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Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift

Starring: Bow Wow, Brian Tee, Lucas Black, Nathalie Kelley, Sung Kang

Synopsis: From the producer of the worldwide blockbuster hits The Fast and the Furious and its sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, comes the latest installment of the adrenaline-inducing series built on speed-The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Set in the sexy and colorful underground world of Japanese drift racing, the newest and fastest customized rides go head-to-head on some of the most perilous courses in the world.

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift
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Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is an outsider who attempts to define himself as a hot-headed, underdog street racer. Although racing provides a temporary escape from an unhappy home and the superficial world around him, it has also made Sean unpopular with the local authorities. To avoid jail time, Sean is sent to live with his gruff, estrange father, a career military-man stationed in Tokyo.

Review: I-play has enjoyed great success with their Fast and Furious racing games, based on the popcorn flicks of the same name. The mobile maker has sold more than four million Fast and Furious downloads, making it one of the industry's biggest franchises -- and with the third game in the series, Tokyo Drift, I-play needn't worry about a reversal of fortune. It's a breezy racer with solid racing mechanics, imbued with a learning curve that will suit casual gamers -- even though it's likely only the hardcore have the thumbs to finish the final few laps.

The "drift" in Tokyo Drift comes from the powerslide mechanic that has been in numerous arcade racers for years now, including Daytona USA and Ridge Racer. To drift, you have to temporarily "lose control" of your car as you go into a corner so you can gas it and steer out of it without losing too much speed. Mobile controls being more limited than, say, a Dual Shock, could have posed a real problem, but I-play has simplified the mechanics without sacrificing the technique's effectiveness. Indeed, as you approach a corner, you start the turn to give up control, then gas it and steer out of it to attain the powerslide.

It works -- and, honestly, it works better than I really did expect it to. The game gives you a pretty easy track at the get-go to familiarize yourself with the controls, but by the time you reach the later levels, such as Dragon Mountain, which is all crazy curves, you really have to have the motions down -- and have a properly souped-up ride. As you complete races, you earn cash, which can be spent in a garage to upgrade both car performance and appearance. These changes -- in each category -- are immediate and noticeable.

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift
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Tokyo Drift has several tracks, each complete with three events. The first event is a basic race against rival drivers. Next, you have to race for respect, by filling up an admiration meter by sliding around corners and not running into the walls. The final race is against an area boss. Once that challenge is successfully completed, you open up the next track. The progression of events is smart. The first race gives you a familiarity with the course, the respect race makes sure you understand all the drift turns, and you put it all together for the tough boss race.

The game ramps up its difficulty in what i think is a pretty reasonable manner, but I can definitely see some players not finishing Tokyo Drift. The last tracks are hard. In fact, the final track is a major pain -- even if you are pretty good at drifting by this point. You need to replay earlier races to earn up enough cash to really upgrade the ride to stand a decent chance at the last course. If you are the kind of player that doesn't like to backtrack, you may quit playing right about here. I certainly started getting a little frustrated.

Tokyo Drift is an attractive game. I really love the use of color in the courses -- especially the downtown and fishmarket tracks. I think the cars -- although small, have a nice amount of detail, and the game moves along at a solid clip. I've played Tokyo Drift on a couple handsets, including a Sony Ericsson 710, and the framerate was never an issue.

Closing Comments...
Tokyo Drift is definitely a solid racer -- and I really appreciate it bringing something new to the limited category of mobile driving games. The drift mechanics work exceptionally well, and the tracks are designed just right to give players ample opportunities to really throw their car around. The game is over fairly quickly, however, and I'm not sure how many players will want to whip through the tracks again just to earn more cash and keep upgrading their wheels. But the ride is good fun while it lasts, and judging from the ridiculous film trailer, stands a good chance of being more fun than actually watching the movie.

*Review by Levi Buchanan, IGN

**Official Site


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Thursday, June 15, 2006

'Nacho Libre' giddily hilarious, but runs out of steam

Jack Black stars as Ignacio (friends call him Nacho), a cook by day in a Mexican orphanage, who moonlights as a lucha libre wrestler to raise money for the orphans in this comedy from the creators of “Napoleon Dynamite” and the writer of “The School of Rock.”

The tubby luchador of Nacho Libre could be the long-lost cousin south of the border that Napoleon Dynamite never knew he had.

Nacho LibreNacho LibreNacho Libre
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As a monastery cook who raises money for the orphans he feeds by secretly competing as a Mexican wrestler, Jack Black's Ignacio, or Nacho, is just as committed to his aspirations as the dorky hero of the 2004 cult favourite Napoleon Dynamite, and just as delusional about his talent.

Both films come from husband-and-wife Jared and Jerusha Hess (he directed, both worked on the script) but this time they've teamed up with writer-producer Mike White, who also wrote Black's family-friendly The School of Rock and thankfully has shown a far more twisted sensibility in the indies Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl.

Together, they've come up with a movie that's more cohesive than Napoleon Dynamite - beer commercials have more plot - and not just a series of funny ideas with nowhere to go.

Black plays the humour totally straight - well, as straight as he can compared to the more manic work he's known for in films like The School of Rock and High Fidelity - but still gets a lot of mileage out of a slightly crazed, raised eyebrow or by adding an unexpected lilt to the end of a sentence.

With his thin moustache, soft accent and pseudo-suave demeanour, it's as if he's doing an extended impression of Antonio Banderas.

And of course, the very sight of him is ridiculous in his light-blue-and-red luchador mask and tights - his "stretchy pants,'' as he calls them when one of the sad-faced monastery orphans catches him playing dress-up in his sparse room. Black is fearless as always, and that's incredibly exciting to watch.

A little of his shtick goes a long way, though. Nacho Libre can be giddily hilarious and has many solid, silly laughs, but it runs out of flips and tricks - and steam - about halfway through. That's long before Nacho gets the chance to prove his might in a championship match against his idol, the beefy and fearsome Ramses (Cesar Gonzalez, a real-life wrestler who goes by the name Bronco). By that point, the thrill is long gone.

And regardless of the manoeuvring, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've seen this film before.

The location is different (cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet has shot the mountainous Oaxaca landscape in faded hues that give the film a '70s aesthetic) and the names have changed. But Nacho is Napoleon; his scrawny, slightly effeminate wrestling partner, Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez), is Pedro; and the doe-eyed Sister Encarnacion (Mexican telenovela star Ana de la Reguera) is Deb.

Similar to Napoleon Dynamite, the characters often face the camera head-on, the humour is deadpan and the vibe is perpetually quirky. There's even a weird food fetish: corn on the cob instead of tater tots.

But both films also share an affection for their underdog characters that makes them endearing; there's a genuine sweetness here beneath all the elaborate costumes and wrestling-ring bravado.

Partly that's because you know Nacho is getting thumped and tossed about to put better food on the table for the kids back at the orphanage than the usual gruel he's forced to serve them. And partly that's because, as an orphan himself, he's been lonely and neglected his whole life, and competing as a luchador provides him with a sense of self-esteem he's never known.

And also it's because Nacho hopes his wrestling prowess will impress the lovely Encarnacion, for whom he writes a melodramatic song that sounds suspiciously like something Black would perform on stage with Kyle Gass, his partner in the faux folk-metal band Tenacious D.

It's hysterical - we're talking funny-to-the-point-of-tears funny. But it also yanks you out of this universe and reminds you that what you're really watching is Jack Black, Man in Tights.

Two and a half stars out of four.
*by Christy Lemire, Associated Press

Check the trailer out here. (med res)


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Monday, June 12, 2006

The Break-up

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn

Synopsis: Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston star in The Break-Up, which starts where most romantic comedies end: after boy and girl have met, fallen in love, moved in to start their happily-ever-after... and right when they wind up driving each other crazy.

The Break-up
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Pushed to the breaking-up point after their latest "why can't you do this one little thing for me?" argument, art dealer Brooke (Aniston) calls it quits with her boyfriend, Gary (Vaughn), who hosts bus tours of Chicago. What follows is a series of remedies, war tactics, overtures and underminings suggested by the former couple's friends, confidantes and the occasional total stranger. When neither ex is willing to move out of the condo they used to share, the only solution is to continue living as hostile roommates until somebody caves.

But somewhere between protesting the pool table in the living room, the dirty clothes stacked in the kitchen cupboards and the sports played at sleep-killing volume in the middle of night, Brooke begins to realize that what she may be really fighting for isn't so much the place but the person.

Review: Vince Vaughn is the best friend a movie comedy could have. He's funny, hilariously so, while keeping his characters grounded in messy reality. Last summer, he hit a peak with The Wedding Crashers, playing a horn dog reformed by the right woman. The Break-Up, co-starring Jennifer Aniston as the babe who splits when she can't tame him, isn't in that playful league. It's about as playful as a python: Based on a story by Vaughn, who also produces, the film shows what happens when love turns into a weapon of mutual destruction.
Gary (Vaughn) helps his brother (Vincent D'Onofrio) run bus tours in Chicago; he does stand-up for the passengers. Brooke (Aniston) helps her boss (Judy Davis) run an art gallery. They meet at a Cubs game, fall hard, buy a condo together and live happily ever after, for two years. All this happens in the opening credits. Then come the fights. He doesn't do the dishes unless he's asked. She doesn't understand his needs.

They break up, but neither will leave the condo, which director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, yea, Down With Love, nay) turns into a war zone. She dumps him, hoping he'll change. He says fine, hoping she'll change. She brings men home, gets a bikini wax (the Telly Savalas) and walks around naked. He brings home a pool table and slob pals. Stalemate.

The Break-up The Break-up
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The Break-Up is the movie on which Vaughn and Aniston famously met and fell in love, to the delight of tabloids everywhere. How ironic, since they mostly shoot daggers at each other. To relieve the bile, Gary and Brooke call in friends to take sides. Joey Lauren Adams plays Addie, Brooke's sounding board. Jon Favreau plays Johnny O, the buddy with the guts to stand by Gary and still tell him he's a selfish bastard. Vaughn and Favreau are so money, just like they were in Swingers. Only this time Vaughn's man-child is forced to take on the demons of maturity and see what he's made of.

Credit Vaughn and Aniston for dropping the glam act and joining writers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender in the risky task of turning a formula sex comedy on its empty head. You won't leave The Break-Up with a skip in your step -- it's more like a knot in your gut. Until a cop-out ending, this is War of the Roses territory, where laughs take no prisoners.

*By PETER TRAVERS, Rolling Stone


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