Yooka-Laylee has modestly been on my radar since its release in late-2017, harkening back to an earlier era when 3-D mascot-platformers were more prevalent. The reason I hadn’t played Yooka-Laylee until now mostly had to do with uncertainty, as well as the lukewarm reaction received from critics and audiences alike. As much as I enjoy the genre and yearn for series’ like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Ratchet & Clank to inspire a comeback, I’ve never had the same affection toward Banjo-Kazooie, a videogame developed by Rare. Former key personnel in Banjo’s development were involved in Yooka-Laylee, and, in many ways, Yooka-Laylee acts as its spiritual successor. Part of it is because I don’t have the nostalgic lenses for Banjo-Kazooie the way I did for some of the other titles I’ve rattled off, but a lot of it has to do with its simplicity and repetition. I enjoyed the control-scheme and aesthetics, and I found some charm in its execution, but I always found it lacked in other key fields. Nevertheless, I hoped Yooka-Laylee would take what I did enjoy about Rare’s beloved series and optimize it. Does Yooka-Laylee introduce the latest plat-forming icon, a solid entry in the genre, or a disappointing dud? Here are my thoughts…
If you’ve followed along the last few months on N-Jay Today, you’ll know I’ve enjoyed the first and second season of Stranger Things, rating them as “Very Good” and “Good” respectively. The way the series blends a Stephen King style execution akin to Stand by Me or It, the way it embraces the 80s and celebrates old-school horror, borrowing while, at the same time, adding its own unique flavor, there’s a lot to like about the series. And, even if I thought Stranger Things 2 might not have hit the same high marks as its predecessor, I still had a lot of fun with it, and was tentatively awaiting Stranger Things 3. Does the new season breathe new, exuberant life into the series, or does it follow a similar decline? Here are my thoughts…
The latest season brings us back to Hawkins in the summer of 1985, and, for at least a little while, everything feels normal again. Eleven is now mostly out of hiding, and her relationship with Mike continues to blossom, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Jim Hopper. A new Starcourt Mall has opened and is driving other, smaller stores into bankruptcy, meanwhile, Joyce is contemplating whether she’d be better off moving out of Hawkins for the safety of herself and her children. Everything changes when Will starts to sense a presence from the Upside Down, despite the last season ending with Eleven closing the portal. These events make up the backdrop for the season; a season that is very different from the ones that came prior.
If I were asked to describe the influences of previous seasons, I would rattle off series’ like Silent Hill, The Thing, and Poltergeist, whereas Stranger Things 3 retains much of those elements and incorporates new influences, with a hodgepodge more closely resembling an espionage-action comedy with elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Terminator sprinkled in. It’s a very different treatment, and it depends a lot on if you enjoyed the glimpses of this we received in earlier seasons. This isn’t to say Stranger Things 3 isn’t serious, but it is certainly goofier and more over-the-top, with many dramatic moments being met with audacious comic relief sprinkled in with the subtlety and nuisance of a broadsword to the chest.
Many of the reviews I’ve seen in-regards to the latest visit to the Upside Down have been ecstatic, referring to it as the best season yet. I can’t personally say I share the sentiment, but I can do my best to articulate why I feel the way I do. The Starcourt Mall isn’t the only thing different about Hawkins, with Sheriff Jim Hopper becoming less the character we knew and more an archetypical portrayal of the sitcom 80s father. His character is played for laughs often, and the same can be said about Steve, or Murray Bauman, the reclusive conspiracy theorist we met in Stranger Things 2. Or Dr. Alexei, a scientist involved in the organization trying to reopen entry into the Upside Down. Everything feels like it’s acted out with a wink and a nod. At no time is this more apparent than a certain breakaway scene involving Dustin toward the series’ conclusion.
That scene, like many others, was played for laughs, and frankly put, after repeatedly trying to convince me that the central conflict and narrative is a joke, I started to believe it. Did I laugh during the scene? I did, but that a fleeting return for a series that I’d seen capable of greater heights.
In a lot of ways, it will depend on what you envisioned Stranger Things as in the prior seasons. In the first season, I was invested in this mysterious world called the Upside Down and I was invested in the organization responsible for breaching into it. I was invested in the characters, like Will, Eleven, and the rest of them. I was invested in a horror science-fiction. Stranger Things strips away the Upside Down, and instead, focuses on the Mind Flayer. It strips away the mystique of the organization and its horror feels dulled down in favor to a breezy, B-movie charm. The charm succeeds on some level. I was entertained with Stranger Things 3, but it no longer struck the same chords as it once did.
As mentioned, the season isn’t without heartfelt or emotional depth, but, with the sum of its parts, those moments couldn’t help but feel diluted. The narrative is unfocused and frivolous, with an abundance of subplots and a kinetic energy that makes them all feel undercooked. It feels too shallowly encumbered, with so much filler and not enough ideas.
I might sound harsh, and really, that isn’t the best representation of how I felt about the latest iteration. I didn’t like it as much as Stranger Things 2 and I certainly didn’t like it as much as the original, but I did like it. I laughed at the over-the-top comedy and certain aspects like the use of the Mind Flayer were unique. However, the way I liked it wasn’t the way I liked the ones that came before. I’m no longer looking at Stranger Things as an innovative series brimming with potential, I’m looking at it as a safe, familiar and a little cringey, but with its own charm and watchability. And that’s a pretty dull way to describe the third season of a show I had such high hopes for.
A new rumor circulating the internet (reported by BloodyDigusting.com) shares the alleged desire to have David Gordon-Green shoot and direct Halloween II and Halloween III back-to-back. This, in itself, isn't too far-fetched, in-fact, that was reportedly the intent for Halloween and Halloween II before they changed course. The catch that makes everyone skeptical, however, is the assertion they might release Halloween II and III in the same month! It's a crazy idea to think about, and something I don't think we've ever seen prior on such a large-scale. The closest comparison I can draw is when the third Matrix film was released half a year after Matrix Reloaded. It's a crazy idea that has everyone's knee-jerk reaction claiming its unlikelihood.
It does make sense in some ways though. Halloween (2018) brought in more coin in theaters than Halloween 5 and 6, Halloween H20, Halloween Resurrection, and both the Zombie remakes combined. A lot of the receipts have to be credited to the warm critical reception, but more of that likely has to do with the recent resurgence in horror's popularity, particularly with an eighties backdrop. Halloween (2018) was shot with a production-budget of around 10-15 million-dollars, which suggests Halloween II & III could be shot for around 50 million at most (assuming the actors and actresses will ask for substantive pay-bumps after the latest film had breakout success).
If the eccentric publicity stunt and the goodwill of the original draws enough of a crowd for Halloween II & III (2020) to match Halloween's quarter-of-a-billion total cumulatively, as in, they both made even half the last film's total apiece, that's still a healthy box-office run and now they have a new Halloween trilogy with one director's vision (which usually means higher-quality). Considering factors like synergy, home-video sales, and streaming sales, it's actually a fairly calculated risk. Horror films are wonderful cash-grabs for the way they're able to bring in mainstream revenue for a fraction of the cost.
It's different than a big-budget Disney film, like wedging Episode 8 and 9 of Star Wars inside a month because the need for return-on-investment is significantly decreased.
Likewise, no one knows when the horror renaissance will cool down.
The original Halloween made nearly three times what Halloween II made in theaters, whereas the third film made barely half of the second (granted, there's a lot of irregularities to Season of the Witch I won't dig into). The Rob Zombie remake started with healthy box-office returns, but its sequel was dead-on-arrival, keeping a third film from coming into fruition. In other words, a smart decision might be to "strike while the iron is hot," with hopes that Halloween II is able to perform decently, and receive a healthy run boosted by the eventual release of its successor.
It's an interesting tactic, and I don't say that simply because I've long-awaited the return and evolution of the slasher genre. It could even work.
Like many of you reading on N-Jay Today, the Toy Story series is one I’ve coveted for as long as I can remember. As well as this, like many others, I couldn’t entirely say I was on-board with Pixar’s decision to create a fourth film. It wasn’t a belief I held out of disdain or dislike, but out of contentment. After the credits rolled on Toy Story 3, I felt Pixar had completed a nearly perfect trilogy of films, closing the storybook in as satisfying of fashion as I could have imagined. Andy had grown-up with so many of us, and now, he tipped his hat to his beloved toys, allowing them to continue serving their purpose with a new child. The story felt very taut and tidy, and completed itself in a satisfactory fashion. I didn’t feel like there was need for a new film. I loved Finding Nemo, for instance, but I also believed it had said everything it needed, whereas Finding Dory, made me recall the direct-to-DVD sequels Disney would make, albeit with a much, much higher production budget. Sometimes I believe when a story runs its course, no matter how much it might leave viewers yearning for more, there’s admirability and strength in allowing characters and a story to have a proper farewell. Toy Story, I believe, had that.
Regardless, when Toy Story 4 was announced, despite my concerns, I allowed myself to become excited. When the reviews came crashing in, boasting Toy Story 4 as another immaculate feather in the series’ cap, I arrived at the movie-theater ready to be swept away. After all, the toys were back in town. Does Toy Story 4 warrant its stay and breathe new life in the series or does it amount to a retread, coasting on its familiarity? Here are my thoughts …
I can’t say I had high expectations for Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’d call myself a fan of both, but it’s very rare when crossovers succeed beyond achieving a mild level of enjoyment. DC Animated fare is often hit and miss, as well, with every Batman: Under the Red Hood followed by a Son of Batman or The Killing Joke. I was curious about how Nickelodeon’s involvement would change things, and whether it’s because of them or not, I can say the film has a higher production-value and attention to detail than the average DC fare, which is usually aesthetically appealing but has limitations with certain aspects like character movement and often has trouble with how stilted or stiff characters come off. That, and the warm critical reception from critics and audiences alike helped my enthusiasm. I always intended to watch it, but I soon let myself actively become interested. Does Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles provide the cross-over fans deserve, or is it a cash-in with little to say for itself? Here are my thoughts …
Although I’ve written a lot of reviews on N-Jay Today over the span of the last five years, many films fall beneath the cracks and don’t receive my acknowledgment. This isn’t so much about them getting the shaft as it is several different things. Sometimes I watch a lot of films and, because of that, I fail at imparting my opinion before said film falls so deep in the backlog, I couldn’t imagine trying to share my thoughts on it so far after I last watched it. Recently, I’m begun preparation for several novel releases (I intend to publish six novels in 2020, for instance), and that has left a lot of films ignored.
I re-watched House of 1,000 Corpses recently and with the eventual release of “Three From Hell”, I’ve decided it is as right a time as ever to crack my knuckles and share my thoughts. There has always been a lot of naysayers when it comes to Rob Zombie and his work in the film-industry. Personally, I always stood in vague support of Rob Zombie, particularly his film The Devil’s Rejects, and even if they had their issues, I enjoyed a lot of the ideas had in his Halloween reboot series, particularly Halloween II, which I found messily intriguing, a theme for many of Zombie’s films. Does Rob Zombie’s debut directorial effort speak well of the career soon to come? Here are my thoughts …
Avengers: Infinity War checked off a lot of boxes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most importantly to Disney, the series’ nineteenth film became the first film in the series to make more than two billion dollars at the worldwide box-office (a feat also accomplished by our topic of discussion – Avengers: Endgame). Although it’s enormous scale may have made it difficult to offer unique, personal storylines for each of our characters, it succeeded where it mattered most – making the series’ first great supervillain. Infinity War made for a “very good” superhero film and my favorite of the Avengers series. Avengers: Endgame served as the final film in the Infinity Saga, a name given to the twenty-two-film series that started with 2008’s Iron Man and had a lot to live up to in-order to send audiences home happy.
As a devout fan of Marvel’s intertwining worlds (this marks the fifteenth film in the series I’ve seen in theaters), I was excited for Avengers 4 in a way I’m rarely excited for blockbusters any more. Does the film make proper use of the goodwill it has attained and bring the Saga to a satisfying end? Here are my thoughts …
M. Night Shyamalan is a polarizing director, oftentimes burdened by his breakout success with The Sixth Sense, a film nominated for six Academy Awards and for grossing well-over half a billion-dollars at the worldwide box office. The director is also infamous for his “twist endings,” which have garnered him scrutiny over the years. Personally, the director’s a mixed-bag in my opinion, which is something I think makes him curious to critics and moviegoers alike. Someone who can make something as competent and efficient as The Sixth Sense, then make a film as awful as The Last Airbender or The Happening, is a unique spectacle. If nothing else, his willingness to go out on a limb, writing and directing his films, many of which are based on his own original concepts, shows a creator who’s willing to reap the benefits of his success and is willing to accept the consequences if a project goes belly-up. The film Unbreakable has the misfortune of following The Sixth Sense and the heightened expectations that came with it. Does the superhero thriller rise to the occasion, or is it an unfortunate “X” on the director’s resume? Here are my thoughts ...
Stephen King is a writer I have a lot of admiration for. As a devout horror fan and horror-writer myself, I have a certain respect for any writer who shares that infatuation. In King’s case, I also respect him for ambition, range, and talent. Certain “academics” might chastise him, comparing him negatively to other mainstream writers, but I am happy to call myself a fan, with The Green Mile (a non-horror, who’d have thought?) serving as my personal favorite. Obviously, with successful books comes the intent for successful movies, and with the IT film grossing over seven-hundred million dollars, I would suspect King adaptations will continue to be all the rage (in-fact, in the time it took me to write this, a Children of the Corn trilogy has been released, they’ve remade Carrie again, and a Sleeping Beauties film has been greenlit). Although I’m sure some anticipated it more, for me, Gerald’s Game came out of nowhere. Arriving on the Netflix streaming service, Gerald’s Game brings director Mike Flanagan back to the platform. He’s a talented genre director. Oculus was decent, Hush was decent, Ouija: Origin of Evil was decent, and … Before I Wake was … well, three is enough. Does Gerald’s Game amount to another solid outing, how does it stack with other King adaptations, does it flounder in my Search for the Best Horror film or does it flourish? Here are my thoughts …
I was excited when the second season of Stranger Things was announced, especially now after the “Very Good” first season showed the quality I should expect. The laws of diminishing often apply to sequels, but I can’t say that I was very worried about The Duffer Brothers’ latest iteration. Instead, my only concern was returning to the likable cast of characters and coming back to where we left off.
The current critical consensus I’ve found from a vocal majority of horror-fans and casual-audiences is that Stranger Things 2 is a fun, but significant declination in quality from its predecessor. However, in my first viewing of the new season, when I discussed it on The Mishmash Podcast, I claimed it to be either superior or on-par with the first season. Before, I hadn’t watched both seasons back-to-back, but now that I can say I’ve done that, does my opinion still hold? Here are my thoughts …
- Perfect (10 outta 10)
- Great (9 outta 10)
- Very Good (8 outta 10)
- Good (7 outta 10)
- Above Average (6 outta 10)
- Decent (5 outta 10)
- Below Average (4 outta 10)
- Bad (3 outta 10)
- Very Bad (2 outta 10)
- Horrible (1 outta 10)
- Godawful (0 outta 10)