The Running Man (1987)

The opening narration appears in big block letters on the screen: “By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand.”

Then the movie opens as Arnold is in command of an attack helicopter of the city of Bakersfield, with a riot over the lack of food takes place in a crowded intersection below.

Arnold is issued an order to open fire on the unarmed citizens, and when he disobeys, finds himself in deep trouble, eventually leading to him being on the world’s most popular game show “The Running Man” where prisoners compete for their lives against deadly stalkers and traps. Through a series of fights and cheesy quips from our hero, he aims to escape the deadly game and come back to exact his revenge on a host that wrongfully put him there.

The Running Man was based off of a Stephen King novel that was turned into an action movie with Arnold at the starring role, presumably to carry on his persona as a beastly action hero. It’s going to be more of Arnold beating down the baddies in the far off future date of 2017, something that can both be laughable in actual year 2017 because of how technology really advanced, as well as a little scary given the current fear of ACTUALLY running low on natural resources.

This movie is full on 80’s style, from the big teased out hair, the tight ADIDAS spandex bodysuits that both the contestants in “The Running Man” game show as well as the Dance Squad (that performs choreography by Paula Abdul) wear throughout the movie, the music, the effects and even the props. This movie just screams “cheesy 80 action flick” but it is still an enjoyable watch the entire time. Arnold doesn’t disappoint when he makes bad puns after putting down another villain who’s name is appropriate to their killing device.

My only problem with the movie is that the opening narration card makes it seem like this is going to be an “Arnold takes on the corrupt government” type movie, but really all he does is take on a game show. Now granted, the game show does seem to play around with human lives the way you’d expect in a semi-futuristic movie where the world leaders “rule with an iron fist,” but once The Running Man (Hosted by Richard Dawson) is bested, then what? Never mind that we’re still oppressed and starving while living in filth, we fixed the evil game show… and now don’t have ANY entertainment.

It’s very obvious from watching this movie that it inspired a lot of media that came after to do the “deadly game of wits and survival” trope, and I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure this movie didn’t start that trope anyway, since Predator (June 1987) came out before this one (November 1987).

This movie did end up being the basis for the real life game show “American Gladiator,” which is not surprising since this movie does have some things in common with the actual show, though to my knowledge American Gladiator 1: didn’t ever kill any of the contestants, and 2: didn’t have a home game. Overall I had a good time with this movie, and if you enjoy 80’s action movies that can get a little silly (don’t they all?) I believe you will too.

Red State

The movie starts off with three friends, who like most High School boys, are preoccupied with one thing: Scoring. But unlike American Pie, or other teen dramas/comedies that we’ve seen so far, they don’t do it by making a pact, or buying hookers, no! This is the 21st Century we’re talking about! So of course, they use an online dating site to try and find a person with loose morals to help them with their dirty little needs.

Once the boys learn of potential group sex with a woman he met online that happens to live nearby, they steal a car and head on their way.

Unfortunately, after that THINGS TURN VERY ADULT, and they find themselves right in the middle of a Fundamentalist cult religion lead by Reverend Abin Cooper and his small flock of sheep in a very rural area.

There are some laughs, though as Smith uses his characters to poke fun at the sign waving, funeral protesting members of the real-life Westboro Baptist Church. In the fictional world of Red State, Westboro is more of a satirical spin on the far-end of the spectrum (basing the church on the real-life churches of Westboro, as well as borrowing from the Waco Texas tragedies from the 90’s), with a “God Hates Fags” attitude that makes the movie more of a non-slasher horror flick that seems to defy genres and give a few of the brainwashed members more of a human side (as though they haven’t quite decided if they want to “drink the Kool-Aid” but would rather run for the hills when the proverbial shit hits the fan).

The film does jump genres as it will have parts that will make you laugh, as well as some action, and an unsettling bit of horror as you realize that this group doesn’t settle for just picketing and demonstrating, but will actually carry out what they consider God’s will in cleansing the world of the unrighteous.

There is a heavy bit of preaching thrown in to show just how convinced the members are that they are right in their beliefs and that the rest of the world needs to join them or face the consequences.

While most of the cast are actors that have not been in too many other films, Kevin Smith was able to pull in Michael Parks (Kill Bill, From Dusk To Dawn), Stephen Root (who played Milton in Office Space), John Goodman (from The Big Lebowski, Monster’s Inc., and Roseanne) as well as Kevin Pollack (Whole Nine Yards, The Usual Suspects). There are not going to be many familiar actors from the Askew-niverse in this flick, though you may recognize Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (Kevin’s Wife) and Ralph Garman (Sharktopus, Hollywood Babble-On, KROQ DJ) both playing members of the Cooper church.

While the tagline of the film is “Fear God,” Smith eloquently summed up the film in a different light during the Q&A after the screening: “Don’t fear God, fear His followers.”

This film was able to scare me more than most horror movies have that I’ve seen for the fact that it wasn’t an edge of the seat thriller, but it was more like an up and down rollercoaster ride, where you think the film is going one way right before it switches gears and goes another. I was able to get into this one more because you see that there isn’t a clearly-defined “monster” in the film, and it actually changes from one character to another once you see the other side of the curtain. There isn’t a high body count, unneeded explosions or extremely graphic depictions that you will see in an action movie, but there is a shootout and a chase. You also see the actors portraying different attitudes that seem to shift throughout the film, going one way and then the next, depending on the scene. There isn’t a clearly marked theme saying “this is the bad guy, this is the good guy,” at one part the church members are just following orders, and then a few of them will show they have a human side that isn’t completely insane and that they may have some second thoughts about the third-generation religion they belong to. There are even parts where you will feel bad for both the people inside and out of the group because of difficult decisions they have to make.

This film is highly recommended because it does discuss some theology like Smith’s earlier Dogma (while not going into comedic depth and analyzing parts of the Christian religion), this one seems to focus more on the religious nuts that are in the extreme ends of a widely practiced religion, and showing it in perhaps a different light. As Kevin said during the Q&A, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group and don’t share the same values as most other branches of Christianity, but because they happen to be more vocal about their views than other churches, other parts of the world may assume that all Christians are that way, unfortunately the same thing happened with the Muslims during the terrorist attacks from the last few decades. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but because most people only connect that faith with a group that is more vocal and extreme, that’s what people think all Muslims are like.

For those that aren’t able to catch the flick during its tour (or more specifically were not in attendance at tonight’s showing, Kevin himself has offered up a live bootleg snippet of the film, which shows the sermon that Cooper gives to his followers, late at night in their small church in Cooper’s Dell.

Solipskier

Editor’s note: this review was originally written in 2010

This simple yet addictive flash game-turned app comes from the minds of Mikengreg Games. The concept seems simple enough, use your finger to draw a slope for the Solipskier to ski down. You can make jumps, go through tunnels, and avoid “Red lines” (that are instant Game Overs). What makes the game so difficult and addictive is that no two games are ever the same!

The objective in this game is to go the longest you can without dying, while speeding down ramps, slaloming through tunnels and… well jumping jumps. This is all done in combination to make your score as high as possible before the inevitable crash. What makes it difficult is that the higher the combo is, the faster your Slolipskier will go. Oh yeah, and there’s also very little reaction time in between tunnels, jumps and so forth.

Despite the simple graphics for the game, you’ll be yelling “OMGRAINBOWS!” when you get the combo, “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” when you’re flying 1200km in the air, and “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!” when you accidentally go through the forced-ledge jump instead of over it.

There is a free to play version of the game here which I HIGHLY recommend playing. Once you’ve played it through a few times, you will instantly be hooked, and will play until you realize you’ve let hours go by without quitting.

The high energy music, awesome sound effects and challenging (but never the same) run that you control will guarantee that you’ll play the game over and over and over again. Unfortunately there is no Yeti that will devour you after you’ve run the course long enough… I’m hoping for that in a future update.

The app is $0.99 and can be downloaded on iPhone or Android

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 starts up right where the first movie ended, with the press conference where Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) declares that he is Iron Man. Though we are watching it through the eyes of Ivan Vanko, while his father lays on his death bed. Once his father breathes his last, Ivan swears vengeance on Tony (for reasons that are revealed later in the movie).

He then sets out to build his own version of the Iron Man suit, making some modifications, which he will use to attack Tony while he races through the streets of Monaco in an F1 car… Will Tony Stark be able to take down those who want to challenge him while the US Government tries to take the Iron Man suit away from Tony (since he is actually doing vigilante justice)? Will the saucy new help in Legal (played by Scarlett Johansson) throw a wrench in the gears of the already unorthodox relationship between Tony and Pepper Potts? And will Ivan successfully seek his revenge?

Iron Man 2 was a fantastic movie, with amazing action sequences, great jokes (“Give me a dope beat that I can kick my friend’s ass to”) and a bit of the drama thrown in for good measure. All in all I felt that this was a satisfying second helping in the story arc of Iron Man and Tony Stark.

Unfortunately the shrapnel that is in his body is making the toxicity levels in his bloodstream grow at an alarming rate, and while all of the other problems seem to keep stacking up, Tony has to also deal with letting his previous condition get the better of him.

Honestly, my only complaint with the movie (besides the massive amount of collateral damage that was caused to nearby objects like cars, buildings, etc.) was that the final showdown fight seemed rather rushed. I felt like all the buildup between Tony and Ivan would’ve lead to a longer fight sequence but I left disappointed that the victor was able to win so “easily.”

Red Dead Redemption

I was able to score Red Dead Redemption during a Black Friday weekend sale for $35, excited for a game I had heard good things about but reluctantly giving Rockstar more of my hard-earned cash in order to play what I hoped wasn’t yet another “Rags to Riches” sandbox game that allowed me to kill people, earn money doing missions, buy property, and explore like every Grand Theft Auto game I have ever finished. It was fun in Vice City, but does it really need to be repeated in Liberty City (3 times by different characters who all seem to “Run” the city at almost the exact time without ever meeting?)

Well I was partially right, but once I started playing, I couldn’t stop until I finished both the game and the DLC “Undead Nightmare.” In this review, I will take a shot (get it? That’s some Old West humor for you… see? shot? No? Well then…) at covering the game and the DLC, and why you should give Rockstar one more chance for redemption. Red. Dead… Redemption.

The place is Southwestern America (and part of Mexico) in a fictitious area divided into three states: New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso, and West Elizabeth. The area is populated with Cowboys, Indians, Outlaws, and many more colorful characters. Buffalo still roam on the open Prairie and city skylines are distant rumors by the locals.

You play as John Marston, a former outlaw in a gang run by a man named Dutch van der Linde. Your wife and son have ben held hostage by government agents, who will only return them after the death of van der Linde’s gang leaders. John hunts down the gang and confronts them, only to be shot and left for dead until he is found by a rancher named Bonnie McFarlane, who takes him to a doctor.

After recovering, Bonnie starts you on your quest to seek revenge on the men who left you for dead. She gives you a horse and some money for completing start off misisons and sends you on your way…

Now I know after reading most of this, it doesn’t seem like the type of game that a lot of people would enjoy, especially since Rockstar is known for pretty much having one type of game, with different environments and very little difference in story. This one doesn’t stray too much from the tried and true Rockstar game development, but what’s fresh is the Spaghetti Western feel that you are immersed in while playing the game. Put simply it is Grand Theft Auto set in the Old West. But it’s more Vice City, and less GTA: IV.

One of my favorite mechanics of the game is the ability to go into “Dead Eye” mode. By pressing the Right Trigger, you slow down time, throw on a Sepia filter and gain the ability to aim your shots at specific parts of your target. This allows you to place as many shots as you have in your gun (or how much time you have earned for Dead Eye mode) and aim at a person’s hand (to shoot their pistol and disarm them) or their head (to kill) during a duel or shootout.

I liked that you were able to search for buried treasure by pulling out a paper map with interpreting hand-drawn clues to find treasure and finish challenges. The achievements you could earn for doing (sometimes mundane) activities that you only see in black and white Westerns were a nice touch. I laughed way too hard when I earned the “Dastardly” achievement by hog tying a random person, placing them on train tracks and waiting for the 4:15 to arrive on time.

I loved that Rockstar took their usual humor and odd characters and threw them into the Old West, having you run into a man selling snake oil, a curious man who dug up corpses, nuns in a Mexican Convent and so on. There was adult humor thrown in (as is expected in Rockstar games) and much ultra-violence.

I must say the scenery in the game is very well done. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different areas of the world that I was in, and just taking in the scenery. Though some of the curves in the game could’ve done with a little more anti-aliasing, but that’s a small complaint honestly.

I loved that the Wilhelm scream made it into the game. Shootouts become almost comical anyway when you’re blowing up whole carriages (wait for it, it’s later in the game), or mowing down whole armies of men with a hand-cranked mounted machine gun, or lock-on shooting (lather, rinse, repeat). But to have all of this chaos and gunfire going on and hear a random enemy fall to the ground with a Wilhelm Scream is just priceless.

I’m not big on gathering missions, so I pretty much skipped all of the flower-picking missions entirely, except where it was required for the storyline. Also, I thought this game was far easier to complete than some of the Grand Theft Auto games I had played previously. Maybe it was due to the fact that there was assisted aiming, Dead Eye Mode, or an almost unnecessary need for any other gun except for the various repeaters that you could collect. There were only a few missions that made me rage (which is unusual since the GTA games have a laundry list of missions that have to be repeated over and over due to failure).

I enjoyed the openness of the Wild West and the horseback transportation… for a few minutes. After that it became tedious and irritating, since your horse only has a set amount of Stamina. Once you gallop for a few seconds, the Stamina bar is completely drained and you have to wait for it to reset. This becomes irritating really fast when the next mission is on the other side of the state and there isn’t a Carriage (taxi) you can hire. You will be able to gallop faster and for a seemingly longer time on the dirt roads that criss-cross the state, but unfortunately they weave around so much it’s almost faster to trot in a straight line (as the crow flies) instead of gallop all the way south to turn and go north while following a road.

Finally I will mention that the game itself has 15+ hours of playtime. At least it did for me. That’s finishing the entire story and then going back and doing some of the side missions for the ‘cheevos and some of the other required activities for 100% completion.

The pros do vastly outweigh the cons, and this game is definitely worth a play. And this is coming from a person who loved Vice City, enjoyed GTA:3, loved San Andreas (most of the time) and decided to give up on the whole GTA series after playing less than half of GTA:IV. The best part? You don’t get telegraphs from your cousin asking to go to a floorshow every 30 minutes.

Daria: Complete Series Box Set

Editor’s Note: Actual airdate, May 2010.

After being off air for almost a decade, Daria has finally made her way to DVD and back into your TV last Tuesday!

This DVD set contains all the episodes from Seasons 1-5 plus “Is It Summer Yet?” and “Is It Fall Yet?” across 8 DVDs.

Personally I was thrilled when I heard this was coming out, because I loved the show when it was on air, and hated that it took so damn long to go to DVD. So I bought the set as soon as I possibly could, and am currently in the middle of re-watching the entire series.

Now here’s the bad news: The reason that this show hasn’t made it to a DVD release yet is because there was so much music used in the show during its original air. If you watched the show, you would remember hearing songs by R.E.M., Nirvana, and many other bands popular at the time. Because there was so many artists copyrighted music used, it was OK for airing, but not OK for sale. The die-hard fans of Daria have fought, complained and wished for the DVD release but the copyright problem still existed.

Here’s what that means for this release: as it says in the insert “99% of the music has been changed.” Yes, there is very little original music in this entire show. If you want the old music, I’m sure you can find the bootlegs on teh Internets.

If you aren’t concerned about the music problem, just want the show on DVD so badly that you don’t care, or have never watched the show before, then pick this set up. So far this trip down down memory lane is worth the price, despite the music issue.

Doodle God

Editor’s Note: Originally Aired sometime in 2010-ish. We’ll say May. That sounds good.

I happened to find a flash page for this game today and was instantly hooked by it’s simple premise: Starting out with 4 elements, you have to combine two items within each element to make new items and elements.

It works both physically (for instance: air + water = steam) and as a play on words (for instance: Fire + Water = alcohol). It starts off with only four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and then grows to 196 elements and 21 categories (as of the current version).

You are also able to tie the game to your Facebook profile and share your progress with your friends. There is a help function that will give you an element so you can try to guess the two that combine to make it. Another help function will show two categories and say that two elements from the categories will combine to make a new element.

If you don’t want to immediately shell out the money for this app, you can try a free flash version

Here is the official iOS App Store link

Naughty Bear

While you wouldn’t always associate Teddy Bears with brutal slaughters because of an anti-social bear not being invited to a party due to his namesake, this game tries to distance the traditional opinions of mild mannered bears in every way possible.

The game’s premise is quite simple: You are Naughty Bear, a friend to no one on an island of Teddy Bears. There’s a big bear fiesta and you’re not invited (obviously for the same reasons your name is Naughty Bear). You did try to make a present and play nice, but after being laughed at the only obvious answer is to go on a homicidal rampage through the different parts of the islands, slaughtering your neighbors along the way.

There are several ways that you can eliminate the ones that laughed at you: You can simply grab a weapon and go to town on them, sending stuffing flying all around. You can try to set a trap, and try to lure the unsuspecting bears out before you slice their head off (or bludgeon them to death with a club). You can also use various items in your surroundings for a contextual kill (for instance, you can freeze a person in a refrigerator, shove a phone through their head while they try to call for reinforcements, and so on). Finally there is an “Ultra-kill” where you scare a victim so badly that they end their own life with whatever weapon they happen to have.

You will use these ways of killing to go through 7 levels (each having their own unique challenges) of a mad rampage as you ruthlessly seek revenge on the other bears for laughing at you and calling you names, not ever letting you join in their reindeer (Teddy Bear) games.

I found the game both fun but frustrating.The fun part being able to figure out new ways to kill the bears while going through the challenges, watching the scared bears run away while tripping over their own two feet. I also enjoyed driving the bears insane, leading to them taking their own lives.

The ninja guards were funny at first… then they became frustrating because there was nowhere to hide from them. This makes certain challenges (such as the “don’t get touched” challenge especially difficult).

The challenges were interesting the first few tries, but after failing the same challenge over and over, I was ready to move on. Also by that time it had become more of a challenge to keep the camera from getting caught up on the edge of the map as I try to hide from my enemies in the woods. The camera would seem to spasm and want to look at something completely irrelevant to who I was hiding from, and that got annoying really fast.

While it doesn’t feel like a short game, doing the same challenges over and over does get a little tiresome. The storyline was good, but don’t expect too much out of the storyline of one bear’s revenge.

I wouldn’t rush right out to buy this one. Perhaps rent it first and test the waters.

The Toxic Avenger and Other Tromatic Tales

When I first discovered the beautiful B-Moves that are the “Troma Productions,” I was immediately disgusted and intrigued, like when someone sees a terrible car crash but wants to see all the gruesome details and stay with it until the end.

Well sirs and madams, this is definitely something you may want to check out if you like gruesome car crashes.

This is B-Movie goodness at it’s finest, with gratuitous nudity, terrible dialogue, awful special effects, ridiculous storylines and characters that make you go “WTF?!” and that’s just the movies…

This collection of comics covers the characters you’ve grown to love, hate and have an awkward erotic obsession with. There’s The Toxic Avenger, Kabukiman, The Class of Nuke ’em High, Rabid Grannies, and much, much more.

Buckle in and prepare yourself for a disturbing journey into the mind of Lloyd Kaufman, in convenient graphic novel form. This is quite the disturbing ride, so I’d say you should probably prepare yourself by at least trying to stomach some of the movies first. You know, to “get acquainted with the characters.”

Yes, there is going to be nudity. Yes there is going to be profanity. Yes there is blood and guts and everything you’ve come to know and love about the Tromaville B-Movies. So you’d probably want to put this one underneath all those trashy magazine you have stuffed under your mattress (I’M TALKING TO YOU BOBBY), because you’d probably be better off getting caught with Goat Lovers From Outerspace than this garbage.

PS: For those that have a morbid curiosity about the movies, this book and more, visit http://www.troma.com/

Modern Warfare 2

Editor’s Note: Not sure of the original air date of this one exactly, so we’ll just say December of 2009 until I can get a better estimate.

Modern Warfare 2 starts off five years after the first game, and brings you in as U.S. Army Ranger Private Joseph Allen in Afghanistan, who under command of a few familiar faces from the previous game, helps try to stop the Ultranationalists in their new plot to execute Vladimir Makarov’s campaign of terrorism in Europe.

The game takes you to many different locations such as a Russian Air Base, a war-torn Virigina suburb, Washington D.C., Rio De Janiero, and may other places, as you help take down Makarov, who has taken the place of Zakhaev as the “head bad guy and enemy of the U.S.”

GAMEPLAY:

This game was very easy to jump into, since there was yet another training mission at the start of the game where you can run an obstacle course and learn the controls (which haven’t changed since the previous MW).

Anything that was thrown at you throughout the game was quickly explained and easy to grab onto, so there were no awkward spot where you have to wonder to yourself “WTF am I supposed to do here?”, which was a welcome development.

STORYLINE:

I had to look up the story for a refresher to write this review, not because I had forgotten what happened, but more so I could understand fully what was going on, as a lot gets thrown at you all at once.
The storyline play through is a good seven hours of playtime, which is pretty good for a first-person shooter in my opinion.

SPECIAL OPS SIDE MISSIONS:

A new feature to this version is a mode called “Special Ops”, where you can earn stars for playing through special missions on different difficulty levels. You are able to play online if you prefer, or offline by yourself.

There are twenty-three missions in all, each with “normal”, “hardened”, or “veteran” difficulties.

MULTIPLAYER:

The multiplayer for the PS3 was great and easy to jump into. You are given a few options to start as far as match types and classes (which can be customized as you level up in rank), but you can use one of the pre-made classes until you do.

If you aren’t used to playing FPS’s on consoles, you may have a little trouble leveling up since the game feels “stacked against you,” so tough it out and you will soon unlock better weapons, skills, and bonuses.

THE CONTROVERSIAL “NO RUSSIAN” LEVEL:

DO NOT SKIP THIS LEVEL!!! Though it is a whole mission based on a very graphic and hopefully not repeated in real life event, it is critical to the storyline if you play it.

Yes, I did play it and was made uncomfortable by it, but I felt that it was important that you play it to understand why things went down the way they did and also to get a better grasp on the situation.

Yes, you are asked at the very beginning of the game if you want to skip the controversial level, and you can pause and skip at any time if you feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think you should.

If you are bothered by it and end up skipping, then at least read about what happens and why it does on a website.

To quote Wikipedia on the subject: “In his review for Game Informer, Adam Biessener writes that while the level ‘makes the player a part of truly heinous acts’, he also notes that the ‘mission draws the morality of war and espionage into sharp focus in a way that simply shooting the bad guys cannot’. Biessner concludes that it is one of the more emotionally affected moments in the game, is ‘proud that our medium can address such weighty issues without resorting to adolescent black-and-white absolutes’.