Arrival (2016)

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) team up to translate coded messages that are received when 12 mysterious “crescent moon” ships arrive at different locations across the world. Are the new visitors friendly, or do they have a more dastardly plan for Earth?

Based off the story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, this was a movie similar in some ways to “Contact” where aliens and humans attempt to communicate to find out if the aliens are here to help or destroy us. Though the story is science fiction it does a very good job of being believable, and firmly grounded in the reality of current technology as well as the growing human fear of extinction from an invading force (human or not).

Overall I really liked this movie, the way the storyline was nonlinear, but not too confusing as it jumped around to different parts of the story. I really enjoyed the performance of both Adams and Renner while they try their hardest to communicate with the new visitors as well as the 11 other countries around the world to crack the code.

The visuals in this movie definitely made it more entertaining to watch and the plot was captivating, though it was a little frightening how close to reality some plot points were, with people doing or saying things out of fear which could make a tense situation much worse. The story was pretty believable as far as how different people on different sides of the fence would have wanted to handle the situation of a new visitor to earth, as far as the contrasting opinions of handling the new information with “kid gloves” or a more aggressive approach.

This was a movie that I actually wanted to see more of by the time the credits rolled, because it was engaging enough that you really wanted to see the story to the very end, even if not all of the pieces of the puzzle fit nicely and you left still a little confused about what you just saw.

The Running Man (1987)

The opening narration appears in big block letters on the screen: “By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand.”

Then the movie opens as Arnold is in command of an attack helicopter of the city of Bakersfield, with a riot over the lack of food takes place in a crowded intersection below.

Arnold is issued an order to open fire on the unarmed citizens, and when he disobeys, finds himself in deep trouble, eventually leading to him being on the world’s most popular game show “The Running Man” where prisoners compete for their lives against deadly stalkers and traps. Through a series of fights and cheesy quips from our hero, he aims to escape the deadly game and come back to exact his revenge on a host that wrongfully put him there.

The Running Man was based off of a Stephen King novel that was turned into an action movie with Arnold at the starring role, presumably to carry on his persona as a beastly action hero. It’s going to be more of Arnold beating down the baddies in the far off future date of 2017, something that can both be laughable in actual year 2017 because of how technology really advanced, as well as a little scary given the current fear of ACTUALLY running low on natural resources.

This movie is full on 80’s style, from the big teased out hair, the tight ADIDAS spandex bodysuits that both the contestants in “The Running Man” game show as well as the Dance Squad (that performs choreography by Paula Abdul) wear throughout the movie, the music, the effects and even the props. This movie just screams “cheesy 80 action flick” but it is still an enjoyable watch the entire time. Arnold doesn’t disappoint when he makes bad puns after putting down another villain who’s name is appropriate to their killing device.

My only problem with the movie is that the opening narration card makes it seem like this is going to be an “Arnold takes on the corrupt government” type movie, but really all he does is take on a game show. Now granted, the game show does seem to play around with human lives the way you’d expect in a semi-futuristic movie where the world leaders “rule with an iron fist,” but once The Running Man (Hosted by Richard Dawson) is bested, then what? Never mind that we’re still oppressed and starving while living in filth, we fixed the evil game show… and now don’t have ANY entertainment.

It’s very obvious from watching this movie that it inspired a lot of media that came after to do the “deadly game of wits and survival” trope, and I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure this movie didn’t start that trope anyway, since Predator (June 1987) came out before this one (November 1987).

This movie did end up being the basis for the real life game show “American Gladiator,” which is not surprising since this movie does have some things in common with the actual show, though to my knowledge American Gladiator 1: didn’t ever kill any of the contestants, and 2: didn’t have a home game. Overall I had a good time with this movie, and if you enjoy 80’s action movies that can get a little silly (don’t they all?) I believe you will too.

Firewatch

You are Henry, a man in his late thirties that has taken a job as a Firewatch in Wyoming in the late 80’s. What starts off as a calm and lonely job trying to keep the forest from burning down will soon turn into a mysterious game of conspiracy.

When you start the game, you are first greeted with a few lines of text and are given the option to react in one of two ways. This serves as the intro to the game as well as giving some background to the storyline. The choices don’t really matter much outside of developing a bit of background to your character and while it ultimately doesn’t affect the story overall, it does introduce you to Firewatch’s version of the choice system that you will be using for the rest of the game.

When you take over your character Henry, you suddenly find yourself walking through Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming towards your watch tower where you are immediately introduced to Delilah over a walkie talkie. She is your “boss” and will give you objectives to complete as you play through the game. They start off simply enough, such as “check the phone lines” or “look into a pillar of smoke out in the forest” but will soon evolve into much, much more.

You and Delilah talk exclusively over the Walkie Talkies but you develop a kinship for each other as the game progresses, trading quips and sarcasm back and forth while keeping an eye on the forest. She asks you about your life and you two will develop a relationship based off of your conversations and reactions.

While the game is short (around four hours of actual play time), it keeps you intrigued by adding more and more elements to the overall puzzle of the story. The game relies heavily on the script and voice acting of the two main characters (yourself and Delilah) and is a fantastic game to play.

I really enjoyed the look of the game, the setting is beautiful and fun to explore. The map itself isn’t terribly large, and you do have the option of running so it doesn’t necessarily take forever to get around. That being said one of my only real frustrations about playing the game was that it can sometimes be hard to find where you’re supposed to go as the game doesn’t have any sort of mini map or GUI. This is meant to keep you immersed in the game, and you can easily pull out a map and compass, which you will need to do often.

There have actually been several websites or postings where people have created their own fan-made maps that you can print out while playing the game, one of which can found here on the game developer’s website

Fake News: Man Keeps Personal Opinion Off Facebook, Does Want Cookie For It

Alex Pennington of Newark, New Jersey made history last night when it was found out that he hasn’t actually posted any personal opinions on Facebook this year. Though there have been several opportunities to do so, Alex has chosen instead to keep posting web comics and photos of his food on the popular social networking site.

“I just don’t think it really matters,” Alex admitted in an interview earlier this week. Everything’s been kind of crazy so far this year, and though I do have opinions on what’s happening in my life, it’s just not something I feel like sharing on Facebook. I mean, I have friends on both sides, family members, co-workers as well as people I haven’t actually seen since High School on there!”

When asked what his opinions were, he stated that he didn’t want to share that with us as well. When we asked if he thought he was special because of how he felt on several issues, he declined comment.

We then asked if he wanted a cookie, and he accepted. We then shared a few Chocolate Chip Cookies and a glass of milk before parting ways.

Red State

The movie starts off with three friends, who like most High School boys, are preoccupied with one thing: Scoring. But unlike American Pie, or other teen dramas/comedies that we’ve seen so far, they don’t do it by making a pact, or buying hookers, no! This is the 21st Century we’re talking about! So of course, they use an online dating site to try and find a person with loose morals to help them with their dirty little needs.

Once the boys learn of potential group sex with a woman he met online that happens to live nearby, they steal a car and head on their way.

Unfortunately, after that THINGS TURN VERY ADULT, and they find themselves right in the middle of a Fundamentalist cult religion lead by Reverend Abin Cooper and his small flock of sheep in a very rural area.

There are some laughs, though as Smith uses his characters to poke fun at the sign waving, funeral protesting members of the real-life Westboro Baptist Church. In the fictional world of Red State, Westboro is more of a satirical spin on the far-end of the spectrum (basing the church on the real-life churches of Westboro, as well as borrowing from the Waco Texas tragedies from the 90’s), with a “God Hates Fags” attitude that makes the movie more of a non-slasher horror flick that seems to defy genres and give a few of the brainwashed members more of a human side (as though they haven’t quite decided if they want to “drink the Kool-Aid” but would rather run for the hills when the proverbial shit hits the fan).

The film does jump genres as it will have parts that will make you laugh, as well as some action, and an unsettling bit of horror as you realize that this group doesn’t settle for just picketing and demonstrating, but will actually carry out what they consider God’s will in cleansing the world of the unrighteous.

There is a heavy bit of preaching thrown in to show just how convinced the members are that they are right in their beliefs and that the rest of the world needs to join them or face the consequences.

While most of the cast are actors that have not been in too many other films, Kevin Smith was able to pull in Michael Parks (Kill Bill, From Dusk To Dawn), Stephen Root (who played Milton in Office Space), John Goodman (from The Big Lebowski, Monster’s Inc., and Roseanne) as well as Kevin Pollack (Whole Nine Yards, The Usual Suspects). There are not going to be many familiar actors from the Askew-niverse in this flick, though you may recognize Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (Kevin’s Wife) and Ralph Garman (Sharktopus, Hollywood Babble-On, KROQ DJ) both playing members of the Cooper church.

While the tagline of the film is “Fear God,” Smith eloquently summed up the film in a different light during the Q&A after the screening: “Don’t fear God, fear His followers.”

This film was able to scare me more than most horror movies have that I’ve seen for the fact that it wasn’t an edge of the seat thriller, but it was more like an up and down rollercoaster ride, where you think the film is going one way right before it switches gears and goes another. I was able to get into this one more because you see that there isn’t a clearly-defined “monster” in the film, and it actually changes from one character to another once you see the other side of the curtain. There isn’t a high body count, unneeded explosions or extremely graphic depictions that you will see in an action movie, but there is a shootout and a chase. You also see the actors portraying different attitudes that seem to shift throughout the film, going one way and then the next, depending on the scene. There isn’t a clearly marked theme saying “this is the bad guy, this is the good guy,” at one part the church members are just following orders, and then a few of them will show they have a human side that isn’t completely insane and that they may have some second thoughts about the third-generation religion they belong to. There are even parts where you will feel bad for both the people inside and out of the group because of difficult decisions they have to make.

This film is highly recommended because it does discuss some theology like Smith’s earlier Dogma (while not going into comedic depth and analyzing parts of the Christian religion), this one seems to focus more on the religious nuts that are in the extreme ends of a widely practiced religion, and showing it in perhaps a different light. As Kevin said during the Q&A, the Westboro Baptist Church is a small group and don’t share the same values as most other branches of Christianity, but because they happen to be more vocal about their views than other churches, other parts of the world may assume that all Christians are that way, unfortunately the same thing happened with the Muslims during the terrorist attacks from the last few decades. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but because most people only connect that faith with a group that is more vocal and extreme, that’s what people think all Muslims are like.

For those that aren’t able to catch the flick during its tour (or more specifically were not in attendance at tonight’s showing, Kevin himself has offered up a live bootleg snippet of the film, which shows the sermon that Cooper gives to his followers, late at night in their small church in Cooper’s Dell.

Mario 64 on Super Mario 3D All Stars: First Impression

I’ve been slowly working through the new Nintendo Switch release of the Mario 3D All Stars collection (which includes a Remaster of Mario 64, Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy) since its release last Friday and so far it’s been a walk down memory lane!

I’ve been able to complete most of the stars in the levels without having to consult any sort of guide, even though this is really the first time I’ve played this game since the days of the original Nintendo 64 release. Well, actually I played and completed the DS version, but that also added some things here and there so I don’t really consider that a true remaster. More of a remake.

Anyway, it’s been a blast to jump back into Peach’s castle walls and relive the nostalgia of running, jumping, climbing, swimming and backflipping my way to 120 stars and three Bowser defeats to complete the castle and release Peach from captivity!

That being said, I do have some notes:

Maybe it’s me or I am mis-remembering my original playthrough of the game, since I was in middle school at the time of the original release in the late 90’s… but it just feels like the Joycon controls aren’t always as quick to take inputs as the original N64 controller.

There will be times that I want to do a quick trick to jump up to a higher platform, so I will run and then immediately about-face while hitting jump, expecting Mario to side-flip up to where I want him to go, but instead he’ll just about face run then jump up regularly.

This also makes walking along thin platforms that are suspended high up above the ground more challenging as it seems like the joycon joystick wants to make Mario run when you want him to walk or even tip toe. So I fell more than once. Another time I noticed the joycon seemed a little overzealous in the movement was when I was aiming the canon. It’s hard to make small adjustments to the angle when your joycon thinks you want to move further than you do.

Other than some joycon issues, I’m enjoying playing through the original Mario 64 on the Switch! It’s nice to be able to go back and relive my experience playing through the game, exploring the castle and trying to remember where everything is without having to consult a guide!

I, like most others that have been talking about this game are hoping that the limited run of the 3D All Stars lays the groundwork for “new” titles to be released on the Nintendo Online apps alongside the existing catalogue of NES and SNES games. Is a N64 app in the works? I hope so!

Pokemon Go boils down my favorite part of the Pokemon games

I’ve been playing Pokemon Go since the day after it launched. Why the day after? Because when I and everyone else on the planet tried to download the app on launch day, the servers couldn’t handle the load and many had problems getting the app to download, let alone let them sign in or register. I was one of the unfortunate few that had to wait to start “Collecting Them All,” but once I got in, I excitedly started experiencing what would become my favorite iteration of the Pokemon franchise.

Now, I am a “gen-wunner” as Pokemon Red/Blue came out when I was in middle school. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power and it had teased this new gameboy game that was all about collecting, leveling, evolving and fighting these weird animals known as Pokemon.

I was hooked as soon as I heard about it. I collected all six of the Pokemon Power magazine inserts that were a strategy guide inside the back of that month’s Nintendo Power, and served as my guide through the Kanto Region. I knew EXACTLY what I needed to do to finish the game and beat the Elite Four for the first time.

Once I became the new Crowned champion of the Kanto region, I along with all of my friends of the Pokemon series began working on completing the Pokedex, battling and trading. It was amazing and a bit of nostalgia that I fondly look back on.

I dabbled in the Pokemon trading card game, and played a bit of Pokemon Pinball, Pokemon Stadium for the Nintendo 64, and Pokemon Gold. But nothing else seemed to match the fun I had working on Pokemon Blue.

While I enjoyed Pokemon Blue, I got maybe halfway or 1/3rd of the way through the original Gold Storyline, and having 251 Pokemon to catch in the updated dex seemed like a large undertaking for young me.

My classmates and I would have lunchtime battles and trade Pokemon, but I never really cared about whether I won or lost. My team was good enough to finish the game and the Elite Four, but I was constantly losing to my friends that had figured out the best movesets, stats and levels for their six pokemon, where as I was just happy to have level 100’s and a nearly 100% complete pokedex.

Fast forward to 2016 and Pokemon Go is the new hotness. For a brief time (the summer of 2016) you could go anywhere and find groups of people of all ages hanging out on street corners staring at their phones, charging cables attached and a backup battery in their back pocket. Everyone was OBSESSSED with catching Pokemon and you could just camp a Pokestop or make a small circuit of stops to refresh your Pokeball count and items. Walking wasn’t actually necessary back then, so it wasn’t uncommon to see people hanging out downtown for hours, regardless of time.

Of course I was obsessed with playing the game. I worked in a retail job at the time so I was able to stay out late hanging out with my friends playing PoGo. Someone would often but in and say “THERE’S A LAPRAS THE NEXT STREET OVER” and we’d all run over to get it before it disappeared.

The longer I played the game the more I realized I liked just catching Pokemon, and completing the dex more than anything else.

The gym update had come out, Shiny Pokemon were added to the game, PVP battles had been released and most recently Team Rocket had taken over stops, but I still found myself only wanting to have a 100% complete dex. I didn’t care about owning all the gyms. I didn’t care about being at the level cap (I’m about 2/3rds of the way to level 40 which is the level cap currently, and I’ve heard rumors that may change too). I didn’t care about beating Giovanni or the Rocket Grunts as much as I wanted to get their shadow pokemon.

All I really cared about was catching pokemon, going to Community Days and catching shinies. Well, and completing the research which would unlock special pokemon or more shinies.

So it got me to realize I love the Pokemon series, but I would rather “Catch Em All” than “become the very best, like no one ever was.”

So if you see me out and about playing pokemon: I’ll be your friend if I have open spots on my list, but I’m not going to want to 1v1 you bro.

Solipskier

Editor’s note: this review was originally written in 2010

This simple yet addictive flash game-turned app comes from the minds of Mikengreg Games. The concept seems simple enough, use your finger to draw a slope for the Solipskier to ski down. You can make jumps, go through tunnels, and avoid “Red lines” (that are instant Game Overs). What makes the game so difficult and addictive is that no two games are ever the same!

The objective in this game is to go the longest you can without dying, while speeding down ramps, slaloming through tunnels and… well jumping jumps. This is all done in combination to make your score as high as possible before the inevitable crash. What makes it difficult is that the higher the combo is, the faster your Slolipskier will go. Oh yeah, and there’s also very little reaction time in between tunnels, jumps and so forth.

Despite the simple graphics for the game, you’ll be yelling “OMGRAINBOWS!” when you get the combo, “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” when you’re flying 1200km in the air, and “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!” when you accidentally go through the forced-ledge jump instead of over it.

There is a free to play version of the game here which I HIGHLY recommend playing. Once you’ve played it through a few times, you will instantly be hooked, and will play until you realize you’ve let hours go by without quitting.

The high energy music, awesome sound effects and challenging (but never the same) run that you control will guarantee that you’ll play the game over and over and over again. Unfortunately there is no Yeti that will devour you after you’ve run the course long enough… I’m hoping for that in a future update.

The app is $0.99 and can be downloaded on iPhone or Android

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 starts up right where the first movie ended, with the press conference where Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) declares that he is Iron Man. Though we are watching it through the eyes of Ivan Vanko, while his father lays on his death bed. Once his father breathes his last, Ivan swears vengeance on Tony (for reasons that are revealed later in the movie).

He then sets out to build his own version of the Iron Man suit, making some modifications, which he will use to attack Tony while he races through the streets of Monaco in an F1 car… Will Tony Stark be able to take down those who want to challenge him while the US Government tries to take the Iron Man suit away from Tony (since he is actually doing vigilante justice)? Will the saucy new help in Legal (played by Scarlett Johansson) throw a wrench in the gears of the already unorthodox relationship between Tony and Pepper Potts? And will Ivan successfully seek his revenge?

Iron Man 2 was a fantastic movie, with amazing action sequences, great jokes (“Give me a dope beat that I can kick my friend’s ass to”) and a bit of the drama thrown in for good measure. All in all I felt that this was a satisfying second helping in the story arc of Iron Man and Tony Stark.

Unfortunately the shrapnel that is in his body is making the toxicity levels in his bloodstream grow at an alarming rate, and while all of the other problems seem to keep stacking up, Tony has to also deal with letting his previous condition get the better of him.

Honestly, my only complaint with the movie (besides the massive amount of collateral damage that was caused to nearby objects like cars, buildings, etc.) was that the final showdown fight seemed rather rushed. I felt like all the buildup between Tony and Ivan would’ve lead to a longer fight sequence but I left disappointed that the victor was able to win so “easily.”

Red Dead Redemption

I was able to score Red Dead Redemption during a Black Friday weekend sale for $35, excited for a game I had heard good things about but reluctantly giving Rockstar more of my hard-earned cash in order to play what I hoped wasn’t yet another “Rags to Riches” sandbox game that allowed me to kill people, earn money doing missions, buy property, and explore like every Grand Theft Auto game I have ever finished. It was fun in Vice City, but does it really need to be repeated in Liberty City (3 times by different characters who all seem to “Run” the city at almost the exact time without ever meeting?)

Well I was partially right, but once I started playing, I couldn’t stop until I finished both the game and the DLC “Undead Nightmare.” In this review, I will take a shot (get it? That’s some Old West humor for you… see? shot? No? Well then…) at covering the game and the DLC, and why you should give Rockstar one more chance for redemption. Red. Dead… Redemption.

The place is Southwestern America (and part of Mexico) in a fictitious area divided into three states: New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso, and West Elizabeth. The area is populated with Cowboys, Indians, Outlaws, and many more colorful characters. Buffalo still roam on the open Prairie and city skylines are distant rumors by the locals.

You play as John Marston, a former outlaw in a gang run by a man named Dutch van der Linde. Your wife and son have ben held hostage by government agents, who will only return them after the death of van der Linde’s gang leaders. John hunts down the gang and confronts them, only to be shot and left for dead until he is found by a rancher named Bonnie McFarlane, who takes him to a doctor.

After recovering, Bonnie starts you on your quest to seek revenge on the men who left you for dead. She gives you a horse and some money for completing start off misisons and sends you on your way…

Now I know after reading most of this, it doesn’t seem like the type of game that a lot of people would enjoy, especially since Rockstar is known for pretty much having one type of game, with different environments and very little difference in story. This one doesn’t stray too much from the tried and true Rockstar game development, but what’s fresh is the Spaghetti Western feel that you are immersed in while playing the game. Put simply it is Grand Theft Auto set in the Old West. But it’s more Vice City, and less GTA: IV.

One of my favorite mechanics of the game is the ability to go into “Dead Eye” mode. By pressing the Right Trigger, you slow down time, throw on a Sepia filter and gain the ability to aim your shots at specific parts of your target. This allows you to place as many shots as you have in your gun (or how much time you have earned for Dead Eye mode) and aim at a person’s hand (to shoot their pistol and disarm them) or their head (to kill) during a duel or shootout.

I liked that you were able to search for buried treasure by pulling out a paper map with interpreting hand-drawn clues to find treasure and finish challenges. The achievements you could earn for doing (sometimes mundane) activities that you only see in black and white Westerns were a nice touch. I laughed way too hard when I earned the “Dastardly” achievement by hog tying a random person, placing them on train tracks and waiting for the 4:15 to arrive on time.

I loved that Rockstar took their usual humor and odd characters and threw them into the Old West, having you run into a man selling snake oil, a curious man who dug up corpses, nuns in a Mexican Convent and so on. There was adult humor thrown in (as is expected in Rockstar games) and much ultra-violence.

I must say the scenery in the game is very well done. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different areas of the world that I was in, and just taking in the scenery. Though some of the curves in the game could’ve done with a little more anti-aliasing, but that’s a small complaint honestly.

I loved that the Wilhelm scream made it into the game. Shootouts become almost comical anyway when you’re blowing up whole carriages (wait for it, it’s later in the game), or mowing down whole armies of men with a hand-cranked mounted machine gun, or lock-on shooting (lather, rinse, repeat). But to have all of this chaos and gunfire going on and hear a random enemy fall to the ground with a Wilhelm Scream is just priceless.

I’m not big on gathering missions, so I pretty much skipped all of the flower-picking missions entirely, except where it was required for the storyline. Also, I thought this game was far easier to complete than some of the Grand Theft Auto games I had played previously. Maybe it was due to the fact that there was assisted aiming, Dead Eye Mode, or an almost unnecessary need for any other gun except for the various repeaters that you could collect. There were only a few missions that made me rage (which is unusual since the GTA games have a laundry list of missions that have to be repeated over and over due to failure).

I enjoyed the openness of the Wild West and the horseback transportation… for a few minutes. After that it became tedious and irritating, since your horse only has a set amount of Stamina. Once you gallop for a few seconds, the Stamina bar is completely drained and you have to wait for it to reset. This becomes irritating really fast when the next mission is on the other side of the state and there isn’t a Carriage (taxi) you can hire. You will be able to gallop faster and for a seemingly longer time on the dirt roads that criss-cross the state, but unfortunately they weave around so much it’s almost faster to trot in a straight line (as the crow flies) instead of gallop all the way south to turn and go north while following a road.

Finally I will mention that the game itself has 15+ hours of playtime. At least it did for me. That’s finishing the entire story and then going back and doing some of the side missions for the ‘cheevos and some of the other required activities for 100% completion.

The pros do vastly outweigh the cons, and this game is definitely worth a play. And this is coming from a person who loved Vice City, enjoyed GTA:3, loved San Andreas (most of the time) and decided to give up on the whole GTA series after playing less than half of GTA:IV. The best part? You don’t get telegraphs from your cousin asking to go to a floorshow every 30 minutes.