dead island

from The News & Observer 

It’s weird to think that filmmaker George Romero, with his 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead,” essentially created an entire new genre of pop culture.

Romero’s film was the first zombie movie, as we know the term today, and zombie movies quickly begat zombie comic books, zombie TV shows and, of course, zombie video games.

One of the best zombie games in the last few years, “Dead Island” was originally released for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011. The setup is pure Romero: A rapid virus outbreak at a tropical resort island unleashes waves of flesh-eating zombies. A small group of survivors move from shelter to shelter, fighting off the undead with improvised weapons and goofy dialogue.

For those who missed it the first time around, “Dead Island” has just been reissued as “Dead Island Definitive Collection” ($19.99 / rated M), souped up for PC and ported over to new consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The package also includes the expansion “Dead Island: Riptide” and the 16-bit sidescroller “Dead Island Retro Revenge.”

An old-school battle

For new players, the “Dead Island” vibe is decidedly old-school. This is a first-person open-world game with some action RPG elements, including limited weapon crafting and XP-based skill levels. The game puts a premium on melee combat, and you’ll do most of your fighting with make-do weapons. For the first few hours, you’ll be fending off zombies with canoe paddles, lead pipes, even frying pans. Firearms and explosives come later.

“Dead Island” is an ostensibly open-world game, but to further the story you’ll need to follow the main quest line. The designers find some interesting variations on the old zombie story tropes. Will you need to track down an experimental vaccine? Of course! There’s always an experimental vaccine.

The setting and characters in “Dead Island” are particularly fun. The island resort is depicted as a sort of debauched Eurotrash destination for shady characters from all nations. Players can choose between four initial survivors, plus a fifth character with his own unique story line and agenda. You might be an Australian ex-cop turned VIP bodyguard, or a Chinese spy, or a washed-up American hip-hop star.

Whatever you choose, don’t expect the hordes of walking dead to discriminate – they just want to eat your brains. “Dead Island” features different varieties of zombies: Shambling “Romero” zombies mix freely with fast-running ghouls in the style of director Danny Boyle’s neo-zombie classic “28 Days Later.” Other delightful sub-types include the Butcher, the Thug, the Floater and the alarming specimen known as the Suicider.

Players who enjoy first-person splatter fights will dig the game’s up-close-and-bloody combat system and over-the-top gore. Those who prefer a more stealthy style of play will need patience. Guns and other sniper weapons aren’t even available for the first portion of the game, and the zombies’ tendency to attack in swarms makes melee fighting a messy but necessary skill.

B-movie fun

For returning players, the new collection doesn’t add any additional content beyond the “Retro Revenge” game. But the designers have given everything a high-sheen polish, with upgraded textures, lighting and user interface elements. The visual upgrades are particularly noticeable on the beach, where the water ripples with bright gleams and, alas, the occasional severed head.

“Dead Island” never approaches the sophistication of the genre’s best endeavors – TV shows like “The Walking Dead” or video games like “The Last of Us” – but it’s not really aiming to provide that kind of experience. It’s a B-movie kind of game, good for quick-hit zombie fighting, a few hours at a time, when the mood strikes. Rumor has it that a new “Dead Island” installment is in development, maybe with a Hawaiian setting. The whole island paradise thing is kind of inspired, and provides a nice through line of grim humor: Worst. Vacation. Ever.

“Dead Island Definitive Collection” is available for PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One.

 

Alice

from Indy Week

Disney has been in the spectacle business for more than eighty years now, and its fantasy movies, both live action and animation, tend toward visual extravaganzas, especially in the modern summer blockbuster season. In this regard, Alice Through the Looking Glass does not disappoint. There are maybe half a dozen glorious set pieces designed to pop your eyeballs right out of your skull. That’s all you really need to know before springing for the 3-D version, which is the version to see if you’re going to see it at all.

Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice, reprising her role from director Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation. The new film, directed by James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted), includes a few visual nods to Lewis Carroll’s original book, but the script is largely the invention of rock-star Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent). Alice returns to Wonderland via mirror to discover that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in crisis. It seems that his family needs rescuing, and the only way for Alice to save the day is to travel back in time.

Time is personified, by Sacha Baron Cohen, as a kind of extra-temporal clockwork deity who rules from a mansion of mechanical marvels. His realm is the first of several fantastical locales we visit, and it’s a triumph of inventive visual design. It’s so difficult to present genuinely new images on the silver screen these days, but Disney’s design team conjures fever-dream wonders: Constellations of stopwatches hang in a perpetual golden dawn. Colossal steampunk ironworks are tended by skittering mechanical imps.

Digital effects are stitched seamlessly into the Victorian-era costumes and sets, which incorporate location shooting and historical artifacts, including some scenes aboard amazing nineteenth-century seafaring vessels. Alice’s temporal adventures involve navigating the Ocean of Time, where the 3-D effects pay off. Sit back and enjoy.

Wasikowska and Depp anchor the film with lovely performances. Depp is especially compelling this time around, as Hatter spirals into a darker kind of madness and despair. Disney’s team of artisans mixes practical and digital effects with makeup design, and many of the film’s most arresting visual compositions involve extreme close-ups on Depp’s tortured visage, or on Helena Bonham Carter as the villainous Red Queen.

Alas, the story never achieves the mythic resonance of the imagery. The movie often feels choppy and episodic, rushing from one set piece to the next. It’s best enjoyed on a scene-by-scene, beat-by-beat basis. Depp and Baron Cohen find some very funny moments with their characters, and there’s a stealthy through-line of feminist thinking. I also very much liked the film’s central theme of unconditional loyalty. To help her friend, the Hatter, Alice is fierce and courageous and willing to put the entire time-space continuum at risk. She’s pure heroine, as Ms. Yelich-O’Connor might say.

Kids aren’t likely to register the sophisticated thematic and visual artistry on display, but they’ll like the swashbuckling adventure and aforementioned eyeball-popping elements. Anyway, this kind of storytelling is good for kids in a cultural-mythology, eat-your-vegetables kind of way. If you’re escorting wee ones this weekend, don’t let them talk you into that Angry Birds movie. Alice Through the Looking Glass is the healthier option, and besides, who’s paying for the popcorn?