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Review: Hotel Mumbai + Q&A with Anthony Maras, John Collee, and Brian Hayes

Distributor: Bleecker Street Media

Director: Anthony Maras

Writers: John Collee, Anthony Maras

Composer: Volker Bertelmann

Starring: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Director Anthony Maras appears to have an eye for stories that involve a clash of cultures. In his first short film, Azadi, a father and son escape try to make a life for themselves in Australia after escaping the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, his breakout pice was The Palace; a short film that tackled the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

It took a while for Maras to select his next creative endeavor. Yet after watching the Surviving Mumbai documentary series, he found himself inexplicably drawn to the real-life tale of the Mumbai terrorist attacks that occurred back in 2008. “I was immediately captured by their stories. These ordinary people put in this extraordinary situation”, said Maras.

His fascination led him and fellow screenwriter, John Collee, to India for months at a time, listening, researching, and staying at the now notorious Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. After filming half of the movie in India, and the rest in Adelaide, South Australia, (along with losing half his thumb thanks to an accident with a portable fan at the film’s wrap party!), the result is Hotel Mumbai–Maras’ first feature-length picture. Anthony Maras proudly presented his film at an advance screening on March 6, 2019, at Newtown’s Dendy Cinemas in Sydney, alongside John Collee and producer Brian Hayes. The following review contains extracts of what was divulged on the night.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Based on the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, this film heavily depicts terrorist activities. Multiple people (bystanders, tourists, staff) are hunted down and shot, some in execution style. There is a high death count and a good number are seen on screen (shots to the head, torso, legs, etc), with a realistic level of blood depicted. There are close-ups of bleeding gunshot wounds. Grenades are used, though there is no close up gory detail of a person being blown up. A fire burns through a hotel. A man jumps from a window and fractures his leg–we see the protruding bone. Real life footage is used, including one of a person jumping to their death (impact not seen). This movie is tense for the majority of its runtime and may be distressing to some viewers.

Language/Crude Humor: Little and sporadic use of major swear words (f-bomb, s-word). Exclamations of God are whispered out of fear and panic. A man jokes that a cranky older woman hasn’t had sex in a while.

Drug/Alcohol References: There is talk about purchasing wine. Characters are seen drinking alcohol in times of stress.

Sexual Content: A man looks at modeling headshots of women and asks over the phone about their nipple sizes. There is one sex joke. A terrorist is encouraged to check the bra for a passport of a dead woman, with the instigator declaring that isn’t a sin to molest an infidel.

Spiritual Content: Some culture and customs of Hindi displayed, and moderate and extremist Islam is depicted (e.g. bowing at a shrine, cows being sacred, cannot eat pork, the cultural significance of a turban). The terrorists frequently talk about the will of Allah, with their extremist ideals always justifying actions that would typically be a sin in Islam. Those trapped in the hotel frequently sneer at the idea of relying on prayer, though these ideas are later seen as ironic.

Other Negative Content: There is a scene where an innocent character encounters racial prejudice.

Positive Content: This film pays homage to the many acts of heroism committed by the victims of the 2008 terror attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

Review

Hotel Mumbai delivers a chilling snapshot of the brutality of terrorism. It pulls few punches in its storytelling, with its politics as delicate as blunt force trauma. Unlike other films of its ilk, there is little to no information regarding the surrounding context. The audience is dropped off at the docks in the early hours of the morning alongside the terrorists, with no hope but to watch the horror unfold and its ensuing chaos.

This choice to leave the audience in the dark in regards to the history of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist network certainly adds an immersive quality to the film. Just as in real life, when horror unfolds, there’s no time to reason or understand in amongst all the confusion. There’s only survival.

With no narrative commentary, Hotel Mumbai offers a real sense of immediacy. People are reduced to their flight or fight instincts, where split-second decisions can spell their death. It’s a tense film that hardly ever gives the audience a chance to breathe. While that can at times feel exhausting, the movie continuously demonstrates that no one is safe, and the high stakes provide enough momentum to drive through a lengthy two-hour runtime.

When faced with terror, social constructs and appearances fall away, leaving behind raw human nature, and it was this concept that attracted Anthony Maras to the story in the first place. “This idea that you have these people from every conceivable religious, ethnic, socio-economic backgrounds, and all these different walks of life, and how when these attacks happened, all of that kind of evaporated. They were just a bunch of people and how they navigate this horror. You feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to get their stories right, to do justice to what they went through. But it was difficult to decide to do it,” Maras said.

It wasn’t a difficult decision for Dev Patel. As soon as he heard about the project, he signed on. Maras explained that the actor had a personal connection to the horrific terrorist incident that besieged Mumbai. Back in 2008, Dev Patel had just partaken in his breakthrough role in Slumdog Millionaire. Those who have watched the film will no doubt remember its joyous conclusion–a dance sequence set at a train station.

While still on tour with the film, Patel remembers receiving a painful call from his parents. They wept over the phone as they informed him of the terrorist attack, in particular, that many innocent people at that very same train station were murdered, forever tainting that location’s history. From that moment forward, Patel knew that he needed to take part in a film about the subject, as a way to personally grieve over a place that he held so dear.

Dev Patel delivers a heartfelt portrayal of a loyal waiter. However, the actor was worried about how many times he has played such a role. The audience laughed when Maras joked that he hoped his film wasn’t mistaken for a sequel to the Marigold Hotel series as a result of Patel’s casting! To differentiate himself from his previous roles, it was Patel’s idea to play a Sikh. Many of the guards at the Taj Mahal Hotel were Sikh’s and Patel wore the turban as a way to represent and pay his respects to those people.

Patel’s character, Arjun the waiter, is based off a true story, though his characters’ actions are combined with the real-life account of one of the hotel’s security guards. He and Anupam Kher’s roles represent the bravery of the staff during the attack. Their unrivaled loyalty to the hotel’s patrons in severe times of crisis has not only been studied by Harvard University’s psychology students but was also the aspect that inspired director Anthony Maras the most. Sadly their roles feel sidelined, making room for the tales of several tourists (played by Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs, and Nazanin Boniadi among others). As a result, Hotel Mumbai feels like a detached Westernized retelling of a tragic piece of India’s history.

When it comes to adapting a true story, it is natural to wonder just how much the movie reflects real life events. While the film portrays some of the horrific shootings that occurred elsewhere in the city, its main focus is the drama that unfolded within the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. However, in the interest in streamlining the story and reducing the number of characters on screen, most of the real-life stories have been conflated just like Arjun’s, with each person representing at least two separate accounts. The length of the siege has also been cut, leaving the false impression that it lasted only one night when in reality it went for days.

Yet the events in the film are still true. People did jump from windows. A husband did try to save his baby. Maras had a smile on his face when he remembered interviewing members of the police, and how they really were wannabe Rambos, trying to storm the hotel with only a rifle and six bullets in their pistol!

Maras commented that the production design was also incredibly accurate, to the point where they experienced a little bit of trouble. They used the same type of boat the terrorists used, sailed to the same wharf, at the same time as the real-life events. It was so accurate that unfortunately, it freaked out the few locals that hadn’t received the memo about the film shoot! Thankfully the misunderstanding was quickly resolved, and Maras and his crew managed to talk to some who were actually present on that fateful morning.

It is clear that Maras has tried his best to remain faithful to the events that occurred back in 2008, though screenwriter John Collee lamented that for a film to work, some scenes needed to be manufactured. “It becomes a bit of a scientific problem”, Collee admitted. In many ways, the hotel is itself a character that must be understood. If the audience failed to learn the physical layout of the building, then all the action sequences would suffer, leaving viewers confused as to everyone’s movements and relations in space. “There’s an element of screenwriting on a story like this, which is just purely getting the geography straight. And then you work out where the story is going to take you, through that geography, then you work out the very end. You often don’t get it until the film has been made what is uniting all these stories,” Collee said.

Screenwriter John Collee speaking, alongside director Anthony Maras (left) and Producer Brian Hayes (right), at Newtown Dendy, Sydney, Australia.

As the interviews progressed, it became clear that Hotel Mumbai was created out of interest, and not necessarily because they had a message they wished to convey, apart from displaying the heroism of the people involved. The movie does suffer from that lack of vision. The film offers a highly realistic experience of what it feels like to be in a terrorist situation. It’s brutal, and it exposes our diets of Hollywood happy endings, where we constantly expect a good guy to burst in and save everyone. But this is real life. Our expectations are constantly met with the fragility of life and the futility of the situation on hand.

The question is: why do we need to put ourselves through such an experience? It’s not a matter of relevance. In the time between Hotel Mumbai’s release in Australia and the United States, India and Pakistan have almost declared war, whilst yet another horrific terrorist attack happened, this time in the once peaceful town of Christchurch, New Zealand, where the unforgivable act was live streamed all across social media. At least in this period of time, Hotel Mumbai’s story will sadly be a reflection of the issues we still face today, hitting so close to home that it has since been suspended in New Zealand cinemas. It’s hard to argue that Hotel Mumbai isn’t a relevant film.

Violence is a powerful tool in cinema, and when it’s wielded deftly, such as what is seen in City of God and The Passion of the Christ, it can produce some of the most life-affirming pieces of art committed to screen. When there’s a strong level of violence present, it needs to work alongside and assist the message of the film, lest it simply slip into exploitation. In the Bible, there are many violent acts; in the climax, a man is mocked, whipped and brutally executed through crucifixion, and yet the violence only adds to the message of the literature’s over-arching narrative.

Sadly, Hotel Mumbai doesn’t appear to have anything to say. It merely operates as a catalog of events. The topic of terrorism is relevant to the modern world, though the story’s execution lacks a sense of purposefulness, where it doesn’t manage to justify the level of violence displayed on screen. It all just seems rather senseless, though that wasn’t the point the crew wished to make.

When the questions were opened to the audience, it didn’t take long to address the elephant in the room: the film’s portrayal of the terrorists. It would be disingenuous to describe the film as being sympathetic to their plight. It’s not. Though the movie’s tone remains consistent when the villains are on screen, continuing its fly-on-the-wall impartiality. We see their silent, stone-cold killings, alongside scenes where they admire the hotel’s extravagance and play jokes on each other.

Producer Brian Hayes comes from a legal background and was instrumental in acquiring many aspects for the film’s production in India. Most importantly, he managed to secure a transcript of an interview with the only surviving terrorist. “Those conversations were transcribed word for word”, Maras announced. Viewers may take issue with how the terrorists are portrayed, however from Hayes and Maras’ admission, it seems that part of the film is the closest to what happened in real life. The question is whether the movie is merely being faithful by taking an impartial documentarian approach, or whether such scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor due to their insensitivity. I’ll let you be the judge.

The last questions of the night didn’t stray from the same topic: what would possess a person to commit such a crime, does it reflect badly on Islam, and does such a film unintentionally inspire wicked people? The director has already thought long and hard about such issues during the writing phase.

“There has been talk about whether a film like this paints Islam in a bad light, or has negative connotations in that regard. I was asked this question earlier on today. This is something we thought a lot about, before even writing the script and interviewing a lot of the people. A lot of the Taj staff are actually Muslims. There are many Muslims who are very much behind the film. The response to that question is that you don’t see what those young men were doing specifically to do with Islam… It was Extremism,” Maras clarified. Indeed, there are a number of scenes in the film that demonstrate the hypocrisy of the terrorist’s version of faith.

After spending a number of years studying the events surrounding this attack, Maras acknowledged that it wasn’t an issue that could be summarized simply as Muslim vs. Hindu. It’s a deeper and more nuanced problem, and while the media may play a part, it cannot take all the blame.

“Since 2001, what do you see on TV? One film is a drop in the ocean to what is going on, with the sensationalization of everything, day in, day out of terror and its place in society. What we try to do in the film is to put a human face to it, to try and put people inside of the experience of what it would be like to live through one of these attacks,” Maras said.

“But I take your point,” he continued. “Which is to say, what if a young kid in some way watches this film and says ‘I wanna end up in a movie like that’? I get that concern. We live in a free society and if we live our lives as artists and writers, or as people wanting to comment on the world we’re worried about, or what the worst of us would think, then we’ve already lost what it is we cherish in a free society”.

“Maybe sunlight is the best disinfectant?” Maras wondered. “I think the day that we say to artists, to filmmakers, to any kind of creative, ‘that subject matter is off limits because desperate people are going to use that to kill;’ I think that damages us as a society. I for one am all for freedom of expression, and I think there are far more complex reasons as to why terror happens. I don’t think it’s just because of what happens in the media. I think it’s geopolitical concerns, I think it’s because of impoverishment, a lack of education, a lack of opportunity,” he surmised.

“We’re trying to honestly show another perspective; a perspective that terror is something that we live with, that exists. And I don’t know if our film achieved it, but to try and put ourselves in the shoes, not only of the guests but of the gunmen in there. That was the intention of the filming,” Maras said.

Whether Hotel Mumbai achieved its goals, it does deliver what is advertised: a tense, realistic thriller that captures the chaos, the horror and the bravery that occurs when people are pushed to extremes. Whether that’s something you wish to experience is only something that you can decide.

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A Savior Is Born: Dandara as Christian Allegory

Dandara is a video game inspired by an actual historical Afro-Brazilian woman bearing the same name. The real-life Dandara is a little-known figure whose record was likely suppressed because she might have provided an inspirational “Harriet Tubman” effect for a population that first the Dutch, and later, the Portuguese wanted to subdue into slavery. We know that she was the wife of Zumbi, the last king of a fugitive slave haven called Quilombo dos Palmares that survived subjugation for eighty-nine years.

Bearing three children would be the extent of Dandara’s past in what we in the western hemisphere tend to designate as “women’s work.” In the quilombo, work was not gendered, but distributed according to ability. Dandara was the kind of woman who hunted and fought in military phalanxes, doing so for at minimum the sixteen years that Zumi was king from 1678-1694. His rule, and that of Dandara, would end that final year when the Portuguese finally succeeded in suppressing Quilombo dos Palmares

Dandara early concept artwork

Developer Long Hat House describes the universe where the video game Dandara takes place as one in which the oppressed are on the brink of oblivion. Given what I have dictated above, it is clear that the choice of heroine here was inspired by this figure whose life has been reconstructed primarily through the vestiges of her husband’s legacy. Considering that even the historical Dandara is subject to sensationalization, the game’s fantastical reimagination of her fight against enslavement subversively broadcasts additional inspiring subtexts. Following a brief, recondite introductory narrative, Dandara suddenly appears on-screen from utter darkness.

Artwork by Cutenightmare, who no longer has a Twitter account.

For the longest time, the story in Dandara remained impenetrable to me. Only after I began to regard it beyond the surface and as a Christian allegory conveyed in video game form did I allow myself a sigh of satisfaction for discerning at least one possible explanation. The brilliance of this revelation is that I do not believe Long Hat House intentionally sought to develop a “Christian” game. After all, Dandara began as a mobile game with a touch-screen interface and evolved over the course of two years into its current form, worthy of PC and console release too. In the story integration phase of development, it should be no surprise that as a Brazilian developer, Long Hat House would produce a protagonist inspired by the country’s history, though the choice of an Afro-Brazilian woman defies convention and is commendable. Despite Brazil having no official religion, 65% of its population is traditionally Catholic; Dandara then, is an indie project that perhaps could have only been made possible indigenously. 

Dandara as Christian Allegory

Dandara awakens from the Crib of Creation

The Salt was once in a beautiful peace.

Creation and Intention merged together into learning and growth.

But like cancer, a golden idea grew.

The balance broke.

And oppression came.

But then…

From the Crib of Creation

A new hope has awakened!

Dandara‘s introduction sequence reproduces the biblical (C)reation and fall of humanity, followed by a plan for redemption (Intention). God creates the universe; his prized possession inhabits Earth. Everything is perfect until humanity chooses disobedience, or sin: the golden idea.

Patience and faith are fruits of the spirit.

Within the power of his omniscience, God had always maintained a long-term plan to redeem humanity, by sending his son Jesus, God made into flesh: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), and later, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). Paralleling scripture, Dandara manifests from within the “Crib of Creation”; perhaps her awakening was always intended in the event of a disruption to peace. What transpires under the veneer of a Metroidvania is an extended savior trope.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” ~ John 1:5

Jumping between surfaces in a world that corruption has turned upside-down, Dandara attacks her enemies with beams of light. She principally takes on the role of a supernatural guardian—a champion. However, the game executes its vision via proxy: rather than humanity existing in the Garden of Eden, or “a beautiful place,” it is the “Salt” that lives in bliss. To put it plainly, Salt is a metaphor for the human race, and Dandara seeks to save “the salt of the world” (Matt 5:18) from destruction. 

I will allow readers to figure out who this might be, and how it would fit in a Christian allegory.

We know from Jesus’ teachings during the Sermon on the Mount that salt is a metonym. Matthew 5:13 reads, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” Salt is important in modern times, but it markedly commanded value in the ancient world; most relevant in these paragraphs is how salt equates to wealth. Therefore, it is no coincidence that salt is currency in Dandara for purchasing upgrades; after all, the etymology of “salary” is derived from salt. Likewise, the most important resource in Jesus’ ministry is people.

In the context of a Christian allegory, a plea is a prayer.

Dandara can find granules of salt locked inside treasure chests, so it is possible to read this design choice as “storing treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21). The surreal presentation of the world in Dandara gives way to this interpretation. The game eschews the conventional setting of heaven colliding with hell with magma and flames coexisting alongside cities made of gold. Instead, the convergence happens within scenery that is more terrestrial than celestial. As Dandara transitions from purgatory and dream into reality after her manifestation, trees of the forest greet her upon her arrival within Creation, or the natural world; she makes way toward the city where the harvest of Salt awaits. 

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” ~ Matt 9:37

As a game mechanic, it is possible to extract granules of salt from defeated enemies. Yet the larger yields come from the infrequent encounters with the suspended souls of those who have expired. Collecting saving them furnishes a one-time bonus in salt with a simultaneous revelation displaying the reason for their demise. Such reasons include loneliness, starvation, or harm as the root cause of death—those who were poor in spirit, indeed (Matthew 5:3). Their casualties can be considered the consequences of the germinating “golden idea” that fuels the oppression that Dandara fights. If this golden idea can be interpreted as sin, then we know the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). 

Locked within the doors of a library, poor Rose likely succumbed to depression.

This passage goes on to say, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Dandara’s role as a savior figure is limited to Creation; her jurisdiction does not extend into Intention, or a blueprint to redeem the Salt back into balance, or perfection. As a warrior, Dandara vanquishes oppression like Jesus cleanses sin, but she does not conquer death like He does (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). This interpretation is appropriate, because while the real-life Dandara fought against the oppression of slavery for decades, she did eventually lose a decisive battle, and rather than return to bondage, took her own life. Unlike in Matthew 4:6, the real-life Dandara did not command angels to catch her; unlike with Jesus, death won. Therefore, despite Dandara exhibiting the characteristics of a savior, what she provides is not salvation, but liberation. A treatise detailing the nuances of freedom from sin and salvation is beyond the scope of this article. 

In the beginning….

Returning to the golden idea, or sin, that permeates through Creation in Dandara, requiring her intervention, I point to the settings where one is most likely to encounter Salt or their spirits. In the cities, in woods, and in cloisters resembling temples and libraries are where one might reasonably find them. Particularly in the city, Dandara can find Salt who will activate obstacles and abilities that allow her to traverse where she previously could not. I have noted that three out of five individuals specialize in the humanities; one represents STEM; the last is a transcendent being much like Dandara herself.

Make a joyful noise! Dance like nobody’s looking!

The game appears to make the statement that overreliance on technology brings destruction to Creation. This narrative comes forth as players advance in the game, and the organic forest gives way to a nebulous, transitional zone before crossing over to the coldness of an Eldarian ship. To not belabor the point, the final boss appears and attacks from within a giant television. This is as if to say that the Salt becomes thrall to the tools that once heralded progress. Freedom, though, comes from its destruction, for the character known as the Writer does not take up his craft again until Eldar’s defeat.

Doubting “Thomisina.”

Those who spend enough time with Dandara will find more they will have anticipated. In addition to a re-envisioning of the historical Dandara, the Afro-Brazilian woman warrior who fought against Dutch and Portuguese enslavement, the game also uses imagery that evokes a Christ-like allegory. Because salt is currency in the game, I devoted most of my space here making sense of the relationship between salt and humanity and their inherent value. But there is more: in passing, I mention that the video game Dandara attacks using beams of light. After Jesus that we are the salt of the earth, Matthew 5:14-16 continues:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Rather than “Christian video games” (or movies), I would like to see more games like Dandara, that are either coincidentally Christian, or embeds its symbolism for those willing to perform the work to unveil the layers. Because of this, I consider the game among my favorites among art deployed as a mechanism for social justice. The real Dandara fought against the injustice of slavery; the video game Dandara fights against the oppression. How will you let your light shine?

“Lies are the native language of Satan,” John 8:44.

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A Brief History of Overwatch

In May of this year, Blizzard’s first-person shooter Overwatch turned 2 years old. The game has been met with much success since its release, with the number of accounts somewhere over 30 million, and that’s since October 2017. The fun, character-based shooter and Pixar-like artstyle made it appealing to a lot of gamers, as did the goodwill built up from Blizzard to its player base.

At its core, the game Overwatch is not unusual. As a character based, first-person shooter, the game usually pits teams of six against each other to accomplish some sort of objective. These usually range from capturing or defending a point to moving a payload from one point to another (or stopping the opposite team from doing the same). At the game’s launch, there were twenty-one different heroes to choose from. Now, there are twenty-seven different heroes to choose from, each with their own unique abilities and personality. But none of this makes sense without context, so let’s look at the history and world of Overwatch.

The game Overwatch takes place in the not too distant future, where robots have become so sophisticated, that they are considered sentient by many. Technological advancements has brought the world closer to utopia. Cities in Europe and Asia and the Middle East are bastions of science and culture. And much of this is built on the back of the robots, which the game calls omnics.

The future will consist of robot slaves and floating platforms.

This all changed with what is called the first Omnic War. Omnics, dissatisfied with their treatment at the hands of the humans that created them, started rebelling all over the world, causing untold damage and destruction. The omnic’s activity hit every continent save Antarctica, prompting a global response team. One of these units, Bastion, would later reactivate after falling in an Omnic invasion of Germany.

The first team formed to fight the omnics was dubbed Overwatch, and was made up of a group of exemplary individuals from all over the world. Many of the games playable heroes joined at this time, including Jack Morrison the super soldier, Torbjörn the mechanic, Reinhardt the team paladin, Ana the officer and sniper from Egypt, and Mercy the team doctor. Together they fought Omnics all over the world.

Though many nations approved of the creation of Overwatch, it’s worth noting that Russia chose to stay out of it and fight the omnics themselves. They were successful with the help of the Russian soldier Zarya, another playable character. And while overall, Overwatch had won the war, the continent of Australia had been all but destroyed, leaving it a wasteland. This opened up opportunities for mercenaries like Junkrat and Roadhog.

Battle of Kings Row, Circa 2085 (colorized).

After the Omnic Crisis ended, Overwatch was appointed as the world’s premiere peacekeeping force, and for years they kept the world stable and quiet. Their influence grew and expanded, and more and more members joined, including Cadet Lena Oxton, a.k.a Tracer. Overwatch set up bases in different parts of the world, including Antarctica. One of the members of this Echopoint base was Mei, the Chinese climate scientist. And Overwatch’s influence even reached into space, where they established a colony of humans and highly intelligent gorillas.

But cracks began to form in the organization. Blackwatch was Overwatch’s spec-ops team that was designed to carry out the ethically dubious missions Overwatch couldn’t. Members included Genji, the cyborg ninja almost killed by his brother Hanzo for deserting his criminal family, McCree, the cowboy whose morals aren’t very clear, and Moira, a scientist so dedicated to her craft she’s willing to ignore all morals or ethics. The head of Blackwatch was an agent named Gabriel Reyes, a shotgun-wielding agent who often bickered with Commander Jack Morrison.

This all came to a head when, after years of back and forth and the reveal of Blackwatch to the public, Overwatch headquarters would be destroyed in an explosion, apparently killing both jack Morrison and Gabriel Reyes. Overwatch was shut down after that, leaving the world undefended once again. And for the next ten years, nobody would hear from Overwatch again.

To the characters, he’s team leader. To the fans, he’s team dad.

There were still conflicts in the world, however, and still heroes stepping up to meet them. Though the omnic crisis had been averted, the relationship between man and omnics would still be unstable. Korea developed their own way of defense via a means of piloted mechs, and the young gamer known as D.Va would achieve acclaim for being the best mech pilot in the country. Over in Brazil, a company called the Vishkar corporation had turned the country into a slum. One of their members, Symmetra, had engaged in espionage in the country to keep it under control. But someone would rise up against the corporation and form a resistance group. This vigilante hero, Lucio, used music to fight. Genji, after encountering an Omnic monk in Nepal named Zenyatta, found peace and tried to help his brother Hanzo, who had left the clan with a bow on his back. And in Africa, a little girl named Efi built a robot named Orisa to protect her homeland. Jack Morrison had survived the explosion, and became a wandering vigilante going by the code name Soldier 76.

Meanwhile, a terrorist group named Talon had begun to grow in influence and power. Their numbers were comprised of some old members from Overwatch, namely Moira and Gabriel Reyes, now going by the moniker Reaper. One of their best agents was known as Widowmaker. She had been a ballerina and married to an Overwatch agent before being kidnapped by Talon and brainwashed. Newer Talon agents included Sombra, a talented hacker and their leader Akande Ogundimu, who would later steal a powerful gauntlet and take on the mantle of Doomfist.

30 years after the Omnic Crisis, Talon’s actions were coming very close to starting a second omnic crisis. Winston, a young gorilla that had been raised on the moon base and taken his teacher’s name, was one of the last active members of the defunct organization. After being attacked by Talon and Reaper, he sent out a distress call, saying it was time for Overwatch to come back. Many of the old team responded. Reinhardt returned bringing his squire, Bridgitte, a mechanic, warrior, and daughter of Torbjörn and a mechanic and warrior.

We. Are. Overwatch (for now).

There’s a lot more lore hidden in the game, comics, and shorts that Blizzard puts out, but this brief primer on Overwatch is enough to get you up to speed. Blizzard has put a lot of thought and effort into the story, and the strange thing is that you don’t need to understand the story at all to enjoy the game. It shows how much care and attention is being paid to Overwatch that Blizzard has put this much time and effort into what is essentially not necessary information. It’s part of what makes this game so great.

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Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Civilization VI (PC)

Developer: Firaxis, Aspyr
Publisher: 2K, Aspyr
Genre: Strategy, Turn Based
Rating: E for Everyone
Platforms: PC/Steam
Price: $59.99

Civilization VI is a turned-based strategy game that puts you in the seat of the world’s most powerful leaders. Choose a civilization and help it grow, competing with rivals to create the best empire in the world. Through scientific study, a culture of the arts, and military conquest, it’s up to you to shape the future of your people.

 

 

Content Guide

Spiritual Content
It is possible to found a religion for your civilization. Doing so comes with bonuses, but every religion is treated the same—Civ VI is proselytization-free.

Violence
It’s possible to get through a game without ever having to go to war, but it’s unlikely. A large part of the game is about assembling armies and having them fight. This all happens off-screen. 

Positive Content
The game is educational, and there’s a lot of real world history it teaches.

I love the smell of expansion in the morning.

Review

Note: This review is about the base game and not the expansion, Rise and Fall.

The Sid Meier’s Civilization series are games that I have played for over a decade, so keep that in mind as I address the positives and negatives of this game. I started all the way back in the days of Civilization III, and I’ve been privileged to watch the series grow and changed throughout IV, V and now, finally VI. In that sense, this review will touch on how this game stands up against its predecessors, as well as how it stands on its own.

Civilization VI is a computer game that hands you the keys of leadership. Taking the reigns of a real, historic civilization, it is your task to make sure it thrives and grows, usually from the stone age to the information era. It’s a turn based strategy game, with an average game lasting 500 turns. That means you have 500 turns to turn your meager city into a sprawling empire.

The Civilization series is usually good when it comes to choice of nation. There are the standards like America, China and Egypt, with a few new ones like Scythia. Each one has a leader with their own bonus, animation and voice acting in their native tongue. When interacting with Japan, you will talk to Hojo Tokimune, and he will speak Japanese. One of the better aspects of this game is that there’s a better representation of leaders. There are more women leaders represented in this game than in previous titles, and it’s good to see a broadening of cultural narratives.

Onward towards victory!

The game gives you several choices to win, and each one feels viable and suited for different types of gameplay. There’s the science victory, which requires you to research all the technologies in the tech tree, then build a spaceship. Culture victories require you to collect great pieces of art, music and literature. My personal favorite, domination, has you build an army capable of taking over the capital of every other civilization on the map. Civilization VI has a new victory condition: religion. In order to get a religious victory, you need to use missionaries to spread your religion to every other civilization.

An average game of Civilization VI will start with you founding a city, and choosing things to build. You can either build military units or buildings to improve your city’s output. This game puts a new twist on city building, and forces you to build districts outside your city’s protection in order to build more things. It’s a dramatic change from earlier game titles, and is tricky to get the hang of. But the rewards are worth it, and after a few games I preferred it to the old system, where everything could be built on one plot of land. There is now more strategy in city planning. It makes the decisions you make feel more important, as if you really are the ruler of a country. Each game you play will be different. Maps are randomly generated, and the other civilizations you share a game with will change with each new game (though this can be changed in the game’s settings if you wish).

All I wanted was to trade for some salt.

Interface has always been tricky in the Civilization games. As with many other strategy games, there’s a lot of information to process, and only so much you can absorb at once. Civilization VI’s menus aren’t perfect, and are probably one of the weaker parts of the game. The real problem is with finding information about stats. In my playthrough, I often wanted information about my military power versus other civilizations, or my relationships with city states, or who was at war with who, and all this information is hard to find. Once it is found, it’s easy to comprehend, but I shouldn’t have to click through each other civilization and start trading with them just to see who has oil.

Compared to its predecessors, Civilization VI does it’s victories right. Each one feels different and unique, and (usually) are equally achievable. More to the point, each way to play is fun. Trying to get enough culture to get Beethoven to create his Symphony No. 9 is as rewarding and enjoyable of finally getting your artillery close enough to fire on the enemy city.

When the game was announced, there was controversy over the graphics, with detractors saying that the predecessor title is a better looking game. I’d be lying if I said i didn’t understand where they are coming from. The graphics “update” to Civilization V to VI isn’t really an upgrade. It’s different, but not better. Civilization VI seems a little bit more cartoony than V, and it may not be what some hardcore players are looking for. But the game is unified in its theme, and still looks good. Just different. The Civilization series has always had an amazing soundtrack, and this game is no exception. Each civilization has its own unique theme that changes as the game enters different eras.

Build the Great Wall of China in Denver!

Perhaps most importantly, Civilization VI still captures the feel of the other games in the series. The new twists and turns in this title don’t detract from the experience of playing a Civilization game. The game make you feel like a king, with all the victories, duties and responsibilities therein. The game is addicting and challenging, and in the end, you’ll be saying “just one more turn.”

Categories
Drama Movies Reviews

Review: The Post

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

Composer: John Williams

Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood.

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Rating: PG-13

If The Snowman or The Circle taught us anything last year, then it’s that having big names attached to a project can mean nothing in regards to quality. Delving into the historical drama that surrounded the release of the Pentagon Papers, The Post advertises an impressive array of talent: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, John Williams, and Steven Spielberg. The formula for greatness is there. But can the same be said about the audience’s interest?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Right at the start of the film, there is a scene set in the Vietnam War. American soldiers duck and engage in battle when they encounter enemy fire. Some soldiers are shot, but there is no blood or gore.

Language/Crude Humor: The following swear words are spoken roughly seven or fewer times: the f-bomb and its variations, the s-word and its variations, d*mmit, *ss, son of a b*tch, Godd*mn, and Jesus Christ’s name is used in vain.

Drug/Alcohol References: Some characters are seen smoking cigarettes. Alcohol is drunk at social gatherings, though the film doesn’t depict any intoxicated behavior.

Spiritual Content: None.

Sexual Content: None.

Other Negative Content: The entire plot revolves around whether one should publish leaked classified Government files. There is much discussion as to whether they will be charged with collusion, contempt of court, espionage, and treason, and if their actions will impede the Government and its defense forces. Knowing the risks, many characters still push against the law. On a number of occasions, one character is tasked with plagiaristic activities, spying on other news publishers and reporting back their findings. When asked whether it’s legal, other characters merely laugh it off.

Positive Content: The Post is an exploration of what it means for a country to have the freedom of the press, and strongly advocates for one’s First Amendment rights. It also shows the harmful effects of mansplaining. It promotes the idea of standing up for oneself; having confidence in your own ideas and capabilities. The film also conveys the message that sometimes pursuing the greater good isn’t always comfortable.

Review

The Post is good for what it is. If you’re interested in the story behind The Washington Post’s involvement with the Pentagon Papers, then this film is a detailed and thrilling retelling, with talent both in front and behind the camera. It’s competent, yet it also feels rather “standard.”

The first half of the film is rather dense and intellectually intimidating. There is essentially a lot that needs to be established before it can start to roll at a quicker pace. Surprisingly, prior knowledge about the Government’s role in the Vietnam War or the Pentagon Papers isn’t required, though an understanding of the structure of company stocks will prove beneficial.

Essentially the film comes to a stall right at the beginning, focusing on the soldiers overseas, the studies analyzing their effectiveness, the smuggling of those files, and the potentially illegal involvement of The New York Times. On top of this, audiences are also learning about the plethora of characters and their relationships with each other, along with a side plot about the Washington Post’s debut on the Stock Exchange. The pace crawls because The Post’s narrative takes a passive stance, looking at the drama occurring to The New York Times from an outsider’s perspective. The film tells the story-within-the-story, maintaining a narrow focus.

Yet once the drama is dumped on The Post’s desk, and all the groundwork has been painstakingly laid, it finally lurches forth at a breathtaking pace. A time bomb is added, where the script implements a high stakes deadline. This is helped by John Williams’ quietly ticking, softly repetitive soundtrack.

Steven Spielberg does well to make office meetings dramatically compelling. The latter half of the film is thrilling, with each development riveting to watch despite audiences already knowing the historical outcome. The editing is snappy and flows well, breaking up tense conversations with the oddly mesmerizing rhythmic construction of the printing press.

If you find yourself watching YouTube videos that showcase the oddly satisfying loops of manufacturing processes, don’t worry. Spielberg has you covered.

It’s The Post’s complex themes that are the real crux of the movie. Both sides of the core argument are represented. On the one hand, publishing classified documents can be considered an act of treason. Yet on the other, the press needs to commit to their role in serving the public. This push-pull dynamic, along with the layering of the personal stakes for the characters and their business, is what makes The Post an intellectually stimulating analysis on the issue of these conflicting rights.

Yet once the decision has been made and the point of no return has passed, despite the stakes remaining surprisingly high, the excitement surprisingly fizzles out in the third act. A reason for this might be that the film doesn’t sell the nobility of the characters’ motivations; did they really believe in the freedom of the press, or did they just want the glory? It may actually be both, but regardless, the movie ineffectually tries to elevate its heroes when the audience perceives them in a contradictory light.

Another reason may be that Spielberg’s direction isn’t terribly inspired during some portions of the film. Unlike Nolan’s Inception where he has the challenge of portraying the human subconsciousness three levels deep, The Post is a straightforward drama that could be helmed by any number of people in Hollywood. While it can be challenging to make heavy conversational pieces compelling, a lot of the movie feels stock-standard. Once the adrenaline has drained after the second act, the finale feels mind-numbingly twee in comparison.

My brother joked that The Post will earn Oscar nominations by default, and I do have to agree with that assessment. All the performances are strong, though they keep it rather safe. Tom Hanks plays the executive editor, Ben Bradlee, and he magnificently conveys the feeling that he’s an old hand at his job. The same can be said regarding Bob Odenkirk’s work, though he plays a more restrained, perceptive role. However, while there is nothing inherently wrong with their portrayals, neither actor is really stretching themselves in terms of their craft; we don’t necessarily see anything new here.

Meryl Streep’s acting has been described by some as “Oscar-baity.” Personally, I believe it’s because she is the only actor that is playing a character that is opposite to her type. In The Post, Katherine (Kay) Graham has only recently become the company’s president, a job that she inadvertently inherited due to the sudden passing of her husband. It was a role that was never intended for her, and as such, she is constantly walked over by the men that dominate the field of the publishing world. Soft and filled with self-doubt, this is not the Meryl Streep that we know.

If Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee is the driver of the plot, then Meryl Streep superbly represents the emotional heart of the story. Kay’s character arc is a subtle yet all-too-relatable one. It is a delight to watch this female character grow in confidence and shed the negative thoughts concerning whether she is capable of handling the power that comes with her job. It’s a subplot that’s as equally compelling as the main story, though it never screams for attention, and instead compliments the action by layering the narrative’s complexities.

Many people have described this film as being “timely.” Indeed, once Steven Spielberg read the script, he rushed The Post into production, despite still working on Ready Player One. This is a movie that will no doubt feel relevant to those who have grievances against the Trump Administration. Those audiences will develop a deeper connection with this film, however, the surrounding context of this piece will eventually be lost with time. While the core arguments in The Post will always be important, how relevant will its message be next year? What about in five years time? Ten?

As an Australian, and therefore reasonably outside of the loop regarding this movie’s contextual placement, The Post merely feels like yet another well-produced biopic that provides a fascinating history lesson and not much more. It’s not a game-changing movie. It doesn’t excite me as a film geek. Ironic considering the subject matter, in the cinema world, this film hasn’t taken any risks. If it does earn an Oscar nod, then it’ll go the same way as The Hurt Locker, Moneyball, Argo, and Captain Phillip; all great films, but they eventually recede to the back of one’s mind as the years go on.

As I mentioned at the beginning, The Post is a good film for what it is. If you’re in the mood for a biopic, with strong talent and juicy themes, along with an interest in this period of history, then, by all means, watch this movie. Yet it is not one I would recommend for everyone. With poor pacing and a dense narrative at the start, the entertainment value simply isn’t there for most people. It’s also not a visual extravaganza, and it’s hard to justify seeing this on the big screen as opposed to simply waiting for it to be available through other means. It’s a good film, but it’s not a must-see.