Halloween Horror Week

It is once again that time of year for me to do “Horror Week.” The month of October has been busy so I finally got around to it this week so it won’t be a month of horror like what I’ve done on the blog in the past. This month the two themes I’m exploring are films inspired by Stephen King books and Lovecraftian inspired films.

On the Stephen King side I’ll be reviewing the newest “IT,” “1922” and “The Langoliers” and on the Lovecraft inspired side I’ll be reviewing “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Dagon.”

Both of these authors are ones I enjoy and the otherworldly horror is such a cool concept in fiction, and seeing the different ways it can be brought to film is part of what makes the film media so amazing. How do you show the abstract and make your audience through fear? These films all do that to varying degrees and that is one thing I’ll be exploring as well as any philosophical ideas that may enter the works.

So without further ado, so being 2017’s Halloween Horror Week.

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The House of the Dead: Making “Resident Evil” Look Good

“The House of the Dead” is a corny game that enjoys stealing your money. It is also a lot of fun when you don’t have to worry about cost as the writing is so terrible that I found it hilarious and the enemy and boss variety are great enough that there is an actual challenge to get through the different chapters of the game. Before I get into the details of my experience, I recommend this for any fan of rail shooters who has time and money to spare, cause you will need both if you want to beat this game. This is a game that I was only able to beat with my fiancee because we were at the Coin Jam when it was free to play.

The game was developed by Wow Entertainment and produced by Sega.

The story involves Agent Thomas Rogan who learns his fiancee Sophie Richards is kidnapped at the Curien Mansion and arrives with his partner “G” to investigate and take on Roy Curien and his creations, as well as rescuing his fiancee Sophie Richards.

SPOILERS – If anyone cares, this game is old.

The Pros: Enemy Variety – The enemy variety is really good in this game. You fight bats, slugs, jumping zombies, water zombies, fat zombies, dragon dogs and many of the zombies have a variety of weapons from things that they’ll throw at you to varying degrees of melee weapons like axes and chainsaws. This part of the game was really creative, especially since there are only a few chapters.

Boss Battles – The bosses are stressful and also one of the best parts of the game. There is the Chariot who you fight in armor and in his flesh form, the Hanged Man who sends bats at you and is responsible for killing Sophie given it brings her deeper into the Mansion, the Hermit which is a giant crab spider thing and finally the Magician who is a major coin sink and I assume can’t be beat in arcade mode without at least dying once. The Hanged Man was my favorite as it looks like a giant gargoyle and it was a fun and difficult fight without being nearly impossible like the Magician.

Okay: Replay Value – The replay value is decent if you aren’t expecting to beat the game, but because it is a game where you expect to lose money I can’t put it as a pro. Maybe you are really good at rail shooters and don’t have this problem, but this is a game I only beat because it was free to play and if I am going to spend money I at least want to have a chance at completing said game.

Gameplay – This is a rail shooter and unlike some rail shooters where you have more of a chance to block incoming attacks, this one gives bosses unblockable attacks and sheer quantities of enemies that in situations will hit you. This is an arcade game so it was made to fight cheap so I’m putting it as okay. I did have more fun with “Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles” as far as rail shooters went as I found the story better and the fights a lot more fairer. But “Resident Evil” as a whole is a superior game and series to this fun garbage.

The Cons: Fridging Sophie – You see Sophie at the beginning of Chapter 1 and she is dead by the end. We have no relationship with her we just know she’s Rogan’s fiancee and she dies. She is fridged so our heroes will seek revenge against Roy Curien, when that isn’t needed. She could have easily been your partner in the game but bad writing has nameless “G” be your partner instead.

The Plot and Characters – Roy Curien wants to conquer the world with his creations (Cliche mad scientist!) the one female character is fridged and your characters are driven only by revenge. The characters and plot are awful in this game and the only real entertainment that comes from it is the fact that the tropes are so obviously awful and the game was made completely seriously. I want to call it “So bad its good” but it is a quarter stealing game so really should have had a lot more effort put into it. There were obvious solutions that were never taken, like giving Curien a relationship to the agents beyond fridging Sophie and of course replacing “G” with Sophie so that you play as someone who matters in the story.

This is a terribly written game that is full of the worst cliches (fridge the one woman, mad scientist who mad sciences for reason, two tough guys saving the day) but does manage to not be a complete train-wreck by the variety of enemies and bosses that actually force you to strategize. The game is worth playing for a little bit if you expect to lose and just want to kill zombies but if you plan on beating the game…bring a lot of quarters or go to an arcade that has free to play days like the Coin Jam. This game is a classic but it isn’t a good classic, it manages fun, but not much else.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 4 – Tonal Whiplash But Good Character Development

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” is such a good show. This season continues that quality but brings back some of the issues that I had on past seasons, the greatest being that this one has the widest range of tone from episode to episode and even during certain episodes. This lead to some pretty bad whiplash that at the core kept this season from reaching the level of greatness from last season. These are my non-spoiler thoughts before I get into the details of what went down this season.

Where we left off is Voltron was trying to figure out Prince Lotar’s plan and to continue the building of Alliances to take on the Galra Empira and Emperor Zarkon had just been resurrected by With Haggar.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Blade of Marmora – This season we get to see a lot of these guys, and they are fantastic! They are driven and their leader is the one who gets that they are a blade / weapon so when they die in service of the cause it is what they want, Keith, who is half Galra, does not get this but he devotes himself fully to the Blade which makes when he loses a teammate within the organization all the more difficult.

Pidge’s Quest for her Brother – This is a touching episode where she finds his past squad who were annihilated and believes him to be until she realizes his name isn’t on the list. When she finally finds him it is amazing and Matt, her brother becomes an essential part of the Alliance because of his tech. smarts. The quest to find him is also one of the better episodes this season.

The Alliance – The Alliance is really cool with leaders from different species who they freed from the Galra fighting with their own ships to free others who live under Galra oppression. They free a giant system from under Galra rule, even though it is almost their undoing from a trap laid by Haggar.

The Prince’s Generals – This is the season where the Prince loses his generals as one of them is possessed by Haggar and after he kills her he loses the respect of all the others as they try to turn him so that they are no longer wanted exiles. Seeing how they get there is believable too as the Prince barely communicates with them and never explains his actions, they betrayed him and had every right to. He had lost their trust with the killing of one of them and his failure to explain anything he did.

Prince Lotor – The Prince reminds me so much of Zuko in this. We learn that he has no loyalty to his father but we never really know why. He is following his own agenda and is a mystery to those around him, though also extremely smart and dangerous. He escapes the Galra fleet lead by his father as well as his own generals when they betray him and finally saves Keith’s and Voltron’s life when he stops the spell that Haggar is casting. He is one of my favorite characters in this show, hands down.

The Last Battle – The Last Battle has some of the best action this season as we see Voltron taking on giant ships in order to liberate the Galra oppressed system. We soon that this is a trap though as Haggar creates a ritual that turns the planet into a giant bomb that traps Voltron on the planet. It is only through Allura’s magic that they are able to escape and only thanks to Prince Lotor that Voltron and the system aren’t destroyed by the bomb.

The Cons: Crushing on Allura – Keith does it, Matt…Pidge’s brother does it and it is really annoying. Whenever this happens the guys are given anime eyes and their drawings are done all cartoony. Besides it being creepy that this is a lot of the interactions males have with her who like her it became part of the tonal whiplash.

Tonal Whiplash – There is an episode where Lotor is about to exiled from the Galra empire by his father the Emperor…and at the same time Lance is milking a cow and Allura is talking to a cow like it is an intelligent being. It is tonally all over the place and the worst stuff is easily with Team Voltron. I wish it was just one episode but this happens a fair amount before the last episode of the season.

This is another good season of a great show that I highly recommend if you like animation and good character driven stories. Dreamworks really created something amazing with this rebooted series and I can’t wait to see where the story goes, though I do hope the last season is coming up soon. I think the tonal whiplash existed because the writers had to burn time as I don’t remember last season having this problem at all as each episode as purposeful and simply advanced the plot.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good.

 

Pac-Man Battle Royal: Fun With Friends Not Good Replay Value

     The Coin Jam is a pretty amazing arcade and last time I was there with a friend and my fiance we happened to be there on “Free to Play” day where certain games you can play for free. “Pac-Man Battle Royal” was the game we ended up choosing first and a random person joined us to make it the full 4 player battle royal.

What I recently learned is the is the 17th game in the Pac-Man Arcade series, though officially only the 11th. Namco Bandai Games was the developer and it was released in 2011.

So now the question is how does it hold up? Often how I judge games is based off story, but I can’t really with a versus game like this and Pac-Man doesn’t really have a story so in the end it all comes down to gameplay and replay value.

The replay value is alright. We played two full games, with me winning the second time playing. Would I play it again? With friends, yes I would especially if we are at the Coin Jam as they have good drinks that make a simple game like this more enjoyable, even though it does get repetitive. There was a reason we only played 2 games.

Gameplay is repetitive, it is Pac-Man so it is predictable but the fact that there are ghosts adds a little bit of randomness to each match and strategy as does the eating of the fruit which changes where the dots are on the map. The gameplay is fun but in the end those few bits of variety aren’t enough to make it great. Now if one could play a ghost or do more to change the map, that’d be different, but this isn’t the case.

If you happen to be around when this game is available and you just went to do a quick matches in an easy versus style game you will probably enjoy it. I wouldn’t call it good, the game would have to do a lot more and have a lot more variety to make it good…but it is enjoyable with friends and good for a few quick rounds.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A Sci. Fi. Exploration on the Purpose of People and the Individual

    “Blade Runner 2049” is a great sequel. I want to get that out of the way right now. This is the way to properly do a sequel as the world still feels like the same world, the new characters are interesting and the themes in the first film are explored…though a bit more blatantly than the first film. You also do not need to have seen “Blade Runner” to appreciate this film. The main character and his arc stands strong on it’s own and there are entirely new factions than existed in the first film. Before I get into spoilers, you should go see this film. Seriously, the main flaws that bring it down are how some of the female characters are handled and the fact that it is much longer so there are points that it does drag. Besides those factors, it is a favorite sci. fi. film of mine now, just like the first film.

“Blade Runner 2049” was directed by Denis Villeneuve, written by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green and was produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud and Cynthia Yorkin.

The story takes place 30 years after the original “Blade Runner.” Worldwide famine hit and it was thanks to genetic engineering by Wallace Corp. who rescued humankind and bought out Tyrell Corp. They than created new replicants that were docile and would not rebel, though Police still hunted down past models and “retire” them. These police are still known as Blade Runners. K is a new replicant hunting down past models and must unfold the mystery surrounding the past models agenda.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The universe is expanded upon in this film. We see the irradiated city beyond Los Angeles, we go to Las Vegas and see what future Vegas was like as a dead city and of course the nitty gritty of the poorer areas of the city that K travels to and lives. We also see how technology has advanced as Wallace Corp. has invented holograms with complicated A.I. and of course the difference between past and current replicants.

The Factions Vying for Power – There are quite a few factions vying for power with the largest being the Replicant Rebellion, the Police and Wallace Corporation who sees themselves above the law. What comes of the struggle is still open as the CEO of Wallace Corp (played creepily by Jared Leto, who gives the guy a major God Complex) but the mcguffin is never discovered and the pin drop hasn’t happened. War has not come yet, there has only been movement.

The Replicant Military Squad – I wanted to watch a movie about these guys. There is Batista who was their combat medic and helps Rachel have her child, there is the replicant rebel leader Freysha who is waiting for the right time to reveal the child so the replicants can become free and a few others we do not meet. They were so cool and they are the ones who help K find meaning beyond himself when he realizes his memories belong to the child and not himself.

Personhood, Identity and Joi – In the past film personhood and identity are explored through replicants, in this their humanity is known and the question is brought up with Joi an A.I. designed to keep whomever bought them happy. We see her have agency through the film but all the things are to make K happy so the question is whether she does it out of programming or out of genuine desire and love. The film leaves it ambiguous, which makes it one of the more stronger arcs of the story.

Lt. Joshi and Moral Complexity – Robin Wright owns it as Lt. Joshi. She’s presented as prejudiced initially and barely treats K as a human being and talks about her fear of the replicants rebelling but we see her defend K against the Wallace Terminator and we see that even though she isn’t good, she valued K as more than just an asset of the police force.

K’s Arc – K’s arc is finding meaning beyond himself. He first finds meaning in his relationship with Joi, until he fully realizes she like him was designed for others…he finds it in memory, believing he is the child, until he learns from the rebel faction that those memories were implanted and after he is alone he saves Deckard so Deckard can meet his daughter and the rebellion remain protected. He finds meaning and dies, no longer being a tool of the police force or his own desires.

Okay: Deckard – Deckard is the weakest part of this film. Harrison Ford does a good job but he wasn’t needed. The point was the child and the replicant rebellion, and he is a part of that but not the whole part. There is one part I actually wanted him to die since after you find out that K isn’t his son, his arc felt played out. If they make a third movie I hope we don’t see him again. He wasn’t bad but I’d have rather more time was spent exploring the rebel leader or Lt. Joshi.

The Cons: The Women Who Serve – First, there are a lot of women in this film and some of them like the rebel leader and Lt. Joshi are in powerful roles. The other part is women are mostly sex objects in this . I get that this is part of the world but the first film had more self awareness along those lines and it is never really addressed. The role of Jois in this reality is only seen through one who fell in love with one and because it goes unaddressed it became problematic. Doesn’t keep it from being a favorite film or a great film but it was a missed opportunity given personhood is such a major theme of the story.

If you enjoyed the first film you will love this one…if you enjoy meditative sci. fi. like the first film, you will enjoy this film. This is smart science fiction that treats the audience seriously and expects you to pay attention. There is so much going on and the mystery, though a tad predictable is a lot of fun because it is driven by K’s story. This is a focused narrative, which the first film really didn’t have. I still prefer the ambiguous nature of the first film, and I think the replicants are more intriguing. I’d take the 4 who Deckard is hunting down over any of the replicants in this film…but this film is still a beautiful work of art that is well worth your time. In the end, it is worth watching to return back to the Blade Runner universe and see just how many more layers are given to this wonderfully complex world that is so much like our own.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Blade Runner (1982): A Beautiful Sci. Fi. Meditative Exploration of Justice and Identity

   “Blade Runner” is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. It is also a film I had not seen for years until I saw that “Blade Runner 2049” was coming out. The last version I saw before this was “The Extended Cut” and in the future I plan on doing a comparison of all the different versions, but for purposes of this review, I’m just sticking with the original Theatrical Release. “Blade Runner” is a film that brings so much depth through ambiguity, it doesn’t tell you what to think or to believe but from character actions we can infer greater meanings and truth. This is where the film thrives and what I’ll be analyzing more fully in my review, as the larger ideas aren’t spelled out, they hinted at and let you put the pieces together.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and produced by Michael Deeley. The story is based off of the Philip K. Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick is an author whose books have been adapted into many of my favorite sci. fi. films.

The story takes place in a futuristic dystopic 2019 where the Tyrell Corporation has invented Replicants as slave labor to do dangerous jobs or the populace and government. They were given a short life span and for those that manage to escape, police known as Blade Runners hunt them down and “retire” them. This story picks up with four escaping to Earth and their attempts to infiltrate Tyrell Corp. as Deckard, a Blade Runner, hunts them down.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is easily the richest part of it all. This is a version of Earth that could happen. We have a crowded, dirty city full of adds and neon lights where the rich live above the sky and the poor live stacked on top of one another. This is also a world of indifference as watching a replicant get killed means nothing to the everyday people, just like what we see today with how people react to shootings and usually find it justified when an authority figure of some sort (police, military, etc.) is the one doing it.

The Replicants – The replicants who escape are the best part of this film. Whether it is Zhora just trying to live her life as a dancer and isn’t involved in the plots of the other 3. Leon and his desire for justice, especially after Deckard kills Zhora, Pris and curiosity and fun nature and Roy with his desire to understand and to live, a character who wants justice and to be fixed since he was made a slave and made to die. They were the best part of this film and I would’ve have watched a full length film about any of the 4. They were complex and weren’t bad beings, they were seeking freedom and justice in a world that only saw them as monsters and treated them as slaves…and they found meaning beyond that. They were so much more than how others saw them.

Human or Replicant Ambiguity in Deckard – One of the running themes of the film is what makes a person human and Deckard is used as that base, as many times it is hinted that he might be a replicant hunting his own people…as Rachel asks if he’s ever done the test and his avoidance of it shows there is more going on with him. The fact that Rachel is able to fool the Replicant test is a good example of this too and how Deckard could have been designed simply to kill. This ambiguity lends power to the narrative at it humanizes all of those in the world and shows just how unjust what Deckard does is.

Memories and Identity – Another theme that is explored is that of memories as they relate to identity. We see this when Leon is asked about his mother in the opening scene, as he knows he’s a replicant and the memory he’s been given is false and Rachel who believes her memories to be real and shares those memories as a way of getting to know Deckard. Even after she knows they are a lie they still shape her and how she relates to others, unlike Leon who’s actions come from knowing the lie and reacting to the present.

The Means of Justice – There are a few ways that justice happens in the film. Whether it is the Blade Runner Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos giving time for Deckard and Rachel to escape, or the killing of Tyrell by Roy. Tyrell didn’t care about his creations and upheld the system where they would be hunted down. Roy killing him is around the time that he finally finds freedom in what time he has left to live.

The Cons: Deckard, Rachel and Consent – The one con that keeps this film from being perfect is the scene after Rachel saves Deckard from Leon. She is troubled, doesn’t know who she is and Deckard just forces himself on her. If it isn’t rape it is the same kind of evil. I wanted Roy to kill Deckard after this as even though I think it showed that Deckard didn’t see Rachel as a person yet, it is never called out in that way and can only be inferred. Deckard never faces any consequences from Rachel from it and they still fall in love. I hated this scene and it is the one thing that keeps this film from perfection.

“Blade Runner” is a film that has had a lasting legacy and far reaching legacy on science fiction. It helped bring about some of my favorite shows like the new “Battlestar Galactica” as replicants and cylons are pretty similar, the dirty advanced sci. fi. futures of “Cowboy Bebop” and “Ghost in the Shell,” and countless other works that explore self, personhood and greater themes. I’ll be exploring “Blade Runner 2049” after this but I wanted to go back to this classic first. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. This film is a work of genius and if you are a fan of sci. fi. you will most likely enjoy this film as much as I did.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) – An Unmemorable Sequel

   “The Golden Circle” is a film that really should have been about the “Statesman” (The American Secret Service of this film) or just a day in the life of “The Kingsman.” It is in the film going big and trying to recreate the magic of the first film that ends up being the biggest reason it falls flat. It isn’t a bad film by any means, but the strongest moments are the character moments, not the action and this is an action heavy film on an apocalyptic scale, just like the first film…and the writing just isn’t up to par. Before I get into spoilers, if you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably enjoy this one, I just hope that if a third film is made that they go small and give us a more character driven story than the we got this time around.

The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn who co-wrote it with Jane Goldman and produced the film with David Reid and Adam Bohling. The series is based off the comics called the “Kingsman” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

The story this time around involves the drug Kingpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) attacking all the Kingsman hideouts after one of the former members helps her hack them. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are the only ones left, as they follow the emergency protocol where they must team up with their American counterparts known as the Statesman to stop her and her plans.

SPOILERS ahead

First I want to get into what works about the film. The Statesman are a fascinating group and Bridges “Champ” is a lot of fun as the leader of the organization. Though, Bridges is good in everything he’s in, even when the films suck. The Statesman is based in a Kentucky Distillery and has a cowboy aesthetic to contrast with the gentlemen aesthetic. I really want a movie about them after seeing this, hell this could have been their movie and Merlin and Eggsy could have been agents sent over to help with the drug problem that drives the plot without the Kingsman being destroyed. Since the two of them are fantastic.

Merlin and Eggsy are easily once the best parts of the film. Mark Strong continues to give both warmth and the cold edge of an agent and Eggsy has embraced his role as an agent even as he still holds onto the life he had before with his friends from his past life. They don’t really have an arc in this, but seeing them as the only members of the Kingsman worked, though I wish their entire organization hadn’t been killed. For one Roxy was a great character who we will now never see in the field again.

Poppy is a villain who is a lot of fun and fits perfectly into this universe. She is a drug Kingpin who wants to legalize all drugs so that she’ll be recognized as the richest woman in the world. Her base is in South America and designed like a 50’s town, which fits her messed up mentality where she feeds people who betray her to her other minions. She also has robotic dogs that are really cool and fit into this universe really well. Her plan is to infect everyone with her drugs and give the antidote once heroin is legalized. It is a pretty great plan and she is a difficult enemy to beat.

Galahad’s arc surprisingly works. If you’ve seen the previews you know Colin Firth’s character Galahad is back and in this we learn that he was a scientist before he joined the Kingsman so his arc is reactivating his memories so he can help when the Kingsman and Statesman start losing to Poppy. It is always good to see this character and as much as I hate characters coming back, the fact that it took the entire film for him to come back, made it worth it narratively.

Now for what didn’t work. At one point Poppy captures Elton John and after that he is used as a joke and reference through the entire film. It is really annoying and grating and there was zero reason for it to be in the film. It was never funny and just distracted from the plot.

Over-dependence on action is a major problem too. I get this is a spy film but the first film managed to have a lot of great moments of reflection that we never get in this, even though Eggsy and Merlin’s friends are all dead. The movie was so focused on moving to the next action set piece that it hurt the story.

The love story with the Princess also didn’t work and there was no reason for it to exist, especially since it leads to a weird scene with Eggsy sleeping with one of the enemy’s girlfriends. The entire love story felt contrived and after that scene…it just felt awkward, unneeded and it distracted from what little of an arc Eggsy has in this film.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a film I’ll recommend if you like a good action film and enjoyed the first movie. It isn’t nearly as great as the first movie, but it is a solid sequel as we get to know Galahad’s backstory, there is a great villain and the Statesman are a fun organization. I wish it had been more focused though, this is a film that could have been great as a “Statesman” film or as a mission with the entire Kingsman team in action. Sadly this was a film that failed to measure up to its own ambitions. Once again, still worth your time if you are looking for a good action film or loved the first one.

Final Score: 8 / 10