Tom Chick

Best thing you’ll see all week: Mom and Dad

, | Movie reviews

Oh, the stress of life in an upper middle class family! It’s the stuff of horror movies, I tell you! The cringeworthy Better Watch Out plays it straightish and comes out poorly, partly for the weak cast. A young psycho takes his babysitter hostage and gore ensues. A far better example is McG’s over-the-top style and lead actress Samara Weaving’s unwavering commitment in the very tongue-in-cheek and just horrific enough The Babysitter. I suppose you could put Get Out in this category as well. All is not well among the comfortably affluent! But by far the best example is the wickedly funny Mom and Dad.

Writer/director Brian Taylor was half of the Nevaldine/Taylor duo responsible for the Crank movies and the Ghost Rider sequel. Their absurdity showed an unabashed self-awareness, from the writing to the editing, and everything in between. If you didn’t want to see Jason Statham attaching jumper cables to his nipples, you could go watch a Transporter movie. If you didn’t want to see Nicholas Cage peeing fire, you could go watch a Spider-Man movie. These guys were doing action movies on their own terms: bold, energetic, ridiculous, and juvenile. But most of all energetic.

Brian Taylor’s first solo project, as writer and director, is Mom and Dad. It’s a sort of latter day version of The Crazies, but with a subversive subtext about the frustration of parenthood. Before the crazies arrive, Taylor wants you to know he’s here to observe the way each generation falls out of touch with the next. “Would you mind not Facebooking when we’re driving together?” the aggrieved Selma Blair asks her snotty daughter in the car on the way to school. “It’s the only time we have together.”

“Facebooking?” her daughter mutters derisively.

Before you groan when I tell you Nicholas Cage is in this, let me point out that the problem with Nicholas Cage is movies that don’t know how to use him. That’s not an issue with Mom & Dad where his tics and outbursts and random bodyjerks are a perfect fit. What if Nicholas Cage was your dad, his midlife crisis in full bloom? And then what if what happens in Mom & Dad happened? Now we’re talking the stuff of horror movies. To Selma Blair’s credit, she keeps up.

Before Louis CK cemented his legacy as the guy who whipped out his dick, he had a great bit about his kids being assholes. This frank insight into the frustration of parenthood was nearly unique. Who calls their kids assholes? Who does that? Mom & Dad, a keen and energetic jolt of social satire, does that and then some.

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Worst thing you’ll see all week: Hostiles

, | Movie reviews

If you like ponderous emo Westerns that consist largely of tearful goodbyes and somber burials to teach characters Valuable Life Lessons that culminate in a career Indian killer redeeming himself by disemboweling a racist during a standoff that pits Federal authority against property rights, look no further than Hostiles!

It’s not enough that the script is a facile examination of the brutality of the American West and the treatment of Native Americans. Hostiles is sometimes even shot ineptly. In one conversation between Ben Foster and Christian Bale, the camera is positioned in such a way that it looks like Bale is talking to a tree. He might as well have been, given how the cast is squandered. Writer/director Scott Cooper has made a career of squandering talented actors. Jeff Bridges stuck in a schmaltzy country music yarn in Crazy Heart, then Casey Affleck and some other people in the forgettable Out of the Furnace, then Johnny Depp in vampire make-up to play mob informant Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, and now a cavalcade of solid actors putting on period garb to play characters who talk about their feelings while Christian Bale whisperacts hard enough to nearly pop that vein under his eye.

Cooper seems to have been watching The Searchers. He seems to think he’s written a Blood Meridian. He seems to think he’s shot a Revenant. No such things have happened. At the end of the movie, during the eighth or ninth tearful good-bye, Christian Bale says a tearful good-bye to Rosamund Pike. Then she gets on a train. Then he waits for a bit before getting on the same train. You know that awkward moment when you say good-bye to someone but then realize you’re both going the same way, so you futz around to kill time and let the other person get ahead? It’s like that caught on film. At least it looked that way. What probably happened is the character made some sort of decision, or maybe he got on a different train, or maybe the editing was just screwy. But if a movie can’t even sort out the departing schedules of its main characters, it’s got a long way to go before it conveys any Valuable Life Lessons about how racism was/is bad.

Top ten games of 2017

, | Features

I might have included on this list of top games some really great 2017 releases if they felt more like 2017 releases. Total War: Warhammer 2, Dominions 5, and Spintires: Mud Runners are all great, but they’re great because they’re iterations on great games. They don’t feel like separate releases. The fantastic Pinball FX3 adds new reasons to play tables in lots of different ways, but they’re the same tables I’ve already been playing. Superlative DLC for Guild Wars 2, XCOM 2, and Diablo III made all of those games more relevant than ever in 2017, but none of them are 2017 releases.

This is the first year that none of my ten favorite games were popular AAA titles from larger publishers (with the possible exception of my #9 pick). I liked plenty of popular AAA titles from larger publishers! Destiny 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Warhammer II, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Wolfenstein II, for instance. But there were at least ten games I liked better.

Finally, the usual disclaimer for the games I didn’t get to play: Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Hob, Hellblade, Persona 5, Heat Signature, What Happened to Edith Finch, Gravity Rush 2, and Logistical were all games I wanted to play. I also didn’t get to play any game that had the misfortune to be an Xbox/Windows Store exclusive. For instance, did you guys know there was a new Halo Wars this year?

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The most overrated games of 2017

, | Features

Overrated is a loaded term. It looks good in a headline. It’s often used for no purpose other than to goad a reaction. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. When I call a game overrated, I don’t mean it’s bad, that the reviews were wrong, that the people who liked it were dopes, or even that I didn’t like it. It just means I’m surprised more people weren’t more critical, that the conversation wasn’t more often about ways the game could have been better.

After the jump, the ten most overrated games of 2017. Continue reading →

The most surprising games of 2017

, | Features

So if the most disappointing category is a list of games that should have been better, the most surprising category is the opposite. These are games that were better than they should have been. Just as disappointing is about falling short of expectations, these surprising games exceeded expectations and, in some cases, were among the best games of the year.

After the jump, the ten most surprising games of 2017. Continue reading →

The most disappointing games of 2017

, | Features

Calling a game disappointing arguably has more to do with me than the game itself. Disappointment isn’t an inherent quality. It can’t exist without some sort of expectation in the first place. In many cases, these games are sequels, or the creations of developers with proven track records, or entries in established genres, or games with promising beginnings. But for various reasons, a central fact about these games is that I had personally hoped they would be better.

After the jump, the ten most disappointing games of 2017. Continue reading →

I don’t play fishing games, but if I did, I’d play Atom Fishing II

, | Game reviews

In real life, my experience with fishing began and pretty much ended when I was a kid young enough to be scared by a fish. Which is a perfectly healthy thing to be scared of. When you impale fish on a hook and drag them out of the water, where they frantically thrash and flop their slimy wet bodies and prickly fins, eyes and mouths agape, it’s a horror show. As a kid, I wasn’t sure whether the fish was dying or attacking, but whichever the case, I wanted no part of it. Fish belong in water. “Fish out of water” is an idiom for a reason.

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