BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE REVIEW

I remember the immense hype at Comic-Con 2013 when they first showed the Batman/Superman logo. The only thing that could match it was the unveiling of the Age of Ultron, but even then BVS completely overtook the film world. The two characters are some of the oldest in comics and two of the greatest heroes in the genre. Both have enjoyed success on the big screen, though Batman more so. The two have united in many cartoons, most notably in the legendary World’s Finest three-parter. (Which was collected as the Batman/Superman Movie, a must have if you haven’t seen it!) A film starring the two had been in development, but eventually fell through. With 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, DC started their version of a cinematic universe. DAWN OF JUSTICE is perhaps the decade’s most awaited film crossover, and rightly so. It’s almost surreal watching the two together on the big screen, but is the story surrounding the encounter good? Well, here’s the thing: it’s not written that well but if you’re a comic fan it’s certainly an event.

We now live in a world where we can see Batman dodging blows from Doomsday on the big screen. Twenty years ago this kind of stuff was the subject of fan fictions. Seeing Batman in his Dark Knight Returns armor throwing Superman around makes the film worth the price of admission alone. The film’s incredible climax however doesn’t negate the mediocre writing found throughout. (Mostly in the first half.) Also all of the trailers and marketing made it seem like that this was going to be an all-out action movie. The film surprisingly doesn’t have any real fight scenes for the first hour & a half. The two characters meet up at the halfway mark in a well written sequence, but the reason why we’re coming down to watch this, as Lex Luthor puts it: “the greatest gladiator match in the history of mankind” doesn’t happen until the climax. The film went the route of having a lot of exposition, and then making the climax one action sequence after another. I think the formula of having a couple of scattered fight scenes and then one big one an the end is better than what Dawn of Justice did.

Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Fight-Heat-Vision

Going into the film I thought a probable negative would be that it’s trying to be too many things. On the onset it’s being a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman reboot, and a Justice League setup. The film actually does a good job with these without feeling overloaded. I do think it was a mistake of marketing to announce all the cameos and updates on the League film, because it would have been far better to see them without the prior knowledge in mind. At the core, this is a Batman/Superman story with a cool appearance from Wonder Woman. But as I said, the writing isn’t spectacular, and when compared to a film like THE DARK KNIGHT, it looks pale in comparison.

I thought Henry Cavill was very solid as Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel. His appearance here was pretty good, but there are quite a few questionable scenes, which is more due to the writing. For one thing in the India sequence there’s a very empty death and then Superman comes out of nowhere to help Lois. Why couldn’t he have come a few moments earlier? I’m also not a fan of the line, “No one stays good in this world.” These type of lines characters like Captain America and Superman should never be found saying. Another thing is that after a major explosion sequence, Superman disappears, instead of saying something. It’s only natural that the people would assume the worst in this case. Superman’s portrayal wasn’t bad, but certainly could have been a lot better. He is an icon of hope, but the film chose not to utilize this major aspect of the character. Instead it decided to take a more political look at what Superman means to the world at this point in time. I do find this aspect intriguing, and it’s neither overplayed nor underplayed. I just wish the hopeful aspect of his character was a factor, but it’s sadly not. At the very least, Clark Kent’s portrayal was spot on, much like the version from the classic Adventures of Superman days.

The film smartly shows the climatic  Man of Steel fight scene with Superman and Zod from another perspective: Bruce Wayne’s. Not only does this give us our first look at why Batman grows to dislike Superman, but we also see that intense battle from the people’s point of view. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was a shocking choice for most at first, but by the time the film started to roll around people began to accept it, and even happily anticipate it. Affleck portrayed an older Batman very well, and I’m eager to see him in his own solo film. The reasoning used for Batman’s justification of ending Superman is interesting, (if there’s even a slight chance someone with all that power could turn against us) but can be hypocritical when you consider that there’s at least two instances where Batman himself kills people. With his expertise and gadgets, he could equally be a menace and thus could use his own logic on himself.

Batman-v-Superman-Trailer-Affleck-Batsuit

Lex Luthor is no stranger to the live action world, appearing in almost every Superman film to date. Jessie Eisenberg brings something different to the table. He’s definitely a good actor, but as Luthor the writing went a little too crazy. He was basically the only comic relief of the film, but it was more bizarre than genuinely funny. The conversation he had with Finch in his house was so terribly written I had to question what the writers were thinking. A lot of his lines are unrealistic, and there’s this strange scene where he feeds a Jolly Rancher to a senator…and the latter just stands there! The writing then throws us this one-sentence backstory on why he hates Superman, which is out of left field. This version of Luthor is far different than the iconic one we’ve seen in the 90’s Animated Series. I don’t think anyone would dispute that’s the Luthor we would have rather seen. Honestly the best thing about this incarnation was the King Kong shirt he was wearing earlier in the movie.

As expected, Gal Gadot didn’t appear too much as Wonder Woman, but when she did she completely nailed the role. Her big intro scene is one of the film’s highlights.  Amy Adams as Lois Lane wasn’t bad in Man of Steel. What was bad was the completely tacked-on romance at the end. (There was no build up to it at all.) At least here the romance feels organic. Her role as hardcore journalist, damsel, and encourager is identical to the comics, and Amy plays each of these parts well.

Even though the first half has some mediocre writing and odd scenes (the Batman dream sequence was rather long) there’s certainly things to like too. Superman overhearing Bruce’s secret conversation with Alfred was classic comic book fare. The Batmobile sequence was also one of the best car chase scenes in recent history. The references to the Joker were fantastic. Now, obviously the best part of the film is the actual confrontation between the two characters. Director Zack Snyder set a precedent in Man of Steel of how comic book fight scenes with characters like these should be done. As expected, the fight here is more down to earth, but this isn’t a bad thing. The battle is satisfying and the choreography is excellent. One forgets the mediocre writing from here on out until the credits start to roll.

The way the fight scene comes about however is a little questionable. If Superman had revealed right away what was going on, the battle could have been avoided. But predictably Superman doesn’t directly say the reason why he’s there, instead letting the battle happen. Then afterward things turn around unnaturally fast. One of the most unexpected aspects  of the film was throwing in Doomsday. Once again, it was a mistake unveiling him before the film came out. (Imagine being in the theater and hearing the word Doomsday without having the prior knowledge.) The monster made for a nice final conflict. Still, he’s worthy of his own movie, not being thrown into the final 20 minutes of one. The soundtrack is very solid. There are a lot of standout themes, such as the one which played during the Batmobile sequence and Wonder Woman’s emergence. There are some questionable themes however, such as the out of place early Lex Luthor one.

batman-v-superman-image-42

Overall, DAWN OF JUSTICE is an event film, but not a greatly written one. There are numerous parts of the film that just weren’t done very well. (Keefe not knowing who Luthor is for example was pretty farfetched.) The actual conflict between the two characters doesn’t disappoint however. (There’s even a clear winner.) Zack Snyder still directs the best fight scenes to be put on a comic book book film. Ben Affleck as Batman is definitely a primary highlight, delivering an iconic portrayal of the character. Superman is more on the mixed side. His character was on point in Man of Steel, but seems to have regressed a bit here. The story progression was also better in that film. Here the major confrontation is saved for almost last. It’s an interesting formula, but the questionable writing and the cringe-worthy Lex Luthor takes away from the first half. Even though this paragraph sounds negative, the film is still engaging and despite not having many fight scenes, it’s never actually boring. Wonder Woman was great and the ending was completely shocking. With better handling of the story the film could have been a masterpiece.

7/10

Advertisements

An Easter Devotional

 

I was at a church in Manhattan last year on Easter. The reason why I bring this up is because the pastor made a statement I found interesting.

He believed that the greatest symbol in Christianity wasn’t the Cross, but the Empty Tomb.

As Easter begins, I can’t help but think about why the Resurrection is the greatest event in the course of history. That’s not to say the Cross isn’t of equal importance, because it is. I think of it as two sides of a coin. Without the Empty Tomb, the Cross wouldn’t matter. And without the Cross, the Tomb wouldn’t matter.

If Jesus never suffered death on the Cross, then His resurrecting wouldn’t mean anything for us today. Likewise, if He had not been resurrected, then the Crucifixion also wouldn’t matter as much. The Death on the Cross is monumental because here was a righteous man, condemned for no justifiable reason. He only did good, yet suffered an agonizing death which every other person deserved. As it says in Romans, For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For us today, we see the Cross as a symbol for something we deserved. We can go on saying how great of a people we are but when it comes down to it, are we really all that good? Have we not lied, hated, and lusted at some point? Yet here was Jesus, never doing one of these things, but He was taking the punishment. How unfathomable it is that God would make Himself mortal and die such a painful death, for imperfect human beings!

Before Easter is Good Friday. A person might ask: how is it that a person dying be called a good day? We would find out Sunday. Why is the Resurrection so important and vital to us today? Well, first off any person can die that death. But no human can conquer death. Jesus performed many miracles during his stay on Earth, but none greater than He himself coming back from the dead. Only God has that power. For many, this completely sealed the fact that He was indeed the Bread of Life, God Himself. That’s the first reason, and the second is also very important. His Resurrection means that those whom are children of He will also be resurrected. We too conquer death, because He did. What an awesome revelation!

I like bunnies as much as the next person, but the true meaning of Easter represents so much more. The Old Testament consistently mentions about God’s plan for redeeming humankind through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. From the end of the book of John forward the New Testament consistently calls back to it and also the fact that Christ ascended to Heaven. These two events are so important because they give us the greatest thing: salvation. I’m reminded of the verse Hebrews 7:25 as I’m typing this.

“Therefore he is able to save forever those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

What a great verse to put in our hearts. When we come to God through Christ, he saves us completely. He doesn’t save us partially, no, He saves us 100%. That’s why Easter is a day to be celebrated: Christ died and was resurrected so we could live a meaningful life, which would lead to spending eternity with Him. To accept His gift is the greatest decision a person can make.

Happy Easter everyone!

Pokkén Tournament Review

Pokkén is a concept I’ve always wanted to see in the Pokemon series. The games are famous for their turn based gameplay which has endured over 30 years since Red came out, but it’s always great to see different takes on a series. Zelda jumped into the beat ’em up genre with Hyrule Warriors recently and Sonic had Sonic the Fighters. While turn-based will always be the staple of Pokemon, I’m thrilled to see an installment with a more intense backdrop. For the first time we can see the Pokemon not subdued by trainer commands and battle it out like Digimon. Tournament takes the Tekken engine and puts a really unique spin on it. Like Super Smash Bros., this is a game that is simple enough for anyone to enjoy but is also very technical for those who enjoy competitive play.

Since Pokken is inspired by Tekken’s gameplay, it has more in common with Street Fighter than Smash Bros. On the onset the player can have fun just button mashing in local play. But once you play competitively with people that know what they’re doing, things get truly interesting. One can see that a lot of thought was put into the fighting mechanics and character movesets. Grabs negate shields and counterattacks goes through just about all others. Then there’s the excellent use of support Pokemon. The large amount of choices there from Fennekin to Eevee are impressive. “Synergy” has the ability to change the momentum of the match and secure a win. The split second strategies one has to come up with are never ending in this fantastic gameplay.

Let’s jump into the fighters. Pokken grabs characters from all throughout the generations. The game features 16 of them. Now this wouldn’t be a bad number if they were just the starters. But this is all the game features, which is disappointing. The only two unlockables are both Mewtwos. In a world where Smash Bros. can start with over 30 characters, we shouldn’t be seeing such a low amount from such a rich universe as Pokemon. (Since the game originally appeared in arcades is probably the reason for this, which in that case more characters could have been developed for the Wii U port.)

Pikachu-Libre-pokken-tournament-39221244-290-262

The actual roster ranges from fantastic to questionable. We know the greats (Charizard, Blaziken, and Pikachu for example) but one has to imagine how we got Chandelure and not say Blastoise. (When you look at the cast as a whole, there is a severe lack of water types and an overabundance of fire types.) Pikachu Libre at first was a bizarre inclusion. I was annoyed in the beginning because clones shouldn’t exist in a franchise where there’s hundreds of characters to choose from. Libre however has a completely different moveset than Pikachu, so I must give props to Bandai Namco for not taking the easy way out. Libre in this case is welcome, although I think it would have been better if she had been Raichu instead. (That way we get a new character and representation for the criminally underrated Pikachu third form.) Each of the movesets are diverse and you’ll have fun trying each one out whether it be for fun or seeking to find your main for competitive play.

Another annoyance with having so few characters is that in the game’s single player mode one is going to be battling the same Pokemon multiple times. This is one of the reasons that makes Ferrum League sometimes boring to get through. The League, while nothing outstanding, at least gives something for the single player to do offline. The opening tournaments are incredibly easy, and the difficulty goes up during the third one. This mode is often not that exciting sadly and one definitely doesn’t feel motivated to get through it all in one sitting. (Considering also if you lose at some point in a tournament, you have to start over from it.) The game does give this mode a much needed boost of excitement after the first tournament with an incredible CGI cutscene. This is also a tease since we could have been getting excitement like that instead of the ongoing formulaic tournament.

The game features what one would expect: local 2-player, online, single player, and practice. As a whole it can be lacking. There’s no survival mode and not much to unlock outside of achievement titles and attire for your avatar. After one completes Ferrum League, there isn’t much to do besides online play. So, let’s discuss that part. Nintendo only recently jumped into the online format, and Pokken could be the best yet with it. Unlike Smash Bros., there’s an actual leaderboard system. You can see your worldwide and regional ranks. Hopefully future competitive games from the company utilize this. Also unlike Smash about 95% of the time the matches play smoothly. There is lag sometimes unfortunately, but it doesn’t render matches unplayable and isn’t too much of a factor.

The soundtrack blends into the fights very well. While it would have been nice to have some remixes of the classic themes, these are some really great ones for during battles. (Perhaps the best is Dragon’s Nest.) Like Street Fighter and Tekken, the stages aren’t really a factor. To put it bluntly, the stages in those games are virtually all the same, just recolored backgrounds. There’s nothing wrong with this: this kind of gameplay doesn’t really allow for stage hazards. Pokken’s has some nice, bright backgrounds such as Magikarp Festival to the darker ones such as Haunted House. Apparently some have bigger rings, but it’s hard to tell in-battle.

pokken-tournament-pokemon-shadow-mewtwo

Overall, Pokken Tournament is a dream come to life for many. Pokemon in frantic, high quality fighting gameplay is a fantastic concept this game makes great use of. Each of the characters have a diverse moveset and the actual battling always provides a blast as the opponent seeks to overpower & outwit the other. The Wii U now has two great 1st party fighting games: Super Smash Bros. and this one. As an arcade title it deserves a 9, maybe even a 10. But as a $60 Wii U port it feels a little bare-bones. The lack of modes and short character roster are the reasons for that. The enthusiastic narrator Nia is always nice to have around (even if she can become annoying talking every second in Ferrum League) but even she can’t bring the excitement once one completes the League and sees there isn’t much to do afterward outside of online ranking. (For many however, online ranking is all one needs.) These drawbacks don’t take away from the fact that Pokken is one of the finest fighting games out there. It takes the close intensity of a Street Fighter battle and adds a Poke-touch. It’s a must have for fighting game and Pokemon fans.

8/10

The Fall of Nintendo’s Core Gaming

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo for about 15 years now. I’ve seen the way they they’ve changed their games from era to era, console to console. It’s also interesting to see the things that have not changed. The company is still the king of unique first party titles. They deliver bright, colorful, fantastical stories and worlds.  When one thinks of Nintendo they think of mushrooms, princesses, stars and things related. In the distant past they’ve bordered on only having games for core gamers (the ones who go down to Gamestop and invest hours into each game) and also for the whole family such as Mario Party. The company kept a balance, but they didn’t forget that they were a video game company first and foremost in making quality single player (and multiplayer) experiences. What’s the purpose of  a video game? Generally speaking, I believe the purpose is to challenge the player to complete some sort of quest. On another note, there’s also party games, racing games, fighting games and sport games, all of which the major companies have.

But the core thing is to generally challenge the player, young or old, and to throw them in an unknown world. The goal is to complete the adventure, whether it be saving the world, rescuing the princess, or becoming the world champion. Nintendo has delivered these things in different formats very well over the years. Of course as you probably noticed I used the term “distant past” to describe Nintendo’s practices. That’s because I believe the company has truly fallen short these past years.

Recently it was announced that the upcoming STAR FOX ZERO would be including a mode called “Invincibility.” Basically, it will make the Arwing invulnerable, granting players the ability to fast-blast the level. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head at this. Let’s think about it for a second: the game is literally giving you a cheat code. It’s telling the player that if this is too hard for you, here, take a pass. You might tell me that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, have to use it. True. The thing is that it shouldn’t be there at all. A kid playing is given an option to defeat the level without overcoming anything. This defeats the purpose of a challenge to be overcome. The fact that it’s there encourages the easy way out when something seems too hard.

Star Fox Zero Release Date Announced

Let’s say you’re faced with an exam. It’s truly tough and you’re having a hard time completing it. Instead of the student learning to study harder, the teacher decides to give you the answers, guaranteeing a pass. Does this ever happen? Should it happen? Of course not. Things like “Invincible Mode” encourages no hard work. Back in the day you had games like Yoshi’s Island and Mario Sunshine. These games didn’t have invincibility modes. The players, whether they be kid or adult, had to learn to overcome each stage every time they got stuck. There was no “holding the player’s hand.”

If Zero was the only game with this type of mode I wouldn’t have too much of a problem. The thing is that this has been a practice of Nintendo for years now and has become a staple for the company. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii (7 years ago) after losing eight lives the game offers the player a “Super Guide.” Basically if they use it the game shows the player how to beat the obstacle. Instead of the player using their head, the game offers a cheat. Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the finest platformers ever made, sadly utilizes this concept and takes it a step further. If the player chooses to gain the help of a “Cosmic Spirit,” it will literally possess Mario and propel him to the end on auto-pilot. In Yoshi’s Woolly World the game constantly reminds you that you have “badges” to help make the already easy game, easier. You wouldn’t find this stuff on the Gamecube.

This isn’t only limited to Mario games. In SONIC LOST WORLD for Wii U and 3DS it allows the player to skip segments after losing a number of times. You’ll pretty much never find this on any Playstaion or Xbox game. Of course, the actual Nintendo games are usually of quality despite having that Super Guide option. Even then, those quality games are becoming rarer since the company has put their attention elsewhere. Where did this begin? With the Wii.

vg.consoles.01.lg

The Wii was revolutionary for introducing motion control to the world of gaming. While on the onset it was a brilliant idea, it would be the start of Nintendo’s downfall. Why? Because with motion control Nintendo started to shift away from core gameplay experiences to things like Wii Fit. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a game like the Fit, (it does have great benefits) but the problem is that starting there is when the company began to be known not by its games, but by its gimmicks. This isn’t the main negative aspect however. The really awful aspect starting with the Wii is that Nintendo had become known for being squarely aimed at non-gamer children. Remember the game Transformers: War for Cybetron? It was ported to the Wii under the title “Cybertron Adventures,” a severely watered-down version. The Wii also featured the largest amount of shovelware and Z rank games to date. You wouldn’t find low budget entries like those on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Things like these alienated gamers from Nintendo. (Why should a Wii owner get a lesser version of the same game?) The company still hasn’t quite recovered from the Wii era.

Nintendo also seems to really dislike the internet and competitive scene. Leaderboards and player rankings have been virtually nonexistent. One would imagine with its latest console, the Wii U and its biggest fighting game to date, Super Smash Bros., they would implement a leaderboard system like how Capcom is doing it with Street Fighter V. But we didn’t get that. (At least Pokken features a ranking system, though not in-depth.) The servers are almost seamless on all PS4 and Xbox One games. The peer-to-peer system of Smash can often be full of lag, making some battles online almost unplayable. What could be worst however is how the company interacts with its fanbase, which is basically nonexistent. Their secretive policies in Mario Maker for example shows that they have no idea how to communicate with their own fans.

Nintendo is so out of the loop with how to market products that many people still don’t know that the Wii U is completely separate from the Wii. I was talking to someone not too long ago and when I inquired about the U he thought it was just another version of the Wii. The U is one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles to date for this very reason. While it has stepped away from some of the failures of the Wii, it hasn’t reached the greatness of the Gamecube and its predecessors in delivering consistent, quality content. A running joke which is still going is a lack of third party support. Ubisoft have said in the past they wouldn’t release more exclusives until the system sold more units. Sadly, Nintendo has thrown itself into a hole which could take quite awhile to get out of. The sad thing is that they don’t seem to care!

The Wii U has been out for just four years and Nintendo is already prepping release for their next home console. This is their not so subtle way of saying the U was a failure. The company is so set on Miis and Ambiibo gimmicks that they’ve forgotten what gamers want to play. A prime example of this is the upcoming 3DS Metroid game, Federation Force. Instead of giving us the next Samus Aran installment after 6 years, we’re getting  a 4 player co-op where she isn’t even a focus! (The first trailer received over 25,000 dislikes on YouTube day one.) The company doesn’t seem to understand that this is not something a fan wants to invest hours into.

From the NES to the Gamecube, the company was in its prime. Since the Wii the company has moved away from its earlier practices. The Wii alienated many people a couple of years in as it started to focus on other areas than delivering quality gameplay. That’s not to say every game was bad, because the console houses some truly fine additions. There’s more mediocre than positive however. The continuing usage of a “Super Guide” and “Invincibility Mode” shows that Nintendo isn’t in the same mindset as the Yoshi’s Island days. The Wii U doesn’t look to pick up as already the NX is being released in the near future. Nintendo was once a company which delivered consistent, fantastic games which made the player smile and challenge them to overcome obstacles. Now I’m inclined to say their competitors are better at being video game companies. The sales showcase this too, for Nintendo has been in decline since the Wii U has failed to sell as much as the PS4 and Xbox One. (To put this in perspective, it took the U 3 years to sell 10 million units, while the PS4 and Xbox One only 1 year!)

Wii-U-LogoI don’t think Nintendo is going to regain the respect of gamers anytime soon. Maybe the NX will change things. (That’s the hope anyway.) If the company can start delivering quality content consistently from the start and slowly move away from its Mii, family party-centered practices it can happen. Again, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having gimmick or party-like games. Families should be playing together. The company however should put their focus in making challenging installments for the main buyers of a video game console, the gamers.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE Review

It’s amazing to think that it’s been eight years since Cloverfield. If the Blair Witch Project was the film that popularized the found footage genre, Cloverfield is the one which perfected it. The best thing about it was that it put the viewer directly in the action. It felt like we were there experiencing an attack from a giant monster. A sequel has been talked about briefly over the years since. The way it was always mentioned however made it seem like it would probably never happen.

Then 10 Cloverfield Lane popped up out of nowhere.

Immense credit has to be given to Bad Robot for keeping this film literally a secret. It was announced with that title just a few months ago officially. Obviously the most hyped aspect was that middle name. Fans of the original have been hoping for a followup. (After all, the after-credits sequence there revealed that the monster “is still alive.”) Interestingly, Producer J.J. Abrams didn’t use the word sequel to describe Lane, instead calling it a “blood relative.” What that meant wouldn’t really be discovered until opening day, since everything was kept quiet. So, what have we got? 10 Cloverfield Lane is a well acted, well written story. If you’ve never seen the previous film, great, this will be a stellar experience for you. If you’re like me and you have, there’s a big disappointment factor accompanying the well done nature of the plot.

The opening of any story has the ability to draw a person in. The intro here is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in awhile. The only negative I have with it is the very beginning. Michelle apparently is driving out of New Orleans. The city however looked like a barren wasteland out of I Am Legend. It seems like the apocalypse happened, not a blackout as the radio stated. After that is when the good part of the intro comes. Car crashes are frightening, and the way the film uses it is effective. The sudden cuts to the logo was very well utilized. After that the story begins where all the trailers center: the bunker.

10-cloverfield-lane-image-1

First, great credit should be given to Mary Elizabeth Winstead for the portrayal of a character waking up trapped in a jail-like setting. We can see the peril on her face. It’s the little things like her hands trembling as she tries to dial her phone which provide a legitimate feel to the scene. We’re then introduced to John Goodman’s character, Howard. The film does a good job keeping the viewer on edge with this guy. Is he crazy? Is he really trying to help? The story does solid work in slowly unraveling this mystery. Rarely seen in the trailers is John Gallagher, Jr’s character, Emmet. He provides the comic relief in a rather grim situation. I suppose he could be this film’s version of Hud from the original Cloverfield. Emmet wasn’t as greatly written as the other two main characters, but still not bad.

As a thriller, the film moves at a solid pace. The first half was excellent. In a way however, it can feel like one large setup. The main thing is that by the halfway point when the lyrical music started to play I couldn’t help but feel that something should be happening. If the film was going to relate itself to Cloverfield, then there had to be some kind of monstrous presence by that point. Viewers of the original movie is there waiting for that “big thing” to happen. And just when something appears to happen, (classic rumbling tease) nothing really comes out of it. This leads to the main disappointment: the film has nothing to do with Cloverfield.

Interestingly, Lane had started out with having nothing to do with Cloverfield. Then Bad Robot/J.J. Abrams entered the picture and decided to align the film with the monster movie. This was a mistake. According to Abrams, “You have to have an idea that’s better than what people think they want to see to make a movie.” So this is apparently a better idea than a followup? He goes on to say the film has a connection to the original in “DNA,” which further gives an illusion that while maybe not a direct sequel, it could still be part of that movie. It’s not.  There were so many fan theories which resulted from the trailers with the reason why the characters were all in a bunker. Some theorized that it could be due to the 2008 monster making its way there or more nuclear strikes on the creature. This would have made great sense and satisfied watchers of the original. Instead, it seems like the Cloverfield name was only put there to attract viewers, which is a true shame and crime to fans.

Based on the mysterious nature of the marketing and trailers, the final act was going to be quite the surprising outcome. It’s so unexpected that it feels like we’re watching another film. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call 10 Cloverfield Lane a longer Twilight Zone episode. Ironically, this would have been better as the new Twilight Zone movie rather than a so-called relative to the 2008 film. The soundtrack is very solid throughout. Almost of the perilous scenes are given greater intensity.

paramount-releases-surprise-trailer-for-j-j-abrams-10-cloverfield-lane

Overall, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a well done thriller and a solid first outing for Director Dan Trachtenberg. The mystery keeps the viewer intrigued as it throws clues and twists to keep he/she guessing. The concept of waking up and being in a bunker after a supposed fallout of some kind is a great setup. Michelle is a likable focus, and Howard is intriguing to watch as we try to understand his motives. Unfortunately, the out of left field final act doesn’t satisfy the “Cloverfield” name, and felt like it was there just to have something unexpected happen. All throughout marketing it has been said it’s not a sequel, but still related. The thing is that it’s not and no one should pretend it is. It’s fine as a standalone film, not as something many have waited 8 years to see come to fruition. It would have been better if it had stuck to its original name, The Cellar.

7.5/10

Devotional: The Maze

Pac-man maze

I think everyone has played PAC-MAN at least at some point. Many have fond memories going into the arcade and popping in those quarters for a chance to beat the high score. The idea of this game as many of us know is that you have this maze. Inside it there are all these little dots and the goal is to have Pac-Man chomp until there are no more dots left.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a game unless you’re able to lose at it.

There are these ghosts which appear and chase Pac-Man all throughout the maze. In order to stop them and gain more points, there are these big dots known as “Power Pellets.” When Pac eats one, he gains the ability to chomp the ghost and acquire more points. The game never gets old and could be the very definition of a timeless thing.

Lately I can’t help but see just how much the concept of PAC-MAN applies to everyday life.

Life can often seem like a maze. Maybe not so much as a kid, but as one starts to enter high school, college, and becomes an adult, the feeling of running around aimlessly can appear. We often try to “find the right path” and end up zig-zagging through obstacles but end up arriving back at the start.

When I started college I didn’t know which degree I would ultimately be pursuing. I thought maybe English, or Journalism. Eventually everything pointed to Communications. Even with this choice, I still from time-to-time feel like I’m in a maze. I don’t know where I’m going with it, and what lies at the end.

But He does.

When we play PAC-MAN, we see the whole maze. Pac himself only sees what’s in front of him. But we, the players, see where he should go, and we direct him. Likewise in the real world, God sees the overall maze. We only see what’s in front of us. He wants to direct us to the right path. In fact, to Him there is no maze. There’s only one straight path. When we try to do our own thing, try to accelerate something when we shouldn’t, we deviate from that path and find ourselves back in the maze.

Not too long ago I was approached for a job in marketing. Part of me was thrilled, because maybe this was finally my “breakthrough” and I could move on from my part time job at the register. But another part of me was suspicious because the way it was presented didn’t seem right. Before arriving at the building for the interview, I found out information which told me this wasn’t part of the path God had for me. If I would have went down that road, I would have deviated off the path God had for me.

In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” ~Proverbs 3:6.

This is a well known verse, and one we need to put more into practice. If you commit everything you do onto God, that maze you feel like you’re in will turn into a straight path. This doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing, because there will often be obstacles. Then like Pac-Man, we need Power Pellets. A child of God has the ultimate Power Pellet at the ready: the Holy Spirit. What are some other Power Pellets we can use? The two primary ones are prayer and reading the Scriptures. A prayer can be, “God, I would like this obstacle to be removed, but I know you will give me the strength to get through it.” Having verses locked into your head is also one of the most invaluable things a person can have.

We ultimately don’t know with certainty what God has planned for us individually. What we do know is that His plan is to make us more like Jesus, which should be enough to propel us. We don’t see the goal, only He does, and He will direct us to it if we simply trust in Him and commit ourselves.

Only then can we escape the maze.

BEYOND: TWO SOULS Review

BEYOND TWO: SOULS is a peculiar game. There have been very few of what is called “interactive dramas.” HEAVY RAIN is the other major one in recent times, but also there’s been Telltale’s THE WALKING DEAD Seasons. Those games offer many different paths based on the decisions the player makes. For the most part, that isn’t the case with Beyond. The only times when decisions really matter is in the climax. This is my first complaint: it would have been better as a movie. Then there’s many things wrong about the story later on. This is not to say Beyond is a bad experience, because for awhile Jodie’s story is really engaging. By the time the credits roll however the player is left feeling unsatisfied and contemplating why a good chunk of the game was even relevant.

The story follows a girl named Jodie Holmes and an entity which is linked to her named Aiden. One of the most interesting aspects of the plot is that instead of telling it the normal linear way, progression is almost always out of order. We jump for example from Jodie’s CIA days to the time she was a little girl. This system works, because it smartly provides bits and pieces into her life and how they connect. Looking back, it was also a good way to balance out action and the more subdued childhood life. The story is well thought out for most of the game.

Now like I said earlier I feel this game would have been better as an actual movie. Why is that? The game has us do meaningless things multiple times such as Jodie turning left and right on her bed. Later as she prepares for a date she takes a shower. (Thankfully that part is optional.) Truly, I do not understand how this stuff is relevant to the story. In The Walking Dead almost every decision you make has an impact throughout the entire game. In Beyond, often it doesn’t really matter what you pick. For example, way later in the story Nathan asks Jodie for him to talk to his dead wife and daughter again. You’re given the option to accept the request or decline. Even if you decline, Jodie still ends up doing it anyway.

news_photo_65356_1436467258

It is possible for a game to feel like a cinematic experience and have actual gameplay. THE LAST OF US is naturally the perfect example. Its story watches like a 5-star movie and the gameplay is just as fantastic. The few instances in Beyond where there’s stakes in the gameplay is far too little to appreciate. In the chapter The Mission we have Jodie spying, stealthily taking out opponents, and using Aiden’s psychic abilities to progress. The idea of using Aiden in these type of circumstances was really neat, which is why it’s disappointing most of the game doesn’t utilize this concept. Instead, we get a chapter with Jodie being a rebellious teenager. That chapter you can remove and it won’t have any effect on the game at all.

The best chapter was The Condenser. It felt like a horror experience as we see Jodie go into this scientific building turned slaughter house as she battles these malicious spirit monsters. Their dimension, the “Infraworld” becomes the central part of the story in the climax. Nathan’s character goes a 180 here. I understand the idea, but at the same time it felt inconsistent. In The Condenser which is way after Jodie had him talk with his deceased wife and daughter, he tells her to destroy the portal so the monsters can’t escape into our world. Yet by the end he’s completely lost it, as in he’s created a new portal. It’s inconsistent. An even worst negative is also in the climax. Nathan eventually shoots himself, but then a moment later is seen with his wife and daughter. Jodie smiles at that and later tells Ryan that Nathan “found his peace.” So according to this logic, basically committing suicide leads to peace and is a moment to smile at.

Huh?

There’s even more wrong with the climax. The final two decisions comes down to this blue light and this dark light. Well obviously that would mean that blue is good and black is evil, right? Not quite. The blue light would have Jodie go “beyond” and she would turn into wind, stars, and the universe. What kind of lunacy is that? The black one called “life” would have her go back to the land of the living. Why this is colored dark the world may never know. Also, the trope of the military being shady is long overdone. They literally offer Jodie a deal, and then…they abduct her anyway? This entire sequence was painful to watch. The big plot twist with Aiden was done very well, even if the idea was explained rather quickly.

beyondtwoulaunch_610

Instead of getting this we get playing snowball fights with kids

As a whole the story does succeed in showcasing the tough life Jodie has to live as an X-Man a child/teen/adult whom can command power. She is likable, which is especially necessary since she basically has to carry the game. Ellen Page did a great job voicing her. If there’s one thing that’s distracting however, it’s the constant usage of swearing. I really don’t think anyone talks like that in real life. The chapters vary in length; some can just be 10 minutes while some can go up to one hour. Because of this, the game is reasonably paced. The soundtrack is solid. The themes which play during the quick-time events add to the intensity.

Overall, BEYOND: TWO SOULS is an interesting experience. The story mode is well written most of the time. The game however features a lot of meaningless tasks and not enough of the intriguing gameplay mechanics. Going around in CIA mode taking out enemies with a psychic power, battling insidious entities, and driving around in a motorcycle provides the most entertainment, but those are sandwiched in-between a lot of exposition. A lot of the chapters however are very good, such as Homeless. But Jodie delivering a baby there, her playing with Barbie dolls, turning left and right in bed, why would we want to do this stuff? The game ends with a look at the future. The monsters are invading the world and Jodie is in this cool heroine outfit with a sword. That’s the game I would have rather played.

5.5/10