Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mechwarrior Online Announced

Great news! It’s been years since last we played a decent Mechwarrior game. But, Piranha has just announced that they’re making an online Mechwarrior game. And unlike the Xbox Mechassault games, this is supposed to be an actual sim (to offer slower-paced, more ‘realistic’ mech-combat).

After two years of near-total silence about the fate of the MechWarrior reboot, Piranha Games has announced MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play, team-based multiplayer BattleMech sim that’ll go live in the second half of 2012. Starting from just before the Clan Invasion of 3050, MWO will tell the story of the Battletech universe in real-time. Each day, players will do battle on behalf of the universe’s major factions, and each day in the game will represent a single day’s action in the fictional Inner Sphere.

MechWarrior Online (MWO) might be free-to-play, but MWO Creative Director Bryan Ekman and Piranha President Russ Bullock insist this is going to be a proper MechWarrior game in the tradition of MechWarrior 2 through 4, not a successor to the Xbox action game Mech Assault. Ekman says joystick support is a strong probability, and both call this a Mech sim.

“I think it’s really the MechWarrior you know,” Bullock says. “It’s fully first-person. It’s not a new interpretation. We’re modernizing things a little bit, I think we’ll get to those questions, but certainly it’s MechWarrior.” (source).

Rumors of it being free-to-play are also interesting. It seems bigger and bigger budget games are opting to go this route, though at this point, Piranha is probably undecided on the matter. Still, a true Mechwarrior game with a strong online component that allows for character and experience building is promising, to say the least.

Mechwarrior Online by Piranha

Random Movie Round Up #3: Blue Valentine

Happy Halloween everyone! Probably should have gone with a horror-film… oh well.

Blue Valentine

It took Derek Cianfrance nearly twelve years to finally make Blue Valentine. As a twenty-year-old, Cianfrance watched his parents divorce, this was such a painful experience he felt he should make a film about it. Naturally, it would be a very personal project, and as projects go, the personal ones are hard to get made. Especially as this one probably wouldn’t have a happy ending. After his 1998 debut, Brother Tied, Cianfrance would spend the next decade doing documentaries and refining the script for Blue Valentine, which went through about 66 iterations. Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were involved from an early point in development, but the actual production kept being delayed due to financial woes. When the moment finally came to make the film, it almost didn’t happen because Williams now (no longer 21 years old) had a child to care for, which meant she could not commit to thirty days of shooting. However, Cianfrance managed to convince her by picking a spot close to Williams’ home and driving her to and from the shoot every day. It’s a good thing Cianfrance has such a close and historied working relationship with Gosling and Williams: you’d probably have a hard time creating the required intimacy to portray this kind of subject matter without knowing your actors so well. Coincidentally, the length of time the crew spent thinking about the film, allowed the pain it conveys to ripen like a fine wine. At times, it’s almost too much to bear.

Blue Valentine tells the story of two lovers, Dean and Cindy (played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams). As with a film like Drive, there isn’t much in the way of a plot. It’s just moments of life on film, except where Hitchcock loses the dull bits, Cianfrance cuts everything that doesn’t make you wince. We see Dean and Cindy at two moments in time, both during their courtship and in the twilight of their marriage (which comes apart over the course of a gloomy weekend). By juxtaposing these two periods in their relationship, even the happier moments have something desperate cast over them. It’s similar to what happens in Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). In Eternal Sunshine, the characters erase part of their memory to deal with the pain of separation. Jim Carrey’s subconscious fights to remember his love among (literally) collapsing memories. It’s all the more beautiful because you know it’s a lost cause. As I’ve said, Cianfrance does something similar, but instead of resorting to sci-fi devices, Blue Valentine uses a method that’s (nearly) as old as cinema: inter-cutting scenes (editing together scenes from different moments in time or space).

What is, perhaps, the most striking example of this practice, occurs at the end of the film. Images of a hasty (though happy?) wedding are combined with the final moments of marriage. With the words ‘you may now kiss the bride’ still ringing in your ears, you see Dean biting back, I swear, real tears as he asks whether their daughter should grow up in a broken home. Using the last weapon a man has at his disposal, he half forces Cindy to embrace him. Usually that sort of thing does the trick (for a while), but you can tell it’s all over when Cindy merely allows it, shaking angrily in the mean time. It’s devastating.

Maybe it’s because I’m a man (and some of this struck close to home), but I found myself to be sympathizing with Dean’s cause a lot more. Sure, he drank a little, smoked some more and didn’t seem to have much in the way of ambition. But Dean isn’t a bad guy, all he wanted was some affection. And at least he wasn’t being a cold-hearted bitch about it. I’m sure someone out there must have a different opinion, so what say you: Dean or Cindy?

Blue Valentine

Random Movie Round Up #2: Fire in the Sky

I stumbled upon this film while browsing an interesting forum topic on disturbing movie scenes. Fire in the Sky (1993) tells the story of a group of Arizona loggers that return to town one day, claiming their friend has been abducted by aliens. The film is based on Travis Walton’s book: The Walton Experience (1978). Of course, the actual abduction can’t be confirmed, but Travis really went missing for a period of five days in 1975, during which no trace of him could be found in spite of extensive police searches. Travis reappeared at a gas station somewhere, thinking only a few hours had elapsed. Combined with the eyewitness accounts from his colleagues of an actual UFO, the story quickly gained international attention and continues to be fairly controversial. Sadly, the film seems to focus primarily on the town’s (understandable) skepticism. While it’s fun to see Robert Patrick go up against suspicions of homicide as a small town guy of simple means (instead of his usual outing as the mimetic-poly-alloyed-menace), I would have preferred to see more of Walton’s abduction. Walton escapes from an organic kind of prison cell that obviously inspired Neo’s escape in the original Matrix (1999) film. Except, where Neo wakes up to the entertaining kind of kung-fu lessons and fancy sun glasses, Walton enters a world of nightmares and gets a needle in the eye. It’s great, and very inspired (visually), but Fire in the Sky needed more of that, instead of Robert Patrick’s adventures in the town Church.

Fire in the Sky 1993

Review: Melancholia

Danish director Lars von Trier started making waves when he drafted the ‘Dogme 95′ manifesto in forty-five minutes with his friend and fellow film maker, Thomas Vinterberg. The manifesto consisted of a number of rules a film should adhere to if it wants to be a ‘Dogme’ film. For instance: artificial light, special effects and non-diegetic music (music that doesn’t originate from inside the film ‘world’) are prohibited. Through these rules, Vinterberg and Von Trier aimed to create a more natural sort of film making,  but the approach proved untenable even for its founding members. Vinterberg said he was ‘guilty’ of covering a window in Festen (1998), which created unnatural lighting. A grievous transgression, I’m sure you will all agree. Nevertheless, the idea of Dogme is incredibly pervasive in Festen, Breaking the Waves (1996), and in Von Trier’s new film, Melancholia (2011). Even though Von Trier deviates even more from the rules he once established. But, how else would you make a film about the end of world? You simply require a small degree of theatrics.

 

And that is what you get. At least, in the opening and closing moments of the film. Melancholia starts with a series of extreme slow motion shots that give the impression of moving paintings. These introduce a number of the themes, characters, their relationships and problems. Though the futility of it all becomes clear quickly as Melancholia (the eponymous planet on the move) slams into Earth to bring an end to all the misery. It is set to the soothing tones of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (the prelude if I’m not mistaken), which makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up even though the film has barely started. Once we understand that everything is coming to an end, we’re introduced to the film’s first sister, Justine (Kirsten Dunst).

Melancholia is divided into two chapters, one for each sister. In the first chapter we’re witness to Justine’s wedding and much like the bizarre family get together in Festen, it’s a complete disaster. In what seems an attempt to please her family, a deeply depressed Justine agrees to an extravagant wedding that her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), organized for her at a striking estate (very reminiscent of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad). But Justine can’t help but slip deeper into depression. Her sister urges her to smile and asks her if the wedding ‘wasn’t what she wanted’. Meanwhile, the groom (Alexander Skarsgard), clumsily refers to her condition as ‘feeling a bit sad’. Which is well off the mark, but typical for most people’s understanding of the clinically depressed. As the wedding drags on, Melancholia approaches and Justine lets go.

It’s unclear how much time passes between the two chapters. Claire moves her sister to the estate to better care for her. It doesn’t take long for that balance to shift, however. No one turns on the television, but bits of scattered dialogue inform the viewer of Melancholia’s ‘flyby’ of Earth. John (Claire’s husband, played by Kiefer Sutherland) is among those convinced it will pass by harmlessly. Once it becomes clear that it will not, the sisters find themselves abandoned. As Claire becomes more and more hysteric, it is she who turns to Justine for support. Except, Justine embraces what is to come. That’s made abundantly clear when she disrobes and basks in the reflected light of Melancholia, letting herself be loved by the coming apocalypse. She’s as alien as the approaching planet. In scenes like these, Von Trier achieves a dream-like quality through the odd lighting and weather anomalies that are caused by Melancholia. This is hightened enormously by the sister’s isolation in what is already a very surreal setting. The result is a very unique visual style that creates a thoroughly unnerving atmosphere.

In that sense, Melancholia is the polar opposite of a film like Last Night (1998). In that film the world is also about to end, but it is widely talked about on radio and the film documents everyone’s way of saying goodbye. And, where the characters in Last Night embrace life at the very last second, Claire dies crying while Justine is glad to see it all go. In an interview taken at Cannes, Dunst said: ‘the end of the world solves at lot of problems.’ It’s a nihilist attitude, maybe, yet that also makes it oddly beautiful to see the end. I think it’s hard to say whether this is the right way to look at Melancholia, but it’s even harder to see it as life-affirming.