The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine (2013)

A mentally-wounded Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) takes to the hermit life in a rugged, backwoods mountain town after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand. When he is approached by associates of an old friend from Japan to come to Tokyo, he reluctantly agrees to fulfill a dying man’s wish. Once there, he finds himself embroiled in a fight between ninja and Yakuza on which the fate of a young woman, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), rests.

I have to admit that I had a lot of apprehension going in to see this film. X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine had both really, REALLY let me down. In a big way. So, I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations.

With that said, the movie turned out to be actually good, and I was pleasantly surprised, especially since a lot of it was true to the Miller/Claremont miniseries from the 1980’s.

We get to see the badass Wolverine/Logan that we want to see, slicing up Yakuza and ninjas in all his adamantium glory. BUT – even though we get to see him slice up SOME ninjas, I really wanted to see more of a fight instead of having to see Logan turned into a parody of a porcupine. C’mon, man, where was your rage?

There were many nods to the comics, as I said before, , which was a nice touch and something that Fox has been lacking lately. This time, they did a lot of things correctly and they also made it accessible enough for casual viewers who just want to see a good action flick or want to see shirtless Hugh Jackman flex his muscles.

The characters were all really nice, and the movie being set in Japan gave the aesthetics a distinct quality that was very appealing to the eye.

All in all, this movie is decent. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Go see it if you liked the earlier X-Men films and wondered what happened to the once-mighty franchise. This installment definitely makes some amends.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

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Dead Or Alive 5 (PS3 – 2012)

Dead Or Alive 5 - PS3 (2012)

The Dead or Alive crew is back in an all-new installment that features MMA fighting techniques blended with the same old Dead Or Alive style we’ve seen in the past. Take on the role of some of your old favorites like Lei Fang, Jann Lee or Gen Fu – or try out some of the newcomers from the Virtua Fighter series such as Brad Wong or Eliot.

Each level comes to life with interactive environments which you can use to your advantage in the right situations. Multiple unlockable outfits and some unlockable characters round out the replayablilty factor while online modes and a robust story mode should keep you entertained for a long while.

Everything I love about this game franchise was still there in this incarnation. The fighting system is still the same as the one found in Dead Or Alive 4, with the “paper, rock, scissors” style mechanics. Button mashers will have a tough time duking it out with more skilled gamers due to this, but the game doesn’t have a massive learning curve.

The graphics are amazing, as usual. Fabric flows, animals move around, sweat glistens as your characters exert themselves and hats fly off heads with strong blows.  The music and sound effects were decent enough, too.

The only thing I didn’t really like about this was that the story mode was a little bit incoherent, but it’s in the same way that a lot of Japanese animation feels. It’s chaotic, you’re not QUITE sure what exactly is going on and then WHAMMO – you finally get it. It didn’t really detract a whole lot from my experience, however.

This installment focuses less on the T&A that first drew attention to the series, although that aspect is definitely still present in the form of constantly-jiggling boobage – and make no mistake, the updated facial models and graphics have the characters looking better than ever. And for ladies who appreciate some man-skin, there are also unlockable outfits for the male characters, as well.

All in all, this is a great title and probably one of the best entries into the Dead Or Alive franchise. Learning the game’s nuances is fun and never tedious. The fights and characters are flashy and likable, and the kinetic pace will have you coming back for more. Hands down my favorite fighting game, ever.

JOE Rating:  ★★★★★

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara is the flagship novel of author Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. (First King of Shannara actually takes place before The Sword of Shannara, but he didn’t publish that until later on).

Shea and Flick Ohmsford live in Shady Vale, a quiet community of hard-working folk living in peace. When evil from the North comes looking for the last living descendant of Jerle Shannara, aka Shea Ohmsford, a mysterious Druid by the name of Allanon arrives to help the two escape and embark on an epic quest to find the fabled Sword of Shannara, which has the power to destroy the evil Warlock Lord.

Many critics (and a few of my friends) have universally panned this novel because some say that it’s a blatant rip-off of Tolkien. Admittedly, there are heavy imprints of Tolkien’s influence at work here, but it’s only at the beginning. Towards the end, you begin to truly get a sense of what Brooks is trying to do with his characters, and especially in later novels when he expands to areas that Tolkien never touched and you get to see other elements besides Tolkien’s writing which he drew on, like mythology and history.

I would liken this series to the lovechild of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, actually.

If you look past the initial similarities (and assuming you like Brooks’ writing style) what you’ll find is an enjoyable romp through the Four Lands and the beginnings of an epic fantasy adventure that seems to be more and more rare these days.

The characters are memorable, the settings are great, the monsters are scary. What more can you ask for?

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Skateland (2010)

Skateland (2010)

It’s the early 1980’s in small-town Texas and Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) knows that things are changing. The skating rink he manages is going under, his friends are all on the verge of moving away and his parents are getting divorced. All of these events converge and force Ritchie to take new stock of his life and where he wants to be, but sometimes that’s hard to do.

I went into this expecting an Almost Famous vibe, but it didn’t really turn out that way. What I did find was a movie that I wanted to like, but ultimately found to fall flat in a lot of places.

The acting was all really well done. Shiloh Fernandez’s character, Ritchie, seems authentically from that time period. Ashley Greene and Heath Freeman are also really up to par for their roles as his friends.

However, there was a lot of meandering. At first, I couldn’t really tell what the message of the film was supposed to be. It felt sort of like a one-note, reminiscence-fest – which is fine, but it wasn’t really for me. There were some good scenes, but the tempo of the movie switched around too much for me to really sink my teeth into it.

JOE Rating: ★★

Super (2010)

Super (2010)

Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is the world’s most average husband. When his recovering-addict wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler) is seduced back to the dark side and leaves him for the sleazy, drug-dealing Jacques (Kevin Bacon) he loses control of himself, until he has a vision from God telling him that he has to become a superhero and bring Jacques to justice as a new, costumed vigilante calling himself The Crimson Bolt.

I had seen Kick-Ass, which I love, before this…so I thought this would be really similar. In some ways it is, but in a lot of ways it isn’t. This is a good thing, because some of the ways in which it’s different makes it a better film.

Rainn Wilson breathes a lot of life into his character, and even though he’s a bit insane and neurotic, you begin to feel for him. Ellen Page co-stars as his kinetic and sometimes too-energetic sidekick, Boltie. Kevin Bacon is amazing as the sleazy drug dealer and arch-nemesis of The Crimson Bolt, too.

The reason this is mostly a better film than Kick-Ass is because of how dark it gets. You think, at first, that it will be a campy, funny action-comedy. It does that, but it also goes deep into our psyches and makes us confront the worst parts of ourselves. In the end, you’ll find yourself foaming at the mouth as the violence, and body count, ramps up. The film’s mood split also serves as a reminder that being a hero doesn’t go unpunished.

You need to see this film, especially if you liked Kick-Ass. Both of them are very different movies, though.

JOE Review: ★★★★★

The Giant Mechanical Man (2012)

The Giant Mechanical Man (2012)

Janice (Jenna FIscher) is a quirky, listless thirty-something with no real ambition in life. She can’t hold down a decent job and she can’t seem to find a guy who doesn’t conform to every cheesy stereotype of men that exists. Enter: Tim (Chris Messina), who is almost entirely the same way as she is except for the fact that he dresses up in stilts and silver paint as the Giant Mechanical Man.

This movie doesn’t really contain much in the way of any surprises, despite the cool-sounding title. The street-performing aspect of Tim’s character is part flavor and part symbolism.

I know that some hard-working folks will chafe at the film’s underlying message, which seems to poke fun at what the world deems as being “successful”, but most people will just think of this as another light-hearted, quirky rom-com….which it really is underneath it all.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some good things about it, and Topher Grace’s character is sleaze-and-cheese-o-riffic…but this doesn’t push any new boundaries.

Neither does the acting, for that matter. Pam, er…I mean, Jenna Fischer (sorry, couldn’t resist) is OKAY as Janice but I get the feeling that she’s just playing herself. Chris Messina can’t help but come across as arrogant and cocky when I think he was supposed to be likable.

I would say, give it a watch at least once but it doesn’t really have a lot of staying power. There are other films that have a similar message out there that are more poignant, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Vanilla Sky.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Eagle VS Shark (2007)

Eagle VS Shark (2007)

Lily (Loren Taylor) is a socially awkward girl who has a crush on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), who is equally socially awkward but thinks of himself as a Renaissance Man. Jarrod reveals to her that he is going to confront a bully who tormented him in grade school, and so the two of them return to Jarrod’s hometown where Lily meets his family and sees how Jarrod is trying to live up to the legacy of his amazing-but-dead brother, Gordon (Taika Waititi).

I had been wanting to see this for the longest time, because I love almost anything that Jemaine Clement is in. (Gentlemen Broncos was the only one I didn’t really like as much as some others) I was not disappointed.

The film is New Zealand’s mostly successful answer to Napoleon Dynamite. Though not set in the midwest, with all its quirks and interesting characters, New Zealand can definitely hold its own in the zaniness department.

Jemaine Clement is in top form here, playing the loser-who-thinks-he’s-awesome role that he’s so good at playing. Loren Taylor plays a really good wallflower, but she gives her character depth so she’s not just a one-note song.

The film is filled with lots of quotable lines and moments that had me laughing. There was lots of awkward humor, which was great, and Jemaine and Loren really played well off one another.

If you like Napoleon Dynamite at all, then this is going to be right up your alley. Check it out.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★