Sep 26 2016

Do we really need an Exorcist TV series?

Adel Gabot

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11:04AM

Catching up on my TV backlog, I just watched the series premiere of The Exorcist.

Now, I’m the biggest fan of William Friedkin’s original 1973 movie. I was only 11 when it was first released, yet I insisted on watching it at the earliest possible opportunity, and I haven’t looked back since. It aged well and bears repeated viewings up to today, 43 years later, and still holds up and gives me the same horrified fascination it had when I first watched it all those years ago. The hype was well deserved.

Later, I caught The Exorcist II and was sorely disappointed by it, so much so I didn’t bother to watch The Exorcist III when it came out. But in a lazy moment one afternoon a couple of years later, I picked up the DVD of III on a whim, watched it and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Astounded, actually. Much much better than the second, it remains a favorite. Can’t say the same for the succeeding retreads though.

Which brings me to the 2016 TV series follow-up. Seriously, do we really need another rehash/retread/remake/do-over?

Well, apparently we do.

Like The Exorcist III, I was pleasantly surprised by the series, at least with the premiere. I was fully expecting to be disappointed and found that, despite my jaded self, I grudgingly… liked it. I hope it keeps it up.

I found it professionally done, with just the right gravitas and seriousness that an update like this deserves. And it has just the extra added grit and horror that makes this one to watch. The old saw about the young priest Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera) feeling serious doubts about his calling and the older, rebellious old veteran Father Marcus (Ben Daniels) is there, but there is enough new stuff in it to make it worth your weekly hour.

Father Tomas’s help is sought by a successful mother-who-owns-her-own business (Geena Davis, who has aged rather gracefully) when she suspects something’s amiss with one of their two daughters (Brianne Howey). In turn, Father Tomas seeks the help of Father Marcus, whom he doesn’t know but he’s been having nightmares about, which makes a nice flashback device wherein we explore Marcus’s history as an exorcist.

Great cinematography, excellent acting, well paced, it’s The Exorcist for a more modern time. Not that the original movie really needed the update, mind you.

In a nice twist towards the end (which I should have seen coming but didn’t) it’s revealed that it’s actually the other daughter, the seemingly nice and normal one (Hannah Kasulka) who’s the actual possess-ee, and not the odd and sulky one, who’s apparently just naturally weird.

There is also one nice nod to the series lineage—Father Tomas is leafing through case files of previous exorcisms and comes across an article referring to the original Regan McNeil case in Georgetown. Brief, but it’s there.

Yes, this looks pretty promising. One to watch out for every week. Fingers crossed.

 

 

 


Sep 21 2016

Overwatch: A much-delayed short review

Adel Gabot

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6:06AM

It’s been over a week since I bought a store copy of the full Overwatch game for my PS4, and so far I’m having a blast. What took me so long?

In that week, I tried to get my rank up to 25, the level which opens up competitive multiplay, but I’ve only gotten it up to Level 23. Man, it’s tough playing against people who have a four-month head start; I’m envious of those who are in the 80s or 90s. But I’m getting there.

It’s been over a week since Blizzard opened up the game to players for free for an entire weekend to players not yet won over to the shoot-’em-up. It worked, at least on me.

I had been resisting it since it was released late last May, (correctly) assuming it was just another in a long, tired tradition of First Person Shooters like the Call of Duty or the Battlefield series. But somehow they’ve injected new life into the FPS genre, and there’s something about it I can’t resist.

Blizzard has had a stellar record of releasing wonderful MMORPGs, and with Overwatch it branched out into FPSes for the first time and apparently (although I didn’t think so at the time) it’s come up with another hit again.

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There’s something about the clean, bright graphics, the stellar, arresting gameplay, varied, interesting maps and the smooth animation. More importantly, Blizzard has managed to create a roster of 22 unique characters with different and distinct personalites and abilities that makes playing each one a pleasure and gives longevity to the game. There are six each in offense and defense modes, and five each in tank and support roles.

I quickly settled on a favorite, the robot Bastion, who can convert from a rampaging blaster-equipped fighter to an immovable, formidable turret with a gatling gun. I made it a practice to scope out the maps and find distinct, unassailable positions where I can settle down with my back to a wall and open up on my enemies from a distance.

After a few days though, I tried out the other characters and found each of them very capable and useful each in their own way. Some of them, like Mercy, are strictly for support and have limited assault capabilities, but can heal and make teammates temporarily invincible. (Another one of them, ice queen Mei, looks uncannily like a friend of mine named Stef, which makes her interesting to play.)

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One niggle though is the long wait times to get on a game: some days it takes less than a minute for the program to find an online game for you to play on, but on other days it can take up to 30 minutes to almost an hour before they locate a game for you. And there are instances when you’re “reinstanced” (which I don’t really understand) and thrown out in the middle or towards the end of a game and are put back on the game queue. Eh?

And I’ve noticed a pattern in playing too. If you play a game, the next one starts the pre-game process and says its “waiting for other players,” but (almost always) bumps you back out to the game queue to wait again. It’s damned irritating, but what can you do?

This isn’t really a comprehensive look at the game, and there’s more to the game than this kinda-sorta review indicates, but I’m just giving you my initial impressions. And those impressions are largely favorable, at least for now.

We’ll see.


Sep 14 2016

Train To Busan

Adel Gabot

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6:35AM

Curious film. Korean movies aren’t usually known for their apocalyptic zombie epics, and are more popular for their esoteric, mysterious little ghost stories when talking about supernatural films. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a zombie holocaust movie from Korea.

Yet here we are.

Train To Busan (Busanhaeng in the original Korean) is kind of a combination of the American Dawn of The Dead (the remake, not the original) and their own Snowpiercer (by director Bong Joon-Ho). It’s the story of a father and daughter who are traveling by bullet train to Busan when the zombie epidemic hits, and how they try to survive until they get to their destination, a city (they think) has survived the catastrophe.

Director Yeon Sang-Ho crafts a compelling and absorbing thriller that, when it finally grabs you by the balls (around the 20th minute mark), refuses to let go until the spectacular denoeument. His particular brand of zombie is the fast-sprinting, spry Zack Snyder-type, and not at all like the slow-moving and lumbering George Romeros. In fact, they’re so agile they achieve a sort of cartoony, Looney Tunes type quality, and you’d laugh if they weren’t so horrible.

Along the way you meet the usual survivor archetypes: the wiseass-but-kind-hearted husband and his pregnant wife, the hobo with a heart of gold, the lovey-dovey pair of teenagers, the evil train executive who’ll do anything to survive, a pair of affectionate old spinster sisters and a host of other hapless characters. Hapless, because, as most Korean movies go, most of these characters are going to meet a grisly end. No surprise there.

How the zombie infection spreads is kind of surprising—it’s damned fast. Just one bite, and it takes just a minute or two before you start convulsing and eventually turn. Or you even don’t have to get bitten; in the opening scene, a truck driver runs down a deer on a deserted road, and a minute later the animal gets up, a deer zombie.

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Gong Yoo plays the young fund manager father who often neglects his kind, sad little daughter, played by Kim Suh-ahn (who are both excellent, by the way), but on her birthday they at least travel so she can see her mother, his estranged ex-wife, in Busan. Unfortunately, the girl’s birthday is also the beginning of the end and the shit hits the fan, so to speak.

Train To Busan takes us on a quiet morning trip that ends up becoming a one way journey to hell. A lot of the movie is running back and forth along the cars, trying to avoid the infected, rabid passengers, and the few terribly unreasonable and paranoid people left behind. Part of it occurs in train stations where they try to stop to see what’s going on, to disastrous results.

The movie goes from set piece to escalating set piece, just leaving little breathers in between that also act as excellent character development scenes, so there’s hardly any wasted screentime. The editing and cinematography are excellent, and the action doesn’t let up either, and for that it’s really a pretty good thriller.

As usual, I’m not going to give any more details other than the wide brush strokes of the plot so as not to spoil it for you in case you plan to see it. All I can say is, this is a very good sign Koreans should make more movies like this. And their trains have wonderfully durable doors.

Four out of five stars.


Aug 18 2016

Here I go again…

Adel Gabot

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9:27AM

Here I am again with another of my “retro” games.

After The Witcher III: Wild Hunt comes… Fallout 4.

I guess there’s no real good time to get them other than when they first come out, so I shouldn’t knock myself out, really. It’s just that I sort made a stand not buying these games when they came out, and here am I, buying them anyway, months after they do and after all the hype has died down.

Retro games indeed.

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Aside from being horribly late to the party, I tend to look like that old grumpy uncle who’s says the new-fangled thing you just bought’s a good-for-nothing gadget, yet buys one for himself months later, when nobody’s looking, and thoroughly enjoys himself in private.

Sure, that’s me. The grumpy old uncle.

I bought a second hand copy yesterday, for cheap, just like The Witcher, and I’ve been playing it incessantly ever since, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Granted, I’ve never really played any of the previous games in the series, at least to the end, and I’m basically coming into this cold.

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Fallout 4 is the story of a guy who lives in a nice, benevolently atomic-powered world whose benevolence has apparently reached an end, and war erupts. Our hero and his family retreat to a bomb shelter, where they are put in cryogenic stasis for years. Meanwhile, things go further awry. His wife is killed and his son kidnapped, while the shelter goes belly-up and the world generally falls apart. It’s now up to him to save his son, and he goes out and tries to do that.

It’s a good game, but the controls are a bit crude and clunky, compared to Destiny and The Division. I still have far to go, but at the moment I’m enjoying myself shaking out the neighborhoods and the environs. Will report back if I find anything interesting.


Aug 11 2016

Erased

Adel Gabot

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3:06PM

I just binged-finished the 12 episodes of Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi (also known by its shorter translated title of Erased), a limited series anime.

This anime was helpfully recommended by my friend @jalbacite, and it’s a very interesting time-travel story of family realtionships, childhood friendship, child abuse, grade-school life and murder.

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It’s the story of a 29-year-old manga writer named Satoru Fujinuma, who has trouble opening up and expressing himself to people. He also has this curious, supernatural ability he calls Revival, where he goes back in time by a few minutes, usually before something bad happens, which he can try and prevent from occurring if he can. But it’s a seemingly random and unpredictable ability, and he has no control over it; it just happens.

One day, after his mother is mysteriously and brutally murdered and he’s accused of killing her, he’s suddenly taken back in time to when he was in fifth grade, and this time he stays there for weeks to help prevent and solve a series of child abductions and murders— as a 29-year-old in the body of a 10-year-old b0y.

Along the way, he relives his time with his friends and family. With an adult, mature, grown-up mind in a boy’s body, he tries to solve the mystery, save the victims and repair their familial relationships this time around (with the help of his friends, of course).

The storyline frequently goes back to the present time and is interconnected by many threads and plotlines that overlap and interweave that you sometimes have trouble keeping it all in your head. Well, that’s the gist anyway; the story is a bit more complicated, as anime usually is, but I won’t go into the specifics anymore.

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It has some soap-opera elements, but thankfully not too much of them. You get the grade-school dynamics of life in the schoolyard, and the complicated relationships between kids and their parents and teachers, coupled with a exciting detective story spread out over a dozen episodes.

Erased is an exciting, intriguing anime, and I’m looking forward to watching more.