Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

resurgence poster
via Trailer Addict

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

PG-13 / 120 min

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Director: Roland Emmerich


It’s been twenty years since the aliens attacked the earth in Independence Day: Resurgence.  The fabled attack, which put humankind in jeopardy, took place on the United States’ Independence Day, an attack which gave America more than just fireworks.  Fast forward twenty years later and the aliens have come back, conveniently on the Fourth of July, to mount an invasion much bigger than the first rodeo.  With the absence of Will Smith and the presence of many issues, Resurgence doesn’t amount to anything more than a major letdown when stacked up to its predecessor.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
via Entertainment Focus

I don’t think it’s fair to say that Resurgence would have been a better movie with Will Smith, but his absence left the cast feeling a tad bit emptier.  There are some returning actors that reprise their roles, like Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, Bill Pullman as President Whitmore, Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson, Brent Spiner as Dr. Brackish Okun, and more.  Unfortunately, most of the screen time is dedicated to the new cast of characters, who are generally boring and not very interesting.  Liam Hemsworth plays the young hotshot Jake Morrison while Jessie T. Usher plays Dylan Hiller, the son of Will Smith’s character.  There’s some others, but frankly I just didn’t care about them.  Maybe the one exception to boring new ensemble is President Whitmore’s daughter, Patricia Whitmore, who is played by Maika Monroe.  She has some great moments throughout the film that outshine anything that Hemsworth or Usher bring to the table.

A second coming of this deadly alien species is no laughing matter.  They essentially blindside the nations of the world, causing mass destruction and hysteria around the world.  The stakes are high as this is no laughing matter.  This is what made me question the film’s overall tone, which came off as, well…goofy.  There was an unhealthy layer of cheese that was splashed over every single aspect of the movie.  Characters were delivering punchlines and groan-worthy one-liners left and right.  I get that this is a summer blockbuster and that most people show up for the action, but c’mon, we deserved a little more.  The writing is laughable with many a plot-hole to be found amidst the rubble.  It’s one big cheesy mess that stumbles all the way to the finish line.

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via Japan Today

Another aspect that doesn’t do the film any favors is the plethora of characters that all vie for screen time, both old and new.  As I mentioned before, the returning characters seem to get overshadowed by the new.  This is surprising given the amount of odes and references to the original movie.  To be honest, I would have much preferred having a movie devoid of any of the new characters.  I was a little disappointed in the ample usage of guys like Goldblum, Pullman, and Spiner.  These characters had their moments, which make up most of the movies most solid pieces, but I just wanted an experience with more of these characters.  Sure, some of the new characters are integral to the story’s main plot, but if it were me, I would have written them entirely out of the plot, with no offense to any of their acting skills. The writing and the characterizations were the problem.

Despite everything I have laid out so far, it’s hard to deny the fact that this movie’s biggest draw is it’s set-piece moments and its grand scope.  With a Roland Emmerich film, you should know what you’re getting at the door.  The movie’s visual destruction is one of its few redeeming qualities.  Destruction of areas like downtown London make for some eye-popping visuals full of bleak wonderment.  A lot of the fight scenes that take place in the air can get messy a times but there’s usually never a dull moment, visually.

resurgence 3
via Actucine

Just because something is bigger and more epic, doesn’t mean it is always better.  Independence Resurgence is a perfect example of this sentiment.  The marketing campaign behind the movie pushes the movie as a grand epic of destructive proportion.  The movie’s scale overpowers the original film, sure, but in terms of quality…this is about as bargain bin as it gets.  The movie is a visual treat and had its sparse moments, but everything else about the movie is as gross as the sloppy goo that spurts out of a dead alien carcass.  You welcome for that visual.

Independence Day Resurgence

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Review: The Aviator

the aviator poster
via IMP Awards

The Aviator (2004)

PG-13 / 170 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale

Director: Martin Scorsese


Let’s talk about Howard Hughes, one of the most financially successful individuals in American History.  He was a business tycoon first, but his interests reached much farther than the business realm.  He was an aviation genius as well as a film aficionado.  He practically did everything from creating big Hollywood pictures to designing military-grade planes for the US.  He’s a fascinating figure that has been explored multiple times in pop culture.  Maybe the most prominent look into his life was Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, a biographical drama that takes a glimpse into Hughes’ younger years and his rise to prominence.

the aviator 1
via Film Reviews n’ Such

The film begins in the 1920s with Hughes’ filming of his big war epic Hell’s Angels.  The multi-faceted tycoon is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who does an amazing job at capturing the businessmen’s keen attention to detail, as well as his other peculiar quirks.  His accent might be a little grating at times, but it’s undeniable that DiCaprio takes the role by the throat and destroys it, in a good way of course.  Over the course of the movie, we discover the type of person Hughes is and how he does things.  The film spans twenty years and shows us his personal life as well as his dabbles in the film and aviation industries.  Some of the stuff might be dry, but it’s really captivating stuff.  I was constantly questioning whether the movie’s events were true, but Scorsese did a pretty good job at staying true to the story of Hughes.  He’s a really unique man whose instincts lead him to greatness, as well as some dark places as well.

Scorsese has assembled himself an ensemble cast that really complements DiCaprio’s performance.  Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale play Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner respectively, Hughes’ two love interests.  They both give great performances, especially Blanchett who went on to win an Oscar for her performance.  There’s also Noah Dietrich and Juan Trippe, Hughes’ business associates, played by John C. Reilly and Alec Baldwin respectively.  These are the recurring characters that we see over the course of the movie’s story, but there’s a bunch of other important players that serve important roles as well.  I don’t think there was one bad performance in the movie.  Everyone was strong and really sold their characters.

the aviator 2
via Miramax

I’m always a big sucker for period pieces taking place in the 20s, and The Aviator did a bang-up job at recreating the period.  The movie looks great, with eye-popping visuals and rich colors.  The film just feels like an epic, in both scale and appearance.  It’s full of glitz, glamor, and spectacle, present around every turn in the movie.  I got to give some credit to Scorsese and the filmmaking that went into the look of this movie, because it sure was a treat to watch.

The only misstep The Aviator makes on its journey through Hughes’ life is in its pacing.  And when I say journey, I mean it’s a long one.  The movie almost cracks the three-hour mark, which is more of a detriment than an advantage.  Most of the film’s material is captivating and intriguing stuff but there are some lulls, especially during the film’s middle ground.  The first and third acts are really engaging, but the journey in between these acts is where the film slows down.  Trimming some of the fat would have kept the film a lot more compelling through and through.

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Despite some of its pacing issues, DiCaprio and the rest of his adjoining cast keep the movie going.  It’s a riveting, and at times sobering, tale of triumph and failure.  It’s no secret that Hughes, despite his massive successes, was a troubled man, especially during his later years.  Numerous flying accidents did a number on him and drove him deeper into a state of physical and mental instability.  Scorsese does a fantastic job at taking us through a vertical slice of Hughes’ life with The Aviator.  It not only captures his good side, but his more unfortunate side as well. It’s dynamic and engaging, and well worth your time, despite its intimidating runtime.

the aviator score

Review: Central Intelligence

central intelligence poster
via Good Film Guide

Central Intelligence (2016)

PG-13 / 114 min

Comedy / Crime

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber


When you put Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in a movie together, it should be pretty clear what kind of movie you’re going to get.  The two actors have some great off-screen chemistry, so buddying them up in a movie like Central Intelligence just seems like the right way to go.  In fact, the movie might not have been as good without the two stars.  Central Intelligence largely works because Hart and Johnson’s chemistry is what carries the movie.

central intelligence 1
via Filmonic

The fun begins in high school, where we are quickly introduced to Hart and Johnson’s characters.  Hart plays Calvin Joyner, the all-around cool kid at Central High.  He’s practically involved in everything and has been voted as “most likely to succeed.”  He’s the model student.  On the other hand, we have Johnson’s character, Bob Stone.  Bob Stone is his alias that he goes by, but frankly I forget his actual name. (I know it’s something similar to “weird dick”) Anyway, he’s a fat kid (The Rock was actually transformed into a fat kid, yeah I know, surprising!) who’s the target of every bully at school.  After being thrown out onto the gym floor in front of everyone at an assembly, naked, Calvin helps out Bob by giving him his varsity jacket to cover up his special parts.  This plants the seed for a future friendship.

Twenty years later, we find Calvin looks exactly the same, but he’s working as an accountant.  Not exactly the type of job he would have wanted after being voted most likely to succeed.  After sending Calvin a Facebook message asking him if he wanted to meet up, Calvin finally meets up with Bob Stone who now looks like…well, the Rock.  How did he get so jacked?  Well, he worked out six hours a day, every day for the past twenty years.  Pretty simple right?  Later that night Bob Stone, who happens to be part of the CIA, ropes Calvin into a matter of national security…one that he can’t get himself out of.  Thus, hilarity ensues.

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The Austin Chronicle

The movie is about as formulaic as a mismatched buddy comedy can be.  If there was a golden slate listing all the common tropes that these films need to contain, Central Intelligence follows it to a T.  The thing that makes the film seem fresh is the scattered bits of bullet-spraying gunplay that usually involve Johnson’s character doing all the work while Hart somehow manages to flail around without getting hit.  No surprise there, but it still leads to some funny moments.  This is the kind of movie where a banana is a credible weapon that can do some serious damage.  The movie isn’t trying to be sophisticated.  That’s not its mission.  It’s a lot of dumb fun; a movie where you turn your brain off for a little while.

There’s a lot of laughs to be had throughout the movie thanks to the signature brand of Kevin Hart comedy.  Some might find it gets old, but I personally still enjoy every minute of it.  There’s also lots of movie and pop culture references to be found, more than I was expecting, that lead to some great moments as well.  16 Candles anyone?  Some of the film’s best moments however come from the interactions between Hart and Johnson’s characters.  The actor’s chemistry shows and they instantly become very likable.  Like I previously said, the movie would have been a bore if it weren’t for these two actors taking the top spots.

central intelligence 3
via The Wrap

Where Central Intelligence starts to break down a little is towards its ending, where plot-wise the movie starts to become a mess of who’s who. The movie’s main plotline is the identity of the mysterious Black Badger, the guy who is trying to buy some top secret intel from the CIA on black market auction sites.  Calvin and Bob’s mission is to find this guy, but there seems to be a bunch of people who are thought to be the Black Badger.  You don’t really know who the big baddie is until the movie’s final moments.  It becomes hard to follow, but once again it’s the humor from Hart and Johnson that pulls it all out of the water.

Central Intelligence isn’t a groundbreaking comedy by any means.  With a Hart and Johnson comedy, you should be well aware of the type of movie you’re signing up for.  There’s still a bunch of fun and laughs to be had however that makes this a comedy that works.  The movie might not be for everyone, but if you like Kevin Hart’s previous big-screen comedic efforts, then this should be a movie for you.

central intelligence score

Review: American Beauty

american beauty poster
via IMP Awards

American Beauty (1999)

R / 122 min

Drama

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Director: Sam Mendes


Mid-life crises hit people hard.  They’re usually drastic and come completely from left field.  They have the potential to make you do weird things…things you’ll regret after it’s all over.  American Beauty, the academy award winning drama from director Sam Mendes, gives us a peek into the life of Lester Burnham, a suburban father who finds himself smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  A really weird one as well.  What takes place during the movie is fascinating piece of work.

american beauty 1
via attheback.blogspot.com

Kevin Spacey plays the sexually-frustrated Lester, which might be one of his best roles to date.  As he narrates the movie, we get introduced to the many annoyances that plague his life.  Lester’s wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is a stressed out real estate agent who needs to take a chill pill.  Bening give a great performance, it’s just a shame that her character gets no redeeming moments at all throughout the course of the movie, but that was most likely Mendes’ goal.  On the other hand, we have Lester’s daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch, whose bad tempered and generally unfriendly.  American Beauty is family dysfunction to a T.  It’s no surprise that Lester is bored with life, because he certainly isn’t getting any pleasures from his family.

Things quickly start to take a weird turn when Lester is introduced to Jane’s cheerleading friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).  She puts him into a state of trance, giving him feelings he hasn’t experienced in a long while.  She essentially drives him to quit his job, work out, and smoke weed.  He even buys a new car.  Topping it all off, he begins to have fantasies about Angela where she’s always covered in roses.  The symptoms of a mid-life crisis.  Not perverted enough for you yet?  Well, we’re also introduced to Rick (Wes Bentley), the kid from next door who has a drug problem and a knack for filming people from his window.  There’s a scene where he is filming Lester work out in his garage naked from his bedroom.  Like I said, the movie isn’t afraid to get weird.

american beauty 2
via Toutle Cine

At first I didn’t know where this movie was going.  I knew that the outcome was heading for the worse, but I didn’t know how it was going to get there.  Then the third act came into play and it all started to come together and make sense.  I started to learn things about characters that we previously didn’t know and the pieces started putting themselves together.  It was enthralling to watch it all play out.  It was a depressing ending, but it made a lot of sense.  It came together brilliantly, which is the product of good screenwriting.

Perhaps the most enticing storyline of them all was the relationship between Rick and his family.  His mother doesn’t really speak much and his father, played by Peter Gallagher, is an ex-military prim-and-proper type.  Rick is a mentally estranged kid who has had problems with drugs in the past.  As the movie goes on, things get more tense in the family as Rick develops a relationship with Jane.  On the outset it might not seem like a big deal but Rick’s father gets the wrong idea, which is where things start to get interesting.

american beauty 3
via Masculinity Movies

Everything about American Beauty works really well.  Everything from the imagery to the performances make the film a stand-out.  It’s no surprise that the movie got well received by the Academy.  Every character is chasing their own version of the American dream, but they all fall short in their own ways.  It’s a smart movie that comes together in an illustrious way, which is a surprise given the fact that this was Mendes’ directorial debut.  American Beauty is an example of films done right.  Also, nothing ever good comes from having an infatuation with your daughter’s friend.  Just don’t do it.

american beauty score

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Demo Impressions

E3 is here and the gaming landscape for the coming year is slowly starting to be formed.  The big publishers have come out swinging and a ton of big games have already been announced.  One of these games, perhaps smaller compared to some of the other titles, is LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The game, based on everyone’s favorite movie from last year, comes out at the end of this month but a demo has been made playable to the public.

The demo focuses on one level in particular that occurs pretty early on in the game.  It takes place on the planet of Jakku and puts you in control of Finn, Rey, and BB-8 shortly after they meet up with each other for the first time.  Just like the movie, this meeting only lasts for a couple of seconds before they notice a group of Stormtroopers lurking around in search of Finn, a runaway Stormtrooper trying to break apart from his once evil ways.  You quickly grab Rey’s arm and start to run amidst the crowded streets of Jakku, thrusting you into the level’s start.

lego star wars force awakens 1
via Digital Trends

Before I go further, it’s worth mentioning that the game is strictly based on the events of Episode VII.  The cut scenes and characters are fully voiced using the movie’s audio.  However, it’s been noted that there are some side stories to be told, ones specifically created solely for the sake of the game.  TT Games got the actors from the movie to come in to do specific voice work for these missions, which is pretty cool.

Upon starting the level, I quickly started to mess around to see what’s new this time around.  Anyone who has played a LEGO game before should feel right at home in terms of gameplay.  You still roam around the level bashing stuff and collecting studs.  There’s obstacles that block off secret areas until you go into free play, where you can play as all the characters.  You can also collect minikits that reveal more secrets up finishing a level.  It’s pretty standard fare for any Lego veteran.  Not much has been changed up to rock the formula.  The three characters you start out controlling are Finn, Rey, and BB-8.  Finn is your average blaster-wielding character who also has the ability to use a grappling hook to reach hard-to-access areas. Rey is more of a melee character, using her staff to devastate enemies up close.  Not to be outdone, she can also throw her staff to take enemies out from afar.  BB-8 isn’t a typical character, but he has some abilities that can come in useful.  First off, he can sneak through small openings to reach secret areas.  He also has a stun attack that can electrocute enemies.  Finally, he can operate rotary switches, opening up new parts of the level.  Your probably not going to use him much, but he sure does look cute flying around the level making those signature beeping noises.

lego star wars force awakens 2
via Digital Times

As I started to make my way through the first part of the level, I was quickly introduced to the multi-builds.  In previous games, you can destroy objects to reveal piles of Lego bricks, which you could then build up to create useful objects.  With multi-builds, you can build different objects using the same pile of Lego bricks.  You indicate the direction in which you want to build the Lego bricks and then you proceed to put them together just like you normally would.  After your done using the first object, you can then break it down and build the other option.  It’s an interesting mechanic that encourages experimentation.  Sometimes you will build objects that are completely useless in the grand scheme of the level.  Other times you will have to build all the different objects in order to progress.  The mechanic was demonstrated a couple of more times over the course of the level, which was pretty neat.

After making my way through the first area, I then stumbled upon a broader combat zone, in which I was quickly forced to get to cover to avoid incoming fire from a group of First Order Stormtroopers.  This is the part where the firefight mechanics were shown off.  The game quickly turned into a lite-cover based shooter where I was able to move from cover to cover, finding opportune times to attack my enemies.  While behind cover, you can pop up using the left trigger and then shoot using the right trigger.  The controls weren’t hard to master and I soon found myself mowing down a bunch of troopers.  This is an early section, but I didn’t find this sequence particularly difficult.  I worry that these sequences will get repetitive as you get farther in the game.  I hope they either find new ways to freshen up the gameplay or they limit these sequences altogether.

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Once the Stormtroopers were neutralized, I kept on making my way towards the Millennium Falcon.  I was then introduced to SN-1F4, another droid character.  It’s a miniature sifter droid, so it doesn’t do much besides reveal secrets in the sand.  I used the droid to reveal some Lego bricks which helped construct a turret, a piece of heavy artillery that allowed me to shoot down some X-Wing fighters from the sky.  Once the coast was clear, the path to the Millennium Falcon was finally made clear.  In the movie, the reveal of the famed freighter was a special moment but in the game, there was hardly any fanfare upon the ship’s discovery.  It’s not that big of a deal but it’s those kinds of movie moments that I want captured in Lego form.

This led to the aerial portion of the level, in which you pilot the Millennium Falcon.  Just like previous Lego games, the first part of the sequence was totally on-rails.  As I made my way through, I eventually stumbled upon an open area where I was granted free reign.  The controls took some getting used to, but I eventually got the hang of them as I flew around blasting down more X-Wings.  I eventually reached the final portion of the level, which switched back to on-rail flying.  As I escaped from the inside of the Star Destroyer ruins, the level came to a close.  I got a glimpse of Kylo Ren’s character as he was sulking around in his Darth Vader themed room.  Staying true to the movies, one of his officers came to inform him about the BB-8 getting away, which infuriates Ren, sending him into a room-trashing tantrum.  It was good to see that the bouts of Lego humor are still what makes these games so appealing.

lego star wars force awakens 3
via Comic Book News

I was only able to play through one level, so it’s unclear how many different levels are going to be in the main game.  If I had to take a guess, we’ll probably get around fifteen with the addition of side levels.  It’s also unclear if we are going to get an open world.  Not much has been said about this, now common, aspect of Lego games.  We might get some hub-worlds in lieu of one big open area.

There was lots to enjoy about the demo but it left some concerns as well.  The Lego series hasn’t been privy to change.  The classic formula has pretty much been the same for years now.  There are some new mechanics being thrown in this time around, but it’s hard to say if they will be enough to make this game stand out from the rest.  If you’re a fan of the Lego games, especially the Lego Star Wars games that gave the series legs, then you will most likely want to give LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens a try.  It’s looking to be a charming retelling of the big movie with a lot of cool stuff packed in for Star Wars fans.

lego star wars force awakens 5
via Segment Next

Review: The Mummy

mummy poster
via Pintrest

The Mummy (1999)

PG-13 / 125 min

Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah

Director: Stephen Sommers


I love myself a classic 90’s adventure movie, especially ones that involve a hunt for an ancient foretold treasure.  These kinds of movies have the potential to be cheesy as hell, but that’s what makes them so special.  The Mummy, director Stephen Sommers’ Egypt-based creature feature, scratches that itch for me.  The film has a reverence for Stephen Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise while providing a new adventure, one that involves an ancient mummy that comes back to the land of the living.  The movie is nowhere near perfect; it’s predictable and splattered with cheese, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad time.

the mummy 1
via Fan Pop

After an evil high priest, who goes by the name Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), is mummified alive thousands of years ago, a team of archeologists has the bright idea of messing around in his lair in hopes of finding the City of Gold, inevitably resurrecting the cursed mummy, which in turn set’s the mummy’s wrath free.  It’s then up to a rag-tag adventurer, an Egyptologist, and her very smart brother to put a stop to Imhotep’s evil fury on the city of Cairo.

Adventurer Rick O’Connell, played by Brendan Fraser, can essentially be described as Indiana Jones’ brother from another mother.  He’s charismatic and hungry for a good adventure, especially one that involves a good haul.  The Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan is played by Rachel Weisz.  Despite what some of the other characters think, she is tremendously capable, although extremely clumsy at times.  The movie begins with her character bringing down an entire library of bookshelves, so you know that kind of character you’re getting with Evelyn.  Her brother Jonathan (John Hannah) reminded me a lot of Simon Pegg, not because of his looks but because of the type of supporting role he played.  He’s got the book smarts, but his common sense comes into question a lot over the course of the movie.  He’s the comic relief of the movie, even though the presence of another early character made me think otherwise.

the mummy 2
via Radiator Heaven

B-movie cheese can be found all over this movie.  Some of the acting performances, from both the main cast as well as the supporting cast, seemed phoned in at times.  Whether it was over expression or selling the emotions a little too hard, it could be found everywhere.  Arnold Vosloo might be the biggest culprit here.  His Imhotep was prone to frequent bouts of over-acting.  The Mummy is also pretty predictable.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the movie falls into the same mold as Indiana Jones and other movies of similar ilk.  We get the backstory to the treasure and then the adventure begins.  There’s another team of explorers who have the same mission as O’Connell and his gang, which then leads to a competition as to who can find the ancient treasure first.  The mummy, and his horrible curses, are found and then the different adventurers start to be picked off one by one.  It’s stuff we have seen before, especially if you have seen any treasure-hunting adventure movie.

Okay, so what?  The movie is flawed, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my experience with the movie.  In fact, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit despite some of its imperfections that would plague most movies.  What makes The Mummy different is that it leans all the way into its cheesiness.  It has a certain level of self-awareness that allows you to laugh with the movie, not at it.  There’s a scene late in the movie where O’Connell literally breaks down the entire back half of the plot to another character, straight up.  Save the damsel, defeat the bad guy, and save the world.  This kind of predictability would be looked down upon in most movies but The Mummy realizes what kind of film it is and runs with it the entire way.  I realized that this movie, on paper and script, isn’t art but I still found myself with a smile on my face the whole time.

the mummy 3
via Theiapolis Media

This is a movie you shouldn’t take too seriously.  The minute you start measuring its merit is the minute you stop having fun.  The Mummy might not rival Indiana Jones, a set of movies it so desperately wants to be, but it’s fun enough that it doesn’t matter.  If you’re a big fan of Indiana Jones or other movies like National Treasure, then this will most likely be your cup of tea.

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Review: Emily Is Away

emily is away cover

Emily Is Away (2015)

PC / Not Rated

Adventure

Publisher: Kyle Seeley

Developer: Kyle Seeley


Most people this day and age at some point have probably found themselves in front of a computer with an instant messenger client open.  Before the age of texting and social media, there was a time where AOL Instant Messaging was one of the few ways to get in touch with high school friends or distant relatives savvy enough to use a computer.  Another familiar experience, one that most of us have probably been through, is the complicated high school crush relationship.  With a high school crush, you’re always teetering on the line between a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship or the friend zone, where anything you say could tip it all off-balance.

When you pair instant messaging of the early 2000s with conversations with a high school crush, you probably get a relatable experience, which is where Emily Is Away succeeds in its mission.  Emily Is Away is a small PC indie game designed by Kyle Seeley.  The game encapsulates the complicated and sometimes nerve-wracking nature of talking with a crush perfectly, using a deeply nostalgic Windows XP aesthetic as a wrapper.  It immediately transported me back to a time were punk-pop bands were the norm and Harry Potter movies were new and all the rage.

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The beginning of the game lets you pick a screen name, a name that you will use to talk and communicate with the game’s titular character Emily, who goes by “emerly35” online.  The short narrative journey takes place over five years, starting in your senior year of high school and ending with your senior year of college.  Over this time, you speak with Emily about a wide range of things ranging from music to parties, until you eventually get into some deeper topics like your relationship with her and other love interests in your life.  What you say directly affects your relationship with Emily in more ways than one.  Do you or do you not want to be with Emily?  Oh, she’s talking to another boy?  What’s his name?  Why would you want to be with him?  Do you really think he’s the right one for you?

High school crushes are complicated.  A lot of the times they are talking with other people and feeling of jealousy can rise from the dirt.  You don’t want to tell them what to do with their lives, but you desperately want to be with them as well.  The game captures these feelings perfectly.  It also hits home in a lot of different ways, thanks to the relatability of the scenario. Whether you like it or not, your relationship changes with Emily as you go through college and no matter what you say, the distance between you and her continues to grow.  The ending is pretty depressing, but it’s extremely powerful in execution.  It’s an outcome that you probably dread from the start, but it’s a part of life.  The game has different endings, but I’m unsure if you are able to get a “positive” outcome, no matter how hard you try, which is kind of unfortunate.  However, I think the negative endings work a lot better for the story and they give it more impact.

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All the other details surrounding your conversations with Emily are some of the best parts of the game.  Like I mentioned before, the game’s interface lovingly recreates the Window XP desktop. You have your messaging application that you use to talk with Emily as well as your “buddy list” that has all of your friends.  Before every conversation, I found myself reading through my friends’ user bios which usually consisted of song lyrics or other meaningful quotes.  Just like your relationship with Emily, your friends have changed too, and depending on the choices you make with Emily, you have the power to bring them closer or drive them away.  It’s a neat little aspect of the game that only garnishes the meat of the experience.  A part of me wishes that I could have talked with these other friends as well, but that would have only distracted me from the main conversation at hand.  It could have worked, but it would have been tougher to implement in a meaningful and enriching way.

Even details like your “buddy icon” that you select before every year (five years divide into five chapters or conversations) did a great job at putting you in the early 2000s.  The instant I saw the Harry Potter and Eminem logos that you could choose for your icon, I knew I was going to like this game.  There’s also plenty of hidden surprises that unlock different Easter eggs throughout the course of the game as well.  If you set your username to be “vaultdweller” for instance, you might get a special icon available for use.  Some usernames also trigger conversational cues that can add some variety to the conversations as well.  Setting your username to be the exact same as Brad’s (the boy Emily is talking to) can lead to a funny and confusing situation.  (Try it.)

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The short experience that Emily Is Away provides is extremely powerful and one of the most relatable games I have ever played.  Not only does it provide a deeply engrossing, and ultimately sad, story but it also hits all of the nostalgic beats of the early 2000s.  The game is essentially a friend zone simulator and it succeeds in every aspect of its execution.  I would have liked the game to be a bit longer so I could spend more time with the character of Emily, but I think the game is alright where it stands.  If you love sweating over what to say to your crush, then this game is most definitely for you.

emily is away score

Also available on Mac and Linux.

Review: Day of the Tentacle Remastered

dott cover
via Entertainment Factor

Day of the Tentacle Remastered (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Adventure

Publisher: Double Fine Productions

Developer: Double Fine Productions


Tim Schafer is a genius when it comes to adventure games, and I genuinely mean that.  All you have to do is take a look at his past work, which includes games like Grim Fandango, the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, Maniac Mansion, and most recently Broken Age.  His latest trend, one that I wholeheartedly enjoy, is bringing some of these classics back, like Grim Fandango, as remastered versions.  Double Fine’s latest remaster project, Day of the Tentacle Remastered, brings back the wacky time-travel adventure that stars three odd-ball teenagers and one very evil purple tentacle.  The remaster beautifully modernizes the story while retaining the charm and amusement of the original.

dott 1
via multiplayer.it

You take control of the nerd Bernard Bernoulli, the weirdo Laverne, and the heavy metal roadie that goes by the name Hoagie.  They are a band of misfits that must work together to put a stop to the evil Purple Tentacle’s plans of world domination.  In order to stop Purple Tentacle in his tracks, they have to enlist the help of the mad scientist Dr. Fred and his janky time machine.  Dr. Fred attempts to send them back in time so the kids can shut off the contamination machine that is the source of Purple Tentacle’s powers, but thing’s go horribly wrong as you would expect.  The three kids are split up into three different time periods, the past, the present, and the future.  They must work together, in different eras, to bring a stop to Purple Tentacle and, in turn, save the world.

The game’s story, primarily designed by industry veterans Schafer and Dave Grossman, is consistently great and on point throughout the entire adventure.  Day of the Tentacle features a variety of comedy styles, ranging from benign potty humor to wry, sometimes dark, humor.  Every joke works well and there are a very slim few that don’t connect, even twenty years later in this day and age.  There was one early moment in particular, involving a down-on-his-luck product designer who puts a gun to his head in his hotel room, only to reveal a bright “BOOM” flag upon firing the weapon.  It was a shocking moment that still managed to paint a smile on my face.  The inclusion of time travel also makes for some great story and character moments as well.  Watching as Hoagie instilled his heavy metal slang on the founding fathers in the past makes for some great comedic material.  The story is smart and sharp all the way through till the credits roll.

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via Polygamia

What made Day of the Tentacle so unique from other adventure games of its time was its time travel mechanics and the ability to switch between the different characters in their respective time periods.  It makes for some inventive puzzles that require some smart solutions.  Speaking of puzzles, unlike most adventure games of its time, the game never had any puzzles that require obtuse or abstract solutions.  Everything that you do makes sense and I never had to bash random items together in hopes of progressing the story.  The game makes you feel smart by letting you solve the problems in logical and clever ways.  With that being said, there were still some tough solutions, especially towards the latter half of the game.  It made me wish there was a built in hint system, which these remasters seemingly never have.  The game wasn’t overtly difficult, but a little dynamic hint system would have gone a long way.

There’s a layer of polish that lathers Day of the Tentacle Remastered that delightfully brings the game to life in this modern era of games.  Every screen was reworked from the ground up, giving the game higher resolution graphics.  The art isn’t the only thing got reworked, as the music was given a remastered treatment as well.  Maybe the best part about it all is that you can switch between the remastered and classic versions of the game on the fly with one press of a button.  I constantly found myself switching between the two just to marvel in the amount of work that was put into the remaster.  There’s also the inclusion of concept art, developer commentaries, and a fully playable version of the original Maniac Mansion, a little Easter egg that could have been found in the original version as well.  This amount of work that the game’s original creators put into this version of the game shows in every nook and cranny.

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via Fan Pop

As far as remastered games go, especially adventure games, Day of the Tentacle Remastered holds up extremely well, in large part thanks to Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine.  The game features a hilariously absurd and clever story that’s chock full of witty humor and ingenious references.  It also has a bright and cheery look that translates every single little detail from the original.  If you haven’t played the original, this is about as good as the game is going to get.  Now, the wait begins again for Tim Schafer’s next remaster project, Full Throttle.

dott score

Also available on PC and PSVita.