Saturday, December 19, 2015

MadCap At The Movies - "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens"

The internet has been utterly and completely alive with positive buzz for this film. And, in the words of Han Solo, I'm here to tell you one thing, my readers. One thing.

It's true.

All of it.

However, due to Harrison Ford kindly asking that everyone not spoil the film, I will endeavor here to give only the most basic of details so as not to ruin the plot for anyone.  That being said, let's dig into The Force Awakens for a more in-depth review.

The film picks up after the last trilogy that people actually care about, and telling us that it is roughly thirty years after A New Hope with the Empire having fallen apart and given way to a new group known as the First Order...who are basically the Empire.  Controlled by the shadowy and enigmatic Snoke (Andy Serkis), lots of Stormtroopers and Death Star chic going around...yeah, might as well be the Empire.  To combat them, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has formed a Resistance against them...which is pretty much just the Rebel Alliance anyway, so I'm not really sure why the change.

...oh, right, the New Republic exists now.  Not that they do much.

Regardless, the big news is that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing and both the Resistance and the First Order are looking for the last piece of a map to find him.  This map ends up in the possession of the adorable little droid BB-8  (who you've seen rolling around in all the adverts) so he/she/it can get it back to the Resistance, which eventually leads him into the company of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega).

I like both of the new leads, Rey in particular goes through the most character development in the film, but I'll save that for those who see it.  In the beginning, she's nothing more than a scavenger living on Jakku with many details that are spoilerific.  To say nothing else, she is a good actress and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future as her character continues on said development.

Finn, too, is a pretty good character.  A stormtrooper for the First Order, he defects and tries to escape at first, but later joins the good fight as we've come to expect from our heroes.  Again, any further is going into territory of the spoilers but, needless to say, I rather enjoyed him in the film and Boyega really sells the emotions of his character quite well.

And now we come to the original cast - awesome.  Unlike Harrison Ford's last attempt to return to a franchise after twenty years, it is awesome to see the man back as Han Solo.  He's an older, wiser roguish space pirate now, but a roguish space pirate he remains.  The man who will flee at the first sign of trouble but, in the end, will always come back and do the right thing no matter the personal cost.

Chewbacca is Chewbacca. And Chewbacca is freaking awesome.  No further explanation needed.

Then we have Leia serving as the General of the Resistance.  Much like her role in A New Hope, she...doesn't actually do much besides have some scenes with Rey and Finn and chat with Han about their past (the chemistry from Empire and Jedi is still very much there, by the way), but it is very nice to have her around if just to help give some continuity.

And, at last, we come to Luke, who I almost forgot...except for the fact that he's the reason that this whole adventure even happened to begin with.  I've been told that Mark Hamill is due to have a much, much greater role in Episode VIII, but his appearance in this film would be like a Hitchcock cameo if not for its placement. Without wishing to spoil it completely, if you come into this film hoping for a lot of Luke, you're going to be disappointed. I know I was.

And now we come to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Darth Vader expy who apparently has a great boner for the seven foot tall asthmatic warrior of the Dark Side. He's angsty...apparently feeling the "call of the light" in an ironic twist on the whole corruption by the Dark Side, but believes he'll be stronger by living up to the standard set by his idol, Darth Vader.  And while he has no menace at all, much like Anakin in Attack of the actually seems intentional here, rather than hilarious as it was in that film.  He's conflicted, he's going through his own development.  The story is as much about him as it is about Rey and Finn.  And that's good, really.

The writing by Lawrence Kasdan helps a lot, considering he wrote Empire, which everyone pretty much universally agrees is the best of the Original Trilogy.  Of course, there are some bits where you can feel the hand of J.J. Abrams on the film in dialogue and action, but those can't really be gone into without spoiling by pointing out specific scenes.  Needless to say, if you've seen an Abrams film, you'll know it when you see it.

Now, there are a few things I don't particularly care for - such as the treating of characters like Luke, Han, and others as if they're mythic.  I understand why it was done, from a standpoint of storytelling, but it doesn't make sense from a reality standpoint considering Luke, Han, and Leia were among the most wanted if not the most wanted individuals by the Empire during the Galactic Civil War and they're living in a high-tech setting where shit like that doesn't just go away by any means. Yes, they're mythic to us because of Star Wars being a long-running series that is beloved by so many. Yes, myths and legends may have sprung up about Luke Skywalker himself, but saying that the man himself is a myth when there is very verifiable evidence of him existing is really, really, really unnecessary and, let's be honest J.J., kind of lame.

Also other things that I can't get into because they're spoilers. Technically, that was a spoiler, but steady on.

But really, this film gives you pretty much everything you want and nothing you don't.  For long-time Star Wars fans, it's a breath of fresh air and a feeling of elation at the fact that the dark times are over and we need no longer fear horrifically bad dialogue about sand or talk of microscopic bacteria in the bloodstreams of Jedi. For new fans, it could very well be their first step into a larger world. It definitely feels like a Star Wars movie and, for all its minor issues, it doesn't get ruined by them.  The nods and homages to what came before are nice (though one could argue, probably without much room for argument, that the entire film is one big nod to the original trilogy) and don't bog down the story of the new generation.

The saga goes on...and from the looks of now (and the fact that they haven't gone the Into Darkness route yet), it looks pretty glorious...

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is now in theaters from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Lucasfilm.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, December 14, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi"

Well, here it is. The last Star Wars movie, at least at the time of writing.  As of this review, only four days remain before we can no longer call the Star Wars saga complete.  This was a film that was written to be the epic ending of a saga.  Audiences in 1983 thought so, and it's considered one of the three good Star Wars movies, though admittedly it's the least highly regarded of the Original Trilogy...and even I have to admit that I see why, but I'll get into that.

The film picks up much where Empire left off, though with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) still in carbonite as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) spearhead a brave campaign to try and rescue him from the evil Jabba the Hutt. This plan involves them and their friends C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhem) all showing up one or two at a time.

...brilliant plan.

Needless to say the actual plot picks up with the construction of a brand new Death Star over the forest moon of Endor, which is being overseen by Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), who plan to use it as a final blow against the Rebel Alliance whilst turning Luke to the dark side of the Force.

Now, as for the main plot, we have Luke accepting the truth that his father once owned a sled named Rosebud and is now the Sith Lord known as Darth Vader, and trying to redeem him.  Despite the beliefs of both Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) and Yoda (Frank Oz), Luke still believes that Anakin Skywalker can be brought back to the light side of the Force.  And, as we all know, Luke is correct and he ultimate succeeds in this venture - redeeming Anakin and seeing that the greatest evil the galaxy had until then known was destroyed, as well as proving himself worthy of carrying on the legacy of the Jedi Knights.

For Anakin, this brings about the end of his character arc. From a youth on Tatooine who Obi-Wan was surprised that the Force flowed so strongly through (remember, I don't consider the prequels canon) to a Jedi who fought in the Clone Wars to a scion of the Dark Side to ultimately finding his redemption through love for his son.  This has technically been in play since Empire, and it's been made abundantly clear that Vader has had some conflict in his interactions with Luke, his son stirring the good man he once was in him and making his decisions all the more difficulty.

The scene where Vader is stuck with a choice between his evil mentor and his dying son is one of the most beautifully done scenes in all of fiction.  Anyone who has ever worked in a theatrical production knows the hindrance that masks give, particularly ones that completely hide the face. It doesn't seem like much, certainly, but when one's face is covered it takes away all ability to show expression besides in tone.  Admittedly, with Vader, this is circumvented with the powerful voice of James Earl Jones.  However, in this scene, Vader doesn't speak.

At all.

He looks between the man who aided him on the road to damning his soul, and to his dying son begging him for help as he's roasted alive by electricity.  In that scene, in the black Plexiglas of Vader's eye lenses, you can see a myriad of emotions flow through him - confusion, sorrow, regret, rage.  And then, in a single moment, clarity as he lurches towards the Emperor, lifts him up, and casts him down the reactor shaft of the Death Star, choosing love for his son over the darkness.  It is a poignant moment, and it's all the better by the fact that Vader never has to say a word to express what he's thinking to the audience.  We can see it in that moment of indecision, and his actions immediately after. It's pretty much absolutely perfect.

So, of course, Lucas had to fuck it up by having him scream "NOOOOOO!!!!" in an incredibly hammy and unnecessary fashion.

Way to go, George. Way to go.  It's stuff like this that makes the internet hate you.

Though that's not the only problem with this film, and not even one that can be traced back to the original film.  That's right, there's actually just one major problem that people have with this film and it's a simple one - Ewoks.

I get it.  I do. They're all furry and cute and marketable and not the badass Wookiee warriors that were the original plan (that idea being relegated to Revenge of the Sith and really kinda sucking there, oddly enough).  But you know what they aren't?  Gungans. And I think we can all be very, very happy about that fact.

Still, that one major and one minor issue aside, I love this movie.  It brings a tone of finality to the entire Saga that is worthy of what it is and what it means to so many.  The final scenes of the Rebels partying with the Ewoks on Endor and - in one of the few edits I do like that Lucas made - the montage of various worlds celebrating the downfall of the Empire is the very definition of triumphant.  And as before he goes to join his friends in the celebration, Luke has one last look to Obi-Wan, Yoda, and a restored Anakin, and while they are gone, they will always be with him.  The future looks bright and, as the first of the new Jedi Knights, Luke Skywalker will be ready for whatever comes next., see you all in four days to find out just what comes next.

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi is now available from 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilms.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, December 7, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back"

Empire Strikes Back is considered the greatest film in the Original Trilogy and the greatest film in the Star Wars saga by many. And, really...I can't disagree. So, there. That's it.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is now ava-

...okay, okay, I'll go into a little more detail.

A few years have passed since the destruction of the Death Star at the end of A New Hope and the once victorious rebels are on the run from the Empire, bunking down on the ice planet Hoth. There, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) receives a vision from his deceased mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to see out the Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) must avoid the Empire after the Battle of Hoth, eventually finding their way to Cloud City and the care of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who is totally not a traitor and will not hand them all over to Darth Vader (James Earl Jones).

Which, of course, inevitably it does and inevitably Luke comes looking for his friends and learns a terrible secret that Obi-Wan never told him - Darth Vader took his father's sled and his sword and the calls were coming from inside the house because Vader can see dead people!!!

Okay, yeah, you know the twist by now. People who have never even seen this movie know the twist by now - Darth Vader is really Anakin Skywalker, Luke's father.

Mind you, much like Shamalyan's two good twists in his two good films (I'll leave you to figure out which ones) the clues that were there helped to build it up and are appreciated much more on repeat viewings - in this case, Luke's encounter in the Dark Side cave on Dagobah with the illusory version of Vader.

This film is all about realizing that the past isn't dead and will come back to bite you. Pretty much what Randy said in Scream 3 except this isn't under trilogy rules...strictly speaking. And, being that I was born in an era when all three movies had come out, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have that as the final reveal of the movie and having to wait three years before finding out if Vader was telling the truth.

The film also actually ends on a rather depressing note. Sure, they've all survived, but Han is in the hands of Boba Fett and is going to be taken to Jabba the Hutt and they are still on the run from the Empire, who have effectively won the day by forcing the Rebels to scatter off to a distant corner to lick their wounds. But still, there's that feeling of optimism that they will triumph and will eventually defeat the Empire once and for all...which they will do in the latest and, until December 18th, the last chapter in the Star Wars saga.

Other than that, there's really not that much ground that can be covered. I loved the furthering of Luke's Jedi training by Yoda, adding more layers of mysticism and enchantment to the Force that the prequels were all too happy to just take a giant, steaming dump on. I loved the romance building between Han and Leia, Lawrence Kasdan's writing and the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher just making things oh so fiery and with nobody talking about sand. I loved Lando and all his sway coolness, as well as his arc in remembering the right side and fighting against the oppression of the Empire.

Literally, there's just about nothing I can hate about this movie. To do that, I'd have to be some kind of crazed, nitpicking jackass and that's just not this particular instance. It's gold, pure and simple.

Now Return of the Jedi, on the other hand...

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is now available from Lucasfilms and 20th Century Fox.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, November 30, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope"

Finally, we're to the good movies.

Yes, I know the prequels have their fans and yes I know that people can find some merit in them. I'm not one of them and am one of, I think, many who just wish they hadn't been attempted at all. However, I don't let them taint my memories of these films, oh no no.

And no, I don't let the Special Editions do that either, I actually really don't care about the edits that Lucas has made over the for one, but I'll get to that.

To kick things off where it began in movie theaters in 1977, Star Wars (as it was originally titled, with no subtitle), is the epic tale of young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). a farmboy on a desert world who is drawn into adventure by the entrance of two droids (Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker) into his life. Taken under the wing of now wise old man Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Luke begins to learn the ways of the mysterious Force, an energy field that connects all living things...

...which is not generated by microscopic bacteria in his bloodstream, because that would be beyond stupid....

...and goes on an epic quest to save Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the clutches of the dreaded Empire with the aid of roguish smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

...but you all know that story anyway.

I have a hard time saying anything bad about this movie. It may just be after getting through the awful mess of the prequels or it may just be the rose-colored glasses, but it's just that good. I love virtually every scene of this film from the opening crawl to the minute the credits roll in the Throne Room at the end. The acting is pretty decent. The effects are, for their time, pretty awesome and a wonderful showcase of practical effects over the CGI that would be used in later (earlier?) films.

While the environments aren't so broad in scale as they are in the prequels, they're more close and intimate, giving us to focus more on the characters who are to this day still quite beloved by the fanbase - something which the prequels were sorely lacking in.

Seriously, did you really care when Aayla Secura (who I just found out has a name) was gunned down in that jungle in Revenge of the Sith?

No. No, you didn't.

Did you care seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi being cut down by Darth Vader (spoiler alert) when you see this movie for the first time?

Oh, hells yes.

As a child, I thought this film was awesome. It had epic space battles, heroic shoot outs, and the awesomeness that is the lightsaber for the first time. The scene of Darth Vader first stepping onto the Tantive IV (or the Rebel Blockade Runner, whichever you prefer) is still heavily rooted in my mind as one of the most iconic I've ever witnessed and I remember as a kid how it absolutely chilled me to the bone the first time I ever saw it.

Coming from an adult perspective, I love this movie because it avoids most of the problems of the prequels. Most of all, it doesn't bog us down with nonsense and actually has enough closeness to where we can get to know and love out characters. They can even have meaningful conversations with one another.

...but not about sand. Nobody likes sand.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is now available from Lucasfilms and 20th Century Fox, current rights owned by Disney.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MadCap's Trailer Reactions - "Captain America: Civil War"

Ohhhh, boy...this movie.

Anyway, you know the drill by now.  Watch the trailer, then read on...

Now, anyone who's been following my blog for a while, or who knows my general disposition towards Marvel Comics, or has a shred of common sense will know that I'm not a fan of the comic book storyline Civil War.

Short recap: The government wants register superhumans after an incident that killed a few hundred civilians. Iron Man says yes, Captain America says no, they fight and so do a bunch of other superheroes in the Marvel universe. In the end, Iron Man does a lot of illegal things, but in the end Cap and the Anti-Registration side are the bad guys so Tony Stark doesn't spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement at a maximum security prison.

Oh, and Spider-Man makes a deal with Satan.  Charming.

Needless to say, I don't have a very high opinion of the event and I don't know a lot of people who do. However, I've decided to not treat this film on the merits of the adaptation. After all, stupid ideas have been made to work in the hands of good writers. And even ideas that were good have been brought to new heights in adaptation - such as in Captain America: Winter Soldier. So, could that potentially happen for Civil War? Let's have a look at what we have so far.

First off: the bad. There's no Spidey in this trailer.  Yeah, I was disappointed, too. Especially since this is going to be his first appearance on the MCU scene, I figured there'd be at least something to show of him. Not showing their hand on him isn't a bad choice, however, especially after the previous two film adaptations of our friendly neighborhood snarky joke machine that have gone over as polarizing at best.

The final scene where Cap and Tony have the exchange about Bucky. "He's my friend" "So was I", doesn't...really work.

One of the very, very few things I will give the comic event Civil War credit for is in the fact that it used the long established friendship of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark as a point of conflict. Sure, they were now dire enemies, but they had been friends and respected one another a great deal.  In any other situation, as they had demonstrated many times in 616 canon, they would have stood back to back against any foe. Mind you, that friendship was used as a way to try to pull at our heartstrings for what was one of the stupidest Marvel crossovers in recent memory, but still, it was there.

In the MCU...they've know each other for all of two major events. While that's a big deal to some, it's not really when you compare it to the (at the time in the comics) 40 years worth of storylines that they had fought alongside one another in. The line "So was I" comes across as Tony trying to put himself up on the same level of Bucky...which is really just offensive when you break it down. Bucky, in the MCU, had been Cap's best friend since before he was ever Cap. Tony is a guy who, while he's fought in two major conflicts alongside Cap, does not have the same bearing with him as a man who he had known since boyhood and fought alongside for years in war against the Nazis/HYDRA.

Needless to say, I was immensely satisfied with the scene where Tony is getting wailed on by Cap and Bucky.

However, since we've gotten through the bad, let's get into some good: Black Panther. Sure, he has no speaking lines, but we do get our first good look at him and I have to admit, I do like how he looks. It's a problem in superhero comic movies to see translations of superhero outfits not come over so well. This has been seen in some films and television shows, as well as been made a joke in others (such as the recently released and quite excellent Jessica Jones). However, Black Panther doesn't seem to have suffered that fate, having a very sleek look to his black armor that is very fitting of the comics version of the Wakandan king.

And so far, that's really all there is to talk about. No Spidey, a little of a very good-looking Black Panther, and a conflict that literally no party involved is going to look good coming out of. Given the "realistic" version of the Marvel world that the MCU wants to present, perhaps we will actually see some consequences to people's actions.

Then again, somebody might want to bring up that whole "Stark's AI tried to drop a city on the world" thing...might help to paint things in a different light.

Captain America: Civil War will be released to theaters from Disney and Marvel on May 5, 2016.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, November 23, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith"

...what's this? A watchable Star Wars prequel? It's more likely than you think.

Maybe it was the fact that this was the closest that any of the prequels had come to even being like the originals.

Maybe it was because there was actually some decent turns by Christensen and others that were so sorely lacking in the others.

Maybe people were just happy that this shitty trilogy was finally fucking over.

I'll be honest, I went to the theater to see this. Seven times. In my defense, there was fuck all else to do that summer. But really, this is the only prequel film that I truly enjoy...not that it isn't without its problems, of course, but we'll get into them.

The story continues with the closing time of the Clone Wars. Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) brave a mission to save Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the Separatist general, Grievous (Matthew Wood). In the aftermath of this, Padme (Natalie Portman) reveals to Anakin that she's pregnant with their child, which will lead into Anakin having prophetic dreams about her death in childbirth, which will lead into him becoming the Dark Lord of the Sith known as Darth Va-yeah, you know the rest of the story by this point.

Once again, for all that they are given to do here, McGregor and Portman still suffer from really bad direction, as does Christensen, but we've come to expect that. Here, however, is where I'll have some kind words of Christensen's acting.

Yes, you read that right. Do not adjust your monitor.

As I mentioned last week, Christensen's strengths show when he shuts his mouth.  This is primarily evident in some of his first scenes as Darth Vader. The guy can actually command a very menacing and terrifying presence.  The best scenes to show this are the attack on the Jedi Temple and later on Mustafar when he exterminates the Separatist leadership to end the Clone Wars forever.

However, I also have to take that point right back because the way Anakin's fall to the dark side is done is amazingly rushed.  He makes a split second choice to save Palpatine from Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and immediately falls right for his sales pitch after.  And yes, Episode II and a good bit of this film helped to build up, but it was still based on a very quick split-second decision rather than some great moral dilemma.

And yes, I know. Rash decisions are made in fear. Fear leads to anger, blah blah blah something something something dark side. But really, onscreen, we should have seen a little bit more.

The Jedi Purge, an event that should have far more gravitas and emotional weight to it...really doesn't, mostly because they're a bunch of Jedi who we've had little screentime for and even less interaction with.  And before anyone who's a fan of the animated series or the novels gets in touch - Rule of Adaptation does not apply here. If they wanted me to care, they should have put more time into making characters that I cared about.

Now, as for the characters we do care about...we care about them, but it's a foregone conclusion. We know Anakin falls to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader. We know that Obi-Wan and Yoda put Luke and Leia into hiding and then go into exile.  We know that Padme is dead at least by the time of Return of the Jedi so that Luke and Leia can have an awkward conversation about her.

To this film's credit, it is far better acted and is better plotwise than either of the other two prequels.  The music is, once again, awesome as ever because John Williams is still John Williams. The fights are sublime, particularly the several lightsaber duels and especially the duel between  Anakin and Obi-Wan at the end. It was clear they were putting a lot of work in for what was to be the finale of the Star Wars saga, completing the story.

...but did it ever need completing?

The answer is no.

The images of the years covered by the prequel trilogy were pretty much told by Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, and was done far, far better there in just a few sentences than it was done here in three movies.  Ultimately, did we learn anything new or find anything unique or interesting in the story of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the Dark Side?

The answer is no.

Could this all have been avoided and was it much, much better in our heads?

You're damn right it was...

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is now available from 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilms.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, November 20, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds"

Do you enjoy Real Time Strategy? Do you enjoy Star Wars? If you said yes to the first question, but not the second one, then this game might be for you!

Yes, this was a game that was made with the clear intention of being marketed to Star Wars fans and, aesthetically, it succeeds in that marvelously. But the problem is that it doesn't really feel like a Star Wars game as much as it does an RTS that happens to have the trappings of Star Wars draped over it.  Not that that's a bad thing, of course, but more on that as we go on.

With the beginning of the game, if you were to start up a new game immediately, you have a choice of six civilizations all of which are visually different and have some various abilities and tech that are different but are otherwise pretty much the same and you can really discount any differences in appearance. Yes, I'm sure that someone will be all too happy to tell me in the comments that I'm hilariously wrong and that there are so many differences in the group based on their various starts that you won't care about because all you will care about is the attack.

Yes, I'm one of those people who plays an RTS and my strategy is defending my base until I build up an army that would make Hannibal giggle like a hyperactive schoolgirl and then roll over my opponents with raw power. And luckily for people like me, there is a mode for you!  The standard game allows players to win by one of three methods: wipe out your enemy completely, gather all the holocrons (for those not Star Wars-saavy, essentially data storage devices that make you money) and put them in a Jedi/Sith Temple for a certain amount of "days", (really minutes as determined by the in-game clock)  or get to Tech Level 4 and build a Monument which will guarantee your victory within a set amount of "days", but will also make you a target for every Tom, Dick, and Jane who is opposed to you.

And while I would be irritated that this is nothing more than just an RTS that just happens to also be a Star Wars game, there is actually some unique Star Wars content within.  Namely, there are campaigns! One for almost every race (except the Naboo, because to Hell  with them and their chrome ships). In fact, the Wookies have two, since their first one is a tutorial that will get the player through the basics of the game that is narrated by none other than Qui-Gon Jinn (sadly not voiced by Liam Neeson, who I can only assume had better things to do at the time).

The others follow various plotlines and have various narrators, some of who are not even involved in the plots of said campaigns. The problem, however, comes from the fact that the standard games do not really have the same Star Wars feel that the campaigns do.  According to what I've been told (having never played it myself) this game is essentially an Age of Empires clone and I could definitely see how, seeing as there really isn't anything unique to it.

Most of the default game modes begin with each faction having a Command Center, three workers and a scout.  Given a default amount of carbon, nova, food, and ore to build/feed their forces, they must go out and get more while defending themselves from other factions and eventually building up a civilization worthy of winning the game.

There are, of course, other approaches beyond simply mowing down the enemy. There's "Terminate the Commander" in which you achieve victory by...terminating the Commander. And, as I stated before, there are the holocron and Monument methods of victory, but you'll rarely - if ever - go for those as your method of choice. Again, unless you're just one of those crazy diehard strategy players who will pick this game up and play the hell out of it.

But if you're a Star Wars fan, you could honestly give this a miss. While it does have some nostalgia value for the original films and it is entertaining to play as the Galactic Empire and waste many, many tribes of Gungans with an army that dwarfs the one the size of Hoth, that's really all the enjoyment that you'll get out of it. The novelty of Star Wars wears off pretty quick when you realize that there's very, very little unique to be pulled from here.

But there's an expansion pack on the horizon and, well...I've got a bad feeling about this...

Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is now available from Ensemble Studios and LucasArts.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, November 16, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones"

This's...really bad.

Like...really bad.

Like seriously, this is as bad as bad gets and adding another suitcase full of bad. And I've reviewed Rob Zombie's Nonsensical Band Product Placement And Pretentious Story-Telling Movie, so I know bad.  This is almost universally considered the worst of the worst as far as Star Wars goes - unless you're George Lucas, and then it's the Holiday Special - but does it really deserve the reputation that it holds? Is it really an irredeemable pile of waste that should have been laughed off of any writer's table? Does it have a script that the people who make Syfy Original Movies would be utterly ashamed to wipe their asses with, much less even greenlight? Is it a terrible waste of the talents of Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, as well as countless others in a sea of mediocre directing?, yes...yes it is. To be so completely succinct about it.

To get to the plot, such as it is, it's ten years since the not as bad but still pretty bad film and there is some more politics we don't care about that basically equate to a civil war in the Galaxy...kind of like that thing they did in the original trilogy, but without all the boring talking and debating about it before it actually happened.  Now-Senator Padme Amidala (a returning Natalie Portman) is nearly assassinated and is assigned two Jedi protectors: Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his padawan a now 19 year old Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen).

And boy, let's talk about what a bad choice this was. I've heard that he's improved since and has done better in better films with better direction (Lucas is the root cause of virtually every problem with the prequels) but good lord he should have been laughed out from the screen test if this was him bringing his A-Game. And not to short change the guy, he's actually pretty good when he keeps his mouth shut (see Episode III next week), but the problem in this film is that he never shuts up!

Seriously, the guy's got the cheese and ham to go with the whine.

But as the plot goes on, we learn that the Separatist movement in the galaxy is headed up by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, whose talents are wasted here among many others), a former Jedi who has fallen in with the Sith Lord Sidious/Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who is very clearly still evil but nobody can tell because they're complete morons. And also, clones got involved at some point because Sidious wanted an army.

And I could go on for days about how it doesn't really make sense and how if it were remotely realistic that Palpatine would have been shut down so hard by this. But then, government is corrupt anyway as we know and he never would have been able to do any of it without the help of his good friend Jar Jar Binks.

That's right. The freaking Gungan happily handed over emergency powers to Palpatine and thus allowed the Clone Wars to happen. So every single death that happened in the Clone Wars, the Great Jedi Purge, and in the Galactic Civil War that followed them lies squarely on his fish man shoulders.

Nice job fixing it, dumbass.

But that's not really what people take issue with. Oh,'s the romance. Ah, yes, romance. When it's done well, you have a sweeping epic that pulls at the heartstrings and takes the viewer from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  When it's done poorly, you have the Doctor and Rose Tyler. And when it's done really, really poorly, you have Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala.

Now, this may just be chalked up to the direction of Lucas and I know it had to be done at some point, but Christensen and Portman have no chemistry. At all. Whatsoever. It's just absolutely atrocious and the worst part is that it's not even the relationship of Anakin's that we should be focusing on. Rather than focus on the bond between Anakin and Obi-Wan, it focuses on the forbidden love between Anakin and Padme that is supposed to be deep and tragic and hopeless but, because of the aforementioned (lack of) chemistry, just makes us all want to vomit from the sheer unlikeability of it.

Which, again, is not helped by either Portman (who is wasted in this and the other prequel films) or Christensen (with his aforementioned whiny voice in need of cheese to go with it). They are given bad direction with it, and dialogue that is to this day still being mocked by everyone from moviegoers to film critics. When first year film students are able to write better dialogue than you, George, it's time to stop and hand the reins over to someone who knows what in the hell they were doing.

And if you want a good comparison, just wait until we get to Empire Strikes Back.  I'll have a tirade to go on.

So in summation: yes, this is one of the worst things related to Star Wars that has ever been produced, if not the worst.  George Lucas has said before that he's personally ashamed of the Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978.  The fact is this should be something you're wholly and completely ashamed of, George. Bad writing, bad acting, bad direction. Just all around bad.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is now available from Lucasfilms and 20th Century Fox.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, November 13, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga"

Well, you guys remember my lengthy review of LEGO Marvel Superheroes? Take that and apply it to Star Wars.

..., really.  That's pretty much it. It follows the same path except for following the story of the three Star Wars movies that are canon and the three that most people just tend to want to forget. Of course it does it in that quirky LEGO style that we've come to know, I guess? I mean, I played with them as a kid, but I don't really look back on it with extreme fondness or dislike either way. Like with the Marvel version, a lot of the emphasis comes into manipulating the various LEGO bits of environment to acquire studs and bring up that total score.

Oh, and the various other goodies you can run into. Really, going into them would be a pain. You find the secrets and what not throughout the levels - many of which can only be found on the "Free Play" playthroughs after having already gone through the level in Story Mode. It's a game for the collector, much like for its Marvel equivalent.  Replace super powers with Force Powers and other character abilities (such as hi-jumping or droid) and you basically have no real difference beyond the aesthetics.  And while the aesthetics are nice - very faithfully recreated from the movies (in LEGO style, of course) - that's ultimately what they are, just looks.

The camera angles still bug me.  Some of the boss fights drag out way, way too long, and no matter how many times I throw Jar Jar off a cliff he just keeps respawning and I begin to lose interest.

Though, at the very least, the Marvel version never actually made me play as Jar Jar.

...then again, this game doesn't have a cameo from an invincible Joe Quesada.

All joking aside, this game is made for the collector, the one hundred percenter - those who like to scour each and every nook and cranny of the game world to find every last little bit of precious. And for some, that's great! For me, personally? Not so much. But again, there's really nothing to knock here. It's actually very addictive and you could do a lot, lot worse with a licensed game as we've seen a few times here.  And after all, it's Star Wars! And what bad thing ever came out of Star Wars*!

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is now available from Traveller's Tales and LucasArts.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

*The staff behind "From the Mouth of the Munchkin" would like to remind our readers that nothing post-1983 and pre-2015 (pending the new film) is accepted as wholly canon, and thus is not 'Star Wars'. Thank you for your attention.

Monday, November 9, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace"

...yep, it's that time again.

Time for me to fall right into three films I hate in order to get to three films that I love. Because we all know what's coming in December and it's about time I talked about what has been one of my favorite movie series since childhood. Yes, that's right - the whole series. As a child, this was actually the first Star Wars movie I saw in theaters when it was new. And I loved it.

In my defense, I was eight.

However, as many people from that era did, looking back on it now as a grown man...I find that it's not that good. And it's not because of the abomination that is Jar Jar Binks. It's not because of the wooden acting. It's not because of the needless use of CGI everywhere. All of that, except maybe that first one, I can forgive. That's right, I can forgive George Lucas for all of that. But there is one thing I can't forgive, and I'll get into that in a minute.

Many years before the events of the original film, it is the time of the Republic. Things look a lot better now, and two Jedi (Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor) have been sent to a planet called Naboo to negotiate a settlement with the dreaded and horribly racially stereotyped Trade Federation. Unfortunately they call "no rikey" on the deal and try to gas the the Jedi, who make their way to the planet and rescue the democratically elected Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), escaping off planet so she can make her case to the Galactic Senate.

However, on the way, they come to a desert planet and find an enslaved Force prodigy named Anakin (Jake Lloyd), discovering he is so powerful...thanks to his midi-chlorian count. And here is where I have my biggest problem with the prequel trilogy - midi-chlorians.

While this is skipping ahead (or skipping back), the Force is described in A New Hope as "an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, binds the galaxy together." The Force is described as a mystical thing, something that is beyond even the full understanding of those who use it. It's mysterious, vague, and gives a sense of awe. Midi-chlorians, however, are the exact opposite of that. Putting it down to a science and quantifying it.

While I am a big proponent of "magic is just science we don't understand yet" rule, that was neither wanted nor needed in a setting like Star Wars.  It completely ruins all of the very otherworldly mystique that surrounded the Force in the earlier films, and makes it all the more mundane where it was actually one of the sole unique factors that stood out in a universe of unique and diverse alien races. So, needless to say, I am not a fan.

It's also very telling that - after this film - this concept is never mentioned again in the movies. At the very least, George can recognize sometimes when he's done something stupid.

But getting back to the plot, they free the boy, find that the Galactic Senate isn't going to help, and thus go back to Naboo to free it themselves.

So, the Prequel Trilogy had to take the set up mentioned in A New Hope and set the path to bringing it all into fruition - namely the Jedi being wiped out and the Empire taking over. They do this with the introduction of Darth Sidious - in reality Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) - and his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park). While Sidious doesn't actually interact with any characters but Maul (as himself), Maul actively tracks and combats the Jedi and poses their first real threat as his attacks reveal to them that their ancient enemies - the Sith - are still active.

Maul was actually an excellent antagonist and I...yeah, okay, I'm trying really, really hard to not just retread Belated Media's "What if Episode 1 was good?" video (which, if you haven't, you definitely should). Needless to say, I agree with quite a few of the points they makes in that that would have improved the film immensely.

While Anakin can be somewhat annoying, I can chalk that up to the fact that Jake Lloyd was all of ten at the time the film was made and thus shouldn't really be held to the same standards as an adult actor. And we will have an adult actor in the next film who is...shall we say...really...really bad...

But I can actually throw some positives out for this film. Ewan McGregor is amazing in his turn as Obi-Wan Kenobi - something that will continue throughout the three films - going from a young padawan on the cusp of full adulthood to having to take on an apprentice just as soon as he gets himself Knighted.

I will never say anything bad about a John Williams score. Ever. It will not happen.

The lightsaber fights are actually really good, especially that big one at the end between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul. Really, there is some impressive stunt work there (compounded in awesomeness by John Williams's "Duel of the Fates", of course).

...okay, admittedly, those are the only three things I can really not take issue with.  This film is just awful. The plot has way too much politics and chattiness in both the Senate and the Jedi Council, the Gungans are pointless and should not have in any way been included in the plot, and Liam Neeson is not at his best having to deal with a bunch of bad direction from Lucas.

Oh, and the podrace just drags on. Like, crazy long. Not Ang Lee's Hulk long, but really long regardless. Not a fan.

Next week, however, we go into what is probably the most reviled addition to the Star Wars saga. I hope you like sand...

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is now available from Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, October 30, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Castlevania: Circle of the Moon"

...Dracula? Again?! Like every Halloween (except, y'know, last year), it seems that Dracula always comes back again to muck things up for the land of the living.  Traditionally, in these situations, it's up to the members of the Belmont plan to lay a smackula down on Ol' Drac.  This time, however, it's not a Belmont but young Nathan Graves who's destined to crack that whip.  Thirty-three years after Alucard defeated Dracula for the totally extremely finally time, honest, Dracula's back thanks to his smexy devotee Camilla reviving him. Before he can return to his full power, however, Nathan Graves, his best friend Hugh, and his mentor Morris Baldwin bust in to stop him.

Nathan and Hugh are almost immediately dropped down into Dracula's castle via a trap door.


Nevertheless, it's now Nathan's task to journey through the home of Dracula in the traditional manner, whip and secondary weapons included. Gameplay-wise, if you've played any Castlevania game, you've played this.  However, it also helps if you've played Symphony of the Night, because it runs very similar to that in that someone chucked a bunch of RPG elements into the game.  Nathan kills monsters for experience, levels up, and can find new items lying around (and in the possession of boss monsters) to move himself through previous unreachable areas and on his way to take on Dracula in a final battle.

One of the big draws (or so the game would have you think) is a system based around magic cards that are based on Greek and Roman mythology that can provide Nathan with some minor stat variations and abilities.  All well and good, but not really necessary, per se.

But yes, keep yourself equipped and keep your whip and wits about you and eventually you will prevail against Dracula.  Nathan will be named a master vampire hunter and the day will be saved...and some new modes of play will be unlocked using special codes for the names.  Like with Symphony of the Night, which let you play as Richter by typing in his name after you completed the main quest at least once, you can unlock one of several modes that will play around with your stats and basically send you back through the game with a different playstyle.

Needless to say, I didn't have the want or need to play the game even a second time.

It's not bad, it's just got the same problem that most of the portable versions of Castlevania have had since Symphony of the Night...mainly that they're too much like Symphony of the Night.  Not that that's a bad thing, I loved Symphony of the Night and even said as much.  But lightning does not strike twice and doing the same thing over and over again isn't something one is known for having rousing success with...unless you're Nintendo.

It's not bad, by any means.  But it's really not that great.

Still, Dracula's defeated again...for now.  And as the sun rises to banish the terrible night...reflect on the malice that haunts us always...and have a Happy Halloween, dear readers!

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is available from Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe for the Game Boy Advance.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Hook Man"

"Does this bridge look familiar?" "Shut up, Laurie..."
"No" means "No." Don't be a dick.

Oh, sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. This is Hook, another of Supernatural's spins on an American urban legend - this time being that of the Hook Man legend.  We start out with a young woman named Laurie and her roommate discussing a party that evening. Laurie's roommate gives her a red cleavage-y top and tells her to live a little.  She and her boyfriend have a little makeout session under a bridge and her boyfriend decides to not live a little...getting out of the car and being attacked by an invisible attacker after not realizing that "No" does, in fact, mean "no".

See, now you see where I was going with that.

Nevertheless, afterwards, it's Sam and Dean to the rescue. Or, rather, Sam and Dean to come and investigate as they are wont to do in such situations.  In a shocking turn of events - Sam's still found no sign of John anywhere. Shock of shocks. Dean, on the other hand, actually wants to get the plot along and presents Sam with the scenario of Laurie's boyfriend getting skewered by the invisible attacker.

Arriving, they pose as frat boys from another university and get some exposition from the victim's housemates, which points them in the direction of Laurie - learning that she is also the local  Reverend's daughter. They meet, Dean having to bite the bullet and make small talk with the Reverend while Sam questions Laurie about what she saw. She apparently is stuck as suspect number one to the police and has nearly convinced herself that what she saw was her imagination, though Sam convinces her otherwise.
"Paint me like one of your French girls..."

At the library, Sam relates the rest of the story to Dean (pity she couldn't tell that, but whatever) about how she saw the body of her boyfriend suspended over the car - a textbook example of the Hook Man legend in action. So they hit the books and arrest records, eventually coming up with a name.  Preacher Jacob Karn had a hand replaced with a silver hook and later went on to murder several prostitutes.

Back at the sorority house, Laurie and her father have an argument that literally nobody cares about before she storms off up to her room and witnesses a red herring before seeing that her roommate is asleep and going about her business not bothering her.

Sam and Dean, meanwhile, head back to the site of the murder seeing as Karn's murders all took place in the same area.  With rock salt - a spirit deterrent - in tow, they don't get far before they get caught by the fuzz.

Back at the sorority, Laurie settles into bed and her roommate settles into getting Freddy Krueger'd as the ghost is apparently inside the room!!! And the next morning, Laurie wakes up to find her roommate skewered like a wild boar in her bed and a message scrawled on the wall "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" Which is, itself, another urban legend.

...and it doesn't really make sense, given that that is a completely different urban legend. And the thought of the ghost having that much pop culture awareness and that much of a sense of humor seems really, really unlike given the character we've been prese-

MadCap Crossed The Streams: 4

...oh, nevermind. The point is, Laurie's roommate is dead. Sam and Dean, meanwhile, get out due to Dean's clever use of "Nah, he's a pledge, brah!". Thus, they're in the perfect place to be there when the call about Laurie's roommate breaks out and follow them to the crime scene. Sam and Dean drive by and see Laurie and she sees them...but they don't stop, just driving off. Laurie's father gets the sheriff to agree to let him take her home after the ordeal.
Heading further down, Sam and Dean check out the crime scene and discuss why the spirit of Jacob Karn isn't haunting the site of his murders, chalking it up to him being raised from the dead by something else. After a would be tense moment where the cops are useless anyway, Sam and Dean find the inscription on the wall and say that it definitely is the Hook Man legend.  Which is bull because it's a completely separate urban legend that has no relation to-

MadCap Crossed The Streams: 5



...fine. Within the inscription, Sam recognizes a symbol, the same symbol that was on the hook hand of Jacob Karn.  Thus, it's definitely the spirit of Jacob Karn and it's time to salt and burn...provided they can find the unmarked grave that he was laid to rest in. Dean latches on to Laurie as having something to do with it. By that evening, they're back at the frat house but can't find her there, seeing as one generally doesn't go to a party after finding out their roommate just became the blue plate special at the Hannibal Lecter diner.

Sam, however, has come up with something useful - there have been several arrests of clergymen in the town's history who preached against immorality, claiming that deaths were carried out by some invisible force.  With this, they think that the Reverend may be responsible for Jacob Karn attacking people, using it to protect his daughter or that he may be even subconsciously doing it.

With that, they split up - Dean to try and find the grave, Sam to keep an eye on Laurie. Dean succeeds with surprisingly little issue (finding a gravestone with the same sigil as on the hook) while Sam witnesses Laurie and her father arguing as he sets shop outside.  Afterwards, she comes out and they have a discussion about their mutual grief and the fact that they're both death magnets for the people around them.

"Dean, why'd we come to a party to have this conversation?" "Shut up, Sam."
We also get some traumatic stuff about Laurie's father dating a married woman that we really, really don't care about because they're all characters of the day. However, it does set him up to be on the chopping block as we should all pretty much expect at this point because - again - characters of the day. Laurie does say, however, that she was raised to believe that when you do something should be punished.

Also, Sam comes dangerously close to getting him some because mutual grief is sexy...but he stops himself and says he can't because of what happened to Jess.

Oh, and the Reverend gets the hook.  No shock there. Though Sam is able to save him by utilizing rock salt, he has to be taken to the hospital.  There, Sam is questioned by the police who find it suspicious that Sam and Dean are always around when trouble strikes.  Sam relates the story to Dean, telling him that the salting and burning did nothing, and believes that Karn's spirit might be latching onto Laurie, rather than her father.  Her boyfriend tried to go to far, her roommate tried to change her personality, and now this has thrown her into complete emotional turmoil, and thus Karn is out and about.

When asking about the bones, though...Sam asks about the hook, which Dean notes wasn't there.  So it's not so much Laurie as it is...the hook. Provided they can find it. And that they do, hitting the books once more as Dean finds the personal effects of Karn from an old prison logbook, saying that they were all returned to Karn's place of worship upon his death...which would explain why Karn's spirit has been haunting Reverends and Reverends' daughters for years.
"Oh, c'mon, baby. I'm Jared Padalecki. Don't you wanna say you got with Jared Padalecki?"
Some further digging is required - because they sure as hell didn't see a silver hook in the church while they were there - and they learn that it was reforged, though the log doesn't specify just what it was reforged into.  So they break into the Church, going with a scorched Earth policy - if it's silver, it burns. And they go through doing just that, throwing everything into the furnace in the basement...until they hear the creaking of the floorboards. Heading upstairs, they find Laurie praying in the pews.

Sam comes to comfort her, Laurie apparently believing she's at fault for all of this, believing that she's somehow summoned up an Avenging Angel to do this.  Sam assures her that Jacob Karn is no angel...and I'll give the long-standing fans of the show a moment to laugh about this..., take your time.


...okay, moving on.

But Laurie is not to be convinced and, unfortunately, comments that she deserves to be punished, too...and the ghost of Jacob Karn is lying in wait. He attacks, Sam and Laurie fleeing but not without Sam getting wounded rather grievously.  When Karn corners Laurie, Dean comes to the rescue and blasts him with rock salt.  It is then that Sam and Dean notice Laurie's necklace, apparently an old church heirloom that is apparently silver.

Sam takes the shotgun and Dean runs the necklace down to the furnace to destroy it. And of course, at the last moment, Karn is destroyed in a really awesome effect shot where the silver of the hook melts and the rest of his body burns away into ash.  Much like the demon effects back in Phantom Traveler, it's definitely a step above what we'll get for spirits later in the series, so kudos there.

Thus, the day is saved. The cops arrive to assess the damage to the church and get everyone's stories about the man with the hook. Laurie and Sam have a moment after Sam gets bandaged up. She thanks him for saving their lives before Sam heads back to the Impala. Dean offers him a chance to stay, but Sam just shakes his head and it's back off to the open road for them.
"With my last breath...I CURSE ZOIDBERG!!!"
This is not a bad episode and the only real issue I have with it is the mixing of two separate urban legends in the aforemention rant that crossed the streams twice. I do like it, though I do find Laurie and her father to both be very bland and one-dimensional, particularly Laurie who I'm sure Sam actually left behind because he couldn't stand the constant "oh, woe is me!" personality. Especially when you compare her to Charlie from Bloody Mary a few weeks ago.

Charlie actually got involved in the plot and, while she did end up needing to be saved by Sam and Dean (after all, the heroes do actually have to do something), she was at least somewhat proactive and didn't spend her entire time onscreen whining about how terrible the situation was. But again, Laurie's only a character of the week so we don't really care about it.

Next week, we're going to get involved in something that bugs a lot of Supernatural fans, even to this day. But is Bugs really so bad as everyone claims? You'll just have to check out the next review to find out...

Supernatural is the property of the CW and Warner Brothers.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Halloween II" (2009)

...No. No.

...seriously, I don't wanna do this. Not again. I saw it in 2009 and it sucked. I mean, it sucked. Even diehard Rob Zombie fans cannot possibly defend this steaming pile of shit. I said last week it is probably the worst entry in the Halloween franchise, and I meant it. And I still mean it.  This film just absolutely, positively, without a single doubt just blows. The first red flag, of course, came when Rob Zombie himself said he felt no need to retain any "John Carpenter-ness" for the sequel.

Do you need any more of a gigantic warning that this film is bad?

But that's really only the beginning of the "Oh, my god, why did you do this?!" train. I really cannot fully express how much I hate this movie.  If it were a person, I would gleefully impale it through the chest multiple times with the sharpest implements I could legally possess, then grind up the body to be served to pigs that I would then slaughter in kind before burning them into ash, and then dance around spreading said ashes while gleefully proclaiming aloud to the whole world what I had done and no jury in the whole of creation would convict me.

To commence our trek on this train wreck to nowhere good, we start out with a flashback of Mrs. Myers (Sherri Moon Zombie) visiting Michael (Chase Wright Vanek) at Smith's Grove and bringing him a most curious item - a statue of a white horse. If you're feeling confused, don't worry. I didn't bring it up in my review of Halloween because it wasn't there. In fact, nothing even resembling it was anywhere within the movie. This is a brand new thing that Zombie tries to use to be "artsy".

Still, there's a nice little title card that tells us all about what it is.  From the "Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams", the White Horse is "linked to instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction". A good thing that would have been a neat manifestation of the inner psychological problems of Michael Myers, as Rob Zombie worked to do in the first movie...and that falls so, so flat here.

However, it seems we're picking up right after the events of the last film as Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) wanders forlornly through the streets of Haddonfield before being picked up by Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and taken to the hospital. However, Michael (Tyler Mane) is once more on the prowl after the ambulance carrying him gets into a wreck, but not before he comes across an apparition of Mrs. Myers in white with a white horse.  Then he strikes the hospital in scenes very reminiscent of the original Halloween II but then suddenly just as Laurie is about to get the axe, she wakes up...

...and it's a year later...

...and she's living with the Bracketts and has completely changed her personality...

Now, I'm not going to say that Laurie's trauma couldn't have fundamentally changed her personality. After all, people are rather entirely the same person they were after such a life-threatening experience. However, this is more akin to Tobey Maguire's sudden personality change in Spider-Man 3.  This is not "I'm not dark and broody and emo", this "Rob Zombie wanted to put Scout Taylor-Compton in the latest trends from Hot Topic and plaster her walls with posters of his favorite bands". Of course, perhaps this is just to symbolize the fact that Laurie's mental state is slipping...

...what I'm basically saying is, no, her trauma would not have done this.

Speaking of slipping mental states, we see the return of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). He's back being a blood-sucking leech as opposed to the Champion of Good and Right that he was in the original films...and that's pretty much it. He's annoying, concerned about his fame, and he only really gets involved at the very end in a way that does not remotely fit the character that we've seen portrayed on scene at any point through this entire duo of movies.

...oh, and he dies. Spoiler alert. But then, if you saw the first movie, did you really care?

And then there's Michael...who is Michael. And constantly having visions of his dead mother in white and a younger version of himself telling him to prepare to bring Laurie home. But he's pretty consistently Michael, so I suppose that is one thing I can't complain about.

Yes, there are kills. Yes, there are even a few surprisingly tense moments if only to be very, very fleeting. But just that does not a Halloween movie make. The attempts to connect Michael and Laurie through a shared mental illness is a neat idea, and the idea of psychic links aren't exactly new to the series (see Halloween 4 and 5), but it comes out as just being insanely pretentious.


I'm not going to go into how much sense it doesn't make that Laurie has the same hallucinations as Michael near the end, grossly oversimplifying actual mental disorders that real people often suffer. I'm not going to go into how Dr. Loomis making his last minute entry into the plot to try and save the day makes no sense and goes better for the character from the original films than the one here.  I'm not going to go into how trying to homage the final shot from Psycho is utterly and completely pretentious in a film that Psycho is embarrassed to be in the same galaxy with, much less the same room.

What I will do, however, is just say that this film absolutely and positively sucks. It sucks so bad. The fact that this film exists is immensely disrespectful to John Carpenter's original film and a gigantic middle finger to anyone and everyone who has given a damn about the series in general. The Curse of Michael Myers was better than this movie.

Hell, Resurrection was better than this movie.

In short, you should just send both of the Rob Zombie films off to the trash heap and settle down to watch the original film for reasons I have already gone over. If you need more convincing, I can't help you. Don't ruin your brain cells on this. If you see this movie playing anywhere, then - in the words of  Doctor Daniel Challis - you should. "Turn it off! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"


Halloween II is now available on DVD from Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, October 23, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Mummies Rising"

Oh, you knew I would have to go into that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as the Xbox Live Arcade. After all, it wouldn't be a proper Halloween without an indie game. So is this one going to be a spooky good time or is it going to be something to run away in fear from? Let's have a look at Mummies Rising.

The game's plot is simplicity itself.  From the game itself  "After the disappearance of an archaeological expedition in an Egyptian tomb, a soldier was sent to find them. His worst nightmare was about to begin...", a nice and rather foreboding set up. Simple, yes, but there have been games that have gone through less, especially in the first-person shooter genre.

However, the errors here are largely in design and mechanics, which drag down what could be a fairly simply, enjoyable concept. It's a first-person shooter, so you have a first person view as you shoot things. Easy enough, but the control is incredibly meh. Apparently your soldier character is continually walking waist-deep in ice cold molasses through the tombs of the ancient pharaohs. You can't move anything remotely resembling fast and turning is so slow that you might as well not even bother.

Which brings me to the environments. The Molasses Soldier is moving through each section of the tomb within a light that seems to move only with him...and hardly more than about five feet from him all around. I'm not kidding when I say this game is dark. This game is dark.  There, you can see I'm not kidding. Really, it's difficult to see anything, including the mummies until they're roughly ten feet from you. You're not going to know when the mummies are coming until it's almost too late, so better have that trigger finger good and ready there, spunky!

The weapons are nice, if a little lacking in diversity. Still, you do have to appreciate the simplicity. Need to re-kill a mummy? Use a gun.  Need to really re-kill a mummy? Use a bigger gun. Of course, the game doesn't let you use every gun on every level, but I'm not going to knock it for that.

That's really all there is to say. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. And avoid being attacked from behind.

...yeah, no, the simplicity doesn't help. Give it a miss.

Mummies Rising is now available from Rendercode Games for Xbox 360.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

MadCap's Trailer Reactions - "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" (Take Two)

Okay, so this one is a lot less meh.

A lot, lot less meh.

Go watch it, folks. You might need a cigarette. I know I did.


Okay, watched? Good. Let's talk about it.

Believe me when I say, there's not a frame of this trailer that I don't like. We see a bit more on newcomers Finn and Rey, as well as spoken dialogue from new baddie Kylo Ren, but that's not really the big draw - at least for me - but I'll get to that.

We get an introduction to Rey, her salvaging from what looks to be the Imperial Star Destroyer wreckage we saw in all the teasers before.  She insists that she's "no one".

Finn, on the other hand, was apparently raised in the new "First Order" and now has nothing to fight for, being stranded on the Not-Tatooine planet shown in the teasers.

We also see a short scene of Kylo Ren monologing to the melted remains of Darth Vader's helmet, promising to "finish what [he] started".

Then we get some nice shots of the Falcon swooping through the deserts of Not-Tatooine (yes, I know it has a name, but I'll just call it Not-Tatooine, thank you) while Rey talks of stories about what happened, presumably of the previous three movies.  And now we come to my favorite part of the trailer: Han Solo himself tells a stunned Rey and Finn: "It's true.  All of it.  The dark side. The Jedi. They're real."

If you've ever seen the original film - A New Hope - you'll remember Han's words about the Force when it's first presented to him, not believing in the "hokey religions".  But it shows that he's grown, he's developed.  He's not only gotten to know the Force, but he's seen it in action.  He's a believer now, far beyond where he was before back in 1977. It's an awesome moment and it makes me really, really hopeful that we'll see more such development for the others.

And, of course, we get other shots of both the First Order and the Resistance (apparently the New Rebellion) on various worlds and our heroes in various situations - including some snowy forest world where Finn ends up in a lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren.  Over the last few seconds, a woman's voiceover narrates: "The Force. It's calling to you. Just let it in..."

Oh, yeah, I'm really, really hoping this doesn't suck.

Indeed, the only thing I don't really care for is the fact that there is very, very little of Luke (just reusing that one shot of him touching his new mechanical hand to R2's dome) and implications that there is no Jedi Order around...which is confusing, considering that Luke has had three decades to get going on that again. In the EU he'd already done that and had enough time to nearly get them all destroyed in the war with the Yuuzhan Vong.

But still, a very, very minor issue in what I really, really, really hope will be an awesome movie. Which we need, since there hasn't been a good Star Wars movie since 1983.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens will premiere in theaters December 18, 2015.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Skin"

" wasn't me, I tell you! It was the one-armed man!"
Is there anything more frightening than the loss of one's identity? Even more completely than the crime of Identity Theft, to have all sense of person and individuality completely taken from you.  Erased as though it had never been...or having to suffer for the crimes of those who take your face for their own purposes.  Science fiction and fantasy stories have used it often, with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes, you get a really good one...and sometimes you get Superior Spider-Man.  So where does Skin, the first episode of Supernatural to introduce Skinwalkers, rate? Let's have a look.

After the opening montage of the few plot-related bits in previous episodes, we begin in St. Louis, Missouri.  Members of a police SWAT team enter a house as a woman, who has been tied to a chair and severely tortured, is being menaced by a man with a knife whose face we do not clearly see.  However, when it is clear the police are closing in, he attempts to flee from the home and is caught by the cops.  Told to drop his knife, he turns to the camera...and reveals that he's Dean Winchester!

Actually, as we'll learn, this isn't actually Dean.  But it is one hell of a way to open the episode, giving us the fear that Dean has gone off the deep end.  However, we cut to one week earlier, Sam and Dean are pulling into a gas station and Sam is checking his e-mail, still conversing with some of his friends from Stanford, telling them he's on a roadtrip with Dean...which is technically true, though Dean gives him some lip for effectively lying to them, saying he really can't afford to get close to people.  We'll look at this a bit later, but needless to say, Sam just accuses Dean of being anti-social.

Sam does, however, get the plot of the day from an e-mail via his friend Rebecca Warren, a friend of his from Stanford.  It seems her brother, Zack, has been arrested for a murder that he could not have possibly committed.  Though Dean is reluctant to go back four hundred miles to St. Louis (not thinking that it's their kind of problem), Sam apparently convinces him and they head off, arriving a Rebecca's front door...and we see that she's the woman from the cold opening.

Oh, boy...

Once inside, she relates the facts of the case to them.  Zack says that he came home to find his girlfriend, Emily, tied to a chair and severely beaten up, so he called the police...who then arrested him.  Apparently, video footage from outside his apartment shows that he entered his apartment at 10:30, which Rebecca says is impossible, since Zack was with her until at least after midnight.  Sam practices his Bluff skill to convince Rebecca that Dean's a cop so they can  take a look at the crime scene.

They head over there and find the place wrecked, as you'd expect.  However, Sam and Dean don't really find anything of note as Rebecca tells them a story about how their house was broken into a few weeks ago and some clothing was stolen - specifically Zack's clothes - which the police didn't put too much stock into.  Nothing of note to this particular case comes up, however, until Dean notices the next door neighbor's dog barking like mad at the house - something with Rebecca says never really happened, considering how gentle the dog used to be.  Dogs being affected by the supernatural is something, as Sam points out to Dean in a sidebar, not uncommon.

Dean still denies that this is their kind of thing, but he figures they ought to check out the security footage...just in case.

Lucky for them, Rebecca swiped it from the lawyers at the first opportunity! convenient!

As she takes them to see it, we get a transition via a photograph of Sam, Rebecca, and Zack, fading up on Zack's face as he sits on a bench watching some apartment buildings. He observes a borderline amorous couple with the husband leaving for work,  Zack taking special note of the woman and a dark smirk coming to his lips before his irises become an eerie, glassy white surrounding jet black pupils...
Well, we all know what face that is...
Checking the camera footage, Sam and Dean find something similar on "Zack" - a camera flare that makes his eyes appear all white.  They theorize as to what it could be, perhaps some kind of doppelganger, but they definitely know that this is their kind of thing.

Elsewhere, the amorous man returns home to find his wife in a position identical to that of Rebecca in the cold open. When her gag is removed, she begs him not to hurt her anymore.  He hears something break in the next room and heads out to have some quality time with himself...namely an exact duplicate of himself meeting him and striking him over the head with a baseball bat.

The next morning, Sam and Dean head down to Zack's apartment (at 5:30 in the morning, to Dean's laments), where Sam has a hunch that he wants to test out - since the killer didn't go out the front door, they had to go out another way.  They find some smeared blood on a power pole, but the trail ends right about there.  There's no time to worry about that, however, as an ambulance gliding by leads Sam and Dean to the scene of the most recent murder.

And yes, as you'd imagine, it's the same story. The guy was supposedly driving home on his business trip, and thus could not have been there. They come to the conclusion its a shapeshifter. However, there's still the problem of where it went since - like at Zack's house - the trail just stops.  Dean, though, brings up that (much like the Fourth Doctor does in the Doctor Who episode "Robot") there's only one more direction left to go - down.

Okay, so the Doctor said up, but sue me.

Thus, they go into the sewer and find shed skin - theorizing that the shifter tears off its flesh in order to shift.  With this proven, they head back to the Impala to break out the silver bullets...only to be called by Rebecca, who has seen through their ruse (or, rather, her lawyers have) and knows that Dean is not a cop, telling them to drop it now in spite of Sam's efforts to try and talk her down. We also get Dean telling Sam he really just needs to disconnect from his "normal" friends. Again, more on that later.
"Who throws out half a pizza?"

They head down into the sewers to track the shifter, They find some bile and some discarded clothing before it jumps them, the pair giving chase after it attacks Dean.  Back on street level, they split up to cover more ground.  Eventually, Sam and Dean reunite after neither finding anything. However, when a car forces them to cross the street separately (Sam going first) we see Dean's eyes react to the headlight of passing car by turning that eerie white.

Sam and Shifter!Dean head back to the Impala, where Sam quickly quizzes it on something their Dad hunted to check and make certain that it's him.  The Shifter gets it right, but makes a fatal mistake when it catches the keys to the Impala with the wrong hand.  Despite its best efforts to convince Sam otherwise, it's forced to attack him and render him unconscious.

In the sewer, Sam is tied up and the Shifter taunts him about some of Dean's true feelings about Sam - namely that he's jealous of Sam for having run off to college, while Dean had to stick around with John.  Deep down, the Shifter says, Dean's jealous because while Sam can have friends and be normal, Dean is a freak and knows that everyone's going to leave him eventually.

Mary. Sam. John. They're all gone.

Like I said, more on that to come.  However, Sam isn't buying any of it (or, at least, is keeping focused on the mission) and tries to discern where the real Dean is.  The Shifter, however, communicates his desire to do some crossbreeding with Rebecca before leaving to go meet her.  She is, as you'd expect, less than happy to see him but does allow him in.

Back in the sewer, Sam finds that Dean is in the same place as Sam is (how convenient!) they snark for a bit before they start getting loose to break out.

Back at Rebecca's, the Shifter is telling her the whole story...of himself. As well as revealing that Sam and Dean are hunters and go after things like shapeshifters.  It seems to be going well until the Shifter gets called a freak by Rebecca - something that clearly pains it.

Back in the sewer, as they get out of their restraints, Sam brings up the idea that the Shifter needs them (or, more specifically Dean) alive so it can "download" their memories, hence why it knew so much about Dean and Sam specifically.  They bust out, planning to call the spite of the fact they'll effectively be sicking the cops on "Dean".
"No, Sammy...I am your brother..."

The coup de grace occurs back at Rebecca's, where the Shifter talks about himself (via Dean), feeling alone and just wanting to be loved, which Rebecca unfortunately interprets as "Dean" coming on to her...and she is less than pleased. Outraged, he tires her up, leading into the cold open but now with us able to see "Dean's" face. And it plays out as we saw up to the Shifter being cornered by the cops...but this time with it fighting off some of the cops before escaping, though clearly not without some negative repercussions.

In the sewers, the Shift stumbles into its lair and begins to shed its skin in a truly impressive and really, really gross scene where its bones cackle, its teeth fall out, its fingernails fall off, and even its very flesh starts tearing itself apart as it heals from its wounds.

The repercussions for Sam and Dean, however, come via the Television of Exposition (apparently on loan after its days on Sliders), where they learn there's a want out for Dean. Dean is pissed, but Sam points out that they have no weapons and no plan...until they theorize that the Shifter drove the Impala over there, and thus all their stuff is still there.  The cops, though, arrive and they're forced to flee...Sam taking the fall because they don't actually have anything on him.

Sam warns him, before he flees, to not go into the sewers. However, this is Dean Winchester and we know he's not going to take this sitting down as he demonstrates by getting the Impala afterwards and heading into the sewers and finding...Rebecca, all tied up and with no place to go.

Sam, meanwhile, has gone to Rebecca's place and unfortunately tells "her" the details before she knocks him out with a wine bottle.  Back in the sewers, Rebecca relates that she was attacked and woke up here just in time to see "Dean" turn into her.  Dean gets her out and they head back to her place, hoping to get to Sam in time. Back there,  "Dean" has shifted back into his preferred skin for the episode and secured Sam, planning to off him and pin the whole thing on Dean.
"I'm gonna make this knife disappear!"
Of course, when the Shifter gets a little lazy, Sam gets the drop on him...and we get our first big Sam and Dean fight of the series.  While it's not really Dean, he has his mentality and fighting techniques, so it's as good as.  And it is a pretty brutal fight as they throw one another through furniture and use various items as improvised weapons.  However, because the Shifter is a supernatural creature with enhanced strength, the tide quickly turns on Sam...which Dean deals with by shooting it twice in the heart with silver.

While Rebecca checks on Sam, Dean retrieves his amulet from the Shifter's corpse.

And we get our wrap up.  Sam promising to keep in touch with Rebecca, though it may not be for a long while.  Zack, however, has been released...apparently, the police think this "Dean Winchester" guy is responsible for the murders, and he's dead now since his corpse was found in Rebecca's home. As they drive off, Dean expresses disappointment that Sam just can't be normal, but Sam tells him that he knew deep down he was never normal even when he was at Stanford.  Dean also expresses some disappointment that he'll have to skip out on his own funeral...

Skin is actually a pretty good episode.  It touches on the themes of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection - largely for Sam and Dean but also using the Shifter as a living example of those traits.  Consider, in the beginning of the episode,  Dean mentions that Sam should really cut himself off from the people who don't know about their world. It's not out of any malice or irritation at the thought of having people like that in their lives, it's simply because that's how their lives are and that "normal" people aren't often able to handle what they do.

Although with Dean, as see with the Shifter going through his memories, it goes even deeper. Already, he's largely disconnected with the world. He does his best not to get close to people in his work, and he's only known a very select few people in his life that he's had any regular contact with and he is losing those few people.  Like I said before: Mary. Sam. John. Everyone he knows, everyone he cares about, has left him at some point in his life, and Dean fears - deep down - that one day he is going to be alone.

The Shifter's words to Rebecca while its trying to seduce her can indeed be seen as the Shifter having some level of sympathy for Dean's situation, seeing as the two come from similar backgrounds. Feeling themselves to be freaks compared to the rest of society and, in the end, just wanting a hug and someone to love them. It's really a rather sad thing and shows, much like the bits in Dead in the Water, that there is more to his character than the rather simplistic gun-toting, lady-pleasing, snark-quipping man that his persona would have you think he is.

The Shifter him/her/itself is a character with can empathize with.  The background it gives about being born "human, but different" and something that was shunned by society is tragic and gives plenty of motivation for it to want human contact...though, unlike many fans of Freddy Krueger, I find it incredibly difficult to sympathize with someone who goes into psychopathic rage at the first sign of rejection and kills people.  Sorry, tortures and kills people.

However, there are a few problems with the episode - namely Zack, who we never actually get to see besides in the photograph on Rebecca's fridge. Sure, we do get that one scene of the Shifter watching the amorous couple, but that's it. His actor doesn't even have any lines. While it would have, of course, been impractical for Sam and Dean to visit him in jail (particularly after Dean gets on the St. Louis PD's Most Wanted List), it would have been nice for his character to have contributed something to the story instead of just having everything he "said" being told them by another character.

Also, like with episodes before, Shifters here are a little different than they are in later episodes, but that can be chalked up to the early days of the show still being in effect as well as the Shifter not really knowing anything about its own origins, especially considering what we see of the race and various others in later seasons.

So it has a few flaws that can be looked past but, over all, the episode is very enjoyable and a very nice character piece on the inner workings of Dean's mind. Next week, Sam and Dean have to not turn on the lights and pick up the vanishing hitchhiker and acknowledge that humans can lick too because the calls are coming from inside the house!!!

...oh, y'know...the Hook Man. The Hook Man works, too...

Supernatural is the property of the CW and Warner Bros.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.