Category Archives: A &E

Homegrown “American Assassin”

“American Assassin” is a novel adapted thriller action flick, from the best-selling book of the same name by Vince Flynn (deceased) in 2010.  The film was written by Edward Zwick, Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch and Marshall Herskovitz.  The flick has a heavy cast starring Dylan O‘ Brien ( “The Maze Runner,”) Michael Keaton (“Spider-Man: Homecoming,”) Sanaa Lathaan (“Love & Basketball,”) and Taylor Kitsch (“John Carter.”)

The screenplay is a modern-day intelligence based movie that focuses on the larger themes of home-grown persons that are affected by terrorist attacks and the aftermath of those grievances.  The opening scene begins in Ibiza, Spain backdrop where Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) and his girlfriend share a very intimate moment on the beach.

The scene quickly changes dramatically as terrorists invade the beach and persons find themselves under a barrage of gunfire.  What develops from this attack is an innate hatred for the terrorist cell that perpetrated the attack.  The following months find Rapp learning Arabic and mixed martial arts, placing himself closer to the terrorist cell while being monitored by the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A).

Witnessing the tenacity and where with all that Rapp uses to infiltrate the organization, C.I.A Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Lathaan) recruits him to work for the organization.  The team he becomes a part of is spare headed by Stan Hurley (Keaton).  Hurley’s job involves preparing Rapp mentally for the world that he is about to step into, despite his inexperience and emotional instability.

The characters are fluid and ever-changing, as the movie progresses and shows the multifaceted ranges that the characters are capable of projecting.  The main relationship between Keaton and O’Brien create a vibrancy that is unmatched with any other performance, outshining all others on screen.

This vibrancy is attributed to the tension that perpetuates itself on screen as their relationship is continually evolving and made the subject of the movie itself. Their relationship creates a bit of a hole in the movie where other character relationships are diminished, as viewers can’t see their value to the movie or care about them as integral parts of the movie.

The plot is not something that is original at its core but is presented in a completely different way. The plot is something that audiences can connect to in a post-9/11 world, where the threat of nuclear war and terrorism are themes regularly played out in the media. The type of familiarity is where the movie veers from others in the genre. It has the fast pacing of an action movie but devotes time to developing care for the main characters, and what motivates them.

Vesting an interest in the themes that are presented comes smoothly and with little effort on the part of the audience. It is gut-wrenching as it deals with love, grief, hatred towards the establishment and honor.

Audiences that enjoy Michael Keaton’s performances will thoroughly enjoy his range of acting here. It projects an extension of the character “The Vulture” he played in Spiderman Homecoming, as he is reserved and controlled most of the time but when pushed, explodes on screen with a volatility comparable to chemical reactions.

The plot as mentioned before presents a standard intelligence action formula, but it surprises viewers with twists and turns within the final act that were completely unexpected. It juxtaposes real-life scenarios where common sense and diplomacy must be undertaken to prevent disasters from occurring. As scenes ensue, a realization of how close the situations presented in American Assassin imitate real life.

This realization reveals that overall, the writers took the subject matter serious enough to develop the plot through its methodical use of imagery and emotional distress. Despite the serious tone, there is a lighter element underscored in the relationship that evolves between Keaton and O’Brien.

Ultimately this is the movie’s downfall as the remaining cast although, brilliant and talented, are underutilized and unable to create an extensive network for the characters to take part in. What is left in the wake of the underutilization is a personal myopic view of what is taking place, which proved to be the main point of contention for critics.

As of Oct. 1, with just over a month in theatres, the move had only grossed 44.1 million dollars compared to its budget of 33 million which is a proverbial drop in the bucket to the working hours and additional resources placed in this movie. Keenly enough it is projected in how other film critics have perceived the screenplay; IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes have scored the movie 6.6 and 33% respectively.

To be fair “American Assassin” provides a plot that has been hashed out several times over; however, what it presents to viewers in our superhero dominated theatres are the heroes amongst us, and those are persons that are willing to defend those whom cannot defend themselves. More often movies like this go unappreciated because of what’s similar with other films of the genre while negating what is fresh about them.

The final word: “American Assassin” provides a story viewers have heard but rarely ever see in such detail. The chemistry between the leads, beautiful landscapes back dropping most scenes, and an explosive ending gives a thrill ride that most viewers will enjoy.

A Working Relationship: The Mountain Between Us Review

The strikingly handsome Idris Elba (“Dark Tower,”) and the gorgeous, Kate Winslet (“Titanic”) star in “The Mountain Between Us.” Both Academy Award winners encapsulate the big screen in this fall flick. The movie was released in theatres on Oct. 6, 2017. With 45 days of continuous production, a temperature of negative 38 degrees Celsius and an altitude of 10,500 ft., shooting became a challenge for both actors and set crew.

Moreover, this movie was directed by Dutch/Palestine director Hany Abu-Assad, who is also a two-time nominee for Oscars in the foreign language category. Inspired by the novel written by Charles Martin of the same name published on June 1, 2010, the movie is tragic, yet romantic. Additionally, Charles Martin collaborates with Abu-Assad to theatrically bring the characters Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) to life, as they explore how the persons will survive as they are the only persons for miles. The task at hand for Abu-Assad and Martin was to bring about a romantic relationship between the two effectively.

The movie begins as Ben and Alex travel to Denver for different reasons. Ben is a neurosurgeon who is in haste to perform an urgent surgery. Meanwhile, Alex who is a photojournalist is eager to return to Denver in time for her wedding the following day. From previous movies, both Elba and Winslet are ideal characters for The Mountain Between Us. Idris’ demeanor is one of resilience and strong-willed portrayed in “Thor” while Winslet survived tragedy in the “Titanic” and has been the epitome of a survivor since.

Ben and Alex’s desperate need to get to Denver is compromised when their pilot (flying them from Idaho to Denver), Walter has a stroke mid-flight, which is where the movie’s plot evolves.

The numerous mountains, a forest, and a frozen lake provide harsh conditions for the duo to persevere against. Alex and Ben, accompanied by the deceased pilot’s Golden Labrador, began a long trek towards civilization.

From the previews, it was eminent that survival would be the central theme of this movie. However, the title of the film “The Mountain Between Us” gives the illusion that this movie is solely about a couple who experience difficulties in a relationship. On the contrary, the movie is about being disconnected from civilization and persisting through hardship, which fosters a romantic relationship between the characters.

The movie addresses the possible outcomes of what is most probable to occur when two people are separated from civilization amidst chaos. Initially, arguments arise as Ben and Alex are stranded on the mountain, but mending occurs when they must cooperate with each other to survive and make it out alive.

Another major theme of this movie explores the rule of three which states that humans can only survive three days without water, three hours without shelter and three minutes without air. However, this movie tests the rule of three” as the characters are placed in a predicament that causes them to depend on each other defying the rule of three.

According to the book written by Charles Martin, the characters are separated from civilization for about four weeks, so it is relatively evident to figure out the outcome of this perilous yet mysterious journey.

The movie attempts to depict the possible outcomes of being separated from civilization and the journey of working together to make it back home alive. While watching the movie those that are familiar with the book and movie “Lord of The Flies” written by William Golding, would be reminded of the plane crash, arguments and chaos, and the need of cohesiveness to return to civilization safely.

With a PG-13 rating and a 103-minute run time, parents and guardians are strongly advised to accompany kids, due to minor sexual content and adult situations. The movie stirs mixed emotions on being faithful to one’s partner under the circumstances of separation. The theme is explored when in the movie Alex engages in a romantic relationship with Ben despite being on the precipice of her nuptials. It appears for most of the film that she has forgotten about her fiancé, but we are left to wonder if the romantic relationship occurred because of “cabin fever.”.

Overall, this movie is a must-see that will capture audience’s attention throughout the film. Both Elba and Winslet become the characters they were intended to be.

They both understood their roles and their real-life character traits are evidently seen when they must depend on each other to survive. Both characters are strong-willed and have excellent chemistry on screen. The only uncertainty comes as we are left not knowing whether Alex will tell her fiancé about her short-lived relationship with Ben

“Cuphead” Brings Back Old-School Animation

“Cuphead” features many different kinds of bosses, with many gimmicks and tricks to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting. Credit: @StudioMDHR

One of the strangest games to be announced at Microsoft’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) conference in 2014 was “Cuphead.” An Xbox exclusive side-scrolling retro-cartoon inspired indie game released by two brothers as their first game.

“Cuphead” is a retro game in every meaning of the word. Its art style is the single most striking part of the game. The game is a made as a love letter to 80’s and 90’s kids who grew up watching old timey Disney movies while playing side scrolling run and gun games. The developers, StudioMDHR, made up of the two brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, even stated that they themselves grew up watching old cartoons on compilation VHS tapes and late at night reruns.

While the art style is obviously incredibly retro inspired, the gameplay is as well. One of the most popular genre of 90’s gaming was the side scrolling run and gun game. The gameplay is incredibly simple while also being very difficult but enjoyable to play. The player needs to move the titular character, Cuphead, from left to right on the screen with a small gun as their only weapon. This gameplay, while simple and fun, is also deceptively difficult, with many players taking to social media with their frustrations.

The art style of the game, being as beautiful as it is, also runs at 60 frames per second, making it look incredibly fluid and sharp. This graphical choice and fidelity allows players to trace the path of every bullet and projectile coming at their characters. The art style also allows for any single still screenshot of the game to look like it is taken straight out of a 1930’s hand painted cartoon, like the old Disney Mickey Mouse cartoons.

The story of “Cuphead” is fairly simple, as is to be expected by its genre and inspirations. Side scrolling games are not usually known for rich and heavy stories like you would find in a “Grand Theft Auto” or “Life is Strange.” Instead, the motivations of characters in this genre of games is usually as simple as “save the princess!” or “stop Dracula!”.

The story of “Cuphead” simply resolves around the titular Cuphead and his brother, Mugman. Cuphead and Mugman sneak into a casino and eventually make a deal with the devil for their souls. They eventually lose to the Devil, who says that if they are able to collect the contracts other residents of their land owe him then he will let them go. The player then must battle many bosses to receive their soul contracts for the devil. The developers purposefully made the story a bit different than the standard “damsel in distress” trope, making the main problem of the game a problem brought along by Cuphead himself.

“Cuphead” released on Sep. 29, 2017, over three years after it was initially revealed to massive praise and sales from players and critics alike. The game received a 9.5 out of 10 from gaming magazine Destructoid, 5 stars from GamesRadar, and an 87/100 from Metacritic. These scores are very impressive for such a small game, especially being a small studio’s first attempt at developing a video game.

The game has 30 bosses, and also has post-release support coming in the form of expansion packs, each with ten to fifteen more bosses each.

In a gaming environment full of triple-A massive budget video games all with similar playstyles and graphics, Cuphead stands out as an original and beautiful game hidden in the woodwork.

Game Gone Wrong : “Gerald’s Game” Movie Review


By Madison Whatley

When the romantic getaway of a strained couple becomes malicious, Carla Gugino as Jessie Burlingame is forced to mentally confront the vestiges of her repressed childhood trauma to survive the events caused by her husband, Gerald’s (Bruce Greenwood) disturbing fantasies in the Netflix original thriller, “Gerald’s Game.” “Gerald’s Game “ is an adaptation of the Stephen King novel by the same name, released Sep. 29. This suspenseful, feminist film is undoubtedly worth watching for viewers that can persevere through many unsettling scenes.

Most of the film takes place in a small bedroom in a vacation home by the shore, and with Gerald’s early removal, the film’s limited setting and characters allow viewers to focus solely on the development of Jessie. Because she is rendered stationary throughout her predicament, the plot is mostly mental. Viewers learn about Jessie through her dreams depicting abuse that she received as a child as well as her hallucinations of herself and her husband representing the tension between her gutsy spirit and the meek persona that she had taken on in response to her traumatic experiences. Between the looming presence of her husband’s rotting corpse, a starving, bloodthirsty dog, and an ominous man with a collection of bones and the threat of death by starvation and dehydration, Jessie is under high stress. It is easy to understand how these dark circumstances have drudged up tough memories for her. Her trauma is a mental block that could condemn her to death.

In the opening scene, the couple packs their bags as Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” (1962) plays in the background. The scene shifts to the couple in the car on the way to the vacation home and Gerald is playing the song in the car until Jessie shuts it off to “enjoy nature.” The song is sweet and upbeat, fit for an exciting occasion. However, closer inspection of the lyrics reveals a more sinister tone that foreshadows the dark turn that is about to take place in the film: “You know I’ll always be your slave/ ‘Till I’m buried, buried in my grave.” Once Jessie is in the room, there is no music. The audience feels Jessie’s anxiety and understands the helplessness of her situation. The audience only hears what she can: the sounds of the room. The only time that music comes up again is when Jessie recalls a specific instance of abuse against her as a child. Her father puts an oldies station on the radio, and during a pivotal moment, “Bring It on Home to Me” begins to play. This choice by the filmmaker shows the parallel between Jessie’s husband and her father.

Jessie’s uncovering of a long-forgotten piece of her past is what ultimately reveals to her a grizzly means of escaping the bedroom. The imagery of the solar eclipse in the film is symbolic of the overlap between her past and present. By surviving the ordeal, she brings herself “out of the darkness,” but not without lingering repercussions. While it would be unrealistic to show a complete recovery from the abuse, the resolution instead portrays female empowerment as a journey of resilience. Jessie is finally able to exercise her potential and work towards her fulfillment.

It is especially refreshing to see feminism in a genre that is known for its objectification and weak characterizations of women. Although Jessie is the typical passive female victim at the beginning of the story, in a deviation from the norm, she becomes a hero for herself.

Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan is certainly earning his stripes in the horror genre. With recent 2016 works Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil in addition to Gerald’s Game as his most recent release, he is becoming known for creating suspense with vulnerable characters and confined spaces and executing it exceptionally well. Fans can look forward to his upcoming projects: a remake of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and a Netflix original TV series The Haunting of Hill House based on the novel by Shirley Jackson.

Gerald’s Game is a sophisticated and honest survival story that adds depth to the typically cookie-cutter genre of horror, but it is not suitable for younger or more squeamish audiences. For its originality and oddly uplifting mood:

Movie Review Score:                             4.5 out of 5 Paws


Fight For Humanity, Glory, and Loot in “Destiny 2”


It has been three years since the release of “Destiny,” now the sequel is here, and it is a stunning game that will keep players hooked for quite some time.

“Destiny 2” remains in a strong first-person gameplay since the original title but improves the overall experience by adding a much longer campaign with an attention-grabbing story. The new game has significantly improved graphics that make it one of the most visually appealing role-playing games on the market. “Destiny 2” also brings back the same cooperative gameplay experience that lets players team up with friends to complete a wide variety of challenges and missions.

The developer, Bungie has done a great job making a game that stays true to the original “Destiny” gameplay but has been able to improve in nearly every area of the massive online title.   “Destiny 2” is a continuation of the first game, but shortly after starting it, the player finds that everything that had been built in the prior campaign is soon destroyed. Starting from scratch will make players feel important, even if they skipped out on the first game.

The campaign offers around 10 hours of play time, and that is without doing side activities and participating in the Crucible player vs. player part of the game. The story puts players in the position of a Guardian, that use a power called the Light to protect earth’s last city from different alien races. The new antagonist, the Red Legion army, invade the Last City and strip the Guardians of their Light. Players will then go on throughout the campaign trying to defeat the Red Legion army and regain their Light to take back the Last City.

When creating a guardian, players can choose between the Hunter, Titan, and Warlock classes, all of which have their own special abilities and play styles. The copious amount of gameplay styles is what helps keep “Destiny 2” entertaining even after the campaign is finished. Being able to create new characters keep players striving to reach the maximum level in each of the classes and experience the game in different ways.

The first person shooter aspect of this game may very well be the best in the business. Movements are smooth, and hit detection with weapons is top-notch. For players that are familiar with the Halo series, the gameplay of “Destiny 2” is similar, but it has certainly improved to the likes of rival competitors like the Call of Duty games.

“Destiny” as a series has been forged to constantly be in an online environment, meaning that players will mostly be matched with others to complete objectives and battle enemies. Bungie has done a flawless job with this cooperative experience, there are never any matchmaking screens, with the automatic addition of adding in other players. Teaming up with friends is just as easy by joining a fireteam with up to 6 players to help one another complete missions and compete in events.

For gamers interested in player vs. player game modes, “Destiny 2’s” Crucible mode lets guardians face off against each other and play in games that give out loot at the end of each match. It is a fun way to get competitive with other players and earn rewards in the process.

What makes “Destiny 2” such a complete game is that over the next couple of years, the developers at Bungie plan to keep adding on to the title with massive expansions that will reshape the current game. The game is backed by one of the largest online communities and will always be coming out with new events to partake in allowing players to collect an increasing amount of loot.

“Destiny 2” is a true blockbuster of a game that will continue to impress players for years to come. All of the best aspects of the first game have been carried over and improved in the sequel. The Destiny series combines the role-playing game experience and smooth gameplay mechanics of a modern first-person shooter.                                                                                 “Destiny 2” is one of the best games to hit the market this year and will not disappoint gamers.                             Game Review Score:                       4.5 out of 5 Paws