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

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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: ★★★★★

 

Interstellar (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: November 7, 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan

In the near future, Earth and its inhabitants are in danger. Crops are being destroyed by something called “The Blight” and food is growing scarce. The entire planet is beginning to resemble the American Dust Bowl of the early 1900’s. A farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is a former engineer and pilot who is struggling with the way the world now works and his own wasted potential. When his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) discovers coordinates through a strange magnetic phenomenon in her room, he heads toward the location the coordinates indicated and finds himself helming a mission at the behest of  the remnants of the NASA space program to make a last-ditch effort at colonizing another planet in order to save humanity.

This movie had a lot going on in it, and a lot going for it. Christopher Nolan, even if he makes the occasional yawner *cough*DarkKnightRises*cough* also knows his stuff – despite what critics might think about his film making missteps. I went to see this in theaters with my girlfriend and although the movie was a little too long for my tastes (169 minutes!) what I experienced was at least worth one viewing, although this is one of those movies you could watch multiple times in order to see all the little things you might’ve missed or may not have gotten the first time through.

The acting was all really well-done, although I’ve never been a massive fan of McConaughey. However, he does decent work and this film is no exception. He’s actually been churning out some decent material recently, come to think of it. I will never get tired of Anne Hathaway (because I naturally have a crush on every brunette actress in the land) so it was nice to see her opposite McConaughey for the duration of the film.

As far as the science behind the film goes? That, I leave up to you to decide and I can’t really get into a ton of the specifics without spoiling everything – but I really think this movie requires a suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy it fully.

With that said, there are some cool action scenes (really only a couple) and there is a surprise (at least for me) cameo by Matt Damon that I thought was really neat, and the robot TARS voiced by Bill Irwin was really, really cool. For me, TARS made the film, elevating a lot of dialogue and character interactions with brief spots of humor.

All-in-all, this was a very enjoyable film and I would definitely watch it again, but it had some small problems and could have used some more editing to cut out some flashy and uninteresting parts. (As much as I love Lithgow, his character really didn’t add anything at all to the story).

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Interstellar

 

Horrible Bosses (2011)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: July 8, 2011
Director: Seth Gordon

Three lovable losers all have one thing in common: They have horrible bosses. One is a narcissistic elitist prick. One is a conniving, sexual predator. One is a coke fiend with a penchant for martial arts weapons. Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) decide to do something about it and enlist a murder consultant named Dean “Mother Fucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx) to help them off their bosses.

When I first heard about this movie, I wasn’t too keen on going to see it. Sure, it seemed like it could be a good time but I’ve been growing increasingly tired of the “three dude bros” comedy formula made popular by movies like The Hangover. Still, my girlfriend and I popped this one in for a movie night with a friend and we enjoyed some genuine laughs, despite the “tried-and-true” movie formula.

First off, what the movie has going for it is mainly star power. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell – you can’t beat that. Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis are just “okay”. The second thing the movie has going for it is a solid premise. Who doesn’t hate their boss, at least a little bit? This provides instant sympathy when Jason Bateman is berated for being a mere two minutes late on his clock-in. Plus, just look at how the bosses are portrayed on screen – just looking at them, without even seeing the film, you know what kind of characters they are.

Kevin Spacey - not to be trifled with.

Kevin Spacey – not to be trifled with.

Jennifer Aniston - lax on the dress code at work.

Jennifer Aniston – lax on the dress code at work.

Colin Farrell - sleazeball, anyone?

Colin Farrell – sleazeball, anyone?

Unfortunately, what this movie doesn’t have going for it is a compelling enough story to keep the interest for as long as the movie is. Seriously, it seemed like it took forever to end. I like my comedies short and sweet. The director could have dumped about a quarter of schlock and jokes that didn’t work and it would have been much more succinct and enjoyable. Add to that the promising premise being washed away in unfulfilling payoffs for the main characters and we have ourselves just a “meh” comedy.

With all the star power these comedians provided, along with the dark/funny premise – this should have been a knockout. As it is, I’m sure it’s fine for a watch or two but I’m guessing that it’s not going to knock your socks off.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Horrible Bosses

 

Snowpiercer (2014)

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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

Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: June 6, 2014
Director: Doug Liman

Earth is under attack by a mysterious and aggressive alien race and the world’s armies need all the help they can get. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is forced into combat against his will, having never seen a fighting day in his life. During his first battle, Cage dies within mere minutes – but then awakens, alive again,  to find that he is stuck in a “time loop” where any death finds him awakening at the start of the day. With the help of the “Full Metal Bitch” aka Rita (Emily Blunt), Cage must figure out what his new found abilities mean and how he can use them to defeat the alien menace.

If you’ve ever read any of my reviews, you know I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan. I like him well enough in a few movies (Legend, Vanilla Sky, Tropic Thunder, The Last Samurai, Magnolia) but he just sort of never stayed on my “I’m-excited-to-see-this-actor-perform” radar. One of my former co-workers really hated the guy (because he hates Scientologists) but another co-worker was/is obsessed with him and told me to see this film. I’m glad I did see it, because it was a decent romp of a science fiction action flick – sort of like Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers.

One of my favorite Tom Cruise films was Vanilla Sky and the reason for this is because he played against type. In Vanilla Sky, he played a self-obsessed, whiny, insecure rich guy. In Edge of Tomorrow, he plays a cowardly, frightened military officer. It’s better to see Cruise in these types of roles, at least in my opinion. It shows that he’s willing to put aside his leading man ego at least part of the time, and the man can act.

Emily Blunt really was the “Full Metal Bitch” in this film. I would say that she was much more of a badass than Tom Cruise, even. She just has that deadpan stare sometimes that is somehow both sexy and intimidating. The film is only so long, but I think that they should’ve slipped in more of her story somewhere because she was a pretty interesting character. I mean, look at her:

 

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Another unexpected surprise was Bill Paxton. You can never have enough Bill Paxton. He’s not in the film much, but does a decent job as an overbearing drill sergeant.

As far as other aspects of the film go – the aliens were pretty cool, although it can be hard to wrap your head around a race of beings who can control time. That’s pretty crazy. Still, they looked scary and awesome and most of the special effects were well done so there weren’t a lot of “unbelievable” scenes in which the CGI failed.

All in all, Edge Of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat) will definitely fill an afternoon with decent science fiction action. There are films which are much better, but you could also do much, much worse.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Edge of Tomorrow

 

Godzilla (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: May 16, 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards

A Japanese power plant is destroyed by an unknown force in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) narrowly avoids death, but his wife is not so lucky. Years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Joe’s son,  has mostly severed contact with his obsessed father, who searches for answers to the disaster in Japan. When Joe is arrested, Ford reluctantly travels to Japan to bail him out and the two of them find themselves witness to the awakening of a creature who lurks in the ocean’s waters underneath the radioactive ruins of the Janjira nuclear plant. To battle this new menace, Godzilla rises from the deep once more.

There are a couple of weird things about this movie.

1. It’s more of a disaster movie than anything else.
2. Godzilla, for whom the movie was named, is barely in it.

With that said – this movie was very enjoyable, at least to me. It was by no means perfect, but considering all the Godzilla and Godzilla-inspired garbage we’ve had to collectively endure since the big lizard made his debut back in the day, I’ll take that as a solid win.

Gareth Edwards and the screenwriters made the right decision by including more of the human side to get us, as the audience, invested in what’s happening. Sure, it could’ve been all “Hey, it’s Godzilla – lets have him pound on an irradiated unicorn to Nikki Minaj’s Anaconda as the backdrop for 45 minutes”, and maybe that still would’ve been fun…but when we know the humans who are about to take a dirt nap, we care a bit more. Still, I think they could’ve brought in Godzilla a bit earlier, or at least stretched out Bryan Cranston’s part a bit more. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was pretty vanilla in his depiction of a son with a dead mother and an insanely obsessed father, which made Cranston’s small screen time seem like the entire focus of the film for the first hour or so.

When Godzilla finally does emerge from the sea and start kicking kaiju ass, it’s handled very well. There are casualties that one would expect from big monsters duking it out in the city. They also managed to give Godzilla a decent look and the special effects were pretty nice as well, despite being CGI. They integrated that aspect much better than some other films out there.

If you’re looking for some decent kaiju action or if you are a Godzilla fan or even a disaster movie junkie – give this one a try. It’s just enough to satisfy and well-done enough to not leaving you feeling empty like some of its predecessors managed to do.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Godzilla