Samuel’s Top 10 Games of 2014

Valiant Hearts2014-7-5-2-19-38

An endless stream of “DEFINITIVE”, “REMASTERED” and “GAME OF THE YEAR” reissues.

A surprising dearth of quality AAA first-party exclusives one full year into the PS4 and Xbox One’s lifecycle.

A dispiriting number of AAA titles released in various states of disarray and/or on fire.

A Valkyria Chronicles PC port.

Yeah…2014 was a weird year.

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Pain & Gain Balances Visceral Thrills and Stinging Satire Through Morally Ambiguous, Often Questionable Means

Pain & Gain Theatrical Poster

Pain & Gain Theatrical Poster

TitlePain & Gain
Genre(s)Comedy, Crime, Drama
Director(s)Michael Bay
Release Year2013

Not one for subtlety, (proudly) American director Michael Bay has endured a nearly two decade career living out his wildest, most incoherently childish fantasies on celluloid and raking in more money with each than most families make in their entire lives. In terms of purely visceral and brainless thrills, Bay struck gold with 1996’s The Rock, an Alcatraz-set spin on the now cliched Aliens formula; with each passing film however, Bay stuck to his gimmick, delivering loud, assaultive flurries of dizzying non-stop chaos and destruction with overt patriotic flourishes and little to no degree of self-awareness, no matter the script. It seems all the more surprising then that Pain & Gain, Bay’s latest and most modestly priced work in over a decade, exhibits all of these qualities and none of the usual tedium. By embracing its absurdity wholesale and never looking back, Pain & Gain accomplishes much more than anything its director has ever produced, even if it is at the expense of numerous sleazy, often uncomfortable laughs. Even if it does overstay its welcome, this American Dream is often a humorously idiotic one worth sticking through, bad taste and all.

“I watched a lot of movies, Paul, I know what I’m doing!” says Daniel Lugo early on, a quote that holds mostly true to Bay; borrowing rather liberally from Scorsese and especially the Coen Brothers, Pain & Gain is first and foremost a murky comedy based on a crime spree so absurd it had to be real. Lugo, portrayed with the same kind of dumbfounded naïvety Mark Wahlberg won over audiences with in Boogie Nights, isn’t satisfied with his current lifestyle. A former conman and a moderately successful gym trainer, he grows to feel more entitled to a piece of the luxurious pie his new client, Victor Kershaw, eats every day. Motivated by a shallow motivational speaker, Lugo attempts to correct this by bringing along impotent friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and born-again ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) for the ride, taking matters into his own hands and extorting Kershaw for his assets through a bit of roughing and toughing. As brilliant as the plan is (it isn’t), things don’t go quite as planned and the gang soon find themselves on the run as well as succumbing to their own vices.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

43 Reasons to Avoid Movie 43

Movie 43 Theatrical Poster

Movie 43 Theatrical Poster

TitleMovie 43
Genre(s)Comedy
Director(s): Bob Odenkirk, Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Peter Farrelly, Patrik Forsberg, Will Graham, James Gunn, Brett Ratner, Jonathan van Tulleken
Release Year2013

Oh January…a time of year noted for the often sudden realization of how empty one’s wallet truly is, and for when film studios release films they have little to no faith in. While we’re coming quite close to this year’s midway point, it’s safe to say one film from said month has stood out for its devilishly putrid qualities. Few films in recent memory have elicited such a foul response from both the public and critics alike, but be alarmed; Movie 43 is worthy of such ferocious, disheartening claims. To further illustrate this, here are 43 reasons as to why this star-studded dud is…well, such a stinky, foul and gag-inducing dud.

(NOTE: All observations are based on the UK cut. There will be spoilers to better understand this film’s incompetency.)

1. What does Movie 43 mean? Don’t ask Peter Farrelly! He was probably too drunk!

2. A scrotum does not constitute a joke.

3. A scrotum dangling from one’s neck, being dipped in soup and on a baby’s head to another’s displeasure, is also not a joke.

4. 6 minutes is entirely too long for a sight gag with no punchline, especially one involving neck testicles (Nesticles?)

5. The overarching storyline which “connects” these vignettes is painfully unfunny and worse than anything else in the film.

6. Someone being forced to wrongfully exclaim their love for “sucking dicks” does not constitute a joke. Contrary to a popular belief, it does not get funnier the 10th time around either.

7. Anna Faris expressing her desire to be defecated on is not a joke. It’s sadly quite probable.

8. Poop jokes and gags featuring uncontrollable gas and bowels are so late 90s.

9. In its first 3 sketches, Movie 43 repeatedly confuses poop and testicles for comedy more than any other film this year.

10. There are more than 3 sketches. About 4 times as many.

11. Veronica, perhaps the film’s least obnoxious sketch, doesn’t amount to anything. It features an impressive total of one chuckle-worthy line.

12. “You know who’d be perfect in a Batman sketch? Why, Jason Sudeikis!”

13. Uma Thurman in a theatrical release that ISN’T directed by Tarantino = Warning Sign #1

14. Katrina Bowden in a theatrical release that ISN’T Tucker & Dale vs. Evil = Warning Sign #2

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

Spring Breakers is the Anti-YOLO Event of the Year

Spring Breakers Theatrical Poster

Spring Breakers Theatrical Poster

TitleSpring Breakers
Genre(s)Comedy, Crime, Drama
Director(s): Harmony Korine
Release Year2013

“Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The same can be said for Florida in Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine’s latest transgressive foray on the silver screen. The infamous enfant terrible of American cinema has returned with a sharp slice of satire aimed directly at the fist-pumping, loud-mouthed and over-partying generation of today. Reveling in its glitzy, neon-tinted excess from start to finish, Spring Breakers, in both content and marketing, finely showcases Korine’s troll-ish qualities as a filmmaker; by utilizing the very icons of the generation it lampoons and satirizes (former Disney Channel starlets Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, and the brostep anthems of Skrillex), Korine has not only managed to sneak an arthouse film right into larger multiplexes but has also fooled that very demographic by luring them under a guise. The result is an audacious, hyper-kinetic and dreamlike trip through a troubled generation’s idiocy, indicting the sub-culture and the very films about them (Project X, 21 & Over) by holding up a mirror. As an extreme, debased and striking warning call, Spring Breakers hits the proverbial nail on the head more often than it misses it.

While the pursuit of happiness and the often tragically ambiguous “American Dream” remain a staple of American crime films, Spring Breakers differs in its approach and execution of the theme. Brit (Benson), Candy (Hudgens), Cotty (Korine) and Faith (Gomez) are seemingly normal, every day college students, anxiously anticipating a Spring Break filled with non-stop partying and debauchery. For the aptly named Faith, the most reserved of the vixens, this means a chance at letting loose and experiencing something entirely new. Things don’t go quite as planned however, the girls coming up well short of their projected trip budget and, given how deeply important this trip to Florida is to them, Brit, Candy and Cotty resort to the only logical solution; robbing a local fast food joint using hammers and painted squirt guns. While startled, Faith nonetheless tags along for the trip, reaching the sunny, naked streets of Florida and indulging in its hazy, dreamlike aura before suddenly landing in a jail cell. After being bailed out by a sleazy, degenerate rapper named Alien (Franco) who also happens to be one of the city’s biggest gangsters, their inhibitions are tested and their vacation takes on a whole new meaning. By tackling Spring Break as a tradition and, more importantly, a way of life, Korine exposes the ugliness, depravity and recklessness masquerading as a remedy for boredom in his subjects to excessive and often darkly humorous degrees. In these artificialities, the girls attempt to escape the banalities of life by finding a more physically invigorating pace filled with hyperactive nonsense and shallow surfaces. In other words, Spring Breakers points at your obnoxious “bro” neighbor and makes you realize just how stupid he can be when he’s simply looking to have some fun.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

Zero Dark Thirty Paints a Gritty, Disheartening and Important Portrait of the Truth

Zero Dark Thirty Theatrical Poster

Zero Dark Thirty Theatrical Poster

Title: Zero Dark Thirty
Genre(s): Drama, History, Thriller
Director(s): Kathryn Bigelow
Release Year2012

Few events in recent memory have caused as much public and media uproar as the day a raid was conducted on Osama Bin Laden’s secret compound, resulting in the death of the most prominent target in over a decade; if anything, it effectively showcased the sheer power a singular person could have over an entire population. While a film adaptation of the hunt was already underway, courtesy of Oscar-winning team Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, this new change in facts led to inevitable changes as well as an entirely new conclusion, effectively rewriting the film. As politically driven as its subject matter is however, it’s relieving then that Zero Dark Thirty rarely feels like anything other than a thoroughly tense thriller; as familiar as the events depicted in the film may feel, Bigelow and Boal have managed to plot out a gripping and thought-provoking drama around these dates, successfully dramatizing a decade long manhunt. It’s unfortunate then that politics had to interfere with the film’s release, leading to an unwarranted and baseless case of public shunning, nullifying its chances of taking home any top awards, if any. Anything but a piece of propaganda, Zero Dark Thirty stands tall as one of 2012’s most important film.

Chronicling the decade-long manhunt through a series of important dates, Zero Dark Thirty drops us into the muck of things; we hear the distressed voices of those within the World Trade Center while being plummeted into darkness, without a visual to accompany any of it. What follows is a series of uncomfortable interrogation sequences, punctuated by torturous methods and agonized screams. Here, we’re introduced to Maya (Jessica Chastain), a woman who initially appears to show reluctance and yet thrives on her persistence to find the man responsible. Even when faced with dead ends and loosely plotted leads, this persistence drives her to waking hours, attempting to find the slightest connections within this minefield of clues. Though numerous tragedies begin to pile up and hope to find their target, along with morale, begin to sharply dwindle, Maya never lets it impede her work, never committing to anything other than the mission. When she’s finally presented with the chance to take out her supposed target by her superiors nearly 10 years later, Maya, without flinching (and visibly sleep deprived), accepts her mission; it quite literally becomes the chance of a lifetime. While The Hurt Locker focused on a bomb defuser’s addiction to his job, being thrust into life-threatening situations and the conflicting thoughts that ran through his mind in the midst of it all, Zero Dark Thirty takes a more detached angle while utilizing a similar character thematic. Maya, and many of the other characters for that matter, aren’t exceptionally well-developed, or even very likable characters but then again, they never have to be; by skewing this protagonistic angle so familiar in Hollywood cinema, Boal’s script ends up placing the audience in a jury, letting them see the evidence themselves without the presence of a lawyer tricking or manipulating them.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.

Sam’s Top Ten Films of 2012

While 2012 marked the end of many lucrative (and some interminable) franchises, including the Twilight Saga and The Dark Knight trilogy, it was also a year punctuated by a host of entertaining revivals, a handful of impressive surprises and even a few truly outrageous and original works. All in all, it’s been quite a good year in film. As I did my best to catch up on all 2012 had to offer, I unfortunately had to make a few concessions. Nevertheless, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3 films (Michael Haneke’s Amour and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master being the most glaring omissions), I’ve generally seen all the films that appealed to me and a handful that originally didn’t. Choosing only 10 films turned out to be quite the task however and a number of films were therefore pulled from the list and relegated to an Honorable Mentions list. That’s not to say they’re bad films; on the contrary, do your best to go see them if you haven’t already! Without further ado, here are my picks for 2012.

Honorable Mentions

The Avengers
Killing Them Softly (Review)
Men in Black III
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
Doomsday Book
Seven Psychopaths (Review)
Ace Attorney
Indie Game: The Movie (Review)
The Grey (Review)
Dredd (Review)
21 Jump Street
Skyfall (Review)
Frankenweenie (Review)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day
The Cabin in the Woods (Review)
Life of Pi (Review)
Holy Motors (Review)
Silver Linings Playbook (Review)

Check out the Top Ten Films of 2012 After the Jump