Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles

It was easy to miss the original Xenoblade Chronicles game when it first came out, so I’m really glad Nintendo brought it to the eShop. It’s a good RPG and a great way to keep the spirit of the newer Wii U game going if beating that one left a hole in your heart. It’s probably not entirely fair to go from the Wii U game to the older Wii game, though. It does feel like a step back, not just graphically but in everything, as you realize Xenoblade Chronicles X improved on a lot. But the Wii version manages to stand out on its own, too.

For one, the story and characters are more interesting. Yes, it’s a typical JRPG where the “chosen one” spends most of his time dramatically grunting and yelling his friends’ names, and nobody really dies in very non-surprising twists. But the end goal was clearer, and the story didn’t hit as many lulls. I also really liked the game’s character management, how you’re free to switch around active members (even taking main hero Shulk out of the picture altogether), and how characters’ affinity towards each other allows them to share skills. Building the perfect team is quite rewarding.

The side missions, however, were pretty lame. That’s something XCX did much, much better. As for the battle system, it’s fundamentally the same but does enough differently to not be a total bore if you’ve already seen it. This is one of my favorite battle systems of any RPG, after all, so it was great to be able to experience it again in an alternate universe. I just wish the last several hours weren’t all robot fights. With that said, the Wii U version is still the better game, of course, but I’d recommend newcomers start here so they can appreciate the progress the series is making. And if you’re not a newcomer, check it out, anyway.

Veep – Season 5

Veep

Veep has one of the best ensembles of any TV show, and the cast just keeps getting better with every season. I have no idea how they’re going to keep them all together next season, though, considering how this one ended. Season 5 was already starting to feel a little disjointed with so many of the characters taking on roles outside of the White House. Please don’t tell me Season 6 is going to be a “where are they now” type of thing. I will certainly miss watching political power slip out of Selina’s grasp. It did take me a while, however, to warm up to her being president. When the stakes are higher, her team’s fumbling isn’t quite as amusing. But since I had all of last season to come to terms with that, Season 5 wasn’t nearly as disconcerting.

And at the end of the day, this was a pretty funny season. Normally low-key characters like Mike, Gary, and Catherine got a lot more time to shine, and the insults were as sharp and memorable as always. This season did feel a little off, though; it felt more “sitcommy.” I usually don’t get caught up in behind-the-scenes drama, but I was aware that the showrunner had changed, and the repercussions of that were obvious. Yes, the characters remained faithful, and the jokes were still great, but the situations veered on the cliché side. A scene where two characters argue until they start making out? An episode where a character tries to juggle two groups of people without them seeing each other? Come on, Veep, you can do (and have done) better than that.

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse

In X-Men: Apocalypse, one of the characters cheekily remarks that the third movie in a trilogy is always the worst, which was probably them taking another potshot at The Last Stand, but it ironically reflects my feelings about this movie. To be clear, I didn’t hate it. I really like what these newer X-Men movies are doing with the characters. They look great, their powers are awesome to see in action, and the brief moments where they actually have personality are fun. But there’s the rub. Most of the time, characters are just… there. Were you worried Olivia Munn wouldn’t be a good Psylocke? Well, she does so little in Apocalypse that it’s hard to form an opinion either way.

I’m mostly baffled by Mystique’s inclusion, though. She serves no purpose to the plot and pretty much plays moral support for the other characters. I think they only included her, because they already had Jennifer Lawrence on board to play the character. They’re gonna drag her along as much as they did Hugh Jackman, though to be fair, Wolverine’s cameo here was kind of cool. I also enjoyed Nightcrawler’s and, once again, Quicksilver’s presence. Quicksilver’s going to have a show-stealing scene in every movie now, isn’t he? But it was starting to feel like he was too powerful, and I was gearing up to complain that he could have taken out the bad guy by himself.

Thankfully, they do finally address that, but the Apocalypse character as a whole is dumb. He’s honestly the weakest part of the movie. His origins are silly, he spends most of the movie standing around and monologuing, and the fact that he was able to sum up his thoughts on modern society by touching a TV set and then, in a very Ultron-like way, determine the Earth needed cleansing was a little contrived. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as watching the movie restart Magneto’s fall to the dark side in the most clichéd way possible. It’s like every X-Men movie feels the need to “reboot” something. Granted, X-Men are usually more fun to watch when they’re first coming to terms with their powers and identities, but this franchise is going to stagnate (again) if they can’t start building off of that.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

I liked Civil War, but I think we’ve reached that moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where things start to get muddy. While I’ve been good about keeping up with most of these movies, I did miss out on Age of Ultron. And skipping just that one movie already caused a lot of confusion here. Like, who the heck is Vision? Where did he come from? This felt more like a sequel to Age of Ultron than a sequel to the last Captain America movie, which is a little annoying, because… well… this is being branded as a Captain America movie! And yet it is just as much a story about Iron Man as it is a story about the Captain.

This could easily be overwhelming for viewers who passed on more movies than I did. If you didn’t see Ant-Man, for instance, his introduction would have absolutely no effect on you, and his powers would seemingly come out of nowhere. However, I really enjoyed the brief humor Ant-Man brought to the movie. He and Spider-Man collectively stole the show and helped balance out Civil War’s otherwise gloomy mood. The inter-fighting made sense for the most part, though. The growing ensemble was handled pretty well, and the action sequences were fun. The MCU build-up did pay off in the end. I just hope the next big Marvel movie doesn’t require quite so much foreknowledge.

The Last Man on Earth – Season 2

Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth is like the Walking Dead of comedies: a post-apocalyptic story with a lot of promise that it only occasionally reaches. I was hesitant to even give Season 2 a chance, considering how quickly Season 1 devolved into a generic sitcom. I’m glad Season 2 remolded Phil’s personality, though. He’s no longer the huge jerk bent on having sex with every woman in town. In fact, the best parts of Season 2 were the episodes that didn’t feature “the group.” When the season started out with just Phil and Carol together, I was really hoping it would stay like that. It would have been a great way to reboot the series and make up for last season’s shortcomings. But then they went crawling back to Tuscon/Miami, and the sitcom material started right up again.

Fortunately, Season 2 got a great sub-plot in the form of Phil’s brother, Mike, trapped in space. Every shot of him alone in the space station was so sad and so well executed. It was like watching an entirely different movie. The episode where he finally fell to Earth was just as fantastic and really took advantage of the whole “last man” theme. It was worth sticking through the season just for that. And I’d like to think that’s the show the creators want to make, but it’s the studio executives who keep dragging it down. Not surprisingly, then, once Mike shows up in Miami, we get a stupid prank war and a ridiculous Will Forte haircut that drags on for way too long. And, in the end, Jason Sudeikis’s guest star role went to waste, and The Last Man on Earth continues to squander its potential.

Minions

Minions

The Minions movie represents everything I’ve grown to hate about modern animated films. I fully realize a kids’ movie is for kids, but a good kids’ movie can also be fun for the adults. I recently enjoyed Zootopia, after all, so I’m not totally immune. But, man, the Minions movie was so annoying. The plot felt like it had no purpose, the characters were bland, and the humor could be broken up into two types: simple-minded slapstick or obvious British/pop culture references. I think I laughed once through the whole thing, and the one gag I did like I can’t even remember.

To be honest, I just don’t find the minions very amusing. While their design is cute, their personalities are obnoxious, especially in large doses. The gibberish talk in particular is really grating; I feel like they would be funnier if they were silent and relied purely on physical comedy. A movie about a thousand little Harpos running about would have been a delight to watch. Instead, we got a “prequel” that does more damage to the Despicable Me universe than good and kind of ruins who the minions are when you stop to think about it. Oh, but it’s a kids’ movie. No room for thinking, right?