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    • I Traveled To West Virginia To Play Fallout 76 For Three Hours And Came Back With Tons of Gameplay Details and Screengrabs!

      1 week ago

      ericvespe

      Being a child of the '80s and early '90s video games were kind of a big deal. I put many childhood hours into NES classics (I vividly remember the excitement the Christmas I got Super Mario Bros 3), I was there at the birth of Sega, Super Nintendo, N64, Gameboy and my grandpa even let me play Doom on his work computer.


      But in late '90s/early aughts I slipped into the comfortable suit of the casual gamer. Halo brought me back to consoles, but it wasn't until Fallout 3 that my mind opened on gaming as an art form. Part of the reason for this is that I was a late-comer to RPGs. I played a little KOTOR, but at the time I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the gameplay. Keep in mind I was young and dumb and a little too impatient with things that were unfamiliar.


      So, I missed Oblivion and would have missed Fallout 3 if it wasn't for the overwhelming hype surrounding the title. Thankfully I gave it a spin on my 360 and my first true open world experience blew my fuckin' mind.


      The moment I stepped out of Vault 101 and took in the wasteland before me I knew something had changed. Where do I go? There's no waypoint, there's no voiceover guiding me to my next spot, there's no cut scene hinting at what I should do. I was off rails in a way I had never experienced.


      It's quite brilliantly designed. I didn't know where to go so I followed a road past a burnt-out playground and the skeleton of some old buildings and eventually found myself in Megaton. It led me to the next area it wanted me to go by playing on the immersion element. Where would I go if I was actually there? Not off into the brush, I'd stick to the road.


      Fallout 3 gave me a wow moment that I had only really experienced in movies before. I also remember talking to a friend who was playing at the same time as I was. We were both pushing a hundred hours at this point and I asked him what choice he made at Megaton. Did he blow up the town and get his lofty penthouse at Tenpenny Tower or did he do the good thing and deactivate the bomb?


      His response: “What's Megaton?”


      He had finished the game, done a hundred side quests and still never managed to stumble across one of the biggest landmarks on the map. That astounded me even further. If he missed something as huge as that, what'd I miss?


      Hundreds of hours and many replays later Fallout 3 is still is a game I go back to from time to time. I dug New Vegas and Fallout 4, but to me Fallout 3 remains the gold standard. It might be a nostalgic view since that game was my “first time,” but it's how I feel.


      Needless to say I fell in love with the world then and there and have been crazy for it ever since. Naturally when the opportunity came up to travel to West Virginia to play Fallout 76 early I was so, so, so in.



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      Especially for this peculiar entry into the series that I love so much. Listen, if this was simply Fallout 5 I'd be there for it, but since this is Bethesda's first foray into a multiplayer space (with this franchise, I'm well aware of Elder Scrolls Online) I had so many questions about what was in store.


      First thing I can tell you is that Bethesda and Fortyseven Communications, their publicity company, know how to throw an event. They chose the location of this massive junket to be the Greenbrier Hotel, a crazy huge resort in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia that not only is a major location within the game itself, but also carries with it an incredibly on-point little known secret: There's a real deal nuclear fallout shelter underneath it.



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      And I mean real-deal. It was secretly built by the US government in the late '50s and early '60s as a continuity of government project. Intended to be used by the entire Congress should the bombs fall, this bunker was built underneath a new wing the Greenbrier was adding on to their already gigantic hotel. In the early '90s The Washington Post outed the secret government location and since then it has been decommissioned and is a tourist attraction for resort guests.


      So naturally the first thing we did when we arrived at the hotel was take a tour of the fallout shelter. A lifesized Vault Boy was waiting for us at the entrance and Mickey Mouse-style marched us through the front door.



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      The long, concrete hallway was exactly what you'd imagine entering something like this and I can tell you the claustrophobia is very real. When that 25 ton blast door closed behind us the reverberating thud could be felt deep your chest. I was maybe 200 feet into the bunker when the door closed and it was like getting hit by a shockwave.


      We weren't allowed any cameras or other recording devices during the tour, so apologies for the lack of photos. Just know that they kept much of it as it was. From green lockers to bunk beds and old clunky computers it felt super Fallout accurate. I wanted to search for caps, but the tour guides wouldn't let me.


      A giant portion of the bunker is now being used as a backup data server location, mostly for Fortune 500 companies, which is the real reason we weren't able to bring any electronics in. I suspect if someone snuck in, Mission: Impossible style, and plugged directly into these servers they could have made out with some hugely valuable information.


      They did give us our phones back when we reached the kitchen/dining area where Bethesda was throwing a reception. Booze, party balloons, tinny old timey music ringing through speakers... It was about as immersive as you'd expect and just about the coolest goddamn thing I've gotten to do in a long time.


      That was followed by some statements by everybody's favorite video game spokesman, Pete Hines, against the backdrop of Fallout 76 flags at the podium where the new Congress would have been run should the commies have bombed us back during the Bay of Pigs days.



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      He gave us a rundown of what to expect in the next couple of days and then we got to actually go to the opening night party.


      Still in the bunker, but in a more modern room just off the secret entrance to the actual hotel, the dining hall was covered in Fallout iconography. Donuts in the shape of the Vault-Tec logo, giant Vault Boy statues in the corners, penny pressing machines that spit out Fallout 76 designs, a six foot tall glass nuke filled with bottle caps and a dinner comprised of dishes from the Fallout Cookbook. (The Blamco Mac & Cheese was delicious).



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      So the presentation was A+, but what about the game itself? All the glitz and glamor and brilliant marketing doesn't mean anything if the game doesn't work.


      The way this was set up is they had dozens of squares made up of four monitors connected to X-boxes in a big ballroom. These were our Fallout 76 teams. Three people were visitors, one person was a Bethesda employee whose sole job was to shepherd us through the three hours of gameplay we were going to get.


      I was in a group with my buddy Scott Wampler, a fellow Fallout fanatic who writes for Birth.Movies.Death. and we were all on headsets communicating with each other.



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      My goal going in was to touch on a lot of different experiences. I wanted to experiment with the PVP system, I wanted to roam as a group and see how co-op worked in the Fallout universe, and I wanted to branch off and see how solo exploring felt. I also wanted to get a sense of the scope of the map and toy around with the C.A.M.P. system.


      That felt doable in three hours, but damn... there's so much to explore and the map is legitimately massive I felt rushed. When they say this map is 4x bigger than Fallout 4 they're not kidding. They're also not padding it out with large expanses of nothing. There's always something, whether it's a turned over car or shack with some loot or a bunch of low level bad guys or simply a gorgeous vista. It's not just empty space.


      The main quest seems pretty straight forward. Your overseer at Vault 76 ventured out before Reclamation Day and you're following in her footsteps. It's a little Fallout 3 in that way. You always feel just a few steps behind her, finding her camps (which always have good materials, workbenches and items, by the way) and her logs giving you hints at where to go next.


      Fallout 76 leans heavier on survival this time around, something I was concerned about. I'm the kind of player that doesn't want to worry about eating and drinking and all that shit. I max out my carry weight perks early because I hate being over-encumbered, so the idea that I have to travel with food and that ammo and health have weight isn't my favorite thing in the world, but I didn't find it to be all that much of a burden in the three hours I played.


      One of the most helpful tips I got from the Bethesda devs was to constantly break down your junk into their base materials. You can do this at any work bench or chemistry station you come across in the West Virginia wilds and they made sure to make them pretty abundant. This significantly decreases the weight of the materials.


      It's dangerous to travel with this junk, though, even if it's deconstructed because if you're killed it drops. If you're killed by a real life person they can collect your junk, if you're killed by a robot or creature you can go back to where you died, get your sweet revenge, and reclaim your stuff. Note: you never drop your armor or weapons when you die, but the devs wanted there to be some penalty for dying, so you do drop your well-earned for junk, which you need to fix weapons, armor and build up your C.A.M.P.


      Not as common as workbenches are storage lockers and boxes (bright blue and yellow, hard to miss) where you can deposit anything you have and it automatically saves and can be accessed by any such storage.



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      So a good thing to do is loot, deconstruct, bank and then do that over and over again. You don't want to be caught with a bunch of rare mats you spent hours exploring for when a Deathclaw comes out of nowhere.


      Let's talk about PVP a little bit.


      I was super nervous about this and I think this is the most concerning aspect for most Fallout fans who are used to only having to worry about the dangers of the world. I didn't run into too much PVP stuff, so I can't speak authoritatively on this, but I'll give you the details I gleaned from my gameplay.


      So you're not eligible to engage in combat with other players until you're level 5, so there's some built in protection. Nobody can start any shit with you until you level a bit and when they do there's an auto-leveler that kicks in so a level 60 in power armor with amazing weapons doesn't have an impossible advantage over level 5 you. I mean, you're still probably fucked if you decide to engage, but it's not a certainty.



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      And you do have to choose to engage. I accidentally engaged with one guy when we were both shooting at a swarm of Feral Ghouls. I took him down with my lowly pipe pistol, but didn't have time to collect his junk because that swarm of ghouls I mentioned was hot on my ass and chased me away.



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      Also of note: there is no friendly fire, so if you squad up and accidentally shoot a teammate in the heat of battle it does no damage, so you can't accidentally kill someone on your team.



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      The murder system they put in place is a pretty great way to keep people from being griefing assholes. If you hound someone and kill them without them engaging in combat you're marked as a murderer. Suddenly you're a big bright red target on the map. Not only can everybody on the map see your location, everybody else disappears off the map for you, so you can't tell if they're closing in on you. A bounty is placed on you and the reward comes from your own caps, so there's zero upside to kill someone who doesn't want to engage. You don't get much out of it and stand to lose a lot.



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      We'll see how this plays out as the game is released and people progress to higher levels, but at least in early levels this was very balanced and I didn't feel like I was terrified of seeing other people.


      The exploring felt very Fallout-like, the only difference is now you can do it with friends. The loot system is much the same as previous Fallouts, but I noticed caps, ammo and stimpacks were a bit tougher to find. In fact, I played a little Fallout 4 over the weekend it felt positively overloaded with ammo, caps and Stimpaks by comparison.


      The loot you can get is unique to you, minus stuff that is sitting out in the open. If there's a tripwire trap, for instance, connected to a laser pistol only one person in the group can grab the laser pistol after disarming the trap. But if you unlock a safe or search a cabinet, every member of the group will get something out of it, often times very different somethings.


      Same goes for defeated bad guys. If you get a hit on an enemy you will get something if you loot them. That starts getting a little frustrating if you're an explorer like me and want to thoroughly search stuff and your team goes on ahead and kills everything because then you have nothing but a trail of dead bodies with nothing on them, but it's a system that's not geared towards fucking over three of the four members of a squad, so that's cool.


      Being able to play Fallout with a group is pretty badass, I gotta say. Our team explored a mine early on and while I was searching cabinets I found a security door code. At the same time Wampler found the security door and keypad, so I told him the code and he punched it in as I was on the way to him, the door opening just as I got there. Little touches like that really showed off just why being able to attack the Fallout world in a co-op way was exciting.



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      Another small change that was pretty fun was the ability to wear outfits over armor instead of underneath like it has been done previously. That means you can get a crazy clown costume or fireman outfit or whatever and still have all the benefits of the regular armor. I saw some Bethesda people on our server (playing from Maryland) with some crazy outfits. One guy had an intimidating black button down thing on and a bizarre skull mask.



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      You will be able to purchase cosmetic items using a new form of currency called Atoms, which you get from completing daily, weekly and lifetime challenges and for reaching milestones within the game.



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      The Atom Store wasn't in the build we were playing in, but the devs told us it will be exclusively cosmetic items and, yes, you can use real money to buy Atoms if you don't want to farm for them, much in the same way Overwatch sells lootboxes with their cosmetic items.


      You will not be able to spend real money on Perk Card Packs since that can actually effect gameplay. You earn Perk Card Packs by leveling. Each pack has a piece of stale bubblegum (which can help hunger), three regular cards and one rare card. And a Dad joke. Can't forget the dad jokes.



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      Now any of these cards can be earned through traditional leveling, but the Perk Card packs might give you something you might not have picked or thought of picking and might make you try out a different kind of class, especially if you get a rarer one that is already leveled a bit.


      If you're not caught up on how the new Perk Card system works... well, I still find it a tad confusing myself, but I'll do my best to explain it. This is your new perk tree. When you level up you can add a point to any one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. That's Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. You leave the vault with 1 point in each.


      Each Perk Card has a point total. So, if you have one point in Perception and you get a one star Lockpick card you can put it in that slot. You can have as many cards with as many different abilities under each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. as long as the card point total isn't greater than the points you put into that skill tree.


      It's a big change. I personally prefer the previous ways of picking permanent perks, but the idea here is that you don't get locked in to a specific character type. You can change out your perk cards at will and go from someone who is a badass melee character to a run-and-gunner if the situation calls for it. I think they also didn't want high level players to be walking Gods, either.


      The VATS system also got an overhaul. It's kinda worthless now, at least at early levels, unless you just flat out suck at aiming. There are cards that let you target specific body parts, but vanilla VATS targets the whole body and seems to miss more than it hits. You're better off just playing it like a first person shooter. Since VATS doesn't slow down time anymore the only real use I found early on was using it as a kind of early warning system. Highlighting an enemy in the dark helped know where the attack was going to come from.



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      There are also smaller creatures and robots that harder to hit when firing from the hip. Liberator bots, pictured above, in particular are tough. They're little cylindrical robots that jump around, throw out buzz saws and blare Chinese army propaganda at you. I found VATS to be useful taking those little bastards out when they get up to you, but ultimately I rarely used it.


      They moved the map to the start button, so I found myself constantly pulling up my Pip-Boy when trying to look at my map. My muscle memory is screwing me here. It's a little annoying, but I'll get used to it.


      Because I was on a time crunch I didn't explore as much as I usually like. I'm pretty methodical when it comes to this series. I also didn't get to play around with the radio stations much. I'm told there is a lot more varied music than there was in Fallout 4, but I haven't personally experienced it. Since I was playing in a team I needed to communicate with them so I didn't have my Pip-Boy radio blaring.


      The three hours blew by and Bethesda certainly knew how to end our experience. I was out in the wilds, completely separated from my group looting an interesting looking shack when I got an alert on my Pip-Boy. A computerized voice warned me a nuclear strike was imminent. A quick look at my map and I saw they were deploying it right in front of Vault 76 so we could all fast travel back and watch from relative safety. Note: Vault 76 itself can not be nuked, so you always have a free fast travel option when the nuke



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      I had about 3 minutes heads up that a nuke was coming in, more than enough time for me drop what I was doing and get into viewing distance. If I had my camp set up in the blast zone I think I would have had enough time to fast travel, close up shop and get the hell out of dodge.

      The nuke itself was as much of an event as you'd imagine. The impact blew debris and leaves in a red cloud toward me as the mushroom cloud formed on the horizon. I stupidly decided to venture into the radiation and see how far I could get, but I was like a little old lady who dipped her toe into a too-cold pool and noped right the fuck out the second my rad meter shot up to 60 rads a second.


      In the released game nukes will be an end game activity, irradiating certain portions of the map for a certain amount of time, mutating high level creatures that drop great loot and creating ultra rare crafting materials. You'll need radiation suits and/or power armor to venture in and survive.



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      Final thoughts: The felt like Fallout to me and that's all I wanted. Fallout with friends. The PVP aspect could turn bullshitty, but the little I experienced wasn't awful. With only 24 people allowed on a server at any given time I expect the PVP stuff to be rare unless you specifically seek it out. That might bum out some people who really want to kill other players, but that's not the game I wanted. What I want is a giant, immersive map to explore with my friends, a ton of shit to search for and collect and some cool new enemies to go up against. In my limited hands-on time I got the game I was hoping this would be.


      Maybe 76 can't sustain a 100+ hours or dickhead 12 year olds will figure out a way to make it unplayable. I won't be able to say until the game's out and I can play the whole thing, but the highest compliment I can give the game is that I've been dying to play it since the hands-on event ended. Not only do I want to start from scratch and methodically go through the area surrounding Vault 76, I want to do it with my regular buddies.  

    • The New Movie Is The First Halloween Sequel To Finally Get It Completely Right

      2 weeks ago

      ericvespe

      The biggest get of Fantastic Fest was the new Halloween and instead of ending the festival with it they threw it right up front, charging the festival with a rush of energy right off the bat.



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      You might have heard that the approach to this film isn't a remake or a reboot or a traditional sequel. The concept is to throw out pretty much everything after the first film and make it a direct sequel to John Carpenter's 1978 original. That means all the stuff about Laurie Strode being Michael Myers' sister is out the window as is the crazy convoluted Myers cult-y backstory that was added in the Halloween 4-6 years.


      The key reason this movie works is precisely because of that choice.


      Here's the thing. When you strip Myers of motivation and reason for being the killing machine he is you return him to being the faceless boogeyman that was originally credited only as “The Shape.” His mask is a blank slate, a white screen for the audience to project their greatest fears onto. The Shape is random death. He's a walking car accident or heart attack or lightning strike. Giving him a reason to be hunting Laurie Strode (he just gotta kill any and all sisters!) in Halloween 2 undercut that, which is why he became less and less scary as the movies went on.


      With 2018's Halloween they go back to The Shape. We meet Michael early on and he's just a shell, a motionless, thoughtless vessel. The thing that triggers him back into action isn't the calendar flipping over to Halloween once again or because he catches a glimpse of Laurie Strode... You don't know why he puts the mask back on again. And THAT's the way it should to be.


      Once he slips the mask on, he's once again random death personified. You don't know who he'll go after, who he'll spare, what captures his attention and what doesn't. In fact you get the feeling that if Laurie Strode wasn't seeking him out he could have gone on his rampage and never once reunited with his previous target. Again, THAT's the way it should be!


      Getting The Shape right sounds like a small part to making a worthy sequel, but up to this point Halloween 2018 is the only sequel to actually pull it off. So that alone makes this film a big recommend, but it's not the only thing Halloween 2018 has going for it.


      There's a strong subtext about how people deal with trauma that adds a little meat to a movie ostensibly simply about a brutal killer going on a Halloween night rampage through suburbia. Laurie Strode is a survivor, a little bit in the Sarah Connor/T2 mold, but it's not an easy equation from hurt in the '70s to superhero in the twenty-teens. Like most trauma survivors, Laurie has to carry the stain of the events she survived into her daily life. That had an impact on her future relationships, how she related to her children, how her education unfolded, how she did her job. It's a part of her, both positive and negative.


      She has prepared for the day random horror would come back into her life. In this case it was embodied in Michael Myers, but if it was aliens invading or a dirty bomb going off in Haddonfield or any other even that requires a call to action she would have been just as ready to tackle it in the name of protecting those she loves.


      Some of the subtext is deep, some of it is lightly brought up and kind of forgotten, but the important thing is it's there and it gives Jamie Lee Curtis a lot to work with. She's so great in the movie. Strong, without being supernatural, flawed without being a cliché. You root for her and kind of feel sorry for Myers should he find himself in her crosshairs because he ain't ready for it.



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      The movie isn't full of jump scares, but you do get some brutal, unexpected kills. It gets gory, but it doesn't depend on gore to provide the horror. Again, what makes Myers scary is you know he's around and you know he won't stop once he sees you and they play that up big time.


      Now, Halloween 2018 isn't perfect. It's a tad choppy in the first act. It doesn't seem to really get into its flow until Myers is out and about. There's also a subplot involving Myers' psychiatrist that I didn't care for. It's weird, out of left field and frankly kind of feels like it belongs in one of the lesser sequels this one is so smartly ignoring.


      However, the movie has it where it counts. Jamie Lee is on point, Judy Greer, who plays her daughter, has some good stuff to do, Will Patton is solid as the Sheriff who has an unexpected connection to the events of the first film and, most importantly, Michael Myers is scary again.


      Danny McBride's input can absolutely be felt, especially in some of the character dialogue. There are a couple of minor characters who pop up and their sharp, funny back and forths just scream McBride to me. I may be completely mistaken, but there's one character in particular, a kid named Julian, that feels like he's McBride's stand-in. He's got heart, but loves fucking with his babysitter, making him probably my favorite new character in the series in ages. In fact, I love Julian so much I want to see a spin-off movie where it's just him talking loving smack to various babysitters for 2 hours. I may be the only one, but I'd be there with bells on if that happened!


      The film looks great, with deep nighttime blacks and rich cinematic photography that fits extremely well with Carpenter's original. Speaking of, John and Cody Carpenter's score is another great layer that makes this feel in line with the original and not tacked on to the series.


      Halloween 2018 just feels right. That's the highest compliment I can give it. It feels like a worthy, legit followup that finally, fully understands what made the first film tick.  

    • Mile 22 Is Sloppy, Choppy, and, Worst of All, Kind of Boring.

      1 month ago

      ericvespe

      I was looking forward to Mile 22. I knew it wasn't going to be high art or even giant budgeted spectacle, but there's plenty of room between those two things for a fun movie.


      The premise is simple: a squad of badasses have to get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time and pretty much everybody in-between those two points is trying to kill them. We've seen this one done before. The low key, but still pretty solid, Bruce Willis starrer 16 Blocks did it and The Raid kind of did it as well, but the twist here was it was a modern warfare take of a trained group of people instead of one guy fighting his way through some baddies.


      When you add in Peter Berg directing, Mark Wahlberg starring and a team comprised of people like Ronda Rousey, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais and John Malkovich as their eye-in-the-sky overseer then you have the makings of some real fun B-grade entertainment.


      The problem is they fucked it up on a fundamental level. 



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      Structurally this thing was doomed from the script stage. Wahlberg and his team don't even start on their title 22 mile trek until halfway through the movie so the whole reason you want to watch the movie feels rushed. I could forgive that if they spent the first half of the movie really focused on character, making us care about the team before they go into the shit, but instead they spend that time trying to be quippy while over-explaining a hilariously convoluted plot.


      The Raid's Iko Uwais is a cop who has knowledge of the location of some deadly powder that I guess acts like a nuclear bomb, irradiating entire cities if sprinkled on the ground. He'll tell the US where all this stuff is if they can get him safely out of his country. It's 22 miles from the embassy where he's being held and the airplane that will take him to America and it's up to Mark Wahlberg and his crew to get him there.


      We don't really need anything else plot-wise, but nobody told director Peter Berg or screenwriter Lea Carpenter that. No, there's a subplot about evil Russians infiltrating the mission and a ridiculously in-depth backstory on Mark Wahlberg's childhood. I get that we need these characters to have personality and tics, but making Wahlberg's character an autistic genius who puts together “impossible” puzzles in his spare time doesn't really match up with the high-strung 'roid rage character he plays for most of the movie. In fact it seems like the only reason we're given that particular backstory is so he has a reason to snap a rubber band around his wrist over and over again in his many monologue scenes.


      Critics were unkind to Ben Affleck's The Accountant, but at least his character is consistent. His ability to be an incredible assassin was directly tied into his character making his autism work for him. There's definitely a conversation to be had about using a real thing that real people have to integrate into their lives this way in movies, but we can all agree that Affleck's character being autistic meant something to that film's story We don't get anything like that in Mile 22.


      They tell us Mark Wahlberg is a genius, but we never see any evidence of it. He's just a good soldier. He doesn't ever outthink his opponent or show more focus or anything. He's just good at shooting and working under fire. That's it.


      The movie also lets down his squad. Ronda Rousey is established as a good fighter and you know she's tough because she says “fuck” a lot and... then doesn't do anything with her. The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan is given some dramatic meat with a pending divorce and child custody battle brewing while she's supposed to be dealing with this intense situation. Cohan does a good job showing the character's ability to compartmentalize without making her feel cold and uncaring about her family, but that doesn't change the fact that for the first half of the movie her character doesn't do much more than awkwardly get angry at phone calls with her soon to be ex, inexplicably played by Berg himself.



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      Iko Uwais is the standout here. His character is mysterious, multi-layered and the only one who gets a chance to really show off just how formidable he is. It might help that he also choreographed most of the fight scenes and he's involved with roughly 90% of them, but it's a testament to just how effortlessly badass he is that his choreography shows through Berg's quick-cut editing style at all. The geography is rarely established and the hand to hand scenes are shot so close and cut so quickly that it's doubly frustrating for anybody who has seen The Raid films and know what Uwais is capable of.


      They try to do something interesting and different with the ending. Naturally I won't go into any detail on that, but I will say I liked the direction, but it was too little too late at that point.


      So the movie fails on a character level, on a pacing level and on a fun action film level. Those are the three things that should have been a given with this idea and talent involved. The movie was a big whiff for me and I'm no film snob who thinks everything should be a Criterion film. I walked in excited to have a good time at the movies and left angry at the missed opportunity here.

    • The Guardians of the Galaxy Stand With James Gunn. Will Disney?

      2 months ago

      ericvespe

      It's been less than two weeks since the movie world was rocked by James Gunn's removal as the main creative force behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. By now you've all probably read a dozen different think pieces and articles detailing the reasons why and arguing whether or not it was the right call by Disney's Alan Horn, so I will do my best not to rehash the same arguments here, but I do want to talk through my personal thoughts about whether or not it was the right choice a bit now that the dust has settled a little bit.


      Horn has unquestionably been one of the strongest executives in Disney's history. Under his watch Marvel was brought into the fold (remember Iron Man and Captain America were Paramount films), Star Wars was bought and relaunched, Pixar was fully integrated into the company and the live-action remakes of classic Disney movies have been raking in money hand over fist. The studio has grown into an entertainment behemoth with all the positives and negatives associated with that.


      An example of the positive side is the money the studio was willing to invest in a relatively unknown comic book property spearheaded by a writer/director most known for offensive humor-filled horror just because he was backed by Marvel's Kevin Feige. The negative side being how quickly they dropped the very same guy at the first sign of controversy, even after he made 1.6 billion dollars for the studio with just two movies.



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      I disagree with Horn's decision to part ways with Gunn, but I'm still trying to understand it. The biggest deal of his reign as chairman is this pending merger with Fox. It not only takes out a chief rival, it also sets Disney Studios up for the world of tomorrow by giving them a huge amount of diverse IP to utilize with their subscription-based streaming service.


      The timing of this decision can't be coincidence. Just a week before the shareholder vote to approve the merger right wing pundits started spamming the internet with Gunn's offensive joke tweets from 6-10 years ago. With a deal this big any and every little thing can screw it up, so I have to imagine taking a calm, measured approach to this potential scandal was less of a priority than making it go away as quickly as possible.


      That feels right to me, although I'll be the first to admit I don't know the daily ins and outs of Disney's executive life.


      So, he made the call and fired Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which was written and expected to go into production possibly as early as the end of this year or the beginning of 2019.


      But now what? That's the question.


      The shareholders have voted to approve the merger and Disney is now facing more pressure from the entertainment industry over their decision to fire Gunn than they ever did from Mike Cernovich's mobs demanding Gunn's head. Actors, directors, producers and nearly all the entertainment journalists have all spoken out about how this is, frankly, bullshit.


      Just today the entire Guardians of the Galaxy cast put out a joint public statement calling for Gunn to be reinstated. And when I say “entirety” I mean it. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista (who has been the most vocal about this from the day Disney fired Gunn), Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Vin Diesel, Pom Klementieff and Michael Rooker all signed a measured, passionate defense of Gunn.



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      Would all these people be willing to band together and refuse to work on the next Marvel movie if Disney doesn't reconsider? What about refusing to do any promotion for the next Avengers movie? Maybe, maybe not, but either way it's a big deal in this day and age for these high profile people to take a stand against what they view as an injustice, knowing damn well it puts them all in the crosshairs of the people organizing these obviously politically motivated, targeted attacks.


      Even someone as inconsequential as me got targeted over my support of Gunn, with dozens of random Twitter users calling me a pedophile apologist because I dared defend a guy who once made bad jokes about the subject 10 years ago. I can't imagine what Chris Pratt's social media is going to be like in the wake of this.


      I don't claim to know James Gunn's heart. I've met the guy a few times over the last 10 years and get along pretty well with him on a movie geek (and cigar appreciator) level. I first interviewed him for his great horror comedy SLITHER and have talked to him a few times, both on and off the record, in the years since. I may not know him well, but my impression of the man is the same I get from reading the Guardians cast's letter or the description of him I see repeated over and over again from people who have worked with him.


      Yes, he's got a dark sense of humor. That's obvious from his filmography. You don't start your career in Troma if you're a Sunday school teacher. You don't get your big break writing a hard R-rated zombie movie if you're scared of crossing lines. You don't make a movie like SUPER if you have any qualms about offending people to get a message across.


      Beneath that humor, though, is heart. The message of the Guardians movies isn't to be cynical assholes that like to shock people. Quite the opposite, actually. It's about shedding that devil-may-care persona and being able to fully love. It's about the strength of the family you choose, not necessarily the family you're born into.



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      Movies aren't made by a single person, but it's clear that without Gunn's voice Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't have been the lightning in a bottle experience it was. That's why, creatively, the cast and many entertainment reporters feel like Disney is cutting its nose off to spite its face here and why they're imploring the studio to reconsider.


      Will Disney listen?

    • A Peek Behind The Curtain Of Robert Rodriguez's and James Cameron's Alita: Battle Angel!

      2 months ago

      ericvespe

      James Cameron took a very long break after the exhausting production and release of Titanic. People forget now, but the common thought in Hollywood was that Cameron was working on a Heaven's Gate-level bomb. Too much money was being spent on a romantic historical romance, they said. The audience just wasn't going to show up. Then the movie made two billion dollars.


      It was twelve years before Cameron made another movie and that next movie was almost Alita: Battle Angel. In fact, he was developing it alongside what would become Avatar and went back and forth between the two on which would be his Titanic followup. At the end of the day his script for Alita was just way too long and Cameron couldn't manage everything he wanted to do in just one movie, so he shifted focus to Avatar and once again made box office history.


      Cut to 2015. Robert Rodriguez was having lunch with Cameron and asked him what projects he worked on that never happened. Cameron mentioned Alita and Rodriguez asked to read it, all 180+ pages of it.


      Rodriguez was immediately enamored with the story, based on the Japanese manga, of an android girl discovering her history and deciding on whether she was going to be a force for good in the world or the brutal weapon she was constructed to be.


      So Rodriguez came back to Cameron with an interesting request: Could he edit the script? He was clear that he didn't intend to rewrite it. He said he could edit the material already there down to a shootable version and Cameron could do whatever he wanted with the result... Re-develop it for himself, throw it out, whatever.


      Cameron said sure, go for it and four months later Rodriguez sent him the drastically shorter script and when Cameron and his longtime producing partner Jon Landau read it they were astonished because while the script was shorter by a third they couldn't tell what had been snipped. Everything they wanted to say with this story was there. The action set pieces were still there and still thrilling, the tale of a girl transitioning into womanhood was still at the forefront. It was the movie Cameron had in mind, just more concise.


      He was so impressed with the work Rodriguez did he figured he had found the man to actually make the movie a reality. Once again Avatar took priority for Cameron who was neck deep in all the sequels he was writing, so he tasked Rodriguez with directing Alita. Cameron was always a phone call away to answer questions and Cameron's right hand man, Jon Landau, was always at Rodriguez's side.



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      You'd think that could be suffocating for a filmmaker who has defined his career by getting his complete vision on the screen doing as much of the movie as he could. From operating his own camera to writing, producing, composing, editing and even doing his own VFX, Rodriguez has a reputation for being a lone wolf, creatively speaking.


      But in this case his vision was to make this film as much like a James Cameron movie as possible. He underlined this to me when I visited the Austin set of Alita: Battle Angel last year. He said he didn't want to make a Troublemaker Studios movie, he wanted to make a Lightstorm movie, which is why all the footage from the trailers look a bit different from what you expect from a Robert Rodriguez joint. Lots of CG and dynamic action, yes, but also huge practical sets and a little bit more breathing room when it comes to the editing and character moments.


      Wrongly or rightly Rodriguez's style has become synonymous with greenscreen filmmaking pretty much since Sin City. But that's definitely not his approach this time out.


      The result is an approach that hopefully takes the strengths of both Lightstorm and Troublemaker and melds them into something new and unique. The integration was so important to Cameron that he even had a sign put up at his California offices that said “Troublemaker West,” and Rodriguez answered by putting a sign up in his Austin studios that said “Lightstorm South.”


      A full year of preproduction went into designing this crazy world. James Cameron's art team worked hand in hand with Rodriguez's Austin team and came up with designs that are both faithful to the look and feel from the original Manga while also being something that worked for the big screen.



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      In the Battle Angel world cybernetic augmentation is the norm. Sometimes it's slight... a hand, a foot, an arm. Sometimes it's major. There's one character, played by Jackie Earle Haley, that is pretty much just a human head on a gargantuan 8 foot tall robot brute body.


      The design team took that year and cranked out many variations of cybernetically enhanced people. I saw art of an old man playing a double-necked guitar with robotic arms that had two hands, one for each neck of the guitar, for instance. You've seen the trailers by now, so you've seen a glimpse at how far they've gone to populate this world.


      The majority of the film takes place in Iron City, a poor slum city that lives off the discards of the rich, exclusive, protected floating city above them. This is where Christoph Waltz's Dr. Ido finds a broken Alita (played entirely in motion capture by Rosa Salazar) in a junkyard. Something about her moves him and what he does to help her might give a hint at what exactly he feels for this person.



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      She awakens with a new body constructed with loving care and attention to detail. Floral patterns are intricately carved with silver metallic flourishes. It's a small body, built for a child. We find out Dr. Ido built this for his sick daughter, with the intention of giving her back her mobility and freedom, but he was too late. In short he begins to view this stranger as the daughter he never had.



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      This is a story of second chances. Ido has a second chance at being a father and Alita has a chance to be a different kind of person. She may not remember her past, but her past remembers her and it's not exactly filled with rose pedals and puppy dogs.


      For the set visit I was walked around Iron City, which was built on Troublemaker's backlot, just across the fence from where I sit typing this over at Rooster Teeth's Austin Studios offices, as a matter of fact. On screen the city will tower dozens of stories tall. They didn't go that far in reality, but they did build multiple connected city blocks up two stories. CG will take care of the rest, but the foundation will be real. Every wall, window, door, sign, road, step will be real so it won't just look like actors composited against a CG backdrop.


      Iron City had a very Rodriguez feel. This place looks like futuristic Desperado. Heavy Latino influence, but mixed with a handful of other cultures, especially Asian, to create a new blend that's lived-in, patched together with every available resource and feels like it's covered in dust.

      The only filming I got to witness with my own eyes was a crowd scene as spectators cheer and boo the players of a brutal but popular sport called Motorball. If you've ever seen the James Caan Rollerball, think of it that way, but with way more robot augmentations that allow for some crazier games.


      Christoph Waltz was in the stands watching on nervously. Alita is taking part and the deck is stacked against her. While in the stands Waltz recognizes some of her competitors as assassins and tries to warn her that this isn't just a game and her life is in danger.


      One thing I noticed is that most of the extras weren't dressed super futuristically. This isn't Blade Runner where everybody is wearing plastic ties and holding glowing umbrellas. There was a punk vibe to those in the stands, but still pretty modern-looking.


      In short everything I saw and personally experienced felt every measure the combination of James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez I was promised by producer Jon Landau at the beginning of the visit. They're taking some wild swings with this one, particularly in the design of Alita herself. 



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      Much has already been made about the giant anime eyes. Some hate it, some love it, some are just perplexed by it. It's weird and so will a bunch of this movie, but that's usually the secret to Cameron's success. Giant CG blue cat people was weird as hell, too, but then became the biggest movie in the world for a decade.


      There's no guarantee this movie will hit anywhere near Avatar levels. In many ways it's a harder sell and the filmmakers seem to know this.


      When asked if this movie was being planned as the start of a franchise or a complete one off, Landau gave a real interesting answer. He said they didn't want to have the hubris to assume a sequel, but they wanted to be smart and have some pieces in place for further films. That's the reason for the slight change in the title. The original manga is called Battle Angel Alita. The reason for calling it Alita: Battle Angel makes it easier to title potential sequels, like Alita: Fallen Angel, etc.


      I myself can't make any kind of final judgment call on what we'll be getting come December 21st, but I can say whatever the final product ends up being it wasn't haphazardly thrown together. It has two insanely creative filmmakers joining forces with all the strengths of their individual teams and some of the best effects houses in the world to tell a futuristic action adventure with actual time spent on character development.


      Anyway, I hope that gives you guys a little peek behind the curtain at what's been going on with Alita: Battle Angel. Thanks for reading along and thanks to Fox and Troublemaker for letting me wander the streets of Iron City and letting all you guys know about what I saw.



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    • Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal and Carlos Lopez Estrada Reveal How Friendship Made BLINDSPOTTING Possible!

      2 months ago

      ericvespe

      Summer movie season is in full swing right now. You can still find at least three superhero movies in theaters as well as a big, dumb action movie staring The Rock and the latest Mission: Impossible film hits screens in a little over a week. But that doesn't mean there aren't smaller, more meaningful movies out there.


      One is coming out this weekend called Blindspotting. I saw this film at Sundance and raved about it back then. Now you have a chance to see what I was talking about. Starring Hamilton's Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar and Jasmine Cephas Jones, this is one of those everything movies. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make your butthole clench in pure tension. You know, everything.


      Blindspotting is about a man in the final days of his parole who witnesses a policeman shooting an unarmed man. He's traumatized by the incident, but can't speak out for fear of revealing that violated his parole. At the same time his crazy best friend isn't helping matters by constantly acting as the well-intentioned, but bad influence in his life. 


      It's a great film and I was super excited to sit down with the two leads, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, alongside their director Carlos Lopez Estrada to talk about how this film about friendship was actually born out of friendship as well as just how great their supporting cast is and how they struck an authentic balance between real world issues and escapism entertainment.


      It's a good chat. Enjoy!



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      Eric Vespe: Hey, guys. So, I saw the movie at Sundance and flipped for it. It spoke to me in a way I wasn't quite expecting and I think it's because of the way the humor of the film pushes the narrative. It's a movie with deadly serious content, but first and foremost it's almost a buddy comedy. I cared about the stakes of the movie because I cared about the friendship between you guys. Was that your way into the story?


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: The movie is based on friendship. It sounds like a corny thing to say, but it's true. The movie's a result of the friendship between Rafa and Daveed for... how many years?


      Daveed Diggs: Hella years.


      Rafael Casal: (laughs) Hella years. We're coming up on two decades.


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: Then there was a friendship between Daveed and myself. It started professionally and then...


      Daveed Diggs: It became romantic.


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: It wasn't romantic, it was just physical. (laughs) Then through Daveed I met Rafa. It's oversimplifying the process a little, but a lot of people came to (the movie) because of friendship. (Producers) Keith Calder and Jess Wu have been working with these guys for 9 years as well. A lot of the actors are either friends or friends of friends of people who these guys have worked with. It is a family endeavor and I'm glad to hear that energy translates when you watch the movie. Calling this movie a passion project is a serious understatement. They could probably tell you a little more about the real genesis.


      Daveed Diggs: (to Rafa) You said something great a little while ago about humor and male relationships... about how men interact with each other.


      Rafael Casal: Just say it's my quote, but Daveed will say it.


      Daveed Diggs: Rafa says that one of the ways that men stay friends with each other is by making jokes. That's what we do. We're always sort of covering up...


      Rafael Casal: It's the barrel roll out of tension. We have two main emotions that men are socially accepted to express. It's anger and humor. Those are the two conditioned ways to fluctuate. 


      Really the movie runs the way heterosexual male friendship tends to toggle. It's devoid of too much talk about feelings and it's very much humor-humor-humor until it boils up and because of that I think the characteristic of the film I love the most is just how much they try to keep bringing humor into it until it's completely impossible. Even in the end it's Miles' final barrel roll that gets us to a place of hope between the two of them, by trying to get them to laugh. That's the survival nature of friendship.


      Daveed Diggs: It sets up this thing where you can't trust humor any more. It's not enough. But then the final statement is pretty much if we acknowledge that we both changed we can still make jokes.



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      Eric Vespe: I relate to that a lot. It's also important for audiences to know, too. You can tell people Blindspotting has great messages about gentrification and police brutality and the unfairness of the parole system and their eyes might glaze over. It might sound like homework. But if you can tell them it's a funny movie and you're going to connect with the characters that changes the conversation that gets people to give it a shot.


      Daveed Diggs: The buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one... the reason that we say that sentence so much is because that sentence, and when you see the movie you'll get this, is to me the definition of what “Blindspotting” is. You say “a buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one” and all people hear is the “buddy comedy” part and the second half is lost. You don't entirely know what it means, so your eyes float to “buddy comedy.”


      The first press we ever got was “Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs are doing a buddy comedy set in Oakland.” Yeah, we gave you the full sentence, but that's where your eye went.


      The in is that it's a buddy comedy, but it doesn't ignore the world that it exists in and it's that world that won't let it be one. The inherent seriousness of the time we're in gives you the buddy comedy, but puts it in the world that we're in.


      The world just unfolds as it is, which is why I never throw out the gun control and violence themes or even really police shootings. We're just now starting to add that because we're being told to. (laughs) We're being told it's helpful.


      Eric Vespe: Speaking of, your character witnesses a police shooting and the guy playing the officer is Ethan Embry. He's so damn good in this thing. He's a deeply flawed character, but not a one-dimensional bad guy. I felt I was empathizing with him and I never in a million years would have thought I'd do that with a person in his position.


      Rafael Casal: The amazing thing about empathy is all you actually have to do is make them human. You'll forgive so many flaws in a character's personality or political position as long as they feel full and human.


      Daveed Diggs: And I don't think we're even asking for forgiveness. It's just that you can sort of understand it. What we don't see is him over there and laughing and high-fiving two weeks after he shot a kid. His life probably sucks. You don't have to let him off the hook for being poorly trained and for shooting somebody because he was scared of a person running away from him. You don't get off the hook for that. You don't get brownie points for that, but also your life is probably pretty shitty.


      From our perspective (Ethan's character) couldn't reconcile with his wife after that. There's no turning back from that. The great thing about Ethan as an actor is that he made that whole movie in his head. He had the whole story of that officer in his head.


      Rafael Casal: The other side of this film.


      Daveed Diggs: And he asked us a ton of questions about it. We didn't write that into the script, so he came to us and asked us questions. Where is this guy from? Does he have other infractions?


      Rafael Casal: Do you think he came from the military? He gave it that much thought. I don't think at any point Ethan was trying to create a character that he thought was morally right. He just wanted a three-dimensional human being who is also a product of his surroundings and biases.


      Daveed Diggs: I don't think Ethan likes him very much!


      Rafael Casal: But I think he got him, which is nearly impossible when you read this script and invest in the main characters. To be able to find a sincere way into that officer...


      Daveed Diggs: It's a thing we asked of everybody involved in this film. So much of the focus is necessarily on us, but it was really important to have all these characters who were fully realized and felt like they had their own lives. So everybody had to do that work, without necessarily the lines to support it. Jasmine (Cephas Jones) came to the Bay a little bit early and just hung out. She's soooo New York.


      Rafael Casal: She's so Brooklyn! She was there for two days. She came to the Warriors parade...

      Daveed Diggs: It happened to be when the Warriors won the title.


      Rafael Casal: She hung out with two of the women who here character is based on and within two hours had the speech pattern down and was just walking around with it. They did her hair and I just kept forgetting that was Jasmine. It was magic.


      Eric Vespe: Janina (Gavankar) is great, too. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when she's doing your hair. It's the most romantic not-romantic scene ever. It's romantic in that these are two people who get each other and care for each other, but they're not at a place where they can become an item again.


      Daveed Diggs: We auditioned here by seeing if she could braid hair. She can't, so that's an incredible acting job. You'll see she focuses on the back of the head. (laughs)



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      Carlos Lopez Estrada: I think Janina is one of those casting stories that I'll always remember because she came in to read towards the later end of the process. We had seen a lot of actors, some very, very talented people came in to read, and we were having a hard time making a decision. It was an important role. Then she walked into the room and did a handful of things that no one had done and I think understood the depth of the character in ways that we hadn't even fully grasped.


      We had a conversation with her about the script and about how she related to it being an Indian woman and understanding how minorities feel. It's just one of those things I'll never forget. She walked out of the room and we all just looked at each other and said, “Wow. How could we not work with this woman?”


      Daveed Diggs: She taught us things about Val in the audition.


      Rafael Casal: She totally changed the character.


      Daveed Diggs: There's that moment at the end of that scene after their hug she just said “Okay, bye” and walked out. No one else had played it that way. There was always this longing pathos thing, but she did it that way and I was like “... okay.” I was reading with her.


      Rafael Casal: She just cut the scene off!


      Daveed Diggs: All of us were like “That's how that scene was supposed to go! Shit.” It gave her so much more agency than I think even we were giving to that character. The best of our abilities we were still two dudes trying to write women and she came in and was like “This is how I would do it in this moment.”


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: She's not like Val, but in many ways she is. She'd come up to all three of us and we would give her direction and she'd say “Actually, I'm not sure if I agree with that” and we'd have these really interesting conversations.


      Rafael Casal: She really took Val from us.


      Daveed Diggs: Thank goodness.


      Rafael Casal: She'd be like “Val's this person. I know her better than you, so we're going to do it this way.” We were like “Okay!”


      Eric Vespe: It's a tough character because that archetype could come across as naggy.


      Daveed Diggs: It could come across as naggy, I know! It's tricky. There was an edit where we failed her, really. There was an early edit where she came off that way and it wasn't because of her performance, it was because we were choosing the wrong shots. For time we cut a bunch of things out, so we had to go back put more of her in. She gives this wonderfully nuanced performance with so much empathy in it, but for time we cut a lot of those moments and we were watching it going “We have to put that back.”


      Rafael Casal: There's the balance of sweet and stern and she gave us so many different takes of each one in each scene. Compiling that, you have to have just the right amount of Val's sweetness and kindness that you understand why her and Collin were together, but also just enough coldness that you get that this isn't a happily ever after thing.


      Eric Vespe: Absolutely. I love the movie and I think a lot of people are going to love the movie as well. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.



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      The movie's out in select theaters this weekend and goes wide on July 27th. If you like good things, go watch it!  

    • The Aquaman Poster Is Released And The Internet Is Already Clowning It

      3 months ago

      ericvespe

      My history with the modern DCEU is a little rocky, but I'm by no means a DC hater. Growing up the only good comic book movies were DC films! Superman and Superman II, the two Tim Burton Batman movies. Hell, I even liked Supergirl as cheesy as that was.


      The Dark Knight was my favorite movie the year it came out and I still hold it up as a masterpiece of popcorn entertainment.


      DC is just having some trouble finding its footing in the Marvel era. It's a tough road to hoe for Warner Bros. We've seen so much of Batman and Superman, so how do they both give us what we want and also something new?


      There's no easy answer to that question, but I think the key lies more in their less-familiar characters. Wonder Woman has been all over pop culture, but she never got her moment in the sun quite like she did in her own standalone movie. Patty Jenkins embraced the good-hearted Diana and also made her a badass who will stand up and fight for those that can't. It was more than just "cool moments." 


      Could James Wan work similar magic for Aquaman? I'm optimistic, not because I have any deep love or nostalgia for the character (I don't), but I like Wan as a filmmaker. He's got a great eye and distinctive voice. 


      While I think they blew it pretty hardcore with Batman V Superman and Justice League, I still hold out hope DC rights the ship. 


      So, when I share some images of the internet joshing the new Aquaman poster know it comes from a place of good fun. Here's the official one:



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      The movie could be amazing, but that poster is pretty silly. Even DC fans are making fun of it. Looks like a photoshoot at the local aquarium. People have pointed out that the big mean shark on the right side of the poster is a stock image that you've seen a million times before, but hey, short cuts happen.


      The internet isn't as forgiving as I am, though. Here are a few of my favorite instant photoshop jobs I saw today:



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      Alright, the last one is kinda mean and snarky, but it made me laugh.


      One nice thing I'll say about this poster though is that it shows a lighter, more fun vibe. I've seen a few clips and unfinished effects shots from this movie at various Conventions over the last 12 months or so and Wan isn't shying away from making this weird as hell, which is why I'm still hopeful we'll get something special out of this movie when it premieres this holiday season.


      In the meantime I'm sure we'll be getting a new trailer soon since they're going to be doing their big Hall H presentation at Comic-Con this week. We'll know soon enough exactly what kind of movie we're in for here.

    • Skyscraper Is Just As Silly As You Expect, But Also Pretty Fun

      3 months ago

      ericvespe

      It's hard to remember in these days of comic book movies being all the rage, but the state of the big studio summer blockbuster was pretty dire before movies like Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man changed the game. For every Independence Day we get a dozen Dante's Peaks.


      Enough time has passed that it's strangely nostalgic to see a traditional big, goofy disaster movie again. Skyscraper is by no measure a serious attempt at drama, but it's not trying to be. All it wants to do is entertain you by throwing one of the most charismatic action stars in history into increasingly ridiculous set pieces as he has to scale a burning building to rescue his family. If you can accept it on its own level you should be able to have some fun with it.



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      In terms of scripting it's a great example of set up and pay off. In fact you could almost call Skyscraper Chekhov's Gun: The Movie.


      If you're unfamiliar with the term, Chekhov's Gun simply means if you show a gun a wall at the beginning of a story by the end of that gun better have gone off. It's a storytelling principle that is in place so writers don't promise things they don't deliver on.


      The first act of Skyscraper is all about showing us stuff that pays off later. We're walked through this magnificent high tech tower in Hong Kong called The Pearl and things big and small are set up to be revisited later, from giant wind turbines to a garden section in the middle to even a sword hanging on the wall of the CEO's penthouse apartment.


      While the script, written by director Rawson Marshall Thurber, won't be winning any awards it's tighter than you'd expect and does right by its lead characters. Yes, there's Dwayne Johnson's one-legged security specialist Will Sawyer who is instantly likable and heroic and all that, but there's also his wife, Sarah, played by Neve Campbell, who skirts the typical damsel in distress trope. She's always proactive from scene one and nobody's victim. She's smart, kind, supportive, instantly catches on that something's wrong and calmly goes about finding a way out for her and her children. In any other big blockbuster type movie she'd just be waiting for the hero to come rescue her, but not here. It's a welcome breath of fresh air and Neve Campbell gives it her all.


      Johnson is his typical bundle of muscle, sweat and charm. Gotta hand it to The Rock. That dude never phones in a performance, which is crucial when you're dealing with a story as silly as this. You want to see The Rock trying to jump into a fiery building from a construction crane.


      Skyscraper really is The Towering Inferno mixed with Die Hard, but leans more towards Towering Inferno than you may think.


      Despite what the many sequels try to tell you, the original Die Hard worked because Bruce Willis was an everyman, not an action hero. Willis has taken the mantle of the action star post-Die Hard, but you have to remember up to that point he was a comedic romantic leading man, famous mostly for his quick-witted banter with Cybill Shepherd on Moonlight. He wasn't a muscle-bound action hero, he was just a dude who got hurt and didn't just shrug off his injuries.


      That's not what Skyscraper is. It is physically impossible to make The Rock an everyman, and that's a compliment to the hardest working man in show business. Seeing him kick ass is why people buy tickets to his movies. He's more in the Schwarzenegger mold than early Willis and he uses that to his advantage every time out, especially in last year's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle where his perfectly sculpted body was the central joke.


      In short, Skyscraper delivers on what it promises. I doubt it'll ever be anybody's favorite movie, but it's an audience pleaser and never gets boring, which is the worst sin a movie like this could commit

    • Indiana Jones 5 Delayed! Disney shifts their schedule around!

      3 months ago

      ericvespe

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      There was a massive shift in Disney's release schedule today. Most of these new dates affect movies still in development, so don't worry. Avengers 4, Captain Marvel, Episode IX, Frozen 2 and all those are still coming when you expect them.


      Most of the moves are earlier than previously announced, the one exception being a big year push for Indiana Jones 5. Originally slated for 7/10/2020 the movie will now come out 7/09/2021. It makes sense, especially with the news that Solo's Jon Kasdan was reportedly doing a big rewrite after Spielberg regular David Koepp had his shot at the script.


      It's a bummer, but as long as they get it right and wash away the taste of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull they can take as much time as they need. 



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      Mary Poppins Returns moves up a week from December 25th to December 19th, The Rock's Jungle Cruise movie will release October 11th, 2019, Maleficent 2 will hit theaters May 29th, 2020 and an Untitled Marvel movie moves from July 30th, 2021 to February 12th, 2021.


      It's a good bet that the Untitled Marvel movie will be a Black Panther sequel since it's moving from a coveted summer slot to February, which was very, very good to the first Black Panther film, but that's just a guess. 


      So that's the big update. Still can't wait for Spielberg and Harrison Ford's final outing with Dr. Jones. Call me an optimist if you want, but I have a good feeling that they'll knock it out of the park.



    • Ant-Man and the Wasp is funny, entertaining, endearing and a little slight.

      3 months ago

      ericvespe

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      It's an interesting time for Marvel right now. We're smack dab in the middle of a changing of the guard. Many of the cornerstone characters aren't expected to make it out of the still untitled Avengers 4 while the newer, more fun characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are going to be shouldering the weight of the MCU going forward.


      There's two movies between Infinity War and whatever its sequel will be called: Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel. Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years of Marvel cinematic storytelling and, as such, the film has a weight to it. Yes, people die and there are massive stakes, but even more than that the film has to shoulder an epic scope worthy of being the endgame of 10 years of tentpole filmmaking.


      So when I say that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a step back into a more innocent MCU style it's not a condemnation. It's a little refreshing, actually. The stakes here are personal and once again rooted in family. It's not the end of the world if Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne fail, but the emotional stakes are just as high for the characters.


      Ant-Man and the Wasp checks off all the MCU boxes. Young-ified actors in an opening flashback? Check. Goofy leading man? Got it. Light-hearted action scenes? Yeppers. Sons and daughters with mommy and/or daddy issues? All of it.


      The movie begins with Scott Lang on house arrest for helping out Captain America in Civil War. He's at the end of his two year sentence, just days away from having his ankle bracelet removed and being able to leave the confines of his admittedly very nice house. He can finally be a full father to his daughter and put his life of crime and crime-fighting behind him.


      Of course that's now how things play out. He's pulled into another adventure by Dr. Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope, and has to dodge his strangely nice FBI handler (played by the hugely likable Randall Park), keep ahead of a charismatic crime boss (Walton Goggins) and somehow fight a mysterious masked stranger who can phase in and out of reality (Hannah John-Kamen).


      Scott has some vital information that may save the original Wasp from the Quantum Realm, but is up against too much to face alone. There's not really a whole lot of resistance from him about teaming up with the Wasp, but that's okay. It fits his character and it's kind of nice to see a guy accept a strong female partner pretty much right off the bat instead of having to dramatically cope with his vision of his masculinity under threat.



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      Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are just as strong together in costume as they were as normal people in the first movie and Lilly in particular gets a lot of time in the spotlight here. She's way more proactive, pushing the narrative as she desperately tries to save her mother. Because Scott has to stay hidden or risk losing his family there's a story reason for Wasp to be the face of the fight and their main villain is powerful enough to warrant the tag team action.


      I found Ghost to be interesting, but a two-dimensional (yuk-yuk-yuk). Her character is tortured, in pain, and just wants to find a solution to her problem. That solution lies in Pym's tech and she doesn't care who she has to hurt (or even kill) to save her own skin. That's very rich, fertile ground, but just as soon as they introduce her they throw her out of the narrative for a full act. When she comes back into the fray she's almost cartoonishly villainous.



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      That's not a knock on Hannah John-Kamen's performance. She gives it her all and you can feel a character in pain in every moment of her screen time, but she's let down a little bit by the script.

      Speaking of there's a whole lot of telling instead of showing going on here. There are multiple moments where characters have long speeches telling you exactly who they are or exactly what they're doing. It effectively gets that information across, but it feels a little lazy to me. I much prefer finding out these details through the story unfolding instead of being told everything right up front.


      The funny thing is they make a joke out of this exact kind of monologuing early on with Randall Park's character, but then they proceed to actually do it right afterwards! It's like they were apologizing in advance for the shortcuts they were about to take.


      On a technical side this feels more fully a Peyton Reed joint. You can still feel some of Edgar Wright's fingerprints on the first movie, but this one is totally Reed and Paul Rudd. The goofy stuff is at the forefront (I mean, you saw the giant ant playing drums in the trailer, right?) and the action scenes are fun, but a bit on the standard side. The focus instead is on character emotion and making damn sure you have a good, light, fun time at the movies.


      That's not a bad thing, but if you don't find yourself automatically on the Marvel train then you probably aren't going to love this one. On the other hand, if you're down with the MCU then you'll enjoy yourself here.


      Once again Michael Peña and Scott's ragtag friends steal the show. Peña has so much heart and childlike awe and wonder that it can't help but infect the audience with his positivity. Both TI and David Dastmalchian get expanded roles, too, and are so fun together that I'd totally watch a movie of just those guys running a security company as all the superhero shit goes down off-screen.


      Laurence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer are good additions to this universe. Pfeiffer gets to be pretty badass but doesn't have a whole lot to do just yet. Fishburne's character's troubled history with Hank Pym is some of my favorite new stuff added in this film. Bill Foster has a solid moral compass, but has also been harboring resentment towards Pym for decades. Again, nice rich character detail but it's pretty background stuff.


      I don't know what it says about the movie that some of its flaws is that there's way too much good stuff in there that I wanted to see more of. If Walton Goggins had 20 minutes more screentime I wouldn't have been upset about that, either.


      At the end of the day, this flick is fun and adds a few more shades to the MCU. That's all it wants to do and it delivers. It'll be a good test to see if audiences on the whole reject a return to a more slight, character-focused version of an MCU movie or if post-Infinity War they will only accept huge superhero movies with 17 characters on screen at any given time. I have a feeling it's the former, but we'll soon see. 


      All I know is I liked it and feel good recommending it to people. It won't change your life, but you won't feel ripped off paying for a ticket to see this one big.

  • Comments (8)

    • Izayer Keeper of Stories

      11 months ago

      Wow. I remember when the podcast guys talked about you when they were still the Drunk Tank. Welcome. I'm sure that RT will regret love having you write for The Know! Welcome aboard!

    • prydie

      11 months ago

      Great to see you've found a new home! Looking forward to more of your work.

    • SailorGirl81 FIRST Member Star(s) Indication of membership status - One star is a FIRST member, two stars is Double Gold Keeper Of Kittens

      11 months ago

      Welcome to Rooster Teeth and The Know!

    • RiverRunning

      11 months ago

      Hello :)

    • RWBimbie Keeper of Poems

      11 months ago

      Heyo !

    • ItsMeMara

      11 months ago

      Welcome to The Know can't wait to see what you bring to the community!!

    • EricHVela FIRST Member Star(s) Indication of membership status - One star is a FIRST member, two stars is Double Gold Don't be a divider.

      11 months ago

      MOVIES!


      I mean...


      WELCOME!


      (and MOVIES!)

    • Donjre

      11 months ago

      Welcome!

  • Questions answered by ericvespe

    I curate a pretty solid Twitter stream filled with entertainment reporters, aggregators, actors, directors, producers and just plain ol' cinephiles. That means there's commentary for just about every bit of news that comes down the pipe. I also check out the scoopers regularly. Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, etc. 


    Good luck on the director goal. It's a lot of work, but if you've got stories to tell then you're in the right field! 

    Favorite 80s movie monster and why?

    | Asked by: Xuelder 10 months ago

    This is an excellent question. Do you go by design? Quality of the movie or series they're in? Lasting chills? Design would be between Predator, Pumpkinhead and Gill-Man from Monster Squad (all created by the late, great Stan Winston, by the way). I watched more Friday the 13th movies growing up than I did Nightmare on Elm Street, but I like the character of Freddy more, especially in that first film and Dream Warriors. It might not be the most original answer, but I'd probably go with Freddy.

    Absolutely not. That's what being a geek is all about. I can't tell you how many cool, random, weird movies I've found while chasing down movies with favorite character actors in it or directed by people I dig. That's the fun of all this!

    Honestly (and I know this makes me sound like a politician, but it's true) I love all kinds of movies. It's hard for me to pick between Jaws and Casablanca or The Exorcist and Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather. I definitely have a soft spot for horror and sci-fi and I'm usually more willing to give a new random horror flick a shot over some drama I've never heard about.

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