Saturday, February 25, 2017

Eighth Annual Russells - An Award For Cinematic Excellence

-Manchester by the Sea
-10 Cloverfield Lane
-Blair Witch
-Ouija: Origin of Evil
-Sausage Party


Two of these movies were literal surprises (the secretly filmed sequels Blair Witch and 10 Cloverfield Lane), but the movie that surprised me most this year was Manchester by the Sea. I'm not usually a person who likes straight drama films, but this was so skillfully made that I happily sat through all two and a half hours of the emotional journey. Amazing acting and subtle screenwriting really make this a drama to check out, but I don't know if I'd watch it again.

-Battle of Scarif - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
-Airport Showdown - Captain America: Civil War
-Sabotage - Star Trek Beyond
-Strip Club Shootout (or most of the movie) - Hardcore Henry
-Entering the cabin - Blair Witch


I know it's a really big portion of the movie, but the Battle of Scarif is really the action highlight of the year. The movie so swiftly moves from one part of the battle to another, showing both an awesomely choreographed space battle, a visceral ground war and an exciting break in. Even though we kinda know the end (because it's a sequel), you are still on the edge of your seat until the very end.  

-John Goodman - 10 Cloverfield Lane
-Patrick Stewart - Green Room
-Casey Affleck - Manchester By the Sea
-Colin Ferrell - The Lobster
-Ralph Ineson - The Witch


Affleck's performance in Manchester by the Sea takes the subtly of the script and perfectly realizes it. He manages to convey so much emotion with so little. The drama of the film could have been one that works with a big 'showy' performance, but the restraint shown by Affleck pays off in a big way and make the film all the more heartbreaking.

-Min-hee Kim - The Handmaiden
-Amy Adams - Arrival
-Anya Joy-Taylor - The Witch
-Mary Elizabeth Winstead - 10 Cloverfield Lane
-Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea


The Handmaiden is such a twisty screenplay where you often don't where the characters stand in relation to each other, and Min-hee Kim does a great job of shifting her character throughout the film. She oscillates between innocent and manipulative, always keeping you guessing where her loyalties lie and what is motivating her.

-Jyn Erso - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
-Kubo - Kubo and the Two Strings
-Henry - Hardcore Henry
-Deadpool - Deadpool
-Michelle - 10 Cloverfield Lane


Rogue One was full of interesting characters that explored different aspects of the Star Wars universe that were not highlighted by the main series that focused on the Skywalker family, and the most interesting one was Jyn Erso. Her motivations throughout were unique, drawing her into the fight not for the pure goal of defeating the Empire, and her journey was a fun one to experience.

-Darcy - Green Room
-Howard - 10 Cloverfield Lane
-William - The Witch
-The Douche - Sausage Party
-The Sisters - Kubo and the Two Strings


The best villains are the ones that believe they are heroes, and that's exactly the case with Howard from 10 Cloverfield Lane. Much of the film's mystery is about whether or not he is lying about why he's holding the other characters hostage, and his slowly unraveling performance keeps you guessing as the tension rises all the way until the end.

-The Handmaiden
-The Invitation
-Manchester By the Sea
-The Lobster


As I said before, The Handmaiden is the film that lives and dies on its constantly shifting sense of who to trust. The film smartly releases information, flipping the story on its head several times before reaching a satisfying conclusion. The film also balances the thrills and tension with some very real sensuality, and that all starts with this excellent script.

-The Invitation
-Blair Witch
-The Wailing
-Ouija: Origin of Evil


I'm using this award to highlight horror films that didn't make my Top 15, but The Invitation came really close to cracking that list. The film takes an awkward situation that many of us have experienced and layered it with tons of tension. This quiet film always manages to make you feel slightly off and suspicious of everything that seems out of place.

-Sausage Party
-Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


You have to love a good fish-out-of-water story, and it was a blast to see Key and Peele attempt to fake their way through a world of crime. These two clearly have great chemistry, and that energy really brings the laughs while still telling an entertaining story.

-Nicholas Winding Refn - The Neon Demon
-Park Chan-Wook - The Handmaiden
-Robert Eggers - The Witch
-Denis Villeneuve - Arrival
-Kenneth Lonergan - Manchester By the Sea


I still don't know how I feel about this film, but the direction from Refn is absolutely astounding. Much of the film veers into the abstract, where surreal visuals and a pulsing soundtrack paint the mood rather than the actions of the characters. You cannot watch this film without getting the feeling that it is a singular vision of a director that is in complete control of every frame of the movie.

-Hell or High Water
-Don't Breathe
-Hunt for the Wilderpeople
-A Monster Calls


I love a good bank robber film, and this one certain sounds like one that will be right up my alley. I've heard comparisons to No Country for Old Men in its approach to tone and character, and its focus on this social issue of 'banks screwed us, now we're going to screw the banks' is a very intriguing one to me.

-Star Wars: The Last Jedi
-Get Out
-Baby Driver


I guess I don't really have much to write about this one, because I barely know anything about it, but Edgar Wright is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, filmmaker working right now. I was so sad that he didn't end up doing Ant Man, so hopefully this one will make up for the hole that left.

-The Witch
-The Handmaiden
-The Lobster
-Green Room


For so much of the year The Witch was my favorite film of the year, and I was sure it wouldn't be topped. Then came Arrival. I don't know if its message of the importance of communication and collaboration in the face of scary and uncertain times just resonated with me perfectly, but this movie hit me hard. It's intelligent science fiction that tugs at the heartstrings and creates a compelling story without really having an explicit adversary. If you're burned out on big budget blockbusters where everything is solved with city destroying fights, this is the perfect antidote.

TOP 15:
15. I Am Not Your Negro
14. Zootopia
13. Doctor Strange
12. The Conjuring 2
11. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10. Train to Busan
9. Kubo and the Two Strings
8. Manchester by the Sea
7. Captain America: Civil War
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
5. Green Room
4. The Lobster
3. The Handmaiden
2. The Witch
1. Arrival

For a list of all the films I watched this year, check out my list one Letterboxd.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard - Review

Back in the Playstation era, I made my choice of Silent Hill over Resident Evil as my primary horror series, but I've always appreciated Resident Evil. RE2 was one of the first games that I played on Playstation, and I remember how Code Veronica made me feel like my Dreamcast was finally getting something huge. After hearing how bad RE5 and 6 were, I had written off the series like most people had, but the reveal of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard at E3 completely caught me off guard and blew me away. Now that I've gotten my hands on it, I can say it not only met my expectations, but exceeded them. 

What's most immediately shocking about RE7 is that it's basically unrecognizable as a Resident Evil game. There are some references peppered throughout, but mostly this thing looks and plays completely different than anything that came before it. Using a first-person perspective, you explore a rundown backwoods home populated by a creepy family of unkillable (maybe?) hillbilly cannibals. It's a refreshing change of pace that immediately makes the game feel unpredictable. 

While the setting takes a lot of cues from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the level design and overall feel harkens back to the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil. The actual size of the world you are exploring isn't that huge, but they do an amazing job of gating things behind various odd keys, making backtracking feel interesting. Even though it's small, there are distinct sections of the game that find ways to make you feel uncomfortable by putting you in new settings with new, unexpected dangers. 

The change to first person was also a big shift for the series, but it paid off immensely. I was very worried initially because the game looked like it would be taking lots of inspiration from series like Outlast, which rely on complete powerlessness to provide scares. To me, it's much more terrifying when you have the means to fight back, but it's either not very effective or you have limited resources to do so. I think games like Alien: Isolation (which might be the closest relative to RE7) and The Last of Us balance that perfectly. Luckily, so does RE7. There are so many times that I found myself having to make tough decisions about whether to craft ammo or health, trying to figure out which one would ultimately help me survive whatever horrors were waiting for me. The shooting is tight, but requires enough precision that panicking can really throw you off, much like Dead Space's dismemberment system. 

Most of the standard combat encounters aren't incredibly memorable, but the boss encounters really worked for me. Due to the fact that the Bakers, who act as the bosses, are seemingly invulnerable it can be tough to see if your efforts are doing anything to them and have no idea how much you have left in the battle. That being said, the set pieces are amazingly crafted moments, often with puzzle elements. My favorite were the first two battles, one of which plays out like frantic searching game while the other plays out like a completely insane duel. Apparently some boss encounters can go different ways, because when I got to the first boss the second time, I did the same thing I did to beat him initially and it ended up going a completely different way. 

Some other thrilling moments in the game were the tapes that are located throughout. These offered little short stories where you played as other characters, but found ways of intelligently giving you information that you would need for the future. It's a pretty brilliant design that gives these segments a dual purpose. My favorite segment of the game was the tape titled "Happy Birthday," that plays out like a mix between Saw and an escape room. 

I'm so glad that Capcom took a risk and shook things up for Resident Evil 7. This truly ended up being one of my favorite survival horror experiences, simultaneously feeling reverent of the previous games and unafraid to throw out everything and create a completely new aesthetic. I'm looking forward to giving the DLC a shot sometime in the near future, but for now maybe a run through Madhouse mode will have to do. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sixth Annual CoKR Comic Book Awards

-Howard the Duck
-Cry Havoc
-Tokyo Ghost
-Peter Panzerfaust

Winner: CHEW
We said goodbye to lots of good series this year, but none of them got me as much as Chew. I've read every issue of it's 60 issue run (plus the Poyo one-shots), and this series meant a lot of me. Issue 60 gave us a nice look at where all are characters ended up, and gave us one last character moment to give Tony some catharsis.

-The Vision
-Great Lake Avengers
-The Flash
-Black Widow

I don't think I've ever seen a Vision solo series, and this one did an awesome job to justify its existence. Somehow Tom King turned The Vision into a crazy combination of Breaking Bad and American Beauty, with a superhero twist. This book is like nothing you've ever read before, and you should definitely give it a shot.

-Seven to Eternity
-Motor Crush
-Pasty Walker AKA Hellcat

There weren't as many big new Image series that grabbed me this year, but Seven to Eternity grabbed me in a big way. I think that this one has the strongest start of Remender's Image work, and the amazing art of Opena really helps build this interesting and compelling world that feels both familiar enough to jump into, but unique enough to get its hooks in you.

-I Am Gotham - Batman
-Superfamous - Ms. Marvel
-Lightning Strikes Twice - The Flash
-Fluff My Life - I Hate Fairyland
-Baby Talk - Spider-Woman

I didn't get into the first volume of Ms. Marvel, but this one grabbed me right off the bat. G. Willow Wilson does such a great job of building out all the relationships in Ms. Marvel's life while creating a compelling challenge for her to go up against.

-Jerome Opena - Seven to Eternity
-Chris Samnee - Black Widow
-Jon Davis-Hunt - Clean Room
-Carmine Di Giandomenico - The Flash
-Mikel Janin - Batman

Samnee is the reason the new Black Widow series has been so outstanding. His dynamic layouts and crisp art style help sell both the shadowy nature of Black Widow's world and the pulse pounding action. She fights with so much precision and grace, and he is able to capture it perfectly.

-Rick Remender - Seven to Eternity / Tokyo Ghost / Deadly Class / Black Science / Low
-Kate Leth - Vampirella / Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat / Spell on Wheels
-Jason Aaron - Mighty Thor / Doctor Strange / Southern Bastards
-Joshua Williamson - The Flash / Nailbiter / Birthright
-Tom King - The Vision / Batman

Not only did I love Seven to Eternity, but I also took a dive back into all of his other recent Image work this year. Remender has created such diverse worlds, but is still able to very easily do so in his own unique voice. He finds awesome ways to take very human emotions, such as depression, and amplify them with crazy premises.

-Godspeed - The Flash
-Weeping Lion - Black Widow
-God of Whispers - Seven to Eternity
-Empirikul - Doctor Strange
-Captain Marvel - Civil War II and crossovers

Part of what makes Seven to Eternity such a great book is the main antagonist, the God of Whispers. Remender does such a good job of giving him an interesting and unique set of powers while still making him menacing when he doesn't have them.

-The Vision
-Black Widow
-Mighty Thor
-Ms. Marvel
-Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat

The tone of Vision almost made me put it on the non-superhero category, but this is firmly in the Marvel Universe and still has many elements of the genre. It's completely unique and really reinvents the character while creating new ones that really resonated with me.

-Clean Room
-Seven to Eternity
-Paper Girls

Winner: CHEW
Throughout its long run, this series was always one of my favorites. The last portion of the series really amped up the stakes, forcing the characters to make some very heavy and emotional decisions, all while not losing its signature brand of humor. This series will be missed, but I can't wait to see what Layman does in the future.

-The Vision
-Seven to Eternity
-Ms. Marvel
-Paper Girls
-Mighty Thor

Who would have thought that Vision would have ended up being one of the best books of the year?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Arc Reactor: Batman - I Am Suicide / Rooftops

Tom King's Batman has taken a little bit of time to get used to. As I wrote about in my look at the previous arc I Am Gotham, there was a bit of odd pacing and tone to the book so far. King's next arc I Am Suicide has some of the same problems, but also has some great high points, both in art and story.

The premise of this arc is perfect: Batman needs to retrieve Psycho Pirate from Bane, so he puts together his own version of the Suicide Squad to break into Santa Prisca and extract him. Hearing this premise, I was giddy to see Batman heading into Arkham to assemble his team from the rouge's gallery, but it ended up being a bit of a let down. Catwoman ended up being the only one of any notoriety (after her the second most prominent was Ventriloquist). Not only that, but they all kinda of faded into the background and only Batman, Bane and Catwoman doing anything of real emotional resonance.

King's version of Bane is an exciting one. At some point, Bane kicked Venom, but now needs Psycho Pirate to help him control his emotions. The back and forth game of one upsmanship that has always been at the core of Bane's character comes to the forefront here and plays out in an interesting fashion. His grasp of Catwoman is also great, using her to give emotional stakes for Batman while still adding a layer of unpredictability.

What is more inconsistent is his portrayal of Batman. During the issue where Batman was breaking into Santa Prisca, I was confused as to whether this was supposed to be Batman or someone posing as Batman. There is a very strong revelation that occurs partway through the arc that gives an interesting wrinkle to the Batman myth: young Bruce Wayne attempted suicide before his infamous "I shall become a Bat" moment. It gives the often indestructible Batman a believable moment of humanity, but comes at a strange place in an arc that didn't exactly relate to the moment.

Since he handled the Batman/Catwoman relationship so well, it's no surprise that the two-part aftermath story Rooftops was very strong. After the mission, Batman and Catwoman celebrate the last night before she has to report back to Arkham to be punished for the 200-some murders that she's accused of. The night sees them fighting crime, stealing things and making love on the rooftops in a sea of diamonds. Batman also delves into what actually happened with the murders and King reintroduces Selina's friend Holly, who has long been a part of her world. Not only is the tone of this two-parter perfectly capture their complicated relationship, showing how they can each be vulnerable in front of each other, but it has some really wonderful moments too. Each of them shares the story of how they remember meeting the other, and Batman remembers her Golden Age introduction, while Catwoman remembers how she met him in Year One.

King has been very fortunate to work with some wonderful artists on this book. David Finch set a great tone, but these two arcs really stepped it up. I Am Suicide featured art by Mikel Janin, an artist I was not familiar with. Janin's art certainly match King's more surreal and lyrical tone. He's got some really clean art with very innovative panel layouts. The high point issue featured nothing but awesome two page spreads with clever layouts and beautiful narration. I sincerely hope to see him return to the series sometime soon.

Mitch Gerads, King's collaborator on the Vertigo series Sheriff of Babylon, joined him for Rooftops, and it was clear that these two enjoy working together. They do a great job of finding a unique rhythm that perfectly blends the script with the panels. Several instances of repeated panels with slight variations do a good job of driving home the point of the script. Gerads also does an amazing job capturing the emotion on the faces of Batman and Catwoman throughout the issues. I'm really glad that they got to work together on this book, as it made this two part arc feel very special.

Overall, I Am Suicide took a bit getting used to, but once you get used to the tone King creates it clicks really well. I'm looking forward to re-reading it to see if it flows better all at once. This arc along with Rooftops sets things up really well for the next arc, titled I Am Bane and featuring the return of David Finch. Bane's back on the Venom and is launching a full scale war on Batman and his allies, and this could be the epic that really helps define his run.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Best Video Games of 2016

10. Let It Die
I haven't put a ton of time into Let It Die, but it seems like something that will be right up my alley. Suda51's style has always been something that has clicked with me, so for him to do a gonzo take on Dark Souls/Bloodborne-like ideas is very appealing. The game plays like a slower, clunkier Bloodborne set in a grimy world where you use irons, hammers, firework cannons and whatever else you can to defend yourself. I still haven't found the rhythm of the game, but I've learned a patience with these types. The free-to-play aspects of the game may eventually be something that bites it in the ass, but for now, I'm excited to see where it goes.

9. Invisible Inc
This is another one that I have only put a little bit of time into, but the time I have played makes me feel like this will connect with me. Klei Entertainment (Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja) brings their signature polish to a cyberpunk world of corporate espionage. The gameplay melds stealth and turn-based combat in an innovative way with roguelike elements on top. I believe this one came out last year on PC, but its release on PS4 (it was also free on PS+ in December) give it a place on my list this year.

I don't think I've ever played a game that bleeds cool in the same way that SUPERHOT does. Not only does it have the amazing art direction, but it takes an innovative, yet simple, mechanic and turns it into a compelling overall package. The idea is that you are in action scenes, but time only moves when you do. This gives you the chance to look at the bullets on their way to you and lets you figure out the optimal path to make your way through the chaos. It's a brilliant idea that turns an FPS into something like a puzzle game, and makes you feel like a total action hero bad ass.

7. TitanFall 2
I've mentioned before that I'm not really a person who plays modern shooters, especially online, but TitanFall 2 grabbed me hard. I was going to pass on this, but it ended up on sale for half off and I decided to take a chance. The single player campaign of this game is so well constructed with a breakneck pace and truly wonderful set pieces. I can't imagine playing a shooter that FEELS better than TitanFall 2, from the feel of the shooting and gun to the incredible movement techniques. Not only was the campaign good, but the multiplayer was a blast too. The inclusion of the titans, which feel completely different from fighting on foot, gives battles a strong feeling of variety without ruining the balance. Top to bottom, this is a complete package of a first person shooter.

6. Batman: A Telltale Series
If you've been reading my reviews of the series, you know that I really liked this game. I felt a bit burned out on all the fighting and driving in Batman: Arkham Knight and ended up wishing I could just move forward in the story without having to beat up another set of random thugs. I had also been away from Telltale games, even after loving Walking Dead Season 1 so much. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to get both things I wanted, and I'm glad I jumped in. Telltale shows they aren't afraid to make big changes to the Batman mythology, and they really craft a story with lots of twists and turns. For once they give Bruce a time to shine and give him a lot of emotional depth. While it seems that some of the choices kinda went against the ethos of Batman, there were a lot of interesting decisions that I assume drastically change the game. The last two episodes were a little disappointing, especially with the inclusion of the Joker, who I feel like has been in every Batman game since the dawn of time, but overall this is a worthwhile experience if you're looking for more Batman in your life.

5. Darkest Dungeon
This game is a perfect stew of everything that I love. Turn based RPG combat. Check. XCOM like permadeath for the soldiers your grind to improve. Check. Gothic Lovecraftian theme. Check. The art style of this game is just so gorgeous, and all the classes are varied enough that it's worth learning the pluses and minuses of all of them. There's so much satisfaction in putting together a party that works perfectly together and running them up against one of the horrific bosses. The game is so good throughout, but ends up having some real problems with its end game. You have to put so much work into building the characters up to the highest level, and if you lose a whole party on a higher level mission when you hit a spot of bad luck it's completely devastating. There's just a bit too much randomness in the way things play out to make the higher level stuff feel fair. Despite all these complaints, I absolutely adore this game and will definitely be checking out the DLC that's scheduled for later this year.

4. Furi
If there's a game from this year that can get close to SUPERHOT in style, it's Furi. In this game you're an anime-esque solider armed with blaster and sword that's escaping from a neon hell/prison, fighting your way through the colorful characters that act as guards. Furi is comprised entirely of boss battles, and they never feel repetitive in visual design or gameplay. Since Bloodborne, I've really started to appreciate the craft of an excellent, long boss battle, and this game's 10 multistage fights deliver. The controls are so precise, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as finally beating a boss that you've tried dozens of times. I still have yet to take down the final boss, but can't wait until I break him.

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Naughty Dog probably puts out the most polished games in the industry, and their first PS4 game (not counting Last of Us Remastered) is the most gorgeous game on the system. They do what they do best in this game: guide us through a thrilling story with interesting characters. This game brings Nathan Drake's story to a conclusion in a very emotionally resonant way. It's interesting that some of the quieter moments, like sitting on a couch playing video games with your wife, are just as memorable as some of the more thrilling ones, like jumping from vehicle to vehicle in the middle of a high speed chase. I think this one might be my favorite Uncharted game, with 2 very close behind. Naughty Dog recently announced The Last of Us: Part II, and I can't wait to see what they've got up their sleeves for that one.

It was really hard to put this game as number two; any other year this would have been number one with a bullet. There is SO MUCH to love about this new DOOM it's ridiculous. They took the feel of the old games and modernized them completely in a way that still feels old school. There's no regenerating health bar, hiding behind cover or two weapons limit (hell, the game doesn't even make you reload). Instead all of the mechanics in the game are built to make you play as aggressively as possible. In order to regain health, you have to do melee kills. Need more ammo? Use some of your limited chainsaw fuel to rip someone apart for billets. The story of the game is pretty simple, but there's enough there to help bring to life the gore-geous levels.  This change of pace could provide a difficult challenge for people used to modern shooters, but if you're up to it, DOOM is one hell of a ride.

1. XCOM 2
XCOM: Enemy Within was one of my top 5 games of all time, and this new version bumps its way into that spot. While the PS4 version isn't a perfect port (I had it crash after one particularly grueling mission), but this game improves on its predecessor in every way. Each class has specialized even further, giving you interesting options to upgrade your characters. Many of the missions have countdown timers, which force you to play hard and fast in your firefights and encourage more aggressive movement throughout the maps. The story was also more well developed with a more interesting beginning hook, casting you as the resistance for in a world taken over by aliens. It took me a couple starts to get used to the new mechanics of the overworld/base building part, but once I got the hang of it I was having a blast. I love this franchise so much, and hope that it was successful enough on consoles that they continue porting it over (and maybe even putting a little more polish on it).

Games I Wish I Played/Didn't Put Enough Time Into: Overwatch, Inside, No Man's Sky, Dishonored 2, The Witness, I Am Setsuna, Overcooked


5. Danganronpa 1 and 2: Reloaded
I've always heard how cool these games were on Vita, but I don't have the system, so I've never been able to experience that. These two twisted visual novels are being ported over to the PS4 in preparation for the their one coming out this year. I've dabbled in visual novels before, and I'm just starting to dip my toe into anime, so this is coming along at a perfect time for me to really sink my teeth into it.

4. Pyre
I have been a huge fan of Supergiant's first two games, especially Transistor, and Pyre looks like another wonderful entry into their body of work. They always manage to do something completely different while still creating something that is distinctly theirs. Pyre seems to be some sort of weird hybrid between RPG and sports game, with some interesting Telltale-like segments in between. These guys are really a developer to watch, and I can't wait to see how this turns out.

3. Persona 5
Another anime-esque game that's caught my eye is Persona 5. The incredibly stylish trailer immediately grabbed my attention, and I'm longing to see a turn based RPG set outside of a traditional fantasy setting. I've never played any other Persona games, but I loved Catherine, which is by the same developer. It sounds like the game scored very well upon its release in Japan, and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

2. Resident Evil VII
You know I'm always down for a good horror game, and Resident Evil is one of the most classic franchises in that genre. While its definitely lost sight of what made the original games so good, this one looks to be a bold step in the right direction. The game gets back to basics, this time set in a backwoods house inhabited by a creepy family. The demo introduced us to the new first-person perspective, which takes cues from games like Outlast, and it seems like the game will be right at home with its new mechanics.

1. Horizon Zero Dawn
When Sony introduced this game at E3 2015, I knew it was going to be something special. The game creates a unique setting where mankind has been pushed back into almost caveman times while robotic animals flourish. I'm kinda staying in the dark about this one for fear of being spoiled, but it looks like it will play like some combination of thrilling action game and RPG. This definitely looks like it has the makings of a new franchise for Sony, and I'm ready to jump in on the ground floor.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Arrival - Review

This was movie is exactly why I like to stick to my policy of knowing as little as possible about movies I'm interested in. The combination of Denis Villeneuve, director of Sicario and Prisoners, and Ted Chiang, who wrote the source material, was enough for me. I had previously read Chiang's Life Cycle of Software Objects and have always liked Villeneuve's visual style, so this seemed like a must-see.

Not having seen any extensive amount of advertising, I wasn't fully prepared for what this movie would be. I knew it was going to be an alien contact film that focused on the language barrier, but I wasn't prepared for how heady and emotional this film would end up being.

Amy Adams gives an excellent performance, probably my favorite in her filmography, as a high level specialist in the field of language that's haunted by emotional tragedy. Her character, Dr. Louise Banks, is such a fully drawn character, and Adams fleshes her out perfectly. All the other actors and characters do a great job playing their parts, but the focus is squarely on Louise.

Her journey throughout the film is definitely what took me by surprise. The brief glimpses I saw of TV commercials had it looking a bit more cold and intellectual, and the premise is one that certainly seems to want to focus on the global implications of aliens arriving on earth. While there is lots of talk about the geopolitical landscape that ratchets up the tension throughout, it's really about Louise and her interactions with the alien creatures as she tries to learn their language while teaching them ours. I wasn't sure how they were going to make this premise interesting throughout, but they managed to do it.

While there isn't any action in the film per se, it definitely has some thrilling moments, including one of the best uses of Hitchcockian suspense I've seen in quite some time. The direction throughout is masterful, and the designs of the creatures and ships truly convey a feeling of 'alien' in every sense of the word. The film is a little slow to get going, in a good way, but really picks up near the end. The last act of the film features some of the most innovative ideas I've seen in a sci-fi film in a while, as well as one of the most hard hitting emotional twists.

In a time where our country is divided thoroughly, it's so refreshing to see a film that's about the main characters striving to solve the problems with understanding and communication rather than violence. The film is about trying to keep people together in times of uncertainty and fear, and that message is one that we all need at a time like this. From script to acting to cinematography, this film is a knock out, and easily my favorite film of the year so far.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 3: New World Order - Review

I've been very happy with the schedule that Telltale has been able to keep up with their Batman series. If I remember correctly from my time playing The Walking Dead, it's usually a bit longer between episodes. This pace really makes it easier to play such plot heavy games, as it's easier to remember what happened last time. 

In the interest of staying spoiler-free, I think these reviews will get shorter as they go on. This new episodes doesn't do anything different from the previous episodes. You still have the neat investigation mechanic at the scenes. You still have well choreographed fight scenes. What really drives this series forward is the plot. 

And what a plot it is. They set up some really interesting emotional beats. This whole deconstruction of the Wayne legacy is really cool, and all signs seem to point at it not being a fake out. An great wrinkle is added to the Bruce Wayne story in this episode by drastically altering his standing within Wayne Enterprises. The Harvey Dent storyline also goes to interesting places, especially in relation to the love story with Selina Kyle (at least based on the choices I made). This part seems to be going a bit more traditionally in line with the comics, but the writing and acting is great so it works. 

There's also a big confrontation that I didn't anticipate coming in this early. Batman and Catwoman end up colliding head to head with the Children of Arkham and their mysterious leader. It definitely has an element of climax to it, with a big brawl that leads to you foiling what appears to be their master plan. I was very surprised to see something this large happen in episode three, but that wasn't even the end. 

The cliffhanger of this episode is excellent. It completely blindsided me with the reveal of the identity of the Children of Arkham's leader. I was excited when they introduced this villain, because there didn't seem to be any existing villain that was the model. When the identity was revealed, it really threw me for a loop. Much like the Arkham series, they aren't beholden to keeping the Batman story relatively status quo for the sake of the long term comic and the rest of the DC Universe. Telltale is really taking advantage of this freedom and telling a shocking story that feels like uncharted territory for the first time in a long time. I hope the wait for the next one is short, because I can't wait to see how this turns out.