6 Underground: Michael Bay, Please Stop.

Over the past weekend Netflix released the Ryan Reynolds led action film 6 Underground. I am a fan of Reynolds, and in general him being in a film is enough to make it enjoyable and passable. I sat down this weekend to watch 6 Underground and I only made it 30 minutes in before I had to turn it off. 

The opening 20 minutes of the film is a ridiculous car chase where there is no context for anything happening. It’s cut to pieces by constant jumping between shots and angles and slow motion and explosions and skids and explosions and screeching tires and explosions. I was genuinely watching in disbelief that this is how they decided was best to start a film. Completely out of context action, time jumping around with the camera just ever so slightly zoomed into each character when they’re trying to deliver some of the garbage cheesy dialogue.

This is of course a Michael Bay film, and it appears he has just been let off any kind of leash and given carte blanche to make whatever he wanted. There might be an absolute masterpiece in the hour and a half I didn’t watch, but I will never find out because it’s borderline unwatchable. The explosions and cars being smashed into a shower of pieces and bodies being flung about like ragdolls is all stuff that can work if done well, and if the story has led to it being relevant.

I normally wouldn’t spoil anything but fuck it, this movie is trash. at the end of this obnoxiously long opening chase, the driver, or number 6, or whatever number he is called because even Names are a character trait Michael Bay doesn’t care for, is killed by a forklift spike through the chest. Everyone in the car reacts like their brother, who they have fought alongside in the trenches has died. Up to this point in the movie, they have all been acting as if this is the first job, in fact I think at one point, they even say it’s the first job. So, they have known this dude for days, and then they mention they are using numbers instead of names, so they don’t get attached. So why did we just have a 5-minute scene of everyone sad about the driver.

Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese wrote Deadpool, so I must believe they have some excellent writing skills. Either that, or the entire Deadpool film is improvised and their script was ignored. The dialogue, the logic, everything about the opening 30 minutes of this film, just defies belief. Netflix clearly gave these guys all a lot of money, and Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynoldsy, so he is still mildly entertaining, but everything around him is just nonsense. Visual Noise is a term I believe John Campea coined, and it fits this film perfectly.

When these writers were combined with a passionate film maker in Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds, they produced a fantastic film. I like to think people always try their hardest, but I can’t buy that here. This feels like people happy to take the paycheque and run. That, or it must have been one hell of an off day when everyone put their heads together to produce this.

To be fair, the core idea does sound quite good, a group of people off the grid trying to do things that nobody can do whilst they’re a member of society. It’s a cool premise, lead with that, show us some characters, get the chemistry working and let us buy into the group and then kill off someone. That works, that has an effect, that is how you make us care and engage an audience. Twenty minutes of explosions and quips leading to a sudden death and immediate sadness for a character we don’t have any attachment to just doesn’t work.

Films can open with action scenes, in fact I love it when it’s well done, this is just not given any context because it’s frantic, shot at 100 miles an hour and the tone is that of an early 2000’s music video. Raiders of the Lost Ark opens with an action scene, but it’s done so well that we understand everything we need about Indiana Jones. It’s tense, it’s deliberate, nothing is done because it looks cool, it’s cool because of the character and the tension and the pay off.

To be fair, it’s outrageous to expect any film maker to be able to produce a start like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a target though, it’s something you can watch and learn from. I don’t believe Michael Bay has watched anyone else’s movies; he only seems to repeat his own stuff. Transformers was a franchise with limitless potential, and all he could get from it was a lot of slow motion and cool looking robots. The action scenes are a hurricane of metal everywhere. The story is an afterthought, below a supermodel like actress wearing hot pants in the checklist of how to make a movie.

He can produce good movies, Pain & Gain, Bad Boys, 13 Hours, The Rock, and Armageddon are all examples of fun films Bay has directed, but sometimes he just seems to get lost in the excitement of blowing stuff up. I’d love to see him work with another director, someone who is more character focused, and see what that produced.

For now, though, steer clear of 6 Underground, and watch Watchmen instead. I started it this weekend and episode one is a fantastic set up, I plan to finish it by the end of this week. There is also a small indie film coming out this week called “The Rise of Skywalker” and hopefully that’s something readers are interested in.

Until then, thanks for reading.

ChAzJS

 

2019 Gaming: The Calm before the Storm

This past weekend I was thinking about what games I have really enjoyed this year, which games I would put up there as potential Game of the Year contenders and to my surprise I think the only real contender for me is Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. But surely that can’t be the case. 

Discussing it with a friend of mine, they referred to this year as the calm before the storm, and it does make a lot of sense. They also pushed me in the direction of Outer Wilds, a puzzle exploration game which I will be playing this week, and not to be confused with The Outer Worlds. I have tried to jump into The Outer Worlds and it just didn’t grab me, I am thinking about committing a solid chunk of playtime to it and just seeing how it feels after 5 or 6 hours, but after the first few hours of it I was almost bored.

Borderlands 3 was fun, but it added very little to the experience for me, and the boss fights were largely dull after the first half of the game. The final boss is possibly the easiest big boss in the game, and I was hoping for something a little bit different. As for it being Game of the Year, it doesn’t do enough to get into that conversation for me.

The only game that’s given me any wow moments all year has been Fallen Order. It takes elements of all the recent GOTY contenders from previous years and combines them into a solid gameplay experience with an interesting story for Star Wars fans. It doesn’t quite stick the landing story-wise, and even with its spectacular ending the plot could have used a little more to tie it together.

The elephant in the room with all my games this year is Death Stranding, a game I was completely put off by. As soon as I discovered what the gameplay was, I was out, I wanted no part of it. I think during the Christmas break I might pick it up and see how I feel once I am in the world. Even Hideo Kojima’s walking simulator hasn’t hit the games industry quite the same way that 2018 and 2017 did. Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, Uncharted 4 and Spiderman all came out over those 2 years, and that’s just listing off PS4 Exclusive games.

All the PS4 titles would win game of the year in 2019 comfortably, and that’s made this year feel barren. What that’s meant for my time spent on games this year, is a lot of game services being grinded out. I started the year hammering Destiny 2 and getting up to the level cap, deep in the weekly grind. Then I fell into Apex Legends and all spent a lot of time deep in that game right up until they changed the maps. That felt like a good point for me to jump into something else.

FIFA came along in September and I have barely played any mode except Pro Clubs, which is of course the best mode on the game. Then came my only other contender for Game of the Year so far, except possibly Outer Wilds this week. That game is, surprisingly to me, Call of Duty Modern Warfare.

I have a lot of great memories with the Call of Duty franchise, right up to Call of Duty Black Ops 2, I was a die-hard player. I spent my evenings after school either sitting on Habbo (remember that?) or playing Call of Duty. Modern Warfare 2 was when I was in my prime, and although I am not back to that level right now, I am slowly getting there.

The new Modern Warfare has an excellent single player shooter campaign that I would encourage anyone to play as it’s one of the best and most hard-hitting stories I have seen in any of these types of games. That combined with the edge of your seat twitch shooting multiplayer make it one of the most complete games of the year in terms of giving you a lot of content to play through.

What it boils down to is the end of the console generation being in sight, and this year has suffered because of it. Right now, we have less than a full year of the PS4/Xbox One generation left, and in the time, we have a lot of huge games to drop before the new squad of consoles arrive. Next year will have The Last of Us Part 2, Cyberpunk 2077, Marvels Avengers, Watchdogs Legion and Doom Eternal just to name a few. I am more excited for each of those games than anything released in 2019.

I have checked if I missed anything big this year, and the only game I found was Sekiro, a game I have no interest in. 2019 might be the most disappointing year in gaming we’ve had for a while, but 2020 could potentially be the best we’ve ever had. Fingers crossed Cyberpunk & Co live up to my lofty expectations.

Later this week I think I might do a Star Wars predictions post, which is something extremely nerdy for you to look forward to. Until the next post, thanks for reading!

ChAzJS

 

 

The Superman Problem

Late last week a few stories broke about DC not being entirely sure how to use Superman in their films. It’s a revelation that will shock very few, considering they’ve not touched the man of steel since Batman V Superman and Justice League where he was mishandled and used in odd ways. I think DC have been making some good moves lately, but their handling of Superman has shown they don’t understand what they have with the character. 

The character that started the Superhero film genre in the 70’s couldn’t catch a break in the 2010’s and has nothing planned for the 2020’s. Henry Cavill looks the part, and even acts the part superbly, but DC seem hesitant to go forward with anything involving the Kryptonian.

The age-old problem people immediately put forward with Superman is that he’s impervious to everything except a green rock, which is true, he is overpowered. That does not make it hard for him to be compelling though. One of the most interesting aspects of the character for me is not that he’s a godlike figure, but that he struggles to fit in anywhere.

He knows he doesn’t fit in with the people around him, but he’s grown up as one of them and lives among them. He loves a human woman, he has human friends, a normal job, and in all three of those situations he feels uncomfortable. If DC need a little bit of inspiration, they should watch Kill Bill 2, where Bill talks about superman.

“When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent”

Man, of Steel did not take this angle, it made superman a reluctant hero who then had to step up into the role. To me, being Superman was always the easy part for the character. Saving people from falling buildings, punching villains, all that jazz is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining his Clark Kent persona. Diving into that side of him is a tough choice though, because it’s the part that doesn’t involve him being a superhero.

From that angle, the challenge with Superman isn’t making him compelling or relevant to audiences but making that fit into a modern superhero film. The action set pieces need agency and stakes, and there is only really two ways to do that with superman. Green rocks or kidnapping the ones he cares about. Of course, we have seen both ideas executed before.

Batman V Superman had the ingredients of a good superman story, the problem with that film stem from the over eagerness of the studio to cram in everyone and catch up to Marvel. They had an interesting Lex Luthor, but he was only a bit part character because they had to get to Batman, and cover Wonder Woman, and bring in doomsday to eventually kill superman. All in one film. It was too much and went beyond ambition into the realms of stupidity. Also, Batman might well kill people, but he’s not got much previous with just annihilating people with rockets and machine guns.

In Lex Luthor, we have an influential billionaire who people can easily find things to hate about. His power is his influence, and to me the dynamic between him and superman could potentially rival the Batman/Joker situation. The Superman film I want to see is Superman struggling with being a human whilst finding stopping super-villains a piece of cake. Then he should deal with facing a real human problem like having his reputation dragged and false stories leaked about him, an enemy he can’t punch or throw around to defeat.

Give Superman a problem that Clark Kent must deal with, then you force him into a position he’s uncomfortable in, and that makes for great drama. DC trying to fit Superman into the universe they have with Wonder Woman and Aquaman probably won’t work this way, as they need him to be even more powerful than those two, who at this point are gods. Maybe they should take a leaf out of the Joker book and make a standalone Superman story that isn’t connected to the rest of the DC Films.

I hope they don’t just bench the character and focus on everything else. I am not even the biggest Superman fan, but the character demands respect, as without his films in the 70s, we wouldn’t have any of these superhero films.

A nerdy one to start the week, probably in reaction to my Sunday which was spent watching NFL and the Premier League. ‘Til Tomorrow!

ChAzJS

 

Why I spend too long playing Football Manager

Football Manager is a video game in the same way that Microsoft Access is a video game. Essentially, it’s a giant database of statistics, and a football simulation engine. Quite how this game is my most played in recent years is difficult to explain, but over the last few years I have poured hundreds of hours into meticulously managing my team and creating a dynasty before I scrap it all up and start again with the following years game. 

It makes little sense when you think about it, I have given up on my Football Manager 2019 save where I am 9 years deep into a save with Arsenal now the most successful team in history, and I am starting all again to use a slightly different game and revert back to a squad with all the problems I had spent hours trying to fix and train out of my squad.

But here I am, 8 hours into my next slog, and I am already feeling that addictive pull towards the game. It sucks hours from your life, and all of the time you’re watching the simulation, then addressing the press, discussing things with your players, attending scouting meetings to keep an eye on future talent, managing your youth squads and even negotiating contracts to try and keep your wage bill in check.

Do you stick to a dedicated wage structure, something the game will not police for you, but that you will have to actively decide yourself that no, you will not offer your striker 20k more than the other members of your squad. Last year I lost a star player because of 10k per week that I could easily afford. But in my head, he was out of form, and the cheek of asking for a raise at that point annoyed me enough to end up with me leaving him on the bench for a few months and getting rid at a loss.

Those moments, those situations that develop are what makes Football Manager so compelling. Yes on the face of it, it’s just stat sheet after stat sheet, but as it’s improved over the years, it’s become a story game full of relationships that build up and break down and even lead to grievances with players that you carry into the real world. I was furious when Arsenal were linked with Zaha because he had pissed me off on football manager 3 years ago and honestly, I have never let it go.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Tye Clemo though, A youth academy player the game generated itself who went on to become Arsenal’s 2nd all-time top scorer only behind Thierry Henry. I am heading into this year’s iteration with so much curiosity about what new twists await me in the coming hours I will spend berating my centre backs for missing tackles and fining a player because he got sent off and cost me a pen that means my 4-0 win becomes a 4-1 win losing my clean sheet.

To the uninitiated, it’s an unwieldy prospect. People play FIFA and Pro Evolution to live out their fantasies of watching their favourite players perform wondrous feats of skill on a football pitch. People play football manager for a different kind of love, even if stems from the same sport. I love playing football manager because I can pretend, even just on my own in my room, that I am in charge of the football club I love.

I was going to try and review the game, but I don’t think it’s a reviewable thing for me. I would never recommend anyone play this game unless they’re supremely passionate about all things football. But for the people that are in love with the beautiful game like I am, it is an absolute delight and I am going to stop this blog now because my last match was a humbling 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth after a solid start of 2 wins including a victory over Sp*rs.

Hope you have a great Monday!

ChAzJS

 

Google Stadia: Streaming Games Works…sort of

For the last week influencers and reviewers have been playing Google Stadia. Yesterday, the review embargo was up, and a deluge of universally disappointed people spoke out about how the technology was there, but the service just wasn’t up to it. It’s been a rough launch for google, and its missing a lot of the features it’s expected will eventually come to the platform. 

I can understand why there is so much disappointment around this, they promised a lot and naturally people expected that promise to be mostly fulfilled on launch. The closer to launch we got, the more and more features were confirmed as “coming soon” basically stripping down the launch from the full platform to just being a beta or Early Access launch for those who really want to play it.

I’ve seen a few people mention this, and I think google may have missed a trick by not sticking a big fat “Early Access” label on Stadia until 2020 when they have the full suite of features up and running. That early access tag is superficial in a lot of ways, basically they’ve been honest and just launched what they have now, and will add the rest later, but it has led to a lot of questions about why they have launched a severely undercooked product into an incredibly competitive market.

The lack of features is alarming, some basic functionality just isn’t there from what I can see, for example buying a game can’t be done from all platforms, only really the Google Pixel phone, and you can’t play on the phone unless you have a USB-C to USB-C connector which evidently wasn’t sent out with the controller. It feels like they should have delayed the release but didn’t want their first entry to the games industry to be a delayed launch, although I don’t think this is any better for their reputation.

What’s more important to me personally, is that the technology is working. People are playing games on their TV’s at home, walking to a shop, and carrying on whilst walking right from where they left off. That is the dream for me, and as much success as the Nintendo Switch has had, I cannot wait until I can play games like Jedi Fallen Order at home and then on my journey to work.

The fact the tech works is far bigger news that I think it’s being credited for, but it really shines a light on the infrastructure needed to play these platforms. The internet is the key component that new streaming technologies need but the infrastructure just isn’t there for most of the globe. I am in a privileged position where I have great internet in my home and enough GB on my data plan to never have to think about it, but even I will struggle with playing games on my journey into work because the signal just isn’t consistent on trains. 5G internet will fix some of these issues, but even then, my train goes underground for a large part of my Journey so that’ll be the point where I have to stop playing.

The thought of getting to lunch time and being able to carry on from where I was is delightful though. That dreamland is now on the horizon, and I am very excited for the next couple of years when we will see this tech thrive. Stadia has launched this week and is the first out of the gate. Its rough launch has been tough on Google (Bless them, hope they’re going to be okay) but I have no doubt that the people at Microsoft have been watching with eagle eyed curiosity.

Next year they will be launching Project X Cloud in its entirety, and they will be watching Stadia and probably have more of an eye on how the technology is working than the services. They have a huge advantage in the fact they have libraries of 1000s of games ready for people to play, they just have to get the technology right. Their service is already made, the Xbox store, game pass, gold, it’s already ingrained in their ecosystem and Xcloud just opens their platform to more people. Quite how their platform will perform, or how the pricing will work, I am not sure, but I am certain they will be taking notes and making sure they get this right.

The Xbox camp has been steadily making all the right choices to position themselves as the front runner of the next generation, while stadia is an unknown and Nintendo won’t launch a streaming service until 2037. Their main competition will of course be the PS5, a console we know almost nothing about. There are rumours everywhere but what’s true and what’s industry speculation is hard to pick apart, the only guarantee is that games streaming will be a part of it.

Years ago, they launched a game streaming service to little fanfare. PSNow is a service that’s been improving for years and I think will be a big part of their next generation, even if they revamp its brand to make it feel like a new product. Playing anywhere isn’t a sure thing, but they’ve also been dabbling in that for several years as well with Remote play.

Stadia’s stumbling out the block shouldn’t scare people off streaming games platforms but should serve as proof of concept. It works, it just needs to be correctly implemented with the right services. Perhaps Google will get it there sooner rather than later, but if they don’t, I am confident Microsoft and Sony will.

ChAzJS

 

 

The 2010’s

From 2010 to 2019, geek culture has completely taken over the big blockbuster movie genre. Marvel, Star Wars, DC and even smaller things like Scott Pilgrim are based on comic books. Living through it has been a joy for a nerd like me, but over the weekend I began to wonder if we may look back on this period as a sort of golden age. 

It doesn’t stop at geek culture either, some of my favourite and the best made films of all time have come out, from Lala Land to Birdman to Whiplash to Inception. There has been an incredible range of fantastic movies. Of course, every decade has its great movies. Even if you restrict it to one great director, the 90’s had Pulp Fiction, the 00’s had Kill Bill, and the 10’s had Django Unchained. What separates the last decade is that we had all the great films you’d expect with a massive collection of brilliant geeky movies that brought it to the mainstream and was successful.

Of course Star Wars was a huge success, it was always going to be because cinema goer’s love things they’ve seen before being brought back in a slightly different way, but Star Wars trilogy coming out side by side with the climax of a ten year story arc that Marvel had put together is unprecedented. Just this year alone we have Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker acting as end caps of sort to their respective stories, one spanning 10 years and 20+ films, the other just 9 films but spread over 42 years leading to ridiculous expectations.

The Oscars in the last 10 years have been dominated by the normal type of films, with the odd surprise, but the films that really defined this generation are all geek ones. Even the tragic situation Warner Bros managed to find themselves in with DC is something to remember, and they had their moments with Wonder Woman and Joker.

Even Disney originals and Pixar have made their best work in the last 10 years, Frozen, Moana, The Incredibles 2, Inside Out, Toy Story 3 & 4. The list of films in the last ten years is mind blowing, and I can’t help but think the next few years will feel like a disappointment in a way. I’ve gotten used to Marvels cycle, and although they have loads of films slated, the next one I am excited for is Thor Love and Thunder, and that is it. None of the rest of the slate appeals to me at this point.

Star Wars is essentially on hiatus from films until they figure out what they want to do next, something I would really hope they take their time and get it right. DC are a complete enigma now; will Birds of Prey be fantastic or horrendous? Honestly depending on when you pause the trailer you could think either.

2020 and beyond will have great movies, I am sure of that. To me it feels like the last 10 years have spoiled me, and not having three Marvel films I care about alongside a Star Wars film and a couple of DC movies is going to be odd. I am aware that all of this will probably seem stupid by this time next year, when I am the world’s biggest fan of The Eternals, but that’s just how I am.

Next year will have three marvel films, just I am not anticipating any of them. I have realised in the last few years that a huge part of my enjoyment with these big blockbusters is the anticipation, almost more than the actual film itself. Right now, I have Star Wars I am really looking forward to, and beyond that, there isn’t anything. That’s probably why I feel like it’s the end of a geeky era, when as soon as the first Black Widow trailer drops, I will be back on board the hype train.

What I am trying to say is that I am a huge fan of this stuff, and I don’t want it to end. When you think about it, I really shouldn’t be worried. Avengers Endgame made more money than any film in history, a feat I had accepted would be Avatar’s record forever. They are going to be trying to repeat that.

As for Star Wars, I spent a lot of my spare time this weekend play Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, and it’s possibly my favourite game of the year. More on that tomorrow.

Until then, Happy Monday.

ChAzJS

 

Chuck versus The Mandalorian

Finally, I watched something other than Chuck. I managed to find a way to watch the Mandalorian. However, I just want to watch more Chuck because I am addicted once again. I wonder if anyone else has fallen into this trap before with a never-ending selection of their favourite shows they watch on repeat. 

I think season 3 of Chuck might be my favourite season of any show, and Episodes 9 to 14 are the best the show gets. It’s a wacky and emotional experience to watch Chuck, but the payoff is beyond anything I have ever watched. I know I am biased because the show is pretty much perfect for me due to the main character basically being me if I looked like Zachary Levi and had a moral compass. Oh, and a database worth of classified information in my head.

Anyway, my point is, I have seen it all before, and yet nothing I have watched trailers for or read about or scrolled to on any streaming service has grabbed my attention and forced me to stop watching it. Until last night, when I spent just shy of 40 minutes watching The Mandalorian. It starts slow, and builds to the point when you’re just getting interested in what’s happening and then stops, which whilst leaving me unsatisfied from the first episode, it’s the perfect set up for a series and I will definitely try to find a way to watch the second episode as well.

I won’t go into any spoilers, but I can already see one thing that might prevent this show from reaching the highest it could, and that’s the Mandalorian himself. After one episode we haven’t seen his face, and its hinted that we never will. This is a cool idea in a lot of media, Master Chief and Judge Dredd also never remove their masks. I have also never cared about Master Chief or Judge Dredd because they’re faceless protagonists. There are no emotions being shown. It works for a villain, Darth Vader is scarier because we can’t see any emotions, same with horror icons like Michael Myers.

In a show where we are following this character around, I found myself interested in the events happening, but not really bothered about the Mandalorian himself. It may change and perhaps through his actions they can convey the range I like in characters but after one episode it’s a little bit of a concern for me. Chuck is an example of a show where the performances and acting is 90% of the shows charm. The Mandalorian is already at a disadvantage in that it’s taken the incredibly charismatic Pedro Pascal and stuck him in a helmet. It’s a cool helmet, but still.

What’s not a concern is the look and feel of it, everything in this world looks like it fits into Star Wars. I saw some reactions to the effects not quite being up to scratch, but I am willing to forgive that in a show that’s going to run far longer than any film we have ever seen in the universe, although to be honest I never noticed anything too jarring in the episode. The music is unlike the saga films, as you would expect it to be, but I must admit I do find myself pining for those familiar tunes whenever I am in the Star Wars world. Perhaps the score will grow on me as the show goes on, but I will take some time adjusting to Star Wars without the Star Wars music I know and love.

The Mandalorian has started well, but I can’t escape from the clutches of Chuck or The Office. That new(ish) Paul Rudd led series on Netflix keeps popping up whenever I go for a scroll, but I just can’t bring myself to watch Paul Rudd being sad. That’s not how I like to receive my Paul Rudd. Then there is Jack Ryan, a show which I have wanted to watch for ages, but I am currently three quarters of the way through my 2nd viewing of The Office.

John Krasinski is Jim Halpert, he can’t also be in my life as Jack Ryan. How am I supposed to deal with two loads of Krasinski? I don’t want to start Jack Ryan and hate it because he isn’t looking into the camera and shrugging when someone says something. Beyond a new series, there is an unbelievably long list of films I need to watch, but just can’t bring myself to do. It feels like too much of a time commitment, so instead I watch 3 forty-two-minute-long episodes of Chuck.

This weekend I will finally get to dive into a new singe player Star Wars game, Jedi Fallen Order, which I am very excited for, and will probably preview that tomorrow or Friday morning. Apologies for missing yesterday, I had to get into work early for someone who wasn’t getting there until 9 anyway. So please blame my offices’ new phone system. I am off to said office now to battle through another day and think about how gosh dang perfect Chuck is.

‘Til tomorrow.

ChAzJS