BJ Shea’s BGA ep. 62: Mensa Select Winners

This week on BJ Shea’s Board Game Alliance, Joey Deez, Josh Utley, Sean Epperson and Vicky B. talk about the charity gaming event they will be doing May 19th: The Gauntlet: Cirque! They also go through the Mensa Select Winners, then Quickstarters with Sean!

BJGN02-27-19 – Capital Lux – Valeria: Card Kingdom’s Shadowvale – Apex Legends

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BJ reviews the games Capital Lux and Valaria: Card Kingdom’s latest expansion, Shadowvale; Joe & Rev discuss the latest updates to Apex Legends; the gang discusses the break-up between Marvel & Netflix; and we get the Geek Sheet with Vicky B!

XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage

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It is hard to believe that it has been fifteen years since audiences were introduced to Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) in “XXX”.  Ice Cube continued the series with “XXX: State of the Union” in 2005 but since then the series has been dormant with the occasional rumor of a new film arising.

The new film follows the long assumed deceased Xander Cage returning to action in the XXX program when a group of highly skilled operatives attack a meeting and steal a device known as Pandora’s Box which allows the users unlimited access to personal data and satellite control such as being able to use thousands of orbiting devices as weapons of terror by crashing them into cities the world over.

In a race against time, Cage must assemble a team of operatives and discover the location of the device and obtain it at any cost.

Things become more complicated as the investigation unfolds and Cage and his crew soon find themselves battling enemies from multiple sides which results in several over the top action sequences and stunts which have been a staple of the series.

The supporting cast is very strong especially Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa as well as the sadly underused Samuel L. Jackson.

The biggest issue with the film is that it takes insane liberties with the plot even by action film standards and seem little more than a device to get the cast into one action scene after another without any thought to logic or coherency. Even by action film standards it is all over the place and takes some great leaps of logic. The dialogue is often groan inducing at Diesel seems to be at times walking through his performance until he is required to do something of a physical nature.

The action is the saving grace of the film as the cast makes their action scenes a ballet of chaos as they nimbly smash, shoot, and destroy everything in their path which is essentially what fans of the series want in the end.

It has been reported that a new film in the series is already planned by the studio which would be a welcome adventure as it would be nice to see this crew back in action. My only wish is that they are given a script that is worthy of the assembled talent.

3 stars out of 5

Underworld: Blood Wars

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Reviewed by Chris Daniels

The latest installment of the Underworld franchise will not make you happy, but it may entertain you.

Let my preamble consist of this important note: I am a huge fan of the property. With that in mind, we’ll continue.

Kate Beckinsale is back in her black, skin-tight vinyl to deal death and continue the war that’s raged for 1500 years. While a few characters from previous movies show up in this film, most roles are taken by fresh faces. Scenes from the old movies as inserted under the guise of memories narrated by Selene, as well as the jumpy blood memories.

With so many films preceding this one, the creators were kind enough to run us through the major events that set up the current plot. However, as happens with most sequels, I cursed myself for not remembering to watch the previous film beforehand. I recommend doing so; it had been so long I’d forgotten connections and details.

The story of the war continues. The current crisis is coming to a head with a powerful Lycan named Marius in command of the pack. They are intent upon winning the war, once and for all, with a concentrated assault.

Both sides seek avenues to make their species more powerful, and in this case, it’s Selene’s daughter.

The action sequences are shot in the same choppy style as in previous films, but are somehow not captured as beautifully as before.

The plot proceeds at a breakneck pace, often too fast for its own good. Whether it’s due to poor writing, poor direction, or some combination of both, the short scenes feel forced. They exist purely as plot points and do little to attach the audience to the characters. Though the film was marketed as “the final showdown,” it lacks the same epic feeling of the previous one. It’s clear they are trying to milk this franchise for all it’s worth. The payout we all desperately want — a conclusive ending — just won’t come.

The crowning failure comes at a pivotal point when two characters are screaming at each other while pushing bullets out of their skin. It made me feel like I was watching a campy, low-budget action flick. It was so bad that my movie buddy and I started laughing out loud.

We are both huge fans of the property, but were greatly disappointed by poor movie-making and the lack of closure to the story. They probably won’t be given another chance to finish it.

Despite all of this, the acting is actually pretty good.  And let’s be honest here: if you are a fan of this franchise, you’re going to go watch it no matter what I say. That’s fine, but don’t go in with high expectations.  You can extract some entertainment, but this is just not a good film.

 

2 out of 5 Stars

 

Edited By: Jeff Boehm

Our Non-Spoler Review For Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a young woman who has no love for the evil Galactic Empire or authority. She has seen her share of tragedy and has learned to be a survivor in a cold and dangerous galaxy. Fate has other plans for Jyn in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, as she may be the key to unlocking the secret’s to defeating the Empire’s new weapon, a planet killer known as “The Death Star”.

The Rebel Alliance believes that Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is the key thanks to information they have recovered from a defecting pilot.

Tasked with eliminating the threat, Jyn and Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and his droid K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk), must race against time and overcome several obstacles to complete their mission.

Of course things are bigger and the stakes far more higher than anyone could have imagined and with the Rebel Alliance divided a small band of rebels hatch a plan born of desperation to save the galaxy.

The film moves along at a brisk pace but allows time to introduce several new planets into the Star Wars universe as well as several new characters, who we are given just enough about their backstories and motivations to make us care about them in the epic struggle they are undertaking.

Director Gareth Edwards paces the film well and unlike the Prequel Series; never lets the abundance of amazing effects overshadow the fact that the story at its core is a struggle of ordinary people facing overwhelming odds.

The look of the film is a loving tribute to the original series that tells its own unique and distinct story that fits well within the established storylines without seeming gratuitous or recycled.

The film does at times have a darker tone than fans would be used to seeing in the series, but it is done in a way that shows the seriousness of the situations facing the characters.

The strong cast works very well with one another and are each giving some memorable lines and moments which are sure to endear themselves to fans of the series that grew up on the classic films.

The finale third of the film is a great mix of action and suspense as conclusion builds and I can honestly say that “Rogue One” delivers the best space battle in the series and only falls short of the Hoth battle in terms of ground conflicts.

There are a few great surprises for fans sprinkled throughout and the film answers some of the questions people had from the original series but does so in a way that is respectful and in no way undermines the classic.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is an outstanding entry into the series and is one of the most compelling and rewarding.

I look forward to seeing what future efforts have in store for fans, as this film shows that the Force is indeed strong.

4.5 stars out of 5

Snowden

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By Neil Jordan

Greetings & Salutations Movie Fanatics!

When you break it down to the simplest definition, movies are entertainment. Comedies, dramas, sci-fi, horror, mysteries, epics, etc. They’re an escape. Time away from the world and our everyday lives. Every once in a while though a film comes along and even if it is completely or in part a work of fiction, it has some basis to current goings-on in the real world and encourages us to sit up and take notice at what is going on out there. Today’s selection for your consideration is one of THOSE films.

Edward Snowden. Traitor, spy, sell out, turncoat, hero, pioneer, champion, defender, upholder, protector, whistleblower. He has been referred to as all those and more. Regardless of what anyone thinks, he has been vilified and celebrated . The American intelligence contractor who leaked classified NSA files to the media in 2013 regarding ‘questionable’ intelligence gathering by American security services had something he felt was important enough to risk his freedom and possibly his life to tell the American people and the world. The director who would tackle the challenge of making a film based on his story? None other than Oliver Stone.

‘Snowden’ is a German-American political biographical thriller film written for the screen by Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone and also directed by Stone. Based on the books ‘Time of the Octopus’ by Anatoly Kucherena (Snowden’s real life Russian lawyer) and ‘The Snowden Files’ by Luke Harding, ‘Snowden’ stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, Shailene Woodley as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Scott Eastwood, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Nicholas Cage, Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans, Ben Schnetzer, and LaKeith Lee Stanfeild.

The film follows Snowden form his early days in the CIA to his postings in Europe and Asia and eventually to Hawaii where he would decide to go through with his attempt to smuggle classified intelligence files out of an NSA facility and meet with journalists he had previously contacted in Hong Kong where he would tell them what he had uncovered in his time working in the employ of American intelligence agencies and share that knowledge with the public. Along the way, the film also deals with the ‘crisis of conscience’ Snowden dealt with. How a patriotic conservative aspiring soldier whom believed in his country without question became a patriotic ‘concerned citizen’ who was greatly disturbed by actions being carried out by his country all in the name of ‘national security’. We also see the relationships that Snowden had cultivated in the midst of it all. His mentors and colleagues in the CIA, NSA, and the military. How he came to meet his longtime girlfriend, artist Lindsay Mills and how his interactions with a few of them further influenced or didn’t influence the future actions he would take.

In the end, you can sum up the film this way:

Privacy vs. Safety

Rights vs. Security

Is there are balance that can be maintained?

Snowden violated security oaths because he felt obligated to his county and his fellow citizens.

Should he be punished?

I’m giving this film 3 1/2 out of five stars. I highly recommend it. A most excellent performance by the entire cast. Praise in particular to Joseph Gordon-Levitt who was ‘believable’ as Edward Snowden and managed to NOT BE Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The reason I’m not giving the film a higher rating is that I don’t think it was ‘edgy’ enough. I think Oliver Stone did a good job directing the film but it didn’t have any ‘edge’ to it. In his past films, the films end up ‘so far out there’ that they become almost unbelievable. I believe his paranoia, specifically his fear of interference in the film’s production by the NSA, may have negatively influenced him prompting him to ‘play it safe’ and play it safe too much. The did a good job ‘telling the story’ but that’s it. It was like watching the steady reading of an EKG meter hooked up to a healthy person. Every once in a while, you get slightly elevated readings. But that’s it.

Regardless though, I do indeed recommend the film. It dramatizes a current subject that folks need to know and should know of. The nature of the subject is such that as an American citizen, we need to know about it and although it is a movie. It will open the door for those who haven’t keep track of the situation and for those who do know about it, the movie will help place things in perspective.

This is is your friendly neighborhood freelance photographer ‘The CameraMan’ and on behalf of myself and my fellows at ‘Skewed & Reviewed’ I’d like to say, Thanks for reading and we’ll see you at the movies.

Second review by Jeremiah Scott

As with every Oliver Stone movie, you have to consider context while watching it.  Snowden is a persuasive essay attempting to turn the focus from the crime committed by Edward Snowden to the mass surveillance practices of the US government during the Bush and Obama administration.  This story was huge when the leaks began hitting the internet and so I was very familiar with the story through the media coverage ensued.  Through that coverage it was made to seem as though Snowden, a low level contractor, stole data and was putting it on the internet to spite the American government.

Later more information came forth that he wasn’t as low level as we were led to believe and that Snowden was claiming that he performed the illegal act out of love for his country, not out of spite to harm it.  But for a large portion of the country the original story has already been burned into their brain and nothing short of Ronald Reagan descending from heaven to tell them otherwise will change that.  A few months ago Donald Trump even called for Snowden’s execution, if that helps paint a picture of the mindset of a portion of the US population about Edward Snowden.

This movie was made to convince you otherwise, that Snowden was and still is a brave American hero.  It tells the story beginning with his Special Forces training and takes you all the way through the incident and up to present day, with the actual infamous Edward Snowden closing out the movie. I won’t go into too much detail here because I hate when reviews ruin a movie but I will say that it covers the whole story right down to the Ocean Eleven’s esque way that he got the files out of secured US spy facility.

This movie surprisingly also weaves a love story in and out of the technical background of the data release and while I enjoyed that aspect of the movie, some of it made me question its authenticity… it wasn’t realistic at times how the two reacted to different problems that arose in their relationship.

I left the movie thinking how strange it was that the espionage was the most believable part of the movie and the love story seemed contrived.

Joseph Gorden-Levitt was awesome.  I’ve watched enough Snowden videos to know that he nailed it.  The love interest was cute and likeable, but the primary antagonist was a bit over the top for a movie based on reality.  But I guess that’s what this movie was trying to tell me… that there are some seriously evil people working for our government.

The pacing was good, acting was great, subject matter was insanely interesting and the love story humanized the hacker/criminal/hero.  Go see it with an open mind, consider the context with which the film was created and come to your own conclusion. Snowden… hero or villain?

4.5 out of 5