“Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and “Fyre Fraud” Comparison

Last Tuesday night, as I sat back in the recliner with my paleo freezer dinner, I shuffled through the endless options on Netflix. Suddenly, a short movie displayed on the screen that I’d heard about but still wasn’t sure if I cared enough to watch. That movie was Fyre Fraud. Of course I’ve heard of Fyre Festival. Or at least, I was aware it existed, as is most anyone who pays attention to popular culture. But I didn’t really know the specifics of when or where it took place or what happened to make it so notorious. I decided to push play because I didn’t feel like getting too deeply invested in anything over my meal.

In a nutshell, Fyre Festival was marketed to be the one to which all others would eventually be compared. Models, influencers, private jets, music performances, beach houses, yachts…it was an early-twenty-something millennial’s dream come true. However, the promise was never to be fulfilled. By the time guests showed up to the festival, there were hurricane shelter tents erected instead of the expected luxury accommodations. Attendees were served cheese sandwiches. There was an absurd amount of alcohol, which was certainly welcome concession. Oh, and none of the musicians showed up. By all measures, the festival was an absolute disaster.

But the festival itself is not necessarily the subject of Fyre (the movie). It’s more concerned with spelling out who was responsible for committing the massive amount of fraud that resulted in the catastrophic failure. The movie goes to great lengths to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Billy McFarland, at the time a seemingly genius entrepreneur as well as the founder and CEO of Fyre Media, Inc. The company was created in order to develop an app that would make it simple for average people to book musicians for events. If I’m being honest, it seems like a great concept. The company wanted to throw a shindig to celebrate the app coming to fruition. Unfortunately, McFarland and Ja Rule pumped the entire thing up so big that it was an impossible task.

As the movie closed out, it was heartbreaking to realize that, though no one was physically harmed, this festival had a long-lasting detrimental effect on the lives of people who were taken advantage of. Besides the local Bahamians, the effects were also felt in the influencer community as well. I’ve never understood this culture personally, and it was hilarious to watch these kids be inconvenienced when they didn’t receive the luxury they felt they deserved. On the other hand, the ones that promoted the thing initially learned a harsh lesson about protecting your brand and doing research before attaching your name to something. When Fyre ended, I was left with lingering questions like, why doesn’t Ja Rule bear any responsibility for this? and why is the hot dude seen in an early clip and picture important to the sequence of events?

The following day, in thinking about Netflix’s movie, I decided I didn’t need to see the Hulu film, assuming I got the gist and that I had other things to do. That night, lying in bed, bored and coming down with a cold, I changed my mind. Initially, the plot of Fyre Fraud was difficult to follow as it kept jumping around to different events with no definitive direction. It didn’t help much that the visuals seemed to do the same thing. This is opposed to the almost contemplative and nearly chronological direction of the Netflix movie.

The movie began to get more interesting once they sat McFarland down for an interview. So I know what you’re thinking: this is when he becomes a sympathetic villain. Nope. He is just as slimy and remorseless as Fyre made him seem. The interviews that follow paint a clear picture of all the fraudulent activity in which he was involved to the point of calling him pathological. The festival is treated as more of an afterthought, merely the event that brought everything crashing down.

Whereas Fyre developed its narrative around the stories of the people who directly organized the festival with McFarland, Fyre Fraud was focused more on those who were tertiarily involved, the more average individuals. That is a pretty distinct difference when you think about it. Netflix’s version is filled with people saying they didn’t do anything wrong and McFarland kept them in the dark when, in truth, they were all just nodding their heads the whole time hoping for a big payday eventually. Hulu wants the viewer to see and relate to people like themselves saying that the whole lot of them are culpable.

Fyre Fraud also answered my lingering questions from the Netflix movie. The hot guy is a member of FuckJerry, and Ja Rule was indicted with McFarland in many of the charges, though he still claims he is innocent and had no knowledge what was transpiring behind the scenes. For those who are unaware, as I was until this movie, FuckJerry is a massive media company whose sole reason for existing is to make memes. They were in charge of the advertising campaign for Fyre Festival and were also named in many of the indictments that came out. It is still debated how much they knew about what McFarland was doing behind the scenes. Come to find out, there’s a reason their and Ja Rule’s roles were downplayed and they were made to look like victims in the Netflix version: they were executive producers for the film!

Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t rightly give review scores to either of these movies because they are both pointless and terrible. The events revolving around the Fyre Festival are emblematic of the kind of culture that birthed it and are not worth trying to glean a message from. Though they are perfect for watching on a rainy day when you’re bored, my life was not made any more whole by watching them. I can say however that Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened made for a better movie-watching experience. Considering that watching the Netflix version is enriching some of the people behind the fraudulent festival in question and Hulu paid McFarland in order to get him on camera for Fyre Fraud, you will feel a lot less dirty if you don’t watch either film. You won’t be missing much. On the other hand, if you watch one, you really need to watch the other to get the full story.

Oh and don’t feel too bad for the Bahamians. Thanks to many generous people and GoFundMe, the local laborers are close to being made whole.

Stuff I’m Digging [from Last] Week

I’m going to be playing catch up this week because for the better part of last week I was sick and couldn’t bring myself to open my laptop. Lucky for us, the world of consumerism never rests, and there are always plenty of things catching my eye. Without further ado, let me go over those things that I would have reported on had I been feeling well.

Mr Porter x Off-White

Virgil Abloh has been quite busy lately. You may have noticed that last week I was digging on Men’s Fashion Week Paris and featured his second collection at Louis Vuitton. It seems at the same time, he was working on this handsome capsule collection with Mr Porter. The collaboration is filled with pieces that perfectly unite the modern, bold streetwear of the designer with the classic, minimalist sensibilities of the retailer.

Uggs for Men

Whoever told you only women should wear Uggs was sorely misinformed. They make a number of different men’s models, but the classic one that we all associate the brand with complements everything in your closet. Having initially gained popularity with Australian surfers, the boots are quite masculine on their own, but lately, designers are showing new takes on the footwear. I’m partial to this one from Sacai, but there are others available.

Our Legacy Reversible Sherpa Vest

Our Legacy is one of my favorite labels for their minimalist style at a very reasonable price point. Though this vest isn’t shearling, it’s still perfect for layering with your shirts and jackets for a little extra warmth with some additional style points. What makes the piece even more versatile is that it’s reversible, so if sherpa isn’t really your thing, you can show off the cotton shell instead.

John Elliott Cargo Shorts

I reported a while back how the once demonized garment is now suddenly en vogue. Look no further than the genius Mr. Elliott, the man who made sweats cool again, to redefine cargo shorts as well. It should be noted that the cargo pockets are nowhere near as big as they were in the 90s, but all the same, they add just a little bit of heft to the bottom portion of the silhouette.

Rimowa iPhone Case

Hands down, Rimowa makes some of the best suitcases in the world. Thoroughly designed with the worldly traveler in mind, the sleek, aluminum alloy frames combine with features like state-of-the-art castors, locks, and handles to provide the ultimate in luxury. Now, all that luxury comes in a matching iPhone XS case. Though it’s sold out at press time, be on the lookout for restocks because I’m sure they will come.

Schoolhouse Light Fixture

Apparently Schoolhouse Electric changed their name to just Schoolhouse recently. I confess I have a love-hate relationship with the company. They charge for shipping which doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but when you consider the fact that they charge $500 for a light fixture, you kind of assume shipping would come for free. Even then, it isn’t fast by any means. Nevertheless, I love their design. This fixture isn’t $500, but it would be worth it for the style points alone. It’ll add a rustic vibe to any space without making it look like gramma’s house.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” Review

As a follow-up to the film’s Best Drama and Best Actor in a Drama Golden Globe wins and a prelude to the Oscars for which it has been nominated for Best Film, I felt it was time to finally review Bohemian Rhapsody. I never had much exposure to Queen when I was growing up, but of course I heard their songs. I was once told that “We Are the Champions” was a gay anthem because the singer was gay. This is before I even realized I was gay myself, so I took it with a grain of salt. I had video games to play.

After growing up and getting more educated in pop culture, I learned that the band was both revolutionary and iconic in the music industry. The lead singer Freddie Mercury contracted HIV at a time when the virus was a death sentence, and he was taken from this world regrettably before his time. I went in hoping that this movie would inspire me to do more research, doing the band and the singer justice since I barely knew anything about them outside their hits. Just a warning: since this is a biopic and based on true events, there may be minor spoilers throughout this review.

Trailer Addict

The movie begins prior to the formation of the band and shows how the members met. We start with Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek), the man who would eventually become Freddie Mercury, living a somewhat normal life as a college student with a part-time job. He loves to sing and has convinced himself he is destined to be an international superstar.

One night, after attending the performance of a local group called Smile, he decides to introduce himself to them. Their lead singer suddenly quits minutes beforehand leaving Brian May (Gwylem Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) in the lurch and leading Farrokh to initiate something of an impromptu audition to replace him. After adding a bassist to the mix, John Deacon (Joe Mazzello), the four go on the road as a full-fledged band. Farrokh then legally changes his name, much to his father’s chagrin, and the rest is history.

We Live Entertainment

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: Rami Malek achieves a full embodiment of Freddie Mercury, complete with the vocalist’s famous overbite. Having honed his acting chops in Short Term 12 and Mr. Robot, this movie is yet another highlight of his career. Besides watching Malek shine, it was exhilarating to watch all the high-energy concerts complete with choreography, even though the actor is lip syncing. The final sequence is also quite emotional, even though it gets a little long and the audience is CGI. Being that Malek is not a singer and it’s difficult to reproduce a packed stadium, these slights are forgivable.

The big issue with this film is that it can’t seem to decide if it wants to go all in on the music or the ongoing background drama of the band. Instead of getting a great movie that succinctly represents one or the other, we got a mediocre one that halfheartedly attempts to cover both bases. As such, there is a predictable cycle of dramatic confrontation followed by iconic song creation and a subsequent band performance complete with how the world reacted to it. This all gets a little tired after about three of these cycles and the band goes on hiatus. It’s all a little too predictable and many of the conflicts either never get fully resolved or suddenly get tied up with a bow in one scene.

Roger Ebert

Moreover, Freddie Mercury has been renown as a gay icon, perhaps the gay icon, yet there isn’t much here about the secret life he lived that led to his contracting AIDS. Rumor has it he lived most of his life knowing exactly who he was and who he was attracted to, he simply never felt the need to publicize it, much like Elton John and David Bowie were at one time. Though this movie was certainly trying to stay out of R-rated territory, I feel like it handled his sexuality similar to the way it did every other conflict–with non-offensive kiddie gloves. One needs to ask oneself how important it is for a biopic to accurately depict its subjects.

I guess I could sum up Bohemian Rhapsody by describing it as well-produced, but not well-directed. It’s basically a popcorn flick to watch on a rainy day or with a big group of friends MST3K-style. Bryan Singer is so risk-averse that he seems to have purposely made a movie that would appeal to the greatest number of people, as he usually does. Arguably, that’s all 20th Century Fox cares about–getting as many butts in the seats as possible.

Vulture

To be perfectly honest, if this film didn’t star the very capable Rami Malek, it might not even be worth watching. I did learn some things–Brian May is an astrophysicist, there was a time when the world could come together to help a people in dire need, Freddie Mercury was a crazy cat lady–but this was a missed opportunity to tell a story not many people know about the hidden side of a beloved band. Queen deserves better.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

Stuff I’m Digging This Week

I scour the internet on a fairly regular basis, often finding new and wonderful things for sale that pique my interest. Alas, I personally don’t have the sort of income stream to support buying all of them, but I feel like sharing what I’ve seen will help scratch that itch. Maybe I can help one of my readers find new and interesting things which is the purpose of this blog in the end. So welcome and enjoy this new weekly column that I hope to keep up on.

Puma x Han Kjøbenhavn Avid Sneakers

Curious what Mr. Kjøbenhavn has been up to lately, I wandered onto his site. I admit I’ve been leery of ugly sneakers since they took off a few years ago, but they are beginning to win me over. This pair is especially notable because of how versatile it is, being in all neutral colors. It also looks like Puma is upping the style factor of their sneakers lately in order to catch up to Adidas and Nike.

Kent & Curwen Intarsia Scarf

KC has been one of my go-to labels for some time now. They can always be depended upon when you need an injection of British styling mixed with quality basic prepwear. This new scarf is one way to take advantage of the current preponderance for re-constructed goods without having to go all in or break the bank. Plus, preppy clothing is back in a big way this year, so best to get on board now.

Daily Harvest

I normally am not very responsive to advertising. I do so much research before I spend money on anything that often the things that are advertised to me don’t make sense to buy. But this ad on Facebook was different. Being that I eat a Paleo diet, I’m highly focused on veggie intake; the more the better. After pricing the service out, they don’t cost much per smoothie either. Might be worth a try.

Acne Studios Gold Andre Necklace

There are a few categories of accessories I never quite got into, and one of them is jewelry. Scarves is another (see above). I keep telling myself every year that I will finally buy great jewelry and accessorize better, but after I bought that cuff in Charleston, I just sort of gave up. This necklace is on my short list.

Planetarium Stainless Steel Nesting Bowls

After our latest round of hosting holiday parties, my husband and I have come to discover that we don’t have enough prep or serving containers. We managed to make it through the season unscathed, but it was rough going. These bowls, inspired by Saturn, will help ensure the owner is never left in the lurch for such things. Plus they just look cool!

Menswear Fashion Week Paris

This week, it was Menswear Fashion Week in Paris, and a number of shows came across my feed. Louis Vuitton’s show in particular caught my eye as it seemed particularly made for movement.

Ami continues to combine old fashioned Parisian cool with modern streetwear
Virgil Abloh took inspiration from Michael Jackson for his latest at Louis Vuitton
Zegna shows off their perfectly tailored luxurious, futuristic collection
Rick Owens’ new looks seem straight out of Blade Runner 2049, in a good way
At Dior, Kim Jones exquisitely conjures looks from the past and updates them for the future

A Postmortem of Calvin Klein 205W39NYC

Cover photo: GQ

It’s no longer news that Raf Simons has been released 8 months early from his contract with Calvin Klein as the label’s first Chief Creative Officer. Needless to say, this was as big of an upset in the fashion community as was his initial hiring. The designer has been a huge influence to the industry since he began his namesake label in 1995. I think it’s worth examining this issue and noting how Simons changed the landscape of menswear during his short stint with the company.

Calvin Klein, Inc., owned by holding company PVH, has built a healthy brand as one of the Big Three–including Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis–which epitomized the state of American menswear for decades. Not many people understand this but the label is actually divided into several different lines. Pre-Simons, the luxury line that was shown on the catwalk was called Calvin Klein Collection. I used to own a suit from them and can attest that they made excellent-quality clothing, but they weren’t particularly fashion forward, leaning more toward minimalist luxury. From the top tier, there were many lower quality diffusion lines but the main two pertaining to menswear were the mainline Calvin Klein (aka Calvin Klein White Label) and Calvin Klein Jeans.

Calvin Klein Collection, 2015: Essential Homme

In the decades since the Big Three dominated menswear, the fashion industry has largely moved away from the styles that were once popular. Knowing this and wanting to make the brand more relevant once again, PVH decided that they would invest in revamping the CK product lines. It would be a gamble, but the company was largely healthy and they wisely chose a designer who has his pulse on the beating heart of the industry: Raf Simons. The original contract between the designer and Calvin Klein stated a time period of at least 2 years.

It seemed outlandish at the time given the polar opposite design mentalities, but Simons was capable and knew what he was doing. The top-tier luxury label was subsequently renamed 205W39NYC as a nod to the address of their flagship location. By many measures, the man’s designs and shows were a rousing success. Designs trickled down to the diffusion lines and even lead to the creation of a new one by the name of Calvin Klein Jeans Est. 1978, an off-shoot of the standard CK Jeans line more directly influenced and designed by Simons.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon period was short and the union between these two giants ended. Such news revealed many underlying issues that beleaguered the partnership which were only quietly spoken of in small circles before the split. To be sure, the parting of ways was amicable, but much of the blame seems to lie at CK’s feet. Other publications have thoroughly analyzed exactly what went wrong, but the long and short of it was that the company wasn’t properly prepared to switch to a designer-focused business model, especially one that was so completely different. Early issues also weren’t addressed in a timely manner.

What’s done is done, and all we can do is move forward with lessons learned, hoping not to repeat mistakes. Raf Simons will go back to focusing on his own label, and word on the street is that Calvin Klein wants to find a new designer to fill Simons’ vacancy and rename the luxury line he created. Though we wish we could change history, we can only live with it, and looking back, though short-lived this partnership was monumental in influencing the fashion conversation. Many of the following designs may stay with us for another generation or more. Others stood out so much that they will always be remembered as a highlight of inspiration.

Re-emergence of Western Wear

There are many forms a trend can take when it develops. While some never truly go away, ebbing and flowing over time, some are new interpretations of those from former years. This one is a little of both as Western wear represents a permanent part of the collective American culture, and the clothing was already starting to come back into popularity prior to Simons as I’ve noted before. He continued to use Western influences in all his collections and showed us how we can mix the once-gauche style–double-pocket shirts, leather pants, cowboy boots–into our modern wardrobes to make outfits more of-the-moment.

Further Interpretation of Workwear

Similar to Western wear, it should surprise no one that America has a preponderance for workwear. However, what makes this style different is that until the past 5 years or so workwear, both blue-collar and white-, was predominantly worn only when working. As the fashion industry was distracted with streetwear, hi-vis clothing started making waves as well. Simons felt it was the perfect opportunity to introduce firefighter clothing to his collection. Laminated and leather trenches were also thrown into the mix, to great effect. The results were surprisingly versatile, able to be worn with T-shirts, knitwear, and trousers alike.

Turtlenecks and Mocknecks

To say that the once-maligned turtlenecks and mocknecks have undergone a resurgence in popularity would be a massive understatement. Simons capitalized on the love-hate relationship we have with these items by throwing them into most of his collections, being predominantly used as a base layer. While he didn’t create this trend, he certainly fueled its popularity while exemplifying its usefulness in keeping warm and looking stylish. Again, the designer showed us that even ugly things can be beautiful in the proper context.

Nonstandard Pairings

Contrast is the name of the game in fashion, particularly in the modern cycle. It makes sense too that designers would purposefully put looks together that clash so each individual piece will stand out. However, Simons always displayed a certain panache with disparate articles of clothing that seemed simultaneously flamboyant and wearable even in mixed company. Whether it was pairing conservative suits with wacky knitwear, mismatching brightly colored tops and bottoms, or layering an oversized wool coat over a scoop neck tank top, 205W39NYC’s looks always kept us on our toes while giving us fresh ideas.

Balaclavas

Winter can be harsh in New York. People will go to great lengths in order to stay warm. The unfortunate side effect of those efforts is that people can end up looking terrible once they are all bundled up in mismatched cold weather gear. So it makes sense that in 2017, designers began creating accessories that would ensure a buyer doesn’t have to choose between keeping the chill at bay and looking stylish. Simons was one of those who jumped at this opportunity, making something so ostentatious, it’s begging to be worn whenever the mercury drops.

Side-Striped Trousers

When athleisure officially became a word and a style of clothing that will never disappear, so too did track pants, complete with side stripes, become common to wear even when not in the gym. Simons’ style of clothing has always hued toward the casual side of spectrum, but the polyblend, formless style was almost too casual–dare I say “usual”–for 205W39NYC. Thus, the designer came up with a style of pant I can say I had never seen before, at least not on the catwalk. He pasted the popular side stripes to proper dress pants to create an altogether new look. Though this was new for the fashion industry, it’s likely he was inspired by trousers from service uniforms, which would be well in line with his Americanized perspective.

Patchwork Shirts and Quilting

It took a lot of going back through pictures to even realize these were even there because of how unobtrusive they are at first. All of the patchwork shirts are made from neutral white as a base and just seem to go with whatever they’re layered over. The men’s quilted linings were an interesting way to keep warm while making a statement. As the world deals with sustainability issues in the fashion industry, Simons wisely introduced these as a way to bring awareness to the issue while simultaneously utilizing the same styling that is the core premise for popular labels such as Bode.

A Future That Will Never Be

Simons only was able to show four main visions on the runway and alas, his last one will likely never be seen in real life. That is, unless Calvin Klein has already seen so many orders for spring 2019 that halting production would be more costly than following through on selling the merchandise. That would be unfortunate because the designer’s final collection went all in on scuba diving influences, neoprene, animal prints, Jaws tee shirts, tassels, and…graduation caps. Bizarre? Yes. But intriguing? Definitely.

No one can deny Raf Simons’ creativity and talent, and his project with Calvin Klein will always be a high point on his already sizable resume. It showed the Frenchman’s skill at examining American culture. With a fresh, new perspective, he perfectly distilled and remixed those shared values and traits distinct to our country. Though 205W39NYC was cut short, its impact will be felt for a long time as the styles essentially live in each of us.

“Castlevania” Season 2 Review

As a gamer, I’ve always been attracted to movies based on games. 20 years ago, they were a way of making characters with little or no dialog more engaging. Even though it was a critical and commercial failure, I loved the Super Mario Bros. movie when I was a kid. Mortal Kombat still remains arguably the best adaptation to date while, for me at least, the first Resident Evil and Silent Hill, while subsequent sequels sucked, are both great in how they told their stories, built their worlds, and created atmosphere. Unfortunately, most adaptations end up being terrible because the director either doesn’t stick closely to the source material or doesn’t show why their interpretation is worthwhile.

Thus, the Castlevania series which initially debuted in 2017 on Netflix was met with a bit of skepticism before viewing. Even reviews noted that what was there was good, but it was somewhat misleading to call it a series when it was only 4 half-hour episodes, barely the runtime of a standard movie. Perhaps the reason for this is that it was originally intended to be a film adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Thankfully, the creators stuck to the source material, creating a dark, depressing, violent world and using mostly established characters. It was a promising start, but audiences were still waiting to see where the show would go in its sophomore season.

The second season continues the story right where it left off at the conclusion of the first. Vlad Dracula Tepes, due to the horrific murder of his wife Lisa, has decided mankind is beyond saving and all should perish. Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Adrian Tepes (Alucard) have joined forces in order to battle the vampire overlord and his horde of demons. Not only do we get to see the trio travel across the nation of Wallachia and develop their relationship with one another, but we also see inside Dracula’s castle as his scheming henchmen, two of which are human, fight to gain his favor, undermine him, or both. Developing the vampire into a somewhat tortured, reclusive genius-gone-mad represents a change from how he is usually depicted which is perfect for making him more relatable. In fact, I’d say this show is much more about the dark lord antagonist than our hero protagonists.

Though I love the games, I admit I’ve never followed the plotlines of any of them very closely. Usually story events are so scattered through the game that it’s tough to keep track of who’s doing what or why. Not knowing what’s going on has never detracted from the focus of the game–the gameplay. Perhaps that’s the main reason the story in this show is so great as several characters from the games make appearances alongside new ones never seen before. Instead of feeling like it’s a re-imagination of a game, it feels like it’s adding context to a story that that was pretty thin to begin with. Seeing events play out with characters from other games like Carmilla, Hector, and Isaac not only makes the show more dynamic, but brings the universe to life in a way the video games couldn’t do on their own.

In all, this season was a success in terms of plot, animation, action, and music. Evenly paced with a suitable episode of denouement setting up the next season, which has already been confirmed for 10 episodes. There are even a few Easter eggs scattered around for fans to find like a portrait of Leon Belmont, the first Belmont to battle Dracula. My only real issue is with the script and all the “fuck”s and “shit”s randomly inserted in dialog. Even though this is a mature and violent show, that kind of language is juvenile and disturbs the mood when it doesn’t add anything to the story or characters. I’m anxious to see what happens in season 3, if more characters like Grant Danasty make an appearance, and how they will link these events up to those in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

“Annihilation” Review

For those who haven’t heard of the Southern Reach trilogy of novels by James VanderMeer, their story is based on the aftereffects of a mysterious object crashing into the Earth. In Annihilation, the first of the trilogy, a group of four women journey into a place called Area X, an expanding area surrounding the impact of the crash from which no explorers have returned. The movie by the same name stars Natalie Portman in the role of one of these women, the biologist, and follows her role in this journey. The biggest difference between the movie and the book is that the former doesn’t seem to have been created with the intention of being part of a trilogy–it isn’t so much adapted from the book as it is inspired by it.

Director Alex Garland doesn’t waste much time establishing the characters or their motivations before getting into the main story. Lena is a biologist whose husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), mysteriously disappeared during a top secret military assignment. Assuming he was dead after a year of no contact, she is surprised one day when he suddenly walks through the front door. He can’t offer much of an explanation for where he’s been or what he’s been doing for all this time, and upon the onset of a seizure, the couple are abducted by a military organization. After a series of revelations including finding out what Kane’s original mission was, Lena decides that she has to venture into the area dubbed the Shimmer surrounding the lighthouse crash site.

The imagery in this movie is amazing from beginning to end and it is unlike anything ever seen on the silver screen. There are beautiful flowers, horrific animals, and humans doing terrible things they wouldn’t normally do. Annihilation is completely unpredictable and keeps you guessing at what will happen next, what new thing has been created and why. It’s easy to draw some comparisons between this movie and horror/sci-fi classic Alien as both are female led and spectacularly create a constant sense of dread.

The way this movie sets itself apart is by presenting countless questions and never quite answering any of them. This is the true essence of Lovecraftian horror and Annihilation excels at it as Garland is more concerned with drawing terror from pairing frightening images with no explanation, much like how terrible things happen in real life. The story, which directly discusses such subjects as evolution, mutation, and personal demons, could be seen as an allegory for a number of different things like cancer and how humans affect the environments they inhabit with little regard to what already existed there. An ant similarly doesn’t have the capacity to understand why or how a house was built on top of its anthill.

It’s tough to grade works that don’t have any specific answers to posed questions and have open endings. The problem is they are often inaccessible and only cerebral people will really appreciate them. However, even cerebral movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner are considered classics. Being inaccessible isn’t necessary a problem, but it does become a detractor for those who just want to sit back and turn their brains off. Annihilation is a great movie for people who people who don’t mind being grossed out or mind-fucked, but others should probably tread lightly.

Score: 4 out of 5

Wild Arms 4 Review (PS2)

One of the many RPG series to have been birthed on the original Playstation then subsequently die with the demise of the Playstation 2 was Wild Arms. They were some of the many RPGs published by Sony back when the genre was in its heyday. The first game in the series had the unfortunate luck of being released the same year as Final Fantasy VII which arguably doomed it to obscurity despite being a decent game. The series as a whole was known for using a Western-type motif complete with the music and a barren-looking world. The “arms” referred to in the title were usually some sort of firearm, though I think in the second entry, ARMS was an acronym for a special task force. At a time when so many RPGs were being released and most of the best were from Squaresoft, it was easy to overlook this series. However, most of them were pretty decent.

A boy named Jude acts as the main character for the fourth entry in the series. He is a completely unassuming kid, growing up in what seems to be an idyllic village. That is, until the village is attacked by a group known as Brionac who is using a girl named Yulie to control what turns out to be an Arm. Jude’s life is shattered as he comes to find out that his village was hidden away from the rest of the world which was utterly destroyed in a long civil war that was now technically over. Those people who are left to figure out how to continue living have all but lost hope. The two kids, along with their new buds Arnaud and Raquel, have taken it upon themselves to figure out what exactly Brionac hopes to accomplish and thwart their plans.

The developers of this game decided to take a different approach to the series this go-around. While every other entry has leaned hard into their fantasy aspects, this one leans decidedly science fiction. I found it interesting when at one point the characters were discussing viral evolution, a scientific theory I only just recently learned about. While this added a new dynamic to the plot, I have to say that I don’t think the story followed through very well on its premise. Though the game was very dialog-heavy, it didn’t feel like the characters said much that was worth saying. They probably could have cut half the lines out, made it more succinct, and trimmed about 10 hours from the game.

I liked that there was a good amount of voice acting in this game. Unfortunately, the acting was often awkward and wooden with a poor script to top it off. Jude’s voice was especially grating and I hope that I never have to hear that actress’s voice again. Between the voice acted scenes, the 2D portraits of characters move around the screen as they speak like a visual novel. Though the dialogue was often a bit boring, this movement made the game much more lively. It did get pretty annoying though whenever a character would start talking about “adults” or “kids” or “growing up”. Yes, I’m aware many of the characters in RPGs are young, but I’ve never seen a game beat the player over the head with it like this one does. It really takes you out of the story, what little there is.

Battles received a massive overhaul with the introduction of the HEX system in which characters and enemies can move around the battlefield. This made battles very interesting and somewhat tactical. I noticed I was using the characters’ Force moves a lot more often than I have in other entries. On the other hand, I found that the system could start to get irritating because there was no auto-fight option. Every battle had to be fought differently because some enemies aren’t affected by direct physical attacks. Sometimes, even if you have been grinding a bit, you can still find yourself in a tough battle in which you will die if you’re not careful.

Leveling up is quite interesting in this game and is tough to describe. As you gain levels through experience, you also gain points that you can allocate to learn more skills. While this seems straightforward, using those points simultaneously depletes that character’s HP and MP. Needless to say, you likely don’t want to use all your points up or you will be much easier to kill in battle. Fighting battles doesn’t typically earn a lot of experience or money, save for boss battles. It’s an interesting system that ensures that your characters will never be overpowered unless you devote hours to grinding. The skill tree is one of the best I’ve seen because the skills your characters learn are mostly useful throughout the game.

There are some other interesting bits about this game, little things that the developers just threw in but that didn’t make much sense or weren’t used much. One was Accelerator, an ability that Jude can use to slow down time and see objects he wouldn’t normally see. Using this ability enables the player to solve a few puzzles, but it is nearly useless in the second half of the game. Tools, having been a character-specific way of solving puzzles in former entries, have been relegated to objects that only show up when needed. Their use in progressing through dungeons is usually self-explanatory. Side-scrolling also made an appearance in many areas. I will admit that these areas made gameplay more interesting even though most were easy to traverse. However, all these aforementioned mechanics seemed very gimmicky since the only reason for their existence was
to liven up otherwise boring gameplay.

What gets irritating is when you start trying to do things outside of the normal flow of the game. I decided at one point that I was going to grind because I was using a guide that suggested being 10 levels above where I was. (Come to find out, that was completely unnecessary as I beat the game with all my characters below level 55 and little difficulty.) The area I was in was rife with enemies that would steal your experience, so grinding became impossible. Nonetheless, I persevered and ended up in a battle with a rare enemy that was some 45 levels higher than me. I tried to run because I knew I couldn’t beat it and, because you drop money when you run from battles, I lost like 10,000 gella which was all I had. Thankfully I had recently saved, so I just restarted my game.

To add insult to injury, toward the end of the game there is an equipment shop that sells powerful items. The catch here, besides them being expensive, is that you need many of the other weapons from the shops throughout the game to be able to fuse them together. Because enemies don’t typically drop a lot of money, this task could take days of grinding. There is an arena about half-way though that may or may not have solved my money issues, but I was so fed up with how the game actively fights you from making progress on this optional content that I just wanted to finish the game and be done with it.

Wild Arms 4 is tough to score because I could see myself liking it a lot more if I’d have played it 10 years ago. I may have even played through a lot of the optional content, fused all the weapons, and fought the hidden enemies and bosses. There is a ton of extra stuff for younger me to find, but older me just wasn’t that interested in searching for it all. Perhaps the problem with this game is that the developers threw too much into it when they should have pared it down to a more enjoyable streamlined experience. As such, the game suffers from being too long winded and trying to fight your progress. While fun to play if mainly for the exciting battles, I can only recommend this game to RPG or Wild Arms enthusiasts.

Score: 3 out of 5

“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” Review

It’s no secret that I love Black Mirror. Not every episode is a masterpiece like “San Junipero” of course, but most of them contain a certain dystopian cautionary tale that feels uncannily poignant upon first viewing. I’d heard this new episode/movie was in development over the summer and, being a fan of the choose-your-own-adventure books that were popular in the 80s, I was anxious to see how the series would adapt this interesting concept for TV.

This episode concerns a young programmer by the name of Stefan. He wakes up to his alarm in 1984 and prepares himself for an interview at a game company. There, he meets Colin who is apparently something of a genius when it comes to creating popular computer games. Stefan pitches his idea of developing his own game called Bandersnatch which is basically what we would call a visual novel in the gaming world today, an interactive adventure with branching storylines based on the decisions you make, based on a book of the same name. I’m not going to deny that this is an interesting premise.

Some of the endings that you can get break the fourth wall and get kind of meta, which is cool. There is even one ending where some completely random things happen and I laughed hysterically because of how preposterous it was. However, the pieces of the story don’t quite fit together to make a cohesive story or message. Colin is present in some scenes but absent in others with no explanation for why. It could be that one of the endings (I found about 5 before I got bored and gave up) goes into more detail, but the viewer shouldn’t have to dig through all the possibilities to make a story make sense.

There was a pivotal moment for me when I was given a choice between having Stefan or Colin die. I thought to myself, how cool would it be if when you commit suicide it unlocks other paths that were previously unavailable? I’ll save you a little time and tell you that wasn’t the case. It left me feeling like there are many video games which have used this premise and made an infinitely better story out of it like Virtue’s Last Reward for example which shows you all the branching paths and the ones you need to unlock. In contrast, Bandersnatch’s series of plot points ranging from psychosis to time travel to secret organizations just feels like the creators threw everything at the wall hoping something would stick.

I look forward to see what Netflix does with this premise in the future if they can manage to marry their accessibility with an amazing story. Despite what it lacks, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Bandersnatch. If you have nothing better to do and you’re curious, you should give it a watch. But don’t go in expecting anything earth-shattering. Don’t expect it to change the way you see the world. Don’t dig for those elusive endings that apparently no one has found yet. There are worse ways to spend an hour. Then again, there are also better ways.

Score: 2.5 out of 5