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Critical Role is the Nerdiest Thing Ever

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…And you absolutely need to watch it.

Critical Role is a show streaming on twitch every Thursday. A bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors roll dice and play Dungeons & Dragons – in the words of Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer, at least. It also just happens to be my current obsession, as I am in the fourth rewatch of it while also getting up at 4 AM every week to watch the newest episode as it is streamed. And sometimes even twice a week to catch the after show Talks Machina on Tuesdays.

(Sidenote: That’s 4 AM German time. It’s 7 PM California time where they’re filming, and you just do your own math from there.)

All episodes are available on youtube and Geekandsundry.com, the entity behind this shindig, where they’re uploaded on Mondays after airing, but only accessible via the Geek and Sundry website for about two months or so. They’re immediately available after airing if you subscribe to the twitch channel (which you can do at no additional cost if you have an amazon prime account) or pay for access on Geek & Sundry’s own streaming service, alpha, which has additional overlays, snarky written commentary, and half an hour of extra content of Talks Machina.

And I mean, if that one sentence premise already sounds appealing to you, my job here is done and you can just follow up on the links and get started immediately. Just, be warned, the series is a bit like TV Tropes, it will take over your life for a while, and demand a whole damn lot of time.

And they never even sit like this.

In fact, as I am writing this, episode 88 is coming up next Thursday. That’d already be a hefty number for your average hour long television series; almost 4 full seasons worth, really. The problem is that the episodes aren’t an hour long. They average in at around 3, with some pushing five hours – such as 2016’s final episode, 79 did, which featured the finale to a 40 episode story arc and had me seriously worried about whether I’d make it to my dentist appointment at 9:30.

As of episode 78, without the breaks and Q&As and “Critmas” segments during which the cast opens presents sent to them by the viewer base, there was more than 300 hours of pure story content available.

So, yeah, catching up takes a while, and the show isn’t ending soon, either. It’s a bit of a commitment. The sheer amount of time needed is prone to scaring off people from even starting the series, so this piece right here will be my attempt to counteract that.

If you like your content in a neat TL;DR slide form, there’s also a presentation you could watch.

The Lay Of the Land

So, first things first, the show has almost no visuals beyond people sitting at tables, rolling dice, fumbling with paper, eating, drinking out of occasionally oversized mugs, and making faces at each other. And everything except for the faces is completely unrelated to what is going on in the story at any given moment, unless Matt Mercer goes into full monster mode.

Doing what he does best.

Well, and in later episodes sometimes there’s really fancy battle maps.

And now while the cast interacting with each other is basically the best thing about this, they’re also all trained voice actors, and since everything lives and dies from Matt Mercer’s ability to tell a story and impersonate characters and monsters and whatever else you need, you can very comfortably listen to these episodes like you would to a very long podcast. I hear that’s very nice for a dedicated workout or something. Personally, I use them as audio books to go to sleep to a lot myself.

Sitting down and watching a 3+ hour episode in one sitting without being bored is also completely possible, of course. Even if you catch a slow episode and not much else is going on, the cast is very, very nice to look at.

Even though they only do costumes for the opening. Still really pretty without them.

Death is Cheap, Until it isn’t

One oddity out of the way immediately: This is a D&D campaign. In D&D, once you have access to a decently leveled cleric, death becomes a minor inconvenience so long as there’s a body left. Drag their cold, lifeless asses to the next temple, pay a fine for the spell maybe, bam, back to live they are. Those are the base game mechanics.

This is what DM means, by the way. It’s fun to say in public.

Matthew Mercer puts a homebrewed twist on that, in that there are dice rolls involved. There essentially need to be offerings to bring the soul back to the body, and you can fail these offerings. And even if you succeed, there’s a chance the ritual itself might fail, as it all ultimately depends on one last die roll made by the DM.

Now, mathematically speaking, this still makes resurrections easier than collecting all the dragonballs, but the characters don’t act like that at all.

Death has happened on the show, so much so that at the time of writing this, only 2 out of the 7 lead characters haven’t died, and several who have died more than once. But this apparent “cheapness” of death is never, ever felt, since every new instant of death reduces the actors to sobbing messes, sparks some of the most raw and intimate character moments, and deeply affects characters even after being resurrected.

And those are always some of the best moments and episodes – death may be cheap-ish, but it is never laughed off.

Where To Start?

Episode 1 is not very beginner-friendly. If you are familiar with tabletop RPGs at all, you are well aware that most adventures start with a group of characters who all kind of suck meeting at a tavern and going to kill monsters of little consequence. Or answering a post on a job board of sorts. Or meeting in a prison cell.

Critical Role, however, starts after the cast has already been playing together for two years or so. They’re around level 9, no one is introduced beyond

Kima would have a very pragmatic solution to this.

the character background videos (that you should watch once or twice no matter where in the story you’re going to start), and they’ve even already been given the quest they’re on (rescue a Halfling paladin called Kima who went missing during her vision quest in the Underdark).

I tried starting with the first episode once and was very annoyed and very bored with it all. It’s still an excellent episode, just not an excellent start. If you’re anything like me, you need to be invested in something to care about what’s going on. And while I wouldn’t recommend my particular route to catch up, there are several ways to go about it.

See, since the show has just SO. MUCH. CONTENT, it only make sense that is has various different things to offer. It’s all about what you want to see, really.

…Though no matter what that is, start with the character introduction videos, the write ups of the characters I will do next week, and also the backstory video they made, explaining what happened before the stream started.

And also this video to get you going.

I just want people sitting around and having fun playing a D&D campaign!

…That’s cool. That’ll be episode 1 for you, pal. Or literally every other episode ever. But the one thing you can say about the beginning is that it feels the most like the classic playing a game around someone’s kitchen table approach to these things. The story arc is very self-contained, on the shorter side with 13 episodes, the stakes are… The lowest they’re ever at until like where we are now (at episode 86, before the real new arc has really started), and it’s the closest to classic dungeon delving we ever get.

I want a quick start on the characters and then some light-hearted fun!

Well, who doesn’t? In this case, I’d recommend skipping the first 13 episodes, and catching the tail-end of things in episode 14.

That way, you meet all the characters in their natural habitat, whereas the Underdark has most of them out of their element in one way or the other.

Uneventful one or two episode long adventures like this.

Here, they’re all at their best and most natural, and the dynamics are easy to pick up on. You also get introduced to Kima, Allura, and GILMORE! Who are probably the most frequently reoccurring and most highly regarded NPCs in the entire series.

Another nice feature is that you first get to feel out how the party interacts with each other, and then see that challenged when they’re forced to split up for four episodes and play nice with different people. The entire Vasselheim arc (episodes 14-23) is just excellent for that, even though it’s mostly smaller adventures for 1 or 2 episodes at a time that are very much self-contained. Of course, that also means there’s not much continuity for you to keep up with, so you can basically dive right in.

I want intrigue, suspense, horror, and drama!

Then your starting point will be episode 24, my friend!

Shady characters from a party member’s past come a knocking, causing the party to try and play the political game for a bit to oust them on a public stage. When that plan goes tits up (like most plans do), they have to clear their names and find a city overtaken by undead and other dark shit, causing them to start a rebellion against forced darker and more evil than they could have anticipated.

Oh, also, not just the city is overtaken by dark shit, a party member’s mind is, too.

This arc, usually referred to as the Whitestone or Briarwoods arc, is where the show really came into its own, and where you really start to fear Matt Mercer because he is mean and brutal and probably some shade of chaotic evil. Well, neutral, because at least he sometimes feels sorry about torturing everyone.

Everything’s close and personal, the relationships between party members really start to pay off, and some of the most iconic moments happen during this time. It is also one of the most well-handled vengeance arcs I have ever seen, the effects of which are still being felt 30-40 episodes later.

Just get me to the big, exciting fights already!

Well, I mean, all of the fights are big and exciting to a degree, but okay, I hear you.

So, the biggest, baddest, and longest arc of the series starts in episode 39 (but starting at 37 helps for context). It’s the point where the series goes from some dungeon and almost no dragons to no dungeons and way too many dragons.

There’s a lot of build-up to the individual dragon fights, and a lot of character development happens in-between, and oftentimes, it’s not the actual dragon fights that hit the group the hardest, but the callbacks to their personal arcs.

Your road to all the important fights goes thusly:

50 – 55: Westruun/Umbrasyl, and also Grog’s personal arc.

64 – 71: Draconia/Vorugal, also Percy’s issues come back with guns for the most devastating fight to the group yet in 68.

79 – 83: Endgame. But I really don’t recommend starting there, because there’s a LOT of personal issues leading up to these episodes, and they just don’t pack the same punch without dealing with those.

How about some good, old fashioned fetch quests?

Oh, oh, absolutely! These intersect with the dragons, though, because why settle for one classic when you can have two in technically the same 40+ episode arc?

See, to properly fight way too many dragons, you need the appropriate swag. And the so-called Chroma Conclave arc is basically a steady back and forth between getting the swag and fighting the dragons. And of course, the required items are spread far and wide between fun locations on several planes of existence, which more often than not cause amazing shenanigans.

43 & 44: This is your fetch quest, go forth and get started!

47 – 52: Get more information and almost die for few cool things.

59 – 63: Feywild arc

65 – 67: Ank’Harel arc

74 – 76: Elemental Plane of Fire arc.

As you can see, it is pretty intimately intertwined with the dragon fights, so you can basically just start with 39 and keep going from there for the most context and best character moments, but, after all, this piece is trying to get you to start the series in a way tailored to your personal tastes, so if you find any of these things individually appealing, more power to you. Speaking of which…

…uhm, I actually would like some romance? If that’s okay?

Oh. Oh friend, there is nothing wrong with that. And unlike most tabletop RPG campaigns I have sort of witnessed at one point or another, this series actually has romance in it. Two. Three. Maybe four. Sort of. It’s complicated. Oh my god, technically five. Six. Aaah, I need to stop counting.

Okay. So, first of all, the romance angle is what got me actually invested enough to watch from start to finish. I mean, not that I don’t appreciate a good narrative without any romance in it, but in case it has been too subtle so far, apparently I am also the go-to person for shipping on this site now. Not that I don’t actively encourage that.

There’s a few ways to go about this. Thing is, the romance arcs between the actual player characters are very closely tied to their personal development, so it’s all interspersed with the crazy amount of episodes we have. This is why I’d argue that the couples that do end up being sort of canon at some point very organically developed out of the narrative, but as is always the nature of things, party of the fandom will violently disagree with that. Violent disagreements will be covered in another piece on this, though.

At this point, there’s even been ship wars about the ACTUAL real life couples.

If you want the most bang for your buck, you kind of need to start with episode 14 and go along for the ride (which ironically was also the episode I recommended for the most character development, amazing how that works, isn’t it?), but I understand if that’s too early for you and you want to be caught up eventually.

Now, for some reason, when left completely to their own devices, the cast somehow managed to have their characters hook up in like a Pride and Prejudice/Much Ado About Nothing formula:

There’s one pairing that is established kind of early (if you call the early thirties kind of early), and then delayed for another thirty episodes because of drama, misunderstandings, and other stuff like the world ending. They take up some space in the narrative, and in-universe, are basically the main ship up to a point. It’s just that for that pairing you’d have to start at like episode 20 and wait 45 episodes for a resolution, so, uhm, as much as I love them, it’s not what I’m recommending here.

No, what I’m recommending is starting at episode 57. Both because it is one of my absolute favorites ever, and because from there on up until… Uhm. It’ complicated. 72, 78, 87, ongoing? You get the most neatly condensed little romance arc the show has to offer so far. It’s not the main plot, ever, at all, but it’s the most condensed build up and payoff in that regard.

Technically, that particular ship canonically (as in, the actors said so) started way early, like episode 5, and you can also see it coming (if you’re paying attention, as a lot of viewers inevitably don’t) from the early 30s onwards, but yeah. This would be the secondary pairing that sneaks up on you, and yet ends up being the fan-preferred one. But unlike in the examples I listed, there’s not even a little initial dislike. For any of these.

Boy, don’t ever let me ramble about romances, I have a series to sell here, dammit.

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!

Full speed ahead, not knowing what’s coming? Well do I have a suggestion for you!

See, that 40+ episode arc we had just wrapped up. The episode coming up the next Thursday from when this was written is 88. And right now, it’s actually kind of easy to just jump right in.

Like, I’ve seen people recommend starting with episode 86 and then catching up, but I’d actually say, for maximum catch-up in minimal time, watch the first half of 84, the second half of 85 (timestamped here for your convenience) and then just watch from there. Admittedly, the second half of 84 is a nice illustration of how shell-shocked and paranoid the party has become after years of adventuring and betrayals, but nothing really happens, so you can skip that. The first half of 85 is a really cool one on one fight though, so watching that is fun, and makes the second half hit harder even if you have no real idea what’s going on.

Your catching up can then also be finding out all the things Scanlan Shorthalt willfully misconstrued, which is a fun perspective to have.

But besides that, the stakes have never been lower, and the character literally embark on a side adventure far away that is related to one of them personally, but not in a way you necessarily need to have any more context for than this. It’s Aang going to the northern water tribe, in more ways than one. Strap in and have fun!

Though I mean, at the end of the day, you could probably tune into just about any episode of the show and get something out of it, no matter at what part of the story you jump into. Because…

It’s all about the Characters

Remember how someone did the math that there’s over 300 hours of content for this series? About two thirds of that is entirely devoted to character interaction and development.

Just think about that for a moment. That’s more character development than anything but the longest running procedurals or soap operas ever got in – and with the same cast, mostly. That means that literally everyone, even the side characters all played by Matt Mercer, gets in hefty amounts of development, even the ones that are more easily brushed off as gag characters. Like, my first reaction to the first episode was “Oh, great, everyone’s elves, why the fuck is there a guy with a gun in a fantasy setting, and oh, wow, they have a giant guy who hits people, and a tiny guy who hits on people. Really original, that.”

The latter two are archetypes of characters, especially in a fantasy setting, that I just loathe. The latter two are the only characters on the show to date who have made me bawl my eyes out. And I basically never cry about fictional stuff. I will yell about it, a lot, but not cry. So, kudos.

And I mean, proper investment in the characters can make any crap show of a narrative work. Ask me about my decade in the Naruto fandom some time, oh boy that’s going to be fun. But the thing is, the narrative Matt Mercer creates is just an almost perfect balance of external and internal threats; we basically alternate between taking down threats to the world and facing the characters personal demons. And the narrative is excellent in challenging the characters to grow as people and as a group.

In a quick aside, while there is bad and dark shit happening a lot, it seems to me that the narrative as a whole actively defies the grimdark. There is always brightness, always hope to be found, and that is something assured by both the DM and the characters themselves. There’s entire episodes devoted to them finding levity in the darkest moments, and encouraging each other to hold on hope and all that mushy stuff that never feels mushy but entirely earned.

There is no grimdark here. Only dick jokes.

But it’s also kind of about the actors

So there’s no real script. Matt Mercer has the external threats, the overarching narrative planned out to a degree, but if you have any experience with tabletop RPGs at all, you are fully aware that you can never account for what curveballs the players are going to throw your way.

Hence, every interaction and all that delicious development I mentioned, is improvised. It’s improv sessions with dice. It’s a group of predominantly voice actors (though most if not all of them have some experience with stage and screen acting as well) improvising what their characters would do or say in any given moment.

This is a thing they used to do. More than once.

The thing is, they have been with these characters for almost five years now. And this is something I say both as praise and out of exasperation with the fandom – they know what they’re doing. They know their characters really, really well, and have been working on them constantly, every week, since the show started almost two years ago. They know their shit, and seeing how they have acted in all kinds of narratives before, they know what appeals to them, what doesn’t, and what they’d like to try out for their characters.

What I mean to say is, watching this show makes an excellent case for just trusting your actors with the material, even in a show that isn’t all improvised. I know many a scripted show that might have benefitted from that on occasion.

The other side of the coin is that these people have also been playing a game together for almost five years now, and they were friends even before that. This is weird, I know, but part of the charm of the show, and one of its biggest strengths in my experience is just how much these people love and respect each other, in-character and out.

At its core, this show is about a group of friends having fun together. Usually while playing D&D, or while on their own talk show. There’s copious amounts of footage of them just unwrapping presents from the audience together. Sometimes they play Just Dance. And sometimes they throw cream at each other’s faces for a good cause. They also basically constantly mock each other over twitter, so you know where the casts of most shows have falling outs over the years, these guys are still as tight as ever.

Conclusion

So, yeah. Critical Role is my favorite thing right now, I adore almost everything about the story and the people involved, so much so that I can’t shut up about it and next week, will deliver a lengthy introduction on all of the characters and actors, because as described above, it’s a bit of a package deal.

 


Images courtesy of geekandsundry.com

Jana should be studying for her law degree right now. She prefers to obsess over pop culture instead.

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Analysis

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus Excels Because It Knows Its History

Griffin

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Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a phenomenal game. It has an inordinate amount to say about racism, anti semitism, the cycle of abuse, ableism, eugenics, homophobia, fat shaming, PTSD, war, violence, and just about everything else under the sun. And developer MachineGames does all of that with this wonderfully strange combination of hyper-meticulous tact, high production values, and auteur confidence. Of course, none of that would have been possible if the setting surrounding the narrative didn’t work, and holy shit does it ever.

The newest iterations of the Wolfenstein franchise take place in an alternate 1960—leading into ‘61 for the second game—where the Nazis won the war. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game framed around the “how” of the world. How did the Nazis win? How do they keep their conquered states in check? How have things changed in this reality? How do we stop them from gaining more power? How do we fight back against a near global, yet also interplanetary, regime?

Throughout the game, you come across newspaper clippings and records (The Beatles sort of still exist) that fill the gaps between 1946 and 1960. The result is a fully realized world that isn’t just a horrifying coat of paint over reality; it’s how things would have happened…with a few super-science-y liberties thrown in because why wouldn’t the Nazis a moon base or fire breathing robot dogs? And, of course, the greatest twist of all: the Nazis’ inexplicable sci-fi advancement, the whole reason they won the war, was built on the backs of stolen technology from a secret society of Jewish science wizards. There’s even a sequence where the protagonist, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, breaks into a high security compound and finds ancient schematics written in Hebrew, which he knows how to read.

We also knew, in broad strokes, what had happened to the other parts of the world. America had surrendered completely after Manhattan was obliterated by an atomic bomb, mirroring the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nazis had yet to conquer the vast majority of Africa, as organized resistance was proving far more effective than they were willing to recognize. London was kept in line by a skyscraper-sized robot called the London Monitor, which you get to blow up.

Wolfenstein: The New Order took place almost entirely in western Europe (with a brief sojourn to the moon, of course) and exploring how the one region of the world that was, at one time, actually conquered by the Nazis, ended up being just familiar enough to what it was back then to what it became in their alternate history. It’s this foundation, this deep uprooting and deconstruction of history, that allows its sequel, The New Colossus, to head straight into the United States. We were shown what was comfortably familiar to us, so it was time to show what was uncomfortably familiar.

An America subjugated and ruled by the Nazis.

Enemy Of The State Of Affairs

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a game about “why”. Why do we fight against oppression when society around us punishes those who do? Why do we push back against systemic hatred, even when it has no bearing on us? Why does a man like William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the perfect aesthetic poster boy for Aryan supremacy, reject those who would treat him like a king?

Why has America submitted to Nazi rule? The short answer is: giant airship. The long answer? Well, that one’s not so complicated.

Relatively early in the game, you meet up with a New York City resistance cell lead by a black woman named Grace, a survivor of the Manhattan bombing. In fact, all but one of her members are black with the exception of her partner Super Spesh. Their character designs explicitly invoke imagery of the Black Panthers and the overall Black Power movement.

The first game had you run around helping the Kreisau Circle, the Berlin-based Nazi resistance group that eventually cut the head off the Nazi war machine and stopping them from developing new weapons. This cell was lead by Caroline Decker, a paraplegic veteran. But, in the opening of this game, Caroline is executed by the main antagonist, Frau Engel, leaving a gaping hole in leadership that Grace fits perfectly. Who better to represent a 1960s violent uprising of the oppressed than a black woman in America?

She even goes so far as to move into Caroline’s old cabin in their captured Super U-Boat. From the start of the narrative, Wolfenstein is showing us that America is very different from a conquered Europe. For one, the English language is being banned, hearkening back to that old adage of “If the Nazis won, we’d all be speaking German”.

The largest among the differences though is that, just as Grace says above, America never stopped fighting the Nazis. The military did, yes, and the vast majority of the white population, including a South-governed KKK, but the fact that there is a dedicated anti-gravity airship, the Ausmerzer, whose sole role is to travel the country and crush resistance factions for the past decade tells us in no uncertain terms that the hold the Nazis have over America isn’t as ironclad as they believe it to be.

Even if they are able to put on one hell of a show.

We find newspaper clippings within the game describing resistance cells crushed by the Ausmerzer, and there’s even a moment during a trip to Roswell where you’re recognized (you’re the Reich’s most wanted, after all) by a local resident who, in a terrified act of defiance, whispers that he believes in what you’re doing when just seconds prior he was selling newspaper propaganda with glee.

The cap to this, however, is the final scene of the final mission of the game where you ambush Frau Engel’s live appearance on a talk show. You sneak through the bleachers and into the rafters, noting that every single person in the audience is a cardboard cutout. The show may be being broadcasted to every living room in the world, but it stands to reason that if people aren’t going to the live show…they’re not buying into the lies.

America is being crushed under the heel of the Nazis, yes, but it has yet to be crushed. Good people are still out there in the world, but they’ve forgotten how to resist. Those who were already filled with hate jumped on board, the minority, while everyone else is either putting their head in the sand or just trying to survive.

On the other side of the table, though, is how white America perceives the Nazis. I’ve already mentioned that the KKK controls the south, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that. Slavery has been legalized once more, and auctions are the talk of the town. We find out that, in true Nazi form, they rounded up the country’s degenerates—Jews, queer folk and people of color—and either purged them or sent them off to die in New Orleans…which is now a massive ghetto, Escape from New York style.

And if you “named names”, you were rewarded with what those same people left behind. Land rights, mansions, savings; everything they owned was either seized by the state or given as a gift to those who betrayed their friends and neighbors. This is not something we discover on a broad scale; it’s personal to B.J.

He visits his childhood home after nuking Area 52 (it wasn’t aliens, just ancient Jewish Techno Wizard secrets) and finds his abusive father, Rip, waiting for him, having heard he was in the area and assumed he’d come around. Rip, as we learned from flashbacks, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his son and his wife Zofia, a Jewish Polish immigrant. That, and he was a hardcore White Supremacist, having only married Zofia because he believed her father would be a business asset. He bemoans that no one knows what it is like to suffer as he does, thinking that everyone is trying to steal everything from the White Man.

In short, he represents everything that B.J. has spent his entire adult life fighting against.

When asked what happened to his mother, Rip admits that he sold her out to the Nazis and they took her away. The confrontation ends with B.J. killing his father after he presses a shotgun to his son’s forehead, but through their entire conversation he’d been on the phone with the Nazis. He’d sold out his son, too.

That’s the state of the world in Wolfenstein, and in The New Colossus you blow it the fuck up.

Terror-Billy Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass

While the game’s marketing may have been pointing towards a parallel with the American Revolution as for how the country ousts the Nazis, I posit that the historical context is far more evocative of our 1960s.

Grace’s existence and design are already evidence of this, but it’s the rest of the resistance that makes this all the more clear. The second big group you recruit, aptly enough from the New Orleans ghetto itself, is lead by a man named Horton. He organizes a group of communists, socialists and anarchists who you’d think wouldn’t fit in with Grace and her people. These are the people that dodged the draft, even if they did push the concept of equal rights earlier than most. Horton even flat out cites their attempted push for a civil rights movement in an argument with B.J.

Of course, there’s a key difference between refusing to fight on foreign soil in a war that benefits the military industrial complex and what’s happening to them now. Horton’s group draws upon sentiment from both the end of the Great War and the counterculture movements of the 1960s.

Again, many of them were draft dodging pacifists, but that goes right out the window when it comes to Nazis. It’s one thing to refuse to fight a foreign enemy on foreign lands when victory would have only spread what you’re rebelling against. It’s quite another to sit by and accept fascism in the very country that allowed, though not always encouraged, you to believe what you saw in your heart as just.

It’s at the end of the game, however, in the ending cinematic, that this entire idea solidifies. That this historical context isn’t an accident, and the frankly unbelievable amount of homework MachineGames must have done paid off in spades. Mere moments after B.J. kills Frau Engel on live television, Grace and Horton speak directly into the cameras and ignite a violent revolution. The Kreisau Circle may be organized like a guerilla military operation, but the American people aren’t. They don’t need to be.

It’s an angry, raw, improvised and imperfect call to arms, but that’s what makes it perfect. Violent uprisings don’t start with eloquence or deep debating over the justification to fight against those who oppress you. They start with whatever you’ve got on hand. The Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots and the general counterculture protests that dominated the 60s are clear influences on Wolfenstein’s depiction of “retaking America”. Seriously, if it didn’t sink in already, they blast a heavy metal cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over the end credits coupled with imagery of violent rioting and uprisings across the nation.

Wolfenstein does not attempt to hold a mirror to our world today, even if it does so inadvertently. It tries to make us look back, so that we remember how to keep moving forward. It’s message is clear because it knows what it’s talking about, no matter how over-the-top the presentation:

Equality is not a debate; it’s a right. Those without it won’t stop until they have it, because for them it’s literally “Fight, or Die”.  So the best thing you can do, if you’ve already got it, is to pick them up with you. And if you don’t? If you keep trying to push others down? It’s gonna get bloody, just like it always does, and chances are it won’t be them who’s dying.


Images courtesy of MachineGames

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Film

The Mario Bros. are Returning to the Big Screen

Bo

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That’s right, the Nintendo icons will hit your theaters yet again with the potential signing of a new deal between Nintendo and Universal Pictures to bring the Mario Bros. back to the site of one of the most infamous crimes in movie history. At least this time they won’t be live action?

The deal will task Illumination Entertainment, animated filmmaker for Universal, with developing an animated adaptation of the beloved Nintendo juggernaut. The studio, responsible for films such as Despicable Me, Minions, and The Secret Life of Pets, has reportedly negotiated the deal for over a year now. If finalized, it would be the first deal Nintendo has made for TV or film since the original 1993 disaster starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.

Anyone who has seen the film could tell you why Nintendo would wait nearly 25 years to make another deal bringing the Mario Bros. to the big screen. For those who have not seen it, run. Run far, run fast, do not let anyone tempt you into watching. Not even if you like bad movies. For all the bad movies based on video games, you don’t get worse than Mario without delving into the crap-filled swamps that are Uwe Boll movies.

Of course, this is all speculation and it is a common feature of video game movies to end up in development hell keeping them from ever releasing. The deal has yet to be finalized, with the involvement of Nintendo themselves in development of the movie reportedly holding it up. If made official, the deal could lead to multiple Mario Bros. movies. If the first ever comes out.

I want to be optimistic. Making an animated movie sounds better than live-action, but after the failure of the Ratchet and Clank animated movie, I can’t be too optimistic. I’ve yet to see even one genuinely good video game movie. I don’t think there’s ever been one that was passable besides comparison to the wasteland of the genre. It would fit the ever-innovative and successful history of Mario to break the mold. I hope somehow they manage.


Image courtesy of Nintendo

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Shameless Juggles With Too Much Going On

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Following up an episode mostly devoted to setting up the current season, the second in this season comes off as far more entertaining and emotional than I thought it would be. I’ve stated more than once that one of the issues that will continue to plague Shameless is the fact that the series has gone on for eight years and at this point it shows no indication of ending soon. At least to me. This however, does strike people in contrary ways. Some would like to see it end sooner rather than later so the show doesn’t become so oversaturated that its once-loyal following becomes split between people who have grown to hate it and those who will remain loyal fans. On the other hand you have those who want to see the show go on forever…well maybe at least another couple of more seasons. What ever the actuality is, it looks like we’re in for a different sort of season.

It does look like we’re in for something completely different with the Gallagher clan. They’ve grown and grown apart—some more than others. There is no central problem that all of them are involved in anymore; each member of the family is practically dealing with their own problems and their own list of close friends or enemies. It’s actually both an exciting and somewhat personal experience for those of us who have been with the series since the beginning and can only really imagine the Gallagher family as a whole, minus Frank of course.

Recap

This episode opens with the hilarious notion of Frank trying to become an employed member of society, scam free, while Carl lets his brothers reap the benefits of the pushed meth he sold for them. They all basically know that Frank may well be up to his old habits of trying to get injured at work so he can claim disability. He assures them that Monica was the cause of this “phase” in his life. We’ll see how long this actually lasts. Ian also begins to show some emotion in terms of Monica. It seems he’s one of the only people who actually was saddened by her death.

For Fiona, the life of a property owner has changed her story immensely as she learns that her way of keeping their home for the last seven years was so much more similar and yet so different from how the tenants of her apartment are. We get to meet her various tenants as she goes to collect their unpaid rents. We meet a woman with far too many kids that she can’t control and a over sarcastic attitude, two addicts who put a new meaning to the word mellow, and an crazy old lady who pretends to be a dog…her bark his pretty convincing.

Frank has more luck on his side as he gets interviewed by a reformed Islamic man who converted to Judaism for a woman he wanted to marry and then back to Islam when she left him. Apparently the plight of the widowed and divorced are similar enough that he hires despite his questionable and nonexistent work history. It seems Frank is not the only one trying to reclaim their “old” identities .

Lips story is still sad to the point that I just want to hit him. It’s clear he is not over Sierra no matter how much he tells his recovering buddies that he’s only trying to be nice. V has her own issues while working at Patsy’s as she worries about Kevin’s upcoming biopsy. Speaking of Kevin, he’s now enrolled in a breast cancer support group…without actually even being diagnosed. He does tap into the fears of someone who really has breast cancer but like Shameless, they get made fun of (not maliciously, though).

Ian’s tune finally changed around Trevor as he helps treats the at-risk youths in the city. Trevor tries to make him feel better by inviting him to a gay bar that has a high number of obese gay men and bikers. It’s a step forward for Ian and Trevor I guess? On Debbie’s end of things we can clearly see whats going on. Teenage motherhood is finally starting to catch up with her as barely spends any time with Neil and Franny anymore. Constantly leaving the two alone, a baby and a paraplegic, while she goes off to hang out with her new friends from class.

Liam, on the other hand, is living a whole new life as he stays at his rich friends house. Clearly much more different than the household he is used to. Trevor finally tells Ian what the Chubb bar will help him with. Not that he prays on them but apparently they are a lot more emotionally invested in their lovers and it makes for a sort of empathetic confidence boost when in a rut. By the end of it, Ian cries in an overly sympathetic fat man’s arms. Lip furthers to sadden his own life as he continues to babysit Sierra’s son free of charge.

Things at the Alibi have gotten even weirder without the Russians, as Kevin decides to give last goodbyes to all its patrons. Even Debbie is hanging around these parts with her new friends, all much older than her, but nonetheless it gives her a sort of release from her life as a mother? Not that we’ve actually seen her interact all that with her boyfriend or her daughter. She even comes home with a hickey on her neck that Neil sees! Not cool Debbie, seriously.

By the end of the night Ian does reveal to Fiona that it hurts him that he’s the only person who was affected by Monica’s death. It is nice to see Fiona acting like a real sister again, especially after her attitude last season. Nothing is funnier than the next day when Liam gets dropped off by his friends nanny and she is terrified of his neighborhood to the point that she speeds off.

Sibling love

Tension rises between the two eldest Gallagher boys as they get on each other for their respective Monica and Sierra situations and Lip plots with Frank to get Sierra’s addict boyfriend to slip up and use again. Low point for Lip, honestly if you’re taking advice from Frank. I don’t even want to mention how much I cried tears of laughter for Kevin’s “lumpectomy” day as he’s given two pancakes shaped like breasts…Gallaghers.

Back to Frank though, he is actually shining at his new job. If Frank is working a scam without giving anything away to us or the shows character I will really have to applaud William Macy on his acting skills, or Frank is serious about this new person thing and well on his way to becoming management…who knew?

Surely this isn’t really, Frank?

As Fiona begins to collect rent, the only person who pays up are the drug addicts, but we get to see more Nessa! Not nearly enough, however.

Kevin goes under for the biopsy closer to the end of the episode as he’s pumped with drugs and dry humor as Ian gets a tattoo of Monica. Hilariously the artist doesn’t know the tattoo is of his mother when he gives it quite a large chest. On the other hand, Kevin is cancer free! Not before being scared into thinking the news is bad. Lip sets up a drug pizza delivery to tempt Sierra’s boyfriend and we can only scoff at this, really a new low for him. Debbie is hitting a new low as well. Since Neil is now making excuses to not watch Franny, Debbie resorts to dumping the baby on her fathers mother and complaining about how over bearing he is to her co students. Liam’s friend gets to see the advantages of not being watched by adults as he spends the night in the Gallagher home, something we all dreamed of as kids.

Ian gets angry as Carl trades one of Monica’s old jackets for a couple of beers and a blowjob but discovers that she has a storage unit full of stuff that he wants to see. Fiona finally gets to let out some steam as the tenant with far too many children writes her a rent check of one cent paid out to the “cock guzzling sellout”…let’s say she and Debbie finally have a moment when they break down her door. Lip finally grows a conscience after he sees just how bad his drug delivery to Sierra’s boyfriend is damaging the man and chooses to be the bigger person and steal it back. The result is being mauled by a dog and Sierra’s boyfriend thinking Lip did it to help him out, casting out the doubt that Lip really cared for her but was rather just trying to win her back.

To be honest at this point, we can’t really help but agree with the latter. This will raise some serious questions if or when Sierra finds out. The episode ends with Carl and Ian running from a drug addict in Monica’s storage unit claiming they stole his meth.

Run!

Review

This was a much faster paced episode than the premiere, but with purpose. As mentioned above, each and every central character (including Kevin and V) have basically gone off on their own and developed their own separate stories not included in the collective of a single household. That is where the pacing itself could get a little tricky. There are simply too many characters doing their own thing at this point that to dedicate more time to one, which can be as little as a few minutes, would mean another few lose what could have made them relevant for that episode instead of just excluding them for that episode altogether. While the writers are currently handling it excellently, it may cause some trouble down the road as certain characters storylines become more important than others, a tough choice and strategy in writing they’ll have to consider.

For what the episode was I really enjoyed the Fiona plot. It seems like she’s in a better place than she’s been in a while and other than what ever the writers plan to do with her and Nessa; I think this is the longest we’ve seen her without a love interest. I say keep it that way but include more Nessa—we barely saw her at all this episode! Which of course, goes back to what I was saying about the amount of time allotted to each character. Since she’s not really a central character, yet, it might be some time before we start seeing more of her. A prime example of this working out in the show’s favor is when they decided to push Svetlana from a background character to a major force in Kevin and V’s life, until she wasn’t anymore.

Me when there’s not enough Nessa

As for Lip and Ian, they’ve sort have become exceedingly self destructive. Where Lip is looking for someone to fall with him, Ian has all but sort of isolated himself emotionally. He is expressing himself but not in the right ways and mostly comes off as bitter. Lip I ashamed of; he knows just how ugly addiction can be and he almost put another recovering addict in danger of relapse. Luckily, he came to his senses though taking the easy way by agreeing he was just trying to help. It really is hard not to see the old Frank in him from time to time and like his addiction I feel like he’s going to juggle that problem for the rest of his life.

Speaking of Frank, I honestly don’t know what to believe when it comes to his current work ethic. It really does seem like he’s trying but for how long? We have been burned by Frank too many times to truly believe he’s changed and even if he has can we truly forgive him for everything that he’s done? Debbie is my least favorite this season. I get that she feels trapped and overwhelmed by her child and Neil but I can’t feel bad for her because this was all her decision. She choose to sperm jack her ex into having a baby and she choose to stay with Neil. If she’s going to keep up with her nonsense I really hope she just has the courage to end it with Neil and not just cheat on him.

Seriously Debbie, not cool.


All images courtesy of Showtime

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