Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Stubs: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) Starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie. Based on Mission: Impossible (TV Series) created by Bruce Geller. Produced by Tom Cruise, J. J. Abrams, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Christopher McQuarrie, Jake Myers Runtime: 147 minutes. USA Action, Espionage

If you’re looking for a negative review of the new Mission: Impossible film, Fallout, then you should look elsewhere. While not a perfect film, Fallout definitely checks all the boxes for a Summer season film. Big star, check. Lots of action, check. It’s a sequel, check. While I was a fan of the previous film, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), I will say the new film is not only bigger but better.

For the most part, this is a continuation of Rogue Nation, taking some of the characters and themes from that film and bringing them to what seems like a conclusion, though I would have said the same thing about the last film as well. For some reason, the only main character from Rogue Nation not to make it to this film is William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). There is no explanation offered for his absence even though the character had been a fixture in the last two films, dating back to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011).

The story continues with the struggle between IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a former MI6 agent who went rogue and became the supreme leader of the Syndicate, whose ambition was to shake the new world order up and somehow, through its own warped logic, save civilization by destroying it. Even though their leader has been in prison, the Syndicate has not given up on their goal.

Like James Bond films, Mission: Impossible has a penchant for foreign locales, in this case, Paris, London and, of course, Kashmir. And like Bond, Hunt is not only the object of desire of any strong and attractive woman he comes in contact with, he is also hailed as the only thing standing between us and chaos in the world.

Tom Cruise does many of his own stunts in Mission: Impossible - Fallout.

A place where this out does Bond are the stunts. Cruise, who does many of his own, is a real risk taker and it is unusual to see a major star doing his own reckless stunt work. At least it looks reckless, I’m sure there are above and beyond precautions to ensure his safety, as well as the continuation of the franchise. In the end, they still look very, very dangerous and daring.

The acting is for the most part pretty good. Since this group has acted together before, there is a real sense of camaraderie amongst the cast. There is a playfulness to the relationship between Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benjamin "Benji" Dunn (Simon Pegg) which only works since we’ve seen them together through several films.

Getting the band together again, in this case, "Benji" (Simon Pegg), Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson,
Ethan (Cruise), and Luther (Ving Rhames) in Mission: Impossible - Fallout.

I know there has been the ongoing talk of a female Bond and if it is okay that she’s Swedish, I would recommend Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), who has the beauty of Ingrid Bergman and the toughness, on screen, of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. And she can, obviously, play an English character.

Alec Baldwin is a fine actor who has done much more challenging roles in his time than the Trump impersonation he is now probably best known for these days. It's also good to see Henry Cavill do something more on screen than play the one-dimensional Superman that he's been in the DCEU Justice League franchise.

Having the same director and writer as Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie helps give the franchise a consistency that others, like Die Hard, sorely lack. I would hope, that should there be another sequel in the series, and there probably will be, they should stick with McQuarrie at the helm.

As a writer, myself, there are a couple of plot holes that the film doesn’t try to hide. (I’m sensitive to things I couldn’t get away with in my own work.) There are actually fewer in this film than there were in predecessors but like any summer film, you have to overlook those and go with the ride. And Mission: Impossible – Fallout is quite a ride. Sit back and enjoy.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Second Look - The Last Airbender

Note: This review contains spoilers for both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Last Airbender.

Thinking back on my original review of The Last Airbender by M. Night Shyamalan, I realized that it was a bit immature and didn’t really go into that much detail about the movie. In light of this, I have decided to re-watch the movie in order to give it a more proper review, this time after having actually watched the entirety of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon on which it is based, as well as Book One of its sequel series, The Legend of Korra.

The four elements (Water, Earth, Fire, Air) lived in harmony, until everything changed when the Fire Nation began to seize control over the other Nations. Years later in the Southern Water Tribe, a Waterbender (one who can control water) named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) happen upon a boy who was frozen underwater for over 100 years. This young boy, Aang (Noah Ringer), turns out to be the last of the Airbenders (ones who can control air) as well as the long-disappeared Avatar, the only one who can control all four elements and who is destined to bring balance to the world. While Aang seeks to master the other elements in the cycle, starting with Waterbending, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) from the Fire Nation seeks the Avatar for himself to regain his honor.

Aang (Noah Ringer), both the Avatar and the last surviving Airbender.

The general story of the movie covers the events of Book One of the source cartoon. In theory. On its own, the movie has sort of an odd pacing, often feeling like a lot is happening and at the same time not, causing it to at times come off as slow and boring. Sometimes scene transitions seem non-existent, filled in occasionally by narration, though it’s to the point where it may as well have made liberal use of a “Scene Missing” title card as a placeholder. Further exacerbating this is events being brought up that either weren’t shown on-screen or just come out of nowhere, as well as things just simply being explained very poorly. At one point on their travels (the reason for which goes unexplained until after they’re already at an Earth Tribe village), Aang mentions seeing maps that we’re only told Sokka has and a raid on a Great Library is only spoken of and never shown. At another point there’s suddenly talk of a Moon Spirit that only gets explained later, as if you’re supposed to already know what it is.

As an adaptation, the movie feels like what happens if you press “Play All” on the Book One DVD and then just skip random episodes for no discernable reason. Many of the aforementioned scene transitions feel like important events or even entire episode plots were skipped, leaving some plot holes and abrupt time jumps. Some plot holes are introduced by events that were either added for the movie or were altered from their original context. For example, the movie introduces an Avatar Test that allowed the Fire Nation to figure out Aang was the Avatar by having him bend the other elements, yet he later says he can only Airbend, leaving one to wonder how he was able to pass the test in the first place.

Zuko (Dev Patel, left) and Iroh (Shaun Toub, right) giving Aang the
(unnecessary) Avatar Test.

One scene taken from the cartoon has a group of captured Earthbenders (ones who can control earth) unable to Earthbend, leaving Aang to raise their spirits again to fight back against the present members of the Fire Nation. The problem with this scene is that, whereas the Earthbenders were captured on a metal ship in the cartoon (as Metalbending, an extension of Earthbending, wasn’t discovered yet), they are instead captured on land (aka Earth) in the movie, making it seem as though Aang is instead calling them out for being idiots (not to mention the infamous “pebble dance”, more on that later).

There’s also an alteration in how Firebending (controlling fire) works. In the original cartoon, Firebenders are able to create and control fire out of thin air, or even simply channel heat through their hands. In this movie, Firebending instead requires fire to be already present, with General Iroh’s (Shaun Toub) ability to create fire treated as a major plot twist. Not only does this make the Fire Nation seem like much less of a threat than they were in the source material, it also creates another small plot hole since Zuko is at one point seen being able to channel heat into his hands to break through ice.

Casting choices aside, the acting in the movie leaves something to be desired. Either through inexperience or poor direction, the acting comes off more often than not as being somewhat stilted or wooden, leading to the idea that the movie is just going through the motions in regards to the original story. Many scenes in the movie lend to this idea as well, such as a bit from the show where Aang is captured by the Fire Nation and then rescued, as though the movie felt like it “had to” be in there as opposed to making it feel more like part of the story.

The special effects also leave something to be desired, as though the effects themselves wanted to get things over with. The Fire- and Waterbending effects are somewhat decent, though the Earthbending was a bit disappointing. While the Earth Tribe is able to perform moves displayed in the show, the most impressive effect is making a temporary wall of earth while a very laughable sequence is the aforementioned “pebble dance” bit; the fact that a wall takes only one Earthbender to create while a small rock requires at least six to manipulate seems to make the Earthbenders look as weak as, if not weaker, than the Firebenders in the movie. I can’t say much about the Airbending, since the usage is rather minimal, though the effects seen were at least okay.

Did this really need six people?

An issue commonly brought up in regards to this film, which I will cover for completeness, is the many changes in pronouncing character names compared to the cartoon. While some (ex. Katara, Zuko) get to keep their names intact, many others get their names pronounced differently than how fans of the series would expect. This includes Aang (rhymes with “gang”) becoming “Ong”, Sokka (“Sock-uh”) said as “Soh-kah”, Iroh (“Eye-roh”) being read as “Ee-roh” and, perhaps most gratingly, the word “Avatar” being pronounced inconsistently; half the time it’s said as “Ahvatar” for some reason. Another like alteration is Sokka’s characterization, losing his ability to make wisecracks in translation. I will also say that, while many things from the movie look somewhat screen-accurate to the cartoon, with some occasional liberties taken to make it more cinematic (ex. Aang’s Air Nomad tattoos go from simple arrows to more intricate designs), the characters often do not fully resemble their TV show counterparts in terms of costume design; for some this also includes skin tones, which is all I will say about that.

As a movie, The Last Airbender is not that great. As an adaptation of a highly-regarded Nickelodeon cartoon, it’s even worse. Adaptation gripes aside, it’s easy to see why this movie bombed M. Night Shyamalan’s career, though his ultimate comeback would come with the movie Split (2016), to seemingly make a full recovery with the upcoming Glass (the long-awaited sequel to Unbreakable). To summarize (quoting Avatar: The Last Airbender S3E17 “The Ember Island Players”):

Zuko: That ... wasn't a good play.
Aang: I'll say.
Katara: No kidding.
Suki: Horrible.
Toph: You said it.
Sokka: But the effects were decent!

I would not recommend this movie to Avatar/Korra fans, nor even to M. Night Shyamalan fans, unless they really feel the need to experience it for themselves. Otherwise, if you’re not familiar with the source material, just watch the cartoon instead.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Stubs - Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) Starring: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers. Directed by Nathan Hertz. Screenplay by Mark Hanna. Produced by Bernard Woolner. Runtime: 65 minutes. United States. Black and White. Science Fiction, Drama.

Sometimes science fiction films have misleading titles in that they seem to promise more than they actually deliver. Case in point, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Shot on a budget of only $88,000, the film began life as The Astounding Giant Woman, intended as a take-off on the trend in 1950’s sci-fi of size-changing humans: The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). What sets this apart is that the main protagonist is a woman.

The film opens with reports of a number of sightings of an enormous, glowing red ball from around the world. The news announcer on fictional channel KRKR (Dale Tate) relays that the satellite appears to be headed in the direction of the western United States.

A big satellite appears in the road in the desert of California,
forcing Nancy Archer's (Allison Hayes) car off the road.

That night, Nancy Fowler Archer (Allison Hayes) has one more in a series of arguments with her husband Harry (William Hudson) and drives off half-crazed into the night. As she’s driving through the California desert, a red spherical object lands in her way and, in her panic, she stalls the car. When a gigantic man emerges from the sphere and reaches out for her, Nancy turns and, screaming, runs back to town.

Harry (William Hudson) is having an affair with the aptly named Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers).

Meanwhile, back at Tony’s bar in the nearby town, Harry is sitting with his girlfriend, Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers), drinking and discussing how they might get Nancy’s fortune. It is revealed that Nancy has already spent time in a sanitarium after she and Harry temporarily separated. This is common knowledge as it turns out, so when Nancy runs into town barefoot and frantically relates her sighting, Sheriff Dubbitt (George Douglas) assumes she has had a relapse. Because she pays most of the taxes collected, Dubbitt placates her and agrees to return to the desert with her and his deputy, Charlie (Frank Chase).

They find her car and the Sheriff and his Deputy pretend to search for the sphere and the giant. Dubbitt cautions Nancy about the dangers of wearing her famous Star of India diamond while driving alone, which is not something she wants to hear. Still angry, Nancy drives home.

Harry undresses Nancy and puts her to bed.

Harry, who has been warned by Charlie that she’s looking for him, is somehow already there waiting for her. Nancy bitterly demands that Harry leave, declaring they should never have reconciled. But Nancy also admits that she’s still in love with him. Nancy reveals her fantastic experience in the desert, pleading with him to believe her. Instead, Harry mollifies Nancy and then gives her a sleeping pill before returning to Tony’s, where he finds Honey dancing with Charlie.

Harry returns to find Deputy Charlie (Frank Chase) dancing with Honey.

He tells Honey that Nancy is apparently suffering from emotional duress again and they discuss the possibility of recommitting her and gaining legal control of her estate. He tantalizes her with the Star of India, which he had removed from around Nancy’s neck when he put her to bed.

The next day, Harry contacts Nancy’s private physician, Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon), hoping he will agree with his plans for Nancy. Instead, the doctor warns him that Nancy could not endure another sanitarium stay.

Later, Nancy accuses Harry of blatantly conducting his affair with Honey and of trying to return her to the sanitarium. She insists her experience in the desert was real and demands that Harry drive her into the desert to find the sphere. Her promise to accept institutionalization if they can’t find the sphere is what makes Harry agree to go. She insists on taking a gun over the protests of Nancy’s loyal, longtime butler, Jessup Stout (Ken Terrell).

Harry takes Nancy out to look for the Satellite only she has seen.

Harry feels pretty cocky when they don’t seem to find anything out in the desert remotely looking like the sphere. However, just at sunset, Nancy spots it and makes Harry drive her to it. When the giant re-emerges and grabs Nancy, Harry panics. After shooting several shots from his pistol, Harry leaves Nancy and drives back to the house. There he quickly packs a bag. When Jess demands to know Nancy’s whereabouts, it dissolves into a brief fistfight. Harry is younger and subdues Jessup and leaves.

When he regains consciousness, Jessup telephones Dubbitt. Charlie is sent to intercept Harry and Honey as they attempt to leave her hotel and brings them back to the house. Later, Dubbitt locates Nancy, unconscious and strangely burned, atop the roof of her pool house. Once again, Cushing tends to her.

Charlie brings Harry and Honey to the house and Cushing reveals he believes that Nancy has suffered radiation burns and has strange cuts about her neck. Told not to leave town, Harry and Honey return to her hotel. Later, Honey relates having overheard Cushing caution his nurse that the slightest overdose of Nancy’s medication could be fatal.

Later that night, Harry returns to give Nancy an overdose of the medication. He sneaks back into the house, past the nurse (Eileen Stevens) who has fallen asleep. But before he can inject her, Harry is horrified to discover that Nancy has mutated into a giant.

Harry finds that Nancy has been turned into a giant.

The next morning, Cushing has the still unconscious Nancy chained and consults with specialist Dr. Von Loeb (Otto Waldis) that he’s brought in on the case.

One of the better shots when Jess (Ken Terrell) and Sheriff Dubbitt
(George Douglas) explore the satellite and see the Star of India.

Meanwhile, Dubbitt and Charlie discover an enormous series of footprints in Nancy’s garden. Dubbitt sends Charlie back into town for reinforcements and then he and Jess follow the tracks into the desert. There they discover the red sphere with the hatch open. They explore inside and find Nancy’s diamond and others apparently used for fuel.

See-through giant alien.

When the men see the giant, they run away, but he gives chase and destroys their car. Dubbitt hurls grenades at the giant, which cause him to return to the sphere, which then disappears into the night sky.

The giant alien destroys the car the Sheriff was driving.

Back at the Archers’, Nancy awakens and begins screaming for Harry. Charlie is once more dispatched to bring Harry back. He finds Harry at Tony’s with Honey, but, having decided to withhold all approval for medical treatment for Nancy, Harry refuses to return.

Cushing and Von Loeb attempt to tranquilize Nancy with an elephant syringe, but she rouses and, breaking the chains, bursts out of the house going in search of Harry. Charlie finds Dubbitt and Jess walking back from the desert and when they return to the Archers', discover the house in shambles and learn of Nancy’s escape.

Giant Nancy on her way to town.

Giant Nancy arrives in town and, as people flee in terror, she destroys Honey’s hotel looking for Harry. Charlie returns to Tony’s and desperately tries to convince the drunken Harry to hide. When Nancy attempts to break into Tony’s, Harry shoots at her, to no avail.

Charlie shoots at Giant Nancy to no avail.

When Nancy rips the roof off of Tony’s, a beam drops down on Honey, killing her. Nancy then snatches up Harry and carries him off, crushing him in her fist.

The roof is about to come down on Honey.

Dubbitt fires several shotgun blasts at Nancy without effect, but as she walks by the city power lines, he fires again and the lines explode, shocking and killing her. When she collapses, they find she is still clutching Harry’s lifeless body.

Giant Nancy is dead and is still clutching Harry's lifeless body.

To put it mildly, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is one of the lesser science fiction films to come out of the 1950s. There is a cheapness all the way through it from the really bad special effects to the underwhelming acting from the leads. There weren’t any awards waiting in the future for Allison Hayes, William Hudson, or Yvette Vickers.

Allison Hayes was a glamour girl turned actress. Sadly, being the 50 Foot Woman was the height of her career. A model turned actress, Hayes would continue acting mostly on television on such series as General Hospital and Bat Masterson.

William Hudson started out working mostly in television on series such as I Led Three Lives, Rocky Jones Space Ranger and Death Valley Days. He would also appear, though not the star, in such films as Mister Roberts (1955), My Man Godfrey (1957), and The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). He is really not leading man material and it shows here.

Harry is a horrible human, not for having an affair, that’s almost understandable, but for leaving his wife to die on the side of the road like that. You really can’t come back from that sort of total disregard for another human being and be considered anything but a skunk.

Yvette Vickers was best known as Playmate of the Month July 1959.

It might come as no surprise but Yvette Vickers’ best-known appearance might be in the pages of Playboy magazine, where she was July 1959 Playmate of the Month in a photo spread shot by Russ Meyer. Her film roles included an uncredited appearance in Sunset Boulevard (1950), Short Cut to Hell (1957) directed by James Cagney, Reform School Girl (1957), and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959).

Comedy relief, for what it is, is supplied by Frank Chase, a character actor best remembered for his role as the corny deputy, Charlie. By the end of the 1950’s, he had left acting for writing, like his father Borden Chase had been. Chase would right for such TV series as The Virginian and High Chaparral. Sadly, he is almost the most memorable performance in this film.

While you don’t expect great acting from 50’s sci-fi, you also don’t expect great special effects. However, these are particularly bad. The optical effects are poor, to say the least. When Nancy is growing she is either a prosthetic arm that looks like bad papier-mâché or she is shown as a double exposed image as high as the power lines or the building, whichever she has to be as tall as, she is often see-through as is the giant alien and his satellite at times. All of it is MST3K-worthy of ridicule.

An example of the less than stellar special effects in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
 I don't think she's supposed to be see-through.

The story is all over the place. There’s fifties’ adultery, no sex no nudity. There is also the science fiction that really seems to have no purpose. A big red satellite passes by all the major cities of the world to land in the California desert. Why? Does the giant alien somehow know about the Star of India diamond? Why does what he does turn Nancy into a giant as well? There is never any attempt to make any of it make sense. We’re just supposed to watch this train wreck without questioning or looking for any sort of logic. Low budgets don’t have to equate with no story.

Being bad should have been a sign for Hollywood to walk away from the story, but the film made money, so you know there had to be sequels and remakes, at least talks of each. Profits are easy when the film costs $80,000 to produce, so there was talk of a sequel, which, thankfully, never materialized.

Remakes were also talked about. In 1979, Dimension Pictures discussed a remake with Paul Morrissey, a disciple of Andy Warhol, as director. That never materialized, nor did Jim Wynorski’s mid-80s planned project with Sybil Danning in the title role.

It took HBO to actually make a telefilm in 1993 with Christopher Guest directing and starring Daryl Hannah in the title role. Hannah also produced the film.

There is very little to recommend the original Attack of the 50 Foot Woman other than its camp appeal. It doesn’t take much digging to find better sci-fi films. That said, this film does have a cult following and I would almost always recommend an original over a remake. So, if you’re in the mood for tall women in a film that’s short on plot, then this is the film for you. If you want to see a really good sci-fi film, then keep looking.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

G.I. Joe: Resolute

A number of ‘80s toyline properties initially aimed at children, including some of Hasbro’s IPs, have since garnered an adult fanbase, some of which would rather that franchise cater to them. Rarely does such a franchise actually deliver on this request, which is where G.I. Joe: Resolute comes in. Originally released as a series of 11 episodes (ten 5-minute and one 10-minute) released on [adult swim]’s website, these were then compiled into a feature that was aired on TV and released to home media in this form. Though I’m more of a drive-by fan of G.I. Joe, this special seemed intriguing enough that I watched it via DVD. Not only was it better than I expected, by the end of it I almost wanted to see what happened next.

Cobra Commander (Charlie Adler) has taken the world hostage, threatening to destroy various nations around the world with a particle beam unless the UN gives him control over all of them within 24 hours. When Cobra Commander destroys Moscow to show he’s serious, the Joes, led by Duke (Steve Blum), work tirelessly to come up with a plan to stop Cobra’s plans. Meanwhile, Snake-Eyes has some personal business to take care of when Storm Shadow (Eric Bauza) challenges him to a final showdown at their dojo.

There’s a lot going on in the story, however everything resolves and comes together in interesting ways. The combined form of the special results in some hesitations, meaning you can tell when each of the original episodes starts and ends, however these actually allow one to better absorb what’s going on in the feature’s multiple subplots. The story is overall one of the better takes on G.I. Joe that I’ve seen, not just because of its more violent/serious nature, rather it was just really well-written and executed.

Storm Shadow (Eric Bauza, left) and Snake-Eyes (right) about to face off.

The animation, provided by the well-regarded studio Titmouse, Inc., is very well-done, using a polished, yet gritty art style that fits well with the G.I. Joe setting. Knowing that Titmouse animates in Flash makes the animation quality seem more impressive than it already is since it’s not obvious and very much resembles a more traditionally-animated series.

The voice acting for Resolute is impressive, especially given the size of the cast and that all of them are voiced by four people between them: Steve Blum, Eric Bauza, Grey DeLisle and Charlie Adler. Each actor’s vocal range is on good display here, each of them providing voices for several characters at once while still making them sound different from each other. Steve Blum’s range kind of shows a little if you’re familiar with some of his other work, however I only knew it was him when voicing Duke and some background Joes without realizing who he also voiced (among them Ripcord and Zartan) until the credits rolled. Charlie Adler’s take on Cobra Commander is rather interesting; having seen clips of the original cartoon where the late Chris Latta voiced the character, it was evident that Adler was trying to emulate Latta while at the same time giving it a more sinister twist that matched his more ruthless personality in this feature (amusingly, Latta and Adler have also each provided a voice for different versions of Starscream in the Transformers franchise, as has Blum).

G.I. Joe: Resolute is a very interesting take on G.I. Joe that older fans of the series should not miss. The animation and voice talent are excellent, as are the writing and character dynamics. Though the G.I. Joe brand generally aims at a younger demographic, Resolute was designed for a much older audience and, as such, is best not shown to any younger G.I. Joe fans. That said, even those with only a passing knowledge of G.I. Joe will be able to get some enjoyment out of Resolute.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review Hub - Metal Gear

In 1987, Konami released Metal Gear on MSX2, a release which would not only spotlight the Stealth genre of video games, but also put Hideo Kojima on the map. Since then, Kojima would continue to develop new games within the franchise, whether he wanted to or not, and continue to expand on not only the possibilities of Stealth games, but also weave an increasingly elaborate and complex tale about the soldier Big Boss and his clone, Solid Snake. Though Kojima has since moved on to bigger and better things with the new Kojima Productions and the development of Death Stranding, the Metal Gear series continues to impress gamers to this day with its engaging mechanics and ability to tell a deep story about the horrors of nuclear warfare.

Below is a list of links to every Metal Gear review on this blog, presented in order of release.




Motion Comics


Thursday, July 12, 2018


When Moss was initially announced for the PlayStation VR, I was intrigued by the concept of aiding a mouse named Quill on her quest by manipulating the environment in certain ways. The art style and Quill’s general design also got me interested in playing, though I ended up waiting until a physical copy of the game was announced before eventually picking up the game. While short, the price is definitely worth it and may leave you waiting for a sequel.

A young mouse named Quill has been chosen by a Reader (the player), who is reading a story in a library. Shortly after Quill tells her uncle about this, her uncle tries to take care of things himself, only to get captured by the evil Sarfogg, who has taken control of the kingdom the story takes place in. Upon learning about this, aided by the Reader and equipped with a magic sword via mysterious Glass she found earlier, Quill sets off to rescue her uncle from Sarfogg.

Quill (bottom left) on her journey.

The game is immersive in its own way compared to other PS VR games/demos I have played. The game encourages you to begin in a sitting position, although the environment can be freely explored by you looking around, usually by leaning or standing up to see things that may be obscured from the default view. This not only gives a great view of the amount of detail in the level design, it can also help in locating hidden scrolls that give you collectible fragments to complete an image found in the library. In addition to manipulating specific parts of the environment, the player is also able to control enemies by grabbing them, as well as restore Quill’s health by grabbing her backpack (the color of the backpack acts as an indicator); you can also destroy some objects via grabbing.

Because the default view is just close enough to the action, you may also be able to sort of connect with Quill and your emotions are heightened during certain moments. You can interact with Quill at certain points by giving her a high-five, which actually nets you a Trophy, and the general intimacy of the design caused me to feel sad for her at one point. The immersive nature of VR also makes the final confrontation with Sarfogg more terrifying that it might have been otherwise (although at some point it was replaced with frustration over multiple deaths).

Example of an environmental puzzle in the game.

The game generally sports some really good level design, featuring highly-detailed environments that can often make you want to look around and even behind you to view more. Many levels also consist of environmental puzzles that are just challenging enough to give you a feeling of satisfaction upon solving them and can put your multitasking abilities to the test. The narration by Morla Gorrondola helps sell that you are experiencing the events of a storybook, aided by the fact she has some good vocal range, and the music by Jason Graves adds to this well.

Moss is a PS VR game I would highly recommend for adventure and puzzle fans as well as those seeking to get more out of the system. The immersion factor of the game is impressive, as is the level design, providing a perfect example of what third-person VR games are capable of if done right. The game also heavily hints that Quill’s journey is only just beginning, however the execution of the concept was done so well that I’m actually looking forward to whatever sequel that developer Polyarc has planned. At $30 New (at time of writing), Moss is one of the more affordable PS VR games on the market and should not be missed.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Bayonetta 2

Note: This review contains spoilers for Bayonetta.

Following the success of the original Bayonetta, a sequel was announced three years later in 2012, but this time exclusive to Nintendo’s Wii U console. The reason was later revealed to be that Nintendo was the only company willing to greenlight a sequel in the first place, hence the exclusivity. Since I didn’t own a Wii U at the time and didn’t want to get what I viewed as a DOA console solely to play one game, I didn’t end up playing it, not even with the incentive of first run copies including a Wii U port for the original Bayonetta. It wasn’t until the announcement of Bayonetta 3 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive that I finally caved and picked up the physical Switch port of Bayonetta 2, if only so I could actually keep up with the series. Now that I’ve finally played it, it feels like PlatinumGames managed to improve on the original in just about every way.

Only a few months after the events of the original game, Bayonetta is out Christmas shopping when she and Jeanna are attacked by a group of angels. All goes well until one of Bayonetta’s demons breaks free of her command and begins to attack her as well. Although she overpowers the demon, Jeanne’s soul is removed from her body and dragged down into Inferno. While Rodin does what he can to delay Jeanne’s death, he informs Bayonetta that she will need to travel to a sacred mountain named Fimbulventr, where she can enter the real Gates of Hell and retrieve her friend’s spirit. When she arrives in the town of Noatun to begin her journey to the mountain, she runs into a boy named Loki, who seeks the mountain for reasons he can’t remember and is being chased by a masked Lumen Sage.

Loki joins Bayonetta on her journey to Fimbulventr.

The story of Bayonetta 2 is better executed than in the first game, due largely in part to a more streamlined story that easier to follow. It also manages to expand on many of the concepts introduced in the previous game without betraying previously established lore or sacrificing the charm and personality of the original. Returning characters remain consistent to their characterizations and character growth from the original, while returning character Luka is also able to display a somewhat more mature side. At the same time, the plot threads which expanded on in later parts of the game manage to slot in the events of the story to fit in with and help explain the time travel elements from the first game.

While Bayonetta 2’s story is improved, I noticed that some of the story beats seem to echo ones from the previous game. In particular, Bayonetta once again travels with a child (in this case someone she believes is a child), with Loki filling the role in place of Cereza. The plot once again involves some sort of time travel aspect, as well as someone looking for the Eyes of the World, and the final boss is ultimately defeated in a similar fashion to Jubileus, though perhaps not as memorable in execution. I’m not saying these beats are bad to echo, in fact they are handled differently and very well in their own right, but it was noticeable after playing this game immediately after completing the original.

The idea that Bayonetta 2 is similar to, but greatly improves upon, the original also extends to the core gameplay. The mechanics of the game are largely unchanged, though each one has received an upgrade or some quality of life improvements. For one, Bayonetta begins with a god number of skills earned from the previous games, including the beast transformations. These transformations are expanded upon by including the addition of a Snake Within that allows for better maneuverability during underwater sections, itself a new feature to the game, and the transformations in general are incorporated more into the larger, more open level designs.

Bayonetta's new Snake Within form.

The magic system has received some noticeable improvements as well. Taking damage no longer drains the magic gauge and reaching a full gauge now gives the choice of either executing a Torture Attack or activating an Umbran Climax, which heavily increases the damage output of Bayonetta’s weapons. Each weapon is affected differently during an Umbran Climax, though it otherwise turns every attack into a Wicked Weave attack. Crafting is also handled differently, requiring the player to select a recipe book and then select a recipe to craft from instead of manually mixing all of the ingredients. As for other general quality of life improvements, they include, but are not limited to, the lack of instant death QTEs and a much larger window for remaining QTEs, a more forgiving window for activating Witch Time (in exchange for a slightly shorter duration) and item use no longer affecting the Chapter score.

While the enemies in Bayonetta 2 are a lot more varied than in the first, both in terms of the number of Angels and Infernals and their designs, the combat generally felt easier. Certain enemies still present a challenge, including some which return from the first game, but throughout my entire playthrough on Normal, I suffered far fewer resets than in the first. Basically, the game in general is more forgiving. However, the encounters with the Masked Lumen Sage, among others, also present themselves with a larger scale than their counterparts from the original, including having summons fighting each other in the background.

Bayonetta must now do battle with Infernals as well.

The default control scheme is a bit different from the original, mainly flipped functionality of the shoulder buttons, and takes some getting used to. While I was able to adjust, I was once again playing using the Joy-Cons in a separate Joy-Con Grip. Given the somewhat cramped layout of the controller and the shape of the L and R buttons, it was incredibly easy to accidentally switch weapon sets during combat and unintentionally activate Umbran Climax when I really wanted to use a Torture Attack. As before, this game also has a touchscreen control scheme, though I would advise against it. Control changes for special segments are easier to adjust for, since these segments are now a bit shorter than the would be in the original game.

As with Bayonetta, players can visit the Gates of Hell to buy various items, weapons and techniques for use in the game. Though Halos are still the primary currency, defeating Infernals and destroying related objects will also reward the player with Orbs of crystallized demon blood which count toward the total Halo count. Recommended buys for this game are similar to the original (Air Dodge, Stiletto, Break Dance, Bat Within and Crow Within), but the new Charge Bullet skill is also worth buying for its ability to increase damage output with bullets, as is the Mallet of Rewards for its ability to increase the number of Halos and items the player receives from performing Torture Attacks. Also available in the Switch version is amiibo support, which also provides a way for the player to obtain the Chain Chomp weapon, which is highly recommended for a weapon loadout alongside Salamandra; I used both in my B set when able. I’ll note here that my A set of weapons was simply the default Love Is Blue guns (their names are Prelude, Minuet, Toccata and Nocturne).

In terms of graphics, Bayonetta 2 seems more polished than its predecessor. The characters all received a general update to their appearance, all of which seemed to match the lighter direction of the sequel. What helps is that the game seems to generally have a brighter color palette that moves it a little more away from the Devil May Cry-inspired art direction of the previous game. With this brighter palette, it seems to emphasize the color blue a bit more as sort of a theme color.

I’ll mention here that while every character received a general update to their look, the most drastic were Bayonetta, who now has noticeably shorter hair, and Jeanne, who now has noticeably longer hair. I personally liked the new looks, and actually found Bayonetta’s new look more aesthetically pleasing, but those who preferred the original looks will be glad to know that the Bayonetta 1 costumes are unlockable within this game.

Bayonetta (L) and Jeanne (R) received more drastic redesigns than the rest of the cast.

As for any differences between the Wii U and Switch versions of the game, I can only go off of what I’ve been able to look up. Apart from the aforementioned amiibo support, I found graphical differences from the Wii U version rather negligible, perhaps a slight upgrade at best.

There’s a multiplayer mode called Tag Climax where two players play as one of the characters and fight groups of angels based on which unlockable Verse Cards are chosen. Each complete match uses six of these cards and players bet a certain number of Halos on each fight in an attempt to earn more; the difficulty of each fight is based on the number of Halos wagered. Players can fight alongside the CPU while waiting for someone else to play with, though this requires the second person to also own a Switch and have their own copy of the game, even if you’re playing locally. For this reason, I only tried out the CPU version and quickly concluded it would be better to play with another human being.

The music of Bayonetta 2 is also pretty good, especially with setting the mood of each segment of the game. As with the previous game, the most noticeable track is the main theme, in this case Tomorrow Is Mine, since it’s played during combat and also at the right moments within the story.

Bayonetta 2 is a good example of a sequel that’s able to improve on the original in all of the right ways. While a lot of the core gameplay is unchanged and the story follows some similar beats, the game manages to add a new layer of polish that elevates the Bayonetta series to new heights. Though the game feels easier this time around, save for trying to get Pure Platinum rankings, it still felt very much like Bayonetta. Fans of the original game are more than likely to enjoy this installment, especially in anticipation of Bayonetta 3, while Switch owners looking for a good action game should seriously take this game into consideration. Just make sure you find time to play the original as well.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip "T.I." Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Douglas. Directed by Peyton Reed. Screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari. Based on Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby; and Wasp by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby Produced by Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard. Runtime: 118 minutes. U.S. Color Superhero, Action

Two years after appearing in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is back. In the intervening years, Scott Lang has been serving house arrest by the FBI for his actions in Germany. Meanwhile, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), are also wanted by authorities and are on the run. The most important thing in Scott's life is his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), whom his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new husband Jim Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) now encourage he see.

Hank and Hope, however, are now estranged from Scott and have their own familial interest, which revolves around Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hank's wife, Hope's mother, and the original Wasp. Based on what they think Scott knows, they can get her back from the quantum realm in which she has been trapped for the last 30 years.

Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is only one of several
villains keeping Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) from his goal.

But things are never that easy in a Marvel movie, as the Pyms have to fight not only Scott's reluctance to help but also an arms dealer turned restauranteur, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who also needs to return to the Quantum Realm and, like practically everyone in the two films, has it out for Hank. Also along for the ride are Scott's ex-con friends Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip "T.I." Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian).

There is the usual humor and action mix throughout the film that marked the first Ant-Man (2015) and has been the earmark of the MCU throughout its now 20 film run. If you've seen the original film, and have kept up on the Marvel film series, then you will not be disappointed here. This is a more ambitious effort than the first one and luckily, bigger does mean better or at least as good as the first film. (All too often the reverse is true).

There are a lot of special effects in this film, which is to be expected in a film where characters and objects can get smaller and larger with the push of a button, but they never really seem to overwhelm the film with their wizardry. Rather, they seem necessary to telling the story the way it should be told.

Ant-Man and Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) seem to have good chemistry on screen.

Paul Rudd is, as he always seems to be, likable in the role and he does seem to have some chemistry with Evangeline Lilly. Together with Peña, Harris, and Dastmalchian, Rudd provides most of the humor in the film, even contributing to the screenplay.

Luis (Michael Peña) helps provide some of the humor in the film along with Rudd.

Lilly and Douglas make a good father-daughter team as well. Douglas, who sounds more like his father, Kirk, with each passing year, is also solid in the role of the elder Pym. But despite the gray hair, you can tell that he still thinks he can take on anything that he wants.

Hope and her father Hank (Michael Douglas), while on the run,
devise a way to bring his wife back from beyond hope.

Michelle Pfeiffer is new to the series and, while she doesn't have all that much screen time, proves that she is still a good actress and still quite beautiful.

Someone who I'm sorry to say we see less and less of on film is Judy Greer. I like her, but in most films she's in, she gets very little screentime, at least in the ones I've seen. Maggie's and Jim's change of mind about Scott seems like a complete 180 from the previous film but is still nice to see.

A word of caution, to get the most out of the film and there are two additional scenes, one mid-credit and the other post, it would definitely add to your enjoyment if you have seen Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

So, at least with Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to show little signs of slowing down or even going away. As we enter Phase Four, there still seems to be a lot left in the tank and stories and characters left to explore.