26 August 2014

The Strain

No, I haven't read the books so I am new to this... universe. I had no idea what The Strain is until I started watching it, but I took some time to read about it. It was first imagined as a TV show, but Guillermo Del Toro was unable to find  a TV network that would finance it. So he decided to "transfer" it into a book trilogy that also spawned a comic book series that follow the same plot. The trilogy made some positive comments so Del Toro was finally able to find a partner to make a TV show and here it is - The Strain, hosted by FX network.


The whole world is in a big danger as a mysterious infection turns people into mindless beasts that feed on humans and turn them into even more mindless beasts. We know them as vampires, but they are called Strigoi (from Romanian mythology) by Abraham Setrakian, one of the show's main characters. Being an Armenian Jew who lived in Romania, he is aware of the presence of these beings but as usual - nobody believes him. I was actually very surprised when another main character actually said "So you are telling me that we are fighting what? Vampires?". Oh my God! Someone in a vampire TV show actually knows what vampires are? Unlike The Walking Dead where everyone seems to be living in a world where zombies never existed in popular media!? This knowledge of vampirism by one of the characters is a big plus!

I am still having mixed feelings about The Strain. It started great with a mysterious death of 200+ passengers aboard an airplane on JFK in New York City. Actually the whole first episode was rather dramatic and mysterious as it introduced us to its main characters and gave us hints about what they are about to face. It was obvious that the "enemy" is supernatural (probably a Noferatu kind of a vampire, but it was still unclear) and very, very dangerous. However, after the great first episode, the following 5 were rather... stretched. It's hard to explain, there's quite a lot going on with the internet slowdown, global mobile phone problems, mass murders on streets of New York... You could even say that a lot of disturbing things are happening while most of the New York residents are unaware of the incoming doomsday. I don't know if they are ignorant or stupid, but it just seems very abnormal, even for a horror/fantasy TV show. Also, there are so many "oh come on!" moments that force you to make a facepalm ala Picard thinking "why so stupid, why, why???" People checking out weird sounds in complete darkness. A guy going into a shed to beat up a neighbor's dog (surprise, it's not a dog!) with bare hands. A regular office guy trying to be a hero after his colleague comes in bleeding... by yelling at TWO obviously dangerous persons (who don't look human any more) - "hey... HEY! Why did you do this?". I don't think he survived that. Then a taxi driver who was rather safe in his car and completely able to drive away decides to go out and shoot his firearm at very dangerous looking pack of human/beast unknowns. Not to mention the 4 survivors from the airplane tragedy who deny medical help and insist on going home while they are obviously not well at all with bloody eyes, high pitched noises in the head... Anyway, you get the idea.

There's also a flashback story going to World War II concentration camp where a Jewish prisoner (who happens to be one of the main characters in present day New York) gets to meet The Master and his most loyal servant who just happens to be a Nazi officer. That story seems rather interesting, and I really hope it stretches over seasons. I know, I know, I am a WWII fan, I can't get enough of it.

Overall, The Strain is still a bit of a mystery but it has a lot of potential. Having the original book author (Del Toro) working on TV show (the original idea) is a big plus and if he can't make it good - no one can. I also have to mention the current last episode (episode 7 of the first season), or at least the final minutes of it and the introduction of a very strange unit that seems to be fighting the vampires on their own. Why so strange? Because they are vampires themselves! That episode restored my faith in The Strain and I hope it gets even better from this moment on.

20 August 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

If you don't want to read it all:
Score: 7/10
Verdict: Just as good as the first one. Very entertaining... and it has Scarlett Johansson in leather. Again :)

Honestly, I disliked the first Thor movie and was quite disappointed with Iron Man 2, so when Captain America: The First Avenger came out, my expectations were as low as the sea level. We might even be talking about submarine depth here. That may be the reason why I actually enjoyed the movie about the very first avenger and his fight against the evil Hydra and Red Skull. That or the fact that I just love stories that happen during World War II. This would be a good time to say that I loved The Avengers... the scene with Loki and Hulk is absolutely legendary and I re-watch it monthly. "Puny god" hahahahahahaha... seriously, that scene is one of the best in the history of movie making!

Back to the more serious matters. Right. The sequel is, in short, on par with the first film. I liked almost all of it... with the exception of Winter Soldier himself. It seems like they included him just so they could show us once again how Captain America (Steve Rogers) is such a good and emotional guy. That's why they chose him, why remind us over and over again? The story is strong enough even without a character with such a pathetic intent. 

Okay so I don't like the character of Winter Soldier, but the rest is just fine. As you can see from the cover image, Rogers is accompanied by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), while Director Fury finally has more than 2 minutes of appearance. Their enemy... I will keep it "secret" just in case you haven't heard the latest news in Marvel universe. Also, it collides with the story of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and forces a new course for the TV show. Check out my review and see how it changed Agents for the best!

So yes, it is good. I really don't want to tell you anything about the story itself because I don't want to spoil any of it. This is one of the best, if not the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Still, the best scene is still this one:

18 August 2014

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

If you don't want to read it all:
Score: 6/10
Verdict: The best Star Trek movie so far, in my humble opinion

I will try to keep it short: The Search for Spock takes place shorty after the last film. USS Enterprise is back on Earth where it is to be decommissioned. It is 20 years old and it just cannot serve the Starfleet as it once did. Kirk meets Sarek, Spock's father and finds out that Spock's spirit may still be alive. They soon discover that Spock's Katra (call it soul if you want) is in McCoy's mind, but for it to rest in peace (hah!) they also need his body. However, the body was left on the newly terraformed planet Genesis and Starfleet won't allow anyone to get near it since the entire plant is classified. Kirk, according to his rebel nature, steals the damaged Enterprise and heads back toward Genesis. What they do not know is that a rogue Klingon captain Kruge (played by Dr. Emmet Brown... erm, Christopher Lloyd) and his Bird of Prey are investigating Genesis as well.

The previous film proved that nothing is sacred to the producers of Star Trek films. And that is great! First of all, they killed Spock (but are bringing him back) and now it's time to destroy Enterprise itself. I really loved that moment and please don't get me wrong - I am not a sadist, I just like to see the unexpected! Enterprise was destroyed again in the later Star Trek movies and TV shows, but this one was certainly special.

Overall, I liked The Search for Spock, but not enough to be delighted by it. It was great to see Klingons in action again as well as the mentioned destruction of everyone's favorite Starfleet vessel. And Kirk's typical reckless yet intelligent behavior that we all loved in the TV show back in sixties.

The "marathon" goes on!

16 August 2014

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

If you don't want to read it all:
Score: 5/10
Verdict: Better than the first movie, but still not quite what I expected it to be.

Some say that this is the best Star Trek movie, or at least the one that saved the franchise after the "disaster" that the first movie was. I might agree with the latter, but I hope it's not the best in series or this re-watch of mine is doomed.

I already said that I kinda liked the story (or at least the discovery of what posed the threat to Earth) of the first movie, but it was overly stretched. The Wrath of Khan seems to be the opposite - the story is weaker, but there's enough going on to cover its length. Why is the story weaker? The reason, in my opinion, is Khan himself.

Khan seems to be some kind of a favorite villain to a lot of Trekkies, but he doesn't impress me. He is genetically engineered and is supposed to be superior (both physically and mentally) to other humans, but he somehow manages to get defeated by Kirk... twice. The first time it happened was during the original series, in the very first season. Khan is originally from 20th century: he and his men were in a cryogenic sleep, following an exile from Earth after a war that overthrew them from power. Kirk and Enterprise encountered them in the mentioned episode and after the series of events, Khan and his people were sentenced to yet another exile - this time on planet Ceti Alpha V. In The Wrath of Khan (15 years after the events of the mentioned episode), the crew of USS Reliant beams down to a planet (for which they believed was Ceti Alpha VI) to test a powerful terraforming device called The Genesis. Long story short - Khan takes control of USS Reliant and lures Enterprise and Kirk to the space station Regula I where Genesis is being created.

This is what disappoints me - Khan is supposed to be super intelligent, yet he allowed himself to be defeated by his own thirst for revenge. It's just so... stupid and naive. It was SO obvious that he was about to meet his maker if he was to follow Enterprise into the nebula, but no, he wouldn't use his super intelligent mind to stop himself from doing the stupidest thing ever.

Overall, The Wrath of Khan IS better than The Motion Picture, but it's just extremely naive. The best, or maybe I should say the most shocking moment happens at the very end and increases the movie's value by A LOT, setting in motion a series of events that are about to come in the sequels.

Stay tuned.

14 August 2014

Oculus (2013-14)

If you don't want to read it all:
Score: 7/10
Verdict: It really is hard to make a good and memorable horror movie and this one is quite satisfying.

Listen to the dog. Always listen to the dog! Seriously, if you have a dog and it gets hostile towards anything in the world - just listen to the wise animal and stay away from it! They obviously have a superpower to sense evil while humans have their own power... to ignore it and put themselves into grave danger. So just... listen to the dog.

Horror movies are something special. Most of the people actually don't like them in general because they don't like to be scared (I may be wrong though and this might be correct for the country I live in; when I was in United States I found out that scaring little children and horror in general is absolutely normal and even welcome), but those that do are usually BIG fans. I personally like horrors because they are almost always tied to some myths and fantasy and that is something I like by default. In the same time, making a good horror movie is the most futile thing in the movie industry. 50 or 80 years ago it was a piece of cake and people would be scared of just about anything that was not an every day thing, but last 20+ years have been a huge problem. I've seen a total of 4 horrors in last 2 years and this one feels the best, even though it's the worst rated one.

The story follows 21 year old Tim who has just been released from a mental institution. 11 years ago, he and his sister Kaylie survived a bloodshed in their house, a horror that claimed both their parents. They believe it was caused by a demonic entity "living" in an antique mirror that hung on the wall of their father's home office. Anyway, as soon as he leaves the institution, he meets his sister and she asks him to help her prove that it was indeed the mirror that caused all that. She got a hold of the mirror and moved it back to the house (she owns the house now), set up the cameras and is eager to document everything it does. The mirror, of course, has something else on it's "mind".

Even though it starts a bit slow, Oculus is very satisfying psychological thriller. Wait, it's not a horror? Well, some might call it a horror indeed, but I didn't really get scared while watching it. It shifts back and forth between the events that occurred 11 years ago (showing us what really happened back then) and now, with the mirror playing mind tricks on Tim and Kaylie. Oculus does not play the BOO card (accompanied with sudden sound effects) which is a good thing, I really got bored of those. Instead, it frightens you with the mere presence of evil and what it might do next. That is a nice change from today's standards, at least that's how it felt for me.

I mentioned I watched 4 horrors in the past 2 years. The remaining three are Drag Me to Hell (which I found stupid), The Conjuring (it was just so damn loud and overhyped, I didn't really like it. Or maybe I just expected too much) and The Devil (I liked this one!). 

Well that's it, enjoy the movie!

11 August 2014

The Wolf Among Us (2013-14)

Game score: 92%
Platform: Steam, PC
Steam link:

Wonderful, just wonderful! I may not be objective enough since this game is everything I like: it's an adventure, it's made after a comic and it's made by Telltale Games. But you should really trust me on this one, it is a wonderful gaming experience that everyone should try... and enjoy it very, very much!

Just like their first game of same kind (decision based adventure game split in episodes or something like that) The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is also based on a successful comic book series known as Fables. Never heard of Fables? No problem, here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Fables is a comic book series created by writer Bill Willingham, published by DC Comics's Vertigo imprint beginning in 2002. The series deals with various characters from fairy tales and folklore – referring to themselves as "Fables" – who have been forced out of their Homelands by "The Adversary" who has conquered the realm. The Fables have traveled to our world and formed a clandestine community in New York City known as Fabletown. Fables who are unable to blend in with human society (such as monsters and anthropomorphic animals) live at "the Farm" in upstate New York.


So, decision based. What does that mean? Let me try this: it's a true interactive movie. Most of the time you watch the story unfold and it's your decisions (dialogues or options that pop up) that decide what happens next. It may sound as if the game is in charge and you are just an observer, but it's far from truth. And it's almost impossible to get stuck since you will never have to travel around, look for items to pick up and use or solve puzzles. There are none, none at all. It's all about story and what you decide will happen next.

You play Bigby Wolf, a town sheriff who just happens to be a reformed Big Bad Wolf from stories such as Little Red Riding Hood or Three Little Pigs and The Big Bad Wolf. Seriously, it's the same guy! Only he's actually a werewolf (with the ability to change into a really huge wolf... hence the name BIG bad wolf). His best friend is Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs. Bigby's partner at work just happens to be Snow White who works as deputy mayor of Fabletown and she plays a big part of this game. There's a lot of other familiar characters that you will recognize from the stories or legends such as The Little Mermaid (her name in this world is Nerissa), Beauty and the Beast (they are Bigby's neighbors), Ichabod Crane (from The Sleepy Hollow), Bloody Mary, The Jersey Devil, The From Prince etc. Quite a gang.

The Wolf Among Us is a murder mystery game. Someone is killing Fables and you, as Bigby, are trying to find the killer. It's split into 5 episodes and each one takes about 90 minutes to complete. However, if you decide to check out all the possible storylines you will have to replay and make different choices. The choices themselves have a huge impact on what happens next: you may be deciding to go to one place or the other or in some extreme cases to kill or spare someone. Depending on your choice, that person may or may not appear in the game any more and may or may not help you or make your life more complicated. Fun, eh?

What I liked the most about this masterpiece game is the story itself. It has everything it needs: an introduction, culmination, awesome characters and a great ending. And it's not the usual happy ending, it's... well, play and see it for yourself. I don't want to spoil it.

I really enjoyed this game a lot and I hope for a sequel in the near future. The graphics are wonderful, voice acting is superb and convincing, and the whole atmosphere is just perfect. Have fun!

09 August 2014

Papers, Please (2013)

Game score: 80%
Platform: Steam, PC
Steam link:

It's games like this that really make you glad that a service such as Steam exists in this world. I seriously doubt it would find its way to consumers if it was to be published the traditional way. No, not because it's bad and it wouldn't find its way to customers - it is because publishers don't trust games that don't look good, they usually don't really care about the actual entertainment they provide. Papers, Please looks like it was made in mid eighties and it plays just as that - it's one of those games that takes you over without a warning and won't let go until you fully explore it.


Papers, Please lets you play as an immigration officer working at a border checkpoint of a fictional country of Arstotzka. The game shows you arriving to work every morning and gives you a set of rules for the day, rules that may or may not change the next day (as expected, the rules get more complicated with each passing day) as well as an occasional visits by supervisors and/or border guards. Your job is quite simple - inspect the documents provided by people who want to get into country and decide if they are clear to enter or not. At the start you only have a few things you need to pay attention to, such as name (if first and last name on the passport and entry pass match), weight and height, passport expiration date, visa expiration date etc, but as the game progresses to each day you will have to deal with various work permits, border passes, diplomatic passports, ID cards and so on. Sounds fun? No, not really, but for some reason it is! Since your salary depends on the number of people you inspected, you have to work quickly in order to provide food, heat and medicine for your family. Each correct decision gives you 5 credits while penalties depend on the number of wrong decisions. For example, if you approve a wrong person or deny someone with regular papers, you are given a warning the first two times it happens every day, but if you do it the third time - you are given a 5 credits penalty. The fourth is 10 credits and so on, you get the picture.

As if that was not enough, there's also a story of a quiet uprising in Arstotzka and you are approached by the rebels on several occasions. It's up to you to help them or not (they ask you to approve certain people with missing papers, confiscate passports from their targets etc) ultimately triggering one of twenty possible game endings. The main game lasts for up to 32 days (it can end earlier by getting killed, fired or whatever else) but it also features three unlockable endless modes that add a certain replay value.

Papers, Please is truly a unique game with an original idea. It is fun, it's addictive and it will make you play it more than once for sure, especially if you are an achievement hunter such as myself. Speaking of achievements, they are not hard at all and with a nice guide you can do them all in two or three playthroughs. It would take a lot more if you were to explore them yourself since some of them require you to do an exact set of actions in order to get the unlock. Well, your choice. All I wanted was to uncover this awesome little game and share it with you.

06 August 2014

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

If you don't want to read it all:
Score: 4/10
Verdict: It's fine but takes TOO MUCH TIME.

Yeah well... I had a chat with my cousin a few weeks ago and we both realized we don't remember most of the Star Trek movies any more. Such blasphemy for people who call themselves nerds. So I decided to re-watch them all in the upcoming weeks/months, as long as it takes. In correct order of course, since anything else would be illogical. I also want to make it clear: I have seen ALL the movies and ALL the episodes of ALL the Star Trek TV shows!

It's not easy to review a movie that was released 35 years ago, trust me. It is impossible to put yourself in a position of a person going into the cinema back in 1979 and watching a movie that might have been a real wonder of that time. Some things may have been truly magnificent back then, things that seem so normal (or even below average) in a present day. When I first watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture back in late eighties (hey, I was born just a few months after this movie premiered!) it looked great, even when compared to the ongoing The Next Generation. In 2014, it really looks like an old movie and no longer has the benefit of a jaw-dropping looks that it may have had in 1979. Again, I can't really say how this movie may have looked like to the viewers, all I can do is guess. Although... Star Wars was released 2 years before this one and it looks better. But hey, it's Lucas and it really is hard to compete with ol' George.

To the movie itself. It's a story of an unknown and devastating force that is on its way to Earth and USS Enterprise is the only starship that can get to it and investigate before it's too late. Admiral Kirk takes over the control over Enterprise, gathers his old crew and heads to the unknown to save humanity once again. You could say it is a typical story without a lot of imagination, but I liked what they found out once they got to see what was threatening Earth. 

However... ST: The Motion Picture is 130+ minutes long (duration depends on the version you get to see; there seem to be 3 of them and they are 132, 136 and 143 minutes long) and that is just too much. Honestly, it could easily have been a single 45 minutes episode and save a lot of time. There are just too many scenes where we get to see long periods of space, Kirk's travel to Enterprise on a shuttle since transporters are malfunctioning etc. The story IS more or less fine, but it's so stretched it kinda gets watered down. That is my only, but really big complaint on The Motion Picture.

I don't think I ever talked to a Trekkie about this film so I have no idea how they feel about it. Comments would be great so I could hear other opinions of a movie that restarted the whole Star Trek franchise and spawned 10+ movies and 4 TV shows (so far!).

04 August 2014

Crossbones, Series finale

Yep, it's not just a season, but a series finale. After only one season and a total of 9 episodes, the pirate show is over. I can't say I am really and truly sorry since it never lived up to its full potential. Too bad, I really wanted to like this one. Standard warning: the following text contains massive spoilers!

The final two episodes were aired at the same time, rushing the show to its premature end. Even the final scenes seemed like they were filmed in case the show gets canceled (and it was officially canceled 10 days ago) - a lot of the characters die, including Governor Jagger and Antoinette, as well as Selima herself. Blackbeard gets to live and is exiled from the island (or maybe his final appearance is his spirit, finally set free... who knows). 

Too bad it took 7 episodes to finally see another sea battle (the one in the pilot episode was great, but it was the last one we saw until episode 8). I wonder what makes the creators of pirate shows (and by this I mean Crossbones and Black Sails as well) think why we watch these shows? It's those sea battles, we really don't look forward to love triangles and island politics! Sea battles, treasure hunting, raids... adventurous stories! Anyway, even this sea battle was done in no more than a few minutes. And just when I thought they finally got it... I guess these scenes cost too much to make and the budget was obviously not big enough. I have to say that a quick look at the Spanish Treasure Fleet was a great moment indeed.

Did I like the ending? Hmmm... Lets say it was okay. It rounds up a story and doesn't leave any loose ends (as I said before, it seems like this is an alternate ending, filmed in case the show gets canceled), there's no cliffhanger for a story that will never be continued and that is more than satisfying. However, it was almost predictable and just too perfect. Blackbeard won then lost, Jagger lost, Lowe kicked ass and won it all.

Overall, Crossbones had a lot to show but it screwed up. They had John Malkovich aboard and screwed it up. It could have been great, but it will be forgotten real soon. The final score of "a little bit over the average" simply isn't enough for NBC.

01 August 2014

Non-Stop (2014)

If you don't want to read it all:
Score: 6/10
Verdict: It's ok if you want to kill some time.

The latest of Liam Neeson's movies where he seems to be playing the same guy over and over again. It's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you liked Taken or Unknown (as I did). Taken 2 was a bit of a disappointment though; it was just so obvious it was a money squeeze and not a real, genuine thing. If such movies can be genuine at all. Warning: this review contains massive spoilers!

So Liam is an Air Marshall this time, protecting the innocent air travelers from all kinds of threats, both possible and impossible. Right at the start we learn that he has a problem with alcohol and his job in general, just to spice up his status with both the viewers and his superior officers. Some time later we will learn of his dead daughter and complete the full circle of all the usual background stuff that haunts 90% of all movie heroes. Surprisingly, there is no kid with asthma in Non-stop. A nice refreshment for sure.

Anyway, Bill (Liam's character) is facing an unknown threat in an airborne passenger aircraft. The terrorist is contacting Bill via special, "security" network and warns him that a single passenger will die every 20 minutes unless a huge amount of money is paid onto a secure account. Bill contacts his superiors and tries to contain the threat, but gets into trouble himself - the mentioned account was open on his name and now his bosses don't trust him. Things get spiced up after Bill kills a colleague Marshall (whom he suspected to be the terrorist or in league with him/her) and marks the 20 minute spot with a murder, just as the mysterious terrorist promised.

To be honest, the story is kinda intriguing and thrilling. It makes you wonder who will die next and how, if poor Bill will be manipulated again into killing another person and so on. Even if it seems impossible to time everything so perfectly, it just adds to the thriller and excitement as we try to find the actual terrorist ourselves. The movie itself does not really offer you a lot of potential suspects and is not even trying to lure you towards anyone in particular. If you have ever seen a movie like this before (and I am sure you have, unless you are 6 years old), you just KNOW that Bill will win and everything will be fine, but you will be trying to "beat the movie and guess the bad guy correctly before it's revealed". And it wasn't the Muslim guy (thank you Hollywood!).

Overall, Non-stop is an OK movie. It's not a complete waste of time and is a good way to spend an hour and forty five minutes of your life. Liam put up his usual performance and so did Julianne Moore who plays a woman who just happened to be sitting next to Liam on an airplane. So if you are wondering what to watch next, but you don't have 3 hours for... lets say Django Unchained or The Wolf of Wall Street - watch Non-stop.