Pop-Culture Predictions #1

Hi, I'm Drew, a big nerd who happens to run a hybrid marketing and production company. I lead content and brand strategy and use data to build insights that inform our clients' business decisions. In this weekly series, I'm going to pick a couple of pop-culture IPs and make a bold prediction based on past experience, real-time data, and a boatload of moxie. Here we go...

Prediction - The Uncharted movie will underperform in ticket sales.

I want to be wrong here. I'm a big fan of the games, and I think the world could use a fun, light-hearted adventure film. But no one is talking about Uncharted online, and it looks like it is destined to underperform. Take Tom Holland's last tentpole film Spider-Man: No Way Home. If you do just a simple Google Trends analysis on searches for Spider-Man vs. Uncharted, the differences are striking. Uncharted is basically flatline compared to Spider-Man. Even at its highest search peak in October (see chart below), Uncharted still didn't match Spider-Man. More surprising is that even after the Uncharted trailer drop, the peak is still lower than October's search. Interest seems to be going down, not skyrocketing up as Spider-Man clearly did when that film launched.

According to the New York Times, the Uncharted movie reportedly cost $120 million to make. So this needs an opening weekend of over $90 million and have enough legs overseas to warrant a sequel. In comparison, before No Way Home's insane $260 million opening haul, Venom had the highest pandemic opening weekend at $90.1 million.

Uncharted Interest vs Spider-Man Interest over the last 5 years

Bottom Line: Uncharted needs an incredible marketing push in these last few weeks to drive an insane amount of buzz towards this film to drive people to theaters. Otherwise, I suspect people are Tom Holland-ed out and are willing to wait till this hits the streaming services in 90 days.

Prediction - God of War Ragnarök will not release in 2022.

God of War Ragnarök was originally announced to be released in 2021 (note, it wasn't) and is now rumored to be releasing in September of 2022. Let me be clear: there is no way this game comes out in 2022. COVID variants will continue to plow through the vaccinated and non-vaccinated developers who will need to take weeks off to recover, slowing the production of these AAA game titles down to a crawl. The good news is this can often lead to a slower pace and better working environment for devs and writers alike. It will likely be pushed from September to late November before finally letting everyone know that this will be a March 2023 release. Overall, more than 40 games were delayed last year. Here's a quick list of some of the bigger games that got delayed in 2021:

Bottom Line: COVID isn't going away, and, for the foreseeable future, it will continue to have a tremendous effect on game studios' ability to deliver on their promised launch windows.

Prediction - Xbox will sell more consoles than PlayStation in 2022.

Sorry, Sony, but this next generation might belong to Microsoft. I personally believe that Sony, and specifically PlayStation, makes better hardware that plays nice with more developers. But Xbox understands gamers better. Their Game Pass is a far superior fishing lure to get gamers to switch to Xbox and stay there, with constant access to new games for no extra cost. Couple that with the smart pricing structure on the elite Series X and the cheaper Series S console, and it looks like Xbox might have a winner on its hands. You can see in the chart below that in the last 12 months more people in the US have searched for Xbox over PlayStation by a large margin, especially during the holiday season. The big X-factor here (pun intended) is the global chip shortages and Microsoft's ability to get their next-gen consoles into people's homes faster. The demand is there for both platforms, but the delays in availability may make people choose to buy whichever next-gen console is available once they've got the saved up cash to buy.

Search interest of Playstation vs Xbox over the last 12 months.

Bottom Line: Halo Infinite, Xbox Game Pass, Smart Pricing, and better advertising are clearly winning the day for Microsoft and Xbox in terms of interest but supply issues may make this a closer race than it appears.

I'll be back every few weeks with some more predictions. The value of a prediction is not accuracy (though it is better to be right than wrong), but the reasoning and conversation that the prediction catalyzes. Let me know if you think I'm right or wrong in the comments below!

Our resident Potterhead breaks down Hogwarts: Tournament of Houses and why fans love it

Well, your resident Potterhead is back! The new game show on TBS called Hogwarts: Tournament of Houses has wrapped up a 4-episode first season, and you know I have to dive into it! 

The series is here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the first movie of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. (I’m sorry, did you say 20 years?) When I first saw the trailer for this, I was naturally SO PUMPED. Then I started thinking about it: "How has no one done this before?! This game show literally writes itself!" 

SPOILERS AHEAD: If you would like to watch the show without knowing who wins, go to it now, then come back to finish reading!  

Catch the first episode for free at TBS.com.

To really get into what I love about this series, let’s walk through the structure of the episodes. The magic for HP fans is in how they put everything together.

The premise of the show is that 3-person teams representing Hogwarts houses face off in each episode with Dame Helen Mirren being the magical host. The fact that Helen Mirren is the host is one of the best things about it precisely because she was not in the films. Here's what I mean: The show opens with her walking towards the camera with a briefcase, setting it down, and declaring, "Well, finally, I have arrived. Tonight, I take my rightful place in the world of Harry Potter." her tone has just the slightest hint of sarcasm. Just twist the knife in deeper, Dame Helen! This pettiness is on a level I strive for! She keeps it going through the episodes, making continuous jabs at the fact that she was not in the movies, and it makes it so fun.

Dame Helen Mirren preparing for the evening of jabs and snark!

Here's how the tournament was set up:

The studio is decked out in all things Harry Potter, including the podium Dame Helen is hosting from. There is a small studio audience that she proclaims are the "world's biggest Harry Potter fans," but I need to interrupt right there and say, of course, that since I am not in the audience, that is not possible. Moving on... 

The studio audience is only fans rooting for the houses who are playing that night. So, for Episode 1, the audience was Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. This in-person audience is significant because the show chooses the contestants from the audience. And how else would they do this but by sending an onslaught of envelopes cascading from a fireplace that Dame Helen must catch, of course! It’s a fun intro, but the best part is the child-like glee on Dame Helen’s face and giggles the entire time she is trying to catch 6 envelopes. Then, after reading out the names, beautiful show editing has the contestants step out of the fireplace as if they have traveled by Floo Powder. Naturally, the HP geek in me is LOVING THIS. I'm sold, wine poured and ready, let's get this game started!

After Dame Helen asks questions to get to know a couple of the contestants, we dive right into Round 1: The World of Harry Potter. Each team is shown a scene from one of the films. The first question based on that scene is worth 10 points, the second is 20 points, and the third is 30 points. The first question is based on observations of the scene, and the ones that follow challenge the players' knowledge about that film. 

Seriously? What is there to debate?
Of course it was a light fixture!

Here's where I found one thing that irked me about the show: in this part, when the teams get their question, they then deliberate and explain why they are coming to the conclusion they are. That's frustrating and slightly annoying from a watcher’s perspective that is also a fan, because, to me, you either know it or you don't. No deliberation is needed! However, I'm sure they were asked to make it seem a little more difficult for television's sake, and deliberations give it that impression.

After Round 1, we of course need the official scorekeeper to let us know the scores, and who better to do that than Luke Youngblood! Luke played Lee Jordan in the films, the Gryffindor student who was the announcer at Quidditch events. Luke appears out of a sliding panel in the wall and provides an update. When he first does this in Episode 1, Dame Helen proclaims she's seen him before but can’t figure out where, and is certain it's not because they have worked together. Keep it going, ma’am!

The scorekeeper is none other than Luke Youngblood (a.k.a. Quidditch scorekeeper Lee Jordan).

With the Round 1 scores read, it is time for Round 2, aptly named The Dueling Club. The questions go up to 10, 30, and 50 points. The teams also have to choose members on the opposing team to answer the questions, with the 50-point question being the hardest. 

My fellow Gryffindors went wild seeing Matthew Lewis appear on the game board.

This is where strategy comes into play, which seems a little goofy at this stage.  Each team must choose a person on the opposite team to answer each specific question based on their knowledge of the HP series. For example, the Hufflepuff team should choose the most knowledgeable Gryffindor team member to get the easiest question (worth 10 points), saving the hardest question (worth 50) to the least knowledgeable person, who's most likely to get it wrong. Because the players have seemingly known each other for all of 10 minutes, this becomes tricky. The houses (audience) also play along and help add to the total score at the end. For the 50 point difficult question, they bring in former actors or huge fans of the series, such as Matthew Lewis, (Neville Longbottom), Simon Fisher-Becker (the Fat Friar), and Pete Davidson (Saturday Night Live cast member and a huge fan of the series). 

Round 3 is the Department of Magical Games in which there are several magical charms shown on the portrait wall, each representing a different style of question. The houses take turns choosing the style they want to play, with each question being worth 50 points. However, if the first house that attempts a question answers it incorrectly, the other house can steal it with a correct answer for 30 points. Each Round 3 question is inspired by a theme, and for Episode 1 that theme is Places.

Each team picks a charm and answers their question accordingly. For example, in Episode 1, Hufflepuff chooses Revelio, where they must uncover what happens next in a scene shown on the portrait wall. Gryffindor chooses Accio, where the show has summoned an actual prop from the films: they have to choose between 3 couches and determine which one was the actual couch in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 that Hermione's parents are sitting on when Hermione wipes their memory for their safety. *crying softly in the corner*

What I enjoy about Round 3 is the vast jump in the difficulty of questions compared to the other 2 rounds. Initially, with Round 1, the questions seem childishly easy. Then we get to questions where you can’t see anything, you only hear a noise from a scene in a film, and you have to identify what it is. Now this is the difficulty level where I am challenged!

The show ends with Round 4, called The Golden Snitch. In this round, teams answer 6 increasingly difficult questions at the same time, and the house members in the audience participate as well. Each question is worth 50 points, but if the houses answer all 6 questions correctly, they double the 300 points to 600! 

Gryffindor House audience members cheer on the contestants and answer questions to help their team in the final round.

After the Round 4 questions and answers, we get the final tally from Lee, er, Luke. In Episode 1, Hufflepuff beats Gryffindor (boo!), and in episode 2, Ravenclaw beats Slytherin (what!).  

Dame Helen promised that both Gryffindor and Slytherin will have a chance at redemption before the tournament is over, and they did! Episode 3 was a showdown for the ages, and Slytherin beat Gryffindor to secure a spot in the final.

This is the basic format for all of the episodes until we get to Episode 4. Starting that final episode, there are 3 teams, the winners of the first three episodes.  To whittle it down to 2, each of the 3 players from the same team must answer their own, individual questions while also being the fastest to press the button to answer against the others. This was a sly way of eliminating players. Ravenclaw jumped to an early lead with 2 players already answering correctly, leaving 1 player on their team who ended up getting answers wrong. That cost Ravenclaw, allowing Hufflepuff to secure their spot in the final! In the most unexpected twist of them all (that’s the Gryffindor in me), Hufflepuff went on to win it all, beating Slytherin!

Hufflepuff champions with Dame Helen Mirren.

Speaking of the final, the prizes! The winning team received a Harry Potter trip of a lifetime! It includes visits to the new New York City store, Harry Potter: The Exhibition, tickets to Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, tickets to The Cursed Child, and an advanced screening of The Secrets of Dumbledore. They also get to hoist a trophy reminiscent of the Goblet of Fire!

While the series does seem a little campy and child-like at first, its beauty is that it appeals to both adults and children and is aimed at being family-friendly. The fact that Harry Potter is still this relevant to this day makes my inner child scream with joy! (But not audibly, I would get stared at a lot.) I am so excited to see more of this series if they decide to make more seasons!

Have you watched any of the episodes? What are your thoughts? Are you challenged by the questions? Let me know below!

Witcher Animated Film is a Must-Watch Before Season 2

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is an animated feature film from Netflix extends the story of the Netflix live action series The Witcher. While the series is an adaptation of the stories from Andrzej Sapkowski's series of novels, this anime-style film from director Kwang Il Han tells the backstory of the witcher Vesemir and the sacking of Kaer Morhen that resulted in this world's shortage of witchers. Both Vesemir and Kaer Morhen will be part of Season 2 of The Witcher coming December 17, and this film should enrich your Season 2 experience if you've been following the series.

The film itself is beautiful to watch with intriguing characters and engaging storytelling. It has the style of a modern 2D anime like Attack on Titan. Be warned, though, that it also has violence and gore on par with both The Witcher series and with many teen+ anime series (like, again, Attack on Titan). Like its live-action counterpart, the film is definitely not made for either young kids or the faint of heart.

In its storytelling, the film makes no assumptions that you have read the books or played the games. The books and games do feature some of these characters and refer to the events depicted in the film, but the film is a completely original backstory for those characters and events. That said, the film is easier to connect to if you've at least seen Season 1 of The Witcher series.

If you do want to know a bit more before you seeing Nightmare of the Wolf (without any spoilers), here's the scoop:

Both novel readers and those who played the Witcher games from CD PROJEKT RED will recognize Vesemir as the mentor of Geralt, the main protagonist that gives the Witcher stories their name. They will also recognize Kaer Morhen as an old keep where witchers trained from childhood and where they gathered annually to live out each winter season. 

The film gives us a glance at Vesemir's life before Kaer Morhen, his trials to become a witcher, and his early life as a witcher around the time that Kaer Morhen was sacked. The sacking of Kaer Morhen was an event mentioned briefly in Season 1 of the Netflix series, and I suspect Season 2 will describe it in more detail. This film reveals the history leading up to that attack and how it all played out.

Tom Canton, who plays elven leader Filavandrel in The Witcher live action series, also voices Filavandrel in The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

Definitely check out The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf! Not only is it the perfect companion for Netflix series fans, but book and game fans should also have fun seeing familiar faces and references and an adventurous young Vesemir in action!

Have you seen The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf? What did you think? Share your reactions in the comments.

It wouldn't be The Witcher without a steamy bath scene.

Why Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is Better than Back to the Future

Tick, tick tick...it's the only sound that I hear when trying to type this article out. “There’s never enough time” when I have a lot of thoughts on this subject. I wish I had a machine that could turn back time, or at least pause it.

Let’s go back to the 80s where two influential movies were about traveling through time: Back to the Future (1985) and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). Both are great movies in their own rights, but if I had to choose which one is superior? My pick is Bill and Ted, hands down. I know what you’re thinking, "How can you not choose the bigger franchise?" Let me point out a few comparisons between the films, and then you can hear me out on why I appreciate Bill and Ted more. 

Original poster for Back to the FutureCaution:There are spoilers in this article, so if you have not watched either of these films, I totally recommend watching both before reading on.

Let's start with the costs and risks in each production. From what I can gather, the two films' budgets had a $9 million difference: Back to the Future at $19 million vs. Bill and Ted at $10 million. We also know that the majority of Back to the Future's budget went towards the special effects. Plus, Steven Spielberg was riding the success of films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Gremlins (1984) when he came in to help as an Executive Producer, and the film cast both established and up-and-coming actors such as Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover. Universal Studios knew they had a hit on their hands. 

Original poster for Bill & Ted's Excellent AdventureBill and Ted, on the other hand, had the challenge of finding leads. The crew knew that they couldn't break the bank for the leads or else the project would have stalled or risk getting canceled. Keanu Reeves (Ted) was unknown at the time with a resume consisting of a few Coca-Cola commercials and a hockey movie with Patrick Swayze called Youngblood (1986). Alex Winter (Bill) was previously cast as one of David's vampires in The Lost Boys (1987). So De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) wasn't too sure if this Bill and Ted project would be a hit or not. It would be neat to have watched this back when it came out, wondering whether the actors would actually make it big long before Keanu Reeves became synonymous with John Wick or Alex Winter directed the Ben 10 movies.

So far, that makes Bill and Ted the dark horse in this comparison, taking the bigger risk and having the most challenges. And I love those kinds of films. A similar favorite is Sam Raimi’s first movie The Evil Dead, which had a budget of around $375K but went on to make $2.7 million and become a popular franchise. Likewise, George Miller's lower-budget Mad Max spawned the iconic Australian franchise and launched a career for Mel Gibson.

Marty McFly plays rock and roll to a 1955 crowd

In Back to the Future, Marty distracted the crowd by playing some rock and roll.

Next, let's look at the plots between the movies. Back to the Future's Marty McFly gets stuck in 1955 using a time machine built from a modified DeLorean while escaping from terrorists that killed his friend who made the machine. Not only does Marty have to get back to his time, he also has to fix the goof-up he made that prevented his dad from meeting his mom in the timeline.

Bill and Ted are lifelong best friends that have to figure out a way to pass their history exam. If they don't pass, their band Wyld Stallyns will break up cause Ted's dad will send him to military school. The band's breakup will ruin the future where they brought peace to the universe. To prevent that, Rufus, played by the late great George Carlin, goes back in on a modified telephone booth that he lends them to use to gather history’s key figures. 

Wyld Stallyns practicing

Bill and Ted practicing their Wyld Stallyns music.

Both films had rocky productions at different points of filming. During Back to the Future, The original Marty McFly was Eric Stoltz, who was coming off a high-profile role at the time starring with Cher and Sam Elliott in the award-winning Mask (1985). I recall reading that it was within a month or two that they decided to go in a different direction and cast Michael J. Fox, believing that he would be able to pull off the goofball comedy moments. If the production of Bill and Ted felt like they made the wrong decision after a month in, they would have been shit out of luck since they wouldn't even have the funds to reshoot key scenes like Back to the Future did.

Eric Stolz as Marty McFly before the role was recast

Eric Stolz (left) as Marty McFly with Christopher Lloyd on the set of Back to the Future, before Eric was replaced by Michael J. Fox.

Bill and Ted also made an unorthodox production decision by completely changing the ending during the last few days of filming. Instead of the iconic ending where they had the historical figures coming in one at a time with kickass music playing and Billy the Kid shooting one of the light fixtures, we almost got the stereotypical high school version of getting in front of the class and just talking. The director and the crew knew that they needed to make an adjustment and spend extra money for the extra set pieces and actors to do their presentations. 

Guinea pig from Josh Neff's film

The guinea pig from my 40-hour film project.

Being able to change on the fly like that during the end of a production shoot makes me appreciate the film more. I can relate as I remember the time I was competing in the 48-hour Film Festival. We had a scene in which the main character passed out and was dreaming about his "guardian angel." After a few takes, we felt that we couldn't make our guardian angel look ridiculous enough. After half an hour of brainstorming, we decided to film a guinea pig owned by one of our crew and draw an Abraham Lincoln stovepipe hat in post-production. During the premier, the guinea pig got a big pop from the crowd which was reassuring for my team.

Besides its humor, another thing that pops up in my head when I think about Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is how awesome the soundtrack is. It doesn't have a complete orchestral score like Back to the Future. Instead, it has different bands that most people had never heard of getting their shot to have their songs play in a motion picture. If you play any of those songs for 3-5 seconds, I can automatically tell you what scene it is from. The song that gets me most hyped was at the end of the movie where Bill and Ted give their presentation: "Walk Away" by Bricklin. A close second is "Two Heads Better Than One" by Power Tool just because that was catchy when the crew was recruiting the historical figures for their history report. 

By comparison, Back to the Future had three memorable pieces of music: the "Main Theme" by Alan Silvestri, "Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News, and "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry. The rest of the soundtrack was forgettable for me. Thus, I think Bill and Ted has the edge when it comes to music.

Bill and Ted visit Socrates in Ancient Greece

Ted waxes philosophical with Socrates in Ancient Greece.

In spite of my bias toward Bill and Ted, I admit that I'm impressed by how both films made their set-pieces. With Back to the Future, recreating the 1950s look was a challenge getting the right clothes, car, paint style, gas pumps, and buildings, such as the diner. Bill and Ted had an equally difficult challenge setting up multiple locations throughout the film, such as the wild west, Athens (Greece), and "somewhere in Medieval Europe." Bill and Ted got to balance that challenge with some fun depicting what the future might look like.

Diner from 1955 in Back to the Future

This stylized 1950s diner was just one of many period set designs for Back to the Future.

Remember how earlier in the article that Bill and Ted had the biggest risks and challenges? That went beyond the end of production. As post-production was starting in 1988, the same year the film was set to be released, DEG went bankrupt. The film was finally released in 1989, though the filmmakers had trouble trying to sell the film to different studios and have it released in theaters. Most studios didn't understand the use of vocabulary in the film, asking, “Is this how kids talk these days?”

Don't get me wrong, both of these movies are great in their own ways. Both made more money than what each studio expected, and both became pop culture icons that are still well-known today. Growing up as a kid, though, I leaned towards Bill and Ted because it was a straight-up comedy with some history, in which I have to note that 80% of the historical figures Bill and Ted picked up died in the worst way. Back to the Future has a more serious tone with funny bits, drama, and action scenes, which is fine. But if I had to choose a movie to watch on a rainy day, it would be Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Let me know how you feel about these films in the comments below, and whether you agree or disagree about which film is better… SAN DIMAS FOOTBALL RULES!

 

The Kings of American Late Night TV

Call me an old soul. There’s something charming about watching television shows before the age of YouTube, particularly shows made here in the United States. They're a time capsule of what's happened in the past. The trends, the fashion, even the way people talked during the time are always fascinating to watch. What’s more interesting are the late night talk shows that have been in syndication for decades now. The shows are legendary, but the hosts are more famous than the shows themselves. Here are the hosts that stood out above the crowd.

"Here’s Johnny!" - The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson on set (MCT)

That catchphrase was on TVs all across America from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. Johnny Carson was the King of Late Night television on NBC’s third iteration of The Tonight Show. Much of what late night is today was based on Johnny’s show format. Without sidekicks like Carson's Ed McMahon, there wouldn’t be sidekicks such as Andy Richter from Conan, Steve Higgins from the current Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, or even Geoff Peterson from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Band leaders on late shows like Paul Shaffer, Questlove, and Jon Batiste all follow the legacy of Doc Severinsen, who led his own orchestra on Carson. Johnny's format was timeless. 

Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson (The New York Times)

Johnny Carson (right) with long-time colleague Ed McMahon. (The New York Times)

In a tribute episode of The Late Show with David Letterman when Johnny Carson passed away in 2005, Letterman remarked that everyone who hosts a late night talk show wants to do their version of The Tonight Show. Sure, they can emulate him, but they can never be him. 

What was even more memorable about Carson were the sketches he took part of during his tenure on The Tonight Show. One of the most iconic recurring sketches was Carnac the Magnificent. Ed McMahon hypes up the audience as he introduces Carnac, the turbaned seer from the East, played by Carson. He walks onto the stage, always stumbling on a step before he takes a seat. He predicts the question inside a “hermetically” sealed envelope that was locked away in a mayonnaise jar at a local sporting goods store since noon that day (or something like that). He would then hold the envelope to his head and utter the answer to the question inside. He would open the envelope, blow on it to take the card out, and read the punchline. 

Here are some of Carnac's predictions over the years:

Check out this Carnac sketch where he delivers one of these great punchlines:

When a prediction falls flat, Carnac would say something snarky. When Ed hands the seer the last envelope, the audience applauds knowing the sketch is ending, to which Carnac says something even snarkier.

While interviewing guests, Carson still is the star of the show as he highlights his guests and what they’re up to. Whether or not the guests were pleasant or the questions were tough, Johnny would always make the topic entertaining. The audience still gets a kick no matter what guest is on the show.

Check out Johnny with Dom Deluise in 1974 letting the comedian do his work:

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Dick Cavett!" - The Dick Cavett Show

Dick Cavett on set (ABC Photo Archives)

A former writer on Carson’s The Tonight Show, Dick Cavett hosted The Dick Cavett Show on ABC opposite Carson on NBC from 1969-1975. It was a competition, albeit a friendly one, to see who will be a ratings juggernaut. However, Carson reigned in the rating every single time. Then, while Carson stayed on one network, Cavett’s show moved to CBS in 1975 and bounced around between networks for two more decades.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Dick Cavett (BBC)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono were guests on the Dick Cavett Show. (BBC)

What makes Cavett one of the Kings of Late Night? While Carson was flamboyant and full of pizzazz, Cavett showed his chill side and focused more on the interview than lighthearted sketches. Instead of asking 21 questions or showing his dominance as a host, he would always be level with the guest.

As a result of this focus, Cavett breaks the late night show mold by bringing in guests that are not common to late night: legendary Spanish painter Salvador Dali, film director Truman Capote, and even film mogul Orson Welles. It was the counterculture of what was going on with late night at the time, which was more about that Carson-like pizzazz. Cavett's interview approach was a big contrast, too. Carson would have multiple guests on to promote their stuff for a few minutes at a time, but Cavett brought in a single guest and let them be themselves and show. 

Check out below with Cavett interviewing Jimi Hendrix discussing his life as a musician taking off to stardom:

In this interview clip, you can see that Cavett brings out more of his guests with his cool and laissez faire demeanor. And the guests are comfortable to share more of themselves as the interview goes along. The guests, and even Cavett himself, often got lost in the conversation and forgot there was a show still going on!

 

"From New York, The Greatest City of the World!" - Late Show with David Letterman

David Letterman monologue (Getty Images)

David Letterman is what I grew up with watching late night TV. My uncle, who worked as an accountant at CBS at the time, would always joke at family dinners, "When will Dave pick up his paycheck because he doesn't have time to pick them up? He’s that popular!" The Late Show was my lullaby to an arduous day in college and my early career. His humor always finds ways for me to laugh.

Ed Sullivan Theater during Late Show with David Letterman (Shutterstock)That's the genius of Letterman's hosting that made him a clear King of Late Night. He didn’t shy away from the norms of what comedy should be. He blazed his own brand of comedy to entertain the masses. And the audience would soak that all in.

That unique brand included bits like his regular visits to local deli owner Rupert Jee, who owns Hello Deli in the Ed Sullivan Theater building that was home to Dave's show. Dave would send him out to do random tasks for the show: wait tables obnoxiously, sing a song from the movie Frozen, or even skydive! It was often when the show had run out of ideas for sketches that week that Rupert was brought along for the ride.

Here's a clip of Rupert Jee taking a leap of faith in 2005:

While interviewing guests, Letterman would not shy away from letting his guests know what he thought of them or from asking challenging questions like his mentor Johnny Carson. If he finds the guest interesting, he’ll tag along with the guest. If he finds the guest annoying, though, he won’t hold back on how this interview is going nowhere. This interview with Michael Shannon shows what it was like when the interview went well:

Also check the video below of the infamous interview he did with Joaquin Phoenix back in 2009 where an interview seems to go nowhere:

Later on, Phoenix admitted that it was all an act and that the audience and even Letterman himself weren’t even aware of it!

I had the privilege of seeing Letterman live in 2015, and it was a spectacle to see. What's even more interesting is how his brash comedy becomes more magnified as you see it physically in front of you instead of a TV screen. In the live audience, I got to see Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra play during the commercial breaks. And man they are really talented musicians, something you can't fully appreciate just watching on TV! The overall atmosphere was ecstatic and full of energy. You just want to keep cheering Dave on to keep him going. Everything was kept under wraps and you’re confined to the studio throughout the taping. Security aside, though, it was a really memorable moment, and not long before his retirement that year!

 

"It’s a Great Day For America, Everybody!" - The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show set (The New Yorker)

Last, I have to include one of the most off-beat and nonchalant hosts I've ever watched late at night. I always compare him to the Sour Patch Kids candy: he’s naughty and frisky on some episodes and a sweetheart in others. That man is Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson who hosted The Late Late Show from 2005 to 2014, replacing former host Craig Kilborn. Though he had a shorter run than all the previous hosts in this article, Ferguson left an indelible mark on late night TV.

Craig Ferguson with Geoff Peterson (CBS)

Craig Ferguson and his bony sidekick Geoff Peterson. (CBS)

Every Craig Ferguson episode feels like seeing an improv show. Every joke seemed ad-libbed, and Craig’s spontaneous humor seemed to burst out of nowhere! Even Craig himself would crack up in surprise when the bit worked!

One of these moments happened when he incorporated puppets into the show. But these were no ordinary puppets! These puppets could cuss like a sailor on rum! First was Sid, the foul-mouthed North Londoner white rabbit. Then came Wavy Rancheros, a sassy alligator from Louisiana who constantly waves at the audience and rants at the audience to start the show off right. Wavy was such a hit that he took over hosting duties for the 1,000th episode of The Late Late Show. Here's a clip of Wavy showing his angry side:

Craig also read viewer mail as a bit in the show, and he answered it in a funny way. When he goes into a tirade is when the real magic happens in those viewer mail portions. And when he swears, there’s always a flag with the country’s language to censor it, way better than just a bleep.

As an interviewer, Craig charmed his guests. He didn't read and follow his cue cards and ripped them to shreds. And he even got his guests involved in the show's gags, including things like taking an awkward pause or playing harmonica to end their interview.

Carl Reiner with Craig Ferguson (CBS)

Carl Reiner (left) was a recurring guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. (CBS)

One of our editors, Stephanie Watson, added more insight as to why Craig Ferguson is a late show icon. She had the privilege of being in his studio audience in 2007 which taped the same day in the same CBS Studios building where the legendary Bob Barker was taping his final show as host of The Price is Right. Stef remembers that Craig's audience was really small and intimate. She got to see some parts they taped for future episodes, too, that would air later in the week.

Stef's favorite moment of the taping was when Craig took time to talk with the audience before the taping and then hint at those side conversations in his monologues. It was like an inside joke only the studio audience would get. She also got to see legendary actor, comedian, and writer Carl Reiner! Similar to my Letterman audience experience, Stef couldn't leave during the "commercials" while they were taping. Fortunately, they could keep a bottle of water on hand.

James Corden and Craig Ferguson (CBS)

James Corden and Craig Ferguson

Stef's take on seeing Craig as a host is similar to my own: his sharp wit, quick sense of humor, and warm demeanor really stand out among other late night hosts. He impressed future hosts to continue his same brand of humor and getting the guests in on the gags. His successor, James Corden, took it up a notch with his famous Carpool Karaoke, which is now a viral hit on YouTube.

 

Some honorable mentions:

Sharing late night fame with these legends are numerous honorable mentions whose impact still has significant weight on the television landscape. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Jay Leno: In the fourth iteration of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno had an opportunity to take over Carson's duties from 1992 until 2009. What made Leno unique was one of his segments where he took local newspaper clippings and poked fun at them. Then he would create the punchline out of them or just let the clipping do the talking as the audience started to laugh. An interesting aspect of Leno's interviews was his ability to find a "gotcha" moment, with varying guest reactions.

Check this clip with Hugh Grant about cheating on his then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, in 1995. Grant was brave enough to come forward about it:

Joan Rivers: The first-ever female host on late-night television, Joan Rivers was a pioneer. She gave credit for her success to Johnny Carson who gave her a shot as a guest host on The Tonight Show. Fox took notice and immediately picked her up to start her own show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, in 1986. Her show lasted one season. What stood out with Rivers was her ability to tell a story through her monologues. She can take any topic and make it relevant to the audience. Her brash, no-nonsense humor clicked with the audience.

Watch this showcase of her work on The Tonight Show and her fabulous monologues:

Given all these legendary shoes to fill, what does the future hold for late night? 

Late night veteran Conan O’Brien made an online presence by creating his own podcast, Conan Needs A Friend, and conducting longer interviews much like Cavett did on television. 

Jimmy Fallon and The Roots with Ed Sheeran (NBC)

In the current iteration of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots often perform with their music guests, sometimes using kids' classroom instruments. Here, they're performing "Shape of You" with Ed Sheeran.

Jimmy Fallon keeps the current iteration of The Tonight Show powered by entertainment much like Carson's. Fallon plays games with guests like Slap Jack in which a player who busts on a game of blackjack gets smacked by a giant foam hand. 

Stephen Colbert, now hosting The Late Show, brings his iconic political satire to the late night landscape. 

The groundwork for these modern hosts was laid by the legends. Carson, Cavett, Letterman, and Ferguson blazed the trail of late night television, and the future night lights shine bright for both traditional primetime and modern online mediums.

So which of these kings of late night would you like to see more of? What are your favorite late night hosts from other countries? Share those in the comments and let's discuss!

Stephen Colbert selfie with David Letterman

Stephen Colbert (left) taking a selfie with his Late Show predecessor David Letterman. (KPCW)

Emotions in Gaming: Hit or Miss?

I feel like the color wheel that I learned in primary school may have a few gaps that need to be filled in. I mean, the basics are all there; happy, sad, mad, scared, excited, but there are so many more emotions that life throws at us – depression, anxiety, arousal, the unique hell that is hangry, and the true fear and desperation that grips you after the triple-layer chili bean burrito kicks in 1 hour into a 2-and-a-half-hour road trip.

That particularly exciting pants-shitting incident aside, the point I’m trying to get across is that humans have a lot of emotions (which we don’t always deal with in the healthiest of manners). As an explicit outlet for our creative impulses, the artistic world tries to elicit responses from its audience by tapping into these emotions.

Movies, television, novels, and most of pop culture seem to have this sort of stuff down pat by now, but as a younger medium, it feels like video games are much more hit or miss.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely games that deliver the old one-two emotional gut punch that knocks you off your feet and keep kicking you while you’re down. Hell, I bawled my eyes out during that scene with Aunt May in the hospital in Spiderman and the end of Infamous 2 like everybody else. I rewatched both these scenes prior to writing this and it still brings me to tears.

Yes games have long aspired to reach the emotional heights of their older brethren film and television and now that people are becoming more comfortable with the idea that video games can be art we have begun to see some games reach these lofty goals. The “some” in that sentence is doing a lot of lifting there so let’s unpack.

Where film and television can keep a psychotic death grip on the pacing through the use of leaving stuff on the cutting room floor and only picking the most essential parts (and keeping the rest to add in for the eventual Directors Cut), video games don’t have that luxury.

As a medium where the audience has an unprecedented level of control on the proceedings of the game it’s impossible for developers to ensure the experience is the same for everyone.

As a result the developers can dump all the story into the worldbuilding and crowbar it in as exposition in between gameplay (the original Titanfall being a prominent example). That’s not a story, that’s being dictated to.

When I play games, I don’t want to be told to feel a certain way about the events and what’s happening to the characters just because the developers say I have to. That’s just lazy storytelling or poor planning.

The first time I really encountered this was in the indie game This War of Mine. For those of you that haven’t played This War of Mine, you’re running a survivor’s colony in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world where this war is a big nebulous cloud hanging over everything as you just try to avoid getting swept up into it.

You start out by scavenging and looting abandoned stores and houses, but you can only loot sweet shops for so long. Eventually, you have to graduate from robbing the deceased to robbing from the very alive and armed.

This culminates in a harrowing moment early on in the game when you’re looting an old man’s house, and he catches you in the act. At first, you think he’s going to attack you but then you realize he’s no threat and can only whine as you nick all his stuff.

It was heartbreaking watching as my character stripped the old man's means of survival right out of his withered, bony hands. Knowing that he would surely perish because of my actions made me tear up a little.

That raw emotional goodwill that the game had built up curdled somewhat when a bit later in the game, my scavenger got gunned down raiding a military base. Assault rifles being much more effective than a game of paper, scissors, rock.

I returned to the bunker down one scavenger and the people in the camp flicked their emotional levers from “whining about the lack of food and the existential dread of their situation in life,” to “sad and whining about the lack of food and the existential dread of their situation in life”.

I don’t know why they were so sad. I’d never seen any of them so much as talk to the guy let alone play any soul-bonding sessions of Jenga together. I didn’t have the backstory or the relevant context on their relationship that I needed to care about them.

Compare that to Red Dead Redemption 2 and the (spoiler) death of Arthur Morgan’s horse. I’d watched Arthur Morgan and his horse bond and grow closer as a result of my own direct actions. I’d survived shootouts and outrun bandits and the law from one end of the US to the other on the back of my trusty steed. I’d seen that and had that context so that when I watched my beloved horse stumble and die all those memories and experiences were right there to emotionally break me. I felt the pain of Arthur as he watched his trusty steed leave him.

You can’t just tell someone they’re sad; they have to feel it; they have to absorb those feelings and process them in a way that’s personal to them. Their personal experiences and context inform all of their emotional responses. Let me explain (or try to with the grace of an alpine skier navigating an apartment stairwell during a fire).

I love the Uncharted franchise. I think it's some of Naughty Dog’s best work and it’s a game series that I can always boot up, sit back, and enjoy. The first time I finished Among Thieves (the franchise’s best entry) the tears were rolling down my face just like the end credits. I didn’t even realize why I was crying until after I met Nolan North and told him what happened, much to his understandable confusion (also got some great selfies with him like the one below).

I had just spent a great twelve hours experiencing a great game controlling Nathan Drake through a globe-trotting adventure capped off with an absolute thrilling boss fight that I definitely didn’t squeal like a pig during, and now it was all over. It was all over, and I’d never experience that for the first time ever again.

If the game had then flashed up a message in the sky that said: “Game Over, you be sad now,” all the emotional weight the game had built up would have sucked right back into me like a traumatic reverse childbirth.

A game that I think does this really well is Spec Ops: The Line. It’s the only war shooter that’s made me feel fear, guilt, and physical sickness. As you pilot Captain Martin Walker on his descent through a ruined Dubai, you become less a pilot and more like a witness to the horrible acts Walker commits, acting as the last vestige of consciousness.

The game puts you in horrible situations, gives you choices where the only difference is the degree to which Walker continues to spiral downwards, and gives you the freedom to make that choice. Then the game moves on and leaves you to come to terms with the undoubtedly horrible war crime you committed.

The best part is that the game never sits you down after these acts and explicitly states what emotions the characters are feeling. It trusts you enough to be able to figure it out; mind-blowing concept as that is.

Shadow of The Colossus, The Last Of Us, Red Dead, Bioshock. These games aren’t scared to push emotionally complex themes and ideas on their audiences and just leave them to figure it out for themselves.

For me, that’s what this all comes down to. The emotions we feel don’t come from the games themselves. Sure, the games bring out these emotions in us but ultimately, the emotions come from us and our personal context.

The frustrating thing is that I feel like the majority of the triple-A video game industry just expects that if they throw in enough elements that worked in other games, the audience will magically feel all those same emotions just because they’re there.

It’s like looking at a beautiful sculpture that an artist poured blood, sweat, and tears into, then taking a marble slab and hacking at it with a chainsaw all with the expectation that the end result will stack up anywhere close to the original.

Pure insanity. 

What game gave you a case of the feels? Let me know down below.

Gears Keep Turning: Celebrating 10 Years of Gears Of War 3

The only way to describe the year 2011 is that it was simply built differently. This was a year that offered an abundance of killer video game titles that were consistently released back to back. We were treated to absolute gems with the likes of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, Dark Souls, and so many more that this list could go on and on. This month we are celebrating 10 years since the release of the absolute spectacle that is Gears Of War 3.

Gears Of War 3 launched on September 20, 2011, and was widely accepted by critics and fans alike. This was meant to serve as the conclusion to the trilogy of games created by Epic Games. After having to wait in anticipation for nearly three years after the release of Gears Of War 2, players were eagerly waiting to "finish the fight," so to say, against the Locust Horde.

The buildup around this game had nearly everything a fan could ask for. Originally dated to release in April of 2011, the title was delayed and pushed back to September to be one of the stand-out titles during the holiday season. Luckily for fans, an open Multiplayer Beta was released around the time of the original release date. Players could even get into the action a few days earlier if they purchased People Can Fly's "Bullet-Storm" (a very underrated game, by the way). The Beta allowed players to earn an exclusive golden retro lancer weapon skin and a Thrashball Cole character skin to use in multiplayer modes when the final product was released later that year.

Award-winning Cosplayer and Foamsmith Supadezz Gears up in an impressive COG soldier armor.

Fate Of Carmine Campaign

Leading up to the release of Gears 3, Epic Games launched the Fate of Carmine campaign.  As the title states, fans of the franchise were able to decide the fate of the newest member of the accident-prone Carmine family, Private Clayton Carmine. The Carmine family has been a favorite among the Gears community over the years due to the running gag that not only is each Carmine a force to be reckoned with, but they are all but guaranteed to die in each game in some horrible fashion. Fans were able to cast their vote by purchasing two different t-shirts for their Xbox avatars on the Xbox 360 marketplace. One saying "SAVE CARMINE" and the other "CARMINE MUST DIE!". The t-shirt with the most sales would be dubbed the winner and seal the fate of Delta squads newest teammate.

Trailers, Trailers, And Trailers

Next up came the trailers. The series has had a reputation for the past 16 years of dishing out emotional trailers, which not only show all the war and violence that is to be expected but the personal struggles that come with it and how far this story has come. And boy did they deliver. The story reveal trailer featured Black sabbath's "War Pigs," playing over a handful of Epic moments that players can expect while chainsawing their way through the campaign alone or with up to three friends. Then there were the more somber and heart-felt trailers titled "Ashes To Ashes" and "Dust To Dust," which focus more on the Brothers To The End aspect of the game. Here you get a feel for how close these brothers in arms truly are and just how much they have been through and sacrificed throughout the years fighting to bring back some form of peace to their world.

 

All-Star Cast

For a mega-blockbuster game, you needed to have quite a star-studded cast, and that was a department Gears 3 needed no help in. Rounding out Delta Squads’ voice actors is John Dimaggio who played the veteran war hero Marcus Fenix, and Carlos Ferro as the loyal and courageous Dominic Santiago. Lester Speight unleashed his energetic and lovable personality as Thrashball player turned soldier Augustus Cole, while Fred Tatasciore perfected the sarcastic yet resourceful Damon Baird. Not only did Epic secure these larger than life voice actors to play the leading roles in the series, but they also went a step further in casting Black Panther star Michael B Jordan as Corporal Jace Stratton and actor/rapper Ice-T to play Stranded Leader and CEO of Griffin Imulsion Corporation, Aaron Griffin. These voice actors gave it everything they had and gave players an experience like no other with terrific chemistry and key moments in the game that still leave players emotional even ten years later. 

 

Gear Up Soldier!

At long last, Gears Of War 3 was released worldwide, and with it came an end to a six-year trilogy. The campaign tied up many loose ends in terms of story and lore but also left enough threads open just in case it had a story to tell in the distant future (which we now know is the case with the more recent titles). The campaign also featured an arcade mode where players could compete with other Xbox live friends to see who could get the highest score in each chapter. Fun and unique features were implemented in the form of mutators that added more pleasure or difficulty to your playthroughs, such as infinite ammo, big head mode, or no ammo pickups.

Other game modes that launched alongside the campaign included the ever-popular Horde mode 2.0 and the newest game mode to the franchise “Beast mode.” Horde 2.0 was bigger, badder, and better than the horde that launched previously in Gears Of War 2. This time around, players were introduced to a new currency system in which every kill a player gets, they receive points. These may be redeemed to buy fortifications such as barriers and sentries to help defend from the never-ending onslaught of incoming waves of enemies. A variety of new bosses were added to the mix, which would randomly appear every ten waves causing players to think on their feet and adjust to several different scenarios. New to the series was Beast mode. Here it plays like the previously mentioned Horde mode but with a twist. This time you play as the Locust and wreak havoc on the COG heroes. Instead of buying fortifications, players unlock different tiers of Locust to take control of and tear through the enemy’s defenses.

Overall, when Gears Of War 3 was released ten years ago, it brought an experience like no other and is viewed as a game that still holds up in 2021. The series has since published over three novels, a line of comic books, six additional games, and even a movie adaptation in the works. While we wait for Gears 6 to inevitably come out, there’s no better time to revisit the past with Gears Of War 3 and join Marcus and the rest of Delta squad to once again bring back hope to humanity.

 

If you enjoyed this article and want to share your thoughts/experiences on the conclusion of the original Gears trilogy, leave a comment down below. And for all things Gears, be sure to check out some of my other articles including The Tears Of War - 10 Most Emotional Moments In Gears.

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part III - Featuring Maria Kinnun & Jen Miller

I had a great discussion with Maria and Jen about their personal experience with gaming and how their experience had changed over the years as video games evolved.  For Maria, gaming has played a large part of her life from an early age as she and her siblings anticipated the newest releases throughout the years. Jen also got an early start but took a bit of a break from the gaming scene for a portion of her 20s. She has since rediscovered her passion for gaming. 

We talked about the industry shift from marketing to mainly male players to seeing a significant rise of strong female lead characters that we can relate to for one reason or another. We’ll also talk about their experience with streaming and how it can be challenging at times. But at other times, it can be rewarding and helpful to overcome social anxieties and be more comfortable with being vulnerable. 

Let’s get a little history from two more of our fellow Replayers: 

How did you become a gamer and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

The Amstrad CPC 464 was the start of Maria’s gaming journey.

Maria: My parents bought an Amstrad CPC 464. It was a tape-driven computer and had simple games on it. My first ever game was Harrier Attack. Terrible game, but it was the start of a long journey of fun. I pretty much started as that little sister player 2 but carried it on all the way through my life. Since then, I have owned most of the major consoles and have been gaming ever since.  I was often a player 2 sidekick to my older brother, and we would spend many a night battling through games. We didn't have internet or social media, so our game time was our biggest pastime. It just naturally seemed to become a way of life. It was exciting waiting for that new game, that new console. There was always something new on the horizon and something to be excited about. Gaming has been a big part of my childhood and now into adulthood, too.

 

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego for the Tandy 1000

Jen: I started out with a Tandy 1000 computer at my grandma's when I was 3 or 4, playing King's Quest, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. I also played a lot of NES and Sega Genesis when I was a kid. I took a break from gaming for most of my 20s, then I won an original Xbox from Taco Bell and got an original Playstation for Christmas where I played Spyro the Dragon for days. I can’t recall a specific influence, except for maybe watching the movie The Wizard when I was a kid. I was amazed at Super Mario 3, and it's still one of my favorite retro games.

 

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to them? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Pirates and puzzles in Monkey Island offer hours of entertainment.

Maria: I loved puzzle adventures. Monkey Island was my favorite game for a long time. I loved Pirates and treasures so naturally, I fell in love with the Uncharted series. I have always loved story-driven games and games with exploration. I do like a good old FPS though. It's kinda satisfying just blowing stuff up, ya know!

 

I like challenges in puzzles and mind games, things I have to think about and dwell on. For me, gaming is kind of a way to flex my brain muscles and escape the world for a bit. I like games that are relaxing but I prefer games with a driven story. I tend to get distracted too much when there isn't a goal or mission. Games that require grinding or farming lose my interest after a while. When I was younger I did enjoy more simulation games and builders such as Sim City. As I have become busier in life, my time to game is a little more precious and I am usually looking for something with a quick fix, not something I have to dedicate too much time to. I am also a magpie and like new shiny things so I tend to move on to something different if it seems to give me a quicker fix. I do like survival horror too. I'm a horror geek.

 

The classic combination Mario Bros & Duck Hunt cartridge

Jen: On the original NES I played a lot of Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt, but I also loved (and also hated) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They were challenging enough, but also fun to play.

 

I feel like my preference has evolved as games have. I started out playing original games for NES, Atari, and Intellivision. Now I mostly play first-person shooters and open-world exploration games. I really enjoy a good storyline but graphic quality is also extremely important to me. Games like The Last of Us and Uncharted are my favorites.

Who's your favorite turtle?

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Maria: I feel like girls have always played games but there was always more of a focus of it being a boy toy. I felt you were the weird girl if you gamed. I played games growing up and was labeled as a "tomboy" for doing so. Video games were something that boys talked about, and girls who played games talked about it with the boys. I knew a few girl gamers growing up but it was kind of a secret passion that they didn't really talk about in fear of being ridiculed by the girl society. Us girls were supposed to play with hair and dolls, not murder monsters and be heroes! It does feel like lately, more girls are coming into the limelight as serious gamers. With such platforms as Youtube and Twitch, girl gamers are coming out more and being seen. It still does seem to be a male-dominated market but I can see that the tables are slowly turning and it is a nice thing to see.

Jen: I honestly didn't pay a lot of attention until I saw memes about "fake girl gamers". I've noticed since then the momentum of getting more female gamers in the spotlight, and it's been really nice to see.

 

Have there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Ellie from TLOU2 has inspired and challenged the typical strong lead mold for video games moving forward.

Maria: I loved Ellie in the Last of Us. She just felt real to me and someone I could relate to and her way reminded me of myself. The fact that she was a girl and she was a "normal" girl, was refreshing. Her “girlness" didn't really come into play in the way she acted. She never felt like she couldn't do something and was always looking to stand up and fight her own battles. To me also, it helped that her character wasn't sexualized to sell her and make her appealing. Her character was strong. Lara croft comes to mind also but I did feel that the original Lara was made for boys. I still think that it was awesome that game creators took a chance with her to have a female lead do everything the guys could and pave the way for a strong female hero. I also loved Abby in TLOU2!

Jen: Laura Bailey is so incredibly talented in everything she does, Ashley Johnson has always been an amazing actor. Felicia Day...what can I say about her that hasn't been said. And my fellow Replayers who stream, you all inspire and motivate me every day. Please keep it up!

 

 

 

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Maria: I do! There are a few games I could name where a female was a lead but I feel like that has increased a lot recently. I would love to see more female characters leading the adventures and being cool, just like the guys! I would also like to see female characters being taken more seriously and not just eye-candy. I think we are all a little tired of the skimpy suits of armor for our female characters.  I love that games are moving that way and there are some really good female leads coming into play. I like that a female character isn't just being included as a side character but as the main star. I also love seeing more women in the business too, being the minds behind these games. I would love to see more girls in the gaming industry

Jen: I was extremely excited when Horizon Zero Dawn came out, having a female protagonist in an open-world game like that was incredible. Tomb Raider/Lara Croft has always been a force to be reckoned with. And with Last of Us Part II being driven by the story of two strong, powerful women, made me feel so empowered.

 

Some of us are streamers: 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Maria: Mostly good, I have enjoyed the community that I have met and my experience has been a positive one. I feel that streaming has really helped with my social anxiety and has helped me grow confidence in my brand and myself. It can be hard. With life and everything else, it can be a little overwhelming at times and it can be hard to find the time to be consistent. I often don't feel like I want to stream but I always feel better once I do. It’s good fun!

Jen: It's fun, but also frustrating. I want to share my experience with certain games, but I don't always want to stream. When I do stream, I tend to do full playthroughs. Picking a time where I can get a lot of viewers is difficult due to having so many friends in different time zones.

 

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things? 

Maria: I like being able to create a brand and have fun with it. It's nice to put yourself out there and have people follow and enjoy what you do. This can be good and bad. Putting yourself out there can make you feel very vulnerable. If you are someone who may struggle with confidence, like I do, this can be a little overwhelming. I love chatting with people in streams, even if I am streaming or watching. It's fun meeting new people and sharing an experience with them. Overall I really enjoy the communities I have found.

Jen: I love having friends come into chat to hang out, or give me advice on a game. It's always nice to have people cheering you on. I love sharing my experience with a game with others. My least favorite are the streams that no one comes to, or no one chats in. I seem to attract a lot of lurkers, but none of them follow or subscribe. It's a little disheartening.

 

Back to gaming:

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached, or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Maria: Over the last year I have really been able to stick through some games to completion and that has been a lot of fun. I have been involved in Charity streams and even hosted them myself. That has been a real rewarding experience. For me, mostly, being able to grow confidence to actually stream is a big deal for me. I have social anxiety and to get to the point where I have put myself out there, exposed, and live has been a really big step for me and one I am proud of.

Jen: After years of not caring, I recently became a trophy hunter. I have a lot of consoles but play mostly on my PS4 and PS5. In just the last few months I've gotten Platinum trophies on 5 different games. I'm currently working on a few more.

 

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Maria: I would love to see more girls in the industry and more game creators, voice actors, animators etc get the credit they deserve for the work they do. I feel like the video game industry still isn't taken too seriously and so often the real talent behind these masterpieces is hidden. I would love for there to be more options and routes to get into gaming, more accessibility, and options for young people to take that step into the industry from a young age.

Jen: I would love to see a show like Retro Replay or Get Good featuring female streamers. I like popping into streams from people like Shannon Woodward, Felicia Day, and Jocelyn Mettler, but I haven't found exactly the content I'm looking for.

 

I had a lot of fun talking with Maria and Jen about video games and how they have become an integral part of our lives when it comes to our entertainment. I learned a lot about them and got to know some of my fellow Replayers better. I would recommend checking out their Twitch channels for some fun content. I am sure they’d love to say “hi” if you stopped by! 

 

Stay tuned for Part IV of our Candid Discussion with two more of our fellow Replayers!

 

The Art of Horror Vol 1. - What Makes a Monster Movie Great?

No matter how often I talk about movies  (and it happens a lot),  I will stand by my statement: Horror is the most challenging genre to nail. 

The way I see it, it’s incredibly hard to find the balance in them. You take just one wrong step and the card tower you built so carefully crumbles down. That’s the reason why it became very difficult to actually find good ones out there. Don’t get me wrong, there are MANY horror movies, but only a small percentage of them are actually worth your time. 

In this new series, I will attempt to guide you through the best choices in each sub-genre in horror. Our first stop is my personal favorite: monster movies. 

Now, there are countless monster movies out there, but not all of them are actually in the horror category. Those that actually made the cut are mostly pretty bad, but not for the reasons you may think. I wholeheartedly believe that finding a good entry in this sub-genre is very, VERY challenging. 

Just like in every movie, the structure is critical. That’s what monster horrors often fail to do successfully. The main thing that needs to be done right for it to work correctly is the introduction of the threat itself. Let’s look at what I mean with the greatest example of all time: Alien (1979).

The first thing the movie does is introduce our characters, their environment, and their purpose. It’s a pretty standard opening in the book of filmmaking. Then the conflict arrives - in this case - through an emergency transmission that they need to investigate, disrupting their original mission. What they do in these opening scenes is give the audience the feeling of unease through the set design, the camera angles, and the eerie music. You don’t know why, but you can tell that something is not okay right from the beginning, even before the transmission arrives. This is a tool of horror that is essential. Without it, what you are building towards simply won’t have the desired effect. 

Fanart: Instagram: @paulbutcher_art

They go down to the planetoid (LV-426), sending a small team to locate the transmission source. At this point, the viewer knows something isn’t right. When they find the spaceship, we get our first look at another element that moves these films forward - and are very real, by the way - Human Stupidity. They ventured right into a completely unknown spaceship without any preparation or caution. Yes, folks, I know many people like to complain about how characters are often portrayed as intelligent people making dumb decisions.  Trust me when I say this: it is very much a real-life reflection. It’s in our nature to be curious about the unknown. That unexplained knock in the house or the unidentified spaceship, yet we venture forth even if we know deep down that it probably isn’t a good idea. 

So our team goes in, and we arrive at the discovery of alien life in the form of the space jockey. And yes, you figured it out, they don’t leave, they need to discover more - again, human nature. The Egg Chamber scene is now known as a contestant on the “stupidest decisions ever made in a horror movie” list. Rightfully so, mind you, but it is also the perfect first introduction to the ‘threat’ that we were suspecting from the beginning.

However, the brilliance of Alien lies in the setup of the false feeling of safety Which is a vital tool for a good monster movie. The moment the facehugger lets go of Kane (John Hurt), the crew immediately starts to celebrate the return of their friend who feels amazing. It seems like no harm was done by the creature. SEEMS like. 

The dinner scene rolls in, creating one of the scariest scenes in film history. Kane seems to be choking on his food, but then moments later, is having another creature. -The chestburster bursts out of his chest and this has been the stuff of nightmares ever since. It’s also a prime example of world-building and establishing your creature. 

They even dare to take one more step by introducing the classic monster’s final - very well-known - form: the Xenomorph. With that, they double down on the threat of this silent killer. 

The absolute magic of how they structured the film to introduce the Alien comes from small details. The unease you feel from the very first frame to the way you facepalm yourself when Kane jumps down between the eggs. And then the fear that takes over when the facehugger attacks all have one thing in common: you haven’t even seen the creature itself yet. 

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien (1979)

And this movie becomes even more impressive when I share with you that the Xenomorph’s screen time in the whole 1 hour and 57 minutes is exactly 4 minutes. Alien is one of the prime examples of how to build your monster movie the right way. 

It also does an essential thing that needs to be followed by other films in this genre: establish your monster and give them rules. 

What do I mean exactly? 

The Xenomorph has three stages - facehugger, chestburster, and xenomorph. It needs a host body it can grow in. The creatures are intelligent, blind, and can move silently around and use tactics to capture their prey. The only way Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is able to kill the Xenomorph is by throwing it out of the spaceship and burning it with the engine. We also learn in Aliens that guns do work against them, just like fire. This is establishing your monster and giving them rules. 

Finding an entry in this sub-genre that has done an equally good job is difficult, and I actually only have 5 more movies that hit the previously mentioned marks. Indeed. Five. And a few honorable mentions. 

  1. Tremors (1990)

This one is the odd one out on the list. While it is a monster horror, it also counts as comedy. I couldn’t leave it out under any circumstances as it’s easily one of my favorite films of all time, and I will never shut up about it. The combination of Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) is the definition of buddy-comedy in my books. While the monsters - named Grabodans - are incredibly scary in concept (with them being unseen and moving at high speeds underground), the movie is loved by many mostly because of the action/comedy elements. It does an excellent job of building up to the introduction to the monster(s) itself. It establishes the creature’s behavior and its rules very early on. And though it's a really fun movie to watch, it did inspire many people to use the underground monster as a threat. I remember seeing it later in Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules and the 2020 film Love and Monsters did a wink at the concept. It has also appeared in MANY video games like Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Jedi Academy and Mass Effect (the Thresher Maw).  

So while others might argue if this counts as a horror entry, I will stand by it wholeheartedly (mostly because it’s yet another excuse for me to talk about it).

  1. Jaws (1975)

Behind the scenes shot from Jaws

A Spielberg classic that kept people out of the water for months when it premiered. Yes. I am serious. This movie put such a strong fear into people that beaches (except for Martha’s Vineyard) were basically empty for months. A sort of hysteria overtook some members of the public, resulting in numerous incidents across the US. The threat of a huge shark - even if it was a horror element in a movie - was too real for folks to deal with. The movie did an amazing job of building its structure. It started off instantly with an attack not showing the shark at all, raising the fear of the unknown even more. Spielberg used an underwater shot showing Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) from the point of view of the hunter, but he had already built up your unease from the beginning. Dark water and brilliant music, thanks to John Williams. Trust me when I say this: the music and its use in the movie is one of the most important parts of the progress. 

Oddly enough, the shark named Bruce after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer - only has 4 minutes of screen time, just like the Xenomorph in Alien. 

  1. The Host (2006)

I already wrote about Bong Joon Ho’s amazing horror film The Host in my previous article about why you should start watching Korean Movies and Tv Shows

But we can’t talk about monster movies without mentioning this one. This one is special. Not just because it’s an excellent horror entry, but because of the drama elements it carries along beautifully throughout its whole runtime. Here the introduction starts with the creation of the monster itself. The good old-fashioned chemicals in the water scenario works extremely well here (I also very much liked it in Eight Legged Freaks). Only then do we get to know the main characters the story revolves around. The movie - quite unexpectedly - introduces us to the fully evolved monster right at the beginning, and we get the beautifully choreographed - and scary - beach scene. The way they used all of the previously mentioned tools here is beyond amazing. Not only does Bong Joon Ho manage to introduce us to the protagonists, but he also establishes and creates the rules of the antagonist while giving us one of the most intense scenes of the whole movie. 

The famous scene from the movie where our protagonist gets taken by the monster

The threat does not wait to show up; it is thrown in our faces right at the very beginning. But The Host is much more than just a very cleverly made horror movie; it is also an amazing drama. It has a perfect balance between the two which is very hard to do properly. You feel for these characters on a very deep level because they are so grounded in reality. You are scared for them, cry with them, mourn with them. 

This was my introduction to Bong Joon Ho’s work, and if you haven’t watched Parasite yet, I recommend that you start with this one too. 

  1. A Quiet Place (2018)

I never thought that John Krasinski would ever be able to surprise me this much. I don’t think any of us did. But he barged in, wrote this amazing story (with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck), directed it, and starred in it. All three in one. 

He was always the funny guy for me, not the master of tension and horror, yet here we are. I had a conversation with my friend, Katie, and I observed that this was the monster film I was waiting for since Alien. That's high praise coming from me as I think I made it very clear that Alien is THE monster movie in my books. The opening for this first movie is simply masterful. John Krasinski didn’t waste any time establishing what we will experience. 

A Quiet Place gave me one of those perfect cinema experiences. I’m not overexaggerating when I say that this movie pulled everyone into its world so much that it was dead silent throughout the whole 90 minutes run time. Something that we all know rarely happens. There’s always someone chewing loudly or talking. Not with this one. 

Krasinski, with the very first shot, warned us all not to say a word. You can’t. One word to your friend on the left, or popcorn in your mouth, and you’re done for good. It was perfect world-building. We know the day, we see the state of the world, and we get introduced to the threat in the first 10 minutes. That’s when the movie proved that it will NOT be merciful to anyone in it. And it was all you needed to know that you are in for a wild ride. There’s a quieter part in the film where we witness their new dynamic, the drama that’s going on between the protagonists, and it is more than enough for people to connect with them in a very special way. 

When the inevitable arrives into the story, it perfectly balances all its players while slowly introducing us to the only weakness of the seemingly unbeatable monsters. And when it eventually pays off in the end, it is one of the most satisfying moments in cinematic history. 

  1. A Quiet Place - Part 2 (technically 2020 but in reality 2021) - SPOILERS, SKIP THIS PART IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN A QUIET PLACE - PART 2 YET! 

Yes, the rare case where the second one is better than the first. For me, at least. 

If I was tense during the previous movie, then this one doubles down on that. 

Day 1. 

What an ingenious way to start the movie. The audience is already intrigued. Day 1, huh? From the moment Lee (John Krasinski) enters the shop, gets what he wants, then goes out to the baseball field, the warning bells already go off in our heads. I was expecting one of the monsters to start wreaking havoc every second. I was literally on the edge of my seat. We witness their arrival - a spaceship or asteroid crashing through the atmosphere - and as the people start making their way back to their cars, the feeling of terror grows bigger. We are introduced to Emmett (Cillian Murphy) in this opening, and it becomes important later on. When I tell you all that I almost jumped out of my seat when the monster crashed into the police car, trust me, I’m not lying. The perspective changes to Regan (Millicent Simmonds - who is actually deaf) and every sound is cut off so we can experience the chaos from her point of view. It’s brilliant. The whole opening sequence (I don’t want to spoil everything in it) is absolutely masterfully done. It is one of the best openings I’ve ever seen. 

Then the story picks up right where the first movie ended. The family leaves the farm behind and goes to the last remaining signal fire that is left in the valley. The moment they step down from the sand road Lee created, you just know that everything will change. 

John Krasinski doubled down not only on the action but on the drama, the tension, and the scares as well. We stepped out of the quiet world of the Abbott family into a whole different one. The way he lets us take a closer look at how everything changed for other people as well is something that many before got wrong when it comes to second movies. Obviously, because of the success of the first one, second movies usually work with a bigger budget which can prompt directors to go big or go home. Krasinski didn’t do that. Sure, there is even more action in this one, but it still never loses focus on what’s important; hope. 

I loved how Emmett was shown at the beginning to be this rude, grieving man that slowly got turned around when he went after Regan. By the end of the film, he is a changed man, someone who dares to hope for the better thanks to those who arrived unexpectedly into his life. 

Kudos to both Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe (Marcus Abbott); they both portrayed their characters beautifully. I loved the subtle change they went through as well, how Marcus faced his fears and Regan stepped into her father’s footsteps. 

I loved the first movie, but I love the second entry even more. Beautifully done and the monsters are still scary as hell. 

 

Honorable mentions: 

Aliens (1986) - the only reason it isn’t among the previously mentioned six films is that I consider James Cameron’s movie more like an action film than a horror movie. It is in fact my favorite movie out of the Alien franchise, but it definitely focuses more on the action than the scares. 

Grabbers (2012) - this brilliant Irish film made me laugh so much. It does have a few scary moments, but just like Tremors they definitely went more in the direction of comedy. The monsters created for the film were brilliantly done. I highly recommend this movie to those who like to have a good mixture of both genres. 

Pitch Black (2000) - also known as the first Riddick film. Vin Diesel’s iconic character became well-known thanks to this and prompted the creators to expand its universe. This first film - fresh knowledge for me as well so it’s fair to say I freaked out - also features the one and only Claudia Black. 

The Descent 1-2 (2005, 2009) - I was contemplating adding this one to the creature feature section purely because the monsters are actually humanoids in this, I would even argue that they were once humans. This one also quickly turns into action instead of horror, which isn’t bad by any means. 

 

And there you have it. Is there a monster horror I left out that you love? I was also thinking about Love and Monsters (2020) that I dearly love, but after giving much thought to it I can safely say that other than a few tense scenes it definitely doesn’t fit the horror genre. 

 

Black Widow Movie Review

I just came home from the cinema, and my head is buzzing with many thoughts about Marvel’s return to the big screen. But, before I get into it, I will have to put a big red: SPOILER WARNING. You’ve been warned. 

The MCU had been going strong since WandaVision graced our TV screens, but we had to wait a tiny bit longer for the return of the movies. When they first postponed Black Widow, I don’t think any of us thought that it would end up getting pushed back till the summer of 2021. Yet, here we are. 

There was a lot of speculation about what Black Widow would be about and where it would be on the timeline of events, but I don’t believe anyone guessed correctly I certainly didn’t. My theory was that Natasha is closed inside the Soul Stone and she would somehow relive her memories, but slowly she would realize what’s been going on. I was completely off track, which led to the very sad realization that this indeed was the last appearance of Scarlett Johansson in the MCU. This realization is due to the fact that Black Widow takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War when Natasha is on the run. 

At the beginning of the movie, we get a look into Natasha’s childhood with her father, mother, and little sister in Ohio. It sure seems idyllic until the eagle-eyed Marvel fans (aka me for example) start to chuckle. Natasha didn’t know who her parents were, and that is made clear throughout the MCU timeline. She is in fact very surprised when Red Skull reveals her father’s name to her in Endgame because she didn’t even know that. Therefore, we can already tell that something isn’t quite right in the scenario, even though it is nice to see a happy moment from our beloved Black Widow’s childhood, even if we soon find out that it was all an illusion. The people she treated as family betrayed her very early on and she and her little sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) are tossed back into the Red Room where the Widow training is happening. 

The movie fast forwards 21 years as Natasha is on the run from Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) after the events of Civil War. This is where we also meet Yelena again as she is on a mission and as she overpowers the target, a red substance is thrown at her. But instead of turning into a mindless monster, (which is something one could expect in a situation like this), her head actually clears up and it turns out that ever since Natasha escaped they have used very successful mind-controlling chemicals on the next generation of Widows. Yelena gets rid of the tracking device that is inside her and soon the samples of the ‘cure’ (let’s call it that) end up in Natasha’s hands.

Yelena (Florence Pugh) Alexei (David Harbour) and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson)

That’s the catalyst for the movie. It is so much more than just a superhero/action film from that point. Natasha has to deal with a lot. She goes from one broken family (The Avengers) back to another one only to find out that the famous Budapest events (referenced by her and Clint a lot) were all for nothing. It turns out that she had tried to kill the leader of the Red Room and the Widow program Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and her arch-nemesis had actually survived. 

Now before I get on with the review, I want to share a bit of a fun story that happened at this big reveal. I am from Hungary, and we've been waiting to find out what role our capital: Budapest, would play in the MCU since it was first mentioned in Avengers (2012). There was a line in the movie referring to events that probably aren’t funny to an international crowd, but the whole cinema here laughed out loud when it was said. Natasha says that after the bombing, which was supposed to take out Dreykov, she and Clint had to fight through the Hungarian Commando. We all laughed at this because TEK (the previously referred to Commandos) has quite a bad reputation here in Hungary because in a lot of cases they are deemed to be incompetent. So Natasha saying that they had to fight through them like it was a big deal made over 90 people laugh in the cinema even though I am sure they didn’t think of it as a source for laughter. 

Ok back to the review. 

Once Natasha realizes that what she did to close down her past and save other girls from the same fate was unsuccessful, a much darker thing comes back to haunt her. As it turns out, the day they tried to kill Dreykov they also killed his daughter because as she put it, “There was no other way.” It’s clear very early on that this decision never left Natasha’s mind, and that she has struggled to come to terms with what she did. To find forgiveness. It sits heavily on the film the same way their “parents” betrayals do. 

Natasha Romanoff

They soon figure out that in order to find the Red Room they have to get the help of their fake parents. First, they have to save Alexei (David Harbour) from prison - he was betrayed and put behind bars by Dreykov - and get to Melina (Rachel Weisz) who still works for the Red Room and is responsible for the chemical compound that controls the widows. Once they arrive at Melina’s home we get to witness one of the most important scenes in the movie as the two girls’ trauma catches up with them. I have to admit that I was unsure about Florence Pugh’s casting as Yelena up until this moment in the movie. Here she proved it once and for all that she is pretty great. It broke my heart a little as it also showed us that Natasha’s past has been darker than we could have imagined. Yelena represented the child who was unaware that nothing she saw or experienced during their three years as a “family” was true, while Natasha was old enough to know that it was nothing more than an act. Both of their hurt was real and deep-cutting. 

I really liked the more quiet parts of Black Widow. It once and for all proved that one of the original six deserved to have her own film and we still had a lot to learn about her. She is smart, strong, brave, and everything that’s worth looking up to. It definitely gave me more strength to keep going on my journey and do everything I can to one day be part of the MCU. 

I know a lot of people complained about Taskmaster being a letdown and while I do understand them, I do not agree with them. The tragedy of this character, and showing the true evil of the story is simply fantastic. Taskmaster is none other than Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kurylenko) aka the daughter of Dreykov, who was used by her own father the same way other girls were. He was controlling the mind of his daughter without any remorse. He even has the audacity to thank Natasha for giving him one of his greatest weapons. 

Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko)

The movie's conclusion is amazing. Natasha not only finds forgiveness for what she did, but she also realizes that there’s still hope for her and her other family. They set Yelena up as our next Black Widow flawlessly and Natasha shows up at the end of the movie the way she looked in Infinity War, which gives a bittersweet touch to the whole story. 

I was ugly crying once the realization fully set in that this was our last time with Scarlett. She has been such a highlight of this Universe and she was an example for girls to look up to. She has been and always will be an inspiration. 

And the reason I will forgive Black Widow for coming out this “late” in the game lies in the end credit scene. 

Yelena goes to Natasha’s grave (with the dog she mentioned she always wanted) and that’s when FREAKING VALENTINA (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to whom we were introduced in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier shows up to give Yelena her next target. It is none other than the murderer of her sister: Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Now, my theory with this big-ass surprise, in the end, is that we will meet Yelena again sooner than we thought in the upcoming Hawkeye series. I mean, it would make sense, but I also know that there’s no point in creating theories when it comes to Marvel because they like to mess with us a little. 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

All in all, Black Widow was a perfect entry in the MCU. Sure, we could have gotten it sooner, but to be honest I kind of don’t mind getting it like this. They did a wonderful job with tying the knots together,  and Scarlett’s last appearance couldn’t have been any better, even if it was bittersweet in the end. I sure will miss her. 

Thank you Black Widow. 

Thank you Marvel. 

I am sending my therapy bill. 

What did you think of the movie? Leave a comment below.