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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)

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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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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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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 »

8-6

Being a somewhat original historical action movie for people who really like skiing.

Yes. This. I am bringing back Friday Night Netflix, a very sporadic feature I used to do around the time I first started this blog. Back then I wrote these as a way to review movies I’d seen a bunch of times that I figured were underseen but easily available on Netflix. Now I’m expanding that to include movies I’ve never seen before, also easily available on Netflix, whether I like them or not. And no, Netflix doesn’t pay me to write these, but they certainly could and I wouldn’t mind.

Anyways.

For The Last King, a Norwegian and Irish co-production about an interesting period in Norway’s (very interesting) history… I guess I kind of liked it? It’s more like an 80’s buddy movie with delusions of historical epic than it is like a Kingdom of Heaven or even the show Vikings. The production is detailed and the action is coherent, but the story is about as straightforward and characters as archetypal and broadly sketched as an 80’s or early 90’s Schwarzenegger vehicle. None of this is bad, but wrapped in a package that lacks any particularly standout performances or “holy shit” moments, it might not be propulsive enough to hold the interests of people who can see a better version of basically the same stuff elsewhere on Netflix (The Last Kingdom for instance).

That said, this movie has some novel action (skiing fights!) and takes place in an unfamiliar setting. Norway and Scandinavia are usually explored in terms of the Viking era and rarely any other era. This movie takes place in the 13th century during a civil war period. You don’t really need to know much background, but this movie sent me down a wikipedia rabbit hole of Norwegian history so hey, interesting stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

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The most beautiful movie of 2016.

I saw Pete’s Dragon and Kubo and the Two Strings within a day of each other and they were wonderful companion pieces. Both films represent the very best in movies for kids, even as they give the adults tons of thematic richness potentially too complex for the kids to fully understand. They’ll feel stuff that stays with them, that they won’t recognize as coherent until long after its taken root. That’s the power of movies like these.

I have been a fan of Laika since Coraline and I would argue that ParaNorman is a masterpiece… but Kubo and the Two Strings blows all their other work out of the water. This is a movie that bleeds ambition, beauty, confidence, and grace. Every frame is a work of art and the kind of spectacle that will leave you scratching your head when you realize just how much of this movie is stop-motion with paper dolls and puppets. In Laika films, CGI is used only to enhance and to give backdrops, but you will have a hard time believing that.

Kubo is one of the best adventure movies since The Lord of the Rings, featuring the same tropes of quest narratives that are so well established but also very much taken for granted. It’s also heavy in a way that might surprise you. More even than Pete’s Dragon, which has an indie movie softness of tone, Kubo presents moments of powerful emotional weight that are punctuated by wonder, happiness, and humor. This movie is so well realized that it’s almost shocking how good it is. 2016 has been kind of a dismal year for films, but kids’ movies have consistently been great and Kubo is the best of them.

SPOILERS WILL NOT MAKE THIS MOVIE BETTER Read the rest of this entry »

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The film is gorgeous. Often jaw-droppingly.

The first indicator that Pete’s Dragon had the potential to be something special was the hiring of David Lowery, whose previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a moody, slow, and Malickian drama that was critically acclaimed and underseen. I saw it just prior to seeing this, and the contrast reminded me of Spike Jonze and his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t know if Pete’s Dragon is as sophisticated and singular as that film, but it’s definitely just as powerful and perhaps more so for its accessibility. Though it never talks down to kids and deals with some very difficult subject matter, Pete’s Dragon maintains a safer overall approach. But I was reminded of the way Where the Wild Things Are, which to me is the gold standard for sophisticated movies about and for kids, weaves wonder and drama together into a relatively daring emotional core.

I dare you to feel nothing in the opening minutes of Pete’s Dragon. This is a movie, like the kids movies I grew up with (Land Before Time and The Neverending Story come to mind), that is unafraid to be as sad as it is happy. Whenever the movie could veer into a bouncy, safe, and condescendingly “kiddie” version of a sequence, it refrains. Lowery keeps the movie grounded even when you’re watching a giant CG dragon splashing in a stream. These scenes definitely owe a debt to How to Train Your Dragon but the association is a positive one, helping the audience to completely buy Elliot and his puppy-like behavior. This is key because where many films of this kind would under-utilize the “fantastic” elements, like big green dragons, and focus instead of human drama and safer, more familiar scenes and characterizations, Pete’s Dragon spends only the amount of time on that stuff as is needed to serve the story and its emotional, thematic beats. If anything, some characters could have used more time, but overall it’s a good thing that the film keeps its focus centered on the dragon and his boy.

SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE, THOUGH.

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Oh look, a trainwreck.

Let’s just get this out of the way really quick: Suicide Squad is mostly dogshit but there are a few moments where it firmly enters genuine “so bad it’s good” territory and other moments where it’s trying so goddamn hard to manipulate you into feeling something that you just wanna say “good job, little guy” and give it a pat on the head. There’s even a few moments that feel earned, where the glimmer of a better movie is almost visible. But mostly it’s dogshit.

Why? God, where do I even start. It’s a music video of loosely connected moments, an insultingly hackneyed plot, and poorly constructed characterizations which are usually good for a laugh or an incredulous “what the fuck?” but rarely more. There’s also that it’s the most smugly, overtly misogynistic mainstream movie I’ve seen in a long time. May our inner fourteen year olds cheer. I mean, there’s definitely an audience for this. The anti-PC crowd will eat up every utterance of “bitch” or “ho”, every sexed up costume and variation on “women be crazy“. I already know from the audience I saw it with that women getting punched in the face at the drop of a dime is just delightful. Your faith in humanity will not be well served by Suicide Squad audiences, but that’s nothing unusual. More than the overall quality of the movie, I was surprised by the misogyny. I like David Ayer. FuryEnd of Watch, and Training Day are all fantastic films. But his aesthetic is “street” and here it is the kind of street evoked by youtube gangsta rappers who are trying too hard. Likely, this is where the unaddressed misogyny comes from: it’s part of the assumed iconography of “street” culture where there’s men and there’s bitches or hos or bitch-hos. I think the script of Suicide Squad says a lot about what he and the other creatives for the DC movieverse think about the fans of these stories and characters, though. I think instead of whining to critics (or threatening them) or trying to sue because Joker isn’t in the movie enough, these fanboys ought to vote with their dollars (and their attention) and give WB a reason to stop hiring people who think so little of them. Of all of us, really.

Anyway, yeah, Suicide Squad is really bad. Is it worse than Batman vs. Superman? I don’t know. Do you compare dogshit to catshit very often? They’re two of the worst superhero movies in recent memory, I can tell you that much. And yet. And yet, Suicide Squad is also a fascinating watch. I was never bored. Very much like the first viewing of a Michael Bay Transformers movie, I was kind of transfixed (and yes, entertained) by what I was seeing and hearing. Sometimes I could not believe the movie and other times I was almost on the hook for a heroic moment or a badass line. I think it’s fair to say I was never “with” this movie, and my enjoyment was almost always at its expense. This movie might have had something, but it’s like watching Jared Leto play hot potato with himself for almost two hours. Or like an episode of The Venture Brothers that wasn’t trying to be a parody. Read the rest of this entry »

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Whoa Matt Damon, you looking grim.

I am a huge fan of the Bourne movies. Never read the books, never cared to, but always liked the energy and aesthetic of the movies. They are muscular, spartan, and relentless. But what happens when an ill-advised pseudo-sequel is poorly received and prompts a “return to form” sequel a few years later, bringing back an aging lead and the series’ best writer-director? You’d think that it would be triumphant. Putting the “Bourne” back in Jason Bourne.

Unfortunately, if that was their goal, they were maybe a little too zealous. The problem with Jason Bourne isn’t that it returns to the titular character. It isn’t even the “shaky-cam” (I fucking hate that term) aesthetics of Paul Greengrass. It’s that the movie is so hell-bent on reconstructing the formula it developed over three great movies that it forgets to really do anything else, other than trotting out some story tropes that really don’t belong as a way to make the drama “more personal”. It doesn’t really work, so we’re left with a Bourne movie that is definitely what it says on the tin, but manages to make the series feel formulaic and kind of tired. It’s missing the special symmetrical magic of Ultimatum which is really where they should have stopped making these movies.

That said, there’s still enough of the old magic in here for the movie to skate by more or less. In other words, if you’re expecting a Bourne movie then you’re going to get one. Every box is checked: car chases, improbable escapes, improvised weapons, and an “Asset” hot on Bourne’s trail. If you’re willing to settle for the formula, Jason Bourne will be just fine for you. However, I wanted a little more than “just fine”. I wanted a movie that maybe expanded its world or gave us a reason to follow Bourne back into the fray. Instead, the world is shrunk down and made insular by focusing too much on Bourne’s backstory and not enough on where he goes from here. Read the rest of this entry »

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