Retro Game Review: Beyond: Two Souls (2013, Quantic Dream)


In between replaying Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, I decided to go ahead and also replay Qunatic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls.

In Beyond: Two Souls you play two characters who are linked together.  Jodie (Ellen Page) is a troubled young woman who, after being rejected by her family while still a child, is raised by paranormal researcher, Nathan Dawkins (Willem DaFoe).  You are also Aiden, a mysterious psychic force that Jodie can use to read minds and move objects.  Because of Jodie’s powers, the CIA wants them to work for her.  Because Jodie does not want to assassinate progressive world leaders just because the CIA wants them dead (remember, this is a French game), Jodie goes on the run.  The game itself is told out of chronological order, with the player going back and forth from Jodie’s childhood and Jodie’s present as a fugitive.  Like Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, Beyond: Two Souls has multiple endings depending on what you do during the game.

Beyond: Two Souls is a weaker game than both Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human but, when I replayed it, I discovered that it was not as bad as I remembered.  Willem DaFoe and especially Ellen Page are amazing in the roles of Jodie and Nathan and the parts of the game that took place during Jodie’s childhood actually improved on a second playing.  (There’s nothing more fun than burning down the bully’s house.)  The nonlinear storytelling was still needlessly confusing.  Fortunately, there is an option to play the game’s chapters in chronological order.

The game’s flaws were still there, though.  The CIA stuff was heavy-handed but that is to be expected from Quantic Dream.  The main problem I had with the game is that the constant switching back and forth between Jodie and Aiden felt awkward.  You can switch between the two throughout the game and I kept pushing the wrong button and I would suddenly find myself stuck in Aiden form, even when there wasn’t anything for Aiden to do.  The game’s heavy reliance on quick time events also made me feel as if I didn’t have as much control over the narrative as I did in Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human.

Quantic Dream is one of my favorite video game developers because they are willing to experiment and take risks.  Sometimes, those risks pay off and sometimes they lead to an interesting failure, like Beyond: Two Souls.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at one of their experiment’s that worked.

Horror Film Review: Flatliners (dir by Niels Arden Oplev)


Jeff and I are currently on a little road trip but we’re not going to let something like that prevent us from seeing the latest bad movies.

For instance, last night, we saw the remake of Flatliners at the AMC 8 in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  Ardmore is a lovely little town.  When I was six years old, my family briefly lived in Ardmore and I can still remember this deserted barn that was sitting right at the edge of our property.  My older sisters all told me that it was haunted and I can still remember sneaking over to the window in the middle of the night and staring at that dilapidated barn, searching for ghosts.  Even though I was only six at the time, it’s still an incredibly vivid memory and I still have dreams about that barn.  That’s the power of a good scare and that is exactly what’s missing from Flatliners.  This is seriously one of the most forgettable films that I’ve ever seen.

I did get a little excited when I discovered that the film co-starred Nina Dobrev.  Most people know her as Elena from The Vampire Diaries but, for me, she’ll always be Mia Jones on Degrassi.  (Mia was not only a high school student and a star on the spirit squad.  She was also: a single mother, a model, a drug addict, and J.T.’s girlfriend during the show’s sixth season.)  She’s one of many Canadians in the cast of Flatliners.  There’s also Ellen Page and Kiefer Sutherland.

That’s right, Kiefer Sutherland returns in the new version of Flatliners.  But don’t get too excited.  He’s not playing the same character.  If he had been playing the same character, this film would have been a lot more interesting and he could have told the new cast, “Your sins have returned in physical form … and they’re pissed off!”  Instead, he’s just playing a clueless doctor with really weird hair.  I think we’re just supposed to be impressed by the fact that he agreed to appear in the remake and I guess I would be if the first one was some sort of award-winning classic or something.  It’s not like the original Flatliners is the defining role of Kiefer Sutherland’s career.  Now, if they had gotten Oliver Platt to come back…

ANYWAY, it’s pretty much the same story all over again, just told with a lot less visual flair.  (Say what you will about Joel Schumacher as a director, he understood that the first Flatliners needed a lot of neon.)  This time, it’s Ellen Page who convinces her friends to let her die and then revive her after two minutes.  The remake does add an interesting wrinkle in that, when Page returns from being dead, she is now suddenly super smart and has total recall.  At the very least, this explains why all the rest of her friends are then so eager to try it out for themselves.  Even though it feels like a Limitless knock off, it’s still an interesting idea and I think that if the entire film had been about the students obsessively killing themselves and coming back, all in an effort to achieve some sort of Godhood, it would have made for an intriguing movie.

But that whole angle kind of gets abandoned.  Soon, it’s time for everyone’s sins to start showing up.  That means that Ellen page has to deal with her dead sister.  Nina Dobrev has to deal with a dead patient.  Another doctor has to deal with a girl she bullied.  The movie tries to make you wonder whether or not they’re just having hallucinations but why would a hallucination feel the need to sneak around a room while its target isn’t looking?

Plus, I have to wonder: there are real people out there who have been clinically dead, just to have been brought back to life.  Some of them have reported seeing the bright light and all the rest.  If you follow this movie’s logic, are they all now secretly smart and being chased around by their past sins?  If that’s the case then I’m looking forward to the sequel to Heaven Is For Real.

It’s a forgettable movie.  The first Flatliners had its own stupid charm but the remake just falls flat.

The World’s Ending Again! Here’s The Trailer For Into The Forest!


It’s interesting how many post-apocalyptic films have been released over the past few years.  People really do seem to be convinced that the world is on the verge of ending and who knows?  Maybe it is!

Oh well.  It has to end sometime, right?

Anyway, here’s the trailer for Into The Forest.  Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood play sisters who live in a house that’s on the edge of the forest.  When the world ends, they go into the forest and make a deal with Meryl Streep and … oh wait, that’s Into The Woods.

Okay, so there’s no Meryl Streep and that might actually be a good thing.  Both Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are excellent actresses and they deserve a chance to shine.  Fortunately, Into The Forest is also a Canadian film and our longtime readers know how much I love the nation that gave us Degrassi.

So, prepare for the world to end with Into The Forest!

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for September!


Maybe next year kitties...

Maybe next year kitties…

No, the predictions below were not made by cats!

However, it might be nice if they had been.  It would certainly put a lot less pressure on me.  Here we are — it’s September and the Oscar race is still largely up in the air.  Hopefully, the picture will start to become a bit more clear over the next few weeks.  For instance, Beasts of No Nation was just acclaimed at the Venice Film Festival and, as I write this, we are just a few days into the Toronto Film Festival.

But for now, it still looks like it is anyone’s race to win!

Below are my predictions for September!  If you want to see just how confused I’ve been (and how random my predictions have occasionally been) for the majority of the year, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, and August!

Best Picture

Beasts of No Nation

Black Mass

Brookyln

Carol

The Danish Girl

Joy

Sicario

Spotlight

Steve Jobs

Straight Outta Compton

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Julianne Moore in Freeheld

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Robert De Niro in Joy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation

Paul Giamatti in Straight Outta Compton

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Diane Ladd in Joy

Rooney Mara in Carol

Ellen Page in Freeheld

Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs

Best Director

Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs

John Cowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

David O. Russell for Joy

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

Lisa’s Early Oscar Predictions for August!


everest-jake-gyllenhaal

Well, here we are.  The year is more than halfway over.  The fall movie season is approaching.  And yet, not a single true Oscar front-runner has yet to emerge.  Could this be the year that a true populist hit, like Mad Max: Fury Road, or an unexpected art house wonder, like Ex Machina, manages to secure a spot?

Well, probably not.  But still, it’s fun to speculate!

(Are Oscar pundits being too quick to dismiss Straight Outta Compton?  I have not seen it yet but look at those reviews and look at that box office.  It’s an interesting question.)

Anyway, here are my prediction for August!  To see how my thinking has evolved over the year, check out my predictions of January, February, March, April, May, June, and July!

Best Picture

Black Mass

Brookyln

Carol

The Danish Girl

Everest

Inside Out

Joy

Sicario

Suffragette

Youth

Best Actor

Michael Caine in Youth

Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy

Julianne Moore in Freeheld

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Best Supporting Actor

Robert De Niro in Joy

Benicio Del Toro in Sicario

Tom Hardy in The Revenant

Harvey Keitel in Youth

Kurt Russell in The Hateful Eight

Best Supporting Actress

Helena Bonham Carter in Suffragette

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara in Carol

Ellen Page in Freeheld

Julie Walters in Brooklyn

Best Director

John Cowley for Brooklyn

Todd Haynes for Carol

David O. Russell for Joy

Paolo Sorrentino for Youth

Denis Villenueve for Sicario

sicario-emily-blunt-trailer

Here’s The Trailer for Potential Oscar Nominee Freeheld!


So, here we are.  Nearly halfway through the year and we’re still waiting for a major Oscar contender to emerge.  There’s been a lot of speculation about films such as Carol, Bridge of Spies, and Suffragette.  However, this month, two new contenders have emerged.

One of those contenders is David O. Russell’s latest tribute to Jennifer Lawrence, Joy.

The other contender is Freeheld, which is based on a true story about lesbian homicide detective (Julianne Moore) who, after being diagnosed with cancer, fought a legal battle to allow her pension benefits to be left to her domestic partner (played by Ellen Page, who is due another Oscar nomination and probably should have won for both Juno and Super).  Along with Page, both Julianne Moore and Steve Carell have been mentioned as possible nominees.

Check out the trailer below.

Back to School #68: Juno (dir by Jason Reitman)


Junoposter2007

(SPOILERS BELOW)

Even though he’s a likable actor and has appeared in several films that I enjoyed, I am always a little bit uneasy whenever I see Jason Bateman on screen.  To me, he will always be Mark, the seemingly perfect husband from the 2007 best picture nominee Juno.  Mark and his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are unable to conceive so they agree to adopt the unborn child of pregnant teenager Juno (Ellen Page).

At first, Mark seems like the nicest guy on the planet.  Unlike his wife, Mark appears to be laid back and friendly.  Whereas Vanessa tries to maintain a polite distance between herself and Juno, Mark quickly befriends her.  It’s a familiar dynamic.  Vanessa is the one who keeps the household running.  Mark is the one who keeps the household fun.  Vanessa is the adult and Mark is the guy who is young at heart.  It’s not surprising that Juno finds herself feeling closer to Mark than to his wife.

Much like Juno, those of us in the audience are initially fooled into preferring Mark to his wife.  For me, the first indication that Mark was not quite the great guy he seemed to be came when he attempted to convince Juno that Herschell Gordon Lewis was a better director than Dario Argento.  But even that could be forgiven because, as Mark made his arguments, he revealed that he had a pretty good library of DVDs from Something Weird Video.

(Seriously, at that moment, I really hoped that the movie would just spend five minutes letting us see every title in Mark’s movie collection.)

But then there was that moment.  After telling Juno that he was planning on leaving his wife, he looked at her and asked, “How do you think of me?”  And I have to give Jason Bateman a lot of credit.  He delivered that line with just the right amount of needy selfishness.  It’s rare that you see an actor — especially one who has essentially built a career out of being likable — so fully commit to playing a reprehensible character.  When Mark reveals his true nature, it’s shocking because we were so ready to like Mark.  With that one line, we’re forced to re-examine the entire film and we realize that, much like Juno, we allowed ourselves to be fooled by Mark.

Juno is a film about growing up.  Vanessa is a grown up.  Mark refuses to grow up.  And, by the end of the film, Juno has grown up enough to know that she’s not ready to be a mother but Vanessa is.  Juno has grown up enough that she can allow herself to get close to the baby’s father, sweet-natured track star Paulie (played by Michael Cera).

For many people, Juno seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it type of movie.  There rarely seems to be a middle ground.  It seems that for every person who appreciates Ellen Page’s sardonic line readings, there’s another one who finds her character to be abrasive.  For every one who enjoys Diablo Cody’s script, there seems to be another one who finds it to be overwritten.  The same holds true for Jason Reitman’s direction.  Viewers either respond to his quirky vision or else they dismiss him as being far too showy for the film’s own good.

As for me, I’m firmly and unapologetically pro-Juno.  I think Juno is one of the best films of the past ten years and I think that, eventually, both the character of Juno and Ellen Page’s performance will be viewed as being iconic.  When future historians are watching movies for clues as to what it was like to be alive during the first decade of the 21st Century, Juno is one of the films that they will watch.

And when they do, hopefully, they will understand that Jason Bateman was just an actor giving a good performance as a bad person.