Cats Review / The What-Did-I-Just-Watch Rant

My base understanding of Cats before I went to go see the movie was comprised of two things:

  1. The movie is about cats.
  2. There’s a really good song called “Memory” in it.

That’s it. When I walked into the theater to see it with a group of friends, that was the extent of my knowledge about Cats.

Now, I know so much more.

And not much of it is good.

In case you don’t want to read any further than this because you just don’t want to have anything to do with Cats, let me leave you with the surface-level impressions.

For the first part of the movie, you might have no clue what is going on, especially if you had no idea that the term “Jellicle” is what the cat-creatures call themselves. There are only two good-ish parts in the whole film, and they are surrounded by what-the-actual-fuck moments. And lastly, while the movie is an incomprehensible piece of refuse, it is tremendously good for laughs.

For those of you morbid enough to want to stick with me, here is a brief synopsis of the “story.”

Side note: The word “story” is in quotes because, as you’ll soon see, the “story” of Cats is a nightmare of confusion, bafflement, and insanity.

Protagonist cat-creature Victoria is dumped by, I asuume, her human owner onto the street. Once there, she is introduced to the world of cats, except they’re not really cats. They call themselves Jellicle Cats, and I still have no idea if this means something.

The Jellicles basically act like dicks for most of the time, like a regular cat would, but they at least try to explain to Victoria what life is like for them. Apparently, Victoria got abandoned at a very special time. This particular night is a celebration for Jellicles because something called the Jellicle Choice is happening.

When they sang their songs about the Jellicle Choice, they weren’t especially clear about what it entailed. But from what I gathered eventually, the Jellicle Choice is made by this old lady Jellicle Cat. She picks one Jellicle from the group (thereby making the Jellicle Choice) to be reincarnated into a new life.

Yeah, I had no idea how that would work, but at this point in the film, I just decided to roll with it.

The majority of the movie is then consumed by Victoria being introduced to a bunch of different cats who all want to be the Jellicle Choice. And they all sing songs about it.

In between their songs, audiences are introduced to this mean Jellicle named Macavity. Macavity really really wants to be the Jellicle Choice, and he catnaps a bunch of Jellicles to try and eliminate them as possible choices for the old-lady cat. (Spoiler warning: His plan doesn’t work.)

In the end, Victoria convinces old-lady cat and the other Jellicles to make this other ostracized Jellicle the Choice. This ostracized Jellicle has the most beautiful voice, and she sings a song (the song) about the faded joy of her youth. Once all the Jellicles hear her song, the old-lady cat decides to indeed make Previously-Ostracized Jellicle the Jellicle Choice.

Side note: I have officially typed the word “Jellicle” more times than I’ve ever wanted to in my life.

The movie kind of ends once the Jellicle Choice is placed in a hot air balloon and sent into the sky to probably die a cold and lonely death.

No, I am not even kidding.

So clearly Cats has some story issues. It is painfully unclear what is going on at times. The plot is not cohesive, and the only structure it is given is by introducing Victoria to new Jellicles, which hardly makes for a good story.

When I left the theater, I actually Googled “what is story to Cats” and I read up on the history of the musical. Apparently, the whole thing was inspired by some T.S. Eliot poems, to which I have to say, “Ohhhhhh, now I see. Now I see why the whole thing feels plotless.”

For those of you not in the know, T.S. Eliot is a writer from the postmodernist era of literature. I actually really enjoy postmodernist literature and poetry. It makes for a delightfully intricate pattern of nonpatterns that relies more on inferences and paradoxes than straightforward narratives. But as you can probably guess from that last statement of mine, that’s not a good backbone for a movie.

See, postmodernism in literature is all about the unreliability of narrators and the impossibility of penning human nature into a strict narrative. Which is the opposite of a basic story.

In layman’s terms, postmodernism can make for terrible movies.

Cats also failed to grab my attention musically. (And it’s a goddamn musical!) The only songs I liked were “Memory” and “Beautiful Ghosts.” When those songs are sung, you actually feel yourself become mesmerized by the melody. You look into the eyes of the Jellicle singing and think to yourself, “Holy shit, you have understandable feelings.” But then the song ends and another Jelllicle starts singing some rubbish.

Now, I know a lot of people complained about the visual effects used for Cats. While they are disconcerting, they’re not that bad. Maybe I’m just used to bad graphics from my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Only two things bothered me visually in the movie. One was the fact that some of the Jellicles wear fur coats.

I mean, they’re cats, they’re already sporting fur all over their bodies. There’s no reason for them to wear these extravagant fur coats.

Also…where did they get them?

The second thing that was a bit disconcerting about the visuals was how sexual they were. They’re doing some weird kind of ballet throughout the movie, but it feels highly sensualized. And the girl Jellicles have the faint outlines of boobs.

Weird.

Cats is only meant for two kinds of people in this world. You are either a really big fan of the musical and want to see the film version of it OR you are going to see it with some chums in order to chuckle and chortle over how bad it is.

I rate Cats an I-can’t-believe-I-spent-money-actual-cash-to-see-this-movie-and-now-I-have-to-mentally-justify-this-to-myself-for-the-rest-of-my-life-or-else-I-might-just-pull-a-Jellicle-Choice.

The Skywalker Experience: A Sort of Review for the Latest Movie

When Joker came out, I actually bailed on writing a review of it. I had the most tumultuous time after watching that movie and trying to suss out how I felt about it. I didn’t want to touch a review of it with a ten-foot pole.

The Rise of Skywalker came out last week, and it felt almost as divisive as Joker, which kinda freaked me out a bit about reviewing it.

But this is Star Wars we’re talking about here. I love Star Wars.

No way am I not going to talk about how I felt about the supposed end of the Skywalker saga.

Besides, the name of my blog should serve as a disclaimer that I have no idea what I’m talking about and will hopefully deter anybody from getting pissy about what I say. It’s a below average review, people.

Also SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!!!

So, basically, The Rise of Skywalker ties up the story we started in The Force Awakens. Rey’s journey with her friends is concluded, Kylo Ren’s “villain” arc is resolved, and Palpatine is introduced as the big bad. (Or has he been the big bad from the very beginning?)

With that said as a general overview, it’s time for my thoughts on it, right?

I loved it!

Yup, I’m solidly in the camp of people who enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. I had so much fun while watching the movie. I’ve seen it in theaters three times, and I probably wouldn’t mind watching it again. For me, it was a blast from start to finish. I was constantly entertained, and, at the end of the day, that’s what I want from my sci-fi-space-wizard films.

If The Last Jedi or The Force Awakens bored you a tad, The Rise of Skywalker won’t. There are these sweeping fights and escapes that seem to happen every ten minutes in the story, and who doesn’t like a good lightsaber fight, am I right? Plus, the callbacks to the original films, the prequel films, and even the prior sequel films, all hit the nail on the head. This movie made me look back fondly on everything that has happened in the Star Wars universe.

That’s not to say that it’s a perfect movie.

The Rise of Skywalker is rushed as fuck. The action is nonstop, so it doesn’t let quiet moments in the story breathe properly. (Tip of the hat to Danny, who worded this perfectly.)

Critics of the movie also appear to dislike it for two major reasons:

  1. It erases the tonal shift and overall plot changes of The Last Jedi.
  2. It makes Force usage and power levels ubiquitous.

To the first critique, yeah, I can see why that’s a complaint. If you adored The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker might tick you off with how casually it dismantles the foundation its predecessor lay. Though to be fair, The Last Jedi itself deconstructed what The Force Awakens set up, so it’s a total case of what goes around comes around.

To the second critique…

Well…

It’s space magic. This isn’t some Christopher-Nolan-intellectual-head-scratcher or Martin-Scorsese-realistic-crime-thriller type of movie. If a director wants to introduce crazy-extreme Force powers in a Star Wars movie just for the heck of it, I’m more than willing to accept these surface-level changes.

And to those of you saying that it forever ruins the original trilogy…no. No, it does not. Those originals still exist. You can watch them, and they’re the same. If you so choose, you can ignore the sequels for the rest of your life. Don’t waste your time hating on these new movies and crying that they’re ruining your childhood when your childhood is over and done with, and it is essentially pristine thanks to the unalterable effect of having happened years in the past.

Anyways, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

The big reveal of The Rise of Skywalker is that Rey is a Palpatine. Apparently, someone was willing to bone the Emperor, and he had a son. Presumably, this son grew up, got married, and had Rey, and he decided that he didn’t want her to be influenced by Palpatine in any way. That’s why Rey was abandoned on Jakku.

This revelation wasn’t given much breathing time, so aside from shocked expressions, we don’t see Rey processing it as much as I would have liked. However, it does explain why Rey is so OP. She’s got that Palpatine blood coursing through her.

As you might have guessed, this is what makes The Rise of Skywalker such a middle finger to those who loved The Last Jedi. The Last Jedi was all about deconstructing the importance of bloodlines when it came to the Force. It proudly stated that Rey was a nobody, and there was no rhyme or reason as to why she was strong in the Force.

I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan of The Last Jedi. The structure of the story felt a little off to me, and certain plot holes kind of grated on me more than usual. But for me, Star Wars is Star Wars, and I like seeing people try new things with it. So I was not upset about Rey’s lack of notable parentage. Its sudden reversal in The Rise of Skywalker also did not annoy me simply because I kind of expected the last film in the trilogy to shake things up once more.

And even though The Rise of Skywalker dismantled what The Last Jedi built, it funnily enough made me appreciate the black sheep of the sequel family. By far, The Rise of Skywalker is my favorite movie of the sequel trilogy, but I can now look back at The Last Jedi with more fondness than I did before.

The Rise of Skywalker also introduces new characters to the franchise, like Zorii, Babu Frik, D-O, Jannah, and the Knights of Ren. For the most part, these new characters are handled well, and their introductions, while rushed, are entertaining.

Well, all except for the Knights of Ren. When you first see them walking around, you’re all, “Ohhh, so cool. Hashtag squad goals.”

But then you realize they essentially do and say nothing important in the movie, and you feel a disappointment you haven’t felt since Boba Fett’s fall into the Sarlacc Pit.

But alas, that’s the way things go sometimes.

Fans of deep Star Wars lore also have a lot to dissect in The Rise of Skywalker. It introduces something called a Force dyad, and even I have no clue what that means yet. It does give me a hankering to buy Star Wars books as soon as possible, which might be what they intended to happen all along.

Which brings me to that whole Reylo thing.

Look, I’m not a Reylo fan, but I’m not not a Reylo fan.

The Last Jedi featured some definite chemistry between Rey and Kylo Ren during those moments when they were bonded in the Force. The Rise of Skywalker ups the ante for that in a major way. I was definitely shocked that they went as far as they did in establishing and solidifying Reylo as a thing, but it actually seemed kind of…logical? It seemed like a natural progression, in a weird way.

Still, there is a part of me that kind of wishes they had left it more understated than they did. I don’t need much romance in my Star Wars movies, and after Anakin and his I-hate-sand flirtations, I kind of reached my limit.

Side note: At no point does The Rise of Skywalker reach the cringe-levels that the prequels did. The prequels still hold first place when it comes to cringey, yet awesomely quotable, dialogue.

So yes, long story short, I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. I don’t need my Star Wars movies to be a top-notch critical experience. The Rise of Skywalker swept me up in a thrilling adventure and made me forget about my life for a good two and a half hours. And that’s exactly what the first Star Wars film did for me too, all those years ago.

Doctor Sleep Movie Review: The Shining Sequel We All Deserved

My friend Sidney and I have watched a strange collection of movies together. We saw Midsommar, Rambo: Last Blood, and Joker together, and if you’ve seen those three movies, you’ll know that it’s a major up-and-down experience. (The down part being totally Rambo: Last Blood’s fault.)

So when he invited me to see Doctor Sleep this past weekend, I was oh so totally down for it. I’ve learned that whatever movie I watch with Sidney, whether it’s good or terrible, it’ll be a side-splitting blast. Plus, Doctor Sleep had been on my radar since the trailer came out.

See, I’ve read both The Shining and Doctor Sleep, both written by Stephen King. I’ve also seen the Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining. And anyone who is a Stephen King fan knows that The Shining movie is a different beast from the book. There’s this huge debate about which version is better, and I’m honestly in the weird camp that really likes both. I don’t think I have it in me to dislike anything Stephen King writes, and Kubrick’s movie is one of my go-to films for when I’m feeling sick.

So, my first impressions when seeing that they were going to make a film about King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep was confusion. How could they reconcile Kubrick’s vision with King’s? I mean, it’s obvious from the imagery and music in the trailer that it was a sequel to Kubrick’s film. But the story of Doctor Sleep that I knew from having read the book was deeply integrated with the events of King’s The Shining.

So I had no idea how the hell this new film was going to turn out.

Well, as it turned out, Doctor Sleep turned out fucking awesome!

They did it. This movie accomplished the impossible. It gave homage to Kubrick’s film while remaining true to everything about “the Shine” that Stephen King imagined.

Visually, the movie tries to emulate Kubrick’s The Shining where it can. The set decorations, the camera movements, the costumes of returning characters, they all make fans of Kubrick get a tingling in the backs of their heads. Even the music, those iconic horns, drums, and rattles will be reminscent of the film.

But story-wise, it is a child of Stephen King.

All too often, movies fail to capture Stephen King’s kind of magic. I think It comes the closest to embodying his kind of mysticism, but even then, given how every iteration of It falls short towards the end, I’d still say It pales in comparison to Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep shows audiences what the Shine is supposed to be like, and it does a fantastic job of it. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s mind-bending.

If you can recall from Kubrick’s Shining, when young Danny Torrance is calling out for help to Dick Hallorann, it’s conveyed to you by a high-pitched ringing, Danny shaking and drooling, and quick cuts to scary images. That was supposed to show how Danny uses his Shine to contact Dick.

Doctor Sleep blows it out of the water in this regard. The way in which characters use the Shine is phenomenally portrayed. It’s the best thing about the movie, honestly.

The one thing that bugs me about the movie is the lack of explanation for where those dang canisters come from. (Total spoiler, I guess, but if you don’t know anything about the movie, you won’t know what I’m talking about until you actually see it. So it’s a safe spoiler?) The canisters that contain the “Steam” look futuristic and high tech, but the True Knot state they’ve been around for ages. So what gives?

Anyways, bottom line, if you’re a Stephen King fan, you absolutely have to watch Doctor Sleep. It gives you those twisting narratives and deep emotions we love so well, and it gives Danny Torrance the ending he deserved.

I rate Doctor Sleep a surprising-delight-for-both-fans-of-the-King-and-Kubrick-classics.

We Were Here Review!

I have a friend named Fro who gets sent to these awful assignments in San Francisco as part of his work. While it majorly sucks that he’s sent there for weeks, it does make for some great Xbox Live playtime.

A few days ago, we thought we’d try out one of the games that was offered for free on Xbox Live Gold. It was titled We Were Here, and neither of us knew much about it except that it was an online co-op experience.

So, we both thought, ‘Why the hell not?’

What followed was the most enjoyable three hours I’ve ever spent playing a video game.

The controls are simple and easy to learn. The game is played in first person, so you have the typical configuration of right and left sticks controlling the camera and movement respectively. There are a crouch and a jump button, but since the game’s not a platformer, you don’t have to worry about those too much. A button to pick up items is the most important control, followed by the delightful walkie-talkie button.

That’s right, folks. The game insists that you abandon that Xbox Live party since the game’s in-chat system is an integral mechanic. The two players have to radio each other, using a bumper to pull up a radio that they speak into. Only one person can talk at a time, and in a game where the two of you are separated for the entirety of the game, communication is key.

In essence, We Were Here is a puzzle game. It was developed by Total Mayhem Games, and I’m so surprised no one else has struck the gold they did with this game concept. If I were to try and describe it in a single sentence, I’d say it’s an escape room in video game form.

One player is the explorer, and they have to make their way through a confusing and treacherous castle. The other player is the librarian, and they’re stuck in a room with charts, books, projectors, and paintings that can help the explorer on their journey.

Together, the two of you have to escape.

This game is absolutely delightful. I had a blast playing it, and I can’t say I’ve had the same experience while playing any other game.

It’s challenging, but not too hard, finding that perfect balance between testing your brain and breaking it. It really and truly relies on communication because the explorer and the librarian do not know what the other is seeing unless they’re told.

Fro and I actually had to say, “over” after we were done speaking so that we didn’t clog up the line of communication and speak over each other. And we really brushed up on our…describing skills.

Plus, the game has a touch of fright. When the explorer is in a certain area, some kind of monster haunts the hallways. Fro started flipping out over the walkie-talkie when he saw it, since he was the explorer, and I was just safely in my little library trying to help him out.

The ending to the game would be my only gripe, but I’m not going to say what it is so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say it leaves you thinking there’s more, when there isn’t. (Unless there is!)

We Were Here was perfect for a single sitting-game session. It’s available on Xbox and on PC. If you get it, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Just be sure to play with a friend.

I rate We Were Here a play-with-a-person-you-know-and-can-joke-with-and-it-also-wouldn’t-hurt-if-they’re-on-the-intelligent-side.

Some Crazy-Ex Appreciation

Last time I wrote about a television show, it was about Game of Thrones, and we all know how that went.

After that particular roller coaster, I wasn’t sure how I felt about tackling a television show again. TV series are such a commitment. You invest a lot more time and energy when watching and reviewing a show than when you review a movie.

But after finishing up the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I knew I had to talk about it at some point. ‘Cause goddamn that show is subtly amazing. It’s like a sleeper hit show.

So this post is about giving some appreciation to a series that I think has gone underappreciated by the masses.

I got introduced to Crazy Ex by a friend of mine, one Andreya of TotesAndreya fame. A few years ago, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was all she talked about. She was avidly watching the show, claiming she felt personally attacked by the depiction of the main character, but loving every minute of it. She would play the songs from the show (it’s kind of a musical) in the car all the time. She highly recommended I watch it, and I eventually took her up on that.

Side note: Depending on the person who recommends something to me and how they recommend it determines whether or not I’ll actually give it a try. But once I decide I’m trying it, I damn well try it.

I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the title because it sounded too much like a rom-com, made-for-TV movie, but the show stuck some dynamite in the mouth of my expectations and blew me away. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is supremely self-aware, and if there’s one thing I appreciate in my shows and my friends, it’s self-awareness.

At first, Crazy Ex seems like a campy, corny comedy-romance that you catch on the CW all the time. But underneath that campiness is a scathing wit,and under the wit is heart, the willingness to bare the soul of a story.

Plus, it’s essentially a musical. And who doesn’t love musicals?

The premise of the show is wince-inducing. Main character Rebecca makes this decision to drop everything in her life to try rekindling something with an ex-boyfriend, even though he lives on the other side of the country and already has a girlfriend. What ensues is nothing short of cringe-worthy as Rebecca abases herself and puts herself in these embarassing situations all to win her ex’s favor. I’m telling you, this shit was more cringey than the Scott’s Tots episode of The Office.

But the show, by increasing degrees, starts getting real. It morphs from this cutesy romantic-comedy with a dash of zaniness to a clever and uncompromising look at mental health and character growth.

And when I say character growth, I don’t just mean that the characters on the show grow, though yes, that does happen. What I mean is that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend features a story that is all about what it means to grow as a person, what it means to develop your own character.

It’s hard work, and it’s a lifelong project, but the rewards are self-evident.

I did not expect to like Crazy Ex as much as I did. Now, I’m recommending it to my family, listening to the soundtrack as I work, and lining up to see panels about it at Comic Con.

So while Game of Thrones might have been a show that took up a great deal of my life with how much I loved it, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend changed my life. Yes, that sounds overly dramatic, but it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. It changed my outlook on certain ideas is all.

I rate it a must-watch-for-anyone-who-has-ever-felt-trapped-by-their-own-personality-and-is-looking-to-have-a-good-laugh-about-the-fact-while-simultaneously-confronting-it.

Gears 5 Review: Balancing on a Lancer’s Chainsaw

I first picked up Gears of War 3 because I was bored. I knew nothing about the game except that it involved beefy muscle-men shooting up these alien-looking creatures. Little did I expect to be drawn in by the lunky cover-based mechanics and absolutely awesome co-op nature of the game.

I ended up playing Gear of War 4 on the first day it came out (which led to a very hilarious midnight game time with my friend Bubba), and this prepped me for being fully thrilled for Gears 5.

Plus, as I haven’t been shy about posting here, I went to E3 this past summer. The previews for what Gears 5 would be had me super excited in LA. It was no Doom Eternal in terms of my pumped levels, but I was still looking forward to it.

Fast forward to the day it released, and I downloaded it and started playing it immediately. I was totally fresh when it came to the game, no prejudices, I swear. (Well, except for some lingering confusion as to why they shortened the name from “Gears of War” to just “Gears.”)

My final thoughts? There is a lot to like about Gears 5, but it is plagued by some truly frustrating moments.

Now, bear in mind that I’m a campaign gal. I’m not a very good judge of multiplayer aside from “that was fun” or “that totally sucked.” So this review is going to focus on the story mode.

On that note…SPOILER WARNING!

Let’s start with the gameplay first.

Gear 5 played better (at least for me, your Below Average reviewer) than Gears of War 4. Something about the controls felt less clunky, more fluid than its predecessor. My character moved faster (except when slowed by an obligatory story moment). Since I’m a predominantly first-person shooter player, I’m not always used to the heaviness of an over-the-shoulder, third-person shooter. It takes me a while to get used to it. I was able to acclimate to Gears 5 more smoothly than the other two Gears games I played.

The guns also felt wonderfully unique.

Anybody here play Halo 5: Guardians? While playing that game, I couldn’t help being bored with the weapon selection. They all felt so…similar. That wasn’t an issue for me in Gears 5. The Lancer felt different from the Hammerburst. The Gnasher felt different from the Overkill. The Boltok felt different from the Snub.

Side note: Fuck the Snub Pistol. I hate that thing.

Aside from the cool reload mini-game, I looked forward to using each weapon, at least once to try it out, just to see how unique it would feel.

And when you get to know the cover mechanics (and you stop running out like a fool playing Doom), the game is thoroughly enjoyable. You pop in and out of cover, blast the Swarm with your bullets, spikes, or shrapnel, dive to the next spot of cover, and then repeat. It’s all very fun.

But wait, you may say. All of this was in the previous Gears game. How did Gears 5 up the ante?

Well, they threw super powers into the mix.

The main characters get an AI robot buddy named Jack to fight alongside them, and he gives them perks during a battle. Some of these perks are passive upgrades to Jack himself, things that will help him survive. Others are more aggressive.

With Jack by your side, you can let out a Pulse to highlight enemies that are behind cover. You can send out a Flash to stun them out of cover. You can even create a little Shock Trap for them to stumble onto. I think you get the gist of these things.

During the campaign, you can collect components to upgrade these abilities, which provides players with more of an incentive to explore than simple collectibles. And the abilities do end up proving useful when you’re in a pitched battle with Swarm soldiers and Snatchers surrounding you.

But those cooldowns are insanely long.

Please tell me it wasn’t just me. I mean, I spent the components necessary to shorten the timer on those abilities, but I seriously felt those things took forever to recharge. You’d think with all the improvements to technology going on, Baird would have figured out a way to make those cooldowns shorter.

But whatever, that’s not my major complaint with Gears 5. The only thing those long cooldowns truly gave me was more time relying on my own weapons, which is not a bad thing in and of itself.

Let’s move on to the story bits.

Bottom line, Gears 5’s story works. It does its job. As a matter of fact, it worked better than I thought it would. Why? Because the story doesn’t just rely on Kait’s descent into Locust madness like I thought it would. The emotional focus of the story centers on regret and friendship, and those two hefty themes can carry the game to the moon and beyond, especially with that dialogue.

Despite myself, I found myself guffawing along with the hardeeharhar wit and bravado that accompanies a Gears game.

And damn it if I didn’t start liking Fahz by the end of the game. I normally hate the stereotypical douche-bag character, but he won me over. Don’t know how that happened. Probably the dialogue’s doing.

And Jack’s an interesting addition to the story as well as to the gameplay. Though I do wonder why Swarm Leeches never decided to infect and take over Jack when every other machine was being possessed.

Kait’s discoveries and struggles are mesmerizing, engrossing as heck, but they do feel a little vague. I’m still not one hundred percent clear why her dead mom was in her brain and how this strange incarnation of her ended up getting released, but I’m not going to complain too much about the fiction part of my science-fiction game.

What really interested me in terms of story coalesces at the very end, with that terrible choice the developers have you make.

Here’s some brief backstory for those of you not in the know:

The three main characters, Kait, Del, and JD, are the closest of friends. You get the sense of that in Gears of War 4 and in the beginning chapters of Gears 5. But JD makes some very poor decisions (for the right reasons), and it actually damages him physically and emotionally. He cuts himself off from Kait and Del, becoming a pseudo-jerk like Fahz. This results in the majority of the game being about Del and Kait on their adventure. Toward the end, JD reconciles with his two friends, and you three tackle the final mission together. It’s a strange sort of redemption story.

And that’s when Gears 5 kicks you in the balls.

Kait’s mother/not-mother wraps her tentacles around both Del and JD’s throats, and for the first time I can recall in a Gears game, you have to choose which character lives or dies.

Side note: You do this by choosing which tentacle to chuck a sword at, the one holding Del or the one holding JD. Don’t know why you couldn’t just chuck it at Kait’s mom’s face.

And this is not some phoney-bologna choice. Whoever you don’t pick to live, dies. I panicked like a chicken without its head when I had to make this choice. I ended up saving Del, because he was my broski for most of the game, and it would have been terrible to just let him die.

But then I had to contend with the fact that I let Marcus Fenix’s son die. Marcus’ face (yes, his computer-animated face) had me writhing in shame and guilt.

Side note: Yes, I do plan to play the game again and have JD live, so I have a save file with each option.

Anyways, it is a ton of fun experiencing Gears 5 with another person by your side, and it tickles me pink that you can play it with three people couch co-op style.

However, this is also where I ran into major problems with the game.

More than once, scripted in-game events failed to occur, leaving me and my partner stranded in this interminable moment of time. We had no choice but to restart from our last checkpoint. For example, I once got stuck under a downed helicopter, and my partner’s character had to go down some stairs and reach me before I got swarmed with Swarm. We didn’t realize this at the time, but a Juvie is supposed to leap on top of my character and start pounding at me once my partner’s character got close enough to save me. After shooting it, there’s a small mini-cutscene where my character is helped up.

Unfortunately for us, the Juvie never showed, so my partner and I spent a good fifteen minutes wondering how he was supposed to help me up. He walked around my character (who lay on the ground chilling) pressing every button under the sun, hoping he could activate some kind of assist.

Another problem that plagued my playthrough were missing character models.

You guys know that fight with the Matriarch that happens in the ice level? For the intro, she’s just missing from the cutscene. And when the gameplay starts up, she can be found on the complete other side of the room.

We also had those moments where Kait or Del looked like they were holding their weapons, but their weapons were playing the invisibility game. Nothing screams polish like a missing weapon model, am I right?

Ugh, and don’t get me started on those wind storms.

Look, I liked the idea of making the game open-world-esque, but if you’re going to include skiff-traversable areas, could you not populate them with bullshit storms? I could hardly control the vehicle, the fake dust obscured my entire screen, and THE RANDOM LIGHTNING STRIKES KILLED ME MORE THAN THE SWARM!

Maybe I’m being salty, but I don’t think that skiff handled well. And it definitely didn’t handle well in the middle of a wind/lightning storm in zero-visibility conditions.

All of the gripes I have against the game, however, didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of it. Gears 5 luckily struck a fine balance for me, between laughably glitchy, truly engrossing, and damnably entertaining.

Though it’s kind of an unfortunate reality gamers have to put up with these days that big titles will inevitably release with more bugs than Million Ants.

I rate Gears 5 a fun-update-to=the-Gears-franchise-that-has-a-few-issues-but-when-it-succeeds-it-really-succeeds-and-no-one-can-deny-the-pleasure-of-Lancering-Swarm-in-the-face.

Clowns, Gore, and More: IT Chapter Two Review (Spoiler Free)

Just so you guys know, this whole spoilers free thing I’m trying to do here is just me being very polite. The book and the made-for-TV movie have been out for years. This no-spoilers stuff is basically for people who haven’t taken the time to guzzle up their Stephen King lore.

Anyways.

Clowns make me a tad uncomfortable.

I know a few people who are seriously terrified of clowns, as in they will scream, tremble, run away, all that jazz, if they see one, but I’ve only ever been slightly put off by them.

I’ve seen them too many times as vehicles of horror to appreciate them in real life. At the same time, I don’t live my life flinching at working clowns.

So for me, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous It is nothing more than a good time for me. I can get properly freaked out by a killer clown without shitting my pants.

IT Chapter Two is by no means the best horror movie in existence. It doesn’t break any boundaries or raise any bars. Its scares are largely predictable (especially if you’ve read the book), its gore is blatantly over the top at times, and the mythos behind Derry’s terror goes largely unexplained.

I still adored it.

IT Chapter Two shines, as did its predecessor, because of the fantastic cast of “Losers” being harassed by Pennywise. They are all incredible actors, from the children to the adults. If you loved the kids in the first movie, you’ll love the adults they grow into. I don’t know who is responsible for picking these actors, but goddamn, they did a great job.

There are three big-name actors in the movie, who obviously do a phenomenal job of picking up where their respective child actors left off. But I’ve got to give special props to the man who plays adult Eddie Kaspbrak. I just looked him up on IMDb. His name is James Ransone. I don’t want to be mean, but I’ve never heard of him before. However, he totally fit the role of adult Eddie to a tee. Spot on.

Pennywise’s personal moments are also extremely enjoyable. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between.

In the first movie, when Pennywise has his iconic sewer moment with Georgie, I was astonished at how well actor Bill Skarsgard played him. I mean, it goes without saying that Pennywise is an evil individual. You know it from the movie trailers, the pop culture references, and in your gut when you see him pop up from inside the drain. But when he speaks in his bubbly voice, you can feel a charisma that lurks underneath, a charm that draws his hapless child victims in.

Just as in the first movie, Pennywise doesn’t always have his time to shine while utilizing the full extent of Skarsgard’s acting ability. There is this one moment that feels similar to Georgie’s moment, and you’ll know it when you see it. (Feel free to take guesses in the comments as to which moment I’m referring to.)

In terms of jump scares, the movie has a regular amount of them, i.e. perhaps too many. However, if you’re on the fence about seeing it, you should know I always knew when to close my eyes before a jump scare. I don’t know if that’s an indication of whether or not this movie won’t be too scary for you, but it definitely was okay for me.

The gore was also cringey, as is expected. However, the fact that a lot of the gory moments relied on CGI and stuff actually helped to alleviate whatever feelings of distaste I might have had.

Any qualms I had with the movie, which were not many, were overshadowed by my love for the source material, my respect for the actors taking on these roles, and my genuine appreciation for the theme of growing up that is ever-present in nearly every Stephen King book. No one boils down childhood hope into palatable, less-corny pulp fiction than he does.

I rate IT Chapter Two a definitely-go-see-if-you-liked-the-first-one-or-if-you-like-Stephen-King-in-general-just-be-prepared-to-cry-a-bit-either-from-laughter-thanks-to-phenomenal-jokes-or-from-genuine-sadness-over-the-film’s-ending.