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Is Far Cry 6 a prequel to Far Cry 3?

News of the next game in the Far Cry series, Far Cry 6, leaked this morning. The game stars Giancarlo Esposito as the despotic ruler of a tropical paradise. If this premise sounds familiar, it’s because it jibes with the plot of most Far Cry games (the dinosaur scientist one not included). But thus far all of the major Far Cry games have been removed from one another, with a new cast of characters for each entry. That may not be the case in Far Cry 6, at least if some internet sleuths end up being right. Far Cry 6 may actually be a prequel to Far Cry 3, seeing the return of one of the franchise’s most memorable characters: Vaas.

The evidence for Vaas appearing in Far Cry 6 is extremely limited right now but there are a few key possibilities that point in that direction.

The scar

The above tweet by Joe Skrebels of IGN highlights one of the more convincing comparisons. The young boy pictured is named Diego. He’s the son of Esposito’s Anton Castillo, who rules the tropical island of Yara. According to the official description of the game, Castillo is attempting to restore the “nation back to its former glory by any means, with his son, Diego, following in his bloody footsteps.”

The scar on both characters does line up, so that’s a start! But we’ve got a long way to go. For one thing, Vaas has a canonical backstory that involves him having been born on Rook Islands, the setting of Far Cry 3, in 1985. There’s certainly no mention of him leaving to live on another island with his dictator poppa, before coming back to Rook Islands and giving a speech about the definition of insanity. So it’s likely there would have to be some retconning for this to be legit.

Frozen in time

This is a little less convincing, but worth considering: The official description of the game describes the setting of Yara as “a tropical paradise frozen in time.” That may just be a poetic way to describe the setting, but it may hint that “time” is a key factor here. Specifically that different time periods are important and that Far Cry 6 may be set in the past, when Vaas was a youngster.

Actor friends!

The last potential piece of evidence for now is that Esposito and the actor who originally played Vaas, Michael Mando, are currently on the same show together, Better Call Saul. Actors work together all the time, of course, and it’s not like Ubisoft needed Mando to shine a light on the talent of Esposito for them. But hey, worth mentioning.

Speaking of Mando, the actor participated in a Reddit AMA two months ago and the topic of Vaas actually came up. Here’s what he had to say:

“Vaas is my spirit animal – having co-created that character is something that will always be dear to me. I still get recognized as Vaas, and I still feel the outpouring of love for that character – makes me very happy. Who knows… maybe I will reprise the role very soon? :p Thank you for watching xo”

Certainly a wink and nudge there, if ever there was one.

The verdict?

As of right now, it’s too early to say anything definitive about whether we’re seeing a young Vaas on the box art of Far Cry 6. There may be more indicators during Ubisoft’s Forward press conference on July 12, but it’s also possible we won’t get an answer to this until the game actually launches early next year.


The new horror movie Relic reminds us that we all become ghosts in the end

What makes a house haunted? In most recent cinematic ghost stories, it’s some combination of spirits and/or demons, often but not always malevolent, often but not always prone toward possessing spooky-looking dolls. Unfinished business sometimes figures into it, too — but then, who among us will leave this world with our business entirely, satisfyingly finished? It’s easy to blame cursed objects or the opening of a gateway to the other side, and harder to accept that if lack of resolution in life turns people into ghosts, many of us will get the chance to haunt our own homes someday.

Edna (Robyn Nevin), the elderly woman at the center of the new IFC Midnight horror film Relic, does not appear to be haunted by particular nagging regrets, or a dark past. When she disappears without a trace from her home, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) are upset, though not necessarily shocked: Edna is getting on in years, and starting to exhibit signs of mental decline. She lives on her own, and though she seems to prefer it that way, Sam is especially troubled by her grandmother’s situation, while Kay clearly feels both guilty and defensive about not taking better care of her. They visit Edna’s home together, and start to sort through her belongings, looking for clues about where she might have gone.

Robyn Nevin in Relic sits stone-faced at the dinner table, surrounded by untouched food. Photo: IFC Films

Then she comes back with scraggly hair and bare feet, looking a bit like a movie ghost, particularly the damp-looking spectres of Japanese horror and its many American derivatives. At times, her behavior seems off to Kay and Sam, and she has some troubling black marks on her skin. Then again, she also has moments of reassuring lucidity. The three women stay at Edna’s house together to watch over Edna, as Sam contemplates a move and Kay visits a local nursing home. Writer-director Natalie Erika James mixes scenes grappling with the reality of elder care, and more directly nightmarish moments. (Sometimes literally, as Kay has disturbing dreams while bunking at her mom’s house.) She raises questions about whether Edna’s violent mood swings and mysterious disappearances are something more sinister than dementia — or if dementia itself isn’t plenty sinister for all involved.

The running metaphor is both incisive and a little obvious. The “haunted” conditions of Edna and her home are horrific in their everyday recognizability, which also means they start to feel repetitive, even predictable, in spite of Relic’s brief running time. The movie’s actual horror imagery is pretty familiar, too: water damage that’s turned to rot; glimpses of bodies with corpse-like desiccation; confined spaces with dim lighting.

But that familiarity, working in tandem with the movie’s emotional realism and the fine, restrained performances from Mortimer and Heathcote, all give the creepiness a psychological weight. Some of its most memorable details have to do with vividly capturing what it’s like to sort through someone else’s home, as when Sam must move a piece of furniture back to the heavy grooves it’s left in the carpet over time. James also has an eye for sad-funny ironies, like the scene that forces a grown-up daughter to check underneath her elderly mother’s bed for monsters.

Emily Mortimer in Relic stands in the woods in a bright blue jacket, screaming. Photo: IFC Films

When the scares do pop up, James plays fair with them, building her scenes with a genuine sense of dread, rather than taking every opportunity to spring jump-scares on the audience. Relic’s slow-burn, plot-light intensity is reminiscent of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, and on a visceral, scene-by-scene level, it’s not nearly as frightening. As Sam and Kay are drawn further into the darkness and suffocation of Edna’s home, James appears increasingly comfortable operating in the realm of dream logic and metaphor. No back-of-the-book solutions or complicated mythology await — and by its arresting ending, that’s exactly what makes Relic so distinctive.

At times, Relic reaches something like lyricism, which lifts a bleak horror movie above hopeless wallowing. The movie isn’t so much doomy or depressing as it is clear-eyed and resolute about its own horrors. There are times when it becomes clear that what we know about Kay, Sam, and Edna is limited, and that it might be interesting to know a little more about their lives before this moment. But that’s what lurks in this haunted house: the inevitable understanding that age can strip away all the familiar details of a life, right in front of our eyes.

Relic is available for digital rental on Amazon, Vudu, and other VOD services.

The Babadook

Amelia is a single mother plagued by the violent death of her husband. When a disturbing storybook called Mister Babadook turns up at her house, she is forced to battle with her son’s deep-seated fear of a monster. Soon she discovers a sinister presence all around her.

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Japan Sinks 2020 is a dysfunctional, desensitizing departure for Masaaki Yuasa

Filmmaker Masaaki Yuasa has extensively explored the relationship between humans and cataclysm in works like Devilman Crybaby and Mind Game, both of which used fantastical imagery to get their points across. But his new series, Japan Sinks 2020, has a comparatively grounded take on destruction.

Inspired by a similarly named 1973 novel that’s famous for capturing Japan’s political climate, the anime centers on a single family’s odyssey to survive as Japan is ravaged by continual earthquakes that will eventually cause the country to sink into the ocean. The modern update changes the story in an attempt to have a similar social impact, but the tragedy loses steam when it relies too much on the surprise of loss or dabbles in a more allegorical message. The 10-episode series also lacks the imaginative animation that the director built his name on.

When the series begins, the focus is primarily on the Mutous, an average working class family with high levels of optimism. They quickly rise to the occasion, leading a small group of survivors through Japan. While catastrophe decimates the country, it brings the Mutou family closer together. Each member gets time to express their love for one another, showing affection and compassion. This love leads to the best beats in the series, like Ayumu’s bond with her dad over Japanese yams, and Mari’s protective nature towards her two children. These moments also make the regularly growing death toll hit hard. At least at first.

[Ed. note: The rest of this review contains mild spoilers for the series.]

The earthquake in Japan Sinks 2020 Image: Netflix

In Japan Sinks 2020, death looms over every episode, though the killing main and supporting cast members at a steady pace yields diminishing returns. If you expect death to be around every corner, death becomes just another feature of the corner. The death and loss depicted become so repetitive that the series verges on exploitation.

It’s further hampered by the messaging behind those deaths. Although a natural disaster should be indiscriminate in who it affects, most characters unwillingly killed by the earthquakes expressed greed, regret, or gluttony shortly before dying. With this context, the earthquakes felt more like rapturous cleansings than disasters. Nevertheless, Masaaki Yuasa’s choices make it clear that he holds a deep affection for his country.

The love between the Mutou family and in other relationships constantly expresses itself in elder characters sacrificing themselves for the good of the future. The animator presumably believes the older generation is responsible for facilitating Japan’s future, leaving it to the youth to improve the country’s past flaws. His love is extended by presenting the lost lives as a tenacious bunch, persevering through public records of their existence. Everyone supposedly has a part to play in improving the country, even those with flawed character, concluding that the country will always survive. This final message feels at odds with the circumstances around the natural disaster related deaths, making the series appear unsure of its message.

a mother and son comfort each other in a tent in japan sinks 2020 Image: Netflix

Body morphing animation choices often found in Masaaki Yuasa’s work like the Devilman Crybaby dash and Papa running amok in Lu Over The Wall are nowhere to be seen in Japan Sinks 2020. The show rarely includes any animation sequence or camera angle out of the ordinary. Instead, Japan Sinks 2020 spends its artistic resources crafting extremely detailed environments, presumably to give Japan’s landmass visual attention equal to the main characters, which works phenomenally. The series features a soundtrack by Kensuke Ushio, who previously collaborated with the director on Devilman Crybaby and Ping Pong: The Animation.

Japan Sinks 2020 likely won’t have the same lasting impact of Masaaki Yuasa’s other work, lacking the limitless artistic qualities that have come to define him. The love exemplified between the characters is a touching saving grace that makes the initial deaths tug at your aorta, but viewers are likely to be so desensitized by episode 10 that it won’t matter who perishes. Japan Sinks 2020 attempts to show the adversity exemplified by humanity, but mixed messaging will leave the viewer confused once the final credits roll.

Japan Sinks 2020 is now streaming on Netflix.


Far Cry 6 coming in 2021, Giancarlo Esposito playing the villain

Details on the next Far Cry game from Ubisoft, Far Cry 6, leaked on Friday via Sony’s PlayStation Store. According to screenshots of a listing for Far Cry 6, the game will star Giancarlo Esposito, perhaps best known for his role as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad, as the primary antagonist.

A listing for Far Cry 6, which appeared on the Hong Kong version of the PlayStation Store, shows a Feb. 18, 2021 release date. Ubisoft has not officially announced the new Far Cry, but now appears likely do so on July 12 at its Ubisoft Forward digital event.

Esposito appears to be playing the role of a dictator named Anton Castillo, according to a piece of artwork and a story description from the PlayStation Store listing. That listing reads:

Welcome to Yara, a tropical paradise frozen in time. As the dictator of Yara, Anton Castillo is intent on restoring his nation back to its former glory by any means, with his son, Diego, following in his bloody footsteps. Their ruthless oppression has ignited a revolution.

Players will take on the role of Dani Rojas, described as a local Yaran and who “become[s] a guerrilla fighter to liberate the nation.” Rojas will battle Anton’s military on “the largest Far Cry playground to date across jungles, beaches and Esperanza[,] the capital city of Yara,” according the listing. “Employ makeshift weapons, vehicles, and Amigos, the new Fangs for Hire to burn the tyrannical regime to the ground,” a gameplay description reads.

While the listing is for PlayStation 4, the description indicates that a PlayStation 5 version will be released, and that players who purchase a current-generation version of Far Cry 6 will get the next-gen upgrade for free.

Artwork for Far Cry 6 featuring Giancarlo Esposito Image: Ubisoft


14 of the best movies to make a summer indoors look more appealing

Let’s face it, summer 2020 is an odd one for entertainment. Normally, summer movie season starts around May 1, with big, loud blockbusters and plenty of movies built around beaches, vacations, and other summer pastimes. But this summer’s blockbusters have been pushed to August or later, and quarantines have made summer block parties and travel in general look dangerous, depressing, and in many states, illegal.

Not to be all sour-grapey about it, but between bouts of worrying about the news and mourning all the events and projects that have been cancelled or postponed, why not just temporarily take the attitude that the outside world sucks anyway? It’s full of dirt and bugs and endless weather-related disasters, not to mention diseases and conspiracy theorists who deny those diseases exist. To help us all play the “I didn’t want to go outside anyway” game, here’s a suggested summer marathon of movies about how nature is lethal, people are awful, and indoors is much nicer anyway.

One of two friends toils through the desert in Gerry with a shirt over his head, as his friend lies out of focus in the sand behind him. Photo: Miramax


Gus Van Sant’s stealth anti-hiking movie Gerry, made during his “follow people around with achingly long, quiet tracking shots” period (see also: Elephant) feels like a feature-length commercial for refreshing beverages, industrial-grade air conditioners, and comfortable couches. The setup is simple: two friends, both named Gerry (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck), go on a hike together, without orienteering supplies, food, or water. Inevitably, they get lost, and they gradually start to realize that just being outside can be lethal. The endless trudging that follows tests their friendship, as it lulls the audience into a stupor inspired equally by the travel sequences in the original 1996 Tomb Raider game, and the long, hypnotic takes in Bela Tarr’s Sátántangó. Gerry is visually beautiful, in a harsh, sere way, but nothing about the landscape — the jagged rocks, featureless scrub, and murderous desert — seems like it’d be fun to visit in person. This is the kind of movie that lets you experience the hazards of outside (and of other people) from a safe remove, preferably with a bowl of ice cream and a big glass of ice water.

Gerry is available free on Tubi (with ads) or for rental at Amazon.

Police chief Roy Scheider yells a warning as he watches his island’s crowded beaches for any sign of a shark attack in Jaws. Photo: Universal Pictures


Ever since the COVID-19 quarantines started, political leaders who’ve dragged their feet on statewide safety measures or cavalierly dismissed the safety of their own constituents have been compared to Jaws mayor Larry Vaughn, the guy who refuses to shut down the beaches on his island just because an absolutely ginormous shark chomped some girl’s legs off, and has now taken up the island as its personal hunting ground. Jaws does double duty as an “outdoors is awful” film: it suggests that anytime you’re enjoying a nice dip in the ocean, you’re probably going to get bitten in half by something you never see, and it also outright says that the people who should be trying to protect you from getting devoured will definitely prioritize their profits over your life. Even hanging out in a peaceful inlet isn’t safe. Jaws is the ultimate just-stay-indoors movie, a film that says the outdoors wants to eat us, and the government doesn’t care.

Jaws is available on Amazon, HBO GO, and HBO NOW.

In a scene from Contagion, Jude Law wears a homemade grey inflatable Hazmat suit with a square translucent bubble over his head as he distributes flyers reading “The CDC lies, they collaborate with pharmaceutical companies, there is a cure.” Photo: Warner Bros.


Obviously this one’s a little on-the-nose for a stay-in-quarantine list, but Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 pandemic movie (which saw a huge spike in rentals when the novel coronavirus outbreak reached America) is just about unbeatable when it comes to making audiences squirm over every surface, person, food, or beverage they’ve ever interacted with in public. The sight of grievously ill people on public transit, coughing wetly and then grasping the same rails and seats that oblivious people will later touch — that’s scary enough. A later Contagion scene that tracks the disease through Patient Zero — an American businesswoman who kicked off the pandemic just by attending a work party, then clearly spreading the disease to every waiter who cleared up her empty glasses, and every executive who shook her hand — just emphasizes how easy it is to catch an infection from someone you’ll never see, and how hazardous completely ordinary settings and activities can be.

Contagion is available on Amazon, HBO GO, and HBO NOW.

Adrienne King in Friday the 13th lies passed out in a canoe on a lake that reflects her dangling arm. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Friday the 13th

The 1980 movie that helped kick off the decade’s slasher craze is underrated today, given that it was followed by so many subpar, routine horror movies mostly built around bloody special effects. But the original film is actually pretty chilling, for a few reasons. It’s a reminder that you never really know what’s going through other people’s heads, so just interacting with strangers can be dangerous for reasons that have nothing to do with you. And it’s also a reminder that it’s hard to see very far at night in the woods. Set at a summer camp where a killer is stalking various young people (including a barely formed Kevin Bacon), Friday the 13th spends a lot of time watching its victims from the killer’s POV, with the camera just lurking behind nearby trees, practically within stabbing distance. Most horror movies rely on some kind of isolated setting where the victims can’t easily seek sanctuary. Friday the 13th runs with that idea, turning a beautifully shot green forest into an accessory to murder, and a quiet solo canoeing trip into the ultimate terror.

Friday the 13th is available on Amazon Prime Video and Crackle.

Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and other cast members in The Happening stand in a field of yellow grass, looking horrified at something offscreen. Photo: 20th Century Fox

The Happening

Speaking of trees as accessories to murder, M. Night Shyamalan’s truly misbegotten horror movie The Happening is mostly laughable — but boy, does it mine some dread out of simple outdoor settings, where wind stirring up the leaves or the grass in a field mean a lethal wave of invisible mind-poison is on the way. The characters eventually learn that the only way to escape the death-air is to huddle indoors — but first, they have to try to literally outrace the wind to stay alive. The whole movie feels like an adult game of “the floor is lava,” except instead, the entire outdoors is lava.

The Happening is available on Amazon and Vudu.

Joshua Leonard, in a grubby flannel and heavy backpack, stands in a forest gaping at the camera in The Blair Witch Project. Photo: Artisan Entertainment

The Blair Witch Project

Going back to the horror of isolated settings, 1999’s The Blair Witch Project faux-documents a film shoot gone wrong, and in the process works like a checklist of all the reasons camping and hiking aren’t worth the trouble. The protagonists get lost, stumbling around the woods in circles. They lose their map, their tempers, and their minds. One of them disappears and is later heard screaming in the night. The entire time, the forest they’re in feels somewhere between indifferent and malevolent, with the trees hiding who-knows-what, and the dark closing in. It’s another film about how limited visibility and isolation make for stomach-churning fear, and how even without an actual visible witch causing problems, just being outdoors once you don’t want to be anymore is physically and emotionally exhausting.

The Blair Witch Project is available on Amazon and Vudu.

A bloodied, exhausted-looking James Franco, one arm in a sling, kneels by a leaf-covered pond in a rocky valley in 127 Hours. Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

127 Hours

Speaking of being outdoors when you don’t want to be, Danny Boyle’s 2010 feature about hiker Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) might as well be subtitled The Earth Hates You and Wants to Eat You. The real-life Ralston, an outdoor enthusiast, was climbing into a canyon in 2003 when a boulder fell on him, crushing his hand and pinning his arm. He spent five days alone at the bottom of the canyon, suffering from exposure and drinking his own urine, until he finally escaped by amputating his own arm. It’s a feel-good movie about human endurance and the will to survive, and Boyle really makes those outdoor settings beautiful. But there’s a reason so many writers have waxed rhapsodic about nature’s implacability — at the end of the day, those rocks didn’t care who they crushed. When Ralston stumbles back into a less isolated hiking area and other campers see his sunburned face, missing arm, and blood-spattered body, the utter horror on their faces is clear — part “Is this guy gonna die in front of me?” and part “Is whatever got him going to get me too?”

127 Hours is available on Amazon and Vudu.

A close-up of Leonardo DiCaprio’s face, streaked with blood, a deep open cut across one cheek, with his beard, mustache, and eyebrows filled with chunks of ice. Photo: 20th Century Fox

The Revenant

Here’s the big problem with the outdoors: it’s full of wildlife. Horror films like to remind us that the world is full of giant snakes and sharks and alligators that don’t respect humanity’s claim to being the ultimate apex predator. Granted, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s wilderness epic is set in the 1800s, and the wilds have become a lot less wild since then. But watching a bear just come out of nowhere to batter and shred Leonardo DiCaprio into a tattered mess is still pretty intimidating, and watching him navigate the gorgeous nature around him afterward makes forests, rivers, mountains, and fields alike all feel like deathtraps. Just keep in mind, while bear attacks are still extremely rare, studies show they’re increasing worldwide. Better to be safe than to be a statistic, or the bloody remnants of Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Revenant is available on Amazon and FX NOW.

Robert Redford, looking sunburned and battered while kneeling in a lifeboat, holds up a jar with a little bit of water in it in All Is Lost. Photo: Roadside Attractions

All Is Lost

Okay, so the forests want to kill us, the rocks want to kill us, the bears want to kill us, but the ocean’s still pretty safe, right? At least if you aren’t trying to swim in it, with all those sharks and giant squid and sharktopuses and who knows what down there? Not according to J.C. Chandor’s gripping survival story All Is Lost, which pits a grimly near-silent Robert Redford against the entire sea, and turns a sailing trip into a series of increasingly desperate attempts at survival. The accident that hobbles his boat is bad enough, but the storms that follow are worse, and they all amount to a reminder that being at sea is nearly as dangerous as being in outer space. There’s no drinkable water, the sun can be lethal, the only food is difficult or dangerous to acquire, and is perfectly willing to eat you, too. At least it’s pretty hard for viruses to live on salt water.

All Is Lost is available on Amazon and Vudu.

Two men in drab, dirty clothing stand with their backs to the camera in a barren desert that’s the same color as their clothes, as a lone figure approaches in the far distance. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Lawrence of Arabia

While Robert Redford in All Is Lost seems to be headed for a watery grave, the cast of David Lean’s 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia is headed in the opposite direction, and it doesn’t look any more pleasant. One of the all-time great visual spectacle epics, Lawrence of Arabia spends plenty of its run time getting across the intimidating majesty of the desert, and it’s beautiful until living human beings try to enter it. The rest of the film seems designed to make people clutch their beverages. A lengthy plot arc where British army officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) accompanies a platoon of men into the desert on a daring military gambit turns into a grueling death march as the sun bakes them half to death. It’s a memorable sequence for the way things pan out when one of the men faints and is left for dead, but it’s also just a horrifying reminder of how many different kinds of Earth environments are utterly inimical to human life.

Lawrence of Arabia is available on Amazon and Vudu.

Anna Kendrick kneels in front of her spread-open luggage in an airport in Up in the Air, as George Clooney stands over her, watching. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Up in the Air

A lot of the films on this list assume that people venturing into the wilds might have to face mad slashers or ship-sized sharks. But while these things do exist in real life, they’re pretty rare. What isn’t rare: the extreme tedium and trials of travel. Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air lays out all the mundane pains of getting out into the world, particularly dealing with lines, airport security, and above all, other people. Smug corporate ax-man Ryan (George Clooney) lays it all out — most travelers are slow and disorganized, and professionals like himself have to figure out all the tricks for not getting stuck behind them in line. At least, he suggests, travel lets him stay disconnected from the world and the people in it — except that the whole film winds up being about him learning how empty and pointless being on-the-go can be, how much more mature it would be to settle down to a happy life in a fixed place, and how much of his life he’s wasted on enjoying travel.

Up In The Air is available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Ethan Hawke in Alive crouches in the snow over a fellow survivor who’s curled up in pain. Photo: Paramount Pictures


Speaking of the hazards of flight, the threat of getting on a plane and winding up seated next to a smug boor like Ryan is much higher than the threat of crash-landing in the mountains and either getting eaten by other members of your rugby team, or having to resort to cannibalism to survive. But Alive, a grueling document of a 1972 plane crash that left survivors stranded in the Andes, is still the kind of movie that’s designed to linger in the mind whenever you’re in the air. Over the course of a two-hour runtime, the teammates who don’t immediately die in the plane crash face exposure, dehydration and starvation, isolation, and internal strife. Eventually, there’s an avalanche as well. And it all happens as they watch their friends and loved ones succumb to their injuries, and as they debate the necessity of eating the dead. Couch life has never seemed so appealing.

Alive is available on Amazon and Vudu.

The Vacation cast poses in front of their ugly green station wagon, with Chevy Chase holding up a couple of suitcases as the family dog they’re transporting pulls on his pant leg with its teeth. Photo: Warner Bros.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

It’s possible to have a trip suffer a series of cataclysmic failures without a single plane going down. Vacation is another “hell is other people — especially when you’re traveling” story about an attempt at family bonding where everything goes wrong. Dealing with purse-thieves, a grouchy relative, an incompetent mechanic, unpleasant lodgings, family bickering, and every other petty inconvenience possible is bad enough before someone dies on the trip. (At least no one eats her.) And the worst of it is that it’s all meant to bring the central family closer together, so dad Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) refuses to back down and admit that everything’s going badly. Vacation is on the all-time “road trips are hell” movie list, up there with Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Little Miss Sunshine. But this one’s both particularly manic and thorough about all the potential hazards of leaving home.

National Lampoon’s Vacation is available on Amazon and Vudu.

Samuel L. Jackson holds up a dead motherfucking snake on his motherfucking plane and looks disgusted. Photo: New Line Cinema

Snakes on a Plane

It is very unlikely that the next time you try to leave the house and go somewhere, you’ll happen to end up on the exact plane that a criminal cartel has seeded with hundreds of venomous snakes and a pheromone designed to make them unusually vicious and vindictive. Still, why take that risk?

Snakes on a Plane is available on Amazon and Vudu.

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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ endgame puts a timer on your exploration

On July 8, Blizzard published a short stream, detailing plans for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ upcoming beta, including its experimental endgame zone: The Maw.

The Maw is the very pit of hell in the Warcraft universe, and it has a brand new mechanic that makes it different from other endgame zones in World of Warcraft. Instead of adventuring at your own pace, The Maw will eventually kick you out of the zone for the rest of the day.

Players looking to get quests and objectives done there have to move with purpose, or they’ll need to come back the following day. In a pre-beta test, we got the chance to adventure through The Maw and got a taste for this new time mechanic.

The constant debuff in The Maw explained

Ve’Nari, a robotic NPC from World of Warcraft Shadowlands
Ve’Nari, the player’s only ally in The Maw
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Shadowlands starts by throwing me into the afterlife. I land in The Maw, a zone designed to be extremely difficult and punishing. After a short intro scenario, I escape this dangerous zone and start my adventure in Shadowlands’ four other zones. But at max level, I return to The Maw in an attempt to thwart The Jailer — the primary antagonist of Shadowlands — and aid in the growth of my Covenant.

As I adventure around this new zone, completing certain actions attracts the attention of The Jailer. The longer I stay inside The Maw, the harder it is to stay alive. The Eye of the Jailer debuff is a tiered system: At level 0, nothing happens, but as soon as I’ve stuck around long enough to increase my Eye of the Jailer level, I start accruing penalties.

The first penalty causes Soulseeker enemies to attack me on sight. At level two, The Jailer’s towers start bombing my location, dealing damage to me and chaining me to nearby posts I have to click on to destroy. Eventually, The Jailer will send assassins after me and constantly drain my health until I’m dead.

This debuff normally resets after just a day, but on the test realm we were able to reset it as much as we wanted.

How annoying is all of this?

Death Elemental concept art for World of Warcraft Shadowlands
Concept art for a Death Elemental, one of The Maw’s most common enemies
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

The Maw is gloomy and hard. I can’t use my mount to get around fast, and I’m surrounded by enemies. It reminds me of Sam and Frodo’s adventure through the heart of Mordor in Lord of the Rings, when they face their most dangerous trials just miles away from Mt. Doom.

World of Warcraft normally lets players set their own pace. But there is an urgency to The Maw.

When I was just hanging around in The Maw, the Eye of the Jailer debuff moved at a snail’s pace. Adventuring around, taking in the sites, looting some chests, and killing some enemies barely got me half-way to level one. Just to test the debuff, I sat, motionless on a rock in The Maw for about 45 minutes, and still only increased my Eye of the Jailer tier by a level and a half. I’m sure that completing World Quests and other events will increase the Jailer’s ire much faster, but in my early questing, I ran into very few situations that actively bumped up my rank.

The Eye of the Jailer left me feeling appropriately hindered. It’s enough to make the zone unique without making me hate all the time I spend there. It just asks me to play more cautiously in The Maw, and think twice about where I AFK before making myself a sandwich.

I was skeptical when I first learned about this mechanic, knowing that sometimes I enjoy wandering around a questing zone, mindlessly farming World of Warcraft junk. But based on my time playing, I think The Maw will feel special in Shadowlands. It’s not that I can’t adventure there the way I want, it’s that I have to be more careful.

As I progress in the expansion, I will almost certainly upgrade my powers and increase reputation with characters, letting me survive in The Maw for much longer — or maybe negate the Eye of the Jailer debuff entirely. But until then, The Maw will feel like a truly hostile environment in Shadowlands. And after an overly safe expansion like Battle for Azeroth, my character could use a little more danger.


Here are the upgrades for Valorant’s Elderflame skins

Like many of Valorant’s other skin lines, the new Elderflame skins have a variety of upgrades that players can choose to unlock. Since these skins are the most complicated and elaborate in the game, it’s not a surprise that the upgrades, which include things like new animations, sound effects, and finishers, are pretty intense as well.

Each of these upgrades will likely have to be purchased from the Valorant in-game store for Radianite Points. It’s not clear how much these upgrades will cost, but previous skin upgrades cost either 10 or 15 Radianite Points each. Each upgrade level for the individual skins is slightly different, but each of the weapons has at least one upgrade you can get.

Here all some of the upgrades available for Valorant’s Elderflame skins for the Vandal, Operator, Judge, Frenzy, and knife.

Valorant Elderflame skin upgrades

Vandal level 1

Vandal level 2

Vandal level 3

Vandal level 4

Knife level 2

Operator level 1

Operator level 2

Operator level 3

Operator level 4

Judge level 1

Judge level 2

Judge level 3

Judge level 4

Frenzy level 4


Team Rocket’s Jessie and James invade Pokémon Go

Classic Pokémon bad guys, Team Rocket’s Jessie and James, have been added to Pokémon Go. As with the hot air balloons in Pokémon Go’s Tuesday update, which added a Team Go Rocket invasion, Jessie and James will occasionally drift past on the game’s map.

Players that want to take the duo on can tap the Meowth balloon to battle Jessie and James, according to a news release.

“As Team GO Rocket’s balloons prowl the skies, we’ve been investigating them further,” Niantic said. “The Grunts piloting the balloons are just as perplexed as we are as to where these characters came from. From what we understand, Team GO Rocket has assigned Shadow Pokémon to protect Jessie and James as they seek to create more Shadow Pokémon.”

Players probably saw this coming — data miners found dialogue for Jessie and James in one of the game’s recent updates. Avatar items based on Jessie and James are also available in the Pokémon Go shop.

Niantic said the Team Rocket leaders won’t stick around in Pokémon Go “for long,” but did not give an end date.


Twitch pulls Black Lives Matter video after criticism from Black creators

On Thursday, streaming platform Twitch posted a video to its Twitter page with the following caption: “Working together to make an impact for Black lives.” The video quickly drew criticism from Black fans and creators on Twitter, who noted that the number people featured in the video was overwhelmingly white, with only a small fraction of screen time and spoken lines being afforded to Black creators.

The video featured popular streamers such as DrLupo, RubberNinja, and jacksepticeye voicing support for Black Lives Matter and raising funds for charitable causes. The video ended with a message to support Black voices, Black creators, Black communities, and Black Twitch.

After an outcry, the video was pulled and is no longer live on Twitch’s Twitter feed.

The Black Lives Matter movement has seen a surge in American media and dialogue after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several large gaming companies have publicly responded with shows of support. Black creators on Twitch have contributed towards the cause; in one 10-hour Animal Crossing: New Horizons stream, I Need Diverse Games director Tanya DePass raised over $140,000 for The Bail Project.

Today’s video, which lasted for just under a minute, had one line spoken by a Black streamer. Black streamers comprised 11 seconds of the video’s run time. Black creators, fans, and viewers spoke out on social media as a result, leading to the video being removed.

Reached for comment, a Twitch representative referred Polygon to its statement posted on Twitter: “We hear you. Our goal was to demonstrate the importance of allyship – a message we didn’t make clear.”

This is the second time in a week that Twitch has made a mistake regarding representation. On Sunday, the platform put out a video on Twitter to celebrate LGBT+ content creators that included the line “The G in LGBTQIA+ also stands for gamer.” The video was removed and edited after drawing a harsh response online.


Watch Twitch streams to get bonus content in Modern Warfare and Warzone through July 16

The bonus rewards in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone for watching Twitch streams offer is back, live now through July 16.

To celebrate the Season 4 Reloaded update this week in Call of Duty: Warzone and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Activision is teaming up with Twitch again to enable drops for select COD Partner streams. Watching select streamers will let you get additional bonus content in game.

Want to earn some rewards before you head into your next match? Watch Modern Warfare including Warzone on Twitch July 9 at 10 AM PT to July 16 at 10AM PT to earn rewards, then equip them in-game and jump into the action.

Here’s the steps to watching and earning Modern Warfare and Warzone rewards on Twitch:

  • Step 1: Get a Call of Duty Account: Registering for a Call of Duty account is a relatively easy process that gives you some awesome benefits. Accounts make it possible for cross-play to be enabled in Modern Warfare, and you’ll receive all the latest intel and personalized stats. Get an account by going here. If you already have an account, you’re all set.
  • Step 2: Link and Re-link: Once you have a Call of Duty account, connect it to your Twitch Account, so you can start earning!
    • Go here to link your Call of Duty and Twitch accounts. 
    • If you already have a Twitch account, you must re-link. Re-linking ensures you have enabled the correct permissions, so you can earn rewards. Go here to re-link your Call of Duty and Twitch accounts.
  • Step 3: Watch and Earn: Then, you’ll need to head to Twitch and get a look at the streamers who are playing Warzone. On drop eligible streams you’ll see a callout that “drops are enabled”, so you know you are officially watching and earning. From there, click the stream and enjoy the gameplay. You can watch multiple streamers or one stream but as long as they are “drop eligible” your total watch time will be tallied up, so you can earn rewards.
  • Step 4: Get the Goods: So, you’ve watched some awesome gameplay of Season One of Modern Warfare and want to know what’s headed to your inventory? Details below:
    • Watching 1 hour – ‘Censory Overload’ spray
    • Watching 2 hours – ‘Love the Bomb’ emblem
    • Watching 3 hours – ‘Bloodstream’ assault rifle weapon blueprint

SOURCE: Activision Blog

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