Gaming Gallery: Horizon Zero Dawn

Photo Modes have become almost a standard feature in this current generation of video games. As graphical enhancements stand out more and more, the developers have given players the opportunity to become photographers within the game. Photo modes aren’t just screenshots, you are able to set the camera, fiddle with brightness and exposure, adjust the depth of field. So many options. One game that has one of the best Photo Mode’s is Guerrilla Games open world epic, Horizon Zero Dawn. Here are just some of the images I’ve taken in the game that I was proud of.

Atomic Blonde – DeaconsDen Review

Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine, an MI6 agent who is assigned to recover a list with the names of other operatives in Cold War Berlin. Theron is proving to become one of Hollywood's biggest action stars, especially after her critically acclaimed performance in 2016's Mad Max Fury Road. How does Atomic Blonde rate as establishing a new action hero?

The one thing Atomic Blonde has going for it is Charlize Theron kicking ass. And she does it well. There is some really visceral and physical fight choreography at work here. It's not stylized a la the John Wick films. There's a lot of punching and kicking going on. This adds to the realism of taking place in the late 1980s as a spy thriller, as opposed to an action extravaganza.

Atomic Blonde also boasts a solid supporting cast. We have another film with a great chameleonic performance by James McAvoy. In addition we have roles filled by John Goodman, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones. Every actor does a good job in their roles and help add to the historical context of the film.

The film features a soundtrack that is pure 80s as classic songs are used as well as covers of other songs. Combine this with the score by Tyler Bates and we have another element that attempts to immerse viewers in Cold War Berlin in 1989.

Action and atmosphere? Check. Interesting main characters in Theron and McAvoy? Check. So where does Atomic Blonde fall short?

Sadly it falls short in the story category. Despite the historic context that is presented, I just did not care about the main story at all. All I wanted was another action scene with Charlize. The film clocks in just under 2 hours but it isn't very well paced. Once you add the political intrigue which isn't at all, it feels much longer. It's a shame because it was a missed opportunity to bring real world history to the general action movie crowd. The story splintered the film into a spy thriller that wasn't very thriller and some great action.

Atomic Blonde is solid for the most part. I was hoping for more, but the lackluster story only has you wishing for the next action sequence. Great performances by the leads in Theron and McAvoy as well as an 80s atmosphere that immersed me. I just wish the connective tissue would have been more interesting.

Final Rating (3/4)

Dunkirk – DeaconsDen Review

“Dunkirk” is the newest film from Christopher Nolan. After taking a foray into science fiction with 2014’s “Interstellar,” Nolan decides to tackle the war film genre with this dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II. In that event, Allied soldiers were stranded on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk in the north of France. How does Nolan fare for this reviewer in his first war film effort?

First off I will say, Dunkirk is a masterclass in its technical prowess. As much as I love Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and The Prestige, Dunkirk just might be the best technical filmmaking he’s ever done. The beautiful camerawork, the effect and most particularly the sound design.

From the very first frame of Dunkirk, you are dropped right into the horror of war. However this isn’t like Saving Private Ryan where you have a front row seat. In Dunkirk, Nolan puts you there with some of the best sound design I’ve ever experienced in a film. This is a loud film and I didn’t even see it in 70mm IMAX. Every bullet fired. Every mortar screeching and the sounds of the planes flying over preparing to drop ordnance is just as terrifying as anything you would see or hear in a horror film. This sound work is accompanied by a minimalist, but powerful score by the legendary Hans Zimmer. The music underlines the imagery and sound in a way that adds to the pressure and desperation that these men are feeling. It’s very impressive.

All of these positives however could not override what was the weakness of the film for me. Character. Or specifically a form of connection to characters. Like previous films by Nolan, the story is told in a nonlinear manner. The film covers 3 different storylines: on land covering one week, on the sea covering one day, and in the air covering one hour. The narrative comes together at the end for the climax of the film. I had no problem with the story being told in this manner, but that there were no characters that I could connect with. This fractured my viewing experience. The only story that I had any sort of interest in was the air battles that stared Tom Hardy simply due to some familiarity. I understand the purpose of Nolan’s decision here, but sadly it had no effect on me. This made the journey to the finale a slow one for me despite the film’s running time being under 2 hours.

Unfortunately the parts of Dunkirk I didn’t gel with outweighed the parts that I did enjoy. If there was a central character or at least a tad bit more compelling characters than what was presented would have allowed me to engage with the narrative more and reconcile the technical excellence with the story being presented. Dunkirk is not a bad movie, nor a mediocre one. It’s well made, but for this reviewer, not enjoyably told.

Final Rating (2.5/4)

A Second Chance: Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN

It's been a while since I have given a film a second chance. I've been in a mood for Alfred Hitchcock's work since I signed up for an online class celebrating 50 years of his work. Hitchcock had a very prolific career and sometimes you can overlook a film or overreact to a film that may not be quite on the level of some of the masterworks of a director. I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about my revisiting of the film "Torn Curtain" from 1966.

I first saw "Torn Curtain" around 2009-2010. At the time the only films of Alfred Hitchcock I had seen were "Psycho," "Rear Window" and "Vertigo." Turner Classic Movies (TCM) had been running his films in a marathon throughout the month. I decided to take the time and catch up on the career of this cinematic pioneer. One film I looked forward to was this political thriller that involved a man trying to retrieve a formula from East Germany and bring it back to the United States. That film was "Torn Curtain."

My first and only viewing at the time was filled with boredom as I found the film dense and sparse at the same time. I found nothing compelling about the leads, despite the pedigree of both of them. The plot felt labyrinthine. And there was just too much talking that didn't move things along quick enough for me. This was my first true disappointment with Hitchcock. I had high expectations that were not met.

Then came this course. TCM would again showcase a majority of his films and "Torn Curtain" was among them. I saw that it was online to stream and would expire the next day. So I decided to revisit this film from the later stages of the career of the Master of Suspense.

I judged this film wrong. It's really good. Bordering on great for me.

"Torn Curtain" really engaged with me as a spy thriller. Sure it lacks the extravaganza of the Sean Connery Bond films that were going at the time, but entertaining nonetheless in a Hitchcockian manner. It works in quite a few ways.

Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were not the type of actor that Hitchcock enjoyed working with. He particularly wasn't a fan of Newman's method acting. Despite this, I say it works. I see Michael Armstrong and Sarah Sherman. Not Newman and Andrews. This film, while on a global scale similar to his other films, is not the grand adventure of films like "Saboteur" or "North by Northwest." This didn't need Cary Grant or James Stewart. Hitch needed a new dimension to pull of these roles for this film and this was the right call.

It's also beautifully filmed with some shots that ease you into the tension such as this scene when Newman's character hears footsteps following him.

There's also a great scene that has Armstrong and the Farmer's wife (Carolyn Conwell) have to kill a man, but find out it isn't as easy as you think. It's an underrated gem of suspense filmmaking by Hitchcock.

I don't want to spoil too much of the film or this game I'm describing, but I wonder if part of the plot inspired a key moment in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater?

I was unfair to "Torn Curtain." It's very suspenseful and has all the elements we love to see in Hitchcock's filmography. I actually did not give this film another chance where I did give another chance to his 1969 film "Topaz." I've watched that film 3 times and can safely say I do not like that one. "Torn Curtain" however is a satisfying ride that is not as dense as I originally claimed it was.