Monday, May 30, 2016

Film Review: Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

Thirteen Ghosts (Review)
United States/Canada/2001
Format Viewed For Review: HBO Now
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"The ghost designs, their backgrounds, and the gore... it was refreshing for a ghost film."

When his uncle passes, Arthur (Tony Shalhoub), a widower father of two, inherits a large glass house full of his uncle's prized possessions, which include a set of malicious ghosts...

Thirteen Ghost is an interesting film. This isn't the same ol' haunted house film we get nowadays. The story follows widower Arthur, his two children, Kathy and Bobby, and their nanny Maggie. Arthur and his family are burdened by debt, struggling to get by. One day, a lawyer visits Arthur to inform him of his uncle's passing and will. (They don't seem to notice the damn near satanic wallpaper on the lawyer's laptop for some reason...) Anyway, Arthur inherits a beautiful glass house filled with valuable artifacts. Unfortunately, Arthur's dreams are soiled when Dennis (Matthew Lillard), a psychic posing as an electrician, reveals the truth behind the house – it's filled with ghosts. From there, the group fight for survival and try to escape. The plot can be a bit cheesy at times, but it is interesting and original. The ending was okay, but I felt it was spoiled by the last few seconds.

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.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Film Review: The Pyramid (2014)

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

"...there's nothing to be afraid of in this pyramid."

Two stupid archaeologist lead two foolish documentary filmmakers and a tech guy into a three-sided pyramid 600-feet beneath the earth's surface...

So, The Pyramid is your basic modern horror movie. The film follows father-daughter archeologists Dr. Miles (Denis O'Hare) and Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw), documentarians Terry (James Buckley) and Sunni, and the tech guy, Michael. So, this group is on the brink of unearthing a hidden pyramid. As they break ground, they are pummeled with poisonous gas. On top of that, their project is immediately canceled due to the unrest in Egypt. Don't worry, though, Nora knows how to convince people to do stupid things. So, after a remote controlled robot is attacked in the pyramid, the group decide to enter the hazardous grounds. From there, you can expect some of the same ol' tricks: things go wrong, people shout over each other, loud noises, etc. There are a few interesting scenes here, but it doesn't really work. The ending was bad, too.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Film Review: Ouija (2014)

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

"...comes off as uninspired and lackluster due to its, well, lack of flare and originality."

After the death of their friend, a group of friends inadvertently awaken a malicious spirit while playing with a Ouija board...

Ouija follows a group of stupid teenagers. Debbie, a high school student, kills herself (no, she didn't shart). Laine (Olivia Cooke), Debbie's best friend, refuses to believe it. So, she convinces her friends and sister to use a Ouija board in order to contact Debbie. Although they initially believe they are talking to Debbie, they eventually realize they've disturbed a malevolent spirit. So, these friends start dying one-by-one. Of course, Laine races to stop it. There's not much to say about the plot, really. It all leads to a fairly mediocre ending. The climax was a bit corny, too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Film Review: The Walk (2015)

The Walk (Review)
United States/2015
Format Viewed For Review: Vudu Rental
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...an entertaining blend of comedy, romance, and thrills."

The story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his walk between New York's World Trade Center.

The Walk is a biopic with plenty of humor and a pinch of romance. The film tells the story of Philippe Petit, a man born to entertain. Although his father did not approve, Philippe relentlessly pursued his dreams, always searching for the perfect place to set up his wire. His ultimate goal, however, was to walk the high-wire between the Twin Towers without a safety belt. Through his journey, he finds romance with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow street performer, and he finds a friend in Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), a photographer. In a heist film-like fashion, Philippe begins to find other accomplices to help himself succeed. It leads to a climax we can see coming from the beginning, but it is still stunning. It's a breathtaking event, a spectacle to behold. I wasn't a big fan of the actual ending, though.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Film Review: Unfriended (2014)

Unfriended (Review)
United States/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the film hardly leaves an impression."

A group of friends, including Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig), are terrorized by an anonymous person using the account of a dead peer.

Unfriended is an interesting horror film. The entire movie is told through the perspective of Blaire's Macbook screen. The story takes place over one night. Blaire and her friends – Mitch, Jess, Ken, and Adam – try to hangout over Skype, but a random user named "billie227" has invaded their video chat. After failing to get rid of their uninvited guest, the group realize the account belongs to a "Laura Barnes." Laura was a classmate who committed suicide after a humiliating video of her was uploaded to YouTube, which caused some harsh bullying. So, these horrible teenagers are forced to face their sins while hysterically crying and screaming over one another. Of course, they suffer some violent deaths, too. The film leads to a fairly generic ending – boo!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Film Review: The Transporter Refueled (2015)

The Transporter Refueled (Review)
France/2015
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"I disliked the dialogue, the characters were flimsy, the plot was dull, and the action was forgettable."

Frank (Ed Skrein), known as the Transporter, is tossed into a web of crime when Anna (Loan Chabanol), a prostitute, hires him for a job...

The Transporter Refueled is a reboot of The Transporter series. This plot follows Frank, the Transporter. Frank is hired by Anna, a prostitute for Karasov, to transport two packages. He receives his payment and accepts. He's surprised to find the two packages are actually women who resemble Anna and they just robbed a bank. To his dismay, he also finds Anna and her accomplices have kidnapped Frank's father in order to force him to help them get revenge on Karasov. So, they go around stealing from Karasov's associates, Frank pummels a few people, some cars crash, and so on. In terms of plot, it's really nothing special. It all leads to a very mediocre ending.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Film Review: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight (Review)
United States/2015
Format Viewed For Review: Vudu Rental
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a very effective and engaging investigative drama."

Spotlight, a team of investigative journalist at The Boston Globe, delve into a case of systemic child abuse in the Catholic Church...

Spotlight follows the titular team of journalist: Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), the editor, and journalists Michael Rezendez (Mark Ruffalo), Sascha Pteiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James). After The Boston Globe hires a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Shcreiber), Spotlight is assigned to investigate systemic child abuse committed by numerous Roman Catholic priests. They find themselves delving into a heinous world of awful secrecy and rampant abuse. The group find abusive priests were simply removed from their positions and relocated without punishment. And the issue continues to amplify through the corruption of other officials, including deceitful lawyers. I don't want to spoil the film for you, so I'll leave it at that. The film leads to a good ending.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Film Review: The Visit (2015)

The Visit (Review)
United States/2015
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray
Netflix Instant: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a simple found footage horror film with original characters, unnerving suspense, creepy visuals, and a few effective jump scares."

Teenagers Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visit their grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), for a week. All is well until their grandparents begin acting erratically...

The Visit is a fairly simple found footage horror film. The film follows Becca and Tyler – 15 and 13 years old, respectively – as they visit their grandparents for a week. On their trip, Becca is shooting a documentary about her family. She intends on using the documentary to give her mother closure for an incident that occurred decades ago. There are a few strange rules and mannerisms, such as the 9:30 bedtime, but it is nothing significantly different. Well, not right off the bat. Becca and Tyler soon find themselves tormented by their grandparents' strange behavior, like being chased in crawlspace by Nana or finding where their Pop Pop hides his diapers. I was a bit disappointed by the ending – mostly because I predicted it while joking. (You know how it is, right? You pop in an M. Night Shyamalan movie and you predict an ending for the sake of it.) It wasn't a bad ending, though. It was good, leaving little to be desired.