The Role of the Critic

It is just as important to be able to understand and explain ones role as it is to perform it. Check out the Reel Reviews editor’s takes on the role of the critic.





Django Unchained, One Movie in 10,000

“Django Unchained” is a movie without equal. I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie I’ve ever seen or the most poignant, but once again Quentin Tarantino gets major creativity points. I’ve never seen a movie quite like Tarantino’s self-described “Southern” (essentially a Western taking place in the South). “Wild Wild West,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Gone with the Wind” (albeit on the other side) all come to mind, but none are on the same level as “Django.”

Tarantino’s eighth big-screen film continues the vengeful alternate history that started with “Inglourious Basterds,” but this time in the Antebellum South. There is quite a debate about the racial sensitivity of the movie, but the movie isn’t about race or history, it’s about revenge. Of course, race and history apply to the movie, but to me Tarantino, a native Tennessean, appeared to be breaking down the “Gone with the Wind” mythology of the pre-Civil War South. If “Lincoln” incidentally white-washed this part of history, “Django” intended to red-wash it.

The film follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a former slave trying to find his wife, Broomhilda von Schaft (Kerry Washington), who was sold to a different plantation than him after they got caught running away. Django is purchased by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a former dentist, turned bounty hunter. The two make a deal that if Django can help Schultz identify three of his former overseers with bounties on their head, Schultz will give Django his freedom. Schultz opposes slavery, but in his own words, “On the other hand, I need your help and if you’re in no position to say no, all the better.” After their first mission, the two then partner up and become bounty hunters. Fox’s character evolves throughout the movie, going from a slave in shackles to a well-dressed badass that embraces his role as a bounty hunter. When Schultz asks if he likes the work, he replies “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?”

Their adventures lead the two to Broomhilda’s master, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio’s first villainous role) and his plantation— Candieland. Candie is the personification of rich Southern evil. An arrogant aristocrat, Candie’s favorite pastime is making and watching slaves fight. These “Mandingo fights” refer to the film “Mandingo;” a favorite of Tarantino’s about slave fighting. At Candieland, the group meets Candie’s head house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Without giving too much of the plot away, it is enough to say the head house slave does not care for the freed Django.

The actors in the film do an outstanding job playing their roles. Foxx’s character evolves the most, as he went from a slave about to be sold for cheap to Shaft of the 1850s (Tarantino said Broomhilda’s last name—Vo Schaft— was meant as an ode to the character.) Schultz is a stark difference for Waltz compared to his last work with Tarantino, going from an insane Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds” to an only slightly insane, yet genius, dentist turned bounty hunter apparently softened the characters. DiCaprio as a sadistic slave owner was different than any role I’ve ever seen of his. Apparently he was worried about the tone of the film, until Tarantino told him no one would take him seriously if he couldn’t be a villain. In one scene, Candie is bleeding from the hand; this is because DiCaprio cut his hand in the scene, but never broke character. Washington supported the action well, but it felt like she could have had a bigger role. Finally, Jackson’s role as a house slave was among the best in the movie. The usually tough Jackson was playing an old gray-haired house slave that cares more about white people than his own race. The role is a stark difference from his usual badass roles as a superhero, criminal or a Jedi Knight, but Jackson plays the role well and makes you hate the head house slave as much as Django does.

The direction of the movie was great, if sometimes a little inconsistent. In some spots the movie was brilliantly shot, and in others Tarantino was trying a little too hard to emulate spaghetti westerns. One of the best shots is on Django’s first outing as a bounty hunter. From a field away, Django shoots an outlaw and rather than show the body, blood covers a cotton bulb; simple, symbolic and pretty cool to see. One of the effects I didn’t care for were zoom-outs. Tarantino used a few of these to pay homage to old westerns, but the effect is pretty simple for modern movies and there is a reason filmmaking has moved past it. The soundtrack was an eclectic mix of music. The film’s opening is a song from the original movie “Django”a spaghetti western featuring a different Django fighting everyone in a town being feuded over by the KKK and a gang of Mexican bandits. The movie also features songs by Johnny Cash, John Legend, a pair of songs from Clint Eastwood movies, Jim Croce, Rick Ross, RZA and a duet by James Brown and Tupac Shakur.

Great acting, dialogue and writing make “Django Unchained” a pretty good movie, just not Tarantino’s greatest work—Quentin will have to really out-do himself to top “Pulp Fiction.” However, the film is original and, while not too historically accurate, a pretty sweet revenge tale. In the film Candie says that Django is one slave in 10,000. “Django Unchained” is certainly one movie in 10,000.

By: Kelly Whitmire

Also, here’s an interesting video review suggested by Mariah Weathersby:

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl Season Finale: Being Awkward Isn’t So Bad After All

Cast and Crew of ABG

Cast and Crew of ABG

Have you ever embarrassed yourself on a date? Waved back at someone who wasn’t waving at you or stood alone next to the punch bowl at a party? Then you have a lot in common with Issa Rae, the creator and star of “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” (ABG), an award-winning web series that takes being socially awkward to a new and hilarious level.

After reading an article by an author in search of the “black Tina Fey” Rae decided to stop procrastinating and fill the void with an idea she placed on the back burner for years. She created a show that embodied her kind of humor—an awkward humor rarely seen from black women in comedy.

The main character, J (Issa Rae), is a self-proclaimed awkward black girl who can’t dance, prefers sushi over soul food and has an embarrassing dating history that always comes back to haunt her. The show follows her everyday life and how she copes with dysfunctional coworkers and social faux pas we can all relate to.

“ABG” has acquired a large following and critical acclaim since its YouTube premiere in 2011. In season two, J learns about the highs and lows of a relationship with her new boyfriend White Jay (Lyman Johnson). She’s happy for once, until her negative mother pays a visit and tells her to get her life together. Determined to prove her wrong, J tries to leave her dead-end job as a phone sales associate for a company that sells weight-loss pills. But when she can’t find a new job and the relationship she thought was perfect begins to fall apart, she feels inadequate and almost has a breakdown by the end of the season.

Season two shows how much J has grown as a character and how much Rae has grown as a director, writer and producer. Although Rae’s writing maintains a healthy dose of side-splitting comedy and an endless supply of one-liners, she sneaks in more serious subject matter, like dealing with an interracial relationship and building self-confidence. Both add a great dynamic to a series that started off with issues that seemed less pressing. Not to mention, she stepped her game up with improved production quality after “ABG” moved from Rae’s personal YouTube channel to “i am Other,” a channel owned by Pharrell Williams.

The two-part finale should have been a single episode, but Rae’s decision was understandable seeing as how the last time she tried to upload a 30-minute finale for season one, she ran into technical difficulties and the episode was delayed until the next day. But Rae’s hint at an “ABG” movie makes up for season two’s cliffhanger ending.

During the finale, J finally gets a new job. To celebrate the fact that she never has to see her aggravating coworkers again, she envisions having a showdown with them in an Aaliyah “Are You That Somebody” inspired dance-off that was the funniest part of the episode. But J still has to make up with White Jay after an argument fueled by his friends’ disapproval of J’s personality and their relationship. Both refuse to call the other to apologize and with no help from her best friend CeCe (Sujata Day) who’s occupied with her new beau, J has to sort out her relationship issues on her own.

The episode ends with J’s ever-present voiceover as she realizes her life isn’t as horrible as it seems. She tells herself that maybe she was meant to be awkward so every moment can stand out. So maybe embarrassing yourself on that date, waving at the wrong person or standing by your lonesome at a party isn’t so bad. If these situations help you remember and appreciate the little things, then being awkward might be a blessing in disguise.

By: Nicollette Higgs

Movie Review: Warm Bodies

“Warm Bodies” is a simple love story, an ode to “Romeo and Juliet”but with zombies. At first glance, the supernatural love story between woman and monster might seem out of place in a world of the walking dead. Yet any zombie thriller fan already knows that the walking dead were also human not too long ago. Writer and director Jonathan Levine creates a love story that works in its ridiculousness because of spot-on comedic timing and truly relatable awkward moments.

Unlike “Night of the Living Dead” and other traditional zombie horror flicks, “Warm Bodies” approaches the audience from the viewpoint of the strangely introspective zombie R (British actor Nicholas Hoult), not the zombie’s victims. He has a conscience and feels “conflicted” about eating human flesh, but he simply can’t control himself. Hoult’s entertainingly awkward facial expressions, including an inability to blink, and a funny yet moving inner monologue create an interesting, understandable character.

When R sees Julie (Teresa Palmer) for the first time, his heart skips a beat (so to speak). Julie is the daughter of commanding leader General Grigio, the man responsible for building a fortress to keep the walking dead out of the city. Instead of attacking her, R attempts to save Julie’s life during a zombie rampage. R takes her back to his home: an abandoned airplane parked at a long-forgotten airport, a popular hangout for the zombie folk. As their relationship grows, R slowly begins to speak more readily, and a drop of color returns to his cheeks.

Of course it is a little awkward, since he ate the brains of Julie’s former love interest. Fortunately for R, she seems to get over her boyfriend’s death almost too easily. After a bumpy start, Julie and R’s relationship begins to develop over his hoarded collection of music and her speed-demon style of driving. Luckily, the zombie makeup is not quite gross enough to make the relationship seem completely unfathomable.

A majority of the movie takes place inside R’s head, with most scenes accompanied by his inner monologue. But while his voiceovers could have gotten old, they never do. Each one of his self-deprecating thoughts and occasional biting humor (no pun intended) adds something valuable to the movie and usually a few laughs.

Despite the impossible-to-hate protagonist, one of the best parts about “Warm Bodies” is that it doesn’t totally discount the zombies’ dangerous, blood-thirsty nature. Levine still adds some zombie killing action—just enough blood and guts to satisfy even a zombie movie purist. Yet as the movie progresses, the zombies become increasingly non-traditional, moving away from their “Dawn of the Dead” predecessors to become more like the monsters from “Twilight.” Unlike the Edward Cullen-style of undead romance, zombie love is aware of its own absurdity in a charming, ironic sort of way.

However, there are a number of irritating plot holes throughout the “Warm Bodies.” For some reason, although Julie has access to a car, she decides to stay in R’s zombie den for a while longer—but then fails in multiple attempts to run away. Annoyingly, the irreparably evil “bonies” are supposed to be what all zombies eventually become. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain why they are all inhumanly tall and move at speeds inconceivable for the average Joe Zombie.

Of course, it’s hard to hold anything against the movie for long. After all, zombie lore is anything but rational, and zombie love is even more confusing. The awkward encounters between Julie and R are certainly absurd, but also witty and relatable. The ending is everything it should be; any other conclusion would have fallen short for the film. Despite an unlikely alliance and utterly unbelievable turn of events, “Warm Bodies” is clever and touching—a Valentine’s Day must-see.

By: Megan Ingalls

“Community” Wins… and Fails

NBC’s hit sitcom “Community” has become wishy-washy this season. The episodes “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” and “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” are two examples of the show’s changing dynamic in season four. Though some characters have become more compelling throughout the series, others are difficult to watch. The jokes only work about half the time, but the good ones have you rolling off the edge of your seat with laughter. With just as many hits as misses, the series continues to entertain … but it could be better.

“Community” focuses on the dynamics of a study group at Greendale Community College. The seven group members form strange and unique bonds, helping each other down the road of self-discovery. The clear disregard for a community college education drives the comedy. Although many situations are laughably insignificant, others escalate at a hysterically fast pace. The comedy is not afraid to explore stereotypes—including those generally ignored on television, such as autism. Though they are a refreshing and essential piece of the show’s comedic appeal, the stereotypes can sometimes go too far. Often, the underlying humor simply falls flat.

This is especially the case with Pierce (Chevy Chase), an older moist towelette magnate attending Greendale to occupy his time. He has a tendency toward insensitivity and overt racism. In the earlier seasons, his blatant ignorance was shocking and a humorous addition to the varied cast. Yet in season four, Pierce seems to have lost the dynamic personality that had once made his character not completely hateable. In the episode “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations,” he makes several racist comments then attempts to entertain a crowd using black face, failing miserably. In “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking,” Pierce begins performing a racist Latino puppet show before being kicked off stage. In neither episode was Pierce’s behavior funny, nor did his character exhibit any other sort of engaging personality traits. Of course, this should not come as a shock for seasoned “Community” fans; in October 2012, Chase publicly ranted that he regretted signing on for a fourth season and did not appreciate the one-dimensional direction his bigoted character was headed. He was right to be appalled.

Luckily, the other members of the study group have progressively become more interesting. In “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations,” Jeff (Joel McHale), a lawyer who faked a college degree and must attend school to keep his license, visits his estranged father’s home on Thanksgiving. (The “Community” Thanksgiving episode aired in March for some strange reason, probably due more to its season premiere delays than to deliberately wacky timing.) This marks a big step for Jeff, who has consistently been guarded from the rest of the group. Britta (Gillian Jacobs), activist and aspiring psychologist, goes with him to help the father and son work through any deep-seated emotional issues. Instead she ends up spending most of her time with Jeff’s half brother Willy Jr. (guest star Adam DeVine). DeVine brings his over-the-top style of comedy straight from “Workaholics,” but he is forced to keep it clean in true network TV fashion and ends up giving a disappointingly average performance.

The rest of the gang ends up eating Thanksgiving dinner with religious former housewife Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and her husband’s fanatical family. Six minutes into the episode, Abed (Danny Pudi), an imaginative movie lover who appears to have Asperger’s syndrome, begins narrating the day’s events in the manner of “The Shawshank Redemption”. The transformation of an awkward holiday gathering into an epic escape turns “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” into a deeply entertaining episode. Abed’s over-active imagination is often the spark that makes the show worth watching.

The episode “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” is no exception. The episode is filmed entirely in documentary style, switching between cameras manned by Abed and his clumsy assistant Garrett. Sadly, the episode is also mind-numbing to watch. Despite the interesting (yet not totally original) change of pace with Abed’s documentary film style, “Community” would not lose much if the entire episode had been omitted from the season. The show follows the group as they try to win a grant for Greendale to help Señor Chang (Ken Jeong) recover from a special form of amnesia known as “changnesia.” In addition to the study group, Chang is often central to the show’s plot—a confusing character who began as a Spanish teacher and went on to become homeless, later working as a janitor and attempting to burn down the school. Chang is an unlikeable character even when he doesn’t remember who he is—an irritating and terribly sad person—so much so that any episode revolving around him becomes painful to watch. “Advanced Documentary Filmmaking” ignited little laughter and zero sympathy for Chang.


The show’s hit and miss comedy sometimes leaves you with an uneasy feeling: is it time to laugh now? Yet with realistically varied (though overly stereotypical characters) “Community” is unexpected in its ability to spark conversation—and controversy. The show’s ridiculous plotline, often spiraling in unexpected directions, is worth watching at least once. And hopefully by the end of season four, “Community” will regain some its previous charm.

By: Megan Ingalls

‘Silver Linings Playbook’: A Perfect, Crazy Comedy Going For The Win

It’s not like your generic romantic comedy where you know the charming people will get together at the end. “Silver Linings Playbook” is more than that. This film conveys the awkwardness, frustration, hope, laughter and witty banter of a relationship. Pat and Tiffany are people who are taking it a day at a time. While helping each other out, I can’t help but cheer for this couple. My heart is in my throat. Butterflies are in my stomach. My hands are touching my face anticipating the next move from Pat, our dashing, damaged man with a bipolar disorder.

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) was discharged from a psychiatric facility and left in the care of his parents. With no job and the loss of his home, Pat is determined to get Nikki, his ex-wife, back at all costs even though she cheated on him. Where is all this determination and hope coming from? EXCELSIOR. This word means taking that negative energy out of your system, working hard and staying positive to get a shot at that silver lining. His silver lining is getting back Nikki and his marriage. With the help of a young widow and sex addict, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Pat works extremely hard to show Nikki that he is doing much better at Tiffany’s dance competition.

With Nikki on his mind, Pat fights the chemistry he has with Tiffany, an artistic, sensitive and damaged woman. At the dinner his best friend hosted, he tells Tiffany that she looks nice. Then he says, “I’m not flirting with you.” Throughout their conversations, he reminds her that her husband is dead and he’s going to get Nikki back. But the moment has finally come at the dance competition. Will he be able to impress Nikki to get a second chance or will he stop fighting the chemistry that he has with Tiffany?

This is a first for Cooper from the movies I’ve seen. He embraces the endearing, determined, crazy and confused character of Pat. He is Pat. He’s the one who chucks the book through his window after reading Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” at 4 a.m. Then he charges into his parent’s room, expressing his frustration with this novel. He doesn’t apologize for waking his parents up. Instead, he apologizes on the behalf of Hemingway “because that’s who’s to blame here.” In this one scene, Pat shows to the audience his crazy, passionate side but also humor in the sense that you just can’t help but laugh at what just happened.

But there’s one person who took the spotlight from our Pat. Tiffany takes the screen with so much raw emotion that her bluntness, sadness, frustration and vulnerability comes out of the screen and touches you. You laugh with her. You hope with her. You get mad with her. Then you’re happy for her.

Jennifer Lawrence was perfectly casted as Tiffany. Lawrence is not afraid to get so emotional and wear her character inside out. You forget that she’s the girl on fire; instead you see her as the artistic, emotionally vulnerable woman trying to find her own silver lining. Fans of Lawrence, you should be proud of her. She truly learned the plays right by screaming out obscenities with pure hatred in her eyes, being awkward in an off-handed way and best of all not afraid to admit that she has problems.

The performance of the cast blew the expectations of the typical romantic comedy out of the stadium. It was difficult to pay attention to the other details of the film because the acting was so powerful with emotion and focus from a well-matched crew. So I will make the call. This film was played by a phenomenal cast, directed and coordinated by a very talented David O. Russell. Well done, Russell, well played.

So let’s go through the checklist.

Yes, Jennifer Lawrence did a spectacular job at portraying a vulnerable, hilarious sex addict who might be crazy. Yes, Bradley Cooper is hot. The fact that he played a vulnerable character just made him hotter. Yes, I had this heart in my throat and butterflies in my stomach sensation every minute of the two-hour film. Will I go see it again? I would be crazy not to.

By: Connie Lee

House of Cards Starts a New Game

House of CardsLike it or not, no one can deny that Netflix’s new original series, “House of Cards,” has presented a new deck in the world of television. Netflix has changed the game by beating out network television competitors to bring the show exclusively to Netflix’s streaming service and release the entire 13-episode first season all at one time on February 1, 2013. Beau Willimon, producer and developer of the show, is confident that this is revolutionary. In an interview with Director’s Guild of America, he stated, “This is the future, streaming is the future. TV will not be TV in five years from now…everyone will be streaming.”

Not only is the show changing the game, but also providing a quality political drama that has been met with little dislike. It follows the life of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a Democrat from South Carolina and the House Majority Whip, as he plays the game of politics and engages in a modern-day “Game of Thrones” struggle for power.

I was immediately hooked from the first episode. In Chapter One, the pilot episode, the backstage is set. From the first scene, which revolves around a dog that has just been the victim of a hit and run, the main character Frank Underwood gives insight into his character and themes. He also introduces the genius storytelling mechanism of Frank giving periodic monologues directly to the audience; this tactic not only allows for a deeper intimacy with the main character, just like one feels towards a narrating main character of a book, but also allows Frank to disclose accurate motives as well as better describe key characters and plot points, which are not clear from the scene itself. His monologues are often witty and sarcastic, as well as show how truly cunning he is.

This tactic particularly comes in handy when his master scheming begins. After Frank has devoted much of his time and career to getting the current president elected, he is happy to finally enjoy his reward. “I have done my time and backed the right man. Give and take, welcome to Washington,” Frank explains. However, a few scenes later, Frank is told that he will not be nominated for the Secretary of State position he was promised in return for all of his help. After a short struggle, Frank realizes there is no use. He will play the game for the time being, but will not take this loss lying down. With encouragement from his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), an executive at a nonprofit charity who Frank has an intriguing but unusual relationship with, and help from his staff Frank’s plan to retaliate against all those who betrayed him ensues.

Frank makes connections with a few previously introduced politicians, such as Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), whom Frank gets out of legal trouble in exchange for his undying loyalty. Frank also discloses new alliances, such as one with a woman he is pushing to get into the Secretary of State position over the man the president chose instead of Frank, or the one he has recently sparked with the ambitious journalist Zoey Barnes (Kate Mara). Zoey’s boldness convinces Frank to spark a mutually beneficial alliance with her, in which he provides her information in exchange for her writing the stories in a tone that benefits him. None of the pawn know Frank’s ultimate end game, in large part because he hides it behind a charismatic smile and his intelligence. By the end of the first episode, I was still left in a cloud of mystery, but with enough information to keep me intrigued and have me hooked.

The extent to which “House of Cards” will alter the television industry is yet to be determined. However, there is no question that this will mean change.

Today, people want it their way. This shows allows them just that; they can binge through all of the episodes at once or space their viewing out themselves. Although, with a show as good as this one, viewers should be warned that spacing the episodes out will prove challenging.

By Meredith Fowler

A Letter to NBC: The First Episode of NBC’s Deception Was Eh…

Hey NBC Execs,

Can we chat like old friends for a minute? I just saw the first episode of one of your newest scripted dramas, “Deception,” and there are a few things I think we should discuss.

The commercials for “Deception” were interesting, depicting the story of NYPD detective Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good) investigating the death of her childhood best friend, Vivian Bowers (Bree Williamson), while living with the Bowers family. A wealthy family mixed with nepotistic hate, topped with a dollop of a sexy starring actress playing a cop is quite the recipe for intrigue. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if the death of the troubled little rich girl is a little more than it seems? The show looks to have everything it needs to be a successful program, but there’s a bit of an issue.

How can I say this nicely? Remember elementary school art when you learned that mixing any paint with white yielded a diluted version of the original color? Well, ABC’s “Scandal,” is a rich, vivid drop of cobalt blue. “Deception”, on the other hand, is that same hue mixed with a glob of white paint, a washed out version of what the potentially gripping drama could be.

In the promotion of the show, “Deception” was touted to be NBC’s equivalent of ABC’s “Scandal”. Seeing as “Scandal” is the only other show on television starring an African-American actress as its main character, the comparison is understandable, but “Scandal” has set the bar infinitely high. Its engrossing storyline and incredible acting have garnered the show an extensive following and many accolades. “Deception” doesn’t live up to that standard for a few reasons.

For starters, the pace is too slow. Come on guys, we can keep up with the fast-talking, cell phone ringing, high-heeled strutting Olivia Pope. Speed it the hell up! When I rewind “Scandal” it’s because Olivia rattled off a to-do list to her staff too quickly for me to keep up. When I rewound “Deception” it was because I was so bored that my mind had drifted to thoughts of tomorrow’s lunch and I hadn’t even realized that I’d missed 5 minutes of the show.

And while we’re on the topic of boredom, my God, do the actors and actresses even know they’re being filmed?! They’re not riveting in the least way.

I think Meagan Good is beautiful and I support her because I’m a firm believer in celebrating the work of black women, but acting is just not her strong suit, especially when portraying a role that is being compared to Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. I just don’t think Good embodies her character as fully as Washington does hers, which, as comparison goes, makes the role of Joanna Locasto seem to be on a lower tier than that of Olivia Pope.

The one shining light in the darkness that is “Deception” is the young actress Ella Rae Peck. She manifests Mia Bowers, the younger sister of Vivian Bowers, phenomenally. As a snotty brat intent on following in the drug-littered path of her deceased elder sister, Peck does her damnedest at maintaining a standoffish attitude, making the character come to life and only letting her guard down for a few moments before returning to her unfazed-by-anything self. She is geared up to bring to “Deception” what Mellie (Bellamy Young) brings to “Scandal”, a bit of bitchiness that the viewers can’t help but love. If she proceeds as well as she’s started she won’t disappoint. You all did an excellent job at casting her to be the character that everyone loves to hate. Kudos for that.


Overall, I’m just not feeling “Deception.” It’s just not as enthralling as it needs to be (and has the potential to be!) to keep my attention. No hard feelings, but I’m sticking with Pope and Associates for my weekly dose of TV drama.

With a bit of boredom and a lot of honesty,

Parys Grigsby

“Tomb Raider” Review


After they graduate, most students plan on finding nice, quiet jobs and having nice, quiet lives with their nice, quiet families.

Lara Croft planned on finding adventure.

Finally, we get the opportunity to understand the origins of the legendary Lara Croft with Square Enix’s “Tomb Raider.” After many games in the long-running series, we get the chance to go back in time to watch the beautiful Lara evolve from an innocent, rookie archaeologist, to the kickass, deadly tomb raider many of us grew up admiring. And what an incredible adventure it is.

Throughout the story, we realize how human this “new” Lara is as we witness her get beaten up and tossed around by the many dangers on the island. We continually help Lara escape death and each time we feel like we are right there with her relating to her pain and fear.

Lara’s adventure begins with the search for Yamatai, a long-lost island in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, she discovers it after a rogue storm sinks her ship, scatters her friends and crew, and introduces her to an unforgiving, brutal world. The island is inhabited by the Solarii, a murderous cultist (and all male) group who follow a maniac and worship an ancient queen. Lara later discovers that the island has a mysterious paranormal aura, which makes for an intriguing story.

We discover Yamatai is a tomb itself. Skulls are scattered everywhere, mummified bodies hang in bags and on stakes, and blood and bones cover the floor (This is a Mature title). That being said, the island is still beautiful. “Tomb Raider” has amazing graphics, and the lighting effects, especially with flames flickering and shadows bouncing off walls, easily stand out among the best.

Gameplay is a constant thrill ride with Lara either facing unfair numbers of enemies or traversing the treacherous obstacles and horrifying scenes across the island. Lara discovers ancient ruins and wreckage that fall apart under her feet, and you often must sprint, hurdle and slide to avoid falling to your death. Quick-time events play a major part in keeping Lara alive, and if you aren’t fast enough, a boulder or a tree branch could quickly end Lara’s adventure.

Combat is central to “Tomb Raider.” Lara’s signature weapon is the bow and arrow, which she uses to string together silent, stealthy kills. Most battles begin with Lara sneaking up on unaware enemies, but if sighted, Lara wields a small arsenal of guns to add some firepower and knows some deadly melee moves to deal with anyone who gets too close.

The Solarii fight with bullets and flaming arrows, throw fire bombs and dynamite, and flank Lara to get in close with sharp climbing axes. Lara cannot sit in one spot and take out enemies slowly. She must stay mobile, slipping between cover to avoid the Solarii’s wide array of attacks. The Solarii are still human though, and they don’t last long once Lara goes on the offensive.

When not disposing of the Solarii, Lara is scaling mountains, navigating ruins, delving into tunnels and everything in between. Platforming has always been a major part of “Tomb Raider” games, and Lara is still showing off her climbing skills. As you progress, Lara finds new climbing equipment which adds even more dimensions to exploring.

Lara’s most important skill is her “survival instinct.” By activating her instinct, you can view the world differently, highlighting important objectives, points of interest and enemies in gold. This helps you solve puzzles, find places to climb and gain an upper hand on your enemies.

The island has many distinct locations filled with collectibles, including relics and character narrated journals, and random challenges, such as stealing eggs or harvesting mushrooms. The collectibles, especially the journals, add more to the story, and while the challenges are random, they do motivate you to explore and fully appreciate each location.

There are also small tombs (for her to…raid) scattered throughout the island, which act as quick side objectives. They usually involve timing and platforming, and aren’t very complex, but they do add some more variety to the experience.

As you play, Lara finds camps where she can rest. By killing enemies, raiding tombs and gathering collectibles, Lara gains experience and levels up. Leveling up allows Lara to unlock useful skills that give bonuses to survival, hunting and brawling, and add more facets to combat and exploration.

Lara can also upgrade her weapons at these camps with salvage she collects from enemies or caches. Aside from her bow, Lara’s arsenal includes a pistol, submachine gun and a shotgun. While at first these weapons are only World War II models, throughout the game Lara can find parts to upgrade them into super weapons. Upgrading guns visibly alters their appearances and stats, and being able to evolve an old trench gun into a dragon’s breath-firing combat shotgun is very rewarding.
After you finish Lara’s island adventure, you can visit the multiplayer. Multiplayer pits the Survivors against the Solarii in four game modes, including the usual team deathmatch and free-for-all, and two objective-based modes “Rescue” and “Cry for Help.” Each faction has its own set of characters and weapons from the main story to unlock as you play, which gives it a two-sided experience. There are only a few maps, but each map is very detailed, promotes platforming and has particular dangerous traps. It’s not an amazing multiplayer, and it doesn’t carry the adventure of the main story, but it is interesting enough to entertain you for a few hours.

Even with all of its cool features, it’s “Tomb Raider’s” story that pulls it all together. Lara grows on you as a relatable and believable character, and the mysteries and horrors of the island make Lara’s adventure tense, emotional and intriguing. Overall, “Tomb Raider” excels with gorgeous graphics, exciting gameplay and a continuously captivating adventure. And of course, despite her ragged edges, Lara Croft is as beautiful as ever.

By: Wes Mayer

Wreck-It Ralph: Humanizing and Heartfelt

I’m sure die-hard gamers had a field day compiling a list of video game cameos and references in Walt Disney Pictures’ “Wreck-It Ralph,” Characters from games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat and Super Mario Bros., to name a few, popped in and out of sight and added a touch of nostalgia to a heartfelt story about having the courage to go against the grain.

Ralph (John C. Reilly), the villain of the game Fix-It Felix, Jr., is an outcast. Every night when Litwak’s arcade closes, the characters of the game retire to their plush apartments to celebrate Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his accomplishments while Ralph retires to a pile of bricks. Ralph grows tired of being the bad guy and comes up with a drastic plan to prove his worth. But when things go wrong, he puts the entire arcade at risk.

One of the most memorable characters he meets along the way is Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the no-nonsense leader of Hero’s Duty, whose demeanor and appearance create an animated combination of Uma Thurman and Lara Croft. Ralph also befriends an adorable 9-year-old Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) whose tiny appearance gives way to her big personality. Vanellope gives Ralph hell on their first meeting, but they discover they have more in common than they think. In this telling moment they remind us how painful rejection really is.

“Wreck-It Ralph” director Rich Moore created a fictional world so detailed that it became an imaginative answer to every question a child has ever had about the happenings in an arcade after the day is done. It’s no wonder the Academy Award-nominated film helped me forget about a stressful week for an hour and a half.

But of course a film depicting the hustle and bustle of a fictional arcade can fall victim to the hustle and bustle of its own plot. When Ralph leaves his game it causes a ripple effect that creates multiple story lines. It was easy to keep up with events initially, but upon the introduction of one story line I would forget about the others. On several occasions I had to refresh my own memory when there was a sudden switch to another element of the plot.

It’s hard to say whether people in the audience were watching Ralph on his journey for the first time or if they were there for a second (and maybe third) time since the film’s premiere last November. “Wreck-It-Ralph” did a great job of keeping a theater full of college-aged students entertained even though its target audience is made up of young children. The Disney film also did a great job of tricking me into thinking it was a product of Pixar. Either way, I smiled, I laughed and I almost cried near the end … almost.

And if a movie can entertain college students it has a chance of entertaining parents as well. This kid-friendly film didn’t leave parents high and dry. In addition to a few subtle adult jokes—I counted about three—the arcade throwbacks were a plus. Some characters were harder to identify than others because their appearances were so brief, but parents could still recall their childhood memories while watching their children create their own.

Whether you’re a parent watching to reminisce on your childhood in an arcade or a child watching to add another Disney film to your favorites, “Wreck-It Ralph” succeeds at truly humanizing its characters. They may have oversized hands, a squiggle for a nose and other exaggerated features, but these animated characters experience those feelings of rejection, frustration and joy that we can all relate to.

By: Nicollette Higgs