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crimso peak

Crimson Peak
Review by Syd Couick

     Crimson Peak is a 2015 gothic horror and romance film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who is famous for his visuals. The film follows the main protagonist Edith, played by Mia Wasikowska, who after her father’s unusual death, marries the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe and moves with him into a dilapidated mansion with his sister, Lady Lucille. 


     While staying, strange things occur, Edith can see ghosts, an ability she’s had since the time her mother’s ghost came to warn her about going to Crimson Peak when she was a child. She encounters many ghosts, ghosts of women, even one with an infant, who are angry with the occupants of the mansion. Edith searches everywhere for its secrets, careful to avoid Lady Lucille who isn’t fond of her and seems jealous of her new sister-in-law having the attention of her brother. What Edith finds is truly disturbing. As she makes an escape, she realizes why the land the mansion is on is called Crimson Peak. 


     This movie is one of my favorites. Mia Wasikowska is one of my favorite actresses in the Alice in Wonderland film directed by Tim Burton. Trigger warning for the surprise incest at the end, but besides that the shock throughout the plot leaves watchers' jaws dropped and eyes wide open. Something new is discovered around every corner which personally left me saying “What fresh Hell?!?” more than I’d like to admit. The movie isn’t too graphic, and it keeps a consistent speed and good amount of suspense throughout so viewers don’t become bored. I absolutely recommend this film for a movie night with friends or with your dog or with your mom to scare her. 

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Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Review by Dr. Edward Royston

     I’ve previously shared my thoughts on video game adaptations, and adaptations of tabletop games may have an even worse track record. Do you even remember Battleship (2012)? Let’s all take a moment of silence in honor of the sacrifices Rihanna has made. Really, aside from the wonderful Clue (1985) with all its different endings and warnings about communism and red herrings, movie adaptations of tabletop games have ranged from forgettable to downright terrible. Dungeons & Dragons (2000) falls into the latter category. It’s offensively bad, not just to fans of the world’s first roleplaying game, but also to just, like, normal ass people who want to enjoy a fun movie. It’s best to not even talk about its loathsome sequels.

     Thankfully, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023) joins Clue in the pantheon of actually good tabletop game movie adaptations. Indeed, like Clue, one might even call it a great movie.

     Why is D&D:HAT actually good, and maybe great? It’s because the movie isn’t just an adaption of a tabletop game, it’s also an adaptation of the very successful MCU formula that began with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): take a crew of misfits and screw-ups, send them on an epic quest to save civilization from the bald and tattooed forces of evil, and liberally pepper the whole thing with tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating jokes. D&D: HAT one ups that formula by replacing Hollywood’s worst Chris (Pratt) with Hollywood’s best Chris (Pine) and doing the whole found family theme without drenching it in schmaltz and Cat Stevens music. And while its main villain is about as interesting as your average MCU baddie, she stays mostly in the background and gives Hugh Grant ample room to ham it up as a smarmy con-artist turned Lord of Neverwinter. 

     As an adaption of the MCU formula to a different intellectual property, D&D: HAT will delight those normal ass people who just want a fun movie. You don’t need to know the paladin’s level progression to laugh at Regé-Jean Page asserting that he does not “traffic in colloquialisms.” You don’t need to have read every entry in Drizzt Do’Urden’s Guide to the Underdark to laugh at the antics of Themberchaud, the morbidly obese red dragon.

     And as an adaptation of the D&D tabletop game, it will delight longtime fans who know every entry in their Monster Manual, Players’ Handbook, and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Don’t worry about dreaded beholders being reduced to silly guard dogs. The monsters, magic, setting, and their lore in this are on point. Displacer beasts displace, Time Stop stops time, and Neverwinter lies south of Icewind Dale along the Sword Coast. Yes, technically it’s against the rules for a druid to wildshape into an owlbear because the latter is a monstrosity rather than a beast, but such a transformation falls under the “rule of cool”. So does casting a black man to play the setting’s most iconic magic user. As one of those longtime fans myself, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed D&D: HAT. I hope it goes on to spawn sequels worth talking about.

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The Yellow Wallpaper
Review by Cortney Queen

Are We Maintaining Our Progressivity?

     You read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman. You experience Jane’s descent into madness—shall I dare say madness?—while she endures postpartum depression. You hear John address her as “girl” and “silly goose.” You read, “But what is one to do?” and suffer in silence with Jane. You can’t do anything. You can only sit and wonder how men of that time genuinely believed in the most senseless, featherbrained ideology: man should make the decisions because man knows best. 

     Gilman crafts the story in such a way that allows the reader to see the absurdity in the “rest cure.” Not only that, but readers can pick up on the several reasons Jane continues to suffer: John is never home, he ignores Jane’s obvious wants and needs, and he addresses her like she is a “little girl.” There is an obvious skewed power dynamic, and it is clear Gilman argues against it. One hundred and thirty-three years later, though, a story that advocated for women’s autonomy has become a horror film. Gilman’s message is muddled. Once again, women are depicted as “crazy” or “insane.” The opening scene shows Jane throwing her baby out of the carriage…yes, you read that correctly. While not textual accurate, I suppose tossing a crying baby out of the carriage serves to heighten your senses and create a suspenseful mood. Throughout the film, viewers are met with eerie silence and odd scenes of Jane roaming the yard. Modifying Gilman’s story to fit into the thriller genre was a poor choice. Instead of focusing on the social message, viewers are wondering when the next jump scare is coming out or what “odd” and “crazy” action Jane will take next. The movie seems to up play those dysphemisms we have fought to avoid when discussing mental health crises, especially for the feminine population. 

      As a reader of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I could argue that the moments of silence and focus on Jane’s isolation highlight Gilman’s message. The concern, however, is raised with viewers who are not avid 1800s American Literature readers. Would they be able to pick up on Gilman’s message? Or would they view Jane as another “woman gone crazy?” If you are up for the task of watching a ninety-nine-minute movie with not much substance, I would advise you to take a moment—it is a short story after all and not a novel—to read the story before indulging in the film.  Only then will you be able to appreciate the eerie silence, the blank stares, and the haphazard roaming. 

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Howl’s Moving Castle
Review by Alana Jordan

     Howl’s Moving Castle is an absolutely adorable movie that I will always love to watch over and over again. The movie was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released in 2004, and it’s based on the novel of the same name written by Diana Wynne Jones. The movie has wonderful visuals, beautiful music, loveable characters, and a unique story too. 

     Sophie is the protagonist of the film, and she begins the story without much confidence in herself. She is suddenly visited and cursed by a jealous witch who visits the hat shop Sophie works in, and she is turned into an old woman for the majority of the movie. Sophie leaves her hat shop to look for any ways to break the spell, and she finds Howl’s moving castle. She decides to stay with Howl, and she meets and befriends Calcifer, who powers the castle, and Howl’s apprentice named Markl. Howl is the other protagonist who is a very talented magician, and he is also the only one who can break Sophie’s curse.

     During the story, Howl and Sophie fall more and more in love with each other, and at one point Howl completely changes one of the rooms in the castle to appear like a beautiful garden just to make her happy. The entire movie is known for its incredible visuals in each of its characters, movements, and environments, but this scene in particular is especially memorable to me. The colors used in the scenery, the intricate details, and the fluidity of Sophie, Howl, and the natural movements from the flowers are truly stunning to watch. Every scene has so much care and attention to detail put into it; it is definitely one of the prettiest movies I have ever watched. Another visual detail I noticed was that Sophie periodically turns back into her true self when she feels genuine confidence in herself during certain events in the movie, and when her feelings become stronger for Howl. 

     Their relationship is very sweet and romantic, and it is really lovely to see them growing as people and making each other happier too as the film progresses! By the end of the movie, Sophie gains a lot of confidence and love for herself, and she is shown to be really happy and fulfilled living her life the way she truly wants to.

     This movie is not only charming and delightful to watch in all of its aspects, but it also reminded me how important Sophie’s lesson was that she learned in the film: it is important to let yourself feel confident and loved by yourself especially, and how it is also important to let yourself be open to new changes, experiences and adventures sometimes. It also displays how important it can be to stay determined to achieve the things you want in life, even if it seems easier to just give up and accept what cards you have been dealt. At some points in the movie Sophie felt like she should accept her curse as it is, but she continued to find a way to break it and keep her loved ones safe and happy too no matter what.

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spirited awa

Spirited Away
Review by Alana Jordan

     Spirited Away is a Studio Ghibli film that was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released in 2001. The animated film is best known for its beautiful visuals and its fascinating characters and sceneries that are heavily based on Japanese folklore. It held the title of being the most successful and highest grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years, and it has been one of my personal favorite movies to watch every so often for a few years now.

     The film’s protagonist is Chihiro, a young girl who is moving to a new town with her parents. Her parents come across a park and find delicious looking food to eat at one of the park’s stalls, and they are completely unable to stop eating. Chihiro goes off and wanders around the park for a little bit, but when she comes back to her parents they’ve pigged out so hard that they literally turned into pigs. Night time approaches and all of the spirits that stay within the park become visible to her. Chihiro then meets Haku, who tells her: that she will disappear unless she eats some food from the spirit world, she must work at the busy bathhouse that only exists within the spirit world (at least for the time being), and that she must remember who she used to be in order to return home and turn her parents back into humans (which gets more and more difficult for her the longer she stays in the spirit world). 

     The colors used in each scene are eye-catching, all of the character designs are wonderful, and every area that Chihiro goes to including the bathhouse are made with an incredible attention to detail in every scene as well. The animation is always fluid and looks smooth and pleasing, and the movie is mesmerizing to watch solely based on the visuals alone. The instrumental music was composed and conducted by Joe Hisaishi, who also composed the music for Howl’s Moving Castle as well, and it is also very beautiful to listen to. Although the music in this movie isn’t as memorable to me as the music in Howl’s Moving Castle is, it is still fantastic and adds another layer of charm to the film.

     I believe Spirited Away absolutely deserves all of the praise and recognition that it has received in the past 20+ years, and it still holds up as an excellent movie just the same as when it was originally released. I initially decided to watch it mainly because of the visuals and I was curious about the characters, and it had exceeded my expectations and became quite a bit of a comfort movie for me. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before and is interested in amazing animated films in general!

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Good Omens
Review by Chris Taylor

     Hello, all, whomever may be reading this. It is to my great shame that I confess I am not a major fan of Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchet. This is not because I do not like their work, but simply because I’ve never consumed much of it. None of Terry Pratchet’s, to my even greater shame; Discworld is deeply overwhelming to me, and I know little of him beyond that. I am not the person to write this review. So, any and all rabid fans: don’t come for me. 

     Good Omens, subtitle: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, was a book co-written by Gaiman and Pratchet and published in 1990. It gained a large cult following and left a mark in early fandom and shipping culture, which is how I, someone deeply entrenched in that culture, found it. After many different adaptations, including a radio play, a fan-made musical and a never realized movie adaptation, allegedly featuring Robin Williams and Johnny Depp as Aziraphale and Crowley, Good Omens received a tv adaptation in 2019. It promptly exploded on Tumblr, and the internet at large, entrancing a whole new lot of young queer internet folk.

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     In July of 2019, crammed onto a hotel room couch with four very good friends, I watched Good Omens episode 1 on a cracked Ipad. It was over for me from there. I would read the book afterwards. 

     The story goes like this. There’s an angel and a demon, Aziraphale and Crowley, played by Michael Sheen and David Tennant. They’ve known each other since the beginning of time (and maybe even a little before that) and they’re very good friends. They love earth, a lot more than either one cares about heaven or hell, and that becomes a problem when it's time for the apocalypse. The antichrist is born, a boy named Adam. The story from there follows the time shortly before the apocalypse and a variety of shenanigans from various characters, human and otherwise, trying to prevent the apocalypse, to varying degrees of success.

     Overall, it’s a memorable story with a ticking clock and a cast of fun faces to spend time with. Characters such as: a witch-trialed witch and the witch-finder who witch-trialed her, and their individual descendants who are prophesied to get together. There is the aforementioned anti-christ, and his dog named Dog. As well as his group of friends simply referred to as “The them.” A witch-finder general of the modern ages, and a medium who doubles as…A, uhm, well, a seamstress. The four horsemen, minus pestilence but plus pollution, and some delightful companions of theirs sorely missing from the show. And lest we forget two characters who the promotional material, the fandom and even the various covers of the book would lead you to believe are a lot more prominent than they really are: The Southern Pansy and The Flash Bastard, Aziraphale and Crowley.

     This is definitely where the book shines over the show: the characters. Now, don’t get me wrong, the same characters (for the most part) are all there in both versions. Aziraphale and Crowley of the TV show have a much larger role than in the book, with an extended cold opening focusing entirely on their relationship. They steal the show! They steal the show…A little too well. This is evident in the fandom, and it's a symptom of something larger than just two-gay-white-man-itis. Take one look at the fanart; who do you think the favorites are? The human characters of the show feel…Lacking, in my opinion. They’re still charming, but it feels like you’re just waiting for Aziraphale and Crowley to come back the whole time when someone like Adam is on-screen. This is a real problem, considering they’re not the main character(s), He is. Maybe it's just child actors…Don’t get me wrong, they do a good job, but you know. The book’s cast feels much more rounded.  

     Now, where I do have to give the show the win is practically for the same thing I just complained about. Those darn angels and demons again, and not just Aziraphale and Crowley! Those two’s extended presence in the show is a welcome treat! However, the extra attention that’s given to heaven and hell in the show is almost even more of one! The set design of heaven and hell are some of my favorite parts of the show! I love that they’re two offices in the same building, one a spick and span, white and bland monstrosity at the top of the highrise (I just know those LED lights make the worst noise) and the other set in a grimey basement, over crowded, and filled with rotting paper, outdated technology and frankly hilarious signs written in comic sans. I love the other angels and demons in the show (forever a Beelzebub stan). I love how much more present Aziraphale and Crowley’s respective worlds are! It adds a lot! I also just have to give props to the show for God being voiced by a woman; Frances Mcdormand knocks it out of the park with what little she is given. It's a nice, if shallow, little rebellion. I could go into how, on the flip side, the human world suffers in the show; however, I won’t. This is getting long. 

     Overall, they are very similar and yet different beasts. I’d encourage most anyone to consume both! They’re both hilarious and great fun and tell a good story about protecting the environment, and the powers of love and individuals working together, all that . If you watch the show: be warned: the CGI is horrible. If you read the book: prepare yourself for some very 90s typical homophobia. And maybe, just maybe, check out season 2 of the show, which is great, as well, for very different reasons, and also so, so pretty to look at. If we don’t get an ending I swear- no. Scratch that, none of this “Maybe just maybe” bullshit. If you’ve read this far: you owe it to me, personally, to watch s2 so that I, personally, can have a s3. Thanks, and goodbye! Ciao!

Bird Box
Review by Cassie Barnes

     Bird Box is a 2018 American post-apocalyptic horror thriller film directed by Susanne Bier and written by Eric Heisserer, based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. The film follows the main character Malorie Hayes, played by Sandra Bullock, as she tries to protect herself and two children from entities which cause people who look at them to unwillingly die by their own hands.

     In the beginning you hear the eerie static voice over of a dispatcher as he describes what seems to be a safe place and the dangers that lie ahead on the journey to get there. You do not know what has happened, but you come to the realization that it was tragic, and victims who wanted to survive risked everything to escape it. Next, we see a pregnant Malorie living as a shut in at her home art studio while her sister begs her to become one with the outside world. She did not know it then, but her life was about to drastically change and take a turn for the worse. Breaking news is announced over their local news station. Images flash one by one of street fires and civilians running down the streets of Europe. News of mass suicides have been reported in Europe and Russia. No one seems to have a logical explanation for why this is happening besides
making the country aware that this “disease” is not pathological or viral. Up till this moment this was Malorie’s normal life, a soon to be single mother choosing to keep her and her baby from the world in hopes of protecting it. Malorie goes on with her day and gets a routine ultrasound
and soon after she gets her first glimpse of what damage this new disease may cause. 


    The woman, she initially saw speaking on the phone on their way in was now violently smashing her head against the window. Cracking glass and blood splattering against the window. She ran to the car and urged her sister to get them out of there as soon as possible. However, as fate may have it this disease starts to take over their town and everything she holds dear. Police cars are racing down the street in hopes of providing some aid to what is happening, but they are too late.
Cars crash one after another as they try to escape whatever danger has made it to their town. She loses everything she loves in a matter of minutes and is forced to take refuge in the home of the man whose wife risked her life to help her, a pregnant woman in this time of horror. The following scenes you will see Malorie on the pursuit of protecting her two children in this new and frightening world while completely blindfolded, meeting many interesting people along the
way as well as losing many of them to the “creatures” that continue to haunt and target them every step of the way.

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Bird box

     As someone who has lived through their own era of depression and continues to deal with high anxiety, I am aware of how difficult it is to not cut off everyone in your life in fear of hurting yourself or them. For years I felt alone and in the dark like I was blind to reality. This film resonated with me in a way that is unimaginable and spoke life to every single thing I felt when I was in that head space. I grew to love this movie once I understood the meaning behind all the behaviors that were clearly thought out throughout the script and the acting that made it possible. I connected to its message on a deeper level than I intended, and it truly made the movie worth watching. It speaks of the societal stigma of how we often turn a blind eye to mental health in this country. I think we could all take advantage of looking at societal issues from another point of view and this does all of that and more.

Review by Abbie Yarboro

     The movie Tammy is a comedy movie that stars Melissa Mcarthy. Melissa is one of the best comedian actors of all time. She stars as “Tammy” who is a trash-talking character that has no real purpose in life and is a big mess. In this movie Tammy will keep you on your toes with her comedy, bad-luck, low-working, and foul mouth character she performs in this comedy movie.
     The movie starts off with Tammy hitting a deer with her junky car which makes her fashionably late like always to her job called Topper Jacks. She then is fired, which means she
gets to go home early to find her wonderful husband Greg (Nat Faxon) having a home cooked dinner with the next-door neighbor Missi (Toni Collette). She then packs up all her stuff and drives two doors down where her mother Jeb (Allison Jenney) and grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon) live and wants to go on a road trip. Of course the alcoholic grandmother Pearl is down, but Tammy is not too fond of her grandmother due to the fact that she tried to sleep with
her ex husband. Tammy had no choice so they both start their adventurous road trip in Pearl's Cadillac and with $6,700 cash.

     The Road trip consists of a Jet-Ski accident, Jail time for both Tammy and Pearl, robbery, un-do robbery, a luxurious July 4th party, prison time for Tammy, nursing home for Pearl, and lastly a trip to Niagara Falls. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Tammy robs her old job with a finger paper gun, also with a paper bag over her head for Pearl's bond to get out of jail. But of course Tammy doesn’t just want money she wants pies as well. When she is ordering to put all the money and pies in her paper bag she asks Becky and Larry whom she is robbing from if they like pie’s and tells them to take pies for them as well. Tammy then proceeds to lock Becky and Larry in the freezer with their pies and is successful with her robbery. Tammy then heads straight to the jail house to bail out her Grandma Pearl, only to find her already bailed out. Pearl then finds through watching the news that Tammy was the one that robbed her old job and was making her return the money in the morning. Pearl and Tammy both go with their paper bags and return the money. While Tammy and Pearl are overcoming all of their obstacles in this movie, at the end they both get their life back on track and become best friends.

     I enjoyed this adventurous movie and laughed way too much and would recommend it to anyone that needs a good laugh in their life.

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the creator

The Creator 
Review by Dr. Royston

     An orbiting station named NOMAD slowly traverses the sky like a Sword of Damocles, its laser imagers scanning the ground below for targets. A massive tank trundles over a village, crushing buildings, and firing guided missiles, “US Army” in sans-serif font along its side. A child looks into the camera, innocence in her eyes, and then turns to look upon an ancient pagoda and reveals the exposed electronics of her robot skull.

     These are just some of the stunning images from Gareth Edwards’ new film, The Creator. Edwards, known best for directing probably the most well-regarded of Disney’s Star Wars films, Rogue One and 2014’s reboot of the Godzilla franchise, is no stranger to stunning visuals. But his works have been the victim of studio meddling that has muddied his stories and compromised his visions. Just think of the amazing scene where Jyn Erso confronts a TIE fighter from the Rogue One trailer that never appears in the actual film. 

     So with The Creator, we finally get to see Edwards make the film he wanted to make and tell the story he wanted to tell the way he wanted to tell it. And from a visual standpoint, the result is amazing. Edwards paints for us a dystopian future where the US war machine is bent towards the destruction of artificial intelligence persons who have been granted asylum in south-east Asia. The intermingling of high tech weapons and advanced humanoid robots with bamboo villages and moldering Buddhist temples perfectly captures William Gibson’s old adage, “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” As a giant nerd for all things cyberpunk and near-future dystopia, I am in love with the world this film presents. That world is brought to life with excellent performances by John David Washington as the film’s stoic and reluctant protagonist, Allison Janney as his belligerent commanding officer, and newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie, the messianic child robot around whom the film’s conflict spins.

     It's that conflict where the film falters. The Creator is by no means a bad movie, and its style conveys a lot of substance. But that substance is stale. The Creator draws upon visual associations with America’s most ignoble conflicts, the decades long wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. Like those wars, The Creator’s war is one between an incredibly well-equipped and technologically overwhelming US military and a rag-tag insurgency. That that insurgency has numerous underground facilities where they produce advanced AI persons who are almost indistinguishable from humans (aside from their clearly mechanical skulls) is something I’m willing to set aside for the sake of storytelling and thematics. But it is indicative of the ways in which The Creator doesn’t bring anything new to the conversation. 

     Let’s be clear here, the AI persons in the film are stand-ins for all the people dehumanized by the US war machine and the policies that inflict its violence around the globe. That they are arguably inhuman because they are artificial persons, robots, serves to articulate flawed and false arguments about the inhumanity of the targets of that violence. This is good, solid anti-colonial and anti-imperialist messaging. But that’s the rub. I can think of a number of other SF films and stories that have the same messaging. One in particular comes to mind. It too features robots that are really people. It too features Vietnam war imagery. It was made 46 years before The Creator, and I know Edwards is aware of it because everyone is aware of this movie, and Edwards himself made a prequel to it. That’s not to say you should just watch Star Wars instead of The Creator, just that the problem is you can watch Star Wars instead of The Creator. You’ll get the same message. And no matter how cool NOMAD is, it’s still no Death Star.

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The Phoenix Presents:
A Falcon Christmas Special!

Arthur Christmas
Review by Chris Taylor

Arthu crstmas
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     I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but one December, when I was fairly young, my movie theater hating family all crowded into The Grand in Winston Salem to see a mediocre looking Christmas movie from Aardman Studios. This was back before all the nice expensive movie theaters got the nice expensive, and expansive, leather recliners, so hating movie theaters was more understandable back then. Anyways, we’re sitting there, my mom and dad are probably taking shots back and forth about popcorn and who goes pee first, this that and the other, and I don’t think even I was expecting much, I’m not even sure why we went to see it, but we did. That movie was "Arthur Christmas,” and it is my all time favorite Christmas movie and one of my all time favorite movies. 


     Made by Aardman in 2011, who are known for things like “Wallace and Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep,” “Chicken Run,” and “Flushed Away,” it is the studio’s only completely CG animated film to date (if I’m not mistaken). It was also a victim of extremely poor advertising. If you remember anything about "Arthur Christmas" at all, and it hasn’t slipped entirely from your consciousness, it might be the commercial of an extremely lanky, goofy looking guy with light up slippers, a huge nose and a horrible laugh that is uncomfortably close to my actual laugh, slipping around on ice and F-ing around with a polar bear while a hapless elf tries to keep the fictional camera from filming him. That, my friends, is the titular Arthur himself. 

     The actual film takes a fairly basic premise and spins it very very well. Set in a world where “Santa” is a title and a lineage rather than a person, it follows the family of the current Santa as they deal with the struggles that title brings. You have Malcom (Santa), his wife Margret, Malcolm’s father, referred to throughout as “Grandsanta,” and Malcolm and Margret’s two sons, the older, Steve, and younger, Arthur. Each of these family members with limited screen time manages to have surprising depth as well as provide a wide range of comedy, with each having their own kind they bring to the table. There is no villain in this film, and that’s something I really like about it. While it’s something we all may be getting sick of in Disney films, in a movie like this the easy way out would have been to make one of the characters (one in particular is an easy target) the villain. Instead, it's just a bunch of very flawed people with relatable deeply, humanly selfish motivations, bouncing off each other. Malcolm is getting too old to do the job he loves, but can’t bare to retire, Steve has been doing the brunt of Santa work for years and thinks he finally deserves the title, Grandsanta hates the way Steve has “Ruined Christmas” by modernizing it and wants to prove that the old ways are the best, Margret just wants everybody to calm down and be together as a family….And Arthur, who’s not good at much anything “Santa” has gotten lost in the shuffle, and just desperately wants to feel useful. 

     Amidst all the tension, during the Christmas Eve rush to deliver toys, a mistake causes a single child to be missed. After a lot of frantic back and forth it's decided that it’s not worth it to go through all the trouble just for one child, and that they’ll deliver her present after Christmas. However, Arthur, who can’t bear the thought of someone feeling like Santa doesn’t care about them (hint hint), decides if no one else is going to deliver the present, he will. He, Grandsanta, and a stow-away elf named Briney, set off on a half-hazard mission, North Pole to Trelew, England, to bring the girl her present before the sun rises on Christmas morning. 

This film has so, so, so much heart and so, so, so many details. I’m a huge sap, and I genuinely cry every time I watch this, every single time, every single year. There’s this one scene that always gets me where Arthur is on a bike and “He’s still going” and man, I don’t even think I can explain why it gets me. In a similar vein, I feel I catch some new small detail every single viewing, which is crazy. There was one, a message on Steve’s “Hoho” (smart phone), that I didn’t catch till like two years and ago and it made my jaw drop. Every part of this movie is a delight, from the humor, to the animation which holds up surprisingly very well, to its fun, clever spins on classic “Santa” things. If the opening sequence with the S1 and the crazy militant elves doesn’t get you hyped, I don’t know what will. I genuinely love this movie from the bottom of my heart. I love it so much that one year for Christmas I asked for Arthur’s sweater as a present, and now every year, I’ve made it a tradition of recreating this one stupid picture of him that comes up when you Google the movie in my sweater. Please, if you think at all that you might like this movie, or if you just like Christmas movies and you’ve never seen or heard of it, give it a try. Because, I am so fucking tired of explaining to people that it’s not that stupid fucking aardvark. 

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Scrooge Me Hard
Review by Rachel Blue

scrooge me hard

     Scrooge Me Hard is a short story sandwiched between book nine and ten of Milly Taiden's ongoing Paranormal Dating Agency series. This series was recommended to me and I wasn't sure if I would be able to get into it but thus far it has been absolutely sassy, spicy and downright delightful, so needless to say I am loving every second of the hike to the top of this eighty-one book mountain. 

We open with Auri, a baker who loves the Christmas season and wants nothing more than to be a mother (weird but go off). When her ex, (who she is still married to after five years because he never sent the divorce papers) shows up on the doorstep of her bakery with a young child in tow she is shocked and upset. Very valid feelings considering the reason they separated was because he didn't want kids and hated the holidays (my type of guy right here). But it turns out in a very macho, stoic, gotta hide my feelings type of way he was dealing with some real family drama. His father who is bedridden and on his fifth wife, suddenly leaves his companies in Reed’s hands adding to his stress running his own. He then begs his son to find his younger brother who has been put up for adoption by his mother. Wild how old men suddenly care about their kids when they are on their deathbed.

     The kid is important but annoying honestly, he is Reed’s younger brother by like thirty years and while their father’s new wife is neither of the boys’ mother, she is very caring and responsible. Though considering she's the fifth wife, I was ready for some step mom drama but alas there was none. Reed eventually finds his brother and in raising him, is shocked to find that he doesn’t hate kids or the holidays! His mother just abandoned him at a young age on Christmas so he was pretty messed up by that, but also refused to tell anyone. Which would have cleared up quite a few misunderstandings all around, but who am I to judge?

     Reed and Auri are reunited by some friends at a Christmas party that she catered for (and wore her wedding dress to? Granted it was a Christmasy dress, but still), he confesses that he’s only thought of her since their parting five years ago and he wants a second chance. While she is originally hesitant to even hear him out, they eventually talk it out and there is a happy ending but I don’t think he deserved it to be honest. I was rooting for Auri to go find herself a new man, cause Reed kinda sucks. 

     Overall, I enjoyed this short, it was a nice break from the overarching plot of the series and while I am a Reed hater, Auri was a very relatable character and I loved reading from her point of view. While it is in a series, this book can stand alone, but if you read the previous books, you’ll recognize some characters that make cameos at the Christmas party. If you are looking for something short and sweet for the holidays, this novella might suit your tastes. 

Happy Holidays!
happy new year!
starrim skyfild whatever

Star-rim, Skyfield, Whatever
Review by Dr. Royston

     I’ve been a Bethesda fan for decades and a Bethesda apologist for years. Giant open-world RPGs are my jam, Fallout: New Vegas is my all-time favorite, and I’ve explored every world Bethesda has produced since the weird mushrooms and even weirder faces of Morrowind. I also love contemporary human-centric “hard” science fiction like The Expanse, The Martian, and Prospect. So when Bethesda announced Starfield a few years back, I was so fucking stoked. And as details came out about the game—its setting and its ship-building, especially—I got even more excited. Here was the next Bethesda game I’d spend months exploring, not just one world but many, not on foot but aboard a spaceship of my very own design.

     And my excitement only mounted when I loaded up the game and began generating my first character. Frank Spacer would be a former smuggler: a fast talker, good with guns, and a capable pilot, a regular Han Solo. But unlike Han Solo, Frank Spacer wouldn’t turn his nose up at “hokey religions”; instead he’d be a fervent follower of The Great Serpent, a cosmic snake worshiped by Starfield’s third faction, the mysterious House Va’Ruun. I looked forward to telling mooks that they were unworthy of my sinister space snake before shooting them in the face and blasting off on my spaceship shaped like a giant dong. 

     Then my adventure began, and I began to get worried. A lot of people complain about how long Bethesda’s tutorial sections are. They gripe about growing up in Vault 101. They rage at riding that wagon into Skyrim. They need to shut the fuck up. Those long tutorial sections embed and immerse you into the world, setting up stunning moments like that first blinding glimpse of the sun over the Capital Wasteland or Alduin destroying the fortress just before you’re beheaded, while also teaching you the games’ core mechanics and play loops. Like all good stories, they draw you into the narrative while teaching you how to engage with the narrative. Starfield’s tutorial, on the other hand, is short, disconnected, and culminates with you walking into a committee meeting. It teaches you the basic mechanics of traveling, shooting, and flying, but it doesn’t draw you into the narrative.

And that’s because Starfield really doesn’t have a narrative. You’d think with three space nations, there would be some interesting political intrigue or at least a (cold) space war to interact with, but aside from the mysterious snake people being mysterious jerks, everybody is all hunky dory. The war already happened and sometimes you’ll get to pick up some of its scraps. Sure, Starfield has the big faction quest-arcs you’ve come to expect from a Bethesda game, but they tend to be boring, rambling, and lacking in either colorful weirdos like Fallout 4’s Railroad or intriguing mysteries like Skyrim’s Mage’s Guild.

Take, for example, the Crimson Fleet questline. The Crimson Fleet are Starfield’s pirates, and their questline involves searching for lost space pirate treasure. You’re sent along by the space police (forced to go in my case) to infiltrate the Crimson Fleet and ensure they don’t get their hands on all that fat loot. This has the bones of an exciting adventure filled with intrigue and challenge as you hunt down clues and try to kill as few innocent people as possible along the way. It even has whiffs of intrigue when during the first mission, the pirate you’re teamed up with suggests betraying the Crimson Fleet’s leaders and stealing the money for yourselves. But then you’re never given an opportunity to attempt that, the pirates are all just the rudest pack of dicks in all the settled systems, and the cops don’t really care how many bodies you pile up along your path. At the end, you find the treasure, either hand it over to the cops or the pirates, and a big old space battle happens. For all of this, you get a pile of pretty much useless cash and some faction reputation. The other faction questlines are mostly the same. They may have some hints of further depth or an interesting twist, but they always resolve to the most basic of binary choices and leave their intriguing threads dangling.

     The main questline is little better. Along the way you become a Starborn and learn to unlock Powers. If this sounds like Skyrim’s Dragonborn and Shouts to you, it’s because it’s exactly like Skyrim’s Dragonborn Shouts. But whereas in Skyrim you’re a hero of destiny on a quest to save the world and time itself, in Starfield, you’re just some asshole on a fetch quest. That quest ultimately unlocks Starfield’s New Game Plus system where as a Starborn you can explore an infinite multiverse full of amusing permutations. I admire Bethesda for incorporating NGP into the game’s narrative, but No Man’s Sky already did almost this exact same bit, and multiverses are becoming as cliched as zombies.

That’s not to say Starfield is all bad. The gunplay is the best shooting in any Bethesda release. The ship- and base- building mechanics are great improvements on Fallout 4’s settlement system. The companions are more colorful and companiable than Skyrim’s dour bunch. The skill tree manages to maintain the simplicity of Bethesda’s later games, but it also allows you to follow distinct paths and develop your own build. And the graphics look gorgeous. Akila City is a perfect “space-western” town, and Neon lives up to its name as Starfield’s cyberpunk crime metropolis. 

     But if you want a sci-fi western, you can play New Vegas, Cyberpunk 2077 will give you all the neon you could ever ask for, and if you love Bethesda games for their endless fuck-around potential, you can just sink another hundred hours into Skyrim. That’s also on Gamepass. 

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skyrim bt wth lases

Skyrim but with Lasers
Review by Madison Korel

     Starfield is a game that, as an avid Skyrim fan, I was very excited to play and explore once it came out. But, with it being a Bethesda game, many gamers already know that it will sometimes come with bugs and glitches that make the game unplayable. While that is not the only reason I am not a fan of Starfield, it is definitely up there. The story also became repetitive over time, along with characters that were not fully fleshed out, especially for a game that has been developed for so long.

     You start off the game as a miner on a planet where you are mining Beryllium with a stupid cutting tool that is surprisingly helpful, which they never outright tell you about; once you have been mining for a little bit, you come across this magic shard that turns out to be lowkey important but don’t worry there is like thirty-six of them for you to find later on. This magic shard, to me, had the same effect as a dragon soul in Skyrim for the other magic bullshit in a game that should have been about fighting space pirates. Back to the story, once you find this shard, you pass out and are sent to the med bay on the mining property. This is where you get to design your character, and as per usual, I made a sporty lesbian with a scar over the eye. After you spend 2 hours building your character, they then give the option of different Sims-type backstory options that generally don’t influence your game or the story really. After this, you meet Constellation, Starfield’s version of the Greybeards from Skyrim. They send you on a bunch of fetch quests, which is, for the most part, the whole game.

     While Starfield is a cool game on the surface with different mechanics from its predecessors, it is still just Skyrim and Fallout with a new look. These new mechanics are interesting for someone who has played Bethesda games for most of their life. With new game+ and decisions that can change the game's outcome depending on your decisions. During my playthrough, there was a point where you had to save the characters of Constellation from the Starborn. Dragonborn is the Skyrim equivalent, and during this quest, I found out that depending on which character was killed during your game, that is who one of the Starborn antagonists will be for your game. Along with the new mechanics, there was the addition of multiple different planets that you could explore, and it is modeled to an extent around our solar system. These different planets were completely new worlds you explored at your leisure, and each came with a different pace and scenery.

     Overall, Starfield was a good game for a first play, but I would not recommend it for someone to play unless they knew what they were in for, especially in an RPG. Eventually, it might become more like Skyrim as more updates come out that would make the replayability higher for fans to play. But let's be honest, we were all hooked on making penis ships. 

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Review by Abbie Yarboro

     Lift is a combined genre of comedy and action. I mean the main character is Kevin Hart. What movie is he in that is not funny? Lift consists of an impossible heist of stealing $500 million worth of gold from one of the most dangerous men on earth. In the movie, Kevin Hart plays Cyrus, known as “The Boss.” He is the lead man of his crew. His ex-girlfriend Abby, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, was an FBI agent.

      In the beginning of the movie Abby was trying to catch
Cyrus and his team in a heist that they planned to kidnap the anonymous man named “N8”, but not technically kidnapping. See they only took him so that his merch price would rise. They successfully completed their 1st mission, But that was only the beginning. Abby then goes to Cyrus’s house and tries to offer a deal for full immunity over him and his crew since she had proof of him and his crew. The FBI wants Cyrus and his crew to steal from Lars Jorgensen and as Cyrus says in the movie “ There’s some people you steal from there are some you don’t steal from, and Lars Jorgensen Kills both. “ Cyrus first denies but then gives Abby an ultimatum that the only way he would agree is if Abby works with them through the heist. Then the planning began and I really got into the movie at this part... They prepare for the biggest heist anyone has ever had by stealing an illegal jet, figuring out how to crack a safe, disguises, and making a portable signal interference device. Then it was game time. This is where I was literally holding my breath for things to go as planned and, everything was going as planned until Lars' men suspected something was up and Cyrus and Abby had to buy some time but did not win the battle with Lars' crew at first. I was feeling so emotional when all of this was taking place. I literally felt like I was in the movie with them.

But it wasn’t over yet, Cryus and a couple of his crew mates take back over and Cryus lands the Jet in Lars' front yard with the gold as they thought. Wee Woo the cops show up and make the arrest of Lars and retrieve what they thought was the Gold. But one plan that Abby wasn’t aware of was that Cryus and the crew actually stole the Gold from the FBI and as Cryus says “ Homeboy Got nothing” talking about the FBI. I honestly had a feeling that they were going to do something sneaky but had no clue at the same time.


     I really enjoyed this action/comedy film. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time watching it. I just wished the ending was a little more of how Cyrus and Abby worked out. But 10/10 is recommended for you to watch.

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lttle woemen

Little Women (2019)
Review by Kayla Cordero

     Little Women has been an important piece of literature for many young girls for the last several decades. The famous novel has been adapted on screen more than a dozen times. I decided to rewatch Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women for this review. This film follows the March sisters throughout their transformation from girlhood to adulthood. It is set in Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War in the late 1860’s. 

     The movie begins in 1868 when Jo March meets with an editor about publishing a “friend’s” work. Jo is working as a teacher in New York to support her family in Massachusetts. Jo’s youngest sister, Amy, is in Paris with Aunt March taking painting classes and being courted by a wealthy man. The older sister, Meg, is married and has twins. Throughout the story, the third sister Beth is getting sicker and sicker. Eventually her death is what reunites the family under the same roof again. Visually the film is a piece of art. Gerwig’s use of lighting and blocking makes this film its own masterpiece, despite the number of times it has been adapted. The film accurately follows the original novel written in 1868 by Louisa May Alcott. It includes critical scenes from the novel such as Amy falling through the ice, the burnt manuscript, and Beth’s death. Greta Gerwig tried to remain as authentic to the novel as she could. However, Gerwig also wanted to create a film she believed Louisa Alcott would have enjoyed. A lot of the dialogue comes directly from the original novel and the movie was filmed in Concord, Massachusetts to set an accurate scene. The location manager for this film found historic and accurate locations to film in Massachusetts, New York, and Paris. 

     The film differs from the novel as it is told in an achronological manner. The opening scene is Jo as an adult trying to make ends meet by teaching children and selling her work. In the original book, we meet the March sister’s as young girls. The film tells the sisters’ story through present moments and flashbacks to their girlhood. In the movie, the past is emphasized by warmer, yellow undertones. Gerwig used a specific filter for these scenes to create a ‘golden glow’ during their childhood. In contrast, the lighting is colder and uses blue undertones in order to show their adulthood. 

The biggest difference between this film and the novel was the ending. At the end of the novel, Jo stops writing after her Professor criticizes her work and only tells her stories to the boys she teaches at the school. Jo eventually gives up writing and becomes a wife and mother. At the end of Gerwig’s film, Jo writes Little Women, and the audience watches it get published. The film focuses more on Jo as a promising writer than her romantic plot with Laurie. The film takes pride in women empowerment. The determination of each sister to live their life on their own terms, no matter how different it was for each of them, shows how strong these women were especially during a male dominated time period. This film interpreted the story in a completely different way, and I believe Gerwig brought a new life to this classic story.

dune 2

Dune 2
Review by Dr. Edward Royston

Adaptation Station: Dune Part 2, a review by Edward Royston, a First-Stage Pfeiffer Faculty-Member

     About 3 years ago, I wrote a review for this site about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune Part 1. In that review, I hoped Villeneuve would receive the green light to produce and direct a sequel to complete his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s first Dune novel. In the interim, I learned that Villenuve’s plans were (appropriately for Dune and its “plans within plans”) even more grandiose, and that he intended to make Part 2 an adaptation of the second half of the first book and a bridge to a Part 3 in which he would adapt the first Dune sequel, Dune Messiah. I think it’s important to recognize that Villeneuve created this film with an eye towards it being the second entry in a trilogy because the few flaws I find with this film are most likely a result of Villeneuve’s grander plans. Now, I get to hope that he gets the green light to make Dune Part 3, and I’ll get to review that movie in 2027. 

From that introduction, I am sure you can guess that I loved Dune Part 2. Why even bother with the rest of the review? Well let me tell you why I loved Dune Part 2. In my review of Dune Part 1, I praised  Villeneuve for delivering incredible visuals while maintaining the subtleties that elevate the novel above its hero’s journey or white savior plot. Dune Part 2 maintains the stunning visual grandeur of Part 1. The opening battle between Fremen and gravity-defying Harkonnen soldiers invokes the weird and wild visuals of impressionistic science fiction paperback covers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Geidi Prime, home to the Harkonnens, is a world of pure colorless contrasts between light and dark beneath a black sun. Paul’s worm trial is an onslaught of sound and motion that leads to a moment of transcendent silence as the camera soars over the sands. Villeneuve is, of course, a master of aerial desert shots, as he proved in Sicario, and he uses them to bring the world of Arrakis to life. The architecture that so impressed me in the first film reappears here. A temple where juvenile sandworms are drowned to create the psychotropic poison called the Water of Life looks like something ancient out of a far future. The emperor’s mobile palace is an origami pyramid of pure chrome. 

 Part 2 pares back the subtleties from Part 1, and here I do find some fault with the film. There is no mention of the Spacing Guild, their monopoly on space travel, and their reliance on the Spice. The novel’s political schemes are simplified. And Paul’s rise from outcast off-worlder to Fremen messiah is condensed. 

The subtleties aren’t entirely eliminated, though, especially for attentive viewers. The worm-spice connection is hinted at by the rich blues of the Fremens’ eyes and the Water of Life. The Fremen ecological program echoes in their leader Stilgar’s religious explanation for the Fremens’ secret subterranean reservoirs. A subplot involving a Bene Gesserit sister and villainous foil Feyd Rautha Harkonnen reveals that Paul is not the only possible messiah bred by Bene Gesserit eugenics.

Part 2 pares these subtleties back to focus its attention on the novels’ central theme, their warning against demagogues, heroes, and would-be messiahs. And here is where the adaptation manages to outdo its source material. In the novel, Chani is merely a love interest for Paul and a mother for his weird psychic children. In the film, Chani gains agency as Paul’s mentor in the Fremen ways and the chief skeptic of the fabricated prophecies that indicate he may be the Fremen messiah. She serves as a foil to Paul’s mother, Jessica, whose manipulations of the Fremen to accept her son as their savior are made clear and deliberate, and Stilgar, whose willingness to believe in Paul leads to him declare everything Paul does proof that the prophecies are real, for “it is written.” For a time, Paul is with Chani, but he eventually does “what must be done”, leading towards a climax that is true to the novel but left more ambiguous and incomplete to allow for a more seamless transition to Dune Part 3. 

Films are audio and visual experiences. They do not have the time or resources to delve deeply into interiority and elaborate multilevel schemes (unless they’re heist films and the elaborate multilevel scheme is the entire point). I commend Villeneuve on his choice to foreground the novel’s central theme, especially because it elevates and rounds out one of the novel’s central characters. Like Paul Mua’dib Atreides, I can see a shape of the things to come, and if Dune Part 3 incorporates the pieces left over from this adaptation, Villeneuve will have pulled off the most flawless translation from book to film since Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which I remind you also took some serious liberties with its source text).

We don’t really do this anymore, but since my Part 1 review had it, I figure this review should have it too: My favorite lines have to be Gurney’s dirge for his time on Arrakis: “My stillsuit's full of piss, my ass caked in sand. Save me from this devil's heat, another world, another land.”

perfec blue

Perfect Blue
Review by Alana Jordan



     Perfect Blue is a 1997 psychological-thriller anime film directed by Satoshi Kon and is based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Perfect Blue was Kon’s directorial debut, and he’s also known for directing other thriller anime films like Paprika (2006). The movie begins with the film's protagonist, Mima, performing on stage as a member of a J-pop group called “CHAM!”. At the end of the concert, she announces that she’s decided to leave the group and pursue acting full-time (although her agent was the one who advised her to do so). This transition upsets many of her fans, but it is incredibly upsetting to an obsessive stalker named Mamoru. 


She receives fan letters from her stalker and finds a website called “Mima’s Room” that reads like a journal full of her daily thoughts, feelings, and actions. Mima tries to ignore the stalker but becomes increasingly paranoid as the film progresses. She continues working with her manager, Rumi, and her agent, Tadakoro, to film a murder mystery drama called Double Bind, and her agent advises her to play a significant role in the show and act in a rape scene. Mima agrees to it, although it makes her feel extremely distressed. She breaks down in her room over the role–especially on top of the paranoia of being stalked and her regrets of turning into a full-time actress–and she grows more and more dissociative. It becomes harder for her and the audience to tell what’s happening in reality and her mind. She repeatedly sees her reflection dressed in her pop-idol outfit, claiming to be “the real Mima,” who becomes more dangerous as her hallucinations worsen. 


The writer of Double Bind and a photographer she was scheduled to work with named Murano are murdered. Mima starts to believe that she’s the one who killed Murano for making her take nude photos—especially after finding bloody clothes in her closet, her inability to trust her mind, and the media believing she has a connection to the murders. She meets her stalker again once she has finished filming Double Bind, who attacks her and claims to have been talking to and sent here by “the real Mima,” and she knocks him unconscious with a hammer. Rumi finds Mima backstage and takes her home, and it’s revealed her agent’s dead body is lying next to the stalker’s. Rumi comes out wearing a CHAM! costume, claiming to be the “real Mima,” and reveals to Mima that she was the one behind “Mima’s Room” and the murders. Rumi, who now has the appearance of the “real Mima,” chases and relentlessly attacks Mima in the city until her wig is ripped off. Rumi staggers into the street and believes all the oncoming traffic is stage lights. Time passes, and the movie ends with Rumi living in a mental facility and Mima looking at her reflection and smiling at the audience, saying, “No, I’m real!” leaving the audience feeling unclear if that was another hallucination as the credits roll.

This movie's visuals, all the characters' expressions, and colors are stunning. The art style was honestly the biggest reason I was interested in watching Perfect Blue since I had seen many clips of it online without actually knowing anything about the film’s plot or characters, but Mima’s character and everything she goes through in the movie and how well everything (especially her dissociation) was portrayed really stuck with me. The audience is left just as confused as Mima. Her distress with her identity, as well as her exploitation and being constantly manipulated and watched by the media, progresses. I also love that the audience can interpret it in so many different ways because of how distorted and ambiguous the movie is. The symbolism throughout the film and how it masterfully illustrates the lack of clarity and distinction between Mima’s mind and reality turned it into one of my favorite films. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in psychological horror, thrillers, or iconic and gorgeous-looking animated films!

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civil war nd falout

Even the Apocalypse is Better With Jesse Plemons and Walton Goggins: A Double Review of Civil War and Fallout
Review by Dr. Royston

     For the last decade or so, Amazon’s Prime Video has been bringing its—let’s say—B game to the realm of streaming SF adaptations like Man in the High Castle and The Peripheral, and indie film studio A24 has been producing arthouse horror and genre films that are sometimes brilliantly subversive like 2019’s Midsommar and sometimes disappointingly cliched like 2022’s X

Alex Garland is the director who adapted Jeff Vandermeer’s new weird novel Annihilation, and Jonathan Nolan is responsible for HBO’s adaptation of Michael Criton’s first foray into theme parks gone wild, West World. These are good directors and they are working with good material, but for every Annihilation and Dread Garland has made, he’s also made a The Beach and Sunshine, and Nolan is responsible for just as many terrible seasons of West World as great ones, so they’re not guaranteed greats.

So I approached this past weekend with an alloy of excitement and trepidation as I went to the theater to see A24’s latest film, Garland’s Civil War and sat on my couch to watch Amazon’s latest SF adaptation, Nolan’s Fallout. 

Expecting some disappointment from Civil War’s refusal to engage with actual political issues that are currently dividing us and Fallout’s at-first apparently dismissive attitude towards the setting’s lore, especially with regard to the West Coast games, I found myself pleasantly surprised with both works’ ability to bring their imagined worlds to vivid life. 

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Civil War turns out to be a better film for not engaging with contemporary politics. That’s not to say it’s entirely divorced from them. Nick Offerman’s unnamed president is clearly a corrupt, authoritarian blowhard like our 45th president, and the war is implied to be a result of him successfully subverting our political checks and balances to secure a third term in office. But the film smartly avoids bogging itself down in who is fighting for what policy outcome. Instead, it focuses on its core cast of journalists as they inch closer and closer to Washington D.C. and a final confrontation between the Western Forces (rebel California and Texas united against the president) and the few remaining loyalists to the president. Its focus on journalism gives it a good reason to ignore the specifics of its politics. These are supposed to be objective people covering the war from an objective perspective. They are supposed to set aside their own beliefs and report the conflict without flinching. And they mostly do, but as the stress and violence of the conflict take their toll on the protagonists, we begin to see them flinch, more and more.​


That rises to a peak in the film’s most disturbing and entertaining sequence when they are captured and questioned by a violent psychopath played by the ever excellent Jesse Plemons. It’s never clear where Plemons’ loyalties lie. He’s not fighting for one faction or the other. He’s simply enjoying the breakdown of civil society and the rise of violence to pursue his own little personal crusade to rid his corner of America of people he decides are not real Americans. Resplendent in red acrylic safety glasses, Jesse Plemons displays the real terror of a civil war in America, not the eruption of organized factional conflict, but the metastasizing of our darkest tendencies towards othering and violence.​


Garland brings this all to life with incredible sound design and a keen eye for camera work that foregrounds the camera eye perspective. The guns are realistic and loud, shattering pops that cause viewers to flinch and characters to collapse. There is none of the drama and excitement of a classic Hollywood firefight. This violence is sickening and brutal. And it’s all caught in shallow focus shots with much of the screen an unfocused blur, but the center is always crystal clear, directing your eye to the action and unambiguously letting you know that it’s deliberately directing your eye. ​


Nolan’s auditory and visual design is less stark and rhetorical than Garland’s but no less effective. While Civil War tries to bring a horrible reality to life, Fallout works to bring a horrible fantasy to life. Adapting game visuals is not always an easy task. Games are often exaggerated and cartoonish, and the Fallouts are no exception. The power armor is too large for a normal person. The mutants are silly looking. The gore is comically ridiculous. And yet it all works brought to life on the show. Power armor is imposing and yet there is a comical clunkiness to it. The mutants are silly, but some of them are also terrifying—those aren’t teeth; they’re fingers! And the gore is just as comically ridiculous as any playthrough with the Bloody Mess perk selected, but it also draws a line between the characters who care about saving the world around them and those who could care less about collateral damage.​


One such character is the Ghoul, played by always amazing Walton Goggins. The Ghoul is an immortal bounty hunter, an undead man-with-no-name whose unrelenting quest to find his family takes him from villain to foil to guide for the other protagonists. Through flashbacks to the pre-war world, we discover the Ghoul was once an all-American action star who found himself caught up in the corporate conspiracy to bring about the end of the world all in the name of eliminating competition, establishing a monopoly, and extracting profits.


Fallout turns out to be a better show for engaging with the economics and politics that created its post-apocalyptic setting. The history it concocts out of hints found across the 6 Fallout video games gives a sense of gravity and purpose to its wandering fetch quest plot and serves to make it meaningful to viewers who aren’t just fans of the games. The best of those games (2 and New Vegas) know that their wacky humor and hijinks serve as sugar to make their satire of American economics and politics go down, and the show follows their lead.​


Dystopias and apocalypses are terrifying things to bring to life, but when done right, they can be entertaining and enlightening things as well. Garland and Nolan did Civil War and Fallout right. Go see them both, but maybe do so on different weekends or you might find it hard to go to sleep afterwards.

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