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The Internet is abuzz over growing speculation that “Mad Men” actor and male charm Jon Hamm may land the role of Clark Kent/Superman for Christopher Nolan’s take on the Kyptonian hero scheduled for a December 2012 release.  You know a rumor has finally made it when it appears on Regis and Kelly.  A few weeks ago, Jon Hamm was asked about the Superman-talk and claimed to know nothing of it, though he encouraged the “powers that be” to contact him to discuss it.   He took a more comedic position on the possibility later with Jimmy Fallon.  On the talk show, Hamm was asked again about the rumor and suggested his age might take him out of the running.  However, contrary to what some netizens are sprouting, Hamm never suggested he would not want to play the famous comic book hero.

Ever since the TMT in late July reported that WB/DC were looking at Jon Hamm with “serious” consideration, the actor’s name has remained atop much of the comic community’s debates.  While other names such as Matthew Fox and Jim Caviezel have made the rounds, it is Hamm’s name that continues to bring the most commotion.  The BIG question is whether WB/DC would risk their Superman franchise on an older actor, especially one who would hit the 40-mark during production and shooting.

The question is certainly a legitimate one.  Hollywood prefers to cast younger guns, sometimes to the point of absurdity.  Those who witnessed the debacle of Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” will recall that the Man of Steel in that film had a five-year old child with Lois Lane.  The problem however was that Superman was played by then 24 year-old Brandon Routh and Lois Lane by then 22 year-old Kate Bosworth.  Needless to say, the scenario was unconvincing, and no, neither actor looked older than their respective years.

“Superman Returns” opened in 2006 and failed to meet the WB’s expectations.  Four years later, the seemingly infallible director Christopher Nolan has been given the production chair to revive Superman on the big screen.  Nolan and his screenwriting team of David Goyer and younger brother Jonah Nolan have remained tight-lipped about their interesting take on the Man of Steel.  That doesn’t mean Nolan has said nothing, however.  The director of “Dark Knight Returns” and “Inception” said his Superman movie will feature an established Man of Steel, meaning it won’t be an origin story like “Batman Begins”.  That said, many netizens feel the failure of “Superman Returns” automatically label this film as a “reboot” of sorts, and that Nolan very likely will need to use flashbacks to retell some of the origin.

Nolan also said that his Superman story is not being planned with any sequels in mind, and that he is only interested in pushing this film because he and his team have a unique story to tell.  On the surface, this may sound like typical commercial PR; after all, few directors would ever admit they want to do sequels before even getting one movie done.  But this is Christopher Nolan and his track record clearly shows he is a creative that cares for story-telling only when the story is worth telling.  While commercial success has followed Nolan, his movies have not always been blockbuster smashes.  On the other hand, they have consistently been welcomed by critics and independent movie-lovers alike.  In other words, Nolan is probably really looking at “Man of Steel” as a one-shot film.

The WB/DC are probably in agreement.  That is because the circumstances surrounding “Man of Steel” are incredibly unusual, even for a Superman film.  The main problem confronting WB/DC is that the studio’s control of the Superman license will expire in 2013.  All rights and use of the Superman character, along with mainstays such as Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and the Daily Planet, will revert to the Shuster Estate (Joe Shuster and friend Jerry Siegel created Superman back in 1938).  How and when the Superman “custody” dispute will be resolved is a complicated matter.  Put simply, there is no telling when the WB/DC will get the necessary rights back.  Given the copyright dispute has gone on for many, many years, there are bound to be bitter feelings between the parties.  And since the Shuster Estate isn’t pining for cash, it very well could opt to sit on the license until the WB/DC pay out.  The Estate could also decide to auction the rights to a competitor such as Walt Disney/Marvel.  The latter scenario is highly unlikely due to the WB/DC owning significant derivative rights.  Still, highly unlikely isn’t tantamount to impossible.

What does the pending legal fight mean for Superman?  First and foremost, it means Nolan’s “Man of Steel” is almost assuredly a one-shot film and that the WB/DC are planning it that way.  There’s just no telling when any resolution will be done, and that means any sequel to Nolan’s Superman film could be impeded for years.  Even Hollywood is smart enough to know sequels further than two or three years out are incredibly risky.  Much safer for the WB/DC to treat Nolan’s Superman as a one-shot film and plan on launching a reboot after the company takes care of the licensing dispute.

So if sequel-talk isn’t really in the WB/DC’s plan for Superman, why exactly is age an issue?  Well, it isn’t.

Jon Hamm is just as likely a candidate for Superman as any other male lead.  Scratch that;  Hamm is probably the strongest candidate to take the role under these circumstances.  Not only is the actor very well respected among critics, he has already received the nod from comic book writers and artists alike.  Most recently, artist Alex Ross threw his full support behind Hamm for the role of Captain America.  Marvel instead went younger with former Fantastic Four Mr. Torch Chris Evans.   This was almost certainly motivated by the company’s plans to release the Avengers in May 2012, and of course the prospect of sequels.

The same is not true for “Man of Steel.”  An older actor such as Jon Hamm would only be coming in for one film.  While a second might be possible, the WB/DC would be in a tight spot in negotiating for the license if its opponents knew that the WB/DC had to clear the mess to  make a sequel.  Movie studios don’t like being in that position and I don’t see Alex Horn as being exceptional here.  Truth be told, I’m convinced the only reason “Man of Steel” is getting made at all is because Christopher Nolan is behind the project.  If it were anyone else, it’s hard to see why the WB and Legendary would pull the trigger.  WB executives have been quoted in the past saying that no Superman movie would move forward until the licensing issue is resolved.  It makes economic sense; why put huge value on a license just before it expires and put the studio in a position where it would have to pay even more to acquire it?  Practically-speaking, the WB/Legendary are either (1) persuaded that this film will make a lot of money regardless of sequels or (2) feel that Nolan/Goyer have a Superman film that is worth making, even if it’s just for artistic purposes.  Something tells me (2) isn’t really the motivating factor.

So if (2) isn’t really the motivation and the studio still intends to put out this movie, then how can it ensure it succeeds financially?   The film already has probably one of — if not the best creative team behind it in the Nolan Bros. and Goyer.  Clearly, by the creative team’s pedigree, the film should provide that extra level of thoughtfulness and sophistication other superhero films (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man) don’t have.  The visual impact however necessary for a Superman film is in stark contrast to that of Batman, and here Nolan and the WB/Legendary have outdone themselves.

Enter Zack Snyder.  The man behind the current “Legend of the Guardians,” “300,” and “Watchmen” clearly knows a thing or two about visual flair.  Some have compared Snyder’s early work to that of Spielberg, Bruckheimer and Bay.  From strictly a visual presentation, Snyder is certainly up there among the best action/CG directors of this decade.  The only problem for Snyder thus far has been his scripts.  Few of his movies have garnered immense commercial success, which, compared to how beautifully well choreographed his films are, is a darn shame.  “Man of Steel” could be the film that finally gives Snyder a script to match his brilliant art direction.  Netizens are already swooning at how breath-taking Snyder’s shots of Superman will be.  Given his work on “Legend of Guardians,” Snyder should be well prepared to live up to at least the flight scenes.

But Snyder presents another interesting wrinkle, and that is to the possibility of Jon Hamm donning the suit.  Snyder is currently busy working on “Sucker Punch,” which may finally do what “Ultraviolet” failed to do — and that is have a bunch of beautiful women artistically beat the living daylights out of a slew of enemies.  (Sidenote: Face it, all we wanted in “Ultraviolet” was to see Milla slice and dice (ala today’s “Heavenly Sword”) a bunch of men in suits.  What we got instead was a low-budget, low-action, poorly-directed piece of garbage.  And yes, I wish I could get back my $6, and the 2 hours of my life wasted on this atrocity.)  “Sucker Punch” just happens to include … wait for it … Jon Hamm.

Yes, Jon Hamm is in “Sucker Punch.”  The coincidence couldn’t be any more coincidental.

Now it’s doubtful Nolan sought out Snyder because of Hamm’s connection.  The better odds are Nolan wanted Snyder because he knew Snyder was very good at meeting deadlines and had an incredible knack for delivering superb art direction.  That he’s well acquainted with Jon Hamm and knows how to work with him must have been icing on the cake for the WB/Legendary.

Nolan likes to use actors he’s worked with before.  Check out Michael Caine in “Inception.”  Snyder has a similar reputation.  Indeed, odds are looking very favorably toward Jon Hamm becoming Superman/Clark Kent.

There have been some rumors recently that the script for “Man of Steel” features Clark Kent traversing through the world, trying to figure out whether he should be Superman.  It’s an interesting possibility and one we saw in “Birthright,” a popular Superman graphic novel by Mark Waid.  Some netizens have pointed to this rumor as confirmation that Hamm couldn’t possibly be up for the role because this would require a Superman/Clark that’s in his younger years.

That is of course absolute absurd.  That doesn’t mean the rumor is untrue, however.  Keep in mind “Man of Steel” is a re-boot in the sense that it should have nothing to do with Singer’s Returns (Thankfully).  As such, Nolan/Goyer/Snyder might be re-exploring Superman’s origin through flashback sequences.  Hey, it’s not like this hasn’t been done before.  We saw plenty of flashbacks in “Batman Begins” and “Inception” was riddled with them.  There’s nothing stopping the story from beginning with a younger Clark narrating his journey and concluding the need for Superman.  The film could then move to the present day after showing several clips of news reports and newspapers, and we could see the older Superman for the rest of the story.  In other words, there’s no reason this rumor debunks the notion of casting an older Man of Steel, or for that matter, goes against the earlier reports that this script features a more established hero.

I’m sure the superhero sites will be bombarded by other suggestions in the coming months leading up to the actual casting.  Hamm however remains the favorite for me.  He not only looks the part, but brings a level of acting and maturity to the character unseen since perhaps Chris Reeve’s Superman in the early 80s.

If the talk is true that we’re dealing with a Superman who has been around a while, then there’s really no better choice to play the role than Jon Hamm.  Given the talents of Nolan, Goyer, and Snyder, and the acting demands they place on their characters, I have a feeling they’re on the same page with this one.  Odds are we’ll know for certain before the end of the year.

As a big fan of the character, I have to say December 2012 has never felt so far away.

After a decade of demand, indeed!  Capcom announced today that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is in fact in development for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.  No release date was provided but the trailer (below) offers a few tidbits of information.  The art style from the new Street Fighter IV series appears to be the palette from which Capcom will develop this title.  This makes sense given the architecture and code for SFIV is already in place and this should help the developer cut down on development time and costs.  Capcom has suggested this title will boast an amazing number of fighters, so all the better that they’re working off of existing code.

This also means the game will not follow the HD 2-D renditions that SNK Playmore has taken with the King of Fighters series.  Based on how long these hand-drawn games seem to take (recall the HD version for SF2?), and given games like BlazBlue have pretty much trumped whatever Capcom could do here, the move to 3-D for the next generation of Marvel vs. Capcom seems the appropriate direction to take.

No doubt this game should do very well upon release.  Hopefully, Capcom won’t take that opportunity to milk the gamers (just imagine all the downloadable un-locking the company could tag on) or offer a slightly downgraded version to later release Super Duper Rejuvenated Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Definitive Edition, followed by the Actual Super Duper Revival Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Real One We Should Sold You in the First Place Edition.

Then again, this is Capcom we’re talking about so expect at least one more release after this one; odds are MvC3 will hit later this year or early next year.  I had vowed not to buy a PS3 or 360 (I rarely game much nowadays), but seeing this announcement and as a long-time lover of fighting games (low time commitment titles are my staple — and well, fighting games are about as low-commitment as you can get), I don’t see I can restrain myself from wanting this game 🙂

Of course, I’m already pining a Wii purchase, if only for Tatsunoko vs. Capcom.

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So amidst the hours and hours of studying for my law school exams, I felt I’d take a short breather and share my thoughts on all the commotion abuzz over Wall Street chatter that tech innovator (or as I prefer to call them, “slick re-packager”) Apple might be eying a takeover of Electronic Arts (“EA”).  Michael Pachter went on record to call the notion, “retarded,” which is not exactly the way I would have put it, but at least he’s using layman terms.  Of course, all of this is just chatter, but that hasn’t stopped blogs such as Joystiq and Kotaku from reporting on it.  A brief perusal of the comments and messages shows most readers are either in the “WTF?” or “no way!” camp.  Granted, the very thought of Apple running EA doesn’t necessarily cross most gamers’ minds; but then again, no one thought Final Fantasy maker Square Enix could successfully marry its franchise with Walt Disney, either.

Yeah, that analogy isn’t exactly fair (or entirely relevant).  The point is an Apple-EA merger (or takeover) isn’t exactly as wild or as far-fetched an idea as many think.  The focus of the Internet community seems to be on the dreaded notion of Apple “exclusivizing” EA properties, such as Madden or Tiger Woods Golf on the iPhone or on iTunes.  Or, that Apple will force EA to waste resources on MAC game development.  Much of this misses the point, however.  Apple didn’t get where it is today by making unreasonable decisions.  Steve Jobs is an avid supporter of dropping barriers to access (remember the whole DRM speech from 2007?), and he sits with the Disney board of directors, and let’s face it, few companies have embraced the digital generation as well as Disney has (its recent hulu.com stake is just one example of how Disney understands that digital worlds are not primed for content control freaks).  Mr. Jobs undeniably plays a strong influence in encouraging these sorts of decisions.  I doubt any Apple-led EA would seriously alter how EA distributes or targets its content to gamers.  Madden will still be across consoles.  So then what would an Apple-led EA likely do or mean to the industry?  Here are a couple possibilities:

1)  A more casual EA

And by “casual,” I don’t mean EA’s (terribly misguided and nonchalant) approach to marketing new franchises (Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, I’m looking at you two).  Apple is likely to encourage EA to develop games better tuned for mass appeal, similar to how Activision succeeded (and is now “sequeling” to death) in the Guitar Heroes games.  EA may actually put more beef (and not just pep talk) behind its Wii-dedicated teams to deliver more titles similar to Boom Blox.  Along with this approach, an Apple-led EA would develop more flash-oriented titles for iTunes, iPhone, and (yes) for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.    Would this mean more portable games over console titles?  That answer is not entirely clear.  Given the audience composition of the 360 and PS3, we’d probably see fewer EA titles outside of the traditional sports franchises.  Apple may prefer EA focus new franchises towards the Wii and DS(i).

EA wouldn’t leave console gaming behind.  Apple knows Madden and EA Sports is the bread and butter of the company.  Forcing such titles to appear only on Apple platforms would just be nonsensical, if not short of stupid.  It would be like buying a multi-billion dollar company just to run it into the ground, or an $80,000 Ferrari just to send it over a cliff, and –well—even Jobs has to answer to his shareholders.  Multi-platform support would very much continue.  We might see a nice blending between iTunes and Madden (think of all those music downloads!) or even extras built into the iPhone version (but none of these are likely to be serious alterations to the current model.  In other words, an Apple-led EA isn’t going to result in marquee franchises jumping ship.  What it more than likely will mean is more games targeted to moderate and casual gamers.  But honestly, that’s a winning strategy for EA and every other gaming company out there, so even if Apple didn’t takeover EA, this is a shift we should be seeing across the landscape.  The big difference with an Apple-led EA?  My guess is better navigation and more targeted, efficient management.

2)  Following the Casual, for a Change

Why is there a shift happening in the industry?  Or, as famed God of War creator David Jaffe mentioned on GameTrailers.com, why should the industry perhaps rethink its dedication to the hardcore?  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where these sentiments are coming from.

There are dozens of rumors about Microsoft and Sony introducing motion-sensing controllers (which is a rather sad and ultimately pointless endeavor, BTW – that could be a whole post by itself), and major publishers this generation are ALL suffering because PS3 and 360 adoption penetration isn’t making up for development costs and other major investments.  The economy has something to do with it; but this goes deeper than the economy (besides, gaming has fared well during this recession).

Both Sony and Microsoft squarely aimed their consoles at the hardcore; this despite the cold-hard truth that the hardcore is the minority (and possibly a shrinking one), stronger in voice only because they’re so loud (and yeah, boisterously obnoxious).  The decision to cater to that crowd served well in previous generations.  It’s sort of like trickle down “coolness” (which doesn’t ordinarily apply to us nerds, BTW).  The hardcore adopt a console first and determine what kinds of games people like.  The industry follows them and the masses are influenced by the hardcore to buy and like the games the hardcore enjoy, and the process repeats itself every 5 to 6 years.  It’s sort of like the film industry bothering with all those “enchanting” indie films to charm the “hardcore” for recognition and praise.

This time around, a three-letter word changed – nay, bomb-shelled – the process: Wii.  It essentially gave the casual a different place to go; they didn’t have to listen to the hardcore or follow the games they played.  A truly alternative option opened up and the casuals basically left (even moderates followed after Sony announced its $599 price tag).  For Sony and Microsoft, that desertion has proved painful and potentially console-ending (Pachter predicted the end of consoles – probably one more generation to go but may be).  For their supporting developers, that desertion has resulted in millions of un-recouped expenses.  Few are risking anything on PS3 and the 360, and that’s likely why both manufacturers are introducing waggle-ware to (re)open a line of communication to the casual gamers.  Is it too late?  Almost assuredly yes (not to mention this splits an already small user-base – who’ll bother with these contraptions outside first party developers – and it’s not as if they have any more time to be spending on other games since the consoles can’t produce enough AAA titles like it used to without heavy-duty costs).  By now, no casual gamer is ever going to see a PS3 or 360 as anything but hardcore gaming consoles, especially when the Wii remains an attractive alternative.

EA has been – yes – a victim of that desertion this time around.  Madden can only save it so many times, and even EA knows the future is far from secure (Madden retires, Tiger brand is slowly becoming Tony Hawk: redux, and the NFL is rethinking its license deal).  The maxim, “giant today, puny tomorrow,” is as applicable to GameStop and Blockbuster as it is to EA.

So where does Apple fit in?  Well, Apple is in far better position to embrace the casual than either Sony or Microsoft; it essentially has the audience but doesn’t quite have the content.  Apple is no content provider or producer, but it certainly knows how to sell what it has.  Apple is very good at branding itself and its merchandise.  EA used to be good at this, but now it is all over the place (Army of Two? Spore? Burnout? Mass Effect? What?).  Face it, as visually oriented as gaming is, gamemakers aren’t very good marketers.  We can all count the dozens of great games that never got advertised or advertised well (Psychonauts anyone?).  Apple can help in that department; Apple can also help EA better understand what the casual market is looking for, and drive “simplicity” into EA’s early designs and development stages.  This probably doesn’t calm those fears of the hardcore, but since when did the hardcore ever care about EA?  To most of us, EA represents the Wal-Mart of the industry.  A console industry with fewer EA Games is hardly worth crying to home about.  Now, if this were Capcom, we’d all be bawling.

3)  Leveraging the Future

Ultimately, all that I’ve written references the immediate few years post an Apple takeover.  If this were to happen, Apple is clearly eying the future, and that is where an Apple-led EA could in fact change the very landscape of gaming from where we see it today.

If digital downloads is in fact where gaming is headed (and there are some doubts on this, or at least how far away it is), then an Apple-led EA would be primed to lead the charge.  Apple knows the download industry and may want to firmly establish itself as the premier “iTunes” for gaming before someone else gets too big or too entrenched in gamers’ minds.  That sort of mindshare starts with the masses, and boy does Apple have the masses.

On the other hand, if there is any speculation about digital downloads being the future, an Apple-led EA might do its darnedest to force the intersection, or get all of us there sooner than we expected.  The leverage, innovation, and content between Apple and EA would certainly be sufficient to get the job done, presuming it had the right leadership and multi-year business plan. In this sense, the real people who should be freaking out about this is GameStop CEO J Paul Raines – digital downloads will probably do to GameStop what $1 rentals and Netflix has done to Blockbuster.

With EA at its belt, Apple becomes far more than just a technology company and it would certainly provide it more leverage to push its platforms and its ideas.  Right now, anything Apple makes is at the mercy of the content providers, meaning if Apple doesn’t always play nice, then they can go elsewhere.  If Apple itself builds the content, then it gets easier to launch new ideas because there is support (and in business, big support is necessary to be followed by other support).  Threatening to withhold EA content from others would give Apple ample leverage in putting together the future of, say, digital downloads.

And that’s the end of my rant.  Back to exam studying.

I am not an Indiana Jones “fan” – yes, I’ve seen the others and have enjoyed them very much, but I am at-best an admirer of the adventure genre. For me, Indiana Jones was more of an archetype of the classic adventurer than an original creation. That said, what Spielberg and Lucas have produced in ‘Crystal Skull’ is nothing short of spectacular entertainment. Anyone with an iota of creativity will enjoy this film. Even at over two hours, ‘Crystal Skull’ never once felt long – which is often a problem for blockbuster films which often feel a need to pack in one explosion too many or one line too much. This is probably a testament to the masters behind the camera and script. The film is certainly enjoying an awesome opening weekend!

Truth be told, ‘Crystal Skull’ is by no means perfect – some critics suggest it feels empty or lacking when compared to the prior installments. I’m not exactly sure what they are getting at here — it’s not as if the Indiana Jones films were ever highly inspirational works of art. They were made primarily as commercial adventure films, standouts because of the high-quality direction and excellent action sequences. Both of these are in abundance in ‘Crystal Skull’ — so, either the critics are lost in some nostalgic paradise (i.e. they remember the films as being better than they are) or they’re just pining to find something wrong in everything they watch (which is sadly the case with many reviewers nowadays). I was quite pleased to see Mr. Roeper deliver an excellent critique — his rebuke of Michael Phillips in ‘Ebert & Roeper’ is on the mark. That Phillips chastises the flick for being unrealistic is nothing short of silly. Roeper’s take? ‘Indy 4’ wasn’t made to be realistic. My take? Umm, duh.

Harrison Ford does a splendid job reprising the role and if not for the wrinkles, grizzled voice, and white hair, you’d swear he hadn’t lost a step. Shia LeBeouf certainly looks like he could play the next Indiana Jones; he has an uncanny resemblance to Ford in this film and he displays a strong knack for the sometimes comedic action scenes. Spielberg and Lucas might have the perfect actor to carry on the Indie mantel moving forward. That said, I actually would prefer one more Ford film but that wish is probably a long-shot. I suppose I should be grateful that we even got this.

Resurrecting old icons is a risky business. Stallone pulled it off with Rocky but missed the mark in Rambo. Singer fell on his face with Superman Returns – and early takes on “Get Smart” aren’t looking very good. Spielberg and Lucas have done an excellent job bringing back Dr. Jones and likely closing the chapter on Ford. There is definitely room to expand the franchise (recall the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?) — and so long as Spielberg and Lucas are involved, it should always be worth the price of admission.

On a gaming note, LEGO Indiana Jones releases next week. This one is looking like quite a keeper!

Georgia Moffett (above right) plays the Doctor’s daughter in the sixth episode of the fourth season of ‘Doctor Who’ on BBC One. The episode paces perhaps a little too quickly, leaving us with a slightly disenchanted connection with Ms. Moffett when she steps in front of a bullet intended for the Doctor, but nevertheless, Ms. Moffett puts on a solid performance and it would appear viewers might be getting more of her later on (she seems to have regenerated at the end).

Interestingly, Ms. Moffett is the real-life daughter of Peter Davison, the fifth doctor. She also auditioned for the role of Rose Tyler, which wound up in the very capable hands of Billie Piper. While I think Ms. Moffett is a good actress, I’m very glad the role of Rose went to Ms. Piper. Moffett’s acting is a little flat compared to Piper’s — and I’m not sure she has the same range as Billie does. That said, if the BBC does carry on a new series with her as the Doctor’s daughter, it might turn out to be a great series. Many on Who fansites have clamored for a female doctor; Ms. Moffett could be a perfect substitute for post-4th season blues. And since the BBC plans to put the Who series on-ice for a while to juggle the creative team, how better to keep the Who-verse top of mind?

Check out the trailer to the episode here (Also embedded below). For more promo photos, journey here.

This movie bothered me — but not because it was bad. I’m what one might call a Superman fan, so it irks me that a second-string Marvel character like Iron Man gets a class-act flick like this and Superman, arguably the most recognized (and before ‘Returns’, most admired) superhero, gets rubbish. That said, this post isn’t about Superman, but if anyone from Warner Bros. with any level of control watches ‘Iron Man,’ they should take some notes on what makes a good superhero movie.

‘Iron Man’ succeeds on something most superhero movies don’t have: solid writing. There is considerable punch between Downey, Jr. and Paltrow throughout this film, and each deliver his/her lines with credible accuracy. Downey, Jr. may not fit the category of blockbuster actor and certainly wasn’t on anyone’s shortlist of superhero physiques, but he is almost perfect as the troubled and transformed Tony Stark. Paltrow also deserves some credit for her role as Virginia ‘Pepper’ Potts — some might say she hasn’t really done any acting since ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (and this isn’t wholly without merit) — but she nevertheless puts forth a classy effort. Paltrow is admittedly an acquired taste — there are many who think she was miscast in this role but I do not share that opinion. If you want to see a truly miscast female lead, see Kate Bosworth in ‘Superman Returns’.

The plot is serviceable and the action sequences – though few – are well-played. That said, some comic gurus will probably notice one-too many similarities with Chris Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’ but let’s be frank, Tony Stark is in many ways a chopped up version of Bruce Wayne. There aren’t as many surprises in the story and the back-stabbing possibilities become awfully apparent early on. What perhaps kept me glued to the screen was how good ‘Iron Man’ turned out despite the character’s position in the pantheon of superhero creations. ‘Iron Man’ is no Wolverine, and his following has always been more cult-ish than mass. That will probably change with this film. Marvel and Favreau have somehow legitimized alchemy; they’ve taken brass and turned it into gold. Kudos to them.

And yet as surprising good as ‘Iron Man’s’ debut is, it isn’t an off-the-scale shocker. ‘Iron Man’ is the first of hopefully many movies Marvel is financing itself. That’s right, after some miserable outings (anyone remember ‘Ghost Rider’? No one? Good.), Marvel decided it best to manually bring its characters to the big screen versus licensing them off to studios such as Sony or Fox. If Iron Man is any indication, this was clearly the right move for the comic book giant. This makes so much sense and honestly, is something I’ve always scratched my head about. Why movie studios often put people unfamiliar with the properties to make them was frankly lost on me. Singer never read a Superman comic (or for that matter, any comic) growing up. Some believe his X-Men movies were gold – I’m of the opinion they were decent; spectacular only because no one had made or seen serious superhero movies in a long time. But I’d bet that superhero films would be miles better if we put the likes of Busiek, Morrison, Miller, and Moore on them. Art direction by creators like Lee, Ross, Campbell, and Maduriera (and maybe even Warren) would put to shame what we’ve seen in a good number of superhero movies.

So here’s to Marvel’s ‘Iron Man’; I hope to see many sequels — but please don’t become ‘Batman and Robin’. And to DC Comics, please get off your rear ends and try to wrestle more control away from Warner Bros. before it turns the rest of your beloved franchises into wretched abominations; see ‘Catwoman‘.

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So the ESRB “slip” about an XBOX 360 title turns out to be true. Eidos UK officially announced that Tomb Raider Anniversary — already released on the PlayStation 2 and PC — will have an episodic release through the XBOX Live Marketplace before its retail release later in the year. For the 360, will mark the first time a retail game is sold via its online store. The game will be made available through four separate downloads, the first two are expected to be released in September with the latter two reaching gamers shortly thereafter. Minus the manor section (which will be available for free), the entire game will cost 2400 MS points, or roughly $30 which matches the MSRP of the current console releases. It’s possible (and probably likely) the retail version will be priced higher — though I don’t suspect by much.  The only bad part about this should-be historic gesture is that Eidos is only allowing those who have TR Legend to download Anniversary — does this make sense to anyone?   Why Eidos is doing this makes little sense, especially if you think about the fact that Anniversary is supposed to be a way to enter the world of Tomb Raider for those who may not yet be familiar with it.  Without a doubt, Eidos is  losing out on online sales by forcing consumers to buy Legend in order to access this option.

This news comes on the heel of Capcom’s announcement that it had signed an agreement with Valve’s online distribution system Stream. Capcom will bring Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, Onimusha 3, Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition and Supper Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (try saying that three times fast) to Stream — and future Capcom titles are also part of this deal. Capcom is the first Japanese developer to sign up with Valve and its move might be the first signal that we may be moving closer to the day when entire games will be purchased online. MS and Sony have repeatedly made mention of this idea — and that it is very likely in the next-gen that disc formats will be made defunct by broadband distribution. While I’d like to agree with them, I do think part of gaming is driven by material collection — it’s the same reason why many people (though not as many as before) still buy music CDs. CD sales in Europe and Japan for instance remain healthy — and that is because music publishers bring out CDs packed with exclusive content (music videos, interviews, not-for-online tracks). US publishers haven’t quite moved in that direction just yet but it’s one way to keep retail sales flowing. That might also explain why so many Japanese console games are released with limited editions and extra swag. We’re already starting to see such collectibility slip into US gaming culture with Halo 3 and multiple variations of Gears of War. As broadband penetration picks up, I’d suspect we’re going to get a lot more of these types of releases. The question is whether broadband will actually make up the majority of future game purchases. If the price difference is substantial then it just might — but something tells me it’s still unlikely — or at least a decade away.

BTW, for all of you staring at the photo, that’s Karima Adebibe — the model Eidos hired to represent Lara Croft for TR: Legend released last year. Eidos has always hired a new model to be Lara for each of its games dating all the way back to the decade old orginal Tomb Raider game (the one Anniversary is a remake of). Based on most gamers’ views, they think Karima is the closest to Lara there has ever been (well, perhaps excluding Angelina Jolie — though that’s debatable after the painfully awful “Cradle of Life”).

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