Tag: review

Bird Box: don’t take off the blindfold

Sandra Bullock (center) in ‘Bird Box.’ (©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Colle)

Breihan Dryden, A&E Writer

As a movie lover, I try not to go into films prepared to hate them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, I try and find the best in all things (as you might have learned from the previous films covered here). Which leads us to Bird Box, which I went into with zero knowledge of its existence, outside of some interviews that I had read months earlier on a couple of the horror sites I frequent. With a premise that sounds vaguely interesting (think The Happening meets A Quiet Place, except not as entertaining) and a, uh, weird to say the least cast, I was happy to sit down and watch this with my fiancé on a rainy night. Ohhhhhhh boy, I hope you’re ready to read me ripping this movie a new one.

First off, let’s start with some positives. The acting in this film, for the most part, is pretty solid. Sandra Bullock is always a treat and is very believable in her role as the protective mama bear of her unborn child, John Malkovich is wonderful in his usual John Malkovich-y way, and Trevante Rhodes is a pretty good backbone character to the story. Another thing this film has going for it is that it is beautiful. My hat goes off to cinematographer Salvatore Totino for giving us some truly delicious looking shots. Finally, the music in this film was handled by Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross and it is simply wonderful. Moody, chaotic, and pulsing are all wonderful descriptors of this quality soundtrack. Now, onto the bad stuff, of which there is plenty.

Oh man, where to begin. I guess we can start with all of the characters that I didn’t mention above. They’re all useless. They either serve the purpose of padding out a body count, to spout exposition (about things we the viewer and the characters themselves already know about), or are there simply to exist. Heck, two of the most inconsequential characters steal the groups car and bounce. It’s treated as some big loss for the group, not because they took the car, but because how could Machine Gun Kelly and random Latina cop lady just leave??!?!? Oh yeah, MGK is in this film and he’s about as good as you’d expect him to be. While we’re on the topic of characters, this film has a really bad habit of not informing you who anyone is. Occasionally, you’ll learn a character’s name, but for the most part you’ll be saying “Why did they lock up John Malkovich?” or “Man, they should have listened to the black guy that isn’t the comic relief from Get Out.” It comes across as lazy writing and it doesn’t help the viewer get invested into the well-being of these people at all. Speaking of lazy, let’s talk about the lack of the elephant in the room and by that, I mean the lack of any physical creature(s) in the film. Now, I get it. Often times, what you imagine the creature in one of these monster movies (people need to stop pretending like this is anything BUT a creature feature) looking like is generally better than what it turns out to be. But you know what? At least they have a creature. Even the films that this so heavily takes inspiration from (The Happening and A Quiet Place) both show their creatures. Granted, in The Happening the monsters are plants, but still, it’s something. In Bird Box, we get nothing, nada, zilch. The reason given in the movie is that “iT’s ToO sPoOpY tO sHoW yOu”, but in reality, it’s more than likely just that filmmakers were too lazy to come up with something creative. I’m a simple man. You don’t have to give me a full blown reveal of the monster, but a leg here, a wing there, maybe a some talons. I’m just saying, it would help get me invested into the story and well-being of these characters if they were actually faced with some kind of physical threat. And yes, before people jump down my throat, I know that there was a creature designed for the film and that it was really bad looking so it was scrapped, but that’s not an excuse.

Bird Box is a tough one, because it had potential. I know it’s based on a book that is probably far better, but what works in a novel doesn’t always translate well to film. As it stands, Bird Box is a movie that feels like a TV pilot, has zero tension because of how the film is structured (the film constantly jumps back and forth from “present day” to “five years later”), only has three characters that are worth anything of substance, and is a genuine mess of a film. If you’re in the mood for a solid Netflix original that oozes with atmosphere and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, do yourself a favor and skip this and go check out Apostle. I guarantee that you that it is a far better use of your two hours.

Bird Box” gets 2 Golden Taylors out of 10

The Venture Brothers: a unique parody

James King, A&E Writer

This article I’ve been wanting to do for a while and it will be a bit different from my normal movie reviews, because this time I’m reviewing a show, my favorite show, The Venture Brothers.  The Venture Brothers started in 2003 as a parody of cartoons ( specifically Johnny Quest), comics, pop music, and generally pop culture. The wacky brainchild of the Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick ( also known as Christopher McCulloch), the show just ended its 7th season, with the long wait for the 8th season just beginning. It’s a show that keeps bring me back for every season. In my eyes, it’s as close one can get to a perfect show on television.

Visually Venture Brothers is endless eye candy with tons of visual gags. The character designs and backgrounds are deceptively complex. Every character is drawn in simple fashion, but it allows the show to have massive characters on screen. Every character we see in the show is distinct and different and that’s saying something when there are over 200 characters that have appeared on the show. Every background is beautifully colored and detailed, all of which is done by hand.

The writing is by far the best thing about the show. The relationships between the characters are where the show really shines. With legally safe knock-offs of superheroes, G.I. Joes, and super scientists all occupying the same world, it can be really funny seeing a subverted version of Spiderman fight with what is basically an adult version of Johnny Quest. With all the different genres coming together, you’d expect the finished product to be a jumbled mess, but it comes together really well. You’ll have a character being blown up in one scene, then you’ll see a really deep moment of character’s drama in the next. The world building and mythos the show creates is spectacular with so many and lends itself incredibly well to the kind of theory crafting shows like Rick and Morty enjoy. The show constantly surprises me with its reveals and callbacks, saying any more could ruin the show for any new potential watchers, so I won’t go into that here. 

Now that isn’t to say that there isn’t a few bad aspects of the show. The first season, while probably filled with the most quotable lines, kind of meanders as the show tries to find its voice and style. Some of the characters in the show, like the protagonist Rusty Venture, can come off as unlikable and, while I believe that is by design, it can still turn people off to the show since he’s one of the characters we spend the most time with. There are also very long breaks in between each season. Sometimes the wait for new episodes can be upwards of two years.

I love this show because it feels entirely unique in its own weird way. It’s a show that only gets better with each passing season and It’s a show that reminds me not only why I love animation, but why I love media in general. 

Castlevania doesn’t suck (its just the vampires)

Sean Collier, A&E Writer

On October 26, 2018 Netflix released the newest season of Castlevania. The first season, even if it was only 4 episodes, proved to be a huge success visually along with its creative storytelling. Since it is the season of spooks, I’m going to give you my analysis of the show as a whole and give my opinion on whether or not the second season lived up to the standard the show had placed. Oh, and for all of you that are worried I’ll avoid any major spoilers.

If you are unfamiliar with Castlevania, the show is actually an adaptation of the video game series. The games were popular due to the grit and violence along with their seemingly impossible difficulty. The show specifically loosely follows the story of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The creators of the show definitely took some creative liberties by adding or changing characters. When I first saw that this show was being created I was excited, but concerned. I wasn’t sure how they planned going about telling stories based on the game but still be unique and groundbreaking. However, they did it and they did an amazing job.

When Dracula is brought up, people think of the stereotype that originated from Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. It has gone beyond that though. The more Dracula has been portrayed, the further away from the history and myth it goes. In some cases, even his power as a vampire has been greatly changed. This show does a very good job in showing how powerful Dracula is. But wait, there’s more… this show also does a really good job in making the viewer actually feel for him. In the beginning of the show, Dracula has secluded himself from everything but is sought out by a woman who wants to learn more about advanced medicine and science to help people in need. She actually becomes his wife and seems to give him some hope that humanity isn’t all bad. This changes when his wife is burned at the stake after being accused of witchcraft. She had sent him away so he could travel and try to give him more hope in all of humanity in general. When he returns, he finds out she’s dead. The way the show portrays his emotional breakdown and how driven he is for revenge make him so believable. He gave humanity one year to try to absolve for what they did to him. News flash, they ignored it… and Dracula doesn’t take that too kindly. This is where the purge of humanity begins. In the second season, we get to see more of Dracula as this war goes on. He doesn’t come off as a purely evil character, but more of just a broken man. At one point, it is shown how nihilistic he has become. He doesn’t care about the brutal methods he used to enjoy, or even feeding. He just wants the end result.

I know that’s a lot about one particular character, but having that much character development is great. Especially when it is the primary villain. As the viewer, you know he is the big villain, but he really doesn’t feel like it. That is a prime example of why I think the writing for this show is so well done. In season 2, it develops almost every key character in the story by giving the viewer backstory or just showing more of their personality and mindset. The fact it does all of this in a show that is only 12 episodes in total is impressive. It makes all of the characters identifiable and it challenges the viewer when they attempt to pick what side or character they follow.

Another really cool part of this show is the visuals. On top of just being visually stunning in general, the action sequences are probably some of the best I’ve seen. In the second season there are fights where, if you look closely, certain details stop at certain points in motion. However, it does not feel unnatural. What causes this is that the sequences were animated by holding the initial movements longer than the follow through motions. In doing so the fights and actions are super easy to follow and it looks amazing. It also emphasizes the initial motion so that the viewer sees exactly what the character is doing. For example, the main protagonist in the show is Trevor Belmont. He primarily uses a whip as a weapon. When he does the different actions to move the whip where he wants them to go it is obvious that he is the one in control of it. He is actually that skilled in using those kinds of weapons. If that wasn’t emphasized it could be taken as if he was just really lucky and it just so happens to work in his favor. Along with the stunning visuals and action sequences, the show is also brutal. It shows plenty of gore and death. I understand if that isn’t your cup of tea, but this show would not be near as impactful without it. To realize the world from the games into the show, it would have to be dark and the gore would have to be involved. Dracula isn’t going to be merciful or humane when issuing a full on war against humanity. The show doesn’t overuse gore though, it makes sense in the places where it is. With all of that said, there will definitely be some moments that will make you cringe. With all that said, I love the way the show looks and feels and the character designs are top notch. When the first season came out, I wasn’t even disappointed there was only 4 episodes. I was so impressed by how much they did in so little.

So after all that I still need to answer the question: Did season 2 live up to the first season’s standards? Heck yes it did. It did that and so much more. I could go on and on forever about this show. It is definitely close to the top of my favorite Netflix shows and I would recommend it to anyone. So if you are wanting to watch a spooky show or just trying to find a dark anime to watch, it is definitely worth your time. After seeing all of this show I will give you some advice: Do not mess with Dracula, even on his bad days.

She Kills Monsters Kills

Taylor Mitchell, A&E Editor

This past weekend JSU’s Drama Department opened its 2018-2019 season with their production of She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen. The play is an interesting one about a woman named Agnes Evan who lives and always has lived in the small town of Athens, Ohio. Agnes’ family, including her younger sister Tilly, have recently died in a car accident, leaving Agnes alone and with the realization she never really got to know her sister. Agnes discovers a binder containing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign her sister had written, she decides to play through it in hopes of finally get to know her sister. Along the way, Agnes not only gets to know the world and characters her sister and her friends made, but also who her sister was as a person.

Since this was the first time I have seen the She Kills Monsters in any form I feel compelled to talk first about how wonderfully it is written. The writing, in equal parts, had me snorting with laughter and my friend sitting next to me in tears. It is a very personal story, but with that in mind it never takes itself all that seriously. Many characters possess a snarkiness to them that always keeps them grounded and never overly dramatic. It also seems to truly its subject matter. As a Dungeons and Dragons player myself, (oh no looks like that secrets out) this play felt like a love letter to the game I love. The set up for the twist at the end is especially brilliant as it had me second guessing my own understanding of the game. Most people probably didn’t even notice it, which makes it a wonderful bit of foreshadowing. The script also just has wonderful amounts of heart that, when put together with the humor, weaves together a story that hits exactly like it should.

The way JSU Drama brings it all together is both ambitious and complicated. The show required a large amount of specialized pieces to work. There was puppetry, projection, and sword fighting; all of which were wonderfully done and you can just feel all the work that went into them. The acting was also amazing. Chloe Barnes and Allison Lawley are magnificent as the leads Tilly and Agnes. They bring both wonderful comedic timing as well as really showing just what loss can do to people. Lawley does a very good job at portraying just how lost Agnes is and how confused she is about what she is doing and feeling. Barnes is wonderful as the sometimes braggy and sarcastic, but also incredible insecure Tilly. The supporting cast is also altogether wonderful. I specifically enjoyed  Tiffany Jenkins as Lilith/Lily and Christian Watts as Chuck. They both brought fun and energy to their parts that was incredible enjoyable.

All and all the play was fantastic. If you got to see it I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and if you didn’t I sincerely hope you make it to another show. If JSU Drama can bring the same quality to their other shows as they have this one, we are in for a very good season.


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The Dragon Prince soars from a rocky start

dragon prince
Courtesy of IMDB.com

Taylor Mitchell, A&E Editor

Ok so real talk for a second here: I love Avatar: The Last Airbender to the point I am willing to say it is the greatest western animated television show ever produced. That’s saying a lot coming from me. I even like The Legend of Korra, while it’s definitely not as good as the first one it is a perfectly good show that gets destroyed because it gets compared to perfection. Just give the show a break guys its fine for what it is seriously. I am straying from the point here so let me get back on track, I love Avatar. Due to this love when I see people involved with Avatar, especially its extremely talented directing staff, involved in new projects I get excited. Honestly, that is the reason I started watching the new Voltron show, even more than just enjoying the original as a kid. This is also what brought me on board to watch The Dragon Prince. 

The Dragon Prince is an animated web television show made by Wonderstorm, a multimedia production studio founded by  Avatar head writer and director Aaron Ehasz and the co-director of Uncharted 3 Justin Richmond. Ehasz and Richmond write the show and directing duty is shared by, another Avatar vet, Giancarlo Volpe and Villads Spangsberg. The voice cast includes yet another person from Avatar, Jack DeSena (Sokka’s voice actor) as the protagonist Prince Callum. Needless to say knowing all this I sat down, brought up Netflix on the old chromecast, and prepared myself to be amazed. What I found actually didn’t exactly live up to the hype, but also kind of did at the same time.

Our story starts as young Princes Callum and Ezran’s lives are interrupted when a group of elven assassins are discovered near their castle, with the apparent intent on killing their father. This assassination is a retaliatory strike after their father ordered the death of the King of the Dragons and the apparent destruction of his only egg and heir. During the attack tho the Princes and one of the assassins named Rayla find the egg unharmed and decide to work together to return it to the Dragon Queen and stop all out war.

The story is actually very well done. The protagonists have hang ups about trusting each other due to the history between their two peoples, and a lot of this first season deals with them working past that and coming closer together as a group. The mild intrigue that happens with the villain trying to subtly but not super subtly take over the kingdom is also fun to watch. The character interactions really shine out to me as their is this general matter of fact sarcasm that a lot of the dialogue has that, while it doesn’t put you in stitches every time, I can guarantee it will give you a smile. The character Lord Viren is especially hilarious to me with just how dry his delivery can be. One thing that can be weird is that Callum sometimes just seems like Sokka if Sokka was a mage, but that may just be me projecting that comparison due to DeSena using the same voice. Yet, while I liked these parts of the show its not without a few problems

The most glaring issue is how variable the animation can be in the early episodes. Sometimes it looks down right robotic, and while it gets better as the show goes on its really jarring at first. I think the issue is a trick they used on the animation. The show is 3D animated but they scaled down the frame rate to give the impression of 2D animation. It’s probably a technique they had to learn to use which explains why it gets better as you get further in the season. Another issue is that plagues the early episodes is that It doesn’t seem like everyone is comfortable in their character yet. Due to this, the early voice work can be kinda weak.

I will say that, despite these early issues, I overall enjoyed the season. It has its problems early on, but the writing really helps you through that. When it finally hits its stride about 4 episodes in its great the rest of the way through. It’s a show that needs your patience but is well worth your time.