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by Daniel O’Connell
Disclaimer: This review is of the Xbox One version of the game.
Back in 2010, Rockstar Games, best known for publishing game series such as Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne, published the open world Western game Red Dead Redemption. The game took place in the last days of the Old West and followed former outlaw John Marston as he hunted down former members of his gang. It was praised for its visuals, gunslinger-style combat, and nuanced story and characters, including John himself. Fans were eagerly hoping for another game in the Red Dead series. After being delayed last year, their wish has come true in the form of Red Dead Redemption 2, a prequel to the original. And it more than delivers.
Unique, interesting characters and storyline
The game takes place in 1899, during the beginning of the end of the Old West. Rather than playing as John Marston, the player takes the role of Arthur Morgan, one of the lieutenants of Dutch Van Der Linde’s gang. Said gang is currently on the run from the Pinkerton agency after a botched ferry robbery back in Blackwater. The gang moves from place to place, trying to earn money. They primarily take on other bandits, such as a rival gang lead by the outlaw Colm O’Driscoll. They also make enemies with Leviticus Cornwall, a businessman and industrialist that the gang robs from, and Andrew Milton, a Pinkerton agent that personally wants Dutch dead. As the gang moves from place to place, things go from bad to worse and they slowly began to drift apart.
Arthur Morgan is a fantastic main character to play as. In contrast to John Marston, Morgan walks the line between being an honorable rogue and a cutthroat scoundrel. This allows the player to go with either a high honor or a low honor playthrough of the game, without it feeling jarring (like it did in the first game). He is rough sounding but has some interesting insights into the world.
Speaking of John, he returns from the first game as a supporting character. The various members of the Van Der Linde gang are a real highlight of the gang. Some of the stand outs include Hosea, Dutch’s intelligent, well-spoken right-hand man, and Micah Bell, a vindictive, violent man who always holds a grudge. This is along with a personal favorite in Kieran, a former member of the O’Driscoll gang who switches sides after being captured by the Van Der Linde gang. The bits of interaction Arthur has with the gang, as well as within the gang itself, are enjoyable to watch. It honestly just makes what is to come all the more tragic.
Beautiful, detailed world
Almost everything that was present in the first Red Dead Redemption has been taken and greatly expanded on. For example, while horses were simply disposable in the first game, their use in the sequel is much more intricate and detailed. The more that Arthur uses a horse, their bond level goes up, allowing the horse to do different moves, up to and including attacking predators. Hunting was rather simple in the first game, where one could simply shoot an animal, skin it, and sell its pelt for profit. Here, hunting is much more intricate, with different kinds of prey needing different kinds of weapons. Small game such as rabbits and birds are hunted with weapons such as the varmint rifle or small game arrows, while bigger game such as deer are hunted with rifles and regular arrows. The choice of weapon and where the shot is placed results in a different quality of pelt, ranging from poor, good, and perfect. One can even track down animals and use a special lotion to hide their scent from their game. The amount of detail placed into these two activities is very impressive, showing that a lot of thought and care went into expanding upon these aspects.
Another detail expanded would be the game’s firearms. In the first one, firearms and ammunition could be simply bought and switched out at a store. Here, firearms can be customized at a store, with different kinds of finishes and engravings on the gun’s metal parts, and different varnishes and carvings on the wooden parts. Different kinds of ammunition, such as high velocity and express rounds, can be bought at the stores as well, improving on things such as range and stopping power. Different kinds of ammunition and arrows can also be crafted at a campfire. The amount of detail put into these aspects make it a much more fun game to play.
Excellent, top notch gameplay
What helps enhance the characters and the detailed world would have to be the gameplay that accompanies it. Like in the first game, there is the Dead Eye meter, which allows the player to slow down time and aim their shots. However, in addition to these, there are health and stamina meters. Similar to Bioshock, these meters are capable of being refilled or decreased by eating food, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol and various tonics. What comes with these meters are cores, which when filled, effects how fast the meters regenerate.
Another great addition to the gameplay is the combat. Morgan has access to various handguns, rifles, shotguns, and melee weapons to use in combat. Morgan is now capable of dual wielding revolvers, making the player feel like a real gunslinger. In addition, he can also carry two long arms on his person, letting the player have a lot of options when it comes to a fire fight. Morgan is also capable of using throwing knives, dynamite, and fire bottles, letting them deal more damage than with firearms. Combine this with the Dead Eye, and it leads to some fun and exciting gameplay.
Featured Image: PlayStation
by Daniel O'Connell
Disclaimer: This review is of the Xbox One version, and was done in a playthrough as Kassandra
Last year, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Origins. The game took the franchise in a new direction, taking place in ancient Egypt and focusing on the origins of the Assassin’s Brotherhood. The biggest change the game made was to its combat, now akin to the combat in The Witcher III. Origins was considered a welcome change, and many thought that the next game would take place in the Roman Empire. However, Ubisoft threw the fans a curveball with the latest installment, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, taking place in ancient Greece—and it is an excellent follow up to Origins.
Great characters and massive scope
Taking place during the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens, the game follows either Alexios or Kassandra, Spartan mercenaries who find themselves thrust into the war when they are hired by a rich man named Elpenor to assassinate a famed general known as “The Wolf of Sparta”. However, this assignment leads to them discover the secret Cult of Kosmos, who have influence and footholds into every aspect of Greek society, including the famed Oracle of Delphi. The Cult plans to use the war between Athens and Sparta to their advantage, and use it to take over Greece. The mercenary finds themself fighting for both sides in the war, as well as hunting down members of the cult, and even tracking down their own long-lost parents.
One could easily criticize the game’s aspect of choosing between a male and female player character as nothing new, since Assassin’s Creed Syndicate allowed the player to play as either a male or female character. While both aspects may seem similar at first glance, there are differences between the two. Syndicate allowed the player to switch between characters at will in any point of the game. Odyssey, on the other hand, let’s the player choose the character from the start, and they are stuck with said character until the bitter end.
Speaking of characters, it is one of the major strengths of the game. Both Alexios and Kassandra are excellent lead characters, having a natural likability and charisma to them. Their past makes them engaging, which involves their father Nikolaos throwing them off a cliff by the order of the Oracle of Sparta. This likability also extends to their allies, including the real-life historian Herodotus, and Barnabas, a sea captain who transports the player around in his ship, the Adrestia. Barnabas proves himself a very fun character to be around, with his amicable personality and tales of sea life offering some interesting interactions with Alexios or Kassandra.
What helps elevate the story and characters is the game's detailed recreation of ancient Greece. The world is vivid and beautiful, with the types of buildings, houses, and monuments being recreated in painstaking detail ranging from the city of Athens to Thermopylae. The depth of recreated ancient Greece, along with the sheer scope of the world, makes the game a treat to play.
However, a major flaw is in the pacing of the story, at least in the beginning of the game. It takes a while to get to the main story, in which the mercenary hunts down the members of the Cult of Kosmos. That point comes in at roughly the ten-hour mark. Before that is the initial meeting with Elpenor, leaving the island of Kephalliona, and doing favours for Spartan army to gain an audience with the Wolf. It feels like a slow build-up to get into the main events of the game. This honestly makes the first ten hours feel somewhat tedious to play. But once the main plot gets rolling, the pacing improves by leaps and bounds.
Excellent, expanded gameplay
One of the major strengths of Assassin’s Creed Origins was the revamped gameplay, which added in more RPG elements compared to its predecessors. Odyssey takes those RPG elements and expands upon them greatly. The game features dialogue options, which can alter the direction of where a conversation or encounter goes, allowing the player to solve a conflict peacefully or make it worse through violence. Similar to a Bioware game such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age, there are moral choices that allows to player to either kill or spare a target. The decisions one makes have ramifications on the story, whether they be minor or major. This makes each experience different and unique from the kinds of choices one makes.
However, the expanded RPG elements are not the only change in gameplay. Odyssey takes enjoyable elements from previous titles, and refines them for a fun and enjoyable experience. Combat in the game is mostly unchanged from Origins, quick and face-paced with the ability to use a variety of weapons, skills, and abilities to defeat enemies. The biggest change is that the iconic hidden blade from the previous Assassin’s Creed games have been replaced with the Spear of Leonidas, which Alexios/Kassandra use for stealth takedowns, as well as combat. The spear can be upgraded throughout the game to gain new abilities.
Another element that is expanded is naval combat, which has been greatly expanded. In fact, it is now similar to the naval combat of Black Flag. Alexios/Kassandra has a ship named the Adrestia at their beck and call, using it to traverse the Greek isles. The ship can be upgraded with better armor and weapons then used to fight enemy ships. Boarding parties can even be formed with soldiers and mercenaries the player has recruited. These parties can help capture enemy crews for loot and resources.
However, a surprising addition to the game is the Conquest Wars between the Spartans and the Athenians. Like the conquests in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the player can fight for either side, sabotaging forts and killing enemy soldiers until their influence in the area is diminished. Once that is completed, the player can take place in a conquest battle, where both armies fight it out until one side is victorious. It is a fun way to gain experience and acquire different, rare equipment.
However, there is a drawback to the game now becoming a full-fledged action RPG, and that is grinding—the bane of any RPG. The game is dependent on grinding, whether it be for crafting resources, stronger equipment, or experience points for leveling up. And this is usually found through exploration, completing side quests, or fighting enemies. This can get tedious and frustrating after a point, even for those who are experienced with RPGs. However, this dependence on grinding is balanced out by the fun gameplay and content.
Featured image: Microsoft Store
by Daniel O'Connell
This review is based off the Xbox One version of the game.
The Tomb Raider series is one of the longest running action-adventure franchises in the genre. The series that was rebooted back in 2012 is now a trilogy focusing on how an inexperienced Lara Craft became the Tomb Raider we all know. Shadow of the Tomb Raider finishes off the final leg of this journey and provides a fun and exciting end to the trilogy.
Excellent character development and world building
Taking place two months after the end of the previous game, the game follows Lara Croft (once again played by Camilla Luddington) as she tracks down the cells of the paramilitary organization, Trinity, with her friend Jonah Maiava. Their journey leads them to South America in search of the latest cell. There, they come into conflict with Pedro Dominguez, a member of Trinity’s high council, who also knew Lara’s father. Lara is now tracking down the hidden city of Paititi, as well as a dagger and a silver box that are linked with the Mayan Apocalypse. When Lara retrieves the dagger she unintentionally sets off the apocalypse, which will end with a total eclipse of the sun. Now Lara is caught in a race against time to find the silver box before Trinity does and stop the apocalypse from happening.
As with the previous games, one of the strengths of the story is Luddington’s performance as Lara. She gives her a vulnerability that humanizes her and makes her relatable. Accidentally kickstarting the apocalypse weighs heavily on her consciousness, as well as the innocent lives that are lost to the earthquakes. However, this game brings a much darker characterization to Lara as she is much more willing to brutally kill Trinity soldiers in cold blood when confronted with them. This darker characterization seems essential, as it helps complete Lara’s transformation into the Tomb Raider. Jonah’s expanded role in the game is also a welcomed addition, as he provides moral support for Lara as well as serving as her conscious. However, what was surprising was the villain of Dominguez, who is revealed to be the ruler of the hidden city of Paititi. He proves to be a somewhat sympathetic villain, as everything he has done was to protect Paititi from the outside world. On the opposite end of the villain spectrum is Rourke, the commander of Trinity’s military forces. He is cruel, cowardly, and despicable, making for a villain that the player loves to hate.
While the characters and Lara’s character arc are main strengths of the game, a big draw of it is the city of Paititi and the people who dwell within it. The people are a blend of elements of Mayan and Inca cultures and come off as unique and interesting people. The game developers have put effort into making the people and their city come off as authentic, and it honestly works. There are several references to different myths and deities of Incan culture, showing that the put care into crafting their take on Paititi. This extra care and research paid off in giving the game a unique feel when compared to its predecessors.
Serviceable, stealthy, gameplay
The core gameplay of the series has not changed in this game. While it is still good, at this point it feels stale. There are no major overhauls or changes to make it feel different or unique from its predecessors. In spite of this, the gameplay is still serviceable and enjoyable. Lara’s main weapon is a bow and arrow, and she can also make use of a variety of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. She is also capable of upgrading these weapons with crafting material such as salvaged materials and animal hides. She can also create different ammunition types for these weapons such as fire arrows, flare rounds, and concussive shells. A returning addition is useable herbs, which Lara can use to heal or increase her perception, durability, and aiming time. While this is par for the course for the reboot trilogy at this point, there are new additions to the gameplay, in the form of stealth, that make it even more fun.
As the title suggests, there is a big emphasis on stealth in the game. There are times where Lara is outnumbered and outgunned by Trinity soldiers. The player is offered with a choice of an assault approach or a sneaky, stealth approach. Going with the latter option proves to be the more fun and rewarding option as opposed to going in guns blazing. Lara can hide in brush and stealthily take down enemies with a knife, like a predator hunting down its prey. Speaking of the Predator, Lara can also cover herself with mud to camouflage herself. The addition of a stealth component to the game helps liven up gameplay that has become somewhat stale at this point.
Plenty of side content to tackle
Aside from the main story, there is plenty of side content to do in the game. Challenge tombs make a return where Lara can complete various different kinds of puzzles in exchange for treasure and different perks. A new component of the game is the ability to change the difficulty settings of exploration, combat, and puzzles. This leads to a different kind of experience depending on which difficulty level each option is set to. Outside of the main combat, Lara can complete side missions for civilians for experience points, money, and other rewards. The money can be spent on the game’s newly introduced barter system where you can buy new weapons, ammunition, and crafting materials, or sell excess materials that you have on hand.
Featured image from GameAxis
by Daniel O'Connell
Back in 1987, Predator was released onto the movie going public. The film took your standard 80s action movie plot, and turned it on its head by having a group of special forces soldiers hunted down by an alien. Ever since then, Predator has been regarded as a classic of 80s action cinema and has spawned a multimedia franchise. This includes two sequels, comic books, video games, and several crossovers with the Alien franchise. This film marks the cinematic return of the ultimate hunter after eight years. Helmed by Shane Black (director of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys, along with having a role in the original film as Hawkins), the film is a welcome return as well as being enjoyably fun.
Quirky characters, snarky dialogue, and awesome action
The film follows Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a Black Ops sniper, who, while on a mission in Mexico, encounters a shipwrecked Predator, who kills Quinn’s squad. Quinn barely escapes with his life, along with some of the Predator’s equipment. He is deemed insane by the government, and is shipped off to a military insane asylum with five other PSTD-stricken soldiers. This group includes chain-smoking marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes), wisecracking jokester Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), Baxley a character with Tourett's (Thomas Jane), card-toting Irishman sniper Lynch (Alfie Allen), and religious Blackhawk pilot Nettles (Augusto Aguilera).
However, things get detoured when the bus they’re on is redirected towards a government facility called Project Stargazer, headed by man-in-black Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown). More importantly, this is where the Predator is being detained. All hell breaks loose when the Predator breaks free and escapes. Making matters worse is that an “ultimate” Predator has come to Earth as well. Quinn teams up with his bus mates and biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) to stop the two Predators, and retrieve the equipment, which Quinn sent for safekeeping to his ex-wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and Rory, his son who has autism (Jacob Tremblay).
With Shane Black in the director’s chair, he brings two of his greatest strengths to the film: character and great dialogue. Quinn and his rag tag team of soldiers make for an interesting team to follow, with Quinn and Bracket being the straight men for the rest of the team’s antics and quirks. Quinn and Nebraska have great chemistry together, as they develop a camaraderie with each other. The same goes to Quinn and Rory, who have moments together where they show they care and love each other despite not seeing each other often. However, the stand outs of the cast are Coyle and Baxley. Both are funny and entertaining, with Baxley physical ticks and swearing being played for laughs, and Coyle cracking jokes (namely pertaining to Baxley’s mother). The two steal the show in any scene that focuses on them and are a delight to watch. The film is packed with snarky, Tarantino-esque dialogue, with many memorable lines and jokes (such as Coyle’s aforementioned “Your Mom” jokes).
The film also has some great action scenes in it. Some of the highlights include the Predator’s rampage through the Project Stargazer facility, Quinn and his bus-mates first encounter with the Predator, and a fight against the Ultimate Predator’s tracking hounds. These action bits take place in the first half of the film, and the scenes get even better when the Ultimate Predator makes his presence known.
Awesome alien design
The main draw of the Predator movies are the titular characters themselves, and both of them have great designs. The Predator has its classic deign, including its mask, shoulder cannon, and wrist blades. However, the main draw is the Ultimate Predator, who dwarves the regular Predator. It’s revealed in the film that the Predators use the DNA of the species they hunt to genetically modify themselves and become stronger. The Ultimate Predator is bigger and badder than the standard Predator, and is considered to be the ultimate hunter. It has an awesome design to it along with a wide array of abilities, including an exoskeleton under its skin and the ability to see in infrared without the aid of a mask. Top this off with an arm-mounted plasma cannon and wrist blades, and it makes a formidable foe for Quinn and his team to face off against.
So many ideas, too little time
The Predator is not a perfect film. The main flaw of the film is that it has too many ideas in its two-hour running time, and does not have enough time to explore them all. These ideas include a group of soldiers with post- traumatic stress disorder teaming up to fight the Predator, the Predator choosing suburbia as its new hunting ground, a government agency that collects evidence of the Predators and researches them, and an apparent civil war between the Predator species. All of these are interesting and great ideas that are worth exploring. However, because they are all packed together in one movie, most of them end up being half-baked or under-explored. If the movie had an extended running time or excluded a few of these ideas, then these ideas could be properly explored to their fullest potential.
Featured image from DreadCentral
By Daniel O'Connell
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for the movie Kin
August through September is an interesting time of year when it comes to movies. It falls between the big summer blockbusters and the time where studios release their contenders for the Oscars. Therefore, it is often used as a dumping ground for the movies studios don’t know what to do with. Kin is definitely one of those movies. Directed by Johnathan and Josh Baker, and based on their short film Bag Man, the film had the potential to be interesting. The result, however, is a film with wasted potential and serious tonal inconsistencies.
Great performances and presentation
Kin is the story of Elijah “Eli” Solinski (Myles Truitt), a teenager in Detroit who lives with his adoptive father Hal (Dennis Quaid) and with Jimmy (Jack Reynor), his ex-con brother who has been recently paroled. Eli spends his time looking around abandoned factories and yards for copper wire to sell. During one of his salvages, he discovers the aftermath of a battle between mysterious armored soldiers, and finds a mysterious, high tech weapon. He takes the weapon back home, only to find out that Jimmy owes money to local gangster Taylor Balik (James Franco). After a scuffle that leaves Hal dead, Eli and Jimmy find themselves on the run with $60,000 in cash and a mysterious weapon in tow. The two are pursued by Taylor, who wants to kill Jimmy for killing his brother Dutch. Two mysterious, armored soldiers are also in pursuit of the weapon.
One of the main strengths of the film is its performances. For a first-time actor, Myles Truitt gives a good performance as Eli, making him come across as a believable teenager. The same goes for Jack Reynor as Jimmy, who brings a natural likability to the character, and makes him come across as someone who’s trying to reconnect with his brother while protecting him. Reynor and Truitt have good chemistry with one another and can convincingly play a pair of adoptive brothers. Despite his short amount of screen time, Dennis Quaid does a good job as Hal, who is tough on his adopted son, but only because he cares for him and doesn’t want him to end up like Jimmy. However, the standout performance comes from James Franco, who plays Balik with a casual calmness. This calmness gives way to a deadly seriousness when he hunts down Eli and Jimmy for revenge. A stand out scene occurs when he gives a eulogy for his dead brother, reminiscing about a time where Dutch beat up a neighborhood bully so he could get back Balik’s Walkman.
Another highlight of the film is its visual aesthetic and score. The score was done by the Scottish rock band Mogwai. Rather than a traditional orchestral score, the film uses an electronic/synth score. It fits with the feel and visual aesthetic of the film. The design of the weapon and the two soldiers in pursuit of it are also unique and interesting. The weapon Eli finds stands out, coming off as a cross between a phaser and a rail gun with a holographic interface. It has an ability to take on a compact form and comes with different modes of firing. The two soldiers are also have a striking, threatening look to them—coming across as a mix between Judge Dredd and Daft Punk. Their scenes in the movie are some of the film's highlights as they show off technology like a drone that can recreate events in holographic form.
Trouble with tone
The biggest problem with Kin that drags it down is its uneven tone. There are two different narratives fighting for attention. One is a science fiction adventure about a mysterious weapon. The other is a drama about two brothers reconnecting and bonding with each other while on the run. This makes the film’s tone seem unbalanced and even jarring at times. One scene focuses on Jimmy teaching Eli how to drive, while the next shows the two futuristic soldiers breaking into a motorcycle dealership to acquire transportation. It gives the audience a serious case of whiplash as if there are two different movies on screen.
Another problem is the pacing of the movie. There are several scenes that feel like they should have been left on the cutting room floor. This includes a scene where Jimmy and Eli rob a criminal’s poker game and a bizarre scene where Balik urinates in front of a gas station clerk after being told that the restrooms are for employees only. These should have been cut out of the final product. The same can go for a character named Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a stripper that Eli and Jimmy and take along with during their journey. Her character honestly contributes nothing to the overall plot, and only serves as someone else for Eli and Jimmy to talk to.
Another major problem with the film comes with the ending, particularly a revelation regarding Eli, the two mysterious soldiers, and the weapon. It opens up a whole new realm of ideas and concepts that could be explored. However, the problem with this is that the movie saves this for the very end. Any potential exploration that could be done with this is thrown by the wayside.
Featured image from the Official Kin Movie Site
By Daniel O'Connell
Back in 2014, Antoine Fuqua, the director of films such as Training Day, Tears of the Sun, and Shooter, teamed with Denzel Washington to make The Equalizer. Based loosely on the hit 1980s television series, the film followed Robert McCall, a former Black Ops operative who uses his skills to help the innocent while waging war against the Russian Mafia. The film was a box office success, and was enjoyed by both critics and audiences alike, praising it for its acting, action, and unique visual style. Now, both Washington and Fuqua team up again to bring audiences The Equalizer 2, making it the first time Washington has returned for a sequel.
Taking place some time after the first film, it follows McCall (Washington) who now works as a Lyft driver. He continues to help out people in trouble, with the aid of his old friend, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo). However, when Plummer goes to investigate an apparent murder-suicide in Brussels, along with intelligence agent David York (Pedro Pascal), she ends up being murdered. The sudden murder motivates McCall to investigate and uncover it, all while being followed by the same people who were responsible for Susan’s murder.
Like the previous film, one of its major strengths is its acting. Denzel Washington, once again, brings usual talent and charisma to the role of Robert McCall. His performance makes McCall a likable and engaging lead as we follow him helping out people and investigating Susan’s murder. We also get more insight into McCall’s past, including how he use to have a wife around the time he left the life of an operative. Another standout performance goes to Pedro Pascal as David York. Looking almost unrecognizable in the role, Pascal also makes York a friendly and likable character, who also has a past with McCall in working in the field together. As the plot unfolds, the characteristics of these two leads make the twists and turns all the more shocking and dramatic.
Another strength of the film is McCall’s interactions with the people he helps, which make up two of the film’s subplots. The first revolves around McCall helping an elderly Holocaust survivor named Samuel recover a painting of his sister that was separated from him. The other subplot revolves around McCall helping a troubled youth named Miles Whittaker, who has an artistic talent, go along the right path and make the right choices in life. The subplot with Miles, however, comes off as the more engaging one, especially because of the relationship between McCall and Miles.
The mainstay and most exciting part of the film, however, would have to be its intense action sequences. Like in the first film, McCall rarely uses guns throughout the movie, preferring to use his hands, combat skills, and whatever he has at his disposal. This makes for interesting and tense fight scenes, where McCall makes notice of his surrounding before going into action. Like the first film, the climax involves a game of cat and mouse between McCall and a group of heavily armed pursuers. This film, however, ups the ante by having the confrontation take place in a seaside town about to be hit by a hurricane.
However, the film suffers from some problems, namely in plot and pacing. The main plot surrounding McCall investigating Susan’s murder is nothing to write home about. It does not come off as interesting or engaging as the subplot surrounding Miles, as well as not having nearly enough screen time devoted to it. The problems with the plot ties into its other problem, its pacing. It feels slow to watch, namely with the amount of time devoted to its main plot as well as its subplots. However, the pacing does pick up again in the last quarter of the movie, making up for the slow paced film.
Featured image from JustKillingTime
By Daniel O'Connell
The summer movie season has finally started for 2018. With it brings the usual summer blockbusters and superhero fare that has come to be expected. However, there can be some hidden gems among these movies, and Hotel Artemis is one of them. The directorial debut of Drew Pearce (who created the show No Heroics, and co-wrote the story for Iron Man 3), is a rather good one, aided by an excellent ensemble cast of talented actors.
The film takes place in not-too-distant future Los Angeles. Public utilities like water and power have been privatized, people are rioting in the streets, and black outs are frequent. However, as the Nurse (Jodie Foster, in her first film role in five years) puts it, it’s just another Wednesday. She, along with her orderly/security Everest (Dave Bautista) run the Hotel Artemis, a secret hospital for high end criminals to use in emergency situations. The night at the Artemis seems like a usual Wednesday night, with its guests including a sleazy and surly arms dealer named Acalpulco (Charlie Day), and a sultry and sullen assassin named Nice (Sofia Boutella).
However, the night begins to take an interesting turn when bank robbers Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) come in for an emergency treatment following a botched bank robbery. The two robbers have unknowingly stolen property from a notorious crime lord known as the “Wolf King of L.A.” (Jeff Goldblum). Specifically, they stole $18 million dollars in yellow diamonds, stored in a fancy looking pen. With the Wolf King on his way for an emergency treatment, as well a cop showing up and begging for help, the Artemis has just become a powder keg waiting to blow.
It is immediately evident from the start that one of the major strengths of the film is its ensemble cast (which was heavily featured in the film’s advertising). Each actor in the film turns in a good, though sometimes just serviceable, performance. However, there are a few stand outs among the cast. The first is Jodie Foster as the Nurse, who has been keeping herself secluded in the Artemis for 22 years due to the guilt over losing her son. The second goes to Sterling K. Brown as Waikiki, a career criminal who has the makings of someone who could make something of himself, but is held back because of the loyalty to his brother Honolulu. Another great performance comes from David Bautista as Everest, who steals every scene he is in with his presence, humor, and clever dialogue. However, the most surprising performance comes from Charlie Day as Acapulco. He takes the usual loudmouth energy of his traditonal roles, and channels it into playing a sleazy, contemptible scumbag of a person. He will have the audience begging for him to get a violent death.
Despite what the advertising may show, there is not a lot of action in the film. However, it more than makes up for it with the interactions between the patrons of the Artemis. The different personalities bounce off of one another, with hints of an implied past between Waikiki and Nice. However, when things start to go to hell in a handbasket, the movie more than makes up for it in the action. With fantastic stunt work and fight scenes being done, the movie makes the waiting for the action up to that point worth it.
However, the movie still has its flaws, namely when it comes to its setting. The riots happening in Los Angeles barely play into the plot at all, and they only serve to get the wounded cop to the Artemis, which could honestly be done without. The only way the story takes advantage of the fact that it set in the future is to have technology such as nanites, organs made from 3D printers, and robotic auto-doctors. Aside from the riots and the future technology, the setting doesn’t seem too different from today. As a matter of fact, the Hotel Artemis wouldn’t feel out of place in the John Wick films.
One element that barely comes into play is the pen containing the yellow diamonds. It is first used to establish that the Wolf King does not take kindly to anyone stealing his property, and that Waikiki and Honolulu have landed in hot water. However, it does not play into anything else. The Wolf King does not even find out about the stolen diamonds.
Another flaw of the film would come down to its plot. The film gets the ball rolling in the opening scene, establishing the setting through news broadcasts, and shows Honolulu and Waikiki’s bank robbery. However, things start to slow down during the second act, which gives time for the Nurse and the Artemis’s patrons to interact with each other. The pacing of the second act will annoy people that are looking for action packed scenes. However, as stated earlier, it makes up of the lack of action in its climax.
Featured image from Tennessean
By Daniel O'Connell
Back in 2013, Guillermo del Toro released Pacific Rim, in which humanity battles interdimensional monsters called Kaiju by using giant mechs known as Jaegers. While the film did not do well domestically, it did do well internationally, as well as receiving good reviews, praise from creators of the mecha genre such as Go Nagai and Hideo Kojima, and developed quite a following and fandom. Now, five years later, a proper sequel to the film has been released, produced by del Toro and featuring the directorial debut of Steven S. DeKnight. However, while the film is fun, it is not quite as good as the original.
Story and characters
The sequel takes place ten years after the end of the Kaiju War of the first film, and follows Jake Pentecost (played by John Boyega), a former Jaeger pilot and son of the Kaiju War hero Stacker Pentecost. Jake spends his days in California, scavenging and selling Jaeger parts on the black market. Jake’s lifestyle abruptly ends when he is arrested by the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps, along with a teen Jaeger enthusiast named Amara Nanami (Cailee Spaeny), who build her own miniature, one-man piloted Jaeger dubbed Scrapper. Jake is then found by his estranged adopted sister, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a former Jaeger pilot from the Kaiju Wars who now serves as General Secretary of the PPDC.
Jake gets recruited to rejoin the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps and train a new generation of Jaeger pilots (of which Amara is recruited to be a part). The Jaeger pilots are being threatened to be phased out by drone program created by the Shao Corporation, which would create mass-produced Jaegers that could be controlled remotely. However, everything comes to a grinding halt when a mysterious new Jaeger by the name of Obsidian Fury attacks a PPDC council meeting in Sydney. Jake and his fellow Jaeger pilots must unravel the mystery behind the rogue Jaeger and the new threats that emerge with it.
The new lead character Jake is a great lead to follow, and excellently played by Boyega. He serves as a good contrast to the previous lead: Raleigh Becket. Boyega plays Jake as a fun and charming character who has to come to terms with his past when he rejoins the PPDC, having previously left it due to being upstaged by his adopted sister, and the negligence from his father. However, while Jake is good charming character, the rest of the new pilots that he trains are not as fleshed out as he is. The exceptions to this are Amari: who suffers from trauma after seeing her family killed in a Kaiju attack, and Nathan Lambert: Jake’s fellow instructor and former copilot from the Kaiju Wars. The new recruits are simply used to fill out the pilot seats of the Jaegers when the final battle comes around.
Another major concern would have to be the reveal about the Kaiju and their creators: the Precursors. Their motivation for invading Earth is to reach Mount Fuji, and activate the Ring of Fire with Kaiju blood and minerals in Mount Fuji. This fact, unfortunately, does not line up with what was established with the first film, where the Kaiju would attack places such as San Francisco, Anchorage, and Russia. When you think about it, this plot point comes out of the blue and does not mesh with the Kaiju attacks in the first film.
On the other hand, the returning characters of Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottleib (Burn Gorman). Newt now works for the Shao Corporation and helped developed its drone program, while Hermann works for the PPDC, working on fuel for the Jaegers developed from Kaiju blood as a well as a thruster program for the Jaegers. Both Day and Gorman play their roles brilliantly, with both of them showing off how they have changed in the five years since the first film, as well as providing some comic relief. Particular praise has to go to a twist surrounding Newt. It is revealed that he is being used as a pawn by the Precursors, the beings that are responsible for creating the Kaiju.
Action and Jaegers
While the film may not have the same quality of story or characters as the first, it more than makes up for that disparity with its action scenes, and especially the new Jaegers showcased in the film. A criticism that has been thrown towards the first film is that the majority of the fighting was done by the main Jaeger, Gypsy Danger, while the rest of the Jaegers were simply destroyed by the Kaiju. Uprising makes up for this by featuring new Jaegers sharing the spotlight with the main Jaeger Gypsy Avenger, a successor to Gypsy Danger.
These new Jaegers are fascinating and are given their own unique designs, weapons, and names, which makes them stand out, and gives them personality, for a lack of a better word. These include Bracer Phoenix, armed with a flail and automatic cannons in its, chest, Guardian Bravo with its electrical whip, and Saber Athena, with its dual blades that can combine to form a single sword. The fights with the Kaiju and Obsidian Fury are exciting, fun, and action-packed. Special mention should go to the final battle, which, to pay homage to the Kaiju movies and mecha anime that inspire it, takes place in Tokyo, Japan.
However, the way the film portrays the Jaegers and Kaiju should be contrasted with how they were portrayed in the first film, as well as how their respective directors approached the film. Del Toro took time to focus on world building and character development. He portrayed the Jaegers as grand and majestic, and the Kaiju as destructive. DeKnight, on the other hand, doubles down on the action appeal of the film. The Jaegers are portrayed as being awesome and the Kaiju being the bad guys they beat up. However, neither approach is wrong, and each has its appeal.
Featured image from SuperHeroHype
by Daniel O'Connell
Alex Garland has had a successful and interesting career. He began by writing several films, which included 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and the underrated Dredd. In 2015, he made his directorial debut with Ex Machina, a science fiction film which explores the relationship between man and artificial intelligence. Now he scores another hit with his film Annihilation, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer (which Is the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy).
Annihilation follows Lena (Natalie Portman), a former soldier turned biologist, whose husband, a soldier named Kane (Oscar Isaac, who previously starred in Ex Machina), has been missing for a year after leaving for a military assignment. One day, Kane suddenly comes home without warning. However, he immediately becomes ill and falls into a coma. Lena and Kane are taken to a research compound where she is informed by a psychologist named Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that Kane was part of the many research teams that went into a quarantined area known as “Area X” or “the Shimmer”. Kane is one of the first people from the research teams to have returned from the Shimmer. Lena joins the latest expedition, which includes Dr. Ventress, physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), and surveyor Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny) – in hopes of finding a way to heal her husband.
Though marketed as a standard sci-fi horror film, Annihilation is more akin to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. Both films involve a journey into an abandoned area that has its origin in a meteorite crashing into the area. Annihilation also shows its influence Stalker had on it through its use of surrealism. The movie is told out of chronological order, with the initial framing device being Lena being interviewed by a scientist about her time in the Shimmer. The sense of time within the Shimmer is skewed, as the film jumps from the team initially entering it to them waking up at camp. They discuss that the last thing they remember is entering the Shimmer. They don’t remember setting up camp and discover they have gone through four days of rations. The jump cuts in the film serve to show that Lena has gaps in her memory from being in the Shimmer and does not know long she has been in it. The way the film is presented, combined with its slow, methodical pace and unnerving atmosphere makes for a surreal and engaging film.
Annihilation also provides more standard horror in addition to its surrealism. Most notable is a scene where the research team watches a video left recorded by the previous team. In it, one of the members is willingly vivisected to reveal that his insides are now home to eel-sized worms writhing around inside. The quiet nature of the scene, as well as the fact that it is ambiguous whether the previous team went insane or not makes it all the more scary.
The cast that Alex Garland has assembled brings some pretty great performances to the table. Natalie Portman, as usual, gives an excellent and engaging performance as Lena, as does Jennifer Jason Leigh. However, a standout performance goes to Gina Rodriguez as Anya, who, as the group goes deeper into the Shimmer, becomes more insane and paranoid. She becomes as much a threat to the group as the mutated creatures that dwell within the Shimmer.
Visuals and effects
Many effects were used to create the appearance of the Shimmer, and all of them are excellent. The oily, rainbow-esque miasma that surrounds the Shimmer and serves as its barrier is mesmerizing. The designs of the Shimmer’s mutated creatures are top-notch as well, which range from a pale crocodile with shark-like rows of teeth and deer who have branch-like antlers complete with blooming flowers. However, the standout creature of the film would have to be a mutated bear with a skull for its head. Without going into spoilers, it provides one of the most tense and scary parts of the film.
The beautiful visuals also extend to its flora, from colorful moss growth on concrete walls to vines that grow flowers of multiple shapes and colors. The most visually impressive of these are at the edge of the Shimmer, where crystal formations in the shape of trees grow on a beach.
The visuals are only one part of the film that makes it so engaging. Special credit should go to the cinematography by Rob Hardy, which makes the film incredible to look at. The film's score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow adds to the unnerving, surreal nature of the film, including an unsettling, alien-sounding five notes, which serves as the film's musical theme for the Shimmer itself.
However, in spite of its brilliant visuals, fantastic performances, and surreal, unnerving atmosphere, Annihilation is not a movie for everyone. After seeing the movie, you might have trouble trying to figure out your thoughts on the movie and also still have questions about it. Similar to Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Annihilation is a movie that needs a second or third viewing to understand the movie and notice things that you would not notice before.
Image: Omaha World-Herald