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After years of jokes and bad puns Duke Nukem Forever in development’  is finally going to see the dust of a shelf – hopefully not too much dust.   As one of the first graphically – for the time – violent games in the mid-90’s Duke Nukem 3D helped create a staple for both first person shooter gameplay and video game controversy.  There has been a cornucopia of violent and sexual video games since the early 90’s, many of which raised standards for gameplay and storytelling.  The question remains – do we really care about Duke Nukem Forever after over 10 years of waiting?  More importantly, will the game make a dent in a market dominated by violent first person shooters and violent games in general?

Id software is recognized as the father or first person shooters.  Its release of Wolfenstein 3D – a first person shooter in which you are tasked to invade a Nazi stronghold with the goal of killing Hitler and his goons – was controversial in its graphic depiction of killing and praised for its original gameplay.  Id software’s followup title Doom added better graphics and set the stage on a demon infested mars.  The game was lauded by the gaming community and became hugely successful despite being labeled by some as a ‘murder simulator’

3Drealms, the former developer of Duke Nukem Forever, rode their way into the annals of video game history through their release of Duke Nukem 3D.   In respect to early first person shooters DN3D very much emulated Doom, which had become a very successful formula for future fps games.  The caveat of the game was its protagonist Duke, a homage and amalgam of 80’s action movie stars complete with big biceps and cheesy one liners.  The controversy surrounded the fact that you could kill women and ‘pig headed’ cops.  In defense of the game the women only came in two varieties – strippers and mutated damsels begging to be put out of their misery.  The pig cops were clearly mad with power and warped by aliens.   One could look at it as duke providing a service to society – which, considering the general premise of aliens invading earth, was the developers point.  It was not until Grand Theft Auto (1997) that players could kill real police officers.

The Grand Theft Auto series (GTA) is different from early first person shooters in the respect that it is in third person.  The first two games were two dimensional with an over-head perspective.  They featured violence set in a modern city albeit with less detail than Doom or DN3D.  The game’s premise involved stealing cars and doing jobs for the mafia.  The game’s lesser known contemporary, Postal, was released around the same time for PC’s and featured much more detailed depictions of murder and violence.  Due to its relatively non-existent marketing and exclusivity to PC’s, the game did not make a large impact on the gaming community – both commercially and controversially.  In 2001 Rockstar Games, the developer of the GTA series, released what is perhaps one of the greatest innovations in gaming during the new millennium: GTA 3.  Many modern open-world action games owe allot of their formula to this ground breaking third person shooter.  Equally important is its impact on the public perception on video game violence, with parents and politicians rising up in arms over the graphic depictions of murder and other crimes.

In the realm of first person shooters, controversy begins to slowly erode as popular games such as halo and half life begin to incorporate more story and cinematic elements separating themselves from criminal simulators.  WWII becomes a popular theme for shooters, offering gamers a chance to experience the feeling of being a solider in times of war.  As a whole the first person shooter industry begins to see more acceptance from the general public, if not a bit cliche and overused.

By the year 2008 even the venerable GTA franchise has begun to mature.  The latest game in the series, GTA IV, has a very well written story and provides the player with moral choices.  Bioshock – a game by Irrational software  released in 2007- set a standard for story telling and the juxtaposition of moral choices.  Even Disney have take cue from this change in the industry;   their soon to be released Epic Mickey will  incorporate the ability (in fact necessity ) to choose between right and wrong.  We have to wonder:  what will a long awaited game like Duke Nukem Forever bring to the table?  If stripped of its controversial status will the gameplay hold through in the modern era of video games or will it simply be a trip down memory lane, played for nostalgia and then placed on the shelf next to its nearly 15 year old predecessor?  I’d like to think to the contrary as 10 years in development should have been ample time to craft something worth my $60. Maybe a Clockwork orange adaptation could get some concerned citizens back in arms – then again a little video game ultra-violence never really hurt anyone.

Before I go into any real detail about this movie I must say that at times it took me out of my comfort zone, particularly at the beginning, yet somehow kept me laughing and engaged throughout.  The film’s premise – a married lesbian couple dealing with their children building a relationship with their sperm donor father – is not one that I have encountered before.  There is a certain amount of sexuality in the film but surprisingly not from the parents themselves, but from a copious amount of gay (as in male) porn being watched by the various characters.  These very moments were very cringe worthy yet quite funny. Underlying the sometimes subtle humor lies a touching drama exploring the many facets of child-rearing and relationships amongst both homosexual and straight people.  As much as director Lisa Cholodenko tries to paint an accurate picture of this ‘modern family’, what the viewer will take away will ultimately depend on their feeling towards the characters; and as much as we would want to feel good about the family by the end of the journey, there are some things that may hold some viewers back.

A lesbian married couple, Jules (played by Juliane Moore) and Nic (Annete Bennning) are seemingly successful at raising their two teenage children (Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska) , until one day their world gets turned upside down: The children want to meet their biological father. This is comically misinterpreted by Nic as signs of her son’s budding homoerotic desires for his sociopath best friend.    Played by Mark Rufallo, the laid back, down to earth father meets his biological  children and becomes the family’s third wheel, so to speak.

The parents have a hard time to assimilate to this new change and begin to feel that they are loosing influence with their children. After a not-quite-so-shocking plot twist, the family is torn apart and the Nic and Jules try to piece their family together before their daughter heads off to college.  Unfortunately things don’t go to well for their biological dad who gets left in the dust, his new-found importance shot to pieces.

I certainly emphasized with the lesbian couple and their marital troubles and their children’s growing pains; yet I couldn’t help but feel for Mark Ruffalo’s character and his predicament by the end.  Partially because of Rufallos’ excellent performance and partially because of my own experience of re-kindling a relationship with an estranged father. Jules’ seemingly irrational xenophobia half way through the movie also lends a hand to having somewhat less sympathy for, marital and child rearing  issues aside, is a well-off ‘normal’ family.  Which brings me back to an earlier point: family is a very touchy subject, even more so when it involves such a new – at least in film – concept of homosexual parents raising children. The film is certainly a step in the right direction.

Being a  drama/comedy, the humor is done well enough for most people to find entertaining and sometimes chuckle. The drama is at times  profound although not entirely poignant, at least not in the way of the usual family dramas – for better or for worse. This is definitely meant to be a feel good flick and to that end the film makers certainly have mostly gotten it down.  That said, I can’t help but feeling that film takes a conservative stance on it’s subject matter in order to justify the comedy and portray a positive image of how normal homosexual families are.  While the viewer is ultimately left to decide if the kids (and parents) are really all right: this reviewer feels that the movie certainly is.


What do aliens, Nazi’s, and adrenaline pumped soldiers have in common?  They were all prominently featured as Best Picture nominees at last year’s 82nd annual Academy Awards.  Sure there were other types of films, some good, others great.  Yet the sci-fi/action films nominated truly broke the norm for the Academy to nominate mainly dramas – some with action thrown in here and there but dramas none the less.  Blue screen alien flicks and action war films, (note I say War/drama, Ala Saving Private Ryan) while great on their own merits, seem to be included for/because of sales and ratings.  James Cameron’s own Terminator 2, groundbreaking in the cinematography and special effects departments in its time whilst being successful at the box office and with critics, did not receive the best picture nomination.  Times are clearly changing.

This trend of more nominees must = more viewers/money continues this year with 10best picture nominees, up from last year’s nine.  The nominees this year include:  True Grit, Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Social Network, InceptionThe The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, Kids Are All Right.

Strangely missing from this hodgepodge of varying genre’s is Ben Afleck’s Directorial magnum opus The Town; a picture that might not have been nominated 10 years ago, The Town has a higher aggregate rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and special effects aside is believed by this writer to be the superior movie both from an acting and thematic perspectives.  The Social Network and The King’s speech are both excellent films and fit the typical academy winner archetypes.  At least Toy Story stands a chance at becoming the first animated feature to win best picture – and as the best reviewed film of the year it probably deserves to -although a cartoon being the best would likely be too much for the Academy to swallow. This year’s nominees are better than last year’s yet the idea if ratings/sales as the driving point behind the awards over-looms the awards show non the less.  There is a plethora of other categories at the awards yet the best picture Oscar essentially defines the direction the the Awards ceremony gears towards.

My prediction is that True Grit will most likely take the honors with The King’s Speech coming in as a close second.  The Coen brothers’ newest film features not only outstanding performances by Jeff Bridges and Mat Damon, but a very memorable breakthrough performance by Hailee Steinfeld; not to mention all the wonderful cinematography and writing.  The 83rd annual Academy awards should be a good even and worth tuning into – even if many of the nominees are there just for you to do exactly that.

Film Review: Blue Valentine

If you have ever seen  The Notebook (2004) on your own free will or otherwise,  found it cliche ridden, unrealistic, and downright vapid; and wished for something more down to earth, Blue Valentine might be your romance to see in 2011.  Then again, if mundane melodrama is not your cup of tea, then this portrayal of a realistic, albeit failing romance might effectively bore you to wishing for the same cliches that you thought you were escaping by going to see this movie.  In other words: be careful of what you wish for.

Blue Valentine is David Cianfrance’s second feature film and his first to be widely released in theaters.  A film that has spent several years on the drafting board, Blue Valentine explores the realities of romance, parenthood, and how sometimes they don’t mix well.  The Notebook favorite Ryan Gosling joins Michelle Williams of Dawson’s Creek and Broke Back Mountain fame.  Take Gosling’s Notebook character, put him in an urban modern day environment, add in a bottle of Jack Daniels and top it off with a few four letter profanities and you’ve effectively got Dean, a husband in a failing marriage.  Michelle Williams’ character and other half of the film’s couple, Cindy, is not quite original and yet more than meets the eye.  The two are in a marital quagmire and are in a relationship held together by their seeming desire to provide a happy life for their young daughter.  Realism is the motif of Blue Valentine, and rather than give us a stylized star studded portrayal of a failing marriage – Ala Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road – Cianfrance takes us to places we might find familiar and with people we could very well know.  Gosling and Williams portray these roles admirably and naturally, almost to the point of one feeling like they have heard it before, not in a movie but perhaps from the neighbors across the street.  This is both the high and low point for Blue Valentine; the characters seem to real and mundane, the issues as old as relationships.  The film takes the viewer back and forth between flashbacks of the young couple first meeting and beginning their relationship and their unhappy lives in the present.  Gosling’s attempt to rekindle the terms of endearment between the couple is sad indeed, a scene particularly noteworthy for its acting, yet one that makes you cringe at the same time.  Rewind to the past and we  see Gosling serenade Michelle Williams with a Ukulele and an exaggerated – yet quite good – voice, a scene not unlike one found in The Notebook.  These scenes overlap each other, constantly see-sawing your feelings from happy to sad.  As a drama it is a great portrayal of what might be happening to you or your down the street neighbors, as a “love story” (poster slogan) this movie will certainly not put you in a happy place, not for long at least.

It truly great mainstream feature for Director Cianfrance, with great portrayals by Gosling and Williams that will surely get nominated for a few awards.  Both of these actors have developed their craft beginning from a young age and neither disappoints here.   The trouble comes with the viewer.  This movie is not for everyone.  Certainly everyone can view it and appreciate/understand it and perhaps even relate to it.  The problem is not everyone wants to appreciate a story about a failing marriage between two very mundane people, myself included.  While it certainly has substance it does lack some style found in bigger budget romance/drama’s, that may not be a deterrent for some, but coupled with the subject matter it could be a deal breaker. I would probably not recommend anyone on a date to see this film lest you want to find yourself trying to awkwardly piece together the rest of the evening -Indie-drama nuts need not apply.  If you are looking for a film with great down to earth performances then this film is worth a look.