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The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
2008 | Drama, Horror, Mystery
9
6.7 (7 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Step Away from the Meat
The Midnight Meat Train is a horror film based on the short story of the same name written by Clive Barker. The story was published in the first volume of Barker’s Books of Blood short story collection. The Books of Blood totaled six volumes with four to five stories in each volume and were published between 1984 and 1985. The first volume made Barker an overnight success with Stephen King hailing Barker as, “the future of horror.”

The screenplay for the 2008 film was written by Jeff Buhler (writer for the 2019 remakes of Jacob’s Ladder, Pet Sematary, and The Grudge) and directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla: Final Wars). Bradley Cooper stars as a struggling photographer named Leon Kauffman. While he’s secured a job as a photographer, he hasn’t been recognized as a professional just yet. But Leon has a meeting with a professional artist named Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields) that could potentially change his career status. In Leon’s eyes, he doesn’t think that any other photographer has really captured the heart of the city and that’s what he aims to do with his work. However, Susan’s criticism is that Leon is failing at his dream and to only see her again once he finds what he’s looking for.

Leon confronts some thugs during a mugging and documents the ordeal with his camera. The pictures impress Susan and she tells Leon that he’ll be featured in her next show if he brings her two more shots like the newest ones. Leon encounters Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a butcher that works at a meat packing plant. Leon develops an obsession over Mahogany and stalks him constantly while photographing him wherever he goes. Leon suspects that Mahogany and the train he takes so late at night are the cause for so many missing people over the past three years. Leon doesn’t know how these people disappear until he follows Mahogany onto the train one fateful evening. But this operation is much more complex and dangerous than Leon first realized and his life is forever altered because of it.

This is one of the few times where the short story that inspired the film was read before seeing it. This is coming from someone who is a sporadic reader at best, but Clive Barker has been a personal favorite author for as long as this cynically bonkers brain can remember. Most of the films based on Clive Barker’s works come from The Books of Blood; Book of Blood (Volume One), Dread (Volume Two), Rawhead Rex (Volume Three), Quicksilver Highway (Volume Four, “The Body Politik”), Candyman (Volume Five, “The Forbidden”), and Lord of Illusions (Volume Six, “The Last Illusion”). Barker has always been able to build these incredibly terrifying worlds in his writing with demented characters while maintaining this richly horrifying atmosphere. Thinking so highly of Barker and admiring his work so much made expectations a little high for this film. This is also Ryuhei Kitamura’s first American and English-speaking film. The Midnight Meat Train is one of the few times where the final product actually exceeded expectations.

The Midnight Meat Train pays more attention to blood, gore, and thrills than actually attempting to be scary. The kills in the film are exceptional and director of photography Jonathan Sela (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) delivers some incredibly captivating cinematography. There’s a scene where Mahogany knocks a woman’s head off her shoulders with his mallet that he’s always carrying around, but you see it all from her perspective; she puts her hands up as a last defense before the final blow, the room spins, the camera focuses on Mahogany and the headless corpse, he lowers his mallet as she blinks a few times, and the camera pans out from her eyeball to show her severed head.

Vinnie Jones has an overwhelming and powerful performance in The Midnight Meat Train. He doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue, but he makes a massive impact on screen because of his enormous presence. The English actor is 6’2”, so you’re already drawn to this big guy when he enters a room anyway, but give him a gigantic meat mallet and a desire to kill and he evolves into this unstoppable monster that many would consider frightening. Jones knows how to utilize his facial expressions and body language in a way that says more than any string of dialogue would.

The one issue with the film is that every person seemed to be able to sense when somebody else was behind them. While it made for some intriguing camera shots, the execution killed whatever attempts at suspense The Midnight Meat Train was going for. It would have been more satisfying to see at least one person get shanked or clocked in the temple without expecting it.

The Midnight Meat Train is a relentless gorefest that remains true to its source material. The horror film is worth a watch for any fan of Clive Barker’s work or horror films in general. There was this sinking gut feeling that the film wouldn’t keep the ending in tact since it seemed like it wouldn’t translate well on-screen. Without giving too much away, the ending is completely satisfying to those who are familiar with the short story. This is a remarkably excellent horror film that fails to get the recognition it deserves.

The Midnight Meat Train is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Google Play for $1.99, on Vudu for $2.99, and iTunes for $3.99. The Multi-Format Blu-ray (which is the unrated director’s cut version of the film) is currently $6.50 with prime shipping on Amazon Prime and the DVD is running for $9.99 with prime shipping. On eBay, the pre-owned DVD is $4.58, the brand new DVD is $8.49, and the new Multi-Format Blu-ray is $10.98 and all three have free shipping.
  
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Purple Phoenix Games (1111 KP) rated Jetpack Joyride in Tabletop Games

Jan 8, 2020 (Updated Jan 8, 2020)  
Jetpack Joyride
Jetpack Joyride
2019 | Puzzle, Racing, Real-time, Video Game Theme
It should come as no surprise that I love to play board games. Hence my involvement in this wonderful group! But besides board games, I also enjoy my fair share of video games too. These two worlds of gaming occasionally collide when a classic from one realm is transferred over to the other! Is the adaptation as fun as the original, or does it leave much to be desired?

Originally a mobile game, Jetpack Joyride follows our main character, Barry, as he attempts to escape a top-secret lab with a stolen jetpack! He must avoid being hit by zappers, annihilated by lasers, and blown away by missiles in the process. If Barry succeeds, he escapes with not only the high-tech jetpack, but also with as many gold coins and other top-secret gadgets as he can get his hands on! So the risk is definitely worth the reward. But if Barry is unable to escape, he will face the consequences for his unauthorized joyride… In all honesty, I had never heard of Jetpack Joyride before I Kickstarted the board game version, so I downloaded it on my phone to see how it plays. Do you remember Flappy Bird? The mobile version of Jetpack Joyride is kiiiinda like that, but more exciting and way less infuriating. It’s free to download in the App Store and Google Play Store, so check it out if you’re interested! Anyway, back to the board game version. The premise is the same as the app – you have to create a path for Barry to use for his escape from the lab, utilizing the gadgets available to you and collecting gold coins on your way.

DISCLAIMER: We are using the Kickstarter Deluxe version of the game. We do have the expansions from the KS campaign, but will not be using those for this review. Also, we do not intend to cover every single rule included in the rule book, but will describe the overall game flow and major rule set so that our readers may get a sense of how the game plays. For more in depth rules, you may purchase a copy from the publisher directly or from your FLGS. -T

Jetpack Joyride is a real-time game of tile placement in which players are racing to see who can complete their run (path through the lab) the fastest. The game lasts for 3 runs, and points are earned throughout all runs. To setup, each player receives a set of 4 lab sector cards and sets them on the table in front of them in numerical order, 1-4. Three mission cards (cards that score points at the end of the run) are revealed and available for all players. Players may also have gadgets, available only to them, to help score extra points. When a run begins, all players grab translucent polyominoes (like matte versions of bits from Blokus) from the common pool and place them on their lab cards to create an unbroken path through the lab. There are specific placement restrictions that I will leave for you to discover in the rulebook. The game has no set time limit for each run, but it is a race to complete a path before your opponents. At the end of the run, points are tallied for completed missions and gadget cards. Easy, right? Here’s a small twist – before starting the next run, all players pick up their lab cards and pass them to the player on their left. So each run, players are looking at new cards and must find new paths through the lab! New mission cards and gadgets are revealed before subsequent runs as well. The player with the most points at the end of all 3 runs is the winner!

Jetpack Joyride is a fast-paced, exciting, and surprisingly strategic game that keeps all players engaged and entertained. And that’s what I love about it. First of all, real-time games are always high-energy, at least in my opinion. It’s nearly impossible to stay calm and collected when you’re literally racing against your opponents! Jetpack Joyride is definitely not a passive game, and there’s so much action and excitement that you sometimes forget you’re literally just laying tiles on cards. The next thing I love about this game is how deceptively strategic it is. Laying tiles to form a legal path across cards is not complicated, but doing so while also trying to earn extra points by completing missions (like placing 3 tiles of the same shape in a row, for example) adds a strategic element that you don’t expect. You’re not only trying to finish your run the fastest, but you’ve also got to fulfill the requirements for multiple mission and gadget cards too. One misplaced tile could decimate a run for you, so you’ve always got to be thinking several tiles in advance.

Going along with that, another neat thing about Jetpack Joyride is that all players are drawing tiles from a common pool. There is a finite number of tiles, and a specific number of the different shapes, so if the shape of tile you need is gone from the pool, you’re outta luck! You have to think and move quickly, otherwise you might get knocked out of a run, and that costs you valuable end-game points. For such a simple game, Jetpack Joyride also has a lot of variability. All lab cards are double-sided, and can be mixed and matched in any combination, as long as they are in a numerical set of 1-4. There are so many possibilities, chances are you won’t ever play with the same card combo twice….and if you do, chances are you won’t remember it 😛 All of these aspects elevate this game from a simple party game to a strategically fun game that can be played with any player count.

Overall, I think Jetpack Joyride is great. After my first play, I rated it a 4+, but after a few more I’ve changed my rating to a 5. As you can see from our scores above, Travis and our guest judge Luke enjoyed it as well. It’s a nice, light game that can be used as a filler between heavier games, or as a main-event game all on its own. Definitely a game I will use with newer gamers, and the strategic side will keep me coming back for more. I think Jetpack Joyride will get a lot of playtime from me, and it was worth my investment on Kickstarter. Purple Phoenix Games gives it a jet-powered 15 / 18.
  
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Emma @ The Movies (1356 KP) rated Wonder Park (2019) in Movies

Jun 22, 2019 (Updated Sep 25, 2019)  
Wonder Park (2019)
Wonder Park (2019)
2019 | Adventure, Animation, Comedy
Contains spoilers, click to show
First off, this is going to be awash with spoilers because I was absolutely amazed by the reaction I had to it. It's not unheard of for movies to turn out differently to how the trailer portrays them but in this case it felt like a rather low blow. I think there should have been some clues to what lay ahead without having to read reviews.

Second thing to get out of the way... the park is called Wonderland... why is the movie called Wonder Park? Pick one and stick to it!

June and her mum create their very own amusement park, it has amazing rides and its animal mascots love to amuse the crowds as they see the wonders that Wonderland has in store. The pair happily create together until June's mum is too sick to carry on. She needs treatment, which means that June and her father need to hold the fort while she's away. Playing with Wonderland isn't the same without her mother and in that moment she decides to pack everything away. Where fun once stood are now bare walls and a serious June who is hellbent on making sure her father doesn't stumble into anything bad.

What I had expected from the trailers was something comedic, the park was surely run down because June had grown up and make believe wasn't cool anymore... What I was served was something with a much more emotional twist of the knife. As soon as June's mother started looking unwell I knew it would be nothing like I'd expected.

We're never privy to what June's mum has, but the whole illness is a much more "glamorous" version of how real life goes. Ultimately we see her leave for treatment and then she comes back "better". No returning home between treatments, no visiting her at the hospital. In this, illness is obviously treated with magic, and while the film shows the more real aspects of the emotions it glosses over the rest.

Let's go to the cast of characters for a bit, and here comes a massive gripe... The UK version and the US version have a different cast. For whatever reason it's only the US cast that got an IMDb listing so I went off for a Google. Here's a quick comparison:

Peanut - Norbert Leo Butz
Greta - Milas Kunis
Steve - John Oliver
Gus & Cooper - UK version: Joe Sugg & Casper Lee, US version: Kenan Thompson & Ken Jeong
Boomer - UK version: Tom Baker, US version: Ken Hudson Campbell

I am at a loss. This film is absolutely not set in the UK, so why would you sub in a different cast when you have so much talent on the original roster? Suggs and Lee were weak and lacked any kind of dramatic quality. Kenan & Ken... I can hear them in my head now, they would have been wonderful together. I love Tom Baker, but he wasn't right either. It was a rather flat performance that needed a little more pep to boost the slightly bland character. My other query would be why John Oliver was cast as Steve for both versions. After seeing the "backing up" bit in the trailer I had hoped for something better in the expanded scene but no, it really was delivered that badly and the rest of his performance was no different. Having him up against Milas Kunis just added to the disaster, while Greta wasn't a great character Kunis did at least give us a good show.

Back to the story. June is sent off to math camp but on the way she has a panic about what might happen to him while he's on his own. There's actually quite a fun little montage here and that convinces her to get off the bus with the help of her friend so she can return home. Scheme executed she dashes off into the forest to make her way home... ba-da-bing ba-da-boom... magic tree portal.

We find that Wonderland is in tatters because it's cuddly little army of toys are dismantling everything that's fun and sacrificing it to the big black swirling vortex in the sky, a vortex that appeared just after the creative voice stopped whispering design ideas into Peanut's ear for the park... that's right... the swirling doom is June's depression, worry and anxiety caused by her mother going away because of her illness... well, shiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

Of course this movie land though, we know everything is going to get better. Our animal friends go from liking June to hating her when she admits the changes were her fault. She then has to redeem herself and everyone lives happily ever after.

I may be paraphrasing a whole section of the film there but that's the basic gist.

There's quite an odd balance in the film, it feels like we hardly get to see much of the park itself, and certainly not a lot in its full glory. The storyline is quite family heavy which for obvious reasons is a little on the serious side. We chop and change between events so quickly that we don't really get to know any of the characters at all, and it's difficult to see how they thought that was sensible in such a short space of time.

The animation is fine, nothing to write home about, but it just seemed to be a little bland on the scale of things. This is really not to say it's bad, we're just lucky to have so much great stuff around at the moment with a standard that is so high.

Wonder Park seems like it's trying to hit a Disney/Pixar level. The message is a surprisingly emotional one and I was surprised how much it affected me, I honestly don't know how I managed to contain my sobbing and on more than one occasion I had tears streaming down my face... there was nothing I could do about it, and I wasn't the only one.

Sadly overall this is a pretty mediocre film but it was so close to being something wonderful. I enjoyed it but there was a lot that could have made it so much better.

What you should do

All of the kids at the screening enjoyed it, for the adults it may well go either way. It definitely deserves a watch at some point.

Movie thing you wish you could take home

If I could have my own magic marker that requires nothing but imagination, I would be unstoppable.
  
Bloodborne
Bloodborne
Role-Playing
Incredible atmosphere (5 more)
Great variety of enemies
Beautiful art and imagery
Interesting Lore (optional)
Plenty of different ways to play
Great combat mechanics
Can be difficult (1 more)
Not as easy and some people make it look
Challenging and Satisfying
Contains spoilers, click to show
Bloodborne is part of the famous series of games such as Demon Souls and Dark Souls, which if you know those previous games, you'll know that they are infamous for their difficulty, even spawning an entire meme phrase that simply says "git gud".

Bloodborne however, stands aside from the souls series because it's combat mechanics are faster and each enemy requires the player to evolve their skills and tactics in order to progress. The first major difference in Bloodborne that might throw previous souls players off, is the fact that there is no shield. Instead the Hunter wields a right handed melee weapon and in the left hand they wild a ranged weapon in place of a shield. This ranged weapon at first is primarily used not for damage, but for parry's/counter attacks.

The lack of shield helps the player evolve their combat from hiding behind a shield like in the souls games, to being more aggressive in a fight but also tactical because during your first run through of the game, you'll simply be dealing with each enemy through trial and error until you learn their attacks and learn how to defeat them. This is something that has been in every souls game and that is why these games are so rewarding.

The reason Bloodborne is my favourite is because of this speed that makes you evolve in combat. I ran into this game thinking it was like other RPG games where I could pretty much take on any beginning level enemy and even if they packed a punch I'd take out the enemy with a thin line of health left, only to use a few health potions and repeat. But Bloodborne? Good God you can't rush this game!

Every enemy has their own attack system that varies. Some Yarnhamites are more vicious that other, and some are more defensive and cautious. There are also enemies that are deceptive. If you were to come across a large, fat troll in a fantasy world, you'd expect them to be rather slow, especially when swinging a weapon. You'd only expect the force and weight of the weapon to give speed to a swing. But the large troll creatures in Bloodborne are deceptively fast and even if you keep some distance between you, they can leap really quickly and instantly pummel you with a cinder block.

But I'm not going to reveal too much about enemies because it's easier and more fun to test out the game for yourself.

Boss fights are the main factor for the infamous difficulty of the souls series and Bloodborne is no stranger to this element either. There are Two bosses in the beginning of the game. One is optional but I would highly recommend facing it. The other boss is your first taste (if you didn't kill the optional boss first) of the challenges you'll face. Both bosses help prepare for later boss fights because of their different combat styles.

The first (optional) boss is the Cleric Beast on the bridge in the beginning level, and it is intimidating as fuck for a beginner of the souls series. If you haven't watched or played a souls game before and you go into Bloodborne (or any of them) with no knowledge of the scale of bosses, then they are intimidating in comparison to your measly character size. However once you learn this boss, and face later bosses, you'll realize that this boss is one of the easiest to face.

The next boss and the main boss of the beginning level, who is not optional as defeating him let's you progress through the story, is Father Gascoigne, another Hunter in the world of Bloodborne and the first of many you'll come across but facing this hunter is by far one of the most painstakingly challenging beginning fights to a game I've ever had to face. In my first run through I died to him so so soooo many times and sometimes it was simply cos he was on low health and I got cocky and fucked up. However defeating this boss, and any boss in this game, really feels like an achievement.

I've realised iv made this review hella long but that's because Bloodborne cannot be easily reviewed in just a few words but I'll do my best to do a quick overall conclusion as to why this is my favourite game:

The level design isn't flawless but it is incredible and the atmosphere created through sound design and soundtrack make this game incredibly in depth and really creepy which I love because even after a few play through I still get creeped out and even jump at some of the jumpscares that I forget about!

The weapons of this game are all well designed aesthetically and though I know certain ones I never use, they are all useable depending on player preference and style of play. There's so much to choose from and learn and every item in this game has a description that teaches the player more about the Lore of the world but that is of course optional and isn't required necessarily to understand the games main quest plot.

This game also requires exploration because the path the player needs to take isn't set out for them which makes the game less linear meaning that you can play this game differently every time you play it. It also might mean that you'll need to look up the paths you need to take online or in a guide in order to just get through the game and complete it. Otherwise it could take you hours, maybe days to figure out where you need to go.

The combat mechanics of Bloodborne are some of the best I've ever seen and played with and that's why it stands out to me above the other souls games.

The boss fights are intense and each new boss helps the player to adapt and evolve their combat skills and tactics in order to overcome the enemy.

The world is very heavily Lovecraftian and therefore the Lore is incredible but also optional. Also, there are easier ways to fight this games enemies including bosses, so if you're struggling, then Google it and there will be hundreds of players in the same boat as you, and in my opinion there's no wrong way to play games like this. If it remains fun and let's me complete the storyline, such as summoning AI for boss battles in offline mode. Then play however you want to because it's you playing the game, not some internet troll who says you're shit and/or cheating the game. If it's possible to do in game, it's part of the game...deal with it!

There are faults such as minor framerate glitches, and glitches with the ragdoll bodies of defeated enemies falling through the environment. There are also some elements that are part of the game such as windows for visceral attacks and hitboxes which sometimes feel like bullshit, but this also helps you evolve so....pros and cons.

My final comment is this;

The best way to learn about this game and enjoy it, is to play it for yourself. It's hard to put into words (even this amount of words in this review) just how incredible this game looks and feels. So if you have a Playstation 4 then grab yourself a copy of Bloodborne and enjoy!

Fear the Old blood!
  
Evolution
Evolution
2014 | Animals, Card Game, Environmental, Prehistoric, Print & Play
I very much have a science-based mind. I like facts, figures, data, charts, timelines, etc. Yes, I can be a dreamer, too, but at the end of the day, I need verification to really believe in something. That’s why I’ve always been on Team Evolution vs. Team Creationism. It fascinates me how these huge beings like dinosaurs (oh yeah, I love dinosaurs a lot, too) could be preserved in time well past their deaths. But it leads to questions like, “What happened to them? Why couldn’t they make it in the end?” And the game Evolution by North Star Games attempts to answer those.

Disclaimer: There are several expansions to this game, but we are not reviewing them at this time. Should we review them in the future we will either update this review or post a link to the new material here. Furthermore, I do not intend to cover every single rule included in the rule book, but will describe the overall game flow and major rule set so that our readers may get a sense of how the game plays. For more in depth rules, you may purchase a copy from the publisher directly or from your FLGS. – B

You start the game in control of one species of animal. One non-descript, traitless species that you will slowly (or maybe quickly) build up to be something bigger and better. You evolve it. (Huh.) You’ll start each round by contributing plant food to the watering hole. Each card in your hand is worth a certain amount of plant food. Once that food is in the watering hole, it’s fair game for anyone to eat. Depending on your strategy, you may want a lot of food in that watering hole, or you may want to starve your opponents out (some cards are even worth negative food!). Once all the food is in the watering hole, it’s time to evolve your critters. The cards in your hand have unique traits on them. To imbue your species with that trait, simply place the card next to your species’ gameboard and voila! You now have horns, or intelligence, or the ability to forage, or many other possibilities. You may also take this opportunity to evolve your creature into a carnivore (more on that later). At this point in the game, you may also discard cards in order to increase the population of your species, or to increase the body size of your cute little guys. This will be important later. You can also discard a card to create a whole new species. There’s no limit to how many species you can have, but there is a limit to the available food, so be wise with the number of species you create.

After everyone has evolved, it’s time to feed! You’ll take turns taking plant food from the watering hole. Yummy! You want to eat enough food to sustain your whole population size (1 piece of food per population). If not, your population size will decrease, meaning your species is dying. If you are unable to sustain the last remaining member of your species, that species will become extinct for eternity. Sad face. But don’t worry. You’ll get a new species for free at the beginning of your next turn. Once everyone is fed and happy, the round is over and you start a new round. The winner of the game goes to whoever has eaten the most food because, just like in real life, the success of your population is based on its ability to sustain itself, which, in this case, means eating the proper amount of food.

It SOUNDS simple, but I haven’t told you about all the curveballs yet. As stated before, you may choose to make your species a carnivore, which means that you will no longer take plant food from the watering hole. In order to eat, you have to attack another species! You can only attack other species who have smaller body sizes than you (I told you body size would be important. It’s your first means of defense against predators!). But some of those smaller species might have evolved some defensive traits, like a hard shell or the ability to burrow underground or to climb trees and taunt their predators from on high. This is the beauty of the game. How well can you evolve your herbivore creature in order to keep it well-fed and also free from predators? If you’re a carnivore, how well can you adapt to your surroundings and your ever-evolving prey before you can no longer feed on them? (I should also mention that you may find yourself in the truly depressing situation where all of your opponents have out-evolved your carnivores and the only other option left to feed them is to attack one of YOUR other species. The rules clearly state that every species MUST feed if able to, so you may have to sacrifice your other friends. VERY sad face.)

Components: Evolution comes in a standard cardboard box containing lots of high-quality trait cards, plant and meat food tokens and a large watering hole token (on which you put the plant food tokens). It also comes with cardboard food screens so you can conceal how much food your little (or maybe not so little) critters have eaten. You’ll get a stack of thick, double-sided species boards for you to keep track of your body size and population. I love that they’re double-sided because it gives you the flexibility to change their orientation (portrait or landscape) to save on table space. Body size and population are tracked using little brown and green cubes, which fit nicely in little holes on your species board. And to top it all off, the first player token is a a very large dinosaur-shaped meeple. Adorbs. The cards do tell you how to use them, but the rulebook has extra clarification for each card in case you need it. The cards are even color-coded so you’ll know if the trait is used for defense or eating, or maybe only usable by carnivores. Everything is very top-notch quality and the artwork is quite beautiful, creating new creatures and using bright, vivid colors. The artwork alone drew me to the box in the first place.

I really love this game. The theme is very on-brand for me, but I also really like that it’ll take a bit of luck (by hopefully drawing usable cards) and a ton of strategy to try to outwit your opponents. It’ll never be played the same way twice. Evolution is so spot-on, in fact, that it’s actually been used in the evolutionary biology department of the University of Oxford, so come on. It’s fun AND educational. I’ve also downloaded and quickly become obsessed with the mobile version, which is available on Google Play, in the App Store and on Steam. As of this writing, there are two expansions available: Flight and Climate, but there’s also a Climate stand-alone game, and an Evolution: The Beginning game, which is suitable for our younger friends. I own the Flight expansion but have yet to play it and I can’t wait to change that! Give this game a go. You’ll be happy you did. In the words of esteemed Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life, uh, finds a way.” Purple Phoenix Games gives this one a (r)evolutionary 13 / 18.
  
Dracula
Dracula
Bram Stoker, Ang Lee | 2016 | Fiction & Poetry
9
8.2 (48 Ratings)
Book Rating
Dracula was written by author Bram Stoker during the late 1890's and is set around the character of Dracula and his attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he can spread the curse of the undead (I.e. the creation of more vampires). English solicitor Jonathan Harker who'd originally gone to Transylvania to be legal aide for Dracula stops him with the help of Van Helsing and others which ends the life of one of them – Quincey-, the book ends with a note from Jonathan Harker that several people lived happily married and Jonathan has a son nicknamed for Quincey.

Dracula was published in London in May 1897 by Archibald Constable & Company and was later copyrighted in the U.S in 1899 and published by Doubleday & McClure of New York. Despite having decent praise form reviewers it wasn't an immediate bestseller. Although the English newspaper the Daily Mail ranked Stoker's writing prowess in Dracula above that of Mary Shelly, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Bronte's Wuthering heights. Unfortunately it didn't make Stoker that much money and he'd had to petition for a compassionate grant from the royal literary fund. When he died his widow was forced to sell his notes and outlines of the book at an auction in 1913. It was the unauthorised adaption of Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau in 1922 and the resulting legal battle made when Stokers widow took affront that the novels popularity began to grow.

Before writing Dracula Bram Stoker had been researching European folklore and stories of vampires having been most influenced by Emily Gerard's “Transylvania Superstitions” 1885 essay...which included content about the vampire myth. Some historians insist that Vlad iii Dracula (More commonly known as Vlad the impaler) was the model for Stokers count but there's been no supporting evidence to make that true. According to one expert Stoker only borrowed the barest minimum of information of the Wallachian tyrant and he's not even mentioned in Stokers notes. Stoker was a member of the London library during the 1890's where books by Sabine Baring-Gould, Thomas Browne, AF Crosse and Charles Boner are attributed to Stokers research. Stoker would later claim he'd had a nightmare caused by over-eating crab meat about a “Vampire king” rising from his grave. Whitby on the Yorkshire coast contributed its landscape since Bram Stoker often holidayed there during the summer.

Dracula wasn't Stokers first choice as title for the story since he cycled through The Dead Un-Dead then simply the Un-Dead the count wasn't even supposed to be Count Dracula having had the name Count Wampyr for several drafts before Stoker became intrigued by the name Dracula. After reading “An account of the principles of Wallachia and Moldavia with political observations relative to them” written by author William Wilkinson (Published in 1820). the descendants of Vlad ii of Wallachia took the name Dracula or Dracul after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In the old Romanian language the word Dracul mean “the Dragon” and Dracula meant “Son of the Dragon”. Nowadays however Dracul means “the Devil”

Whilst Dracula is known as THE Vampire novel its not the first. Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe had his book the Bride of Corinth published in 1797, 1871's Carmilla (a story about a lesbian vampire) was written by Sheridan Le Frau and James Malcolm Rymer's penny dreadful series Venny the Vampire was a product from the mid Victorian period. Even John Polidori created an image of a vampyric aristocrat in his 1819 story The Vampyre when he spent a summer with Merry Shelly (creator of Frankenstein) and her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelly and Lord Bryon in 1816.

I really love Dracula. It showed the madness, the ethereal quality and the ultimate danger of what a vampire could do. Like many other goth inclined teenagers trying to find their feet in the world Dracula definitely added its two cents to my self worth and love of all things macabre. The fact it was written by a Victorian writer has added a unusual depth to the story as only a Victorian writer could. The culture of the Vampire has become deep rooted and wide spread in its acceptance and Dracula has definitely spearheaded such a phenomenon.

Abraham “Bram” Stoker was Born in Dublin, Ireland on the 8th of November 1847, He was the third of seven children born to Abraham and Charlotte Stoker and was bedridden with an unknown illness until he recovered at seven. He started schooling at a private school run by the Reverend William Woods and grew up without serious illness. Stoker excelled at sports at Trinity College Dublin having graduated in 1870 with a BA (Bachelor of Arts). He was an Auditor of the College Historical Society and the president of the University Philosophical Society where his first paper was on Sensationalism in fiction and society.

Thanks to his friend Dr. Maunsell, Stoker became interested in the theatre as a student and whilst working for the Irish civil service he became a theatre critic for the Dublin evening mail where he attracted notice for the quality of his reviews. Stoker gave a favourable review of Henry Irving's adaption of Hamlet in December 1876, this prompted Irving to invite him to dinner where they ended up becoming friends. Stoker wrote The Crystal Cup which was published by the London society in 1872 and The chain of Destiny which was released in four parts in the Shamrock. Stoker also wrote the non-fiction book the duties of clerks of petty sessions in Ireland which was published in 1879.

Bram stoker married Florence Balcombe the daughter of a lieutenent-colonel in 1978 and they moved to London. Where Stoker ended up the Business manager of the Lyceum theatre as well as manager for Henry Irving- a position he held for 27 years. Despite being a very busy man Stoker ended up writing several novels (as well as Dracula) Including The Snakes pass in 1890, the lady of the shroud in 1909 and the lair of the white worm in 1911. when Henry Irving died in 1906 he published his personal reminiscences of Henry Irving. Stoker also managed productions at the Prince of Wales theatre.

Bram stoker died after a series of strokes in London on April 20th 1912, the cause of death is split between the possibility of Tertiary Syphilis or overwork. He was cremated and was placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in North London, he was later joined by the ashes of his Son Irving Noel Stoker in 1961, his wife Florence was meant to join them but her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of rest.

Stoker was honoured with a Google Doogle (the banner on goggles homepage) on November 8th 2012 commemorating the 165th anniversary of his birth. An annual festival in honour of Bram Stoker happens in Dublin, its supported by the Bram stoker estate and was/is usually funded by Dublin City Council and Failte Ireland.

My opinion of Bran stoker is that of a decent hard working man who loved life. Stoker epitomises the phrases of “a man on a mission” and “a man who hussles”. Having worked extremely hard both creatively as a novelist and business wise as a theatre manager Stoker pretty much showed that if you work hard you could pretty much do anything you set your mind to.

And there you have it a book for all the ages, definitely under the banner of AWESOME!!!.
  
Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins (2005)
2005 | Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Before Ben Affleck, but after Adam West, Michael Keaton, Kevin Conroy, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney, Christian Bale was Batman for at least two of the best Batman films out there. With a screenplay by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan and a story by David S. Goyer, Batman Begins is an origin story. Gotham City is dying since criminals like Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) are able to get away with murder since, “he keeps the bad people rich and the good people scared,” as Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) puts it. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) trains with Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), the right hand of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), and The League of Shadows.

But The League of Shadows has a skewed view of justice since they believe that more serious crimes should be punishable by death (usually by their hand) while Bruce believes in compassion and the right to a fair trial before passing judgment. Leaving The League of Shadows in shambles, Bruce makes his way back to Gotham after a seven year absence. In Bruce’s own words, “As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.” This is the story of Batman’s uprising; how a young Bruce Wayne conquered his fear of bats and the death of his parents to become the ominous and fearsome dark knight.

Even when you look back at what Christopher Nolan accomplished in his Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman Begins still holds its own and should be considered one of the best Batman films to date. Before Batman v Superman took the dark and gritty aspects of serious superhero films too far, Batman Begins was the first Batman film since Tim Burton’s Batman to favor a more serious tone in comparison to the campiness that overloads the likes of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Christopher Nolan always had the intention of keeping Batman grounded in realism and that concept reflected in its incredibly well-written storyline. Batman Begins is a lot like the Year One comic book storyline with Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham City after training in martial arts and being gone for several years, the inclusion of Carmine Falcone, a blossoming relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon, and The Joker tease on the rooftop even ends the story in similar fashion.

The realistic quality Christopher Nolan was aiming for also translates into the dialogue as nothing seems forced or out of place and everything seems to take place in consistent and reasonable fashion. Aside from Christian Bale, the rest of the cast is far more impressive than it had any right to be with the likes of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, and Rutger Hauer. Caine adds a level of tenderness to the Alfred character we haven’t really seen before while Cillian Murphy is brilliantly sinister as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow. Thanks to frequent Christopher Nolan collaborator, director of photography Wally Pfister, Batman Begins is beautifully shot. Colors are always bright and vibrant outside of the Batcave as the dark visuals of the film seem to slowly swallow their colorful surroundings piece by piece.

The inclusion of Liam Neeson in the film is an interesting one for statistical purposes. Prior to Taken, Neeson was known for taking on roles where his character died; Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Gangs of New York, Kingdom of Heaven, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe are all prime examples. Neeson’s character Ducard is also the main ingredient in the surprise Nolan often includes in the finale of his films. Neeson has this calm demeanor about him as Ducard that portrays just how in control he is of the training he’s passing onto Bruce. The cast to Batman films are usually packed with stars that are relevant to the time it’s released, but Batman Begins can boast that its supporting cast is just as strong as the leads in the film.

The reasoning behind Christian Bale’s Batman voice is legitimate and you certainly understand why it’s utilized, but the awkward transition between normal voice and rough and raspy vigilante takes some getting used to since you immediately think of the ridiculousness in The Lego Batman Movie or the handful of Deadpool 2 jokes whenever he’s Batman now. Katie Holmes is dull dishwater as an actress. She is the least memorable of the entire cast and is basically that person at a party that everyone knows that’s there but they don’t say anything to anybody before leaving when no one is looking. Maggie Gyllenhaal is able to add some depth with the Rachel Dawes character in The Dark Knight, but it’s as if you can still hear the sound of the Dawson’s Creek theme song echoing in your head whenever Gyllenhaal is on-screen; Katie Holmes is like a huge fart that is still smelt after she’s gone in the sequel she’s not even a part of. There was an overwhelming amount of complaints in the online community regarding how ugly Batman’s new Batmobile, The Tumblr, is in the film. While the vehicle is ugly, at least that ugliness is maintained throughout Nolan’s entire trilogy. Batman likes ugly things in this universe, but at least they’re functional and serve their purpose.

Even with how most individuals feel about The Dark Knight, Batman Begins is still an incredible superhero film that is more than capable as a standalone feature as well as the jumpstart to a new set of Batman films. Christopher Nolan practically reinvented the Batman franchise to a certain extent starting with this film. Depending on how you feel about Ben Affleck’s Batman, Christian Bale was the last satisfying Batman.

Batman Begins feels more like a crime film first and a superhero film second where Batman is an unstoppable force of nature. Stripping the film of its origin retelling, one would think this is what Todd McFarlane is going for with his new Spawn film only to an R-rated extent; a superhero that flourishes in the darkness and has a reputation as this spiritual incarnation of vengeance. Christopher Nolan made something special with his Batman films and it feels like Batman Begins is often overlooked due to the reputation of The Dark Knight. While that perspective isn’t necessarily wrong, fans should at least appreciate Batman Begins in a similar light if not a slightly brighter one.

Batman Begins is currently available to stream for $2.99 on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play and for $3.99 on iTunes. The film is available for a variety of formats on Amazon including 4K/Blu-ray ($24.49), DVD ($9.43), and Multi-Format Blu-ray ($11.49). The Blu-ray is currently $5.22 (5% off its normal $5.50 price) in brand new condition and $3.42 pre-owned on eBay with free shipping on both. You can also get the film as part of a three-disc DVD trilogy pack with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises or as The Dark Knight Trilogy box set on DVD or Blu-ray. Both options are available on both Amazon and eBay (DVD set is running $11.97 on eBay and $19.72 on Amazon while The Dark Knight Trilogy is available in a variety of formats (regular, ultimate, and special editions) on both sites between $12 and $18.99 unless you want the $69.99 ultimate set.
  
Dance of the Dead (2008)
Dance of the Dead (2008)
2008 | Action, Horror
3
5.3 (3 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Jimmy Dunn (Jared Kusnitz) never seems to take anything seriously. He likes to spend more time in detention than he does in class. So it’s no surprise that Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick), the girl Jimmy was going to take to prom, decides to not go with him after realizing that Jimmy has no ambition. To make matters worse, something weird is going on in the graveyard next to the nuclear power plant in town. The dead are walking and they’re headed to the prom. The town is now in the hands of the losers who couldn’t get dates to the prom. There goes the neighborhood and here comes the pain; that is something that is certainly meant in more ways than one.

This is the type of horror film you have the urge to turn off as soon as it starts. Written by Joe Ballarini (My Little Pony: The Movie) and directed by Gregg Bishop (the “Dante the Great” segment of V/H/S Viral), Dance of the Dead is a part of the eight films that made up Ghost House Underground; horror films from all over the world chosen by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert supposedly representing a “fresh” perspective of the horror genre. The problem is that most people would seek out one of these films and then never bother with the rest because why would you torture yourself any further?

The first 20 or so minutes of the film revolve around high school melodrama and the prom. This is supposedly where you get accustomed to the film’s humor, but it’s mostly nothing more than high school kids being obnoxious and unbearable. The graveyard scene is where things get even worse. Zombies start rising from beyond the grave and decomposing hands start bursting through headstones since that makes more sense than soil. Emerging from the ground simply wasn’t enough either; these zombies explode from their graves with smoke and a loud crash. Moments later during the same sequence, there are zombies jumping several feet into the air out of the ground, landing on their feet, and running after these kids. If it sounds cool in the slightest, then this description isn’t doing this dumpster fire justice.

The zombies are all over the place in Dance of the Dead. They start off as the zombies that run similar to the zombies in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Later on in the film, they stumble around and are slow like George Romero’s zombies. Even later after that, the zombies are running again while some attempt to speak, say, “Brains!” and then get in a car and drive off. Someone had pointed out that the zombies in the film who are fresh out of the ground run while older ones move slower, which only makes this turd milkshake slightly less nutty. Dance of the Dead also can’t decide what zombie films to pay homage to either. Return of the Living Dead has a massive influence, but the film clearly pays tribute to Night of the Living Dead when the kids reach a house and decide to board up all the windows and take shelter. It seems like the one consistent aspect this film has is to be inconsistent.

Did you know zombies can be held at bay solely by the power of rocking out? Three stoners in a band (a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer) inadvertently discover that their music stops zombies in their tracks. A bit later in the film during the prom, the gymnasium is full of zombies. There’s music playing and it shows three zombies on stage playing musical instruments; a guitar, a bass, and a drum set. Fast forward a little more and the three stoners are back again playing their stoner rock and the zombies are back to being frozen during their performance. There’s no consistency when it comes to what they play or how it affects zombies.

“In extreme circumstances, the assailants can be stopped by removing the head or destroying the brain.” Do you remember this quote from Shaun of the Dead? Try to keep it in mind, especially the, “removing the head,” part. A guy gets his head torn off by a zombie and you’d think he’d be dead, but this actually turns his decapitated head into a zombie. He comes back later on; his headless corpse carrying his decapitated head around. It’s one thing to try and reinvent a genre, but when you have so many reinventions along with homage out to wazoo you’re basically throwing cow pies at a brick wall and seeing what sticks.

Zombies shouldn’t make out with each other. Vampires shouldn’t sparkle and Warm Bodies isn’t canon. Two students turn into zombies and still end up in a giant make out session after they’ve turned. The kiss turns awkward as they start chewing on each other mid-kiss. They start taking bites out of each other while they’re still sucking face. This is the scariest aspect of the film considering that maybe most of us don’t want our eyeballs chewed out of our skulls during something so intimate.

When the special effects aren’t being a complete eyesore from being so cheap and ugly, the gore in Dance of the Dead is decent. Blood splattering everywhere is pretty common throughout the film. The acting isn’t completely terrible either. It absolutely isn’t good by any means. Dance of the Dead is basically Degrassi with zombies and everything lame you’re expecting to tag along with that reference. Lucas Till (X-Men: First Class, MacGyver) has a brief cameo as one of the rockers in the film and he's probably the only cast member you'll recognize.

The jumbled mass of homage and redefining of zombie lore in Dance of the Dead throws a monkey wrench in calling the film stereotypical and cliché, but it certainly feels that way. It seems like a rejected, alternate, first draft of a film you’ve already seen rather than a film that attempts to stand on its own two legs. It may be fun for fans of campy horror films, but its originality is borderline offensive since Dance of the Dead seems to just combine everything you know about zombies or purposely does the opposite at an attempt at being a different chomp of undead horror. Unfortunately though, Dance of the Dead is too overwhelmingly absurd for its own good as its gore feels like the drunken antics of a washed up clown rather than a competent horror film.

Dance of the Dead is available to stream on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Google Play for $1.99, Vudu for $2.99, and iTunes for $5.99. The DVD is $7.72 on Amazon while the Blu-ray (which is Region 2 only) is $25.52 from a third party seller. The DVD is $7.49 in new condition and with free shipping on eBay or $4 with $2.99 shipping pre-owned. If you enjoy terrible things, the eight disc set of all the Ghost House Underground titles are available as a boxed set on Amazon for $179.74 and on eBay for $39.99 in brand new condition and with free shipping.
  
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider
2018 | Action/Adventure
It’s hard to believe that Lara Croft made her first appearance in a video game all the way back in 1996. Featuring cutting edge 3D polygon graphics and gameplay that would often be duplicated but never replicated, the game would go on to sell a whopping 7 million copies. Since that time there have been numerous sequels, culminating in a complete re-envisioning of the franchise in 2013. The new era of Lara Croft explores her origin story and how she ultimately became one of the toughest female characters to grace a PC or console screen.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the third installment in the reboot of the franchise. Lara is no longer a naïve, explorer in training, who struggles with the idea, much less the actual action, of killing a human being. The years have made her a more seasoned (and possibly more ruthless) tomb raider, and she has now blossomed into the badass character that she is known for. Her adventures will take her deep into Mexico and South America, where she is trying to stop the apocalypse that she had accidently set in motion when she acquired an ancient dagger. What follows is roughly a 12+ hour main story and several hours’ worth of side missions that help flesh out the story and the world around her. The best part is that the story has all the excitement and thrills you would get if you took an Indiana Jones movie and added some of the Mel Gibson drama Apocalypto, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider adds the social interaction that was largely missing in the previous installments. While there are still plenty of times when Lara will be out on her own, searching through ruins or trekking through the jungle, there are now several civilizations that Lara will be interacting with. Her adventures will take her to the ancient city of Paititi, where most of her interactions will be with the locals and the main antagonists to the trilogy, Trinity. It’s in the interactions where we really get to see Lara question not only her beliefs but also her actions when acquiring ancient artifacts. Many of the discussions revolve around what will happen if outsiders come and try to change their standard of living or force their own wills on the natives. These discussions cause Lara to reevaluate what she does for a living, and how her own actions have an impact far greater than she even realizes. The inclusion of so much interaction with other people brings a whole new dimension to the Tomb Raider world and it entrenches you in the story in a way that battling even the most dangerous tombs never could.

One of the most interesting levels in the game takes you back in time to when Lara was just a young girl. You get the opportunity to experience the world through the innocence of a child, and her own imagination as she explores her father’s mansion. It provides an interesting look into the events that would unfold during her impressionable years, and also helps to offer some additional insight into what drives her as an adult. It’s in this level, where you finally understand what fuels her desire and continues to push her forward.

Gameplay is largely the same as the previous titles, but they did add a few new interesting ways to traverse some of the more difficult terrain, such as the ability to rappel down cliffs or using a pick axe to traverse cave ceilings. Climbing, jumping and swinging are all handled very intuitively using the controller. Yes, there were times where I felt I was doing the right thing and fell to my death anyway, but at no time did I feel overly frustrated or blame the tight controls for my own missteps.

Swimming and diving play a far bigger role in Shadow than in the previous games. Long, deep caverns will require you to swim and find pockets of air to keep from drowning. There are even a few sequences where you will need to swim through plants to avoid the various eels and piranha that will kill you, and swimming through the plants is just as easy as it sounds. Thankfully I never felt these sequences played on for too long and they certainly added diversity to the levels. While generally swimming and diving in video games tend to be an exercise in frustration, I never felt that was the case here.

Stealth also plays a bigger role in this game and adds another key to your survival. The original 1996 game focused on your dual pistol wielding abilities to get you out of jams and in this game, you are rewarded with a subtler approach. Taking a nod from games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, you will now have plenty of opportunities for Lara to crouch in large grassy fields or cover herself in mud and hide amongst the vines and cliff walls to surprise and take down her enemies. You can now overcome many adversities utilizing only stealth, but don’t worry, if you prefer more upfront action, there are still the obligatory pistols, shotguns and machine guns you can use to dispatch foes. Stealth is just an added way to ensure that Lara saves her bullets for far bigger threats down the road.

Now for everyone’s favorite part…the tombs! What would Tomb Raider be without tombs and the challenges that come along with them? As you may have already guessed, all sorts of puzzles and booby traps await you on your journey. I found they kept a nice balance between challenging and entertaining and thankfully none of them were so obscure that you need to break out Google to overcome them. Another great addition to the game is that the player can now individually adjust the difficulty on puzzles and on combat. That means if you love combat but not the puzzles you can adjust them independently, which is something I wish far more games would take advantage of. Either way, there are plenty of challenging tombs where you can flex your tomb raiding muscles.

As your adventure progresses you will earn skill points that allow you to upgrade Lara with new abilities. There are three skill trees, each containing many different skills, where Lara can spend her points. The three trees are broken down into Seeker, Warrior and Scavenger and Lara can be upgraded when she arrives at a basecamp. A few of these upgraded skills are longer swim times, multiple stealth takedowns, and the ability to shoot two enemies simultaneously. It’s always exciting to upgrade your character and see how the gameplay changes with new your abilities. This game is no exception and the upgrades you choose can really enhance your experience.

Graphically, Lara has never looked better. I played the game on my Xbox One X in 4K and the environments were awe inspiring. The lush jungle almost jumps off the screen and the character models are some of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Of course, all this beauty wouldn’t mean much if there were stutters and lags and thankfully I never noticed a single frame drop while playing the game in all its 4K glory. Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels like you are part of a high budget, summer blockbuster and at times it was difficult to determine the difference between a cutscene or live game play (in a “wow, this is incredible!” way). The acting was also top notch and Camilla Luddington once again does an outstanding job delivering her lines, even making some of the corniest statements endearing. Every aspect of this game is the best of the best and you will be hard pressed to find an area of the game that was lacking.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider in an amazing accomplishment and easily my favorite game of the series. I’d even go as far as saying that I enjoyed it more than Uncharted 2, which is a true testament to how much I loved this game. Not only does the story have a heart and completely engages the player but it’s thrilling and there is non-stop adventure until the very end. While this certainly could be the last game in the rebooted series, I truly hope it’s not as I already want to play another. I highly recommend picking this game up. As soon as you knock over your first pot, you will be happy that you did!

What I liked: Stunning graphics, Incredible voice acting, Blockbuster feel

What I liked less: Occasional areas where it was unclear where to go next