Friday, May 27, 2016

Film Review: The Gallows (2015)

The Gallows (Review)
United States/2015
Format Viewed For Review: HBO Now
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"I liked certain parts of the movie, but it crumbles during the second half."

20 years after a tragic event during a high school play, students plan to recreate the show and inadvertently awaken a malevolent spirit...

The Gallows is a fairly simple horror film. The film begins with a recording of The Gallows, a play, from 1993. The show is cut short when Charlie, a student, is accidentally hanged and killed during the play. Fast forward 20 years and this very same school is planning to recreate The Gallows with a new cast. The cast includes Reese (Reese Mishler) and Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown). Since Reese is struggling with his performance, he joins his friends Ryan and Cassidy in a plot to destroy the set before the big night. To their dismay, after a bit of sabotage, they find themselves trapped in the school and stalked by a malevolent force. There's a bit more going on here, but not much. For the most part, it's just a bunch of teenagers running around a school at night. It all leads to a predictable ending with a mediocre twist.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On Xbox...

I rarely share the everyday 'blog' post. I write movie reviews, a few game reviews, and I occasionally post a list of recommendations, but I don't write casual blog posts. It's just something I don't do. I feel like venting, though. I want to discuss the Xbox One and it's ambiguous direction... Where do we begin?

Justifying the "anger."

So, I thought I should start by justifying my "anger." I place anger in quotations because I wouldn't call it real anger. I'm not going to smash my Xbox, hurl my controller at a wall, or weep until I sleep. I suppose it's more like disappointment and frustration.

We all know the fabled Xbox exclusive is rapidly disappearing. As seen on the Quantum Break box, they're now called "Xbox One Console Exclusive." When people claim they're angry about this, you usually get the same response: "You're not a real gamer if you don't want to share your games. Why are you so selfish? Who cares if PC gamers get to play Xbox games?"

Well, it's not about who gets to play what, it's about Microsoft's deceit. There are plenty of gamers who play on consoles because of the simplicity - plug-and-play, I get it - but there are plenty of other gamers who choose their console based on the exclusives. For said gamer, what would be the purpose of buying an Xbox One if the console does not have real exclusives?

Let's be honest here, too. Quantum Break on Windows 10 could have been announced in 2015, but Microsoft decided to wait until, what, 5 weeks before its release date? They could have revealed it at Gamescom or the Video Game Awards, but they decided to wait. I can't see a logical reason for this move. I'm willing to bet Scalebound was delayed in order to have a Windows 10 port ready for launch, too. We'll find out a week before it comes out, though.

That was a bit of a tangent, but it relates to Microsoft's deceit, right? Anyway, let's go back a bit further. I bought the Xbox One Titfanfall Bundle when it originally released. Around this time, Phil Spencer came into play as the head of Xbox and we were reassured that the Xbox One would never (ever, ever, ever, ever) be sold without Kinect. Well, that was also a lie.

So, what do we have here for a fan like myself? Well, I spent $500 on an Xbox with a useless peripheral - Microsoft acts like it doesn't exist - with very few true exclusives, a less reliant online service than the Xbox 360, and constant flip-flops from the executives. Hell, if I had know the Xbox would go in this direction, I could have invested an extra $100-$200 and had a pretty solid gaming PC. Unfortunately, I was fooled.

The uncertain future.

E3 is around the corner and the future looks... Well, we don't know what it looks like. We're often told one thing only to find out something completely different a few months later. It's damn near impossible to lay out Microsoft's strategy because it is so inconsistent. One day, we're being told games like Quantum Break will stay exclusive; the next, they're on Windows 10. (It's still console exclusive, though.)

While writing this little rant, a new report emerged: all Xbox One games, including Halo, will release on PC. In fact, it's apparently a new directive at Microsoft. It's the law of the land. However, considering all future Forza iterations were already announced for eventual PC releases, this should have been expected.

Obviously, we'll have to wait until E3 for all of the plans to unfold. But, as I've mentioned several times, Microsoft's plans are never set in stone. They seem to shift more often than the moods in an angsty teenager. Only one thing is absolutely guaranteed, though, and it's not 'games, games, games.' It's Windows 10.

Will it get better?

At this point, I have to remind you: this is my opinion. I know a lot of people will feel completely different about this situation. I've read the hundreds of comments on Reddit: "This is a brilliant move for Microsoft," "Sony's dead," and "Even if you move to PC, Microsoft still makes the money and they win." It's fine if you feel that way. Now that Windows 10 is in the picture, I personally believe there is a lot of room for improvement on the Xbox front.

I would feel much better with the following:

  • More Games: Porting every exclusive to Windows 10 would be fine if there were more games to port to begin with. Looking at 2016 so far, Microsoft has only released Quantum Break and Killer Instinct: Season 3. Sony has released Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank, MLB 16, and a slew of remasters; on top of that, they seem to have a strong grip on 3rd party support. I keep hearing this new ecosystem will bring more games, but it has actually brought several studio closures and delays with it. Bring the games and maybe I'll be more optimistic.
  • Free Online Multiplayer: As of now, PC players can play Killer Instinct and Gears of War Ultimate Edition online for free. If all future games are releasing on Windows 10, that means they'll also play games like Scalebound, Gears of War 4, and Crackdown for free. Crackdown relies on the power of the cloud, which was probably partially built with the billions of dollars made off of Gold subscriptions. So, why would a platform that did not contribute get to piggyback for free? It seems fair to make online play free for everyone. We're supposed to be first-class, right, Phil?
  • Better Games with Gold and Deals with Gold: Okay, so you're not going to get rid of Gold. I get it. You make billions off of Xbox gamers. That's fine. At the very least, you can offer more value to your dedicated customers through your Games with Gold program. Some better deals wouldn't hurt, either. There have been some gems in the Games with Gold program - I loved Massive Chalice - but it is inconsistent. Sometimes you're receiving games like Pool Nation FX for a quarter of the year, other times you're getting games that can be purchased for a dollar through Steam. As for deals, you may not be able to reach the value of Steam deals, but even Sony offers better deals to their fanbase.
  • Stick To Your Plan: My finally point is rather simple. You had original plan in 2013, which you promptly ditched after bad feedback. Okay, great. You were vehement about Kinect, but you still ditched it. That's a bit sketchy. You claimed Xbox would keep some of its exclusive, but you ditched that plan, too. Now, I don't know what to believe. "You can keep your thousands faces, but try being faithful to one." (A little Joe Budden for all of you.)

That's it. That's my rant. I know some will disagree and that's fine. I just wanted to get this off my chest. Maybe Phil Spencer will pretend to read it and thank me for the feedback on Twitter. (I'm kidding, I know you occasionally read the little guys' opinions.) I had some great times with the Xbox One, like Gears of War: UE and Rise of the Tomb Raider, but I'm just not very optimistic about the future. I'm not a fan of Microsoft's deceptive ways, either. I'm already looking at what Steam has to offer and I'm eagerly awaiting news on the Nintendo NX. Will I continue to support Xbox? Well, I own an Xbox One, so I might buy a few games, but I won't purchase an Xbox One Slim or renew my Gold - I'm the fan that bought an Xbox 360 Slim on day one and I've been a Gold member for over 8 years. I'll obviously wait until E3 to see if Microsoft will treat its dedicated gamers better, but it seems like the future is all about Windows 10 with an Xbox sticker plastered on top of it. That's too bad.

Until the next time I feel like ranting, 
Jonathan

Film Review: Annabelle (2014)

Annabelle (Review)
United States/2014
Format Viewed For Review: HBO Now
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Fans of the Blumhouse brand of horror may enjoy this one most."

After their home is invaded by cultists, a couple begin to experience supernatural events that threaten their well-being...

Annabelle follows Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John Form (Ward Harton) in the late 60s. Mia is pregnant and eagerly waiting to give birth while John prepares for life after medical school. Anyway, after a small argument, John gives Mia a vintage doll, which she accepts with glee. Later, their house is invaded by satanic cultists, including a Annabelle Higgins, who kills herself beside the vintage doll. From there on, the story becomes a bit more run-of-the-mill. Mia, who spends most of her time alone with her daughter, is haunted by a presence surrounding the doll. The doll gets stronger and stronger with each passing day. The church gets involved and... Well, you get the gist. It all leads to a predictable ending.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Film Review: Akira (1988)

Akira (Review)
Japan/1988
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a mesmerizing experience for fans of all types."

In Neo-Tokyo, a top-secret military project turns a biker gang member into a powerful psychic being and only his best friend and a group of psychics can stop him...

Akira follows biker gang members Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata) and Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki). One night, after pummeling a rival gang, Tetsuo runs into an escaped psychic, which causes him to wreck. Kaneda arrives moments later and finds the same psychic. Before he can help Tetsuo or question anything, the military swoops in and takes them away. Although he's eventually freed, along with Kei (Mami Koyama), a resistance member, Kaneda can't help but wonder where the military has placed Tetsuo. Fortunately for him, Tetsuo escapes and the gang find out about his newfound psychic ability. Of course, the military won't let him run loose. It has much more story, intertwined with a rich world and intriguing themes, but I'll stop my little synopsis here. This is a 'the less you know, the better' type of film. You can expect an unforgettable climax and a provocative finale, though.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Film Review: Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002)

Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (Review)
United States/2002
Format Viewed For Review: HBO Now
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"It is often absurd and juvenile, it's certainly not a film for everyone, but I enjoyed it."

Raised by rodents, The Chosen One (Steve Oedekerk) wanders from town to town searching for the man responsible for the death of his parents...

Kung Pow! Enter the Fist is an... interesting film. It's a little difficult to review, too. First and foremost, the film uses footage from a movie titled Tiger and Crane Fist as well as original footage to create an unrelated plot. This plot follows The Chosen One as he tries to defeat Master Pain (who later renames himself to 'Betty') and avenge his parents. He'll meet some bizarre characters, fight a few bad guys, and train for his final fight. In terms of narrative, there isn't much to say about this parody. Well, it does lead to a humorous ending and a trailer to a sequel we never received. Maybe someday we'll finally see Kung Pow 2: Tongue of Fury. Someday...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Film Review: Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool (Review)
United States/2016
Format Viewed For Review: CinemaNow Rental
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"It's an all-around entertaining package."

The story of wisecracking Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) and his path to becoming notorious anti-hero Deadpool.

Deadpool is your classic superhero origin story – except it's not. The film begins with some unique opening credits and a comically violent opening action sequence involving our titular superhero. This violent sequence is occasionally paused for some convenient flashbacks. Within the flashbacks, we learn about wisecracking Wade Wilson, a former special forces operative turned mercenary (I've never heard that one before), his love live, and his struggle with cancer. Of course, we also learn how he came to be such a mischievous anti-hero. Eventually, it gets caught up – Deadpool himself will let you know when this occurs – and it begins to follow a more familiar formula. Still, the climax is action-packed and the ending is great.