The traditional 2D platformer genre accounts for some of my favorite games ever. That being said, it’s always awesome to see a game try and change the genre in new and exciting ways. Semblance does just that, in a way I’m surprised I haven’t seen before.
Semblance takes place in a fully malleable world. You can shape everything in order to suit the needs of whatever situation you find yourself in. You can reshape platforms to reach objectives or even alter your own squishy body.
For such an explosive and visually tantalizing action movie, it’s odd to consider that The Fate of the Furious nails the fundamentals and somehow fails to stick the landing. It’s hard to point to any one part of the film that does its job poorly, and yet the overall taste left in your mouth is one of only tepid adrenaline. Amidst all the jokes and stunts and drama, there’s a revelation that it all feels a bit too hollow.
It’s a shame, too, because the premise is one of the best of the franchise. Picking up after Furious 7 and the solemn and heartfelt departure of Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, we find Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) living a rather idyllic life in Havana, Cuba. Well, as idyllic as it gets for them, dealing with low-key gangsters and somehow getting into scraps that end up being resolved in cross-city car races.
The same goes for Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), too, in fact. He is found living what feels like an homage/jab at his yester-career, which is actually done rather well and paints a far more poignant picture than Dom and Letty’s reintroduction. But that all changes (as it is want to do) when a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up in Cuba to make a demand Dom simply can’t refuse.
Needless to say, that’s where we get the bit about Dom turning on family, and that’s also where we get the weakest part of the whole movie. While family had been a theme of the past seven films (and was actually the theme of Furious 7), it is more of a utility here. Family and relationships and obligations are tools to be used, chips to be traded. It’s a sentiment that is literally stated outright at multiple points in the movie.
And as monumental as it would seem Dom betraying his family despite him being the single strongest thread tying everyone together, it’s an event that is mostly glossed over. It’s presented as inconsequentially as possible. As soon as it’s over, the gang is back to cracking wise and throwing quips. The lightheartedness is appreciated in the somber and ever-present consideration as to why Brian can’t be get roped into this mess, but it certainly takes the wind out of the betrayal sails.
That’s kind of true of a lot of what happens. Several events that could otherwise be the foundation of entire other Fast and Furious movies are taken for granted. I’d rather not spoil any of them, but it’s safe to say that the several aggressive and wild tendrils of Dom’s past comes back to whip and beat at the door even though they’re presented as nothing more than your everyday turn of events. It’s both disappointing and confusing.
That being said, everything that occurs moment to moment is rather exemplary. Director F. Gary Gray puts to use his full, wide, and considerable talents to make sure the various tones work. Humor lands with subtle and impressive efficacy in the way of a Friday while action feels slick and easy despite obviously being the result of millions of dollars, tons of effort, and a fuckton of ambition à la The Italian Job. Any given scene could easily be called the most charming of the movie.
It all comes together towards the end when storylines resolve and Gray is free to go hog-wild on putting everything together in a blender, toss in a few military-grade canisters of kineticism, and turn it on motherfucking high. Between Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw laugh-inducing ass-kicking and a chase scene somehow more indulgent and eye-catching than the runway of Fast & Furious 6. Gray’s ability to know how to cut into action and not just for a reaction holds together this nonstop assault of action and makes it both digestible and enjoyable.
His chops hewn on Straight Outta Compton comes barreling onto the scene as well. With the prodigious acting ability of Theron, she not only makes a formidable antagonist but also manages to present the only cerebral threat to the crew that the franchise has managed. And it’s managed with more nuanced shades of menace (or as nuanced as a movie like this cares to get) that seemingly only Gray could handle.
The unfortunate thing, though, is that all of this rarely comes together in a smooth way. The tones often conflict with what is actually being stated or happening, especially when it comes to the crew having the time of their lives as their father figure is out galavanting as an actual terrorist. To the actors’ credit, they all pull it off with aplomb. Between Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, and Johnson as well as the newcomers Scott Eastwood and Kurt Russell, they fully commit to the shtick. (All right, Russell is returning, but it’s his first time as a fun-lover.)
And for returning fans, there’s some extra jollies to be found. Seemingly permanent fixture of the series screenwriter Chris Morgan knows how to play up the pokes at the history of this franchise. Whether it’s throwing in cameos where you both least and most expect it or making sure references land with the appropriate amount of heavy-handedness, those of you that learned to ride or die long ago will be especially happy with where this particular entry goes.
Even outside of rabid fandom, it’s impressive how this once ragtag collection of underdog movies has grown into an international action thriller brand, dipping into superhero territory at times. And now it’s embarking in a new direction with the loss of Walker, which is also a loss of one of the best pairings in modern cinema with him and Diesel. It’s not as smooth of a transition as when Fast Five hit, but it certainly could have been a lot worse.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
The best anime does the impossible. Movies do that all the time, I guess, pitting irresponsibly beautiful men and women against dinosaurs and aliens, but anime does something different. It makes this plain old world feel magical—expansive to the point of exploding with possibility—while making the ethereal appear as normal as white bread.
That’s exactly what Your Name does, the fifth film from auteur Makoto Shinkai. It tells the story of two Japanese high school students that endeavour to meet each other after they discover that their dreams of living the other’s life are real. Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) lives in a rural village stuck on the path of dedicating her life to the family’s shrine and its traditions despite wishing for a fancy life in Tokyo while Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki) actually does live in Tokyo but suffers through waiting tables and pining over a crush he’s unlikely to get.
This setup sounds like boilerplate body swapping fiction. (There’s even a Wikipedia page that lists them all if you want to check.) But this is part of the impossible that the movie achieves. It’s very little of what you would expect, and even then, the parts that you do expect are surprising in gentle and wistful ways.
A guy and a girl swap bodies. The first thing they do is what? Correct. Now make that infinitely more sweet and less crude than you could possibly think. There’s a lot of beauty in the way Your Name presents this, being subtly but meaningfully progressive in gender and sexual fluidity. And because these are two people that are complete strangers, it has a lot of room to play with regarding what they learn about each other.
It does this while avoiding the biggest trap of “oh, I had no idea you had it this hard.” There’s no Freaky Friday saccharine resolution here. It’s more about how they learn their place in life—humanity, really. As they realize what’s happening and they figure out how to deal with it with little notes left for one another, each one pushes forward in both lives with small strides that end up being huge.
Falling in love, for instance, isn’t just falling in love. It’s falling into someone, sometimes literally tumbling into the idea of another person becoming a necessity. And it’s done with tiny steps toward learning how to be bolder and how to be kinder and how to be something that ends up being in love.
The movie so quickly moves beyond just being about swapping bodies. There are several twists and turns packed into this thing, one of which is shocking in a way you don’t really see in films at all. If anything, it’s most comparable to one of the episode arcs in Life is Strange. It’s achingly gorgeous and simply complex, as if it grabbed the entire breadth of the universe and at the same time stretched it beyond infinity and compressed it down into a tiny little bead.
I’m hesitant to even say more. Every time you think the movie is coming to a close as tears well up and you think the pair have run out of road, they find a new way to blast into new territory. Your eyes, bleeding from the endless deluge of impeccable and stunning hand-drawn animation, are ripped open over and over again until it just…lets go.
It’s the kind of movie that simply sets you adrift when it’s over. It stretches out into something cosmic beyond belief while being deeply, painfully grounded. Who you are, what that means, and its malleability are thrown onto the screen in stark relief. And then it lets your head swim with everything that feels impossible, sending you back out into this plain old world with just a bit more magic.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
Thanks to Kevin Liu we now have a very good look at Leader class Rodimus Prime, capping off the first wave of Power of The Primes. Kevin’s video is of course in Chinese, but presented clearly enough to tell what’s going on anyway. Most interestingly, we get side by sides with Titans Return Hot Rod, which shows the Hot Rod form of this toy to actually be a fair bit bigger. As Titans Return Hot Rod was already a bit big for a Deluxe, you can imagine the new one is surely pushing the boundaries of being comparable with Deluxes! The video as well as plenty of screencaps can all be found below – keep reading to see it all!
Colossal is not what you expect. If you saw the trailer and went into this thinking it’s a low fantasy, summertime romp as Anne Hathaway controls a monster and saves the world, then you’d be stupendously wrong. But if you can look past the 30-story romcom monster, then you’ll find a surprising, funny, and pointed message about gender relations (and several meandering ones about a bunch of other things).
The setup is fairly benign, Garden State-level stuff. Gloria (Hathaway) is kicked out of her New York apartment by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) not specifically for being perennially unemployed but more for getting hammered every night and being hungover every day and shirking every responsibility and obligation. Her only course of action is to move back to her Middle America hometown, where she immediately runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and begins her pattern of drinking and passing out anew.
Bonus for moving back, though: a monster is now terrorizing Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately for you and me, we already know that it’s Gloria. The movie takes a bit longer to get there, and while writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is effective at making it suspenseful, the first act of the movie is lethargic. It feels like a rehash of a lot of different movies all put into one, and none of it is working particularly well.
To be fair, everyone involved does a bang-up job of selling it all. Hathaway is charming while being believably shiftless, though her general discombobulation can come across as saccharine every so often, especially as she tries to schmooze the various people in her life. And Sudeikis continues to be maximum Sudeikis, which says a lot when he has to sell the idea that being the owner of a barely profitable bar is the Daddy Warbucks dream compared to failing to inflate an air mattress.
Once the film does it’s critical turn, however, it reaaaally starts to get up and go. And it super not in the direction you would expect. Even as it first shows it’s colors of being a deep and fairly dark relationship drama, it’s hard to believe that’s the turn it takes. Between Tim, Oscar, and Oscar’s friend Joel (Austin Stowell), there are a lot of relationships to pick from to make it complicated.
This compounds in a beautiful if grotesque contrast of Gloria finally finding some semblance of meaningful control in being this ephemeral Godzilla-like amongst a blackout lifestyle where she loses her stability in New York and somehow is beset on all sides by home furnishing from an overly generous man. It pushes and pulls her in interesting ways as her emotional culpability finally catches up to her desire to live devoid of consequences with monstrous enormity.
It all centers around the idea that whether purposefully or incidentally, the men of Gloria’s life try to puppet her around. Get her to stop drinking, push her into the “right” career, tell her what to remember and what to forget. It’s a sobering simulacrum of many women’s lives. Well, up until the kaiju get involved, but even then, what could be more a manifestation of the emotional and societal response than to become a force of nature the world must reckon with.
One of the men then turns maliciously and intentionally abusive, forcing her intimacy in ways that recalls the disturbing and unflinching story of the first season of Jessica Jones. I won’t say who because it’s rather incredible and honestly a villainous turn that won’t be forgotten, but as Gloria ends up pulled between two manipulative relationships, you know you want to root for her but you don’t know what it is you want her to do, and it’s an impeccable and imprecise sensation that lends great emotional heft to the conclusion.
And that’s a damn good thing because the ending doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. If the emotional payoff wasn’t there, it would be 30 minutes of rock solid eye-rolling. And that’s as it sheds off several other ancillary and perfunctory threads like Joel and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and some vague theme about how humans in general are monsters and something else about perseverance, I guess? But the hour of investment you put into it gets you some damn fine returns by the end.
Characterizations are sometimes a mess where no one is all that likable or learns all that much, and there’s an irresponsible disregard for human life by the film itself that crops up too often when it eventually becomes a large plot point. But Vigalondo nails the relationship drama, and the actors—including the support from Nelson, Stowell, and Stevens—deliver everything their characters need and more to make it all work. If you can deal with some kaiju-level disorientation, then you will find something of a treat in Colossal.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
RAC is back to spoiler-free reviews once again! This month in Optimus Prime: family, friends, and warriors coming to terms with both war and peace. “The Life of Sideswipe” is written by John Barber with art by Kei Zama and colors by Josh Burcham. Click here to read the review!
Free Fire is in the same stroke an absurdist presentation of the longest gunfight you’ll ever see and one grounded in an odd hyperrealism you don’t see much in action films. What starts as a funny and loose character study with an improbable amount of bullets ends the same way. And while that may sound like a one-note movie, that one note tends to be slick, sassy, and worth your time.
The premise to Free Fire sounds like the answer to the question of what is the least reliable combination of people to enter into a midnight gun deal. Two no-nonsense IRA members with two knucklehead henchmen are attempting to buy several crates of automatic rifles from a slimy South African arms dealer and his commensurate crew of muscle while a couple of (mostly) independent intermediaries grease the wheels in an abandoned factory.
Like I said, a recipe for trouble, and a somewhat overflowing one at that. There may just be three parties involved, but there are a lot of moving parts within each one and as a whole. Writer/director Ben Wheatley (co-writing with Amy Jump), however, manages to condense the entire thing into the base components. By mostly coincidence, one henchmen from each of the two main parties recognize each other after having gotten into a brawl the night before. And slowly but surely, the match inches closer and closer to the powder keg until the shooting starts and doesn’t stop.
This quick introduction performs admirably at setting up exactly what you should expect from the rest of the movie. Everyone—seriously everyone—is there to chew the scenery. The debilitatingly stupid Stevo (Sam Riley), for instance, plays the shady underling who tries to get out from under his rightful retribution with a slithering that Kevin Corrigan would be proud of.
He is the perfect foil to the marginally sharper but equally hotheaded and selfish Harry (Jack Reynor) so when the punches between the two escalate to bullets, it plays believably in a vaudevillian kind of way. And then the bullets start flying, seemingly randomly piercing appendages with little to no consequence, and the movie becomes a delicious pit of absurdity where A-list celebrities crawl around the dirty-covered floor for 90 minutes.
The more recognizable faces rip into their roles with an unfettered savagery that looks like they’ve been wanting for years. Brie Larson as Justine explodes into over-the-top rage at whim while shooting off Liz Lemon-level eye rolls. Cilian Murphy takes his Peaky Blinders Irishness with Chris up to the realm of caricature, stoic and cold for all the worst/best reasons.
And then you throw in Armie Hammer’s Ord, a character that looks like Hammer having the best time of his life in three acts. Ord is like a cherry-picked gestalt of all his favorite parts of his past roles with a little bit Winklevoss propriety, a dash of Illya Kuryakin’s consummate composure, and maybe a sprinkle of the oozing charm of Gabriel Edwards. And showing this against Sharlto Copley’s skeevy and overly, almost inexplicably South African Vernon is like a comedy duo where neither one knows if they’re the straight man or the banana man.
The characters, in fact, are really the only reason any of this works. There’s very little in the way of explosive, eye-catching action, though Wheatley does an admirable job keeping everyone and everything digestible. And as everyone starts taking lead in the legs, there’s even less in the way of standing action, everyone crawling around behind conveniently placed cement blocks like bugs avoiding the light.
With such a robust cast, it’s only natural some would take the lead while others bolster them. But some of them feel a bit like a waste, as the jokes the more prominent characters fall flat. Larson is especially underutilized with her motivations and her principles so clearly defined and immediately appreciable. And the relationship between Vernon and his cohort Martin (Babou Ceesay) would have been fun to play with had Martin not spent most of the movie pretty well removed from the action.
As it is, though, Free Fire knows pretty much exactly what it is, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. At a lean 90 minutes, it gets in and gets out in a way these hapless underworld criminals just couldn’t manage. It doesn’t have anything new to say or anything extraordinary to hand you, but it does have a lot of fun showing you what it is. And that is a rare thing to find.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Based on the title alone, you’d think that Loot Rascals is all about the loot. (And rascals, if you want to be pedantic about it.) For that much, it’s true, but the game is also difficult, esoteric at times, and damn hard to put down. It combines a lot of odd parts into a surprisingly compelling whole.
Perhaps that’s what you get when you have a man who says he’s not interested in roguelikes design a game that cribs quite a few staples from the revival genre. Ricky Haggett and the rest of the team at Hollow Ponds have created a game that features procedurally generated maps chockfull of enemies that drop color-graded loot—all of which you’ll lose upon death—but it’s everything else that makes it worth playing.
For one, it has personality out the yang. It’s bright and colorful in a way many games simply aren’t, but it’s also quirky to a fault. From the moment the story begins to unfold—which is admittedly light since it can be entirely summed up as “escape an alien planet”—you’re treated to a sardonically Scottish AI, a flagrant disregard for common sense and physics, and a full indulgence in the tone and attitude of a Ren & Stimpy. If there’s one thing you can’t hold against Loot Rascals, it’s its sense of style.
On the gameplay side, it’s shockingly simple, but with the adherence to a stark and unflinching set of rules, it becomes complex and brutal in a way that makes you keep coming back for more. The game takes place on a hex grid, and with each move you make, enemies patrolling the level can also move. Some move one-for-one to you and others only move one spot for every two of yours.
This is important because when you and an opponent occupy the same spot, you two battle it out. When you swing, you hack away HP equivalent to your Attack rating. When they swing, their own Attack rating, your Defense rating, and a dice roll get mixed up into a bucket and determine how much damage you get, if any at all.
At best, you’re going to be able to take five knocks or so, which means if you play recklessly, you’re going to die. Like, a lot. Even if you play smart, you’re probably going to die a lot. You have to position yourself to not get surrounded or cornered into battles you don’t anticipate because with a certain number of moves, enemies change tactics. If they attack first, you’re almost guaranteed to take damage, so you’re going to want to time your moves right so you can one-shot as many aliens as you can.
It conjures a fascinating dance between you and the game. You end up teasing out faster foes into a chokepoint where you can line them up and knock them down while trying to coax stronger, usually slower enemies into amenable positions to not get swarmed and—consequently—dead. And once you mix in map elements like electrical pads that charge up or wholly create new baddies, it becomes even more about managing these chess pieces that are inherently uncontrollable.
And then even if you fight your best, your best may not be good enough. Or rather, quick enough, as demonstrably harder enemies will eventually descend upon the map after a while. These guys don’t fuck around and suddenly turn this tango of opportunity into one of desperation, taking the kills and hits where you can.
The same sort of positioning philosophy comes through in your equipment and inventory. You have ten slots to fill with cards, cards that you’ll pick up along the way for killing aliens or completing side quests. Some are dedicated to Defense, some are dedicated to Attack, and others augment the ones you currently have equipped. The best ones, however, pull double duty, allowing you to switch their utility or giving positional bonuses.
Some, for instance, get bonus points for being in even slots or in the top row. Others will boost the card to their right while negating the card to their left. This interplay between physical alignment and actual card attributes makes for an unexpectedly intriguing and deep loot system. You’ll spend a good amount of time crying out to the gods every time you have to pick between an upgraded helmet card or a weaker one that can be actively switched between Attack and Defense or the like. (But, you know, in a good way.)
It’s almost too obviously not for everyone, despite streamlining the adrenal rush of getting loot and making your rewards’ value immediately apparent. With no team to keep track of and very little in the way of special moves, the focus is entirely on the mechanics and the prizes you get along the way. But the basic loop of embarking upon journey after journey only to smash bow-first into another set of cranky, alien rocks can be exhausting to the point of swearing it off completely as if it were a crazy ex.
Even so, there’s no reason you shouldn’t check it out at least once. You get to hang out with a bunch of oddball, charming spacefaring folk; you get to fight seahorse aliens that are actually half horse; and you get to tickle your pickle over an endless and endlessly joyful deluge of rewards. Get your rascals on the loot that Loot Rascals can offer and it just might hook you.
+ An art style that you wish you could have on your walls
+ Gameplay that is simple but deep and punishes and reward you in equal measure
+ Loot system forces you to make some heartbreaking decisions
– Brutal difficulty can be a real turnoff at times
– Story is charming but isn’t at all compelling
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Game Review: Loot Rascals
Release: March 7, 2017
Genre: Turn-based roguelike
Developer: Hollow Ponds
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
“To the Batmobile!”
This was part of my haul from December 2016 posted on my toy blog HERE
The Batmobile is a state of the art all-terrain, self-powered, armored fighting motor vehicle used for vehicular hot pursuit, prisoner transportation, anti-tank warfare, riot control, and as a mobile crime lab. Kept in the Batcave, which it accesses through a hidden entrance, the heavily armoured, gadget-laden vehicle is used by Batman in his crime-fighting activities.
The Batmobile made its first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (May, 1939). Then a red sedan, it was simply referred to as “his car”. Soon it began featuring an increasingly prominent bat motif, typically including distinctive wing-shaped tailfins. Armored in the early stages of Batman’s career, it has been customized over time into a sleek armoured / supercar-hybrid, and is the most technologically advanced crime-fighting asset within Batman’s arsenal. Depictions of the vehicle has evolved along with the character, with each incarnation reflecting evolving car technologies. It has appeared in every Batman iteration—from comic books and television to films and video games—and has since gone on to be a part of pop culture.
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Batmobile is said to be a combined inspiration from both the sleek, streamlined design of classic Batmobiles and the high-suspension, military build from the more recent Tumbler from The Dark Knight Trilogy. Designed by production designer Patrick Tatopoulos and Dennis McCarthy, the Batmobile is about 20 feet long and 12 feet wide. Unlike previous Batmobiles, it has a gatling gun sitting on the front and the back tires are shaved down tractor tires. The Batmobile elevates itself for scenes depicting it going into battle or when performing jumps, and lowers to the ground when cruising through the streets.
Jada Toys released this 1:24 die-cast model kit of the Batmobile from the 2016 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Assembly was pretty straight-forward and hassle-free. It isn’t anything like the type of model kits released by Bandai where one really has to put every bit and piece together. Check out my recent toy blog post / review of the Bandai 1/6th scale Star Wars Stormtrooper Model Kit HERE. Now that’s a model kit.
In the upcoming film Justice League, Batman will have a new Batmobile called the Nightcrawler, which was designed by his father.