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Oh boy. Buckle your seatbelt, dear reader. This is gonna get… massive?

I bought my 360 back in 2007 to play Mass Effect. I was blown away by the character creator demos, was becoming a fan of Bioware thanks to KOTOR and Jade Empire, and was just primed and ready to go. What followed from there is probably one of the all around best video game franchises of all time, and certainly the most consistent set of games Bioware has ever created. Mass Effect 2 is probably one of the greatest games of all time. Unfortunately, they had some trouble sticking the landing and bringing the trilogy, which was ambitious as all get out, to a satisfying close (for most people). Bioware has always been a responsive company (some would say reactive or reactionary) and they were quick to try and fix issues. I think that history will be kind to Mass Effect 3 and I know I’ve softened on its narrative issues after a few years and playthroughs.

I’m not sure what history will make of Mass Effect: Andromeda. All I know is that I have a fucking lot to say about this game and I know that I’m gonna miss and leave out tons anyway. Good and bad as it is a very mixed bag and because I played Horizon: Zero Dawn just before, I was inevitably let down here. So it’ll probably wind up being mostly bad as I catalogue and process the laundry list of complaints I have about it. This game is the definition of death by a thousand cuts. For a lot of players who picked it up at launch, Bioware will never be able to recover that critical first impression even as they scramble to fix glaring issues that by all rights should not have been present at the launch of such an expensive and anticipated game, one which also had a five year development cycle. But having said all that, I still found a lot to enjoy. Major missions are very satisfying and there are many memorable moments in the game. While Andromeda mostly gets by on those bits where it does the familiar very well, I do look forward to playing it again once it’s been patched a bit more.

I will break this review into sections for ease of reading and so that you, reader, can focus on elements you maybe care most about. Most people play Bioware games for the story, and I’ll start there, but please don’t ignore the section on Technical Issues because I promise you that some of that shit will rob you of enjoyment and it’s best to be forewarned about them. Also note that I won’t really be discussing Multiplayer as a I barely got into that (it’s been a buggy mess with major connection issues) and it’s not the reason I play Mass Effect or Bioware games anyway.

It may go without saying but there will be spoilers to follow…

MASSIVE SPOILERS (hehe)

Read the rest of this entry »

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No one will accuse this movie of not looking great.

Ghost in the Shell as a 20 years removed live action adaptation of a seminal anime film is at once completely unnecessary and completely inevitable. We live in a weird period where the tropes and signifiers of the cyberpunk genre are everywhere we look. It makes a sort of sense that the most influential pieces of that history are being reclaimed and re-positioned for modern audiences. Not only is Ghost in the Shell a thing that happened, but Blade Runner is getting a sequel, shows like Incorporated also pay direct homage to and update the William Gibson and Margaret Atwood cyberpunk vision for the 2010s. But when you watch Marvel movies or the CW superhero shows, the technological gimmicks as well as many of the technological themes stories address (artificial intelligence, human enhancement, etc) are also present.

This is because we kind of live cyberpunk now, we’ve got all the big elements: sketchy corporations accruing more and more power, poorly understood technological progress unevenly distributed and always dovetailing between transcendence and frivolity, and a world where high-tech gadgets and cybernetic crime, warfare, and identity are taken for granted.

So what time could be better than now for an adaptation of Ghost in the Shell? This movie’s historical and iconographical relevance is only rivaled by its failure to address another cornerstone of our times: the latter days of white supremacy in an increasingly global context. Make no mistake, Ghost in the Shell is a very political film but it accomplishes this accidentally and becomes a “useful fool” in the discourses of identity politics, racial/cultural hegemony, and the gyre of entertainment representation. Now, maybe you’re not interested in all that shit. Read the review anyway, because I’ll be getting into the more technical stuff that works or doesn’t first. If you’re looking for a quick summary of the kind I usually put here, let’s say that Ghost in the Shell is… okay. Too much of the narrative is simplified or compromised, and while the imagery and action is beautiful and memorable it also frequently feels cheap outside of the really great practical effects and props that are sprinkled throughout the movie. It also has pretty rad music, though they should have used the ’95 theme more.

//SPOILERS//follow.review Read the rest of this entry »

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This movie will totally prey on your irrational fear of triangles.

The Void is a movie where it is best to go in without knowing too much. However, to make sure the right people see this I will say up front that if you like cosmic horror (Lovecraft and/or Stephen King) and John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing you are primed to love this. It was made for you.

Beyond its horror pedigree and fairly game achievement of its ambitions, it is interesting to note that The Void is a partially cowdfunded film. That’s pretty cool to think about since not only are practical-effects driven movies like this one fairly rare nowadays, crowdfunding proves there’s both an appetite for them and the potential for more to be made.

Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski wrote and directed the hell out of this film. It has a fairly simple, straightforward premise that unfolds into truly eerie territory. One of the best things about it is that it gets at ya fast and often, spending only the minimal time on set up before getting into the good stuff. If you’re tired of horror movies that wait too long to show some monsters or tip the hand of weird shit going on, you’ll like the way this one is structured.

THERE ARE SPOILERS… IN THE VOID.

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The sense of scale in this movie is just masterful.

I really, really didn’t like 2005’s King Kong and it was really the beginning of my reappraisal of Peter Jackson as a filmmaker (George Lucas 2.0). I only saw it the one time and while people have reassured me that it’s got redeeming qualities, and I’m sure it does, I have never had the desire to revisit it again.

Kong: Skull Island on the other hand? I think I’ll be rewatching this one a ton. For one thing, it’s fucking gorgeous. So well designed and beautifully shot. It’s an obvious course-correction after Godzilla 2014’s very mixed bag, and this might not sit well for fans of that movie, but I loved it. Mostly what this means is that Kong has a diverse cast of human characters that are fleshed out to varying degrees and have charisma and meaningful arcs (for the most part). Godzilla had one dude who just kept being inexplicably there for everything. Kong simply does it one better by paying a little more attention to the humans and also by making sure Kong is around early and often. It maintains the somewhat distant perspective on Kong that Godzilla had with its titular beast, but I actually kind of like that. It’s better if humans are sort of watching this big ape-god and arguing among themselves about its true motives and traits. It gives it a slight tinge of cosmic horror, where even with all the jawing about it we’re pretty sure no one really ever understands these great monsters fully.

In most ways, Kong plays like a very old fashioned adventure movie. It has a playful sensibility with tons of visual gags and a critical attention to small details that helps it pull off that swashbuckling tone. It feels like the cover of a 60’s Hollow Earth novel come to life, right down to the action figure hero and heroine. I was not expecting something with this much scale and confidence from Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose previous movie Kings of Summer is one I really liked but is almost laughably smaller in every conceivable way. Still, Vogt-Roberts might owe a debt to Gareth Edwards but he very much makes his own mark in the Kaijuverse that they are trying to build. I think he’s the best bet for bringing together that inevitable movie where Kong and Godzilla throw down. Read the rest of this entry »

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This movie is totally hollow.

Over time, an unofficial rule of this blog developed and it is that I don’t typically go back and review movies from a previous year. There are always way too many and not enough time in the current year so I usually concentrate on what I’m seeing in theaters. For Assassin’s Creed, I am going to make an exception. Because I’m mad at it. It is so, so bad and the worst part is that it’s kind of regular type bad (it’s a lazy, shallow mess) rather than interesting or ambitious type bad. If all a video game movie can hope for is to be some shade of bad, I’d prefer the ambitious and bizarre bad of Warcraft to this any fucking day.

About the nicest thing you can say about this movie is that it’s occasionally gorgeous and very occasionally has some interesting ideas or revisions of the Assassin’s Creed “lore” as we might know it from the games. I played those games in the halcyon days before Ubisoft decided to make it an annual release and drive anything good about it to the merry land of tedious repetition and stagnant innovation. Still, I was cautiously optimistic about this movie because the trailer was stylish and there’s some solid talent both behind and in front of the camera. I was one of the people who liked Justin Kurzel and Michael Fassbender’s previous collaboration, 2015’s Macbeth adaptation. If Kurzel could bring his grit and eye for imagery to a video game movie, all the better. And he did, sort of, which is why there are shots in Assassin’s Creed that are great and might even trick some viewers into believing it’s ever more than some pretty packaging for a completely boring, by the numbers plot-driven vanity project. And it does feel like a vanity project for Fassbender.

All that being said, Assassin’s Creed is what I called “regular type bad” so at the end of the day, its many sins will be glossed and forgiven by people with an investment in what it offers: the elusive and fleeting thrill of seeing moments from a video game brought to life in a movie. There’s also that people probably genuinely want this movie to be way better than it is, that will fill in the yawning gaps it leaves everywhere (but especially with characterization, of which there is almost none) with dismissive “they explained that” statements. And yes, this movie explains itself a lot, right from the half-assed opening text, but it rarely if ever does anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yeah.

I’m not super up on Key and Peele so I don’t really know the work of Jordan Peele but I have a feeling now that I should get acquainted. I saw Keanu and thought it was a bit similar to Pineapple Express but otherwise pretty good, and I’m aware of some of the most famous sketches Key and Peele have done. Mostly, though, I entered into Get Out without a lot of preconceived notions about Peele as a filmmaker. After Get Out, I’ve gotta say that I hope the rumors he has several more thematically similar movies planned are true.

Get Out plays like an homage to classic low-key horror from the 70’s and 80’s, movies that were big on atmosphere and low on flashy effects or obvious scares. I didn’t find Get Out to be particularly “scary” but that hardly matters. I think a horror movie doesn’t have to be scary in a visceral “looking over your shoulder at on the walk home” kind of way to be effective, and besides it is possible that non-white viewers will find it much more viscerally scary than I did as a viewer who passes for white and has not had to deal with the kind of shit that happens. That said, Get Out is incredibly unsettling and creepy, especially since it is punctuated by expertly placed comedy, like little release valves that tease some of the tension away just so Peele can double down on it a scene or two later. You’d never know this was Peele’s first horror movie, especially since humor in horror is a difficult rope to walk for even veteran filmmakers and it’s walked so very well here. Get Out is already one of the best movies of the year, and will probably go down as a hugely fresh perspective in horror, a genre that is at once welcoming and desperate for them.

Ultimately, Get Out is getting notice less for being a horror movie and more for being a movie that uses horror to discuss race. It’s worth noting that the way it’s a horror movie seems to be a seamless hybrid of horror from an urban black perspective (and urban is not here intended to be code for “street”) and classic atmospheric horror. The racial commentary is well constructed, wryly illustrated in dialogue and the premise/playing out of the story, and is unflinchingly confrontational without being polemic (and therefore much more difficult for assholes to dismiss). Some of its humor and perspective reminded me of the similarly clever Atlanta, so if you dig that but don’t usually like horror, this still might be a movie for you.

SPOILERS ARE POISON FOR HORROR MOVIES, SO QUIT READING NOW. Read the rest of this entry »

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His body is a roadmap of all the mistakes they’ve made with this character in 17 years. This time, Logan comes correct.

People have been waiting a long time for this, but they maybe didn’t know it would be like this. Cryptic way of saying that people love comic book characters, genuinely love them, and want Hollywood to do right by them. Too often, they get it wrong and the fans think they know what they want. But does anyone really know? I doubt many people would envision Logan as the “right” interpretation of the characters. But it is. I doubt many people would have expected, after so many mixed and outright bad X-Men movies, for Logan to be so much better it’s not even funny… but it is.

The thing is, it got here by not giving a shit about the silly trivial details that the nerdiest fans get so hung up on. Logan’s hair, for example. Or why Professor X suddenly has some. These things aren’t really important, but they are the superficial details that the big fans obsess over all in the name of “getting it right”. It’s why some people are going to be bent out of shape that this isn’t an Old Man Logan adaptation (terrible comic anyway). So what makes Logan “right”, then? I think most simply because it focuses on having a good story that these characters can fit in, rather than the other way around. This movie is light on plot, but dripping with subtext and incredibly strong characterization. We’ve been watching Hugh Jackman play Wolverine and Patrick Stewart play Charles Xavier for almost twenty years and they were always a big part of the reason why people kept coming back in spite of the stupid shit the X-Men movies have gotten up to in that time. That’s an era of performances in movies that didn’t deserve them. So now, for their final go around, James Mangold made a movie that does deserve them.

At the same time, it’s important to realize that this isn’t sudden proof that sadness and violence is what makes a “good” comic book movie. It helps make Logan good, because those elements interact with some mature themes and storytelling. Without that, with only the grim and the violent, you get DCEU movies. Logan is strong alchemy, and I don’t think it can be replicated any more than Deadpool can. There’s contextual stuff happening here and it’s a big part of why this movie is blowing everybody away. But if you skipped to the finish line, we’d have this good movie maybe but we wouldn’t have a movie that makes people grip their chairs or feel like they’ve lost a friend by the end. Context is everything.

SPOILERS, BUB. Read the rest of this entry »

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Such a feature would be useful for adults and the internet sometimes.

Finally a Batman movie I can fully get behind. I am well known for having mixed feelings about the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, especially on the writing level. I’m particularly mocking of the cultural impact, where you can’t get through a comment thread anywhere without someone doing the “____needs/___deserves” line, and the weird legions of maladjusted young men who rose up in the wake of criticisms about the Nolan movies to literally threaten the lives of film critics and people who disagreed with them.  Entirely the wrong lessons were drawn by fandom of those movies. I really feel for the long-time and holistic fans of Batman as a character and part of the larger DC mythos. To me, they are constantly abused by Hollywood. DC fans in general. There are those super serious fans out there who are probably predisposed toward hating and dismissing this movie, but I would really urge them to give this a chance. Because it’s not just a parody of Batman and his fandom and legacy, it’s also a huge fucking love letter to fans of the character, of comic books, and of nerds in general.

Except something weird happened when The Lego Movie arrived. Batman was a major character and he was not only a series of jokes about the silliest elements of the character, he was also really funny.That’s got a lot to do with Will Arnett who doubles down in this movie to deliver maybe the best cinematic Batman to date, but it also owes a lot to the way the writers and directors are also huge Batman fans and able to draw on almost a hundred years of cool shit, silly shit, and flat out weird shit for this version of the character. It seemed weird to set a movie around him, like we were all surprised that The Lego Movie wasn’t just a toy commercial, but a Lego Batman movie? That had to exist just to sell more overpriced licensed Lego, right?

Wrong. Lego Batman is legit. I wasn’t sure that the absence of Chris Lord and Phil Miller would be a good thing for this movie, but Chris McKay seriously knocks it out of the park. It takes more out of The Fast and the Furious and Deadpool than it does out of any existing Batman property. It’s full of humor that threatens the fourth wall, including numerous references to the other Batman movies and the age of the character. There’s a great vocal cast having a ball here. Biggest surprise? This movie has a strong emotional core about a lonely Batman who needs to let people in so he can relearn the value of family. If there are any missteps it’s that some parts are a tad underwritten (there were something like 6 writers on this) and it maybe relies too much on flat, bombastic superhero action. But for the most part, it re-appropriates the pseudo-stop-motion aesthetics of The Lego Movie, riffs on 78 years of Batman lore, and makes fun of the silly aspects of the character while also reminding us that Batman was always silly and that this is perfectly okay.

Also, this movie both makes fun of Suicide Squad and manages to be better at the core concept. That is just a win all the way down. Read the rest of this entry »

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Only gifs will suffice.

EDIT: I totally forgot to finish this review. Oh well, better late than never! Sorry if it’s kind of weak, though. This movie is out of my system now that I sit down to finish.

John Wick was a movie that I was pleasantly surprised by. However, I underestimated the pop culture impact it would have. I am super glad that it has also changed peoples’ minds about Keanu Reeves, who I’ve always liked, since this a movie that he’s so inextricable to that you couldn’t have one without the other. There are sly jokes about his career in both movies (including small roles and cameos for actors he has worked with in the past, in his most iconic roles) and it shows a bit of awareness that Reeves has consistently been an actor underestimated and underappreciated. For a long time, the most common grudging compliment was that at least Neo (The Matrix) was a role no one else could have played quite the same way, but I think that may be even more true of John Wick. When I talk about how inextricable this character is to Reeves, a good example would be his reputation as an actor that works hard, is incredibly focused, thoughtful, and committed. Who else does that sound like?

Anyway. John Wick was not a movie that demanded a sequel, but I’m glad it got one. One of the most surprising parts of that movie was the way it subtly hinted at its alternate world, lurking just in the shadows. It’s a world of stringent and ritualized codes of behavior governing the top echelons of global crime and the chess pieces that move within their world. The hints of this world, from the gold coins to the “neutral ground” of the Continental Hotel, were tantalizing and gave the movie something special. If anything, it’s the world more than the character that needed its story to continue. Though I’m sure it was tempting to blow the doors off for Chapter 2, writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Strehelski wisely maintain the now-signature restraint and focus that reflects their anti-hero. Good stories are often fractals and it’s clear now that this is the way these guys are constructing one of the most exciting original cinematic franchises to come along in recent memory.

Chapter 2 doesn’t so much attempt to “top” the first one as refine it. This movie had a bigger budget, more locations, and a wider scope on the shadowy world Wick walks in and out of. What I think is most interesting about it, though, is that it doesn’t try to repeat the emotional beats of the first movie more than to remind us of Wick’s core motivations. Instead, it focuses on the stark philosophical ethos of Wick’s world and its globalized reach, with ornate parties and larger-than-life tribes, families, agents, and powers. It’s like a fucking vampire movie, really. And that isn’t to say that it’s got any explicitly supernatural elements, just that the tropes involving the power structure of its world are very reminiscent of vampire fiction in which ancient customs govern the affairs of equally ancient clans as they rule the world from the shadows. It seems that Kolstad and Strehelski really know what they are doing in terms of deliberately pacing their exploration of that world, keeping John Wick central at almost all times so that we experience the world as he does, as if we’re not strangers but have catching up to do. This shows that we’re in good hands as Chapter 2 ends with a major shift in their world and more tantalizing hints of what’s to come. Read the rest of this entry »

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One way to get free satellite.

So in anticipation of Diesel returning with another ridiculous but maybe good-hearted action franchise, I watched xXx for the first time since high school and saw xXx 2: State of the Union for the first time ever. I think most people (who give any shit) are surprised that Diesel has been so successful at resuscitating the key roles that made him famous. Maybe it’s because he didn’t wait a score of years to do it, like his action star predecessors have (and thus mostly failed). Maybe it’s because he has some talent as a producer and seems to be able to gather good people. I think a big part of it is that Diesel consistently has a lot of fun and wants to share the fun, both on screen and off, with all his fans. There’s something infectiously charming about the man, even when characters like Dominic Toretto and Richard B. Riddick don’t call for him to use much of it. Xander Cage, however, returning to a defunct franchise after like 15 years… well, that’s a different story.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is head and shoulders a better movie than either of the first two. It accomplishes this primarily by bringing in a lot from the Fast and Furious playbook, mostly in terms of building itself around a colorful ensemble of characters. It doesn’t quite work as well as, say, Fast Five did because it hasn’t had five movies to build a weird sort of following for even the most ridiculous and sketchy of its cast. The Return of Xander Cage mostly has the job of introducing a large, diverse, and kick-ass team which might pave the way for many more of these movies the way Fast Five did for that. Can Vin Diesel really be the core of two extremely similar relentless fun and stupid action franchises? Why the fuck not? I mean, his movies might be mostly dumb but they are consistently well made. Fast and Furious has a heart of gold and xXx has been weirdly infused with socio-political commentary in each of its three entries. I think what matters more than that, though, is Diesel seems to consistently be able to work with directors and writers who find the fun kind of stupid, and not the frustrating and insulting kind. I love action movies, and I love when the raise the bar to ridiculous new heights (which this one really does) and I appreciate not being treated like an idiot even though I am watching underwater motocross chases. It may be too subtle a thing for some people, but it’s a big part of the reason why I love most of the Fast and Furious movies and why I think I kinda loved xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Read the rest of this entry »

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