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The Great Wall (2016)
The Great Wall (2016)
2016 | Action, Drama, Mystery
5.8 (26 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Exercising your Damons.
Millions of people watching the Oscars would have seen Jimmy Kimmel roasting poor Matt Damon as a part of their long running ‘feud’. At one point he points out that Matt gave up the leading role in “Manchester by the Sea” to star in a “Chinese ponytail movie” that “went on to lose $80 million at the box office”. “The Great Wall” is that movie!
So is it really that bad?
Well, it’s no “Manchester by the Sea” for sure. But I don’t think it’s quite the total turkey that critics have been labelling it as either. I went to see it on a Sunday afternoon, and approaching it as a matinee bit of frothy action is a good mental state to be in.

Matt Damon plays the ponytailed-wonder William, a European mercenary travelling in 11th Century China with his colleague Tovar (Pedro Pascal) in an attempt to determine the secrets of black powder – a secret well-guarded by the Chinese. Captured by the ‘New Order’ at the Great Wall and imprisoned there by General Shao (Hanyu Zhang), William earns the respect of Shao and his beautiful warrior second-in-command Lin Mae (Tian Jing) with his bowmanship. This is almost immediately put to use by the arrival (after 60 year’s absence – a funny thing, timing, isn’t it?) of hoards of vicious creatures called Taoties. (I thought they said Tauntauns initially, so was expecting some sort of Chinese/Star Wars crossover! But no.)

Taoties who scale the wall are defeated by William who poleaxes them. (This is an attempt at brilliant humour to anyone who has already seen the film – poleaxe…. get it? POLEaxe. Oh, never mind!) Despite being a mercenary at heart, William is torn between staying and helping Lin Mae fight the beasts and fleeing with Tovar, their new chum Ballard (Willem Dafoe) and their black powder loot. (I’m sure something about Lin Mae’s tight-fitting blue armour was influential in his decision).
This is an historic film in that although in recent years there has been cross-fertilization of Chinese actors into Western films for box-office reasons (for example, in the appalling “Independence Day: Resurgence” and the much better Damon vehicle “The Martian“) this was the first truly co-produced Chinese/Hollywood feature filmed entirely in China. It might also be the last given the film’s $150 million budget and the dismal box-office!
To start with some positives, you can rely on a Chinese-set film (the film location was Qingdao) to allow the use of an army of extras and – although a whole bunch of CGI was also no doubt used – some of the battles scenes are impressive. There is a stirring choral theme by Ramin Djawadi (best known for his TV themes for “Game of Thrones” and the brilliant “Westworld”) played over silk-screen painted end titles that just make for a beautiful combination. And Tian Jing as the heroine Lin Mae is not only stunningly good-looking but also injects some much needed acting talent into the cast, where most of those involved (including Damon himself) look like they would rather be somewhere else.

And some of the action scenes are rather fun in a ‘park your brain by the door’ sort of way, including (nonsensically) cute warrior girls high-diving off the wall on bungey ropes to near certain death. While the CGI monsters are of the (yawn) over-the-top LoTR variety, their ability to swarm like locusts at the Queen’s command is also quite entertainingly rendered.
Where the movie balloon comes crashing down to earth in flames though is with the story and the screenplay – all done by three different people each, which is NEVER a good sign.

The story (by Max Brooks (“World War Z”), Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (both on “The Last Samurai”) is plain nonsensical at times. No spoilers here, but the transition from “wall under siege” to “wall not under siege” gives the word ‘clunky’ a bad name. As another absurdity, the “New Order” seem amazed how William was able to slay one of the creatures (thanks to the poleaxing ‘McGuffin’ previously referenced) but then throughout the rest of the film he slays creatures left right and centre (McGuffin-less) through just the use of a spear or an arrow! Bonkers.
Things get worse when you add words to the actions. The screenplay by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (both “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”) and Tony Gilroy (Tony Gilroy? Surely not he of all the “Bourne” films and “Rogue One” fame? The very same!) has a reading age of about an 8 year old. It feels like it has been translated into Chinese and then back again to English with Google Translate. “Is that the best you can do?” asks Tovar to William at one point. I was thinking exactly the same thing.
The combination of the cinematography and the special effects have the unfortunate effect of giving the film the veneer of a video game, but this is one where your kid-brother has stolen the controls and refuses to give them back to you.

Having had the great thrill of visiting a section of The Great Wall near Beijing, I can confirm that it is an astonishing engineering masterpiece that has to be seen to be truly believed. It ranks as one of the genuine wonders of the world. The same can not be said of this movie. Early teens might enjoy it as a mindless action flick. But otherwise best avoided until it emerges on a raining Sunday afternoon on the TV.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II - Vengeance
Call of Duty: Black Ops II - Vengeance
Fans of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 who are waiting patiently for the November release of Call of Duty: Ghosts, can put their skills to the test with the latest map pack DLC. The collection is named Vengeance and it offers four new multiplayer maps as well as a new Zombie campaigns for players aching for more of the wildly popular series.

The set is the third of a planned four map packs and for fans of frantic, run and gun action, this is the collection for you. This is not to say there is not a place for players who wish to snipe or use stealth, but the developers have clearly put the focus on smaller maps which bring the action front and center and force players to get into the action fast.

Like the previous map collections the players are limited to either Mosh pit or Hardcore Moshpit that puts teams of players in a series of online games where the objective is varied. There is the usual mix, Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, Kill Confirmed, and Demolition modes and the mode as well as your teammates change with each map.

Accessing the new maps is easy as once you start in multiplayer mode, the option to select Vengeance is shown on your menu. Players who have the previous map packs which are not required to play the new ones, will be able to access them in the game mode of their choice now as they would for the maps that came with the initial release of the game.

The first map I played was called Uplink which is an updated version of the Summit map from Black Ops. This time out the snowy eastern Europe locale has been changed to a rainy Asian locale. It took me a few times around and a few deaths before I realized there was something familiar about it. This helped me get adjusted to likely areas for attacks and defense much faster than usual and I soon found myself dishing out the damage instead of being a walking target.

The next map is called “Detour” and this takes places on a bombed out suspension bridge that has cars and trucks as well as blast holes littering the roads. Players can take the side paths and lower areas but can also engage the other team in the clutter up top. Be prepared for plenty of flying grenades as well as mines and other traps in this one. I usually need around five rounds in a map before I am comfy enough to really let loose and this one after some initial frustrations paid off big,

A recent kill streak earned me a sentry gun, which when deployed racked up an impressive number of kills for me thanks to the choke points and strategic placement near an enemy objective.

Up next is “Cove” and while it took me a little bit to differentiate the enemy attire from that of my team, I soon found this to be an early favorite for me. The setting is a tropical island complete with a crashed plane. The plane became a great shield to toss grenades over and I loved walking around the beach in my efforts to flank the other players. For a person who loves a run and gun, devil may care style of play, coming around a rock and finding two or three enemy players facing away from me was a great thrill as was having a cluster of them camped out on a ledge above or in a rocky cave..

There are plenty of cliffs as well as snipers love to setup on the ridges and let loose as do players who have earned a sentry gun or other reward. This became tough when most of the objectives involved either planting or defusing a bomb. Fighting to an objective only to be cut down as you were seconds away from completing a task is a frustration indeed but also part of the fun.


The final map is entitled “Rush” and the title not only describes the fun of playing it but also the best way to play it as it is set in a paint ball venue. There are tons of paint-soaked vehicles, wooden buildings, and venues that anyone who has ever played paintball will be all to familiar with. The real joy comes when you head into the shop and have to battle in the pro shop, indoor arena, and other locales. The colors are vivid and the attacks can come from all angles at any time.

As much as I liked “Cove” “Rush” quickly became my favorite of the maps as I was able to record my best scores of the new maps the first time I played it, and was able to maintain my lucky runs with each subsequent match.

Zombie fans will love “Buried” which like previous Zombie modes allows four players to work with one another as they fight off legions of undead. Like previous modes, players must heal fallen players and purchase weapons and ammo. This can be a challenge as starting off with just a pistol, grenade, and knife, you have to take down more than a few bad guys to earn needed funs for the big guns.

Cash can also be used for health, to restore barricades, as well as unlock new areas of the map.

Set in an underground western town, and I have to admit to really enjoying mowing down legions of undead as I came out of the saloon and enjoying the detail level of the map.

Skilled players can earn the Ray Gun Mark II and really fry the undead to a crisp.

Picky fans will say that Vengeance does not offer as much as some map packs as more than one person I played with lamented the fact that they did not get any new weapons like they did with the first map pack, and how one of the four maps was an older map that was remade.

To me it all comes down to a matter of choice as the maps are available in a set for $14.99 or players can purchase a season pass which will allow them to obtain all four map packs at a discounted price.

If you are a fan of the game and play online on a regular basis then you will want the maps as they do offer something new and are enjoyable to look at and play for gamers but be prepared to take your lumps early as most of the players have already mastered the previous maps and showed no mercy for players who were trying to get their bearings in the new offerings.

In the end, if you’re a hardcore player or simply love the series, then you will enjoy the maps as they offer something new while players wait for the final collection and the November release of Call of Duty: Ghosts:
Total Recall (2012)
Total Recall (2012)
2012 | Action, Sci-Fi
5.8 (21 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Remaking classic films is always risky business. Mainly because there is a specific reason those movies are so well received – because they are the best of their time. Remakes are inherently risky because the filmmakers have a bar they have to at least reach, and they absolutely cannot tread the exact same ground as the original. They have to do something new, modern, or innovate. Or, at least they are expected to. When remakes work, they soar. When they don’t… Well, that’s another story. Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” (1990) was an excellent science fiction monolith of its time. It stood out as a heartfelt science fiction story, one that was exceptionally aware of its own identity, design, and overall setting. It reflected the vary soul of its time – intentionally representational of culture at the time (late 80s and early 90s). If Len Wiseman’s remake, “Total Recall” (2012) is supposed to be a representation of contemporary culture in the same way as the original, then I fear our popular culture is too shallow for high minded science fiction. While not a bad movie – in fact, it is actually quite entertaining overall – it just does not feature the same soul and passion of the original film.

The premise follows the original in only a rough sense. Sometime in the future, the world has been left mostly uninhabitable due to a deadly chemical war across the globe. Humanity has been left to residing in the only remaining habitable landmasses – Western Europe and “The Colony”, the latter being modern-day Australia. Because air travel is now impossible, the only travel between the landmasses is through a massive elevator called “The Fall” that cuts through the center of the Earth. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker who works in Europe but lives in “The Colony” with his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinstale). His chronic nightmares lead him to become interested in the “Rekall” service – a machine that can implant memories into customers. His interest will lead him on a wild journey with Melina (Jessica Biel) to learn about his true self as well as secrets of Cohaagen’s (Bryan Cranston) tyrannical administration.

The problems of the film really start with the premise. While I enjoy the creativity of something like “The Fall”, it is simply too ridiculous to take seriously. They deserve credit for coming up with a relatively unknown science fiction concept, but an elevator that travels through the center of the Earth? Peoples’ suspension of disbelief can only be pushed so far. It serves a practical purpose in the plot – to create the conflict between “The Colony” and the mainland and between the government and the Resistance. Yet, too much time is spent trying to introduce this concept and make it seem plausible than the film should. It honestly seems easier to just use the original film’s conflict between settings – Mars and Earth. I have to ask, what makes an elevator between two lands more contemporary of an idea than a conflict between colonial Mars and Earth. This is especially true considering recent news that a Mars colony might be seen in our lifetimes.

The other problems are more literary. Colin Farrell’s Douglas Quaid is portrayed very well throughout the film, and he manages to make the character satisfactory in the emotional portrayal of a man with a confused past and an insane situation. But even then, I have to say Arnold’s original portrayal seemed overall more human. The problem with Colin Farrell’s character is a mixture of performance and writing in his introduction. It is hard to believe him as someone so distraught over his nightmares that he absolutely feels compelled to go to Rekall. If they spent more time exploring his inner demons and how they are bringing his life down, then he would have been a much more compelling character. As it stands, he just goes through the motions of a protagonist. All of the other characters are the same way. Kate Beckinstale’s villainous Lori and Jessica Biel’s Melina are fairly shallow characters. They are not bad at their roles but that is all they, unfortunately, are: roles. Like Quaid, they just go through the motions, playing their part as clichéd character archetypes. Bryan Cranston is always awesome in any role, but in this he is not given much to work with. All he ends up being is just an evil tyrant with a megalomaniacal plot – with very little reason or background.

Those issues said, there are many things that do work. The pacing is good throughout, with no moments feeling awkward. The art design is exceptional, and there are no moments in the film that are boring to look at. To its credit, almost every scene is full of beautiful science-fiction design. The only complaint in this area is that some of the action scenes feel very cluttered due to the overall noise of The Colony’s design. The plot moves forward steadily, and it is overall simple to understand. That said, it is not without its own faults. The plot starts out great but becomes full of usual secret agent thriller clichés. Also, the plot becomes very campy, not to mention unbelievable, in its third act. The third act is also where there are the most plot holes – notable plot holes at that.

If you can shut your brain off for a couple hours, you can enjoy “Total Recall”. The film is pretty to look at and is absolutely packed with action sequences. All of the action sequences are well shot, well paced, and entertaining. The actors all do great with what they are given; but the problem is that they are not given much. They are all fairly flat characters, but are all satisfactory for the service of the plot – a plot that is well paced and understandable, but one that becomes campy, ridiculous, and peppered with notable plot holes. It is not as tightly written and directed to be a great secret agent thriller, and not as inspired to be a great science fiction story. The original was exceptional in its setting construction – pulling the audience into the amazingly designed Paul Verhoeven world. It was full of comedy and thrills, thought and design. As it stands, the moments that could really go far in establishing a passionate soul-filled, inspired world are instead spent on making quick references to those vary moments from the original. It could have established its own voice, its own heart and soul, but it just settles on being your clichéd average science fiction blockbuster.
Darkest Hour (2017)
Darkest Hour (2017)
2017 | Drama, History, War
Not buggering it up.
As Doctor Who repeatedly points out, time is most definitely a tricksy thing. As I think I’ve commented on before, the events of 1940-45 are not in my lifetime but were sufficiently fresh to my parents that they were still actively talked about… so they still appear “current” to me. But I find it astonishing to realize that to a teen viewer this film is equivalent in timeframe to the sinking of the Titanic! #ancienthistory! So I suspect your connection to this film will be strongly affected by your age, and that was definitely reflected in the average age at my showing which must have been at least 60.

It’s 1940 and Western Europe is under siege. Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel“) is the Conservative Prime Minister but is voted out of office in an attempt to form a grand coalition government with Labour leader Clement Atlee (David Schofield). Despite appearing a shoe-in for the role, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) turns it down, thinking that his alternative (and bête noire) would drink from the poisoned chalice and be quickly be out of his (and Chamberlain’s) hair. For that alternative choice is the volatile and unpredictable Churchill (Gary Oldman), grudgingly invited into the job by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, “Rogue One“). With the Nazi’s bearing down on the 300,000 encircled troops at Dunkirk, and with calls from his war cabinet to capitulate and seek terms of settlement, this is indeed both Churchill’s, and the country’s, ‘darkest hour’.

Despite the woeful lack of historical knowledge among today’s youngsters, most will be at least aware of the story of Dunkirk, with many having absorbed Christopher Nolan’s film of last summer. This film is almost the matching bookend to that film, showing the terrifying behind-closed-door events that led up to that miracle. For it was terrifying seeing how close Britain came to the brink, and I’m not sure even I really appreciated that before. While this might have been a “thriller” if it had been a fictional story, we well know the outcome of the story: but even with this knowledge I still found the film to be extremely tense and claustrophobic as the net draws in around Churchill’s firmly-held beliefs.
Gary Oldman’s performance is extraordinary, and his award nominations are well-deserved. We have grown so used to some of his more over-the-top Russian portrayals in films like “Air Force One” and last year’s (pretty poor) “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” that it is easy to forget what a nuanced and flexible actor he is. Ever since that “No, surely not!” moment of that first glimpse of the film’s trailer, it has almost been impossible to ‘see’ Oldman behind the brilliant make-up of the character (Kazuhiro Tsuji gets a special credit for it). But his eyes are in there, and there are some extreme close-ups (for example, during a bizarre and tense phone call with Roosevelt (David Strathairn)) when you suddenly see “There you are!”.

The supportive wife – Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) gives Winston (Gary Oldman) a hug.
While I have nothing against Brian Cox as an actor, I far prefer the portrayal of Churchill on show here compared to last year’s “Churchill“: true that that film was set three or four stressful years later, but Cox’s Churchill was portrayed as an incompetent fool, an embarrassment to the establishment that have to work around him. Oldman’s Churchill is irascible, unreasonable, but undeniably a leader and a great orator.
Mirroring “Churchill” though, the action is seen through the eyes of Churchill’s put-upon secretary, here played delightfully by Lily James (“Downton Abbey”, “Baby Driver“) who perfectly looks and sounds the part. The character is more successful than that of Ella Purnell’s Garrett in that she is given more room to develop her character and for the audience to warm to her. Oldman is getting all the kudos, but Lily James really deserves some for her touching and engaging performance here.

Perfectly cast: Lily James as Churchill’s secretary Elizabeth Layton.
Also in Oldman’s shadow is the always marvelous Kristin Scott Thomas (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The English Patient”) as Clemmie Churchill, expressing all the love and frustration associated with being a long-suffering wife to an over-worked husband in the public service.
At the pen is “The Theory of Everything” writer Anthony McCarten, and I’d like to say its a great script but with most of the best lines (“a sheep in sheep’s clothing” – LoL) coming from Winston himself it’s difficult to tell. Some of the scenes can get a bit laborious and at 125 minutes – though not long by any means – the script could still perhaps have had a nip and tuck here and there.

Where some of this time is well spent though is in some sedate shots of London street life, across two separate scenes panning across everyday folk as the stresses of war start to become more evident. This is just one of the areas where director Joe Wright (“Atonement”, “Pride and Prejudice”) shows considerable panache, ably assisted by the cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis“): a boy closes his telescope-fingers around Churchill’s plane; a bomb’s eye-view of the beleaguered Brigadier Nicholson in Calais; and – very impressively – the smoky imperiousness of the House of Commons set.

An atmospheric chamber: the recreation of the wartime House of Commons is spectacular (with production design by Sarah Greenwood (“Anna Karenina”, “Atonement”)).
And most-importantly Wright delivers what Christopher Nolan couldn’t deliver in “Dunkirk“: a properly CGI’d vista of hundred of small boats crossing the channel to Dunkirk. Now THAT is a scene that Kenneth Branagh could justly have looked in awe at!!!
There are a number of scenes that require disbelief to be suspended though: the biggest one being a tube train ride – very moving and effective I must say – but one that features the longest journey between any two stations on the District Line than has ever been experienced!

One stop on the District Line via Westminster…. via Harrow-on-the-Hill!
So this is a great film for really reliving a knife-edge moment in British history, and is highly recommended particularly for older viewers. If I’m honest though, between “Darkest Hour”, “Churchill” and John Lithgow’s excellent portrayal in “The Crown” I’m all over portrayals of the great man for a few years. Can we please move on now Hollywood?
The Forever Purge (2021)
The Forever Purge (2021)
2021 | Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
6.1 (11 Ratings)
Movie Rating
The Purger's costumes (1 more)
The film's genuinely bad ass female characters.
There's no character development. (1 more)
The film is just more of the same.
America, A Ho-Hum Dystopia
Searching for stability in the face of record high levels of illegal immigration resulting from a surge in refugees fleeing cartel violence in Mexico and a growing wave of White Supremacy and anti-hispanic racism in the United States, the New Founding Fathers of America have proposed the unthinkable in order to solve the nation’s problems: the reinstatement of the Purge.

Written by The Purge creator James DeMonaco and directed by Everardo Gout, The Forever Purge is the fifth film in the franchise and its first entry since The Purge TV series ended after only two seasons in 2019.

Taking place primarily in Los Felis Valley, Texas, The Forever Purge follows Mexican refugees Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta), who despite having made a life in America after living in the country for just ten months, continue to find themselves the victims of racism.

A talented cowboy, Juan works for the financially successful Tucker family on their ranch alongside Dylan (Josh Lucas), a member of the Tucker family who isn’t as good of a cowboy as Juan and lets his “white man good, Mexican bad” mentality drive his actions way more often than he should.

With the announcement that the Purge will be reinstated, the two buckle down and prepare to survive their first ever experience with the country’s most gruesome tradition. While the two successfully find sanctuary and survive the initial 12 hours of the sanctioned Purge, they emerge to find that many US citizens have just outright refused to stop purging.

Amidst the chaos, Canada and Mexico open their borders for six hours, allowing anyone not interesting in partaking in the events and wants to survive to flee to one of respective countries. However, the two countries also announce that after these six hours pass, they will be closing their American borders forever, preventing any further escape.

As the entire nation falls into chaos, its citizens begin to realize that The Forever Purge has begun.

The fifth film in the franchise and the latest installment since The Purge tv series ended in 2019, The Forever Purge is pretty much of the same for the horror franchise – in other words, it’s not going to make or break the opinion you already have about these movies.

A definite improvement over The First Purge, which one could argue is the worst film in the series, the performances in The Forever Purge in particular are leaps and bounds better in comparison to those found in its predecessor

You know how there are some movies where, for some reason or another, you don’t watch every trailer it drops before release, and thus are end up surprised when the film turns out to be completely different from the one-note-concept you imagined it would have?

While the upside to this avoidance of marketing material is that you’re almost completely in the dark about a given film prior to seeing it, the downside is that what your own imagined concept of the film may have more more potential than the final product.

The Forever Purge was one such film for me. For some reason, I thought the movie took place in a not-too-distant future where the majority of the country had become a desolate wasteland, water was scarce, and tumbleweeds were the closest thing to a pet anyone had.

Not only that, but I imagined that The Purge, long-outlawed in this post-apocalyptic future, had been reinstated as a full-time event by a group of crazed desperadoes.

Sadly, my idea of a western-slash-Mad Max-inspired Purge film ended up being way more interesting than The Forever Purge actually was, as most of the film’s creativity is found not in the Purge itself, but rather in the expansion to the franchise’s lore – specifically the state in which the USA is left in by the end of the film, as well as the end credits reveal of where Americans across the country are located

A Purger in The Forever Purge, directed by Everardo Valerio Gout.As a result, The Forever Purge ends with the franchise seemingly having lost whatever bite it may have once had. Kills are about as memorable as a bug splat on your windshield while driving on the highway, character development is minimal at best, and you aren’t invested in the outcome of what’s transpiring whatsoever.

You also don’t really know who the protagonists of the film are. Do you root for the successful family that doesn’t know how to cooperate outside of its own race, or the married couple that came to this country illegally?

Furthermore, why is it that each film’s unique masked purgers, who literally show up for only a handful of scenes in each of their respective appearances, are the best part of these films? It’s like really awesome DLC for a lifelessly dull video game.
While the action-horror film does at least introduce two strong female characters, Dylan Tucker’s wife, Cassidy (Cassidy Freeman), isn’t one of them. Her defining characteristics are that she’s pregnant and helpless.

However, Dylan’s younger sister, Harper (Leven Rambin), is awesome. She knows how to use a gun, is resourceful, intelligent, and breaks the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype we’re all too familiar with.

Ana de la Reguera also rectifies her death in Army of the Dead with her performance as Adela, a former member of a group of women who fought against the cartel in Mexico who can fight, has knowledge of weapons, and knows how to navigate the city in the safest way possible. In other words, she’s a bad ass.

While The Forever Purge is meant to serve as a ‘final entry’ for the franchise, everything is left wide open at the end of the film, just in case another sequel gets greenlit. After all, we know how the general movie-going population just loves to keep mediocre franchises alive.

As such, nothing is resolved by the end of film, and the Forever Purge ends up being just what it sounds like: never ending.

The issue with this non-ending is that where the franchise could potentially go and where it’s actually going are two entirely different things, and thus the end result of the Forever Purge is way more disappointing because of this split.

A lackluster Purge entry at best that is only considered decent because the film that came before it is so awful, The Forever Purge does put some effort into attempting to put a different spin on how we view immigrants, but even that seems half-cocked at best.

With a concept this stagnant, The Forever Purge has successfully done what other horror movies have never been able to do; make deaths, murdering, and killing a total bore. Hopefully, with any luck, The Purge franchise will pillage and murder itself with this entry.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
2019 | Crime, Drama, Thriller
Leonardo DiCaprio (1 more)
Brad Pitt
It's 2 hours and 41 minutes and feels long. (2 more)
Story elements don't seem to go together.
Charles Manson stuff feels forced.
With Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood being his ninth feature film as writer and director and a career just shy of the three decade mark, you should probably know what to expect from a Quentin Tarantino film. Amongst all of the usual Tarantino trademarks of memorable performances, long strings of dialogue, a questionable amount of dancing, the inclusion of several shots of barefoot women, interior car sequences, and a relentless tidal wave of vulgarity that drowns the audience in a sea of sharp expletives, Once Upon a Hollywood lacks the one element that truly makes a Tarantino film worthwhile; coherent storytelling.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood should be great based on its cast alone. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers one of his more complex performances as television star turned infrequent movie star Rick Dalton. Dalton made a name for himself in a western TV series called Bounty Law. Rick burned that bridge when he tried to make the jump to movies and failed. Now he only seems to get work as the TV villain. Rick gets an opportunity in Rome to star in Italian spaghetti westerns and reluctantly accepts. Rick is an alcoholic that struggles with a stutter when he speaks. He has low self-esteem and questions every decision he makes. The scene where he flubs his lines followed by his angry outburst in his trailer is extraordinary. He’s also the one person on the planet who seems to hate hippies more than Eric Cartman.

Brad Pitt portrays Rick’s stunt double Cliff Booth. Cliff is a Vietnam War veteran who may or may not have (but probably did) kill his wife without any repercussions. Cliff hardly works as a stunt double anymore and mostly makes his living driving Rick around and doing various odd jobs for him. Cliff is the exact opposite of Rick. Rick lives in the Hollywood Hills in a roomy luxurious house with a pool and an extravagant view. Cliff lives in a trailer by a drive-in theater, eats macaroni and cheese for dinner, and has amazing chemistry with his pitbull Brandy. Cliff seems like a handy and capable guy, but he’s also extremely blunt. His to-the-point demeanor keeps Rick’s wilder antics in check the majority of the time. Cliff doesn’t exactly babysit Rick and allows him to live his own life, but he’s the one to give Rick the “you’re better than that,” kind of pep talk after it’s over.

One of the things mentioned in the film by Kurt Russell (he plays Randy and does the voiceover as the narrator) is that Rick and Cliff share this bond that is practically as deep as a brotherhood yet lacks the commitment of a marriage. Their bond is the backbone of the film and it’s interesting because they both seem like half decent people. Cliff may have killed someone and Rick beats himself up harder than anyone else could, but they’re both hard working individuals who put everything into their work and they have each other’s backs through thick and thin. Their bond is almost wholesome to the minuscule extent Tarantino will allow.

Brad Pitt’s chemistry with Brandy is also quite entertaining. There’s something comical about seeing Cliff rummage through his pantry filled with nothing but cans of dog food only to pull out two specific cans; one rat flavored and one raccoon flavored. He opens the cans with a manual can opener, tips them over in mid-air after removing their lids, and lets gravity guide that slop into whatever is designated as a food bowl that particular evening in a sickening PLOP! And a meaty splash that overflows onto the kitchen floor tiles. Cliff and Brandy seem almost as close as Cliff and Rick. They have this partnership that is easy to detect as soon as they’re on-screen together.

Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee impression isn’t totally flawless, but it is fairly excellent regardless. Moh is Korean and Bruce Lee was Chinese-American, so it’s an intriguing fit that works way better than you expect. The scene Moh has with Pitt as Bruce Lee and Cliff Booth have a physical encounter is an entertaining highlight of the film. The outrageous violence you’ve come to expect in a Tarantino film isn’t present in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood until the final scene and it is a glorious display of dog biting, face pummeling, and flame throwing mayhem. If Cliff Booth hasn’t already established himself as a certified badass through the first two and a half hours, those last ten minutes certainly allow him to obtain that title with ease.

The unfortunate aspect of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is that everything doesn’t really come together in a satisfying way. You’ve got a washed up actor trying to regain the spotlight, a stunt double struggling to find work and make a living despite his troublesome reputation, and the Charles Manson stuff with Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) living next door to Rick and Cliff’s time at the Spahn Movie Ranch with the Manson Family. In 1968, Tate and four others were murdered in the home she shared with Polanski by members of the Manson Family while being eight-and-a-half months pregnant. It’s a horrendous statistic that puts a different perspective on the ending if you didn’t know beforehand. The Manson inclusion mostly feels like an afterthought that isn’t ever taken seriously.

So many recognizable names are a part of the cast and everyone outside of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are basically a waste. Margot Robbie has a few moments that mostly reside in her reacting to films starring Sharon Tate in a movie theater. Tate seems to represent this pure and positive light in the film while Rick and Cliff experience the uglier aspects of the Tarantino-skewed late 1960s. Robbie downright glows during that movie theater sequence with a bubbly and contagious attitude, but doesn’t do much else over the course of the film.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood feels longer than its 141-minute duration. It drags so often in between its enjoyable moments and seems to purposely lag during every dialogue heavy sequence that is just talking without any sort of payoff. Tarantino’s attention to the music of whatever era he’s depicting has always been a staple in his films, but it is on the verge of annoyance here. The dancing in the film feels like an excuse to stretch out the story that much longer for no other reason other than to blatantly rub the audience’s nose in the time period.

There are some masterful elements to Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood that shouldn’t be overlooked. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick F’ing Dalton sequence is explosively brilliant and Brad Pitt has this abrasive charm as Cliff Booth. It’s difficult to make the argument that Quentin Tarantino has original stories still worth telling at this point in his career though since this suffers from incoherent progression and a reasonable purpose for why we should care about these characters. At one point in the film, Rick tells Cliff with tears streaming down his face and this unhealthy cough full of cancerous phlegm, “It’s official old buddy. I’m a has-been.” Maybe this is how Tarantino feels about himself now that he’s nearing the end of his filmmaking career. That struggle to find meaning and a welcome audience for something he used to care deeply about but may have lost the passion for in recent years. He had a good run, but as it stands Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is overstuffed yet bland despite its two zesty leads.
High Noon
High Noon
2021 | American West, Fighting
Howdy partners, and welcome to the (fictional) state of Saratoga. There’s 4 main posses ’round these parts, and they’re all willing to fight to the bitter end to settle scores and collect gold. Who will y’all side with in this cut-throat town, and who will come out victorious? Only time will tell, and I reckon that time to be High Noon.

Disclaimer: We were provided with a copy of the game for the purposes of this preview. This is a finalized production copy, and the components you see pictured are those you will receive in your own game! Also, we were provided the 4-player starter set – the game is playable with more people when expansions are included. -L

High Noon is a game of action points, grid movement, and fighting, played over a series of 12 rounds, in which players take on the roles of various posses in the Wild West who are battling to collect the most gold in town. To setup for the game, each player selects a posse and receives their corresponding deck of cards, character sheets, and minis. Character sheets are placed in front of each player, and a red Poker Chip is placed on each to track the Health of each character. Setup the map tiles as shown in the rulebook, or players may create their own map layout using at least 7 of the map tiles. Shuffle the Loot decks and place them to the side within reach of all players, and create a pool of Gold tokens and Poker Chips. The Loot Crate tokens are shuffled and randomly placed on the green squares of the board, and then players will take turns each placing 3 more Loot Crates following certain placement restrictions. All minis are placed on their starting squares on the map tiles, players draw 6 cards from their own posse decks, a starting player is selected, and the game is ready to begin!
Each turn is broken into 3 phases: Movement, Action, and Draw Cards. During the Movement phase, players may move any/all of their minis on the map up to the Speed value listed on their respective Character Sheets. Movement is always in straight lines, or can be diagonal. Diagonal movement costs 2 squares of movement though, so keep that in mind! The map tiles have various obstacles as well, and navigating over obstacles costs 2 squares of movement as well. After a player has moved their minis, they now move to the Action phase. In this phase, each individual character of your posse is allowed one action: Play a Card, Loot a Crate, Loot a Body, Equip an Item, Pass an Item, or Drop an Item. To Play a Card, select a card from your hand, perform the action listed on it (either an Attack or Special Action), and discard it. It is important to note that a character may only ‘Play a Card’ if you have one of their cards in your hand! Each posse deck is made up of action cards for the various posse members – so you might not always have a card in hand for every character. In order to Loot a Crate or Loot a Body, your mini must be in an adjacent square to the item to pick it up. Any Loot that is picked up is placed with the corresponding character’s Character Sheet – each character may only hold a specific amount of Loot! Certain Loot items need to be equipped, and thus you may make that character equip an item in lieu of any other actions this turn. Loot cards have various uses: Weapons, Consumables, or Ammunition. These can provide extra Attack damage, Healing powers, or Defense bonuses to characters. Loot is highly coveted!

Passing an Item allows you to hand off Loot between posse members, or Dropping an Item (a free action) removes that Loot from your Character and is discarded. After all of your characters have acted (if possible), your turn then moves to the Draw Cards phase. You will draw 3 cards from your posse deck. Once you have 12 cards in hand, you must discard 3 cards in order to draw 3 cards. You must always draw 3 cards at the end of your turn. The game then proceeds to the next player, and continues as such until the end of 12 rounds. So how do you win? By collecting Gold, of course! And the way to do that is by attacking your rival posses. Any time one of your characters deals at least 1 point of damage to an opponent, you collect 1 Gold token. Any time you kill an opposing character (reducing their Health on their Character Sheet to 0), you collect the amount of Gold listed on the deceased character’s Character Sheet. At the end of 12 rounds, the player/posse that has amassed the most Gold is the winner!

Ok, so I know that seems like a lot, but I promise that the gameplay is pretty streamlined once you actually get going. The Movement phase is very straightforward and simple to perform. The Action phase is logical, and the options are clear. Drawing cards is a no-brainer at the end of your turn. The real nitty-gritty part of play is in the strategy. You earn Gold by dealing damage or killing opponents, so naturally Combat is where the crux of the gameplay is centered. All characters are armed with weapons that have finite range. You may only ever attack opponents who are in direct Line-of-Sight – in a straight line away from you, or diagonally, each square costing 2 squares of range. If an opponent is not in either of those 2 directions from your character, you may not attack them! So movement and character placement becomes a lot more strategic and important in gameplay. There is also the concept of obstacles impeding the attacks of players. It makes logical sense, and I feel like the damage adjustments to incorporate obstacles feel realistic. When a player is attacked, they may choose to play a card from their hand to defend against some of the damage being dealt. As mentioned above, though, a character may only ever play a card that is specified for him! (Ex. Col. Rodgers cannot defend if you have no Col. Rodgers cards in hand) Are you willing to risk your only Leroy Gang card to defend 2 points of damage instead of using it to attack for 3 points of damage on your turn? You have to figure out exactly how to play the combat, and that strategy can turn in the blink of an eye.

Honestly, for me, the trickiest part of the gameplay was keeping track of which character acted each turn. I ended up grabbing some of the extra Poker Chips and placing them on a Character Sheet once he had acted each turn. Not necessarily a knock on the game, just on my inability to control multiple characters I guess! Let me touch on components for a minute. The copy of the game that I received is a finalized production copy. There may be some updates to the rulebook, but component-wise, what you see is what you get. And what you get is pretty great. The posse and Loot decks are nice sturdy cards, and the cardboard chits (Poker Chips, Loot tokens, and Gold) are thick, if not a little too small for my taste. The Character Sheets are big, easy to read, and clear in their iconography. The map tiles are some nice thick card stock-like material that definitely will hold up to numerous plays. And the minis. They are so cool! Each posse has a designated color, and they are just fun to play with and move around the board. At first, I found it difficult to tell certain posse members apart, since some of the minis look alike. But then I realized that each mini has a number of nicks in the base to help players identify which mini corresponds to which character. That was definitely a lifesaver for me in my plays. The components make this feel like a luxury game, and that helps make it more exciting to play!
So all in all, how does High Noon fare? In my opinion, pretty well! The map grid and combat are reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons, but with a Wild West theme that feels novel and unique. And according to the box, it can be played with more than 4 players if you incorporate expansions into the base game. So you can really turn this into an all-out Western showdown! The gameplay is smooth, the strategy ever-changing, and the concept and rules are fairly simple to learn and teach. High Noon definitely gets some high marks from me!
Thomas Paine was a political theorist who was perhaps best known for his support for the American Revolution in his pamphlet Common Sense. In what might be his second best known work, The Age of Reason, Paine argued in favor of deism and against the Christian religion and its conception of God. By deism it is meant the belief in a creator God who does not violate the laws of nature by communicating through revelation or miracles The book was very successful and widely read partly due to the fact that it was written in a style which appealed to a popular audience and often implemented a sarcastic, derisive tone to make its points.

     The book seems to have had three major objectives: the support of deism, the ridicule of what Paine found loathsome in Christian theology, and the demonstration of how poor an example the Bible is as a reflection of God.

     In a sense, Paine's arguments against Christian theology and scripture were meant to prop up his deistic philosophy. Paine hoped that in demonizing Christianity while giving evidences for God, he would somehow have made the case for deism. But this is not so. If Christianity is false, but God exists nonetheless, we are not left only with deism. There are an infinite number of possibilities for us to examine regarding the nature of God, and far too many left over once we have eliminated the obviously false ones. In favor of deism Paine has only one argument—his dislike of supernatural revelation, which is to say that deism appeals to his culturally derived preferences. In any case, Paine's thinking on the matter seemed to be thus: if supernatural revelation could be shown to be inadequate and the development of complex theology shown to be an error, one could still salvage a belief in God as Creator, but not as an interloper in human affairs who required mediators.

     That being said, in his support of deism, Paine makes some arguments to demonstrate the reasonableness in belief in, if not the logical necessity of the existence of, God which could be equally used by Christians.

     For instance, just as the apostle Paul argued in his epistle to the Romans that, "what can be known about God is plain to [even pagans], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:19-20, ESV), so also Paine can say that, "the Creation speaketh an universal language [which points to the existence of God], independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they be."

     The key point on which Paine differs from Paul on this issue is in his optimism about man's ability to reason to God without His assisting from the outside. Whereas Paul sees the plainness of God from natural revelation as an argument against the inherent goodness of a species which can read the record of nature and nevertheless rejects its Source's obvious existence, Paine thinks that nature and reason can and do lead us directly to the knowledge of God's existence apart from any gracious overtures or direct revelation.

     On the witness of nature, Paine claims, and is quite correct, that, "THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD: And it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man." What is not plainly clear, however, is that man is free enough from the noetic effects of sin to reach such an obvious conclusion on his own. Indeed, the attempts of mankind to create a religion which represents the truth have invariably landed them at paganism. By paganism I mean a system of belief based, as Yehezkel Kaufmann and John N. Oswalt have shown, on continuity.iv In polytheism, even the supernatural is not really supernatural, but is perhaps in some way above humans while not being altogether distinct from us. What happens to the gods is merely what happens to human beings and the natural world writ large, which is why the gods are, like us, victims of fate, and why pagan fertility rituals have attempted to influence nature by influencing the gods which represent it in accordance with the deeper magic of the eternal universe we all inhabit.

     When mankind has looked at nature without the benefit of supernatural revelation, he has not been consciously aware of a Being outside of nature which is necessarily responsible for it. His reasoning to metaphysics is based entirely on his own naturalistic categories derived from his own experience. According to Moses, it took God revealing Himself to the Hebrews for anyone to understand what Paine thinks anyone can plainly see.

     The goal of deism is to hold onto what the western mind, which values extreme independence of thought, views as attractive in theism while casting aside what it finds distasteful. But as C.S. Lewis remarked, Aslan is not a tame lion. If a sovereign God exists, He cannot be limited by your desires of what you'd like Him to be. For this reason, the deism of men like Paine served as a cultural stepping stone toward the atheism of later intellectuals.

     For Paine, as for other deists and atheists like him, it is not that Christianity has been subjected to reason and found wanting, but that it has been subjected to his own private and culturally-determined tastes and preferences and has failed to satisfy. This is the flipside of the anti-religious claim that those who believe in a given religion only do so because of their cultural conditioning: the anti-religionist is also conditioned in a similar way. Of course, how one comes to believe a certain thing has no bearing on whether that thing is true in itself, and this is true whether Christianity, atheism, or any other view is correct. But it must be stated that the deist or atheist is not immune from the epistemic difficulties which he so condescendingly heaps on theists.

     One of the befuddling ironies of Paine's work is that around the time he was writing about the revealed religions as, “no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit," the French were turning churches into “temples of reason” and murdering thousands at the guillotine (an instrument of execution now most strongly identified with France's godless reign of terror). Paine, who nearly lost his own life during the French Revolution, saw the danger of this atheism and hoped to stay its progress, despite the risk to his own life in attempting to do so.

     What is odd is that Paine managed to blame this violent atheism upon the Christian faith! Obfuscated Paine:
"The Idea, always dangerous to Society as it is derogatory to the Almighty, — that priests could forgive sins, — though it seemed to exist no longer, had blunted the feelings of humanity, and callously prepared men for the commission of all crimes. The intolerant spirit of church persecution had transferred itself into politics; the tribunals, stiled Revolutionary, supplied the place of an Inquisition; and the Guillotine of the Stake. I saw many of my most intimate friends destroyed; others daily carried to prison; and I had reason to believe, and had also intimations given me, that the same danger was approaching myself."

     That Robespierre's deism finally managed to supplant the revolutionary state's atheism and that peace, love, and understanding did not then spread throughout the land undermines Paine's claims. Paine felt that the revolution in politics, especially as represented in America, would necessarily lead to a revolution in religion, and that this religious revolution would result in wide acceptance of deism. The common link between these two revolutions was the idea that the individual man was sovereign and could determine for himself what was right and wrong based on his autonomous reason. What Paine was too myopic to see was that in France's violence and atheism was found the logical consequence of his individualistic philosophy. In summary, it is not Christianity which is dangerous, but the spirit of autonomy which leads inevitably into authoritarianism by way of human desire.

     As should be clear by now, Paine failed to understand that human beings have a strong tendency to set impartial reason aside and to simply evaluate reality based on their desires and psychological states. This is no more obvious than in his own ideas as expressed in The Age of Reason. Like Paine's tendency to designate every book in the Old Testament which he likes as having been written originally by a gentile and translated into Hebrew, so many of his criticisms of Christian theology are far more a reflection upon himself than of revealed Christianity. One has only to look at Paine's description of Jesus Christ as a “virtuous reformer and revolutionist” to marvel that Paine was so poor at introspection so as to not understand that he was describing himself.

     There is much more that could be said about this work, but in the interest of being somewhat concise, I'll end my comments here. If you found this analysis to be useful, be sure to check out my profile and look for my work discussing Paine and other anti-Christian writers coming soon.