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Meet the destructoid Team >>   Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak 's blog
★ destructoid | Contributor ★
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About
Monday reviews aren't on Monday. It's old school, trust me.

OK, so I've been and editor for a while now. I probably should fill this part in a bit more fully.

I've been here a while. In most all likelihood longer than you. I was here when the first cblog post went up, and before. I like to believe I rep Dtoid old school. I fell in love with this community the second the cblogs opened up and posted all that I could as Cowzilla3 (you may remember him as an angry banana). I fell off the radar a bit as I started working for other sites and my time got stretched, but I never left Dtoid and finally, one day, my dreams came true.

Now I'm the Weekend Editor at Dtoid (and sometimes a game reviewer). If you didn't know me before as Cowzilla3, then "Hi! I'm Matt Razak. They let me out of the cage on weekends." I feel I should put the customary Dtoid rocks things here, but you already know that. I'd put my regular posts up below, but I don't have any (yet). Needless to say, I love Destructoid and everyone here.

Big group hug.

I'll see you on the weekends and we can celebrate Hammer Day together.

I also write movie reviews for a living. Sometimes I'll post them here. If you liked my review I would appreciate your kind clickage here. It would be most helpful in feeding the starving African orphans I take care of.
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'The Karate Kid' comes kicking back

The Karate Kid just won the award for surprise of the year. It's good. No, like actually bona-fide good. While remakes of 80s films might be in vogue it's been tough going, but Karate Kid nails it. I might even go so far as to say that it actually nails it as well as the original. Big claim, yes, but when a film has this much fun and then throws in kung fu it's easy to understand why the entire theater was cheering by the end of it.

If you have seen the original The Karate Kid then you know the gist of this movie (and if you haven't you're a 80s movie sinner). A young child, in this case Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), is outcast and picked on until he befriends a kindly karate kung fu teacher, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). The latter helps him learn kung fu in time for the big kung fu tournament against the kids who keep picking on him. Original? No. Cheer worthy sports movie? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It's the differences from the original, however, that really elevate The Karate Kid to greatness. Possibly most important is the "karate kid" himself. Smith is fantastic on screen and absolutely oozes the charm and screen presences of his father, Will Smith. In fact there are times when you would be tempted to believe that the younger Smith is actually his father as a child. Whomever he is, he's great on screen and while still a little rough around the edges can obviously handle humor and drama quite adeptly. Thankfully, The Karate Kid allows him to do both and show off his relatively impressive kung fu skills all the while.

This leads us to the second difference: the fighting. This version of The Karate Kid is packed with surprisingly good fight scenes -- or maybe not so surprising. After all, the great Jackie Chan was on the set (he has a very cool fight himself), and much of the crew was Chinese thanks to the fact that the film was actually shot in China. This makes for kung fu fights that are not only fun to watch, but actually well directed and choreographed -- a true rarity for an American kung fu film. And this is kung fu, make no mistake. Where the original Karate Kid went for a slightly more realistic slant to its fights, this new one shoots for impressive moves over reality. That isn't to say wires are being used and people are flying through trees, because they aren't. All the fights are perfectly possible (and Smith went through extensive training to pull them off), but they're definitely not what you would see in reality.

Possibly the most surprising thing in the film is Chan. After a streak of truly bad films he absolutely nails Mr. Han. Not only is Chan's sense of humor and fighting style perfect for the role, but he's finally acting his age. More importantly he's actually acting. If you've seen the original you know that the Mr. Miyagi character has a very emotional scene and Chan handles his version of it impeccably well. It's too bad there aren't more roles for aging kung fu stars because I'm not sure I want to see Chan in anything else after this.

Seriousness aside, since it is such a small part of the film, The Karate Kid is just a blast. It does what all great sports films do and makes you cheer for the good guys and hate the bad guys (arrogant, punk kids are jerks no matter what country you're in). All the while it's paying homage to the original without copying in any straightforward manner, making it one of the few remakes that is its own movie as well. The fact that it is wonderfully shot in China is just an added bonus to a film that will have you pumping your fists in the air in triumph by the end of it. My only real complaint is that "You're the Best" wasn't played once, not even in the credits!








People seemed to like/hate my Prince of Persia review so I figured I'd start these up again for now. I got behind as I should also have a review for Get Him to the Greek, but I'll just say that it's definitely as funny as Forgetting Sarah Marshal and the funniest film to come out since The Hangover.



Splice is the kind of movie you have to sleep on. Give it a little while to ruminate before you know if you've just watched something interesting and provocative or just plain weird. It's hard to say where you will come down on it. It's easy to see anyone falling on either side of the delicate line between oddness and brilliance. For me Splice eventually settled comfortably into brilliance, but it's still really weird.

Despite the horrendously cliché trailers for Splice that simply make it look like a bad Species clone without Natasha Henstridge running around naked, the film is actually nothing at all like that. It's actually nothing at all like anything you've seen before. The basic premise is familiar enough: a pair of scientists - in this case a couple named Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) - create life out of nothing by splicing together the DNA of a human and some other animals. In most cases you could easily see where this was going, but Splice avoids the standard monster-created-by-man formula and veers off into something completely different.

What you get instead is a film about love, creation and parenthood, and a film with some seriously messed up moments. After Clive and Elsa create the creature that they eventually name Dren they start to raise it like a child, attempting to keep it secret from the rest of the world. Dren, of course, grows up quickly into a disturbingly beautiful woman-thing with chicken legs and wings. And while she is deadly and dangerous the film instead focuses on Clive and Elsa's ability to parent and their messed up reasons for creating life in the first place. It twists even further beyond that, but I'd hate to ruin some of the film's best and most awkward moments.

What the great Vincenzo Natali does with Splice is take a genre that has constantly dodged its moral and emotional questions by opting for scares, gore and sex and let the questions that should arise actually arise. It makes for a fascinating film that may disgust, confuse and repel you at first, but starts to get under your skin and makes you think. I'm not about to say that this is a work of high-art as it clearly wants to shock as well and parts of the film can falter, but this is a drastic shift in pace and focus for any movie of this ilk.

Aside from the story being different, Splice is a pleasure to watch as well. Natali still works the camera just as well as he did in Cube and while the digital effects are not the best you've ever seen, they work splendidly for the film. This is especially true when it comes to Dren, who is played by Delphine Chanéac -- or at least her top half is. Dren walks on legs that look somewhat like a bird's, and the blending of Chanéac's top half with these digital lower legs is fantastic and superbly done. In fact during one particular scene you see all of Dren (and I mean all) and the work done to meld the real into the fake is highly impressive and a little disturbing.

What can't be said about Splice is that it isn't original and insightful. You may leave the theater not quite sure what to think, but you will definitely know that you just saw something unlike anything else you have seen before. In an industry of cookie-cutter filmmakers and movies that seem all to the same Splice delivers something different, and it's hard to complain about that.
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You may go to a movie this weekend, and if you get there early you might see the "First Look." It's those ads before the movies that play. While not paying attention to the screen you may see someone you recognize on the screen out of the corner of your eye. You'll look harder. You'll think, "I know that face, but from where?" Then it will hit you. That's that guy that writes on weekends at Destructoid! It is. It's me.

As you may or may not know I make part of my living writing movie reviews. At the moment I do that for Examiner.com. Go read at the link on the right over there. I give good advice. Recently they partnered with NCM (the people behind the First Look stuff) and got who they perceived to be their best critics to film some commercials in Denver. I'm one of them. Each critic from a location will be going out to their local city, but I was chosen as one of the four film critics to be in the ad nationwide so everyone gets to see my charming face. Also, since I write for the page on a national level and they wanted to keep these local they randomly made me the Columbus, OH Movie critic. So if you're in Columbus you'll see even more of me in the ads.

The national one is not that bad, though pretty cheesy. I ask all those living in Columbus to not judge me as a person based on what they see. They made me say really terrible lines, and I am no actor. Also, my hair looks a little funny because it's fracking hot under camera lights and I was sweating.

It was actually a real blast to do the filming despite them making me say really cheesy things, and I got to meet a lot of other really cool people. So if you're ready to have plenty of fodder to make fun of me with I suggest getting to the theater early. I'm trying to see if I'm allowed to upload the spots here, and if I can I will. Until then you will have to go to the theater to see me and go to Columbus, OH to see me act like an idiot.
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Hi Destructoid Community (of which I count myself a proud member),



I'm thankful for you.
I'm thankful you read my posts on weekends.
I'm thankful you yell at me when you disagree with a post.
I'm thankful you agree with me on things in my posts.
I'm thankful you flame me.
I'm thankful you flame the flamers back.
I'm thankful you leave a comment.
I'm thankful I get to write for you.
I'm thankful for Bmore/DC NARPS
I'm thankful when you find me funny.
I'm thankful for when you insult me, my gaming rep, my knowledge or my manliness.
I'm thankful for when you correct my typos (really).
I'm thankful for thoughtful discussions on gaming.
I'm thankful for "doubling down" and every other meme that crops up.
I'm thankful you keep all the writers in line.
I'm thankful for the cblogs.
I'm thankful for Friday Night Fights (though I rarely get the chance to join in).
I'm thankful for large walls of text.
I'm thankful for blogs with images.
I'm thankful for those who comment without avatars.
I'm even more thankful for those that do have avatars.
I'm thankful for useless blogs that push down great ones.
I'm thankful for amazing blogs that I can't stop reading.
I'm thankful for those who spam.
I'm thankful for the ban hammer (and Hamza).
I'm thankful for random news tips sent in on extremely dry weekends.
I'm thankful for knowing I'd have a friend no matter what part of the country I was in.
I'm thankful for "Oh Hai! This is my first blog post" blog posts.
I'm thankful for "I just posted 1,000 blog posts" blog posts.
I'm thankful for those who don't understand we have forums and what they're for.
I'm thankful for those who rock the forums day in and day out, despite most people falling into the above category.
I'm thankful that the cblogs get recapped every day.
I'm thankful for PAX East so I can finally meet half of you.
I'm thankful to have met those of you I have.

In short, I'm thankful for every part of the Destructoid Community -- good, bad and also, cocks.
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'Paranormal Activity' delivers the fear

The slow burn. It's a lost art in most film genres, let alone horror. Right now most horror consists of getting in, killing people quickly and shoving a few sudden appearances by the bad guy in your face. The art of suspenseful horror is one that is steadily fading from practice. This is why, among a plethora of other reasons, Paranormal Activity is one of the best modern horror films ever made. It doesn't coat the screen in blood or try to pounce on you with a sudden violin shriek. No, Paranormal Activity is a slow burn, building up terror over its entire running time until you're actually afraid for the couple the film follows to go to bed each night -- and once you leave the theater you're afraid to go to bed that night.

If you haven't heard of Paranormal Activity it is quite the Cinderella story. After being made for only $11,000 (though it doesn't show it in any way ) the film made the festival rounds winning instant cheers (or more likely screams) and was eventually picked up by Paramount, which was simply planning to do a very limited release in major cities, but due to the film's ever growing popularity the company has now decided to keep it running and add it to more cities.

That's the story behind the film, but it's the story in it that makes it so interesting. The film takes place entirely in a California home inhabited by couple who has recently moved in together. Katie, the female of the couple, has been haunted by something since she was a child, but the hauntings are getting worse. Micah, the male, decides that he will buy a video camera to record them as they sleep and see if they can capture anything. He of course records almost every other part of their life as well.

The film presents itself as home video from a real event that was put together by Paramount, and it adheres to this religiously. The opening is simply a few words of text thanking the police for the cooperation in putting the film out and the movie ends with no credits whatsoever. Of course by the end you're a little too creeped out to notice much other than the lights coming up. The film is so well paced (except maybe at the end) and put together that you start to wonder if it isn't all real. Both actors perform admirably in roles that must have been immensely challenging to even get into let alone pull off convincingly.

However, most of the film's horror credit must go to first time director Oren Peli who masterfully weaves together their story into one of the scariest things on the screen despite the fact that the creature is never seen, there is no score and the entire film takes place in a perfectly normal suburban house. Peli basically splits the film up between two parts: daytime and nighttime. Nighttime consists of the camera being placed on a tripod and watching the couple sleep and daytime consists of everything else. Nighttime is when the film gets really scary, and yet it's only about a fourth of the move. It doesn't matter though, every time the film cuts to the couple sleeping your heart instantly starts jumping and your eyes start frantically scanning the screen for anything.

Then it happens. A shadow moved or there's a thump. Small things that could happen in any house, making them all the more scary. The two sleepers might not have even noticed it, but you did and the girl next to you screaming did, and every night it gets a bit worse, a bit scarier and bit harder to pretend like you aren't freaked out every time the film cuts to the shot of the couple sleeping in bed. There's hardly anything that jumps out at you. There's barely much action other than tossing and turning, but you're scared the entire time that something is going to happen, and that's true fear and great horror. When a movie can do nothing and still be scary, you know it's doing something right.

As I said before, Paranormal Activity is an immensely slow burn. The daytime scenes are spent watching the couple attempt to understand what is going on and slowly crumble as their sleep is terrorized. It's almost normalcy for most of the movie. It's like a safety buffer between the parts where your palms start sweating and your heart picks up again. This is horror done not for the sake of gore and death, but to actually create fear. Not just fear inside the theater, fear after you leave and as you're going to bed. This isn't a horror film, it's a a lesson in how to build fear.






'Swingers' guys are all growds up

It happens to every comedian. They get older, and their comedy veers from that of the youth to that of the not so youthful. Couples Retreat is the epitome of this. The guys who made Swingers, possibly one of the most iconic male relationship movies of the 90s, have grown up and made a movie not about picking up girls, but about settling down and falling in love. For those of us who were weened on the idea that we're all "money, and we don't even know it" it's a little difficult to see, but is it bad? Not entirely. It's not entirely good either.

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau have once again teamed up to write the screenplay for a buddy guy film. This time, however, the guys are mostly married and staring 40 in the face. When one of the guys and his wife feel that their marriage is falling apart they convince the rest of the couples to head to a marriage counseling resort with the promise that the marriage counseling is optional. Turns out it isn't, and all the couples go through questions about their marriage and life. Now the idea of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Fazion Love trapped on an island doing hilarious things while accompanied by Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk (all in bikinis) sounds like one of the greatest ideas on earth for a bunch of various reasons -- it sadly is not.

The film actually starts out amazingly well, especially if you've been judging its comedy from the trailers. It seems Favreau and Vaughn (accompanied by Dana Fox) still have some comedy gold in their pens. It's not as quotable as their previous efforts, but there some great lines in there. As the group gets to the island and starts counseling the comedy is sharp and entertaining. It's looking like this is going to be a far more enjoyable movie than the standard rom-com trailers made it out to be. Vaughn, Favreau, Bateman and Fazion all seem to be on some good comedy 'A' game, even if some of the slapstick is pretty cheesy. The ladies, who play a much larger part than women in previous Vaughn/Favreau films, handle much of the comedy extremely well despite the fact that the boys get all the best punchlines.

Then things take a turn for the worse. As the actual story of the film starts to unfold the comedy falls flat, like it was sprinting down the white sand beaches pictured in the film and hit the ocean to fast causing it to fall over. As the comedic scenes dry up so that we can have some romance the film completely loses its charm until it feels like a romantic comedy from hell replete with a Guitar Hero showdown of epically stupid proportions and all four couples magically working everything out at the exact same time in the exact same location. Gone is the actual quality humor of the first hour and it's replaced with the kind of stuff you expect to find in a romantic comedy about married couples going to an island.

And so we are once again left with the question of why good comedians start making terrible movies as they get older. Is it just something that happens? Once you're past 35 or so you have to start making films that have lost their edge entirely. Are they that out of touch with what is funny? If that is the case then Couples Retreat mike actually show us the exact moment when this happens to Vaughn and Favreau.

[Please click the link in my profile so I may continue to fight off the evil that attacks the Australian clams every year.]
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Remind you of anything? *cough*Left4Dead*cough*

'Zombieland' has it all

Zombieland has one flaw, and its so minuscule that it's almost not worth mentioning, but for any zombie movie lover it is important. See, it should really be called "Infectedland" as, according to the main character's narration, the flesh eating creatures are infected by a disease which causes a zombie like state and are indeed not actually the walking dead. That's the one flaw. Otherwise Zombieland is a bloody, gorey, funny, over-the-top, zombie slaughtering piece of perfection.

The premise of the film is that America has pretty much been overrun with zombies (we're going to call them that even if it's wrong) after a zombie apocalypse has occurred. Like any good zombie apocalypse there are survivors. Four, in fact. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy college student; Wichita (Emma Stone), a hard-edged babe; Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita's little sister; and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a zombie killing, one-liner spouting, badass cowboy. If the setup sounds a little contrived, it is, but it's what the movie does with it that makes it so awesome. The four meet, and after a little controversy decide to head toward an amusement park in California where the girls have fond childhood memories. Zombie killing ensues.

In an immensely smart move, and one more and more zombies films are taking, the film completely glazes over the arrival of the apocalypse and plops right down in the middle of it. The movie runs a blood soaked 80 minutes, and it's the perfect amount of time to run in, kill some zombies, throw out some brilliant jokes and then kill some more zombies. It might be unclear, but there are a lot of dead zombies (not in the redundant way, in the "shot through the head" way) in this movie and they all die in ways too creative to ruin here by mentioning them.

If the screenplay and directing were any sharper it would slice through its own zombie's necks. Normal comedies don't usually make you laugh this hard, let alone ones involving copious amounts of blood and guts. Harrelson's Tallahassee is particularly a joy to watch as he decapitates and dismembers zombies in some of the most creative ways out there. On top of this Columbus's narration and strict set of rules he follows (Rule #2: Double tap all zombies) make for the perfect parody of the classic zombie film. It's refreshing that these four survivors seem to have actually watched a zombie movie in their life and know not to be an idiot, except near the end when they light up an entire theme park like a giant zombie beacon.

They do that, however, in order to remain human (spiritually), and it's that part of the film that really shines through. It's not just blood and guts, but there's a solid storyline with character development and actual human choices, which are often far, far away from movies that involve zombies. Of course no one paid a ticket for that stuff when they came to see a movie called Zombieland so let me reassure you that the film has some of the greatest zombie kills I've ever seen. In fact it's a point of pride for the movie and its characters to come up with the best ways to eliminate zombies, and director Ruben Fleischer's use of slow motion to an epically overused point fits the film perfectly. There's probably more slo-mo shots than 300, but they're gloriously well done or campy.

If none of this has convinced you that Zombieland is worth the price of admission (and rewatching with beer when it comes out on DVD) then let me just throw one more nugget at you. Zombieland contains the greatest cameo put to film since Neil Patrick Harris stole Harold and Kumar's car and started snorting coke after a strippers butt. Go now, and enjoy.



'Whip It' whips up the girl power

If you're famous in Hollywood and you want to direct the chances are it's going to happen. Film companies love putting name actors' names on their movies so when one wants to direct it usually happens. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn't. Whip It is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut and she chose a girl power/indy comedy/sports film starring Ellen Page to do it with. Three genres, one first time director, a young actress; what could go wrong?

Evidently, not that much, but just enough to miss the mark. Whip It goes down and indy with the world of roller derby, a sport that was kind-of big in the 70s and is actually seeing quite the resurgence at the moment. It's not really about that though, it's really about Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), an indy rock girl trapped in small town Texas looking for a way to truly express herself. Her overbearing mother forces her into beauty pageants and her father is a push over. She has one best friend and gets made fun of by the "cool kids." Then, on a shopping trip to Austin, she discovers roller derby and falls in love. After trying out, and discovering she's actually really fast on a pair of roller skates, she makes the team.

Of course she hasn't told her mother or father about any of this, she's underage for the league and she's falling for a boy in a rock band. If you think you've heard it before, you probably have as the film is both a bit cliche and based on a book by the same name. However, the film's story (by far its strongest point) weaves around all out sports movie/coming-of-age-story cliche by mustering up its girl power message over all else. Bliss's mom is not an evil creature, simply a protective mother. The girls on the roller derby team aren't just gags, but women and the whole relationship thing takes a decidedly refreshing turn for a movie of this type. Yes, Whip It is definitely bathing in the pools of cliche, but it's making enough waves to make it hard to tell.

Barrymore on the other hand is hardly splashing at all. Unfortunately it shows that this is her first time directing, and it shows bad. The film feels almost slapped together from the random parts she was lucky enough to capture and the actual scenes of roller derby competition are seriously lacking. Now this is the first time I've ever seen actual roller derby put to the screen (Rollberball doesn't count, I assume), so maybe it's a really tough sport to capture, but I doubt it. There's no flow to her games and it's often hard to tell what is going on. In fact it would be impossible if Jimmy Kimmel wasn't narrating the entire match as the announcer. It's too bad as more cohesive roller derby sections could have really tied the film together.

On the plus side, all the actors seem to get what is going on. Page is at once likable and plucky and Kristen Wiig, as team captain, is once again enjoyable (she seems to be the new go to comedy gal). The overall "we're so trendy" vibe of the movie doesn't ruin it either, but it sure as hell is there. Of course, when you're filming in Austin it's most likely hard to avoid that, and Bliss's mother perfectly offsets it in a very human way. Somehow, through her muddled directing, Barrymore captures some actual truth.

As a whole Whip It can entertain and is a rare girl power film that is actually about girl power. While it has its many flaws, those either in love with roller derby or just looking to have a girls night out aren't going to come out of the theater disappointed. Whip It is good, it just needs to be whipped into better shape.

[Please stop the spread of a zombie like disease by clicking the ol' link in the profile]
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