Movie Review: Logan (Spoiler Free)

Now that I’m home from the movie, I’m reading the reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rates it as a 93% and I’d say that is appropriate. It’s not just a great superhero movie, it is a great movie with amazing acting. This was the reason I was so excited to see it in the first place. Hugh Jackman, since he says this will be his last, will be hard to replace as Wolverine. Hugh is Wolverine and this was by far his best rendition.

Whether on stage or on the bridge of the Enterprise, I have always loved to see Patrick Stewart perform and I must admit that I saw more Patrick in the “performance” than I did Charles. Regardless, it was the highlight for me in many ways and provided some occasional much-needed humor in the otherwise weighty plot. Bravo, Sir!

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Dafne Keen stole the show – impressive given her costars!

Surprisingly though, Dafne Keen stole the show. In the beginning, she doesn’t do much more than grunt (and kick a lot of ass), but by the end she is showing some amazing emotion for such a young actress. The character and writing was spectacular, sure, but the actress did an amazing job of bringing her to life.

 

This is the Wolverine I have been waiting for since Hugh put the spandex on 17 years ago. The action is intense and bloody, but for me the violence took a backseat to the story. It isn’t a “family story,” but it is a story about family. James Mangold did a great job writing, directing, and producing this film and I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the dialogue, lore, and nuances I may have missed!

Should you see it? Absolutely! I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Should you bring your kids? If you’re ok with pervasive F-bombs, decapitations, impalements, a lot of violence against children, and limbs flying everywhere… Yeah, probably not, my daughter is going to wait – a long while.

I checked and there is not a mid or end-credit scene; honestly, the ending is perfect (especially the final ~5 seconds) and anything additional would do the movie a disservice.

Video Games: “Old School” RPGs

I am currently playing and loving Legend of Grimrock 2. I’m embarrassed to say, I bought it after succumbing to a PC Gamer clickbait article of “Great Role Playing Games,” but I haven’t regretted it! I even don’t regret getting 8 hours in and realizing my party build was terrible and restarting. Grimrock is representative of a type of RPG which I have fond memories of – “Old School” since it was a long time ago and I was in grade school.

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Wizardry – To this day, seeing this box art gives me a warm fuzzy. Some people have comfort food… I have my games.

In the mid ‘80s I had the fortune to visit with an older boy across the street. In his room was an Apple computer and all around his computer and taped to his walls were several maps meticulously drawn on graph paper with amazing detail and annotations. I asked him about the maps and he booted up a game which I will forever hold dear – you never forget your first! Wizardry!

Wizardry was the best! It was an amazing interpretation of a Dungeons & Dragons party in an epic dungeon crawl and I was hooked from the start. He showed me his party and allowed me to go into the dungeon and explore with his super powerful characters including ninjas, a samurai, and bishops. I eventually could purchase the series for my Tandy 1000 and then my walls were plastered with maps of my adventures – though, as an adult now (some would say), I am very grateful for the auto-map feature of Grimrock 2!

My appetite for games in high school was insatiable and I played a lot (still do!), but some remain my absolute favorites.

Wizardry (1981). One game to rule them all, or at least get the trend started. Don’t get me wrong, I played Adventure on Atari and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin on my Intellivision as a kid and they were great, but they were also very simple and not very representative of the D&D experience I was looking for. Wizardry brought the wonder of exploration and adventure, as well as characters I could name and mourn when they died – Wizardry was pretty brutal and unforgiving of mistakes. It was always good to have a backup character disk! Wizardry brought the dungeon crawl to life and the best part was that you could import your characters from one game to the next!

Bard’s Tale (1985). Bard’s Tale took Wizardy’s concept and added some great art, music, and humor to their dungeon crawl. It borrowed all the best concepts of Wizardry and added its own flair. All three came out in a six-year period and each one consumed dozens of hours of my time, and probably contributed to me being a B student. Totally worth it!

Starflight (1986). Starflight was a game changer for videogame RPGs in my opinion because developers threw off the shackles of fantasy and jumped into science fiction. I loved it! Starflight allowed me to be a starship captain with a crew in an unexplored galaxy full of interesting new alien races, planets to explore, and enemy starships to blow up! Starflight II was an even better game. Years later, in Mass Effect, as Shepperd explored the galaxy in his starship and planets in his ATV, I felt like I was reliving the “glory days” of Starflight.

Wasteland (1988). Holy crap! Post-apocalyptic, party-based RPG with zombies and machine guns! Yes, please! Wasteland made quite an impression on me and to this day its spiritual successor series (Fallout) is still my favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

Ultima. While Wizardry was often self-contained adventures, the Ultima series gave the feeling of an open world with an amazing amount of lore and adventure. I didn’t play it as much as the Wizardry series, but thought it deserved mention.

Dungeons & Dragons Series. OK, yes, I loved Pool of Radiance (1988) and Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), but honestly, other than being canon D&D, they were just jumping on the money train and ultimately forgettable experiences. Fun at the time, but not lasting memories.

So, those are my favorite “old school” RPGs. The cutoff for me is 1990, when I graduated from high school and entered the Army. Of course, I had the fortune of growing up at this pivotal time in computer game development. I love my modern RPG experiences like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls Skyrim, but sometimes I want to feel the wonder of the games of the past. And right now, that game is Legend of Grimrock 2.

Those are my favorites – I look forward to hearing about yours!

Video Game Review: Civilization VI

civilization_vi_cover_artYes, I am a declared Firaxis fanboy with Sid Meier’s autograph hanging on my game room wall, but you have to believe me when I tell you that Civilization VI is by far the best game at launch that they have ever released and well worth your time if you want to take the proverbial one more turn. There are a lot of reviews already out there from professional reviewers, bloggers, and game sites that got advanced copies and they have been playing for over a month! The reviews are all resoundingly positive, 94% on Metacritic. I’m hardly a dissenting vote, but I would put it more in the 80 – 85 range with potential to be a masterpiece!

I’ve had only ~30 hours since launch to absorb what CivVI has to offer and I am extremely impressed with how refined the game’s mechanics are at launch. Civ had a reputation of launching the vanilla game and then adding mechanics like espionage and religion on future DLC releases. Not so with CivVI! Not only are all the familiar mechanics present, they are amazingly well developed and balanced for the new game. Though it has a familiar feel, the game is very different from previous releases and it took some time getting used to, even for a seasoned player like myself; however, now that I’ve got the hang of it, I don’t think I will be able to go back to any previous version.

For the first day, I logged 12 hours sitting side-by-side in the game room with my friend David as we each played CivVI on separate computers. At first, we thought we might multiplay, but instead I went with a standard game and David did a smaller, fast paced game. He got two games in quicker than I finished my first game and that’s how I would recommend anyone just starting CivVI. There are so many complexities in this game that it is easy to make mistakes just starting off. For instance, I love the new district system, but if you place your districts incorrectly, you’re stuck with it. And districts really matter! So, David was able to learn from his first game and apply the lessons learned to his second short game almost right away. The other advantage to playing alongside David was that as we each discovered new and interesting events, systems, features, and mechanics, we were able to learn from each other. It is complex, but it is the complexity which makes it such an amazing game with potentially infinite replayability. CivVI feels so complete, I almost wonder what Firaxis plans to add to the base game!

It’s not without issues of course. As with all 4X games, the AI has a few issues which detract from the enjoyment of the game. I believe the issues will be fixed in patches, but the AI issues are most prevalent in diplomacy and war. I would like to say that the leaders follow their stated goals, agendas, and current government types, but it seems like most will declare war on you at one point or another. It’s not necessarily something related specifically to some leaders because Gandhi does it too! War is a part of history, but some of these declarations of war seem ridiculous and the AI is unable to follow through with their aggression. The part I don’t like is how brutal the warmonger system is. When an AI declares war (happens a lot), they will send a peace treaty as soon as you approach their cities with a sizable enough force. If you accept their peace offer, they will be right back to attack you 30 turns later. If you don’t accept the peace terms, they and every other civilization will think you are a warmonger and soon the entire world is against you. The constant wars got annoying, so I ended up finishing off every civ that declared war on me so they would just leave me alone to do my city building.

My favorite new addition is definitely the districts! In older Civ games, there wasn’t much difference between your cities. Most cities could build almost every building, so each city looked about the same by end game, but varying in size depending on the terrain you settled on. Not so now. Each city is unique and you have to specialize nearly every city according to their strengths and what you need at that moment! As with real life, the key to successful city building is location, location, location! Planning the cities is awesome!

My least favorite addition is the proselytizing zerg swarm the AI does. My first game, I was too busy kicking Russia back to the Stone Age (see previous AI comment) to realize England slipped in with 20 or so missionaries and converted all my cities, including my Holy City. So, getting a religious victory absolutely seems to be a viable strategy – it’s just annoying when it happens to you!

Sean Bean isn’t as good as Leonard Nimoy was in Civilization IV, but he does give it some extra pizzazz.

I’m enjoying CivVI immensely, but really hope that the AI is fixed up a bit to make the diplomacy and war AI a little more balanced and less annoying. I think CivVI has potential to be the best of the series and I look forward to seeing what else Firaxis has in store for its flagship title.

 

 

 

Movie Review: Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla is only in U.S. theaters for one week and you should go see it! In my books, it’s the best Godzilla movie ever and truly gets back to the roots of why I loved the Japanese monster movies as a child.

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Worth the trip to see it in 4K big screen!

I grew up loving Godzilla movies and watched them as much as possible on network TV and VHS. I loved them more on VHS because I could fast forward through all of the weird fairy scenes and get back to the action. What I didn’t really understand as a kid, was the history and angst behind the movies, which is mostly lacking in the new American versions but is pretty much in-your-face-America with the latest Japanese release.

The anti-nuclear angst is prevalent throughout the film, and Godzilla’s force-of-nature rampage and the slow and bureaucratic reaction of the government has strong ties to recent natural disasters in Japan, primarily the Fukushima nuclear disaster following an earthquake and tsunami. The willing sacrifice of many Japanese men and women in the fight against Godzilla also seemed to be a tribute to those brave workers who fought to stabilize the Fukushima reactor.

In addition to the nuclear and governmental angst is a very heavy emphasis on U.S. / Japan relations. The depiction of American officials and scientists was amusing to me, especially the droll sleazy (evil?) voice with which all Americans spoke – obviously planned to portray the gung-ho, manipulative, finger-on-the-button people we all are. Through most of the movie, you can tell that Japan is ready to emerge from shadow of their bigger brother, but they certainly give Americans credit where it is due… the protection provided by American military prowess (and when all else seems to fail, nuke ’em). Yes, if I had to pick a “villain” in the movie, it would be the good ol’ U.S. of A.! Godzilla is just a bad ass force of nature to be reckoned with and Japan wants to do it on its own terms.

The monster effects and military action are the best I have seen in a Godzilla movie. Sure, I enjoyed the 2014 American movie, but at its heart it was an American popcorn movie that didn’t provoke much thought. Most of the monster effects in Shin Godzilla are motion captured, so its not exactly a guy in a big rubber suit (though the opening act sure made it seem that way!), but it always had that feel. The Japanese Self-Defense Force action against Godzilla was also amazingly like the battles of the past against the kaiju, but with a modern combined arms warfare and allied forces flair.

One of the things I am irritated with in modern action movies is that one way or another, a city has to be destroyed in some horrible fashion. This is forgivable for Shin Godzilla because Godzilla was the original city smasher before it was “cool.” This Godzilla is certainly good at his job of repulsing attacks while laying absolute waste to Tokyo!

The ending leaves it open for a sequel, which I welcome and I definitely want to see what the next evolution is…

Most importantly (for me), they dropped all the mystical, fairy people. Often in Japanese entertainment, there has to be something cuddly or cute that is almost always completely out of place and (in my view anyway) detracts from the actual story. I hated those fairy people as a child and was so happy to see that they didn’t make an appearance in any way!

All in all, I was very pleased with the movie and even my 11 year old daughter enjoyed it and was surprisingly able to keep up with the very fast subtitles. FINAL WORD OF ADVICE: If you do go to see it, focus on the words on the bottom! The dialogue moves fast and any time anyone new speaks, it gives their title above their head. If you read their name and title, you will miss what they said.