The Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13)

The first Avengers wasn't a work of art, but it was a fun enough action romp. Age of Ultron bored the hell out of me.

How many times do we need to see the Avengers join up for a battle, get their asses kicked, mope around for a bit, realize they'll only win if they work together, have a rematch, and emerge victorious? Not to menion Age of Ultron's fight scenes drag on way too fucking long (on that subject, why the hell do people think punching the Hulk is a great way to subdue him? That just pisses him off and makes him stronger), and the plot about an artificial intelligence meant to protect humanity deciding the best way to do that is to eradicate humanity was stale back when the Will Smith I, Robot movie did it.

By the way, the Hulk/Banner and Black Widow romance? Does Betty not exist in the Avenger's universe?


The Neverhood (PC)

I really think the folks behind Earthworm Jim had their hearts set on making cartoons, but somehow wound up making video games. The Neverhood is ostensibly a point-and-click adventure game, but it's more like an interactive claymation movie. Half the game's run time is cutscenes (including a moment where Klaymen has to remove a giant spike that's keeping the two halves of the Neverhood pulled apart, but instead of solving any sort of puzzle to do so you click on the spike and sit through a four minute movie), the backstory is revealed by an animated film broken up into 20 cassettes found throughout the game, and some of Klaymen's movements are overanimated to the point of gumming up the game's flow. This obsession with animation also creates a handful of red herrings like a bug that slobbers all over Klaymen, a fruit tree, and a character stuck in a rotating box that can cause the player to waste time figuring out their (nonexistent) purpose. Granted, it's a very well made clay world with an unnerving Tim Burton vibe, and I got some laughs out of the movies.

But even if you can overlook the excessive animation, the actual game is really insubstantial. Most of the puzzles are variations of "find a pattern, write it down, input it somewhere else", the radio puzzle, as well as being great for setting off my trypophobia, is either non-existent or impenetrable because it involves pulling a chain in a completely different part of the game with no feedback that the chain did anything, and the confrontation with the game's big baddy is a glorified win/lose button. The interface is also weird; the cursor doesn't change when it hovers over something Klaymen can interact with, and there's no inventory so it's hard to tell what Klaymen is picking up off the floor. And those scooter bits can go to hell.

Neverhood is also home to the biggest waste of time I've seen in a point-and-click adventure game since the wheel chamber in D. Early in the game there's a museum where the history of the universe and its gods is written on the walls, which spans something like 40 screens. Even if you don't stop to read all this shit it still takes about 10 minutes to walk all the way down it, and there's no run button. Then the game taunts you by putting a window at the very end, but you can't jump out it and have to walk all the way back. And you can't skip this in a replay because one of those cassettes you need to complete the game is in the final room. Maybe the reasoning behind that radio chain was that you were going to pull chains until you found the one that opens the door in that room, and you would never replay the game because of this pain in the ass.

Oh, and if you're like me and didn't stop to read the sections on Ottoborg and Hoborg, you'll have no idea who this one character that appears towards the end of the game is and why the game acts like we should know him. You'd think Willie would have mentioned him in the cassettes.

Additionally, the soundtrack ranges from "works in-game" to "fucking obnoxious." One puzzle was a card matching game worked out to somebody's drunken mumbling, and the credits theme sounds like Brak singing Esperanto while coming off his dental anesthesia.

And, um, maybe I'm reading too much into things, but if I went into this knowing nothing about the creators of the game then all the theology would have just been game mythos. But now that I know what an evangelical Christian TenNapel is, I can't shake the the feeling that Klaymen is supposed to be a Christ allegory and Klogg tempting him with Hoborg's crown is meant to parallel Satan tempting Jesus (not to mention Klogg was corrupted when he decided he should rule the Neverhood instead of Hoborg, and is eventually cast off the world). I dunno, maybe his co-workers kept him in check, and it wasn't until he aged and/or got into graphic novels that he started drowning his work in Christian symbolism and homophobia.


Pixels (PG-13)

Look, Family Video gave me a free rental with Age of Ultron, okay?

I'm willing to give The Wizard the benefit of the doubt that it was just misguided. Pixels knows exactly what it's doing, and that's charging people money to see Adam Sandler live out his fantasy of being the world's greatest gamer. Even before the video game references that make Family Guy's look relevent I was getting pissed off with Sandler's interactions with the leading lady, which I guess was supposed to be flirty but comes across as sociopathic. Once the alien storyline starts, things descend into nonsense. How does Peter Dinklage's character input a cheat code into real life? And how exactly does one "cheat" in Donkey Kong?

About halfway through, any pretense Pixels had towards honoring classic arcade games is thrown out the window and it straight-up slaps retro gaming in the face. There's a scene where the kid is playing... um, I think Heavy Rain... I swear that game was somewhere in here, but he might have been playing one of the fifty billion Call of Duty games... and the two start implying that retro games are vapid and "all about the patterns" while modern games are complex and emotional, and at the very end Sandler comes to the conclusion that the only way he's going to beat the aliens is to abandon his retro game sentiments and embrace modern gaming conventions. Um.... yeeeeaaah....

A half Skitty is actually being very generous, and the only reasons I'm not giving this a 0 are that I was innoculized by the wave of negative reviews that followed it (notably Moviebob's video review) so I went in mentally prepared the movie's more insulting parts, Q*Bert was sort of cute, and it's still not the worst case of somebody pawning off their self-indulgence under the guise of a tribute to retro gaming I've experienced.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13)

I'm, uh, having a hard time figuring out what I thought of this. I liked it more than Age of Ultron, I guess, but there were still too many drawn out action scenes with a bajillion cuts.


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (PG-13)

Episode 7 got a lot of praise for being a true return to the original Star Wars, but I thought it was really disposable. It's basically a retelling of A New Hope, only with three new characters created by redistributing the traits of New Hope's three main characters. A droid carrying vital information ends up lost on a desert planet when it flees from a bad guy's raid led by a guy in black wearing a a mask and dark cape, the droid gets found by a nobody scraping out a living in the middle of nowhere, the desert farmer blunders into an old man who was a hero in a decades-old conflict, the bad guys develop a planet-destroying weapon and manage to fire it once, there's a bar full of exotic aliens, the heroes and the old man putter around the death weapon for a bit, the character played by the most famous actor gets whacked by the guy with the red lightsaber, X-Wings blow up the planet-destroying weapon moments before it destroys the good guys' HQ, main character starts quest to become a Jedi.

About the most original thing in Force Awakens is that Darth Vader never threw a baby hissy fit when something went wrong (maybe Anakin did in the Star Wars prequels, I don't remember them that well). I don't know if that scene where a couple of stormtroopers walk in on Kylo Ren trashing a room with his lightsaber while screaming like a spoiled kid, then quietly turn around and go back the other way was supposed to be intimidating, but I laughed hysterically at it. Also, when the little old lady alien was telling Rey about Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, I couldn't help but think of the "He murdered 30 children with it" meme.

And sometimes the movie is just illogical. At the beginning, Poe had just been tortured by Kylo Ren, and when a stormtrooper comes in and says he's going to help him escape, he just goes with it. Yeah, okay, we saw Finn decide he didn't want anything to do with the First Order and defects, and it's clearly an homage to when Luke and Han break Leia out of the Death Star, but seriously? Then later, after lying to Rey about his role in the Rebellion Finn comes clean and tells her he's actually an ex-stormtrooper fleeing from the First Order, and Rey doesn't even yell at him. Also, did it not occur to Poe that, when he told BB-8 to get as far away from the camp as possible, BB-8 would have left a fucking trail in the sand? Not that it mattered, since the First Order didn't notice it either.


How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG-13)

The message of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is that a good leader protects and serves his people while a bad leader dominates them. A noble message, sure, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Part of the problem might be a TV show was produced between this and the first movie, and this tends to feel more like an extended episode than a movie. If you've never seen the TV show (and I haven't) some things will make you feel out of the loop, like why Hiccup suddenly has a magic sword. It also had quite a few fluff scenes that left me wishing for the movie to get on with it.

After hearing about a barbarian named Drago Bludvist who goes around capturing, torturing, and enslaving dragons, Hiccup adamantly decides he's going to find Drago and talk to him, the warnings of his dad and everyone else be damned, and I spent these scenes wanting to reach into the screen and smack him. In a somewhat surprising twist for kid's movies, Hiccup ends up being completely wrong and discovers you just can't reason with the unreasonable.

I guess after the gutsy ending of the first movie, Dreamworks felt they had to work another gutsy move into this one. But the shocker in the first movie worked because it was relatively unseen in a children's movie, and it both paralleled a moment earlier in the film and fit in with a recurring theme about overcoming handicaps. The "shocker" here is so cliched I barely felt anything when it happened.

By the way, in the first movie Stoic gave Hiccup a helmet made from one of the cups of his mother's breastplate, implying she was a big fat woman. But Hiccup is reunited with his mother here (I know this sounds like a spoiler, but it was given away in the trailer, and it happens early in the film), and even in the flashback to the dragon raid where she was taken away she's a thin woman.

Addendum: People who put unskippable ads on their DVDs needs to be drug out into the street and shot.


Deadpool (R)

If you're like me and went into this expecting an over-the-top comedy superhero film it's, uh, not. In fact, it gets actually gets pretty fucked up when Wade is undergoing the tortures that turn him into Deadpool. When it shifts into comedy mode, it's centered on dick and boob jokes and gratuitous violence that just aren't my thing. I mean, I seriously expected the fight between Colossus and... uh, the strong woman to end with them fucking.


The Muppets Most Wanted (PG)

Dear Muppet Studios:

Nobody gives as much of a shit about Miss Piggy as you think they do.



Hogfather (Terry Pratchett)

The main theme of the Discworld Christmas Special is how humans need stories and myth. The Hogfather (Discworld's Santa, with a sleigh pulled by four hogs) has gone missing, and Death steps in to deliver gifts to children while his granddaughter Susan begrudgingly investigates the Hogfather's disappearance. And a good portion of the book is the hijinx of the Unseen University wizards as manifestations of missing socks, hangovers, balding, and more are suddenly popping into existence.

One knock against this book is that I found Teatime the most irritating antagonist in a Discworld yet, and not just because he has to keep reminding people his name isn't pronounced how it looks. He might have been meant to be the kind of slimeball you can't wait to see get his just deserts, but he was the kind of slimeball who made it hard for me to stay focused on the story. At least he's absent for the majority of the book, disappearing after he kicks off his scheme at the beginning and only reappearing towards the end for a showdown with Susan. But getting to the part where he takes his leave was a bit of a chore.