Beauty and the Best

The Artist - A Review by Model/Fine Artist Carol Seleme

Carol Seleme (photo gallery) is the first host for All Good Things - a blog I’m starting with a video game producer covering movies, video games, and comics. It probably ought to be called “cute girls reviewing stuff,” because that’s really what it is. The idea struck us when Mal Malloy did her David Boring and Halloween videos. Those videos were popular but I wanted more creative involvement with them. Of course, I hope to get Mal back in the mix on this project, as well as Olivia, who started us off with a great promo. Anyway, Carol’s first review is The Artist, which you can check out online at iTunes here and Netflix here.

On a personal note, I must say it was genuinely a lot of fun working with Carol again. People say this all the time, but in this case it’s actually true. She’s smart and funny in addition to being attractive, which makes her doubly fun. Video now available in HD 1080.

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The Dark Knight Returns Part 1


I have to admit that even before I began watching The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, I already had high expectations.  I was a fan of the Batman animated series that first introduced the signature Bruce Timm art style so knowing that he was on board as an executive producer was a plus.  This story is based on the 1986 Frank Miller four part comic book series comprised of The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Triumphant, Hunt The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Falls.  It takes place about 10 years after the death of Robin, Jason Todd, which is thought to have played a major role in Bruce Wayne’s decision to retire as Batman.  Gotham is once again plagued with crime but it’s the reemergence of Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) that coaxes the 55-year old Wayne to come out of retirement.  But Dent, like Wayne, has changed quite a bit since their last encounter and I found the result of their reunion to be a pretty mature and believable resolution.  It’s also revealed that in Batman’s absence there’s been a lot of debate about whether he was an aid to ridding Gotham of its villains or inadvertently part of the cause of their rise.  Luckily, rather than wasting time indulging in the public or private speculation, Batman immediately goes to work.  It’s not long before he discovers that beyond Dent, another menace called The Mutants are wreaking havoc throughout the city. 

The fight sequences between Batman and The Mutant leader are some of the best choreographed and “fair” I’ve seen in a while.  The animators seemed to be conscious of the deliberation of attacks from a seasoned combatant verses the energy conveyed by pure youth.  Peter Weller (RoboCop) turns in an incredible voice performance as The Dark Knight, completely embodying the older, no-nonsense version of his younger more patient self.  Here it’s apparent that Andrea Romano is at the top of her game having cast so many prior Warner Brothers Animation projects to date.  I have a particular fondness for her because of her passion for the work and her dedication to the people she brings to the table.  Bob Goodman’s screenplay stays pretty true to the Frank Miller series and director Jay Oliva doesn’t pull any punches with regard to the level of violence prevalent throughout Part 1. In support of this, Robert Hargreaves' sound design is as impressive as always and most notably when Batman comes charging into the Mutant camp with the Batmobile. 

The pacing throughout is pitch perfect and the character development is well balanced – especially the introduction of Carrie Kelly, who dons a knock off Robin costume and teams up becoming Batman’s new sidekick.  Even though you can kind of see what’s coming with final scene of part 1, it’s a great cliffhanger to leading into Part 2.  As a fan of the series, seeing characters like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred still loyal to Bruce conjures the same type of nostalgia as a film like The Expendables. More so than anything, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 clearly shows why Batman is so many people’s favorite serious hero whether super or otherwise.  Although aging and tormented, he’s determined to continue the fight for Gotham’s justice and unlike some, he encourages others to join the fight.  The Blue Ray includes a two part Two Face episode from the original animated series, several featurettes, a documentary on Batman creator Bob Kane, a sneak peak of Part 2 (due in early 2013) and a digital comic book. This is definitely one for the permanent collection!

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Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight Graphic
This is one twisted movie. But it’s also craftily executed, proving once again that when it comes to horror, foreign offerings are not to be underestimated. Directed by Jaume Balaguero of “Rec” fame, Sleep Tight tells the story of Cesar, a sociopathic concierge who can only find happiness in the misery of others. Played to the hilt by Luis Tosar, Cesar has his sights set in particular on the indefatigably upbeat Clara, who looks like a Spanish Jennifer Aniston. Cesar is not content to simply daydream about Clara’s unhappiness. He actually lurks about in her apartment at night, drugging her into a deep sleep while he puts poisons in her face cream, plants cockroaches in her apartment, and, yes, has his way with her while she’s unconscious.
As bone chillingly creepy as that may all sound, Tosar somehow manages to make Cesar sympathetic. I guarantee you will wind up hoping Cesar does not get caught as he skulks around Clara’s apartment.

One of the highlights of the movie is Cesar’s relationship with preteen tenant, Ursula (Iris Almeida). Ursula has a taut face and pretty, cruel eyes. She’s been doing her own spying and knows what Cesar is up to. There’s a playfulness to their disdain for each other that adds some levity to what could easily become heavy-handed drama.

It’s pure entertainment watching Cesar up the ante as he becomes increasingly frustrated that none of his tactics to destroy Clara’s happiness work. She just keeps leaving the building everyday with a smile on her face. It’s also an interesting commentary on human nature, and how some people seem to able to choose happiness while others are relegated to tough knocks and misery. In one of the more
Ursula Suspicous
nuanced scenes, Clara starts to suspect Cesar may be involved in her run of bad luck and actress Marta Etura, who has had to play Clara fairly one note up to this point, shows some real subtlety as she conveys a sly suspicion about her doorman’s intentions.

There are several points where you think the movie might end, but it keeps delving deeper and deeper into Cesar’s obsession with Clara until it finally reaches a crescendo of violence when Clara’s boyfriend confronts Cesar. What ensues is one of the most gory deaths I’ve seen in a while. It’s long and drawn out and the blood looks hyper realistic. Personally, I felt it was over the top. But it’s a minor complaint for what is otherwise a very solid thriller, right up there with Single White Female and Fatal Attraction.

Oh, and don’t forget to reconsider the movies title in light of its unsettling conclusion.

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Cabin in the Woods: Visual Companion Guide - Mini Review

Page From Cabin in the Woods
Reviews of this movie abound on the net. Obviously, Cabin in the Woods has been christened the holy grail of horror movies by fan boy types (including me). Ironically, the Visual Companion Guide - which covers just about every facet of the movie you could imagine in great detail - somewhat detracts from the fun of it all because it’s so self conscious (exploitative?) about the geekdom factor.

That said, I would still highly recommend this book to anyone who liked the movie. The prelude interview with Joss Whedon and Drew Goodard (director) is unusually honest. For example, Joss talks about how one actress they both liked refused to do the nudity required for the Jules character (p. 22). He goes on to state that her stubborn refusal to show her boobies was one of his and Drew’s more “uncomfortable” moments in the casting process. (The role eventually went to Anna Hutchison.) The whole section comes off as a subliminal dig at whoever this actress is from the director of the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time (e.g., The Avengers).

There is also an interesting little bit about how they had to fire the first casting director because of a lack of simpatico (p. 20). I find stuff like this fascinating for some reason. I’ve always disliked those interviews where the cast and crew of movies say they got along great. (Yawn.)
Cabin in the Woods Visual Companion Guide Image

Update: Just a brief note about the Cabin in the Woods Blu Ray special features - they rock! Much more enjoyable than the Visual Companion Guide just because this type of information is best conveyed through moving pictures and audio. The extras are WAY more extensive than the iTunes Extras, including at least three more features. Drew and Joss, while somewhat “self-congratulatory” (as described by Joss himself), are very entertaining in both the Wonder-Con interview and the audio commentary. Interesting factoids include: 1) Sigourney Weaver was concerned about the Werewolf having someone to sit with during a lunch break while shooting, 2) the gas station was actually someone’s home, and they had a confederate flag in the window that made Jesse Williams uncomfortable, 3) Twilight was being shot in the same forest as Cabin in Canada, at the same time, 4) even after working with Chris Hemsworth on Cabin, Joss made a call to Kenneth Branagh to see how he was to work with on Thor before casting him in The Avengers (yikes!).

The one thing I do find especially interesting about Cabin is that Drew and Joss repeatedly emphasize the practical effects in this movie (over CG) and yet any credibility they had built up in that regard is blown by the somewhat cheesy looking CG effects in the infamous elevator mayhem scene which you forgive because it’s such a fun scene. But I do recall thinking, “Gawd those effects looked CG!”

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Moonrise Kingdom

blogEntryTopperThere’s a great line in Rushmore when Rosemary is counseling Max Fisher after he’s feigned injury and climbed through her bedroom window to get close to her. Comparing her dead husband, Edward Appleby, to Bill Murray’s Herman Blume, she says: “Edward has more… imagination in one fingernail than Herman Blume has in his entire body.” Well, that line could very well be applied to Wes Anderson, who is in full force and effect in Moonrise Kingdom. Moonrise is about Sam, an orphan who has been disowned by his foster parents for consistently aberrant behavior, and Suzy, a well to do, strong willed young lady who is at odds with her family. Sam is a Khaki Scout and survivalist of sorts and with his training, the two set off together into the wilderness. Their adventure forms the first act of Moonrise. It’s really something to see the culmination of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking efforts over the past 15 years in this movie. His sense of color, odd timing with dialogue, and overall unique style are all on display here. Anderson is one of those people who was truly meant to do this. It would be a waste if he did anything else.

At the conclusion of act one, Sam and Suzy are caught and separated (albeit very briefly). Sam is informed that he can’t go back home and that social services may give him over to a mental hospital where he is likely to receive electroshock treatment (the movie takes place in the 60s). While he awaits the arrival of Social Services, he stays with the island police officer, played impressively by Bruce Willis. The two develop a rapport during their brief time together, but soon Sam and Suzy escape again with the help of Sam’s boy scout troupe. The second adventure is rife with danger and drama, but it’s really the first one that will stick with you. Anderson has always been able to convey the sense that his character embody their own special universe, a sort of altered reality, and that’s what we get with Sam and Suzy’s first journey into the wilderness. It’s usually warm and cozy and filled with wonderment, but occasionally interrupted by stark violence (the death of snoopy, vivisection of the fish for supper). I’ll leave the rest for you to enjoy when you check this out at the movies or on DVD.

I will lodge one complaint. For a guy as good as Anderson at creating imaginative settings filled with unrealistic yet interesting and insightful characters, the utter lack of diversity in this movie is rueful. Are you telling me not one Asian American or black or Latino person applied to be cast as one of those boy scouts? I know this was set in the 60s on some remote island, but with the myriad of other implausibilites in this movie, Anderson could have thrown in a little diversity for goodwill’s sake. I’m just sayin’.

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Tiny Wings – IOS Game

Tiny Wings in Play
Since the time of its inception in July of 2008, there have been hundreds of thousands of apps released through the iTunes App store, but I have to imagine that when the reviewers first laid eyes on Tiny Wings they had to be as overjoyed as I was.

I was working on a Kinect title when I first heard about this game from a friend of mine on the God of War III team. They raved about playing this everyday so I had to check it out if for nothing else but a break from bug triage sessions in prep for our pre cert submissions to Microsoft. (Game devs – you know what I mean.) Anyway, there’s an immediate analogue-ness to its colorful presentation that’s a breath of fresh air compared to all of the flat shaded, 2D games that have the appearance of being created entirely with Photoshop. For all I know, maybe Tiny Wings was created in Photoshop as well but the art has a great hand-drawn, organic feel to it. You play as a cute little bird whose wings are too small to allow you to take full flight so instead you have to glide down hillsides building up enough momentum to launch yourself up into the air until gravity brings you back down again. An intuitive tutorial shows you that all you have to do is tap the screen at the precise moment in order to land at the right angle to give you the greatest lift on the upswing. As you get into the groove you can really pick up speed racing against the setting sun to gain distance before the moon rises and you return to the world of slumber. Then you start the whole process again just to see how many islands you can get past before sundown.

This game is the brainchild of German born Andres Illiger, who coded, designed and created the art for the game in the truest spirit of indie game development. He’s admittedly an introvert but professes that in the midst of such negative and destructive games, he wanted to create something that makes gamers feel truly happy. I must say that I’ve spent more time playing Tiny Wings than any other game on my iPhone despite it’s simplicity and he definitely achieved that goal. It’s the perfect way to kill time before hopping on a plane, riding on a bus or train or waiting for an appointment. And I’ve always got a reason to come back because the achievements award you bird nests of varying designs that each act as score multipliers. Finally, there’s the music that blends seamlessly from the main character’s idle state at rest and then dynamically changes as soon as the player touches the screen to start the level. This music is super catchy and Illiger offers it for free download on his website which is pretty cool. The All Good Things Bottom Line: Tiny Wings is an incredible value that more than achieves its goal of bringing you a combination of fun, tranquility and challenge..

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All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - AGT Mini Review

blogEntryTopperEver wonder what Jonathan Levine did before he directed the critically praised cancer dramedy “50/50” ? Well, it turns out the 2008 arthouse horror flick, “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane,” was his feature directorial debut, and it’s impressive. Levine got involved with directing Mandy Lane while he was still a student at AFI, where met the writer and producer. (There’s a very interesting story about how the film was discovered by the famed producer Harvey Weinstein at the Toronto Film Festival and subsequently wound up in distribution purgatory, here.)

Mandy Lane Flirting
Pic traces the story of the somewhat mysterious title character, Mandy Lane, who is unquestionably the most beautiful girl at her high school, and also probably the most taciturn. Mandy just smiles ambiguously when guys compliment her and runs away from them on the track. But when peer pressure finally drives her to make an appearance at a pool party, things turn ugly when the school jock jumps off a rooftop to impress her. Can you say “massive head injury”? To be fair, he may have been egged on a little by Mandy’s ne'er-do-well male compadre, Emmet.

Cut to nine months later and Mandy has somehow assimilated into the in-crowd and is about to spend the weekend with them on a remote farm. Of course, muy killings ensue, but how it all unravels will no doubt surprise you. The movie is beautifully shot with liberal quantities of lens flare and golden hour lighting. Amber Heard, who plays Mandy, could not have asked for a better debut vehicle to showcase her classic, Hollywood good looks.

Here are the things that struck me about Mandy Lane. One, it’s got a nice build up. I happen to be one of those people who prefer the silly preludes before the killing sprees in horror movie, and this story unfolds nicely in that regard. Plenty of middle-aged wish fulfillment played out here with all the eye candy. Secondly, Amber Heard. Have I mentioned that this gun-toting lesbian is hot? Lastly, the direction, production, and script - this movie is just a cut above as horror flicks go. It’s not scary though – it’s more of a thriller.

So pick this one up on a Friday night if you can find it (it is quite difficult to find because it never got its intended US release). It’s a Digging-Thru-Crates gem.

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The Orange Box - AGT Mini Review

Orange Box Cover
To this day, one of the absolute best values in gaming is Valve’s offering of The Orange Box on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac. This is a video game compilation including Half-Life 2 (the full game), Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, Team Fortress 2 and the first introduction of Portal. Any one of these games by themselves is probably worth more in pure entertainment value than most first person shooters on the market, even at of the time of this mini review’s posting.

Since the introduction of the Half-Life series in November of 1998, Valve took skeletal animation and enemy A.I. to a completely new level and drew gamers into the engrossing underground Black Mesa facility. Players took control of Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist and MIT graduate, armed with a Hev suit and an array of incredibly cool weapons. What’s probably most endearing are the companion characters Gordon is always happy to either battle along side or convene with after a series of intense firefights. From the mysterious Vortigants to the enchanting and tough Alyx Vance, Valve has gone above and beyond to create one of the most memorable experiences in video game history.

Then there’s Portal. I had no idea what to expect when I started playing Portal because I’d been deep in production and hadn’t done my research to even know what it was. Hadn’t even seen a preview video. I was immediately addicted to the first person puzzle gameplay based on the use of the portal gun. By the way, Portal 2 (not part of The Orange Box) takes it to an entirely new level if you like this type of gameplay. One warning though – it’s not a shooter. It’s about using your brain - in the same way some of the original Tomb Raider games were about entering a room and figuring out what was needed to escape and avoid certain death. And if nothing else, Jonathan Coulton catchy song, Still Alive, will be nearly impossible to get out of your head. By the way, he’s not a one hit wonder. Coulton’s got lots of other great songs written in his signature sardonic tenor that are not related to Portal but equally is witty.


And last but not least – Team Fortress 2. For those of you who can’t get enough multiplayer action, this cartoon-styled shooter dishes out a healthy dose of capture the flag and base defense modes to appease even the most jaded gamers. As sequel to the original Quake mod, they just amp it up another level.

Unlike movies, games have the daunting task of trying to predict various potential interactions of their audience, which often leads to scripts splinter out into 500 plus pages. With Half-Life 2 especially, Valve manages to guide the player through a world that feels open while simultaneously building a narrative that’s more engaging than most feature films. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, horror, dimensional riffs and rebel skirmishes against fantastic alien and cybernetic organisms, the Half-Life series is for you. And Portal and Team Fortress stand well on their own as more than the icing on the cake.

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Scott Pilgrim Vol 1 Review

Scott Pilgrim Color
You've probably heard of the movie but have you ever read the original graphic novels for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? If not then I think you should and now's the perfect time to pick them up, better than ever. Oni Press started printing a new colorized edition in August 2012 with future volumes scheduled for release every six months. And since I haven't read it either or have any plans coming up for the next three years, I figured that I might as well start picking them up too.
Hey don't judge me. At least the writer/artist Bryan Lee O'Malley understands. Plans, commitments, pursuits, that stuff's complicated and I don't even like to buy bananas when they're still green. Neither does Scott Pilgrim. He's just your average twenty-something slacker who's drifting through life on a few bucks, playing in a garage band and splitting his friend's futon mattress. Really what more do any of us need other than a slice of pizza, some tunes and a place to crash?
Sex, you say? Companionship? Enter Ramona Flowers.
But her affections are not easily won. Not only does Scott have to convince Ramona to date him (even though he's already dating a sweet catholic school girl whom he hasn't quite gotten around to dumping), but he also has to fight Ramona's seven evil exes in order to keep dating her. So it's a good thing that aside from being your average twenty-something slacker, he also happens to be the greatest fighter in Ontario Canada.
Sex-Bob-Omb Jamming
Scott Pilgrim quickly moves into surreal territory, drawing upon themes and cues from the cartoons, movies, video games and comics people of Scott's age experienced while growing up. From the name of his band "Sex Bob-Omb" to the X-Men patch on his jacket, it is all a love letter from O'Malley to an entire subculture.
Even Scott's having to fight seven evil exes is a reference to shonen style manga like Dragon Ball. But that's not what it's about, even if O’Malley drops many references to things from his time growing up. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about becoming an adult and fighting for things in life, because just skirting by can hurt the people around you and leave you really alone whether or not you've realized it yet.
This edition is also hardbound and comes with bonus material from the creator, discussing the origins of the characters and conception of the series. So for the many of us who missed out on this critically acclaimed graphic novel the first time, this volume entitled "Scott Pilgrim''s Precious Little Life" is a great place to start on a journey of our own.

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