this comes about a week after i saw it. actually exactly a week.

i’m probably going to talk in this one more about OG jumanji than about this version because i think the new one is better. you should not expect spoilers.

i absolutely adored this movie. it’s not exactly a sequel, it’s not a remake, it’s not a reboot, it’s more, ah… a re-imagining. jumanji in the 90s is an ancient board game, so jumanji in 2017 (set at first in 1996) is an atari cartridge, which is a perfect analogue. it has very clear rules, which are pretty absurd, i won’t lie, and it follows them to the absolute extent of that absurdity. every single rule the movie makes explicit leads to something, be it a key plot point or someone just… exploding (for a huge laugh). it’s funny as hell. and it’s not one sense of humor either. these are not the same jokes repeated over and over. the laughs are kept very fresh by the way the characters and cast interplay. even its dick jokes weren’t eye-rolling. there isn’t a lot of depth here–the characters aren’t beautifully-rounded portraits of human beings (although they do all grow in some way), there isn’t some overarching theme to write a thesis on how it blew your mind–in fact, turn your brain off and just have a good time.

i really don’t know what to say about the cast. karen gillan is a gem, the rock is bae, and there really isn’t much of anyone else they could have cast in this movie for this role except jack black, he is utterly perfect in every way. (i’ve seen chris hemsworth pull off something kind of similar, except he’s [long, embarrassing string of emoji] and jables looks like your spouse’s weird uncle, which mattered.) i’ve always been a little meh on kevin hart but he’s great in this. the cast kick ass. and this movie is a framed narrative, and even the cast outside the frame are good.

the only complaints i have are contained to this graph and they are mildly spoilerish (and EXTREMELY minor). warning… warning… warning… warning… didn’t care for the villain a lot. he’s pretty much just nasty and the final encounter with him wasn’t as dramatic as the setting really could have earned.

so those jokes i mentioned? they land for the entirety of the movie. start to finish. it doesn’t stop being funny when the stakes are raised. the fun for us doesn’t have to go away because shit got real for the characters. really this is just a wildly entertaining movie, and because it couldn’t give less of a shit how dumb and silly it is, it gets a solid good-good go-watch-this rating from me. this is the kind of movie i want to watch when i feel shitty. i may buy it (and i hate rewatching things). the ONLY thing i was actively disappointed by, which is different from a complaint, is that karen gillan didn’t say “bite me” at that one part. you’ll know the part. maybe she didnt because it was obvious but that was like, THE LINE. my head was SCREAMING it. “LOOK DOWN. LOOK UP. ‘BITE ME.’ DO ITTTTTT.” ah! well,

contrast this with the original jumanji, which i loved as a kid and have seen like 40 million times between the house and substitute teachers. i even had the IRL board game. (it was boring.) and yet………………………. what…. what is it? what is that movie attempting to be?

is it a comedy? then why doesn’t robin williams (pbuh) have jokes?

is it a family movie? then why is it so dark? why do adults just breeze on by when alan is getting the shit kicked out of him and his bike jacked? why does it look like the (omg that cgi is actually so bad lol) monkeys are going on a murder spree? why does everyone almost actually die somehow? why is the NRA’s wet dream in this movie?

is it a kid-thriller? then where is the suspense? we know what they need to do–just sit down and roll the dice, then pick up the game and run, and as soon as it’s safe again, do it again. stop dicking around and just do it. if it is a PG thriller why is van pelt a slapstick routine? he should be scary. he is defeated by a bar code scanner and outright squeals once.

what are the rules? it rains in the house when they roll monsoon. can they just go outside? what if they had rolled it outside? would the whole town flood? how come sometimes it just rains, but other times you roll a carniverous plant that shoots you with tranquilizers (lolwut), or murderous… seriously, were those chimps? bonobos? they look so bad it’s impossible to tell, or a fuckoff stampede that never ends (no problem if you just run perpendicular), or the Most Dangerous Game, or if you get extra unlucky, sucked physically into an actual jungle. OR MAYBE YOU JUST GET BATS LOL?

there’s a lot of similarity with what i just wrote and the honest trailer for jumanji. watch that, or don’t, see if i care, but those four minutes helped me express the little nagging “hang on” feeling i always had towards jumanji, despite loving it.

Numanji (i am not sorry and i will not apologize for that) knows exactly what it’s trying to do, and it does it well. maybe it’s easier because of the video game setting, but it also has clear rules (even if they are …random) and sticks to them. it utilizes its cast perfectly. it does a fine job taking the piss out of how dumb video games really are if you overthink them. and it even tries to bring home a motivational message without falling face first into a vat of cheese when it does so.

we grew up with jumanji as a classic, but really. numanji (still not sorry) is better. go see it. you’ll have a blast.

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i completely cannot understand why this new star wars installment is dividing people so hard. this is objectively such a good movie. the spoiler free version to start with:

from a technical standpoint i don’t think it’s a stretch to say no other star wars movie can even come close to last jedi. the musical theming we have come to expect, but now the visuals, the art palletes, the cinematography, and thematic elements deeper than “go underdogs” and “go characters i like” on top of some outrageously strong acting, dialogue that mostly isn’t cheesy mumbo jumbo, and characters who have flawed motivations all coming together in conflict, resolved with so much grace. this is a really strong movie just as a movie. it’s imperfect–and i’ll list a few whines i have with it–but i like this movie a lot.

my main purpose below the Spoiler Marker won’t be to talk about the movie so much, but to look at some of those thematic elements i mentioned and wonder aloud… now what? where can the series go from here?

[this is the spoiler marker]

[seriously i’m going to drop major spoilers immediately]

[last warning]

i do want to start with those gripes though just to get them out of the way. i just saw the movie for a second time and these stuck out to me as kind of, ew.

  • i dislike how they handled leia Not Getting Killed By Kylo Ren. my suspicion is, they had planned for him to kill her in IX. that’s probably not happening now for obvious reasons, but i imagine this was some kind of force fate destiny thing. but DUDE. she’s in the vacuum of space. the moisture in her skin is flash freezing. she has suffocated and is dead. her flying herself back to the ship is fine–she’s obviously always been force-sensitive, just untrained–but if you have to have her survive those bombs, there has to be some other way to do it. like she clearly knew what was about to happen. she could feel kylo ren’s thumb hovering over the button. they could have had her brace and hang on to the controls then force-fly her way in or something and fall unconscious to asphyxia just as the door opens. this way was silly and felt bad.
  • they play fast and loose with the timeline here while making it look like everything is happening simultaneously. it can’t be. several days pass on luke’s island while the resistance cruiser has like 18 hours of fuel left or something, and kylo ren mind-melds with rey on multiple days.
  • i know, the rey narration is actually coming from the next scene, when she’s looking at time stretched out in front of her while we hear her talking to kylo about it, but it’s still extremely sudden narration and very out of place here. it was jarring in a scene that’s already jarring. you over-jarred and now i am tossed out of the movie.
  • i’m torn on whether the appearance of yoda was too on the nose or brilliant and awesome. does the movie lose something without that scene? is luke motivated to force-astral-project himself across the galaxy without it?
  • i am team anti porgs. are they adorable? yes. are they a cynical ploy to woo you into buying shitty merch? also yes. is it cute and hilarious that the porgs were terrified that a giant ass wookiee had just KILLED THEIR FRIEND and was about to EAT him in front of them all? NOT AT ALL, that was sad as hell and threw me out of the movie. especially that one who was the most scared, you just slaughtered his brother and got annoyed that he was sad and terrified you were going to snack on his body, you shag monster. “isnt it a little hypocritical of you to gender the porgs” hey you know what, you try making that bullet point make sense without losing clarity in a bunch of “theys” and without turning them into nonliving things with “its”. anyway it isn’t necessary for chewbacca to take on porg pets by viscerally shaming him for eating meat and exploiting the (fictional, i will emphasize) porgs’ clear grief and mortal horror because their eyes are cute.
  • bb-8 coming out of the head of an at-st was the most “fuck you movie” moment of any of the new movies, and that includes all of the bullshit that happens in the final act of rogue one. to the director’s credit, he almost seems to apologize for this, as fin and rose look at each other like, hang on, really? dafuq? how…? but if you know it’s incredibly stupid then you could have done better. that might work in a comedy but this was a movie with fun and jokes in it and that isn’t the same thing.

now that i have bitched about continuity, magic bullshit, and porgish liberation, let’s gush.

  • wasn’t it awesome at the end when 3po was doing his godawful 3po stats line and poe told him to shut the hell up?
  • wasn’t it so funny at the beginning when poe was acting like he had a bad connection to general hux to stall for time, like usually in sci fi movies all the tech works great until the plot needs it not to for suspense, so thats a super original gag because we dont expect the idea of the tech failing?
  • wasn’t that shot of the resistance cruiser accelerating to lightspeed but hitting stoak’s ship before it reaches that point and just slicing it in half in total silence and almost monochrome jaw-dropping and amazing and the most arresting shot in any star wars movie to date easily?
  • wasn’t the crystal planet like so visually stunning?
  • wasn’t it neat when luke met up with r2d2?
  • wasn’t the “rhyme” between “the force isn’t all lifting rocks” and “ha, lifting rocks” perfect?
  • wasn’t it awesome when the mind link between rey and kylo first showed up and rey was like hey its you i hate you and kylo was just like, bemused, like, oh, huh, what’s going on here?
  • wasn’t the fight scene they shared badass and stoak’s death a great way for both kylo to not turn, because he is following the sith tradition of defeating your master, and also rey to trust he was going to, and THIRD to set up said badass fight scene which was great and fun to watch and made kylo ren trust rey was going to turn with him?
  • wasn’t adam driver amazing in this movie in general?
  • wasn’t the banter between hux and kylo ren great?
  • wasnt it awesome when poe acted to the new general whose name i cant remember (she had purple hair and i spent both entire watches of the movie wishing she had been played by jewel staite, not that this actress was bad or anything) like he was entitled to answers and she just shut him down hard?
  • dont you want more of the obviously untold backstory between her and leia?

Exhale, steph.

i’m ranking this movie 3rd in my star wars power rankings.
1. IV
2. V
3. VIII
4. Rogue one
5. VII
6. VI
7. III
the shit one. I
we don’t talk about that one. II

okay, so now to that thematic thing.

star wars hasn’t really had anything to say about the world before. galaxy? world, screw it. it’s never been about nothing–it’s been about lots of things, but it’s never really made commentary before. that all changes with the side plot that people who aren’t thinking too hard about the movie consider a red herring.

fin and rose go to canto bight, aka the wokening of the fin

let’s sum what’s going down here. fin and rose take a little transport through hyperspace (….k) to the playground of the ultra-wealthy: a casino and resort on canto bight. that’s where they’re going to find a master hacker to come save their day. we aren’t told why that moz or whatever person thinks he will agree to help them, but they’re pretty desperate, so you may as well go for it. they park at random on a beach. this isn’t any other place, this is canto bight–someone owns that land, and you didn’t pay them cash to sit your ship there, so you’re now guilty of criminal trespass. rose is not looking forward to this place, but fin gets there and is like blown away, this is opulent and fabulous. i mean, he’s just a stormtrooper, so the line we get is “wow, this place is great” but you know. they step outside and she explains she came from a planet where she was of a slave, child labor caste. their masters got uberrich by selling what her people mined out of the ground. we see some child laborers in that shot, but they aren’t yet important, what’s important is the uhhhhhh dog-cat-horse-goats standing in for quarterhorses on this planet. they’re held against their will and cruelly forced to do something pointless so someone else can profit. this isn’t just a casual animal liberation subplot, the creatures are a symbol of rose’s people. she reveals that most of these people got their wealth from selling arms to the fascUH ahem the first order, and that’s the last piece to fall into place for fin, he decides… you know what, you’re right, these people sit on a throne of blood and lies. then they get arrested.

what happens next is important. they don’t get to meet their master codebreaker, but they do casually run into someone else who can do the job. (hacker ex machina?) he gets them out of their cell and they escape, immediately finding themselves where? the horse-dog-goat-cat stables. that symbol of the oppressed from earlier. now we meet the child laborers of canto bight, and this is the crux: rose explains to the kid who they are, and then they set the goat-dog-cat-horses free, smashing the shit out of the casino on the way, in a manner that would have made a black bloc proud. fin is still a little naive. “it was worth it to hurt them,” he says, but come on, these folks are gonna be fine. and then hacker-ex-machina re-appears, and they have no choice but to put their trust in him.

unfortunately, you can’t put your trust in anyone from this world. hacker-ex-machina helps them because the price is right, and then the next time the price is right, he helps their enemies. money is all that matters to these people, and who gets hurt along the way is just an unfortunate cost of doing business. it does get revealed that capitUH (Cough) canto bight people are funding both sides of the war to generate perpetual profit for themselves a little earlier. hacker-ex-machina uses that fact to say look, there are no good or bad guys. finn calls that bullshit and he says, hm, i may be wrong, who cares? i got mine, nothing matters, good luck with getting executed!

what, the hell, is an anti-capitalist subplot doing in a big budget Disney movie? let’s let rose and leia explain.

fin tries to valkyrie himself into the battering cannon. rose shoves him out of the laser’s path. why? “we won’t win by fighting what we hate. we’ll win by saving what we love.” then they kiss and there’s an explosion and sparks behind them and oh my god groanerino, but that line, combined with leia’s last–that between the people in the millenium falcon, they have all they need to spark a new rebellion–explains exactly what that angle is doing here.

in the final shot of the movie the child laborers are dicking around, playing Resistance Soldier, when some boss alien is like hey back to work. the kid goes to grab his broom. it flies to meet his palm–the kid’s force sensitive, look at that. and he shows us he still has rose’s ring with the rebel emblem. and after faking a little sweeping, he lowers that broomstick like a light saber. these kids are going to grow up into adults who resist.

what the last jedi uses this “red herring” subplot to set up is a universe where neither the rebellion nor the empire, neither the resistance nor the first order, can ever truly win, because they’re both profit machines for the ultra-wealthy that can’t exist without the other, without the two in balance. it’s the never ending exploitative struggle between worker and owner that’s behind all this, and not only can we not trust someone from that world to help us, we don’t even need them. the resistance must fend for itself. and it will fend for itself, and it will grow, not by destroying a force clearly more physically powerful than it, but by helping the people, building solidarity with the people, proving to the people that the resistance has their backs, until the people outnumber the forces that would step on them, exploit them and their work, and stop them living their own lives in the name of money and power. star wars VIII is revolutionary canon, yall, and the next time i’m feeling TIRED, i’ma hear the late (goddammit) carrie fisher in my ear: “we have everything we need.”

so yeah, that’s all buried in a movie about space lasers and lightspeed and john williams music. and none of that even begins to touch on kylo ren’s obsession with letting go of the past or how none of this movie would have happened and everyone would be safe if the new resistance leadership just talked to each other. we could expound on that for another–good lord, thats a lot of words. let’s stop this here. this movie owns. publish button.

what is the most important gripe i’ve had with the thor movies: they are brooding and boring.

marvel heard me loud and clear.

thor ragnarok is a hell of a lot of fun. visually it’s gorgeous. it’s actually about something other than “omg look at the stakes!!!” the dialog is great. the story is preposterously silly and it knows it. finally a thor movie brought us more of interest than “chris hemsworth is at least 13/10” and i am here for it.

as always, i don’t know anything about the source comics. i have read before about the norse ragnarok story. i don’t remember it very well except there’s a god of death called something like Hel and a giant wolf that eats… the sun? something like that. it was cool to see some nods to that, like Hela having the giant wolf, which is NOT explained otherwise.

normally this is the point where i start warning you about spoilers, but i really don’t know how spoilery this will be. i’ll try to keep it light. i just want to talk about why i liked a movie featuring characters i’m not super fond of so much. don’t expect it to be organized or make sense. the movie’s pretty dumb, but it knows how dumb it is, and the ride is a blast. overdone rebirth/hero’s journey story or not, you should check it out. don’t miss.

  • it was pretty clear from the opening scene that the characters were following the old “making a prophecy happen by trying to prevent it” cliche. it was interesting to see this movie’s take on that, and how the characters kind of react to it.
  • the overarching plot is an apocalypse story. we see actual gods trying to either destroy a universe or stop that from happening. absurd and ridiculous. it’s such a silly idea. thank you for making this movie be equally silly.
  • jeff goldblum remains a national treasure. he was outstanding in this movie. protect jeff goldblum at all costs.
  • the MCU has written the hulk basically out of relevance. tony stark is just as smart as bruce banner, and thor, an iron man robot, and the vision can each do anything hulk can do without all the collateral damage. i like that he escaped to a world that accepts him, that we actually got some hulk dialog, and that we actually explored the “anger” of hulk a little bit. anger IRL is usually a response to perceived threat. bruce banner being vulnerable and stressed out makes perfect sense, and the hulk as his protector? yes.
  • i don’t know how many people had to ok the name of the wormhole to asgard. but they all took a giant risk and damn does it work, lol.
  • i mentioned the dialog being great. that’s cause it’s great. super natural, very witty, loved it. i’ve heard a whole lot of it is ad-libbed and that makes a ton of sense. let the actors really inhabit those characters and be–well, as real as possible. quit forcing quips on us. joss. chris hemsworth is funny as hell in several other roles, and that angle of him really shines here. speaking of the dialog the grandmaster insists on referring to his slaves as “prisoners with jobs” because he doesn’t like “the S word.” which, i appreciated the shit out of, because (motions at The 13th).
  • the scene with the valkyrie attacking hela was eye-poundingly stunning. it’s like a renaissance painting. extremely, extremely good scene.
  • i also appreciate the history of asgard being lain bare. odin didn’t just become ruler of the 9 realms by being a benevolent overlord. they conquered that shit, and then when he decided he was tired of that life he kicked out the goddess of death and painted over all the monuments to his brutal past. that seemed a little familiar too. (:
  • the main villain of this movie is a woman. she isn’t bitchy. she isn’t an ice queen. she isn’t a seductress. she is just more powerful than you and you are between her and her goals, so you can fall in line or die now, you have three seconds to decide. cate blanchett owned the screen but the character they gave her made it possible.
  • thor’s new mjollnirless lightning powers seem a little OP. little worried how that plays into future avengers films.
  • oh, and as a last thought, the doctor strange cameo was hilarious. “i have been falling for 30 minutes” hahaha

i just

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ok. im good. we’re good.

guardians 2 is in danger of usurping winter soldier as my favorite of the marvel movies. it has a couple of flaws, which we’ll get to spoilerlessly, and it has a couple of themes that cut the shit out of me, which we will also get to as obliquely as we can before i dive into the spoilers. the problem is, all my complaints are non spoilers, and most of what made me love this film IS spoilers, so, if you stop at the spoiler line your impression may come away overly negative. i loved this movie. we critique because we love.

for starters its absolutely gorgeous. the full spectrum is on display here. apart from the opening scene (well, the Guardians’ opening scene), this is a 3D movie that didn’t engage in gratuitous 3D for its own sake. it’s a very funny movie, although it also spares absolutely no toilet joke, which grates on the nerves quickly, but mercifully goes away. i’d actually say the whole first act is a little rough around the edges. the screenplay could have used a “dont do that” person in the first few scenes and would benefit nicely.

it was a really mixed bag for that first act. you would laugh out loud and then, oog, cool, another pee joke, thanks. there would be an excellent raw moment from a character and then, immediately, something over the top. i understand that for example drax’s point is to be over the top, but good lord, that forced laughter was unbearable the 50,000th time in ten minutes. tough to point at other things without spoiling. and honestly, it was like the movie didn’t know how old its audience was for a while. several times, characters would pointedly stop at “sonuva,” and the worst insult was “douchebag.” but when shit goes down, we can actually finish “sonuvabitch,” and people can swear, and it’s fine. it’s weirdly fun and glib about killing lots of people too. i dunno. it was weird tonally in the first 45 minutes or so.

anyway, when the movie finally gets on with itself, we get just as complete a character arc for #Trashpanda rocket and, weirdly enough, karen gillan’s nebula, as we do for peter himself. peter and rocket’s stories pay off in outstanding fashion for me. what a dope couple of story lines. nebula/gamora pays off less than the other two, but some of that is because of the nature of nebula’s character honestly. she’s just been made to be so cut off and distant that when she finally gets the spoiler she wants she just doesn’t know how to handle it, other than to continue her obsession with killing thanos. it’s real hard for me to relate to is the problem with it. i imagine not a lot of us had titans for fathers who had their children fight for sport. i’m also an only child. shrug.

the final act is just excellent. everything about it is great. i felt like i was watching an A++ final boss battle in some vidya. loved every second of it. any detail would be a spoiler. just trust me the last half hour owns so hard you guys.

it deals with themes of love and hope and acceptance in a way i never expected. it was funny and silly and saturated and somehow, moving. i just wish there wasnt this weird tonal thing going on in the first half and that the bathroom humor was toned down several notches.

anyway, this movie was in the aggregate hilarious, extremely smart in its pacing and themes, beautiful to look at, and beautiful to experience. you should see it and the spoilers start in 3… 2…

1.

okay so i haven’t googled yet. are the christians panning this movie as being about killing god yet? a quick search hasn’t revealed anything so i’m assuming probably not. that surprises me. if harry potter is satanic, certainly so is blowing up the brain of even “a god, little g.” maybe it’s because ego bears no resemblance to the abrahamic god. he’s more of a zeus. he’s certainly the embodiment of his namesake. YOU ARE ALL BELOW ME, AND THERE SHALL BE NOTHING THAT IS NOT ME! hahaha.

so i’ma unwrap the layers here. at the most basic point, this is a victory for humility, chosen family, and sacrifice over egotism. that’s obvious. of course, the humble self-sacrificers are also some murderers and thieves and scoundrels, so the morality play is thin, but that’s what’s there okay?

but that isn’t what really slayed me here. when ego says, for some, unknown, complete idiot reason, that he gave his lover cancer, that he killed her so he wouldn’t be tempted to go back to her anymore, peter rejects him on the spot. that’s fairly predictable. we would figure peter would be anti-killers of his mom. but it’s a little bit more than that.

really often in movies and TV, especially when any element of fantasy is involved, the characters are made to fulfill some destiny. they are becoming who they were supposed to be. that is what it is, it isn’t necessarily a bad or a good thing, but where guardians 2 started throwing dust around the room was when peter rejects all this. he could be a demigod. he could be immortal. WE COULD RULE THE GALAXY, TOGETHER, FATHER AND SON. but peter rejects that. he doesn’t need your destiny. he doesn’t need to be who you think he’s supposed to be. he values his chosen family over his real one because that’s who has actually been there for each other, and that’s real, not this power thing. not this “blood family” who rejects what he values and who he wants to be.

the protagonists of these movies have always been a ragtag misfit band. they come together because they really have nobody else. i’ve been there, man, and there is no tighter bond than the folks who stick together, because the only thing they have in common, is they’re the only people who don’t reject each other. when nebula says “you’re not friends. all you do is yell at each other,” and drax brings the theme home with a sledgehammer because no other character can deliver this cheese with actual seriousness, “no, we’re not. we’re family.” when the people who are supposed to be the closest in your life reject who you are, you cling to those who embrace you for who you are, oddities and perfections and lumps all alike. the ones for whom, all the devils that they don’t know can come along for the ride. in a world where families have only recently started to quit rejecting their queer and trans kids, where trans women are murdered regularly, where gay men are rounded up and tortured in chechnya, in a world where foreigners are expelled and killed and sentenced to death by exile without a fuck given, this is a timely-ass theme and i am here for it.

feel like i need a minute to recover even just talking about it lol. i didnt expect this movie to hug me but here we are. thanks, movie.

the other great arc was the one where rocket grows up. i did not expect yondu to have such a major role in this movie. his redemption story is nice. that the other ravagers or whatever they’re called all showed up to his funeral, yeah, very good, very touching. has half the weight if the movie didn’t draw parallels between yondu and rocket, and also has less weight if the movie didn’t make those parallels clear to rocket himself. the first point of this theme is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. no matter what the universe has made you climb. someone else has been there before.

thats a nice thing to say in a movie but it’s not like it hasn’t been done before or anything. but this movie takes yondu through his redemption arc so that rocket, who seems to have seen himself beyond saving, can see it. yondu has to do something so truly heroic as dying to save the life of his adopted son-ish, because it was necessary to bring all the ravagers or whatever back. to make them proud of him again after they exiled him for being a scumbag. or was it not enough of a scumbag? either way, yondu certainly met exile with “well i’m trash anyway so let’s just get on with it.” the ravagers or whatever came to his viking funeral, displaying their respect for what he did, showing how proud they were, and there’s rocket. he sees that even when yondu was exiled from those people, he was still counted among them. they sent him away for his actions and even mutinied, but ultimately, he was redeemable because they never sent him away for who he was. rocket keeps shoving everybody away like yondu did, and now he sees that while people may not want to be around his lashing out, he still has value, he can still even be honored among them. and there’s a single tear. “oh, don’t do that,” i thought, as the dust blowing out of the vents suddenly mixed with freshly cut onions.

this is a movie about the importance of chosen family, about triumph over people who would have you be something you are not and don’t want to be, about acceptance, a movie that says you, whoever you are, hi! you have value. it’s somehow at the same time a movie that punches eugenicists in the face. in 2017, it’s a movie we sorely needed. and it’s delivered with all the fun, flair, and panache we came to expect from the first guardians movie. god damn i think i’ve talked myself into elevating this movie to the #1 from marvel spot, but i’ll need another watch to make sure.

this is a different kind of movie. if you’re looking for action you won’t find it. if you’re looking for plot, you’ll only sort of find it. neither of those things are very important to what the movie is trying to do anyway, which is present conflicting ideas.

i won’t pretend this is a great movie by any means because it isn’t. emma watson’s character’s motivations, desires, and thinking are basically always unknowable. john boyega’s character is completely wasted in the final cut, and i honestly wonder if entire scenes featuring him are missing. it’s even reasonably removed from the realities of some of its situations–sure, state governments are just clamoring for compulsory voter registration and ballot access, and sure, livestream comments are super chill and free of both trolls and creepy men demanding boobs or winking that she doesn’t need to get in bed alone. the movie would have you imply using your real identity means you won’t do those things. bitch, men do that face to face in public.

i found quite a few things in here enjoyable, though. most of the performances are pretty good. mae hitting up the river to go kayaking is always a metaphorical trip into her own mind, even when it’s a literal trip that results in plot movement. before she gets tipped out of the kayak everything is foggy because she’s feeling confused after her conversation with mercer (who sucks, by the way, he’s meant to be a symbol of disconnect from the wired society but he just comes off as a rube and a philistine). she has a cry over her dad’s condition out on the river, but never, ever, in view of anyone else. the growing distance between mae and karen gillan’s character after she starts wearing the camera was smart and important too. some of the latter’s behavior is eventually explained away as stimulant abuse, but really, if your best friend is now broadcasting 100% of the time, sure, they consented to that, but you didn’t. their attempt to connect to everyone could, and here does, prevent an actual connection with anyone.

there’s a weird conflict with her actually. she brings mae in to the circle. she’s in the inner lolpun circle at the company. she’s around the world trying to slip through regulations and lobby governments. why is she so disgusted with mae? when she calls mae a “natural” during the onstage interview, why is that with a sneer? it’s fine if you want this character to become disillusioned. you just have to actually show her becoming disillusioned, when what was actually shown was her literally being on speed so she could work for the company more but also randomly turn on her friend and call an idea that would make the company billions of dollars–if it worked out, which, this being the voting idea, it would not, but in this universe apparently it already has–openly calling that bullshit. she’s right, this is a step toward the circle trying to become the government whether knowingly or not, and patton oswalt basically says as much. it’s just odd, and without much precedent, that she has this opinion. maybe this is like the ty storyline too. maybe important stuff was cut. maybe i should read the book.

and it was JARRING to see patton oswalt play a COO in this movie. i saw him last night as TV’s son of TV’s frank. he does fine, he isn’t given much to do and he does it fine, but it was just jarring.

ultimately what was interesting to me is the movie has a lot of ideas to offer and a lot of things to say, but does not make a final word. it clearly shows that the kind of scenario presented by the circle can lead to dangerous levels of public harassment for no reason. but it also presents that exact same thing as a good thing, when an escaped convicted killer is caught. “here’s how that idea works. here’s why it does not.” that this product was named SoulSearch is clever. you have to decide for yourself whether the kind of collective consciousness that allows anyone to be found quickly is actually a good idea. there’s many people in this world who believe being able to track a criminal instantly is a great idea, and the film does nothing to combat any of those premises. it simply says, here’s column A, and here’s column B. the only final word it does make is ultimately kind of a tired one, and one that anyone of any persuasion can find a way to relate to: when someone wants all your information but doesn’t reveal their own, do not trust them.

if the question is, is more googlefacebook good or bad? the circle replies, “here’s how the services at stake are both good and bad, but you should DEFINITELY be wary of mark zuckerberg and sundar puchai.”

mae goes from naive to ready to bring down the CEO in an instant. a plan to do so is concocted completely off-screen in an entire act featuring john boyega that is missing from the movie. then, i guess it’s implied that emma watson is now CEO of the circle through the Highlander Rule, and is still down with mass surveillance at all times? i don’t know, the ending is oblique and not very satisfying, even if tom hanks’s reaction to being exposed is hilarious.

at the end of the day, the circle is an interesting alternate universe, and apart from the unrealistic internet comments and bizarrely pro-democracy state governments, its problems do not lie on screen. its problems are in what’s left out, and that leads me to wish this wasn’t a movie, but rather a 4-season show on like AMC, or netflix, or hulu. (not amazon. fuck you amazon. you have no business in this market.) the whole first episode would be introducing mae and mercer and mae’s family and annie and end with the interview scene. the whole second episode would worldbuilding the circle and establishing characters there, and end with that mysterious missed connection with ty. this is already the length of the whole movie. mercer might not even die until the end of the second season. the run-up to exposing tom hanks whose character’s name i forgot could be the ENTIRE FINAL SEASON. THAT HAPPENS OFF SCREEN IN THIS MOVIE. usually modern movies are way too long but this one needed more, a lot more, and it’s interesting and Not Bad but ultimately unsatisfying, like a dry sandwich, but you were out of bread so you used a hamburger bun.

that’s a fitting ending, i feel.

weeeeeeeee-oo.

let’s get this out of the way immediately. mass effect: andromeda is a buggy mess rife with plot holes, thin dialogue, boring characters, unfulfilling romances, and bullet spongy enemies, especially when your gear is bad at the beginning. some of the more interesting aspects of the story/lore are either never answered or hidden behind miserable world quests. of which there are millions, and the game doesn’t even try to pretend like they’re fun. they outright call the things “tasks.” you will wait ten minutes for an autosave to reload, you will crash during the loading animation on the nexus, and you will die in level-4 electric hazards you had no way to see coming. you will spend a preposterous amount of “research points” on weapon upgrades only to be stunned at how little difference there is between various levels of a gun. you will have scores of skill points waiting to be applied and no use for them whatsoever. you will marvel at the rigid facial animation and wonder what, exactly, that emotion is. you will place a waypoint on the map and the game will move it several kilometers for no reason. you will click on the map icon 40 times before it agrees you want to fast travel.

and yet…

i definitely enjoyed playing this game. i enjoyed discovering the galaxy and the things, places, and people in it. i really enjoyed tracking down other survivors of the trip to andromeda and helping return them home. (every race has its own Pathfinder but it feels like Ryder is the only one for the whole initiative.) i do have to give me:a a reluctant recommendation, at least on PC; it seems console players ran into way worse glitches, especially graphically. if you want to wait for a sale or for some more patches to repair bugs, that’s definitely wise, but i’m not sure you want to skip it outright.

everything that follows will be just a scattered list of thoughts, because i have no coherent one, it’s all a mess in my head. they will be spoilers of varying degree, including extreme, late-game spoilers, so only read on with caution or having also played. a lot of them will be gripes. share yours and we can commiserate.

i don’t get the circumstances around you becoming pathfinder in the first place. alec places his hat on you on habitat 7 when yours busts. why can’t he take it back, take a breath, and then give it back to you, and repeat, til help arrives? is there some reason that mask only works like a scuba mask once?

the vast majority of weapons in this game are WAAAANK. behold, the pistol that does no damage. the assault rifle, that does no damage. the shotgun, that never hits its targets. and even the sniper rifle, that does, you guessed it, no damage, while shooting exactly like the pistol with a scope on. if you want a strong single-shot sniper rifle, R&D the Isharay, which can actually OHK chosen and raiders with a headshot. and if you want decent damage from an AR, R&D the Valkyrie. speccing into assault rifles early isnt that bad of an idea tbh, given the level 6 AR talent is super super good to bring down tanky mobs. up to +24% damage? yes please.

speaking of talents and speccing. you can only have 3 skills equipped at a time. my loadout was incinerate (for armor), overload (for shield), and invasion (for tanky mobs and bosses). for my purposes, that… covered everything. i had no biotics (except the shield passives). i had no combat skills except the gun passives. well, and combat fitness, which is a must because you have no HP. i want to do another play through where i largely skip out on gunplay and instead use all four Favorite profiles or whatever, seamlessly jumping from one skill to the next, and when they’re on cooldown, swapping profiles. have a boss profile, a big fight profile, a remnant profile. rely on the remnant VI to bring the pain. mine tickled, but i didnt build for it at all, it can get really strong.

in terms of combat, your squadmates are largely either interchangable or not helpful. there’s

  • peebee, who has some control biotics and NO HEALTH
  • cora, who can bop around and disrupt things with her biotics (and cryo ammo, which is SO good)
  • drack, my personal favorite combat partner, who is both tanky as shit and capable of dealing good damage
  • liam, whose main ability seems to be being tanky as shit
  • vetra, whose main ability seems to be being tanky as shit
  • jaal, whose skills make him out to be a cora/tank hybrid, but in reality he just stands in the open and dies because the squad AI is brutal

whenever possible i traveled with cora and drack.

so yeah, the squad AI is really bad. your team almost never take cover. they often run in your way, and you can’t shoot through them. and you can’t even control their skill usage like in past ME titles. it’s just abilities, randomly tossed out on cooldown.

the various worlds look amazing. eos and elaaden are both very well done deserts, havarl a gorgeous jungle planet, voeld an excellently done Hoth, aya a hidden paradise in a hellscape, and kadara… kadara is annoying but it’s at least really pretty. kadara is the only place i died in the nomad, because a squad of roekkar dropped in front of me, i ran them over, none of them died, and they shot me as i drove off. i never stopped at all. was just fucked. it’s just incredibly convenient how all these locations–humanity’s first colony, the resistance base, the science outfit, kadara port, and even new tuchanka–just HAPPEN to be right next to the one place on the whole planet i need to be to fix the climate.  that’s a nitpick and i’m willing to accept it, it’s just a little weird, okay?

speaking of a little weird–how much later than everyone else did ark hyperion show up? the nexus is already mostly built, and has had a rebellion, which saw the krogan leave en masse and set up a full colony, and a human colony has already been attempted and failed, and milky way outlaws have already run into the angara on kadara and even kind of taken over there? this was a problem in no man’s sky. it’s a little sketch to accuse me of discovering all this stuff in the galaxy when people are already there. it’s also a little sketch to accuse me of initiating first contact with the angara when they already share kadara port with milky way castoffs.

THATS NOT HOW A BLACK HOLE LOOKS FROM DISTANCE. the supermassive black hole at the center of each galaxy is extremely bright because it’s surrounded by stars. if you’re close enough to actually see the dark event horizon, you’re too fucking close to a black hole. is there no system between the black hole and any other system in andromeda? is there no interstellar dust? why can we just see that far? why does it look so close? why does the gravitational lensing distort things in front of the black hole? i have so many questions.

so i had some conflicting thoughts about this as a mass effect game. i wondered if it would be a lot more fun to me if it didn’t have that legacy behind it. after all, FTL travel in that universe is done via mass relay, not via the Alcubierre drive the tempest is rockin. where did that come from anyway? there’s also the question suvi asks near the end of the main storyline: is this as good as chasing prothean artifacts? i chose the “it’s better” option honestly. prothean artifacts were boring. it’s really old shit. it’s the work of archaeologists, and liara can study them all she likes in my stead. the remnant is alive, and powerful, and advanced enough their tech looks like magic. i want to know more about the remnant, and about the jardaan, who, apparently, are the alien race behind the remnant, despite never being properly introduced as such. they just appear in the dialogue of the first meridian mission and everyone just seems to know who they are. this is how that should have gone:

SAM: (whatever sam says about this place being left by the jardaan)
Squadmate: “The what?”
SAM: “Not what, who. I believe the Jardaan are an alien race.”
Ryder: “They… built all this?”
etc

so would this be a game i had more positive thoughts on if it were a mass effect ripoff and not part of the series? especially since the paragon/renegade system is gone in favor of a choice system that makes no clear difference to the game… it honestly might.

Loyalty Mission Power Rankings

  1. Cora – the Ark Leusinia mission is my favorite part of the game. it’s fun, it’s mass effecty, it’s spacey, and it has a real decision that really impacts the game.
  2. Vetra – the whole mission is a giant fuckup, but it was a fun fuckup, and the only time vetra’s relationship with her sister (which is constantly present) ever pays off. it was kind of dumb though. do you REALLY mean to tell me these hostages never thought to plug in the generator??
  3. Jaal – this one took absolutely no time at all, but rises in the rankings because of another decision that impacts the game. i wish it impacted it more. i wish akksul’s change of heart meant the roekkar stopped bothering me, at least on that planet.
  4. Drack – odd choice for a loyalty mission. i guess so was cora’s though. both could be story missions. the krogan won’t make it without these seeds. the initiative seriously need the asari. so maybe that doesnt count against it so much as just how damn easy the thing was. drack talks the whole time about this and is 100% right. boringly easy mission.
  5. Peebee – i gain your loyalty by helping you fight your ex girlfriend’s thugs for a remnant object that we didn’t even get? through what’s basically a few rounds of horde defense? get out of here. i’m also biased against this one because i tried to shoot her ex but the prompt went away too fast and it didn’t register.
  6. Liam – liam is a pretty crap character but he’s someone who thinks things out, has contingency plans, that’s all required for crisis response you know? so the very premise of his loyalty mission is mindmeltingly stupid. “we’re gonna sit in this container and get raided.” yeah fuck you liam. i may have your loyalty, but you just lost mine.

Loose ends, Plot holes, probably DLC

  1. the Quarian ark will almost definitely be a DLC. it arriving in the post-scene, and asking us to keep our distance, definitely hints at that.
  2. we never do find out who the “benefactor” was. it’s crap that we only learn this through the nonsensical “memory trigger” fetch quests, but the benefactor and jian’s murder are the most interesting plot points in the game. i wondered for a while if the benefactor was the illusive man, but since this is such a multi-species project, i kind of doubted that in the end. either way, we’ll answer both those in DLC i’m sure, unless the answers are buried in irrelevant Tasks.
  3. our biggest enemies are the scourge and the kett. where did either of them come from? what do the kett want with the cluster? neither are answered, though kett information is alluded to in the side-mission with the STG agent. brace for “striking the kett” DLC.
  4. and we are more reliant than anything else on the Jardaan. who are they, where are they now, what did they want the angara to accomplish here, and why did they leave? will there be DLC to answer this? is it meant to be sequel fodder?

my final thought is on the final mission. in some ways, i loved the final mission. it felt urgent, the comms chatter was great, your twin’s inclusion was really interesting, and the endless waves of remnant (and a nerfed architect) trying to stop you from unplugging the archon were all awesome. i hit the last console, and it showed the archon being unplugged, and i was like, fuck yeah, here we go, final baddie, lets fuck up this archon, and mass effect said NO! HE’S JUST DEAD. YOU WIN GG

this was building up to be a really, really, really, really good last mission. you cut it off before the final boss, you assholes.

in many ways finding meridian was a lot like the game as a whole. somehow a whole lot of fun… in spite of itself.

tomb raider was pretty good and definitely worth its steam sale price. i’m going to be liberal with spoilers here because it’s nearly 4 years old. if you haven’t picked it up and don’t want to be spoiled, yes you should pick it up next time it’s on sale, which is always.


the tomb raider reboot took me 9 hours across a single session of gameplay to beat, which leaves it on the shortish side. it’s very pretty. i found its story interesting and engaging on several levels. there are just entirely too many quick-time events. 1 is too many but this was filled with them. the characters seemed pretty good and well fleshed out. (you’ll notice i said “seemed” because we spend almost no time fleshing out those relationships.) the environmental puzzles are decent if generally not difficult, and there’s multiple ways to approach the combat this game is full of, which i always appreciate.

i wasn’t really expecting that actually, so much 3PS combat in tomb raider. maybe that’s on me. but there’s a ton of it. there are a million bullet-spongy guys ready to attack you at basically all times. the bow and arrow is a pretty nice way to deal with that, especially since you can light guys on fire eventually, but its fire rate is low, and headshots less reliable, than the pistol, which is broken. use the pistol until you’re out of ammo if your aim is even remotely decent because the enemies can take like three full body blasts with the shotgun but only one headshot (two if they wear a helmet). enemies take too many bullets to bring down but not if you go full mccree.

this got a little bit tiresome toward the end, especially when outright gunplay was inescapable. but there’s a lot of times in the game where you were able to play a more stealthy style, and that was where the combat shined for me. my favorite part of the game was around the hunting lodge, right after the helicopter crashes and roth dies. lara stays behind a while, and her friends go on back down to the beach, then when she tries to catch up it’s night and the forest is full of baddies. i had a blast sneaking around and arrowing (because it’s quiet) fools in the face, and sneaking up on other fools to choke them out. the game would have benefited from more gameplay like that and less outright shootouts, or at the very least if the cover system was more of a cover system and less “try to stand behind this rock.” i mashed spacebar trying to snap to cover like i was playing mass effect 3 a ton of times. i jumped up and down like a moron and died lol.

the parts where you run around the map doing crazy parkour stuff are almost always fun. the maps are designed to be, if a little linear in that respect, at least very fluid. it’s no mirror’s edge where there’s multiple ways to do everything, that’s for sure. but as long as you aren’t jumping between rock wall climbs it’s very fun. when you have to do that it’s painfully touchy. maybe that’s a keyboard problem, where it’s hard to hold D and press E at the same time without doing manual gymnastics. other wise that stuff feels good.

so let’s talk about control, or lack thereof, and the way this game kind of beefs it in that area. there are times when i want the game to give me control. i’d like to avoid a fight, or do it stealthy, or find an alternate route, or go more than a few minutes between cinematics. the first few hours of the game have way too many of those and it feels like you’re playing a movie. a really enjoyable movie, but not a super interactive game, you know? the whole experience in general feels cinematic which is to its benefit, but sometimes you want more control. you go accomplish one thing then it’s another cutscene. but other times you want less control. i don’t need to “repeatedly mash” a button to open a door or a chest. just let me press or hold. i don’t need three QTEs to get out of being attacked by a wolf i couldn’t shoot fast enough. let me die and reload and try to actually hit it this time.

and for the love of god, do NOT make QTE boss fights. that’s just lazy and a big reason i wasn’t a fan of arkham knight. obviously tomb raider is less “about” the fighting than batman, so that’s not gamebreaking here, but it’s so annoying and part of what makes the end of the game feel a little chunky.

so the 9-hour length is on the shortish side, and i’d say the most obvious way to boost length would be not to add story. there’s plenty of that and there’s already a lengthening formula in place that gets abused by the end. (we’re almost there! oh no the floor falls out.) what needs added is either missions or side-quests or something that deepens the relationships between characters. they clearly exist. we see some flashes of this in the camcorder cinematics, which lara has a peek at during the quickly-abandoned survival game part, and in the journal pages you can (very) randomly find. it’s obvious this game’s writers created a ton of info about its characters and their relationships. it’s too bad most of that gets left out of the game. i don’t need a full fledged loyalty mission for everyone or anything like that, but i would love to get more time with sam, or alex, or whoever grim was, before the game tries to use them to impact me. i really liked sam from the minute we met her so i was motivated to go save her already, but that’s a personal thing. build some rapport between the player and those characters, man.

in fact i’m pretty sure apart from randomly stumbling on tombs and finding shit on the ground, there were no side-quests at all. there’s quite a bit of room for growth there.

so yeah. it’s a pretty game with beautiful foliage, outstanding hair effects, and quite a lot of draw distance actually. the only negative i have graphically is in the geothermal tunnels there’s what i think is supposed to be a Descent-style pool of blood and its just hilarious red water. (of course i ran everything on max because old game.) the story is a pretty good examination of human desperation and the descent into madness, and the way you experience it is mostly cool. the game play is great as long as it stays out of its own way with the forced gunplay and QTEs. sadly it gets in its own way a lot. pretty short, and wastes some obviously deep characters with shallow presentation. it’s pretty good and i liked it and it’s on sale all the time. no real excuse to not pick it up next steam sale if you haven’t before. do it. it’ll be 5 bucks or less. how’s rise, btw?