Ozark Season One – A Promising Start

Ozark is a Netflix Original series about financial adviser Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) who also launders money for a Mexican drug cartel. After his partner is caught skimming money, Marty manages to save his life by convincing cartel boss Del Rio (Esai Morales) that he can launder money in the Missouri Ozarks. He proceeds to move to the Ozarks with his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and two children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner).

In a lot of ways, this series reminded me of the movie Prisoners. This is a grounded story about a man trying to protect his family. It also has a very grey, drab look to the cinematography and a constant sense of dread. This is one of the few shows I’ve watched in a while that has had a distinct look and feel to it.

Jason Bateman shines as Marty, a cynical asshole on the last legs of every lie. Watching Marty attempt to weasel his way out of his troubles is always amusing. That said I can’t think of a single weak performance in Ozark and I could probably spend thousands of words praising the cast of this show.

The writing for the show is also solid. Every character feels unique and they all have their own objectives that are easy to understand. Ozark is also fairly unpredictable and all one situation is believable. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but this one situation basically involves a character casually purchasing items that would be worth over one-grand even though it’s assumed they wouldn’t have that kind of money lying around.

I also enjoyed the soundtrack very much. Most of the time it always added a sense of dread and paranoia. This compliments some great sequences throughout the show that will have you on the edge of your seat. My only complaint about the soundtrack is the use of classical music in the last episode that I felt didn’t quite fit with what was going on.

Finally, I will admit that episode 8, ‘Kaleidoscope’ felt like filler. This is a flashback episode, but I felt it didn’t really add much new information. It also came across as a very sudden interruption to the ongoing story.

Those are all minor nitpicks and I’d still highly recommend Ozark. It’s an engaging show with interesting characters and a fantastic story which I can’t wait to see continued.

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Ruiner – Ruin’meh’

Ruiner is a twin-stick shooter where you play as a man who is controlled by a hacker only referred to as ‘Her’ to go rescue his brother. You’ll spend the rest of the game fighting through waves of bad guys and bosses in a dystopian cyberpunk world that’s visually similar to Ghost in the Shell or Akira.

I found this one to be bit of a mixed bag. There are certainly some great ideas, but I feel these ideas have not quite been expanded on.

What I can say is the soundtrack is perfect for the setting. I’m not sure if I’d buy it separately, but it works. The voice acting, however, is missing completely. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is an extra expense, but I felt this game could have done with it, rather than awkward silence.

Visually this game is incredible. The environments look great, and there’s this very horrifying look the characters. Most of them are cyborgs who have lost the ability to control themselves.

Unfortunately, this idea isn’t used at all storywise. The idea of losing your free will is really unsettling. Being the toy of a hacker with their own agenda could have been brilliant. To begin with, the game could have started with you killing the bad guys, but as the game goes on, the morals become murkier. Your character could stop seeing his opponents as people, and more as just another target to kill. You could force the player to do things that make them uncomfortable, much like Spec Ops: The Line did.

There’s also no real characters to follow or care about. I found it really hard to invest myself in the story. Villians seem disposable and just come and go. I predicted part of the end twist right away, and it ends with a cliffhanger. The developers have promised the story will continue with future DLC, but this was pretty disappointing considering Ruiner took me five hours to complete.

This game is also brutally hard, especially to begin with. There’s also a certain point in the game where enemies start teleporting, to which I suffered many deaths. This isn’t a bad thing, but I found the game ended right as I was getting the hang of things.

This can be a visually busy game with a lot going on and at times I just had to stop playing. Those who suffer from motion sickness should avoid this one.

Not helping this is the fact that this is another game that feels the need to have RPG elements. Honestly, this just made the game needlessly confusing. For example, there are two skills you can map to the ‘Q’ button. This can either be a health regeneration skill, or a skill that ‘hacks’ enemies. I found the health regen skill to be more useful, but whenever the game would start up, the game would default to the ‘hack’ skill. You can imagine my frustration of thinking I was going to heal yourself, only to end up doing nothing.

There are plenty of weapons to use. The main character can carry both a melee weapon and a firearm. You have a default weapon in each slot, a pipe (that later is upgraded to be a sword) and an automatic pistol. Certain firearms are probably better in certain situations, but the fact is you’ll probably just use what you can get. I found automatics and shotguns to be the most effective, but just about everything was an upgrade over the base weapons.

Overall I think Ruiner is okay. I can’t say the gameplay grabbed me, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible. I can see certain people loving it. That said I think the story is a missed opportunity for a truly captivating narrative. I’d recommend checking this one out when it goes on sale. That said there is a good chance that there will be new content which may expand on the elements I felt were lacking.

 

 

The Killer – A Dream-Like Western

On the surface, The Killer is a simple premise. A boy who eventually becomes known as Cabeleira is raised by a killer known as Seven Ears (Deto Montenegro) and becomes one himself. After discovering sex and money, this now grown boy (Diogo Morgado) becomes a hitman for the wealthy Monsieur Blanchard (Etienne Chicot). From there on, the viewer is lead into a world of violence and brutality.

If I was to sum up this movie, I’d say that this is like if Robert Rodriguez (Machete, Sin City) and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) got together and made a movie. At times it feels like you’re watching a dream (or rather, a nightmare) but there’s also no shortage of weird characters, including a man who can sketch any face (Marat Descartes), an American killer who kills other killers (Will Roberts), and the Frenchman’s whore wife (Maria de Medeiros).

Despite the over-the-top nature of the movie, it’s still easy to follow. The narrative is enjoyable if a little predictable at times. I’d also say that the second act deviates from the main plot, whereas I felt what happened could have taken about ten to fifteen minutes.

This is also a very brutal movie. Life has little value to many of the characters, and there are many depictions of murder, the skinning of animals, and even rape. I certainly appreciate the director didn’t censor too much, but at the same time didn’t go too far with the graphic details. That said this certainly isn’t a movie for the faint of heart.

Fabricio Tadeu’s cinematography is also amazing, giving a feel of a desperate, dried up land. Unfortunately, there is some pretty bad CGI, including most of the blood. Part of me thinks the blood was intentionally over the top and fake looking, but I couldn’t help but feel that effect could have still been achieved with practical effects.

The acting is also solid, and that includes many child actors. Diogo Morgado brings a level of craziness and intensity to the unhinged Cabeleira, and Etienne Chicot absolutely kills it as the arrogant Frenchman.

Overall I enjoyed The Killer. It’s one of the more interesting movies I’ve watched all year. It’s a bit uneven, but nonetheless, I found it very intriguing. If you’re a fan of westerns or odd movies you’ll probably enjoy The Killer.

 

Why Max Payne 3 is a Fascinating Sequel

Drastic Times Call for Drastic Changes

Max Payne 3 takes place nine years after the events of the second game. Without getting into spoilers, the events of the previous games have left Max a broken man who’s wasting his life away in dive bars drinking alcohol and slamming down painkillers. He then befriends Raul Passos who offers him a job in Brazil working as a bodyguard for businessman Rodrigo Branco and his trophy wife Fabiana. From there, things go from bad to worse.

The game makes a lot of changes from the original games. Aesthetically the game is much more colorful than the previous two, owing that to its new location of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Instead of comic style cutscenes, all cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine. A lot of the game also occurs during the daytime, rather than at night like the previous games.

Max is also somewhat more limited than he was in the previous games. He doesn’t take anywhere near as much punishment and can only carry around three weapons. To make up for this Max can now take cover and perform his signature shoot dodge maneuver even when his slow-motion bar has been depleted. Finally, he is also able to perform a ‘Last Stand’ where if he is to take a fatal blow whilst retaining a painkiller, he can shoot the last enemy who wounded him and recover.

I feel a lot of these changes were made for two reasons. The first is obviously to appeal to modern gamers. The cover system is similar to that popularized by the Gears of War series, and many modern games force the player to use a limited amount of weapons.

The other reasons is a response to action movies at the time. Around the time of Max Payne 3’s development you had the release of movies such as Taken and Elite Squad, both gritty, and somewhat more down to earth action flicks. Story-wise this is the most down to earth Max Payne game and is also the most brutal. With that said, this game would easily have the highest body count of any of the games in the series. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s certainly a lot more enemies you have to deal with which does clash with the new tone to a degree.

Overall I think these changes make Max Payne 3 an incredibly interesting game. It’s stuck between the past of its previous games and more modern mechanics.

Bring the Payne

The shooting in this game is incredibly smooth. Shooting is responsive and feels powerful. Enemies will stumble and fall in pain as their wounds ooze blood, and the bullets that miss will often spray glass or concrete around once it impacts with the environment. Once you fire the final shot, you’ll get a slow-motion display of your target’s demise.

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Weaponry wise, Max has access to various pistols, machine pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and rifles. As mentioned before Max can only carry three weapons, two pistols and a rifle. He can also dual wield but this means he’ll have to drop his long gun.

Unfortunately, the balance isn’t ideal. See to be the most effective in Max Payne 3, you really need to score headshots, especially once enemies begin donning body armor. As most weapons are quite accurate, machine pistols prove to be extremely effective. Pistols are also quite useful although the limited capacity can be an issue. Submachine guns aren’t bad, but share the same ammo pool as machine pistols, so an assault rifle is much more effective. Shotguns, unfortunately, suffer from an extreme lack of range and even at short range require multiple shots to kill enemies.

That being said the variety of weapon models is impressive. Every weapon is modeled with a high level of detail. There are also some fairly unique weapons such as the .38 revolver which is challenging and fun to use, and the sawed-off double barrel shotgun which whilst ineffective can be dual wield which is a lot of fun. A lot of weapons are also unique to Brazil such as the PT-92 pistol and MD-97 assault rifle.

To begin with, you’ll be dealing with low-level thugs armed mostly pistols. As the game goes on enemies will begin to don body armor and tool up with high-powered weapons. This forces the player to be quick and accurate in combat, less they want to die.

The challenge enemies present really makes the gunplay intense. They aren’t afraid to get aggressive and they know they have superior numbers. Combined with the smooth controls and powerful feeling guns this makes for one hell of a shooting experience.

It’s Just Like the Movies

I’d define Max Payne 3 very much as a cinematic shooter. This is a very linear game driven by action set pieces and lengthy cutscenes. There are many moments where Max is diving through the air or doing something ridiculous as the game goes into slow motion and you begin nailing headshots.

Visually this game is amazing. Not only does the game look great, but the animation is fantastic. The way Max manipulates weapons, recovers from a shoot dodge or the way enemies take injuries adds a dynamic flair to the game that has yet to be matched.

Accompanying the visuals is the fantastic audio. Guns shots are beefy and enemies shout and swear at the player. Every character is voice acted well, although being fair I’m no expert on Brazilian accents as the closest I’ve ever been to Brazil is a food stall at a country fair.

The soundtrack is composed by the rock band Health and is for the most part very effective. The only time I felt the soundtrack didn’t quite work is when during the final level the song ‘Tears’ begins to play. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad track, but I feel the vocals clash against the mayhem that’s occurring. I think if the vocals kicked in during a more quiet moment it would have been much better. That said that’s really a minor complaint on an otherwise great soundtrack.

But At Times It’s Also Like Watching a Movie…

One of the biggest complaints leveled against this game is its lengthy cutscenes. These are used to conceal the load times, but it definitely can be a drain at times. What doesn’t help is the fact that some of them don’t really drive the plot forward, or force you to watch Max’s interactions with some of the most obnoxious characters ever. Much like Grand Theft Auto V, I find a lot of Rockstar’s attempt at ‘humorous’ characters come across as annoying and tedious. The character Marcello is the biggest offender in this regard.

With that said, the story itself is still very engaging. What makes it is Max himself. Without spoiling anything watching him trying to save a situation that is rapidly getting worse is extremely engaging. As much as it’s hard to like the characters around him, Max himself is very enjoyable with well-written dialog. You want to see him succeed, if only just once, no matter how small that victory may be.

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The Worst of the Worst

Setting wise, Sao Paulo is a drastic change from the rainy nights Max spent in New York City during the first two games. I have to say the setting is one of my favorite parts of Max Payne 3. There’s something so grimy about the environments that give this game an authentic feel. This is most apparent in the seventh level ‘A Hangover Sent Direct From Mother Nature’, where Max is stuck in a favela and ends up in a seedy strip club.

Many characters also have a very low value for human life. Not only does Max kill enemies by the dozen, but civilians are often on the receiving end of violence. In a lot of ways, this is an extremely violent game. Sure a game like DOOM (2016) or Mortal Kombat might have over the top blood and gibbing, but Max Payne 3 is rather brutal in it’s own way, showing how low humans can go to serve their own self interests. The more realistic setting also makes it that much more gruesome, considering a lot of what happens in this game probably happens all over the world in poorer countries.

Conclusion

Max Payne 3 is an atmospheric experience that is a white-knuckle ride from start to finish. It may have done things differently than it’s prequels and to some that makes it the black sheep of the series, but in my opinion, that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s by no means perfect, but I’d highly recommend it as I would the other two games.

 

 

 

 

Blade Runner 2049 – The Big Budget Anomaly

I’ve made it no secret how much of a fan of director Dennis Villeneuve I am. I loved Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival very much. On top of that, although I’m new to the Blade Runner franchise, I love cyberpunk video games such as Deus Ex and Shadowrun: Dragonfall. To say I was excited for this is like saying that Ryan Gosling is ridiculously handsome.

I’m going avoid spoilers for this one, but know that if you haven’t seen the first one, you’ll be pretty lost. I’m also gonna this is the kinda movie I feel you really need to watch multiple times. It’s not that I don’t understand it, but more that there’s a lot of details in this film that I probably missed. That said I don’t think I’ll get the chance to see it again soon so this will have to suffice.

The best thing I can say about this movie is that Dennis Villeneuve certainly wanted to make this movie. This has not been dumbed down, it’s not exactly conventional and it’s certainly not a cash in on a beloved franchise.

The movie follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling) during an investigation that leads him deeper into a conspiracy that I will not go into more detail on in fear of spoilers. I found the narrative to be engaging but at times predictable, including the end twist. There are also some brief flashback sequences that I felt were unnecessary. Neither of these ruined the movie for me and I still found myself excited for what would happen next.

All the performances were great. Ryan Gosling is brilliant as the offbeat protagonist. Harrison Ford also does a fantastic job reprising his role from the previous movie. The supporting cast was all good as well and I can’t think of a single weak performance.

On top of that, Blade Runner 2049 looks amazing. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has outdone himself with this movie. This is by far the best looking film of the year, with fantastic visual effects and a world that looks convincing.

That being said it’s not perfect. At times the pacing did drag. It’s not so much that there are unnecessary scenes, as there are scenes that go on for a little too long. Despite this, I’d say at worst there are maybe ten minutes too much.

I’d also say the action is only passable. Although not an action movie, this was somewhat disappointing because Sicario had some of the best action scenes in recent years. Again this is far from a deal breaker, but it is an element I felt could have been better.

It’s a shame this movie isn’t doing great at the box office. This is exactly the kind of movie I love to watch. This is the vision of a group of creative people who are at the top of their game. In a world of lazy reboots and generic comic book movies, watching a big budget film made with so much love is a real treat.

BoJack Horseman: The Adult Cartoon With Heart

Dear Reader,

BoJack Horseman is an adult cartoon exclusive to Netflix, about the titular man-horse hybrid (in a world of human-animal hybrids) who stared in a family sitcom during the 90’s. After the show ends, he becomes a washed up asshole. The show goes through Bojack’s (Will Arnet) day to day life as he deals with his agent Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris), housemate Todd (Aaron Paul), ghostwriter and friend Diane (Alison Brie), her husband who was on a similar show, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) and other people in Hollywood.

Although he’s the protagonist of the show, BoJack is a genuinely terrible person. He constantly abuses drugs, alcohol and his friends. Despite this, the viewer still has a level of sympathy for the character. BoJack’s fame has left him an empty person who struggles with relationships and day to day life. You begin to understand the monster he’s become, and even he acknowledges he should improve himself.

Another thing I like about the show is there’s an actual narrative that has consequences. Compared to a show like Rick and Morty, where the gang just goes on a wacky adventure every episode that resolves itself without issue, I find BoJack Horseman much more investing. In fact, I’d dare say that it can get rather emotional.

BoJack Horseman has a good mix cynical humor, pop culture and wacky hijinks. As to be expected with a burned out celebrity, BoJack is a very pessimistic person who often has deadpan responses to the bullshit going on around him. There’s also a lot of jabs at pop culture and the movie industry. On top of that it’s not rare for Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter to make (mostly) ill-advised business plans. Finally, there’s plenty of clever visual gags with the animal/human hybrids and certain behaviors of said animals. It doesn’t always rely on crude humor either, which is a plus.

For the most part, this all works. That said sometimes jokes are overexplained. One example of this is during the episode ‘Brrap Brrap Pew Pew’, which has a focus on abortion. During this episode, there is a news report, where a presenter says something along the lines of ‘And here are three experts on abortion, all of whom are white men who wear bow ties’. That line of dialog spoils the entire joke, whereas I think it would have been better if they had panned over to the characters.¬† I’ll also warn that when this show gets political, it tends to lean very left.

BoJack Horseman is a refreshing change of pace for adult cartoons. It remains funny whilst still having a dramatic weight to it. This show has been consistently strong throughout its four seasons and will be returning for the fifth. If you’re looking for a fun show that has a little heart, BoJack Horseman’s got you covered.

Regards

Your Writer

 

 

The Wheelman – A Wheel Mess

Dear Reader,

I don’t know exactly I thought watching The Wheelman would be a good idea. Maybe I wanted to root for Netflix’s ability to produce quality content. Or maybe I gave into my love of crime movies.

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I mean I could have spent that time rewatching more BoJack Horseman

Anyway, The Wheelman is about a criminal driver played by Frank Grillo, who ends up between two mysterious factions after a job goes bad. If that doesn’t sound generic enough, he’s going through a divorce and has a thirteen-year-old daughter.

This movie reminded me a lot of a movie called Locke, starring Tom Hardy. Both movies are about a person driving a car who’s on the phone during the worst day of their lives. The difference is Locke is well written. The main character in Locke doesn’t exactly have to be in the dilemma he’s in, but throughout the movie, you begin to understand his motivations.

The Wheelman, however, has a very basic story with no real reason to care. This might work if it had some great action or awesome car chases, but alas this movie has neither. Frank Grillo tries his best, but considering the lame writing, I don’t think it would have mattered if it was Jai Courtney or Jake Gyllenhaal in the driver’s seat. The only remarkable thing about the dialog is that if you take a shot every time someone says ‘fuck’, you’re gonna be wasted within ten minutes, and that’s probably for the best.

Even when special effects are used, they’re terrible. There’s one point in the movie where a person is shot in the side of the head. Despite this, a shower of blood sprays from the front of his head, instantly turning a shocking moment into a laughable one.

There are hundreds of better movies with similar premises. I’m sure a few of those are on Netflix. The Wheelman fails to do anything remotely interesting. I’d highly recommend avoiding this one unless you need to do a cynical review for your blog and pretend your life has meaning even though in the grand scheme of the universe we are just a speck of dust and eventually we all die.

Regards

Your Writer