Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption II (PlayStation 4)

Perfection is a hard thing to achieve but Rockstar Games did it in 2010 with Red Dead Redemption. But then they did it a second time with this long awaited sequel.

And maybe I see this as better than it is due to my undying love for the last entry in this series but this is a more refined version of the game we got and it’s damn fun!

There wasn’t a lot to complain about with the first Red Dead Redemption. I thought the story was terrific, the game play was exciting and the mechanics, which can make or break a game, were very good. Red Dead Redemption II takes what worked and fine tunes it, making it better and much more fluid.

Additionally, this game adds a lot of new stuff to the mix. There are a ton of side quests and random encounters but you get to sell stolen valuables to fences, hunt down a large amount of legendary animals, catch legendary fish and chase down a lot of bounties. While some of these things existed in the predecessor, there seems to be more here and they’re less cookie cutter.

It’s also cool that this game’s map is massive. You do get to return to two of the previous areas from the first game but not until you get through the main story. Once you do, you see that the size of the map of the first game is very small in comparison to the world you’ve been traveling in in this game. Also, there is a secret area that has its own map when you’re in Chapter 5 of the story. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll leave it at that.

In this game, you also need to take care of yourself and your horse. Make sure you’re both well fed. I liked this aspect of the game, even if I screwed up and didn’t eat too often because I was looking for action and popping open a can of beans, every so often, just got in the way of my robbery sprees.

If I had to point out some negatives I’d say that I miss the inclusion of the area based off of Mexico. That was my favorite place in the previous game and it is sorely missed. However, the new secret area sort of makes up for it but the sad thing is that you can’t return to the secret map once you leave it in the story.

Also, the game is long. Really, long. I was completely immersed in the story but you get to points where you just want to get towards the next big narrative step or the resolution. I’m not saying that there are bad or even boring missions but a few parts seemed to drag just for the sake of trying to beef up the story’s length and not necessarily it’s depth.

Regardless of that, however, the ending is pretty damn satisfying once you play through the final mission of the second epilogue. And this game ends in a great spot for you to go back and pick up the previous one again.

I don’t buy new games as often as I used to but this was pre-ordered a while ago and I anticipated the moment where I could finally slide this game into my PS4.

In the end, this did not disappoint and I’m still playing it, even though I’m done with the main story. I’m a completeist with games I love and all the extra bits I’m still working on are just as fun as the main game itself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the first Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Revolver, the original game.

Film Review: Hondo (1953)

Also known as: They Called Him Hondo
Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (Houston premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow, John Ford (uncredited, final scenes only)
Written by: James Edward Grant
Based on: Hondo by Louis L’Amour
Music by: Hugo W. Friedhofer, Emil Newman
Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Leo Gordon

Batjac Productions, Wayne-Fellows Productions, Warner Bros., 84 Minutes

Review:

“Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.” – Hondo Lane

I haven’t watched a John Wayne movie in quite a while. Since I was working on a post about Louis L’Amour’s books, I felt like I should go back and revisit the film adaptation of Hondo, as it is my favorite L’Amour book and it stars the Duke himself, John Wayne.

I love that this movie starts out kind of small and confined but then ends with such a big, epic battle.

Now even though most of the film does take place in wide expanses of Old West wilderness, it was still a small picture for the first two-thirds. A lot of the scenes were on the ranch and in the tight quarters of the ranch home. Other scenes, while outdoors, were usually in smaller secluded places like the creek where the boy likes to fish. I don’t know if this was intentional or budgetary but when the film gets to its climax, the expanse of the open desert and the final battle feel even bigger than it normally would.

And man, I love the final battle in this movie between the white people leaving the Apache land and the angry Apache trying to make their escape impossible. The story also serves to setup the oncoming battle that wiped out the Apache warriors soon after this film. But not without Wayne tipping his hat to the Apache and their way of life.

But that’s what I love about this movie and Louis L’Amour stories in general. Even though they are seen through the eyes of mostly white men in the Old West, there is still a respect for other cultures underneath the chaos and conflict. I feel that John Wayne felt the same way and that’s why he works so well as the protagonist in a L’Amour film adaptation. Well, John Wayne was also the king of westerns but I like how he fits within L’Amour’s literary style.

Hondo isn’t as remembered as some of John Wayne’s other westerns but it is one of his best, even if I think it’s way too short and could’ve been fleshed out a bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: ChisumTrue Grit and The War Wagon.

Comic Review: Iron Sights

Published: September, 2018
Written by: Richard C. Meyer, Carlos Ivan Silva
Art by: Ibai Canales, Kelsey Shannon (cover)

Splatto Comics, 120 Pages

Review:

Richard C. Meyer a.k.a. Ya Boi Zack a.k.a. Diversity & Comics is the first person to really get me into following the whole Comicsgate thing. This wasn’t the first of his projects that I backed but it was the first to be released. I’m still looking forward to getting his graphic novel Jawbreakers: Lost Souls, which should be about a month away.

This project was done as a sort of test for Meyer to best figure out how to print and fulfill these projects. In the end, unlike many other crowdfunded creators out there, Richard C. Meyer delivered and this is the proof.

Iron Sights was exactly as Meyer described it on it’s Indiegogo page:

…a hard-boiled action drama set on the border…told in the trashy tone and fun style of a 1990s Straight-To-Video DVD!

If you like Quentin Tarantino crime flicks, John Woo Heroic Bloodshed movies or modern films like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, HELL AND HIGH WATER or SICARIO, then you’ll love IRON SIGHTS!

This book was overloaded with testosterone to the point that even the lightest of feminists would be foaming at the mouth over this massive level of “toxic masculinity”. It’s no wonder that the soy boys of social media have such a problem with Meyer and the type of stories he enjoys, as this “alpha male” fantasy is impossible for most of them to even conceive of in their “man bag” and latte clutching world. This isn’t for the cutesy “safe” fellow that asks, “Could you please pass the almond milk?” This is for the guy that demands, “Pass me that fucking hammer!”

You see, this is the type of badass shit that is missing in comic books in 2018. Comics are escapism and entertainment, they’re not real. And they certainly don’t need to be some sort of medium that’s bastardized for political and social statements that most sane people think are silly.

Iron Sights isn’t for dudes that hold their Moscow mules with both hands, it’s for those of us that snort Wild Turkey 101 through both nostrils. Those of us that can hit the bullseye with a dart while blindfolded. Those of us that think we could take down Chuck Norris if we got in a lucky shot. Those of us that know what an Allen key is. Those of us that wear a king cobra as a fucking belt.

But all that being said and looking beyond the massive warehouse full of overflowing testosterone barrels, how does this measure up?

It’s pretty damn entertaining. Meyer and Silva crafted a solid story that feels like a balls to the wall neo-western. This would make a really badass movie, in all honesty.

I liked the characters, I liked their camaraderie and their banter. I also liked the character of Esme but I don’t want to spoil anything in regards to her. But chances are, if you bought this, you already got it and read it by this point. So I’ll just point out that I like when the damsel in distress trope is really just a red herring.

Meyer has come under a lot of criticism by his haters over his writing. To be frank, this is better than anything Gail Simone has put out this year. That’s not a cheap shot, that’s truth. Her recent work on Plastic Man and Domino gave my brain diarrhea.

Ibai Canales has also faced a lot of criticism over his art. While this isn’t what I would call “the big league standard”, it looks good for what this project is. It’s supposed to be raw, gritty and not overly refined. This isn’t the type of story that needs the art style of a maestro like Ethan Van Sciver. Iron Sights was a cool opportunity for Canales to expand on his talent and to work on something that compliments his style. He hits the tone in the right way and if I can be critical, it’s certainly better than some Erica Henderson Squirrel Girl nonsense and that shit is actually “big league” in 2018. Shit, so I guess that means Canales is above the current “big league standard”.

I’ve also got to point out that the cover art by Kelsey Shannon is a perfect marriage between badass and beautiful. I don’t give a shit about posters or anything like that but I’d hang it on my wall.

Anyway, Meyer should be proud of this book and those of us that backed it should be really happy with the end result. Richard C. Meyer delivered on his project unlike so many other comic book pros that have taken money from fans and haven’t delivered on crowd funded projects from years ago.

So grab a fat bottle of Bulleit 10 Year, a nice cigar, a big bag of beef jerky, throw your feet up on your ottoman, lean back and open this book. You’ll feel it’s “toxic masculinity” penetrate your pores and one of two things will happen: you’ll become more powerful and confident in your life choices or you’ll vomit all over your dick like a soy boy bitch child that finds the “friend zone” to be an honor.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the films Meyer used to describe this and I’m assuming his upcoming Jawbreakers comic.

Comic Review: Go West

Published: August 3rd, 2017
Written by: Garrett Gunn
Art by: Sean Forney, Saint Yak, HdE

Alterna Comics, 88 Pages

Review:

I don’t read enough western comics. That’s not my fault though, they just don’t seem to exist in large numbers in the 2010s. Really, you have to turn to the indies if you want to get your hands on a good pulp western story.

Go West, which is published by Alterna and written by Garrett Gunn, is a pretty solid piece of western writing. It’s also a post-apocalyptic western, which just adds an extra layer of grit and darkness to it.

Reading this, I felt like I was watching a low budget spaghetti western unfold in front of me. And that’s not a diss, low budget spaghetti westerns are my favorite westerns. To be frank, this is like if Lucio Fulci stuck with westerns instead of going full horror but still developed his twisted horror style in the western genre. Think Four of the Apocalypse but even more violent and physically brutal.

And yes, this is violent but within the context of the tale, it works and it’s existence isn’t just a cheap parlor trick, it’s a reflection of the world these characters live in.

The main character reminded me a lot of a Franco Nero hero like the original Django. Ready to stand alone against an army of scumbags but not presented in some sort of fantastical, invincible way. He is very much human and he gets hurt like he’s human.

What really worked for me was the art. The pencils, inks and colors by Saint Yak were absolutely f’n stellar. This story had such a good look to it and it set the tone perfectly like the best cinematographers in Hollywood. I also like that each issue of the three had a different color palate but everything stayed pretty muted. Yak created such a good artistic style for this book and I spent a lot of extra time indulging in the panels.

Go West is a damn fine western comic. If western comics are your cup of tea, I’d say that this is a must read.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Alterna Comics releases: TrespasserMother RussiaThe XII and The Wicked Righteous.

My 20 Favorite Louis L’Amour Novels

A while ago I ranked My 20 Favorite Philip K. Dick Novels. I figured I would also rank the books of other authors that I have read for a long time. The next writer who came to mind was Louis L’Amour, who is probably the writer that I have read the most over the course of my life.

I was introduced to L’Amour by my paternal grandfather. When I would visit him in the summers, we would often times go camping. On the way out of town we would stop at the library and get some books for our journey into the woods. I’d always grab some G.I. Joe and Indiana Jones “Find Your Fate” books and he’d always grab something by Louis L’Amour.

One camping trip, I exhausted my “Find Your Fate” books and picked up one of my grandfather’s L’Amour books, The Quick and the Dead. I was pretty much hooked, as I thumbed through the pages at lightning speed. It led me down a lifelong path of not only loving and respecting the writing of Louis L’Amour, it also led to my love of westerns in film and television.

Being dubbed “America’s Storyteller”, L’Amour has penned 89 novels, 14 short-story collections and two full-length works of nonfiction. Out of his novels, I’ve probably read more than half. Going through the list of what he’s published, here are the twenty that I liked the best:

1. Hondo
2. Flint
3. Fair Blows the Wind
4. Fallon
5. The Shadow Riders
6. Hanging Woman Creek
7. Utah Blaine
8. The Quick and the Dead
9. Dark Canyon
10. Shalako
11. Tucker
12. Under the Sweetwater Rim
13. Lando
14. The Sackett Brand
15. Last of the Breed
16. The Lonesome Gods
17. The Walking Drum
18. Sackett
19. Reilly’s Luck
20. Conagher

Documentary Review: Action Heroes of the Cliffhanger Serials (1992)

Release Date: 1992

89 Minutes

Review:

Weirdly, even IMDb doesn’t have much info on this release, which is why I have barely any info in the credits section.

Also, this isn’t really a documentary like I had hoped it would be. It sort of starts out as one and then it is just a collection of trailers from old school action serials.

Now I love old school action serials and I have reviewed more than a dozen since starting this site back in November of 2016 but I would like to know more about them, their development and how the whole system worked from a production standpoint.

This “documentary” doesn’t tap into that and unless you want to watch 90 minutes worth of trailers, it’s sort of a waste of time. Honestly, I’d rather just watch the serials themselves.

So it’s hard to review this but I wanted to let everyone know what this is if they happen to come across it streaming for free on Amazon Video.

If anyone knows of a good documentary on old school action serials, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to see one and review it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The actual serials it features.

 

Film Review: Jonah Hex (2010)

Release Date: June 17th, 2010 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Written by: Neveldine/Taylor, William Farmer
Based on: Jonah Hex by John Albano, Tony Dezuniga
Music by: Marco Beltrami, Mastodon
Cast: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley, Aidan Quinn, Lance Reddick, Tom Wopat, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

DC Comics, Legendary Pictures, Mad Chance, Weed Road Pictures, Warner Bros., 81 Minutes

Review:

“War and me took to each other real well. It felt like it had meaning. The feeling of doing what you thought was right. But it wasn’t. Folks can believe what they like, but eventually a man’s gotta decide if he’s gonna do what’s right. That choice cost me more than I bargained for.” – Jonah Hex

This has a measly 4.7 rating on IMDb. I’m calling bullshit on that. This is not as bad as a 4.7 would imply but I’ll get into why.

This film came out, it didn’t look exciting, it didn’t generate the right kind of buzz and it just sort of fizzled out immediately. To be honest, I didn’t support its theatrical run and sort of forgot about it until a friend and I were talking about Josh Brolin and his multiple comic book roles. So I figured that I’d check it out, eight years later.

What I didn’t know, at the time, is that this thing has a pretty stacked cast. Not only do you have Brolin and Megan Fox, probably the hottest starlet circa 2010, but you also have John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley, Aidan Quinn, Lance Reddick, Tom Wopat and an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan. This is a movie full of manly men with talent.

There is a lot working for this movie but there is also a lot working against it, which is why it wasn’t successful. Well, and the trailers made it look goofier than it actually was.

The biggest problem with this picture is running time. Now I have to assume that this fell victim to producer meddling, being behind schedule or a writers’ strike. Reason being, this film should not have been just 81 minutes. It feels like there is a half hour missing from the movie and there probably is. Maybe a lot of scenes came out so bad that they got cut and this is the only way they could have salvaged the film. Whatever the reason, this picture lacks character development, story development and any real emotional weight or deeper context.

That aside, however, this is a balls to the wall action fest with some cool ideas and the kernel of something that could have been really damn good had it been managed much better.

Brolin was good as Hex. Fox was incredibly hot as the eye candy, which is all she needs to be. Malkovich was a formidable villain but just didn’t have the time to properly shine and the same goes for Fassbender, really.

Ultimately, this felt like a completely wasted opportunity. It had some very good pieces but the puzzle was left unfinished with most of the pieces hammered into the wrong place.

I still think that there is more going right for this film than wrong and I can’t give it a rating below a 5 out of 10. The film just feels unfinished and I wish they would have spent the time to work out the noticeable kinks and given us something more worthy of this film’s roster of onscreen talent.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other sci-fi/comic book/western hybrids: Cowboys & AliensWild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Also, the Jonah Hex episodes of Legends of Tomorrow.