John Wick: Chapter 4

This was my first John Wick movie, but got dang, what a wild ride. There were four main action set pieces, and the insanity of them continued to escalate. The Arc de Triomphe scene in particular is one of the craziest sequences I’ve ever seen. People jumping out of cars to fight on foot in a busy roundabout was a sight to behold. The apartment sequence that followed shortly after—where the camera pans overhead for a long take as John Wick blasts thugs with incendiary rounds—was a close second. It felt so much like a video game, in the best way possible, that I had to resist the urge to start giggling like a little kid. Of course, this scene ends with John Wick jumping out of a window and landing on a parked car, a fall that should have killed him. Later on, Wick takes a tumble down the stairs that is so comically repetitive, I had to ask myself, “Am I supposed to be taking this seriously?”

People who have seen the other movies probably wouldn’t hesitate to answer that with, “Not at all.” For me, I honestly wasn’t sure. I mean, Keanu Reeves plays John Wick super seriously, almost to a fault. His acting is simply not good. But then you also have Donnie Yen playing a blind assassin. I love Donnie Yen, and he is great in the role, but a blind assassin is a silly thing to introduce to a franchise. If that level of cheesiness was already prevalent back in John Wick 1, though, then I guess it’s not a valid complaint. There’s just such a disconnect between the grittiness that the movie strives for 90% of the time and the huge asks to suspend your disbelief. If you can accept that John Wick is basically a video game character immune to fall damage, and you can accept that there are apparently no cops in this world who respond to public shootouts and traffic accidents, you’ll have a good time.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3

I feel obligated to talk about this one, as I’ve reviewed every other game so far. I think this might be my least favorite of the bunch, though. I can’t tell if the game is objectively not as good or that I’m just getting bored with the formula. XC3 doesn’t really “fix” anything, nor does it do anything substantially new. I guess the main selling point is that you’re getting a new story? Unfortunately, I’ve lost all patience with XC’s cutscenes. There is an interesting story buried in here, but each cutscene is sooooo long and takes forever to get to anything of substance. I wish you could fast-forward through the pointless banter, but alas, your only option is to skip the cutscene altogether. And if there were multiple cutscenes back-to-back? Oops, you just skipped all of them. I also hate how the cutscene that follows a battle almost always shows that the enemy you just defeated in real-time did not, in fact, get defeated. Hey, video game designers: stop doing this!

By now, you are probably already angrily typing, “Why do you even play these games, bro?!” For me, Xenoblade Chronicles has always been about fighting monsters and exploring huge territories. And I still got plenty of enjoyment out of both of those aspects. I have mixed feelings about the battle system, though. It’s a little too easy to over-level yourself. The game practically encourages you to do this with its ever-tempting “bonus XP” system. And so I reached a point in the game where battles stopped being a challenge, where I could just steamroll over most story-related bosses. Bumping the game up to Hard made it a little too hard, though, so I was kind of at a loss how to bring back the excitement of those first few chapters where I felt like my team had to be perfectly balanced to win. From Chapter 4 onward, it basically didn’t matter what my team looked like anymore.

To be fair, it’s my own fault for getting over-leveled. By Chapter 4, the game world has opened up enough that there are plenty of side quests to distract you from the main story. And you know me, I am a sucker for side quests. The game has a feature that will show you the fastest route to any given quest marker, but I had a lot more fun trying to navigate the world based on the map alone. So many markers have very roundabout ways to get to them and, like the bonus XP, you have to make a conscious effort not to let the game do the work for you. Side quests are fun to track down, though, because many of them result in getting access to a new hero and character class. I really liked experimenting with the different classes and juggling which character should learn which class next. I could do that for hours—and I totally did—so I still had fun in the end, despite my other complaints.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

I feel like Pinocchio is a difficult story to get right, because it’s so unstructured and episodic in its adventures. Guillermo del Toro’s version similarly struggles to create an end-to-end, engaging narrative. The middle of the movie in particular really drags, and I had to start skipping ahead through the overlong musical montage that’s supposed to encapsulate Pinocchio’s time at the carnival. Everything carnival related represents the weakest aspects of this movie. It’s when Guillermo del Toro strays from the more classic Pinocchio story beats that the movie shines. For instance, replacing Pleasure Island with a fascist youth camp was an interesting choice. You don’t get the same body horror of watching a young boy transform into a donkey, but the war setting still adds some serious gravitas. This is a movie where Pinocchio is literally executed at gunpoint, after all.

Yes, the movie is dark, but maybe not as dark as you might expect from a Guillermo del Toro film. Pinocchio repeatedly dying, visiting limbo, and coming back to life was another fun directorial choice that is both macabre and silly. I appreciated how naive and childish Pinocchio was, especially in the beginning. I do think he grows up too fast, though, given that Sebastian (this movie’s Jiminy Cricket) stops influencing him after the first day. The ending of the movie hinges on Sebastian getting his wish, having fulfilled his responsibility to make Pinocchio a good boy. But Sebastian spends the majority of the movie separated from Pinocchio, and so he really didn’t do much and definitely didn’t deserve a free wish to Deus ex Machina us into a happy ending. Well… semi-happy. The final moments are still pretty sad and do solidify this as a poignant (and beautifully animated) take on a familiar story.

Time on Frog Island

After playing Clouzy, I was left wanting in terms of a combat-free adventure. Clouzy’s biggest drawback was its vagueness. Time on Frog Island, however, is vagueness done right. It’s a similar type of game, though. You’re plopped on an island with basically no guidance other than the obvious main goal: fix your boat somehow. There are frog folk on the island that you can talk to, but who knows which ones can actually help with the boat. Plus, all dialogue is presented as icons instead of text. So a frog might just shout, “Image of a blue bug!” at you, and then you have to figure out 1) where such a bug is and 2) how to make it blue. Needless to say, there’s a lot of running back and forth across the island, looking for whatever a certain frog wants and then returning it. And, sure, that sounds tedious, but it actually works.

What helps the game is that a lot of quests are optional. Once you learn which frogs can actually help you, you can pretty much ignore the others. And there are sometimes multiple solutions to a problem, as well. But, of course, there’s still incentive to help everyone on the island, if not for the achievements, then for the extra perks you can get in the game. Like, I didn’t realize there was a power-up that would let you swing from certain cliff edges until long after I’d already fixed the boat. And you can build a house, too?! The house doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s little touches like this that make Time on Frog Island a fun, relaxing experience. I’d probably rank it close to A Short Hike and Haven Park, considering the length it takes to complete it and the general vibes it gives off.


Clouzy is a relaxing, combat-free adventure game with the added gimmick of caring for little clouds. I think the developers themselves admitted that Slime Rancher was a major inspiration for this game, though Clouzy is very scaled back in comparison. The structure of the game is fun, though, where you have a small world to explore and a home base to raise clouds in. Parts of the world are off limits until you complete a puzzle elsewhere, and resources can be gathered throughout that go towards making items and food dishes for your clouds. In theory, this should work just fine. In actuality, Clouzy makes some truly awful design decisions.

This is another case where it wouldn’t take much to “fix” the game, but what’s broken is broken. First, the game is way too vague. I always appreciate when games lay off the hand holding, but this is taken to the extreme. I shouldn’t have to fumble for ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn in a quest item. I was about ready to quit at one point, because I had a sick cloud and no clue how to make medicine for it. The list of recipes didn’t have labels on anything, so I just started crafting everything I could until other useful recipes started to unlock. But after this crafting spree, I was left with a bunch of junk that I had nowhere to put.

And that’s the second design mistake that Clouzy makes. Inventory management is a pain… in… the… ass. You can only hold five items on you at a time, and you cannot drop items willy-nilly. You can only put them in a chest or discard them in a trash can. But your starter chest only has five slots, too! You have to earn money to be able to upgrade the chest. You can also buy a backpack, which increases what you can carry on you. However, the backpack is a separate UI from the main five items you’re carrying. Why did they over-complicate this?! It ruins any fun you might have running around the world, because you’re never sure what you should pick up and put in your extremely limited inventory. I just can’t understand hindering your players like this.

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law – Season 1

I’ve followed all of the MCU movies so far, but this is the only Disney+ TV show I’ve had any interest in. I just really like Hulk as a character and feel he constantly gets done dirty in the movies. So a TV show centered around a different Hulk sounded promising, especially with all of the other subtexts it has going for it. She-Hulk not only has to live in her cousin’s shadow but has to navigate life as 1) a woman hounded by incels, 2) a superhero whose identity is not a secret, and 3) a superhero living in a world that, frankly, has as much superhero fatigue as we have MCU fatigue. I also appreciate the show’s attempts to give us a more lighthearted side of the MCU. And not lighthearted in a “Thor + screaming goats” sort of way but lighthearted in that Jen/She-Hulk doesn’t have to save the world every week.

Alas, She-Hulk sometimes suffers from the same critiques I threw at Ted Lasso. If the stakes are too low, it’s hard to stay engaged. Like, there’s an episode where Jen goes to a wedding, and that’s… it. That’s the conflict. These weaker episodes also highlight just how pointless and dumb the B stories are. I really don’t care what Jen’s co-workers are up to when they aren’t interacting with Jen. The best parts of the show are when Jen still has to do her normal job (lawyering) but in a superhero-driven world. It’s fun to see her take on super clients and try to rein in their ridiculousness even as she, herself, is seen as a ridiculous “monster.” Speaking of, the episode where she loses her temper and “Hulks out” to stop a sex tape from playing highlights the kind of stakes this show can and should do.

Of course, there’s a lot that doesn’t work. The CGI is distracting, which is not good for a show where your main character frequently has to be CG. A lot of the humor falls flat, too. I understand the She-Hulk comic frequently broke the fourth wall, but the show doesn’t do it enough for it to feel natural. I think some episodes only had one quick aside to the audience and that was it. So it felt particularly silly when—major spoiler, by the way—the finale sees She-Hulk literally climb out of the Disney+ menu screen and into another thumbnail, where she berates the writers of She-Hulk. It’s funny once you get onboard with what’s happening. The self-digs at the state of the MCU are cute, after all. But we needed to be eased into this over-the-topness, much like how Jen needed to ease into her new alter ego.