Happy Death Day 2U (2019) Movie Review

Happy Death Day 2U is a 2019 American science fiction black comedy slasher film written and directed by Christopher Landon. It stars Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Rachel Matthews, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, and Steve Zissis. The film again follows Tree Gelbman (Rothe), who is accidentally transported to another dimension, where she must relive a different version of the same day repeatedly as she tries to return home, while a new killer is on the loose. The film is a sequel to 2017’s Happy Death Day, with Jason Blum again serving as a producer through his Blumhouse Productions company.

The film was released in the United States on February 13, 2019, by Universal Pictures. It received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Rothe’s performance, as well as the film’s shift to a more sci-fi tone, although some noted it as derivative of the first film. It grossed $64 million worldwide against a $9 million budget.


College student Ryan wakes up in his car on Tuesday, September 19. Returning to his dorm room, he walks in on his roommate Carter and his girlfriend, Tree. He resumes work on an experimental quantum reactor with fellow students Samar and Dre. After Bronson, the school dean, shuts down the project for triggering several power outages, Ryan is murdered by someone dressed as Babyface, and wakes up again on Tuesday the 19th. Tree explains her experience reliving Monday the 18th, and she and Carter agree to help Ryan. They learn the reactor was responsible for creating the loop. The new Babyface tracks Ryan down, but Tree unmasks him to reveal another Ryan. The second Ryan warns that the original must die for the loop to close. Terrified, Ryan activates the reactor, releasing a powerful energy pulse that knocks everyone unconscious.

Tree wakes up in Carter’s room on Monday the 18th, and relives her original time loop, with certain differences: Lori is not the Babyface killer, and Carter is now dating a nicer Danielle. Ryan theorizes that the reactor caused Tree to drift into another dimension. When Tree learns her mother is still alive in this new reality, she decides to stay.

Blumhouse (“Split,” “Get Out,” “Whiplash”) produces an original and inventive rewinding thriller in “Happy Death Day,” in which a college student (JESSICA ROTHE, “La La Land”) relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

That night, Tree goes to the hospital to intercept serial killer John Tombs before he escapes, but is confronted by a police officer. Babyface kills the officer and Tree runs into Lori, who tells her that Babyface cannot be Tombs because she just took him in for surgery. Babyface stabs Lori, then chases Tree to the roof, where she accidentally falls to her death. She wakes at the beginning of her loop, and demands that Ryan and his team help her escape it, requiring they test dozens of algorithms. At Carter’s suggestion, Tree serves as the group’s recorder, killing herself at the end of each day so they can start again. Eventually, her injuries catch up with her and she faints. Waking up in the hospital, Tree steals a gun to go after Tombs, only to find Lori already dead. Babyface attacks and Tree shoots him dead. However, a second Babyface appears, forcing Tree to kill herself and Babyface.

The group finally discovers the correct algorithm, but a technical issue forces a delay. Faced with a choice of which reality she wants to be in when both time loops close, Tree decides to remain in the current dimension. Carter urges Tree to consider the consequences of living a life that is not truly hers, and states that her experience with grief helped shape the person she is now. Tree hides from Babyface in a hotel. That evening, the news reports that Carter was murdered trying to save Lori at the hospital. Tree kills herself and deactivates the reactor so she can save Carter and Lori. The loop restarts, and Tree decides to return to her own reality. She advises Lori to end her affair with her professor Dr. Butler, discovers that Danielle is cheating on Carter, and has a final conversation with her mother.

Bronson confiscates the reactor before the group can activate it. Believing she is too weak to survive another loop, Tree insists they retrieve the device. The group enlists Danielle to distract Bronson while they recover the reactor. As Ryan readies the device, Tree goes to the hospital to rescue Lori from Tombs, but is trapped by the second Babyface—revealed to be Dr. Butler trying to bury the evidence of his affair with Lori. Dr. Butler’s wife Stephanie appears and shoots Lori, revealing she is in league with her husband, before he betrays and shoots her as well. Tree outsmarts Butler and kills him. Lori survives, and Tree and Carter kiss as the reactor activates, sending Tree back to her original dimension on Tuesday the 19th.

Later, Tree, Carter, Ryan, Samar and Dre are escorted by agents to a DARPA laboratory, where the reactor has been moved for further experimentation. When the agents say they need a test subject in order to see how the machine works, Tree says she knows the perfect test subject. In her bedroom, Danielle wakes up screaming in horror.

My Personal Thoughts

Tree Gelbman is living the same day again — again. Horror hit factory Blumhouse has returned to theaters with a mindbending sequel to Happy Death Day, its surprise success story from 2017, and this time, everything’s different. The sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, is taking audiences back to Bayfield to finish what the first movie started — or at least build on it.

If you’re confused about some of the movie’s weirder plot points, have no fear — we’ve diagrammed out the timelines and sorted through the sordid details with a summary you can follow, no matter which universe you’re watching from. The plot is weird and winding, throwing time-twisting turns and alternate dimensions at you faster than you might be able to process. But while this follow-up may be a little headier than the movie that came before it, there’s no reason to be caught out of the loop. Let’s break down the ending of Happy Death Day 2U.

The first Happy Death Day follows Tree’s journey from a stuck-up sorority mean girl to a sympathetic, gun-toting survivor — a satisfying character arc that felt like Groundhog Day by way of Friday the 13th. In that movie, much like in Groundhog Day, the mechanism that causes Tree to go into a day-repeating time loop is never revealed, appearing simply as a mystical phenomenon that serves to drive the story. But since the movie’s release, director Christopher Landon has promised there’s an explanation to the phenomenon hidden in the movie, all set to be explored in a possible sequel.

“The answer to why she’s literally stuck in a time loop — it’s something I have the answer to,” he told Insider in 2017. He also encouraged viewers to look for clues about the loop’s origins in the movie itself, saying, “The whole idea for my sequel is actually already in this movie. It’s hiding in plain sight.”

This assurance from Landon (who has sole writing credit on the sequel, picking up the torch from original movie writer Scott Lobdell), along with the emphasis on Tree’s dead mother and a long-lost birthday tradition, led to theories about her mother’s spirit having something to do with the loop, with Tree’s mother somehow manipulating time from beyond the grave to keep her daughter safe. But Happy Death Day 2U debunks those theories, revealing a source for the phenomenon that’s more sci-fi in nature than anyone saw coming.

In what feels like a wild departure from the original Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U reveals that Tree’s time-twisting journey was caused by a literal time machine, located in a science lab on the Bayfield University campus. The device, somewhat surprisingly, is the invention of Carter’s roommate Ryan, the oafish goober from the first movie with a tendency of barging in every time Tree wakes up.

While the first movie paints Ryan as awkward, boorish, and sex-obsessed, the sequel reveals hidden depths and intellect that would do good by Doc Brown himself. As the opening of the sequel shows us, Ryan is in the process of developing the machine with a team of fellow student scientists named Samar and Sarah. While they haven’t perfected the device just yet — and lord knows how they’re funding this thing — the team soon discovers that it’s capable of disturbing the fabric of space-time, unintentionally sending Tree on her most bogus birthday journey. (Tree is decidedly not happy with Ryan upon discovering this information.)

The lab students who developed the machine call it the Sisyphus quantum cooling reactor, or “Sissy” for short. The name is an on-the-nose reference to the Greek legend of Sisyphus, a man punished by the gods to spend each day eternally rolling a boulder up a hill, doomed to crumple under its weight while never reaching the top. As viewers of the first Happy Death Day know, it’s a trial that Tree can quite viscerally relate to.

The introduction of Sissy marks a clear pivot from the first movie’s horror genre trappings toward straight-up science fiction, with the plot-explaining time machine having little in common with the more traditionally frightening tone of the first movie. But Happy Death Day 2U also leans into a more romantic angle than its acerbic slasher predecessor, becoming more of a sci-fi rom-com than the Scream-like original.

When the machine as activated to kick off the movie’s second act, it sends Tree into a parallel dimension, in which her relationships with the people around her are ever so slightly askew. The changes are small but significant, forcing Tree to reevaluate her own life and what she wants out of it.

While the first dimension’s Carter is single until he meets Tree, the second dimension version is happily dating Danielle, a rival of Tree’s and the alpha dog of her sorority. In Tree’s world, her mom is dead — in the second world, she’s still alive. As a result of these character change-ups, the tension this time around isn’t so much “will Tree survive this nightmare” as it is “will love prevail,” with the heroine’s biggest challenge being in figuring out whether she wants to live in a reality with her still-alive mother, or her original dimension in which she’d just begun what felt like it could be a loving, long-term relationship with Carter.

Much like Scream, Cabin in the Woods, and other winking works of meta-fiction, the characters in Happy Death Day 2U are cognizant of the fact that they seem to be living through the plot of a movie. In this case, parallels are drawn with Back to the Future Part II, the super-fun 1989 movie that saw science student Marty McFly not just revisiting the past, but also the plot of the previous movie, intersecting with the older narrative in new and unexpected ways.

On top of the Back to the Future sequel being surprisingly relevant to this movie’s plot, Happy Death Day 2U also sports a few cute references to the sci-fi series, such as the “Biff’s Tree Removal” wood chipper that Tree cheerfully kills herself in at the end of one loop, as well as the fateful speed of 88 mph she attains during a later desperate death behind the wheel.

While not necessarily hard to follow, Happy Death Day 2U clearly doesn’t want audiences to linger too much on the how of its storytelling, breezing through plot points faster than you can say “wait, what?”

After being shot through a hole in space-time to begin the September 18 time loop in a whole other dimension, Tree is faced with two tasks. The first goal is to return to her own reality, a course of action which she can’t immediately decide if she even wants to take, considering that her beloved mother is still alive in this new world. But the second goal of stopping the time loop is something she has to achieve no matter what, regardless of which reality she decides to live out her days in.

The problem is that Sissy is a work in progress, a powerful machine that neither Ryan nor his lab mates yet entirely understand. In order to get it under their control, they need to do more research — lots of research. Each time the loop resets, they lose their progress, with the memories of everyone but Tree being reset to the state they were in when the loop started. As a result, Tree is forced to become the team’s institutional memory, keeping track of the complex quantum mechanics that make the machine work. It’s a tall task and a battle of inches, with the team only making progress thanks to Tree resetting the loop via offing herself, elaborately and hilariously, over and over again.

Complicating all of this multi-dimensional quantum confusion is the inconvenient fact that, just like the first movie, there’s a killer on the loose. In the first film, the Babyface masked killer is portrayed by two characters — Tree’s sorority sister Lori, and a serial killer named John Tombs, whom Lori manipulates, collaborates with, and sets up to frame for Tree’s murder, with her capacity as a nursing student giving her close proximity to the hospitalized criminal.

In the first movie’s reality, Lori was motivated to kill Tree out of jealousy due to her romantic relationship with Gregory Butler, a married professor and medical doctor whom Lori coveted. The doe-eyed nice girl was a most unexpected villain, making for a satisfying twist when she’s actually innocent in the second world. So who’s killing people in 2U?
The sequel features three characters wielding knives behind the Baby mask. For the most part, the killings in the second world are being committed by Dr. Butler himself, as well as — shockingly — his wife Stephanie, who seems to have been driven insane by Gregory’s infidelity. (While they appear to be in cahoots at first, that doesn’t really hold up after Gregory decides to shoot Stephanie during the movie’s climax. They’re apparently just both crazy, and totally deserve each other; what a shame that it doesn’t work out.)

Writer-director Christopher Landon and Jessica Rothe on the set of “Happy Death Day 2U.”

The third killer only appears in the movie’s first act, while Ryan is experiencing his own time loop on September 19th — and the reveal is a weird one.

One of the weirdest threads in Happy Death Day 2U is the idea that the Babyface killer pursuing Ryan in the movie’s opening is actually another version of himself, invading Ryan Prime’s reality in an effort to stop him from causing the time loops in the first place. It’s an electric, tantalizing reveal, promising doppelgängers, evil twins, and intertwining timelines that the movie… just doesn’t follow up on. Seriously. If you went to the bathroom at some point and thought you missed something, you didn’t. You’re not crazy — the origins of this second Ryan are never explored, and the mystery of his motivations just isn’t answered.

As John Orquiola with Screen Rant points out, this second Ryan seems to be from the future, possessing knowledge about the time loop’s effects that no one beyond Tree should really have yet.

As much as it seems like it could be a setup for Tree’s own doppelgänger being the killer in dimension two, Tree is explicitly told that there aren’t two of her in dimension two. When Tree goes to the second universe, she replaces herself in it, and despite the clear establishment of two alternate realities, an alternate version of herself never shows up. So how did Ryan end up with two of himself running around in dimension one? There are many possibilities — but in the movie itself, no answers.

Happy Death Day 2U seems to end on the cheerful note of Tree returning to her own reality, the time loop broken, and all of her hard-earned progress in life restored. But the world of the movie gets blown wide open in an out-of-left-field mid-credits sequence, which takes the sci-fi trappings of the sequel and goes all the way with them.

Happy Death Day 2 Movie Trailer

The scene begins with Tree and her cohorts doing campus clean-up as recompense for their destructive, insubordinate, reality-shattering lab work, the destructive effects of which the faculty can only begin to imagine. But just because the dean and company are in the dark doesn’t mean everyone is. Out of nowhere, the students are approached by a whole fleet of dark-suited special agent types, pulling up with stern expressions and a serious agenda.
A man introduces himself as Dr. Issac Parker with DARPA, an acronym for the real-life, federally-run Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The G-People promptly transport the students to their agency’s headquarters, where they’ve set up the confiscated Sissy machine to suit their own purposes. In what seems like a fantastic idea with no possible downsides whatsoever, Dr. Parker reveals that the agency wants to do research with the machine, and requires the students’ know-how to make it work. They also need a suitable test subject for further experimentation, proposing a sadistic experiment that no one deserves to experience — except maybe Danielle, who ends the movie waking up and screaming, caught in her own time loop.

The ending of Happy Death Day 2U marks a bonkers tonal shift that the sequel has spent its whole runtime building toward, setting up a third movie in a way few could have anticipated. We’re not just theory-crafting, either — writer-director Christopher Landon and producer Jason Blum have already said they would like to make a third movie, with the likelihood of it happening all depending on the box office performance of 2U.

As Blum explained in an interview with CinePOP, the genre-twisting nature of 2U and its stakes-raising ending aren’t unintentional.
“What’s different about Happy Death Day,” Blum said, “Is I’ve never seen a franchise where one movie is a certain genre and the next movie is a different genre. And that’s certainly the case with Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, and hopefully if we make a third one it’ll be a different, third kind of genre.”

As disappointing as it might be on some level to leave behind the slasher tone, it’s hard not to be interested in where this story could go. From the sound of the filmmakers’ comments, the sequel’s already abandoned horror quite deliberately. So if the audience turns out for it, why not abandon everything, and just go full-bore nutso in the next one? Could this movie be designed with loose ends to be tied up later, such as the mysterious second Ryan? It certainly seems that way — and if the threequel gets the greenlight, we can’t wait to see where the story goes.

I will rate this Movie 6/10.

Israel Broussard as Carter in “Happy Death Day 2U,” written and directed by Christopher Landon.
Directed byChristopher Landon
Produced byJason Blum
Written byChristopher Landon
Based onCharacters
by Scott Lobdell
StarringJessica Rothe Israel Broussard Rachel Matthews Phi Vu Steve Zissis
Music byBear McCreary
CinematographyToby Oliver
Edited byBen Baudhuin
Blumhouse Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dateFebruary 13, 2019 (United States)
Running time100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$9 million
Box office$64.5 million

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) Movie Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a 2019 comedy-drama film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Produced by Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, and Visiona Romantica and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, it is a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom. It features a large ensemble cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, and Al Pacino. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, the film follows an actor and his stunt double, as they navigate the changing film industry, and features “multiple storylines in a modern fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age”.

Announced in July 2017, it is the first Tarantino film to not involve Bob and Harvey Weinstein, as Tarantino ended his partnership with them following the sexual abuse allegations against the latter. After a bidding war, the film was distributed by Sony Pictures, which met Tarantino’s demands including final cut privilege. Pitt, DiCaprio, Robbie, Zoë Bell, Kurt Russell, and others joined the cast between January and June 2018. Principal photography lasted from June through November around Los Angeles. It is the last film to feature Luke Perry, who died in March 2019.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 26 and in the United Kingdom on August 14. It has grossed $372 million worldwide, with The Hollywood Reporter writing that critics had “an overall positive view” of the film, calling it “Tarantino’s love letter to ’60s L.A.” and praising its cast and setting, though some were “divided on its ending”.


In February 1969, Hollywood actor Rick Dalton, star of 1950s Western television series Bounty Law, fears his career is over. Casting agent Marvin Schwarzs advises him to make Spaghetti Westerns, which Dalton feels are beneath him. Dalton’s friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth – a war veteran who lives in a trailer with his pit bull, Brandy – drives Dalton around because Dalton’s alcoholism has resulted in multiple DUIs. Booth struggles to find work due to rumors that he murdered his wife. Actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, have moved next door to Dalton, who dreams of befriending them to restore his status. That night, Tate and Polanski attend a celebrity-filled party at the Playboy Mansion.

The next day, Booth repairs Dalton’s TV antenna. He reminisces about a sparring contest he had with Bruce Lee on the set of The Green Hornet, resulting in Booth being fired. Charles Manson stops by the Polanski residence looking for Terry Melcher, who used to live there, but is turned away by Jay Sebring. While driving Dalton’s car, Booth picks up a hitchhiker, “Pussycat”. He drops her off at Spahn Ranch, where Booth once filmed Bounty Law. He notices the hippies living there (the Manson Family). Suspecting they are taking advantage of the owner, George Spahn, Booth insists on checking on him despite “Squeaky”‘s objections. Spahn dismisses Booth’s fears. Booth discovers that “Clem” slashed a tire on Dalton’s car; Booth beats him and forces him to change it. “Tex” is asked to deal with the situation but arrives as Booth drives away. Tate goes for a walk and stops at a movie theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew.

Dalton plays a villain on the pilot of Lancer, and strikes up a conversation with his eight-year-old co-star, Trudi Fraser. Dalton struggles with his dialogue. After having a breakdown in his trailer, Dalton delivers a performance that impresses Fraser and the director, Sam Wanamaker, bolstering Dalton’s confidence. After watching Dalton’s guest performance on an episode of The F.B.I., Schwarzs books him as the lead of Sergio Corbucci’s next Western, Nebraska Jim. Dalton takes Booth with him for a stint in Italy, during which he appears in two additional Westerns and a Eurospy comedy, and marries Italian starlet Francesca Capucci.

Returning home, Dalton informs Booth he can no longer afford his services. They go out for drinks, then return to Dalton’s home. Booth smokes an acid-laced cigarette and takes Brandy for a walk. “Tex”, “Sadie”, “Flower Child”, and “Katie” park outside in preparation to murder everyone in Tate’s house. Dalton hears the car and orders them to leave. Changing their plans, they decide to kill Dalton after “Sadie” reasons Hollywood “taught them to murder”. “Flower Child” drives off, deserting the other three. They break into Dalton’s house and confront Capucci and Booth, who recognizes them from Spahn Ranch. Booth orders Brandy to attack, and together they kill “Katie” and “Tex” and severely injure “Sadie”. She stumbles outside, alarming Dalton, who was listening to music on headphones, oblivious to the mayhem. He retrieves a flamethrower and incinerates her. Booth is hospitalized, Sebring engages Dalton in conversation, and Tate invites Dalton over for drinks.

My Personal Thoughts

The film takes place during the 1960s in L.A., at the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. To be able to understand the ending, we need to talk about what “the golden age of Hollywood” even means. Basically, think about the way you consume TV and movies today. You have about 21,388,120,938,120 streaming platforms to choose from; a whole world of movies is quite literally at your fingertips. You might not even remember the last time you went to an actual theater.

In the ’60s, the movie theater was THE PLACE to be. Most important, there was air conditioning, which was a major deal because most people didn’t have A/C in their homes. TV hadn’t gotten cinematic in the way that it is now (there was nothing anywhere close to Game of Thrones), so there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment that could compete with movies. People went to theaters in droves, and movie stars were, like, the most important people on the earth. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but still.

Why Sharon Tate was so important

Sharon Tate was the starlet of the era. She was stunningly beautiful, incredibly talented, and married to one of the buzziest directors at the time, Roman Polanski (who, I might add, was eventually accused of sexual misconduct and fled the U.S.). Sharon and Roman were, at the time, Hollywood’s golden couple during Hollywood’s Golden Age. A total double whammy.

When Sharon and her friends were tragically murdered by members of the Manson family in 1969, it catalyzed a palpable change in Hollywood. Dominick Dunne, a legendary investigative journalist, described the shift like this:

Actor Navdeep, Co Founder C Space Along With Rakesh Rudravanka – CEO – C Space

“The shock waves that went through the town were beyond anything I had ever seen before. People were convinced that the rich and famous of the community were in peril. Children were sent out of town. Guards were hired. Steve McQueen packed a gun when he went to Jay Sebring’s funeral.”

Quentin Tarantino subverts his audience’s assumption that Tex Watson and the three women with him (all members of Manson’s Family) are on their way to murder Sharon and her friends. Instead, they have a run-in with Rick Dalton, who scolds them for being loud in his cul-de-sac, so they change their minds and return to attack him—not Sharon. This is obviously the film’s critical twist, because in real life, Tex and co. murdered everyone in the Tate/Polanski home that night.

Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt’s character, is able to finish off the Family members in a totally ridiculous fight scene, and the infamous Tate murders are entirely thwarted. Rick, who’s been struggling with his dwindling career, joins Sharon and her friends for a drink at the very end of the film—a moment that seems to suggest he’s finally joining the inner circle of which he’s always wanted to be a part.

Besides the film’s climactic conclusion, everything else in the plot seems pretty historically accurate, so it’s not hard to think Tarantino is attempting to subject his viewers to a thought exercise, one in which the Golden Age of Hollywood wasn’t derailed by Sharon’s murder. What would movies be like today? What would Sharon have done with her career? What would’ve happened to people like Cliff and Rick? What would L.A. even look like? All we can do, of course, is speculate and imagine.

But let’s revisit Tarantino’s original premise. Clearly, he’s sentimental for the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s not a stretch to conclude that he thinks these were the best years and things haven’t been the same since the era came to a tragic ending. You know what that kind of reminds me of? The intrinsic flaw of President Trump’s Make America Great Again message—the nostalgia for a “great” period that was really only good for white guys.

Margot Robbie has roughly 15 lines in the whole movie, and she’s the only woman to get top billing alongside Brad and Leo. The vast majority of the cast is white, and the film doesn’t acknowledge any of the racial tensions that were happening during the end of that decade.

Tarantino hasn’t talked much about the ending yet himself, so it’s hard to know *exactly* what he intended to message, but to me, his love letter to L.A. reads like a love letter that only certain people can relate to. Which, hey, isn’t that the same criticism that was levied against La La Land?

History proves that people “in the industry” l-o-v-e to make movies about themselves (hello again, La La Land). OUATIH is peak Hollywood nostalgia, as it asks viewers to play a fantastical game of make-believe, which is fine—movies are often tools of entertainment, after all. The thing that Tarantino gets wrong, though, is whether everyone sitting in the theater would even want to return to the 1960s.

I will rate this movie 8/10.

Directed byQuentin Tarantino
Produced byDavid Heyman Shannon McIntosh Quentin Tarantino
Written byQuentin Tarantino
StarringLeonardo DiCaprio Brad Pitt Margot Robbie Emile Hirsch Margaret Qualley Timothy Olyphant Austin Butler Dakota Fanning Bruce Dern Al Pacino
Narrated byKurt Russell
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byFred Raskin
Columbia Pictures Bona Film Group Heyday Films Visiona Romantica
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release dateMay 21, 2019 (Cannes) July 26, 2019 (United States) August 14, 2019 (United Kingdom)
Running time161 minutes
CountryUnited States United Kingdom
Budget$90–96 million
Box office$371.9 million

The Irishman (2019) Netflix Movie Review

The Irishman (also titled onscreen as I Heard You Paint Houses) is a 2019 American epic crime film directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, with Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons, and Harvey Keitel in supporting roles. The film follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

In September 2014, after years of development hell, The Irishman was announced as Scorsese’s next film after Silence (2016). De Niro, who also served as producer, and Pacino were confirmed that month, as was Pesci, who came out of his unofficial retirement to star after being asked numerous times to take the role. Principal photography began in September 2017 in New York City and in the Mineola and Williston Park sections of Long Island, and wrapped in March 2018. With a production budget of $159 million and a runtime of 209 minutes, it is among the longest and most expensive films of Scorsese’s career.

The Irishman had its world premiere at the 57th New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019, and began a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, followed by digital streaming on Netflix starting on November 27, 2019. The film was praised for Scorsese’s direction and the performances of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci.


Sitting in a nursing home in his wheelchair, the aging Frank Sheeran, a World War II veteran, recounts his time as a mafia hitman.

In 1950s Pennsylvania, Sheeran drives meat packing delivery trucks and starts to sell some of the contents of his shipments to a local gangster. After getting accused by his company of theft, lawyer Bill Bufalino gets him off after Sheeran refuses to give the judge any names of who he was selling to. Bufalino introduces Sheeran to his cousin Russell, the head of the northeast Pennsylvania crime family. Sheeran begins to do jobs for Russell, including murders. Soon, Russell introduces Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa, the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who has financial ties with the Bufalino crime family and is struggling to deal with fellow rising Teamster Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, as well as mounting pressure from the federal government. Hoffa becomes close with Sheeran and his family, especially his daughter Peggy, and Sheeran becomes Hoffa’s main bodyguard while he is on the road.

After the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, Russell is thrilled while Hoffa is livid. Kennedy’s brother Robert Kennedy, who was named Attorney General, forms a “Get Hoffa” squad in an effort to bring down Hoffa, who is eventually arrested in 1964 for jury tampering. While in prison, his replacement atop the Teamsters Frank Fitzsimmons begins overspending the groups’ funds and making loans out to the mafia. Hoffa’s relationship with Provenzano, who was himself arrested for extortion, also deteriorates beyond repair. Hoffa is eventually released via a Presidential pardon from Richard Nixon in 1971, although he is forbidden from taking part in any Teamsters activities until 1980.

Despite this, Hoffa begins his plan to retake his power atop the organized unions. Hoffa’s growing disrespect for other Teamster leaders and related crime family interests begins to worry Russell. During a testimonial dinner in Sheeran’s honor, Russell tells Sheeran to confront Hoffa and warn him that the heads of the crime families are not pleased with his behavior. Hoffa then discloses to Sheeran that he “knows things” that Bufalino and the other dons don’t know he knows, and further claims that he is untouchable because if anything ever happened to him, they would all end up in prison.

In 1975, while on their way to the wedding of Bill Bufalino’s daughter, Russell tells Sheeran that things have reached their breaking point with Hoffa, and his death has been sanctioned. The two drive to an airport where Sheeran gets on a flight to Detroit. Sheeran tells Hoffa he will be in town early in the day, but arrives late that afternoon. Hoffa, who had scheduled a meeting at a local diner with Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone, is surprised to see Sheeran arriving in a car with Hoffa’s foster son Chuckie O’Brien and Sal Briguglio, another gangster. They advise Hoffa that the meeting was moved to a house where Provenzano and Bufalino are waiting for them. Sheeran assures Hoffa that everything is fine and joins them in the car. Upon entering the house, Hoffa is surprised to realize that no one else is there and that he is being set up. Hoffa turns to caution Sheeran, who then shoots him twice at point-blank range before leaving the gun and the body at the entrance. After Sheeran leaves, two younger gangsters arrive to take Hoffa’s body to a crematorium to eliminate all traces of him.

Sheeran, Russell, Provenzano and others are eventually convicted on various charges unrelated to Hoffa’s murder as promised by Hoffa, and one by one they begin to die in prison. Sheeran is eventually released and placed in a retirement home. He tries to make peace with his alienated daughters, but Peggy never forgives him for Hoffa’s disappearance. Sheeran prepares for his eventual death as a lonely man.

My Personal Thoughts

Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, The Irishman, is now on Netflix, telling a (mostly) true story about gangsters, deceit, and the perils of aging. After much hype and an endless amount of Marvel-adjacent discourse, the newest Martin Scorsese film made its debut on the streaming service.

The Irishman is a long-time passion project for Scorsese and star Robert De Niro, based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran (played by De Niro) was a labor union official who had close ties to both the Bufalino crime family and Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa. While many elements of Sheeran’s story have been disputed, his own claims to have not only been a mafia hitman but the man who killed Hoffa, whose body has never been found to this day, made him an irresistible subject for Scorsese.

The Irishman opens in a mundane and somewhat damp-looking nursing home, where Frank Sheeran, incapacitated and sitting in his wheelchair, recounts his life’s story to the audience. It’s a savvy call-back to the iconic narration of Goodfellas, but this time, the establishing tone is far less cocky and victorious. The story unfolds with Sheeran’s account of his life and alleged crimes, including his work with Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino) and Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci.) Over the course of many years, Hoffa and Sheeran become close not only as colleagues but friends and collaborators, with Hoffa forming an especially tight bond with Sheeran’s daughter Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin.) During this time, the battle for leadership of the Teamsters hots up and Hoffa faces tough opposition from colleagues as well as Robert F. Kennedy, the new Attorney General who launched a senate select committee on improper activities in labor organizing nicknamed the “Get Hoffa Squad.”

Eventually, Hoffa is sent to jail for jury tampering but is released via a Presidential pardon from Richard Nixon in 1971, on the condition that he not participate in any Teamsters activities until 1980. Hoffa, of course, refused and began fighting to retake the top spot from his replacement, Frank Fitzsimmons, which led to fears from the Bufalinos that the crime families would not approve of his behavior. It falls upon Sheeran to “take care” of the problem. In 1975, as Sheeran and Bufalino are driving together with their wives to a wedding, Russell informs Frank that Hoffa’s death has officially been sanctioned, and Frank is sent on a private jet to execute his duty. Due to their friendship and deep-seated connections with one another, Hoffa explicitly trusts Frank as he drives him to a new house where their supposed meeting with a local crime family figure has been scheduled. Upon entering the empty house, Hoffa realizes there’s a set-up and turns to warn Frank. Sheeran shoots him at point-blank range, leaves the body to be disposed of by other gangsters, then flies back to the wedding.

Eventually, Sheeran and Bufalino, along with many of their collaborators, are jailed on various charges but never ones related to Hoffa’s disappearance. One by one, they all die in prison, except for Frank, who is left old and alone with nothing to show for his life or the supposedly indelible mark he left on history.

For many of the younger generations, the name Jimmy Hoffa is probably one they are only aware of through cultural osmosis. It’s easy to overlook just how intensely famous and powerful he was at his peak, especially now given the absolute diminishment of the labor rights and union movements in America. Hoffa was a lifelong union activist who secured the first national agreement for teamsters’ rates in 1964 with the National Master Freight Agreement. Under his leadership, the Teamsters became the largest union by membership in the United States, with over 2.3 million members at its peak. Almost as well-known as his union-management was his involvement in organized crime. He faced major criminal investigations but avoided conviction for many years (his lawyer was Bill Bufalino, cousin of Russell, and is played in the film by Ray Romano) until Robert F. Kennedy decided to focus on him with his committees. Eventually, when Hoffa was charged with jury tampering and sentenced to eight years in prison, it came to light how he had improperly used the Teamsters’ pension fund to give loans to leading organized crime figures.

Hoffa’s disappearance has been one of the great unsolved crimes of the 20th century. It’s a mystery mired in sleaze and speculation, and plenty of conspiracies over his ultimate fate have been formed over the decades. Sheeran’s claims are but one of these answers to this eternal question. As shown in The Irishman, Hoffa’s death was sanctioned by the Bufalinos because he knew too much. The two families were intertwined, with the Teamsters having hefty financial ties to the crime syndicate headed by Russell. During a testimonial dinner in Sheeran’s honor, Russell tells Sheeran to confront Hoffa and let him know that the major crime families are unhappy with his attempts to get back in charge of the Teamsters. Hoffa does not listen and lets Sheeran know that all the dirt he has on the Bufalinos will ensure that he remains untouchable. Given how much money he loaned to the family over the years, it seems that he probably had some serious stuff in his favor. As many a Scorsese movie has shown, trying to get one up over the mafia almost never works.

Bufalino insists the hit is not personal, it’s just in the best interests of his business, and since Frank is technically his employee and the man he sends out to do all his hits, this shouldn’t be personal for him too. Of course, that makes little sense given that Bufalino deliberately helped architect the partnership between Sheeran and Hoffa that evolved into some sort of friendship. Hoffa trusts Sheeran in a way he probably doesn’t do with anyone else he isn’t directly related to, hence how his first move upon entering the empty house where he is to be killed is to check that Frank is okay. Ultimately, Frank Sheeran is the staff, the hired help with no true power in this messy ecosystem, and he does as he is told, just as he has for his entire life since joining hands with the Bufalino crime family. It’s all too personal for Frank but he doesn’t refuse the job, which is his biggest fault and what the movie drives home as the root of this sickness of violence that permeates Frank’s world.

The Irishman is a pretty testosterone-heavy movie that doesn’t have many major female roles. The biggest part goes to Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran, and as many critics have noted, she barely gets four or five lines of dialogue throughout it. Her stony silence and obvious fear and disdain for her father are a tough reminder of how Frank’s chosen life path has left him devoid of tangible and unconditional human connections to the rest of the world. Peggy’s closeness with Hoffa, a man she seemed to prefer over her own dad as a child, only further highlights the rift between father and daughter. When Hoffa’s disappearance is reported, Peggy seems to instantly know that her father had something to do with it, and following this, she decides to fully remove him from her life. Even when he tries to visit her at her job when he’s old and borderline infirm, she blanks him, refusing to give him even the dignity of a conversation.

In a narrative built mostly on the backstabbing machinations of male crime families and their intersections with union organizing, where everyone seems painfully aware that they’ll die prematurely from a bullet in the back of their head, it’s Peggy’s rejection of Frank that stings the most because his ignorance over his paternal duties in favor of being the Bufalino/Hoffa right-hand-man has left him alone in ways he was never prepared for. In retrospect, he should have known from the beginning how a life of violence would leave his family at arm’s length at all times. One of the reasons Peggy fears her father is because she has borne witness to his blood-stained fury from an early age, including an incident where he beat a shop worker into a pulp for grabbing her arm. Frank’s violence and secretive work were tough enough for Peggy to tolerate, but him having a hand in the death of Hoffa, a man she deeply admired and who she thought her father felt the same way about, was just too much for her to bear.

After the director made his comments about Marvel movies, many people shot back with an insistence that all of Scorsese’s films are derivative gangster movies. Aside from this being crudely inaccurate (this is the man who made movies about the Dalai Lama, the movies of Georges Méliès, and a musical starring Liza Minnelli), it was also grossly reductive of said gangster titles. What makes Scorsese so celebrated as a storyteller in this particular genre is his keen understanding of how even the most rose-tinted view of a life of crime cannot conceal its true demons and inevitably bad ending. Goodfellas gets accused of glorifying the mafia to this day, a point that seems to overlook how the film shows its lead descending into coke-fuelled paranoia and a life of isolation.

The Irishman shares many characteristics with films like Goodfellas and Casino and makes some clear call-backs that Scorsese fans will appreciate, but its true genius is in its overwhelming sadness. There is absolutely nothing about Sheeran’s life that is appealing or aspirational. Any glimmer of intrigue or allure that these men’s lives may have had in their youth quickly dissipates as they become old men. Their endless talking in codes become near-indecipherable, even to them, and the weight of their chosen lives crushes them every single day. There is no glory to this backstabbing or grasping for power, be it from Bufalino or Hoffa. Sheeran doesn’t even have any of this power. He’s been a goon for decades and remains one until the day he dies. He has never possessed any true autonomy and, almost like a dog, obediently does whatever Russell Bufalino tells him to, even if it means killing the one man who he could have called his best friend.

Much has been made about the film’s de-aging technology and whether or not using it was the right choice. While it does make De Niro and company look a little bit like Call of Duty cut-scene characters at time, and De Niro doesn’t help much by still acting like his 70-something self when he’s supposed to be in his 30s, it does serve a fascinating metatextual purpose. As much as Scorsese’s career has been defined by the gangster movie, it has been shaped by his long-time collaborations with Robert De Niro. In many ways, they have grown up together in the industry and become legends alongside one another. The Irishman is an often very literal take on that notion and one that acts as a fascinating commentary on both Scorsese and De Niro’s careers. This a movie first and foremost about old men coming to terms with their own mortality and the impact they’ll leave behind on the world that they have a complicated legacy with. Fortunately, Scorsese and De Niro’s respective legacies are secured and will never fade away, no matter how many people sneer that their work in inaccurate terms.

Given the questionable veracity of Sheeran’s claims, The Irishman cannot help but also be a film about the passage of time and perceptions of memory. Whether or not Frank Sheeran really did kill Jimmy Hoffa on the orders of the Bufalino crime family ultimately doesn’t matter because the life that Sheeran has insisted he has led has given him no satisfaction in life. It hasn’t made any of his associates happy either, and their increasingly cryptic conversations to one another signify both the smothering nature of a life lived in secret and how ultimately nobody even seems to know why they’re killing one another anymore, other than because it’s all they seem to know how to do. By the time they are sick old men in prison with nothing but one another for company, the loneliness of their existences is hammered home. Frank has nobody to tell his stories to other than disinterested nurses, a kindly but distant priest, and the unseen audience, and it just leaves him feeling more empty than before. Frank Sheeran comes to represent the end of an old way of life, one that the rest of the world seems happy to be without. The Irishman ends with the door left open on the past but one nobody wishes to return to.

Directed byMartin Scorsese
Produced by Martin Scorsese Robert De Niro Jane Rosenthal Emma Tillinger Koskoff Irwin Winkler Gerald Chamales Gastón Pavlovich Randall Emmett Gabriele Israilovici
Screenplay bySteven Zaillian
Based onI Heard You Paint Houses
by Charles Brandt
Starring Robert De Niro Al Pacino Joe Pesci
Music byRobbie Robertson
CinematographyRodrigo Prieto
Edited byThelma Schoonmaker
TriBeCa Productions Sikelia Productions Winkler Films
Distributed byNetflix
Release date September 27, 2019 (NYFF) November 1, 2019 (United States)
Running time209 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$159 million
Box office$4.8 million

Cold Pursuit (2019) Movie Review

Cold Pursuit is a 2019 action thriller film directed by Hans Petter Moland (in his Hollywood debut) from a screenplay by Frank Baldwin. The film stars Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Tom Jackson, Emmy Rossum, Domenick Lombardozzi, Julia Jones, John Doman, and Laura Dern. It is an official remake of the 2014 Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten), also directed by Moland, and follows a vengeful snowplow driver who starts killing the members of a drug cartel following the murder of his son.

The film was released in the United States on February 8, 2019, by Summit Entertainment. It was a moderate box office success grossing over $76 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the action sequences and the dark humor.


After being awarded “Citizen of the Year” by the fictional ski resort of Kehoe, Colorado, snowplow driver Nels Coxman’s quiet life is disrupted when his son dies from a forced heroin overdose. Nels’ wife Grace leaves her husband in grief. He is about to commit suicide when he learns that his son was murdered by a Denver drug cartel. He decides to seek vigilante justice, makes a sawed-off rifle, and kills three members of the cartel, dumping their bodies in a nearby river.

The cartel’s leader, drug lord Trevor “Viking” Calcote, first suspects that these deaths are the work of his rival White Bull, a Ute with whom he has so far avoided conflict. Viking has one of Bull’s gangsters murdered, not knowing it is Bull’s only son. This drives Bull to seek revenge (“a son for a son”), and he orders his men to kidnap Viking’s young son.

Nels seeks advice from his brother Brock, once a mob enforcer known as “Wingman,” and learns about Viking. Brock tells Nels that killing Viking requires a hired assassin, and he recommends a transplanted African American hitman known as “The Eskimo.” The Eskimo agrees to kill Viking for $90,000, but decides he can get another $90,000 from Viking by informing him that “Coxman” has hired him for the hit. Viking doesn’t appreciate the Eskimo’s “lack of professional ethics” and kills him. He thinks the Eskimo meant Brock Coxman, and he takes Brock for his “last ride.” Since Brock is dying of cancer, he claims responsibility for the hits to protect his brother.


Viking tries in vain to stop the gang war by using one of his own men as a scapegoat and sending White Bull the man’s head. This is insufficient to placate Bull, who kills the messenger. Meanwhile, Nels kidnaps Viking’s son from his prep school before Bull’s men can, in order to draw Viking into an ambush. Nels treats the boy well and protects him from the violence to come.

Nels’ identity is revealed to Viking by the prep school’s janitor. Though promised $10,000 for the tip, he too is killed after his disclosure.

Both gangs arrive at Nels’ workplace, and most of them are killed in the ensuing shootout. Viking, attempting to drive away, is trapped when Nels impales a shorn tree into his car, and he is shot in the chest by White Bull. He dies when found by Kehoe police detectives Kimberly Dash and Gip. As Nels leaves the property in his snowplow to continue his work, White Bull jumps into the cab, and the two men drive away together. Bull’s last remaining enforcer, who had set off on a paraglide flight from the ski resort hotel where the gang stayed the night before, accidentally lands directly in the snowplow’s path and is killed.

My Personal Thoughts

“Cold Pursuit” is the 2019 version of a recently minted tradition, the late winter Liam Neeson revenge flick. It’s one of the strangest, least predictable movies he’s made in years, which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s consistently good. Based on the Norwegian movie “In Order of Disappearance,” and directed by the same filmmaker, Hans Petter Moland, it’s a fragmented, meandering tale in which Neeson’s character, a Kehoe, Colorado snowplow driver named Nels Coxman, gets a taste of vengeance and becomes a glutton. At times it plays less like a self-contained movie than a couple of episodes of a TV series that don’t quite add up the way you wanted them to. It’s a shame that it isn’t better. At its best, it plays like a wry critique of this unexpectedly lucrative period of Neeson’s career, and a borderline-spoof of the genre as a whole.

“Cold Pursuit” kicks off with Nels accepting an award as Kehoe Citizen of the Year, then jumps ahead to the murder of his only son Kyle (Michael Richardson, Neeson’s real-life son with the late Natasha Richardson), an airport baggage handler kidnapped and killed by members of a local drug cartel over a mishandled cocaine shipment. The killers made Kyle’s death look like a heroin overdose even though the young man didn’t do drugs, a touch that adds insult to injury. Nels swiftly dispatches the men directly responsible for his boy’s murder, wraps their corpses in chicken wire, and dumps them off a waterfall so that they’ll settle on the bottom of the Colorado River and be stripped clean by fish, an evidence-disposal technique that he later says that he learned by reading crime fiction. Unsatisfied by the deaths that he metes out early on, Nels resolves to work his way up the underworld’s ladder until he slays the boss of bosses, Trevor “Viking” Calcote (Tom Bateman).  

Complications ensue, and not necessarily the ones you’d expect from having watched other Liam Neeson revenge movies. Moland and his American screenwriter, Frank Baldwin, play around with Western movie motifs, photographing the snow-packed mountains, valleys and roads like panoramas in a John Ford cavalry picture, and envisioning a Cowboys-and-Indians-type rivalry between the white-run drug cartel that’s responsible for Kyle’s murder and a Southern Ute Indian gang that mistakenly gets blamed for Nels’ retaliatory spree. There’s also commentary on how outlaws lust after cliched signifiers of respectability. This is conveyed mostly through Viking, a divorced yuppie clotheshorse and preening psychopath who treats his own young son, Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), like a pet, or some kind of experiment in conditioning, micromanaging his diet and recommending “Lord of the Flies” as a self-help manual.

Like its source, this American remake is comparatively light on graphic violence (the beatings tend to be uglier than the shootings), and it has the confidence to handle quite a bit of that business offscreen, staging significant killings behind drawn curtains, or in the cut separating one scene from the next. The film also detours from the main story to spend quality time with Viking’s drug gang, his henchmen (including Domenick Lombardozzi as the aforementioned fantasy football sentimentalist, who refers to Mozart as “Moe-zart”); Nels’ ex-criminal brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman (William Forsyth), who got his nickname from “Top Gun”; a couple of Kehoe cops (Emily Rossum and John Doman) trying to make sense of the mayhem, and assorted mates and exes. Laura Dern has a few scenes as Nels’ grieving wife Grace, who leaves Nels almost instantly, perhaps sensing that her presence would be wasted in a movie filled with sad, violent, self-involved men. 

“Cold Pursuit” is at least four-fifths a dark comedy, filled with eccentric, often introverted and sad American archetypes. Most would be mesmerizing and/or hilarious if they had been fully fleshed out as characters, and if the film surrounding them were more elegantly structured and paced. The project suffers from a certain flatness in the characterizations, as well as from an inability to introduce new faces, or arrange meetings between established characters, when the plot needs them, as opposed to much later, when the audience is ready for the story to end and tends to view major new developments as narrative speed bumps. 

But even at its most navel-gazing and disorganized, “Cold Pursuit” still showcases elements you haven’t seen before, like the tight-lipped hero asking how many words he’s required to speak at an awards dinner, the henchman who keeps losing at fantasy football because he’s too loyal to his favorite childhood teams and players, and the Ute crime boss who’s saddened by the appropriation of his people’s clothes and jewelry by white designers—more so when he turns over a label and sees “Made in China.”

The film might have been doomed to historical footnote status regardless, because it opened mere days after its star made one of the weirdest, most clueless unforced errors in the history of movie promotion. In an interview, Neeson tried to connect this film, and the futility of revenge in general, to an anecdote drawn from his twenties, when he responded to a white female friend’s rape by a black assailant by wandering town around with a crowbar, hoping to get in a fight with another “black bastard” and kill him. Although Neeson didn’t kill anyone back then, or even fight them, he flunked the present-day personal disclosure-as-advertising test by failing to realize that the racism part of his story—which he did not apologize for, or even note and explain—was as disturbing as the revenge part, which he condemned on the spot.

I will rate this movie 6/10.

Directed byHans Petter Moland
Produced by Finn Gjerdrum Stein B. Kvae Michael Shamberg Ameet Shukla
Written byFrank Baldwin
Based onIn Order of Disappearance
by Kim Fupz Aakeson
Starring Liam Neeson Tom Bateman Tom Jackson Emmy Rossum Domenick Lombardozzi Julia Jones John Doman Laura Dern
Music byGeorge Fenton
CinematographyPhilip Øgaard
Edited byNicolaj Monberg
StudioCanal Summit Entertainment
Distributed bySummit Entertainment
Release date February 8, 2019 (United States)
Running time118 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$60 million
Box office$76.3 million

Need for Speed Heat (2019) Game Review

The heat is on.

Still burned by 2017’s Need for Speed Payback, I wasn’t sure Need for Speed Heat was going to be the salve the series needed – but this open-world street racer has some surprising pep to it. Heat is a marked return to form, owing its success to ingredients plucked from a few of the franchise’s most fondly-remembered games. It took more attempts than would’ve been ideal, but developer Ghost has finally built a racer that feels fittingly faithful to the roots of Need for Speed. Heat is hardly revolutionary, but it is fast, fun, and streets ahead of 2017’s properly disappointing Need for Speed Payback.

Heat combines elements of fan-favourites like Underground and the original Most Wanted with some welcome tweaks inspired by its contemporaries. The result is deep vehicle customisation and hectic cop chases, but in a world featuring fewer hazards that’ll bring cars to a dead stop. Like in Forza Horizon, even stone walls crumble and trees splinter if you careen off course. Fewer encounters with momentum-killers helped to keep my pace high and my pulse higher. It’s a back-to-basics approach with some modern modifications, and it works. Best of all, it’s completely purged of the free-to-play style lottery-based performance upgrade system, the ill-conceived obstacles preventing access to body mods, and most of the other horrible dreck that plagued Payback. It’s all been ripped out and sent to the scrapyard.

Miami, Twice

Palm City is Need for Speed Heat’s new playground, and the neon-drenched, Miami-inspired map is a great fit for the classic Need for Speed motif. The city itself is the big highlight here – the surrounding countryside is a little unmemorable – but there are a few other cool spots, including a mini Cape Canaveral-style space centre, a fun abandoned racing oval, and a big container yard begging for a shred session. It’s obviously only a sliver of the size of something as wildly ambitious as The Crew 2, and a bit lifeless on closer inspection, but it’s far denser than Payback and makes for a more interesting driving experience.

The neon-drenched, Miami-inspired map is a great fit for the classic Need for Speed motif.

Heat’s interesting hook is that there are basically two distinct experiences to be gleaned here, and switching between each is a manual process. Daytime Palm City is defined by regular, sanctioned street racing on marked courses for cash payouts, while night racing is all about illegal, underground racing and running from the fuzz to build up rep points. Both are needed to progress through Heat’s story, which still plays out like an off-brand Fast & Furious, but the writing’s a lot more restrained than that of the regularly cringeworthy Payback. There’s not a huge amount of story; it’s more of an occasional diversion from Heat’s regular racing events. There’s some nice fan service towards the end but ultimately it just tapers off suddenly like a mid-season TV finale and didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. It’s also worth mentioning that Heat can be played online (where other players can join your events) or completely offline, but you have to opt in to either mode from the main menu; it’s not quite as elegant as the seamless online/offline switching afforded in the likes of the Forza Horizon games.

After multiple generations of open-world racers where the sun rises and sets without awaiting my instructions I initially didn’t know what to make of Heat’s unique time-of-day switching system but, after some time with it, I quite like the power it grants me to focus on what I need. If I want money for parts and cars, I’ll race during the day. Heat looks a bit plainer in daylight – overall, the environment looks better whipping by at 150 miles an hour than under intense scrutiny – but the racing is decent. I’m a big fan of the crash barriers being real, individual objects in the world, too; there’s a lot less pinballing off invincible walls here. If, on the other hand, I need rep points to qualify for more missions and more potent performance upgrades, I’ll race at night. Night is absolutely the superior visual experience, especially when it rains. The racing is also more exciting, with traffic to avoid and more aggressive cops to deal with.

Heat’s cop chases aren’t restricted to pre-set time trial routes like they were in Payback; you now have the freedom to escape in any direction. They are a fair bit tougher, though; certainly until you can secure the best upgrades. While in Payback you could punt them off to the side, Burnout 3 style, in Heat you can’t really go toe-to-toe with the cops in quite the same way. There’s now a damage meter for your car, so while you can fight back a little and earn instant repairs from gas stations up to three times a night, too much rough stuff and you’ll wreck and be arrested.

Chases are definitely biased more towards the cops now. I don’t necessarily mind that – it’s a lot to ask that an AI should be able to out-maneuver a human driver without some sort of leg up – but I do hate that it cheats by spawning in cops in close proximity out of nowhere, and their supernatural bursts of speed get old. Also, the Busted Bar timer that ticks down to an automatic loss is absolute baloney. I can’t see a need for a Busted Bar if our cars can only take a finite level of damage; if I can force my way through a gaggle of pursuit cars without writing off my ride, let me. I get that it’s all in service of making the act of building and banking huge rep scores a thrilling risk but, if there’s no one actually in front or behind me, getting busted thanks to an arbitrary timer and losing all that rep is nonsense.

Hot Stuff Coming Through

There’s a good selection of cars available but the roster may be less impressive if you’re a veteran of Payback as the grand majority of the garage is paid forward from that game. Ferrari has climbed back on board and there’s a nice spread of them, but the nerds at Toyota are still absent. Overall my criticism of Payback’s vehicle roster is still relevant here. For instance, there’s a huge selection of modern supercars, which are an important part of Need for Speed’s original DNA, but peculiarly few icons from the ’90s. As the golden era of JDM tuners, for instance, it’s a shame only a select few from that decade make the cut in a game that seems custom-made for them. And although the cars look best in the rain (like the rest of the world itself), great little touches like animated raindrops trickling down side panels are a bit undermined by the fact nobody animated the windscreen wipers.

When I got behind the wheel, I immediately noticed that the handling in Heat has been tweaked to have drifts initiated by getting off the accelerator and pumping it again while turning into a corner, but I’m not really a fan of the technique as I found myself breaking into unwanted drifts just by normal feathering of the throttle. The good news is Heat lets us toggle it back to brake-to-drift, which allows a driver to stay mashed on the gas and just quickly pump the brake to get sideways. It feels more intuitive to me, like a quick dip of the clutch to spike the revs.

The slow-speed starter cars aren’t the best demonstration of Heat’s driving dynamics.

It does take a minute go get going, though: the slow-speed starter cars aren’t the best demonstration of Heat’s driving dynamics, and I’ve enjoyed the driving much more as things get progressively faster. Heat mercifully does away with needing specific cars for specific classes and every vehicle I’ve bought so far can be tuned and re-tuned for grip, drift, or a compromise in between. Drifting feels a bit slower in Heat than Payback but you have more control of car angle, which has made the drift events quite enjoyable.

Likewise, Heat’s upgrade system is a gigantic improvement over Payback. Beyond a few special reward items there are no more hoops to jump through to apply cosmetics, and no more poker machine Speed Cards to pump up your whip’s performance. Good riddance, I say. Want a part? Buy it. It’s the way it should be. I’m only really baffled by the presence of drag tyres without a dedicated drag mode.

Microtransaction Reaction

At the time of review there are no microtransactions or loot boxes available in Need for Speed Heat and, according to developer Ghost, a return to the multiple currencies and F2P tripe that killed Payback’s economy is not on the cards. Instead, post-release paid DLC in the form of car packs have been confirmed.

A big new addition is engine swaps, which are great because they can increase the overall potential horsepower of cars that previously hit a premature performance ceiling. But even better than that is exhaust tuning, which allows fine tuning of the already excellent exhaust notes available. It’s subtle, but seriously: whoever at Ghost spearheaded this system deserves an extra week holiday this year. This is some straight-up car geek catnip and I am all about it.

Elsewhere, the livery editor remains top notch and stance options are still here for those of you who like their cars to look like Herbie on the brink of death; you know, after he got tossed off that cruise ship and dragged out of a river. There’s avatar customisation, too, if you value that and desperately want to see a strange man’s midriff thanks to clothes I didn’t even know existed. There’s actually a whole parade of prats you can select to be your driver, although none of them look like they could really tell a carburettor from a jar of kombucha.

The Verdict

While Need for Speed Heat feels a little more like a mosaic of existing concepts rather than something especially trendsetting, Ghost has certainly scraped these ideas from some of the most-loved games in the now 25-year-old series. Heat doesn’t always sizzle but it’s definitely much hotter than I’d expected. This is easily the most impressive Need for Speed game in many years.

I will rate this game 6/10.

Klaus (2019) Netflix Movie Review

Klaus is a 2019 animated Christmas comedy film written and directed by Sergio Pablos in his directorial debut, produced by Sergio Pablos Animation Studios with support from Aniventure and distributed by Netflix as its first original animated feature. Co-written by Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney, the film stars Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones and Joan Cusack. Serving as a fictional origin story to the myth of Santa Claus, the plot revolves around a postman stationed in a town to the North who befriends a reclusive toy-maker (Klaus).


Jesper (Schwartzman) comes from a wealthy family in the postal business, and is a selfish brat with no life ambitions whatsoever. When Jesper’s father puts him in the royal postal academy in an attempt to teach him that hard work pays and being from a rich family is not a shoo in to wealth, he deliberately distinguishes himself to be the academy’s worst student, and so his father comes up with another plan to teach him a lesson: he is stationed on a frozen island above the Arctic Circle by his father, with the ultimatum that if he doesn’t post 6,000 letters in a year, he will be cut off from the family.

He gets into the island’s town of Smeerensburg and is shown around by a sarcastic ferry boat skipper who tricks him into ringing a bell to start the reception, instead revealing that the town inhabitants hardly exchange words let alone letters; they are divided, feuding locals filled with anger, bitterness, hatred and animosity. Trying desperately to come up with a way to get the town locals to send letters, he notices on the map in his office a far off little establishment. Investigating, he finds a woodsman named Klaus (Simmons), with a skill of woodworking and a house with lots of handmade toys.

Jesper is just about to finally give up when unexpected events unfold that give him the idea of having Klaus donate the toys in his house to the town kids who would ask him for them, and who, by doing so, would send letters. When Jesper goes to Klaus with his proposal of donating the toys, he agrees, provided the deliveries will be at night, so he can accompany Jesper on them. When Jesper finds out that many of the kids can’t write, he tells them they can simply learn at school, and so they go to Ms Alva (Jones), a qualified teacher who Jesper met back on his first day in town, to learn how. The increasingly developing actions of Jesper and Klaus delivering of toys becomes the talk of the town kids, with the nature of said actions making them believe Klaus is not only solely responsible, but he also has certain quirks. Some of these quirks are also said to be magic, such as he can enter homes through any chimney and can never be seen: the most astounding of all is he has a reindeer-pulled sleigh that can fly. When Jesper says to the kids that Klaus would not give toys to bad kids, he goes on to say Klaus always knows whenever any kid is naughty, and their attitude changes, even the town bully, as he also wants Klaus’ toys. Their resulting acts of kindness inspire the other townsfolk to do the same.

Jesper eventually finds out Klaus lost his wife and they could never have children, but he loves making kids happy and had made all the toys in his house for the ones he thought they would have. They soon receive help from a small community of kind Sámi people to fulfill Jesper’s prior idea of a delivery run to give toys to the kids on Christmas, but not only that, Jesper begins to change himself, no longer being selfish.

While all of this has been happening, the heads of the town’s feuding families, through the families’ clearly inextinguishable, and thus, also, very long-standing hatred to each other, have been trying to stop Jesper and Klaus to preserve this tradition, and they agree on joining forces to do it. They eventually come up with a plan that involves making Jesper leave by using his past against him, but he ultimately makes his decision final to stay in Smeerensburg, and proceeds to do everything that he can to stop the rest of their plan. Though he finds out Klaus and Alva already knew what was coming and had made preparations to foil the plan, his actions cause events that make the families find themselves as in-laws.

As things in Smeerensburg keep getting better, Jesper and Klaus continue delivering presents on Christmas, with their operation expanding further and further as time continues on. Then, on the twelfth year, Klaus suddenly disappears without a trace, joining his departed wife. Jesper and Alva get married and have two children together, and every Christmas Eve, Jesper gets to see the spirit of his friend, as he continues to deliver toys to kids around the world.

My Personal Thoughts

When Jesper is deemed to be the postal academy’s worst employee, he’s sent to work in the abandoned post office on the mysterious and eerie, island-nation of Smeerensburg. Here, he meets the reclusive Klaus – a toy-maker living deep in the forest. Together, the two attempt to bring joy and change to the bitter residents of Smeerensburg.

On the whole, Christmas films can be predictable, but that’s no surprise as they tend to stick to the same traditions we ourselves stick to every year. Klaus breaks the mould, providing an alternative ‘Santa Claus’ origin story – except here, he’s just called Klaus (J. K. Simmons). Klaus expertly blends dark, morbid humour with wondrous festive cheer – an unusual but greatly successful feature of Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney’s script – making Klaus a film perfectly suited for the entire family. Director, Sergio Pablos, helms this jubilant piece of festive animation that touches on universal themes of kindness and togetherness without ever becoming clichéd. This might be Netflix’s first full-length animated feature, but Klaus puts up strong competition to all of the major animation studios.

It’s not until 70 minutes into Klaus‘ runtime that the word ‘Christmas’ is even uttered – it simply doesn’t exist in Smeerensburg – but this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Klaus feels distinctively festive despite the fact that lights, garlands and Christmas carols only make an appearance near the end of the film. Klaus takes the thematic elements of Christmas – spreading joy, bringing people together – and crafts them into Jesper’s (Jason Schwartzman) journey of self-discovery. The absence of Christmas’ material traditions helps Klaus stand out from other film’s in this genre. The town of Smeerensburg is quite the opposite of festive. It’s a town split into two constantly fighting factions. Having fun is a wrongdoing – and children are brought before councils for committing this sin. It provides for some dark, morbid humour that works so well. Klaus certainly isn’t as dark as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas but you can’t deny the two films share a strand of DNA. When Jesper first sees the physically imposing Klaus, he shouts in terror, “Don’t chop me up and scatter my parts in the woods” – an unexpected joke in a Christmas film but one that seems so at home in Klaus.

When Jesper is deemed to be the postal academy’s worst employee, he’s sent to work in the abandoned post office on the mysterious and eerie, island-nation of Smeerensburg. Here, he meets the reclusive Klaus – a toy-maker living deep in the forest. Together, the two attempt to bring joy and change to the bitter residents of Smeerensburg.


On the whole, Christmas films can be predictable, but that’s no surprise as they tend to stick to the same traditions we ourselves stick to every year. Klaus breaks the mould, providing an alternative ‘Santa Claus’ origin story – except here, he’s just called Klaus (J. K. Simmons). Klaus expertly blends dark, morbid humour with wondrous festive cheer – an unusual but greatly successful feature of Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney’s script – making Klaus a film perfectly suited for the entire family. Director, Sergio Pablos, helms this jubilant piece of festive animation that touches on universal themes of kindness and togetherness without ever becoming clichéd. This might be Netflix’s first full-length animated feature, but Klaus puts up strong competition to all of the major animation studios.

It’s not until 70 minutes into Klaus‘ runtime that the word ‘Christmas’ is even uttered – it simply doesn’t exist in Smeerensburg – but this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Klaus feels distinctively festive despite the fact that lights, garlands and Christmas carols only make an appearance near the end of the film. Klaus takes the thematic elements of Christmas – spreading joy, bringing people together – and crafts them into Jesper’s (Jason Schwartzman) journey of self-discovery. The absence of Christmas’ material traditions helps Klaus stand out from other film’s in this genre. The town of Smeerensburg is quite the opposite of festive. It’s a town split into two constantly fighting factions. Having fun is a wrongdoing – and children are brought before councils for committing this sin. It provides for some dark, morbid humour that works so well. Klaus certainly isn’t as dark as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas but you can’t deny the two films share a strand of DNA. When Jesper first sees the physically imposing Klaus, he shouts in terror, “Don’t chop me up and scatter my parts in the woods” – an unexpected joke in a Christmas film but one that seems so at home in Klaus.


Smeerensburg may be home to some aggressive residents, but its style is fairly quant. It’s very reminiscent of Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter films but thanks to Klaus‘ unique animation style, the film manages to craft its own distinct aesthetic. Klaus doesn’t quite use 2D hand-drawn animation, but it doesn’t use contemporary CG animation either. It bridges the gap between the two which only furthers the film’s aesthetic appeal. The establishing shots of Smeerensburg demonstrate this best. The CG elements of the animation style help provide such depth whilst the 2D animation style provides a rustic, nostalgic charm. Pablos did work on several 90s Disney titles including Tarzan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules – and you can very much see how this passion for 2D animation informed Klaus‘ visual style. Another welcomed detail was the slow transformation of Klaus‘ colour tones. Jesper and Klaus’ warm, gold glow slowly spreads throughout the cold, blue landscape of Smeerensburg as the town gradually begins to change its ways.

Klaus could benefit from a slightly shorter second act. The story itself is wholly engaging but the change in pace between act two and three feels a little off balance. This is a minor fault and hardly detracts from what is a wonderful, festive tale. For a film that firmly establishes itself as a comedy, it’s quite surprising how poignant of an ending Klaus has. The ending is tonally very different from the rest of the film yet the transition into this feels so natural. It’s a testament to Klaus‘ great script that despite being a comedy, it can still create touching moments.

Klaus is a huge success for Netflix – bringing uniqueness to a genre that is founded on tradition. It is the perfect film to take audiences into the festive months. Klaus holds the power to reignite everybody’s Christmas spirit this year – and there’s no doubt that’s exactly what it will do.

I will rate this Movie 7/10.

Directed bySergio PablosCarlos Martínez López (co-director)
Produced byJinko GotohSergio PablosMarisa RomanMatthew TeevanMercedes GameroMikel LejarzaGustavo Ferrada
Screenplay bySergio PablosJim MahoneyZach Lewis
Story bySergio Pablos
StarringJason SchwartzmanJ. K. SimmonsRashida JonesJoan CusackWill SassoNorm Macdonald
Music byAlfonso G. Aguilar
Edited byPablo Garcia Revert
Sergio Pablos Animation StudiosAtresmedia CineAniventure
Distributed byNetflix
Release date November 8, 2019 (United States)
Running time96 minutes
Language English Saami
Budget$40 million

The Goldfinch (2019) Movie Review

The Goldfinch is a 2019 American drama film directed by John Crowley and written by Peter Straughan, adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by Donna Tartt. The film stars Ansel Elgort as a young man whose life is transformed after his mother dies in a terrorist bomb attack at a museum, from which he takes a famous painting called The Goldfinch. Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Nicole Kidman appear in supporting roles.

Film rights to the novel were sold to Warner Bros. and RatPac Entertainment with ICM Partners brokering the deal. Two years later, Crowley was hired to direct the film adaptation and Elgort was selected to portray the lead role of Theodore Decker; much of the rest of the cast joined from October 2017 to January 2018. Filming began in New York City in January 2018, before moving to Albuquerque in April 2018 for the rest of production.

The Goldfinch premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and was theatrically released in the United States on September 13, 2019, by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film received generally negative reviews from critics and was a box-office bomb, with estimated losses for the studio as high as $50 million.


Thirteen-year-old Theodore Decker’s mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In the aftermath of the bombing, Theo takes a painting, The Goldfinch, one of the few remaining paintings by Carel Fabritius and hides it at his apartment. Theo is then placed with the Barbours, the family of his estranged friend Andy, as he has no other relatives in the city and his father has abandoned him.

Theo reconnects with Andy and becomes close to Andy’s mother, Samantha Barbour, who encourages his interest in her antiques and art. After Samantha finds an engraved ring in Theo’s possession, he goes to visit the shop where it came from, Hobart & Blackwell. The shop is run by James “Hobie” Hobart, whose deceased partner Welton “Welty” Blackwell died in the bombing and gave the ring to Theo to return. Welty’s niece, Pippa, was also at the museum and survived the bombing. Hobie allows Theo to visit Pippa, who has serious injuries, and the two bond. Theo begins to visit Hobie regularly, even after Pippa leaves to live with her aunt in Texas.

Theo begins to settle into life with the Barbours and is invited to go on vacation with them as Andy is hinting that his parents are considering adopting him. Before they can, Theo’s estranged and alcoholic father, Larry, newly detoxed, and his girlfriend Xandra arrive to reclaim Theo and relocate him to Las Vegas. One of the few items he takes with him is The Goldfinch painting.

Theo makes a friend, Boris, a Ukrainian immigrant whose father is physically abusive. Boris, who has also lost his mother, introduces Theo to drugs and alcohol. Theo’s father, sliding further into alcoholism and gambling, dies in a car accident. Terrified that Xandra will place him in foster care, Theo decides to return to New York, begging Boris to come with him. Boris promises he will follow Theo, but never does. Theo goes to Hobie, who allows him to live with him.

Eight years after Theo returns to New York City, he runs into Platt, Andy’s older brother. Platt informs Theo that his father was bipolar and that he and Andy were killed in a boating accident during one of his episodes. Theo goes to visit the now sickly Mrs. Barbour and reconnects with Andy’s younger sister Kitsey, who flirts with him.

Theo works selling the antiques that Hobie finds and restores. A disgruntled art dealer accuses Theo of selling a fake, which Theo offers to buy back. However the dealer believes that Theo possesses The Goldfinch painting and is using it as collateral to finance his shop. Theo is shocked that the man has made the connection between him and the painting, but is relieved that his guess as to its whereabouts is wrong as Theo continues to keep the wrapped painting in a storage locker.

Theo becomes engaged to Kitsey, whom he does not love, still harboring a secret love for Pippa, who now lives in London. Theo catches Kitsey cheating on him, but decides to remain engaged due to his love for Mrs. Barbour and Kitsey’s permissive attitude towards his drug habit.

Looking to score pills one day, Theo goes to an unknown bar where he runs into Boris. The two reconnect, with Boris telling Theo that he owes everything to their friendship. Boris apologizes to Theo, which Theo initially believes is for never coming to New York City, but he then realizes is because Boris stole The Goldfinch years ago, after Theo showed it to him during a drug blackout. Ever since, Boris has used it to finance his life of crime. Boris is now no longer in possession of the painting, as a gang of thugs have stolen it. Theo is horrified and runs away from Boris.

At Theo’s engagement party to Kitsey, Boris arrives and tells him he has a plan to recover The Goldfinch. They fly to Amsterdam, where Theo pretends to be a wealthy businessman, and they reclaim the painting. However, the plan goes badly, and Boris is shot. Theo kills a man in self-defense, losing the painting again.

Theo goes to his hotel room and tries to commit suicide, only to be rescued by Boris. Boris tells Theo that, knowing where the painting is, he had a friend call in a tip to the police to recover it. After organizing a raid the police were able to safely recover the painting along with other lost and stolen art including a Rembrandt. Boris argues that perhaps their strange and unwieldy path was all for the greater good and that it is all part of the strange thing called life.

My Personal Thoughts

The Goldfinch tells the highly-realistic story of a young man, Theo, who lives in New York with his  beautiful mother. Theo gets into trouble for smoking at school. Instead of facing the music and the principal, his mother takes him to an art museum instead. Terrorists bomb the museum, Theo’s mother dies. Through plot machinations, he ends up stealing his mother’s favorite painting. By an obscure Dutch master, this is the goldfinch of the title.

It’s not worth recounting the rest of the plot in case you see the movie, which, based on the fact that the only people in the theater when my wife and I saw it were my wife and I and one other person five rows in front of us, you will not. But know that the cast of The Goldfinch includes Ansel Elgort as an adult Theo, Nicole Kidman, as a frosty society dame who nearly adopts Theo, Luke Wilson, as Theo’s gadabout gambler father, who shows up looking for money, and a smoky Sarah Paulson, who plays Luke Wilson’s girlfriend. Also there is Finn Wolfhard, from Stranger Things and It, rocking a Russian accent, and Jeffrey Wright, as an antiques restorer who takes Theo under his wing.

The name actors all deliver name performances, with the exception of Elgort, who either stares blankly or weeps copiously. He’s one of the least charismatic film stars of our day. During the scenes in Amsterdam, I kept wishing Ansel would fall into the Amstel.

Ansel Elgort is one of the two main problems with The Goldfinch. The other is that the director and screenwriter decided to tell the story non-linearly. Tartt’s novel begins with a little narration from an adult Theo, but then goes fairly straight from there, with almost no flashing back. The film, perhaps in an attempt to get to the awful Ansel Elgort parts sooner, operates the narrative on multiple timelines.

It lingers on minutae early, but doesn’t pay off that detail work later. You don’t see the terrorist bombing, the book’s most gripping and moving set piece, until toward the end, and then only in fragments. The thrilling crime drama that grips the book’s final third flits by in about five minutes, as the director perhaps realized that we were already at the two-and-half hour mark. At that point, we could have used some grit, but instead all we get are violin music and crying. But there’s already plenty of both in The Goldfinch.

This is all very frustrating because despite its hair-pulling structure problems, The Goldfinch is an extremely faithful adaptation of Tartt’s book. All the characters look and act exactly how she described them. The locales are on-point, and beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins, including a longish section set in a disturbingly foreclosed housing complex on the edge of Las Vegas. The script even takes time to explain the mechanics of furniture restoration. But not, apparently, to show an exciting chase scene through the streets of Amsterdam.

The Goldfinch falls prey to the Memento effect, or the Interstellar effect, where every movie has to be a puzzle box. Except that The Goldfinch’s puzzle unfolds perfectly the way that Tartt tells it; the way the filmmakers structure the story takes away from the book’s profound emotional impact and plot surprises, leaving us with empty emotion, and no impact. I doubt my dear departed mother would have liked it much. This movie tarnishes my memory of how The Goldfinch, the novel, helped me grieve her tragic death. For that reason, I liked it even less than I might have.

I will rate this 5/10.

Directed byJohn Crowley
Produced by Nina Jacobson Brad Simpson
Screenplay byPeter Straughan
Based onThe Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt
Starring Ansel Elgort Oakes Fegley Aneurin Barnard Finn Wolfhard Sarah Paulson Luke Wilson Jeffrey Wright Nicole Kidman
Music byTrevor Gureckis
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byKelley Dixon
Amazon Studios Color Force
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date September 8, 2019 (TIFF) September 13, 2019 (United States)
Running time149 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$44–49 million
Box office$9.7 million

Ready or Not (2019) Movie Review

Ready or Not is a 2019 American black comedy supernatural horror thriller film film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett from a screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. The film stars Samara Weaving as a newlywed who becomes hunted by her spouse’s family as part of their wedding night ritual. Mark O’Brien portrays her husband, with Adam Brody, Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell as members of his family.

Ready or Not had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 27, 2019, and was theatrically released on August 21, 2019 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. It grossed $53 million against a $6 million budget, and received generally positive reviews from critics, with Weaving’s performance and the film’s blend of humor and thrills being praised.


The wealthy Le Domas family hosts a generations-long tradition of playing a game at midnight on the wedding night with each new addition to the family. In a flashback many years ago, young Alex Le Domas and his brother Daniel witness the killing of a man named Charles, who has just married their aunt Helene.

Thirty years later, Alex – who has been estranged from his family for years – returns to the Le Domas estate to marry a young woman named Grace. While he is hesitant to be back, Grace is reassuring and eager to become part of his family. After the ceremony, Grace is informed of the family initiation custom and meets with the rest of the in-laws. Participating in the tradition with Grace are Alex, his alcoholic brother Daniel, their father Tony, their mother Becky, Daniel’s snobbish wife Charity, Alex’s drug-addicted sister Emilie, Emilie’s whiny husband Fitch Bradley, and the somber Helene, who is Tony’s older sister.

Tony explains that Grace must participate in a session where she is required to draw a card from a mysterious wooden box and play the game written on the card with the Le Domases to be a full-fledged member. Tony also recounts that his great-grandfather Victor Le Domas made a deal with a man named Mr Le Bail where Le Bail would help create the Le Domas fortune if the Le Domas family established the tradition. Grace draws from the box a card that reads “hide and seek”. Believing the game to be harmless, Grace leaves to hide in the estate while the Le Domas family, excluding Alex, arm themselves with antique weapons to hunt her down.

Alex manages to find Grace before his family, and the pair witness Emilie accidentally kill one of the estate’s maids by shooting her in the head with a shotgun. Alex explains that hide and seek is the only game from the box that would prompt the Le Domas family to try to kill Grace, and he didn’t tell her believing the odds of the game were unlikely. The Le Domas family believes that if they fail to kill Grace before dawn, they will all die as agreed by Victor Le Domas and Mr Le Bail (whose name is an anagram of Belial, an alias for Satan), decades earlier. Grace is overwhelmed and furious at Alex having not told her about the ritual for fear that she would leave him. Against his family’s wishes, Alex promises to Grace that he will help her escape the estate and then heads to the house’s security room after instructing her to go to the exit at the kitchen.

While looking for the exit, Grace encounters a second maid, who is inadvertently killed when Grace activates the mechanical dumbwaiter elevator system to silence her. Daniel who, like Alex, hates the nature of his family, discovers her in the study. Grace pleads with him for help, but he laments that he has no options and grants her only a ten-second head start to run before alerting the others. Alex deactivates the estate’s security cameras and unlocks the doors of the house. However, he is discovered by his family who capture and restrain him for his betrayal. Grace, having torn her gown to increase her mobility and armed herself, manages to escape the house after eluding the family’s butler Stevens (by scalding him with boiling water).

The family members regroup and bemoan their difficulty in capturing Grace, but reiterate the urgency of finding her before sunrise. During this discussion, a third maid is accidentally killed by Emilie with a crossbow through the head. Stevens informs the family that Grace has left the house, but promises to capture her. Grace takes refuge in the barn on the estate grounds, but after being shot in the hand by Emilie’s son Georgie, falls into the “goat pit” where the family hid the remains of previous victims. Grace is able to climb out, but is further injured while escaping through a fence in a fruitless attempt to flag down a passing motorist. On the road, Stevens chases after Grace in a car, but she manages to temporarily incapacitate him after he gets out to restrain her.

Attempting to drive off with the car, Grace contacts the vehicle assistance company, but the car was reported stolen and they disable it remotely, allowing Stevens to tranquilize and capture Grace. While Stevens drives her back to the estate, Grace awakens and causes him to crash the car, killing him. However, Grace is discovered by Daniel who, knowing that Tony is secretly watching, knocks her out again and recaptures her. The Le Domas family prepares to sacrifice Grace in a Satanic ritual. After the family drink from a cup of wine as part of the ritual, they all begin to vomit, except for Daniel who non-lethally poisoned the wine, coming to the belief that his family deserves to die.

Meanwhile, Alex escapes his captivity. Daniel frees Grace and they attempt to leave the house before Daniel is shot and killed by Charity. Grace starts a fire, which is ignored and steadily takes hold as the family continues to pursue her. She gets into a fight with Becky and manages to beat her to death with the box. Alex arrives and, realizing that even if he lets Grace live, she won’t want to be with him, captures her.

(L to R) Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni, Adam Brody, and Elyse Levesque in the film READY OR NOT. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The family try again to sacrifice Grace. Alex, finding himself unable to kill his wife, stabs Grace in her shoulder instead of her heart. Just as dawn breaks, Helene makes a last-ditch attack with her axe, but without warning she explodes into a cloud of gore. The other members of the family look at each other shock in horror; some try to flee, as Tony pleads for a reprieve to Mr. Le Bail but all explode one by one. Last to go, Alex begs Grace for forgiveness, but explodes when Grace demands a divorce.

As the flames break into the room, they briefly form the outline of Mr. Le Bail sitting at the head of the table. He makes eye contact and nods in approval as Grace turns to escape, covered in the blood of the exploded Le Domas family members. Outside the house, Grace sits on the garden steps as the fire blazes behind her, her wedding dress scarlet with blood, and smokes a cigarette as first responders arrive. When someone asks her what happened, Grace shrugs and replies, “In-laws”.

My Personal Thoughts

The trailer for Ready or Not, the black comedy horror film, made it obvious the Le Domas family would go to hunt Samara Weaving’s Grace on her wedding night as part of some sadistic ritual. However, the footage depicted that her new husband, Alex (Mark O’Brien), was on her side.

While it seemed they’d be on their own in this game of predator and prey, the film’s final act offers Samara a surprising villain, as it’s Alex himself who betrays her, shocking audiences as he tries to help his family to finish the job.

Grace is targeted because the Le Domas family wants to sacrifice her to Satan after she drew the hide-and-seek card after the wedding. It’s tradition to play games, but this death card is a means to repay the devil for offering wealth to the family. But from the get-go, Alex tries to save his new bride, offering clues about where to hide and attempting to switch off the house’s security lockdown so Grace can escape, only for him to be incapacitated by his own family.

Alex had no choice but to marry Grace because, even if they eloped or simply lived together, the devil would drain her life essence as they forged a bond through love. He hoped she’d draw another card from the box Satan sent to the family, and that instead play a boring board game like his siblings’ spouses had. But, alas, things don’t go according to plan, leaving him chained in his bedroom while Grace tries to survive.

Luckily, the wily Grace fights him off and, as dawn arrives, the man we thought was a hero finds himself facing a bloody fate. One by one, the family members, including children, start to explode in the occult room, splattering guts all over the bride. The prophecy of failure was true, and they’re paying the price. But Alex begs Grace’s forgiveness so he can live. She laughs him off, telling him she want a divorce as she gives back the wedding ring, and watches him as he explodes.

It’s the price for falling back in line with his demented family, creating one of cinema’s goriest endings. As Grace surveys the damage in her now-crimson dress, she sees the ghost of Le Bail, the merchant Satan used to offer the Le Domas family the box centuries earlier, and acknowledges amid all the violence, every death was worth it so she could have her freedom.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin Tyler Gillett
Produced by Tripp Vinson James Vanderbilt Willem Sherak Bradley J. Fischer
Written by Guy Busick R. Christopher Murphy
Starring Samara Weaving Adam Brody Mark O’Brien Henry Czerny Andie MacDowell
Music byBrian Tyler
CinematographyBrett Jutkiewicz
Edited byTerel Gibson
Mythology Entertainment Vinson Films TSG Entertainment
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release date July 27, 2019 (Fantasia) August 21, 2019 (United States)
Running time95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million
Box office$57.1 million

7 Seeds (2018) Netflix Anime Review

7 Seeds (7SEEDS セブンシーズ Sebun Shīzu) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Yumi Tamura. It has been published by Shogakukan since 2001, first in the magazine Betsucomi, then in Flowers. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic future, long enough after a meteoritehits Earth that new species have evolved, and follows the struggles of five groups of young adults to survive after they are revived from cryonic preservation. The title comes from seven caches of supplies, called “seeds”, laid down by the Japanese government. In 2007, the series won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shōjo manga. An anime adaptation by Gonzo for Netflix was announced and released on June 28, 2019. A second season has been announced.


When astronomers predict that the Earth will be hit by a meteorite, the world leaders meet to develop a plan for human survival called the Seven Seeds project. Each country will preserve number of healthy young people through cryogenics, which will allow them to survive the devastation of the impact. After a computer determines that Earth is once again safe for human life, it will revive each group.

The Japanese government creates five groups of survivors named Winter, Spring, Summer A, Summer B, and Fall. Each group consists of seven members, who are not told about what will happen before they are put in cryonic preservation, and one adult guide who is trained in wilderness survival. These groups are scattered across Japan: the Summer groups in southern and northern Kyūshū, Fall in western Honshū, Spring in central Honshū near Tokyo, and Winter in Hokkaidō. The project also prepares sealed caches containing seeds and instructional books near the “seven Fuji”. These seven Fuji are not related to the famous Mount Fuji, but are regional landmarks also named Fuji:

  • Bungo Fuji in Ōita Prefecture is Mt. Yufudake, where the cache is marked by a statue of the Buddha Dainichi;
  • Ogino Fuji in Kanagawa Prefecture is Mt. Kyogatake, where the cache is marked by a statue of Monjubosatsu, the bodhisattva Manjusri;
  • Kobe Fuji in Hyogo Prefecture is Mount Futatabi of the Rokkō Mountains;
  • Natori Fuji in Miyagi Prefecture is Mt. Taihaku, near Sendai, where the cache is marked by a statue of Kokūzō;
  • Akan Fuji in Hokkaidō is Mt. Meakandake, where the cache is marked by a statue of Senju-Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

Awoken from the cryogenic sleep many years later, the young men and women find themselves amidst a hostile environment bare of any human life. Their former home country Japan has greatly changed. Completely alone, they can depend only on themselves to survive in the new world.

7 Seeds takes place an unknown number of years after the collision of a large meteorite with Earth. As a result of the impact, the climate of Japan has greatly changed from what the characters knew from the present day. In the Kansai region there are only two seasons, a dry season and a longer, heavier rainy season. Takahiro of Winter group describes the winters in the northern island of Hokkaidō as being as mild as in Kanagawa Prefecture where he grew up. In addition, sea levels have risen greatly: downtown Yokohama is completely underwater, only the top hand of the statue in Nagasaki Peace Park is above the surface of the ocean. The geography of Japan has changed as well: after an eruption of Mount Aso, Kyūshū has been split into two islands, and the Kansai region is separated from central Honshū by a wide strait. The series depicts a Japan in which, as a result of the new environment and mass extinctions, ecosystems have changed and several new species of animals and plants have evolved.

For example, on the island where Summer group B first lands, off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture, Botan notes how few of the ecological niches are filled, including no birds or flying insects, and that the limited number of species are still radiating to fill empty niches.[ In particular, a local rodent resembling a rabbit is in the process of speciation into herbivorous and ravenously carnivorous versions, which are still visually similar. Other dangers new to the characters include swarms of carnivorous white cockroaches and gigantic Venus flytraps, sundews, and nepenthes. Species that are unchanged but were previously unknown in Japan include banana trees and crocodiles. Semimaru notes that neither on the island nor on the Kyūshū mainland do they see any ants, bees, or similar insects.

In the Kansai region, Fall group domesticates flightless birds about the size of a chicken and sheep that have grown to resemble llamas, which can be ridden, milked and shorn for wool. Izayoi tells Natsu that a local wasp is deadly, killing with a single sting, and another species has a sting that sickens the victim for a day. According to Akio, corn is the only crop from their seed cache that grows in the area’s soils, but Fall group also cultivates a variety of tobacco with a narcotic effect when smoked.

In the southern part of central Honshū, Natsu, Arashi, and Semimaru of Summer group B cross a desert with cactus scrub. Throughout the region they find remains of large reptiles that revive from estivation during the rainy season, which remind Natsu of velociraptors from Jurassic Park. These “dinosaurs”, as the characters call them, have grassland and woodland varieties, and during the rainy season are the dominant predator from the south coast to at least as far north as Tokyo.

On the island where the Spring group first lands, off the coast of the Kantō region, Hana notes that there are no vertebrates on land or in the sea, and Momotaro describes the ecology as similar to that of the Carboniferous Era. On land, there are giant insects the characters call “boat beetles” and swarms of bees with stings that are painful but not deadly, which force the group to live on rafts off-shore. In the island’s swamps, there are giant praying mantis and giant dragonflies. While at the island, the group lives off shellfish and shallow-water nautiluses, but see no bony fish. The characters find the climate changed as well, as it is too overcast to see the stars for the first two weeks after they are awake, even though it is spring, a season that in the present day is noted for clear weather.

On the mainland of the Kantō region, Spring group meets large aquatic lizards living among the submerged ruins of Yokohama, which hunt in groups. Nearby, in the ruins of central Tokyo, the party from Summer group B is attacked by a giant predatory fish, which Takahiro of Winter group identifies as descended from a deep-sea fish, the only kind of bony fishes to have survived. They also meet a fungus-like growth Takahiro calls “blue mucus”, which infects Hana’s skin when she touches it. This growth goes dormant in the dry season, and Takahiro realizes it is intolerant to salt and uses it to cure her.

In northern Honshū near Sendai, Natsu, Arashi and Semimaru of Summer group B find the first flowers they have seen during their journey over most of the length of Japan.

In southern Hokkaidō, Winter group encounters grasslands populated by many mammals they do not know, including small-eared rodents, herds of unknown ruminants, and tigers with saber-teeth. They also meet wolves with the ability to project illusions normally used to help hunt.

My Personal Thoughts

7Seeds (or 7 Seeds, take your pick) puts emotional impact and personal revelation before anything else. Despite the synopsis above, this isn’t really Natsu’s series. 7 Seeds sets itself more to be an ensemble, flitting between numerous groups of characters, all struggling to survive after awakening from cryo-sleep on an Earth now devoid of mankind’s influence. Each cast of characters is suffering their own emotional journey, often influenced by the lives they led prior to going into cryo-sleep, and the very fact that they were forced into cryo-sleep against their will. Every episode is predicated on tying the character’s emotional struggle to whatever latest task is required to survive. We constantly flit about between these groups, sometimes even flashing back to events prior to the start of the series, all detailing the tragic lives these people now lead in this new and deadly world, filled with monstrous bugs and lethal fungi.

The trouble is that 7 Seeds doesn’t get a whole lot else right besides its efforts to get you balling tears. Every episode is rife with problems, from visual failings thanks to mediocre animation and art design, to cutting tons of the manga’s original content in order to cram in as much of the story as possible (12 episodes of 7 Seeds ‘Part 1’ equates to over 80 chapters of the original manga!), to simply botched concepts that fail to lend believability to the whole scenario. This means there’s a lot, and I do mean a lot, you have to overcome in order for any of the harrowing events these characters suffer to actually pull at your heart strings and leave you a blubbering mess as the author intended.

7 Seeds starts decent enough. Natsu, a shy teen girl, wakes from her cryo-sleep aboard a sinking ship, with a few other people rushing to abandon it before its too late. While the series maintains an air of mystery it actually work pretty well. That first episode is all about discovering what’s actually happened to them, and even when the series unnecessarily cuts between two other groups (one of which doesn’t appear again until over six episodes in) and the animation flags, it’s still engaging, if troubled.

It’s in Episode 2 that 7 Seeds pulls back the curtain, detailing that the ‘7 Seeds Project” is meant to repopulate the Earth after the discovery of an impending disaster. The project, as we come to learn, involved forcing unwitting civilians into cryo-sleep, either by paying their families off, or simple kidnapping. That part of the idea already doesn’t make a lot of sense, though it pales in comparison to the concept of a handful of 7-man teams working to repopulate the planet (You need several thousands people to stave off genetic disorders from a limited gene pool.) The series eventually retcons this, later adding this was an ‘experimental’ effort. Also, individuals are chosen for their ‘special skills’ and while some characters are architects or botanists, there’s an awful lot of Japanese Traditional Dancers or Baseball players, who you wouldn’t think would have any practical value in restarting humanity, especially high school baseball players. The very concepts of the series’ conceit don’t make a lot of sense, and that can really hinder more discerning viewer’s ability to get invested.

Another inherent problem is the tropey writing. One of the biggest annoyances to the story is how often assholes are ‘redeemed.’ The trope of redeeming an asshole isn’t terrible in and of itself, but it is when several characters are shown to harbor rapey elements, such as one young man who sexual assaults both girls in his group, and jumps on another woman multiple times, only for his unwanted advances to be brushed aside, and his character to be expanded upon to give him ‘excuses’ as to his poor behavior. There’s even a full on attempted rape later on, though these 12 episodes don’t redeem that particular rapist just yet. (I’m pretty sure he gets redeemed based on dialogue queues.)

Another issues is how much logic the series throws out in order to achieve its emotional highs. In one such instance a group of humans living in an underground shelter suffer from a horrible plague, that if unleashed above ground could threaten any attempts by humanity to reclaim the Earth. One character decides that to lure out everyone who is infected she’ll sing her beautiful song, pied-pippering them into a cold storage room, where they will be locked away and frozen to death. The ludicrous nature prevents this from feeling like the emotional gut-punch the series wants it to be, turning the episode into something that’s all too difficult to take seriously.

End of Spoilers

Assuming though the emotional gut-punch at the cost of logic is still your thing, and you’re not bothered with the examples above, know that 7 Seeds has cut so much, and rearranged so much, that you might be better waiting for the official manga release, if it ever gets one. 7 Seeds not only trims a ton of content, and condenses other sequences, but reorders loads of events. Sometimes it’s to the benefit of the story, introducing characters that are, at least, a bit more interesting than our initial four man cast. At other times we snap cut to stuff that feels disconnected from anything we were witnessing before hand. Episodes often end with a thud, lacking an impactful moment to send audiences out on a high, dying to know what happens next. You’re often left with one last scene that falls flat on its face, and then the credits roll, and you wonder what was the point of any of that additional content.

Ultimately 7 Seeds may be the worst title Netflix has launched yet. It’s ugly, it’s tropey, it’s poorly adapted, and abandons logic far too often to try and pull at your heart strings. If the concept still seems like your thing, cross your fingers someone decides to officially translate it, though that seems like a long shot seeing as the series has been concluded for two years now. I’m not much of a fan for the core story, but I feel for anyone intensely interested, as this version of 7 Seeds is an absolute awful way to experience it.

I will rate this Anime 9/10.

Written byYumi Tamura
Published byShogakukan
DemographicShōjo, Josei
MagazineBetsucomi, Flowers
Original runNovember 2001 – July 2017
Volumes35 (List of volumes)
Original net animation
Directed byYukio Takahashi
Written byTouko Machida
Music byMichiru
StudioGonzo (season 1 & 2)
Studio Kai (season 2)
Licensed byNetflix
Released June 28, 2019 – present
Episodes12 (List of episodes)

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) Gameplay Review

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an action-adventure game developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. Players control Jedi trainee Cal Kestis, in a story set in the Star Wars universe shortly after the film Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. It was announced during E3 2018, with a more detailed reveal during the Star Wars Celebration in April 2019. The game was released for Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on November 15, 2019, and received positive reviews.


Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes place five years after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and before Solo: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars Rebels, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The game follows young Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan) who is being hunted by an Inquisitor, trained by Darth Vader (Scott Lawrence), known as the Second Sister (Elizabeth Grullon). Supporting characters include: Cal’s friend Prauf (JB Blanc), former Jedi Master Cere Junda (Debra Wilson), ship pilot Greez Dritus (Daniel Roebuck), Cal’s master Jaro Tapal (Travis Willingham), a droid named BD-1 (Ben Burtt), Jedi master Eno Cordova (Tony Amendola), Partisan leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), crime lord Sorc Tormo (Luke Cook), the Ninth Sister (Misty Lee), Nightsister Merrin (Tina Ivlev), former Jedi Taron Malicos (Liam McIntyre), and the Clone Troopers (Dee Bradley Baker).

Five years after the Great Jedi Purge, former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis works in a junkyard on the planet Bracca scrapping ships from the Clone Wars, but is forced to use his Force powers to save his friend Prauf during an accident. Unbeknownst to them, the event was captured by a nearby Imperial Probe Droid which transmits the footage to the Galactic Empire, revealing Cal’s true identity to the Imperials. The Empire dispatches two inquisitors trained by Darth Vader, the Second Sister and the Ninth Sister, to take down Kestis. While being pursued by the Second Sister, who kills Prauf, Cal is rescued by Cere Junda and Greez Dritus, and flees Bracca aboard Greez’s ship, the Mantis. Cere tells him she is a former Jedi and knew Cal’s Jedi Master, Jaro Tapal.

Cere takes Cal to the planet Bogano where an ancient vault is located, and hopes that Cal can open it. On the way to the vault, Cal befriends a small droid named BD-1, which shows him a message from Cere’s former Master, Eno Cordova. Cordova’s message reveals that the vault was built by an ancient civilization called the Zeffo, and that he hid a Jedi holocron containing a list of the locations of Force-sensitive children inside; Cere believes this list could be the genesis of a restored Jedi Order that can topple the Empire. However, the only way to access it is to follow Cordova’s path and pass his tests. The only leads Cal has is the location of the Zeffo homeworld, and a tomb on the planet Dathomir. On Zeffo, they find a clue that the Zeffo had contact with Kashyyyk, meaning Cordova’s contact there, the Wookiee chieftain Tarfful, may have information about them.

On Kashyyyk, Cal teams up with Saw Gerrera and his Partisans to fight the Imperial occupation forces enslaving the native Wookiees. Unable to find Tarfful, Cal returns to Zeffo to investigate a tomb when he encounters the Second Sister again. The Second Sister reveals that she was Cere’s Padawan, Trilla Suduri, who was captured by the Empire when Cere betrayed her location under torture. She warns Cal that Cere will inevitably betray him before retreating. Cal learns that he needs to find a Zeffo Astrium to unlock the vault before he is knocked out and captured by a bounty hunter. When Cal wakes up, he is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena at the whims of crime lord Sorc Tormo. He is rescued by Cere and Greez, and Greez apologizes since Sorc kidnapped Cal due to his gambling debts. They then receive a communication that Tarfful is willing to speak to Cal, and they return to Kashyyyk. Tarfful instructs Cal to seek answers on top of Kashyyyk’s Origin Tree. There, he finds another recording of Cordova telling him that an Astrium can be found on Dathomir, but is then attacked by the Ninth Sister. Cal defeats the Inquisitor and makes his way to Dathomir.

Upon landing, Cal’s progress is immediately impeded by Nightsister Merrin, who blames the Jedi for the massacre of her people during the Clone Wars (Season 4 Episode 19, “Massacre”), and does everything in her power to keep him away. After experiencing a flashback where he remembers Jaro sacrificing himself to protect him from the clone troopers during the Purge, Cal is attacked by Jaro’s spirit, resulting in his lightsaber being destroyed. Cal then encounters another former Jedi, Taron Malicos, who sought to learn the power of the Nightsisters and manipulated them against the Jedi. Malicos offers to teach Cal how to handle the dark power of Dathomir against Merrin’s wishes. Cal refuses and flees Dathomir when Merrin attacks. Cere admits that when she learned Trilla became an Inquisitor, she briefly fell to the dark side, which is why she had cut off her connection to the Force. They then travel to Ilum to find a kyber crystal to rebuild Cal’s lightsaber. Returning to Dathomir, Cal faces Jaro’s spirit again, defeating him by overcoming his feelings of guilt over his death. Malicos again attempts to tempt Cal to the dark side, and attacks when Cal refuses him. Merrin helps Cal defeat Malicos and he is able to convince her to join the Mantis crew.

The crew return to Bogano and Cal uses the Astrium to unlock the vault and reveal the holocron. Trilla manages to steal the holocron and escape. Cere reassumes her position as a Jedi Master and grants Cal the rank of Jedi Knight. They then assault the fortress serving as the Inquisitor headquarters, where Cal is able to defeat Trilla and recover the holocron. Cere attempts to make amends with Trilla, but Darth Vader suddenly appears and kills Trilla for her failure. Cal and Cere barely evade Vader and escape the fortress. With the holocron now in their possession, the crew wonders what they should do with it. Realizing that gathering the Force-sensitive children will only make it easier for the Empire to target them, Cal destroys the holocron, determining that their fates should be left up to the Force before asking where they should go next.

My Personal Thoughts

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the latest game in the canon, is one of the better offerings specifically because it tries to look beyond the trappings of Star Wars. It’s not just another Jedi power fantasy, although wielding the Force with skill and resolve will certainly make you feel powerful. Like the best Star Wars games, it’s one that adds to the ideas of the films and other material, exploring new corners of the galaxy while focusing on the core themes of the franchise: knowing yourself, fighting your own darkness, and braving adversity with the help of friends.

Friendship has always been one of the main drives of Star Wars, especially in the original film trilogy, and it’s the core of what makes Jedi: Fallen Order work in both story and gameplay. The primary relationship of the game is between Cal Kestis, a Jedi padawan in hiding in the aftermath of the Jedi Purge that took place in Revenge of the Sith, and BD-1, a droid entrusted with a secret mission by the Jedi Master that previously owned it. Once Cal and BD-1 meet, they become inseparable, working together as partners to solve puzzles in forgotten ruins, navigate alien environments, and beat back the Empire.

The pair work throughout the game to complete a scavenger hunt created by BD’s last companion, Master Cordova. Before he vanished, Cordova locked away a list of Force-sensitive children throughout the galaxy that could be used to resuscitate the destroyed Jedi Order and challenge the Empire. He left clues to how to retrieve that list hidden in BD, requiring Cal and the droid to travel to various worlds, following in Cordova’s footsteps to free up BD’s encrypted memories.

chrome 4/13/2019 , 9:07:40 PM Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order ? Official Reveal Trailer – YouTube – Google Chrome

Functionally, BD is Cal’s constant companion as he rides around on the Jedi’s back, and Cal regularly talks with the droid as they explore Fallen Order’s planets. BD also serves several support functions in gameplay. Most importantly, BD provides Cal with “stims” that allow him to heal himself in the middle of Fallen Order’s often-oppressive combat. He can also function as a zipline, unlock doors, and hack certain droid enemies to turn the tides of battle. BD is just enough a part of any given fight or puzzle that you’re always aware of his presence and his help, but it’s Cal’s constant interactions with the little droid that really build out their relationship.

You definitely need BD’s help and the upgrades you find for him throughout your journey, because Fallen Order can be punishing. It lifts a number of gameplay ideas directly from the Soulsborne genre; enemies are often tough-as-nails and can deal big damage if you’re complacent, whether they’re Imperial stormtroopers taking potshots or two-foot rats leaping out of burrows to snap at Cal’s throat. Fighting isn’t just about wailing on everyone with your lightsaber, but rather relies heavily on blocking and carefully timed parries if you mean to stay alive against even the most run-of-the-mill foes. You and your enemies also have a stamina meter to manage, which dictates how many blows you can defend against before you stagger, and adds a strategic element to duels. To win a battle, you need to whittle down an enemy’s stamina while blocking, parrying, and dodging to manage your own. Since every blow you sustain can be devastating, combat becomes an exciting, cerebral exercise in pretty much every case. You’ll spend a lot of time not only honing your parrying skills, but also making quick battlefield decisions about how you can isolate dangerous enemies or use your Force powers to even up the odds.

You can only heal from a limited number of stims or by resting at periodic meditation points, similar to Dark Souls’ bonfires, and using them respawns all the enemies in the area, which makes being a smart combatant even more critical. Killing enemies and finding collectibles nets you experience, which accumulates into Skill Points you can spend on new abilities for Cal. But dying costs all the experience you earned since your last Skill Point unless you can find and damage the enemy who bested you.

Though the elements of Fallen Order are Souls-like–it’s probably most closely comparable to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, in fact–on most difficulty settings, it’s far less brutal than From Software’s games. Fallen Order might be considered Soulsborne-lite, making use of the same elements but to a different effect. It’s tough, even occasionally frustrating, but not nearly so much as the games from which it draws its inspirations. That balance achieves something that feels essential to Fallen Order’s identity: It makes you a powerful Jedi Knight, without turning you into an unstoppable Force-wielding superhero. Ratcheting back on the Jedi powers (and forcing you to unlock them as you work through the story and deal with Cal’s past) helps Fallen Order’s take on the Star Wars universe feel grounded and believable–a place where people could actually live.

Your lack of overwhelming power also helps make the ever-looming Empire a frightening threat, even as individual soldiers comedically call out their own ineptitude in pretty much every battle. Cal spends the entire game hunted by the Inquisition, a subset of the Empire’s forces specifically tasked with exterminating Jedi. Because every fight is potentially deadly, running into the game’s specially trained Purge Troopers is always an event, and you’re forced not only test your lightsaber skills and timing, but to consider all the abilities at your disposal to make it out alive.

The rest of the game often has to do with clambering around the environment and solving puzzles, not unlike Tomb Raider, God of War, or Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Navigating the world is as much about using observation and problem-solving skills as your Force tools. Respawn’s Souls-inspired map design allows you to explore off the beaten path without ever really getting lost, and each planet is richly realized and fascinating to explore. The intricate pathways encourage you to wander off and visit each planet’s varied environments to see what you might uncover, and Fallen Order always make sure you’re rewarded with a bit of story, a cosmetic item, or even an optional miniboss fight.

When you’re between missions on planets, you’re spending time with Fallen Order’s two other major characters, Cere and Greez. They’re the pair who manage to save Cal in the early hours of the game when his Jedi nature is discovered by the Empire, and they put him on the quest to find the list of Force-sensitives before the Inquisitors can get their hands on it. Though the story is a little rough in the early going as Cal is thrown directly into the quest with little lead-up or explanation, Fallen Order’s story starts to excel around the halfway point as his relationships with BD, Cere, and Greez really start to develop. Once Fallen Order starts to invest in the interpersonal dynamics and deepening friendships of its cast, it really hits a stride–and its quest feels less like an elaborate series of tasks to fetch a MacGuffin, and more like an essential addition to the ongoing Star Wars saga.

It does take Fallen Order a while to get there, though. The first few planets are a bit on the dull side, rushing to get Cal on his quest through the galaxy without really establishing why you should really care. Until it starts to click later in the game as you unlock more Force powers, combat can be a hassle, especially at certain boss battles or chokepoints, when your last meditation point is some distance away and you have to navigate through the same chunks of the map over and over. And while parrying is an essential part of the game, at higher difficulties, the timing can feel finicky and unreliable.

The game also loves to throw handfuls of enemies at you all at once, which can be overwhelming, and combat against lower-tier enemies is built to lock you into finisher animations in a lot of cases. Instead of making you feel like a cool, well-trained warrior, these usually just leave you open to some Imperial dork wandering up with an electrobaton and clocking you in the head. It’s only after you get enough Force powers to effectively control the crowds that these moments become more exciting than irritating. But throughout the game, there are always times when an enemy you couldn’t see because of the game’s tight targeting lock system gets in a cheap hit, forcing you to replay a fair stretch of its large, interweaving maps.

But especially as it wears on, Fallen Order becomes perhaps the strongest conception of what playing as a Jedi Knight ought to really be like. It’s true that Fallen Order borrows liberally from other action games, but those elements work together with Respawn’s combat and environment design, and a story that finds humanity in the Force and in its characters, to hone in on what makes the world of Star Wars worthy of revisiting again and again. Even with some rough edges, Fallen Order represents one of the most compelling game additions to the Star Wars franchise in years.

I will rate this Game 8/10.

Developer(s)Respawn Entertainment
Publisher(s)Electronic Arts
Director(s)Stig Asmussen
Programmer(s)Jiesang Song
Artist(s)Ken FeldmanChris Sutton
Writer(s)Aaron ContrerasManny HagopianMatt MichnovetzMegan Fausti
Composer(s)Stephen BartonGordy Haab
EngineUnreal Engine 4
Platform(s)Microsoft WindowsPlayStation 4Xbox One
ReleaseNovember 15, 2019