Movie Review: It (2017)

I went to go see Stephen King’s ‘It’ this evening with my young teenage daughter.  I expected to see a decently well-made horror movie of one of my favorite horror books – enjoyable but nothing extraordinary.  I didn’t expect what I got – one of the best coming of age stories I have seen in a long time and perhaps the best King adaption since ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.

Without going into too much details, something has been preying upon the children of Derry for centuries and the movie starts with the iconic scene of a kid encountering Pennywise the Clown at the storm gutter.  There are plenty of jump scares and grisly imagery though nothing too terribly gratuitous by today’s standards.  Though I have no doubt some will still be loyal to Tim Curry’s Pennywise, I think Bill Skarsgard’s interpretation of the character was closer to the book and the more frightening version.  It was an effective horror movie and I enjoyed those aspects of it.

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The Loser’s Club taking the battle to Pennywise

But much like the book, ‘It’ really isn’t a horror book as it is a story about kids coming of age, banding together and finding strength in each other, and facing their fears.  The kids were quite authentic in their acting.  I believed they were a bunch of kids going through puberty, sincerely talking and joking about sex without knowing what it really is about.  They were still at the age where swimming in the quarry in their white underwear and hocking loogies over the edge is great fun but then alarmed, confused, and thrilled when the ‘bad’ girl decides to join them. My 14-year-old daughter shrieked at the jump scares, but nodded knowingly at the interactions of the children and cheered when boys and girl expressed their friendship and love for each other.

One additional point in the movie’s favor.  They updated the setting from the 60’s to the 80’s and there was a very strong ‘Stranger Things’ vibe to the show – heck one of the main characters was Mike from the popular Netflix show.   The language and the music was the same and for me, it added a good nostalgic trip.  If you liked ‘Stranger Things’, this will definitely be more the same.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this movie and think it was one of the best I saw this summer.  Minor spoiler but Stephen King’s book was a two-part story, the kids battling Pennywise and the second part taking place twenty-seven years later when they are adults in their forties.  There will be a sequel to this movie set in the modern day and both me and my girl are looking forward to seeing it.

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!

Movie Review: John Wick 2

(No Spoiler Review)

I am a guy and I grew up in the eighties.  That meant that I grew up loving action movies.  Arnold Swarzennegger and Bruce Willis movies were the films I enjoyed the most.  Over the top gunplay, witty dialogue, and lots of explosions were the rule of the day and those films delivered.  One of my favorite memories was skipping school and going out with a friend to see Total Recall.  I paid for it but so worth it.

Then I grew up and stopped loving action movies.  As my tastes got more sophisticated, I began to realize the vapid nature of many of the ‘stories’ and the physical impossibility of many of the actions I was seeing on the screen.  As weapons became part of my life, I started to see the patent ridiculousness of the firearms usage.  Worst of all was the sameness of every story I saw.  In the middle of explosions and gunplay in lieu of story, I paradoxically realized I was bored.  Because I was bored I stopped watching.

Then I saw the first John Wick and was floored.  Finally, an action movie with style.  The story was minimalistic but every scene was shot with loving care.  Keanu Reeves, a guy with much presence and limited range finally found the perfect role – an antisocial killer quietly grieving his lost wife.  And the gunplay – I was thrilled to see a movie with realistic magazine changes, firing technique, and authentic fight scenes.

I'm thinking he's back.
I’m thinking he’s back.

I pleased to say John Wick 2 delivers more of the same while fleshing out the mythos.  The first movie introduced a world of contracted assassins and a baroque system of sanctuary, obligation, and a code of honor among the killers of the world.  It didn’t go into much detail but it was there and the second movie expands on it in major ways.  Instead of a personal struggle, you quickly realize there is a larger story of dueling assassins attempting to either save their system or tear it down.  It is an added layer which elevates the movie.

The strange thing though is how JW2 approaches the new layer – it doesn’t talk about it much.  The director keeps the focus on John’s journey and is content to let the larger story inhabit the background where it can be seen and heard but not overpower the real reason why people came – to see John Wick kick ass.

It is clinched to describe well-choreographed fight scenes as ‘ballet’.  I rather think of the scenes here as opera – an intricate stage play of drama, physicality, and setting where every single shot is packed with interesting details, lighting, and dense with background information.  The technical aspects of gunplay and hand to hand fighting are as exceptional as they were in the first but the increased focus of luscious sets and larger drama create a tapestry which was fascinating to behold.

I won’t spoil the movie at all except to say you need to see the first movie if you haven’t seen it.  This is clearly a middle movie and the ending is a cliffhanger for the expected third part of the projected trilogy.  As for me, I don’t think I have changed my opinion on action movies as a whole – but I have all the time in the world for this story and I highly recommend you make time for this film.