Snowpiercer (2014)

chrisevanssnowpiercer

Original Theatrical Release Date: July 11, 2014
Director: Joon-ho Bong

It is 2031 and life as we know it has come to an end. For 17 years, a small amount of survivors have eked out an existence on a technological marvel of a train called Snowpiercer that runs around the globe, never stopping, while the world outside is an icy wasteland. Inside Snowpiercer, a class system has arisen and one of the head figures in the lower class cars, Curtis (Chris Evans), has emerged to lead a rebellion against the higher class and move to the front of the train – following the cues of mysterious one-word messages that have been sent his way.

I guess I’ve been on a science fiction kick lately, because I watched this film, Edge of Tomorrow, and Interstellar all around the same time. I’d heard and seen previews for the other films, but for whatever reason I never really heard much about Snowpiercer aside from a couple of comments friends made about it. I decided to pick it up from Redbox.

First off, it was much better than I thought it’d be after the first few minutes. My initial reaction was “A train? Really? Oh, this is about climate change. How subtle.” As far as science fiction action flicks go, I liked this one a little better than Edge of Tomorrow. Not by a lot, but I liked the theme much better. Evans was decent as Curtis, the brooding and desperate leader of the lower class compartments, but I didn’t see much in the way of innovation with his character. He was basically just playing his role as Captain America, which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to action flicks but in terms of complexity we don’t see much with his depiction of Curtis.

One of the real joys of the film, though, was Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of the haughty and justified Mason. She was equal parts creepy, disassociated, and unlikable, with just the right amount of humor so she was more misguided and cowardly than downright evil. I am constantly impressed by not only the roles she takes on, but how well she plays them.

The action was really neat, with lots of little surprises in each new section of train the beleaguered rebels found themselves in. One particular scene has the rebels fighting against heavily-armored soldiers in one compartment of the train in a medieval style battle, which is really intense and fun to watch.

This was not a special effects-laden film, which I’m thankful for and probably part of the reason it felt more “real” to me than Edge of Tomorrow, aside from the obvious references to issues in the world we’re facing today. Some of the turns in the story were a bit predictable, and that aside from maybe some dull moments mid-film are what kept this movie from being even better than it is now. Still, it’s a very entertaining ride (seriously, no pun intended) and if you’re looking for some sci-fi action, this is a good choice. Check it out.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Snowpiercer

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12 O’Clock Boys (2013)

12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: January 31, 2014
Director: Lofty Nathan

Pug, a young man from a dangerous block in Baltimore, Maryland is enthralled by a band of people who partake in illegal street riding calling themselves the 12 O’Clock Boys. When his older brother, Tibba, dies – Pug looks to the Boys for guidance, much to the worry of his mother, Coco, and others in Pug’s family. Pug must weigh his obsession with bikes and this group against a rising police response to the riding and his inner desires to become a veterinarian.

To be clear – I kind of accidentally stumbled into this documentary. I went with my girlfriend to a place called the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine – and we were supposed to be going to a women’s writer group Q&A seminar. As we sat down and waited, we wondered why the audience was overwhelmingly male. We had our answer in a few minutes as the documentary started. We had come on the wrong day, and we already paid so we stayed – and I’m glad we did.

First off, the style was fresh and kinetic. Lofty Nathan, the director, filled the frame with choice morsels that assisted the narrative in telling the deep and complicated story that is Pug’s life and upbringing. Not once did he delve into stereotypical urban characters – but let each person identify themselves through their own ways. Some were gangsters, some were struggling parents, some were police officers, some were just kids.

Rather than glamorize the dangerous lifestyle led by the 12 O’Clock Boys, Nathan portrayed them as human beings in a tough situation relying on what they feel is their only release other than gang activity, drugs or other less-positive things. Through Pug and his own tough life, we understand that belonging to a group and being good at something (even if it’s just being able to wheelie really well) is what we all strive for. We all secretly want to be a 12 O’Clock Boy.

A good documentarian holds a mirror up to the rest of us and says “Look. This is you – this is your reality” and makes us reflect on it, think about it. I felt that way when watching this film. I do love documentaries but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. Lofty Nathan does not insert himself directly into the narrative as is sometimes the case with other documentarians, but we see through his eyes the disarray that this suburb, inner-city culture has become and all the problems that stem from it.

In Pug we have someone who is truly likable and easy to care about. We see his struggles and we want him to get on that bike. We see him training and we root for him as he gets better and better at riding and doing wheelies. We see the danger and we wish someone would stop him before he gets in over his head. It’s a really complicated emotional response evoked, at least in my case. Pug starts out somewhat innocent but then slowly evolves (or de-volves, possibly) once his world view perspective is changed over and over again.

On the other side of things, just visually it’s entertaining to watch. There are many dynamic shots and kinetic images on display for the visually-oriented folks out there like me. There are lots of slow-motion shots of the riding as well as fast-paced chase scenes and tension-ridden conflicts between police and the Boys.

12 O’Clock Boys is the total package. Go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For 12 O’Clock Boys

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

After Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is fired by his boss – Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford) and Ron’s wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is given a promotion, Ron is unexpectedly asked by Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) to head one of the news teams on the new 24-hour Global News Network. To do so, he gathers his old team – Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) – but finds that maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

I went with a bunch of my friends to see this. I figured it was going to be one of those kind of movies, and I was right. So, let me start things off with the obvious: It was a funny movie. However, it wasn’t quite as consistently funny (in my opinion) as the first film.

Most of the jokes we see in this second installment of the legend of Ron Burgundy are recycled from the first flick and beefed up a little more. It’s not a terrible thing, but I would have liked to have seen more original material as well as more play on the fact that this takes place in the 1980’s. In the first film, the sense of 1970’s style was pervasive, but you barely notice the time period in this film and at times, could even be interchangeable. Also, Anchorman 2 is a little bit longer so it’s pretty noticeable.

Still, there are enough genuinely funny parts involved, and there was an effort made to up the ante so that counts for something. If you didn’t like the first film – don’t bother….because it basically is the first film in new trappings. If you loved the first film, try to be content with how great the first one was and look at this second film as a separate entity. Don’t have crazy expectations and you’ll have a good time.

Also, one other thing – the amount of cameos in this film was impressive and worth watching for that alone.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

47 Ronin (2013)

47 Ronin (2013)

After a treacherous and brutal warlord, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), has their master assassinated and banishes them all from their land, a band of 47 ronin (masterless samurai) assemble once again with the aid of an outcast half-breed, Kai (Keanu Reeves), to take revenge for their fallen leader and restore honor to their province.

Before I begin this review, let me just say that this is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s based, largely in part, on actual events. Unfortunately, it was only “based” on actual events and the film got a bunch of things incorrect. It’s too long to go into here, but if you check out this post on the History News Network, you’ll see what I mean ===> CLICK HERE

Now, with that out of the way, and disregarding all of the historical inaccuracies, I’ll get into just reviewing it on the basis of film conventions.

Story: There isn’t a ton of substance here. I’m sure if they stuck with the actual tale, it might have been more compelling. As it is, I think most American movie-goers will have a cultural disconnect and not be able to take it as seriously as, say, someone in Japan. Not sure how true that is, but there is only one connection for American audiences and that connection comes in the form of Keanu Reeves’ character, Kai. One interesting aspect is that Keanu wasn’t made to steal the show. It reminded me of how Antonio Banderas’ character in 13th Warrior was essential but didn’t drive all of the forward action. I liked that, in both films. BUT – since there wasn’t a ton of great story, it watched more like a very well-shot music video. Think about the movie Sucker Punch. Yeah, it has that kind of vibe.

Acting: The stony-faced Keanu Reeves did an okay job. Most of the other talented cast were amazing, but all were reduced to their base components and so weren’t able to develop much as characters. Rinko Kikuchi played an amazing foil to the main characters, being both seductive and evil, equally.

Special Effects: They were actually really, really good for the most part – but they were overused and as a result took me out of the movie at some points.

Length: It was a bit too long for my tastes. It would have been tolerable if there had been more action, but the few fight scenes there were took place sort of at the beginning and end of the film, with sparse scenes of a similar nature in-between.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy this film but it was nice to look at. I bet that’s how it’d be to live with Megan Fox.

JOE Rating: ★★

Marvel Heroes (PC – 2013)

In Marvel Heroes, players take control of one of several starting characters (Punisher, Colossus, Captain America, Black Widow, Storm, Human Torch, Hawkeye…among others, with the roster changing all the time) and embark on a mission to stop the nefarious Doctor Doom from his plans to use the Cosmic Cube for his own evil purposes.

If you’ve ever played a game like Diablo II, then you’ve essentially already played Marvel Heroes. This game isn’t innovative, but it doesn’t really seek to be – which is somewhat of a shame due to the Marvel property being so popular right now. However, for the casual gamer, this game will be great fun.

I had originally planned on boycotting this game when I found out that there was no character creation system and instead, as a player, you’d pick a character like Spider-Man or Colossus (whom I am using at the moment) and would be running around on-screen with potentially dozens of other players using the same character as you. However, in reality, it often doesn’t play out that way. The reason for this is due to there being (at the moment) 20+ characters (somewhere around 28, I believe) – all of whom have multiple costumes and other custom appearance options available to the player to make their particular Colossus or Spider-Man or Thor stand out. So even if two or more characters are using Colossus, there’s a good chance that most of them will have individualized aesthetics. Still not as good as being able to create your own character, which is what Champions Online excels at (Note: Champions Online was originally supposed to be a Marvel game) and even DC Universe Online is pretty decent at.

As it is, Marvel Heroes, despite not being innovative and despite being somewhat repetitive (as games in this genre sometimes are) is a decent action MMORPG. It’s best to play with friends for the fun factor, but there isn’t a large difficulty curve and it’s FREE (you can still pay for characters and costumes with real-life money but it’s not necessary to play the full version of the game – you can still buy characters and costumes with in-game currency that you earn, but it takes a long time), meaning that it’s not a huge investment and you’re likely to get at least some enjoyment out of it and the best thing about it is, well…it’s FREE. The only real thing that kept me from giving this four stars is the fact that you can’t pick any hero to begin with, and you can’t create your own hero.

Check it out, team up with your favorite characters and whup some bad-guy arse. The developers are constantly adding new characters to the mix, so gameplay isn’t likely to get too stale anytime soon.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Rat Queens #1 (September 2013)

Rat Queens #1 (September 2013)

Rat Queens is a monthly comic book published by Image Comics, with writing by Kurtis J. Wiebe (PANZERFAUST) and art by Roc Upchurch.

Hannah (the “rockabilly” Elven Mage), Dee (the “atheist” Human Cleric), Violet (the “hipster” Dwarven Fighter) and Betty (the “hippie” Halfling Thief) – AKA The Rat Queens – have earned the ire of the Town Council of Palisade. As a result, they are assigned to clear out a “nest” of goblins as punishment. When they are attacked by an ultra-skilled assassin during their goblin cleansing, however, they find themselves embroiled in an adventure both more exciting and more life-endangering than before.

I love fantasy books so when I saw this at my local comic book store, I had to at least pick up a couple of issues. I was not disappointed.

If you’re expecting something Tolkien in scope and feel – don’t tread here. Rat Queens is a more League of Legends/World of Warcraft take on medieval fantasy…where fantasy tropes meet real-world sensibilities. However, that’s not to say that the book is all flash and no content. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing had me laughing out loud in spots, especially when the assignments were being given to various other themed adventuring groups like the Rat Queens (A sort of emo-styled group of Elves had to go clean toilets).

The art was great, but the real draw of the book for some people will no doubt be the character designs, which are diverse and varied and represent many body types and skin colors – a change from some comic books where you notice the cookie-cutter, ultra-athletic bodies you can only tell apart by the costumes. Roc Upchurch definitely has my respect and attention here because of this.

People looking for a good laugh will get a kick out of the style of humor, while action and fantasy lovers will still get their fair share of fantasy battles and magic. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and I will definitely be following it to see where it goes. It’s off to a promising start, for sure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 – 2013)

Call Of Duty: Ghosts (PS3 - 2013)

In Call of Duty: Ghosts, players take control of Logan Walker (most of the time, anyway) in a world where the United States has been reduced to a third-world power after an attack by a satellite super weapon called Odin destroyed much of the infrastructure of the former government and economy. In a last ditch effort to survive, a legendary unit of special forces members with the code name Ghosts have banded together to try to take back control from their oppressors. As Logan, you are joined by your dog Riley, older brother David and father Elias ten years after the attacks and operate in secret, hoping to win the war once and for all.

I’ve long been a fan of this game series, but while most of the time I’ve been sort of excited once a new installment has come out, I kind of felt like stopping after Black Ops II due to lack of innovation and the multiplayer feeling unbalanced. To my surprise, there were some pleasant twists to this tenth entry in the series, at least enough to keep me playing for now.

First of all, the story mode was pretty engaging. It’s smooth, if short, and feels like you’re watching an action flick most of the way through. There are some nice cinematic “I am awesome” moments that make you truly feel that you’re accomplishing something great. The innovative side of using Riley, the dog, to silently dispatch enemies (in a pleasing, visceral way) in lieu of sneaking around by yourself constantly is a nice touch – but it wasn’t as innovative as I think it could’ve been. I think it would’ve been awesome if you could do co-op in story mode with one player as Logan and the other as either David or Riley depending on needs. Missed opportunity! One other bad thing is that the developers copy/pasted the ending from Modern Warfare 2 onto the beginning mission of Ghosts (which can be seen HERE), which is reason to give this title pause; What are we really buying when we get this game? A recycled money-grabbing installment of the same old thing?

Aside from the story mode (and the lifting from MW2) there ARE a couple of reasons to play this game – Extinction Mode, which is sort of like survival mode but you fight against aliens with a customizable load out and also is co-op (sort of like Zombies mode from the Treyarch games).

On top of that, there is the normal multiplayer mode that most people will no doubt get the game for, although some of the maps are too large for normal death matches and others feel too similar to others we’ve done before.

Infected Mode is a nice touch, with one random player spawning with an infection and “turning” other players until everyone is infected.

Squad Mode, too, is fun in that you get to build up a squad which will autonomously battle without you and you can see how they measure up on the leaderboards.

In my opinion, this installment could have been a lot better but what we have is an okay shooter with enough touches to entertain for another year or so before the next installment comes out. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still fun.

JOE Rating: ★★★