Why Stop Now? – Movies 2015: October


  1. The Martian (2015) – Dir. Ridley Scott
  2. Dark Was the Night (2014) – Dir. Jack Heller
  3. Fist of Legend (1994) – Dir. Gordon Chan
  4. New Nightmare (1994) – Dir. Wes Craven
  5. Scream (1996) – Dir. Wes Craven
  6. Honeymoon (2014) – Dir. Leigh Janiak
  7. Scream 3 (2000) – Dir. Wes Craven
  8. Always Watching (2015) – Dir. James Moran
  9. Harlan County, USA (1976) – Dir. Barbara Kopple
  10. Top Gun (1986) – Dir. Tony Scott
  11. Tremors 5: Bloodline (2015) – Dir. Don Michael Paul
  12. 23:59 (2011) – Dir. Gilbert Chan
  13. Crimson Peak (2015) – Dir. Guillermo del Toro
  14. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) – Dir. Masâki Tezuka
  15. They Live (1988) – Dir. John Carpenter
  16. The Beast (1975) – Dir. Walerian Borowczyk
  17. Trollhunter (2010) – Dir. André Øvredal
  18. Batman & Robin (1997) – Dir. Joel Schumacher
  19. Halloween: Resurrection (2002) – Dir. Rick Rosenthal
  20. Eaters (2015) – Dir. Johnny Tabor
  21. The Drownsman (2014) – Dir. Chad Archibald
  22. Prince of Darkness (1987) – Dir. John Carpenter
  23. Trick ‘r’ Treat (2007) – Dir. Michael Dougherty

YTD: 204

The Martian

Being presumed dead and stranded on Mars sounds pretty dire. Thankfully, Matt Damon shrugs it off and gets to work. In The Martian, Damon plays Mark Watney, a botanist with the personality of a middle manager attempting to be one of the boys. He responds to crises with annoyance (and some PG-13 friendly cursing) or stiff attempts at glib one-liners which belie a sense of humor which could only be funny to the guy who wrote Cloverfield. For the most part, he doesn’t seem to mind being the only person on a planet, figuring out how to grow potatoes, occasionally sitting and enjoying a Martian sunset. Ridley Scott directs the film with the relentless momentum of a procedural, attempting an instructional quality on how to survive spacesuit decompression or rescue someone from a planet. The film quickly spreads out to a network of physicists, astronauts, engineers, contractors, and bureaucrats working towards a goal, as much motivated by what will make them look good as saving a comrade. Upsets in carefully arranged plans are rarely dwelt on, solutions fast to arrive. Triumph is almost a given, rather than hard-won through ordeal. At the very least, Scott has made the best possible Ron Howard movie.

Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut


Getting a jump on Fallout 4, inXile have re-released their post-apocalyptic sequel for consoles. Wasteland 2 distinguished itself from its rival siblings (the Fallout franchise is also descended from the original Wasteland) with emphasis on a group dynamic. Rather than a lone wanderer, picking up a companion or two, players are assigned a squad of Desert Rangers to explore ruins and keep the peace in towns cobbled together from junk. Followers can be recruited to sprinkle idle chatter with one another and help tip the numbers in your favor. With an isometric view and a cover/flanking system ripped from XCOM: Enemy Unknown, there’s also more tactical thought to combat than the Bethesda-era Fallouts. In my playthrough, I often found myself using most of my squad to lay suppressing fire, wearing down the rank and files while my sniper dropped back to pick off tougher enemies. Perfect for raiders, though requiring some adjustment when mutant animals or pod people begin bum-rushing the group. The level up system favors specialization; none of Echo-One are intended as legendary warriors, shaping the future single-handedly. Instead, we’re encouraged to think as components of a whole, chipping away at the insurmountable task of restoring a broken world.

Crimson Peak


For his ninth feature, Guillermo del Toro scales down, hinging a plot on emotional instability colliding with the supernatural, rather than world-ending crisis. Crimson Peak rolls out slowly, embracing audiences into its machinations rather than trying pull the rug out from under them. When we’re introduced to aristocratic twins Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), everyone clocks something off-putting about them, as they seek capital to fund a mining project which will restore the Sharpe family fortune. No one can put a finger on it, but it’s there. Even new money heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) seems unsure of the pair, despite being swept up in a romance with the charming, boyish inventor Thomas. Before long, tragedy and circumstance align the courtship: Edith and Thomas are married and off to the crumbling English estate of Allerdale Hall, sinking into the ruddy ground while snow sprinkles in from an unfixed roof. Intimate whispers between the siblings indicate plans. Plans which may have to do with the spirits Edith sees and hears in the night.

Freed from keeping up any pretense of unmasking normalcy, del Toro instead delights in showing strands come together, tension arising out of dramatic irony rather than jump scares. Once Allerdale is reached, the action splits three ways: Edith wandering the home, chasing puzzle pieces and ghosts; the Sharpes plotting, arguing, and persuading one another; and Edith’s bland childhood friend (Charlie Hunnam), piecing together clues about the siblings back in New York. Crimson Peak becomes about who knows what when, and whether the others realize this. It’s a dynamic similar to Alfred Werker’s Shock: Edith, the innocent victim, in the thrall of ill-intended caretakers unsure with how to proceed. Lucille, more singular and very jealous, is eager to conclude the gruesome task (highlighted best when delivering a speech about caring for her mother to a bed-ridden Edith, Chastain scraping a bowl of porridge like she’s sharpening a knife). Thomas waffles, drawn towards opposed yet equally determined women, seeking out reconciliation.

This leaves the ghosts to percolate at the edge of the plot, acting as spoilers. Existing somewhere between physical states, wispy yet earthen material undulating their forms, they’re as likely to offer up warnings of the future as they are hints of the past, implying a perception of time alien to our own. Del Toro uses them sparingly, leaving this murky concept of the afterlife an abstraction. Encounters leave mere mortals dumbfounded, provincial motives briefly forgotten in the face of something unknown.

Why Stop Now? – Movies 2015: September


  1. Undisputed (2002) – Dir. Walter Hill
  2. No Escape (2015) – Dir. John Erick Dowdle
  3. Sleepy Hollow (1999) – Dir. Tim Burton
  4. The Visit (2015) – Dir. M. Night Shyamalan
  5. Young Frankenstein (1974) – Dir. Mel Brooks
  6. Skin Trade (2015) – Dir. Ekachai Uekrongtham
  7. Casablanca (1942) – Dir. Michael Curtiz
  8. 12 Segundos (2013) – Dir. Kenneth Muller
  9. Masters of the Universe (1987) – Dir. Gary Goddard
  10. Beneath (2013) – Dir. Larry Fessenden
  11. Batman (1966) – Dir. Leslie H. Martinson
  12. Batman (1989) – Dir. Tim Burton
  13. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963) – Dir. Vittorio de Sica
  14. Faults (2014) – Dir. Riley Stearns
  15. Map to the Stars (2014) – Dir. David Cronenberg
  16. The Last Unicorn (1982) – Dir. Arthur Rankin, Jr. & Jules Bass

YTD: 181

Not Even Worth a Sarcastic Title


For their fourth Spider-Man title, and second Spider-Man movie tie-in, Beenox continue to bring scraps to the table with Amazing Spider-Man 2. Still ripping off Batman: Arkham City (likely since Arkham Knight hadn’t yet released between this game and its predecessor), the developer fumbles what should be a can’t-miss formula with a combination of carelessness and misunderstanding of the mechanics. Swinging around the sandbox New York can be satisfying–timing shoulder button presses to either gain momentum or height adds a physicality to Spider-Man’s movement not seen since Spider-Man 2, two console cycles ago (though without a run button, so you amusingly jog along when not swinging)–but more complicated maneuvers such as wall runs are easily undone by the camera spinning dizzily around, often sending you a half-mile in the opposite direction you were heading (stealth segments are similarly undone, with ceiling crawling nearly impossible). Combat is lacking, a straight facelift of Batman’s freeflow combat, minus Rocksteady’s commitment to varying animations and the physical crunch of a punch or kick. Bodies don’t collide, merely float in approximation to a hit. Generic witticisms on loop add aggravation to the boredom.

Adding insult to injury, Amazing Spider-Man 2 breaks up its nonexistent plot with tedious side quests (a surprising amount of time spent curb-stomping teenage loiterers), which the game prompts you to do even as you’re doing them like some middle-management busybody. Instead of swinging in, zapping a few one-liners while saving the day, then swinging out, cutscenes slow these sequences to a crawl. I would suggest Beenox go back to the drawing board, but that would suggest they ever had ideas.

Why Stop Now? – Movies 2015: August


  1. The Pact 2 (2014) – Dir. Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath
  2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) – Dir. Edgar Wright
  3. Fantastic Four (2015) – Dir. Josh Trank
  4. Into the Grizzly Maze (2015) – Dir. David Hackl
  5. The Rock (1996) – Dir. Michael Bay
  6. Chocolate (2008) – Dir. Prachyea Pinkaew
  7. Almost Mercy (2015) – Dir. Tom DeNucci
  8. District 13: Ultimatum (2009) – Dir. Patrick Allessandrin
  9. My Name is Modesty  (2004) – Dir. Scott Spiegel
  10. Berbarian Sound Studio  (2012) – Dir. Peter Strickland
  11. Stand by Me (1986) – Dir. Rob Reiner
  12. Police Story: Lockdown (2013) – Dir. Ding Shen
  13. Straight Outta Compton (2015) – Dir. F. Gary Gray
  14. American Ultra (2015) – Dir. Nima Nourizadeh
  15. Pity (2014) – Dir. John Pata
  16. Dead Weight (2012) – Dir. Adam Bartlett & John Pata
  17. Better Off Undead (2007) – Dir. John Pata
  18. American Graffiti (1973) – Dir. George Lucas

YTD: 165

Godzilla – The Game


A minor effort, Godzilla the game disappoints only because of its skeletal structure. Primarily focused on a “God of Destruction” mode, where players take the form of Godzilla or various other Toho kaiju and devastate Tokyo while hunting down generators which harness energy the monsters crave (a twist on a neat idea from the lackluster Godzilla 2000), Natsume construct a simulation of lumbering through brutalist metropolitan spaces. The monsters control like tanks, shoulder buttons used to turn them right or left (awkwardly used for roaring, as well), crushing anything smaller than 10 meters underfoot; anything larger is a matter of an appendage swipes or two, maybe the odd energy blast to mix things up, but better to use them on the rival monsters who show up to claim these cityscapes for their own–they’re the only real challenge in the game. Defense forces barely register as an irritant on your way to the next generator, radio chatter indicating little besides sheer terror from pilots and operators at the thought of taking on these creatures. The culmination of this is unlocking and playing as Legendary Pictures’ rebooted Godzilla, a nigh-unstoppable sumo wrestler who rends opponents almost as easily as he does buildings.

Unfortunately, these inklings of horror at the margins are dulled by a minimal effort physics engine: everything crumbles and explodes with the same smoke plumes and fireballs. Monster battles similarly devolve into a series of weak exchanges while waiting to charge a counterattack. It plays like someone’s listless reaction to the excited ramblings of a fan.

American Ultra


While Jesse Eisenberg and his greasy hair extensions are the stars of American Ultra, he never amounts to anything more than an idea. As Mike Howell, a stoner with a forgotten past as a CIA guinea pig for creating super-assassins, Eisenberg portrays a collection of boy-centered comedy clichés–the dead-end retail job, an inability to leave a small town, disappointing the girlfriend he wishes to marry–as both heavily self-aware of his own loser status while being spacey and clueless enough to blunder his efforts to do anything about it. The script, from Max Landis, indicates this is part of his programming, yet nonetheless Mike becomes targeted for death by a power-hungry desk jockey (Topher Grace, solidifying his meek sarcasm into something bitter and dangerously desperate to be taken serious)

Nima Nourizadeh shoots everything competently, with a love of garish color schemes, neck stabbings, and underground comix sensibilities (the end credits are an animated spectacle from Gary Leib). He never centers the film with Mike though, merely explodes it around him, with a cast of character actors (Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, Tony Hale) whose own stories seem more compelling yet barely explored. Most egregious of all is Kristen Stewart as Phoebe, Mike’s girlfriend. Tirelessly understanding of his shortcomings, Phoebe cheers his artistic endeavors and sticks up for him against a local sheriff, even leaps into a fight against trained killers. When he actualizes, in a department store climax, she’s even excited at his fulfilled potential. Stewart lends intensity to this supportive role, always glaring at threats or scanning for exits, taking charge for her confused partner–Kyle Reese from The Terminator come again. She’s sabotaged at the writing level, though, given a mindscrew twist before forced into a damsel position. Holding back its biggest presence, the film suffers.