It’s one of the laziest clichés in film criticism: to say that movies, particularly of the blockbuster sort, have become like videogames. It’s meant as a critique of what’s perceived as Hollywood’s emphasis on action and explosions, lack of interest in character development, and slavish devotion to teenage boys and their dollars. It’s also meant as a kneejerk dismissal of videogames. “How could a videogame possibly be a work of art?” and all that. The funny thing is that the reverse of that cliché has become very, very true in recent years: videogames have become like movies.
The Mass Effect trilogy became the most detailed example of cinematic sci-fi worldbuilding since Stars Trek and Wars. The Uncharted series has quickly established itself as the truest spiritual heir to the Indiana Jones movies to emerge from any medium. Red Dead Redemption considered Manifest Destiny with far greater insight than even worthy movie Westerns like True Grit and Django Unchained. But the game franchise that in some ways is the most daringly original is also the one the draws the deepest from its cinematic roots. I’m talking about BioShock. The very first BioShock installment back in 2007 was a heady pastiche of a whole array of movie influences. It also integrated film storytelling directly into the gameplay experience, rather than advance the narrative primarily through cutscene cinematics as so many games have. Now, the latest installment in the series, BioShock Infinite, has been released and it’s a turn-of-the-last-century steampunk fantasia.
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BioShock Infinite is the story of a disgraced Pinkerton agent, Booker DeWitt, who lost his faith in his line of work after participating in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. The year is 1912, and DeWitt’s been given an opportunity to pay old debts, possibly old debts from his Pinkerton days. He’s been tasked to infiltrate a massive floating city called Columbia, after the female personification of America, and rescue a woman named Elizabeth who’s been held there for 12 years against her will. He goes to a missile silo, is launched to Columbia, and begins his journey. In the floating city, he discovers that there’s a brewing conflict between its strict-constructionist Founders and the growing rebel movement, the Vox Populi, who could also be called Occupy Columbia. BioShock Infinite has wide cinematic roots, but there are seven movie influences in particular—or rather, six influences and one reference—that stand out.
The Empire Strikes Back—Ken Levine, the lead designer on BioShock Infinite and co-founder and creative director of Irrational Games, BioShock’s studio, has gone on record as saying that the Star Wars sequel’s Cloud City, the vast metropolis suspended in the sky of gas giant Bespin, was a source of inspiration for Columbia. Like Cloud City, Columbia is basically a giant floating platform upon which the cityscape itself is built. Levine has also said that the Death Star influenced the concept of Columbia because of the city’s formidable weapons systems.
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Meet Me in St. Louis & Other Turn-of-the-20th-Century Americana—Despite being a floating city, Columbia is still a floating city in 1912. So Levine drew upon films that portrayed a highly idealized view of picket-fenced American life at that time. Films like Vincente Minnelli’s immortal 1944 classic Meet Me in St. Louis, which is like a Technicolor postcard from a bygone age that never was. Or later films The Music Man and Hello, Dolly! The latter film, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau, is by no means a stranger to sci-fi, having been WALL-E’s favorite movie. So if you combine these front-porch idylls with Cloud City, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Columbia looks like. Of course that combination also means we’ve got some pretty heavy…
…Steampunk—The retro-futurism aesthetic that imagines contemporary or future technology as powered entirely by steam. It’s the go-to mode in movies, like Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, of envisioning bygone eras as being more sophisticated than they really were. For the apex of steampunk see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which, with its airships, including one that practically could be called a floating city, left its mark on BioShock.
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The Shining & Blue Velvet—Of course, the BioShock series has always had a touch of horror cinema about it. Infinite is going for something a little bit more subtle: to mine an all-American milieu of its inherent eeriness the way that David Lynch did to Lumberton in Blue Velvet or Stanley Kubrick to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. How do you create terror in environs that are the furthest thing from terrifying? Yet another way Levine has raised the bar this time around.
The Pinkertons—The legendary private security and detection organization was a mainstay in strikebreaking and outlaw-hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and frequent Western movie villains. You'll remember their prominent appearance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the ruthless enforcers who track down Butch & Sundance’s Hole in the Wall gang.
Kinetoscopes—Rather than using traditional cutscenes to impart exposition, most of what you need to know about the world of Columbia is learned on the fly. However, crucial intel can be gleaned along the way by stopping to gaze into a kinetoscope. You know a kinetoscope, right? It’s a wooden box with a sprocket apparatus, into which you gaze through a viewfinder to look at a series of flip card images that, when turned, create the illusion of movement. It’s like a mechanical flip book, and is usually considered an early precursor of cinema itself. A kinetoscope works pretty much exactly like a motion picture, except that it’s not projected onto a screen.
Revenge of the Jedi—Okay, this last one is not an influence on the game, since it never even existed in real life. But it is an interesting allusion. After you’ve rescued and partnered with Elizabeth, she can give you the power to open rifts in the space-time continuum to travel to other times and places. One of those places is Paris. The time? 1983. The year we all know Return of the Jedi came out. Except that the movie theater marquee in Paris reads Revenge of the Jedi. That was George Lucas’ original title for his conclusion to the Original Star Wars Trilogy, until he decided that it’s not in the Jedi way to take revenge. Several posters bearing the name Revenge of the Jedi were released, however, in early 1983 before the change to Return of the Jedi was made official. Get thee to eBay to find where you can buy one online.
Do you plan on playing BioShock Infinite? And which of these cinematic influences/shout-outs is your favorite?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: 2K Games]
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Though the “army of two” of Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel refers to nameless player-characters Alpha and Bravo, who’re tasked with battling Mexican cartels, the real powerhouse duo behind the new shoot-em-up actioner from EA Games are a couple of hip-hop superstars: B.o.B and OutKast’s Big Boi. They play Baker Barnes and Chuy Rendall, respectively, operatives from private military contractor Trans World Operations (T.W.O.) who’re sent to Mexico to take down drug lords. The really cool thing is that, although in the regular version of the game they only appear in cinematics, if you pre-order it before its March 26 release you’ll be able to download Big Boi and B.o.B’s character models to play yourself.
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Acting in the game meant going full Avatar for the hip-hop stars. They got outfitted with motion-capture sensors all over their bodies — a process that took about an hour before they could even hit the set — so their characters would bear their distinctive mannerisms, movements, and features. B.o.B jokes that to truly capture their essence, regular pixels were insufficient. Developers EA Montreal and Visceral Games needed “playa pixels” to do them justice.
The two rappers got so into the game that they even went in to the recording studio to produce “Double or Nothing,” which serves as Army of Two’s official theme song/mission statement. “We did the song right after we did the motion capture for the game,” Big Boi says. “Coming fresh off the set of the game, we were still really in the Army of Two mindset. But otherwise, I think ‘Double or Nothing’ could have appeared on either of our records.”
Check out this exclusive video interview with Big Boi and B.o.B talking about the game. As Big puts it, “You can’t just fight a cartel every day.”
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Hollywood.com]
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It was like millions of geeky voices crying out... who were then suddenly silenced.
The crying out was the joyful sound of Star Wars fans learning that J.J. Abrams is to direct Episode VII. The sudden silence? Because so many of those fans have already taken to YouTube to spend hours and hours editing together clips from the original Star Wars trilogy in the style of a J.J. Abrams movie trailer. Some of these have spliced footage of Luke, Han, and Leia into moments from the teaser for Abrams' upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness. Others have merely played Benedict Cumberbatch's ominous voiceover as not-Khan over Wars footage. And pretty much all have incorporated blinding lens flares in one way or another. Even we imagined a new Abrams-inspired opening credits sequence for Episode VII: Leilicity.
Here are five of our favorite fan mashup trailers that are burning up the web like the twin suns of Tatooine.
1. Star Wars Into Darkness
It's amazing how easy it is to replace Bruce Greenwood's inspirational voiceover with Yoda talking about "my ally, the Force" and Cumberbatch's creepy villainy with The Emperor's evil cackle.
2. The Hero's Journey
Admittedly, I don't know why both the Emperor and Darth Vader would be in Episode VII since they died at the end of Return of the Jedi, but who cares? Based on the "hero's journey" shots of Luke Skywalker that all of these faux trailers have, it seems the fans really, really want Mark Hamill to return.
3. Star Wars Into Darkness Unleashed: The Old Republic
To use the parlance of young Annie Skywalker, this clip is "wizard" because it intercuts footage from the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer with cinematics from the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO videogame, The Force Unleashed II, and at least one shot from Revenge of the Sith. Smart move, since the actual trailer for Episode VII will be lucky if it's half as good as the “Deceived” cinematic trailer for The Old Republic. It also hints at how much in common Abrams' Trek already has with Star Wars, right down to the idea that there's nothing more calamitous that could ever happen than the destruction of a planet. Vulcan is Trek's Alderaan.
4. Star Wars: The Flare Unleashed
This one just really instills fear in me that Abrams will follow suit with his design for the Enterprise bridge and turn the interiors of that Galaxy Far, Far Away into a giant Apple store. Oh, wait. George Lucas already did that with Kamino.
5. The Teaser That Tells You Nothing
You gotta admit that this is almost exactly like the first teaser Abrams' debuted for 2009's Star Trek, a year before that movie's release. It shows absolutely nothing, and yet somehow inspires awe. Sadly, though, we don't have John F. Kennedy saying, "The eyes of the world now turn to space!" It's also a bit like the minimalist title sequences of Alias and Lost. Or, as Hollywood.com's movies editor Matt Patches puts it, "Does J.J. Abrams make all of his title sequences on his Mac laptop?"
So it's verdict time. Which of these is your favorite?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm]
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Hollywood has a spotty record with video game movies — OK, a terrible record. Back when video game adaptations were being churned out by the bucket full, the prospects were slim. Super Mario Bros. was never going to make a great action film (sorry, Italian plumbers). But these days, the game has changed. Or, the games. Inspired by Hollywood's serious reinvention of comic book and blockbuster movies, the video game industry has discovered a new emphasis on story and character, an angle that permeates through design, gameplay and franchise building. Despite Roger Ebert's insistence that video games aren't art, the auteurs behind the latest and greatest for Playstation, XBox, Nintendo are feeling more an more like high cinema. More like art.
Now it's the movie studios turn to pay back the favor. Take a cue from the video games and help expand their worlds through solid, silver screen adaptations. It's possible! Taking a look at some of the big hit trailers from this year's E3, here are the games that could make great movies — as long as Hollywood takes them as seriously as the engineers do.
Beyond: Two Souls
The trailer for Heavy Rain development studio Quantic Dream sticks mostly to the cinematics — which helps, as actress Ellen Page lends her vocals and her likeness to the supernatural drama. The game follows Jodie Holmes, who has some connection to the spiritual world, and is being hunted down because of it. Page has proved herself more than capable in an action movie, popping up and rubbing shoulders with her male counterparts in X-Men: The Last Stand and Inception. She could carry an adrenaline-infused, high concept movie and if Beyond: Two Souls ends up a hit, perhaps we'll see her tackle the role again on the big screen.
Resident Evil 6
Over the past decade, Resident Evil has transformed itself into distinct properties. The gaming road, a zombie-filled survival horror, and the cinematic road, a Milla Jovovich-led franchise that's grown from horror blockbuster to sci-fi action extravaganza. But based on the trailer for the most recent entry of the interactive series, Resident Evil 6, the movie's influence may finally have the upper hand. The trailer depicts an all out action movie, putting costar Leon (who is featured in the upcoming Resident Evil: Retribution) front and center as he battles a few monsters while doing his fair share of running from explosions and looking like a modern day big screen hero. As the producers of the movie franchise have indicated that there will be life for the RE series after Jovovich departs. A Leon-centric adventure seems likely and the foundation is there with this trailer.
Assassin's Creed 3
The idea of turning the Assassin's Creed franchise into a movie isn't a new concept — Sony announced they would be adapting the property way back in October 2011 — but with the debut of the third installment (which is, in fact, the fifth game in the AC continuity), the property may only now be suited for a big screen adaptation. While the original iteration was intriguing, the Third Crusade setting may have rang a bit too much like Prince of Persia for anyone investing money to bring the game to life (note: that movie flopped). Assassin's Creed II was a sweeping, Renaissance era epic…entirely revolving around the diabolical plottings of the Catholic Church. Might be hard to kill the pope in a Hollywood blockbuster. Is the third round the perfect plotline? The American Revolution, North America-friendly shooting locations, a small scale with ferocious fight scenes — as long as no one remembers The Patriot, it's gold!
The Last of Us
A straight forward survival game, The Last of Us drops players in the middle of city ravaged by a plague and overrun with survivors killing for food and mutants killing for… mutant reasons. The get-yourself-out-of-a-sticky-situation-before-you're-dead genre has rarely been replicated on screen, the fear that out of anywhere at anytime death could come knocking. But with a strong central character, a true proxy for the audience member, there's no reason it couldn't work. The Last of Us drops most of the flourishes (that is, until the shoot out begins) and the minimalist approach could work in a movie version. I Am Legend riffed on the idea on a large scale worthy of Will Smith, but there's something to scaling it back and making the scenario truly scary.
One of E3's biggest hits was Watch Dogs, a game that, based on the trailer, appears to involve lots of walking around and looking like you're up to no good. The main character is a superheroic hacker, able to tap into phones, computers and anything Internet accessible at the drop of a hat (in a crowded room, he quickly pulls up personal information on everyone int he surrounding area). His power can also be destructive: in one scene, he hacks a traffic light and causes a pile up worthy of Blue Brothers. Hollywood hasn't produced a true hacker movie in nearly a decade — the thriller subset was prominent back in the '90s but it's all but faded post-Matrix — but Watch Dogs could be the answer. Live Free or Die Hard dabbled in modern hacker techniques, but these days we have WikiLeaks and Anonymous and 4Chan. The fantasy element in Watch Dogs is all too real and primed for the movie treatment.
The fourth entry in Microsoft's mainstay sci-fi series once again delivers an epic live-action trailer. Are they mocking us at this point? Will directors like Neill Blomkamp and Rupert Sanders tease us with possibilities knowing full well we'll never see a Halo movie? Military sci-fi is a rarity in Hollywood. Starship Troopers did it as satire, Wing Commander did it as a Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie, but now it's time for the serious take. Halo is a time-honored series with a built-in fanbase. Heck, maybe they could just assemble all the live-action trailers and release it on the big screen. Whatever it takes!
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[Photo Credit: Microsoft ]
There's an inherent risk when adapting a play to screen, no matter how many Tonys it racked up on Broadway. Movies rely on "show, don't tell" cinematic techniques, while theatrical productions are all about the language. Even if it's top-notch writing, a play adaptation that feels too talky, too staged, can rub even the biggest theater lovers the wrong way.
So is the conundrum of the new film, Carnage, based on the award-winning play God of Carnage.
The film, set entirely in a Brooklyn apartment, paints a portrait of flaring emotions between two parent couples: The repressed Nancy (Kate Winslet) and her manic businessman husband Alan (Christoph Waltz) vs. the laid back shlub Michael (John C. Reilly) and his type-A wife Penelope (Jodie Foster). The warring duos are pitted against one another after Nancy and Alan's son smacks Michael and Penelope's son in the mouth with a stick. Unfortunately, the request for apologies opens a Pandora's Box filled with vehemence and philosophical debate. A few cocktails and no thoughts go unspoken.
The film was translated to screen by playwright Yasmina Reza and director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Ghost Writer) and their work appears faithful. Carnage is a 90 minute roller coaster—sharp dialogue zipping us up and down the emotional spectrum as the couples unwind and explode. Each character has their own cadence (Foster's Penelope moves and talks like a twitching chipmunk, while Waltz employs a slower, condescending swagger), but hushed moments are few and far between. Everyone wants the last word.
Committing to a heightened reality leaves Carnage feeling like a theatrical affair (which turned off many of the New York Film Festival-goers), but Polanski and his quartet of talented thespians work magic with the material. Foster's always been an understated actress and watching her come alive is a delight. She makes the smallest details—like opening and closing a refrigerator door—mean something. In a claustrophobic space, that's key. Reilly finds a balance between his dramatic films (Magnolia, The Hours) and his comedies (Talladega Nights, Step Brothers) and crafts the perfect pitiful putz. Waltz steals the show, radiating a complete distaste for the situation around him by bouncing back and forth between his cell phone and the real world. He knows he's a douchebag. He loves that he's a douchebag. Winslet is strong, but feels the least involved—that is, until she projectile vomits across the room and becomes completely unhinged.
Watching the quartet shout, glare, run around the apartment and face-off against one another is like watching a visceral dance. Polanski turns the boxed-in set into an obstacle course, gliding along with the actors as they move throughout the house and selecting anxiety-ridden shots to elevate the couples' argument. The cinematics escalate as the throw-down does, keeping shots simple and composed as the couples meet, then relying on near-Hitchcock style when heads start spinning.
After the screening of the film, many of the audience members around me asked, "why was that a movie?" Yes, Carnage is stagey, and that can be an obvious turn-off. But to that complaint I retort: Does every movie have to be like a movie? The film's theatrics are what make it unique, and watching stellar actors like Foster, Winslet, Reilly and Waltz engage each other with unadulterated acting is an exhilarating experience.
That's why it's a movie.
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When the credits roll, the lights come up and you get home from seeing Drive, this weekend’s crime thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Albert Brooks, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll be clamoring for a little more of the movie’s slick, stylistic cinematics. Don’t worry—there’s a little film called Bronson that’ll be waiting for you on Netflix Watch Instantly that’s going to be right up your alley. Here’s why you might want to consider adding it to your queue and giving it a watch:
Who Made It: Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn co-wrote and directed Bronson in 2008. This was far from his first film, but it was the first to really get him noticed.
Who’s In It: Tom Hardy (Inception, Warrior). This was the film that put Hardy on the map, and introduced him to critics and audiences as a well-aimed punch is introduced to a face.
What’s It About: Bronson is stylized a biopic detailing the life and exploits of Michael Peterson, a man who would go down in history as Britain’s most violent criminal (and later changed his name to Charles Bronson). The film catalogues his school days, his first foray into crime, and the myriad ways the British prison system tried, and failed, to deal with his out-of-control behavior.
Why You Should Watch It:
Bronson deserves to be watched if for no other reason than Tom Hardy’s jaw-dropping performance. Hardy had been in several films prior to Bronson, including playing the villain in Star Trek: Nemesis as well as roles in Layer Cake, Marie Antoinette, and RocknRolla. But his powerhouse turn in Bronson was such a breakout performance—for which no one was prepared—that it still felt like he came out of nowhere.
Hardy plays Bronson as a mad jester, a vaudevillian clown with a knack for telling stories. He is a coiled mass of unrelenting brutality that not only seems plucked from another era—with his bald head and thick, handlebar moustache—but also from a completely different world. His every non-combative interaction with normal people is a series of tweaking sudden movements and blank expressions; a subtle physical character trait that emphasizes his complete disconnect from reality. He’s almost a cartoon character without a conscience…that could bite your ear off and punch you into a bloody pulp.
Despite his over-the-top discomfort with every other living thing and his penchant for bloodletting, Bronson, thanks to Hardy’s performance, is undeniably likable. There is a hopelessness to him, in that he can only connect with other humans when he is pummeling them half to death, that makes him endearing despite himself.
It’s interesting to watch this film now with the knowledge that Hardy will be playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Bronson is the film that should solidify that casting choice once and for all. The man is built like a cement truck and is endlessly intimidating—the way he can snarl and bark certain lines had me recoiling from the screen. Seeing him take apart an entire room full of prison guards, and the fact that Bronson spends time as an inmate at hospital for the criminally insane, seemed like cross training for the larger-than-life Batman villain.
Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted an amazing playground in which his anti-hero can play. He takes the figurative stage of media attention, on which the real life Bronson thrived, and creates a literal stage within the character’s mind. He engages in several different styles of theater and musical performance to weave the saga of his own life. Refn’s script and his photography allow for one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the last several years and gives him the ability to make this brutal force of misdirected rage a well-rounded, at times unsettlingly sympathetic, human being. I love the way they creatively inserted into the film actual news footage of a riot for which Bronson was the architect.
So if you decide Drive just wasn’t enough to satisfy your Nicolas Winding Refn fix, watch him team up with Tom Hardy, the man who is sure to be next summer’s biggest star, in Bronson.