Starring: Adam Devine, Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza
Director: Jake Szymanski
Craigslist is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to post and sell your things without having to worry about shipping costs and all the other stuff that comes with shipping packages around the world. Instead people come to you and buy your stuff with cold hard cash. I’m oversimplifying it (a lot) but it really is a great thing. As it turns out, you can also use the website to find wedding dates. In Mike and Dave Needing Wedding Dates, the movie from writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (Neighbors), Mike and Dave…well, need wedding dates so they go to Craigslist to find their lucky ladies. Just like their idea, the movie is stupidly funny but not that great.
Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) Stangle are a pair of party-hard brothers who always seem to screw up every family function they attend, whether it’s a birthday, anniversary or family reunion. They always cross the line and things go south really quickly, as shown in the film’s introductory moments. By the request of their father, the two are asked to attend their sister’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding with two wedding dates that will keep the pair in check. After a tedious and thorough process (involving Craigslist and a gross amount of blind dates) the two stumble upon two very “respectable as f***” ladies, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza). The girls are a wild pair but they keep themselves under control just long enough for them to get the chance to attend the wedding in Hawaii with Mike and Dave. Let the shenanigans begin!
As far as story goes, Mike and Dave is pretty boilerplate when it comes to crazy wedding comedies. The movie gives us nutty family members, a stressed out bride, a rehearsal dinner gone wrong, and lots of alcohol-fueled antics. The film doesn’t do anything to change up the formula and as a result we get a largely uninteresting story.
Despite the unoriginal script, there’s a lot of stupidly hilarious R-rated insanity that leads to a good bit of laughter. Moments like a weird massage and a pre-wedding ecstasy trip gone too far make for some hilarious moments. Writers Cohen and O’Brien are no strangers to R-rated comedic romps so anyone who’s a fan of the Neighbor movies should feel right at home here amongst the shenanigans. There’s some downtime, sure, but there are definitely some humorous scenes that make up for it.
The most puzzling thing about this movie, however, are the two female leads, Kendrick and Plaza. It’s almost as if they put no effort into their characters. The girls, despite their slightly insane nature, are actually pretty boring and the two don’t do a good job of selling their characters at all. It’s a shame because their male co-stars, Devine and Efron actually work pretty well together. Their chemistry shows on screen and some of the movie’s funniest moments come when the two are together. It’s just too bad this same type of chemistry can’t be said about Kendrick and Plaza, who are two very funny people. This film could have been a lot stronger if everybody pulled their weight.
Despite the movie’s absurd moments, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, as well as the uninteresting story, hold it back. I really wanted to like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but I was expecting a lot more out of Kendrick and Plaza. Luckily the movie’s humorous moments prevent it from being a total wash. I had a good time with the film, but it’s not a movie that’s going to stick with me in the long run.
Remember the days when Mac Miller was just “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps”? Yep, he was the dude in the Pitt basketball jersey sitting on his bed in what might be the most cringe-inducing mixtape cover out there. He was immature with a little too much braggadocio. Fortunately, Mac started to find his footing and started to mature over the years through releases like Best Day Ever, Blue Slide Park, and most recently GO:OD AM. Each of these releases, whether they were mixtapes or studio albums, had a different theme but they all had one thing in common. They were all stepping stones to where Mac is now in terms of his maturity. With the release of his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine, we receive a Mac that is way more mature and maybe way more complex than ever before. It’s a unique album that demonstrates just how far the Pittsburgh rapper has come since his Taylor Allderdice days where he was slinging mixtapes in hopes of making it big.
First let’s begin with what makes Mac’s fourth go-around so unique in the current climate of Rap…it’s an album entirely focused on “love.” Yeah, every single song explores the idea of love and relationships. That’s not something you really see in today’s rap industry. Rappers are always quick to brag about their money and their women, but Mac takes a softer and more sentimental approach with his latest project. Look no further than the album’s premiere single, “Dang!” featuring the talented Anderson .Paak. Mac straight up says it himself in his rhymes…he needs to find his softer and more sensitive side, something that goes against the grain of orthodox hip-hop.
There’s a lot of steamy material within the concise 10 song LP. “Stay” is an intimate plea to Mac’s girl, begging her to stay the night. The song’s laced with some great jazz instrumentals; an abundance of trumpets and saxophone that will make anyone snap their fingers. There’s also “Skin,” which is the closest thing you’ll find to a sex-ready song. Mac himself mutters, “So finally I made a f***ing song,” over a beat so smooth and sensual that it’s sure to fog up your windows. Let’s not forget about Mac’s collaboration with Ariana Grande, “My Favorite Part,” that might as well be the announcement of the two’s relationship. It’s a genuine song that wonderfully displays the two’s mutual feelings for each other in a passionate way. What a couple.
Another thing to note is Mac Miller’s complexity that he brings to his lyrics. Mac Miller isn’t new to exploring complex themes. Just look at projects like Watching Movies with the Sound Off and Faces. That same brand of intricacy makes its way onto the album on songs like “Cinderella” and “Planet God Damn,” which features a wonderful sounding hook from Njomza. Despite this fact, there are still some immature lyrics that poke their way through some of the material that at times mucks up the final product. Lines like “I just eat p***y, other people need food” made me shake my head. C’mon Mac, there’s no room for juvenile remarks on such a complex album as this. Hey, I guess everyone still has room to mature right?
Whether you like it or not, there’s also a lot of singing on the part of Mac Miller. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sold on Mac’s singing voice, which made me a little worried going into the album for the first time. He’s experimented with it in the past, and to be fair, he has improved as time’s progressed. There are some songs on the album where his singing works really well, and other times where it sits at mediocrity. In the end, I think I am more sold on Mac’s voice then I ever was before. That’s a compliment that you can take to the bank.
There’s a bevy of collaborators on the album, besides the ones I’ve mentioned already. Bilal lends his voice to the outro for “Congratulations,” a song that floats on cloud-high piano melodies and mellow jazz. Kendrick Lamar lends his ability to the album’s final track, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty,” an interestingly titled cut full of passion and lyricism. Instead of rapping a verse, Kendrick harmonizes with Mac and acts as a supplement to the record, which works extremely well. As a big Kendrick fan I was hoping to hear a beefy verse, but I can’t really complain with his contribution to the song. The one feature that didn’t work too well was Cee-Lo Green, who’s featured on the simply-titled track “We.” It’s a solid song with a goes-down-easy hook, but Cee-Lo Green just felt like an afterthought. He didn’t really add much to the track and felt tacked on.
I have to give major props to Mac Miller for dedicating an entire album to the complex concept of love. That sounds like a terrifying endeavor, an idea that could go horribly wrong if not handled with care and expertise. Fortunately, Mac dives into the topic with complexity and maturity that makes The Divine Feminine a stand-out. The album also has some of the best production I have heard from a Mac Miller project. It’s almost worth releasing an instrumental mix of the record. Although the album’s not completely perfect, it’s still prime Mac, a rapper who has come a long way since his days as Easy Mac with the cheesy raps. (God…what an awful name for a rapper…)
Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)
PS4 / Rated M
Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games
Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games
Batman has been made great again. Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride. They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham. What about Bruce Wayne? Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games. With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.” The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics. It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.
Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games. In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots. The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils. On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites. Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot. Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player. The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful. Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important. As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.
Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with. As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer. In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble. There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs. His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign. Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.
The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully. There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny. Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt. Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard. Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again. This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes? Hey! Hey! Remember when your parents died!? Yeah that must suck huh. There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail. These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written. I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.
There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series. Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in. You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out. Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments. Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus. There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence. When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games. Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun. Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene. It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique. There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities. I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.
Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot. The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors. The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman. The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better. Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work. The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character. The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking. Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.
I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan. The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement. There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name. It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media. With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero. What are you waiting for? Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander
Director: Paul Greengrass
Everyone’s favorite misguided CIA operative is back and he’s looking for more answers. Jason Bourne has been away from the game for a while now, almost ten years. The CIA wants him back in the force, but Bourne has other plans. He’s moved on and he isn’t going to make it easy for the CIA to bring him in. Director Paul Greengrass brings the dormant hero back to the big screen in his plainly titled summer thriller Jason Bourne, a film that sticks to its guns and packs a punch.
Matt Damon is back and fits comfortably back into the role of the blank-slate Jason Bourne. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him in the role. He’s older now and has a grittier look, but he’s still the same guy, looking for answers. He’s laying low…keeping a low profile everywhere he goes, but this doesn’t last long when CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) demands that he’s brought back into the light. Aiding him in the hunt, Dewey enlists the help of fresh-faced and capable hacker Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who’s pretty confident that she has what it takes to bring in the elusive weapon that is Jason Bourne. Coincidently the CIA aren’t the only ones interested in Bourne’s whereabouts. A familiar face to Bourne fans, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), is also looking to meet up with Bourne with the interest of handing over a bunch of top-secret files that could put the CIA, and its operatives, at odds.
The movie’s central plot is very much a game of cat-and-mouse. Jason Bourne is on a mission looking for answers in his past while the CIA is constantly on his tail trying to catch him with the upper hand. The action is very much by the books and should be familiar to anyone who has seen a Bourne film, but that doesn’t take away from the movie’s thrills. The action sequences are tightly planned out and were very fun to watch come together, especially the bits in Vegas and Germany. Director Dewey entrusts the help of a certain Asset, played by Vincent Cassel, who has a history with Bourne and wants nothing more than to be the guy that takes him out. There’s nothing overtly special about Cassel’s rough and tough performance, but he still managed to be one of my favorite parts of the film.
There aren’t too many breaks to be had in the roller coaster ride that is Jason Bourne’s action, but there are some pauses in between the dust that attempt to establish character and dive deeper into more complex issues in today’s modern society. The character building? Nothing to really write home about. We get some backstory behind Bourne’s father, the main drive behind his question-seeking, but it doesn’t really go deeper than what most fans already know. There’s some new answers brought to the table, but nothing earth-shattering. On the other hand, Greengrass pokes at ideas like internet privacy and hacking culture, even referencing guys like Snowden, in an attempt to bring relevance to the film. I admire these ideas, but nothing is really done with them. They’re constantly brought up but then quickly forgotten about in the presence of guns and bullets. Jason Bourne wants to say more, but instead lets its self-settle into familiarity, which is a tad disappointing given the presence of such ideas.
As far as performance go, this is Matt Damon’s movie and his only. There isn’t much to Bourne’s character to begin with, as he’s painted with a blank slate, but Damon still does a bang-up job at portraying the figure. Although Damon steals the light, Alicia Vikander brings a much welcomed fresh face to the table. She’s a strong-willed and very intelligent hacker that is working to bring a change to the CIA. As the film runs deeper, Bourne and Lee’s relationship gets a lot more interesting as the two work together to bring down the CIA’s internalized sinister dealings.
Despite it’s by the book plotting and inability to tap deeper into some of the more relevant issues of today, Jason Bourne still manages to provide exhilarating fun. It was fun seeing Matt Damon slip back into one of his iconic roles, even though nothing has really changed about the character this time around. I would have liked for Greengrass to have gone deeper than the surface level on things like Snowden and internet privacy, but who knows where that story could have gone. The movie sticks to what it does best, which works out in the end.
Have you ever found yourself wandering through a vault in the Fallout universe and wondering what it would be like to build one of those vaults for yourself? Have you wondered what it would be like to practice experiments on the vault dwellers within? Now this dream is a reality in the Vault-Tec Workshop, the latest string of DLC add-ons for Bethesda’s Fallout 4. It’s essentially a more fleshed out version of the studio’s mobile game Fallout Shelter, which is novel in concept. Vault-Tec Workshop doesn’t go without its faults though.
The add-on starts you off with a quest calling you to investigate a mysterious cave, a new location added into the game. Inside this cave you find what is seemingly an abandoned vault, although you hear a woman’s voice over the loudspeaker. After defeating the enemies that are trying to break in through the vault door, you open the vault and come into contact with a new acquaintance, Valery Barstow, a ghoul who was meant to become the overseer of the uncompleted Vault 88, the vault in which you discovered. After walking into the main area, you find a huge cave with loads of abandoned construction equipment and some feral ghouls who used to be a part of the crew. After getting to know a little bit about Barstow and her ambitions for Vault 88, she sets you free with the task of finishing Vault 88 and the experiments that it was meant to run. It might seem unethical at first, but that’s the question you will have to repeatedly struggle with as you continue to welcome in new settlers and complete different tasks for Barstow. You can either murder Barstow in cold blood or complete her unethical, and sometimes devious, experiments on the settlers you welcome in. It’s your choice, which is what I like about this add-on in particular.
The settlement space that the add-on gives you to build your vault is definitely the biggest space in the game by far. You have a massive system of caves that you can explore and clear out to make room for your vault. The game encourages players to reach level 20 before starting the DLC, because some of the enemies you will have to clear out are pretty tough. Once you have explored and cleared the cave system, you have a massive cave at your disposal…which you pretty much can’t take advantage of due to the settlement size constraints. You know that bar in the upper right corner in the workshop HUD that indicates “size”? This size constraint unfortunately still applies to your vault, even though it gives you a massive space to work with. If you’re on console (I have been playing on PS4) then you can pretty much forget creating a vault that spans the entire cave system. If you want a vault that’s nice and furnished, then you’re pretty much going to have to stick to the main area for now, until mods come out that allow you to remove the size limitations. It’s a pretty large oversight, but I understand that console limitations prevent you from creating vast vaults. At the end of the day it’s a hardware constraint, but it’s still rather unfortunate, especially when your teased with such a massive building space to play around with.
When you take into account all of Bethesda’s previous workshop add-ons for the game, Vault-Tec Workshop is probably the biggest and best addition to the constantly growing workshop feature set. The add-on gives you a pretty hefty set of new workshop elements that give you the ability to create your very own Vault-Tec vault. There’s a bunch of pre-sets that allow you to build hallways, atriums, dining spaces, living spaces, overseer offices and much more. There’s also a host of new furniture options that relate specifically to what you typically find in vaults around the world. Everything from Vault-Tec posters to diner benches have been included, allowing you to personalize your vault to your liking. Perhaps the most practical addition to the workshop is the Vault-Tec generators, that have the ability to produce 150 or 500 electricity. These generators are powerhouses that will allow you to power up even the heftiest of vaults. You can build all of these elements outside of the add-on’s underground area in any settlement of your choice, which can potentially lead to some unique creations as well.
For all you diabolical folks who want to conduct experiments on your vault’s dwellers, you get a pretty nice array of experiments to choose from. In all, there are four objects that allow you to conduct three experiments each, which totals up to twelve experiments in all. These objects range from elliptical bikes to soda machines to slot machines. These experiments are not as crazy as some of the others that you have seen in other vaults, but they are enough to suffice. You also can’t create your own, so your stuck with what the add-on gives you. There’s a population management terminal that allows you to manage all of your vault dwellers, which provides a nice and easy way to get a glance at what everyone is doing. You can also equip your dwellers with their very own Vault 88 jumpsuits and Pip-Boys, which is a nice touch in itself. The add-on goes pretty far in letting you create what feels like an authentic vault.
Despite the size limitations that inhibit you from creating expansive vault systems, the Vault-Tec Workshop is a nice addition to Fallout 4. Sure, in the end it’s just a console version of Fallout Shelter, but the add-on provides enough items and features to make it worth taking a look at. At the end of the day, I would have preferred a little more story add-ons like the previous Fallout games, but these workshop add-ons will suffice for now. Nuka World, presumably Fallout 4’s final piece of DLC, is coming out next month, but Vault-Tec Workshop should be enough to hold over fans in the meantime.
I was already in love with Netflix’s BoJack Horseman after its first two seasons, but lo and behold, the show’s third season made me love the show even more. I didn’t think it was possible. The show manages to stay fresh while delivering its trademark dark and dry humor. It’s a show that’s brutally honest and bend over backwards hilarious. It also isn’t afraid to get real…super real. (You already got a taste of this towards the latter half of season two) Show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has a true bona-fide hit on his hand and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon.
This season we have the post-Secretariat aftermath that BoJack (Will Arnett) has to maneuver himself through. If you’ve been keeping track, the show has pretty much taken us through the gauntlet of what it’s like to be an actor in Hollywood. The show’s first season portrayed the trials and tribulations of being an old washed-up actor while season two dove head first into the world of filming a movie. This season, we get to watch as BoJack deals with press junkets, award shows, and the brunt of execs who want to throw script after script at him because he’s made it big with Secretariat. In true BoJack fashion, he seems to be handling everything well (relatively, of course) but then things take a turn for the worse as friendships get tested and tried. Remember when I said this show isn’t afraid to get real? Yeah…this show gets pretty sobering in the later episodes. BoJack might have approached his lowest point yet. That says something, especially considering the fact that last season he was caught in a yacht with a teenage girl on prom night. Just watch season two to see for yourself…
All your favorite characters, both big and small, make it back for season three. BoJack’s feline agent, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), is facing some hard times with her new agency and she starts to question herself as well as others. She even finds new love. Diane (Alison Brie), one of BoJack’s best friends, is helping him with his social media outlets, among other things. Her and Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) relationship is tested once again as they continue to work out the kinks in their estranged marriage. Finally, everyone’s favorite lazy roommate Todd (Aaron Paul) is…well, not so lazy this season. He still has his fair share of wacky off-the-walls adventures, but the main portion of the season focuses on his new tech start-up, which focuses on giving woman a “safe place” in the cab industry. Although it soon starts to evolve into some crazy directions.
There aren’t too many new characters introduced this season, besides BoJack’s publicist Ana Spanikopita, voiced by Angela Bassett. Bassett does a great job with the character, who has to put up with BoJack’s crazy shenanigans and bloated persona. Instead, this season mainly focuses on the character we already know and love and develops them even deeper, giving us some much appreciated backstory in the way of flashbacks. It felt like I knew the characters even more by the end. There’s a whole episode that’s totally devoted to each character’s backstory, which happens to be one of the best episodes of the season.
I was constantly amazed by the fresh ideas that were brought to the table over and over again this season. The same familiar humor is still abundant and healthy, but we get some cleverly written episodes that demonstrate the show’s prowess. There’s an episode that rewinds time back to the year 2007. Not only do we get to see all the characters and where they were at during this time, but it’s also chock full of 2007 references. Everything from the music to the billboards. I was laughing out loud for the entire episode. On the other hand, we got an episode in similar vein to the silent films of the Golden Era of Hollywood. BoJack takes a trip under the sea for an underwater film festival, but things go south as he has to care for a newborn seahorse. He’s unable to speak (because he’s underwater), which makes for an episode devoid of conversation but full of heart and hilarity. Despite the lack of words, it might have been the most well-written episode of the season.
It’s not often that we get TV shows that consistently nail it out of the park every single episode. With its third season, BoJack Horseman truly makes the mark. It’s brilliant up and down the board. There’s lighthearted episodes mixed with some sobering episodes, all with a heavy dose of clever and relevant humor. The writing this season is top-notch and almost all the characters elevate in terms of development. This season’s finale is both sad and optimistic for BoJack, who goes through a whole arsenal of emotions of the course of the season. It only got me hopeful for what is next in the already confirmed fourth season. You know your killing it when your fourth season gets green-lit before the premiere even airs.
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Netflix’s Stranger Things just screams 80’s nostalgia. Literally every single corner of the show is just dripping with love for the era. The show merges psychological thrills with horror, something that would fit perfectly in the 80s. There’s even influence from guy like John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King…in more ways than one. In its concise eight-episode season, Stranger Things manages to layer on depth with every episode, delivering one of the most intriguing and mysterious stories of the year.
Mystery begins upon the disappearance of a boy named Will (Noah Schnapp) after a night of Dungeon and Dragons with his friends. His friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are a group of AV-club misfits that gave me strong Goonies vibes. After the disappearance of her son Will, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) starts to go mad, calling upon the help of town sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to help investigate the strange disappearance. It’s only a matter of time before shady government agencies and supernatural events start to make an appearance, cementing the fact that something deeper and more nefarious is taking ahold of the peaceful town.
Making matters more interesting, the boys stumble upon a peculiar girl, simply named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who seems to be the answer to everything that has been occurring. She’s scared and keeps to herself, but her powers go beyond all understanding. Her background is something of an enigma. Over the course of the show we get flashbacks to her past which involves a lot of lab experiments and a dark past.
The best part about Stranger Things is the layered story that it piles on every step of the way. The premiere episode is crazy by itself, but things take a plunge with each episode, whether it’s a new reveal or element key to the events taking place. The show goes places, for better or worse. Overall, the show does a good job at delivering a thrilling story but some of the supernatural elements are left out to dry with little explanation. The various characters give some convoluted clarifications towards the latter half of the story, but they don’t always feel satisfying. When I say the show goes places, it goes places. Sometimes you just have to suspend disbelief in order to fully enjoy the story. Despite this, the events wrap up brilliantly, yielding a satisfying conclusion, albeit a little predictable.
Winona Ryder is by far the stand out performance here. She plays a distressed mom that is crazy about finding her lost son. She starts off just like any other worried mom but as time goes on she plunges down a dark road of hysteria that involves talking to Christmas lights and putting holes through walls. It’s not a good look, but Ryder does a fantastic job at portraying all of these emotions. There’s also David Harbour’s performance as Sheriff Hopper. At first I wasn’t sold as he seemed like he didn’t really want to apart of what was happening, but when we discover his backstory, things start to fall into place his performance gets better with time. Even the child actors did a good job with their roles. With child actors, their performances can be hit or miss, but Bobby Brown, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, McLaughlin, and even Schnapp did really well. It’s also worth mentioning that Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) all did fine jobs as well.
The presentation elements of the show are what make Stranger Things so appealing. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of nostalgia elements that give the show 80’s flair. The title screen is an obvious callback to Steven King’s novels, mimicking the same font and look of any of his titles. Jaws movie posters adorn the walls and songs like Toto’s “Africa” play in the background. Speaking of music, the show’s soundtrack is on point, all the time. The music is super synthy and the unnerving audio cues amp up the thrills. Stranger Things is an example of perfect sound design. Even the visual effects feel like they’re fresh out of the 80’s, which is good and bad. The monster animations are cheesy and strobe lights apparently mask some of the effects-heavy scenes. Perhaps it adds to the show’s character, but the effects feel out of place and kind of lazy in 2016.
What we have with Stranger Things is a love letter to shows of its ilk. The 80’s influence is real and ever present. The Duffer Brothers, directors of the show, have a great piece of television on their hands. There’s already been a lot of talk surrounding the show, which makes a second season a good possibility. I’m all for another trip back into Stranger Things but I don’t want the show to carry on past three seasons at most. There’s value to shorter and more concise TV shows that tell one-off stories. Stranger Things, which might be my favorite show of the year so far, has me dying to see more.
When you glance at ScHoolboy Q’s album cover for his latest release Blank Face LP, it’s immediately apparent that this album might be a bit dark. On what looks like a movie ticket, we see an image of branching tree limbs and fiery clouds. In the bottom corner we see a mysterious looking man, presumably ScHoolboy Q himself, who has a mask covering his face. I understand the fact that “Blank Face” has a deeper meaning, but calling the album Blank Face LP is perhaps doing this album a disservice. This album is anything but blank, as ScHoolboy Q hones in on everything from his childhood to his current life. With a smattering of psychedelically bizarre production, we get an album that’s honest and poignant, and perhaps Q’s best album yet.
Unlike his previous pieces of work, like Habits and Contradictions and Oxymoron which focused on his drug addictions, Blank Face LP is a broader canvas that covers a lot more than simply just his past drug addictions. He has overcome those addictions and has moved on to a broader view of the world. This might welcome criticism that the album isn’t focused and too broad, but Q manages to bring everything into a precise and focused picture. There are some songs that don’t necessarily fit in the picture, but the vast majority of the album works well in harmony. The song “TorcH,” which serves as the album’s intro, does a pretty good job at giving you a taste of what you’re going to get.
The album has a bigger focus on ScHoolboy Q’s gang banging lifestyle that he has been a part of in the past. “JoHn Muir” is a song named after his former middle school in Los Angeles, which fits pretty well since middle school marked the time that Q began his gang lifestyle. Other songs like the unnerving “Dope Dealer,” featuring E-40, and “Str8 Ballin” also go pretty in depth into his lifestyle. He seems to want to move on however, as “Lord Have Mercy” is a darkish plea to God for mercy for his sinful lifestyle. There’s a lot of earnest emotion here, laced over some seriously good production from Swizz Beatz.
Another thing I couldn’t help but notice is the similarities this album has to fellow label mate Kendrick Lamar’s last album To Pimp A Butterfly. “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane,” featuring Jadakiss, is a well-written song that has the type of storytelling that could be found on Kendrick’s album. Kendrick, obviously, goes a little deeper and gets more metaphorical, but his influence on ScHoolboy Q is apparent. Other songs like the erratic “Kno Ya Wrong” and the heavy cut “Ride Out” featuring Vince Staples have the type of flow and production that I could easily see on a To Pimp A Butterfly B-side.
Some other songs worth mentioning include “Neva Change” and “Black THoughts.” “Neva Change” has some sweet and melodic production with a wonderful hook from R&B singer SZA while “Black THoughts” is a little darker. The thing that these two songs have in common is their relevance, especially in the past couple of weeks with all the horrible violence that has been taking place in our country. “Black THoughts” is a commentary on the current state of the black community and its culture, which has been facing a lot of hardships the past couple of weeks. The sad part is, ScHoolboy Q acknowledges that he wrote these songs a year ago and they are still relevant and important today. I guess things “Neva Change.”
As I mentioned before, ScHoolboy Q does a bang-up job at taking us through the many facets of his life, both past and present, through the majority of his songs. Unfortunately, some songs don’t fit in with the bigger picture. “Big Body,” a funky cut featuring Tha Dogg Pound and produced by Tyler the Creator, is a fun song that ultimately feels out of place compared with the dark and heavy beats that we have seen elsewhere on the album. There’s also “Overtime,” a song that clearly panders to the label in hopes of getting some radio airplay. It’s a radio ready song that loses it’s luster in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience. The one redeeming quality of this song is Justine Skye’s smooth contribution to the track.
There’s some songs that I have failed to mention, like Q’s collaboration with Kanye West “THat Part,” the sequel to Habits and Contradictions’ interlude “Tookie Knows II,” and the T.I. “Whatever You Like” inspired electronic jam “WHatever You Want,” featuring Candice Pillay. These are all good songs that deserve some attention. The whole album deserves attention. There’s some songs that could be cut and some tracks that could be made tighter, but the overall package is a brilliant snapshot of ScHoolboy Q’s life as well as his ability to put together raps. As I mentioned with his previous release Oxymoron, Blank Face LP might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly ScHoolboy Q’s best piece of work to this day. I think Kendrick Lamar has been a good influence on the guy.
Maybe you haven’t checked Twitter recently, but you’ve probably noticed an influx of new Pokemon trainers taking to the streets, all with the mission of catching them all. After only a couple of days since the app’s release, Pokemon Go has literally taken the world by storm. The game is developed by Niantic Labs, the minds behind the augmented-reality game Ingress, which was essentially a game about territory wars. Just like its predecessor, Pokemon Go used augmented-reality technology to allow people to catch Pokemon in “real-life.” Players wonder around their streets finding Pokemon along the way. It’s a cool concept, but just like any other big app that hits the marketplaces, the level of staying power comes into question. Is this game going to be around for a while? Probably. However, there’s some aspects of the game that need to be fixed in order to cement its longevity.
Let’s start with what the game gets right, because there’s a lot of potential to be had. Perhaps the biggest reason the app is resonating with so many people is the fact that “Pokemon” is in the name. Who doesn’t love Pokemon? But…seriously, who doesn’t love them? If you were a kid growing up in the 90’s, there’s a strong chance that you watched a Pokemon episode or two. Not to mention the popularity of the trading card game as well as the video games that went along with it. Pokemon was an integral part of a lot of our childhood’s, which explains why so many people have become instantly attached to the app. Currently, the only Pokemon available to catch in the wild are the original 151, which might also explain the number of teens and adults playing the game, rather than younger kids who are probably more familiar with the newer types. I’m sure there’s a bunch of kids playing the game, but in my experience I have noticed a surplus of older folks running around.
Pokemon Go’s social aspect is something I haven’t seen in a while. The game encourages you to leave the house and go out into the world. The game uses the equivalent of Google Maps to tag locations of interest as either Poke Stops or Pokemon Gyms. Checking in at Poke Stops grants you items like Poke Balls, Potions, and Revives. There’s also the chance for rarer items like Eggs, Incubators (used to hatch the eggs), and Incense. As you walk around, you will eventually find Pokemon hanging out in your area. When you click on them in the app’s map-like interface, it brings up an AR interface with the Pokemon. You can catch these Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them, which can prove tough if they are more aggravated. It’s a pretty simple premise that becomes second-nature as you find more Pokemon. When you catch a Pokemon, it gets added to the Pokedex (if you haven’t caught one of its type) and you get to see it’s stats. You can name your Pokemon, to give them a more personal touch, as well as level up their CP (Combat Power) by giving them Stardust and Pokemon-specific candy (items you obtain when you catch these Pokemon). Like I’ve said before, that’s pretty much all there is to it, but there’s some deeper strategy that you can employ as you level up and evolve your Pokemon. Finally, once you level up your trainer level to five, you can participate in Gym battles around your area. First, you pick a team to side with. You can choose between either Team Valor, Mystic, or Instinct. The main goal with Gym fights is to capture them for your team. If you take down a Gym’s prestige level, you can then claim that Gym for your team. If your team has already laid claim to the Gym, you can offer up your Pokemon to bolster its defense. This seems to be Pokemon Go’s endgame. Trainer vs. trainer battles are expected in the future, but right now Gyms seem to be the main goal for your stronger Pokemon.
Never have I seen more people get into a game like they have Pokemon Go. Alright, that’s probably a bold statement considering games like Clash of Clans exist in this world, but there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the game. My Twitter feed has literally been taken over by Pokemon Go posts. I have literally had conversations with friends and random strangers in the street who were also playing Pokemon Go. Maybe it’s just a phenomenon that’s going to blow by in the coming days, but the game’s social meta game is what makes it so special. It’s inspiring people to get out and have social interactions with completely random people. People are literally treating their teams like their gangs, hassling people who aren’t apart of their team’s ranks. (If you’re not Team Mystic, I don’t know what you’re doing.) It’s these aspects of the game that convince me this game’s going to be around for a while, especially as more social features get added to the game.
Finally, the game gets you an excuse to get off your butt an exercise. These Pokemon aren’t going to catch themselves. Sure, you can use Insence to attract Pokemon to your location for a span of thirty minutes, but the real fun comes when you get out and take a walk. Your almost guaranteed to find more Pokemon that way and you’ll burn some calories at the same time. You can also hatch eggs as you walk, given that they are in incubators. Eggs either take two, five, or ten kilometers to hatch, so you better start grinding away. Over the course of the past couple of days I have walked a total of seven miles. I got lost in my neighborhood trying to find a rare Machop, but I didn’t mind. It’s an excuse to get in shape, which is perfect for the coming Summer months.
Now at this point I have rattled off a lot about what makes this game great, but there are some fundamental features of the game that either need fixed or added. It’s in no means a perfect game. It’s still young which means there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s first talk about the actual game…because there isn’t much too it. Catching Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them yields some strategy, but at the end of the day it just amounts to swiping a Poke Ball in the Pokemon’s direction. The battles? Well, there not so hot. Each Pokemon has a total of two moves that they can use when you fight other Pokemon. The combat consists of tapping the opposing Pokemon to attack and swiping left or right to dodge incoming attacks. That’s all there is to it. Remember that turn-based battle system that you were probably used to in the original Pokemon games? Now it’s been relegated to an inaccurate touch-and-swipe minigame that essentially comes down to which Pokemon has the higher CP level. You’re not battling human players when you are fighting at Gyms, which means a turn-based system would be tricky to implement when the opposing Pokemon isn’t being controlled by its trainer. However, some sort of change needs to be made in order to make the battles more enticing. It might not be the app’s biggest problem, but I would love to see a more strategic focus in the battle systems.
Right now, the biggest problem plaguing the app is its technical issues. Oh boy there’s a lot of them. Whether it’s server troubles or hard crashes, you are going to run into a fair share of issues as you walk around. The game is fairly new and it’s received an overload of players pinging the servers, so this is a problem that should be expected. I don’t think the guys and girls at Niantic Labs were expecting such a response to the app. However, the amount of server issues and crashes indicate that the problem might be a bit tougher to fix. Either that or the game will need some time to work itself out. I’m fairly confident that these issues will be worked out over time, but their presence makes the game a touchy experience in the present.
Battery life is the other technical aspect that needs to be fixed. The game will shred even the finest of phone batteries. This stems from the fact that you have to keep the app open in order to register distance and catch Pokemon. You can have it open in the background, but that’s not going to do you any good. If you want to interact with the game, it has to be open at all times, which is bad news for your battery. Pro tip: you can make your battery last longer by lowering your brightness. It’s not much but it will help you, especially if you plan on going on a long endeavor through the wild. Maybe even pack a portable battery to charge up your phone in times of need. This problem can be fixed by allowing for background processes. As I’m walking around, I would love to receive notifications if there is a Pokemon nearby or a Poke Stop to take advantage of. Simple push notifications don’t seem like they would be tough to implement, but who knows. Tracking your distance walked should also be handled in the background. I shouldn’t have to have the app open in order to register that I’m walking. If these aspects of the game could be handled in the background, it could go a long way to improving the app’s battery usage.
Pokemon Go is currently in beta, so there’s a good chance that the game’s going to improve in the coming weeks and months. As it stands, the game is a lot of fun, partly because the fact that it’s Pokemon. Right now the gameplay isn’t much, but it’s the thrill of catching them all that is going to keep players grinding away. Is the app going to have staying power? Probably, but only if Niantic bolsters the gameplay and improves the technical experience. The fixes I mentioned above could go a long way in ensuring players stick around for the long run. More Pokemon are presumably going to be added in the future, so the fun has only just begun. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wild Rhydon somewhere in my neighborhood. Good luck out there fellow Pokemon trainers.
“This motherf***er made a number one album! Made a mixtape after…and then he’s making another concept album…like his first s*** didn’t already go Number 1?! This motherf***er’s like butter, he’s on a roll motherf***er!” Perhaps there’s no better way to put it than these lines from Logic’s newest mixtape, Bobby Tarantino. This dude is quite literally on a roll. Fresh off the release of The Incredible True Story, the Maryland-based rapper has put out a new collection of songs, a fun little side project if you will, devoid of any deep or substantive material. There’s some thoughtful material on the mixtape, but in the end Bobby Tarantino is meant to be a diversion in between his flagship releases and it succeeds on this front.
Minus the rather unnecessary intro track “illuminatro,” a song that acts as a special message if played backward, we immediately are thrown some bangers that not only demonstrate Logic’s undeniable flow, but his killer ambition as well. “Flexicution,” a single that was dropped prior to the mixtape’s arrival, is a heavy beat hip-hop track laced with an extra dosage of braggadocio. “The Jam” is…a jam. On a song that goes hard, Logic goes on about how he’s eventually going to be bigger than Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z. Those are some lofty claims…but hey, there’s potential. Logic’s got a lot more work to do though. Besides this point, this is a pretty great track. It would have been flawless if it weren’t for the overzealous use of auto-tune though.
Continuing the fun, we get a very humorous interlude track called “A Word from Our Sponsor,” which sees the return of the recurring character Marty Randolph. Longer than most interludes, the track takes the form of a phone conversation between Marty and Logic’s record label that puts Marty on hold for a ridiculous amount of time. There’s some perspective to be gained from the track, but it’s relevance and worth are largely questionable. However, it will probably make you laugh a lot more than you thought you would laugh listening to a Logic mixtape.
The mixtape’s sole feature goes to Pusha T, on the collaborative track, “Wrist.” The song tells the fictional story of a Colombian drug lord who decides to take an introspective walk through his inner being. It’s a reflective track that displays some good storytelling work from Logic. Pusha T was alright but it’s not like the track gained anything from his presence. It’s probably safe to say that the track might have been better if Pusha T stayed on the sideline.
I think the best track off the mixtape is “44 Bars,” a well written and heavy introspective. Over the course of the track, Logic delivers a 44-bar verse that dives into the pains and motivations that drive him to be the person that he is. It’s a thoughtful track that cements the fact that Logic has some rapping chops…but I don’t think I have to convince you of his talent. It might not be the most original or innovative track out there, but it’s a substantive track that stands out from most of the lighthearted fare on the project.
There’s some blemishes over the course of the tape that are worth mentioning. The sister tracks “Slave” and “Slave II” didn’t really grab me. Aside from being redundant, they don’t really offer anything new. The notion of “being a slave to the rap game” is an idea that has been battered over and over again over the course of rap’s history. These tracks don’t bring anything new to the table. They sound good, but that’s about it. Then there’s “Studio Ambience at Night,” a chaotic track that should have been relegated to the chopping block. It doesn’t serve that much of a purpose, other than to give a preview of what’s next for Logic. However, good luck trying to parse what that means over the humble and bumble of the track’s noise, which mimics the sounds from a late night studio session.
At the end of the day, Logic has put forth another solid project worthy of a listen. This dude has been hard at work creating music and his hard work and dedication shows. Bobby Tarantino is successful by giving you something to chew and digest on while the rapper grinds out his next full conceptual release. There’s a good bit of gems amid some duller rocks, but hey, this is a solid piece of work that honestly could serve as a full-on release if it wanted to.
On a side note, it’s kind of tough to get the album for yourself. As of right now, I’m pretty sure it’s only available to stream on services like Apple Music, Google Play, Soundcloud, and YouTube. I don’t think you can actually purchase it for yourself, but I’m sure that will change soon. Personally, he should have probably just released the mixtape on the usual services…but this is a mixtape so everything’s different.