Tom Chick

Not the worst thing you’ll see all week: Rick and Morty

, | TV reviews

“Did you ever hear about this alligator who went into a restaurant?” Lamar Thigpen took them by the neck and drew them close as lovers.

“No, I didn’t,” said the courteous engineer, though he had. Jokes always made him nervous. He had to attend to the perilous needs of the joke-teller.

–Walker Percy, The Last Gentlemen

Two minutes into this excruciatingly long ten minute video, I’ve seen all it has to show me. But I’m still watching it because my friend thought it was funny. “Oh, let me show you this,” he had said excitedly, typing the words “nightclub mashup” into YouTube.

Instead of telling each other jokes anymore, we show each other videos. Continue reading →

Best bad thing you’ll see all week: The Snare

, | Movie reviews

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Some people get in a car and drive to a remote location to have a horror movie. The location is modest, self-contained, and not nearly as impressive as it should be. The cast is small, of varying degrees of attractiveness, and not particularly talented. The script has no interesting ideas. The director has no insight. The movie is terrible. You stop watching it halfway through. It will be frozen in your Netflix account at the 40-minute mark forever.

The Snare is this with a twist: the script does have interesting ideas and the director does have insight. The movie isn’t terrible. It’s not particularly good, but it’s certainly not terrible. It sneaks decisively past the 40-minute mark.

Writer/director C.A. Cooper is working with limited resources. A third of his cast is sedate to a fault. The other two thirds are grating. The location is hilarious. The script calls for an isolated holiday getaway, but all the production can manage is someone’s two-bedroom flat. So it’s up to the cast to pretend they’ve totally found an awesome place to hang out for a few days. It even has a TV set with a 14″ screen! Sweet! The exterior is carefully framed to exclude the apartment buildings next door. From the balcony, you can see the neighboring buildings. Anyone trapped up here could just yell to the next house over to call the fire department to bring a ladder.

But if the model for most bad horror is seminal crowd-pleasers like Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity, or The Exorcist, the model for The Snare is The Shining. This is a director who hasn’t just seen The Shining, but he understands it and he uses it as a template for a nasty little tale about rotting away. Despite his limited resources, he knows how to shoot and construct a creepy slow-burn that relies on unnerving instead of startling. He prefers sickly instead of lurid, nauseous instead of gorey, decay instead of violence. Cooper knows to get under your skin instead of in your face. Someone give this man a better cast and a bigger budget.


If Disney World had a shooter, it would be Ghost Recon: Wildlands

, | Game reviews

Ghost Recon Wildlands is what it would be like if Disney World had a section called Shootland. A swathe of geography dedicated to the theme of shooting guns, expensive looking, consisting of simple and contrived thrills interspersed with waiting in line, built to impress in a compressed burst rather than entertain over the long run. Great place to visit, sure.

But not much of a game. Continue reading →

Best thing you’ll see all month: Raw

, | Movie reviews

Writer/director Julia Ducournau’s spectacular debut movie, Raw, will get lumped in with a genre known as body horror, which is where gross stuff happens to someone’s body. That’s too bad, because it’s a genre rife with cheap gore, shock value for shock value’s sake, and godawful movies that seem awfully proud of the point they’re trying to make, much like a toddler would be proud of a bowel movement. And there’s really not a lot of room for subtlety in body horror. No one ever accused David Cronenberg of subtlety.

But Raw’s body horror is not its priority. It is only its vehicle. Raw is less interetsed in the grossness of biology than the urges that drive it. Like Prevenge, an upcoming (and unfortunately not very good) movie about pregnancy, Raw considers the unique dilemma of women besieged by the primal force of, well, biology. Although it doesn’t shy away from explicit gore, it skips past what would have been its goriest scenes. Not just because imagination is more powerful. An unforgettable and thunderously scored epiphany scene doesn’t leave much to the imagination. But because a fundamental facet of sexuality, over and above any act, is identity. Not what you’ve done, but what you feel. What you want.

I both have and haven’t said enough. The average review of Raw will ruin at least two of its reveals. Every trailer I’ve seen will ruin about a half dozen. Finding out what Raw is about is best left to Ducournau’s confident, stylish, and unnerving filmmaking, and actress Garance Merillier with her Rose Byrne doe eyes.

Although Raw isn’t ultimately body horror, it does earn a place in French extremism, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Damn, there are some people from France who really get horror!” Like Martyrs, still a bleeding edge of French extremism, Raw is about three or four things by the time it’s over, each building on the other in unexpected ways. But unlike Martyrs — or anything else in French extremism — Raw is curiously poignant, even tender. Heh, tender. Now I’ve said too much.

Raw is currently in limited release, hopefully at an arthouse theater near you.

Someone was listening while everyone complained about No Man’s Sky

, | Games

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on– Oh, look, a massive update for No Man’s Sky! Look at all that new stuff: base building, creation sharing, ship collecting, class specialization, land vehicles and exocraft, races, new stuff to buy, new stuff to build, new ways to shoot at things, meaningful survival mechanics, permadeath. Permadeath! The thing that makes all games even more replayable! Even persistence for the various places you’ve discovered, such as Wlkjtulappd, and Berlkdipbiesy, and Yiplyustokpydy. As you recall, those are all planets in the Bfeudisklonklorrl system. Remember the Bfeudisklonklorrl system? Remember all its purple planets with their pink skies? Yiplyustokpydy was definitely my favorite. I guess if I’m going back, I should rename it to something like Chickworld or Tomholme or Yes Album Cover #317.

The update also includes the obligatory visual improvements, such as horizon based ambient occlusion. Whatever that is, it’s something that wasn’t in No Man’s Sky before.

Scroll through this splashy page to see what Hello Games has done to their aimless game-less space game. Because from where I’m standing, waiting on the Steam download to finish, it looks as if there might be an actual game in there now.

Best worst thing you’ll see all week: Catfight

, | Movie reviews

The titular fight in Fist Fight, a dopey Charlie Day vehicle, is a classic example of the barroom brawl as a rite of masculinity. It’s played as a redemptive act by which two men come together and earn mutual respect. It even saves all the teachers’ jobs at a beleaguered public school. Spoiler. But there’s no reason to see Fist Fight (the delightful Jillian Bell excepted).

The titular fight in Catfight is an outrageous, loudly foleyed, and drawn-out slapstick routine that would make Roddy Piper and Keith David proud. It’s dumb. Sloppy. Overblown. Director Onur Tukel shoves your face in it. It does not redeem anyone. No jobs are saved. It’s pointless. It’s not even funny, although I’m not sure it’s supposed to be.

What is funny is watching Anne Heche and Sandra Oh play their singularly unpleasant characters with a two-fisted doggedness, especially when they’re not throwing punches, taking falls, and setting up work for their stunt doubles. Both actresses come roaring out of their comfort zones, swinging wildly, and often connecting. These are two reprehensible characters, the likes of which women rarely get to play in the forefront (see also, The Bronze). Move over, bad moms, teachers, and santas. Heche and Oh have something to show you.

The real conflicts here are the conversations and social interaction. Tukel’s script is less about the catfight and more about reversals of fortune, told in the context of satire with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It doesn’t entirely work but it sure is timely. I can’t tell if the joke about trees named Bernie, Hillary, and Donald is pre-election or post-election, but I think Tukel meant for me to wince. He makes political hay with the issues of war and healthcare, the yin and yang of government: fighting and nurturing, killing and saving, masculine and feminine. But with fart jokes. Like I said, it has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

“Cute isn’t truthful,” Anne Heche sneers. Catfight is not cute.

Catfight is currently in limited release as is available for VOD on Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

Pixel Privateers nearly sinks under the weight of all that loot

, | Game reviews

So much loot! More loot after every mission. Loot left over after the last mission. Loot I forgot I had. Panels and panels of colorful little icons, some green, some blue, some a couple of shades of purple, and some that eye-catching orange/yellow. There are even some reds. Reds! The rarest of the rare. Epic, even! No, wait, I think orange/yellow is epic. Red is an artifact, which transcends rarity because rarities are adjectives and an artifact is a noun. Loot, loot, loot! Normally all this treasure would be a cause for celebration.

In Pixel Privateers, an otherwise really good game, it’s cause for a sigh. Continue reading →

Let go and let gravity in Steep’s opulent winter wonderland

, | Game reviews

Once when my little sister was nervous about flying, I tried to reassure her by explaining that when planes land, they’re literally falling. Planes generate lift by moving forward, with the amount of lift proportional to their speed (I might have even used the word “Bernoulli” while explaining this; I can be a bit of a show-off). If a plane doesn’t have enough speed, it stops generating lift. That’s called stalling. So when a pilot lands an airplane, he doesn’t fire up the engines and point the nose at the runway. That’s called crashing. Instead, he reduces speed until the plane isn’t generating enough lift to stay airborne. Now the plane is falling. Ideally gradually. And ideally onto a surface amenable to airplanes, like a runway. But falling nevertheless. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Falling.

“That’s not reassuring,” she noted. Probably because falling and crashing are synonyms more than falling and landing are synonyms. Continue reading →

Best thing you’ll see all week: Catastrophe

, | TV reviews

I have a problem with the first season of the UK sitcom Catastrophe. It sets itself up as two people making the most of a difficult situation. Presumably a catastrophic situation, hence the title. Rob has unintentionally gotten Sharon pregnant; they decide to give it a go. It superficially resembles Knocked Up, the Judd Apatow comedy in which Seth Rogen unintentionally gets Katherine Heigl pregnant and they decide to give it a go. Knocked Up is indeed a catastrophe. She’s a woman with a promising career who behaves like an adult. He’s Hollywood’s typical manchild stoner out-of-shape slob loser whose shortcomings are entirely excused because he’s funny. Obviously, Hollywood says, he’ll make a great dad. Oh, and husband. Never mind what Heigl’s character could have gone on to do with her life, pregnant or not.

But whereas Knocked Up pretends it’s not a catastrophe, Catastrophe pretends it’s not a perfect match. But Rob and Sharon are as perfect a couple as you could ever hope to see on TV.

They’re the opposite of a catastrophe. Continue reading →