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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Seeing Red ... Tails, that is

There are times that I just have to sit back and look at the pop culture world and shake my head. Call it disbelief, sadness, disappointment ... what have you. Sometimes, the hate out there is so hard to understand.
Which brings me to Red Tails, a film George Lucas personally financed and helped usher to the big screen despite bigotry (at the least, outright racist attitudes at the worst) in Hollywood that saw studio executives decline to green light the movie because they didn’t think a ‘black’ movie with a predominantly African-American cast could be successfully marketed, or turn a profit.
Wow. Hearing Lucas say that on The Daily Show was a real shock, as money typically is colour-blind. I mean, selling a feel-good, patriotic war movie in the U.S. should be about as idiot-proof as it comes.
At the time of this writing, according to the website rottentomatoes.com (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/red-tails) the movie has made about $33 million in just over 10 days of release. The movie has an abysmal 39% rating as far as the critics go, but the audience ‘like’ number comes in at a more respectable 69%.
OK, so that’s the politics at play here. What about the movie?
Well, I think some of the backlash being directed at this movie is because simpleton audiences truly believe this is a George Lucas movie and there are haters out there who want nothing to do but crap on the man, his films and his legacy no matter what he does.
The fact is that this film is directed by Anthony Hemingway and written by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. According to their IMDB.com pages, Hemingway and McGruder are African-Americans. Ridley doesn’t have a photo up, so I’m not sure about his cultural heritage, not that it particularly matters.
What does matter is that Lucas didn’t write or direct this movie, but he’s being criticized like it’s his work. McGruder’s history as a director stems largely from doing second unit work, as well as working on TV series. And you can certainly feel that when you see Red Tails because the film does come off in many ways like a feel-good TV movie of the week.
Is the writing clichéd? Yep. Is the dialogue clichéd? Yep. Are the performances clichéd? Hell, no. Could the directing have been stronger? Possibly. It’s not always easy to overcome a hackneyed script and there’s no doubt this reads like a piece of 1940s propaganda, viewed through the lens of the political correctness of the modern era .
But the performances in this movie are quite engaging and are at the heart of this film. I was actually shocked at how character-driven Red Tails was. I went in expecting high-flying, gut-twisting dog fights. I knew that Lucas had said the film wasn’t a history lesson, nor a look at what negro airmen went through in order to fight for their country. Those films are already out there if you want a serious look at battling 1940s racism in the military.
Or, as Cuba Gooding Jr., who plays Maj. Emanuelle Stance, put it in a recent TV interview in Canada, they wanted to make a movie about heroes, not victims.
Well, mission accomplished.
Red Tails is certainly a heroic war film. Following the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-Negro fighter group, during the final year of the Second World War in Italy and over Europe, Red Tails follows a group of pilots as they try to prove their worth to the military brass.
Using hand-me-down planes that are patched up with spit and elbow grease, the men are assigned secondary and tertiary sorties over Italy. They spend their day flying patrols over the coast and blowing up the odd German train or vehicle convoy.  It’s a far cry from being all that you can be.
In Washington, Col. A.J. Bullard, played by the always engaging Terrance Howard, is fighting to get his fellow African-Americans some decent equipment and real missions that will help in the war effort. They get their break due to a political play that blows up in the press, in which some racist members of the military brass leaked a report that says the fighter group couldn’t pull its weight because of skin colour.
So, the group gets a chance to fight, flying cover for a ground invasion that goes well. They shoot down eight planes and four of the pilots go off and lay waste to a German air base.
This earns them a shot at flying cover for the bomber missions over Europe. It seems white pilots were leaving the heavy bombers in order to try to shoot down German decoy fighters, leaving the bombers vulnerable to attack by other German pilots.
The fighter group is told that they are to protect the heavy bombers at all costs and the men are given new equipment, as well as a chance to prove just how disciplined and capable they are.
And that’s basically the action-based plot of the movie. There are character-driven subplots, largely surrounding David Oyelowo’s pilot, with the call sign Lightning, and his friend and flight leader, Marty ‘Easy’ Julian, played by Nate Parker. The duo clash over Lightning’s risk-taking in the skies and Easy’s drinking on the ground, which he claims helps him battle his nerves.
There’s also a subplot with Lightning romancing a white Italian woman (played by NCIS: Los Angeles’ Daniela Ruah), as well as Lightning battling white pilots at an officer’s club.
So, there is more than a passing nod to the racist attitudes these men had to overcome. But – refreshingly – this isn’t a film that ruminates about the racism. We’ve seen those films. There are myriad options out there if you want to look at the African-American experience, be it from the 1800s up to present day. So I’m not going to crap on these men for opting to make a movie about the actual work and performance of the men.
I will say, however, that I still find many of the character plots to be very movie-of-the-week-ish. The film has a somewhat amateurish feel to it. But the cast still manages to make you care about these men and see them as more than the somewhat cardboard caricatures the script foists upon them. They rise above and manage to put more meat on the skeleton, so they deserve kudos for that.
The film does tend to go for the easy moments, the clichéd moments, which harkens back to a lot of other Second World War movies. And I suppose there is some merit to criticize the filmmakers on this front if you are expecting more of a Saving Private Ryan instead of something akin to Raiders-esque portrayal of the Nazis and their war machine.
But I wasn’t looking for a historical documentary here. Nor a docudrama. I just wanted to be entertained and the film certainly succeeds on that level. The characters are memorable and interesting despite the clichéd writing and the aerial sequences are spellbinding. It’s some of the best aerial combat footage I’ve seen since Top Gun.
If you’re looking for a good time at the movies, a true park-your-brain, feel-good, popcorn flick, Red Tails is definitely worth a look.
And leave George out of it.   
Check out the Red Tails trailer by clicking on this link: http://youtu.be/BpA6TC0T_Lw

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A dozen ways to beat the post-Christmas gaming drought

Well, time to shake off the gaming dust and get back at it after a short break from my weekly console gaming column. 
This is, as gaming fans well understand, the worst time of the year as far as a new release drought. That's because of the deluge of titles released in the three months before Christmas. (And for those of you who don't have a PC strong enough to run Star Wars: The Old Republic.)
But rather than lament the lack of fresh gaming meat, why not take a breath, sit back and delve a little deeper into some of the great 2011 titles that maybe you didn't spend enough time with because of the Christmas rush. You know, savour these virtual meals a little more.
With that in mind, here are my picks for a dozen ways to beat the post-Christmas blues:

12. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (360, PS3; Namco Bandai Games): When it comes to aerial combat, there is no better console franchise, in my opinion, than the Ace Combat franchise. And Assault Horizon will blow you away with an awesome lineup of fighter jets and military attack helicopters that let you take to the skies and live out your Top Gun fantasies in stunning HD. Throw in a solid story, which is a little less cheesy than some of the previous Japan-centric anime-inspired plots that featured mind-numbing dialogue, and you've got a great reason to turn and burn. Features a solo campaign, as well as online co-op for 2-3 players and online multiplayer battles with up to 16 people. Rated T.

11. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (360, PS3; Eidos and Square Enix): I am a huge fan of single-player, story-driven games and one of the best of the past year was this highly anticipated entry in the Deus Ex franchise. You play as Adam Jensen, a man who augments his body with cybernetics in order to help him unravel a conspiracy that threatens humanity itself. Featuring open-ended gameplay in which your decisions actually do matter and help the story evolve, you will be challenged to figure out the best way to attack the various problems and enemies you'll come across. A great mix of role-playing and action that packs a real story-driven punch. Rated M.

10. Lord of the Rings: War in the North (360, PS3; Warner Bros. Games): As you can tell from my blogger alias, I'm a big LOTR fan and so it shouldn't really be a surprise that this game cracks this list. War in the North is an action role-playing game in which you play as one of three characters ... a ranger, an elf or a dwarf. The game unfolds at the same time as the epic events of the LOTR story, so you are tasked with helping to create a diversion in the North country that will help divert Sauron's attention, as well as defeating another threat to Middle-earth - the evil Agandaur. The combat isn't the strongest element of the game, but I absolutely loved the storyline, the fact you get to visit key locations and meet LOTR characters, as well as build your chosen fighter via a branching skill tree. And the story is the real reason to delve into the title and get lost in a gaming expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien's world. You can play solo or co-op, either online or off. Rated M. 

9. Gears of War 3 (360; Microsoft): The epic conclusion to Marcus Fenix's saga, this third Gears game delivers a good storyline, strong gameplay mechanics and memorable characters who have carved out a niche in gaming history with their chainsaw bayonettes. There's a great solo campaign here, which is longer than the other two, as well as strong co-op gameplay both online and off. And when you're done playing the story, you can dive into the multiplayer modes, including 10-player battles and five-player co-op. The Horde and Beast modes give you some great options when it comes to burning away the hours in this unique world. Rated M.

8. Saints Row: The Third (360, PS3; THQ): The story is ridiculous, let's get that out of the way off the top. The Third Street Saints have dominated Stillwater and for years, becoming part of the mainstream culture. Now, a group called the Syndicate is challenging them and demanding they bow down, so to speak. The Saints decide to take the battle to the Syndicate, invading the city of Steelport, determined to topple this Vegas-esque burgh. The true genius of this game is its over-the-top action, which can be played either solo or in an online co-op mode. The goal is to take over the sex, drug and gun rackets and the emphasis is on crazy weapons, costumes and antics. It's a circus freakshow, but it's also a lot of fun. Rated M.

7. Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection (360, PS3; Konami): The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection bundles together three MGS titles - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Besides upgrading them with high-def graphics, this set also offers Xbox users their first chance to tackle the adventures of Snake. Of course, the original PlayStation game and MGS4 are still out of reach to Xbox users, but this is a good way for those gamers to finally experience this iconic franchise. The storylines are the coolest things about these three games, as the actual gameplay mechanics are frustrating when you compare them to current day action shooters. But it's still well worth the effort.

6. GoldenEye 007: Reloaded (360, PS3; Activision): This classic title rocked the Nintendo 64 back in the day and it got a Wii update, but now 360 and PS3 gamers get a chance to drive one of the best 007 games ever made. The update features Daniel Craig's likeness replacing Pierce Brosnan, as well as high-def graphics and an upgraded set of gameplay and story mechanics. The result is one of the most addictive and entertaining James Bond games ever. You can play up to four players offline, or go online and take part in 16-person multiplayer battles. Overall, this one is a no-brainer if you love a good shooter or are a fan of James Bond. It's well worth diving into an update of a classic title. Rated T.

5. Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary (360; Microsoft): Sensing a trend? Like Hollywood, the gaming industry is maturing enough that we're starting to see developers revisit old titles and try to put a new spin on them, much the same way studios do with film franchises. I think that part of the reason for this game's release, besides the obvious economic and anniversary reasons, is to show gamers that 343 Industries can do Halo the way Bungie did. Now, that may not be true since this game is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the original. It's just been given a high-def makeover and updated skins. The story and the action is still classic tried-and-true Bungie. But with 343 Industries taking control of the franchise as Halo 4 starts to appear on the horizon, I don't think it was a bad idea for the studio to get something out there in the Halo universe with its name on it, even if it is to allay even slightly any trepidation franchise fans might have about a post-Bungie experience. No matter, this game still holds up remarkably well 10 years after its release and there is no doubt that the new Firefight mission, an enhanced story, offline and online co-op and 16-person multiplayer battles will keep Halo fans quite entertained in the months to come. Rated M.

4. Battlefield 3 (360, PS3; Electronic Arts): Bringing Battlefield into the modern era showcases the amazing talents who work at DICE and this title builds on the success of the franchise and shines brightly, both in terms of its single player and multiplayer experiences. The single-player story, which puts you in the boots of a U.S. Marine tasked with stopping a terrorist, is spellbinding. Some of the missions had me gripping the controller so tightly that my fingers ached ... and that's a good thing because that means the game is incredibly engaging. And while long-time readers know I'm not a big multiplayer fan, this game certainly provides those who love the experience with great options and top-notch thrills and challenges that will keep them busy for weeks and months on end. The 24-multiplayer battles are epic. I only wish there had been offline and online co-op options as that would have added to the epic mix already assembled. Rated M.

3. Batman: Arkham City (360, PS3; Warner Bros. Games): The first Batman game rocked. This one is downright awesome. Rocksteady studio has crafted one of the truly great superhero games of all time on any console or gaming device. Arkham City is a walled-off area of Gotham City, in which the criminals and the insane masterminds of the comic world run riot. Batman does battle with all comers, using a combination of stealth and speed and brains to outwit and overcome all of the assembled baddies. Throw in the ability to play as the super sexy Catwoman, as well as the iconic collection of villains, like Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler and more, and you've got a dark world with a compelling story that offers a true must-play experience. Rated T.

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360, PS3; Activision): With its awesome mix of single-player, story-driven gameplay, offline co-op, four-player offline battles, as well as 18-person multiplayer mayhem, there's not much more I can say about one of the greatest action shooters ever made. It shines in all departments and I really enjoyed the co-op special ops missions, with the much tougher (and obviously frustrating) survival mode which can be brutally unforgiving. That said, that's what war is all about. Overall, MW3 rocks, giving you a good single-player experience. And the multiplayer modes remain as addictive as ever for fans who are into that kind of thing. For me, I still enjoy diving back into the story and reliving some of the intense action sequences that this is the hallmark of this series. Rated M.

1.  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (360, PS3; Bethesda): Let's be honest, if you're going to invest hundreds of hours into a game, story and experience are keys and this role-playing game delivers on both fronts. Skyrim adds another great chapter to The Elder Scrolls franchise and builds nicely off of the Oblivion experience. You dive into a post-Oblivion world, where dragons now roam the skies and you must find your place among them since you the Dragonborn, a prophesized hero whose decisions help determine the type of world you'll help forge. The character choices are impressive and the game simply hums along. What I particularly enjoy are the greater options and the increased number of vocal performances you'll find in Skyrim. Oblivion was an amazing game, but hearing the same people over and over got tiresome after the first 60 hours or so. Now, you'll find a larger array of characters with a larger cast bringing them to life, which helps to create a bigger, more immersive experience in what is truly an amazing world to explore. And when you're done one game, you can create an entirely new character with different skill sets and venture forth to play the game in an entirely different way, making different story choices and experiencing Skyrim in a new way. You could literally spend most of 2012 chewing your way through this game over and over and experiencing it from different perspectives until the virtual dragons come home to roost. It's a beauty. Rated M.

Wayne Chamberlain is an editor at The Sudbury Star, who has covered the gaming industry and reviewed games since 2003. You can follow him on Twitter.com @ChamberlainW or @JediAragorn. Join his blog at jediaragorn.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts and picks for 2012 Oscars

Well, the list is out and that means many of us, me included, will be scrambling to catch up with the movies that industry pros have selected as the best of the best for 2011.
I haven't seen several of these films, thanks to living in a city that doesn't exactly bring in art films by the boatload, so I've still yet to catch The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredbily Close ... etc. But I have seen a ton of films during the past year, so here's my two cents on the initial list.

BEST PICTURE
I have a feeling that The Descendants and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close will be the big two based on Hollywood's love of Alexander Payne and George Clooney, as well as the 9/11 healing that continues to go on (not to mention Tom Hanks).
Personally, I'd love to see Midnight in Paris or Hugo get the nod, but neither has a chance. I'm a huge Woody Allen fan and I love his whimsical romantic tales, while Hugo is a love letter to the power of cinema and one of the most enjoyable Martin Scorsese films I've seen in years.
Moneyball was a good film, but it just doesn't belong in this group.

ACTOR
Believe that Clooney will win based on his Globes victory and from the trailer, it looks like he plays an interesting character. I still think he deserved more credit for Up in the Air, which was a brilliant performance, so if he gets it here, I'll be fine with that.
Pitt was solid in Moneyball and really did carry the movie, but it wasn't exactly a powerhouse performance.
I am really peeved that Andy Serkis didn't get a nod for his role as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was a brilliant performance and the best all-around bit of acting I saw this past year. But the politics of Hollywood, which pays many mo-cap performers as stuntmen as opposed to actors, is behind this, me thinks.

ACTRESS
I didn't see a single performance in this group, but I always pull for Meryl Streep, who is the most versatile actress I've ever seen. And I have had a crush on her since she played the lead in Carrie Fisher's Postcards From the Edge, so go Meryl.

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Branagh and Plummer would seem to be the dynamic duo here and I think Plummer - a fellow Canadian - gets the win as a kind of 'career recognition' nod.
For my money, Alan Rickman deserved a nomination for his performance in the final Harry Potter movie, as well as the franchise as a whole.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Got a feeling Melissa McCarthy gets the nod here and I'd be fine with that.

DIRECTING
My money is on Payne, although I'd love to see Scorsese or Allen. Would love to have seen Spielberg get a nod here at the very least for Tintin.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Would love to see Moneyball get this one because Zaillian and Sorkin took a stats-heavy non-fiction book and turned into into an entertaining baseball movie that even women could enjoy because it had some heart to go along with all those stats.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hoping for Woody to get the win here, which is often how the Academy honours him.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
I'm extremely partial to Puss in Boots, which was surprisingly entertaining and fun. And Rango was quite smart and funny, as well.

ART DIRECTION
Would put my money on either Hugo or War Horse. The Academy loves history and these films definitely tap into that.

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Have a feeling The Artist gets the nod here, but personally I'd go with Hugo because of the mix of styles and looks.

SOUND MIXING
Bet on War Horse or Transformers because of the complexity of the mixes.

SOUND EDITING
See Sound Mixing. Same argument.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Tintin was my personal fave. It wasn't typical John Williams, with the 'in-your-face' main theme. Instead, it was whimsical, fun, adventurous and complex.

ORIGINAL SONG
I'm all about the Muppets here.

FILM EDITING
I thought Moneyball was a really finely edited film, as was Hugo, with the mix of visuals and styles. I'd be pleased with either of those.

VISUAL EFFECTS
I have a feeling that Apes will get the nod here as some form of recognition for the compelling way in which the apes 'performed' and really gave that film its heart. Potter looked good, as did Hugo and Transformers. And I guess my dark horse would be Real Steel, which looked quite cool and the robot boxers were truly amazing. I had a chance to see them up close at Fan Expo in Toronto and they were stunning. But at the end of the day, I think Apes will carry the day and deservedly so.

And so, that's my two cents. How about you? What are your picks?

Complete list of 2012 Oscar nominations

BEST PICTURE
The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

ACTOR
Demian Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball

ACTRESS
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer, The Help

DIRECTING
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Bullhead, Belgium; Footnote, Israel; In Darkness, Poland; Monsieur Lazhar, Canada; A Separation, Iran

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants; John Logan, Hugo; George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March; Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, Moneyball; Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids; J.C. Chandor, Margin Call; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Asghar Farhadi, A Separation

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
A Cat in Paris; Chico & Rita; Kung Fu Panda 2; Puss in Boots; Rango

ART DIRECTION
The Artist, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, War Horse

CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Artist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life, War Horse

SOUND MIXING
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

SOUND EDITING
Drive, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

ORIGINAL SCORE
The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams; The Artist, Ludovic Bource; Hugo, Howard Shore; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias; War Horse, John Williams

ORIGINAL SONG
Man or Muppet from The Muppets, Bret McKenzie; Real in Rio from Rio, Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett

COSTUME
Anonymous, The Artist, Hugo, Jane Eyre, W.E.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Hell and Back Again, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Pina, Undefeated

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement, God Is the Bigger Elvis, Incident in New Baghdad, Saving Face, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

FILM EDITING
The Artist, The Descendants, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball

MAKEUP
Albert Nobbs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Iron Lady

ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Dimanche/Sunday, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, La Luna, A Morning Stroll, Wild Life

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Pentecost, Raju, The Shore, Time Freak, Tuba Atlantic

VISUAL EFFECTS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hugo, Real Steel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Monday, January 23, 2012

Moneyball headlines group of new DVD releases

There’s a lot to like about Moneyball, whether you’re a baseball fan or not.
There’s Brad Pitt, first of all, which means that for all you guys out there, odds are you’ll actually be able to get a woman to give this baseball flick a chance.
But there’s also a good story and character piece that not only talks about the quantum shift in the game caused by Billy Beane’s adoption of metrics, but also his journey from high school prospect to major league washout and re-emergence as a young general manager willing to latch onto an idea in the hopes it will help turn his club into a winner despite massive financial restrictions.
Pitt plays Beane, the real-life Oakland Athletics GM and a former player who had a cup of coffee in the majors before retiring to become an executive. Pitt’s Beane is a man at a personal and professional crossroads.
The Oakland A’s are a small market team, with limited financial means, which typically means fielding a competitive club to compete with the big spending teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets are all but impossible.
After watching the Yankees and Sox rob his club of top free agent talent, Beane begins looking for an advantage to help him compete on the field.
At the same time, he’s dealing with a divorce and trying to stay relevant in his daughter’s life – and, frankly, in her eyes. Having a dad who is known for being in charge of a bunch of losers isn’t going to do much for how he feels the world, but more importantly, his daughter, will perceive him.
Beane finds baseball salvation in the form of a nerd … a Yale-educated economist who is working for another ball club. Jonah Hill – pre-dramatic weight loss – is said nerd and his character takes the approach of looking at baseball players the same way you’d look at widgets if you were a manufacturing firm. It’s not about the sexiness or star quality of the players … it’s about their numbers and tendencies. You don’t need big money, big name players if you can get less expensive guys who are able to get on base and score because of their particular skill set. Known as sabermetrics, it has revolutionized the game. But it has also has its detractors because it takes some of the human element out of the game and the whole field of scouting.
Geek stats have become integral to the game because of what Beane was able to do. After losing Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, Beane used metrics to replace their runs and hits with players others had overlooked.
He had to fight his own manager (Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a great bit of understated, seething hatred laced with sarcasm) to do it, as well as the rest of the baseball world. But the proof was in the pudding, so to speak, and the A’s managed to compete with the Yankees despite having a payroll that was about a quarter of what the Bronx Bombers were spending.
Did he win? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out if you don’t know your baseball history. But the fact is Beane has forever changed the game. OPS, WHIP and other geek stats have now replaced batting averages and ERAs in terms of judging a player’s effectiveness and impact on a club. And all clubs use metrics as a means of evaluating talent.
But rather than focusing solely about baseball, the film has some heart to it and you pull for Beane whether you’re a fan or not. I saw this movie with a woman who knew absolutely nothing about the sport and she was taken with both the story and the ideas it presented because it turns metrics into a human story. And that’s why writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin – two of Hollywood’s best and brightest – and director Bennett Miller succeed in making this film go beyond the field and resonate with audiences.
Anyone with a child can understand Beane’s motivation to look like a winner in the eyes of his child. And anyone who has ever worked in a job in which they are fighting against ingrained thinking that limits potential can also identify with Beane’s need to change the playing field.
As well, watching Beane come to grips with how a baseball scout talked him out of going to school, planting promises of a stellar baseball career in his head, and then watching that dream die and the young man realizing that there is a fundamental flaw within his sport and how it treats the athletes … well, it’s a far richer story than just a straight up film about a baseball team and stats.
And for that, Pitt is getting strong Oscar buzz for his performance (although I don’t think he stands a chance of winning because it’s just not that dramatic of a role) and the movie has generated significant buzz for being more than just a sports film.
It’s definitely worth a watch and it has earned a spot in my top five favourite baseball films of all time.
Extras include deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and a profile of Beane and how he changed the game as an executive.
* * *
Also out recently on DVD:
* What’s Your Number: Truth be told, I’m not the biggest Anna Faris fan, largely because she typically stars in a bunch of spoof films that are ridiculous fluff made by people who seem to think they’re making something akin to The Naked Gun or Airplane but aren’t even in the same universe.
But I digress.
Faris stars as Ally, a young woman who reads a magazine article and discovers that she has slept with a large number of men in comparison to her friends. Determined that she will not have meaningless sex again, she is determined to only sleep with the man who will become the love of her life.
After she runs into a former boyfriend who turned his life around and is now getting married, Ally begins looking up her exes in the hopes that she has already slept with someone worthy of a second chance and a potential husband.
She is assisted by a hunky neighbour, played by Chris Evans, who is a guy who seems to sleep with a different woman every day of the week. He agrees to help her track down her exes if she’ll help get women out of his apartment in a hurry by pretending to be his girlfriend, thus preventing him from having to go through the whole messy post-sex breakup thing.
The two, of course, start to hit it off as friends and eventually it starts to blossom into something more.
Now, I like romantic comedies. And I’m willing to accept some pretty shoddy stories if the characters are interesting and the chemistry between the leads is compelling. For me, Evans proved to be a good choice and he could definitely do more rom-coms. But Faris really just didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t much care for her character and her dilemma – especially in this day and age of sexual politics. So, I just didn’t really take a rooting interest in her story, nor find her charming in any way.
And because of that, I just couldn’t much root for the duo to hook up.
If you’re a Faris fan, maybe you’ll have a different take. But this one is a time-killer at best.
* Glee: The Concert Movie: Yep, I’m a Gleek and so watching and hearing the talented cast, including
Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron and Lea Michele, perform songs from the hit show.
Extras include exclusive performances not seen in the theatrical release, extended performances, backstage footage of the cast and some Sue Sylvester introductions that haven’t been seen before.
* Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Blowhole: The kiddies will definitely get a kick out of the further adventures of the slightly crazed, paranoid penguins.
* G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: Series 2, Season 1
* The Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption: Victor Webster, Ron Perlman, Billy Zane and Kimbo Slice co-star in this really awful sequel.  Dwayne Johnson must surely be embarrassed to see what happened to the character he created in The Mummy sequel because this movie is so poorly written and terribly acted that the only positive reaction I had to it was when it ended.
* Jersey Shore: Season Four
* Colombiana : Zoe Saldana impresses as a butt-kicking assassin who is out to avenge the deaths of her parents. Michael Vartan and Jordi Molla co-star.
* Futurama: Volume 6

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hear Drew Karpyshyn speak about The Old Republic and more


Our conversation with exception video game writer and novelist Drew Karpyshyn is available now on iTunes and through our website,starwarsbookreport.com. Please be sure to give it a listen and hear Drew address several topics related to his career, Star Wars, writing novels, The Old Republic and upcoming projects, including a new Old Republic novel set to release later this year. And don't forget to visit our Facebook  page - facebook.com/starwarsbookreport.com. Please give us a like.
I'm on the road in Toronto this weekend with my kids, so going to be a quiet time as far as updates, but pleas e keep checking back for more and give us a like.
And please join my blog page here.
MTFBWY!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bioware giving gamers a sweet Valentine's gift

Bioware's highly anticipated role-playing game, Mass Effect 3, will debut as a playable demo on Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation Network on Feb. 14.
Personally, I'm psyched to get my hands on ME3 because it's going to put the wraps on what has been a really cool, well-crafted story thus far. Bioware has made its name on strong, story-based titles and Mass Effect certainly delivers as you get to play as an interesting, complex human character surrounded by aliens who prove to be valuable allies and cunning enemies. And Mass Effect's political atmosphere is also appealing to anyone who enjoys a good story as the whole aliens vs. humans bias, as well as man vs. machines resonates with issues that are commonplace today.
What's significant about this particular demo is that it will give gamers a chance to dive into the co-op multiplayer mode, which is a first for the ME franchise. The other two games were single-player only.
I wouldn't bet against Bioware succeeding here. There were huge leaps between the first and second ME games in terms of the way the action unfolded. The second game featured a much more streamlined experience, with a greater emphasis on a more straight-ahead shooter mechanic. This ticked off some RPG purists, but I for one didn't agree.
According to Bioware, the demo will let players experience the opening scene in which the machines, the Repears, attack Earth. And besides the multiplayer feature being included in the demo, full voice recognition functionality for the 360's Kinect is going to be included in the Feb. 14 release, as well.
“We are excited to be able to give gamers an expansive demo that will put them right on the front lines of this all-out galactic war,” said Casey Hudson, executive producer of the Mass Effect series. “The entire scale of the game is bigger than anything we’ve ever done. With its intense action, deep customization and raw emotional power, Mass Effect 3 will deliver a spectacular action RPG experience to fans of the series and newcomers alike.”
Players who want to try the co-op mode will be able to do so on Feb. 17, or by qualifying for early access to the co-op portion of the demo as of Feb. 14. Early access is available if you have activated a Battlefield 3 online pass. However, Bioware says "other opportunities" will be announced "in the near future" at its Website, www.masseffect.com.
Mass Effect 3 hits stores on March 6 in North America for the 360, PS3 and PC, while Europe gets access on March 9.
For more information on Mass Effect 3, please visit masseffect.com, twitter.com/masseffect or "like" the game on Facebook at facebook.com/masseffect.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

360, PS3 gamers can now try out EA's latest tennis title

The EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 demo is now available for 360 and PS3 users to check out via their online services.
According to EA, GST2 will feature a new racquet control system that allows you to control every shot with the right analog stick, including smashing forehands, backhands, overheads and volleys with precision, accuracy and power.
The game supports Sony's Move motion-control system. No word on Kinect functionality in the press release.
GST2 features 20 court legends from the current era, as well as past stars, including the likes of Federer, Nadal, Borg, McEnroe and the Williams sisters.
The full game will hit Canada and the U.S. on Feb. 14, while everyone else will be able to serve it up four days earlier, on the 10th.
The game's being developed by EA Canada in Vancouver.
For more, see www.easports.com.

007 coming to Blu-ray

I love my Blu-ray DVDs and following in the footsteps of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, everyone's favourite spy with the licence to kill is now headed to glorious high-def later this year. 
Bond 50, a box-set featuring all 22 James Bond films on Blu-ray, features more than 130 hours of bonus features. 
And with Daniel Craig now lensing the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall, which is slated to hit theatres next fall, this promises to be a great way to prep for that flick. 
No word yet on a release date or a price. I don't know about you, but I paid $70 for six Star Wars Blu-rays, $70 for three LOTR Blu-rays and Future Shop is selling the eight Harry Potter Blu-ray set for $110. So, I'm assuming 22 Bond flicks are gonna be a little on the pricey side. Stay tuned ...
For more, visit www.mgm.com.

Dark Knight getting Lego-fied a second time

When you sell 11 million copies of a video game, a sequel is pretty much a given. So it's no surprise the Dark Knight will be returning to gaming consoles and handhelds this summer. 
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes will ship for the 360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS, 3DS and PlayStation Vita.
Joining Batman and Robin this time around will be Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, while the baddies are headlined by Lex Luthor and the Joker.
“Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes builds upon the action and cooperative gameplay experience established in our best-selling Lego video game to date, Lego Batman: The Videogame,” Tom Stone, the managing director for development studio TT Games, said in a press release..
 “We’re offering fans a rich and expansive Gotham City environment filled with cool characters, great customization options and plenty of surprises that families, young gamers and DC Universe fans can enjoy together.”
Look for returning and new vehicles, weapons and suits that allow you to tap into characters' unique special abilities. 

WB moves Gotham City Impostors to February

Fans of the Dark Knight and Joker will have to wait a bit longer to tap into Warner Bros. Interactive's new downloadable game Gotham City Impostors, which has been pushed back into February.
The game is a downloadable-only first person shooter where up to 12 players will blast away at one another in Gotham City. These Impostors were inspired by Batman and the Joker.
According to WB, you'll be able to customize your own version of the Dark Knight or the Joker, including costumes, gadgets and weapons.
It will be available for the 360, PS3 and PC.