if it's only getting a limited 3D run, but there are a few shots that seemed like they were going for a 3D effect that... Wasn't there, in my theater at least. Bizzare.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Murder On Deck 36 - Chapter Three: Bigger Than You Know

I stepped into the security station, taking a deep breath of the air, clean by comparison. Sarah was sitting at her desk, but as soon as she saw me she bolted up and came to talk to me. “So what’d you find out?” She asked me, “Did Johnny remember who bought it?” I gave a short sigh before responding. “Johnny doesn’t know who sold it. He didn’t know there was a deal going down about a heat weapon.” I can see the shock in Sarah’s face. “Are you sure he wasn’t just trying to-” “Fool me?” I interrupt. “Yeah. I’m sure. He was pretty convincing.”
Sarah turns away for a moment and sighs, before looking up again and saying, “I asked around, but didn’t get any word on heat weapons. Most of them don’t know anything, and those who might know something are too scared to talk.” Fear isn’t a new concept on Deck 36. Fear is power, and anyone who hopes to have power uses fear as a weapon. Johnny, for example, has a lot of men out there, and crossing him isn’t a good idea. Even us, the cops, the so called “good guys” use fear defensively. It’s all that keeps the scum from storming our station. What was different this time is that we didn’t know who it was that’s holding the power, that has people scared. Something new, and on Deck 36, new is frightening.
“The Chief wanted to see you when you got back.” Sarah told me. I nodded, and walked toward the chief’s office. I opened the door, and saw him sitting there at his desk, a proper desk, unlike our half broken tables. His office probably isn’t huge by mid or upper deck standards, but it’s enormous by Deck 36 standards, probably a quarter of the entire station is taken up by his office. “Ryan. Sit down.” The chief said.
As I sat down, the chief said, “So what do we know about this doctor.” I began relating what we’d learned so far to him, telling him how Dr. Evan Taylor came from the upper decks hoping to help the sick down here, how the mark looked like a heat weapon, how I spoke to Johnny, and he claimed no one had bought a heat weapon to his knowledge.
After I spoke the chief look up toward the ceiling, contemplatively. He stood up and walked around the office for a moment. Finally he spoke, “How sure are you, really, that it was a heat weapon? Hmm?” I remained seated, but responded, “Well it looked like a heat weapon’s mark.” “Right, but how do you know? Have you seen these marks before? I’ve never seen a heat mark before, other than a plasma cutter, of course.” I paused for a moment. I knew what the chief was implying. “It was too large to be the mark of a plasma cutter, and it left a hole, it didn’t just cook them through like a laser weapon.” I explained once again. The chief came back to the front of the desk. The expression on his face was a condescending one.
“North, I understand you’re anxious to break a big case like this, maybe get transferred up a few decks,” the chief was wrong, that wasn’t my motivation for solving this case. I wanted to find the killer before he struck again. Not that it wouldn’t be nice to get transferred to a nice mid deck, “but you’re making a bigger deal out of this case than you should be. Your case is really simple. A junkie broke in to steal drugs. Maybe had a plasma cutter, maybe just a laser pistol, I don’t know. Evan caught him, and the junkie killed him.” “But sir, there weren’t any drugs taken from the cabinet there!” I realized my voice was rising. I’d had this conversation with the chief before, and I knew how it ended. But I didn’t want this case closed before the killer was caught.
“Maybe the junkie was afraid he would get caught over the murder. Maybe Dr. Taylor had a ‘private stash’ of the really good stuff, and he took it from that. Who knows. Either way, a heat weapon? A new weapons dealer? You’re treating this like some sort of conspiracy, when it’s really very simple stuff.”
I sighed, probably a bit more loudly than I had intended, since the chief shot me a dirty look. “This isn’t going to go anywhere North. Searching for one junkie on all of Deck 36 is like searching for a needle in a haystack made out of needles. You’re needed elsewhere. Case closed.”
I wanted to protest. There was something going on here, I knew it. But it wouldn’t go anywhere but getting me suspended, so I nodded reluctantly and slowly walked out of the office.
The rest of the day was pretty mundane, once I told Sarah our case had been closed. I filed the closing paperwork on the case, which took a while, spoke to some of the other security officers about their cases, seeing if I could help with anything, but still, as I made my way home hours later, with the artificial lights dimmed to give us a false sense of evening I still had the Evan Taylor case on my mind. I thought about Ashley Taylor, and how she’d never see her husband’s killer brought to justice. I wondered if I should speak to her about it, or if she’d resent me for failing to catch the guy. It wasn’t my fault, of course, but she wouldn’t understand that, she couldn’t understand that, and I didn’t blame her.
Was I making this case out to be bigger than it was? I was so sure that wound was that of a heat rifle when I first saw it, but now? Maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe the chief was right, maybe I just wanted to break a big case and get transferred out of this slum. Still, something just didn’t sit right with me about his “junkie” explanation.
I walked into my quarters, nearly tripping over my bed as I was not paying attention when I entered. I think that I should probably eat something, but I was too tired. It had been a long day. I fall into my bed, not even bothering to undress, and let sleep overtake me.

I don’t know how much time had passed when I awoke to the sound of thumping on my door. The lights outside had fully dimmed into “nighttime” mode, so I suppose it had been a few hours at least. I scrambled to get up and get to the door. AS the door swings open, at first I don’t think that I know the person standing at the door. It was a young woman, who seemed to have been in a fight of some sort. Her lip was bleeding, and she had a bruise across her forehead. It took me a moment to realize I did, in fact, know this woman. It was the blond girl I’d seen Johnny in the club with earlier that day, the one he sent to investigate the new weapons dealer.
She looks at me and I realize her eyes are full of fear. Unsure of what, exactly to say, I fumble around with my words and say something in between “What is it?” and “Can I help you?” Perhaps, “What can I help it?” I don’t remember exactly. I’m not sure if she even noticed, since she ducked into my room quickly and closed the door behind her. The already cramped quarters felt even smaller with an extra body in the room.
“I found something.” She said. Her voice trembled as she did so. I struggled to remember her name, and gave a shot at what I thought it might be. “Samantha—” “Cindy.” She interrupted. “Right. Sorry. Cindy. What do you mean you found something?” She looked around the room nervously. “Listen, your case, your heat weapon… You need to stop looking into it. You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” I shot her a puzzled look, and said, “Wait, you know who killed Dr. Taylor? Who?”
She shook her head. “No. They’ll… No. Listen, this is bigger than you know. I’m in danger even being here. I need to get back to Johnny. I only told you because I’ve heard Johnny talk about you before. You’re not like most cops on the station, you aren’t corrupt, you’re a good man. Deck 36 needs that, much as we might hate to admit it sometimes. Johnny likes you and he’s told us to do what we can to protect you before… So I’m telling you now. Drop it.”
“Who is it?” I asked, more frustrated this time. She shook her head once more, and this time opened the door. She looked at me one last time and said, “Drop the case. Be careful.” And darted out the door. I step out and chase after her for a moment, but the elevator taking her back to the ground floor closes without me and I know I won’t catch her. I head back to my room, and try to go back to sleep, with little success. What did she mean, this was bigger than I knew? Why was she in danger? I knew it. There was something bigger going on here after all. And I was going to find out what.