My Week: February 25, '12

Mateo Gil, 2011
Finally can I check this off my "Most Anticipated of 2011" list. I'd been looking forward to it since my first attempt at a movie news article in March, 2010 and only by the oh so limited and intermittent grace of Netflix Instant am I now able to experience it. "Blackthorn" takes a little while to get going, and doesn't feature the sort of strong script one might expect from something involving Mateo Gil - in fact at a few brief times it becomes downright soapy - but it gets by with honors on strong showings from Sam Shepard and Stephen Rea, fitting and nostalgic callbacks to George Roy Hill's classic predecessor and an eventually involving and conditionally harsh story involving the joys and afflictions of brotherhood. Watching three key male relationships flourish and shift with our grizzled hero makes for captivating dynamics that build a progressively cool, calm and confident crackle until the brutal finale (which relies perhaps too greatly on its protagonist's alleged Robin Hood-esque qualities). And this is not to mention the beautiful and ultimately testing surreality of the second act climax' last-ditch chase through the Uyuni salt flats. I might've liked to see more of Rea as the surprisingly empathetic Mackinley, whose third act journey is the most compelling piece in the picture as it brings him from dishonored exile to unlikely respect of an ideal and finally an opportunity - albeit a late and thereby bitter one - to, just as his one-time target did above all else, be his own man (in my own, somewhat romanticized interpretation of the epilogue's events, that is).

Further first-time viewings:

This Means War - McG, 2012
Though doing its damnedest to charm and not without its (few and far between) moments, the sizzling chemistry between the leading trio can't save a juvenile script and matching execution with the emotional core of a daytime prescription ad, or the biggest pacing/editing disaster since "Thor", for that matter. It's practically offensive how pathetically daft the personality-confused Reese Witherspoon's character is allowed to be in the cunning hands of her manipulative suitors. This was also my first experience with Chelsea Handler and, please, may it be my last? And I feel inclined to point it out yet again: that "How You Like Me Now?" song is in everything!!

Act of Valor - Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh, 2012
If there's a film in recent memory I can recommend the absolute least to any connoisseur of cinema, it would be "Act of Valor". Is it the true test of a film critic, one who sees even the least promising of filmic endeavors? No, it's not nearly that vehemently offensive to the senses (like "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"). It may be that offensive to the intellect, however, as it makes sure to appease the simple-minded at every smoothed turn with no-nonsense explanations of its more relatively complex ideas. And by "relatively complex ideas" I mean exactly those you could expect to find in a truly careless amalgam between the most generic of "B" actioners and a private contracter docudrama. In fairness, "Act of Valor" is a film for a very specific audience. Thing is, it also breaks the cardinal rule of propaganda in true "Someone Else's Voice" fashion - it utilizes tactics that should be relegated to movie villains to glorify our American heroes' apparently necessary yet entirely primal endeavors. Without considering a more sophisticated approach to the material, our filmmakers have appealed to the most basal of patriotic sentiments. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace. Read the full review at Reel Time.

Total: 3

Rewatches (2): Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith Review (Stoklasa, 2010), Cool as Ice (Kellogg, 1991)
- On a first viewing, I found "Cool as Ice" perversely entertaining. Second time around, it's just boring as sin. This is the part where I'd elaborate on the pop culture product's sickly twisted view of the good-hearted bad boy as a romantic interest or ponder the idea of making your Vanilla Ice movie a fish-out-of-water situation a la the later "Son in Law", but I'd rather watch YouTube videos of Ice's genuinely hypnotic dancing.

Episodic Television (1): Portlandia (Farm)
- Having heard much about "Portlandia" and having had personal experience attempting to live in the strange Oregon city myself (I went in excited for wider acceptance of my liberalism and left feeling like everyone viewed me the way they view Rick Santorum - it's a wackily extreme place), it was about time I gave the program a shot. And it's certainly not bad. Unexpected and entertaining, with the sensibility of something Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo might have done almost 20 years ago.

Video Games (4): Streets of Rage 2Kingdoms of Amalur: ReckoningAltered Beast, Mario Kart: Super Circuit
- Is it funny to think that my 12-year-old self could have whooped my current self's ass at "Streets of Rage 2"? I could have reached the final boss with a blindfold however many years ago... now I'm lucky to reach Stage 6.
- So the "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning" experience came in the mere form of the Playstation Store's free demo, but it allows approximately a full hour of gameplay so I figured I'd include it. "Reckoning" (the title of which I get a kick out of, as "Reckoning" is my go-to parody sequel subtitling... I.E. "Eat Pray Love 2: Reckoning"... you know, classy stuff like that) is a blatant rip-off of "The Elder Scrolls" from its general item classifications down to its lockpicking mechanics. This may be excusable if only for Ken Rolston's intimate involvement, but it all feels too familiar and thereby moderately disappointing since it sets itself up to have such hopeless comparisons to a triumphant franchise. Still, in my short time with the game, I found myself longing to explore deeper and develop my character's skills further... and I suppose that can be considered a vital success in the realm of the open-world RPG. The vibrant colors are a nice contrast to the more realistically stark (though inarguably jaw-gaping) terrains of "Skyrim" and the exaggerated monster, weapon and location designs are similarly welcome, and even cathartically satisfying in the case of, say, cartoonishly yet vengefully smashing in a rabid wolf's head with a ginormous, electrified hammer. The ranged weapon aspect is also of note, not requiring arrows as a depleting inventory item but rather allowing for a limited number of successive shots depending on the skill level. It could be that I simply didn't figure out the stealth/aiming system, but my ability to sneak and pick off specific targets left something to be desired. All in all, I could see myself purchasing "Reckoning" for proper play once it drops in price (I can't justify trading in "Skyrim" just yet), though I do wish its movement controls weren't so wonky. Perhaps "wonky" isn't the exact word, but the way the character moves can take her or him from one side of the screen to the other in a blink, totally against player intention and out of line with camera coherence.

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