Categories
Film

The Last Duel: A Spoiler-Free Review

TW: Rape, Spousal Abuse, Assault, and Gory Violence

At the end of last week, the GateCrashers were invited to an early screening of The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s newest film. The Last Duel is headlined by Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, and Ben Affleck, with Damon and Affleck teaming up with Nicole Holofcener to write the screenplay. This film is essentially one woman’s story, so I’m pleased they decided to bring Nicole Holofcener in to add a level of authenticity to the script that I feel would have been lacking had Affleck and Damon tackled it alone.

Matt Damon as Sir Jean de Carrouges

I recall seeing the trailer months back and being very excited by it. The Last Duel is adapted via a book of the same name by Eric Jager, which was based on a true story. I am largely a fan of historical films, so this seemed like something I’d enjoy. At its’ heart, The Last Duel is about three people; Driver’s accused Jacques Le Gris, Damon’s egotistical Sir Jean de Carrouges, and Comer’s tormented but courageous Marguerite de Carrouges. The trailer essentially lays out the plot, which is a duel being fought between de Carrouges and Le Gris, after Marguerite accuses Jacques of raping her. Though the film is set in late 1300’s Normandy, the plot is well suited to today’s political climate of female rights and whether a woman is believed when she seeks justice after violation.

It’s taken me quite a few days to formulate this review and ruminate on my feelings about the film. As a whole, I enjoyed The Last Duel. It had something it was trying to say, and to an extent, it executed that. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it had some triumphs I greatly admired. Ridley Scott employs some unusual storytelling tactics, which may turn off some viewers, but I feel is necessary to really communicating the stories’ nuanced ideas of perspective and memory.

Matt Damon and Jodie Comer

This film is Marguerite’s movie, though you don’t realize it until the final act. Ridley Scott succeeds in; what I assume he was hired to do: confuse a lot of mainstream men into thinking this was a gory sword-fighting film that they can take their significant other to because it’s based on women’s problems. Now maybe I’ve come to this conclusion because the world I inhabit has turned me a tad cynical of late. But I think Ridley Scott succeeds in this task, whether he set out with the intention or not. I think by the final act, someone who didn’t give a fig about the plight of women will begin to see the cracks in their view of the patriarchy. For anyone who is already well versed in picking out injustices brought on by white men with too much power, there will be a lot of groaning for you during this film as you watch the things Marguerite, and many of the other women, are subjected to.

Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges

Jodie Comer is an absolute triumph in this film. She is not playing one woman. She is playing three; a dutiful wife, an object of desire, and her true self – just a woman who is trying to live and survive in the world she was born into. In the most gut-wrenching moments of this film, her performance is equally hard to watch and arresting. Adam Driver and Matt Damon give fine performances with conviction and skill, especially in the titular last duel and during their verbal sparring throughout the film. Affleck adds some much-needed levity as Pierre d’Alençon, though it’s the type of levity that arises from a character jaunting about, oozing toxic masculinity, knowing no harm can come to them because they hold all the power.

Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris

The Last Duel suffers from a longish run-time and some questionable sometimes accents. It falls prey to some of the cinematic cliches of a post #MeToo world. But I feel strongly that there is more leaning in its favor than negative. The costume design by Janty Yates and production design by Arthur Max are exquisite, and cinematography by Dariusz Wolski delivered beauty and power in both the intimate scenes as well as the epic ones. Ridley Scott did a fine job directing, though the entire film my mind was plagued with thoughts over what it might have been had a woman been hired to direct it. While I liked the film, I can’t say I’ll watch The Last Duel for a second viewing. Some films are just too gritty and emotionally turbulent to sit through twice, but I’m glad I saw it.

The Last Duel is not recommended for people who can be triggered by spousal abuse, assault, rape, or gory violence.

The Last Duel was released in theaters nationwide on October 15, 2021.

Categories
Comics

Zombie Date Night #1 – Review: Waking Up the Dead with Style

Zombies are so much fun. Of course, they can be threatening in a constantly tense setting, but there are so many other ways to portray them. While always maintaining some kind of danger, as the lasting impact of a failed encounter with them is still terrifying, you can discover the excitement in the chaos they set off. The first time I realized that was while I watched Dawn of the Dead by George Romero. A movie with a lot of stakes, but that lets you enjoy those little bits of peace inside an 80s mall. The second time I felt that was while reading Zombie Date Night.

From the very first page with our protagonist and his grandmother, you know the creative team created something great. There are few times I laughed out loud so much as I did with Steve Urena’s writing for the grandma. The comic is filled to the brim with colorful and instantly recognizable characters, like a paranoid conspiracy theorist with a chainsaw for leg, put into crazy and over-the-top situations. Fortunately, to accompany such fun characters, we have great art and colors Sergi Doménech and Joshua Jensen respectively. It’s an art style that works very well with the 80s aesthetic the comic is going for, feeling stripped out of a B movie from the same decade.

Another great achievement comes from the lettering by Anthony Rella, who manages to perfectly capture every extravagant and exaggerated action we see. In a story with so much slashing and crashing and biting, the lettering helps make every violent encounter even more distinct and even reminiscent of old pulp comics.

But it’s not all excessive action here. Although it does fill a lot of it. I think it’s very clever how Urena presents the history of this world and the origin of the zombie breakout, leaving some clues in the characters’ dialogue but never giving a concrete answer yet, making the reader as clueless and lost as the people in the story, left only to theorize what might have caused everything. The romance teased by the title is well developed, showing the growing bond between two people that go from being on a date to surviving in a zombie apocalypse, making you wonder how will it be affected by everything else. It doesn’t feel rushed or out of place between all the dismembering. Even when you find the romance aspect of the comic in the most unexpected places possible, it feels like a great idea.

Zombie Date Night understands the fun there is to have in horror and promises to spread it like a disease. If you like the sound of that, I cannot recommend you enough to pick up and support this great comic. 

Categories
Film

The Definitive Ranking of Scooby-Doo Movies Pt. 3

39. Scooby-Doo! Adventures: The Mystery Map

This time it’s not animated or live-action. Now, we have puppets! Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it. I love the Muppets, Dark Crystal, and more. Puppets are rad, and they look AMAZING here, borrowing the designs from A Pup Named Scooby-Doo when they’re around ten years old. But this is one of the few times that the franchise doesn’t feel aimed at the general public but strictly at kids. That’s not bad, but since I’m not the target audience, it did bore me. But you never know, maybe you’ll like it, as I hear a lot of people did! And if you have a little kid, this will for sure be a great option to introduce them to Scooby.

38. LEGO Scooby-Doo! Blowout Beach Bash

For those who didn’t know: There are LEGO Scooby-Doo movies. Short-films too! This one is the second of the two that are currently out, and…I’m not a big fan. It’s kind of a pirate story, which would be awesome if the characters weren’t so annoying and forgettable. Not a bad option, but definitely not one I would recommend even if you feel like watching a LEGO Scooby-Doo movie.

37. Scooby-Doo! And The Monster Of Mexico

If you’re a fan of cryptids, this movie will probably make you angry. For the second movie with the ‘’What’s New, Scooby-Doo’’ animation style in the franchise, the main monster is meant to be the chupacabra. As you may know, the monster is supposed to look like a demonic lizard/dog, but this movie completely ignores that, turning it into a purple bigfoot. I used to like this one a lot as a kid, but I don’t think it aged well, feeling like a very plain movie in every single aspect.

36. Scooby-Doo! And The Legend Of The Vampire

Is there anything cooler than vampires? I honestly don’t think so. So this movie could be really great…But it isn’t. This is the previous movie to Monster of Mexico, and the animation is just bad. It’s not anyone’s fault, actually. The industry was crossing over from traditional animation to digital, and it took a lot of time to work. But it still doesn’t look good. Especially when you consider that this is the first appearance of the Hex Girls since Witch’s Ghost, a movie that had amazing, very stylish animation. But now, they look plain and boring. It’s not even a design and animation problem only; they get kidnapped and take the role of damsels in distress that are out of the picture for most of the movie. But wait, that’s not even the worst thing this movie did to the Hex Girls, as they decided, for some reason, to whitewash Luna. Truly one disappointment after another.

35. LEGO Scooby-Doo! Haunted Hollywood

The first LEGO Scooby-Doo movie! And it’s pretty cool. The setting makes this movie, as the gang explores a film studio nearing bankruptcy as it’s being haunted by monsters portrayed in the past by Boris Karnak from old classic movies from the studio. It’s not as good-looking as The Lego Movie or The Lego Batman Movie, but it’s still a great setting that feels perfectly fitting for Scooby-Doo, as the show itself was inspired by the monster movies from Universal back in its origins.

34. Aloha, Scooby-Doo!

This is a fun enough movie. But impossible to ignore a lot of things it does wrong. As the title might’ve spoiled, it takes place in Hawaii. It doesn’t paint the islanders in the best way, but I’m not the correct individual to speak about that. Watching it with that in mind, it’s entertaining, while not using the setting as I believe would be best for a Scooby-Doo movie, often taking place in daylight and same as every other movie from this era, very clean. While it has its own atmosphere, there is a level of depth that can be found in both previous and future projects in the franchise that is severely lacking here.

33. Scooby-Doo! Pirates Ahoy!

This is an excellent idea from the start. First, because pirates are the cool version of cowboys. Second, because it takes place on a desolated ship in the middle of the ocean. It’s a gimmick present in quite a few Scooby-Doo movies and shows, but it always works. It’s not very inclined to horror, but it still adds a sense of urgency that makes for a great atmosphere. Also, if pirates are cool, just wait until you see ghost pirates.

32. Chill Out, Scooby-Doo:

Snow stories are a tradition in Scooby-Doo, ever since the first show. As someone who grew up in a very cold city and is very sensitive to heat, they always feel very cozy and made for me, so obviously, there are points added for that alone. But this is still a really fun movie, with a returning character from a previous, something that is unusual since the gang tends to run around the whole wide world on their own, and there’s also a threatening villain despite how obvious it is to the setting.

31.  Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins

Okay, hear me out. Everyone loves the two live-action movies from 2002 and 2004, obviously. It’s just how things work. But the two movies that came after and premiered only on Cartoon Network are often overlooked, which is understandable, but I think there’s something really enjoyable to hear if you like Scooby-Doo. Indeed, it doesn’t have the budget the theatrically-released movies had, but I think that makes it charming. The old Scooby cartoons looked and were cheap, with stiff animation and a lot of mistakes, but that didn’t make them any less great. This looks like something fans could make, and while that will turn off a lot of people, it gives it a very particular vibe that sets it apart from the rest. Besides, it’s a decent ghost story, and the cast does a good job.

30. Scooby-Doo! Curse Of The Lake Monster

The sequel to Mystery Begins follows the group now united as a real team and acting as Mystery Incorporated, solving mysteries everywhere they go. They take some jobs at Daphne’s uncle’s country club but, of course, are met with a frog monster and a witch. It seems they have stepped up the budget without losing the vibes from the first movie and combining them with a campier story which works really well. It makes one choice I’m a big fan of, and it’s an all-around fun movie to watch if you’re a Scooby fan.

29. Scooby-Doo! And The Goblin King

This could be a serious contender for the best Halloween movie in the franchise. It’s an exciting quest through a supernatural world to save not only the gang itself but quite possibly the entire humanity. There’s goblins (duh), the headless horseman, sentient skeletons, werewolves, witches, fairies, a charismatic pumpkin, and more. The only thing I’m not sold on is the fairies’ design and the fact that Fred, Daphne, and Velma are not very important to the movie. But nothing big, much less something that takes away the fun from the whole spectacle.

28. Scooby-Doo! And The Loch Ness Monster

A great movie for cryptid fans, although I believe everyone had a Loch Ness Monster phase at some point. It’s a pretty cool movie with some twists and turns, funny characters, and it also gets into Daphne’s family tree! The CGI might be a bit dated, but this is still one of the bests movies to come out of the What’s New era, getting into a famous monster once more, this time in a more successful way.

27. Scooby-Doo! And The Samurai Sword

The movies from this era took a turn away from mystery and horror and decided to take it into action and adventure, and there’s probably no better proof than this one. It’s not even much of a mystery, but more of a quest, with ninjas and samurais thrown in. There are tons of sequences where Daphne gets to shine, so I’m very happy with it. But even besides that, it’s a very entertaining and silly movie.

26. Scooby-Doo! In Where’s My Mummy?

I’m not the biggest fan of What’s New, neither the movies nor the show. I grew up with it, but watching it now feels a little…plain. Both in its little dedication to take any risk at all and in its animation. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be enjoyed and that there are some real gems in it. In my opinion, the best to come out of it is Where’s my Mummy. The title might give away where it’s set, but what really propels this movie is its mystery, which has one of the greatest twists of all the franchise. One that you should truly see for yourself.

25. Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare

The current era of Scooby-Doo shines in what I think the franchise does best: try unexpected and innovative things. With this movie, the creative team wanted to do a Scooby-Doo slasher, and honestly, I dig it. This is easily the most horror-oriented movie since Zombie Island, taking place in a summer camp where the gang work as counselors, very obviously inspired by Friday the 13th. I’m not sure if it’s as much of a horror movie as Zombie Island since that movie completely ditched the Scooby-Doo formula, but the atmosphere is spot-on. If you feel like watching a modern but darker Scoovie, this is the one.

24. Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright

This movie was made for me. It’s a reimagination of The Phantom of the Opera, which as a fan of the Universal Classic Monsters, I love. It’s also made by Mystery Incorporated’s director, the best Scooby-Doo show. But above all, it’s a Daphne-Fred-centric movie, and it’s heartwarming when it comes to them. Although if you’re not a fan of that, it’s not a problem, as it is a really funny movie, with probably the most twists in any piece of Scooby-Doo media, to the point where it’s a little bit ridiculous in a good way.

23. Scooby-Doo! Shaggy’s Showdown

You would maybe expect this one to be lower. I’m not particularly big on westerns, but it’s still a fun and entertaining movie that focuses on Shaggy’s family with a bice mystery. It’s not amazing or anything, but an effective movie that just does what it does well.

22.  Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery

I don’t have a single clue about wrestling, if I’m honest. I don’t plan on knowing more either. But yet, this movie was really enjoyable. Since I’m not a fan of wrestling or the WWE, I was able to explore the excitement for it from the gang’s view, mainly through Scooby and Shaggy, so it’s just like if they were another set of fictional characters to me. And it works surprisingly well. I’m not an automatic fan of Scooby movies that stray away from the horror, and the monster in this is just an animal, which I’m not a fan of either. But it is still a threatening villain that adds some sense of urgency while we get to see the great and silly interactions between the two cast of characters.

21. Scooby-Doo! And The Gourmet Ghost

If it was not evident enough already, I love when we find out about someone from the gang’s family, especially if they’re either a real person or a famous fictitious character. It adds to the wonderfully weird and nonsensical canon that the franchise doesn’t really bother to follow, and I love it. Now the gang is guests on Fred’s uncle’s Inn, where not only us but also Fred finds out that his uncle, Bobby Flay, is a famous chef with his own TV show that he does in that same Inn. Curiously, that’s not where Fred’s family exploration ends, as part of the mystery revolves around Mystery Incorporated trying to clear the name of one of Fred’s ancestors who might’ve been a spy for the British during the civil war, all while the supposed ghost of that ancestor tries to spoil the TV show. Although the premise sounds very weird and unnatural on paper, it works surprisingly well, resulting in a very engaging mystery.

Categories
Books

What If a Fish: Spoiler-Free Book Review

The first time I visited my dad’s side of the family in Mexico, I was exhausted after a long day of flying. While my dad was catching up with relatives, my tia took me into the kitchen. She showed me lots of different foods and I said “okay” to all of them, thinking this was an either/or situation. I was wrong. She put one of every kind in front of me; a feast for twenty people. I was so confused, tired, and embarrassed that I picked up a whole roma tomato and ate it, while she looked at me horrified with a face that said “I didn’t know Americans ate tomatoes like bears!”  Growing up half-Mexican meant that a lot of things got lost in translation like this. 

September 15th through October 15th is Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month.  I like using this month to celebrate my heritage, because if there’s anything I got from the Mexican side of my family, it’s knowing how to throw a good party.  And while I think we should support Latinx/Hispanic works all year, I also think setting aside time to be intentional about the things I read and the conversations I have is good. Which brings me to this excellent book, Anika Fajardo’s What If a Fish

What If a Fish is about Eddie Aguado, a half-Colombian eleven-year-old in the Midwest. He’s at an age where people around him start getting confused. They start asking questions like “If you’re Colombian, why don’t you speak Spanish?” and they’re not sure where he stands in relation to his Latinx/Hispanic identity. Some people start saying racist things to him and some people question whether he even counts as another race or ethnicity. Sometimes those are the same people. This leads Eddie to question his own relation to Colombia, a country he’s never visited, connected to him through a father he barely remembers. As he’s struggling with this, Eddie gets the chance to go to Colombia, where he learns to connect with his culture in his own way. 

Anika Fajardo’s protagonist perfectly captures the awkwardness of being a mixed-ethnicity middle-schooler. Eddie goes on a journey to Colombia and finds that connecting with his heritage is complicated, messy and joyful. What If a Fish is a treat for mixed-ethnicity readers like myself, who might share the confusion of being an outsider in every culture, but it’s also an opportunity for all readers to see Colombia in a new light. Eddie’s mixed-ethnicity gives him the perspective of a foreigner, without the limitations of being a tourist. While struggling to pin down what it means to be authentically Colombian, Eddie gives a much more authentic view of the country than curated hotel stays or exported stereotypes of Colombianos. This makes What If a Fish a perfect read for Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, or any other time of the year.

Categories
Comics

The Department of Truth #13 Review

Spoilers for The Department of Truth

Back in the 18th century. there was a German philosopher that one day would be considered one of the most important philosophers in history. His name was Immanuel Kant, and he changed the way we thought about thinking. He pondered that it was impossible that we could have access to reality, more specifically, to things itself. He said that we could only have access to phenomena created by our senses and our understanding. This all led into the idea that things were (more or less) simply ideas created by our reasoning through which we understood the world.

Now, I start this review with a half baked summary of Kant not because I loved him (quite the contrary, in fact), or because I want to pretend I’m really smart (ok maybe a little bit), but because issue #13 of The Department of Truth made me think a lot about the way the world is, and the world we make for ourselves. 

In this new chapter of the series, Hawk brings Cole to the last place he would ever return, the school where he once thought he was tortured by a satanic cult and a monster with a star drawn on his face. There, Cole and Hawk discuss the origin of the conspiracy theories around satanic cults and Hawk reveals to Cole that Barker has a bigger plan in store, that the Starfaced Man has taken from, and that he suspects that Lee is not the real deal, but a fiction manifested in reality. 

Before I get into my favorite part of this issue (and the reason I brought up Kant), let me once again praise Martin Simmonds’ art and Aditya Bidikar’s letters. Even though the historical discussions in this issue are really interesting, long dialogue scenes like this can get tedious in a medium like comics, but Simmonds’ art is so good that it keeps your attention throughout the whole comic, while it also does a wonderful job setting up the atmosphere and the tone of the comic. Simmonds’ talent combines with Bidikar’s wonderful lettering special shine when it comes to the Starfaced Man. This pair presents a monster so unsettling and horrendous that each panel that contains it becomes the center of attention.

All that being said, my favorite thing about this issue is probably Hawk’s history and motivation. Here we have a guy that knows the truth doesn’t really matter in a world where the images we make of the world matter more than the world itself. He understood this but didn’t realize this doesn’t make the truth less powerful, and when he tried to play god, he realized that things are a lot more complex than we think; he understood that even when we try to put everything in little boxes (like good guys and bad guys) and see the world through lenses of our making, we will never have power over truth itself. 

The reason I don’t like Kant is because, even though he was a brilliant man and that he revolutionised philosophy and knowledge itself, he is one of the main reasons that we believe that we can control the truth through theories and categories, and once we think this, once we are sure everything can be organized into a tidy little system, that’s the moment the truth fights back, the moment it challenges everything we thought we knew. It’s time we start realizing we need to have a chat with truth instead of trying to tame it, or starfaced monsters will come for us at night. 

Categories
Comics

Inferno #1 Promises a Season of Change

Inferno #1, written by Jonathan Hickman and with art by Valerio Schiti, marks the end of two eras; the first being the era marked by Hickman’s time (though, if what has been said in various interviews and press releases is to be believed, not the end of the Krakoa era writ large), and the end of the early days of the aforementioned Krakoa era which began in 2019 with House of X and Powers of X (pronounced “ten”).

Like much of the current X-Line, Inferno is looking back at the same time as it looks forward. In a line featuring titles that borrow the names of series and teams from the past like Excalibur and X-Factor, it’s no wonder that the name Inferno would be chosen for what is set to be an earth-shattering, status quo-shifting series. But it isn’t just the legacy of the title that factors into what it could mean. Inferno is Mystique following Destiny’s instructions and burning Krakoa to the ground, something that I can’t wait to see play out.

Like House of X before it, Inferno begins with rebirth; in a scene meant to evoke the first glimpse readers got of Krakoa, Emma Frost resurrects Xavier and Magneto, wearing Cerebro and saying, “to me, my X-Men” as she does so. What this means is yet to be seen but, more likely than not, this heralds the fact that the old guards time, here represented by Xavier and Magneto, is over, and a new guard, illustrated by Emma, is set to take over once the dust has settled.

There’s a lot to focus on with Inferno. It’s a massive issue, clocking in at 51 pages, and a lot happens in those pages; there are multiple Nimrods! Orchis knows about resurrection! A (quite literal) changing of the guards with the appointments of two new captains! What’s more important than all of that, though, at least in my opinion, is that, in the resolution of a plot point that began with X-Men #6, Mystique finally got her wife back.

There’s an element of subterfuge to Inferno that is best emblematized by Mystique bringing Destiny back from the dead both against the wishes of Xavier and Magneto and without their knowledge. While it serves as a relief to finally see Mystique get a win after begging for Destiny’s resurrection, it also highlights the fact that, as much as they may like to pretend it isn’t the case, Xavier and Magneto are not entirely in control. There are cracks that people like Mystique have found ways to slip through. Cracks that will only become more apparent as time goes on. As well, it doesn’t feel accidental that Destiny’s return happens as leaves are falling. Autumn, after all, is a time of change. A time of dying, yes, but death has long been a symbol of change as much as it is the mark of an ending. 

Of course, Destiny and Mystique isn’t the only bit of closure we’re getting in Inferno; we’re also getting some movement on the Moira front, something that, outside of HoXPoX and, if memory serves, X-Men #20, we haven’t seen much over the course of Hickman’s time on X-Men. Moira’s expressions of being tired, of being locked away and hidden from the rest of mutantkind offer hints that perhaps by the end of this, she won’t be Krakoa’s best-kept secret (and possibly their only secret if Orchis really has figured out that mutants have been resurrecting).

As per usual, Valerio Schiti’s art is top-notch, and his women look fantastic. I don’t know what it is that he does, but somehow he makes me adore every woman he draws. I promise you that if I could, I would just put out a slideshow of every woman in this comic. But it isn’t just Schiti’s art that makes Inferno look as good as it does; I would be remiss not to mention the work that David Curiel put into the colours and the part they play in how beautiful the entire issue looks. If I were to open this to practically any page, I would be able to gush about at least one thing on every page, maybe even in every panel.

Typically this is the point where I would say whether or not this is a good first issue. The answer to that is no, it isn’t a good first issue. By design, Inferno requires the context that comes with, at the very least, House of X and X-Men #6 and #20. Inferno cannot stand alone; it just can’t, which isn’t a bad thing. Endings are not meant to stand on their own as pieces of media separate from their beginnings. On a fundamental level, that’s not how storytelling works. So no, a new reader couldn’t pick up Inferno and be able to gain their bearings immediately. But, as someone who, as of December 2020, was a new reader, it isn’t hard to get your bearings once you’ve done the required reading. 

Inferno promises fire, it promises ashes, and most of all, it promises change. As Storm says, “change is in the air, it seems. I can feel it.” And so it is. Whatever happens in the next four issues will change Krakoa in ways we likely can’t fathom, and I for one can’t wait to see what comes next.

Categories
Film

Halloween Kills: Spoiler-Free Review

Halloween Kills, the latest in the reboot series from Blumhouse, has the feeling of a bunch of puzzle pieces not placed properly together, forming an image that isn’t entirely clear. It eschews traditional slasher conventions, with some of its new ideas working out better than others. It ups the ante in terms of viciousness, carrying a mean streak with it that few horror films rarely carry, yet never fully commits to that aspect, diffusing it with some abysmal comedic elements and some downright silly moments that rip the tension away full stop.

It would like to tell you about how stories and legacies can negatively impact a community just as much as it can heal a community, but it never feels impactful nor meaningful enough to stick with you once the credits roll. It’s not a bad film by any stretch. In fact, I found this one to be a better offering to the Michael mythos than the previous film which felt overwhelmingly inert,  but its many shortcomings rob it from being a better horror film than one would hope.

(from left) Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

It’s not for a lack of trying though. After twelve films in the series, it was only natural for Blumhouse and co. to attempt to bend and twist the slasher canon in favor of a bolder approach which should be commended more than derided. The film picks up directly after the events of the previous film, with Laurie bedridden in a hospital after being severely wounded after her last run in with Michael, and her daughter (a woefully underused Judy Greer) and grand-daughter (Andi Matichak) attempting to reorient themselves after seemingly killing Michael in the house fire that ended the previous film.

Elsewhere in Haddonfield, a bar holding an open mic introduces us to many of the survivors of Michael’s rampage years ago, many of them kids when they encountered him. When word gets out that Michael isn’t dead, the townspeople led by Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), a young boy when Michael first appeared now grown up, decide enough is enough and go hunting him, with their chant “Evil dies tonight” echoing throughout the streets and throughout the film.

(from left) Cameron Elam (Dylan Arnold), Marion (Nancy Stephens, background), Allyson (Andi Matichak) and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

If 2018’s Halloween felt like a linear video game with the promise of an open world, then Halloween Kills is that promise delivered. It’s the best comparison I can give to the film, as we open up the narrative to focus in on how the town itself responds and reacts to Michael, as we follow groups of people—improbable heroes—throughout town, armed to the teeth to take out an unstoppable force of nature by any means necessary. This element is by far the most interesting thing Halloween Kills has to offer, throwing out altogether the final girl showdown slow creep of series past. Cops and authority have always been useless within slasher stories, and this film shows what happens when a town is dissatisfied with that useless authority.

This isn’t a story about Laurie vs. Michael anymore, but instead about Michael vs. Haddonfield itself. It’s an interesting gambit; Laurie has for decades been the face of this series and while 2018’s offering had the viewer reintroduced to her as a survivalist grandmother, it’s interesting just as it is puzzling to see her character completely deemphasized here and removed of power. It’s even a note that Jamie Lee Curtis herself mentioned in a press interview for the film, finding the role challenging all things considered. It feels like a subversion tactic in the same way Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi sought to subvert the concept of legacies and fan expectation. The only difference is The Last Jedi pulls that particular aspect off far better by embedding it directly into the framework of the film beginning through end, while Halloween Kills only seems concerned with it to a certain point before being bored with it altogether.

Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

The hospital is an interesting location to feature as a central location in this film, not only because of its connection to 1981’s Halloween II but to the world of Haddonfield in general, as we see bodies swarming in as a result of Michael’s carnage. There’s a fear growing within the town, which only morphs into panic and soon chaos when the element of misinformation gets played into it. Some may loathe the vaguely political aspects of the film,  I found it to be one of the few compelling elements of this film, one that works for the most part before buckling under its own weight.

After a while, the film begins to feel more and more padded out for time, this becomes more exemplified than ever when the film returns to an opening flashback three times. More than its repetition, the opening flashback to the night of Michael’s original rampage feels more like an unnecessary world-building exercise, a way to fit in more details that the series never really needed. There’s a lot of unfunny comedic relief bits that never hit in the way I think the writers envisioned, instead giving more credence to that belief. There’s also something to be said about the way this film portrays its black characters especially in 2021, but why should I bring race into it when the creators clearly never thought about it either.

Michael Myers (aka The Shape, left) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Still, if you’re looking for a slasher film where Michael absolutely demolishes everyone and everything in his path, then you’re in for a really good time. Never has Michael felt more dangerous and a threat than he does here, far removed from the slow walk we’ve come to expect from masked killers. His power directly contrasts with the community’s lack of strength against him; he is just too powerful and watching people get caught in his line of sight is terrifying, even if the film never conveys a sense of geography all that well.

A lot of talk out of festivals has focused on how Halloween Kills is one of the most brutal horror films around, and to that I say, I guess. The kills in this film are vicious and there’s a particularly mean streak when it comes to Michael this go around which is fun to watch, but with the exception of maybe one scene, none of the kills ever feel all that brutal or memorable for that matter, not like how a nurse gets drowned and severely burned in Halloween 2 or the entirety of Rob Zombie’s run at the series for that matter.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Halloween Kills isn’t terrible, far from it, but it exists in this weird fugue state that Blumhouse I’m sure will reel back in with its third film. The film doesn’t so much end as it speedily wraps up and sets into motion what will eventually become Halloween Ends. It’s messy and feels incredibly random that when the credits rolled I genuinely couldn’t believe that was the ending they decided on.

Despite all its best efforts to subvert and inject the slasher canon with some political undertones, it never hits in a way I think everyone involved intended. If we’re to talk about this film in strict slasher terms, it’s a bloody mess that gorehounds and series diehards will come away satisfied with. For everyone else looking for this new trilogy reboot to deliver something more, you’ll probably have to wait for Halloween Ends

Categories
Books Uncategorized

Sistersong Spoiler-Free Review

I have never been a huge fan of fantasy, I have always preferred tales of science fiction or horror, but sometimes there are books that break the barriers that we as readers impose on ourselves. In my case Sistersong is one of those books. 

A retelling of an old british ballad, The Twa Sisters, Sistersong by Lucy Holland is the story of three sisters, daughters of the King of one of the old kingdoms of Britannia. War is close to their land, and after one fateful day the life of the three sisters will change forever. It is, in a few words, a story of love, self-discovery, treachery, and inevitably of murder. 

If I had to describe this book in just one word, I would say “tragic.” I left this book with a broken heart (in the best way possible.) The thing that makes this book so grim is that it feels extremely real. It’s clear that the author did her research which adds to the effect, but the realism mainly comes from the strength of the characters’ voices and their detailed descriptions. There is a scene near the end of the book that I won’t be able to shake off my mind in a while. 

Like I said, I’m not a fan of fantasy, but I do have to applaud the use of the fantasy elements in this book. The way they integrated into the world makes them feel like something natural, something believable. In addition, the way the fantasy elements play really well off the themes explored in the book and help build some of the more important plot points. 

The biggest strengths of Sistersong are its’ three main characters. When I first started reading, I felt like the three sisters were relying on archetypes and cliches, but as I continued to devour the book I found myself liking these characters more and more, and I saw them grow beyond said archetypes into complex and interesting characters. Some of the most heart wrenching scenes in the book have such a powerful impact because of how well these three characters are written.

Because this is a spoiler-free review I will try to avoid details, but I thought it was worth mentioning that this novel deals with queer themes, including themes of gender identity, and it does this quite well. At first I was a bit distrustful of the places the story was heading, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way it went. I found in this book a well informed trans narrative in which (in some places) I could see myself reflected on the character. I loved that it felt really honest and, to a certain degree, real

My biggest complaints of the book are probably that some plot points are somewhat rushed and have conclusions that left me a bit unsatisfied. On a similar note, there were some secondary characters that I would have liked to see more developed, especially seeing how it would have elevated some of the emotional moments and made them more shocking. 

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Sistersong. I would absolutely recommend it to any fantasy fan, fans of queer fiction, and fans of tragic stories. I think this will be a book that stays with me for a long time.  

Sistersong is available for purchase now at your local independent book store or wherever fine books are sold.

Categories
Comics

Arkham City: The Order of the World is a Bold, New Beginning

Let me start off by saying that I loved this comic so much, I’m probably going to buy the floppy of it. This statement might raise questions but the answers are; 1. I read comics in collections en masse, rather than the weekly adventure so many of you go through, and 2. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy! This is also my very first review of a comic, so really I’m totally new to this across the board, but dang, was I ever so lucky to land this opportunity. I jumped on the chance to read another Dan Watters/Dani/Aditya Bidikar book after reading Coffin Bound Vol 1, which absolutely blew me away, and Arkham City: The Order of the World did not disappoint.

From the very first page, Dani displays a masterful understanding of the Mignola-esque usage of negative space (Dave Stewart perfectly coloring both this book and quite a few Hellboy books), and dang it, if I’m not an absolute sucker for that art style. My friend joked that he struggled reading Coffin Bound because he would just stare at Dani’s art and upon opening this book, I understood him completely. I was fully mesmerized and engrossed within this beautifully horrifying depiction of Gotham and Arkham Asylum, which I gotta say, Dani having that ability to envelop the audience in the aesthetic and world is a huge boon to an atmospheric horror book. Dani also has tremendous efficiency in the panel to panel read. I once heard something about how the hallmark of a great comic is that it can tell the story without the words and Dani nails it. Even in the middle portion when they jump from perspective to perspective, Dani works in a way that the story is perfectly told with horror intact without having to read a single word.

Luckily, you can read this story with the words and those words are written by none other than Dan Watters. I’ll preface this by refering to the book I mentioned earlier, Coffin Bound, and saying that this book, probably more than any other comic book before it and I imagine after it, connected with me and let me see myself on the page. The depressive, goth-punk who only deals in morose poetry was so far up my alley, I was left too dumbfounded to finish this joke. It was a comic entirely made for me, so I came into this book with the highest expectations I could possibly have and I’m walking away 0% disappointed. The characterizations were perfect, from who the characters were in terms of personality, to how the characters interacted, and the dialogue itself was top notch. 

He builds on top of the atmospheric horror that Dani has set up and introduces a cop mystery element to it, but flips it. The main protagonist is not a cop, but a psychologist who was overseeing patients at Arkham before a breakout, the absolute perfect main character for a book that is very clearly working as Watters’s statement on mental health and the treatment of it. Watters expertly weaves this theme into the book and the vignettes with different escaped patients, respecting the reader enough to understand it without getting beaten over the head with it. He wraps up this first issue with a twist that simultaneously works as a complete ending as if it was a one-shot but also as an incredibly enticing “and the plot thickens…” moment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely fantastic lettering Aditya Bidikar does here. Helping set every villain apart with distinct and oh so appropriate fonts, with one even receiving distinct colorization of the word bubbles, to surprisingly successful effect. The fonts used for the effects are also superb; the progression of the “squeak” in the first few pages is a masterclass in how to letter effects. Even the contrast in the title card, of Arkham City vs Gotham City, with the fonts themselves marrying the two differing locations to themes they might represent: Arkham City using a font reminiscent of the Anarchy logo; Gotham City’s font bringing to mind the metallic font such as in Wolfenstein’s title card. Bidikar flows through a number of fonts, italics, bolds, with each one being vitally important in Bidikar’s quest to finish the job of dragging you into the terrifying depths of this book.

Arkham City: The Order of the World is perfection. It has 4 geniuses working at the top of their craft to once again strike me in the heart and give me exactly what I want. This book is 22 pages of my favorite part of Batman comics: the horror possibilities of Arkham and Gotham. It reunites 3/4ths of the creative team from the masterpiece that is Coffin Bound, bringing in a legend to round out the 4th spot. Above all, it has done what I once thought impossible: inspired me to buy a series in floppies and follow on from one issue to the next.

Categories
Interviews Video Games

Indie Game Week (10/05/2021)

Indie games are awesome. Games made by a group of fifty people, or a dozen, or five, or a single person that wanted to bring a creative vision into reality with the resources they had. Art that, for several reasons, couldn’t be made by a multibillion-dollar company, at least today. That’s what this column is supposed to be: A celebration of all those projects made by people that, on their own, went and did whatever they wanted. We’re gonna be telling you in a monthly format about any games not made by an AAA company, to shed some light on those projects, gush about them, and maybe even to help you find a new favorite game!

Luke:

Tails of Iron – $24.99 on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Tails of Iron is the video game adaptation of the old Redwall book series. Or at least, that’s what I assume because the main character is a mouse guy, and it’s a high fantasy world. I’ve never actually read Redwall. Tails of Iron does not have complex mechanics. Most quests feel like fetch quests, or “clear out this area” which really amounts to fetch quests. The combat doesn’t feel as fantastic as other “Check out our Soulslike combat!” games. All of these things are bad, but I gotta say, I love this game a lot.

The story is so dang good, with all of its little nuances (The characters talk in little chirps, and their intentions are depicted in pictures within the thought/word bubbles) that make this devilishly charming yet abhorrently violent that it’s easy to overlook the flaws. Heck, I’d even say these push the flaws out of flawed territory. I’m doing another fetch quest? That makes sense; the protagonist needs to be on the ground, getting in touch with the people! There’s a base-building mechanic that amounts to…more fetch quests, but hey, I’m gonna fetch real hard because I can’t wait to see the base get built up. The combat is a bit sluggish, but it works within itself, making sure to never jump the shark into “unfairly difficult” territory. It can serve as a nice change of pace from the usual “pixel perfect” combat you find in these sorts of games.

So if my assumption was correct and this is the video game adaptation of Redwall, then dang, I need to read Redwall because this game is just oozing with so much charm and fun that it’s got me not just overlooking the flaws but somehow praising them.

Developed by Odd Bug Studio.

Gabrielle:

Crossing Souls – $14.99 on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, macOS, PlayStation 4, Linux, PlayStation Vita.

Is Crossing Souls revolutionary? Something never seen before? Not really. More of a recollection of a lot of things seen before, actually. But is it fun? You bet it is. Released in early 2018, Crossing Souls tells the story of a group of friends from California involved in a mystery that would change their lives forever. From the aesthetic to the gameplay, it’s an homage to the 80s pop culture (Or the nostalgia for the 80s pop culture) if there ever was one.

First of all, the pixel art aesthetic is beautiful and truly successful at making you nostalgic for the idea of the 80s we all have in mind. Every map is filled with color, detail, and excellent references that just fill you with joy. The gameplay is a beat ‘em up with some platforming here and there, where you get to change between the five friend protagonists, each with their one special ability. They’re not always useful, and besides very specific scenes, you can get through the game using only one or two. But they’re all so endearing that I always found myself randomly changing between them just to see them.

While I said it’s not the most original game out there, it’s the type of media that, while heavily appealing to nostalgia, it’s not something necessary to the enjoyment. It creates a gripping story, entertaining gameplay, exciting exploration, lovely characters, and as a whole, is the damn definition of fun. It has some slight problems, like losing some of the stakes later in the game (Although still capable enough to make me cry at the end). But I would be lying if I said I didn’t think to myself, ‘’I should replay that’’ every time it pops in my mind.

Developed by Fourattic.

We also have guests today! They are two brothers working on an immersive sim aiming to mix the GTA, Deus Ex, and Metal Gear Solid franchises. Here’s our teaser interview for Without Judgement, developed by Wushin Software:

Gabrielle: How did the project begin?

WS: After coming up with a few game concepts and working on them for some time, we realized that we don’t actually enjoy playing/developing those games, so we decided to make one of our “dream games”. Something that we wanted to really play. Something big, with complex mechanics. Something that has so advanced RPG mechanics and A.I that AAA devs wouldn’t want to spend money to develop it. This gives us another reason to work on the game.

Gabrielle: How would you describe the game?

WS: Without Judgment should be thought of as a Miami Vice/Lethal Weapon buddy cop story with a somber tone set in the near future. The story features a lot of adult themes, such as dealing with PTSD and depression, but It won’t be as abstract and dystopian as the Blade Runner movies.

Gabrielle: What are your influences and how are they implemented in the game?

WS: We were inspired by many different movies and video games. The major inspirations for the gameplay were the Metal Gear Solid series, Bethesda RPG-s, PS2 GTA games, and the original Deus Ex. The game’s story is heavily inspired by 80s-90s cinema (everything from Miami Vice to the X-files). But our goal is to keep the game’s plot relatively grounded. We don’t want to make it too dystopic and art-house-like, and we like to give our own twist to every 80s-90s trope.

One interesting example is the Buddy cop dynamic. Almost every time in movies, the main characters are polar opposites to each other, but people in real life are not that idealistic. What if, in a movie, the cops were two broken, disillusioned men who got into a similar life situation for two different reasons.

Gabrielle: How is it for you to develop this project as two indie developers on your own?

WS: It’s not easy, but most worthwhile things are hard to do.

Gabrielle: What are the objectives for the game and what can we expect?

WS: The main objective is going to be solving a murder mystery case, but there will be a lot of side quests and dynamic random encounters that will take you through different sprawling megacities, deserts, and swamps. The map is huge, both in its scale and size. It’s sort of like GTA SA’s map. The game is very open, and there are a lot of characters and factions in the game that you can join/work for so you can really carve your own path, just like in Bethesda games.

The game is also very systematic, different corporations and gangs have rivals, and they often fight with each other in the game’s open world. Every interaction you make with them will have an effect on the gameplay and on the story. The core gameplay loop is heavily inspired by the MGS games. You can use a lot of different gadgets, tools, and skills to achieve your goals. We want to make the game really open-ended.