When Iron Man debuted in theaters in 2008, audiences had no idea that it would completely change the landscape of film-making forever. It marked the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU became a collection of movies featuring different characters all tied together as a way to multiply audience interest and profits for otherwise uninteresting movies. While Marvel pioneered the scheme, other studios quickly jumped on board, notably Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics. Universal Pictures recently decided to dust off their “Monsters” properties and build their own Cinematic Universe. The Mummy marks the first film in what they’ve christened “Dark Universe.” But the question remains; is The Mummy worthwhile?
From the very start, Universal wanted to make sure audiences were aware that The Mummy is part of a larger framework. With press releases and announcements of Johnny Depp playing the Invisible Man, this felt unnecessary. The studio has even inserted a logo variation that morphs the famous “Universal Pictures” vanity logo into the words “Dark Universe,” almost like a new entity that produced the movie. It’s an odd addition, one done out of hubris more than anything else, and it’s completely ridiculous. It would be as if Iron Man began with a logo touting it as “A Marvel Cinematic Film.”
The film itself opens in an equally bizarre way: on the burial of a Templar Knight in twelfth century England. It then quickly transitions to modern-day London before flashing back to Egypt and summarizing the history of Ahmanet and her quest for power, all told through a narration by Russell Crowe’s character. Why any of this was necessary I can’t say. The only thing I can think of is that the film’s writers, of which there are six, had no faith that audiences would have been able to understand the hook without having it spelled out. That theory also explains the immense amount of verbal exposition we get along the way. For a film that’s as steeped in lore as The Mummy, I would expect an excess of expository dialogue, but Universal really took advantage of my expectations.
Most of the film gets bogged down from how hard it is to like Tom Cruise’s character. Nick…Something Or Other is an Army Sergeant/thief who has his sights set on “liberating” whatever valuables he happens to find in modern-day Iraq. He makes no excuses for his deception and his main motivation throughout the film is saving himself. There’s a slight glimmer of goodness in his character, which is dashed as quickly as it appears by way of a sad attempt at levity. I doubt the writers even realized that their throw-away joke negated any positive quality in the character, because if they did, they should have worked harder to make him more likeable.
The dislike of Cruise’s character is compounded by how terribly the writers treat his female counterpart. Nick takes advantage of archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) by lying to her, sleeping with her, and stealing her map to the location of what he believe is “treasure,” but not once does he show remorse for his actions. However, when he later discovers her secret that she’s been working with a covert team of “archeologists,” she’s made to feel terrible for her actions and apologizes profusely. Even watching this through the eyes of a dude, I could see the incongruity plain as day.
As expected, the movie makes a number of humorous attempts through its big, loud action sequence but most of them are so trite and obvious that they fall flat. Not to mention that some of the biggest jokes happen at the most inopportune moment, which made it uncomfortable to even enjoy them.
The humor was another pratfall the movie continued to make. Many of the jokes happen with unfortunate timing, such as when danger was at its highest. This created a strange juxtaposition that felt awkward. Am I supposed to laugh as Tom Cruise is about to get a dagger plunged into his heart? According to the writers, yes, I am.
I can’t say that the film is entirely bad, though. It does a few things right, most notably the casting of Sofia Boutella as the titular Mummy. Boutella has an amazing onscreen presence. The way she plays Ahmanet is threatening, unrelenting, and imposing, but she also manages to ply sympathy when needed. The only downside is how much her talent is wasted on a one-note villain. Granted, Ahmanet has more depth than both Cruise’s and Wallis’s characters, but her antagonism just comes off as boring. She’s the ultimate unstoppable evil that can be easily stopped by a MacGuffin.
Then you have Russell Crowe, whose appearance in this film is solely to expand the Dark Universe. Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yep, that Dr. Jekyll. He was a joy to watch as he seemed to be the only person in the ensemble who bothered getting into character. While I did like the way the film introduced the Jekyll/Hyde connection, I feel like they overdid it. In a case like this, as most of Marvel’s films have shown, a little goes a long way. Universal, on the other hand, didn’t seem to trust their audience would get the allusion and needed to center an entire action scene on just how badass Mr. Hyde could be. While it was a fun scene, it slowed down the pacing of the film and took some of the spotlight away from the Mummy, who should have always been the focus of the film.
For a movie that’s meant to kickstart a cinematic universe full of classic monsters, The Mummy lacks any sort of horror or thrills. It’s overflowing with cheap jump scares and cringe inducing creepiness (like Cruise being covered in rats), and those grow old fast. It also lacks the charm that 1999’s The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser had. At this point, it must be asked: what is this Mummy flick supposed to bring to the table, besides over-the-top action pieces?
Would I say The Mummy was a good movie? Nope. I will say that as the tent pole of the “Dark Universe,” it was fun, and at the very least, it opened the doors for films featuring a more diverse cast of classic monsters. After years of countless Dracula, Frankenstein and Werewolf movies, we finally have the chance to gets movies centered on the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Invisible Man. In the hands of the right writer and director, these movies have the opportunity to be mind-blowing. While The Mummy is mediocre at best, it deserves some credit.
I’m a huge fan of junk food movie tie-in. Actually, a more accurate word to describe me would be “sucker.” Whether it’s a promo in a restaurant chain or a special edition candy bar, I just can’t get enough of them. So I’m sure you can understand my excitement for the Doritos bag that played the entire soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There was no way I could let the opportunity to own one slip away.
Getting my hands on one of these bags was a chore in itself. Doritos was extremely forthcoming about the date they would go on sale, as well as the specific Amazon page they’d be available on. I spent all day constantly refreshing Amazon to only be let down hour after hour. Finally, at around 8 that night, the Doritos finally went live…on a completely different section of Amazon than promised, which I only knew about because of a heads up from a friend.
But I digress. And complain a little more than I should since I did eventually order one.
A couple weeks later, a box showed up and I couldn’t be more excited to tear into it. After cutting through two layers of cardboard, I was greeted by a beautifully printed vision of a familiar cassette player inlay on a faux-wood veneer.
The box is really something to admire. There’s nothing special about it in particular, other than providing a nice display for the bag of Doritos and storage for the accessories.
I carefully opened the lid to be greeted by the bag…
…only to be disappointed. I quickly noticed that half of the bag was off-printed, creating an obnoxious shadow effect on most of the words. Though this is a fairly common occurrence on most bags of chips, it was extremely disheartening to see in this instance. Given the small print run of these bags, one would think Doritos would have a little extra quality assurance to make sure everything came out perfectly. But that’s not the case.
Oh, well. That’s life, I guess. I bought it because it plays music so let’s test that out.
All of those buttons printed under the cassette tape work. Power, Play, Stop, Next, Reverse. The bag works exactly like a Walkman. It’s pretty neat, but I am slightly concerned about the flimsiness of the bag itself. So far I’ve been handling it extremely delicately as everything feels so fragile that I’m afraid I may break it. This isn’t something that would be easy to replace.
I’m not alone in my worry, here; Doritos clearly realized most people won’t consistently listen to the soundtrack through a bag of tortilla chips so they included a mini USB port on the bag, and a cable in the box. You can plug the bag into your computer and download the entire soundtrack in MP3 format and listen to it on any compatible device. The USB port will also recharge the player, in case people do consistently listen to the soundtrack through a bag of tortilla chips.
In addition to the USB cable, the bag came with a set of headphones. Not cheap ear buds like most music players would have but a pair of over-the-head, foam-covered headphones that were popular in the 80s. I plugged them in and followed the directions on the box.
As soon as I pressed the “Power” button, the bag flashed to life. Literally. There’s a light in it that glows when the power is on. Which makes sense. I mean, how else are you supposed to know that it’s on if you unplug the headphones?
The quality of the music is crystal clear. I don’t know the specs of the player itself but whatever it is, it seems to handle high quality MP3s really well. There’s even no loss in quality from the headphones. At least none that I noticed. It sounded as good as music from my iPod (though I do have a 2nd gen iPod so that may not be saying much).
At $29.99 retail, these Doritos are a bit of an investment. However, when you realize that you’re paying for the full soundtrack as well as a marketing gimmick that’s sure to spark some conversations, the cost is still kind of hard to swallow. This is clearly an item for die-hard Guardians of the Galaxy fans, a subset that probably never existed before 2014. But either way, I’m ecstatic to add it to my collection, even if I don’t have any place to display it.
Back in 2014, the world was shocked to find itself entertained by a hard sci-fi comic book movie with a main cast that featured a talking raccoon and a giant tree. Three years later, audiences eagerly anticipated the sequel to that film and here we are, talking about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But does the second film live up to the expectations set by the first?
Guardians Vol. 2 opens on the team, composed of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), facing off against a pink, undulating, multi-tentacled creature at the behest of a race of beings called the Sovereign. It’s a fun scene that helps set the tone of the film and reminds audiences that they’re in for a good time.
The casting of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is definitely one of the films’ strong points. In addition to our core line-up, we are introduced to a few new characters. The first is Ego, played masterfully by Kurt Russell. We learn that Ego is Star-Lord’s father (not a spoiler) and wants to reconnect with his son (possibly a spoiler, if you couldn’t have deduced that yourself). Russell has such a great on-screen presence that he’s a joy to watch as Ego. He exudes charm in such a way that you believe him to be Star-Lord’s father; there’s no denying these two are cut from the same cloth.
The idea of “Family” is a main theme in this movie. They touched on this a bit at the end of the first film, where the cast begin to see themselves as a makeshift family. This time, with Star-Lord meeting his father, they elevate the theme. But we also see it with Gamora and Nebula (played by Karen Gillan), a pair of sisters who were always at each others’ throats. In Vol. 2, they spend more time together and begin to understand each other better. Also, Baby Groot exemplifies the theme of “Family.” Literally a toddler, Groot has an attachment to each of the Guardians, and in turn they treat him as if they were his adoptive parent. It’s very sweet in the way it’s handled.
We also meet Mantis, Ego’s handmaiden. As a full-fledged Guardian in the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning comic book series, it’s no surprise to learn that Mantis would eventually join the team. Played by Pom Klementieff, Mantis was fun to watch on screen. Her ability to feel the emotions of other by touching them made for a few humorous moments, and though she served a purpose to the plot, I feel like her character was introduced to provide little more than that. That said, I’m happy to see her as part of the team and look forward to seeing more of her.
One character I didn’t quite get was Sylvester Stallone’s Stakar Ogord. Introduced early in the film, Ogord was used as a foil to Yondu (Michael Rooker), and shame him for his past transgressions. Ogord doesn’t make another appearance until the very end, at which point he’s given his very own post-credits scene that points to the character doing something more meaningful. Which makes sense considering they cast goddamn Sylvester Stallone in the role. Whatever it is that writer/director James Gunn has planned for him, I can’t even fathom. To me, his inclusion in the film felt shoehorned and overblown and I could have done without it.
With the exception of Star-Lord, who learns about his heritage, we don’t get a lot of development in the main cast. Some of their backstories are expanded on but it mostly feels like a retread of what we already learned about them in the first film. Instead, the secondary cast gets to step into the spotlight, as Gunn dives into the histories of both Nebula and Yondu. We get a peek into why Nebula resents Gamora so much. Concerning Yondu, we get to delve into his relationship with Star-Lord, which was touched upon a little in the first movie but Gunn really goes in depth here. It makes for a touching story but if you spend enough time thinking about it, it becomes downright unsettling
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is dripping with sentimentality. Mostly it’s handled well; it doesn’t get overly dramatic, like Rocket’s reaction to Groot’s “death” at the end of the first film. However, given the emotions that are boiling over, Star-Lord reconciling with his father, Star-Lord’s confrontation with Gamora about their unspoken thing, and even Drax and his reminiscing about his wife and daughter, we see how despite all of their flaws, the Guardians remain human (a term used loosely given that 80% of them are aliens).
The first Guardians was impressively funny, probably the most humor-filled film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rightfully, Vol. 2 manages to keep that vibe going, and they even upped the humor quotient this go around. I’m not trying to say they squeezed more jokes into the script, which, to be fair, they seem to have done. The tone of the humor was intensified, almost to the point of being cartoonish. A scene in which Yondu, Kraglin (played by the director’s brother, Sean Gunn), and Rocket make a jump to hyperspace really displays the ways James Gunn was willing to push the envelope. It works within the confines of this film, one which is willing to play around with the laws of physics, but it just seemed over the top and unnecessary. I think we’re willing to give Gunn the leeway to do things like this because his track record is relatively clean, but I hope he doesn’t press his luck too much.
One of the ways Gunn improved in the sequel is in the pacing. The first Guardians needed to build its world so some of the scenes felt longer than they should have, mostly because of the wordy exposition used to get the point across. Vol. 2, however, has pretty much established its rules, so the only wordiness is to expand character arcs. There were still quite a few wordy monologues but at least they didn’t feel as expository.
In regards to the composition of Vol. 2, Gunn uses the same formula as he did in the first one, which is the only main downside. We open with a scene from the past, cut to quirky musical intro credits, move into character intros, exposition, exposition, dramatic turn, final battle. There’s nothing wrong with working from the formula (that is, after all, how it became a “formula”), and at least Gunn manages to make this film feel different from its predecessor. If this becomes the norm, however, it could really bring down the series.
As part of the most offbeat series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 could have gone in a number of directions but I’m pleased with where James Gunn chose to take it. Humanizing the cast was a great way to keep audiences connected with the characters. It was also great to see a few of the more underutilized characters from the first film get the chance to shine (while Baby Groot is the clear fan-favorite, Drax had a few pretty amazing moments). All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 never lost sight of what everyone loved about its predecessor. While not perfect, it’s a fun movie that helps to elevate Marvel’s record in regard to sequels. I’m ready for the third one.
Sleight is one of those movies that almost flew completely under my radar. Despite premiering at Sundance in 2016, I hadn’t heard of it until a tweet showed up in my Twitter timeline. I forget its contents now but the retweeter, Dulé Hill of Psych fame, was promoting the film. Which makes sense considering he’s one of its stars. As a fan of Hill, my interest was piqued.
The movie focuses on Bo, relative newcomer Jacob Latimore, a brilliant kid with a penchant for science. He was forced to drop out of school after his mother died to take care of his younger sister, Tina (Storm Reid). During the day, Bo works as a street magician, performing simple card tricks and levitating items for tourists in the busy parts of LA. But at night he hustles drugs for a local kingpin, Angelo (Hill).
For the most part, his life is going well. His bills are paid, his sister is doing well in school. He even meets a girl, Holly (Seychelle Gabriel). But when Angelo asks him for a “favor,” his golden life starts to tarnish, and he sees that the man he’s working for is not the friend he thought he once was.
Directed and co-written by J.D. Dillard, Sleight really delves into the character of Bo, working hard to make sure the audience really understands what he’s going through. Unfortunately, it does this to the detriment of the rest of the cast. We get a small look into Holly’s home life, with lines that quickly explain away why she’s not as happy as she should be. Antagonist Angelo is a trope-fueled gangster; we never learn why he’s as sadistic as he is, but it turns out it’s never important to the plot. All that matters is that he put Bo in a certain position and all we are supposed to care about is how he’s going to get out of it.
Sleight does do something very right, and that’s the aspect of Bo’s “magic.” We see early on that things may not be what they seem and as the film progresses, our suspicions are confirmed. However, we spend so much time wondering just what is happening that by the time everything comes to a head, the finale seems anti-climactic. Everything that the movie worked up to, the final confrontation that I was looking forward to, was over in five minutes, leaving me with a “that’s it?’ feeling.
The film’s marketing is my biggest gripe with Sleight. The movie billed itself as a super hero film (it was referred to as “Chronicle meets Iron Man”) but it never actually feels that way. Sure, it contains a few elements of super heroism, like the source of Bo’s mysterious “powers.” But at its core it’s a character study. It’s a tale of revenge and redemption. We see a smart kid like Bo get stuck in a harrowing situation due to factors outside of his control, forcing him to do something stupid to try and pull himself out, only to get mired deeper into it. Yes, Bo can do some amazing things but that doesn’t make him a super hero and billing him as such denigrates the achievements of his character.
All that aside, Sleight is a beautifully directed film. Dillard uses natural light as often as possible, probably as a way to keep the production budget down but he does so in a way that makes the film more interesting to watch. Even his framing of characters in certain scenes added life to otherwise static moments; talking heads aren’t very interesting but if they’re shot from the right angle, we can be enraptured.
The acting in Sleight deserves a nod as well. Latimore was perfect in the role of Bo, coming off as cocky in his magic scenes but then awkward and unsure when he’s with Angelo or Holly. Seychelle Gabriel was also a joy to watch; Holly’s backstory didn’t lend much depth to the character but Gabriel manages to keep her interesting, mostly through Holly’s rapport with Bo. It’s a shame Holly was only used as a crutch for Bo. I would have liked to have dived deeper into her character.
Dulé Hill was one of the oddest characters to see in this film. As an actor who generally only plays nice guys, like Gus in the aforementioned Psych, seeing him as the tough-as-nails, sadistic drug czar was certainly a change of pace. At times, it even seemed awkward to hear him drop F-bombs and get physical with other characters. Unfortunately, Hill’s portrayal of Angelo felt a little stilted, like he was trying to make the character his own instead of drawing upon inspiration from other badass drug dealers in early cinema. Which is fine, but when every other aspect of the character is derivative of a hundred other films out there, it doesn’t jibe too well. That said, Hill did well with what he was given.
I’m happy that I saw Sleight early in its release and I do give it credit for what it was trying to do. However, having one interesting character in a cast of overused clichés doesn’t make for a very compelling film. Pair that with marketing that doesn’t wholly apply and you have a recipe for a movie that is bound to disappoint some people. Despite all of that, the character of Bo make it an interesting film, one that I would recommend if you have some free time.
Spring just arrived recently and winter has finally come to a close. So far in 2017 we’ve already seen quite a few great releases, the most recent being the Legend of Zelda machine, the Nintendo Switch, and the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda. As much as I’ve enjoyed Nintendo’s past offerings and felt the nostalgic pull of Zelda and since I’ve never actually played a Mass Effect game, they just weren’t on my list of upcoming things I’m looking forward to. However, on my list are other games, tech, events, and some are just random nerdiness.
In no real particular order, as they say, let’s get some 2017 HYPE!!
I love me a good piece of tech. Who doesn’t really? In my tech arsenal, among other things, I have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop PC. My smartphone I use all the time and my PC handles everything my smartphone can’t. The tablet and laptop though, I find gather quite a bit of dust. The tablet I only bring out when there’s an app that I would just like on a little bigger screen than my smartphone, and the laptop only when my main PC is down and I still need to perform desktop-like tasks. Those times are far and few between and every time I turn them on they have hundreds of updates waiting.
This is where the Sentio Superbook comes in. Using an Android app that turns the Android OS more desktop-friendly, the Superbook is essentially a laptop shell that uses your smartphone for the processing power. According to the Kickstarter, the Superbook “provides a large screen, keyboard and multi-touch trackpad, 8+ hours of battery, and phone charging capabilities”. Always up to date, and never falls behind your Android’s tech. This I can see completely replacing my tablet, fitting usefully between my phone and desktop.
Release: Pushed back from February until June for initial Kickstarter orders.
Fun fact: I’m an original card-carrying member of the MST3K fan club. I remember having Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house, eating myself silly, and then relaxing watching the Turkey Day marathon. I didn’t have cable growing up, which is how I’m easily able to live without cable today, but MST3K was a treat. When they announced they were Kickstarting a new season, I legit threw money at my screen. Got myself the t-shirt to match my older MST3K t-shirt, a couple nice prints, a keychain (I think… don’t tell me I’ve already lost it…), and the satisfaction that I’ll be able to watch brand new episodes. To answer your burning question, I think Joel was better than Mike. Fight me.
Release: April 14th, 2017! So close I can taste the movie sign.
I’d like to think that when I game on PC, the games I play are complex and deep. However, I’ve never wanted that complexity on my phone. For mobile gaming I like keeping it light and in small increments, hence why the Switch was never a draw. Cook, Serve, Delicious is quite possibly one of the best mobile games I have ever played. It’s light, tricky, takes a bit of skill, never felt like the phone hardware ever got in the way, and had entertaining graphics to match. You don’t have to play it on mobile, you can play it on other systems, but it shines on mobile. So when they announced CSD 2 at the end of 2016, I was giddy. Giddy.
Release: “Available on Steam and PS4 in 2017“. Not specific, and no mention of mobile, but their alpha trailer was released in Dec 2016, so hopefully soon.
CBS announced in November 2015 that following the 50th anniversary of the original series of Star Trek, and 12 years after the last official Star Trek: Enterprise episode aired, they would be opening a new chapter in the Star Trek Prime universe. Yes, the Kelvin timeline exists, and while I personally really enjoyed Beyond and what the reboot has brought to the series, it’s no Prime Universe goodness.
Set 10 years before Captain Kirk started his famous 5 year mission, they’ve announced the main protagonist will be Lieutenant Commander Rainsford, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, and referenced in the show as “Number One”. Star Trek: Discovery will revolve around the USS Discovery, although they’ve announced casting decisions for a second ship, the Shenzhou, and a number of Klingons. This, and other rumors, hints that the plot may revolve around the Klingon-Federation scrap-up at Donatu V, mentioned in the episode The Trouble with Tribbles which led to a Cold War between the two factions.
The show will initially air in the US on CBS, after with episodes airing on CBS All-Access shortly after. Outside of the US, episodes will air on Netflix. I personally don’t care how they air it, I’m just psyched for new Star Trek!
Release: As of this writing, it appears to have been pushed back until late summer/early fall, with possibilities of being pushed back further. Blech.
If you haven’t yet played Life Is Strange by DontNod Entertainment, by god what are you waiting for?! Go play one of the most fresh and stunning games you’ve ever played! If you have played it, then you probably understand why Vampyr, another game in production by DontNod Entertainment, has me so excited. Action-oriented with a sort of Assassin’s Creed meets the episodic genre vibe, set in 1918 London? Sign me up. I don’t play brand new games often, but with this setting and story potential, I’ll play.
Release: This site is suggesting Q4 2017, maybe just in time for Halloween?
I’m a Disney World nerd. What can I say, I’ve visited the parks quite a few times and each time have had some amazing experiences. Nothing beats having fun all day with family and friends, seeing all the sights, riding the rides, and sitting down for one of the best meals you’ve ever had in your life. Cap it all off with a phenomenal show and fireworks every night you’re there! I wasn’t so much a fan before I met my wife, but now that she has shown me what I was missing, I’m a big fan.
So when Disney makes changes to their parks, which happens all the time, it just makes me excited for the next time that we’ll visit. At this point, it may be a few years before the next trip, but by then hopefully the big EPCOT changes announced at the D23 Expo last November will have come to fruition. When the Chairman, Bob Chapek, tells the Imagineers to “dream big” and to expect a “major transformation,” I’ll lap up any news like I’m dying of thirst. I mean, shoot, they’re adding hanging gondolas to their transportation roster. Gondolas! How cool is that?!
Release: Changes won’t happen for a few years, but hopefully we’ll hear what they will be at the next D23 Expo July 14th-16th 2017.
All the way back in May of 2013, one of computer gaming’s legends, Richard Garriott, started a Kickstarter campaign with his company Portalarium to bring back a “spiritual successor” to one of the most influential game series of all time, Ultima, called Shroud of the Avatar. Since I’m a huge fan of the Ultima games to this day, I backed it to a non-ridiculous degree. To say that it’s been a long journey since the Kickstarter launch is quite an understatement. Like most Kickstarted projects, the feature creep has been quite extreme, to the point that the game still hasn’t been completed yet in full. Posing primarily as an MMO, the features they want to add are story mode with content delivered in episodes, written by Garriott and Tracy Hickman, a single player offline mode, different multiplayer modes, a vast classless character system, PvP, player housing, a crafting-based economy, full guild systems, player owned towns, and all the other accoutrements one would expect with MMOs these days.
As of right now, Shroud of the Avatar is still in a beta state and they stopped issuing character wipes in July of 2016, but still has not officially “launched.” I’m not one to play incomplete games though, so if they don’t consider the first big chapter complete yet, I have no issues waiting. I’ll finally jump in once they start officially calling it “launched.”
Release: 2017, or so the FAQ says.
Near the end of last year, I took the plunge into home automation and bought a Google Home while it was on sale. To say the least, my wife and I have been enjoying it quite thoroughly. I quickly discovered that home automation is a deep rabbit hole, with Google Home itself being the gateway drug. It started with one Google Home, then a second, and then a Chromecast Audio to sync all of the speakers together to form a whole-house audio system. A Philips Hue starter kit later and we had voice-controllable lights. Ten more bulbs later and we rarely touch our lightswitches anymore.
We bought it early on in its development because we expected more functionality to come, and so far they haven’t disappointed. More, though… we want more.
Release: Ongoing, since Google Home has already been released in 2016.
If you’ve never heard of the quirky podcast Welcome to Night Vale, you are sorely missing out. Based around the community radio station of a fictional, and quite strange, desert town located somewhere in the southwestern US, Welcome to Night Vale has been chronicling the town’s oft-bizarre happenings since June of 2012.
In 2015, WTNV’s creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor released their first novel, Welcome to Night Vale, based on the town. More heartfelt and personal than I was expecting, I enjoyed it, so I was excited when during the episode “After 3327,” they announced a second novel! Finally, around mid-March they announced the title and a release date of October 17th, 2017.
Finally, the last thing I’m excited about for 2017 is the “relaunch” of the MMO The Secret World, a personal favorite game of mine. The news of Funcom’s plans to relaunch it’s 5-year-old title came as a bit of a surprise, having been “announced” on Funcom’s 4th Quarter 2016 financial reports. Boasting changes from a redesigned new player experience, a “major improvement” to gameplay and combat, new player retention systems, and changes to the game’s business model, a lot of players are simultaneously nervous and excited for the upcoming changes. Funcom’s community team has been silent on the subject, focusing first on PAX East and Conan Exiles before making any big announcements about The Secret World.
Release: We’ll most likely hear more about the relaunch by the end of March, and see some changes before the end of June.
If a tree falls in a forest, and a mythological gigantic ape picks it up to use it as a weapon, does it make a sound? Yes, that sound is me in the theater audibly uttering “wow” through a giddy smile. This is the true test Kong: Skull Island has to pass or fail. Could it not only entertain but “wow” audiences with its spectacle? Fortunately, it unquestionably amazes with its stunningly-crafted CG and scale, but it’s at the expense of smooth dialogue and strong characters.
In the latest Kong retelling, the story is as thin as you’d expect, since the emphasis is on the origins of these monsters. As the Vietnam war comes to an end, a group of determined scientists implores the government to send a military escort with them to an undiscovered island. Along the way, said scientists hire a tracker (Tom Hiddleston). Separately, a photographer tags along (Brie Larson). The plot broken down in a sentence is essentially “some dummies go to Kong’s island to study things.” I’m never a fan of being reductive, but a film isn’t supposed to make it so easy to do. Regardless, I suppose that’s not why we eagerly watch these types of popcorn blockbusters.
Commendably, Warner Bros. Pictures employs one of the strongest ensemble casts you’ll see in a movie all year. Hiddleston, recent Oscar winner Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, and Jing Tian star, to name a few. The film also features a Straight Outta Compton reunion with cast members Jason Mitchell (Easy E) and Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre). The casting aspect alone held so much promise on paper, but this potential felt largely squandered.
Sam Jackson and John C. Reilly are clearly taking liberties and enjoying it in their respective roles, but everyone else is strikingly forgettable. There’s attempted interplay between a couple of the marines that ultimately falls flat. Heavy-hitting actors Hiddleston and Larson are simply present to be a conduit of plot details for us, the audience. Most of what they do while on camera is react with the best surprised expression they can muster. Sure, the two have distinct occupations but it’s merely an excuse to carry them into this dangerous adventure. Not to mention, Hiddleston’s James Conrad did very little tracking at all. As far as definitive personality traits, I didn’t notice any from Hiddleston, Larson, or the many other expendable individuals.
As I touched on, Reilly and Jackson are a blast to watch as they chew up their scenery. Whether improvised or purposefully written, the jokes never seem to land pre-Reilly. Like he does in his prior comedic work, he has a natural delivery and general presence that inspires laughter. Jackson as Colonel Packard recited some insane lines in the vein of a cheesy ’90s action villain with such hilarious conviction. The duo was nothing short of a joy to see perform.
We have to praise the real star of the show: Kong. Everything about him in Skull Island exceeded my expectations. If your primary complaint of 2014’s Godzilla was “where’d that enlarged lizard thing go?,” prepare to be satisfied. Kong appears in the first 3 minutes, and they don’t hold back as a means to build tension (which I personally appreciated in the latest Godzilla effort). At times, he’s spotted merely walking around the island, and every frame he occupies feels majestic. Terry Notary put forth a tremendous motion-capture effort that added a surprising amount of nuanced personality to the familiar beast. More than that, Kong is written with a layer of ingenuity. In his several oversized-creature battles, he uses his surroundings and tools he might spot at random to their full potential to aid him in bringing down his enemies. Kong himself should satisfy the majority of moviegoers.
Another facet I appreciated from the picture was director Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ work behind the camera. There are plenty of carefully constructed frames with a remarkable colorful concoctions. After the movie rushes past certain crudely-written scenes with one-dimensional supporting characters, Vogt-Roberts squeezes in intricately vibrant set pieces. Whether it’s a fast-paced action sequence involving an abundance of fire or Kong purely looking at a sunrise, he shows off his knack for capturing the beautiful production design in a visually-palpable way. Unfortunately, he’s not given many opportunities to display these skills on more than a couple occasions.
I may have levied quite a few criticisms against this flick. Nevertheless, a visit to the theater to see Kong: Skull Island on the silver screen is a good investment. If you expected occasional astounding visuals and fantastic monster fights, then Skull Island will distribute that in spades. Anticipating tangible character development and dialogue that doesn’t make you cringe is simply too much to ask. While we always prefer a satisfying mixture of both, Kong is still an enjoyable (literal) giant blockbuster. Also, don’t forget to remain seated for a post-credits tease. You’ll start to see how the larger Warner Bros. MonsterVerse starts to connect, and it’s very exciting.