Saturday, April 14, 2018

Clueless (1995)

Clueless (1995) Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Dan Hedaya Directed by Amy Heckerling. Screenplay by Amy Heckerling. Based on Emma by Jane Austen (published in 1815). Produced by Scott Rudin, Robert Lawrence. Runtime: 97 minutes USA Romantic Comedy

Like William Shakespeare, the work of Jane Austen has been made into several movies. Every novel she’d written has been made into either a movie or a TV Miniseries save Sanditon (1817), her unfinished novel. Some of her books have been adapted many times, like Pride and Prejudice (1813) which has been adapted 13 times for film and television with looser adaptations from an episode of Red Dwarf to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012–2013), an Emmy winning YouTube adaption.

Her book Emma was first adapted as a feature film in 1948 and again in 1996, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and in between were two television miniseries, first in 1960 and then again in 1972. There was also a TV movie starring Kate Beckinsale, also released in 1996 and then again as a miniseries in 2009. But not all adaptations follow her books so closely. Case in point, Clueless (1995), in which the story is transplanted to Beverly Hills and given a then modern update by Amy Heckerling.

Heckerling, whose career includes another teenage comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), her first feature, was known for her comedies. These include Johnny Dangerously (1984), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), Look Who’s Talking (1989) and Look Who’s Talking Too (1990). In order to prepare for this film, Heckerling studied real High School students to get the lingo and culture for teenagers in the 1990’s.

In this version, Austen’s Emma Woodhouse is reborn as Cheryl "Cher" Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a cute, sweet but deeply spoiled daughter of attorney Melvin "Mel" Horowitz (Dan Hedaya), a $500 an hour litigator. Cher’s mother died in a freak liposuction accident when Cher was only a baby.  Cher is one of the popular girls at high school, riding the crest of the social wave along with her best friend, Dionne Davenport (Stacey Dash). Dionne is based on the character Isabella Knightley (née Woodhouse), Emma’s sister.

Dionne (Stacey Dash) and Cher (Alicia Silverstone) are best friends at school.

Cher is 15 years-old but drives a tricked-out Jeep that her father bought her. A good fashion sense, she has her outfits programmed into her computer so that she is never mismatched. A good student, Cher doesn’t apply herself to anything until she receives lower than expected. In order to help raise her grades, she negotiates with some of her teachers, who raise her grades. However, her debate teacher, Wendell Hall (Wallace Shawn), doesn’t budge. But she does manage to weaken his resolve by playing matchmaker, setting him up with another hard-grading teacher, Miss Geist (Twink Caplan), the latter of whom she gave a makeover to help attract Mr. Hall’s attention.

In an effort to get a better grade, Cher set up her debate teacher
 Wendell Hall (Wallace Shawn) with another lonely teacher.

After finding success with that effort, Cher turns her attention to a new student, Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy). Tai is a bit of an ugly duckling by comparison with Cher and Dionne. Tai, though, catches the eye of skateboarder and drug user, Travis Birkenstock (Breckin Meyer), whom Cher feels is below her. Instead, she tries to fix up the new and improved Tai with Elton Tiscia (Jeremy Sisto).

Cher takes new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) under her wing and gives her a makeover.

She tries to match them up at a party in the Valley. But things don’t go as planned and Cher ends up with Elton. On the way home, Elton stops the car to make his play for Cher. However, when she rebuffs his advances, he leaves her on the side of the road. Cher is promptly mugged with her cell phone and purse stolen. Desperate, she calls her former stepbrother, Josh Lucas (Paul Rudd), who lives in L.A. going to college. Even though he’s on a date, he still comes to her rescue.

Cher tries to set Tai up with Elton (Jeremy Sisto), but he's only interested in Cher.

Cher then falls for another new student, Christian Stovitz (Justin Walker). The child of a divorced couple, Christian’s parents have joint custody and he spends one semester in Chicago and one in Beverly Hills. Good-looking with his own somewhat dated sense of fashion, he dresses like a member of the Rat Pack, Cher falls hard for him.

Cher falls for Christian (Justin Walker), another new student at her school.

On their first date, Christian takes Cher to a party. Concerned about him, Josh, who is helping his former step-father with some research for a case, begs off helping to follow them. Mel, who seems to know what’s going on, lets him go. At the party, Josh ends up dancing with Tai, who otherwise is a wallflower at the affair. Cher notices and appreciates his actions. What she doesn’t seem to notice is that Christian is more comfortable with the boys at the party, even staying behind with Josh taking her home.

Cher is willing to give her viriginity to Christian, but he's not interested.

Cher, who we learn is still a virgin and is waiting for someone she loves, decides that Christian is the one. She invites him over to her house when her father is out but when the time would be right, he goes home. It takes Dionne’s boyfriend, Murray Duvall (Donald Faison), to point out to her that Christian is gay.

Despite her miscalculation, Cher still likes Christian because he’s smart, likes art and has a good fashion sense. On a shopping spree with him, Tai, who is also at the mall, is flirting with some boys while sitting on the second-floor railing. She jokes about falling over and the boys she’s with decide to take it a step further and dangle her over the railing. Christian comes to her rescue but her near-death experience has a profound effect on her popularity at school.

Tai usurps Cher as the center of attention at school.

But things don’t get better, as Cher fails her driving test and try as she might, she can’t renegotiate the results. When she gets home, Tai is there with Josh and later Tai confides to Cher that she has a crush on Josh and asks Cher to help her get him. But Cher, instead, tells Tai that Josh’s not right for her. A verbal altercation follows, ending with Tai calling Cher a "virgin who can't drive".

Now, Cher is left feeling totally clueless, which causes her to reflect on the important things in her life. With Tai being the social queen, Cher gets involved in charity work, which she finds rewarding. Cher even leads her school’s Pismo Beach disaster relief effort, a made up and undefined disaster. She also lowers her guard, allowing Travis to invite her to an amateur skateboarding contest he’s participating in.

Cher starts to realize she's attracted to her former stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd).

Cher’s soul-searching leads her to the epiphany that she, in fact, loves Josh. But she can’t seem to bring this up to him. The situation presents itself, however, for Josh to show how he feels about her. When one of her father’s associates scolds her for taking files apart, Josh defends her. This allows them to finally confess their feelings for each other.

The film ends at the wedding of Hall and Geist.

The film ends with the wedding of Hall and Geist. The various couples are there, including Tai and Travis, Dionne and Murray and, of course, Cher and Josh. Cher even wins a $200 bet by being the woman who catches the Geist’s wedding bouquet. She and Josh embrace and kiss and the film ends.

Clueless ends with a kiss between Josh and Cher.

Clueless was a bit of a surprise hit. On a budget of $12 million, the film made $56.6 million. While not a blockbuster by the standards of the day, the film made the virtually unknown Silverstone a star and led her to getting a $10 million contract at Columbia Pictures. The film also received generally positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike.

The film doesn’t really seem to have the usual three-act structure that we have become accustomed to. There are three acts, but the first act seems to go on for a long time. We are treated to a luxurious look at Cher’s lifestyle, which is pretty sweet. She seems to have money, freedom and zero responsibilities for most of the film. You have to give her some credit for still being a virgin but that is about as virtuous as she gets until near the very end. It is only after she loses her place on top of the social order that she takes a look at herself and changes.

I do find it hard to believe that a lawyer father would let his daughter drive without a license, knowing what sort of liability that would be. While I’m sure that this happens more than I’d care to think, it just doesn’t seem like something her father would knowingly let her do.

And I don’t really buy her situation at school, either. I know that the depiction of school life is supposed to be exaggerated for comedy but Elton is very handsy throughout, grabbing Cher at every turn, even when the moment doesn’t quite feel like it would be appropriate. Maybe I’ve been ruined by an ever-litigious America, but it’s hard to imagine a school would allow that sort of behavior. I know this is pre-PC and the #metoo movement, but it still seems very brazen, even for the setting.

Cher is not really a likable character through much of the film. While you might envy her lifestyle, she is a self-centered drama queen. Unless she was a friend of yours you wouldn’t really like her as a person. I know you’re saying but she does good deeds, doesn’t she? Well, the first good deed we see her do, matching Hall and Geist together, is really a selfish gesture because she hopes it will lead to better grades. She takes pity on Tai, but she never really seems to have that girl’s best interest at heart.

It might also seem a little odd that she ends up with her ex-stepbrother in the end. Not the usual way a romantic comedy ends, but they are a cute couple nevertheless. While Josh is based on Emma’s George Knightley, their relationship in the book is not so familial, though they are familiar, life-long friends.

One of the fun parts of the film is watching a couple of really good character actors. Wallace Shawn, perhaps best known for films like My Dinner with Andre (1981) and The Princess Bride (1987), doesn’t disappoint here in what is a small, though important role. Neither does Dan Heyada, who plays Cher’s father. Heyada first came to be known as Carla’s ne’er-do-well husband in the long-running TV Series Cheers. He would also appear in such films as Nixon (1995) and later play Nixon in Dick (1999).

Several of the stars of Clueless would go on to long careers in film. Silverstone, despite her large contract with Sony, never really took off as a major star. There would be some big roles, like Batgirl in Batman & Robin (1997) and while she continues to act to this day, Silverstone is known as much for her activism as her acting. A devoted vegan, she is also a supporter of PETA.

Stacey Dash, who would reprise her role in the Clueless TV show that followed from 1996 to 1999, also appeared in several films and TV Series. Somewhere along the way, the Democratic Dash would end up a Republican and on Fox News as a commentator during the latter half of the Obama administration. She has since filed to run in California's 44th congressional district in the 2018 Congressional Election as a Republican.

Donald Faison would have a more conventional acting career. After also appearing on the Clueless TV series, Faison would also appear on the long-running Scrubs (2001-2010) followed by The Exes (2011-2015).

Jeremy Sisto, who played Elton, would go on to appear in such films as Waitress (2007) as well as star on the TV series Law and Order (2008–2010), and Suburgatory (2011-2014). He would also play Jesus in a TV Movie of the same name in 1999. Here he’s all hands; not his best role.

Brittany Murphy, who played Tai, maybe best remembered for voicing Luanne Platter for the entire run of the animated series King of the Hill (1997-2009) also got her big break in this film.  She would also appear in such films as Girl, Interrupted (1999), 8 Mile (2002), Just Married (2003) and Happy Feet (2006), the latter in which she voiced the character of Gloria. Plagued by rumors of drug use, Brittany's career slowed in the late 2000s and she would, unfortunately, die of pneumonia in December 2009. 

Perhaps of all the actors, Paul Rudd may have had the most prolific career. Clueless was his first film, though he had been on the TV series Sisters before that. He would go on to appear in 18 episodes of the very popular Friends series. A favorite of director Judd Apatow, Rudd would appear in several of his films, The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007), and This Is 40 (2012). He also appeared in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), both directed by Adam McKay. He also found new fans with his successful appearance as the titular character in Ant-Man (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016) and will soon appear in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) and in the yet untitled Avengers: Infinity War sequel. At this point of his career, Rudd’s best attribute was that he was cute.

Clueless is not so bad as it is somewhat forgettable. The film hasn’t aged-well, especially in light of the more recent Occupy Movement and attention to economic inequalities. The story is okay, though Cher really doesn’t change all that much. It’s not like she goes for someone like Travis. Instead, she ends up with someone in her same socio-economic class. Perhaps it's telling that Josh is also involved with Murray, who may be to blame for how the two of them came out. And what’s there to say about a film whose most memorable line of dialogue is “as if”.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Silver Case (PS4) - Kill The Past

Back in 1999, game developer Goichi Suda, better known as Suda51, directed and released a visual novel called The Silver Case, the first title released under his studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, for the original PlayStation. However, it remained a Japanese exclusive for the longest time. The first attempt to bring it to the west was a planned remake for the Nintendo DS that never materialized, as Suda51 was unsatisfied with the product, claiming that it would require a lot of changes to fit the dual-screen environment of the handheld. Years later, a proper remaster of the game was released for the PC in 2016, also the first time the game saw the light of day in the west. 2017 also saw a worldwide release of a PS4 port of the game, the subject of this review. Since Suda51 is a favorite on this blog, we wholeheartedly dove in to take a look at one of his first games. Compared to his later output, it’s rather interesting and unique to say the least.

In 1999, a series of mysterious murders is committed in 1999 within what’s known as the 24 Wards. This prompts the 24 Wards Heinous Crimes Unit to investigate, concluding that the murders were committed by Kamui Uehara, a man who had previously killed a number of government officials in the now-famous “Silver Case” 20 years prior. However, Kamui was held in a mental hospital and deemed unfit to commit crime again, leading the HCU to wonder how he could still be around. The player character, a member of the Special Forces known as “Republic”, has been recruited to help investigate the Kamui case.

The story of The Silver Case is told from two perspectives. The first scenario, Transmitter, is told from the perspective of a detective, the nameless protagonist recruited by the Heinous Crimes Unit, trying to track down Kamui. The other scenario, Placebo, is told from the perspective of a freelance journalist, Tokio Morishima, investigating the Kamui case. Due to the presentation of the story in the main menu, which resembles a sort of record player, Transmitter can be viewed as the A-side and Placebo the B-side.

The Silver Case is split into two sides, like a record.

As for the execution of this presentation, it’s overall very solid. The premise of tracking down a serial killer presumed inactive is intriguing on its own, but it gradually unfolds into a rather elaborate, but engaging, conspiracy involving government politics surrounding the 24 Wards, as well as the true nature of Kamui Uehara and how he relates to it all. I won’t say too much to avoid spoilers, but I will say that’s it’s rather essential to play both Transmitter and Placebo, preferably trading off between them to make full sense of the story; I say this because I played Transmitter and then Placebo and found myself lost a little on some of the details until I finished both. Even though Placebo starts out as more or less Transmitter from a different perspective, the story does pick up sooner rather than later and has its own unique twists and turns.

Though the plot of The Silver Case is a bit odd and has some bizarre twists, which may be more acceptable if you’re a Suda51 fan, what makes it engaging is its themes. There are some elements of postmodernism present, mainly through the game acknowledging itself in odd ways, most notably how it handles the concept of a silent protagonist in a game. In the case of this game, the player character is implied to be literally mute, which elicits some interesting reactions from the other characters; by contrast, Tokio is very talkative throughout Placebo.

The nameless main protagonist of The Silver Case, whom
the player can name (Protip: His "default" name is Akira).

One major theme of The Silver Case, which also loosely ties a few other Suda51 games together, is the theme of “Kill the Past”. A “Kill the Past” game generally involves the protagonist having to either directly confront past events they are at odds with or destroy some relic of their past which burdens them in some way in order to move forward with their lives. This idea of destroying a relic of the past is played out rather well in The Silver Case and manifests itself in an interesting way, though the payoff is better if Transmitter and Placebo are played in the right order.

What’s notable about The Silver Case is its gameplay, or the lack of. Since it’s a visual novel, most of the time the player is reading through text and dialogue to advance the story to its, in this case, pre-determined conclusion. It’s kind of annoying that you can’t adjust dialogue speed or skip through it, however there are certain times when dialogue speed is used for dramatic effect or to recreate use of an online chat room, so it also kind of makes sense.

When not reading text, the player has the opportunity to explore a three-dimensional world in first-person view and interact with objects. Movement in this part of the game is restricted to a grid-like system where the player can only walk between specific points on the map, which operates not unlike “tank controls”, but the player can also look up and down; turning resets the view. However, there are numerous points of interactivity depending on the part of the story and there is some occasional puzzle solving. I will admit, however, that sometimes it’s not completely obvious where the player is meant to go next to advance the story, but fortunately the limited map points make it pretty easy to figure out with trial and error.

A section of actual player interactivity in The Silver Case.

During the actual gameplay segments, the player uses a command ring with four options: M (Move), C (Control), I (Implement) and S (Save). Players normally have to scroll through the command ring and select the command they wish to use, though the options are also accessible through shortcuts. Move and Save are the most likely to see use, while Control, basically interacting with an object, can only be used on map points marked by a sun and Implement, in which you use an inventory item, is pretty rarely used. The controls do take some getting used to, but it’s pretty easy once you adjust.

While gameplay is present somewhat often in the Transmitter part of the game, the Placebo portion is a lot more text-oriented. As such, there’s a bare minimum of actual interactive moments, restricted entirely to four objects in Tokio’s apartment: his computer, phone, apartment window and pet turtle, Red. Due to this more limited presentation, Placebo is more boring to sit through, especially if you play like I did and tried to go through it all in one sitting (this is partly why I discourage the playstyle).

The visual presentation of The Silver Case is rather unique mainly due to the Film Window engine. Film Window was created to take advantage of Grasshopper’s limited resources available at the time, but the way they did so gives it an experimental flavor and helps it stand out even from other visual novels. The way Film Window works is that the game places windows on top of a larger backdrop relevant to each case. In these windows, the player can see 3D backgrounds, 2D artwork (both character profiles and whole shots), dialogue text and both live-action and animated footage. The seemingly random, but ultimately deliberate, placement of each window helps to highlight the emotion of each scene and can easily ramp up the tension at the right moments. The use of numerous mediums is also executed pretty well and can at times create an appropriate sense of unease.

Film Window in action.

Each chapter also feels unique, since they all have unique backdrops and general color schemes which suit each case. For instance, case#3: Parade is presented entirely in black and white and has a dedicated intro animation. case#4: Kamuidrome has a generally green color scheme to match its relation to the internet, also reflected in how the backdrop generates random words in a special typeface, however I did find that this chapter in particular saw some framerate drops due to the number of visual effects in the backdrop.

The visual style of case#4: Kamuidrome
(compare with case#0: Lunatics, above).

Transmitter and Placebo also have general style differences within the 2D artwork each side uses. Specifically, Transmitter uses a generally more realistic style while Placebo uses a rougher, sketchier style. Not only does this difference help each side feel different from each other, it can also create two different appearances for characters who appear in both sides, most noticeably with Tokio Morishima and Tetsugoro Kusabi from the Heinous Crimes Unit. It’s not too jarring, but it can create a different impression of certain characters as a result.

I’ll also mention here that while the game will use the visuals of the remake by default, it’s possible to alter the settings to instead display the visuals of the original PlayStation release instead.

The soundtrack for The Silver Case, arranged by Akira Yamaoka for the remake, is also pretty good and helps to give the game its own identity. Each track contributes well to the atmosphere, including the unique track for each case, and the prevalence of certain cues helps to highlight certain scenes and make the score more memorable.

Before I end this review, I’d also like to mention that as of 2017, the remake of The Silver Case also includes two additional chapters meant to more directly bridge the game to two sequels (these are included in the PS4 version by default). case#25: White Out leads more directly into The 25th Ward: The Silver Case and report*6: YAMI leads more directly into Flower, Sun, and Rain; the former game did not receive a proper re-release until 2018, until which it was considered a “ghost game” by Suda51, and the latter had received only a DS version in the west. These new chapters are pretty short, you can complete them both in less than 10 minutes combined, but they do a good job of making the player want to see what happens next.

case#25: White Out also adopts a similar visual style to The 25th Ward.

The Silver Case is a very interesting game. Its premise goes into sometimes bizarre territory, along with some philosophizing, and has a unique presentation. The actual gameplay is a bit bare, especially in the Placebo portion, but does present a method of interactivity unseen in a good number of visual novels. Considering this is Suda51’s first game under Grasshopper Manufacture, it’s pretty solid overall, but also feels more barebones compared to his later work. What really keeps the player invested, however, is the unique feel the Film Window engine provides as well as how more about each character is revealed through the different cases. I’d recommend this mainly to Suda51 fans who want to see where a lot of traits found in his later output originate, and who want to add one more of his games to their library, or for people who are looking for an interesting visual novel to play. It’s rough around the edges, as plenty of older games are, but worth playing once.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Half-Life 3

One of the few games that has attracted a ton of anticipation, speculation and skepticism over its very existence is Half-Life 3, along with Half-Life 2: Episode 3, both from Valve Software. To put this into perspective, the latter came out 11 years ago and the only real closure anyone could get on the story came from head writer Mark Laidlaw leaking a document containing his version of Episode 3, presumably after an NDA had expired. Though the leak had tempered some fans’ hopes for a true release of either Episode 3 or the main Half-Life 3, that still didn’t stop Valve, who had actually continued development after Gabe Newell had accepted that he wouldn’t be able to please everyone. With the game finally out, it seemed appropriate to share my thoughts on it.

First of all, my copy came in a rather dense Combine Edition not unlike Duke Nukem Forever’s Balls of Steel Edition, though its presentation, particularly of the steelbook, also earns it the name The Orange Box 2. Inside, it contained Half-Life 3, an official soundtrack with music from across the Half-Life series, a hardcover art book featuring concept art from the entire Half-Life series, a statue of Gordan Freeman and a hardcover graphic novel summarizing the previous games. The game itself is also in a special steelbook which contains the game, an updated re-release of Half-Life 2: Episode 3 and a code for early access to Portal 3.

As for the game itself, it’s best played as an experience with Half-Life 2: Episode 3. It picks up right where Half-Life 2: Episode 2 left off, with Gordon and co. on their way to the Borealis vessel from Aperture Science in Antarctica. Though I’m not the type to spoil a game in a review, I will say that it more or less follows Mark Laidlaw’s text document rather faithfully, including the venture through time and space and the eventual destruction of the Borealis. However, the ending was altered into a cliffhanger that leads into Half-Life 3, billed as the final chapter in Gordon’s adventure.

In Half-Life 3, Gordon sets out to find Alyx Vance and not only uncover the identity of the G-Man, but also find a way to stop the Combine forces once and for all. On his journey, he allies himself with Vortigaunts and other resistance fighters, though the dark tone of the story means that many don’t stick around for very long. This does not, however, prevent the game from making a few subtle jabs at the length of the gap between games, which shows that the development team at least had a sense of humor about it. Additionally, without Mark Laidlaw at the helm, they had to make do with what they had, which turned out rather well, all things considered. Though this installment does not wrap up every loose end presented throughout the series, it does at least address the more major ones, including, surprisingly enough, the true identity and motivations of the ever-mysterious G-Man.

One surprise addition that I will get into is that during the course of the game, Gordon finds himself inside the Aperture Science Enrichment Center in Michigan in search of technology that will help him defeat the Combine. While inside, he attracts the attention of GLaDOS, who decides briefly to use him as a test subject following Chell’s absence after the end of Portal 2. As he’s forced through a couple of test chambers with the aid of the Portal Gun, GLaDOS not only comments on his muteness, but also knows about his predicament with the Combine and goes back-and-forth on what she should do with him. I won’t spoil how the whole thing ends, but I will say that Gordon is from then on able to use the Portal Gun outside the Enrichment Center as an alternate means of traversing the world and fighting the Combine forces, provided there are any portal-able surfaces nearby. This adds some depth to the gameplay, as it turns the game itself into a freeform puzzle the player can solve however they wish. Additionally, the Portal Gun becomes instrumental to the final portion of the game and, rather poetically, the finale sees Gordon reduced to solely using the crowbar.

Perhaps in an effort to make the game feel worth the wait, Half-Life 3 pushes the power of the Source 2 Engine to its absolute limit, fully demonstrating just what it’s capable of. The end result is astonishing and a good direction for the future of Valve Software. Add to this the fact that Half-Life 3 is also compatible with both the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive and you have an even more impressive end product.

Along with the impressive voice acting, the music also turned out well considering the absence of long-time composer Kelly Bailey. Not only did they make do with the remaining Valve composers, they also sought input from Celldweller for some of the more intense moments and his style is able to work without clashing with the work of the other composers.

When all is said and done, Half-Life 3 is a rather impressive feat of innovation on Valve’s part and a display of the power of persistence in the face of a rabid fanbase. Considering the legendary hype surrounding the game, it won’t satisfy every fan, but it nevertheless feels like a worthy conclusion to Gordon’s adventures, even if it didn’t get to involve much of the original team. We can only hope that any future Half-Life game, not hinted at or set up by this one doesn’t force people to wait over a decade.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War Primer

Note: This article contains spoilers related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

April 27, 2018 marks the release of the highly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War. This release is not only significant in that the Avengers will finally fight Thanos, but also because it represents the culmination of a decade of continuity, going all the way back to Iron Man (2008), six of those being spent toward the actual buildup, beginning with The Avengers (2012).

However, the anticipation for Infinity War is tempered a bit by the fact that it will likely rely on the audience having seen a whopping 18 previous films. This includes the recently-released Black Panther (2018), which will likely still be in theaters by the time Infinity War drops (unless Disney rushes a home video release). This sort of buildup means that it can be time-consuming for someone to re-watch everything or for someone new to catch up. Watching every film is very beneficial for understanding all 60+ characters slated to appear in Infinity War, but even then, some of the details for the upcoming blockbuster may have been forgotten with time.

In preparation for Avengers: Infinity War, we at Trophy Unlocked have created this handy guide to finding many, if not all, of the smaller details which are the most beneficial for viewers going in. Below we will list the most relevant films alongside their most relevant moments, as well as a brief description of what happens in each scene and why it was chosen. For veteran viewers, this guide will be more of a refresher. For newcomers, this will venture into spoiler territory, but may help as a roadmap of sorts.

Note: For Black Panther, I’ve consulted descriptions on the internet since it's still in theaters.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Scene 1: Loki converses with the Other.

Partway through the movie, the Avengers are slowly coming together. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), meanwhile, uses the power of his staff to contact the Other (Alexis Denisof), a being who resides in Sanctuary in the middle of space. The Other needs Loki to lead the Chitauri in an invasion of Earth, though Loki, while confident, doubts their strength. The Other hints at a greater power who gave Loki the staff and tells him that his ambition pales in comparison to what this other being has planned. Loki points out that they do not yet have the Tesseract, which puts them in a worse position. In response, the Other threatens Loki with a fate worse than death should he fail to retrieve the Tesseract.

Significance: This scene is the first hint that throughout the entirety of The Avengers, there was always a threat greater than Loki lurking around the corner. Before this threat was first established, it also hinted that there was more to the Tesseract, which first appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) as the Cosmic Cube, than anyone knew.

Scene 2: Mid-Credits

The buildup continues with the culmination of Phase One of the MCU. Partway through the credits, after the major names have gone by, we see Sanctuary once more. The camera pans on the Other while he speaks to a hidden figure about how the humans are not only more resilient than they had anticipated, but also unruly. The second figure stands up from a chair and the Other says, rather ominously, “To challenge them is to court death.” The second figure then turns to the camera with a smile, revealing their identity as Thanos (Josh Brolin).

Significance: This scene was the very first glimpse the audience would ever get at Thanos, creating the carrot-on-a-stick that kept moviegoers returning throughout Phase Two and Three in case any future film could tell them more. Though some would do this job better than others, re-watching this scene is a good reminder of where all of the buildup and hype for Infinity War began.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Scene: Mid-Credits

Throughout Thor: The Dark World, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who rules the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, has threatened both Earth and Asgard with the Aether. Once the major names have gone by in the credits, the Asgardians Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) are introduced to Taneleer Tivan, aka the Collector (Benicio del Toro), who already knows why they have come. He asks why they don’t store the Aether back on Asgard, to which Volstagg says that they already have the Tesseract and that it is unwise to keep two Infinity Stones so close together. Once the Asgardians entrust him with the Aether and leave, the Collector ominously states, “One down, five to go.”

Significance: This scene is the first to formally acknowledge the existence of the Infinity Stones within the MCU. At the same time, it suggests that the Tesseract (the Space Stone) and the Aether (the Reality Stone) are two of them. For a lead-in to Infinity War, this scene confirms that the Reality Stone is currently within the possession of the Collector.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Scene 1: Ronan meets Thanos

At this point, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin sent by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), has unsuccessfully attempted to steal The Orb from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and has landed in the Klyn, an interstellar prison. In this scene, the Other contacts Ronan and informs him that his partnership with Thanos is at risk since Gamora appears to have her own plans for The Orb. Ronan is summoned to Sanctuary, where he insists that he has nothing to do with Gamora’s supposed betrayal. When the Other tries to put Ronan in his place, Ronan kills him, which grabs the attention of Thanos. Thanos, who shows no remorse for the Other’s death, berates Ronan for his attitude and threatens him with death should he not retrieve The Orb as promised.

Significance: This scene establishes that the Other will not return within Infinity War, and why, and also gives us a look into Thanos’ personality. More specifically, Thanos is the type who cares not for the well-being of those who serve him. Later movies would fail to expand more on this, but it’s at least something.

Scene 2: The Guardians meet the Collector

After escaping from the Klyn, Star-Lord and company go to Knowhere to sell The Orb to the Collector. When they finally have an audience with him, the Collector explains the nature of The Orb. He explains that six singularities existed before creation, but after the universe exploded into existence, their remnants became six concentrated ingots known as Infinity Stones. The power of the stones is so destructive that only beings of great power are able to wield them without being destroyed. When the Collector goes to retrieve the payment for the Power Stone inside The Orb, one of his servants, Carina (Ophelia Lovibond), grabs the Stone as a power grab, but is erased from existence as the Stone’s power destroys most of the Collector’s collection. Once the dust settles, Gamora retrieves The Orb and suggests giving it to the Nova Corps.

Significance: The origin of the Infinity Stones is explained and the power of the Power Stone is destructively demonstrated. Background visuals related to the origin of the Infinity Stones also more firmly confirm the status of the Tesseract and Aether as two of the Stones.

Scene 3: Closing Montage

After the defeat of Ronan, the Nova Corps speaks with Star-Lord and drop hints for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. During a closing montage set to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, we see a shot of Nova Prime (Glenn Close) placing an orb containing the Power Stone into a vault.

Significance: At the risk of sounding redundant, this moment, though brief, confirms that the Power Stone is currently in the hands of the Nova Corps.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Scene 1: Thor brings Vision to life

At this point in the film, the Avengers fight amongst themselves to prevent Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) from activating a synthetic body containing J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appears to activate the body, Vision, and, after a brief altercation, explains that the gem which powers Vision is the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones, which he had seen in a vision earlier in the film.

Significance: This scene confirms both that the Mind Stone was wielded by Loki throughout The Avengers, since the Stone was previously within Loki’s staff, and that the Mind Stone currently resides within Vision’s forehead.

Scene 2: Mid-Credits

After the major names have gone by, we see light flood into an opening vault with a mysterious object, an empty Infinity Gauntlet, at the center. Thanos reaches into the vault and slips his hand into the Infinity Gauntlet. He states simply, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

Significance: Simply put, Thanos has now gone from a passive observer and armchair general to active participant in his plan to collect and wield the six Infinity Stones.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Scene: The Whole Movie

Significance: Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pick out any specific scene or scenes in particular that are more important for Infinity War. It is highly recommended to watch the entire movie, since the events of Civil War establish the character relationships and alliances that will echo into the beginning of Infinity War (at least among the characters on Earth).

Doctor Strange (2016)

Scene: Doctor Strange learns about the Time Stone

After defeating Dormammu (Benedict Cumberbatch), Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) returns the Eye of Agamotto to Kamar-Taj in Nepal. Once the Eye is placed onto a special pedestal, Wong (Benedict Wong) appears and tells Strange that the Eye is actually an Infinity Stone. Strange expresses confusion and Wong tells him that in spite of his gift for the mystic arts, he still has much to learn, adding that death will spread through the Multiverse if the Earth does not have a Sorcerer Supreme to protect it. Strange assures Wong that they will be ready.

Significance: This scene establishes that the Time Stone currently resides in Kamar-Taj in Nepal.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Scene 1: Loki revives Surtur

During the climax of the movie, Loki goes to the Asgardian vault to retrieve Surtur's crown. On his way to the Eternal Flame, in order to revive Surtur to cause Ragnarok and defeat Hela, Loki passes by the Tesseract and briefly stops to look at it.

Significance: This scene implies that afterwards, Loki is in possession of the Space Stone.

Scene 2: Mid-Credits

At the end of the movie, Thor, the new king of Asgard, has chosen to take his people to Earth to rebuild their civilization. When this scene begins, Loki asks Thor whether or not it's a good idea for him to return to Earth. Thor says it probably isn't, but he's confident everything will work out fine. As soon as he says this, a much larger ship, Sanctuary II, appears before them.

Significance: This scene confirms the current location of Thor and Loki.

Black Panther (2018)

Scene: Post-Credits

Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) wakes up in a tent in a Wakandan village and wanders out. He is met by Shuri (Letita Wright), who begins to help him with his recuperation.

Significance: This scene re-confirms that Bucky Barnes is currently within Wakanda and that he’s recovered in time for his appearance in Infinity War.

I hope this guide has been helpful. Have I left anything out or made a mistake in the descriptions? Any other scenes of note? Are you looking forward to Infinity War? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review Hub - Kingdom Hearts

Since the release of the original Kingdom Hearts game in 2002, the franchise has captured the minds of those who have played it due to its intriguing premise, compelling characters, exciting gameplay and an increasingly complex and engaging storyline about the light and darkness within people's hearts. Many of these fans would also grow up with the franchise and continue to invest in and enjoy each subsequent release on the long road to the finish. With the release of Kingdom Hearts III now finally within reach, we would like to present a Review Hub collecting our coverage of the series on this blog.

Below is a list of links to every Kingdom Hearts review on this blog, presented in order of release.



Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance



Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue


Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX Launch Showcase

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Stubs - Lady Bird

Lady Bird (2014) Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith Directed by Greta Gerwig. Screenplay by Greta Gerwig. Produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O'Neill. Runtime 94 minutes. USA Color Drama, Comedy, Coming-of-age

Growing up is never easy and practically every teenager thinks they’re somehow being held back from reaching their potential by location, by their school, by their parents and even by their friends. High school senior Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) feels trapped by all of those things.

While she has a love for Sacramento, California, where she has been raised, she yearns to go somewhere more inviting to her aspirations, which are never fully defined. She chafes at her Catholic high school to which her parents have sent her, despite not having all that much money, to save her from the dangers of public schools.

Much of the focus of Lady Bird is the relationship between mother (Laurie Metcalf) R and daughter (Saoirse Ronan) L.

Lady Bird, a name she calls herself as a way of being her own person, has an on-again-off-again relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a full-time nurse. Like many teenage daughters, there is a love-hate relationship between her and her mother. Her mother may want Lady Bird to be the best version of herself that she can be, but Lady Bird asks what if this is the best version of herself.

Her relationship with her father, Larry (Tracy Letts), is much easier as he never seems to deal with issues the way her mother does. Larry, who loses his job, tries too hard to be her friend rather than be her father. But he does encourage her in a different way than her mother, allowing Lady Bird to apply for out-of-state colleges, something her mother is vehemently against.

Real friends are hard to find and for awhile Lady Bird jettisons her best friend, Julianne "Julie" Steffans (Beanie Feldstein), for Jenna Walton (Odeya Rush), a wealthier and more popular girl at school. There are also love interests, Danny O'Neill (Lucas Hedges) and Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet), neither of whom turn out to be all that rewarding though both are memorable. Eventually, Lady Bird realizes that true friendship means something to her and she smartly reconnects with Julianne. But when school is out, they end up going their separate ways.

Lady Bird has two love interests during the film, one of which is  Kyle Scheible (Timothée Chalamet).

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, an actress turned director, and a native of Sacramento, you have to wonder how much of her life we’re actually seeing played out on the screen. You know the maxim is to write what you know. You feel a little like you’ve been placed in the middle of an on-going story. Lady Bird’s journey takes a while to get going and it feels like we’re leaving her just when it seems to be getting really interesting. There is nothing like waking up in a strange town in a strange bed to help readjust yourself.

While we learn a lot about Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, her brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) is never really dealt with. Is he adopted? Is he the child from a first marriage? While it’s not really very important to the plot, it does leave you with a lot of questions, since he is a constant presence through much of her senior year.

The acting, for the most part, is really good and three actors stood out for me. Saoirse Ronan never seems to be flat in any of her films, as recognized by her three acting nominations: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Atonement (2008) and Best Actress Nominations for Brooklyn (2016) and this film.

It's a battle of wills between mother and daughter.

Laurie Metcalf is truly a national treasure and seems to excel at whatever role she’s given, from Sheldon’s Mom in The Big Bang Theory, Rosanne’s sister in the Rosanne shows or playing a complex mother figure in this film. Strong-willed, she still loves her daughter and despite it all, makes a lasting impression on her. She always seems believable in her roles whether playing them for laughs or tears.

Tracy Letts has a much smaller role as Lady Bird’s father, but he’s really good in the role. He seems a little old for me in the part, but he comes across as a weak but loving man. His chief role in the family seems to be mitigatory between mother and daughter, something he does with a deft political touch.

I will say that the film was quite enjoyable to watch. Even the funny bits that I had already been exposed to were still funny and that’s sort of hard to do these days with previews and trailers being so readily available. I would also recommend this film to anyone of a certain age trying to figure out where they fit in the world. Lady Bird’s journey, while unique to her, does have some universal truths. You must always stay truthful to yourself being one of them.