Tag Archives: Review

Fanboy Movie Review #7 — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single double viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back for Vol. 2! Has it really been three years since Volume 1? Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Baby Groot, plus a number of new and returning characters — the gang’s all here.  Here are my thoughts on the latest installment.

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Yaaaaaas!

First Impressions:  I really enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie was such an unexpected treasure. It wasn’t without its flaws, but it stands as one of my favorites in the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. James Gunn has returned to helm this new Guardians adventure, so I’m definitely onboard. Let’s see how it goes.

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I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!

What I LIKED:

  • YONDU! I think the whistling, blue-skinned Ravager stole the show. Michael Rooker nails it. We haven’t lost many characters in the MCU (so far), so I think that this is the most saddening loss we’ve seen so far. I’m Mary Poppins, y’all! *sniff, sniff*
  • Chris Pratt! He’s as funny as ever, but this is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him. The moment where Ego puts stars in his eyes, his entire physicality changes, and there is an alien sadness and wonder to him that’s fantastic.
  • Awesome Mix, Volume II! Once again, a great pick of classic hits to shade and nuance the story. Fun Fact: Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” album is one of my favorite of all time, so I loved hearing “The Chain” during that critical battle was awesome sauce.
  • Kurt Russell! By his very name, Ego is a pretty over-the-top character. The same could be said of many aspects of the story, but I’m okay with OTT in both because it’s Guardians of the Galaxy, AND because Kurt Russell has played two of the most OTT characters in all of cinema: Snake Plissken and Jack Burton. Seeing him in this story was a treat.
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Little did we know that Ego stuck around on Earth, became a truck driver, and had many adventures on the ol’ Pork-chop Express.

  • Drax’s continuous laughter. He was such a dour and serious character in the first film. Seeing him give bellowing, Herman Munster-esque laughs at almost everything was both funny and a testament of how the character has moved past his incredible grief.
  • All the scenes with Drax and Mantis. The best is when she touches him and is immediately overwhelmed with emotion while Drax sits calmly, smiling. I love this scene.
  • Baby Groot. I will miss him when a moody, Teenage Groot is there instead.
  • The art direction in this movie is off the rails. From the golden appointments of the Sovereign, to Ego’s psychedelic landscape, Volume 2 is a visual masterpiece.
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Somebody’s about to start singing “Goldfinger” or “Xanadu.”

  • All the after-the-credits stingers.
  • The end credit sequence, which looks like old album art, and random names that change from “I am Groot.” And Zaadu Hasselfrau, er…David Hasselhoff singing “Guardians Inferno.”
  • Minimal meta-plot. I went in expecting the Guardians to snag another Infinity Stone, but the main story (thankfully) had nothing to do with Thanos. The story could be its own thing rather than being a validation of what has gone before and a setup for things to come (the main problem with Age of Ultron.)
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IT’S ALLEGORICAL…no, wait.

What I DIDN’T Like:

Nitpicks:

  • Maybe it’s just my Dungeons & Dragons roots, but I don’t like it when they split the party. The Guardians are all together at the very beginning and at the end. For most of the movie, they aren’t together.
  • It felt like a few characters were underutilized, like Drax and Mantis. I really liked the scenes they were in, though. Drax’s only real combat scene was at the very beginning, and that was secondary to Baby Groot’s dance number.
  • Speaking of which, I liked the Volume 2 opener, but it seemed like a CGI explosion rather than the fun, live-action dance number at the beginning of Volume I. I will say that it was a good introduction to the spirit of the movie, however, as Baby Groot doing his thing was the focus rather than the battle going on behind him. Battles weren’t the point of this movie.
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Daaaaawwww….

  • Rocket stealing the batteries. They tried to justify this a few times, but there was really no reason for him to do that, except that he had to have them for the end sequence. That felt like a stupid and unnecessary thing to do, even it was pretty funny.
  • The Sovereign, themselves. Gorgeous as their all-gold appointments were (Goldfinger anyone?), with a classic arcade drone pit, I don’t think they added much to the story other than to be another threat. Even though I know it’s a completely different actress, I swear that Ayesha looks like she’s played by Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner.
  • Taserface. I didn’t find that gag all that great. The disappointed look as a golden-faced lady laughs at his name was pretty funny, though.
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What? No Tango and Cash reunion?

Unresolved Questions (At This Point):

Was Ego a Celestial in the sense of what was established elsewhere in the MCU (the immense armored figures shown in Volume I), or is ‘Celestial’ more of general classification of godlike beings? It’s a little odd that Ego was a giant brain that built a planet around itself, whereas Knowwhere, the home of the Collector, was a severed head of a Celestial, which was itself the size of a planet.

Quill might not be immortal now, but he’s still a half-celestial. Does that mean that he might still have some latent powers because of it? Will this come into play when all the Infinity Stones are brought into one place?

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Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film

Also, what part will Nebula play in the coming battle against Thanos? When will Adam Warlock make his grand entrance? (Truth be told, I thought they were going to hand Adam’s role over to Doctor Strange. Guess not.)

What happened to Quill’s ship, the Milano? Did the Ravagers take it with them since their ship, the Eclector, was large enough to accommodate several ships of that type (like the one taken by Nebula), or is it still left in half repair in the forest on Berhert?

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Guardians….gather!

Conclusions:

While I would have preferred to see the Guardians together as a team throughout the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed Volume II. Marvel movies are normally billed as action-packed blockbusters. Volume II has some great action sequences, but it chooses instead to focus on the characters, and how there is more to them what’s simply on the surface.

And what better group to do this than the beloved characters of Guardians of the Galaxy? In focusing on the people rather than action, we get a chance to hang out with these characters for two hours. The emotion is there, from start to finish, and that is the real victory of Volume II.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

(We Are Groot!)

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Garden of the Gods: An Interview with Author Stephen J. Stirling

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen J. Stirling about his latest novel, Garden of the Gods. I was lucky enough to read it early and found it to be an concise and poignant thriller. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes what I call ‘introspective action.’ That is, the kind of book that is action-packed, but keeps you pondering its message and themes for days afterward.

This is something of a first on this blog, but it has given me the idea on having other authors on to talk about their work. For now, though, let’s talk to the man himself about Garden of the Gods!

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Hello, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you on Sector M! I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with another author about their methods and body of work. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Thank you for having me! I always enjoy my chats with the leadership of Sector M and our glimpses into the future.

Let’s talk about your latest book, Garden of the Gods. Without giving too much away for readers, what can you tell us about the story and your influences for it?

The story itself revolves around a Native American tribe in the northeast Arizona desert. But Garden is largely a statement about worship—any worship—how it enriches our lives and what belief for each of us is really all about. The fact that we live in an age that needs religion so badly was the driving force behind writing this story.

I remember that Alan Moore used to say that the plot of a story is wholly different from what it’s about, meaning the themes, allegory, morals, and all that good stuff. So, what is Garden of the Gods about?

Well, Garden of the Gods is about Native Americans, their rich heritage, their connection with the past, and their hope for the future. . . (and it is also about monsters). But to call it a simple action/adventure would do the story a disservice. The story’s subplot proves that every resolution within this book was motivated by faith, or the lack of it.

The book is a period piece, in more than one sense of the term. What kind of research and preparation did you do about the time period, the various species you include, and native tribes when writing it?

The American southwest is a treasure of unique people and, as of yet, not wholly discovered zoological life. It is a human and animal ecosystem in constant flux, breathing and pulsating with the drama of life. Writing is a funny thing. You begin researching one topic, and end up somewhere entirely different. The Native American people against the backdrop of wartime America was where I tried to focus my research—I wanted to do them and their heritage justice.

When you are writing a book, what is your method? Are you more of a ‘planner,’ who outlines everything in great detail ahead of time, or are you more of a ‘gardener,’ who throws characters into a situation and lets it develop organically without preconceived notions of the outcome? Where you do you fall in that continuum, do you think?

This question is very important, and my answer is—yes. You think you’re one kind of writer who has all the characters lined up and ready to do what they’re told, and suddenly they turn on you. They come out fighting and you’re left to clean up their messes. I guess you could say I fall somewhere in between the two methods.

Let’s talk about your main character, Matt Hayden. He strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as many two-fisted pulp-era adventurers, like Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, and perhaps even a hint of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. What were your influences and thoughts when creating your leading man?

Hayden is a hero cut from whole cloth, at the same time with a huge wrinkle broadening him into a sympathetic strength that is instantly likable. I did craft him between literature’s Allan Quartermaine and living legend Bring Em’ Back Alive Frank Buck, and yet the combination makes him unique among American characters.

And what about the secondary and/or support characters? What were their roles when placing them into the overall ensemble?

Read the book carefully and you’ll discover that every character has a religious angle. Every character worships something. Every character (even “non-believers”) believes in something. Every character has to fight for something, and every character has to abandon something in the process.

The Nyah Gwaheh, the armored bear, has a very complex role in the story. In some ways it serves as the primary antagonist, but it’s clear that it has a deeper, more symbolic role to play within the narrative. What sort of metaphor does it represent?

The Nyah Gwaheh is a living parable of religious value and the things that we worship, whether we know it or not. He is the driving force of the book.

Any chance or thoughts on a sequel? No pressure…

Oh good, because I don’t see a sequel in the future. I think I’ll leave the characters to their own devices for a while.

This last question is pretty free-form. What would you like the readers out there to know about your book? Anything you like. Here, I’ll hand you the proverbial megaphone.

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Well thank you! I’ve never used a proverbial megaphone before. I’d like to leave you by saying I hope others will find as much joy in reading this book as I found in writing it; and if they find an introspective moment—or two—to contemplate their own spirituality I will have accomplished even more.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat, Stephen! It’s been a rare pleasure.

The pleasure is mine! Thank you for your interest in my project and your insightful questions. Talking with you has been a rare treat.

Take care now, and don’t be a stranger!

 

There you have it, folks – right from the source himself. Garden of the Gods is on bookshelves now at Deseret Book stores. It’s also available in print or digital format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

CHECK. IT. OUT.


Fanboy Game Review #1 – Fallout 4

[Note: I do not consider myself a game critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Oh, and there are some mild SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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War never changes, but the UI certainly does.

Fallout 4 is big news in the media. It’s all over YouTube, news outlets, and TV. There’s a promotional Nuka Cola Quantum soda available at Target (if you lined up at 8:00 am on the day the game came out). Conan O’Brien even donned a Vault-Tec jumpsuit and Pip-Boy to give his take on the game. While reviews overall are mixed, with passionate viewpoints on both sides of the fence, I decided to put my two cents in about this blockbuster video game release.

So, here we go…

First Impressions:  Bethesda has a pretty good track record. Let’s see…Oblivion, Fallout 3, and FREAKIN’ SKYRIM! That last one is in all caps for a reason. SKYRIM is one of my favorite games of all time. So, the developers are going next generation with the Fallout series, one of the most beloved IPs in modern gaming. Okay, Bethesda, you have my attention. Let’s see what you’ve got.

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You are S.P.E.C.I.A.L!

What I Liked:

  • Since the original Legend of Zelda, I have always loved open-map games. Don’t put on me on rails, just turn me loose and let me decide where I want to go, and the order in which I tackle objectives. Fallout 4 gives me this freedom. Even when I’m not sure what to do next, I appreciate the ability to set my own course and blaze my own path.
  • Junk is useful. Pretty much anything you pick up can help you do something in the game. I have a suit of power armor optimized for carrying capacity so I can ‘clean up’ areas after I’ve cleared them of baddies. Nary a coffee cup or battered clipboard escapes my clutching grasp.
  • VOICE ACTING. Bethesda is known for their incredible voice talents and Fallout 4 does not disappoint. The male/female protagonist talent is top-shelf all the way, and the supporting cast is diverse and rarely if ever repeats. And Lynda Carter is in it as a character you can flirt with. By all that is right and holy in this world, my dreams have finally come true!
  • The story. I know that this is a problem for some folks, but I find it engaging. Now that I’m a parent in real life, the very thought of someone taking my kids away is a strong motivator to me, and very personal. Give me powered armor and I would hunt the Institute to hell and back if that’s what it took.
  • Fallout 4 avails itself of the rich lore built up and established in previous titles. I love reading through the journal entries and letters. Every location has a story and creates something of a snapshot of how things were as the bombs fells. I love unraveling the mysteries and finding those hidden pre-war caches of goodies. Love it, love it.
  • Powered Armor. I AM IRON MAN. *da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-dun-dun-DUN-dun*.
  • The Perk System. I know is this a sticking point for some, but I enjoy it. Deciding upon which perk to get in SKYRIM was one my favorite parts of leveling up. This is just taken one step further. I didn’t mind the skill point system from Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I like the perks system quite a bit better. Nothing is wasted, and it’s all useful.
  • The crafting system. Wow…the permutations of this are staggering. Weapons, armor, powered armor, settlements…it’s adult, post-apocalyptic Minecraft. I was never this much of a kid in a candy store even when I was, in fact, a kid in a candy store.
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Why is there never enough Aluminum? Or Adhesive? Gaaaah!

What I Didn’t Like:

  • For a game with such a robust crafting system, there is virtually no tutorial for how to use it effectively. And for things like establishing trade routes, I had to look that up. It’s not intuitive at all. Or when you retain mods for weapons that can be used again.
  • Settlement crafting is seems like it is really meant for building entirely new buildings with almost no consideration for making repairs to existing structures. Try putting a door in a door frame that you didn’t build, or patch a roof that isn’t flat. Nope.
  • I’m in powered armored but sheets of particle board shoddily nailed across a door or window are utterly impenetrable. Can I build my settlement defenses out of that stuff?
  • I have an Agility of 9, but I can’t climb. At all. I have to go waaay out of my way, jumping on shipping containers like Super Mario to get to higher ground or onto a rooftop. Really?
  • The lack of non-violent/diplomatic solutions to problems. If there are raiders attacking a nearby settlement, your only real option is to hunt them down and kill them all. I get that this might be the case for the worst of the lot, but for all of them? Without exception?
  • The Dialogue Wheel. I know, this is has been beaten to death in other reviews, but there is often a dissonance between what I think I’m going to say and what actually comes out of my character’s mouth. It feels like this greatly cuts down on the role-playing aspect of this RPG because you can’t carefully consider your words ahead of time.
  • The facial animations are behind the curve. As cool as Piper is as a character (and I love her), hers seems worst of all. I realize the open world means that the graphics can’t be as photorealistic as Rise of the Tomb Raider, but here the facial animations seem only marginally better than SKYRIM.
  • The type on the screen is sometimes hard to read. Every time I find a comic book, I immediately have to swivel it around to the back so I can actually read the benefit it gives me. There are also a few times when trading with an NPC will cover up key parts of the trading interface.
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Maybe, but I bet the Spartans would have welcomed powered armor. Just sayin’.

Conclusions:  I love this game, and don’t kid yourself – it is highly addictive. Be prepared to lose sleep and make apologies to friends and family. It’s immersive with a sense of place that is wonderful, terrifying, and rich. The attention to detail is off-the-chain nuts. Seriously. This isn’t a ‘once a year’ title that you’ll play through in a week or two and then put down for months or years. No, this is a game, much like SKYRIM, that you’ll be playing for years to come. Considering the breadth of content in the base game alone, Fallout 4 is utterly worth the price of admission.  You’ve done it again, Bethesda. My thanks.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.