Category Archives: reviews
I haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on Arkham, Justice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.
Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!
The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie. I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.
Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.
As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.
Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.
We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.
The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?
Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.
This week on the show, we talk about the man who makes teenagers cry and experience the “feels”, John Green!
Also, I hate ” the feels” as a phrase. If I was being harsh, and I am, it’s a lazy way to ignore real emotions that can make experiences deeper. Where the Wild Things Are didn’t give me “the feels”. It made me sad and melancholy and reminded me of making mistakes as a kid and thinking they’re the end of the world.
None of that ranting is about John Green, though! We talk all of his books, Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, Help! I Have Too Many Katherine’s and I Don’t Know What to Do With Them All!, and the rest. We have our own music master, Ben, on the show to help us through the books Nic and I haven’t read. It’s a good episode. And not just because it’s my birthday episode.
We also talk about how Ruth Ware’s new book can’t be as successful as the terrible Woman in Cabin 10. People had to get wise, right? Nic and Ben also review The Dark Tower, which I haven’t seen, but from all accounts sounds pretty embarrassing. And the trailers made it look like a bad 90s action flick, like The Last Action Hero. It should be easy, a dark western with some magic and maybe some horror. But the first book, The Gunslinger was underwhelming and I couldn’t finish the second one. I guess some ideas are too good for the world.
See you next week, podcats!
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein didn’t scratch that first-person shooter itch I had, I decided to keep going through my collection of unplayed games. Since I’ve been working through these chronologically, 2004’s Far Cry was up next. It’s another game I bought for less than five dollars during a sale, and one I missed when it was first released. And I had a vague memory of there being dinosaurs in the game. There wasn’t.
All I wanted was a fast paced shooter with some run and gun action. That shouldn’t be so hard to find! But Far Cry was not the game to satisfy that desire. As I would find out, the game wants me to stealth most of the time, to sneak and avoid danger. Sure, the stealth elements aren’t great and it still puts road blocks full of enemies in my way, but the game wants what it wants.
I was also unaware that the game was considered harder than normal back in the day, so when I chose “challenging” as my difficulty, I was pretty confident in my skills. Unfortunately, doing so severely ruined my fun. While I got away with quick saving my way to victory in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there was no such ability in Far Cry. Instead, I was stuck dying and reloading checkpoints, creating a Sisyphus-like experience for myself. It was hard and, because of my difficulty selection which can’t be changed, it stayed that way.
Now, I doubt I would have lowered the difficulty in the first place, as that would have felt like defeat after playing a few hours on one setting. And, I was completing levels, despite the challenge. But, the problem was, the challenge wasn’t satisfying. It was frustrating to have to replay the same mission over and over again, especially for a game of this length. The gun play isn’t always satisfying, the enemies seem to have perfect aim and their bullets can go through walls like paper. There were times when I would just and sit and stare, having no clue how to avoid being shot and killed.
For some, that difficulty would be welcomed. While I was streaming, I was visited by a few players who had beaten Far Cry on the highest setting, “realistic”, and I can’t imagine doing the same thing. The brutality of it all would have destroyed me. Every now and then, I feel embarrassed by my skills. When other players brag about a pistol-only play through or max difficulty settings, I just nod and accept I’m not that good. With Far Cry, I felt like there was some bad game design working against me as well. I can accept I’m no good at game, but it’s harder to accept being bad at a game with some obvious flaws.
To be fair, the game is still pretty for its age. And there were moments when I felt like Rambo and a sniping machine. But most times, I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be able to blow some stuff up and move forward. I never felt like I had momentum. The vehicles felt like a punishment. The mutants that show up start feeling like Doom clones. And the shotgun never felt hefty. A bad shotgun is one thing I can’t forgive.
And the voice acting? Ouch.
Will I keep going with this series? I doubt it. I’m not the biggest fan of open-world/sandbox games because they lack the direction I need to stay invested. I’ve heard good things about Far Cry 3 but there’s plenty of games for me to play that I think I will enjoy. I experienced the same issue with Hitman: Blood Money. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the game and that I didn’t care what the end looked like. That’s not a knock on that game because I just don’t like that sort of challenge. Stealth-ing is all stress with no relief and very little inertia. For some, that’s fine. For me, it gets old real fast.
Despite it’s faults and my lack of skill, I did finish Far Cry. I felt more relief than excitement, but I can say I powered through it. But, I’d rather find a game I enjoy next time.
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
Firewatch came to my attention because I pay even a little bit of attention to the world of video games. It looked beautiful, but not photo-realistic. I always appreciate graphics with character, like most of Blizzard’s games. Firewatch is colorful and it stands out. It’s not a brown wasteland or grey war zone, it’s a forest with personality. Even just a few screenshots are so eye catching that it was no surprise that the game ended up in my wishlist.
I’ve heard the game called a walking simulator and, if so, it’s the first one of those that I’ve played. But it doesn’t seem any less complicated than Telltale’s The Walking Dead. If this had come out years ago, we’d be calling it a point and click adventure game. Except, it’s short enough to play in an afternoon and it doesn’t break my brain with puzzles that only The Riddler would find fun.
I played the game over the course of two days with my wife, Kendra. She’s one of those weird people who is perfectly happy to watch someone else play a game. I don’t know if it’s conditioning from being a sister to a gamer or just a Totoro like spirit. Because of her enjoyment of watching there are some games she requires her presence. Bioshock Infinite will be one of those, as will The Wolf Among Us. I think she found the trailer for Firewatch interesting, because it was added to the list.
So, the first day we played, everything went fine. Easy streamy, lemon squeezy. The second day… well, I’m an idiot. I had the mics muted the whole session. Which is too bad! Because, near the end of the game, the music gets nice and atmospheric and I started singing a great song. Kendra would tell you that the song was just me saying the words “fire” and “watch” over and over again, but there’s no video proof of that! This is a case of the Tenecious D’s “Tribute”!
But, that’s okay, because we both liked the game. Not the ending so much, but the whole experience was fun. It was stressful at times, funny and just a new type of game for us. The story was depressing at times, which is why you sometimes need someone there to lighten the mood. But the excellent voice acting really did take this game up from just being scenic to actually being immersive.
Also, I like shorter games. I don’t need them all to be four hours like Firewatch but gone are the days when I want all my games to be fifty hours or more. I liked Xenosaga lasting eighty hours because I was fifteen and all I did was game. Now that I’m older and have less time to play a game taking a weekend isn’t the worst thing in the world. And something the length of Firewatch or Limbo can really leave a strong impression. Especially compared to the opposite situation, like when I was praying that Fallout 3 would just end.
In conclusion, the stream might not have worked out because I’m a dope but the game is a good time. I recommend it easily, especially if you’re looking for something different or to play in front of someone who just likes watching. I might even revisit it someday and it won’t be a crazy commitment to do so. Plus, you can take pictures of trees!
Free Fire is an intense scene of an action movie, stretched out to ninety minutes. It’s a shootout that takes place entirely in an abandoned warehouse, between different and splitting parties. By extending that premise to a whole movie, director Ben Wheatley explores the fun you can have with a limited scope. Unfortunately, he also discovers the problems you can run into when your concept isn’t backed up by writing or imagination.
It’s the 1970s and we meet a whole bunch of gun traffickers looking to close a deal. Of course, things go wrong, bullets start flying and not everyone is going to make it out alive. That’s the premise and I’m not too sure Wheatley thought more beyond that. The movie feels trapped in the warehouse and not in a good or suspenseful way. There’s just not a lot to do or see once the killing starts.
The action in the movie never rises above fine. Guns fire and shoot people but that’s it. There’s never a great, inventive moment of violence. Yes, the movie is low budget but other cheap action films have found ways to impress. Because the shootout keeps the characters grounded and seeking cover, it’s all very impersonal. When one character shoots another, it doesn’t feel connected. If the gun play was there to simply move the plot along, that would be easy to deal with, but when the whole concept of the movie is based around bullets going everywhere, it wouldn’t hurt for a little style. Heck, most of the movie’s posters have more style! Even the seventies setting is really only there for costumes and lack of cellphones.
The dialog never does more than it needs to do. The only reason characters come across as likable is because we have some fun actors on hand. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy are the straight men of the assemble, playing relatively grounded characters. Sharlto Copley brings his unique brand of insanity and detachment to the screen. He’s not a fantastic character, but Copley injects the role with much needed uniqueness. Armie Hammer, for the first time in his career, impressed me. He plays Copley’s bodyguard and he’s a character with skill and poise. In a movie set in the 1970’s, Hammer is the only one looking to have fun with the decade. His character might be the only stylistic choice with any impact. If he could play more roles like that, I might not think of him as the blandest face in film.
Free Fire is adequate. It’s an easy, uninspired way to pass an afternoon. But it’s not going down as a classic. Maybe a curiosity, or an example of how far you can stretch an idea without bringing real life to it. Free Fire isn’t as stylistic as Smokin’ Aces and the characters aren’t as “out of this world” as that film either. Free Fire isn’t as clever as Reservoir Dogs, the movie it’s most likely trying to ape. The dialog isn’t as biting and it’s missing a soundtrack to breathe life into the the void. In a world where John Wick is the standard for brutality, Free Fire comes across as rather toothless. The characters take hits, but when they start dragging themselves along the floor, the movies slows down with them. There’s a twist here or there, but nothing that affects the plot or how you feel about the characters.
I think given a better director, Free Fire could have been a new classic. The ingredients are all there, but most people can make cornbread if they follow the directions. What Free Fire needed was funny, clever dialog between more unique characters in between interesting gun play. If you’re staring at a TV and Free Fire is on, I’d say let it play. But it’s not something you need to seek out. Watch John Wick: Chapter 2 or Hardcore Henry instead. They bring new life into all that killing.
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a game that I never played as a teen. I didn’t buy my PS2 until the summer of 2002 and I didn’t go looking for many of the earlier games for the system. That means a first-person shooter from 2001 that was part of a series I never had any attachment to was ignored.
I think I first heard of the game when it was ported to the XBox but, again, I never went back to find it. Many years later, more than a decade even, I saw the game on a Steam sale and picked it up for about a dollar. I can never know when I need an old school shooter to pick me out of a funk.
As I mentioned in another post, I just played the Mass Effect for the first time. It was fun, for the most part, but near the end I was getting impatient. I decided during the last few hours that my next game had to be faster and have more action. Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one of the oldest games in my collection and some gameplay footage I watched looked just right, I gave it a go.
The game taught me that I’m not as good at older shooters as I used to be. Where once it was my genre of choice, now it feels like I’m an old man wondering where the bullets are coming from. I’ll admit, since there’s video evidence proving it, that I quick saved like a maniac who gets an electric stimulant whenever he presses F5. It’s the only way I was able to beat the game in a reasonable amount of time because it was tougher than I expected. I was a bullet sponge with no aim.
The bosses weren’t tough, but the levels took forever for me to get through. There were many sections where I was repeating the same corridor fight like a digitally violent version of Groundhog’s Day.
In the end, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the type of game I was looking for, but it was a frustrating time. I wish I had been better at it, but I’ll excuse myself for it being an older game. I guess I’m now moving through first person shooters that I missed in chronological order, continuing with the first Far Cry. And there’s a bunch more after that, so maybe I’ll get better as I go along. I doubt it will be the same as when I was a teen. Gone are the days of playing the same game through multiple times for hours at a time. Now is the time of praying for body armor and checkpoints, just so I can finish the game at all.
You can find this stream and other videos here!
Dunkirk is the most stressful movie I’ve seen all year. It starts with a ticking soundtrack, with a loud, drawn out retreat from gunfire and then doesn’t stop, even for a second.
The movie takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk, in World War II before America became involved. Over the course of the film, we follow four stories; fighter pilots coming to provide air support, civilian ships coming to help with the retreat, soldiers trying to make their own escape and officers trying to get as many people off the beach as they can.
Director Christopher Nolan uses a time shift throughout the movie, switching between stories, which then gives us multiple points of views of the same events. It’s a technique that allows for the most stress-inducing ways to to watch the movie, giving Nolan the ability to go back and forth between near-death experiences by the minute.
All the performances are strong, with most actors going for a minimalist style. It helps with the desperation, that all of these soldiers are so worn out from waiting for the next bomb to drop that emoting is a thing of the past. Tom Hardy, one of the pilots we follow, is behind a mask the whole time, forcing the actor to express everything with only his eyes. I don’t think I realized how much Hardy could convey that way, even with his take on Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy’s story is also the one I found the most heart wrenching. His choices and story lead to some of the most inspiring and frustrating moments of the movie. Mark Rylance gets to show a little bit more emotion, playing a man just trying to do his part in a hopeless situation. It’s Cillain Murphy who gets to be the most emotional, though. Murphy’s a soldier who almost gets away from Dunkirk but, due to Rylance picking him off a sinking ship, has to contend with heading back in that very direction.
I should point out that I have no idea what Harry Styles looks like so I can’t say if he was good or not. Since no one gave a bad performance, I can assume he did fine. He doesn’t stand out for those of us who don’t have his poster on our walls.
Nolan has a a clear and widescreen eye and he films a war movie that looks unlike anything that’s come before. Where other films have made us feel as if we’re following troops on the ground, Dunkirk also shows how tiny someone can appear during these great events. At the same time, Nolan does create moments where we feel on the ground but it’s different than something like Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t feel like we’re following the characters through these events, but that we’re experiencing them as well. That’s one of Nolan’s great strengths, creating immersive movies that feel like events rather than just a viewing. I was stressed because I felt like I was sinking with the ships, like I was avoiding being shot down.
Helping create that experience is Hans Zimmer’s score. While he does use more traditional music every now and then, Zimmer employs a constant ticking throughout the movie, along with an ostinato of strings that somehow seems to only ever speed up. Alone, the soundtrack would make you anxious. With Nolan’s film, it’s almost too much. And, while other Nolan films may suffer from weird sound mixing choices, they only add to the Dunkirk experience. Bullets sound unstoppable, water sounds crushing, planes sound like harbingers of mercy or doom.
Dunkirk is a perfect movie-going experience, though not a fun one. It’s a movie that should be seen in theaters so that you can be fully immersed in it’s story, in it’s cinematography, in it’s sound. I don’t know how the movie will hold up during a second viewing, as I’ve only ever seen Inception and Interstellar once each. But Dunkirk should be seen, if only ever once, because it will be an experience you won’t forget, It’s one of the best movies of the summer and will probably end up being one of the best movies of the year. If this is the future of Nolan’s career, I can’t wait for his next film.
We shouldn’t compare Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to The Fifth Element, even if director Luc Besson is behind both of these films.
We shouldn’t compare the two because The Fifth Element had lead actors we liked, like Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Valerian, on the other hand, has Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne. Dehaan, who was compelling in Chronicle, is a black hole of charisma in this film. As the action lead, he’s a failure. Too young to be taken seriously, too much of a snot to be likable, Dehaan’s portrayal as one of the galaxy’s best soldiers is hilariously off mark. Delevingne, who you might remember as the shaking, shadowy non-character Enchantress from Suicide Squad, fairs betters in the film but not by much. She has a flat, no-nonsense delivery that helps some of the lifeless dialog seem planned that way. But, she too comes across too young for the type of character she’s playing. If I’m supposed to believe either of these two have the field experience to be given any of the responsibility they have in Valerian, then consider me unconvinced. The only time I had any affection for them was when the two were dressed like characters from Final Fantasy X. Then they changed clothes and I lost all my positive feelings.
We shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because that nineties film had an energy that felt more like a comedy than a drama. It’s almost a scifi Rush Hour and not just because of a manic Chris Tucker. Valerian’s plot moves at a snails pace but I still found myself forgetting what our “heroes” were doing or if it had anything to do with the plot. The movie’s second act is a huge detour from anything that matters to the story and, when it finally gets back to the main plot, I had almost forgotten the goals and problems I was supposed to be invested in. A good example of why we shouldn’t compare the two movies is how The Fifth Element has that famous opera scene that connects to main plot. In Valerian, we had a strip tease from Rihanna that has little to do with the threat to the city (of a thousand planets). Sure, Dehaan needs her help, but only because of a sidequest that’s taking up forty minutes of the movie.
There’s not much more to say about Valerian. It was an exhausting film and not in the way that War for the Planet of the Apes left me ragged. I was bored after the first half hour and was never won back. Clive Owen gives a performance that left me feeling bad for the guy. None of the supporting characters, alien or otherwise, were charming. While I complained about the reason Rihanna’s character is involved, she’s has an energy that the film desperately needs but then ignores. The alien race we follow from the beginning is too noble to be interesting and too passive to connect with. The film’s opening of humanity greeting hundreds of new races to it’s space station, all set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is charming but false advertising for the rest of the movie.
Yes, we should support original scifi (even adaptations), especially the ones that get bigger budgets. But, when the results are movies like Valerian, it’s hard to fault studios for not wanting to fund one hundred and fifty million dollar films, no matter how pretty they are. We shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because we still talk about that movie and Valerian will probably not last in the public consciousness. Heck, this review is running short because there just wasn’t enough on screen to talk about.
All the complaints people had about the Star Wars prequels apply here. Technical aptitude over plot, archetypes over characters, and stilted dialog over, well,, human dialog. George Lucas was torn apart by fans. Yet, for some reason, I’ve seen people trying to give Luc Besson a pass because he tried something big and grand and failed in the process. Maybe they’re just fans of The Fifth Element. But Valerian is no Fifth Element. Let’s not compare the two.