• Movie Preview: The Last Legion


    The Last Legion

    “Oh!” Laura said as the trailer for The Last Legion came on halfway through another Thursday night rerun of CSI. “Watch this!” I was a little surprised that she’d be interested in yet another retelling of the Arthurian legend1Actually, it’s pre-Arthurian legend. The Last Legion, based on the novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, apparently tells the origin story of the sword Excalibur in the last days of the Roman … Continue reading, but three quick flashes revealed the source of her excitement: Colin Firth.

    It’s an interesting change for Mr. Firth, who is often seen in period pieces of an entirely different nature (Pride & Prejudice) or in romantic comedies (Love Actually); the closest he’s come to an action role that I’ve seen is kicking Hugh Grant’s ass in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

    “He should be a bigger star than he is,” Laura says. I tend to agree, but in my case it’s not because the sight of him makes me weak in the knees; he’s just a damn fine actor and it’ll be good to see how he does in a more rough-and-tumble role for a change. Plus, I’m a sucker for movies that explore Arthurian legend. The only one in recent memory that I haven’t seen is First Knight, and only because The Connery Factor wasn’t quite enough to overcome The Gere Factor.

    The Last Legion opens on Friday, 17 August, and I suspect Laura will soon be making arrangements for a sitter.

    1 Actually, it’s pre-Arthurian legend. The Last Legion, based on the novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, apparently tells the origin story of the sword Excalibur in the last days of the Roman Empire.
  • Moviestuff: Next (Preview)


    NextNext is a movie loosely based on “The Golden Man”, a short story by Philip K. Dick. The movie — which stars Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel — is about a Las Vegas magician who can see into his own future and may be the only person who can stop a terrorist plot. The fact that Next is based on a Philip K. Dick story (as were Bladerunner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Paycheck) is enough to make me want to see it, but the real reason is this snippet of audio I pulled from the trailer.

  • Coming Soon: Snakes on a Plane


    This is what I had to say (in the KJToo forums) about Snakes on a Plane back on 03 October 2005:

    There are apparently snakes. On a plane.

    That’s the actual title of the movie, by the way. Snakes on a Plane. Why is Samuel L. Jackson in this movie? Does he owe someone a favor and/or vast amounts of money? Maybe he lost a bet.

    The director, David R. Ellis, has mostly done stunt work. That doesn’t bode well. He was also a second unit director on Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and The Matrix Reloaded, so maybe… wait, The Matrix Reloaded? Gah. Forget I said anything.

    Still, Snakes on a Plane has a certain traffic accident appeal to it. Or maybe it’s more like the sensation you get when you’re looking over the edge of Niagara Falls. You know, there’s part of you that just wants to jump into the raging water, even though you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that to do so would be Bad with a capital B.

    Four days later, I read an interview on with Samuel L. Jackson and this quote caught my eye:

    Samuel L. Jackson: You either want to see that, or you don’t.

    Mr. Jackson’s attitude about the movie was enough to make me reconsider my initial trepidation. When you’re talking about a movie called Snakes on a Plane, there really shouldn’t be any question in your mind about what you can expect to see. Consider On Golden Pond. There’s a title that reveals little — if anything — about the content of the movie. How would you, as a potential viewer, know if On Golden Pond would be of interest to you? Well, you’d have to watch a trailer, or maybe read a summary of the plot. Snakes on a Plane has a summary of the plot built right into the title, and “you either want to see that, or you don’t.”

    As someone who has watched nearly every snake movie aired on the SciFi Channel in the past three years, I would definitely fall into the “want to see that” demographic; but watching King Cobra for free on the SciFi Channel and shelling out eight bucks to see it in the theater are two very different things. There’s no way I’m plunking down eight of my hard earned dollars for the privilege of watching the monster-of-the-week movie on SciFi.

    That’s where Samuel L. Jackson comes in. His mere presence is enough to elevate Snakes on a Plane from “I’ll watch it Saturday night on SciFi” to “I’ll pay to see it in a theater.” Maybe not for you, but certainly for me; maybe not for every movie, but certainly for Snakes on a Plane.

    Plus, Snakes on a Plane is something of a phenomenon; a movie that generated an almost instant cult following before a single frame made its way to the Internet. The buzz created last fall was enough to make the New Line keep the original name (they had considered changing the title to Pacific Air 121) and even shoot some additional scenes to—get this—increase the gore and profanity in order to bump the MPAA rating from PG-13 to R.

    Samuel L. Jackson is on a plane with snakes. You needn’t be Nostradamus to predict that the presence of snakes on the plane will not make Samuel L. Jackson happy. Is it worth $8.25 (plus $1 Fandango processing fee) to see just how Mr. Jackson deals with the snakes? I’ll let you know Friday morning.

  • GameDrool: Star Wars: Empire at War


    Star Wars: Empire at War

    Star Wars: Empire at War (PC)

    Remember the Star Wars RTS game Rebellion? Probably not. I think I was one of maybe eight people who actually bought and/or enjoyed that one. Rebellion hewed closer to the Civilization model of gameplay more than the Age of Empires model, which is probably why it wasn’t a terribly popular game. Instead of concentrating on how individual units move on the battlefield, Rebellion tasked the player with coordinating the production and movement of entire fleets across the galaxy. Though there was a mode that allowed skirmish-level interaction in space battles, there was no such option for ground battles. In other words, the player wasn’t pitting snowspeeders against AT-ATs and Rebel foot soldiers against Imperial stormtroopers; the player simply ensured that ground-based defenses were built and troops deployed, then the computer determined the outcome the battles.

    Galactic Battlegrounds and Force Commander, on the other hand, were both solely concerned with playing out those ground battles. Unfortunately, Galactic Battlegrounds is merely Age of Empires II with a thin Star Wars patina slapped on the game engine. The facade wore especially thin in the areas of resource collecting and utilization of key Star Wars characters. The resource collection mechanics from Age of Empires (food, ore, gold) do not translate well into the Star Wars universe, even when gold is replaced with “nova crystals.” Likewise, the special abilities of the monk unit in Age of Empires are mapped almost directly to Darth Vader in Galactic Battlegrounds. To make matters worse, the sight of Darth Vader hacking away at a building with his lightsaber is enough to totally dissipate any remaining sense that the game is taking place in the Star Wars universe.

    Then there’s Force Commander, which is a prime example of how not to implement a video game: it won’t even run on my system, despite my best efforts to find patches and workarounds to the various technical issues I’ve encountered.

    Enter Empire at War, which was either released last Friday (10 February 2006) or will be released this Thursday (16 February 2006); GameStop says the 10th, says the 16th. Empire at War combines the galaxy-wide strategy of Rebellion with the skirmish-level combat of Galactic Battlegrounds, and it appears to do a very good job with both.

    A few months ago, Miscellaneous G™ and I were discussing the various shortcomings of Galactic Battlegrounds and I put forth an “if I ran the zoo” scenario describing in particular how resources ought to be handled in games that take place in the Star Wars universe. My primary assertion was that the Imperials would, like most governments, acquire resources through taxation. The rebels, on the other hand, would have to use less overt means. While a certain percentage might come from wealthy members of the Rebellion, a significant portion would be gained by smuggling and/or stealing directly from the Imperials. To simplify things, available resources should be measured in currency (rather than carbon, ore, nova crystals, etc.) and the ability to build or acquire different units would be dependent upon the amount of available currency.

    This is pretty much how Empire at War handles resources, but the concept is taken a step further: the Empire spends currency to develop new technologies, while the Rebellion must spend currency to recruit spies who will steal those technologies. Additionally, the Rebels hire smugglers (such as Han Solo and Chewbacca) to siphon resources from the Empire. Should Imperial bean counters discover an accounting discrepancy, they can hire bounty hunters to eliminate the smugglers.

    The resource management mechanics I just described are largely a part of the galactic-level scope of Empire at War, as are planetary defenses, mining (which can supplement income), fleet and infantry production, and military deployment. When actions taken on the galactic level result in combat, however, the game switches to what I call “skirmish mode.” In this mode, the game operates like Galactic Battlegrounds, but without all the unfortunate artifacts from Age of Empires II. These skirmishes, which can actually be quite involved and large, take place on the surface of the planet or in space. In the heat of battle, it is possible to switch to a “cinematic view,” which strips out all control interfaces and displays the battle in a manner that resembles a movie.

    I have not played the full Empire at War game yet; everything I’ve gleaned about the gameplay thus far is from playing the five tutorials and single mission included in the downloadable demo. It’s pretty safe to assume that I liked what I saw, since the game has been added to my Amazon Wish List. I’m not going to run out and buy it right away, though. I’m going to try to finish several games I currently own, including the crop that I recently acquired. Call it a test of resolve, to see if I can keep Mr. Instant Gratification under control.

  • Movie Preview: Perfume


    Perfume by Patrick Suskind (Book)Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer has been adapted for the big screen. I read the book earlier this year, and I’m not sure how I feel about it being turned into a movie. On the plus side, Alan Rickman’s in it, but that alone isn’t enough to guarantee the movie will be good (see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). On the minus side, it’s a movie about a guy (Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, played by Layer Cake‘s Ben Whishaw) with an incredibly developed sense of smell. The book is filled with imaginative, vivid descriptions of the scents that fill Grenouille’s nostrils. How do you translate that to film?

    I await the answer with some trepidation.

  • Movie Preview: X-Men 3


    The X-Men 3 teaser trailer is available over at Apple’s movie trailer site and it looks, in a word, epic.

    There’s at least one notable addition to the X-Men lineup: Kelsey Grammer as Hank “Beast” McCoy. Now, I’m pretty sure that a non-Grammer Hank McCoy is seen on a television talk show in one of the previous X-flicks, but I’ll have to double-check. At any rate, it looks like they may be pulling a Billy Dee Williams/Two-Face with Beast.

    On the scarred side of the coin, you’ve got Vinnie Jones as Cain “Juggernaut” Marko. Vinnie Jones is certainly mean enough to play Juggernaut, but the costume they’ve got him in looks plain silly.

    It looks as though we’ll see Emma Frost (AKA The White Queen), Omega Red and a couple of other nasty folks siding with Magneto. To balance things out, Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin appears to play a bigger role this time around, and Warren “Angel” Worthington is getting his wings. But whither goest Nightcrawler? The opening scene of X2: X-Men United featured Nightcrawler kicking all sorts of Secret Service ass, and was worth the price of admission all on its own. Alas, it looks as though Alan Cumming will not be reprising his role as everyone’s favorite fuzzy blue elf, even though his bestest of buddies, Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde, seems to be stepping into the spotlight. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Lockheed this time around, though.