Movies

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings
Starring: Jim Cummings as John Marshall, Riki Lindhome as Officer Julia Robinson, Robert Forster as Sheriff Hadley, Chloe East as Jenna Marshall, with Jimmy Tatro as PJ Palfrey, and others.

An idiosyncratic black comedy that toes the line between horror and thriller that delivers a tale that is quite good. When murders start occurring in the small town of Snow Hollow, Utah, local police are stumped as to the identity of the killer. Local reports suggest a canine, or wolf, is responsible, with rumors circulating that is the work of the Wolfman. Local deputy, and son of the Sheriff, John Marshall is adamant it is nothing less than the work of a man. What follows is a poignant story of an alcoholic who tries to care for his teenage daughter, while circumnavigating the stress of his job as a police officer, and the mockery that comes with it. Mockery in no small part due to the inadequacy of the police in apprehending the killer.

The cinematography of the sleepy town is beautiful, with snow capped mountains and desolate, sparse trees. What little forest there is, is often used to great effect to help invoke feelings of paranoia and fear. It is at once haunting as there is also humour to be found in many situations. Like poking fun at a cop’s tendency to shoot when startled, or even mild corruption when it comes to a father’s dealings with his daughter’s boyfriend. It wrestles with the notion that women have been having to deal with men trying to kill them since the middle ages, and the fear that comes with that.

It was marvelously acted by Jim Cummings as the alcoholic father and deputy, and his mannerisms and quirks kept me enthralled throughout. I wish to see more his work throughout the upcoming years. The supporting cast also did a great job in their roles, from the grieving boyfriend of a murdered woman to the partner (Julia) of the deputy, John. Robert Forster did great, in his final role, as the aging Sheriff dealing with health concerns in his old age while trying to keep at his job.

Overall, it was an entertaining ride with a satisfying conclusion. I recommend it for a watch, and I hope writer/actor/director Jim Cummings keeps his projects coming.

Movies

Minions (2015)

Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Starring: Sandra Bullock as Scarlet Overkill, Jon Hamm as Herb Overkill, Michael Keaton as Walter Nelson, Allison Janney as Madge Nelson, Geoffrey Rush as the Narrator, Steve Carell as Young Gru, Pierre Coffin as The Minions, and other assorted cast

I was recommended to watch this movie because the title characters, so called “Minions” are absolutely adorable, cute, and hilarious. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that was indeed the case. I was thoroughly entertained by a movie that had no subtitles for their Minions’ way of speech, which is an assortment of various words in various languages that for lack of a better term, is merely gibberish. Highly amusing gibberish that manages to convey and let the viewer understand precisely what is occurring on-screen. I was laughing, I was smiling, and I genuinely felt like a kid again. It captured the magic of animation, and remarkably still had heart in its story about finding purpose in one’s life.

It is the story of three minions; Stuart, Kevin, and Bob as they leave their tribe and home in an attempt to find a new boss, a supervillain to which they may lend their expertise and help to. They are recruited as henchmen by the supervillain Scarlet Overkill and her husband, Herb Overkill to help steal the English crown and have Scarlet rule the world. Due to their antics, this severely misfires and somehow Bob is named King. The three only wish to please and through more antics, get Scarlet to be nearly declared Queen of England before stopping her and acquiring the admiration of the people and of Queen Elizabeth. In the final moments of the movie, they come across a young Gru who they decide to follow and declare him as their boss. Gru is a character audiences would know from the Despicable Me series, and is known as the boss of the Minions.

It’s a movie that can be enjoyed regardless of age, and is sure to put a smile on your face. I highly recommend watching it with family or even by yourself; either way, you’ll be sure to have a good time.

Movies

The Devil All The Time

The following review contains mild spoilers, and fair warning, if you like dogs, avoid this movie.

Directed by: Antonio Campos
Starring: Bill Skarsgard as Willard, Tom Holland as Arvin, Haley Bennett as Charlotte, Sebastian Stan as Sheriff Lee Bodecker, Riley Keough as Sandy, Jason Clarke as Carl, Robert Pattinson as the predator Preacher, Harry Melling as the mad preacher, Eliza Scanlen as Lenora and others.

A movie not about God, but as it’s aptly stated in the title, a movie about the devil. God doesn’t ask anything evil of men, men forget that the devil exists. It’s a movie about wicked men who use the Lord’s name as an excuse for their own evil ways. In some matter or way, or another, every male character is so far gone from the light. It’s a movie about sin, and wickedness, and how they all intertwine together. A mad preacher, a flashy preacher who clearly is a predator (spoiler, pedophile), a burgeoning pair of serial killers – a husband and wife team, a dirty cop blinded by ambition whose sister is the wife of the pair of killers, a man suffering from PTSD and his son who’s affected by his father’s actions in his upbringing. The only good that comes out of it is the parents of the war veteran, Willard, that take in Lenora and his son Arvin.

The movie ilicits a feeling of unsettleness and dread. Only when we are with Arvin, and Lenora do we feel a sense of normalcy. Even then, Arvin has clearly developed his father’s sense of morality. His justice is swift and violent but not without purpose. There’s no room for innocence in this world portrayed in this movie. There’s only those with sinister intent, corruption, and brutality. This movie is a satanist’s wet dream.
I could say I had better to say regarding the story, but I honestly don’t. I don’t recommend this movie in the slightest. In fact, I regret watching it. That being said, all the actors and actresses involved did a phenomenal job portraying their various characters, and that might deserve some awards.

One could try and find meaning in the film, but I’ll leave that to others. I don’t wanna find meaning in this movie. I don’t even wanna offer a second passing thought to it. As I said earlier, it’s a satanist movie. Hard pass.

Games

Marvel’s Avengers (2020 Game)

Made by Crystal Dynamics, Crystal Northwest, Nixxes Software BV, and Eidos-Montreal. Published by Square Enix. Available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and Microsoft Windows. The review is based upon the Microsoft Windows version, attained for free with a qualifying Intel purchase.

Where to start? This game is overly ambitious in its promises, and for the most part has failed to deliver. The good part of the game is the story, writing, and lore and everything else suffers tremendously. It’s like video game developers are doomed to repeat history over and over, not learning from previous developers on what not to do for a video game. They merely had to study Diablo 3’s failures to see how they should have done the looting and gear system. You don’t make the intrinsic difficulty of the enemies tied to the intrinsic power of your own heroes. At minute one to hundred hours, there is no difference in how strong you are. It all takes the same amount of damage to defeat the enemies. There is no sense of growth for the player at all. I am always struggling facing my foes and that should never be the case. There should always be a sense of growing upwards, of being better, and in Avengers, despite being superheroes, random robots and mere bullets can defeat you easily.

The two directors of the game should have known better but looking them up, they are both relative unknowns to the video game world. Shaun Escayg has three video games to his name, and the other, Morgan W. Gray, only has this game. I was going to ask did Crystal Dynamics fire everyone that ever worked on their games, that Tomb Raider died for Avengers, for this? Looking at their history on Wikipedia, it’s actually not far off from the truth. The creative directors of Tomb Raider did in fact leave the company. It explains a lot of the direction this Avengers game took. And what are these directions? Well aside from the difficulty being tied to your own stats/gear, which affects everything because it is the core gameplay loop experience, there’s not much else offered. You choose a mission, load in once, load in again, and then fight through a series of copy pasted hallways and dreary rooms filled to the brim with uninspired robotic enemies and occasional humanoids. Your objectives range from killing certain units, killing a group of units, standing on three different sections waiting for a percentage bar to fill while keeping enemy units off them, to clearing waves of enemies. Missions can range from as short as 2 minutes to 2 hours long. The long missions are ones in a semi-open world where you have a series of objectives to complete but you can explore around to find chests or other ways to gain loot. It’s an incredibly grindy experience that feeds back into that dopamine reward system of getting shiny new gear.

The enjoyable part of the game, that which kept me coming back to finish the campaign, aside from the emotional storytelling, is the combat. Each Avenger feels unique in their actions despite everyone sharing nearly the same exact controls, you have a light attack and a heavy attack, and a ranged attack. Through combinations of these attacks, you can unleash signature moves that are well known by all the heroes. At first, button mashing does work but eventually you need to get used to using dodge. There is a parry function but at higher difficulties, it is absolutely useless and will get you killed. And speaking of that, the game has some of the most infuriating artificial difficulties I’ve experienced in a game, and I’ve beaten Dark Souls/Sekiro and neither of those come close to the cheese experienced by enemies in this game. Despite my ever rising pool of health or willpower as it’s known in this game, enemies will two or three shot me every time. At higher difficulties, this becomes a one shot and rarely a two shot. And why? Because every enemy has an unblockable attack that must be dodged and yes, there is an indication for these attacks but most times they come from missiles or projectiles off-screen. So you’ll be fighting your enemy and out of nowhere, you’ll get hit by a stray missile and be stunned. That moment of being stunned is enough for another missile or projectile to hit you, causing your hero to be downed and awaiting revival from a friendly hero or AI.

Speaking of the AI, your friendly heroes are incredibly harebrained and coded to be nearly useless. They will repeatedly stand in front of your path, hindering your movement or blocking your ranged attacks. Each hero has a support ability, a power ability (attack move) and an ultimate ability that either boosts your strength or unleashes a really strong attack. 9/10 times when I’ve done a power ability or an ultimate ability, the AI stand right in front of the enemy I’m trying to target and ends up absorbing the impact, rendering my move pointless. One of the heroes, Miss Marvel, has a support ability which is a group heal. Now you’d assume that when she’s used by the AI, that when you have low health that she’d pop that heal. You’d be wrong. I’ve never seen her use it when I have low health and am in dire circumstances. I’ve only ever witnessed the AI pop that heal when I’m either at 75% or 50%. Both percentages I can easily manage with takedowns (unique moves that appear when an enemy’s stun meter is filled up) that grant me health regen. But when I’m in the midst of combat with numerous enemies, and so many projectiles that the game becomes pure chance, that ain’t the case. Skill is entirely removed, and I’m left at the mercy of luck. Will she heal me? Or will she ignore my downed status? Chances are 60/40 in favor of the AI not doing either.

Moving on, each hero has maximum level of 50 and a power level (gear score) of 150. Leveling up grants you a skill point to use on the vast skill trees available. Some skills are locked behind level gates while others are available from the start. At max level, you’ll have every skill unlocked. To get a power level of 150 requires a disgusting amount of time spent grinding the same missions over and over trying to get a miniscule increase in gear compared to what you’ve currently equipped. Each piece of gear has a max power level of 140 but through upgrades can reach that 150 power level. These upgrades are costly and to get a full set to 150 requires an absurd amount of materials. Materials which are gained by dismantling gear or finding it out in missions. Alternatively, you can buy materials with another material that is rare to acquire. This is clearly designed for the long haul.

Other aspects that are worth mentioning is the sheer amount of things to buy, cosmetically. You can buy them using in-game currency called units which are hard to come by and the cost of cosmetics is astronomical. Some of these cosmetics are legendary items costing upwards of 7000 units. I’ve been playing for 32 hours and I have only 7600ish units. Or you can pay real money for credits which can then unlock the items directly. Credits are also earned via each heroes’ individual battlepass that nets 1300 credits per completion. New hero battlepasses will cost 1000 credits or 10 dollars. The farthest I’ve gotten any hero is to page two of their battlepass, and that battlepass goes up to 5 pages. Like I said, they want the long haul. Playing on PC is an interesting experience because the numerous crashes, bugs, and glitches is truly astounding. We had a beta and you’d think they’d use that time to figure out if they should release on time or delay. I can confidently say that they should have most definitely delayed the game by at least 6 months or so to help iron out the kinks. I was nearly done the campaign when the game refused to load in. I had to go into the multiplayer component and was forced to watch spoilers so that I could then go back into the campaign because loading into the campaign directly resulted in an infinite loading screen. I have fallen through floors more times than I can count, I have crashed to desktop because of reasons I don’t even know. My power levels have fluctuated while I’m in a mission resulting in my death or inability to even damage the enemy. I have bought a cosmetic only to have it re-locked and now unable to use or purchase again.

Did I enjoy the campaign? Yes, I did. Did I enjoy multiplayer? No, because even that is broken and unable to find other players. I feel sorry for anyone that got suckered in by the advertising and bought this game for full price. I am happy I got it for free because I would have never bought this, and if I did, I would have severely regretted it. As much as I am a fan of Marvel and their superheroes, this game is a massive misfire. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 on Switch is by far a better game. And if you’re looking for a Marvel game to play, make it be that one and save yourself a headache.

TV Shows

The Boys Season 2 (Updated for rest of season)

It is safe to conclude that this television show is the best superhero outing we’ll ever get. After an explosive, dynamic, political first season that established all the players in the game, this second season focuses on the repercussions of those actions, while adding a new superhero to the show: Stormfront. If you are at all familiar with such a name, then you’ll know what to expect. For those that are not in the know, simply look up on Wikipedia the stormfront website. Given that, the naming of the hero is a little on the nose. She is different than her comic counterpart, a male nazi, but still creator Eric Kripke manages to convert the hero to modern times. What we got was an insidious character who knows how to manipulate social media to achieve her own goals. She fills in the gaping hole of insecurity for Homelander. She is everything he fears and as such, he hates her with a fiery passion that is transcribed well on screen due to spectacular acting by Antony Starr.

As Homelander, Antony Starr breathes life into the character in a way that can’t be seen when read in comic form. His rendition of the character is totally believable and absolutely terrifying. A man-child with all the powers of a God. Every character around him feels like they’re walking on egg shells, being careful not to set him off. Homelander, given the name, and his actions, is America personified. Especially when he supplied terrorists around the world with the special compound that makes people super powered in order to be able to rage war and get into defense contracting.

Starlight and Hughie are interesting this season around, because she grows in a way I didn’t expect. She becomes bolder and braver, while Hughie, counter to his comic counterpart, is turned into a wimp. Always whining, and complaining and derailing operations due to his deteriorating mental state. His character has been resigned to be Butcher’s canary – his moral compass to know when he’s gone too far. In that regard, I understand the decision to make Hughie as he is. As for Jack Quaid’s acting, it’s great because you just want someone to slap or punch some sense into him. After working with the Boys and knowing how far reaching and powerful Vought is, you’d think he’d get wise to how things work. But that is not the case. I hope with the next five episodes, he grows up.

Karl Urban as Butcher is always fun to watch. His charisma just oozes off the screen and he just captures your attention in the scenes he’s in. His character has some soul searching to do and to free his wife from captivity. It’ll be interesting to see how his character grows given that what he thought happened was all a lie.

The rest of the cast are just as great in their roles, with The Female getting special attention this time around. We get to experience a little bit about her life before the Boys, and we get a glimpse into the possibilities that she might find herself in. Mother’s Milk provides the moral support and always has Hughie’s back despite some problems between them. Frenchie is as Frenchie does, not much has been added to his character that we already didn’t know from the first season. The Deep’s role gets slightly expanded as he attempts to change his life around, and has a nice featuring voice cameo by Patton Oswald. A-Train is back around to provide an antagonistic foil to Starlight, and we see a little bit more about Queen Maeve that begins to humanize her.

In short, I can’t wait to see where the Boys season two will take us. This darkly cynical look at superheroes is intriguing and thought provocative. I’ll be staying tuned in.

Wow! What an amazing season 2 conclusion. Much was answered and at the same time, much is yet to be revealed. A lot of references and callbacks to the comics, which was quite enjoyable (Love-Sausage anyone?). And they did a lot of switching character roles around between the tv show and the comics. In the comics, Mallory is pretty much useless outside of setting the boys up and then disappearing to his cottage by the sea. Raynor ends up doing much of the legwork instead. Here, in the TV show, they made Mallory do much more work and had Raynor killed off. There is also a lot of sub-context at work in the show with a lot of allegories and metaphors to real life situations in the United States. For example, what to do if a supervillain shows up at your school harkens to the notions of what to do if a school shooting occurs. The talk of supervillains is reminiscent of terrorist talks in the US and fearmongering regarding that.

The show brought back a cut scene from season one that Amazon thought was too risky yet clearly they decided otherwise because it is now shown. The depiction of the Church of the Collective is an obvious dig at Scientology. And yeah, just great television all around. Purely enjoyable, great action, and a satisfying depiction of events. Can’t wait for the next season, hopefully the show doesn’t go on too long and risk getting stale.

Hughie actually experienced real growth, and changed into not being a wimp and finally turned into a man capable of standing on his own two feet. Butcher became not as diabolical as his comic counterpart and appeared as being a real human being capable of nurturing, and showing emotions. Mother’s Milk remained relatively unchanged, and Kimiko and Frenchie’s relationship grew to new levels of trust. Starlight was herself and stayed true to her principles and in the end, found new meaning in a higher power. Where they go from here, time will tell.