And, Just Like That – I’m Back

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Hey, all – if anyone is still reading this blog, you know it’s now 2018 and I haven’t really posted on this one in about four years. This is mostly due to having another blog which I enjoy writing on very much called Away With Words here on WordPress. However, that blog is a very different sort of blog with various personal stories, book reviews, and short fiction along with writing prompts and travel and opinion pieces.

Here’s the thing – I miss doing reviews. Aside from the books, my other blog isn’t really a space for that. So, I am dipping my toes in once again, and I plan to start slow and catch up on some reviews of games and movies and anything else I’ve seen/played since 2014 (sounds like a lot already). We’ll see how it goes. If people like the new reviews, maybe I’ll stick with it. Who knows.

In any case, thank you for the continued interest in this blog to all of you who’ve popped in over the past four years, off and on. I hope the new ones live up to the old.

-Joe

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4 – 2018)

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In Red Dead Redemption 2, players assume control of Arthur Morgan – the ornery, unofficial right-hand man to Dutch Van Der Linde (players may remember Dutch from his prominent role in Red Dead Redemption – and, yes – this is a prequel, taking place in between Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Revolver). As Arthur, players will assist Dutch and the gang in various heists and will eventually decide if they wish to be pure evil or become a wild west version of Robin Hood. Along the way, there will be lots of backstabbing, betrayal, and bloodshed no matter which path you choose.

If you’re familiar at all with Red Dead Redemption – you’ll be right at home. If not, then don’t worry – there are plenty of opportunities in-game for you to practice different skills and controls. And, if like me you’re familiar with the rest of the Red Dead games – there’s enough changes to keep things fresh and exciting. As Dutch would say – “Don’t worry.”

The game is massive – and that’s not even including Red Dead Redemption 2‘s online mode – which essentially makes the game endlessly replayable. There’s at least 60+ hours of content in the main story alone, with lots of side quests and exploration to do aside from the main story.

Though the game’s online mode is still a bit buggy and the economy is somewhat broken – the online play is still in beta, and it’s said that Rockstar is ironing out a lot of the problems already. Even with the bugs and the broken currency, I’ve still had a blast online getting mercilessly murdered by fellow players for simply walking in their relative vicinity. However, where RDR2 really shines is its story mode  – an epic western which meanders over miles of in-game terrain. Even though we all know what happens to Dutch and the gang via the story we experienced in the original Red Dead Redemption – we don’t necessarily know what happens to Arthur Morgan, which is great because it keeps an element of surprise within the story we already expect, enabling Rockstar to deliver a western tale with much more emotional weight than you’d think, truly delivering on all fronts.

The graphics are amazing, the score is amazing, the gameplay is addictive, and the characters and setting are compelling. The amount of detail that went into this game is unbelievable. Play it, and you surely won’t regret it (unless you hate westerns or open world games for some reason). This is pretty much a perfect game in my eyes.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

 

Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship-Troopers

Original Theatrical Release Date: November 7, 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven

In the distant future, the world is a fascist and militaristic society where a person can only become a citizen by joining the military and its never ending fight against an insectoid alien race looking to destroy humanity. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is the son of two wealthy non-citizens who is looking to join his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) in the armed forces in order to be with her and to gain his citizenship. Soon, though, the realities of military life and the hardships of the war separate Johnny, Carmen, and their friends from one another and they must overcome the chitinous tide of the Bugs if they are ever to reunite.

This film is based on the (much better) science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein – adapted to the screen by Edward Neumeier.

It’s been a while since the last time I watched this movie, but my brother gave me the DVD for my birthday this year. I was kind of interested to see how all the special effects and everything held up over the last 17 years. I was not disappointed to find out that most of it still looked pretty decent after all that time. The only thing that seemed dated at times was the retro-futuristic 1950’s-as-interpreted-by-the-late-1990’s hairdos and clothing styles for the characters. Other than that, though, I was transported through the film’s fun tongue-in-cheek narrative style.

I still have no idea where Casper Van Dien went to after the late 1990’s – but as Johnny Rico he was decent (if somewhat unbelievable) as the screaming, gun-firing, tough-guy lead. Denise Richards co-stars with her full and pouty lips as the always-effervescent (but still wooden) pilot Carmen Ibanez. Also, I was shocked to see Neil Patrick Harris in his role as Carl Jenkins – a role I forgot he’d done. (The last thing I remember him in was Harold And Kumar)

The bugs were creepy and not cheesy. The “internet” – style videos interspersed throughout the film add a nice touch, though the internet of the “future” looks pretty dated compared to our own, now. There is a creepy and unbelievable love triangle in the movie, but the real draw is the action sequences – which are peppered liberally throughout the movie. Still, the movie is a bit too long for an action flick.

All in all, not a perfect movie – but a nice flick to come back to every now and then if you want some sci-fi action.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Starship Troopers

Brick (2005)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 2005
Director: Rian Johnson

A teenage loner, Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), seeks the whereabouts of his girlfriend, Emily (Emilie De Ravin). When it turns out that she was a victim of apparent foul play, Brendan finds himself in the seedy underbelly of a high school crime syndicate run by the notorious and mysterious Pin (Lukas Haas). Brendan must sort through his own morals and reserves of courage if he is to get any answers for Emily’s disappearance.

Brick is one of those films that was always sort of on my radar but never a film I purposely sought out. To understand why, you must understand that as a rule – I hardly ever watch gritty, ultra-realistic crime films. I see enough of that stuff on the news, so I don’t feel much particular need to seek it out in films I enjoy watching. I use films as an escapist sort of entertainment. The image on the movie jacket did little to inspire any ideas I had about the film being anything other than a movie where a girl is murdered.

With that said, I recently watched this at a friend’s house in Vermont. He and his wife suggested a few of us all watch it for a “movie night” of sorts, and I’m glad he did. First off – this is not ultra-realistic at all. This is a blend of Noir and a sort of high-school/teen drama film. You wouldn’t think such a combination would be satisfying or poignant, but you’d be just as wrong as I was. The ultra-stylistic dialogue and the snappy cinematography  and the quirky characters had me intently watching the screen for the duration of the film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a great performance as Brendan. Lukas Haas is very hilarious and on point as The Pin while Noah Fleiss’ portrayal of a henchman named Tugger had me laughing at several points. This is a dark comedy, for sure – as it still deals with drug trafficking and death – but it’s all set against the backdrop of High School, something most of us can relate to. The noir world that the characters inhabit is very believable within its own context and pretty much everything about the film is enjoyable. If you haven’t seen this film yet, give it a shot. It’s really worth taking the time to watch. (Especially if you like films such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Brick

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy – (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: August 01, 2014
Director: James Gunn

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic outlaw and treasure hunter who calls himself Star-Lord. When he nabs a mysterious artifact in the form of a powerful orb, he discovers that it is being sought after by a powerful individual known as Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who will stop at nothing to get it. The orb, as well as Peter’s outlaw status, puts him in contact with other misfits like Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) – all of whom must band together to survive Ronan’s crusade.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always a fringe title. It never really registered with me. I was pretty familiar with most of the characters, especially Rocket, Gamora, and Groot – but Spider-Man was usually the title I gravitated toward with mainstream comics. Maybe some Avengers or X-Men stuff. But not Guardians of the Galaxy. And if they are lesser-known to me and I’ve been reading comics since I was a wee lad, I can only imagine the reactions of some folks to these characters who are new to comics or who have no idea about the franchise. A musclebound killer? A green-skinned femme fatale? A walking tree in desperate need of a dictionary? An angry, anthropomorphic raccoon who fires guns? A sarcastic, egotistical human male flying around space like he’s a badass? Who knew it’d be so good and work so well as a film?

The key to the whole film’s success is the fact that the above characters sure ARE cool – but also the film’s resonance with our pop culture psyches via Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix-Tape that he plays on his Sony Walkman. (He was abducted by aliens in the late 1980’s – long story, and I don’t want to give anything away – so go see the film and see for yourself). The soundtrack had people swaying and bopping their heads in their seats during the showing I went to. It also makes Peter Quill accessibly human. Music is an access point that knows no language boundaries to be enjoyed.

Aside from the interesting characters and the amazing soundtrack, the casting was well done. The only complaints that I really had about the film were actually the villains. The heroes were well-established and had screen time together so that we really felt like they bonded, but Ronan’s motivation was flat and predictable. Ditto with Nebula (Karen Gillan). I would have liked to see more established backstory and/or screen time for those characters. As it is, they are very generic “we want ALL the power” villains. That is a really small gripe, though, because the main focus was really supposed to be on the Guardians themselves –  and Gunn (as well as the cast) not only excelled at that but as of right now, this is my favorite Marvel film to date.

Go see it, and make sure to stay for the end credits for a surprise cameo!

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Guardians Of The Galaxy

Munchkin

Munchkin

Game Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Game Type: Card Game/RPG
Players: 3-5
Age Range: 10+
Play Time: 1-2 Hours

In the game of Munchkin, players create a character in the same vein as Dungeons & Dragons….but a bit more silly. Using cards drawn from a main deck, players will construct their characters using cards that grant Race, Class and Equipment and then delve through a dungeon – kicking open doors and fighting monsters to go up in level and to get treasure. The goal is to be the first player to reach level 10. Leveling up can be accomplished by defeating monsters, with random Level Up cards or by selling $1,000 worth of Gold Pieces. To achieve all this, players will undertake in some underhanded tactics like backstabbing, forging alliances and stealing from other players.

I was introduced to this Dedicated Deck-Building Game while at residency during my time with Stonecoast. I’d never played it before, and had sort of been out of the board game loop for a while, but I had a lot of fun with it. For best results, I strongly suggest playing the game with as many people as possible as it creates the most tension and the most unexpected alliances and a constant theme of change within the game, keeping it fresh and exciting. However, the game can be played with as few people as possible (and honestly, my girlfriend and I play it with just the two of us and it’s just as fun).

There are a TON of expansions to this game – including expansions featuring Conan The Barbarian (yes, and it is licensed), and smaller ones that feature characters from Penny Arcade, The Guild, Skullkickers and even Axe Cop. I haven’t delved much outside the fantasy realm with this game series, but there are also other themed sets such as Zombies, Superheroes, Space, Old West and others. You can combine all the cards you want to create the ultimate Munchkin experience, but I tend to only blend the fantasy ones together (though I’d love to combine the Space version and the Cowboy one for a Steampunk-themed deck).

This game is consistently fun, fairly cheap and there are just so many options to choose from that I can’t give it any less of a score. The possibilities are virtually endless. Give it a try, honestly.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Instructional Video On How To Play Munchkin

All-New X-Men #1 (January 2013)

All-New X-Men #1 (January 2013)

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Marte Gracia

Cyclops, one of the most prominent members of the X-Men and one of its original members, is now a fugitive wanted by almost every costumed hero and government entity in existence after the Phoenix Force corrupted him and he killed his former mentor, Professor Charles Xavier. Dying from another mutant transformation, and out of ideas, Hank McCoy (aka Beast) goes back in time to bring back the younger version of Cyclops to hopefully talk some sense into the present-day version. Maybe together they can save mutantkind.

I hadn’t really heard much about this series as I’d been out of the comic loop for a few months, but I noticed the older costumes on the cover. I am hoping to cosplay as the 60’s version of Cyclops, so I figured I’d pick up the first three issues to not only use for reference, but also to see what it was all about.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Issue #1 opens with Beast writhing on the ground, dying from a new manifestation of his mutation. He prays that he is allowed to do something good for mutantkind before he dies, and then we move on to Cyclops and his new teammates, Magneto and Emma Frost, liberating and recruiting new mutants who are popping up everywhere.

This first issue started out just a LITTLE slower than I would have liked, but the action picks up toward the end enough to have kept me hooked until the next issue. Bendis knows what he’s doing, I think we all know that. There were a couple of typos I noticed here and there (way to go, editor), but otherwise it was a good read.

The art by Stuart Immonen (Pencils), Wade Von Grawbadger (Inks) and Marte Gracia (Colorist) was amazing. Sometimes I noticed that, for whatever reason, it looked like Immonen phoned it in on the faces in some of the smaller panels but he really does action very well. The inks give his work some solid depth and the coloring, of course, makes it pop.

I think this series is going to do pretty well.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Here’s a sample page from All-New X-Men #1!
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