Friday 30 December 2022

2022 in Review: Looking Back

We've come to the end of my week-long 2022 in Review series of post. In case you're just joining in, the festivities began on Monday with a reveal of my Top 10 video games for 2022. This was followed by a rundown of my Top 10 TV shows on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I highlighted my favorite songs released during the year, and yesterday, I went over my Top 10 movies. Today, we'll be taking a look back at the things and events that helped define 2022 as a whole.

To say that 2022 has flown by in a flash would be an understatement. I still remember the early days of January like it was yesterday, a time when the news cycle was still dominated by COVID-19 and the latest variant of concern. And now here we are at the tail end of the year, with countries like Nigeria having now lifted most restrictions nearly three years after they were put in place.

This is not to say that the pandemic is officially over as scientists have already predicted that some variants could very well remain with us well into the foreseeable future. But the hope is that the worst of it is now behind us as we continue to push forward as a species. All that said, there were still quite a few other developments that took place during the year that are also worth touching upon.

On February 24th, Russian forces invaded Ukraine following an escalation of ongoing tensions between both countries. This was immediately condemned by several international governments and organizations, with many even electing to impose immediate sanctions on Russia for its actions. This was no doubt in a bid to try and dissuade their government from carrying on with the invasion, except it quickly became clear that the Russian government already had its mind set.

There are of course those who felt such sanctions were a little too reactionary or nothing more than virtue signaling, primarily because there were a lot of innocent Russians that want no part in the ongoing conflict being affected. But I confess that I know nothing about how best such a conflict can be deescalated. I can only hope, like most, that the war comes to an end soon and that peace prevails.

I'm sure you already knew we couldn't possibly talk about things that happened in 2022 without at least mentioning the Oscar slap, right? I mean, no other singular moment had grown in virality on social media this past year as quickly as that one. The Academy Awards were held on March 27th and what was supposed to be a celebration of the very best movies ended up birthing one of 2022's biggest internet memes; Will Smith had walked on stage during the presentation of an award to slap Chris Rock across the face for a joke the latter had just made about his wife, Jada Pinkett.

Will Smith (who went on to win Best Actor for his role in King Richard that night) has since issued multiple apologies for the outburst and is currently serving a 10-year ban from all Academy events and ceremonies. He is still eligible for nominations and awards during that period, although judging from the critical reception of his most recent film, Emancipation, it might take a while before he receives any further love from the Academy. Chris Rock had opted not to press any charges and many people had in fact applauded him for staying level-headed during the televised assault.

The United Kingdom lost its monarch when Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th. This was one of those news stories that took some days to fully sink in as she had been the Queen of England pretty much since the day I was born. She was in fact already Queen when Nigeria gained its independence in 1960 which shows how much a part of our collective history she was. So coming to terms with the fact that she was no longer there was admittedly somewhat difficult to process.

I've never been one to keep up with the day-to-day goings-on of the various members of the British royal family but I've always held a certain level of respect for what they represented as an institution. I still remember watching Princess Diana's funeral all those years ago as a kid, as well as her children's weddings more recently, and how the Queen had always been a central figure in those ceremonies. There is no doubt that her memory will continue to live on in the heart's of the millions she'd touched.

I won't even pretend to know anything about the current state of football at this point (or soccer as our American friends call it) since it is a sport I stopped watching nearly three decades ago. But still, the FIFA World Cup is one of the biggest sporting events so it is certainly worth touching upon. This year the tournament was held in Qatar, which necessitated a November kick-off since the weather over there would have been unbearably hot during the summer. 

Nigeria hadn't qualified for the competition this time around but there were other African nations like Morocco who made the cut representing the continent. Argentina had gone on to win the cup in what I learned was a tense final game against defending champions, France. This would mark their third World Cup trophy, or more significantly, their first one with Lionel Messi on the winning team, a player who is generally considered one of the greatest footballers of all time.

There isn't much to report on the home front this year. The YouTube channel has been chugging along as we just crossed the 2,000 subscribers milestone a few days ago. While that might not look like much in the grand scheme of things, it's still 2,000 more than I'd ever imagined getting when I'd clicked upload on my first video. I guess that means my random videos must be resonating with someone. There are a few changes and strategies I plan on implementing next year though, so watch this space.
I've also been seriously considering getting back to writing fiction. I haven't really written anything new since 2015 and it's starting to look like I might have lost sight of one of the things I love doing the most. I mean, that was one of the reasons why I'd started this blog in the first place, to document my journey as a writer, and it's high time I get back on track by churning out new work. But come what may, you can be sure that you'll hear about it first right here.

As usual, thanks for indulging me in my scattershot review of the year that was. I look forward to doing this again next year. Until then, stay safe out there.

Thursday 29 December 2022

2022 in Review: Top 10 Movies

2022 marked another solid year for movies as the movie industry continued its recovery from the devastating effects of the 2020 pandemic. There were still a few delays sprinkled throughout the year, mainly from Warner Bros. and their planned slate of DC movies, as we watched as Shazam: Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom were once again moved, this time into 2023.

But looking back at my most anticipated movies list from earlier in the year, I am surprised by how many of those movies turned out to be either financial or critical disappointments. I was of course always dubious about the viability of the likes of Morbius, but I was crushed when others like Lightyear and Black Adam had failed to take flight. The year did still have its fair share of surprises though, a few of which have made it into my Top 10.

10. The Woman King

Never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a film by its trailers. At least that was the lesson I'd learnt when I'd watched The Woman King and discovered a film that had a lot more to say than it originally let on. A lot of my love for the movie is due to its excellent characterization and heartfelt narrative. So you can imagine how perplexed I was to discover that much of the discourse surrounding the film at the time of its release focused solely on the Dahomey and their historical role as slavers. But anyone who actually bothered to watch the film would have seen that those aspects were tackled with all the care and attention-to-detail such a delicate subject matter deserves.

9. RRR

In a year that was full of pleasant surprises, RRR was one of the bigger ones. The Tollywood movie is as ambitious as they come, currently ranking as the most expensive Indian film ever made. And all that ambition shows in the form of its incredible production design and stunning visual effects, both of which give some of Hollywood's best a run for their money. But it is actually its endlessly engaging story, coupled with its ridiculously over-the-top stunts, that make it a must-see movie. This is Tollywood at its most excessive and one of those movies you simply have to see for yourself.

8. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

There were a total of three Pinocchio adaptations released in 2022 but only one of them is worthy of inclusion in any year-end list. That is of course Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, a stop-motion animated film that recently released on Netflix following a limited theatrical run. The film boasts del Toro's signature flair for striking visuals and dark subject matters while still managing to retain a lot of the heart found in the source material. I predict we can expect some Oscar love for this version of the beloved classic next year but only time will tell.

7. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was one of my most anticipated films heading into 2022, so it should come as no surprise to find it on my list of Top 10 Movies. Following in the wake of last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home, expectations for this one were sky-high. And the movie didn't disappoint, proving that the MCU still has room for directors with singular visions and signature styles. The sequel saw Scott Derrickson handing over directorial duties to Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame, following creative differences. Apparently, he'd been gunning to make an even darker version of the film. And in a way, a part of me wonders what that other version of the film would've looked like, even though I'm perfectly happy with the one we got.

6. The Banshees of Inisherin

Colin Farrel reunites with Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin after they'd starred opposite one another in 2008's In Bruges. Their latest film is once again helmed by Martin McDonagh and centers upon the growing rift between two men when one of them suddenly decides to end their lifelong friendship. It almost feels wrong to call the movie a comedy at all, since it deals with heavy subject matter like depression, but I don't believe I'd laughed harder during any other film this past year than I did while watching this one.

5. Top Gun: Maverick

I must confess that I didn't exactly have much faith or interest in Top Gun: Maverick when it was originally announced, primarily because I felt it was coming too long after the 1986 original that helped make Tom Cruise a household name. The rest is history now of course as the movie had not only shattered my expectations but also gone on to become the Hollywood star's most successful film to date, as it rose to the very top of the 2022 box office. Most of that was down to how well it resonated with moviegoers of all ages with genuine thrills and some truly breathtaking aerial sequences.

4. The Northman

The Northman was another film that wasn't particularly high on my list of most anticipated movies for 2022. But you can consider me a convert to this artsy historical epic after bearing witness to its splendor and majesty. Directed by Robert Eggers, the film serves as a retelling of the legend of Amleth, a story that had itself served as the basis for William Shakespeare's Hamlet. It is a bloody revenge-fueled story about a young Viking prince on a journey to right the wrongs that befell his family, with an acting ensemble that includes Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy.

3. The Batman

Much like 2019's Joker, The Batman exists outside of the established DCEU, giving director Matt Reeves a totally blank canvas on which to paint his masterpiece. And so he'd decided to go back to the Caped Crusaders detective roots for his iteration of the character, resulting in a film that owes as much to film noir as it does the classic comics that helped establish Batman as the World's Greatest Detective. The film felt like it had a lot to prove, especially coming in the wake of Christopher Nolan's brilliant Dark Knight trilogy, and it more than manages to do so in its almost three hours of length.

2. Avatar: The Way of Water

Speaking of sequels that took too long to release, Avatar: The Way of Water had garnered a lot of notoriety over the years. This was following several delays and what appeared to be ballooning production costs. But as we all should have learnt by now, never bet against James Cameron, because the finished product more than justifies all the time it spent cooking in the oven. He once again raises the bar for 3D and special effects, but even more significantly, he has crafted a story with enough thrills and emotional beats to resonate with moviegoers. Plus the film has already surpassed $1 billion at the global box office, after just two weeks in theaters, so its overall financial prospects are looking rather promising if you ask me.

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

What else can I say about Everything Everywhere All At Once that I didn't already say in my review of the film? I could perhaps point out how it has since gone on to become the most successful film in A24's entire slate. Or maybe say something about how the film had stayed in my mind many weeks after my initial viewing. For a film that defies classification, what it manages to accomplish is nothing short of remarkable. It has shown that you don't need a massive budget to make a competent science fiction film or one that perfectly captures our existential crisis as we ponder our place in the vastness of the cosmos. The film's greatest accomplishment though is how it does all that without forgetting to still tell an engaging story filled with action, gags, and heart.

Wednesday 28 December 2022

2022 in Review: Top 10 Songs

Much like last year, my music listening habits in 2022 mainly involved songs I now consider classics. It's crazy to think how the passage of time can make even the most generic pop tunes sound better than you remembered. Nostalgia is a powerful drug alas. All that is not to say that there weren't any great songs that came out this past year. In fact, I found myself struggling to whittle my list down to just 10 of the ones that resonated with me the most. So on that note, here are my favorite songs for 2022.

10. Rema & Selena Gomez - Calm Down

Ever since he'd burst onto the music scene with Dumebi in 2019, Rema is one young artist that has been putting out consistently good singles. And all that hard work continues to pay off as he'd scored what is arguably his biggest song to date. We can attribute some of that recent success to Selena Gomez I guess, whose sultry vocals helped take what was already a great song up a notch.

9. Swedish House Mafia - Redlight (ft. Sting)

Following their heavily-publicized breakup in 2013, the three DJs that make up the supergroup, Swedish House Mafia, had kept busy with solo efforts and other collaborative projects. But their fans had every reason to rejoice after they made their triumphant return as a trio, along with their first album comprising of largely original songs. Redlight stands as one of that album's many highlights, reworking The Police's Roxanne into an almost unrecognizable club banger.

8. Machine Gun Kelly - make up sex (ft. blackbear)

Rapper turned Punk Rocker, Machine Gun Kelly, further embraces his newfound style and identity with his latest album, Mainstream Sellout. The record features a number of notable collaborations with the likes of Willow and Lil Wayne, although my favorite one is easily Make Up Sex with Blackbear. The two artists once again join forces (under the guidance of Blink-182's Travis Barker) to create something that is instantly catchy and laced with a strong pop-punk aesthetic. 

7. Muse - Won't Stand Down

Whenever I hear there's a new Muse album on the horizon, you can pretty much be certain that I'll be there on Day 1, having been a fan of the band since their Absolution days back in 2003. So I was quite eager to click play on Won't Stand Down when it finally dropped ahead of their Will of the Wisps album earlier in the year. Nothing could've prepared me for its unexpected heaviness though. The final sixty seconds of the song alone proves that the band still has a few tricks up its sleeve, with a full-on metalcore breakdown and some of the most surprising guttural growls I'd heard all year.

6. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Black Summer

Speaking of bands I've been a longtime fan of, The Red Hot Chili Peppers were back this year with Black Summer. The song of course retains the band's signature style, with lead singer Anthony Kiedis once again crooning over some smooth guitar work by Flea and John Frusciante. The music video for the song was most notably directed by Deborah Chow of The Mandolorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi fame. Guess that probably explains why Flea had made a cameo appearance in the latter.

5. Bloody Civilian - Wake Up (ft. Rema)

The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack had a number of standout tracks. But if there was one song on the compilation that immediately grabbed me by the collar during my first listen, it was "Wake Up" by Bloody Civilian and Rema. The former is an artist I had never even heard of prior to discovering her on this song, but her soulful vocals were what helped make it one of my favorites, so hopefully, this signals even bigger things for the promising Nigerian artist to come in the future.

4. Harry Styles - As It Was

In 2022, few songs were quite as ubiquitous as "As It Was" by Harry Style, which had all but dominated the music charts for the better part of the year. But you only need to hear the song once to understand its broad appeal. The track carries with it a blissful energy that instantly invokes the joys of summer, even as its lyrics speak of a relationship gone sour and a pining for rosier days.

3. Kendrick Lamar - We Cry Together

Not many rappers have been as consistent as Kendrick Lamar. Ever since he'd burst onto the rap scene with Good Kid, M.a.a.d City, he has produced nothing but banger after banger. But not even his previous output could've prepared us for the sheer ferocity of We Cry Together, a collaboration with actress, Taylour Paige. The song speaks of a relationship in shambles, done in the style of a rap battle between the parties involves, and its single-take music video is just further icing on an already-impressive cake.

2. Beyoncé - Break My Soul

2022 seemed to be the year that a lot of prominent acts decided to explore EDM, with even Drake dipping his toe into club and house music (to decidedly mixed results). But when Beyoncé decides to branch out and experiment with that style of music, you can be sure that she'd go all in. And the song that helped herald her sonic shift was Break My Soul, a track that would go on to attain anthem status when it began its reign over both the charts and clubs.

1. The Weeknd - How Do I Make You Love Me?

We had barely stepped into 2022 when The Weeknd released what would become my favorite album of the year, Dawn FM. The new record carried over much of the same 80s-inspired production showcased in After Hours. And while I feel the concept album works best when viewed as a cohesive collection, my favorite highlight from the record is easily How Do I Make You Love Me?

The song perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the entire record with great production work from Swedish House Mafia and others. As for why it was never officially released as a single, that's anyone's guess. But the song at least eventually got an animated music video that was just as disturbing as The Weeknd could possibly get away with.

Tuesday 27 December 2022

2022 in Review: Top 10 TV Shows

In terms of TV offerings, 2022 was what I would call a good year for fantasy fans, with both House of the Dragon and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power debuting within literal days of each other. Disney+ also saw the continued expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with three new shows, as well as the debut of three new Star Wars series. Not all of those debuts were of a particularly high quality though, but a few did manage to sneak their way onto my list of favorites below.

10. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

With a production cost that is already considered one of the largest in the realm of television, Amazon had thrown nearly everything it had at The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. This has resulted in some of the best-looking sets and visuals to grace the small screen since the medium's inception. But while many would argue that the same attention to detail doesn't always extend to the writing and characterization, the show itself makes good on its promise to cover the events that took place during the Second Age of Middle-earth. And judging by everything that happened in Season 1, I'd say it is at least off to a great start.

9. Ms. Marvel

In a year that wasn't exactly short on new entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), one of the better ones was Ms. Marvel on Disney+. The show introduced audiences to Kamala Khan, ahead of her feature film debut in next year's The Marvels. And in it, she had immediately won fans over with her effortless charm. But the true highlight in my opinion is the family dynamic on display. It is for that reason that I consider her a worthy addition to the MCU's ever-growing pantheon of heroes.

8. Atlanta Season 3 & 4

We were blessed with not just one but two new seasons of Atlanta in 2022. It was a bittersweet blessing though since the show also ended its overall run with Season 4. Both seasons served as complimentary adventures, with the cast spending much of Season 3 in Europe, before bringing things back to Atlanta in Season 4. It is unclear what the future holds for Earn, Paper Boi, Darius, and Vanessa beyond the show, but I am still grateful for all the years we got to spend with them.

7. Peacemaker

After his debut in last year's The Suicide Squad, it seemed a bit odd that Peacemaker was the one member of the crew being singled out for the spinoff series treatment. But after what is hopefully just the first of multiple seasons to come, it is clear that the character has way more depth (and not to mention emotional baggage) than his first appearance had let on. Leave it to James Gunn to take another relatively unknown comic book hero/antihero and give audiences a reason to care.

6. The Umbrella Academy Season 3

The Hargreeves were back this year for another round of their wild and quirky antics in season 3 of The Umbrella Academy. And following the time-hopping madness of the last season, this third one felt like it had a lot to live up to. So you can imagine my relief when just minutes into the first episode I saw that everything I loved about the show was still very much intact. Except the stakes seem even larger than before as we watch the Hargreeves take on their greatest adversary yet, The Sparrow Academy.

5. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

The first thing that comes to mind whenever I hear the name Cyberpunk 2077 is the less-than-optimal state the game had launched in. But even in that rough state, the one aspect of the game that had no problem shining through was its sense of style and atmosphere. And those facets are on full display in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, an anime series set in the neon-soaked streets of Night City. The show captures much of the essence that defined the game but is further elevated by a narrative that takes some of its core concepts to the next level. 

4. The Boys Season 3

The Boys was another show that returned for a third season this past year after it had taken the year off in 2021. And as if its showrunners knew fans might be wondering if it would still have the awe and shock value that defined its first two seasons, they'd pretty much opened the new one with the same ultra violence it has come to be known for. That they were able to maintain that same energy for much of the season, and still manage to introduce new characters while giving older ones additional depth, speaks to why we love this show so much in the first place.

3. Stranger Things Season 4

After what had felt like a lifetime of waiting, Stranger Things finally returned for its fourth season in 2022. And while it quickly became apparent that some of the younger actors had started to age out of their roles since the last time we saw them, it still felt like a reunion with old friends after a long time apart. It was clear that I wasn't the only one looking to catch up with those old friends though because Netflix had suffered some outages during the new season's debut weekend. Still, none of that was enough to dampen my overall experience with both halves of the new season, which I thought was the best the series has ever been.

2. Andor

Following a string of disappointing Star Wars shows earlier in the year (I'm looking at you Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi), Andor felt like a much-needed breath of fresh air. The show serves as a prequel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which was itself a prequel to the events in Star Wars: A New Hope) and carries over much of the darker tone that defined that film. This is what an adult-skewing Star Wars show should look like, and this one proves that there is still plenty of room for such stories to be told within the gaping confines of a galaxy far, far away.

1. House of the Dragon

It is no secret that many fans had been let down by the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones. So when House of the Dragon debuted in August, a lot of us approached the new show with some mild trepidation, except it didn't take longer than its excellent pilot episode for those concerns to be put to rest, with great writing and characterization on display from the very start. And that same excellence had grown to define the entire season, resulting in what I consider my favorite TV show of the year.

Monday 26 December 2022

2022 in Review: Top 10 Games

As we commence the final countdown to 2023, it is time I take a look back at the past year across gaming, TV, music, movies, and life in general. This is a week-long feature I've held on this blog since its inception all the way back in 2011, and one I of course plan to continue holding for the foreseeable future. So to kick things off today, I'll be sharing my favorite games released across consoles, mobiles, and PC.

2022 might have been plagued by even more video game delays than last year, but the ones that did manage to come out would still go on to dominate conversations within the various online communities. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get around to playing nearly enough of those games to take part in some of those conversations, so expect some glaring omissions ahead. That said, here are my favorite video games for 2022.

10. LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

The Lego games have always held an undeniable charm that allows each one to appeal to players of all ages. So being the lifelong Star Wars fan that I am, I was immediately excited by the prospect of getting to revisit all 9 films in the mainline series in blocky glory. Yes, even the ones in the prequel trilogy and the more recent The Rise of Skywalker. The game plays like a greatest-hits collection of the best Star War moments, interspersed with the signature humor that the Lego games are known for. The fact that the visuals look as good as they do only further cements its place as one of my favorite games of 2022.

9. Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Kirby fans have been eating particularly well this past year, with what has felt like a glut of new and upcoming games in the series. The big one of course was Kirby and the Forgotten Land, which saw the pink fluff ball finally step into fully 3D environments, having been relegated to side-scrolling levels before then. And the transition had gone as smoothly as one could hope, resulting in some of the most memorable stages and puzzles the series has seen to date.

8. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

It's hard to even talk about Pokemon Scarlet and Violet without immediately addressing the elephant in the room. For all of its ambitions, the game would forever be remembered for the shoddy state it had launched in. But underneath all the bugs and glitches (not to mention piss-poor performance) lies a game that is, at its core, both fun and addicting. It evolves the classic Pokemon formula with a vibrant open world populated with pocket monsters old and new. And the best part? Players are given the freedom to forge their own paths through it as they take on its challenges in any order they choose.

7. Return to Monkey Island

When news first broke that a new Monkey Island game was on the way, I immediately knew it was going to end up on my list of 2022 favorites. So the fact that Return to Monkey Island had still somehow managed to surpass my expectations is a testament to how true to the originals it is. Ron Gilbert returns to helm the game, and while it was initially stated that he intended for it to function as a direct sequel to Monkey Island 2, I was pleased to see it honored events and characters from the other games as well. The new art style admittedly took some getting used to, but it didn't take very long at all for me to get into its swashbuckling tale of adventure.

6. Sifu

Revenge is a dish best served cold. And in the case of Sifu, a beat-em-up game by Sloclap, that dish comes with a side of pain and heaps of suffering. The first thing that separates it from other beat-em-ups is its punishing difficulty, as it mandates that players have to truly master its gameplay systems in order to progress. But the real kicker is its aging mechanic, which sees its protagonist get older each time he falls in battle until he becomes too old to carry on. So expect to have to replay each level multiple times during your playthrough.

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge

After the brilliant work it had done on Streets of Rage 4, all eyes were on Dotemu and their next project, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge. The game is yet another throwback to the classic beat em ups of old, with retro-styled pixel art graphics to match. But what really makes Shredder's Revenge special is how faithfully it adapts and modernizes the gameplay found in titles such as Turtles in Time, ensuring that all kinds of players would have a blast bashing their way through the foot clan soldiers that roam its many stages.

4. Pokemon Legends: Arceus

The fact that Game Freak managed to ship not one but two mainline Pokemon games in 2022 is a feat in itself. The most remarkable thing about Pokemon Legends: Arceus though is how much it streamlines the Pokemon experience, with a greater focus on building out its Pokedex through a refined catching mechanic and the exploration of the large biomes its Pokemon call home. It also introduces a number of other quality-of-life improvements along with open-world and action RPG elements. The game not only serves as the Breath of the Wild moment fans of the franchise had been hoping for, but also points to an even more promising future for the series with a solid foundation for forthcoming releases to build off of.

3. Tunic

I'd had my eye on Tunic since I first got to try it out through a limited-time demo on Steam in mid-2020. Perhaps it was its dreamlike isometric visuals or its heavy The Legend of Zelda influences that immediately drew me to it. Whatever the case, I was more than eager to dive into the full game when it was eventually released earlier this year. And what a game it was too, blending the aforementioned Zelda influences with Soulslike combat. The most memorable thing about it though is how it gradually reveals more about its gameplay mechanics with each new page of its in-game manual that you discover,  each of which is adorned by beautiful illustrations that are reminiscent of similar artwork in classic Zelda game manuals.

2. Stray

Have you ever wondered what it felt like to be a cat? Well, wonder no more, because Stray is here to let cat lovers live out all their feline dreams. Except its protagonist is no ordinary cat, having teamed up with an amnesiac robot on its quest to reunite with the remaining members of its litter. You get to explore a futuristic dystopia, where all humans are long extinct and in their stead now stand the robots that had once served as their servants. It is a dazzling adventure through an atmospheric underground city that is sure to linger in your memory long after you've seen the story through to its end.

1. Metal: Hellsinger

If the Doom games have taught us one thing, it is that the only thing better than ripping through a horde of demons is doing so to a rocking soundtrack. And that is the exact selling point of Metal: Hellsinger, a rhythm-based first-person shooter that wears its Doom influences on its sleeves. The game rewards players for dispatching enemies to the beat of its heavy metal drums. Each of its nine stages is soundtracked by a different song that features guest vocals from prominent acts from within the metal music scene, like Serj Tankian of System of a Down fame. And all of it is accompanied by some killer guitar riffs and face-melting guttural growls that should have metal fans headbanging right from the title screen.

Saturday 17 December 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water (Movie Review)

After what has felt like countless false starts and delays, James Cameron finally takes moviegoers back to the lush landscapes of Pandora in Avatar: The Way of Water. The first film in the series had effectively served as a benchmark for 3D and special effects for many years following its 2009 release, while also growing to become the highest-grossing film of all time, a title it still clings to today. But does this long-gestating sequel manage to conjure up the same awe and wonder as the first film, or has it perhaps arrived too late to replicate that film's magic and success?

The film is set several years after the events of the first one. Since we last saw Jake Sully and Neytiri, the two have started a family together. However, their home is soon threatened by the return of the "sky people" who are once again doing what they do best, exploiting the resources of the forested moon with no regard for their impact on its indigenous life. So to ensure his family and people's safety, Jake must seek help from a neighboring clan that calls the waters of Pandora home.

As usual, I've tried my best to avoid sharing any specific plot details or spoilers in my synopsis. But if the narrative as laid out sounds a bit more basic or barebones than what one might expect from a film of this scope, then it is because Avatar: The Way of Water is, at its core, yet another easy-to-follow story about one man trying to right the wrongs of his people. The first film hadn't exactly gone down in history due to the complexity of its plot, and I feel neither would this one.

In fact, I'd hazard a guess that anyone looking to go back to Pandora for this sequel would have more interest in how the movie looks than anything else. And nobody does visual spectacle quite like James Cameron, as already proven by his work on films like Titanic and the first Avatar. But his latest film easily manages to upstage both those movies and in so doing sets a new high watermark for the veteran director.

The movie boasts some of the most breathtaking visuals to grace cinema screens in recent years, even as it moves most of the action from the familiar forests and floating mountains of Pandora to previously-uncharted territories. I particularly love how lifelike the Na'vi and various Avatars look this time around, with even more detail packed into every square inch of their bodies. That said, I'll admit that some of the sheer novelty of seeing Pandora brought to life in lush detail has been lost in the 13 years since the first film. But this one still found other creative ways to shock and amaze me.

Going beyond the visuals, the new Avatar film once again treads some very familiar territory, with themes surrounding our need to be mindful of the effects of our actions against the environment. It even squeezes in a few callbacks to Titanic during its explosive third act. And at over three hours in length, the film appears to be asking a lot from its audience. But even though a good chunk of that time is spent showcasing the beauty and wonders of its setting and underlying technology, the movie never felt like a chore to get through.

This is mainly due to the fact that I was kept engaged by its colorful cast of characters. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana return to voice the two leads, although it quickly becomes apparent during the film that the new additions to their family are the true stars of the movie. Each one gets to shine in his or her own way, while collectively serving as the emotional core that kept the narrative going. The story itself doesn't attempt to break any kind of new ground, but therein lies the brilliance of James Cameron, who has once again delivered a film that is sure to resonate with millions of moviegoers.

Avatar: The Way of Water has all the crowd-pleasing thrills and spectacle the franchise has come to be known for. It is easily one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. In many ways, it reaches new heights its predecessor never managed to, while laying the groundwork for its own batch of sequels. And even though it remains to be seen if the film would come anywhere close to replicating the first film's success, it still captures enough of the same magic to be considered a more than worthy follow-up.