Ready Player One Review

Ready Player OneReady Player One poster place holder

Action, Sci-fi

Rated: PG-13 for Sequences of sci-fi violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

“Ready Player One” is based on a novel by author Ernest Cline.  Published in 2011 Cline’s novel is a love letter to geek culture with a particular focus on 1980’s geek culture.  It weaves nostalgia with forward-looking Sci-fi with some of the most realistic extrapolations of current technology.  “Ready Player One” is one of my favorite novels and this adaptation has been one of my most anticipated films of the year.  I realize books are books and films are films; as such it isn’t fair to judge a film on the same criteria as the book on which it’s based.  That said the inescapable questions are how they would translate such a dense pop culture text into film and how successful it would be.  It is directed by the incomparable Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”, “The Post”).  It’s co-written by Zak Penn (“Behind Enemy Lines”) and Ernest Cline.  It stars Tye Sheridan (“Mud”), Oliva Cooke (Bates Motel), Lena Waithe (“Master of None”), and Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”).

The film takes place in the not too distant future of 2045 where a number of social and economic declines have taken their toll on the US and the rest of the world.  The only thing that keeps most people going in the drudgery of their day-to-day lives is an omnipresent online virtual world called The Oasis.  More than a massive multiplayer game it’s an alternate reality where people live and work.  In the Oasis people can be whatever they want from a human avatar to massive cyborgs, dragons and fictional characters.  The story centers on Wade Watts, known in the Oasis as Parzival, played by Sheridan.  Wade is a regular kid from a broken home who’s only solace has been losing himself in the Oasis.  This all changes when the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, dies leaving behind a contest.  The contest consists of taking on challenges based on Halliday’s history and interests.  The person that wins the contest inherits Halliday’s vast fortune including a controlling interest in his company and the Oasis itself.  This touches off a race between Wade, along with his friends and the corporate army belonging to IOI (an evil mega corp with designs on global domination).

First off it’s immediately apparent the story has been updated and modernized dropping much of the ’80’s references.  This doesn’t really impede the film as it is able to draw from a ton of sources from the past four decades.  “Ready Player One” is heavy with an endless stream of easter eggs, allusions and cameos.  From Ninja Turtles, to Hello Kitty, to more recent icons like Overwatch’s Tracer.  There are more than a few lines of dialog and little musical cues which act as a wink and a nod.  A few bars from the main theme of “Back to the Future” or Wade lifting a boombox over his head (“Say Anything”) to rally the troops at the final battle are just a couple of examples.  In truth moments like these run throughout “Ready Player One” and will have fans combing through it for a long time to come.  All of it works extraordinary well in terms of the films intent on being a reflection of years of media.  However, there are times when the callbacks and references become self-serving and gratuitous.

Ready Player One quote box

The writing and acting hold up offering a fair amount of humor in and among the action moments of pop-culture revelry.  There are also plenty of times the film weaves it’s plot in with references to other films.  Having the main characters run around a set from a classic horror movie in pursuit of their goal is creepy and entertaining.  It’s one of the better blending of elements taking the foundations from Cline’s novel and reinterpreting them to work on the big screen.  The acting is strong across the board with each member of the cast turning in good performances.  Tye Sheridan proves to be up to the task of carrying the bulk of the film on Wade’s shoulders.  Oliva Cooke is a great foil for Sheridan as the coy intelligent Artemis.  However it’s Mark Rylance as Halliday that almost steals the film.  His awkward mannerisms and gestures perfectly capture Halliday’s hyper intelligent but socially awkward screen presence.

The cinematography is handled by Janusz Kaminski Spielberg’s go to DP for such films as “Schindler’s List”, “Catch Me if You Can” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”.  The camera work and special effects are all top-notch which helps delineate the virtual and real worlds.  The Oasis has a stylized CG look all its own which may be off-putting to some but it works in context making sure the digital effect holds up even in the midst of the film’s major set pieces.

Where “Ready Player One” falters the most is in a lack of grounding.  With all its fantastical elements, effects and plot the film badly needed something to anchor it.  A better focus on the more human elements of the story would have gone a long way to keep the narrative from getting lost in the weeds.  This is primarily due to a lack of characterization.  With a few exceptions many of the characters a thin and one-dimensional.  There are two characters in particular that are ported from the novel but are barely a presence.  They are given too little to do and as such have little to no investment.  This is a consistent problem throughout and it does hurt the film.  There are moments that don’t land with the weight they should and there isn’t a transcendental resonance which sticks with you after the credits role.  There are also some pacing issues especially in the first and third acts which make the film feel unbalanced.  

The up shot is “Ready Player One” is a fun film.  It has enough strong elements that work together and provide a lot of enjoyment.  Unfortunately there are some significant weaknesses that hold it back from being anything more.  There’s not enough of a human element and little emotional investment.  It may make you laugh, cheer the good guys and boo the villains, but it probably won’t stick with you like some of Spielberg’s other films.

 

New 4 stars
Final Score: 4 Stars

For more on the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

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Why Fox Delayed Two X-Men films and Does it Matter?

Why Fox delayed Two X-Men films and Does it Matter?

News | Opinion | Film

Written by: Benjamin Ferrarini

It’s been announced that 20th Century Fox has delayed the release of both “The New Mutants” and “X-Men: Dark Phoenix”.  At first there were few details but more news has slowly seeped out giving us a better idea of what’s happened. “Dark Phoenix” was originally scheduled for release in November… if you’ve been reading my Blog then you may remember “Dark Phoenix” made my top 10 list of most anticipated films of 2018 (oops).  It’s new release date is Valentines weekend February 14th 2019.  “The New Mutants” on the other hand seems to have been pushed to late summer in August of 2019.  Two moves and evidently two different reasons.  According to an article over at popcorn-movie-party-entertainment.jpgCollider Fox’s decision to move “Dark Phoenix” was a strategic one, attempting to capitalize off the success of“Deadpool” (February 12th 2016) and “Logan” (March 3ed 2017).  It seems Fox believes there is a window in this early part of the year which is favorable to their comic book films.  Thus It makes sense they would want to put one of their anticipated X-Men spin offs somewhere in that slot.

According to Collider the news isn’t so good for “The New Mutants”.  Originally the film was set to debut on Friday April 13 which seemed to fit perfectly with the dark tone of the first teaser trailer.  However, reportedly the film is being shoved back because the studio isn’t happy with it.  Collider’s article mentions that Fox is egging for “The New Mutants” to be a scary horror film totally more in line with Logan then with the other “X-Men” movies.  The film as delivered by the director Josh Boone simply didn’t fit that bill.  As such Fox has ordered massive re-shoots to bring the film in line with their vision.  Now, it should be pointed out that re-shoots are rather common in Hollywood and can occur for a wide variety of reasons.  However, Collider is reporting that Fox executives are calling for half of “The New Mutants” to be re-shot and that is not normal.  It’s a time-consuming and messy affair to reassemble cast and crew which more than justifies the long delay.  So, the question is no longer why these films were delayed but what it means for them going forward and more importantly should we be concerned?

With “Dark Phoenix” there doesn’t seem to be much to be concerned about, I don’t think a move of three months is likely to hurt it.   In fact moving it away from the holidays and into a time that has been successful in recent years could be a net positive, which may end up benefiting the film.  However, I am deeply troubled by the news about “The New pexels-photo-274937.jpegMutants”.  I have said previously that I didn’t have a read on what it was going to be and it seems neither do the filmmakers over at Fox.  This has become a growing issue the past couple of years with high-profile stories surrounding disagreements between studio’s and directors.  Colin Trevorrow was pulled off “Star Wars Episode IX” when he ran into trouble with Lucas Film.  Likewise Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired from “Solo” partway through filming leading to extensive re-shoots under Ron Howard.  Then there’s “Justice League” where Director Zack Snyder stepped away for personal reasons and was replaced by Joss Whedon who wrote and directed some re-shoots.  Though Whedon received only a writing credit for his work.  In each of these cases the news signaled massive problems with production.  The issues with “Star Wars Episode IX” occurred early enough that it’s likely unaffected by the changes, it’s unclear yet how Solo has fared and “Justice League” is sadly a mess that cost WB at the box office.

All this aside, it sounds like Boone is still at the helm of “The New Mutants” but there’s no understating the significance of Fox’s move here.  It will cost the studio a lot to film half the movie over again not to mention the consternation and angst the bad PR has caused.  Maybe the execs at Fox are right, maybe there’s a huge audience for a mature Marvel horror film that will be well served by all this and in the end they will be vindicated.  But, let’s just say I am unconvinced.  These kinds of rifts between studios and directors don’t often end well.  Extensive reshoots lead to muddy films that lack a clear sense of identity, trapped between the disparate visions of different filmmakers.  I’m afraid “The New Mutants” may end up disappearing into Fox’s vault or being sold to Netflix for an unceremonious VOD release.  I’m happy to be proven wrong as I don’t like to see any film fail, but as it stands “The New Mutants” faces an uphill battle.

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While I applaud Fox’s attempts to build out the X-Men universe offering a range of styles that appeal to different audiences, they are going to need to keep tighter reign on these projects to make sure their visions and intension are clear from the beginning.  Otherwise they need to give creative control over to carefully selected directors.  This will help not only with the filmmaking process, but also on the other side of the screen with audiences who will know what they are paying for before they get to the box office.

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review

Pacific Rim: Uprising Reviewpacific rim uprising 3

Action, Sci-fi

Rated: PG-13 for Sci-fi violence and action, and some language

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

In 2013 The first “Pacific Rim” blended Japanese monster movies and mecha anime with western sci-fi.  It is a unique film that carried Director Guillermo del Toro’s signature weirdness.  It received tepid reaction from critics and a less than stellar box office performance taking in a little more than $100 million at the domestic box office.  It’s international cume was a good deal higher giving “Pacific Rim” a world-wide total of $400 million which was apparently good enough to earn a sequel.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is directed by writer producer Steven S. DeKnight who’s previous work includes Netflix’s “Daredevil”, “Smallville” the Showtime “Spartacus” series.  The script is co-written by DeKnight along with Kira Snyder (“The Handmaid’s Tale”, “The 100”)  and T.S. Nowlin (“The Maze Runner”).  It stars John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), Scott Eastwood (“Fate of the Furious”), and Tian Jing (“Kong Skull Island”).  It also features some returning cast members from the first film including Burn Gorman as Dr. Herman Gottlieb, Charlie Day as Newton Geiszler and Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” takes place ten years after the events of the first film.  Large portions of the world have recovered since the Kaiju threat was ended.  However, in the aftermath other nation states, countries and even individuals have been building their own versions of Jaeger robots.  Some are new with advanced technologies, others cobbled together from old destroyed mechs.  In this setting we meet Jake Pentecost the son of Stacker Pentecost Idris Elba’s character in the first film.  Jake’s less than reputable way of making a living lands him in hot water with the authorities.  He’s saved by an offer from Mako who asks him to return to the Jaeger program which he previously washed out of.  Jake isn’t thrilled by the prospect but everything changes by the return of an old enemy.

I’ll admit “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is a hard one to judge.  It’s easy to criticize it for being loud and bombastic with nonsensical action but it’s not trying to be anything more than that.  Building off the foundation of the original film “Uprising” still feels like a live action anime with heavy western influence.  Though without del Toro at the helm it looses some of the style that helped distinguish the first film.  “Uprising” forges its own identity and for better or worse it sticks to it.  The script does a good job acknowledging what came before but doesn’t allow itself to be weighed down by it.  The dialog has some good moments, it manages to pull off some decent idiosyncratic tech talk, but comedic banter between characters often falls a bit flat.  Part of this is weakness in the writing and part of it a lack of chemistry between the cast.

Pacific Rim Uprising box

The Cinematography is handled by Dan Mindel who was the Director of Photography for “The Cloverfield Paradox” earlier this year.  “Uprising” like Mindel’s other work is passable but nothing extraordinary.  It’s a brighter more colorful film then the first “Pacific Rim” which sets it apart but it’s still pretty standard fare for this kind of movie.  The special effects are a mixed bag of elements some of which work impressively well, but at some point the onslaught of digital destruction can’t hold up and shows itself for the visual trickery it is.  This is normal for films that are reliant on their CG effects and “Uprising” doesn’t even attempt to be coy about it.  As I said before it’s hard to fault the film too much because it’s a buy in you make going into the film.

I have two things I do fault “Uprising” for.  The first is a general lack of depth.  There isn’t much clarity on a host of plot points like why the Jaeger program continued after the Kaiju threat ended.  It’s also hard to imagine so much recovery happening in only a decade considering where we saw the world in the first film.  Much of this could have been fleshed out better to undergird the films logic.  In the first film the Kaiju and the Jaegers had a certain gravitas about them.  The war humanity faced and the cost of it had a weight that hung over the film.  That heaviness is absent in “Uprising” with sequences of vast destruction which are treated as part of the film’s aesthetic.  When a Jaeger intentionally uses large skyscrapers as weapons, tumbling four or five of them just to slow down a Kaiju, it’s hard to feel that there are any consequences to what’s happening on-screen.

The other point is that the film simply tries to do too much.  There are too many characters, sub plots and themes that “Uprising” attempts to juggle and it struggles to keep them all aloft.  None of them are developed deeply, which means there is little emotional investment in anything “Uprising” does.  It’s all showmanship and spectacle.  If that’s all you’re looking for then “Uprising” delivers, but it doesn’t have the human element del Toro’s original had.

“Pacific Rim: Uprising” isn’t a bad film. It builds on the original and offers some enjoyable mirth and mayhem but its lack of clarity and kitchen sink approach holds it back from being anything more than a quintessential dumb fun movie.

 

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

For more on the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

 

The Problem With: Days Gone

The Problem With: Days Gone

News | Opinion

Written by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Sony has a small number of first party Playstation studios which have long histories with really strong track records.  Naughty Dog is their most prominent and successful with titles like “Uncharted” and “The Last of Us”. Sony Santa Monica has been the engine behind the popular “God of War” franchise.  Then there’s Sony Bend who developed the long running Syphon Filter series in the late ’90’s and ended with the 2007 title “Logan’s Shadow”.  After that Bend released two Uncharted games on Playstation Vita “Golden Abyss” in 2011 and “Fight for Fortune” in 2012.  Bend hasn’t released a game since then.  During the almost five years of silence Sony swore the small studio was working on a game for the PS4.  Two years ago at E3 2016 Bend finally revealed their new game titled “Days Gone”, a post apocalyptic survival action game featuring zombie like enemies called Freakers.

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Since then Bend as shown off some gameplay demos featuring the graphical prowess of the game as well as the environmental effects engine.  Bend has stressed the non-scripted nature of the action saying encounters can take many different shapes depending on a number of factors.  It all seems impressive from the conceptual and technical sides but this game has me and many others concerned.  The problem, based on what we’ve seen and heard so far, “Days Gone” looks and feels like a derivative and generic action game coming at the tail end of a played out zombie craze.

Back when the people at Bend first started developing “Days Gone” things admittedly looked a little different.  AMC launched it’s hugely successful adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” comic in 2010,  Deep Silver’s popular first person survival action “Dead Island” hit in 2011, and then Naughty Dog changed the game with it’s masterpiece “The Last of Us” in 2013.  In this time a game like “Days Gone” would have likely found a huge audience and wide acceptance.  But it’s now 2018, “Dead Rising 4” flopped last year failing to meet Capcom’s expectations.  The ratings for “The Walking Dead” have been seriously declining over it’s 8th season.  Is it possible people are ready to move past the whole “zombie” thing?  Maybe, maybe not… not totally at least. “The Last of Us pt. 2” is still coming and likely to be another smash hit for Naughty Dog.  There will also still be special zombie modes tacked on to “Call of Duty” and “Red Dead Redemption 2” as they continue to be popular with fans.  There may also be a film or game that still finds a niche audience, so I don’t think genre fatigue is necessarily the biggest challenge “Days Gone” faces.

 

Thus far Bend has pretty much dedicated their focus on the impressive technical marks of their game.  But, sorely lacking has been a sense of identity especially as it relates to the game’s protagonist.  Deacon St. John is a blue jean and leather wearing biker who seems to be running from a past that continues to haunt him.  Their pushing Deacon as a John McClane style everyman who isn’t necessarily a hero or a villain.  Again this isn’t bad in concept but these kinds of characters are often dependent on the charisma of the actor portraying them.  For instance it was Bruce Willis that made John McClane a compelling character.  Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks also have on-screen presences that capture people’s attention lending credibility to the roles they play.   By contrast Deacon is played by Sam Witwer who isn’t a poor actor but so far what we’ve seen of him and Deacon simply doesn’t command the same kind of magnetism.  If anything Deacon has come across as a more youthful facsimile of Troy Baker’s Joel in “The Last of Us”.  This means that for now Deacon doesn’t stand out and isn’t yet compelling.  Likewise there’s not enough sense of what the narrative or theme is.  What’s makes the player want to be in this world?  What drives the exploration?  What is the big picture, the end game?  These are all questions Sony Bend need to answer before the game comes out because there’s one more problem that could kill this game before it even comes out…

Time.

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“Days Gone” premiered at Sony’s E3 press conference in June 2016.  It was supposed to be released this year but it was announced back near the beginning of March that the game would be delayed until sometime in 2019.  This will mark three full years from announcement to release leaving plenty of room for gamers to lose interest.  Without a strong showing at E3 gamers may simply not care by the time the game is released.  The proximity to “The Last of Us pt. 2” could also be an issue.  If “TLoU pt. 2” is a 2019 game as some believe that would make two survival/horror/action games featuring zombie like enemies releasing exclusively on PS4 in the same year.  Unless they’re spaced far enough apart these game could end up cannibalizing their own audiences and I doubt that’s something Sony wants to risk.

Don’t get me wrong I’m impressed with what I’ve seen from “Days Gone”.  The environments look beautiful.  The sheer size of the Freaker hoards the game engine can render at one time is amazing and potently frightening.  But good environments and fun gameplay aren’t the only ingredients that matter.  I believe it’s possible this delay is so Bend can address some of the issues I’ve laid out here.  From what we’ve seen the technical mechanics of the game are fairly solid and with the failure of “Mass Effect: Andromeda” for some similar reasons it would be understandable if Bend wanted to take time to add polish to the stories and characters that will populate the game.  For whatever the reasons “Days Gone” already faces its share of problems that it will have to overcome to find success.  Only time will tell if it will be able to, so stay connected to The Glitch and I’ll have updates as we learn more about “Days Gone”.

Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider Tomb Raider poster place holder

Action, Adventure

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language.

Review by Benjamin Ferrarini

Let’s get this out of the way up front, aside from some of the names this film has little connection to the Angelina Jolie led Tomb Raider films of the early 2000’s.  This film is actually an adaptation of Crystal Dynamic and Square Enix’s 2013 video game by the same name.   The screenplay is adapted by Geneva Robertson-Dworet who is also working on Marvel’s upcoming “Captan Marvel” film.  Joining Robertson-Dworet in the writing duties is Alastair Siddons who wrote the 2016 indy “Trespass Against Us”.  It’s directed by Norwegian director Roar Uthaug who, aside from having an incredible name, is known for his 2015 film “The Wave”.

“Tomb Raider” stars Alicia Vikander who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in “The Danish Girl”.  Vikander plays the iconic heroin Lara Croft.  She’s joined by Dominic West (“The Wire”) who plays Lara’s father Richard Croft.  As well as Walter Goggins (“Justified”) playing Mathias Vogel and Daniel Wu as Lu Ren a friend and ally of Lara’s.

In this incarnation Lara Croft is a young woman living in London struggling to make ends meet as she dithers in her personal life unable to move forward after the disappearance of her father seven years prior.  However, Lara comes across some information indicating her father took off for Yamati, a remote island off the coast of Japan.  Lara retraces her father’s footsteps and winds up shipwrecked on Yamati.  There she finds a group of violent mercenaries who are searching the island for an ancient tomb.  Lara tries to find the truth behind the myth and mystery of all this while surviving against the mercenaries who don’t care who they hurt to accomplish their goal.

It’s a sad fact that films based on video games don’t turn out all that well.  Before “Tomb Raider” the highest rated film based on a game “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” holds only a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes.  For this reason “Tomb Raider” already faces an uphill battle with critics and fans who’s low expectations and repeated disappointments have jaded them against the whole genre.  That said Tomb Raider is a cut above with a film that avoids many of the pitfalls that beset those that came before.

Tomb Raider fun fact quote box

First and foremost they know where to put the emphasis of this movie letting Vikander and West carry the film on their more then capable shoulders.  Vikander especially does her best to balance Lara’s bravery with her vulnerability.  Goggins does a good job as the films villain, unfortunately he’s not given enough time or character development to be the intimidating force he should be.  Secondly the films narrative does it’s best to stay more grounded then most video game movies.  The plot develops in a naturalistic way that builds on itself and is utterly followable.  This adaptation lays aside some of the supernatural elements opting for something more sensible and grounded.  That is to say the action isn’t big and bombastic and it doesn’t overwhelm the film.  It also attempts to build Lara up to the action heroine she’s known to be.  A fight sparing scene and a bike race early in the first act shows she’s not afraid of fighting or taking risks but on the island her transition from flight to fight occurs too quickly.  Lara goes from reluctantly killing a mercenary in a struggle for her life to running through an enemy camp shooting arrows into people’s chests ten minutes later.  It’s a bit jarring even with the semblance of motivation the film tries to give her.

I do give “Tomb Raider” some credit for it’s attempts at building character and motivation.  It’s always clear why Lara is doing the things she is even if those reasons could have carried more resonance.  It’s a more human take on the character giving Lara a personal stake in her adventure.  Lara’s quest is to find answers to her father’s disappearance, not fortune and treasure.  It adds some relatability and element of drama though this too is underdeveloped.  It works in a minimalist way but doesn’t evoke the kind of emotion it should.

Tomb Raider’s two biggest flaws however lie in it’s villain and it’s third act.  First the chief antagonist Mathias Vogel is a cookie cutter baddie who’s just a proxy of the shadowy Trinity Organization.  Vogel has little agency of his own declaring more then once that he only does what he’s told.  This may have been an attempt to make Vogel more sympathetic but he carries a cruel menace, doing things like gunning down innocents, which keeps any pity from materializing.  It also prevents him from being compelling.  His directives aren’t his own and his singular motivation doesn’t warrant half the actions we see him take.  Walter Goggins does his best with what he’s given but there’s not enough for him to make it work effectively.

Second the third act of the film is arguably one of its weakest element.  The rushed climax gives way to an over long denouement which only serves as sequel bait.  In fact the final ten minutes or so of this film lay bare the filmmakers intent for “Tomb Raider” to serve as an origin story with hopes it will turn into a franchise.  There’s no doubt an obligatory sequel is already being planned which makes this film little more then an long advertisement for the next.  They could have cut the final ten minutes of the film and spent them better on developing this film with its plot and characters.

The biggest compliment I can levy at this film is that it stands on its own pretty well.  Even if you’ve no knowledge of the “Tomb Raider” games, if you’ve never seen or even heard of them you could go into this film and not miss a thing.   It’s a fairly generic action film but it holds together well enough to be enjoyable.  However, some significant flaws hold “Tomb Raider” back form being truly great.

 

New 4 stars
Final Score: 4 Stars

 

For more information about the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

The End of the Beginning: Shadow of the Tomb Raider Reveal

The End of the Beginning: Shadow of the Tomb Raider Reveal

New | Opinion

By: Benjamin Ferrarini

My review for the new Tomb Raider film adaptation is coming soon but until then there’s news on a related front.  Crystal Dynamics has officially announced the next entry into their wildly popular rebooted Tomb Raider video game series, “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”.  Crystal mentioned back in December they would be making an announcement in 2018.   On March 15 they made good on that promise revealing the game with a sparse teaser trailer and a release date of September 14th 2018.

 

 

Their website also says a full reveal of the game will take place next month on April 27.  However, there’s enough in what little information Crystal has provided to give us some ideas.  The teaser trailer depicts a solar eclipse and Lara coming across what appears to be Mayan pyramids.  This presumably means at least part of Lara’s next adventure will take place in Mexico or Central America and include a plot involving Mayan or possibly Aztec myths.   The first of the reboot Tomb Raider leaned heavily on the supernatural with a story about a fanatical cult and an immortal Japanese Queen.   The second game “Rise of the Tomb Raider” focused on Lara’s search for an artifact that supposedly grants eternal life.  Given the themes these games I’ve no doubt this will continue in “Shadow of the Tomb Raider”.  Additionally the Mayan’s in particular are known to have developed some advanced astronomical theories.   They were able to track and predict solstices as well as when eclipses would occur.  Such events were apart of Mayan rituals and prophecies.  So the game may very will include some of those elements as well.

SHadow of the Tomb Raider quote box

Other interesting tidbits, Crystal has promised this will be a “defining adventure” for Lara and the it will be “Climatic finale of Lara’s origin story.”  It’s unclear what this means for their future plans for the franchise but it’s important to note this will be Crystal Dynamics’ sixth Tomb Raider game since they released “Tomb Raider Legend” in April of 2006.  It wouldn’t be surprising if the team at Crystal decided to take a break from the franchise after completing this trilogy, but time will tell.

Interestingly enough the name of this game was reportedly leaked back in 2016 when a cellphone picture surfaced of a game developer working on a project file on his laptop while riding the subway.  Since then Crystal and Square have been tight lipped about the game.  In their post back in December they stated out of consideration for their fans they wanted a short time between the official announcement and the release of the game.  I’ll keep you updated as more information comes out, especial after the full reveal in April as well as it’s possible presents at E3 in June.

Jessica Jones Season 2 Episode 2 “AKA Freak Accident” Review

Jessica Jones Season 2 Episode 2 “AKA Freak Accident”jessica jones s2 e2 place holder

Action, Drama, Comic Book

Rated: TV-MA for violence, language, some sexuality

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

The following review contains spoilers for “AKA Freak Accident”.

In the second episode of season two every plot line gets advanced to some extent or another.  It also reintroduces a season one character and answers who has been stalking Trish.  It is written by AÏda Mashaka Croal who has worked on Netfix’s “Luke Cage” and AMC’s “Turn”.  This episode is directed by Minkie Spiro who served as director on “Downton Abby”, “Call the Midwife” and a couple of episodes of “Better Call Saul” which shows off Netflix’s stated commitment to feature female writers and directors on the show.  While most of the developments work there are a couple, one in particular, that doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose.

First off we rejoin Jessica dealing with the memories brought on by finding the old IGH facility and by dealing of course I mean drinking and breaking things.  This is par for Jessica’s character however, her hook up with the random guy seemed a little extreme even for her.  It’s all to demonstrate her mood and mental state but they may be going to unnecessary extremes here.  The revelation that Kozlov is already dead seemed like a missed opportunity.  Dr. Kozlov was a mysterious force in the first season using and manipulating Simpson.  Having him be the focus for part of the season could have worked especially with the reemergence of Simpson in this episode.  However, continuing with the premise that something is stalking and killing people connected to IGH makes sense and  it does build some measure of suspense.  Especially now that Trish has inserted herself into the mix.

“AKA Freak Accident” doesn’t pull it’s punches in delving deeper into Trish’s tragic background.  In the first season there were implications as to the things Trish’s mother did to push her daughter’s career but now those vague generalities have a face and name.  Having Trish face Max Tatum again demonstrates her commitment to helping Jessica and also shows off more of Trish’s masochistic tendencies.  James McCaffrey does a great job playing Tatum with a perfect level of creepiness that makes him instantly dislikable.  The writers on this show consistently play with themes of having distasteful characters be important gatekeepers the main characters have to deal with to reach their goals.  Much like Hogarth did in the first season.

The Glitch quote box

Speaking of Hogarth her side plot also gets some play but in a way that doesn’t actually have any immediate benefits.  Showing her in a state of shock after receiving her mystery diagnosis makes sense but her drunken drug binge with New York prostitutes was a bit much. Of course this tryst could come back to haunt Hogarth later on as Pryce Cheng saw just enough to make life difficult for her.  However, barring such a development this scene just seemed needless and it doesn’t do a whole to make Hogarth a character we can invest in.  This season may in part be about Hogarth’s downfall and how it affects her character and if that is the case they will need to do more to make us care about her or her redemption won’t feel earned.

Some good things in this episode were in Jessica’s following up on The Whizzer’s case after his death.  Learning he had reached out to Trish and perhaps knew more than if first seemed helped give more fuel for Jessica’s investigation and added to Trish’s motivations.  The police coming after Jessica and the ensuing clash with her new Building Super was a bit of manufactured drama which kept the stakes up.   Again I hope these elements will amount to more then filler but we’ll have to wait and see.

My biggest disappointment with this episode was how it handled Simpson’s character.  His reveal as the hooded stalker was done well and Trish and Jessica’s unease about him felt appropriate.  Wil Traval does an excellent job bringing Simpson back giving the character enough ambiguity that it was hard to know whether to trust him or not.  However, there was so much potential to having Simpson around that killing him off so quickly was a disservice to his character.  Yes it goes to how lethal their new adversary is, but that point has already been made and Simpson deserved another shot at being a hero beyond a dismissive sacrifice.  It also muddies the water when it comes to intent.  Why would the assassin ignore them?  If neither Trish nor Jessica are targets then did Sampson sacrifice himself for nothing?  The answers to these questions are hopefully forthcoming soon, the show has some ground to make up for.

Episode Two “AKA Freak Accident” is over all solid as it does advance the important plots and add new complications.  Despite a puzzling focus on everyone shacking up it’s a decent continuation into the show’s second season.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

Spoiler Free review for episode 1 HERE

For more on the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

A Wrinkle in Time Review

A Wrinkle in TimeA wrinkle in time place holder

Fantasy, Adventure

Rated: PG for thematic elements and some peril

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Disney’s latest foray into the realm of fantasy adventure, “A Wrinkle in Time”, is based on a classic children’s book by author Madeleine L’Engle.  First published in 1962 “A Wrinkle in Time” is the first part in what’s known as L’Engle’s “Time Quintet”.  A series of five books centering on the adventures of the Murry family across time, space, and dimensions.  L’Engle’s books have been long celebrated providing inspiration for other fantasy stories and, according to NPR, L’Engles work has also inspired real life scientists and mathematicians.

This adaptation is directed by Ava DuVernay, who directed 2014’s “Selma” which earned an Oscar nomination for best picture.  Handling the script adaptation is Jennifer Lee who wrote the breakout hit “Frozen” and Jeff Stockwell who wrote the big screen adaptation of “Bridge to Terabithia”.  It stars Storm Reid (“12 years a Slave”), Levi Miller (“Pan”), Oprah Winfrey (“The Color Purple”), Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”) , and Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”).

The film centers on the main character Meg Murry who is having trouble coping with the disappearance of her father played by Chris Pine (“Star Trek”).  Meg is acting out in school, getting into fights, and letting her grades slip.  Her descent into delinquency is halted when she and her little brother Charles Wallace come into contact with a classmate, Calvin, and three mysterious ladies.  Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which known collectively as the Misses.  The three etherial ladies catapult the kids on a journey to find Meg’s father and to stop the dark powerful force that is holding him hostage.

The novel “A Wrinkle in Time” blends elements of fantasy, science fiction and spirituality into an unique and compelling narrative.  While this adaptation keeps a few of the original’s elements it simplifies some and completely ignores others.  As a result the film is unbalanced in its presentation lacking the depth it should have.  The plot jumps around only staying in one place long enough to cover the most basic exposition before galavanting on to the next scene.  It’s enough to keep you from feeling lost but doesn’t push any boundaries.  It also doesn’t allow for enough meaningful character growth which would help us identify with and invest in these characters.  This isn’t helped by the uneven performances of the cast.  Storm Reid carries the weight of the film with surprising deftness.  She is believable as the self conscious and troubled Meg.  Levi Miller is great as Meg’s new friend Calvin unfortunately he’s underutilized as Calvin isn’t given enough to do.  Charles Wallace was always going to be a tough roll to cast.  Deric Miler does an adequate job playing Charles Wallace in the moments when he’s little more then a child but can’t quite carry the authority needed to pull off the precocious and hyper intelligence the character is supposed to have.  The rest of the cast is solid enough except for Winfrey who comes off playing herself.

The most praise worthy elements of this film are the visuals, the cinematography and special effects.  The former is handled by Tobias Schliessler who previously worked on Disney’s live action “Beauty and the Beast”.  Schliessler does an excellent job with wide sweeping camera work that sells the scope and majesty of each setting.  For instance the fields and mountains of the planet Uriel are breathtaking.  Likewise the special effects bring the various worlds and creatures to life with beautiful renderings of L’Engle’s work.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the majesty and wonder as the kids fly on the back of a mythical creature through the skies of Uriel.

The rest of the film isn’t up to the same standard.  The score attempts to build strongly on emotion but the performances and substance just isn’t there to support it.  It’s obvious what the film wants you to feel but it simply doesn’t convey it.  This is a problem especially as the film goes into the final act.  What should be a momentous build to the film’s climax feels more like a slog as it plods to a predictable end.  There’s little reason to be invested in these characters who aren’t developed enough to stand above the fog of genre fatigue.

There are too many elements that don’t quite feel right.  For instance the three Misses should be wise and sagely guides but end up being little more then good intentioned, but bumbling, cheerleaders.  A message that appears to be about good vs evil comes  across as a watered down inspirational message about the power of believing in yourself.  It’s humdrum filler pressed into an impressive wrapper which results in “A Wrinkle in Time” being mediocre and almost boring.

In the end “A Wrinkle in Time” trades away it’s best elements for a trite attempt at inspiration.  The visuals are engaging, but there’s little else there and as such the film lacks depth which will keep it from having the lasting impact L’Engle’s book has achieved.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

For more on the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

Jessica Jones Season 2 Episode 1 Spoiler Free Review

Jessica Jones Season 2 Episode 1 “AKA Start at the Beginning”Jessica Jones s2 e1 place holder

Action, Drama, Comic Book

Rated: TV-MA for violence, language and suggestive material

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

Season one of Jessica Jones followed the break out success of Netflix’s Daredevil show.  It push boundaries with material that was darker and more mature but with its own swagger and style which was largely due to Krysten Ritter’s performance as the titular Jessica Jones.  Ritter was flanked by a strong cast of stellar characters who managed to carry the show through some overly dramatic theatrics that at times verged on being to try hard.  This made for a competent and successful first season and left no doubt that show would return.

Now season two has dropped on Netflix promising more dark revelations and brutal developments as they explore the aftermath of season one while also delving into Jessica’s murky past.

Following is a spoiler free review of the first episode “AKA Start at the Beginning.”

Picking up a few months after the conclusion of the first season Jessica is back to ignoring and drowning her problems while taking cases to keep herself going.  But she may not be able to continue her avoidance since Trish, played by Rachel Taylor,  is determined to push Jessica to confront mysteries in her past.  Other characters return as well such as Jessica’s neighbor Malcom played by Eka Darville and the morally askew lawyer Hogarth played by Carry Ann Moss.  In addition Terry Chen joins the cast as a new character Pryce Cheng a rival PI who’s intent on moving in on Jessica’s territory.

This first episode is directed by Anna Foerster the director of “Underworld: Blood Wars” as well as a few episodes of Starz’s “Outlander”.  Foerster also worked as a cinematographer on Roland Emmerich’s Shakespeare drama “Anonymous”. It is written by Melissa Rosenberg who previously worked on Showtime’s “Dexter” and the “Twilight” films.  The show has retained it’s cool color palate utilizing a lot of blues.  This time around the cinematography is handled by Manuel Billeter who worked on “Person of Interest” for ABC and Netflix’s“Luke Cage”.  The camera work and art direction convey the same sense of grim reality in which Jessica lives.  It’s adequate but as with the first season doesn’t push the bar the way the cinematography in Daredevil has.

 

Over all “AKA Start at the Beginning” is a solid return to the world of Jessica Jones.  It not only re-acquaints us with Jessica but also with the other people in her orbit.  There is a rather significant amount of time spent with characters like Hogarth who look to have her own side plot this season.  It’s an interesting inclusion as the subplot with Hogarth’s wife ended up being an unnecessary and forced part of the first season.  Hogarth is a contentious character and I’m not sure if there’s enough investment to warrant her own narrative thread.  It’s possible what ever the writers have planned will play some part in the main plot or it may end up as little more than filler.

On the other end it was great to see Malcom working with Jessica.  Malcom was one of the few characters who actually ended in a better place then he began in season one, so it’s nice that his growth in continuing here.  Likewise Trish’s character looks to be central to this season as, at least in this first episode, she is one of the driving forces pushing Jessica out of her alcohol induced stupor.

However, I do have an issue with this episode that is one of consistency.  Thus far Netflix has done a decent job of keeping a tenuous connection between it’s various Marvel shows.  Each built on foundations laid down by the others.  Aside from a common element or two each show maintained its independence while at the same time feeling as if they took place in the same world.  However, this new season of Jessica Jones muddies the water a bit.  Taking the events of “AKA Start at the Beginning” as a direct continuation from the season one finale works well enough, however that would neglect that the events of “Marvel’s The Defenders” falls between season one and two.  The Jessica Jones we saw in “The Defenders” is a bit different from the one we meet here and none of the events from that show came to bear in this episode.  Is “The Defenders” cannon to the Jessica Jones universe or is it a one off that doesn’t directly connect?  Whatever the answer it does constitute a breakdown in what’s been, until now, a pretty consistent pattern.

Despite this “AKA Start at the Beginning” quickly establishes it’s main plot with plenty of mystery and intrigue.  As before, most of the show rests on Ritter’s shoulders which works both for and against it.  For it, if you find Jessica a compelling character and against if you don’t connect with her or find her too abrasive.  For now I’ll say this episode provides a strong start with lots of potential.

 

New 4 stars
Final Score: 4 Stars

For more information about the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

Altered Carbon Episode Ten “The Killers ” Review

Altered Carbon Episode Ten “The Killers ”Altered Carbon s1 ep10 place holder

Action, Sci-fi, Streaming

Rated: TV-MA for Strong violence, language and graphic nudity.

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

This review contains spoilers for Altered Carbon Episode Ten.

Everything comes to a head with more action, more revelations and of course more nudity in the final episode of “Altered Carbon” season one.

Continuing right on from the last episode it was quickly apparent that Rei’s twisted tale was the truth.  It was also obvious Rei had no intention of going quietly.  Kovacs plan to force her surrender wasn’t going to work.  Even bereft of her clones and her backups Rei wasn’t deterred in her goal of turning Kovacs to her side.  It’s disappointing they didn’t do more with Rei’s character.  There’s little connection between the girl in Kovacs’ flashbacks and the monster she is now.  Rei essentially became the Patchwork Man from their childhood stories taking on different sleeves and preying on the weak.  Sadly her motivations are too broad and ambiguous to be compelling.  It may have helped if they had given more time between her and Kovacs before revealing her to be the villain.  As it is there just isn’t enough there to feel pity for her.

Rei’s ability to trace the hack of her system back to the Raven was an improbable development given she destroyed the transmitter.  However,  they obviously wanted to gather everyone in one place for the finale.  This was important as it allowed for the various characters and story threads to find their resolution but, as predicted the pace of the show sped up to accommodate those goals at the expense of story logic.

While I was wrong about the timing of Lizzie’s arrival at Head in the Clouds she did end up there which gave her the opportunity to show of her new-found fighting abilities.  Though her nascent prophetic abilities were suddenly absent in this episode with no further explanation.  It’s a bit anticlimactic  for such a compelling element to be introduced only to abandoned  so quickly.   Regardless however, it was great to see the Eliot’s reunited in the real world again.  Likewise Ortega getting to face off against Leung allowed her to get some justice for her family.  Even Prescott and Captain Tanaka were allowed a moment of quasi redemption as they took a stand against Rei and the other Meths.

I have to take a moment to address my disappointment with how Ortega’s character ended up.  We saw in episode nine that Leung was psychologically torturing her by making her relive the massacre of her family over and over again in VR.  Yet when Kovacs wakes her in this episode she seems to be suffering very little effects from what she’s endured.  As with other times something that felt like it should have had more long-lasting impact was glossed over and replaced with opportunities for her to throw her weight around.  If being tortured wasn’t going to have any effect then once again I question it’s inclusion.

Further I don’t like how the show left Ortega.  I mentioned previously she had the makings of a strong character but they weren’t doing enough to build her up.  The later episodes started to address this but the finale leaves her with her close loved ones murdered waiting for her ex-boyfriend to return to her.  This isn’t a just end for her and weakens what should have been a more robust conclusion to her arc.  Being able to dish out and take a lot of physical punishment while swearing like a sailor does not a strong character make.  Ortega never rises above where her character starts which is a huge waste of potential especially given the strength of Martha Higareda’s performance.

A couple other positive elements.  Poe’s death was appropriately tragic and sacrificial as he was able to protect Lizzie one last time.  Chris Conner is one of the stand out stars of this season and Poe nearly stole the show.

The Bancroft’s downfall was also nicely handled as it was their own hubris and miss deeds that did them in.  It worked to thread the shows themes through by showing even if we were to live for hundreds of years human nature still can’t be escaped.

Lastly the revelation that Quell was backed up and that her digital copy is out there somewhere wasn’t as big a bombshell as it could have been.  How Rei could have pulled off this task without Quell knowing has it’s own problems but such a development had to happen to give Kovacs a new mission, a reason to keep going.

Taken all together the conclusion to “Altered Carbon’s” first season has a lot of good points as it rounds out the plot lines and leaves adequate room for another season should Netflix decide to continue it.  However, the accelerated pace meant sacrificing plot points that deserved more time and some characters aren’t allowed the resolutions that would have allowed them to grow in meaningful ways.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

Review for Episode 9 HERE

Review for Episode 8 HERE

Review for Episode 7 HERE

Review for Episode 6 HERE

Review for episode 5 HERE

Review for episode 4 HERE

Review for episode 3 HERE

Review for episode 2 HERE

Spoiler Free review for episode 1 HERE

For more on the ratings please see our ABOUT page.