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Review Mr. Pig a.k.a. Sr. Pig (2016): Howard the pig steals the show!

genre: drama

Mr. Pig is a road movie about an old man called Ambrose (played by Danny Glover) and his friend Howard the pig. Ambrose is not well. In fact he is dying. Last thing on his agenda seems to be the task to deliver Howard to someone he trusts who will take good care of him.

This premise appealed to me quite a bit. A tale about a dying man spending his last hours with a good friend has feelgood written all over it. And I can't resist feelgood films. However Diego Luna (who you might know from Star Wars: Rogue where he plays as Cassian Andor) doesn't deliver on this. Or at least not the extent I had hoped. Biggest problem is that while most of the acting is done competently it is far from memorable or impressive. Not enough is happening on a dramatic level to make me feel or care for the characters. I did care about the pig though. He easily tops every human character in the film acting wise. He is the only one to be expressing real emotions at some pivotal moments, Maya Rudolph barely has any chemistry with Danny Glover and for the most part she is rather annoying than compelling. If she would have not been in this film it would not have mattered a single thing. To me this is quite astonishing since you would think much more would be happening between a father and daughter in the father's last moments. Especially since it is made clear that he wasn't a particularly good father and never around when he needed her. I had expected some fireworks or at least some interesting dynamics. None of that. I guess there was something of a reveal that perhaps could explain Ambrose being so very passive. Although I think Luna should us have given us more on Ambrose and how he was before we get to meet him. Maybe then I would have been more invested. But like I said I only cared about Howard and what would happen to him.

I think Diego Luna has duped Howard into thinking he was going to be a part of something special instead of this generic film. Not bad but not good by any means. I hope this film will give Howard the exposure he needs to be noticed for better productions. He truly deserves it.

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Review Heroes Shed No Tears a.k.a. Ying xiong wu lei (1986): Even more insane than Face Off!

genre: action, war, drama, heroic bloodshed

You read it correctly. Heroes Shed No Tears is more insane than Face Off. And if you can recall that film you know it is one of the most ridiculous (but oh so entertaining) films ever made. Mind you John Woo himself agrees with this notion. Woo wasn't happy working for Golden Harvest and he would make any movie to get out of his contract. He found the script to be fairly simple and changed it up a bit to make it more emotional. The film includes scenes of sex and drug use that weren't shot by John Woo which you can tell since these scenes feel so misplaced and out of tone. Almost like the powers that be wanted to make their own little version of Apocalypse Now. John Woo had nothing to do with this and hadn't even seen the film in it's finished form. Let that sink in for a moment. The director of the film apparently wasn't involved with the editing and finished product. Woo himself commented Woo that the film was all over the place in tone with sometimes being very emotional, something being as violent as a horror film. It was no wonder that this film got shelved.

Only after the success of A Better Tomorrow the film got released and I for one am happy that they did. Despite all the flaws and John Woo's work having been mistreated big time his stamp is still all over it. Might be rawer and more violent (that should say something to you) than the work we know and love him for but make no mistake the action is top notch. I agree with Woo that tonally this film is all over the place. Heroes Shed No Tears is filled with intense and violent moments that are quite dramatic. But they are interchanged with scenes where some of the characters get wrapped up in some goofy and comedic antics. Picture this. One of your long time buddies gets brutally murdered in front of your eyes. Would you shrub it off like nothing has happened and engage in some happy gambling where wives are used as currency? Exactly. While hugely entertaining for all the wrong reasons it detracts from the original John Woo experience we could have gotten had they allowed him to do his thing.

One other remarkable element of this film is the inclusion of a child actor. Believe it or not he is one of the many reasons this film is worth your time. At first he might seem to be your typical kid in distress. Except he is extraordinary. Not only is he one of the most resourceful kids known to man he also is incredibly brave and heroic. Remember this when you are introduced to him and at times you feel like strangling him. Ching-Ying Lam who you might know as the taoist priest in the Mr. Vampire franchise is the main antagonist and he is brilliantly evil.

Overall this early John Woo title definitely is one of the best in the heroic bloodshed genre. So if you haven't seen this do try to get a hold of a copy. However do keep in mind that the film is completely looney tunes and that you shouldn't take this film serious by any means. Although do be aware that as John Woo movies go this one is very gory and violent. 

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Review Loving (2016): Nice but a bit underwhelming!

genre: biography, drama

Loving is about an interracial couple whose marriage is deemed illegal in Virginia. They got arrested for this supposed crime and were sentenced in court to leave the state and not return for 25 years. Only one of them could enter the state before that but never together. This is the 1950's we are talking about. I hate to say it but I can't stress enough that this wasn't that long ago. Such shameful and blatant racism is simply outrageous. I was expecting the worst. Really thought that for the most part this film would depress me. Only surprisingly the film didn't do that. For sure I was convinced this film was going to made me angry or worse. But no, the film is so quiet and underwhelming that I am asking myself if this story has been done justice?

That would imply that I know about this story and this is not the case. In fact most of the events as they are depicted in the film are true. While there is no doubt that this is an important story it's not a spectacular one. Actually if I think about it this film accurately depicts the racism as it exists today. Not very violent or dramatic but subtle and almost silent. And while that is a real issue it limits what can be shown. A lot of the pain and anguish suffered by the main characters is something that occurs on the inside. Both Mildred and Richard seem to be quiet and calm people. They rarely get angry or get into fights. While that is highly remarkable and a testament of their true and endearing love it's a tad boring for the audience. Sometimes it's fun to see a couple fight. Still I do have to compliment the film for staying true to real events and not dramatizing it to rake in more bucks.

The sole reason I wanted to watch this film was because of Ruth Negga and her Oscar nomination (Oscars 2017). I really like her and she had impressed me since the first time I have seen her on the screen. So I was very happy to hear she got nominated. She certainly deserves it. Only I am not sure if she does for this role though. She acts a lot with her eyes and there is no denying that she was good but memorable? Same goes for Joel Edgerton. Good acting on his part but not to a level that makes you feel the grandeur.

Overall this film was decent and nice. But so underwhelming which again is not the fault of the film since they wanted to stay true to the real events as much as possible. And for that the film does deserve a big amount of respect.

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Review Dark Souls II (PS3): Better suited for beginners? Or still a niche game? Here are my thoughts!

genre: RPG, action, adventure
year:      2014
version: 1.01

Let it be marked that I, Chrichton, have finished the main game of Dark Souls II on February 18, 2017 after having invested over 200 hours into it (mind you spread over a year playing it off and on). For the record I skipped the Ancient Dragon and Vendrick and have yet to finish some of the side quests (if that still is possible). Not sure if I will. There is a high chance of me doing a new game plus sometime to see how the experience is then. Although not in the near future. Too many games and too little time to do all of what I want. So what do I think of this game? Let's find out shall we.

Here are some of my thoughts in a reply to someone regarding a review of Dark Souls on Youtube:

OP said: 

"I think Dark Souls is one of those games heavily defended by its fan boys. If you say one tiny thing regarding difficulty, their alarm bells start ringing. I refuse to believe there are this many gamers who put brutally hard difficulty and inaccessibility above good game design. Many things Dark Souls does a AAA game studio wouldn't dare to do because they are bad game mechanics. Sure there seem to be an increasing amount of micro-transactions and season passes; but one thing is for sure: AAA games mostly don't resurrect failed videogame mechanics. There becomes a point where if you cater too much to casual and equally hardcore players; games stop becoming fun. You need balance in everything and DS3 is the same unbalanced shit the previous two games where from the looks of things."

And here is my reply:

"Not a Dark Souls fan. But having played and finished the first two and Dark Souls wannabe Lords of the Fallen I can state that Dark Souls is pretty well balanced and fair.  However it takes a lot of time and investment on the player's part. Despite the speed runs and sometimes having the option to run past enemies it is still asked of you to get to know the world, it's inhabitants and it's mechanics. If you are willing to do so then gameplay wise it could be enjoyable or at least entertaining. But yes I do think that a lot of fans of the series go overboard when it comes to the praise of elements in the game that are weak and flawed. Having a rich lore doesn't equal a good story or narrative. However thinking about it there is one hell of an ambiance and atmosphere that compensates the lack of story somewhat. Still I do agree that both Dark Souls 1 and 2 rely too heavy on people reading the lore on descriptions of items or weapons and very conveniently abstract dialogue. You really have to be willing to take the extra effort to get into it instead of being compelled to. And this is the point where fans of the game are incredibly defensive about in the same way they are about other media where things are kept abstract. "You didn't get it? Then you probably are too ignorant or too casual". Often people mistake abstract storytelling for good and deep storytelling. And this only is true for the happy few. Dark Souls certainly is rich in a lot of elements but it's not as deep as made out to be. The character you are playing might develop and progress through events and it could be argued the player does as well. To what extent however? What do you learn at the end of the game? What was the point of it all? What would happen if I ignored what the game was telling me to do? It is here where you will realize that story wise you have very little choice. But worse of all it doesn't matter if you care or not. For me that is very important in a story. Whether as spectator or player I have to care and  feel about the actions of the character. Shadow of the Colossus for example is also relatively abstract. But it succeeds in making you care with very few words. Killing the bosses while necessary to progress has a real impact on the player. You feel immediate sadness and sorrow after beating the bosses. In Dark Souls I only felt that with Sif but that was more after I had seen a video on youtube explaining and telling Sif's story using the DLC content. Point is that the original game itself ends as it begins. You haven't really accomplished much. BTW Dark Souls 2 has even less story. Have put in many hours into that game only to find out that you have basically been doing the same thing (a little differently not much) making events of first game even more pointless. So yes first and foremost the appeal of the game is put on the gameplay. And while I can appreciate the attraction I also see that it's very flawed."

And I know this is more about the original Dark Souls but most of it can be applied to the second as much as the hardcore fans want to deny that game's existence. Despite it's flaws and more cheap mechanics it still gives you quite a few options and freedom so to say to overcome obstacles. On top of that most enemies stop respawning after you have battled and defeated them numerous times (usually in between 10 or 15 times). Another major difference compared to the original is that you do need to stick to a certain build. It is possible to combine builds but that requires a lot of soul farming and at one point you will run out of them since like I said the enemies will stop respawning. That is if you fail to progress through the game. As long as you manage to go through the game as intended you will have more than enough enemies and packs to get souls from. There is also a vendor who you can sell items and weapons to for souls. Although funnily enough you will only be able to sell those if you take the time to loot the respawning enemies while you can. Now this might seem limiting if it weren't for one new mechanic that remedies this. The Bonfire Ascetic. It's a consumable item meant to be burnt in a bonfire. With this you will reset an area and exhausted enemies will return including the boss of that area. Certain items will return as well but not all. It wouldn't be Dark Souls if there are some conditions attached to using it. The difficulty will increase to that of a new game plus and it's irreversible. So caution is advised. Only use it if you are confident and prepared enough to take on the now more difficult enemies. Another effective method of dealing with the limitations is an item called the Soul Vessel. With this you can respec your stats and change your build as you see fit. I personally didn't use this although I was tempted many times. Then again, I personally don't like to be limited in any way and rather want to build upon what I have instead of breaking down and changing completely. 

Speaking of the difficulty. It is said that Dark Souls II is easier than the original. This might give you the perception it's more streamlined for casuals and beginners. Well, let me help you out of that dream at once. This game is only easier if you have played a Souls game before and even then it comes with a lot of challenges that can be hard, cheap or frustrating. It really depends on how much time you will and want to invest into this game. If you think you can just waltz in and rush through the game like it's nothing then you are sorely mistaken. Like with the original a lot of patience is required. On top of that Dark Souls II has increased the number of mobs coming at you. While the original had a few of them most of them were manageable where you were given enough time to take them on one by one. In Dark Souls II this time is non existent as it often puts you in situations where you find yourself locked in with mobs with very little room to maneuver in and not really possessing a mechanic or skill to deal with them. It is at this moment you will discover how much more slower and vulnerable you are compared to your character in Dark Souls 1. In the original dodging made you invulnerable for a few seconds. It was something you absolutely needed to make it fair. In Dark Souls II the dodging works less efficient unless you increased your agility enough. And even then you are so much slower than most of the enemies. Of course there are some weapons and spells that give you the option to deal with multiple enemies at once but that is dependent of the build you have chosen. No matter how much people are apologetic about this, it's cheap, pure and simple. 

In my playthrough I didn't update nor patch the original version. In many videos and guides on the game it was stated that the developers had nerfed faith and magic builds. I understand that this was done to make the PVP more fair. However it also effects the PVE and for someone like me who has very little to no interest in the multiplayer experience this was like a major slap in the face. I don't respond well to things that are forced upon me. By doing this I made the game more fair and fun for me. And before people say that it basically is easy mode. You still have to put in a lot of souls to raise faith and magic for them to be effective. So it's not like it's suddenly a cake walk. Besides there are plenty of enemies where both magic and faith spells are ineffective and you still are required to use other methods or skills. 

As you can read I have put most attention to the gameplay and have not mentioned anything about the lore or the story. Like it's predecessor the lore is extensive but very short on story. It's so minimalistic that it's very hard to see what the connection is between the original and this one. Only if you really can be bothered to read descriptions and follow what is said in dialogue will you discover some hints and tie ins. Although most of it comes from articles and videos about the game and not from the game itself. For me this is problematic as I have said earlier but not a total letdown. To be honest I knew in advance of what the game was going to be like. Kinda. I don't think this is a bad game. It certainly is flawed and more unfair compared to the original. Still it has enough to offer gameplay wise. There is no denying that the combat options are deep and that the game is filled with numerous challenges. But I don't feel a real sense of accomplishment. I don't think I have been rewarded enough for the time and patience I have put into this game. I am seriously going to think about whether I should play Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3. Let's put it this way I will only be tempted if those games are on sale. 

So to answer the questions I raised in the title. Better suited for beginners? No. Still a niche game? Yes, very much so. If you never played a Souls game and you jump into this adventure you won't know what you gotten yourself into. While it is possible to play this game before the original it is very much expected of you to be familiar with what the games are about. And the original does a good job of preparing you for that. Starting with Dark Souls II feels like being dropped in the water when you can't swim and then drowning with no one to rescue you. I know this sounds dramatic but even Dark Souls veterans will have issues with Dark Souls II. So imagine what it will be like for you if you are new to it? And I am not exaggerating. Especially if you think it's going to be easier. 

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Review The Forgotten (2004): It was entertaining and did surprise me at times!

genre: horror, drama, mystery, science fiction

From this film I didn't expect much. That is why it did surprise me at times. The ambiance was of a M. Night Shyamalan made horror film but where I had the big suspicion the ending would be cheesy. But I have to say I wasn't disappointed. Although a big part of the conclusion was your typical Hollywood ending is which destroyed the threat and dread portrayed throughout the film. And  if that isn't enough a part is left open for the audience to ponder about. You do have to ask yourself how much of a mystery the film can be the minute you know the NSA is involved. It makes it real hard to allow other plot turns. Since then the direction the story can go But somehow they did manage to give a spin on it. A very welcome change compared to other horror movies where people disappear in my humble opinion.  Julianne Moore acts decent, but sometimes her character really does stupid things. So much so that at one point you will be asking yourself how come she is the one who finds out things are very wrong and not what they seem. There is nothing worse than to have a main character act illogically and ignorant. Gary Sinise is as cool as ever. Only he doesn't have much to do. Every time an actor of his caliber gets underused I blame the director. I don't care what Sinise was brought in to do originally. Think of something to make him more integral to your project. 

Anyway this is one of those movies ideal to watch very late at night or those quiet Sunday's. It won't blow your mind but offers decent entertainment as much as it lasts.

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Review The Founder (2016): How McDonald's became the big franchise we know all over the world!

genre: drama, history, biography

Ever wanted to know how McDonald's as a franchise got so huge and successful? The Founder gives us a little insight into this. Although like always with Hollywood films some details have been altered. If you want to know what is true or not then read the following article (click on image history versus Hollywood). Although I advice to do it after having watched the film.

One very interesting fact is that the founders of McDonald's were indeed named McDonald's. And that these guys basically designed everything we know McDonald's for, The arches, the efficient service system and much more. But it was Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) who expanded the franchise to the level it was now. At one point you are going to wonder if the brothers would not have achieved this same level of success on their own. The film never makes this explicitly clear. But if there is any truth to the film the brothers were a little too trusting and nice although far from stupid. Ray Kroc was a conniving and an incredible jerk. Sadly these are exactly the traits to make it big in the business world. The film does show sides to him that make you like him or at least make you understand where he is coming from. Naturally this role is written for Michael Keaton. Like always he is able to portray a real character that has many facets to him. And obviously is the best thing in the film. Only it pains me to say that while I truly enjoyed his performance and the film it never felt like I was watching something compelling. The Founder had my interest yet it never culminated into something bigger or more epic. When the film had ended it never felt like I had watched something special or that I even would want to watch it again someday. I guess the story isn't really drama material. Even if they tried to infuse it with some although truth be told the events they used only made me dislike Ray.

There is not much I can tell about The Founder. It's a solid and informative watch for sure. But not really a film that will engross you. I am happy that Michael Keaton is getting these kinds of roles again and I hope it will lead to more of them. Looking very forward to see him portray The Vulture in Spider-man: Homecoming.

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