Without Remorse, but With a Review

My wife and I recently watched Without Remorse. It is a rather pedestrian actioner, elevated by its lead and supporting cast, with acceptable but not innovative action scenes.

Without Remorse poster

Without Remorse takes place in the Tom Clancy-verse (for lack of a better term), or, perhaps more precisely, uses characters and ideas from the Jack Ryan-verse. John Clarke was a major supporting character in a collection of the Jack Ryan novels, and has previously been portrayed on the screen by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger. I liked Dafoe’s turn as the character, but in that case, he was a grizzled special warfare operator who had spent long years in the covert action community, whereas Without Remorse is an origin story. (I completely forgot about Liev Schreiber as John Clark in the adaptation of Sum of All Fears, and now I need to re-watch that movie, as Schreiber tends to elevate anything he is in)

Michael B. Jordan is the perfect actor to play John Kelly/John Clarke. His physical presence on the screen is magnetic, and his charisma is undeniable. He makes Kelly’s heroics believable, and he projects quiet intensity in every scene. You never forget how driven this character is.

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Zombie Heists

Dark and dour poster for the movie Peninsula

So, I have now seen both Peninsula (Train to Busan 2) and Army of the Dead, both of which are stories of a group sent into zombie-infested territory to secure money. There is very different world-building, different character styles, and different stories, but the premises are the same.

And both were disappointing.

Of the two, I preferred Peninsula. It injected new elements, and some interesting story beats, and more fully realized characters, but the pacing was still off, there were too many clichés, and the general experience didn’t satisfy me. Army of the Dead, on the other hand, I just found poorly written. There were very few redeeming features. And, wow, there was A LOT of fridging the feminine characters.

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Extraction: A Review

This review was first presented on my Patreon.

Extraction is the new Chris Hemsworth action movie released on Netflix.

The summary according to Rotten Tomatoes is:

Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is a fearless black market mercenary with nothing left to lose when his skills are solicited to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord. But in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible, forever altering the lives of Rake and the boy.

The action is outstanding. Hemsworth is physically believable as Rake, and the action choreography leans toward the John Wick school of extreme action. It’s done quite well and this is where the movie shines. Hemsworth has a great alter-ego in the film played by Randeep Hooda. Their two characters cut through the opposition with gritty aplomb, and when they end up opposite each other, it’s a treat.

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Time to Hunt: A Review

This review was first presented on my Patreon.

I had the chance to catch the new South Korean thriller, Time to Hunt, on Netflix this week. 

The plot, as summarized on Rotten Tomatoes is:

In a hopeless dystopian city, Jun-seok (LEE Je-hoon) is released from prison and plans his next step in life in order to start anew with his friends Jang-ho (AHN Jae-hong), Ki-hoon (CHOI Woo-shik) and Sang-soo (PARK Jeong-min). But their excitement for the plan is short-lived as an unknown man chases after them. Can these best friends get away from the hunt?

The story is actually pretty generic when one breaks it down. The “plan” involves the robbery of an illegal casino. Up until then, the most outstanding part of the movie was the setting and atmosphere. This isn’t a science-fiction movie per se, but it’s definitely set at some point in the future. 

The South Korea of this film is hopeless, mostly abandoned, covered in constant smog, and depopulated. I think anyone will be affected by the setting presented in the film, but if you’ve actually lived in South Korea, especially in a major urban centre, the shots of block after block of empty streets and abandoned stores have a very visceral impact.

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My Problem with Far Cry 5 (and New Dawn)

This article was first presented on my Patreon.

I play a lot of first-person shooters, especially open-world FPS RPGs, and I’ve played Far Cry since Far Cry 2. I really like the gameplay of Far Cry 5 and Far Cry: New Dawn, but I have a problem with their stories.

In FC5, the villain is a religious zealot. That is not the problem. The problem is . . .





The problem is that the villain—Joseph Seed—is actually the hero, or at least that the villain has been correct about the end of the world. Given the supernatural powers he exhibits at the end, and the through-line into FC:ND, it’s heavily suggested that he is, in fact, touched by the Christian God.

The guy who supports torture, forced drug dependency, eugenics, and in at least one case, a lieutenant who forces children to engage in cannibalism, he’s the messenger of the Christian God.

That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that you can’t win. If you fight him, in the end, you lose and become his prisoner. In FC:ND it’s revealed you become his disciple. If you walk away, you turn out to be a Manchurian Candidate and likely murder your friends. You can’t win.

Granted, in FC4, there were no good choices. (SPOILERS FOLLOW) You end up turning your homeland into a narco-terrorist nation, a religious extremist nation, or you leave it in the hands of a murderous dictator. But at least you didn’t become the discipline of the religious extremist, drug kingpin, or murderous dictator. I’m okay with the idea that sometimes there are no good choices. I found FC5 frustrating not because there were no good choices, but because you—as the character—can’t win. The villain always wins.

And he turns out to be the one who is actually right. Not just persuasive or entertaining (like Vaas or Pagan Min) but actually correct—the end of days is upon us and he is the chosen of the Christian God.

Further, it gets worse with FC:ND. In that game, Seed is key to winning the game. He has created a kind of Utopia, and the main character from FC5 becomes a Specialist—one of the Guns for Hire that can accompany the main character—and is a kind of super soldier following Seed. Further, Seed has found some kind of Garden of Eden tree (or maybe the tree is supposed to be the source of Iðunn’s apples from Norse Mythology) and this has given him extended life and provides the main character with super powers as well.

Then there are the villains in FC:ND, two African-American sisters who are warlords following the nuclear apocalypse at the end of FC5. While the white villain of FC5 is touched by God, the sisters are irredeemably evil. Throughout the game, classic rock indicates good guys, and “urban” music denotes villains.

I’m not saying the designers intentionally adapted racist tropes. I am saying they and everyone in the design chain was blind to it. Or am I just hyper-sensitive? I think I was definitely more sensitive after the end of FC5. It was just so jarring. 

Crazy evangelicals that literally torture people to death? Actually doing God’s work.

This really bugs me because I like the gameplay in both games. I especially like FC:ND because it’s got that great post-apocalyptic setting (yes, Fallout fan . . . at least since Fallout 3) and while it doesn’t have the weapon modding system from FC5, I like the various weapons that are available at the different tiers.

So while I love the games, I hate the stories. I’ve played through FC:ND twice and am on my second round of FC5, but the second play-throughs I’m just going to avoid the actual endings. Fuck ‘em.

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Ad Astra: A Review

This review was first presented on my Patreon. Please head over and support me there if you can.

I had a chance to watch a bunch of movies recently, and I’m really not sure which to discuss first. I’m going to go with the one that I had the most hopes for, even though those hopes were (spoilers!) dashed.

Please note: I saw this movie on an airplane, and it was apparently edited. One would not expect that anything key would have been removed or altered, but there it is.

Ad Astra is a science fiction drama starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray. It’s about an astronaut sent to find his father who is somehow intertwined with a threat to Earth (and—I think—the solar system). That’s the drama part—the family dynamic. The science fiction part is that the father is part of a mission to find extraterrestrial life and is near or in orbit of Neptune. 

Listen, this is a very beautiful movie. It is made with the utmost craftsmanship, and there is a real weight to the action and the sets in which that story unfold. But for all that, it seems sterile.

I found this very much a quieter homage to Apocalypse Now intertwined with the Partridge-Mackey father-son alienation angle of Magnolia. There is a lot of Apocalypse Now in the style of the story and its forward progress—and I mean that movie rather than Heart of Darkness, as there are a lot of similarities to the style of the movie absent from the novella. And while I like both that movie and the novella on which it is based, I didn’t enjoy Ad Astra.

Pitt’s character is almost completely a cypher in a way that neither Marlow nor Willard ever were. There is an in-story reason for this, but it still created a wall that didn’t allow me to sympathize with his character. And I also never really felt there was a connection between him and his father. With both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, this is not a problem as Kurtz is a mysterious figure, only partially revealed—even at the climax. But the father is much more Kurtz than the Earl Partridge character in Magnolia. The murkiness of the father’s character and the impenetrability of the son’s left me cold to the very crux of the movie.

And what the heck was with the moon buggy chase? It was like the filmmakers decided they needed some action. The consequences of that scene do not propel the story forward or inject anything of interest, and there is no reference back to it or the situation that created it. It is like it is from a different movie.

My opinions seem to be in the minority, so I may just have been missing something. Pitt’s character is the spine of the movie, and he was inaccessible to me. The other characters that drop in and fall out left no real imprint and seemed much more to be plot devices than actual characters, with odd turns that did not fit with the characters as presented to that point. Even the main character’s motivations—which are very clearly spelt out—ring false given everything else we are presented regarding him.

I do not recommend Ad Astra. I give it 2.5 long, drawn-out shots of beautiful space out of 5. It is a distant, unengaging story with gorgeous visuals. It offered me no emotional connection at all.

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The Mandalorian – A Review

This review was originally posted at my Patreon.

It was like Jon Favreau read my mind and made a show just for me.

And that ain’t the first time that’s happened.

I have become, in case you haven’t heard, a huge fan of the Mandalorian. It’s basically Star Wars as a Western, which is very much in keeping with the frontier-aesthetic of A New Hope. And while it had much of the feel of a Kurosawa samurai-movie, that is likely because there was so much cross-pollination between Westerns and samurai films. The Mandalorian, though, was much more of a gunslinger than a ronin—though the Mandalorian cultural trappings had many intersections with what movies and comics have told us was the samurai code.

The episodes moved forward at their own speed, letting us bask in the story and luxuriate in the characters. It was not slow, because that kind of implies that it should have moved forward faster. It should not have. If the pace was not deliberate, it should have been. It made the later episodes—especially the penultimate and climactic episodes—hit so much harder. Even in those, we are treated to some honestly moving scenes that affected because we had grown to know these characters, especially the titular one. 

As much of a joy as was the titular characters, the supporting cast really shone. These were great characters, and I definitely wanted to see more of them, even the ones who weren’t so nice and weren’t so honourable. They were all interesting. It was through their interactions rather than exposition that you learned about them and gained an understanding of them. 

And they all had a plot purpose, each adding to the story of the Mandalorian in their own way.

The series also introduced us to new locations, and we were allowed to savour these, all of them feeling very fitting for a Star Wars stories. Like the characters and the props, the setting was imbued with the Star Wars aesthetic, something so central to the original trilogy. 

This was a great part of my enjoyment in this series. It really felt like Star Wars. It hearkened back to A New Hope in a way not even the Empire Strikes Back did. This was not nostalgia—though it’s creation was likely set off by that—but as much an homage as samurai movies were of Westerns, which then became homages to them. The Mandalorian has all of that, baked in a delicious shell of Star Wars.  

I give the Mandalorian 4.75 terrifyingly cult Force-wielding babies out of 5—only because nothing is perfect. Also, while I can’t recommend this highly enough, I always worry about overselling something. This is the perfect Star Wars property for me, perhaps not for everyone.

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Hellboy 2019

I am a big fan of the Guillermo del Toro Hellboy movies. I own both of them. I would have been quite happy to see a third, but was not angry or upset when I heard someone else was taking a run at it. How many versions of Spider-man have there been? Having said that, I only just recently finally got a chance to see it.

I don’t mind David Harbour’s Hellboy, but I prefer Ron Perlman’s. I was happy to see Ian McShane, and it kind of felt like a very different take on Dr. Bruttenholm than John Hurt’s. It’s kind of like I can prefer Sean Connery’s early James Bond portrayals, while still enjoying Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig’s version.

The Bond franchise is kind of useful to illustrate how I think about film series and various incarnations of characters and stories. I prefer aspects of different Bond movies even when it’s not my favourite Bond – For Your Eyes Only would have been a truly great Bond film with a truly great Bond, but instead ends up as a good Bond film and a highlight in Roger Moore’s otherwise abysmal run. That’s kind of how I feel about Hellboy – it’s not that I dislike any of the particular character choices, but unlike For Your Eyes Only which would be immensely improved by having a better actor/version of Bond, I think the various incarnations of these characters could be good if only they had a stronger vehicle.

Unfortunately the writing is just bad. It’s not so much the dialogue, it’s the internal inconsistencies, occasional appearance of idiot plots, and extraneous additions that kill this version. I really like Neil Marshall and have since seeing Dog Soldiers. He’s generally solid and I have pretty much liked if not loved the movies he has directed. I have a strong suspicion that too many fingers spoiled this particular pie, and that Marshall was crowded out by other chefs in his kitchen.

I actually would not recommend the new Hellboy. It’s not a complete waste of time and has some entertainment value but it is not a good movie and can be frustrating, especially if you are a fan of the comic or the previous incarnation. If there’s another one, I just hope the studio picks a director with a vision – as I suspect they did here – and then get the hell out of the way and let that vision blossom.

You can find out more about the 2019 adaptation of Hellboy at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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Venom, A Review

Venom was a movie I thought I’d be interested in seeing because of Tom Hardy’s role in it, but then never really bothered to seek it out. It sought me out, and I can understand, now, my minor but not motivating interest.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the movie, but there is also nothing particularly right. The fights are infused with CGI – due to them including either Venom himself or something similar – and so (for me) lacked weight or impact. They also were presented with quick edits and the chaotic, close-in style that can work when it is handled by someone who allows the audience to follow the action, but in this case – and so many others – just hides the lack of good choreography.

Everyone involved in the movie does a fine job, but even Tom Hardy seems to lack real investment in his role. This may be due to the writing, which is pedestrian. Sure, there are some good one-liners, but in general is pretty prosaic and lacks anything distinctive. The characters are not particularly well-developed but fit into standard molds, which likely makes it easier for the writers and directors but gives the audience nothing new or special.

So while everything is fine, nothing is outstanding. If you have the time and it’s playing, sure, give Venom a watch. I don’t think you’ll regret it. By the same token, there are a lot of really good movies out there, so choose wisely.

You can find out more about Venom at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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Overlord, A Review

This first appeared at my Patreon on 29 July, 2019

I’ve finally seen a bunch of films I likely would not otherwise have seen, and I of course have opinions of all of them. I want to start with Overlord, which had an intriguing premise for anyone who used to love Castle Wolfenstein or Return to CW.

If you know nothing more about Overlord, just know going in that it’s not a straight ahead war movie, and the reference to CW should clue you in as to how things are going to unravel/roll out. It’s a fine movie for Castle Wolfenstein-esque adventures, but if you aren’t interested in that particular and kind of specific genre, I can only offer a very lukewarm recommend.

The movie falls down on its characters. This is a plot-driven movie and the characters are stock standards rather than thoughtful explorations. An odd facet is the ignoring of the blatant racism and segregation of the period. To me, this may be much closer to how a pulp RPG campaign might treat the subject, and I found it odd at first but not off-putting. However, I am not a person affected by racism, so it’s certainly easier for me to accept that kind of decision, but would be interested to know how it was otherwise accepted.

So if you are looking to see something inspired by Castle Wolfenstein, and if stock characters and the removal of historical racial tensions don’t bother you, you might find Overlord of interest.

You can find out more about Overlord at Wikipedia or IMDB.

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