Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movie Review: MAMA

What makes a good ghost story? Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's Backbone (2001), Pan's Labyrinth (2006)) did just that when he got rookie Spanish director Andrés Muschietti to make a full-length feature film of his 2008 short-horror film Mamá. Mama (2013) is a Spanish-Canadian horror film which proves just how strong a mother's love for her child can be, even from beyond the grave! After being abandoned in a cabin in the woods by their father, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are found 5 years later and sent to live with their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). After years of isolation and malnourishment the girls have begun to learn how to live with their new family with the help of Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) although Annabel, a rebellious rock band bass player, is reluctant to become a mother. The most bizarre mystery is how the children have survived all this time all alone in the wilderness when it is revealed that they befriended a mysterious, supposedly imaginary friend known only as "Mama". As Victoria has begun to happily accept her new life, Lilly, the youngest and more feral, (with only a three word vocabulary)who still clings to the security of "Mama" until finally she appears, and wants the children to herself!
Mama is a creepy and atmospheric horror story with strong emotional content and some very genuinely, frightening moments. Within the genre of the horror film, children have always been a strong draw with films like The Omen (1976) or recently in Insidious (2010). Producer Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to the subject of children in horror as with his earlier Spanish-language horror film The Devil's Backbone (2001). The character of "Mama" played by Javier Botet and voiced by Jane Moffat is truly disturbing. With most ghost stories there is always a way that the main characters can either appease the ghost or destroy the remains of the ghost, thus ending the horror (or have I been watching too many episodes of Supernatural?). This is not the case however, as the ending of Mama comes with a bit of a surprise and although bewildering, albeit somewhat disappointing. While the other characters in the film wonder whether "Mama" is real or not, both the audience and the children of course know the truth and that enhances the fear of the unknown in the film. You generally feel for the children and truly want them to go on leading happy normal lives after being left out in the woods only to be raised by a jealous and murderously, over-protective ghost-mom. After seeing the 2008 short-film by the director you get a sense of literally what the whole film eventually culminates to in the climax of the full-length movie without any character-development or backstory yet it doesn't make it any less frightening when you finally see Mama and chills run up your spine and goosebumps form on your skin. The film Mama is a good ghost story and has a few frightening scenes but I feel that the rookie director could have gone a different way with the ending. Either way it was an interesting film with a few good scares that will make me think twice before opening my closet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Farewell To X-Play

Today marks the end of an era as X-Play, G4TV's only original television program devoted to video games and gaming, says goodbye with it's final episode. Originally known as "GameSpotTV" (1998-2001) and then "Extended Play" (2001-2003) which premiered on July 4, 1998 on what was then ZDTV which became TechTV and then turned into G4. Hosted by Adam Sessler, who until 2011, was the last remaining TV personality from the ZDTV days, the show was renamed "X-Play" in 2003 and got a new co-host: Morgan Webb. For almost 15 years and over 1300 episodes, X-Play has brought it's viewers honest and sometimes brutal reviews of video games in an industry dominated by over-franchised sequels and  tons of mediocre games. With it's unique blend of journalistic honesty and comedy X-Play has been THE number one TV show on video games and gaming. I myself have been a long-time fan ever since I first saw "Extended Play" on TechTV with Adam Sessler. For years X-Play has been my only preferred source for video game news and reviews. I have always enjoyed their many original comedic episodes too. I will miss many of the delightful and colorful characters which appeared on various X-Play episodes over the years like Shad Grimgravy, Morgan VonWebb, Crazy Adam, Adam 2.0, Slippy the Fish, and who could forget Drunk Link. Along with their many movie and game parodies such as the Star Wars episode, the zombie episode, the "Breakfast Club" episode, the "Saw" episode or the "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" episode, along with many celebrity parodies featuring Patrick Stewart, Roger: The Stan Lee Experience and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. X-Play's final show paid tribute to some of the best moments of the show and even auctioned off several rare video game collectibles on Child's Play Charities.
With it's last show airing on January 23, 2013 along with "Attack of the Show" it won't be long until G4 will be rebranded as the "Esquire Channel". Until then, G4 will be running reruns of X-Play and Attack of the Show along with it's tedious showings of the dregs of overly-syndicated TV show reruns including Heroes, Lost, COPS, Campus P.D., Cheaters, and Knight Rider, not to mention G4 movies. The future of video games and gaming maybe uncertain and unfortunately we will have to face that future without X-Play. "Everyone plays!"

LINKS (While they last): G4TV, X-PlayAdam Sessler at Rev3Games

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Comic Book Review: STAR WARS #1

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...Dark Horse Comics has owned the license to publish Star Wars comics exclusively since 1991. Since that time, there have been almost 100 titles set in the "Expanded Universe" (See The Star Wars Comics Timeline). While there has been a number of recently ongoing titles, not to mention mini-series and one-shots over the years. This year, Dark Horse Comics has released a new ongoing series simply titled "Star Wars"! Issue #1 was released onto the shelves today as it hopes to begin a new era of Star Wars comics. With a fantastic cover art by phenomenal painter Alex Ross with story by Brian Wood, art by Carlos D'Anda, colors by Gabe Eltaeb and letters by Michael Heisler. "In the Shadow of Yavin Part, One of Three" is set after the Battle of Yavin (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) and the destruction of the first Death Star. While Luke Skywalker, Princess/Senator Leia Organa and Wedge Antilles are searching the edge of the Outer Rim for a new home for The Rebellion, they encounter a Star Destroyer and a squad of Tie-Fighters. Leia's X-Wing is hit after she shoots down a Tie Interceptor and lands on a planet in the Dominus Sector. Meanwhile, Han Solo and Chewbacca depart from the Rebel Fleet in search of new opportunities. After Leia and her team safely arrive aboard Home One she is given command of a small force known as the "Shadow Council" by Mon Mothma to investigate the possibility of Imperial spies. Meanwhile, in the Kuat System The Emperor, displeased with his failure, orders Darth Vader on a new assignment and is replacing him with Colonel Bircher. This of course does not sit too well with Lord Vader as he ponders the reason for his failure at Yavin, namely: Skywalker! Thus begins a new chapter in the "Expanded Universe" of Star Wars, still going strong even after 35 years! In a recent Interview with Brian Wood on, he explains how this title will pretend like its 1977 and [in the character's minds] no other films were ever made or books ever written” and the challenge of  dealing with the fact that "Luke and Leia don’t know they’re siblings, Vader doesn’t know Luke exists, and so on." This title hopes to present a fresh, new start in the world of Star Wars comics which is already so full of popular storylines that takes place either before, between, (i.e. "Shadows of the Empire") or even after the movies that have already been established. As a lifelong Star Wars fan and on-again/off-again Star Wars comic book reader I'm looking forward to this new ongoing series. May The Force be With You!
Also see the Star Wars Blog entry with another interview with Brian Wood.

LINKS: Dark Horse Comics, Star

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Celebration of J.R.R. Tolkien

With the worldwide success of the film adaptation of The Hobbit, 75 years after its publication, I felt today would be a good day to post my thoughts on one of my most favorite authors. Today would have been the 121st birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973). For those like me who are devoted fans and readers of Tolkien's work I feel there are many out there that have never "really" read or fully appreciated his works. Few know or even care what kind of man or writer he was; merely that he invented this huge fantasy world in The Lord of the Rings, which very few have really experienced in full. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was many things: he was in fact an Englishman, a husband, a father, a writer, a teacher, a scholar, a poet, and a philologist. While Tolkien's world is not as prolific as any modern writer, his greatest works include really only four actual books during his lifetime including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It wasn't until after his death, that his son Christopher published The Silmarillion in 1977, which is the definitive history of Middle-Earth. I was first introduced to the works of Tolkien with the 1977 Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit (and The Return of the King (1980)) I saw on TV when I was very young and afterwards of course, I read the original book when I was about 10 years old. I credit my father to turning me onto Tolkien at an early age as he had the old paperback collections of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I can remember reading the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy around the age of 13 or 14 as I was reading more. Later I saw the 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film directed by Ralph Bakshi. My favorite character in The Lord of the Rings was always Gollum, even as a kid, I think it was because he was so fascinating and strange. Later as I grew up and still appreciated the books and the movies, I found that I admired Boromir the most, as being the most human character in the story, although short-lived. By the time I was in college, I was already a lifelong Tolkien fan, and when it was announced that director Peter Jackson would be filming the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy I was ecstatic as I saw a renewed interest in Tolkien's books and world. It had been a long time since I was as excited about a movie except for maybe Star Wars: Episode I (1999) or X-Men (2000) around that time. For the next three years (including the following Christmases), with the release of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) I reveled in the world of Lord of the Rings. It was like being a teenager again and I found myself enjoying Tolkien's world all over again. Although the Tolkien craze seemed to die down after a few years it wasn't until a couple of years of years ago in 2010 when it was announced that The Hobbit was going to finally be adapted into a big-budget film directed by Peter Jackson, and not just one, but three! J.R.R. Tolkien is not just a fantasy writer, but a writer for the ages to be included in all the great writers of the 20th Century along with George Orwell, William Golding, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. Not only did Tolkien leave us with a believable fantasy world full of elves, orcs and of course hobbits, but he also left us with a literary legacy to be enjoyed by generations of readers as well as his influence which has spread into all genres of media and entertainment.

"It is not enough for the philologist, the 'word-lover', to be scholarly. The scholar also has to transmit his results into the life and speech and imagination of the greater world...By his death-day, he could well have said, like Théoden, when he went to join his (philological) fathers, 'even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed'. Tolkien left a legacy as rich as any of his predecessors'." - Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

Notable Books on J.R.R. Tolkien:
Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (1977)
J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth by Daniel Grotta (1992)
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey (2000)
The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology by Tom Shippey (2003)
I Am in Fact a Hobbit: An Introduction to the Life and Work of J.R.R. Tolkien by Perry C. Bramlett (2003)
The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the OED by Gulliver, Marshall and Weiner (2006)