Ghostbusters (2016) – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

This 2016 reboot of the beloved franchise, “Ghostbusters,” sees the successful Dr. Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, haunted by a paranormal studies book she had written years ago with her one-time friend, Dr. Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy. The book, which she had thought was never released, threatens to undermine her serious career and reputation, so she searches out Dr. Yates to force her to cease its publication.

Instead, when she is reunited with Yates and her wonderfully weird assistant Dr. Jillian Holtzman, played by Kate McKinnon, they are all sucked into an investigation of a paranormal event. When footage of their investigation hits the internet, Gilbert’s career is over, so she joins Yates and Holtzman in forming a paranormal investigation group, the “Department of the Metaphysical Examination,” based out of an upper room above a bad chinese restaurant.

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From there, the “Ghostbusters,” as they come to be known, develop technology for dealing with the spirits they meet. They recruit the amazingly unintelligent receptionist Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth, as well as a fourth Ghostbuster, Leslie Jones. They go about their work while struggling for recognition from a disbelieving public. All the while, a terrible danger arises that threatens the entire city with destruction. Only the Ghostbusters are equipped to handle this threat, yet they do not fully understand the scope of the villain’s plans. Can they figure out what is going on in time to stop the oncoming ghostly apocalypse?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

This movie was directed by Paul Feig, and it is a movie that I believes falls very much in line with his skills and sensibilities. That is to say, if you enjoy the humor of his movies, you will probably enjoy this film. If you are not a Feig fan, you will probably not like this movie. It is a comedy first and foremost. If you are going into this movie looking for supernatural thrills, it’s not really for you. If you’re looking for intense, well conceived and choreographed action set pieces, this film is not for you. This film is a Feig show, through and through.

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Also, do not be confused by the title. This film is not aimed at the diehard fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. It doesn’t have the same style, the same humor, and it avoids most of the same aesthetics except for the basic outfits and the look of the car. There is certainly some “Ghostbusters” flavoring in the mix, and the plot is very similar to both of the previous films, but this movie has a very distinct and different feel and chemistry. If you go in expecting a tonal successor to the original, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

This film is at its best when the characters are talking and interacting with one another. Importantly, the characters are unique to themselves – they are not stand-ins for the original 80s group. There is great chemistry between the leads, and their personalities and senses of humor riff well off of one another.

The film is really quite funny. The jokes are mostly hits, even though there are definite misses too. At least it isn’t full of fart and vomit jokes, like the trailers implied. It isn’t exactly high-brow, but I didn’t have to roll my eyes more than once, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit. I think I even laughed out loud once or twice.

However, there are plenty of serious flaws. While the designs of the ghosts aren’t bad (in fact in some places it is as strong as the original), the CGI-heavy nature of the final battle goes over the top and the film suffers for it. The plot follows most of the same beats as the original two, and the villain is the cheesiest out of all three films. I will say that while the bad guy is pretty lame in the first half of the film, he does get much better in the second half.

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The worst offenders, however, were the terrible pacing, editing, and cinematography. The editing is choppy, the framing is plain and uninteresting, and the pacing is lethargic when it needed to be active and too quick when it needed to slow down, with poor transitions between the two. Combine this all with the fact that the action scenes in the film were poorly staged and it just robs the story of the energy and intensity it needed in the climax of the movie.

If you insist on judging this film strictly against the ‘84 original, this film can’t be anything but a massive disappointment. It doesn’t match that film’s originality or humor, and I doubt any movie could – the original is one of the great comedies of all time. When judged on its own merits, however, this film is very fun. It is a basic popcorn-munching summer blockbuster worth seeing at matinee price. Don’t get me wrong, “Ghostbusters” (2016) is not great, but neither is it a train wreck. In fact, I might even pick it up if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

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Warcraft – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The film begins with the orcish horde, a military collection of tribal clans. Within the horde we find Durotan, a young orc chieftain, who is accompanied by his wife and their unborn child. The horde, under the command of the warlock Gul’dan, makes preparations and sacrifices needed to cross through a dark portal to escape the imminent destruction of their home world, Draenor. This portal takes them into the world of the seven kingdoms, where live humans, elves, dwarves and other races, and where peace has reigned for many years.

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The orcs bring war with them. Upon their crossing, upon the orders of Gul’dan, the orcs begin to wage a guerilla campaign against the humans. As they pillage, they capture villagers for sacrifice in order to open the dark portal again and bring the full extent of the clans into Azeroth and claim the world as their own. Durotan, meanwhile, begins to have reservations about the methods and goals of Gul’dan.

All of the forces of Azeroth, the country the orcs first invade, are put to the test to figure out what is happening and how to stop it. In Ironforge, a dwarfish city, commander Lothar is summoned to Stormwind to discuss the strange attacks and plan how to thwart them. A young mage named Khadgar has found signs of “fell” magic, demon magic, in these attacks. Khadgar recommends they seek out the guardian Medivh.

Will they figure out the truth in time? Even if they do, will they have the strength to fight the might of the horde? These two factions, orcs and humans, collide in “Warcraft.”

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

When you have a film filled with orcs and humans wielding weapons in a medieval setting, it’s obvious that anyone who doesn’t enjoy fantasy will be turned off immediately. However, there is an in-genre distinction to make. Even with a serious tone, the colorful and cartoonishly-proportioned characters and armor, as well as the generous use of magic, means this film will only appeal to people who not only like fantasy but can also accept the more outlandish elements of this film’s design and storytelling. As much as it might like to be Lord of the Rings, it’s not. I mean, we are talking about magical floating cities, portals the size of skyscrapers, and orange and green orc warriors – each built like the Hulk – after all.

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Beyond this distinction, fans of Warcraft, especially fans since the original real time strategy title “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans,” will find the most to latch onto here. The film doesn’t shy away from its lore, and it drops names of people and places so fast that many die-hard fans might have a hard time keeping up.

That isn’t to say that people unfamiliar with Warcraft lore can’t enjoy the film. The film takes place near the beginning of the game lore of the Warcraft series, meaning this is as good a jumping on point for someone unfamiliar to Warcraft as any. The question is, how well do the filmmakers accomplish providing a good and clear movie narrative?

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I’m not going to beat around the bush. This film has a lot of flaws. Pacing issues drag it down, especially near the beginning. While there are maybe two good performances, the rest of the acting varies from just fine to very bad. Some plot elements are vague to a fault. The CGI occasionally looks iffy, and the world doesn’t feel particularly lived-in.

Despite these flaws, there are many good things about the film as well. While the pacing is way off, the plot itself is fairly straightforward and understandable, though there are a few points that could have used some more set-up or payoff. Tragedy can and does strike the characters of the film. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways, and the story doesn’t shy away from violence and consequences.

Durotan is a great character, and we spend a lot of time with him. While the other characters aren’t as engaging as Durotan, many are at least likeable or interesting in their own ways. Lothar in particular nears Durotan in terms of engagement. Also, Gul’dan makes for an effectively vicious villain.

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The action is generally strong. The fights feel real, in the sense that the sound direction makes every impact feel weighty and painful.The CGI is obvious, but once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty good, and it only ever interferes with immersion once or twice. Even if you’re never emotionally touched, this is a perfectly good popcorn spectacle.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit – more than it deserves, even. While I might personally buy it as soon as it comes out, I can’t deny that “Warcraft” won’t be worthwhile for most people. In the end, it’s just a…

Guilty Pleasure

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

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“Side Jobs,” by: Jim Butcher – Review

Side Jobs

The Premise:

“Side Jobs” is a collection of short stories by Jim Butcher set in the universe and starring the characters of the Dresden Files book series. The Dresden Files is an urban fantasy series that takes many cues from detective noir, mystery, and high fantasy (especially in the later books). The stories follow Harry Dresden, professional wizard detective, in his efforts to make a paycheck while dealing with the challenges he faces from the seedy elements of Chicago’s mystical underbelly. These stories takes place between the books throughout the series, adding an extra window into Harry’s world while attempting to provide the thrills and humor fans of the series expect.

The Short of It:

Fans of The Dresden Files will find that this collection delivers exactly what they love from the main book series. They are all highly enjoyable except for one, which is still interesting in its own right. None of them are “essential” in that none of them really affect the events of the main series, but the insight into the side characters provides the emotional heft and value needed to make the collection feel just about as worthwhile as a main title entry. It is well worth a read for fans of the series.

The Long of It:

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Undertale – Review

 

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What it is:

An indie game made by Toby Fox after a successful kickstarter campaign, “Undertale” is a retro-style RPG following the tale of a human child who accidentally falls into an underground world of monsters beneath a mountain, and the child’s quest to return home. This story shares a basic premise with similar games, but the branching paths of the plot, characters, and even game mechanics, take twists and turns that upend many of the expectations and tropes that have become the bedrock of the genre.  

 

The Short of It:

“Undertale” is an exceptional game. It is not long, even considering multiple playthroughs, but the game makes every second of your time worth it. The game mechanics are simple but brilliant. The basic art and bit music are used to excellent effect to create a colorful world that is a joy to explore and live in, and to provide an atmosphere of quirk, adventure and heart to the player’s journey.

The plot has multiple branching paths created by the player’s interactions with the charming characters, and yet these branches are marked more by the change of relationships of the player to the characters than by changes in the plot. Despite this, every little branch feels world-shakingly different.

“Undertale” is a funny, clever, and deceptively simple game with a big heart and impressive meta-knowledge of how people play RPG games that allows it to rise well beyond the typical genre fare.

The Long of It: Continue reading

“Bitter Seeds” by: Ian Tregillis – Book Review

 

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The Premise:

In an alternate history of Earth, in the years after the Great War, deep in the heart of Germany, a mysterious doctor takes two orphans into his home with nefarious purposes. In England, one young boy is brought into a dark family secret, and another is found and raised by a spymaster who sees great promise in him.

Years pass and the clouds of war come again. The Spanish Civil War is a petri dish for the Nazis where they are testing a new secret weapon – super powered humans. The British catch wind and they begin their own counter initiative. Their weapon against the “Jerries?” Warlocks, and the powers of the otherworldly beings they call upon.

World War II has begun.

 

The Short of It:

This is a great book, but I think the way it plays out won’t match the expectations of someone reading the basic description. In many ways, the strategy and progress of the war effort are just flavoring or a background to what is ultimately the focus of the book, which is the personal lives and conflicts of certain members of each side’s secret organization. Those who enjoy the setting and flavoring of WWII, but are mostly interested in sharp characters, intrigue, action, and a blend of nerdy genres will enjoy the book.

The Long of It:

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“Fable III” Review


Albion needs a Hero. Albion needs a King.

Jan 5, 2011 – I sat upon my newly won throne, looking down upon the former king, my brother, the man I had despised the most these past months. It was he who oppressed the peoples of Albion. He who betrayed everything our family stood for. He… who sentenced her to death. I knew now what had driven him to such evil, and the weight of that responsibility was bearing down upon me, but still I hated him. He looked up at me, seeing the emotion behind my eyes, and I could see his certainty, determination and even… relief, behind his. I held his life in my hands. A life I had sworn to snuff out in vengeance. And I felt pity for him. I decided to be a better man than my brother that day and do for him what he did not do for Elise. I spared his life.

Though he didn't deserve it, the Jerk!


Fable III is a game built upon promise, choice and consequence, and it meets the challenge of doing these things admirably. The first half of the game is dominated by political intrigue, alliances and rebellion. The second half is dominated by what happens after you win the crown. You are called upon to make moral decisions and either keep your campaign promises, or break them. While moral quandaries are nothing new in videogames, keeping or breaking the promises made in a bid for kingship is a novel concept that is rarely explored in videogames, and while Fable III isn’t built to treat it with the true gravity such a situation might call for, they manage to capture it to a degree yet unseen. Furthermore, these decisions are not all black and white. Do you keep the promises you’ve made to your followers now, and possibly doom them all later, or break your promises, earn the enmity of your former friends, but save all their lives? Lionhead Studios, and its charismatic leader, Peter Molyneux, have created a very good follow up to Fable II, and while the game still has many of the problems of its predecessors it manages to chart new waters to create the best Fable experience yet.

And John Cleese Is Your Butler!


The land of Albion is caught between two worlds, the past and the future. It is a time of industrial revolution, a Dickensian world where orphans work in sooty factories, mercenaries carry flintlocks and muskets, and the aristocracy rides high on the backs of the lower classes. You are the prince, brother to the king, and you worry about the people of your kingdom under his ever more tyrannical rule. When you confront him about it you are forced into an evil decision of life against life, and so the fire of rebellion is born in you. But you need allies, and so you travel the countryside, winning the support of the impoverished and disenfranchised. With their aid, you will overthrow your brother, the tyrant, and bring peace to Albion. Or so you might believe. But there is another threat that nears Albion. One far greater than any mortal foe you’ve yet faced.

YOUR FAMILY!!! Well, actually no, something even worse than that, but still...


The story of Fable III is the most well-developed, intricate and interesting to date, and the world is unique in videogames, taking place during a time rarely visited. The characters are well made and feel unique, with distinct motivations and great voice acting. The fantasy elements are very much present, but all the more enjoyable for their uniqueness in Albion. This isn’t a land of sword-and-sorcery with wizards and elves around every corner, and I find that to be refreshing in a time when fantasy in videogames is either World of Warcraft or Dragon Age. Really it’s more similar to the high fantasy of The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire, though obviously much lighter-hearted.

The plot is actually quite good.


Fable III goes a couple steps further than just providing a great tale for the main story; it also provides a number of side quests, most built to add to the humor and charm of the game and provide a fun distraction. Sometimes these little quests provide as much or more satisfaction than the action in the main story, with particular standouts being quests such as being sucked into the table-top game of a bunch of nerdy wizards, acting out the plays of a long-dead playwright in another dimension or playing deadly chess against a psychopathic treasure chest. The variety of the side quests are hardly lacking, and hours could be spent doing them alone. You can even complete many of them after the game (assuming your choices haven’t closed them off) relieving people who want to finish the game first and deal with other things later.

Will you be evil or good?


One change that will be either loved or hated is the way the menus and upgrading is done. The menus are all represented in three-dimensions by the “Sanctuary” a special place that acts as a sort of Bat-cave or Fortress of Solitude for the Hero. For those of you who don’t get the references, think of a very spacious and multi-roomed closet. Inside you see the actual outfits, weapons, multiplayer elements and wealth you accumulate. Some will hate it on principle because they will say it slows down the pace of the game. In truth, it doesn’t slow it down that much, and there is no lag whatsoever when you press the start button to go to the sanctuary. Furthermore, there are ways to skip through the sanctuary that should make complainers happy. What the Sanctuary adds is immersion and interaction, which I’m actually quite fond of.

You can choose various weapons and upgrade them through use.


Similarly, the Road to Rule is a mystical road that you can travel to which represents your plot progress as well as your upgrades in the form of chests that you can open with Guild Seals. Guild Seals simply represent your Experience points. Again, it adds a nice sense of interaction and atmosphere. By never seeing an actual menu the game pulls you in more effectively. If only the loading screens didn’t work against that in their own way.

You will suffer the loss of allies and friends along the way.


If there’s one thing all the Fable games have managed to do well in spades, it is their charm. The design is beautiful and whimsical. Characters walk a fine line between pomp, formality and ridiculousness. The music is floaty and enchanting and the world is full of a particularly British humour. Just watch the opening cinematic to see what I mean. Perhaps it is something only possible in the hands of a British studio, much like the outlandish and weird nature of games like Bayonetta is only possible in the hands of the Japanese. No matter how it is accomplished it is one of the game’s greatest points and always makes the Fable games worth playing. Fable III follows in that tradition, but like Fable II it still cannot quite grasp the full fairy-tale feel of the original game.

The opening cinematic really is fantastic.


But the game lives up to its heritage in unhappy ways as well. Fable III tried to ditch the tedious nature of RPGs by eliminating the health bar (a welcome move in my book,) but they failed to eliminate the true perpetrators of that particular fault. An easy way to gain Guild Seals (Experience Points) is to make friends with villagers and accept friendship quests from them. The problem is, these quests are essentially currier or fetch quests. The wonderful variety found in the other side quests is completely lacking when it comes to these friendship quests, making their completion an exercise in boredom. Worse is the job system which is fun for the first five minutes and a chore for the next five hours. It might not have been such an issue if you got more money for each success, or if your final victory in the game wasn’t so closely tied to your royal funds. Essentially if you don’t buy every building in the land, don’t do enough jobs and don’t save up through hours and hours of game time your ability to get the best ending is utterly screwed. While the mechanics of the idea aren’t utterly broken, it turns much of the latter half of the game into a chore, bringing your process to a halt.

Peter Molynuex is a great guy, but his vision doesn't always work out.


Like the previous games, the graphics are good but iffy at times and plain buggy at others. Textures pop in and out, character models sometimes spawn inside of one another and I saw more than one Balvarine stuck in a tree like a transporter accident out of Star Trek.. These glitches aren’t anywhere near the technical travesty of a game like Fallout: New Vegas, but they can be very upsetting when encountered.

Furthermore, while many of the moral choices are presented in interesting gray terms, you’re still essentially funneled down either the good or bad path. It isn’t a dire criticism of the game as it does harken to that fairy-tale element that I enjoy so much about these games, but it should still be noted.

Despite that qualm, the moral choices are still the heart and greatest strength of the game, providing structure for the plot, and creating world-changing consequences. Should you preserve the natural beauty of Bower Lake, or should you drain it to build a mine for funds that could save the Kingdom? If you choose to drain the lake, you open up a whole new area to explore and new quests to take, but all at the expense of one of Albion’s prettiest sights, hidden items at the lake and your morality meter. This is only one choice that can literally change the game. As king you will find yourself very much in charge of your destiny, and never more responsible for the denizens of a virtual world outside of the Sims games.

Dream of Freedom, little chickie.

Closing Comments:

Fable III is not going to change anyone’s minds about the Fable franchise or Peter Molyneux and his unique vision. What it does do, however, is provide the best Fable experience yet, by telling a great story with lots of charm, humor and wit. If you’re up for rebellion, high fantasy, political machinations and kicking chickens while wearing a giant chicken suit, then you really have to try out Fable III.

STAR RATING: (4 and ½ Stars out of 5)

Four and one-half Stars

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:

“Damn it! Why didn’t I choose to let the villagers die instead of Elise? And why do I have such an emotional reaction to the death of a character I hardly know?” That was the quandary I found myself in less than a half-hour into the game. “Surely,” I thought, “I’ll still be able to save her. They won’t kill off a character who is obviously so important to my main character, right?”
Actually, they absolutely will. And now I think I know why I had such a strong reaction. The whimsical nature of the world of Albion, the charm and humor, all seem comforting and safe. But this belies the tough and real choices, some of which have no fully good outcome, that riddle Fable III. I wasn’t prepared for it, and it shocked me in a way that games rarely do. I was tempted to restart the game then and there, but instead I soldiered on, and that shock and pain became a part of the story of my rebellion. I became attached to the story.
It is a testament to how good the team at Lionhead are at giving their creations character that I already felt I knew Elise for a long time after such a brief span. There isn’t a main character in the game who doesn’t feel wholly unique, and if not realistic at least likeable.

Or hate, whichever is more appropriate, actually. Hm... love to hate?


In retrospect it might come across as a cheap way to grab the audience, killing off the girl like that. But it was my choice that sent her to her execution, and so it gained so much more weight and importance for it.
It was the little (and sometimes big) tugs of emotion that really got me hooked, and it’s those same emotions that will have me remembering Fable III in the years to come. That experience won’t be the same for everybody, but the experience did inform my final score.