The Obstacle That Star Wars Needs to Overcome

Since Disney bought Lucasfilm and started its own saga of Star Wars films, some division has begun within the fan base. Like anything, many factors go into heavy criticism across critics or audiences, in some cases both. The new entries have plenty of problems, but the main obstacle that is in the way is nostalgia.

The original trilogy may not be perfect, it may have some dated material, but that does not stop it from being incredible to this day. The story is beyond familiar, yet its charming heroes and large scale production were beyond anything that was created back in the day. Decades later, the loathed prequels come along that stir up issues in the canon, then Mickey Mouse flies in on his X-wing to start up a new series within this beloved universe.

That distance between the original and new trilogies causes an issue where people have a filter of nostalgia, making George Lucas’ big hit in the 70s and 80s on top of Everest, an untouchable milestone in blockbuster history. It is almost impossible to add to this saga and not let millions of people down.

The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker essentially take A New Hope and Return of the Jedi into a modern twist with some differences here and there for TROS. It may seem like a better idea to go into a new direction to separate the latest films and the classics. We may never know if that is the right decision or not due to the hatred towards The Last Jedi, which attempted to change things up and did not live up to many people’s hopes.

You can argue against or in favor of recycling old ideas from Abrams or root for or shout at Johnson for trying something different. Either way, it divided up the fanbase instead of everyone uniting over their love for the franchise. We are getting new Star Wars, which is amazing, yet a big chunk of that is a disaster due to the audience and the mix of risky and safe choices made by the filmmakers.

Having Abrams or Johnson direct all three films would have been a smarter decision on Lucasfilm and Disney’s part. Splitting their ideas with Abrams directing the first and third film while Johnson gets the middle slice caused tension between two entirely different visions of what should happen by the end of this storyline.

The studio execs are to blame too. Other franchises like Harry Potter and Marvel may have source material to lean on, but it also had a clear idea of where things would go for Harry’s journey and for the epic conclusion to defeating Thanos. Lucasfilm and Disney should have pulled in the reigns to balance creative power for the directors and writers while still guiding them to a general idea to avoid the mistakes made across the new saga.

The nuanced issues within Star Wars can go on and on, but the world has a perspective on how these films should go. People have their own desires for Luke Skywalker, which was not completely satisfied for many in TLJ, and too much pandering in TROS let down many fans, like me, due to the seething reaction Johnson’s entry received. Everyone looks for something that they want, resulting in admiration or hate for a movie, which is the beauty of varying opinions.

Moderation is key to much of life, even a movie franchise of space Nazis and rebels with robots that they can understand despite making beeping noises instead of words. Having that fan service makes for wonderful callbacks, but you need to move forward to create something new and special to make the series live on. Star Wars is floating in the cosmos, not sure to use the force call for help to Obi-Wan or to reach out to Rey.

The damage done can be repaired because millions of people, many of whom work on these films, care deeply about this universe and the characters flying around in it. It will take a lot of effort to fix it, so we don’t have another Star Wars entry bomb like Solo or get a reaction that divides people up like The Last Jedi. Maybe with hope, we can get back to what it used to be, people being together loving Star Wars for what it is, not what it used to be or could become.

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Header image via Lucasfilm/Disney


No, Entertainment Does Not Need to “Stay Out of Politics”

Creative minds use their work to express themselves while creating whatever art they please to make. Depending on what is happening in the world, it can be reflected by those creations, while facing some push back. Today, we see a strong force against substantial works of film, TV, and music for being political, whether it is the new Star Wars trilogy or HBO’s Watchmen, things that have always tackled politics getting fought back against people with various political leanings.

To get down to the nitty-gritty of boring details, let’s simply look at the definition of art. The word is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” The main takeaways are “creative skill and imagination” that is followed by examples along with the ending about “beauty or emotional power.” Art is an expression for artists to delve into their emotions and thoughts and display the inner workings of their brain to the world.

If it is as easy as someone’s expression of their worldview or their personal experiences, then it makes for a confusing situation as people want that to stay out. Well, people dislike having to face opposing views, especially when they are trying to relax away from work or the chaos exploding on their Twitter feeds. That is reasonable, and they deserve to do so, but creative minds need to create their work.

Take HBO’s adaption from the comic series Watchmen. Taking place 34 years later, superheroes and the police are facing a group of white supremacist terrorists. Despite its praise, it has gotten some review bombers who are not happy about this political theme in the narrative.

It may not be the definitive answer to quality, but Rotten Tomatoes does have a shocking disparity in its reviews, with critics accounting for 94% and audiences adding to 43%. The score on IMDB lands on 6.8, and many viewers complaining about “woke culture” and its more liberal ideology. Plenty of negative comments do come from people not understanding this is further down the road from the comics and thinking it is a lousy adaption, but plenty of viewers do feel the politics are too strong.

Anyone can like or dislike whatever they want, but being educated is the best bet. People who claim to love the comics must be forgetting the political themes. While the twelve issues looked at radical right-wing ideas, it tried to stand as a realistic take on a world with superheroes with the purpose to entertain readers, even writer Alan Moore spoke about this:

“I also wanted to write about power politics,” Moore told Entertainment Weekly in 2005. “Ronald Reagan was president. But I worried readers might switch off if they thought I was attacking someone they admired. So we set Watchmen in a world where Nixon was in his fourth term because you’re not going to get much argument that Nixon was scum!”

He worried about people getting hung up on the politics by going into an alternative universe, but that does not always stop people from reading into something the way that they want, especially with all the time that has passed since the late ’80s, the decade in which the comic series was created.

The notion of letting people consume content in a way to gain thoughtful insight or empowerment for their own lives has been established across the board for decades. Not everything has to be like BlacKkKlansman or Vice, which puts the message as the face of the film. Sometimes films have that balance of having something to say but letting audiences decide whether or not they want to have a thought-provoking experience or let off steam from work.

People can voice their opinions in any way, but weaponizing those views has become a problem. Rotten Tomatoes had to alter their system as people review bombed Captain Marvel. Nothing is that political about the movie, unlike Black Panther, but people made it a target against Marvel’s first female lead, including the studios’ first leading black character.

A lot of this comes from prejudices and toxic fan communities. Sadly, these kinds of people can be found in any fandom, whether it is stemming from comic book followers, football fanatics, or people who are furries. Where humans are found, you tend to discover negative behaviors.

Comic books are one of the more confusing when people say they don’t want politics in their superhero movies because the origin of many comics come from something political. That is where Marvel saw the pushback against Chadwick Boseman and Brie Larson’s films in the MCU.

The comic run between 2006 and 2007 with Civil War was driven by politics. The movie, Captain America: Civil War, is one of the most beloved in the universe, but both the source material and film dodged outrage from its fans. CW is a commentary on the George W. Bush administration along with the Patriot Act, so it does blur the lines of what is acceptable and not for fans.

This certainly smells like more prejudice against women and people of color rather than having something political, at least in the world of superheroes.

Superman, an icon in the genre, especially for Americans like myself. The indestructible hero came from childhood friends Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Much of that inspiration came from their heritage as their parents were Jewish immigrants. Due to widespread anti-Semitic viewpoints, that lead to one of the most recognizable heroes in tights and a red cape.

“What led me into creating Superman in the early thirties?” Siegel said. “Hearing and reading of the oppression and slaughter of helpless, oppressed Jews in Nazi Germany… seeing movies depicting the horrors of privation suffered by the downtrodden.”

Going back to Marvel, you have Captain America, the best in the game when it comes to punching Nazis. He got his start in books by beating Hitler and his army of Nazis. Sure, it is political in a piece of entertainment that some people may not want. Still, they are Nazis, so it is not Marvel pushing an immoral agenda, it is because some racist nerds are angry that their views are getting rightfully demonized.

Also, remember Hydra is a Nazi group that America’s Ass must face against throughout his comic and big-screen appearances.

Image via Marvel Comics

While the MCU is the biggest juggernaut conquering the planet before it was Star Wars. The prequels tarnished the reputation for its quality, and now people still are not letting up on the new films since Disney acquired the property.

The new films have plenty of issues that anyone can argue. The one thing that cannot be pointed is its anti-fascist message as it is not new.

The Sith have always been a regime taking control and wiping out whoever they want. It is similar to Nazi Germany except in space. Somehow the First Order, the new version that took power after the death of Darth Sidious, but this new regime has people hyper-focus on the political themes even though nothing in its message has changed since 1977.

Looking back, the prequels were full of this as Palpatine did not become Darth Sidious from the outside; he grew power within. Similar to Hitler, he used skills in communication and other means to gain what he wanted. Once he had the resources, he dived into the dark side and raised an army that wiped out the forces that stood in his way.

The new trilogy has more diversity, which has lead to a high amount of misogyny and racism. Kelly Marie Tran who got introduced in the iconic franchise in The Last Jedi with the role as Rose. For narrative purposes, she did not bring much, but that was a script issue, not her talent as an actress, along with prejudices towards her being Vietnamese. She got cyber bullied to the point of deleting her Instagram posts.

On a brighter note, she was met with love during the Star Wars Celebration event from this past spring.

The Internet is a toxic place to be. Anonymity and traditional bullying create a high amount of cyberbullying. We all know how bad YouTube comments can become, showcasing that anything that is disliked must meet a nuclear assault rather than a thumbs down and that person moving on with their life. These people feel a need to dedicate their hatred, no matter the cause of those emotions.

Of course, Hollywood tends to lean heavily in a more liberal environment. People of all walks of life have a range of political beliefs, outside of the traditional Democrat or Republican, which is expected. While many high points are made in the material I have mentioned from Marvel to Star Wars, the film industry, especially in Las Angeles have not done themselves justice, showing off hypocrisy and eliminating credibility.

Plenty of people have been burned out of the industry, and rightfully so. However, a lot of people have been forgiven out of nowhere. Mel Gibson received a standing ovation for Hackshaw Ridge, but the many is a misogynist and an anti-Semite.

He may be sober and indicates his words against the Jewish people to come from being drunk and angry, but that is hard to swallow from someone who directed Passion of the Christ. He chose anti-Jewish lines from Gospels and depicted the brutal murder of Jesus (Jim Caviezel) by the Jewish people, despite any historical evidence to support his choices in the film.

Anyone can redeem themselves, but Gibson should have done somethings to regain that respect instead of making a respectable war film. Thanks a lot, sincerely, this Jewish writer.

Outside of bigotry and bizarre decisions of who is forgiven, the pay gap for gender is astounding. Scarlett Johansson is the highest paid actress right now, yet she got paid $198.5 million less than George Clooney. In All the Money in the World, all that money went to Mark Walhberg with a payout of $5 million, and his costar, Michelle Williams, earned $625,000.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have that kind of money, but putting myself in their shoes, that is pretty insane to have that disparity between costars. Even then, lower jobs in the business need a pay bump.

Other jobs in Hollywood are worse off. Actors, directors, and other big positions audience think of usually get paid well, even if there is a gap. In some areas, that pay is not worth it to make a living in an expensive city like LA. Assistants came out in a #PayUpHollywood trend on Twitter to bring light to being overworked for not much in return for their bank accounts.

So, the liberal-leaning filmmakers don’t always do themselves justice, opening up for fair criticism. That’s why having credibility will enhance the film’s ability to project a message to the audience. Jordan Peele, a black director, and writer, showed this in Get Out as a critique of racism within the world of liberalism.

When tackling mental health, Ari Aster has confessed to his own struggles. That is why his two horror creations, last year’s Hereditary and this year’s Midsommar, are great examples of a director using his own experiences to establish a theme that he truly knows, same goes to Peele.

The world that Aster has cemented himself in along with Peele’s new adventure into the spooky side of entertainment, the political and social commentary aspects are not new. The ’70s saw a rise in slasher flicks like Halloween for a reason, the U.S. was on fire. The social turmoil and the Vietnam war were tearing the country apart, but thankfully to teenagers getting stabbed on-screen and rock music, people had a way to escape through thought-provoking avenues.

John S. Nelson from the University of Iowa, talks about how people process information from “audiovisual media,” specifically from horror.

“Studies of cognition show that Americans get much of their political information from audiovisual media,” he said, “Therefore, attention to popular films can help us learn how genre conventions communicate politics. The popular genre of horror uses subtexts to help people face political evils in their everyday lives.”

Across the ’30s as DC and Marvel were born, the rise of Star Wars in the late 70’s, or modern and vintage horror films, having political and social commentary in entertainment has been around for lifetimes. Even look at Shakespeare, that guy loved politics, and he was making his work hundreds of years ago. This wave of wanting to take away expression from people’s work comes from blinded, angry individuals who don’t see the failure in their views.

If you want no ideology in your downtime, then great, but don’t be that person who attacks something political since before you were born like it is something brand new. Be mindful of what people want to say in their art and go find things that resonate with you like a responsible viewer instead of raising hell on Rotten Tomatoes or someone you don’t know’s Twitter or Instagram.

Now just watch or read what you want and let others live their lives without ignorant and hateful comments.

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Header image via HBO

Hereditary: The Most Traumatizing Movie I Have Ever Seen

SPOILERS: For the sake of this story about how Hereditary has effected me, I will be going in deep with every detail I can think of to explain what I am trying to say. If you have not seen this film, you must.

A discussion that surrounds horror tends to come from the scariest movie that someone has seen. I would say I don’t usually get scared, but I do get lingering feelings from somethings I have seen on the big screen that stay with me for a few hours to a couple of days, but never months. Ari Aster’s debut supernatural flick Hereditary goes above anything I have seen as it is more than just terrifying, it is traumatizing in the best way possible.

I missed the boat when it came to theaters. The trailers did not sell me and the hype around it got me intrigued, but I could not find the time to hit the theater. My friend sent me the Blu-ray, pushing me to finally to watch it on a night where I had nothing to do, and I did not expect to have a life changing experience.

The load down on the story comes from the mother and wife of a family, Annie (Toni Collette), who lost her mother, the grandmother of her children. She had a rocky, distant, and unusual relationship with her mom, so she is in an awkward state of grief. Things start to get unusual, especially after the sudden death of her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). A cult is in the background to summon ancient demon and deliver a male host, the son Peter (Alex Wolff), and they win by killing everyone and controlling Peter’s body.

Two components make up the narrative, an emotional drama and a mysterious possession horror narrative. So, let’s start with the spooky happenings that occur to this family.

A slow burn for the genre is not much of a thing anymore. Aster brings back pacing elements that are often found in older horror films. The first hour is primarily a story of a family coping with the loss of two members with a terrifying secret lurking beneath the surface until the shift occurs turning this into something entirely sinister.

Dropping bread crumbs of clues about cult and their agenda along with tidbits of horror create tension without a lot occurring. Chairs are not being misplaced or random objects flying across the room, it is subtle, making me miss or not think about certain details that will come back to haunt me later. After the first few minutes, Annie sees her mother in the shadows of a room after the funeral, then that is the last of any ghostly activity for a while. This signal reminded me this is in the realm of the supernatural, but with an emptiness of Exorcist styled possession and a focus on family fights, I got a false sense of security by getting involved with their relationships, and letting the religious zealots continue their mission.

The crawl to the climax gives an uneasiness to this ride. I felt disturbed without the constant jump scares or danger that comes from most in the genre. Psychological horror is far more effective, yet this is more like a predator toying with its prey, it is much more than how most tricks to the viewer’s mind tends to play out.. Annie seeing things like ants all over Peter’s face then the discomfort of their relationship grows as Peter wakes up to his mother standing in his room silent adds to the emotions I am already feeling and makes me question if the mother’s delusions come from a spiritual force or her recent trauma.

The door has been opened for Paimon to enter the home. Image via A24

The climax alone launches the speed. Annie on the wall, close to the ceiling of Peter’s room and slowly revealing herself from the darkness is easily one of the most horrifying things I have seen from any movie in my life. The payoff of having everything going to hell with the father, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), lighting into flames, Annie becoming possessed, and the cult of religious fanatics to win is a chilling and depressing way to conclude as I grew to want the best for these desperate people.

One of the best ways to impact an audience comes from having something relatable or attach to. The themes tackled by Aster outweighs the devilish beings and crazed Pagan clans that wipe out an entire family. The focus on mental illness, the consequences of isolation, apathy, and willing ignorance in a moment when people need the answer is sticking together show really how Hereditary is deeper than the average horror flick.

That is what made this film stick to me for months after I had seen it. Pain drives this narrative, making it more depressing than most dramas. Except for the adrenaline producing final act, that grief and division between the members of this family is what haunts me.

Peter and Annie have had a difficult relationship due to past struggles that never got resolved. Annie had gone into an episode of sleep walking which resulted in her nearly killing her only son. Now he is to blame for the death of Charlie after he takes her to a party, she eats a cake with nuts in it to trigger her allergy, then smashes her head when trying to get air on the drive to the hospital. The cult’s plan to drive the parents and children all apart is working.

The chilling silence and explosive arguments between mother and son along with husband and wife heighten the drama. It is not one note on repeat, instead the multiple layers with these somber moments of grief and the loud fights give a more realistic sense of how a broken family functions, especially under traumatic circumstances like losing a child. I did not go into a movie about possession, cults, and demons and end up getting smacked by a gripping story about these people who I felt for during their entire journey.

My friends and I would speak about it like we witnessed something horrifying in the real world, except this is just a movie directed by a passionate filmmaker. It was on a level that none of us had seen before. Even mentioning it gets guttural reactions from any of us.

The emotional connections with the creepy elements sneaking in makes for the most impactful scary movie I have digested. It is why I believe Ari Aster is the best in the genre, but it also why his creations do not leave me when the credits roll. I thought about this film every day for five to six months after watching, and here I am seven to eight months later writing this article that you are reading, so no, Hereditary never left my mind.

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Header image via A24





Marvel’s Avengers – A-Day Prologue Gameplay Reveal Impressions

Back at E3 this year, Square Enix showed a behind closed doors gameplay video of its upcoming Avengers game. The reception was poor from journalists, and from leaked footage, it did look bad. Maybe it was the cell phone camera that made it look like this is a licensed game from the early 2000s, until I saw the official gameplay reveal – it is that bad.

After a cutscene of the Avengers celebrating A-Day, duty calls as multiple attacks across San Fransisco burst out of nowhere. A little bit of awkward banter between Thor and Iron Man, the first peek at the overall feel is given as the God of Thunder smashes mysterious thugs. His movement looks sluggish, and the hits seem to not have weight to provide a satisfying punch, especially when throwing Mjolnir, his mighty hammer. It looks arcadey rather than a modern action experience.

Continuing the weird writing, his quips and catchphrases during combat are cringy. While the whole cast is excellent with Travis Willingham (Camp Camp and Tell Tale’s Batman) as Thor, Laura Bailey (Gears of War 4 and Insomniac’s Spider-Man) as Black Widow, Troy Baker (Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us) as Hulk, Nolan North (Uncharted and Pretty Little Liars) as Iron Man, and Jeff Schine (Mafia III and The Walking Dead: A New Frontier), they all have some flat line delivery along with no chemistry. North and Baker had wonderful chemistry in Uncharted 4, so maybe there was a directing issue, or this comes down to poor writing.

It appears each hero has three main moves to pummel enemies. The animations are enjoyable, but I have little hope the power will be there when playing.

Iron Man eventually comes in to help his friend. Unlike the movies where the heroes fighting side by side creates for exciting fights, this lacks that. He flies above Thor shooting people idly.

If things looked like you would play this in an arcade than pay $60, then it completely ramps up the quarter hungry type of game as Iron Man get his time to shine on screen. Switching to the billionaire superhero, he flies across the wreckage of exploded vehicles to shoot down flying enemies. The destruction of the landscape looks spectacular, which loses its mesmerizing effect as Tony blasts generic thugs out of the sky.

Hulk’s combat section does not repair any damage. He does what he is best at, smashing. The impact is not there, making him, along with everyone else, a lot less powerful than he should. The green Avenger jumps over gaps in the Golden Gate Bridge by wall jumping from one collapsed piece of debris or vehicle to another. It is overly linear and adds no depth to the gameplay.

Captain America continues the generic fighting as he kicks, punches, and uses his iconic shield to defeat incoming enemies. This beat-em-up section looks like every other scenario. While each character does have unique abilities, I don’t have confidence that will make enough of a difference for the quality.


Black Widow chases Taskmaster, the only supervillain shown off so far. Out of every character design, he is one of the best. A brief platforming section along with a QTE (quick time event) heavy battle with the antagonist screams the early to mid-2000s in the worst possible way. She does get in a real battle with two more stages of this battle, which shows off weak gunplay and slightly faster movement from the agent.

It ends on a cutscene of Captain’s death and a few cutscenes from the trailer shown before this Gamescom reveal. All of the cutscenes are impressively crafted. The epic scope makes this story worthy for the Avengers, but everything else falls flat to make me not even care for its potential.

The second AAA title from Marvel Games looks terribly disappointing. Outside of pretty graphics, it offers no appeal to me at all. After the success of Spider-Man, I thought things looked positive for the other studios developing for the publisher. Turns out I was wrong as this comes off as a dated and generic action game that would have come out a decade ago as a cheap tie-in to one of the movies.

What do you think of the gameplay for Marvel’s Avengers?

Marvel’s Avengers comes out May 15, 2020, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia.

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Images via Marvel Games/Square Enix

Opinion: Superhero Movie Fatigue Will Not Happen Anytime Soon

Every release from DC or Marvel starts up a conversation about superhero fatigue. People are waiting for the decline in this popular genre, thinking it is a fad, except it is not something that will die after a few years. These characters and stories are beloved by fans all over the world. With Far From Home becoming the highest-grossing movie for Spidey and Endgame becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time, this proves that this will not go away anytime soon.

A formula that works has been established. Movies like Shazam! which made $364 million out of its $100 million budget and Captain Marvel made slightly over a billion in its lifetime run in theaters. Those two hit beats that anyone who has seen any of these films will recognize. Despite being reasonably basic origin story movies, the reviews and money show they can still hit hard with the DC hero having a 91% and Marvel’s most powerful personality having a respectable 78%.

The cookie-cutter spectacles get people in the theater, but to strive for longevity, creativity needs to continue to run freely. Deadpool, Logan, and Guardians of the Galaxy have all changed the game for tone and style in the seemingly oversaturated genre. While others fly with capes and spandex, Ryan Reynolds showed the world adult humor while fighting superpowered criminals works with a mass audience, while James Mangold crafted a dramatic, Western-inspired end to Hugh Jackman’s career as Wolverine, and James Gunn changed the face of the MCU with space outlaws turning good.

Change continues to arrive in the coming years. Joker will set the tone for both a villain’s origin while balancing a grounded crime drama. We always see characters breaking the law and having to deal with the consequences as a masked vigilante comes to save the day, but never the experience to see this done in a realistic way that puts aside any caped heroes.

Meanwhile, the mind behind plenty of iconic Spider-Man comics, Todd McFarlane, is creating a horrifying adaption from his own comic creation, Spawn. He aims for a reboot that will scare the audience with its horror elements along with a hard R rating.

The king of a superhero coming to the silver screen is currently Marvel. Kevin Fiege, head of Marvel Studios, plans on changing things up moving forward because even he recognizes that they are going into the formulaic territory. By having more diversity, cosmic storylines, and the possibility of R rated MCU entries, it is safe to say that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will not go stale in the next phase.

Narratively these studios have plenty of source material to choose from to prevent running out of ideas. Both Marvel and DC not only have epic stories to tell on the big screen but plenty of characters that have not had a blockbuster adaption. Now that Marvel owns more of its roster after the Fox acquisition expects plenty to come with the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and that does not even consider the plans for phase four.

The big question fans have for Marvel is who will be the next big baddie after Thanos, which leaves many possibilities. Now that X-Men and Fantastic Four will eventually get introduced into this universe, that allows their villains to do what the Mad Titan could not accomplish by defeating this extensive roster of heroic men, women, and creatures.

DC has had its struggles, but besides their known and unknown catalog of superpowered personalities, the studio plans on a secondary universe starting with the upcoming Joker movie. It is ambitious and risky; however, this can save and redeem the company in the eyes of moviegoers.

The superhero train’s speed continues to go faster, making it harder to stop. The lineup of upcoming films makes it even more challenging to imagine this trend having a downfall in the near future. People will hit the theaters, and the heroes will still save the world.

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Image via Marvel Studios

Opinion: Ari Aster is the Best Modern Horror Director

Spoilers for Midsommar and Hereditary.

Horror is one of the hardest genres to execute appropriately. While the profits look nice, the quality tends to fail. Last year and this year both have had two special films pop up from a new face in Hollywood. Ari Aster debuted a masterpiece that twists the oversaturated supernatural subgenre with Hereditary and as of a week ago has unleashed Midsommar, a dark twist on Sweden’s otherwise beautiful summer solstice festivals. Only two movies under his belt and I can safely say he is the current king of all things spooky in today’s climate of money-hungry ghosts and killers.

The magic of cinema is that it can evoke emotion from an audience by going beyond a piece of entertainment. Aster’s two releases have done this beautifully. Both movies share plenty of familiar, poignant themes like dysfunctional relationships and mental illness.

Mental health often gets portrayed in a cartoonish way that can heighten the stigmas rather than diminish them. The two films capture the complexity of depression and other illnesses.

Dani (Florence Pugh) in Midsommar loses her parents and sister who had been suffering from bipolar disorder. Her grieving and struggles remain throughout the entirety of the movie while playing into her character’s choices. It is why she becomes so vulnerable to the cult’s wishes of her joining them, which is even foreshadowed by Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) story about the death of his parents.

The protagonist of Hereditary, Annie (Toni Collette) goes through something similar as she loses both her mother and daughter in a short span of time. Annie’s pain, resentment, sorrow, regret, and the many other emotions that Collette display showcases how complicated feelings can become in troubling times. Annie’s vulnerability lets her ignore any signs of unusual events, which becomes her whole family’s downfall by the grandmother’s Pagan cult.

Plenty of horror influences get injected into Aster’s creations, but the main inspiration comes from real-world drama. Having problematic relationships or dealing with loss occurs in other movies; however, Aster takes it to a new level by the characters being more important than the threat. Usually, the psychotic killer is given more development than his potential victims. The focus on the personal lives of the protagonists in Hereditary and Midsommar make them a lot more believable, empathetic, and relatable.

Putting the spooky elements in the background or pushing it into the latter half of the movie sets up a slow burn that fleshes out characters. While it may be divisive since many who go into a theater for this genre want to get scared, but the audience Aster targets needs the patience to get to the turning point of the narrative.

His supernatural debut is an hour of an almost pure family drama, with ghosts and cult activity sprinkled throughout. The halfway mark slightly diverges for a more traditional spiritual horror story, while still maintaining what is happening between each family member. The drama beat me down with its depressing tone, then once things got dark, I felt defenseless by the grueling experience that leads up to the final act.

The latest project is almost entirely a drama between a couple and a group of friends. The cult activities are upfront, but nothing terrifying ever happens. The final moments are more forward about the sacrificial ritual being performed while keeping with the same tone and pacing like the rest of the film. Hereditary had a distinct shift, while this latest folk horror stayed on the road it had set in the beginning.

Blending imagination and reality makes for the most horrific experience. The director/writer does plenty of research to make sure both of these Pagan inspired narratives. Paimon, the demon that the cult worships in Hereditary, is not something made-up for the film. His origins predate Christianity and have popped up in a variety of religious texts. Meanwhile, Midsommar takes an array of influences from European summer solstice festivals and Pagan rituals, while taking some liberties to make the Hårga cult feel like a real group of people in Sweden.

Taking historical folklore takes research, which Aster does an excessive amount. The symbols, traditions, and runes found in his breakup horror flick come from Swedish history and mythology. Hårga is a location in Northern Sweden with a dark tale that goes behind it involving the devil, impersonating a fiddler, making people dance until they die. That is quite reminiscent of Dani and other women in the dance competition to become May Queen.

Traditions stay true, except for murder, like the use of flowers. The flower crowns seen are a highly regarded accessory along with the use of decoration.

Dani about to start the dance competition with the other women in the cult.

Aster has an eye for art by the way his films are shot. They hold a variety of different shots to keep everything fresh. Midsommar has some wild shots from upside-down perspectives and wide shots to take in everything happening in an important scene. Both of his films utilize the camera to give meaning to what is happening between characters. In a scene during Hereditary between Annie and Peter (Alex Wolf) having an argument in the middle of the night, the viewpoint given shows the distance of the mother and son, not literally, but the separation of their relationship.

No room for filler because every choice from writing, shooting, and set design is done with a purpose. Little symbols that need a second or third viewing tell a part of the story in each nightmarish creation. Aster seems to enjoy throwing hidden gems to hint at an element of the narrative that only a small portion of an audience will identify.

Too many filmmakers churn out movie after movie that is another generic cash grab with no personality. Aster puts a style with his projects that distinguish them from any other release. His methodical pacing, distinct tone, and twists on real mythology make for traumatizing films to watch and make. Alex Wolf, who played the son in Hereditary and Jack Reynor’s role in Midsommar negatively effected them from Reynor’s discomfort during filming and Wolf’s mental and physical health diminished.

Two films are not enough to be a king of a genre, but two brilliantly crafted projects certainly give Aster the upper hand. If this continues, then I do see him being a master at cult classics. His vision causes diversity amongst viewers, but what he makes does not get forgotten. The name he is making for himself will make for a loyal fanbase looking forward to the next expertly designed experience that will emotionally scar anyone walking into the theater.

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Image via A24

Opinion: Nobody Should Completely Dismiss Google Stadia

Google’s Stadia, their upcoming video game streaming service, has caused mixed feeling amongst gamers and the industry as a whole. I have seen reactions from slight skepticism to people completely dismissing this new platform. I hold some doubt too, but I find thinking this will end up as a flop or gimmick to be too far.

Google has had plenty of gimmicks that end up going nowhere like their endeavors with Google Glass and other projects. The company has plenty of innovative ideas, but cannot always market it to commercial success. Stadia has potential with its strong lineup of upcoming compatible games and the behemoth that is the gaming industry. This seems to be the first time in a while since it has been able to get a refreshing idea like this to a level of curiosity that has people talking.

“I understand the concern,” Phil Harrison overseer of Stadia, told Kotaku. “But I think that all you have to do is look at the level of investment that we have made and continue to make in Stadia. This is not a trivial project by any means. This is a very, very significant cross-company effort that isn’t just my team, but it’s also across YouTube, it’s across our technical infrastructure and networking team. It represents thousands of people who are working on this business.”

That could be corporate fluff to show confidence in the system in hopes for people to buy into the product, but this interview was back in March. Soon afterward, as of yesterday, Google held Stadia Connect to give a rundown of information on how the service will work. Instead of talking up a grand plan, Stadia is coming this November with a free edition coming next year. That soon, of date, along with the recent event, proves the confidence that Google is serious.

Netflix, Microsoft, and even Google all started off on the wrong foot in the eyes of the world by thinking the innovative ideas that were tossed around would be impossible or even silly to exist. Yet, the skeptics were proven wrong even with some shortcomings from the early childhood of these companies.

The main issue many people seem to point out, something I worry about too, is the availability of stable, high-quality internet. The average world speed as of last year is 9.1Mbps, slightly below the minimum recommended for Stadia. Generally, internet service is getting better worldwide, but that is mostly because of widely developed nations that can bring out the latest technology as soon as possible.

Image via Google

I can go into Stadia without any internet worries, but that is not for everyone. The average in California, where I live, is about 24.6Mbps. To get the right service, that can become costly, and not everyone can afford to pay for Stadia, especially in the United States which pays more for moderate service, and high-end internet, at least until the free tier comes in 2020.

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My internet at home

Technologies coming will make services like Stadia cheaper while tackling latency and bandwidth issues. Orion, a piece of software that Bethesda announced at E3, is the first significant step towards handling the concerns that so many people have towards streaming games. The goal will be to lower the price for consumers and publishers while taking on those technical hurdles.

Seeing where the future will take us can become difficult, but being open-minded enough can help develop some awareness. Gaming will reach a level to stream everything, it lays on when it is possible. Xbox’s streaming service and Stadia are two examples that will push everything forward. It might not be perfect at launch, but in a few years, these services will strike a massive market.

Image via Google