Pierce Pioneer

Animal Crossing: Just a Kids’ Game or a Modern Coping Tool?

Matt Slater / Staff Photo 

Young or old, you have probably heard of the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Amidst the uncertainty that is global affairs in 2020, Animal Crossing’s cheery exterior and light-gameplay have been welcomed into the public light with open arms. 

But what about Animal Crossing: New Horizons has made it so successful? Could the raging popularity be accredited to individuals just searching for ways to escape their current situation, or is there a deeper benefit? 

The video-gaming industry as a whole has seen an increase in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the current global atmosphere being very tense and many individuals stressed about COVID-19, whether it be work or health-related, Animal Crossing has offered a type of peaceful sanctuary. 

Animal Crossing can be used as a daily escape from the frightening reality of life. It allows individuals to take control of anxiety-provoking situations and vent any frustrations or fears they have about the real world. 

This pursuit of an outlet to funnel attention to is called escapism. Escapism has historically been given a bad rap because it is associated with relief from an unpleasant situation, but it is not always negative. 

Animal Crossing offers a video-gaming experience that is often compared to soothing meditational practices. The franchise is not dominated by heavy story-telling and the narrative guidelines can be completed at your leisure. This self-pacing mechanism offers players many choices, and with it, control. 

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players can decide what their character does day-to-day in real-time; whether it be tending a garden, catching fish or bugs, decorating villager’s houses, or visiting friends from around the globe. Original music, characters, and dialogue make Animal Crossing quite unique in the gaming world. 

New Horizons launched on March 20, 2020; In record time, it exceeded the lifetime sales of each previous game in the Animal Crossing franchise. Also during March, the Nintendo Switch console, which is the only platform New Horizons is offered on, saw a sales increase of 150 percent. 

Individuals like Jeremy Bailenson have worked to investigate the connections between escapism and virtual enrichment. As he explores in his book, Experience on Demand, virtual reality, and social simulators can help individuals recover from trauma. 

Traumatic events, such as global pandemics, bring a degree of uncertainty, which can lead to serious psychological repercussions. 

A 2002 study of children in psychologically traumatic situations showed that playing with toys or art materials helped rebuild emotional stability. Having the opportunity to play comes with the notion that people are beginning to put their lives back together, and life is going back to normal.

In this way, Animal Crossing: New Horizons might be the relief that our modern generation needs. 

Anyone could make the argument that COVID-19 has been a traumatic experience. Life for many around the globe has completely changed. The loss of communities such as school, work, and religious gatherings, as well as the uncertainty when communities will be able to gather again, can lead to serious mental health repercussions.

Maybe the reason New Horizons has gotten so popular is that it is tending to the psychological human need to play in order to deal with trauma. 

New Horizons is fundamentally simple. It allows for easy repetition, which can soothe nerves or anxiety. Additionally, New Horizons is open to creative expression. As a player, you are not confined to a strict rule book. Almost every aspect of the game is moldable to your artistic vision. If players don’t have a specific vision in mind, the game inspires them to create one with the tools provided. 

Finally, New Horizons lets you build and nurture new relationships and communities. It has become a new resource for individuals to connect to one another. In a time when everyone is a little lonely, thousands of players congregate online to share resources and playthrough tips.  

Animal Crossing: New Horizons may pave the way for new, innovative virtual simulators, especially if quarantine persists. It will be interesting to see how different aspects of the media industry will cope with life restrictions or if more companies try to capitalize on stay-at-home requirements. Regardless, New Horizons will be written in the history books as a smashing success.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

Abri Wilson / Staff Illustrator

Even if you aren’t exactly a gamer, you might enjoy Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It offers a nice escape from reality, where players can explore and build their own island paradise, with the help of friendly neighbors. There’s a reason the franchise has been popular with adults and kids alike for years. There is something calming about the game, in which players can put themselves into an alternate reality and be in charge of what happens at their pace.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest in the popular Animal Crossing franchise from Nintendo. Available only for the Nintendo Switch, this game involves a lot of the same elements of the previous games: players arrive in a new land, find resources to use or sell, participate in events, and interact with anthropomorphic animal villagers. However, what makes this game different is that instead of arriving in a pre-built town, players have to create the town entirely from scratch, with the help of a Racoon named “Tom Nook.”

As a 13-year player of the Animal Crossing franchise, I have to say, there is definitely some significant progress from the previous games. For starters, the graphics are clearer. The villagers are finally able to move their pupils, whereas, in previous games, they would just turn their heads when walked by. Players can also see more detailed flora and fauna.

Also, the idea of building a town from scratch seemed like it would take a while. However, once players get the hang of the controls, it’s easy to navigate the island.

Abri Wilson / Staff Illustrator

Speaking of the island, players can name it themselves, as long as the name’s appropriate. Alluding to my Scandinavian heritage, I named mine “The Fjords.” Learning how to find resources is straightforward, and once players take Tom Nook’s DIY workshop, resources can be used to make furniture and tools.

A new feature that wasn’t in the previous games is gifting. Building relationships with neighboring characters unlocks an option to give them presents when players interact with them. Sometimes, they’ll even give something back.

Yet another new feature is energy. Unlike previous games, eating fruit can give players energy, which can make them strong enough to chop down trees, uproot trees (which can be replanted later), or smash apart rocks. Players can have a maximum of 10 energy at a time.

In the game, there are locations players can unlock as they progress, like the museum, airport, shops, and a campsite. After playing for a while, buildings like the general store and town hall will go through upgrades.

At the airport, players can redeem tickets earned through an in-game point system called the “Nook Miles System,” head to “Harv’s Island” to take pictures at a photo studio, or visit friends via the Nintendo Online system. Players can also send postcards from the airport.

The in-game currency, “Bells,” can be confusing. For instance, players can sell a dinosaur bone for 3,000 Bells, but a giant teddy bear costs 8,500 Bells. However, Bells are easy to earn through selling items found on your island (or other islands), or, if in a pinch, can be received through “Bell Vouchers,” which are obtained by cashing in Nook Miles.

One thing that I’m on the fence about is the Nook Miles System. Even after getting the upgrade to “Nook Miles Plus” on your in-game smartphone, it takes a while to earn enough miles to cash in for rewards. A Bell Voucher (worth 3,000 Bells each when exchanged at the general store) is 500 miles, and a Nook Miles Ticket, which can be used at the airport to find resources on uninhabited islands, is 2,000 miles.

Although, in my opinion, Bells are actually a bit more complicated. Players can sell resources, furniture, and wildlife to earn bells, but prices are high at the stores on the island. A postcard from the airport alone costs 200 Bells. So be careful about how you spend your Miles and Bells!

My favorite part of the game, however, is the museum. When you catch a new species of bug or fish, or if you find a dinosaur fossil, you can take it to Blathers, the museum curator, and he will help you display your specimen.

Abri Wilson / Staff Illustrator

If you bring him something the museum already has, he will politely reject it, but offer to teach you some interesting facts about it. Even though the museum has an entomology (bugs) wing, Blathers is afraid of bugs, so players can get some pretty funny reactions out of him when they bring him a bug. 

Now, what really makes the New Horizons museum really great, is the facelift it received compared to the previous games. The museum is very fancy, complete with a butterfly room with a fountain in the middle, a walk-through deep-sea aquarium, and amazingly detailed fossils in the fossil wing. Unfortunately, there is no art wing so far, unlike previous games. However, the museum is still a favorite for both me and my brother, Nathan (“Nate”), who has his own character in the game. 

Overall, I would give Animal Crossing: New Horizons, 88%. While some parts of the game are complicated, and there are still hiccups to get through, it is a fun game, and a great way to relax during the stay-at-home order.

 

“Tiger King”: A Must Watch

Ty Phay / Staff Illustrator

From gay, country singing, drug-addicts, to cultish tiger housing societies, the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” shocked the world with its captivating look into the lives of the American big cat community. The most-watched Netflix show since March 20, gave a glimpse into the animal rights controversy that many Americans didn’t know existed. 

According to the documentary, twice as many tigers live in U.S. captivity than in their natural habitats. Big cat owners across the nation claimed they existed for the conservation and awareness of the animals, but directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin allowed viewers to judge the owner’s intentions.

With viewpoints from all sides of big cats captivity, ranging from caretakers to protesters, the directors captured the conflict between good and evil. This conflict drove the story of the docuseries, and added to the dramatized angle fit for national streaming. The docuseries seemed to stray from the focus of spreading awareness for big cats and focused on the characters that drive the controversy.

The protagonist and former big cat zoo owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” provided much of the surreal entertainment throughout the seven-part series. Wildlife park owner Bhagavan “Doc” Antle best described Exotic as, “A completely insane, gay, gun-toting, drug-addict fanatic.” Exotic was the perfect defining character and face of the documentary with his eccentric lifestyle and fiery personality. 

The second large scale animal owner and breeder is best known as “Doc Antle.” The director of Myrtle Beach Safari and Rare Species Fund seemed to bring together cultish intentions with the operation of his wildlife park. His act of polygamy with his park staff added to the surreal nature of the characters in the docuseries. 

In contrast, for these two big cat animal owners, animal activists have devoted their efforts to the abolishment of exotic animal parks. Animal activist and Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin acted as the antagonist to the main character of Exotic. Through her opposition and controversies, mainly over the disappearance of her husband, the directors added her story to blow up the documentary. 

“Tiger King,” may not be for people of all ages due to the use of profanity, guns, and crude language, but the story told is unlike anything the world has seen. The show left its audience laughing at one minute, gasping the next, and finally shaking their head all in one episode. The seven episodes acted as the perfect getaway during the current Covid-19 pandemic that left the world stuck at home. 

The docuseries blew the mind of people around the world gaining popularity across social media. From celebrity photoshops, to Tik Tok videos, and memes, the show was popularized by people of all backgrounds. 

Directors Goode and Chaiklin masterfully put together a juicy and eye-opening docuseries showing the controversy and blinded nature of self-proclaimed animal activists. The endless energy of the back and forth banter led the characters in the series to distance themselves from the conservation of big cats in the wild. Visitors of America’s big cat parks benefit every day from the striking features of an 800-pound tiger, but it’s the animals that ultimately pay the price.

“Outbreak” Review

Photofest / Courtesy Photo
Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo in 1995’s ‘Outbreak’.

A look back at 1995’s “Outbreak”, amidst the COVID-19 quarantine.

During these quiet, yet rather suspenseful times, many people may be finding that they’re running out of things to do while sitting at home. While it is more than likely that most have had more than their fair share of TV and Netflix, one classic movie stands out in light of its relevancy to today’s events. 1995’s “Outbreak”, available to stream on Netflix, wonders, “What would happen if a deadly virus took the world by storm?” 

This virus in particular is named ‘Motaba’, where the recipients of which break out into nasty open sores. The makeup in the movie is quite realistic, as expected of a feature film; but nevertheless, if blood makes one squeamish, this may not be the film for them. 

As far as factual accuracy is concerned, Outbreak, being set mainly in the United States, uses correct medical and governmental terminology. The main protagonists associate with real organizations such as the World Health Organization and the CDC. 

The movie has a very well planned and moderate pace, rarely being too slow, yet not skimming over any important details or scenes for the sake of time. 

For those looking for comic relief in this rather dark story, there are several light jokes throughout between leading roles which helps viewers connect to the characters, making the movie all the better. Not to worry for those who find that humor ruins a good plot however, as there is still plenty of solemnness and blood to go around. 

This being said, the semi-intense graphics of the disease are not the only reason this movie is rated R. While there is no questionable or sexual content throughout the movie, the main characters swear frequently enough that one may want to reconsider before watching this movie with children. 

Overall, Outbreak is a well-orchestrated film that will capture the attention of a viewer throughout, with the perfect mix of both suspenseful and heartwarming moments. Especially considering the events that have been happening around the world recently, this movie is certainly worth a watch for anyone with a Netflix subscription.

The Weeknd’s Triumph Return with “After Hours”

Duncan Loudon / Courtesy Photo

A song-by-song review of the Weeknd’s 2020 album release, and a deep dive into the meaning of each piece

The Weeknd put out his highly anticipated explicit album titled “After hours” after a 5-year period. Surpassing over a 221 million streams on media platforms such as Spotify, it made number one on iTunes its first week, becoming the most trending topic on Twitter with the #afterhours. 

This dark cinematic piece tells a story of the Weeknd’s journey through loss, heartbreak, and heavy substance abuse, with 80s vibes and smooth transitions.

Starting off the album is his song “Alone Again”. The Weeknd uses futuristic yet hopeless sounds to help introduce the pain he is suppressing, and the façade he has been putting on for the world. Unique sounds, including twinkles, compliment each word with emotion as he says, “I don’t know if I can be alone again… Take off my disguise. I’m living someone else’s life.” 

Listeners can hear his pain building up, as it smoothly transitions into his next song, “Too late”. This song starts with a more smooth intro, with soft vocals pleading for his loved one to come and save him from himself. It comes to the conclusion of knowing their love is dead by saying “It’s way too late to save our souls, baby.” The song ends with listeners questioning what is going to happen, as if he’s leading them on a roller coaster ride of his on and off relationship with a dance beat and blaring sounds backing it.

Suspense fully flies into “Hardest To Love”. It focuses more on the pain his lover may be masking while being in love with him, trying to save the relationship but also trying to let go. “I’ve been the hardest to love. It’s hard to let me go,” the Weeknd said. “I can feel it, I can feel it.” 

This track is more heavily influenced by an 80s flow than previous tracks. Knowingly aware that he is to blame for his relationship ending, he is in disbelief; questioning why his lover is allowing herself to feel this pain when she can just let go.

The album starts slowing down as “Scared to live” starts playing with a more prominent piano sound, slower beats, and soothing vocals. The Weeknd shows his regret for not giving space to allow his lover to decide what path she wanted to take. This pushed her further away and resulted in the end of their relationship. 

Through the song, he is pleading with his lover to not lose herself in him anymore and live with the three sentences starting the song. “When I saw the signs I should of let you go, but I kept you beside me,” the Weeknd said. “If I held you back, at least I held you close. Should’ve known you were lonely.”

Ending the album with the song “Until I bleed out” brings the end of the struggle he has faced by taking substances to avoid pain, when all he wants is to erase a loved one out of his mind. Throughout the album, listeners will understand that he has reflected on the many mistakes he’s made while finding his way back to Earth and grounding himself without anyone else. 

I believe that this album exceeded expectations, and overall I was impressed. For some, the 80s sound the Weeknd went for can bring back a feeling of nostalgia. For others, this could be a new side they are seeing of The Weeknd. The Weekend was able to try something new while keeping his own original flare, making it his own.

“After Hours” is a story of a man battling back and forth on escaping and starting over with the issues in his life. Playing as if he’s the “bad guy” to these issues. 

Being an artist as popular as the Weeknd, he has to put on a different type of face for the people and for the press. But in the “After Hours”, he is on his own facing all these issues in the dark. His battle with substance abuse and losing his loved one, followed by hypnotic instruments, helps listeners feel his pain in each song. 

Be prepared to be sucked in track-by-track, and enjoy this cinematic body of music.

Expanding Your Creative Horizons

Jesus Contreras / Staff Photographer

Pierce College’s Digital Design Studio and the Maker Space provides students with new creative opportunities

Pierce College is full of useful resources and commodities put in place in order to help students succeed. Many of these outlets, such as the library and tutoring center, are widely known about, and regularly give needed aid to a multitude of students. 

However, there are some resources the college has to offer that are not quite as recognized as others, and many students would be astounded to find the tools they’re missing out on. Made available mainly for students studying design at Pierce, although any student can use equipment and software, are the tools found in both the Digital Design Studio and the Maker Space.

Located in CAS 405, right next to the classroom in the library, the Digital Design Studio looks like a normal computer lab at first glance. Look further into the creative space however, and you’ll find it to be much more.

The computers in the lab, besides featuring massive curved monitors, are equipped with a host of Adobe programs that cannot be found on most other computers on campus. Students wishing to try their hand at Photoshop or After Effects have complete eligibility to do so at any time the studio is open, which should be for the majority any weekday.

Myra Fehling / Staff Illustration
Illustration of 3D printed models from the Maker Space

This resource can, has and will save students much time and money, as these programs can be quite pricey when purchased personally, even for students. Josseline Benitez, a student who works in the STAT department said, “A lot of people do use the resources, and they want to do some side projects, which is completely fine.”

On the ground level of the Olympic building is a space filled with colorful tables, chairs, and room for almost any activity. Many students see this area as just another place to study, but this largely unrecognized area has much more potential. This is the Maker Space, an area where students can not only use equipment like a 3D printer or laser cutter to create whatever their imaginations can devise, but also a space for games and art.

Design student Diane Russel works in the Maker Space and has used its resources for many of her own projects. “I would say we’re a pretty valuable resource,” said Russel. “The tables in the front are usually pretty full, people come to study and do homework.” 

Russel notes that while the space is often packed with students, few know of and utilize the actual equipment they have available. “I wish I had known about the 3D printer when I was taking my 3D class, I think that would have been fun and would have helped me understand the spatial aspects more.”

“I would like to see more people use the Maker Space, using the 3D printer and laser cutter for projects, and to expand their knowledge of the programs, and to use the skills they have in different, hands on ways. I think that would be a great thing.” Russel noted in a recent interview.

These two useful resource centers, although widely neglected, have the potential to be much more of a help to students than they currently are, simply because of how few students know they exist. Dion Jacobs, another STAT employee and student who sees the small number of students who use these assets said, “I think if there was more word on where this stuff was at, there would be a lot more students here, and it would help them with their classes, and give them a better experience here at Pierce.”

“Klaus” blesses the season with traditional animation

Netflix / Courtesy Photo
This animated holiday movie is set in a surreally gruesome place, filled with surreally gruesome people.

With the holidays right around the corner, Netflix has gifted viewers with a new 2D animated Christmas movie, Klaus. Even for viewers who don’t celebrate Christmas, it is well worth the watch. The movie perfectly captures the true spirit of the holidays with beautiful traditional animation

The movie pulls us into an adventure with Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a self-centered postman, who is forced by his father to work in a chaotic town called Smeerensburg. Jesper must mail enough letters to go back home. This proves difficult when all of the citizens only want to fight each other.

Jesper learns to work with an old toymaker, Klaus (J. K. Simmons), in the woods to help him achieve his goal of getting out of there. With Christmas approaching, Jesper takes advantage of the holidays to encourage the children to write lots of letters to Santa. Klaus and Jesper must work together to respond to these children’s wishes. In the meantime, he learns about the origin of Smeerensburg and the tales of local citizens while he struggles to make it as a successful postman.

The plot travels along at a steady pace, comedically tying in the original stories and traditions of how Santa Claus came to be. The humor is full of sarcasm and witty comebacks which make the movie an enjoyable watch for audiences of all ages. It doesn’t feel as though there is a dull moment in the dialogue between characters.

Netflix / Courtesy Photo

For older viewers, “Klaus” unexpectedly carries subtle, dark tones which involve violence, breaking and entering, and gloom. These dark themes tend to stick out the most in comparison to the rest of the film for those that recognize it. The audience may be shocked at some of the humor which will hint at something darker than a children’s movie.

At times, some of the characters’ stories can be a little too serious, reminding the audience of the heartaches life has to offer. “Klaus” is slightly reminiscent of the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as dark themes stay consistent nearly all the way to the end of the movie. manages to make it feel less like an overall Christmas film.

With 2D animation making a successful comeback in “Klaus,” they take it a step further by adding organic lighting to make objects appear visually textured. The scenes are visually appealing all throughout without feeling clunky like some 3D animations. The audience should watch to appreciate the use of traditional animation, if not for a refreshingly new Christmas plot.

As a great addition to Christmas movies, “Klaus” has a solid storyline and successfully captures the essence of a kind heart. A lesson can be learned about the gift of giving and how small good deeds can influence others in big ways. If anyone wants a humorous Christmas story with emotion, “Klaus” is definitely a movie to watch over the holidays.

Pierce College Connecting with Students Through Art

WOWHAUS Art Studio / Courtesy Photos
A large replica ctreated to showcase how the Ascent art piece will look once completed.

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom’s new art installation is meant to connect and inspire students attending the campus.

How do you define art?

Scott Constable of WOWHAUS Art Studio says it is a way of interpreting and understanding the world. “Art is the cousin to science and a mode of inquiry,” says Constable. He is the creator of the ASCENT sculpture located in the stairwell of the Cascade Building, which is a central hub for students. “I believe it’s a good metaphor for education by climbing the stairs,” he says. “And I was inspired by the students.” 

Suspending from the four-story stairwell, the piece appears like a large fan with several smaller shaped fans on top. Every shape and angle capture a student’s growth and success in school. “When you are in school, you are exposed to many different viewpoints, and with those you create your own narrative,” says Constable. The sculpture is meant to be viewed from different angles while each view gives you a different perspective. “It’s always dynamic- just like the students,” he added. 

The process of creating this art piece began around 6 years ago when the committee wanted to incorporate an artistic element to the school. David Roholt, an art professor at Pierce, said it was a collaborative project with the artist and the Washington Art Commission. “Being able to work with various colleagues on campus was rewarding, and the artists were easy to work with,” says Roholt.

WOWHAUS Art Studio / Courtesy Photos
Scott Constablemaking the measurements for the Ascent art piece.

The ASCENT sculpture is made of wood and took four months to craft, both by hand and computer. There were some challenges to making this piece work in the stairwell so that it wasn’t easy to touch. Constable stated he made a model and took measurements. Afterwards he had a structural engineer make it earthquake proof.

WOWHAUS is based out of Oakland, California and consists of Scott Constable, his wife Ene, and his daughter Aili. “When my daughter was about one and a half, I was building a tiny studio in the backyard that was seven feet by nine feet. She would always say I was in the wow house,” says Constable. “It’s also a take on BOWHAUS in Germany who were the inventors of modernism.”

Nature is Constable’s main source of inspiration. He became interested in art at a young age and began by just drawing trees. “Drawing taught me to see in color, form, compositions, line and shade,” says Constable. He loves to experiment with 3D, abstract and moire patterns. Growing food and raising chickens with his family in the California Redwood Forest would constantly spark his imagination and creativity.

The sculpture has many meanings to everyone. Roholt says it’s pivotal to the environment, being that Pierce is an academic institution. The intent is to add color and something unexpected for students. “It will add an artistic element to make the campus even more beautiful,” he says.

Constable says the most rewarding part of the process is when the sculpture is displayed. “When it’s installed, it belongs there, and it belongs to the students through generations.”

There are many students pursuing a career in the arts, and Constable knows firsthand what it is like… “Making a living as a professional artist is notoriously difficult and is often frowned upon as a career path,” he states. “My advice to any young person interested in pursuing a career as an artist is to be an excellent communicator. The sweet spot is in understanding your strengths and limitations, finding the best medium to express your ideas, and understanding how the marketplace relates to your artistic endeavors.”

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is disappointingly lackluster

Illumination Entertainment / Universal / Courtesy Photo
A scene from “The Secret Life of Pets 2”.

Decent animated movies are not hard to come by. However, it takes skill to make a great animation. Therefore, though these movies are released frequently, it is not often that audiences get one that has substance. Judging by the trailers,“The Secret Life of Pets 2” looked like it had promise . However, in execution, the movie stumbles with its complexity.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” tells many interconnected stories. The first is of a terrier named Max (Patton Oswalt) who is trying to cope with the pressure of a toddler in the family. Another is of a dog named Gidget (Jenny Slate,) trying to retrieve Max’s toy after losing it to a group of cats.

The main strength of the film is the vibrant and colorful animation. Even with the cartoony designs of the pets, their movements strongly resembles their common real life counterparts. The creatures are adorable, which is great for a children’s movie.

Despite the great animation, it may be difficult for kids to follow the complicated story. The whole movie is structured like a sitcom episode, where different plot lines are interspersed, thus making it feel more “TV” and less “cinema.” One minute, the movie is occupied with Max’s affection towards the owners’ son and in the next, it cuts back to Gidget making a plan to get back the toy. Though this grants the movie more pace, it also results in the lack of depth.

Illumination Entertainment / Universal / Courtesy Photo
Max the terrier (voiced by Patton Oswalt), Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Liam (Henry Lynch) in The Secret Life of Pets 2.

Unlike a movie like “Toy Story” which a whole family can enjoy, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is geared more towards a younger audience. For example, the humor is simplistic, and the best it the best it may do is to garner a smile. It is worth pointing out that even though the majority of the film’s humor is flat, it has its moments. One of the better scenes involves Gidget and a laser pointer.

The villain in the film is extremely one-note. Sergei is the classic “bad guy” that one sees in countless other movies. A good villain can make the audience feel sympathy for their actions or motives. However, in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” the character feels one dimensional and bland. With a cute bunny like Snowball as the villain in the prequel, Sergei has no chance of beating that kind of novelty.

The movie has a message to young viewers, but it feels almost too heavy-handed. There is almost no subtlety when it comes to “the takeaway.” A great movie can simply let the youngsters figure the lesson out by the plot and not by what the characters tell them. Adult viewers might even roll their eyes because of the way the movie presents its “lesson.”

Though “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is not a bad movie, it is not a great one either. With purpose of entertaining kids, it can deliver as solid as a 90-minute babysitter. For adults who want to look for something both meaningful and has a great tale, the film is not a great choice.

“Dark Phoenix” ends “X-Men” series on mediocre note

Twentieth Century Fox / Courtesy Photo
Sophie Turner — the immortal Sansa Stark from ‘Game of Thrones’ — showing enormous potential as Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix.’

“X-men” is no stranger to moviegoers and comic book fanatics. Ever since the first movie in 2000, the franchise has acquired a loyal fanbase and spawned some great films. The notable ones are “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Logan” and “Deadpool.” Along with that, it has also produced some stinkers. With this, the supposed last installment to the series with the old gang “Dark Phoenix” has a lot of weight on its shoulders as it concludes the story.

“Dark Phoenix” follows the story of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a mutant whose power is becoming harder to control as she turns into the infamous “Dark Phoenix.” In order to save her and the world from such aggressive power, the “X-Men” now have to fight with one of their own, while tensions arise within the group.

After the Game of Thrones finale, Sophie Turner returns in “Dark Phoenix” with a good performance. Her American accent is believable, and she portrays the pain that the character experiences with skill and finesse. A dialogue of her with Magneto (Michael Fasbender) shows her range in acting with believable artistry and panache.

James McAvoy is amazing as ever as he again portrays Charles Xavior or Professor X. Though definitely not a villain, he is somewhat responsible for the current combative situation. The movie tells the viewers the reason why he did something in the past that might be responsible for Jean’s anger towards the group.

Twentieth Century Fox / Courtesy Photo
Jennifer Lawrence plays Raven/Mystique in the movie “Dark Phoenix.” 

The CGI (computer generated imagery) is decent but definitely could be better. In a shot that involves floating guns, viewers can tell that the weapons look a little “plasticky.” Also, the way the character Hank (Nicholas Hoult) transform into his Beast form has a cheap effect. However, the make-up artistry for him as well as the characters, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is done masterfully.

The movie is not as action heavy as fans might want it to be. There are some fight scenes but they are infrequent, leaving room for the story. Even still, the battles are not as hard-hitting as the other Marvel action scenes. The altercation on a train at the end is easily the best one in the movie, boasting some great choreography and illustrating how the powers come in handy for these mutants.

The group of aliens who are led by Smith (Jessica Chastain) feels almost unnecessary; they are not as intimidating as the villain Apocalypse in the last “X-Men” movie. Chastain is great, but the writing for her character is dull. When the movie cuts to the aliens, audiences may be bored and yearn to be back with the mutants.

“X-Men” is a series that involves a lot of time travel. Therefore, people might think that they need to “catch up” with the lore before watching the movie. With “Dark Phoenix,” it is not the case. The movie provides the audience with enough substantial information to familiarize new viewers to the “X-Men” universe.

While “Avengers: Endgame” ended a series with a bang, “Dark Phoenix” has trouble closing the chronicle. Long-time frequenters can pick out a handful of better films in the franchise. It is still an entertaining movie, but certainly does not conclude the X-Men series in the best way.

“Ma” is entertaining yet lacks substance

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From Left: Maggie (Diana Silvers), Erica (Juliette Lewis, back to camera) and Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) in ‘Ma.’

Marge Simpson, Peggy Hill, Kitty Forman… are some of the most known on-screen mothers of our time. But, as amazing as being a mother is, filmmakers are always looking for ways to put a new spin on it. The new thriller “Ma” which recently arrived at theaters mixes the loving mother figure with a disturbing tale. Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures,…) is an actress who is usually cast for roles with brighter and more innocent personalities. With “Ma,” Spencer sheds the usual wholesome personalities that she always plays and explores a darker side.

The film centers around a group of high school rebels. In an attempt to get alcohol, they meet Sue Ann (Spencer) a seemingly sweet woman, who after some hesitation, buys them liquor. She then invites them to a party at her house, and they gladly accept. In a short time, her basement becomes the best party place in town. However, as the group gets to know her, they start to uncover a more sinister side. Now, she thirsts for revenge to right the wrongs from her past.

Actress Octavia Spencer puts on a disturbing performance in “Ma.” People who are usually acquainted with her more “innocent” roles may be shock as she progressively becomes creepier in every scene. Every time she is on screen, audiences can sense that something is “off” with her. Her subtle facial expressions and ominous delivery adds to the foreboding ambiance of the film. The actress carries the entire movie with her disarming presence.

Anna Kooris / Universal Pictures
McKaley Miller as Haley (Left) and Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann (Right).

Though “Ma” is more of a thriller than a full fledged horror movie, it features gore that might make some moviegoers cringe. The whole film is creepy in nature, and the blood is the “cherry on top.” The filmmakers put in a handful of tension building moments, and the movie does not shy away from getting “suggestive.” One scene in particular has the potential to make people uncomfortable with what it shows. Though one could argue that it was done for “shock value,” it is still quite effective.

The dynamics between the teenagers are also well-established. Despite not being on par with the main star, the young actors put on a good show. They are believable as a group of high school students as they try to find fun in the more “naughty” activities such as drinking. What they do and what they say are realistic for the most part. This gives audience members a break from the more tense scenes.

With that being said, the group is quite generic in terms of character tropes. There is the “sexy blonde chick,” the “wide-eyed innocent” and everything else in the book. As good as these people are, it still feels wooden in the use of slang and sometimes sounds forced.

The movie explores the character of Sue Ann’s past with the use of flashbacks. This provides audiences with information about her early days. Even though her childhood is made clear by the end of the film, it is still vague on how she could have started her ominous revenge plan. Besides that, the ending is also bland and somewhat predictable.

Overall, “Ma” is certainly no bad movie, but it is not a “must-see.” The intrigue of Octavio Spencer as a psychopath may make viewers enjoy the film. However, they might look back and think that “Ma” is rather basic. With such a skillful actress, the movie should have been better and more satisfying.

 

What to watch out for in June

Ciara Williams / Staff Illustration

Summer movies are often known for high octane and thrilling spirits. This season, studios are bringing the excitement in a variety of ways, from a musical legend story to big-budget monsters. Here are six that viewers can put on their must-watch list.

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“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” 

May  31,  2019

In 2014, Warner Bros. studio blew audience away with its electrifying reboot of the famous Japanese monster “Godzilla”. Now, the beloved creature is back, and is expected to destroy cities and people once again in the sequel. 

According to Comicbook.com, movie studios Legendary and Warner Bros. said that Godzilla is part of a universe which also features King Kong. Called the “MonsterVerse”, it is Warner Bros.’ answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The movie uses the latest computer-generated technology and showcases a lineup of the expected powerful creatures such as Mothra and Ghidorah. 

The cast stars Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring), Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Ken Wantanabe (The Last Samurai).

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“Rocketman” 

May  31,  2019

Movies about musicians were big last year. with “Bohemian Rhapsody” taking home an Oscar for Best Actor, and “A Star is Born” receiving nominations in a variety of categories therefore, makes sense for a movie about the life story of Elton John to come out. Rami Malek did a wonderful job portraying Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and now Taron Egerton (Kingsmen: The Secret Service) will take the role of Elton John. 

Fans of the musician can expect Egerton to give an entertaining performance as well as focusing more on Elton John as a troubled soul. Where “Bohemian Rhapsody” stayed mostly true to Freddie Mercury, “Rocketman” takes side trips into “what-if” story lines. Aside from Egerton, the movie features Richard Madden (Bodyguard), and Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World). 

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“The Secret Life of Pets 2”

June  7,  2019

While the prequel of “The Secret Life of Pets” rehashed the basic “Toy Story” idea, the movie got mostly positive reviews, as seen on Rotten Tomatoes. Louis C.K. is not returning for the sequel, so Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille) is the voice of the main character, Max the dog. The terrier is back, this time introduced to another family member a young boy named Liam who Max has sworn to protect. 

Max has to learn to overcome his protectiveness, and let the kid have his freedom. The first movie was simple, straight-forward and did the job well, but fell into the hole of gimmicks.

 Additionally, like the original film, there is a chance that the humor content may be inappropriate for younger kids. Other returning characters are Snowball, (Kevin Hart), Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and Gidget (Jenny Slate)

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“Dark Phoenix”  

June 7,  2019

The sequel train continues with Dark Phoenix, the newest installment to Marvel’s X-Men franchise. While the franchise has gone through some ups and downs, it has attracted a loyal fan base. 

In the movie, the main character Jean Grey has to suppress her power, which is becoming unstable, That leads her to spiral out of control, and now the X-Men have to battle Dark Phoenix, Jean’s mutant self. 

The writer of the previous “X-Men” films “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “X-Men: Apocalypse,” Simon Kinberg, is in charge of directing the movie. This installment features Sophie Turner of “Game of Thrones” fame as the title role along with the familiar cast of James McAvoy (Split), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds).

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“Toy Story 4” 

June 21,  2019

The first “Toy Story” movie came out in 1995, and it changed the landscape of animated movies forever, with its unprecedented 3-D animation technology. Fifteen years later, “Toy Story 3” was released, perfectly wrapping up the storyline in a trilogy. However, in recent years, Disney announced the next installment to the seemingly complete franchise. 

The new movie can go either way in terms of quality. Regardless, fans of Woody and Buzz Lightyear will get a chance to visit these lovable characters once again. 

Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are reprising their roles of Woody and Buzz, along with Annie Potts (Ghostbusters 1984) Keanu Reeves (John Wick) Jordan Peele (Key and Peele) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele).

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“Annabelle Comes Home” 

June 26, 2019

Summer is not only for big budget action movies but also horror movies as well. Annabelle is back with “Annabelle Comes Home,” a new movie in the Conjuring Universe, the horror counterpart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Annabelle, the doll, first appeared in “The Conjuring”, then became the main character in her own movie and the sequel. 

After being locked in the artifacts room by two paranormal experts, Ed and Lorraine Warren, Annabelle start reigning terror on their daughter with other evil spirits. 

The terrifying universe has been hit and miss, “Annabelle: Creation” got a 70 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The main cast includes Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring) and Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring).

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