War for the Planet of the Apes

Once again, I am amazed by just how good this new Planet of the Apes franchise is. Both of the previous movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were my favorite movies of their respective years. War for the Planet of the Apes would probably also be this year's hands-down favorite if it didn't have to compete with Logan.

The most amazing and surprising thing is just how unlike a "summer Hollywood blockbuster" this summer Hollywood blockbuster looks and feels. These movies have, as their premise, an apocalyptic world-changing event, but yet the writers and directors manage to avoid the traps of making an apocalyptic movie. The stories and conflicts are always very personal and feel small-scale and low-key compared to the events going on around them. The focus of the movies also increasingly shifts away from the human characters and towards the ape characters.

The previous movie went a good 20 or 30 minutes without any dialogue at all, as its first act focused on the ape characters who use sign language as the dominant form of communication. War goes even further, as the majority of the dialogue throughout the entire movie comes in the form of subtitled sign language between otherwise speechless ape characters. It's a surprisingly quiet movie with a very minimalist sound design. As such, anyone speaking anywhere in the theater is a huge distraction, so hopefully you don't get stuck sitting next to anybody who feels they have to narrate everything they're seeing to the companion next to them. You know who you are! Asshole...

War for the Planet of the Apes - soldiers captured
Most of the dialogue is in the form of sign language and gestures between ape characters.

... Same goes for the scum-bag who sat in the front row and then spent the entire third act checking his phone -- without even bothering to dim the brightness. You're in the front row! Everyone in the theater can see your phone glowing under the screen!

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Star Wars the Force Awakens - title

So where do I start ...?

... With the Mary Sue protagonist?

... Or the McGuffin plot device?

... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?

... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?

... Or how about the other fan-service?

... Or the shallow character arcs?

... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?

... How about the weak, forgettable original score?

... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?

Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?

Star Wars the Force Awakens - running from TIE assault
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.

Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!

So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?

And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - X-wings incoming
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?

The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. [More]

Jurassic World - the park is open

Jurassic Park is one of my earliest and strongest movie memories. I think I saw it at least four times in theaters when I was a kid. Even at that age, I rarely ever saw a movie more than once in a theater. Probably because I couldn't convince my parents to take me more than once, so if I wanted to go again, I'd have to go with a friend or a cousin. But that movie was good enough that I think even my mom and dad went multiple times.

I had a bunch of the Jurassic Park toys, including the character action figures, the large dinosaurs, the jeep, and even the compound playset with the fence and the gate. It was a very monumental movie in my youth that also shaped my perception of movies going forward, as well as helping to spark my interest in science. The awe and wonder of it captured my imagination and held very tightly for a very long time. Its scenes, images, dialogue, and music have all stuck with me to this day.

Perhaps because of this, my favorite parts of the newly-released Jurassic World were the brief scenes of the kids exploring the theme park. I enjoyed the brief clips of the petting zoo where kids fed the baby dinosaurs and rode on the backs of baby triceratops. I especially liked the little playground set where the kids would pretend to dig up dinosaur fossils. Seeing the kids on screen enjoying the awe and wonder of the animals sent me on a nostalgia trip to 20 years ago. The idea of people interacting with these animals is still just as captivating as it was then. There was a very addictive, light-hearted sense of joy and energy throughout these short-lived segments.

Jurassic Park toys
I had many Jurassic Park toys when I was a kid.

Even a more depressing mid-movie scene in which Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard try to comfort a dying dinosaur was a touching moment that I really liked. It reminded me of the triceratops scene from the first movie, and the dinosaur was surprisingly expressive.

I did think it was weird that the director chose to play John Williams' trademark Jurassic Park theme as fanfare for what was effectively just a scenic helicopter landing. I get that it was an homage to the first movie, but I feel that the first movie built up to the arrival in the park, and paid off the fanfare with the classic money shot of the brachiosaur grazing in the open field. In Jurassic World, it just kind of felt like going through the motions. Imitation for imitation's sake.

In any case, these fun scenes with the dinosaurs is definitely not the point of the movie, and these sorts of scenes and moments get shoved to the side in order to make room for the film's main plot.

Jurassic World - dino safari
My favorite scenes were the ones of people enjoying the park.

I was skeptical about Jurassic World from the very first trailers. I worried that it would surely miss the point.

Michael Crichton's novels and the first movie weren't about "science gone amok"; it wasn't a Frankenstein story about mad scientists creating monsters. It was about well-intentioned scientists who underestimated the complexities of nature...

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Silent Hill: Cold Heart - pitch cover
Shattered Memories was derived from
a pitch called "Cold Heart",
which was not supposed to be a "re-imagining".

This may be old news to some people, but earlier this month, I came across a post on Silent Hill Memories dot net that included scans of the full, 14-page pitch document for the game that became Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Climax held a contest to give away seven copies of the document to fans, and scans of the document have since been posted online in various sources.

The document tells us that the final product ended up being radically different than the original concept. Apparently, Climax did not originally intend to do a remake / reboot / "re-imagining" of the original Silent Hill. Instead the plot would continue on with the standard Silent Hill timeline (presumabely following the events of Homecoming) with a new character. The game's working title was Silent Hill: Cold Heart. The document outlines what some of the game's intended features were supposed to be (including combat mechanics that were completely cut from the final product), describes the main character, and also provides a brief walkthrough of an early chapter of the game.

The introduction page describes the playable character: Jessica Chambers. Jessica was planned to be an over-stressed and emotionally-vulnerable college student. She ends up in Silent Hill after a freak snow storm causes her car to crash on her way to visit her parents.

Silent Hill: Cold Heart - Jessica Chambers
Page 1 and 2 describe the main character, Jessica Chambers, and how she ends up in Silent Hill.

Jessica is described as being "emotionally vulnerable" and is dependent on a therapist. She has nightmares and is "weighed down by a deep sadness". The pitch doesn't specify the nature of this sadness or her reason for being dependent on a therapist (other than perhaps the stress of college).

I would suspect that the reason for her sadness and the therapy would have been similar to Shattered Memories ...

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - forest meeting
Another good movie in a good year of movies!

This year has been a real treat for my movie sensibilities! Usually, a given year might have one or two high-quality movies that stand above the rest of the dumb summer popcorn flicks. But it's not even August yet, and I've already seen five really good movies. The year started off well with the quirky, sci-fi romance story Her (which I meant to review, but never got around to it). Then, Captain America Winter Soldier turned out to be an exceptional super hero spy thriller. I already reviewed X-Men Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow - both of which I also really liked!

So far, the only disappointment has been the poorly-written Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but this was kind of to be expected, thanks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). I also have no interest in Transformers 4 or Ninja Turtles, since those both look like standard Michael Bay garbage.

And so we come to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the prequel / reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise was a surprisingly good movie that did an excellent job of humanizing a CGI monkey. Dawn picks up ten years after the last movie ended. The virus that James Franco's character created in the lab as a potential treatment for Alzheimer has spread to the rest of the population and almost wiped out the human race, leaving only the small fraction of people that are genetically resistant to it.

The whole first act of the movie doesn't include a single human character at all, or even any dialogue. Instead, it depicts the ape characters and their culture and social structure, and it really helps to build up the apes as sympathetic characters...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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"Fat Man and Little Boy" mod for 'Civilization V' now available on Steam Workshop"Fat Man and Little Boy" mod for 'Civilization V' now available on Steam Workshop10/10/2012 Earlier today, I uploaded my newest mod for Sid Meier's Civilization V onto the Steam Workshop. This new mod is titled "Fat Man and Little Boy". The effects of the mod are as follows: Completing the Manhattan Project now grants a free Atomic Bomb unit in the city that built the project. The unit will be received regardless of...