March 2008 Archives

Quote of the Day

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be."

- Douglas Adams, British author & humorist (1952-2001)

Quote of the Day

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
- Mark Twain, American Author

Review: First Snow (2007)

D: Mark Fergus
S: Guy Pearce, Piper Perabo

What do you do when you find out that you're going to die before the first snow?  That's the premise of this movie, and it's essentially a character study that follows the path of a successful salesperson named Jimmy Sparks (Guy Pearce) who finds himself stranded in the desert one day - and happens upon a soothsayer who tells him he's about to come into a big deal, then refuses to tell him what he sees after that.  After confronting the soothsayer when the deal comes through, wanting to know what it was that made him refund Jimmy's money and walk out, the soothsayer lets him know that his death was what he'd seen, before the first snow.  This news sends Jimmy's life into a spiral, as he obsesses over the prediction, and begins exploring some possible ways that he might kick the bucket.  This search draws him back into a world that he thought he had left, as he visits the home of a childhood friend who took the fall for a scam he and Jimmy ran many years ago - going to prison while Jimmy walked free.  Jimmy finds that his "friend" has fallen back into a world of drugs and violence, and becomes concerned as random phone calls with nobody on the other end begin haunting his home life.  Jimmy tries to convince his friend's parole officer that the friend is a threat, but since he's the one who broke into his friend's home, he can't rely on anything that he learned while in there.  The police and parole officer are useless to Jimmy, who eventually agrees to meet with his friend, after distributing the windfall from his "big deal" among some friends and to his girlfriend.  The meeting goes awry, bad things happen, and Jimmy doesn't live to see the first snow.  But it's not the destination that's interesting, it's the journey, and this is a movie that's all about the journey.

It's a good movie - if a little light.  The performances from Guy Pearce and Piper Perabo are good enough to hold down the fort, but the real scenery is chewed up and spit out by two great character actors: J.K. Simmons as the soothsayer and William Fichtner as Jimmy's work buddy, who tries to convince him to give up the obsession that's taken over his life and return to sales, which he knows and loves.  The tension builds slowly, and the pacing is very good overall.  Good film, excellent script, great casting.

Review: Dark Ride (2006)

Overall, the movies that comprised the "After Dark Horrorfest" from 2006 were pretty much less-than-impressive (not including the wide-release The Abandoned or the "secret" Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror).  The only one I really, really liked was Unrest, and even it had moments of slack-jawed awfulness.  On the opposite end of the spectrum from that collection of films lies Penny Dreadful, which just failed the suspension of disbelief requirement from the very word "go".  Dark Ride sits quite happily somewhere in the middle between these two polar opposites.  It's neither the best horror film to hit celluloid, but it's also nowhere near the worst.
The plot pretty much follows some old-hat conventions of the genre: group of college students off for Spring Break make a detour to spend the night in an abandoned pier-carnival ride that was the home to a series of brutal killings some time earlier.  The killer, they know, is safely incarcerated in a local mental hospital, so what could go wrong?  And, of course, we get the requisite scenes of abuse from the psych ward...and guess what - the killer escapes!  No way!!
If the characters and the actors weren't actually so much fun (and there weren't a couple good boob scenes), this movie would find itself relegated to the back of the stack, with other crap like Horrors of War.  However, even though you feel like you've seen this movie or something similar to it a thousand times before, the actors chew through their lines and the scenes with such pure, unadulterated enjoyment that it's actually fun again.  And there are a few really great death scenes (another pre-requisite for this type of film).
The "wow, I didn't see that coming" end isn't really so much of a surprise, but it is very well-played.  The reveal itself isn't the key to it being so well-played, it's how everything pieces together that is very well-crafted.
Aside from the few moments of "What the HELL are you thinking, GET OUT!" incidents, this is a pretty solid outing, though really not "to die for" like the After Dark marketing mavens wanted you to believe.  It's a fun, light, bloody slasher film, and it really doesn't try to or pretend to be anything other than that.

Review: Skinwalkers (2007)

It's been awhile since I've seen a modern-day take on the werewolf genre...and what I'd seen prior to Skinwalkers really hadn't left a good taste in my mouth afterward.  Sure, the Ginger Snaps series was fun, as was Wes Craven's CursedBut something about them just wasn't quite right.  And that's not to say that Skinwalkers is all that and a bag of chips...but it is a pretty darn good werewolf yarn.
In fact, at first you're not sure that you're not seeing a variation on the classic vampires v. werewolves theme (played to death in the Underwold films), until the reveal that this is werewolf v. werewolf, as their very existence is on the brink of extinction.  It's a rather unique approach, I think - the basic plot revolves around a group of reluctant werewolves who are protecting a child that is prophesied to bring an end to their curse.  However, hot on their tail are a group of ass-kicking, flesh-devouring werewolves who happen to like their situation and want to stop the prophecy so they can continue their blood-drenched ways.
Stuck in the middle of all of this is the child himself, and his mother, who know nothing about the curse until one day the aforementioned blood-crazed nutcases show up in their hometown.  Of course, they also don't know that the entire town is full of "friendly" werewolves, and this sets up a G.I. Joe-style shootout in the middle of the small town's main drag, where bullets fly freely but nobody seems to be able to hit the broadside of a barn, much less the old lady standing in the middle of the road.  It's a great shoot-out scene, but stretches the boundaries of disbelief a little too far.
Of course, once their hidey-hole is uncovered, the boy and his mother are taken on the road by the pack of "good" werewolves, who have hidden their curse and never tasted blood (apparently once you've gone there, you never go back).  Several more run-ins occur along the way, one in a hospital, one in an abandoned factory, and a few surprises are unveiled that even I as a long-time horror fan didn't really see coming.
The acting is good, though for some reason I couldn't get the idea that Elias Koteas was doing his best Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) impression for some reason.  Rhona Mitra plays the mother to a T, vascillating between wanting what is best for her son (his safety) and entrusting him to beasts who want nothing more than to devour the both of them.  The transformation sequences are passable (nobody will ever beat American Werewolf in London, in my opinion), and the visual FX are pretty darn good.
If you're a fan of the genre, this is a refreshing take that puts a nice spin on some of the classic conceits of the mythology, and overall is more satisfying than many of the other werewolf films made in the past...oh, 20 years or so.

Review: Buried Alive (2007)

For a low-budget horror movie, this one has it all.  You really do get what you'd expect in an outing by a director known far more for his visual effects and make-up resume (Goldmember, Bad Boys II, From Dusk 'Til Dawn, In the Mouth of Madness, Cabin Fever, among many others) than for his directorial talents (Wishmaster):  blood, gore, and boobs.  And, honestly, what more can you really want out of a low-budget horror movie?
The storyline is vague...two sorority sisters and two pledges visit a house in the desert for an initiation weekend, along with the requisite two leading men.  But, of course, this is no ordinary house in the middle of the desert - there are rumors of a treasure hidden somewhere on the property by one of the guys' ancestors, and leave it to the caretaker of the property to start digging up the basement in search of this buried booty.  And booty is, in fact, what he finds...though the booty belonged to the ancestor's first wife, a Native American woman who cursed the family when she was...hold on...wait for it...BURIED ALIVE!!!
But you really don't watch movies like this for the plot, do you?  If you do...well, I'm surprised you're capable of reading this far into my blog posts, honestly.  But for the rest of us, there are some very well-scripted scares here and there, and enough gratuitous boob shots to keep even the most red-blooded teenager happy.  The blood and gore is well-done, and even though there isn't much to the plot, it moves forward pretty quickly and fairly consistently.
This is a good attempt to invoke many of the themes and fun of the 80s slasher films, and for the most part it succeeds at what it is - an homage ot those good ol' days of blood and gore.  Compared to Hatchet, however, this one just doesn't quite make the grade.  Nonetheless, it's a lot of fun and highly recommended for fans of low-budget horror films.

Review: Oceans Thirteen (2007)

There's not really much to be said about this film that hasn't already made its way across the Internet.  Suffice to say, everything that went horribly, disastrously wrong with Ocean's Twelve was made up for, and then some, in this third installment.  No more foreign lands, no more hiding the ball, no more needless drama.  Just pure, Vegas fun, this time not for profit, but for revenge.
What made Ocean's Eleven fun was watching the interplay between all of the cast.  What killed Ocean's Twelve was the way in which the cast was constantly separated, segregated to maybe two or three characters in most of the scenes.  This is a truly ensemble cast, made up of some of the best actors our generation is likely to see for quite awhile, and they are at the top of their game when you can watch them chew up the lines and scenery, and spit it back out for another to riff off of.
Ocean's Eleven was about profit, pure and simple.  The last big job.  One for the road.  Ocean's Twelve was about redemption (or at least survival), if it was about anything.  Ocean's Thirteen is about revenge.  A dish best served cold.  The simpler the motive, the better the movie, at least in this case, and I really struggle with not considering Thirteen the best of the three.
The storyline is simple - Reuben has put himself into bed with a shark (Willie Bank - aptly played by Al Pacino, doing his bet Al Pacino impression), in a last-ditch attempt to secure his eternal fame on the Strip.  Unfortunately, this shark bites, and Reuben loses everything and suffers a massive coronary when Bank drops him from his latest venture.
Needless to say, this doesn't sit well with Ocean and his crew, who want to hold Willie accountable to the rules of Old Vegas (such as the rule of the men who shook Sinatra's hand).  Unfortunately, Willie Bank is entirely New Vegas - all show and spectacle, and all about getting his from those who are oh-so-willing to hand it over to him.  Or, as Willie responds to Ocean: "Screw Sinatra's hand..."  And that's really what this movie boils down to - the death of Old Vegas and its last attack on the New Vegas.
This puts into motion a scheme that makes the heist from the first movie look like child's play.  The goal: bankrupt Bank in one night - Opening Night.  Everybody on the team plays a big part this time around, and the performances are as memorable as, if not more than, the first film.  Scene after scene goes by as we watch the team outmaneuver their opponents, playing miles ahead of the likes of Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), Francois Toulour (Vincent Cassell), and Abigail Sponder (Ellen Barkin).  Of key importance is Matt Damon's performance as Linus, this time posing as an attache with an enlarged...proboscis.
The movie is just plain fun, and it's obvious that everyone involved was enjoying themselves when the film was being made.  At no time does anything feel forced, and the running time of just over two hours flys by like nothing.  If you enjoyed the first film, or even if you just enjoy watching some great actors ad-lib and banter like old times, this is the perfect movie for you.

What I'm Playing - World in Conflict

The basic premise of World in Conflict is more than enough to make you sit up and take notice.  And, once you start playing, the gameplay and storyline will keep you engaged and interested for the length of the campaign.  The year is 1989, and instead of the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union decides to make a bold, final move to maintain its status as a superpower.  The attack on the mainland begins in Seattle, and I have to say it was a lot of fun watching the virtual demolition of the Kingdome, as well as seeing how much of a mess the I-90 interchange used to be.  Well, for those of you not living in Seattle, I mean to say that it's very impressive how realistic and detail-oriented the maps are.

Another in the latest move away from true RTS gaming and into RTT (Real-Time Tactics), World in Conflict is quick and easy to learn, but tactically incredibly complex.  Weather, terrain, and types of units all mesh to create a very complex, deep war-gaming experience.  If you've ever wanted to control ground units, Humvees, tanks, artillery, and helicopters all at once, this is the game for you.  Plus, you get to see what is perhaps the best rendering of nuclear weapons yet to be seen in all of gaming.  When you see the flash that takes up your screen, followed by the shockwave rendering outward from the center, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Also, there is a great point in the campaign where you're playing in an irradiated area, and your screen is gray, choppy, and radio communications are spotty at best...the realism factor here is extremely high.

However, this game isn't solely great because of the unit control, or even the units that you you rack up your kills, you score points with which you can "buy" tactical strikes, ranging from napalm to tank busters to the aforementioned nuclear strike.  These tactical options really do make or break you in the middle of a tough battle.  The importance of being able to wipe out a battalion of tanks before they can rain metal death on your infantry can't be understated.

And, of course, there's the story.  For many war games, the story seems really to be tacked together, giving you excuses to start up disconnected skirmish after disconnected skirmish.  The story starts off slow, but as it jumps between "present-day" and the few months leading up to the Soviet invasion, the characters become very, very well-defined.  In fact, there are many "wow" points in the storyline that pull you in deeper and deeper.

In a previous review, I said that Warhammer 40k was my second-favorite RTS game ever - World in Conflict is far and above that, and definitively sits in the #1 spot on my shelf.

Review: Hatchet (2006)

D: Adam Green
S: Joel Moore, Tamara Feldman, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Tony Todd

I can't count the number of times I've been let down by reading reviews of new horror movies that call them "the scariest movie in years" or "as good as the first Friday the 13th"...the list is a long one: Cabin Fever, Joshua, Venom, etc.  Of course, I suppose you'd think I'd just learn to take anything that is said on Ain't It Cool News with a grain of salt anymore - seems it doesn't matter how bad your movie really is, if Harry or Moriarty know you then your movies the best thing since sliced bread!

With that said, however, Hatchet is the real deal.  It's not the best movie ever made, but it is perhaps the closest thing to the classic slasher movies of the 80s that has been released in recent years.  The script is smart, funny, but not in the annoying postmodern Scream sense.  The movie knows what it is, and follows its formula perfectly, down to every single detail (of course, having the canonical Jason playing the killer helps).  The cameos by Robert Englund and Tony Todd are just awesome, and the fun of watching each member of the cast get hunted down and picked off is really what you're after here, isn't it?

The story (well, what there is of it, at least) centers around a "Haunted Bayou" tour, operated by a slimy little Asian guy speaking like a Cajun (which in and of itself is worth watching).  He takes the tour group off the beaten path, down a length of river that's been closed off to all traffic.  Needless to say, bad goes to worse, and the tour group winds up stranded in the bogs and marshes.  And, of course, worse becomes worst when they realize they're in the exact location of the local boogeyman, Victor Crowley.  The deformed son of a local man who died in a Halloween prank gone wrong, Victor's ghost (or whatever it is) stalks the woods surrounding the bayou and takes care of any locals unlucky enough to cross his path.

Needless to say, there are nods to any number of classic horror movies, including the cameos.  There's not a lot more to say about Hatchet, as with most good slasher films the fun lies in the experience, not in the plot or the storyline.  Highly recommended!
I know I'm a bit late on this one, but I've been playing other games, and never quite got around to picking up Warhammer - I never was a fan of the tabletop game, aside from their very, very cool character designs.  So I know just barely enough about the factions to understand the basic setup.  I have to say, from the time I installed this puppy, I've been kicking myself for not getting it sooner.  This is, by far, the best RTS game that I've played in recent years (okay, SECOND best only to World in Conflict).  Relic really knew what they were doing when they put this game together.

The first thing that they did right was to do away with resource gathering...yes, I know, that technically makes this more of a RTT (Real-Time Tactics) than RTS game, but the resulting efficiencies in gameplay are huge.  I've only just started playing, but even early in the campaign, it's by far the second best RTS game I've ever played.  The units are very nicely animated, varied in their capabilities, powers, and effectiveness, and overall creative from the word go.  Use of each unit and their upgradeable abilities is essential to success in each campaign mission.

I will say, however, that this isn't really a "pick it up and play" type of game - in fact, the tutorial alone is a good 20-30 minute run-through, and most of the campaign missions can easily take an hour or more to complete.  But, if you're willing to invest the time to dive into the details of the game, it's definitely worth the effort!

Review: In The Mouth of Madness (1995)

D: John Carpenter
S: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow

In The Mouth of Madness is the third in John Carpenter's self-proclaimed "Apocalypse Trilogy", though as with the prior two films, it's not really connected to the others in any way other than in general themes.  Perceptions of reality, the definition of madness, the blurry line between fact and fiction.  All of these and more are worked into a wonderful pastiche that blends the styles of Carpenter and H.P. Lovecraft.

The movie tells the story of John Trent, a investigator working known for his ability to press hard on those filing false insurance claims.  He's retained by a publisher when they're number one moneymaker, Sutter Cane, disappears prior to the release of his latest book.  Trent is matched up with a representative of the publishing house as they begin their search for Cane (an obvious take-off of Stephen King, both in the descriptions of his works as well as the locations, fictional towns in the Northeast).  The search eventually brings them to the formerly-fictional town of Hobb's End, where Cane has holed up and acts as a god.  Cane hints that he works for the Old Ones, who drove him to write his books, the point of which is to drive the readers mad - and which we discover is a goal that's being met quite handily back in the "real world".

The movie builds quite well, and as a big fan of both Carpenter and Lovecraft, there's a certain glee in watching events unfold.  Given that this is a Carpenter work, you can't be sure the end will be a happy one (hint: it's not), but watching him weave the Lovecraft mythos into his works is like watching a marshmallow roast over a fire - they're both guilty pleasures.  The acting, unfortunately, is hit-and-miss...and the actual dialog is only decent.  It is very nice seeing Sam Neill chew up the work he's given here, and he quite obviously enjoys himself immensely (the only role I've seen him tackle with more relish is that of Dr. Weir in Event Horizon).  Overall, the movie is great fun, particularly if you're a fan of Cthulhu and Carpenter.

Review: They Live (1988)

D: John Carpenter
S: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster

As you can probably tell, I've been on a bit of a John Carpenter kick lately, and there are at least two JC movies that I've always wanted to watch all the way through, but up until now (for one reason or another) haven't: They Live and The Thing.  Of course, I've seen parts of both of these movies (how could you possibly not?), and They Live is of course most famous for the five-minute fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David, which is perhaps the single longest, and dumbest, fight ever put to film.  However, when viewed in the proper perspective (not to mention with the proper amount of inebriation), the movie stands up surprisingly well.  Or, at least as well as can be expected for a movie starring "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

The movie takes place at the turn of the millennium, in a falling-down version of Los Angeles.  Poverty is the worst it's ever been, and the chasm between the upper and lower classes is larger than ever.  Nada (yes, that's Roddy Piper's character's name) shows up as a drifter, wearing everything he owns on his back.  He joins up with a group of homeless folks, including the aforementioned Keith David, whom he joins on a construction crew.  Even within the homeless camp, people are fixated on the television and its commercial messages...and frustrated when strange messages start to appear, interrupting their distractions from the doldrums of their lives.  Nada notices something strange about the nearby church, and sneaks in to find the prayers and songs that fill the building are all pre-recorded.  He listens in on some kind of talk of a "resistance", and finds strange chemical apparatuses and boxes of...sunglasses.

Before he can question the folks in the church, the police attack, raiding the place with the force of a small army.  They tear up the homeless camp with bulldozers, and beat as many people as possible into submission.  They strip the church to its walls, but somehow don't find the cache of sunglasses.  Nada takes a box, pulls a pair of the glasses out, and puts them on.  Turns out, the "resistance" was real, and some kind of alien civilization has blended in with ours, visible only to those wearing the sunglasses.  Everything in the world now has some form of subliminal message attached to it: "OBEY", "MARRY AND PROCREATE", "CONFORM", and many others - magazines, advertising signs, political posters, etc.  These creatures have infiltrated the highest echelons of society, as well as the political and law enforcement aspects of the world.  In essence, they control everything.  And Nada, having earlier proclaimed his love for the American dream, can't take this.

So, he goes on a one-man killing spree, setting into motion the events leading up to that classic fistfight with Frank, Keith David's character.  I can't honestly recall how many times the line "Put on the glasses!" or some variation thereof is spoken.  Anyway, Frank eventually puts the glasses on, sees the truth, and joins Nada in his plans.  The story from here is pretty predictable - Frank and Nada rejoin the resistance, and in the middle of a battle with the police forces that begins turning out very badly, they disappear into the depths of Los Angeles, where they find more aliens and the source of the signal that is covering their true appearances from the people of Earth.

Granted, it's not the best movie ever made, and not even the best John Carpenter movie ever made.  However, it is definitely up there on the list of the best "bad" movies ever made.  Even leaving out the 5-minute long fistfight, there's enough cheesy goodness in this movie to keep even the most jaded 80s horror movie fan happy.  Perhaps it's the classic "I'm here to chew bubble gum and kick some ass...and I'm all out of gum" line, maybe it's the very cheesy-cool black-and-white sequences, with their nearly-authentic 1950's style special effects, and maybe it's just the fact that the movie stars a professional wrestler.  But it's really the combination of all these, and more, that seals the deal for this movie.  VERY highly recommended, particularly if for some odd reason you're a Carpenter fan who HASN'T seen this yet.  I have to say, I seriously regret not seeing this thing sooner, and plan on inflicting it upon my friends in the very, very near future.

Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)

D: John Carpenter
S: Donald Pleasance, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Marie Howard

What can really be said about this movie, aside from the simple fact that it's a Carpenter classic.  Part of what he has termed his "Apocalypse Trilogy" - starting with The Thing and culminating in In The Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness is at once both bizarre and terrifying, but it is thoroughly Carpenter at the top of his game.

The story starts out interesting enough - an old priest guarding an ancient secret dies and passes the torch on to none other than Donald Pleasance, who upon discovering what has been hidden in this dilapidated, collapsing old church, immediately calls in some scientists to investigate.  The center of the mystery is a giant cauldron of green goo...which it appears holds the son of the devil in some form of stasis.  Unfortunately for the crew investigating this anomaly, the goo begins to infest them, one-by-one, turning them into servants of the devil, as they attempt to break a hole between Hell and Earth, bringing Mr. Red and Horny across into our world.

Typical of Capenter's better works, the inability to tell friend from foe, and the hesitancy to hurt those that we consider our friends, pushes the story along.  We watch as one scientist after another succumbs to the infestation, and witness a moment of sacrifice that we later discover to not only have been in vain, but to have enabled the very end that everyone was hoping to avoid.

If you're a fan of horror, a fan of Carpenter, or just a fan of devil-summoning, this is a great movie for you to enjoy.

Review: Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror (2006)

D: Stacy Title
S: Snoop Dogg, Ernie Hudson, Danny Trejo, Pooch Hall, Anson Mount, Daniella Alonso

I'm a man of simple tastes.  And one of my all-time favorite series was HBO's Tales From The Crypt series, which spawned several less-than-stellar horror anthologies, both in film and on television.  One of the most forgettable was Tales From The Hood (1995), though it sure was a lot of fun.  Snoop Dog's Hood of Horror owes a lot to both TFTC and TFTH, and without both of those predecessors, it's hard to imagine it could've come to be.  It's by far the most high-profile of the After Dark Horrorfest movies from 2006 (of which it was the "secret" ninth film), though I'd still say overall it's not quite as good as Unrest.  By far the most unique of the films, though.

Needless to say, this isn't a movie that takes itself too seriously, as with any truly great rip-off of Tales.  In fact, the stories are all told with tongue firmly in cheek, and all are brought together with the story of the narrator, the Hound of Hell, aka Snoop Dogg himself.  The movie starts with an animated tale of a drive-by gone wrong, and this is the origin story for our narrator.  We then see the tale of Posie, a graffiti artist who's given the power of vengeance only to abuse it.  We're treated to a perfectly enjoyable story about a group of former Army buddies forced to live with a racist, bigoted, money-grubbing slimeball (and his too-stacked-to-be-anything-but-silicon wife).  Finally, we see the rise and fall of a rap artist willing to do anything to keep himself in the limelight, regardless of the deal he made with the Almighty when he was just another hood boy wanting to make it big.

The acting is good overall, the effects are both hilarious and disquieting, often at the same time (I guarantee you'll never look at caviar in the same way again), and when compared to movies of its ilk, it's very well done.  For fans of horror anthologies, this is definitely a must-see, up there even with the classic Creepshow, though clearly not with the same pedigree.

What I'm Playing - The Witcher

Prior to playing The Witcher, I really knew little to nothing about the source material from which the folks at CD Projekt made this great game from, and now I'm curious enough to track down the English translations of Andrzej Sapkowski's written works.  Combine a great story, great characters, and a beautiful game engine (CD Projekt makes incredible use of the Aurora engine from Bioware), and you have by far one of the best role-playing games released in recent years. 

The basic story is one of self-discovery, as you take on the lead role of Geralt of Rivia, a "Witcher" - hunter of monsters and demons of all shapes, sizes, and races.  You begin the game having somehow returned from being presumed dead, and as you explore the plot, you find old friends who inform you as to who you were, as well as guide you toward who you will be.  There are real choices to be made during the course of the game, and you get to delve into the true definitions of the word "monster" in a world that responds to your moral and ethical choices along the way.  Sides will be chosen, battles will be fought, and in the end you will be a deciding factor in the future of the realm.

The game mechanics take a tad of getting used to, particularly the combat model.  It's somewhere between a "click and hold" and your typical "click until dead" game - you initiate an attack on an opponent by clicking, then you have the ability to perform combo moves as the fight progresses, based on the timing of your clicks in response to changes in the cursor.  The engine is also flexible, allowing you to play from an isometric or 3rd-person view as you wander the countryside and save the world.  There's also a very basic magic system (Geralt has five spells that grow in strength according to your choices as he levels), as well as a very broad "alchemy" system.  In fact, mastering the alchemy system is both fun and necessary, as your stock of potions can often be the deciding factor between success or failure, particularly during the more difficult battles.  And, to make matters slightly more interesting, each potion "poisons" Geralt to some extent, so you can't simply haphazardly down every potion in your sack.

Finally, the game DEFINITELY earns its "M" rating - from the language to the overt sex scenes (both of which can be "enhanced" by patching the censored U.S. version), and of course, the blood.  This is most definitely not a game for kids, but it is quite simply a work of gaming art for adult fans of the role-playing game genre.

RIP: Gary Gygax (1938 - 2008)

I'm sure there aren't any gamers out there who don't know this yet, but E. Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away yesterday at the ripe age of 69.  For millions of gamers, D&D was the first experience any of us had in exploring the depths of our imaginations to create worlds where we could be heroes or villains engaged in acts of derring-do and epic adventures.  And we all have EGG to thank for creating the first true role-playing game.  From everyone who spent hours on end wandering through dungeon after dungeon, or who argued a rule with their DM/GM, or who has played any computer RPG created since the early 80s, you will be missed.

There are many webcomics today that have tributes to EGG's passing.  Here are a few:

Review: Death Proof (2007)

D: Quentin Tarantino
S: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan

I know what QT was trying to do with this movie.  That doesn't mean, however, that I liked it.  In fact, when compared to Robert Rodriguez' outing in the Grindhouse two-parter, this looks like a rookie film from beginning to end.  The plot is okay, but the execution, the scripting, and most importantly the acting just are horrible throughout.  Planet Terror was fun...lots of fun.  Death Proof is just lame.  It's mean-spirited, and although it attempts at the end to be a "girl-power" film, Tarantino could've picked any number of better genres to play around with.  But he didn't, and unfortunately this is the outcome.

The problem is, the basic story is interesting - former stuntman builds a "death proof" vehicle that he uses as a weapon of mass murder.  He follows drunken 20-somethings onto abandoned roads, and then - sober as a judge - he rams them off the road in the most horrific manner possible.  And the first attack truly is fun to watch (and, well, a bit horrifying at the same time).  However, once we leave the terror genre and turn the film into a 1970s version of Charlie's Angels meets the Spice Girls, everything goes downhill.  Yes, it's supposed to be a story of retribution, of the bad guy getting his in the end.  And it is, but in such a sad and pathetic fashion that it's beyond anticlimactic.

QT should go back to writing - after Pulp Fiction, his directorial chops have just fizzled out.  Yes, that's an unpopular opinion, but it's mine.  I still enjoy his writing, the banter between characters that's his signature...but when he directs (or even worse, cameos in) his own movies, there's just something missing in the final product.
If you really feel as though you have to watch one of the Grindhouse movies, take Planet Terror over this one any day of the week.  The only people I can really see enjoying all of Death Proof are tried and true QT apologists or completists.  It's just really not good, not even "bad" good.

What I'm Playing - Hellgate: London

Hellgate: London is somewhat similar in nature to Dungeon Runners, as it's mostly a Diablo-esque adventure game.  However, where Dungeon Runners can only be played online as an MMORPG, Hellgate has both offline single-player and an online multi-player capabilities, with the online system allowing both free and subscription access (which seems to be increasingly the norm in the MMORPG world).  The gist of the storyline is a demonic invasion of London circa 2038.  The entire city is destroyed, ransacked, burning, and covered in hideous demons.  And you, of course, are there to destroy said demons and save the world.

Hellgate has six classes of characters, split evenly among three "factions".  The "Factions" are the Templar, melee warriors who fight with swords and shields (Guardians and Blademasters), the Cabalists who use magic to summon mystical forces against the demons (Summoners and Evokers), and the Hunters who use weapons and technology as their method of purging the demonic hordes (Marksmen and Engineers).  Each faction has a unique play style, and even the specific classes within the factions have somewhat unique characteristics.  Similar to many MMORPGs, you develop your character by selecting from subsets of skills in a tree, and specialize amongst the available options.

Gameplay is straightforward, what you would expect from what is essentially another Diablo clone (albeit, a VERY good one given the company it keeps in that category).  Kill creatures to get equipment, use equipment to kill creatures, and level up your abilities when you've killed enough creatures.  There are a few nifty added tweaks to the classic recipe - you can upgrade your weapons using different types of fuel, ammo, relics, etc.  You also have the ability to "break down" almost anything that you pick up, so that you can use its component parts to build further upgrades or weaponry.  And you can use machines in-game to add rare or unique qualities to your equipment, provided you have the money and components necessary.

Finally, as with seemingly all new games (thanks, no doubt, to Microsoft and XBox Live), there are achievements.  Some fun ones include points awarded for breaking objects, for completing a certain number of quests in a given amount of time, and other similar and interesting things to do in the game.

All in all, it's a very fun game, whether you're a single-player Diablo-lover, or a very basic casual MMORPG player.  Subscribers to the online system ($9.99/month) get additional content and certain perks that non-paying players do not get, but only when they are playing online. 

Review: Wind Chill (2007)

D: Gregory Jacobs
S: Emily Blunt, Ashton Holmes, Martin Donovan

The first thing that interested me in this movie was the fact that its producers included both George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.  Then, of course, there was the lovely Emily Blunt, whom I have a, appreciation for.  However, knowing that this was a pretty low-budget horror movie involving a road trip (much like the previously-mentioned worst-of-the-worst, Haunted Highway), my expectations weren't very high.  Add to that the extremely limited cast - 90% of the movie is just Emily Blunt (credited simply as "Girl") and Ashton Holmes (credited as "Guy") in a car dealing with each other and the evolving situation around them.

The movie really is very good for what it is, which is more a thriller than a true "horror" film.  It does a great job of keeping you guessing about what's really going on until the "big reveal", which is very ambitious for a movie of this budget.  I would love to go into details, but on the off chance that you see it and don't spoil yourself elsewhere, the fun really is in the way the story develops.  This is one of the few recent horror/thrillers to really focus on what makes those movies work - a slow burn plot, revealed in bits and pieces until either you put the puzzle together yourself, or the "big reveal" points it all out to you.

Needless to say, any film that is essentially two people in a very tightly closed space relies extremely heavily on the acting talents of its key players.  And here the two players excel.  They play off of one another, never really gelling together fully until they both come to realize the true gravity of the situation they're faced with - not just the cold outside and the tension inside, but whatever else lies in the darkness along Route 606.  Trust me when I tell you, this is a very fun ride.