Review: Tales From The Borderlands – Zer0 Sum

tales from borderlands ep1 coverTales From The Borderlands Episode 1 (2014)



Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Telltale Games & Gearbox Software LLC

*There may be some spoilers scattered throughout the review.  You have been warned.*

The Borderlands games are mainly known for their shooting combat and their expansive amount of gun customization.  They are open world games that contain lots of side missions and loot for you to take advantage of.  The story however?  It doesn’t really stand in the spotlight.  When Telltale announced that one of their next famed adventure games would take place in the Borderlands universe, it was a little surprising.  The games do have their own brand of attitude and flair that transfer perfectly however to Tales From The Borderlands.

via Giga Games
via Giga Games

It’s immediately apparent that the game has the same look and feel as the Borderlands game.  The art style looks really nice and the colors pop right off the screen.  It’s a nice looking game, and the returning characters look exactly like they do in the previous games.  However, we get a look at some completely new characters exclusive to the game.

The first episode, titled Zer0 Sum, starts off with a beat-up Rhys, a company man for the well-known and highly frowned-upon Hyperion Corporation.  He is looking for his companion, Fiora, who is a con-artist from the planet Pandora.  The two are the most unlikely duo, somehow brought together by a single link.  Rhys is then captured by a mysterious stranger, who quickly asks him to talk about the Gortys Project as he takes Rhys back to his hideout.  This is when we get to see the back story and how the two characters were brought together.

via Videogameszone
via Videogameszone

The two obviously don’t trust each other yet, and that is seen through their constant bickering between themselves.  The story is told in medias res, where both of the characters tell the story from their point of view.  They tend to disagree with each other a lot and their stories contradict each other.  There was a lot of humor from these little arguments.

The two are introduced to each other after a deal gone horribly wrong.  Rhys is promised a promotion by his scummy boss Hugo Vasquez.  Instead of the promotion, he gets “promoted” to a janitorial position, which sets Rhys off.  His friends up at Hyperion, Vaughn and Yvette decide to help Rhys in screwing Vasquez out of a deal he set up with a group in Pandora over a rare vault key for ten million dollars.  Vaughn quickly wires them the money and he’s off to Pandora, along with Rhys, to carry out the deal before Vasquez figures anything out.

via Softpedia
via Softpedia

Once we get down to the unforgiving desert region of Pandora, we begin to look around for the place where the deal will take place.  This is where the action gameplay in introduced.  Quick time events were not a big deal in past Telltale games, but they seem to play a bigger part in Tales From Borderlands.  Some bandits want to know what is in the case full of money and they don’t hesitate to attack Rhys and Vaughn.  With some timely executed quick time events, you take out the bandits in a few tense moments.  You also summon down a Loader Bot, which you can customize in real time to fight the bandits.  All of these features are new for the Telltale games, and they were all generally fun to play around with.

via Computer Bild
via Computer Bild

It’s also worth noting that Rhys has a special cyborg eyeball that lets him scan objects and characters in the environment, giving the player an added dimension of information, as well as humor.  It’s a cool little feature that is pretty well executed.  Later in the game when you take control over Fiora, you get access to money, which you can pick up and use to buy yourself out of trouble.  It’s little things like this that make the game seem completely different from past Telltale games.

Going back to the story, Rhys and Vaughn eventually come across August and Sasha who have the vault key.  They seem pretty reluctant to give them the key since Vasquez is nowhere in sight.  This is where the story is thrown in Fiora’s hands, who begins to explain how she got connected with the deal.

via Computer Bild
via Computer Bild

Fiora is the slick and sly con-artist that makes her residence in Pandora.  She’s not alone in her endeavors however.  Felix has been her mentor in the game and Sasha is Fiora’s partner in crime.  They begin to think up a scam that they believe will net them some excess cash.  They put together a fake vault key that they plan to sell to the gullible August who they believe will sell the key to Hyperion for big money.  All it takes is some sweet talking and persuasion from Fiora to get August on board, who then travels with Sasha to make the deal.  Felix and Fiora are close by to make sure nothing gets out of hand, and to make sure that the fake vault key doesn’t get outed.

This is how it all comes together.  When Rhys scans the vault key with his eye, he finds out that the thing is fake, and this causes a bunch of ruckus.  A gang of bandits led by the obnoxious Bossanova busts through and takes the briefcase of money among the confusion, while Rhys, Sasha, Felix, and Vaughn escape from the scene, leaving August behind.  We also get introduced to Zer0, a deadly vault hunter who also wants to get his hands on the money.

via Digital Trends
via Digital Trends

After a shaky alliance is formed between the four, they decide to go after the money.  After some work by Vaughn, they track the money to Bossanova’s base, which is an old Atlas facility.  It also turns out that the briefcase is top prize for the winner of a death rally that Bossanova is putting on.  The team splits up, with Rhys and Sasha going after the briefcase and Vaughn and Fiora gearing up for the rally.  After more quick time events and some action, we get met with our first major decision of the game.  Felix, as it turns out, is in this for himself and he ends up taking the briefcase, backstabbing the group.  It’s known that the briefcase has a bomb wired to it for anybody that tries to get in.  You have to decide as Fiora whether or not to stop him, or let him find out the hard way.  It was a tough decision to make, but I ended up watching Felix explode as the money started to fly everywhere…destroyed.

This causes some tension between Sasha and Fiora, who couldn’t believe that Felix was left for dead.  Rhys and Vaughn also realize the situation they are in, now that Hyperion and Vasquez are aware of what had happened to the money.  They need to get the money back to Vasquez.  They stumble around the debris of the explosion, coming across an opening to an Atlas vault containing some highly valued vintage weapons…as well as a mysterious looking pair of artifacts in the middle.  Fiora and Rhys put them together to reveal what is explained as the Gortys Project which supposedly leads to a vault, as explained by a holographic Handsome Jack, one of the most popular villains form the Borderlands universe.  The whole project is still mysterious in nature, and will most likely be explored in the future episodes.  We also got a sneak peek at what is believed to be Mad Moxxie’s voice, after talking to Zer0 Sum who successfully took down Bossanova.  It leaves me anticipating how she will factor into the story.

via Gizorama
via Gizorama

I really liked where the first episode went and what it did in terms of introducing all of the major players.  We started to see the chemistry between characters like Rhys and Sasha, as well as Vaughn and Fiora.  It’s these types of relationships that I hope are further explored in future episodes.  I also heavily anticipate how Handsome Jack, who is presumed dead, and Mad Moxxie will come into play.  I also really enjoyed the humor and attitude that was present in the game.  The banter between  the characters and the stylish title cards for the characters were all fun to experience.  It looks like Tales From The Borderlands has an intriguing story to tell.


2014 Game Of The Year

It hasn’t been the best year for gaming when you take in to consideration all that has taken place.  The whole gamergate situation left a dark spot on the industry as a whole, even forcing some writers to leave their homes.  There were also an alarming number of games that released broken, or somewhat broken.  It left a lot of gamers questioning whether or not they should purchase their games on day one, which really shouldn’t be a question.

Despite all the woes of the year, their were some great games however.  Here’s my list of my favorites.  Once again, I should note that I have not played every game under the sun.  Thus, there are some great games that came out this year that I did not play.

Best game from previous year: Papers, Please

via PC Gaming Wiki
via PC Gaming Wiki

I was a little behind when it came to Papers, Please.  It was met with a bunch of critical praise when it came out last year for being a dark tale about a border patrol officer for the great country of Arstotzka, a Soviet-esque nation.  The mundane task of checking passport after passport, id after id, permit after permit, and more can become tedious and boring, but that captures the essence of the job.  Each immigrant wants to get into the country, and they all have their story.  It’s your job to determine whether their dreams can be realized, or shot down.  The game puts a lot in your hands and expects you to make the right decision every time.  It’s hard as hell to do this, and their will be many a decision that you make in which you feel awful with yourself.

10.  Spelunky (PS4)

2014 game of the year spelunkyTechnically Spelunky, the insanely hard rouge-like, came out in 2013.  But if we are being technical here, the game was ported to the PS4 this year, making it eligable for the list.  I have a love-hate relationship with the game.  It’s a game about learning from your mistakes, mistakes that you will simply not be able to avoid.  You play as a Indiana Jones like adventurer who explores randomly generated caves and ruins in search of treasure.  When you die (and you will die…horribly), you have to start all over again.  Yep, right back to the very start of the game.  However, this didn’t detract me away from the game.  Instead, it inspired me to keep working at it, so I could figure it out.  Each run granted me a new lesson to learn, as well as a new item to harness.  I always felt extremely accomplished whenever I finished a level unscathed…only to immediately die in gruesome fashion in the next level.  I hate you Spelunky.  I love you Spelunky.

9.  Hearthstone

2014 game of the year hearthstoneBlizzard has a pretty high pedigree when it comes to the select list of games that they have put out.  This year, they introduced Hearthstone, a new game to add to their repertoire.  There are two things about this game that make it seem unlikely that I would like it; it’s a collectible card game and it is free-to-play.  However, the game took care of those things brilliantly.  I don’t tend to go for card games because of their complex nature, but Hearthstone managed to keep itself relatively simple, yet complex at the same time.  It was extremely easy to get into.  The game also didn’t seem like a free-to-play game.  Yes, you can put a lot of money into the game if you want to, but the game doesn’t shove it’s free-to-play aspects nastily in your face like other free-to-play games.  I spent countless hours grinding away and building my decks.  A good job by Blizzard.

8.  The Wolf Among Us

2014 game of the year wolfThe concepts that surround The Wolf Among Us were probably the most intriguing part of the game for me.  Telltale’s episodic adventure game is set in the backdrop of a secluded neighborhood in New York, populated by fables (fairy-tale characters disguised as humans).  The main star of the game is the detective Bigby Wolf, more commonly known as the Big Bad Wolf.  He is tasked with investigating some mysterious and fishy business that has been happening in the community, including a gruesome murder.  There are a bunch of likable character that you come across during the course of the mystery, some recognizable and others not so much.  There were also some quick time events that changed up the normal Telltale adventure game formula.  The art style of the game looked pretty great too.  I never got tired of the dark-cartoony atmosphere of the game.

7.  Tales From The Borderlands

2014 game of the year borderlandsTelltale has had a pretty good year with their own brand of adventure games.  Their newest one, Tales From The Borderland, is showing massive amounts of promise.  There has only been one episode released in 2014, but that qualifies it for one of my favorite games of 2014.  Telltale in the past has told a lot of dark and serious stories, but his time around we get a lighthearted and pretty funny adventure starring the unlikely duo of a Hyperion company man and a Pandora con-artist.  The two end up teaming together in the most unlikely way.  The dialogue trees and quick decisions are all there, and there is a lot more quick time events this time around.  They provide some action that the Borderlands games are known for.  The first episode showed lots of promise and I look forward to the coming pieces of the tale.

6.  Dust: An Elysian Tail (PS4)

2014 game of the year dustOnce again, this is another game that technically came out in 2013, but was released on the PS4 this year.  This was the first time I was introduced to the fantasy world of Dust: An Elysian Tail.  The game puts you in the shoes of Dust, a soldier who doesn’t know who he is or what he was doing.  He stumbles upon a talking sword, and then proceeds to meet Fidget, a flying squirrel like creature with a high pitched voice.  He has to help a village with their problems, as well as uncover the mystery that surrounds his history.  The story was brilliantly told.  The game also looked terrific.  It’s hand-painted feel made the game look mesmerizing.  The combat and gameplay was also extremely tight and satisfying.  Although it’s RPG mechanics aren’t your traditional mainstays, they still worked great and provided me with a great experience altogether.

5.  Watch_Dogs

2014 game of the year watch dogsThis game made me feel conflicted.  Watch_Dogs was a game that didn’t meet the intense amount of expectations that it was given.  But does that make it a bad game?  The amount of expectations may have been to high to begin with.  I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Watch_Dogs.  Aiden Pierce, protagonist, is a family man, as well as a highly skilled hacker.  His main mission is to avenge the murder of his niece, and he is willing to go to extreme lengths to accomplish this.  Chicago was extremely fun to explore in this third-person open world.  The game also looked pretty great as well graphically.  The hacking mechanics, although not as deep as they could have been, were still fun and fresh.  There was also a wealth of side missions and other things to do around the city besides the main story missions.  This may not have been the “next-gen” experience that most wanted, but it was a game that I thought was pretty entertaining.

4.  Broken Age Act 1

2014 game of the year brokenTim Schafer and Double Fine were the masterminds behind one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in that service’s history.  What it produced was Broken Age, a unique point-and-click adventure game that hearkens back to the golden age of adventure games.  The game explores the story of two kids, who’s worlds seem to be far apart.  The boy lives in a spaceship that contains a mother-like AI that controls his every decision.  The girl on the other hand is forced with being selected as a sacrifice for a nasty sea monster.  The twist that comes at the end of the first act is mind-blowing, and brilliant.  It merges the two parallel plotlines in a perfect way. The game contains simple mechanics, akin to the adventure games of yesteryear, that made it enjoyable to play, and not frustrating.  The main focus with this game is it’s story, and I will be heavily anticipating the conclusion yet to come.

3.  Jazzpunk

2014 game of the year jazzpunkI can’t really find the necessary words to describe the zaniness that is Jazzpunk.  It’s a comedic adventure that is unlike anything that has come out this year.  Let me tell you something, intentional comedy is pretty tough to pull off in a video game.  It’s not an entertainment medium that favors comedy.  However, Jazzpunk, during my brief time with the game, managed to make me laugh a ton.  I never understood what I was doing in the game, or why I was doing it.  I found myself exploring the environments and finding it’s every joke more often then the actual objective itself.  I doubt I found every little secret in the game, but boy was it a fun game.  I can’t say that enough.  What a fun freaking game.

2.  Smash Bros for Wii U

2014 game of the year smashThere haven’t been too many Smash Bros games, but they have all been some of the best game that Nintendo has put out.  This time around, Smash Bros is on the Wii U and it provides the amount of fun you would expect.  The game is obviously best played with a group of friends, but new for the series is the addition of an eight player brawl mode.  It was one of the best parts about the game, yielding some insanely fun chaos.  The additional new characters this time around, sans Mega Man, all feel great and bring some new stuff to the table.  There’s also a new mode called Smash Tour, which is basically a new board game with some fights in between.  In terms of content, there is a ton of it.  Nintendo fans should be pleased with the package that Nintendo has delivered.  The game is by far one of the best for the Wii U.

1. Far Cry 4

2014 game of the year featured

Far Cry 3 was a lot of fun, despite some of the gripes that people had with it.  Far Cry 4?  It’s pretty much the same thing, but with some much needed improvements.  This time around we have a story that is more well-thought out and believable.  We also get Pagan Min, who is, in my opinion, a much better villain than Vaas.  He’s charismatic and brings his own brand of insanity to the table.  The best part about Far Cry 4 is the emergent gameplay that is a by-product of the game’s open world.  I cant’ begin to explain the amount of crazy and ridiculous situations that I got myself into as I roamed the fictional region of Kyrat.  And don’t get me started on the animals.  They are a vicious bunch.  I didn’t like them one bit.  There was a ton of fresh new side missions to take part in, as well as a rich amount of collectibles to go after.  I haven’t completed the game yet, but I think it was easy to make my decision in calling this my best game of 2014.  I’ve had a great time with the game, and I don’t think my opinion is going to change when I finish it up.  Bravo Ubisoft.  Bravo.










2014 Movie Of The Year

2014 has been a pretty good year for movies.  The year started of a little slow (as it usually does) but then ramped up as the summer season started to hit.  On top  of this, we got a TON of new announcements for movies that have yet to come out.  Marvel released their gargantuan of a plan and other studios started to reveal their plans for the future.  Oscar season has also started, giving us a batch of hopeful and inspiring movies.

Let’s begin shall we?  Here are the top ten movies that I have seen this year.  (Keep in mind that I did not see every movie that came out this year, meaning there will be some glaring omissions from the list.)

Top Movie From Previous Years: Gravity

gravity posterIt’s no surprise that Gravity won numerous awards when it came out last year.  It was a surreal experience that took place in the lonely and tense atmosphere of space.  It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two space astronauts that have to survive in space after a disaster strikes.  It’s a visual experience like no other that really immerses you in what’s happening.  It’s thrilling, tense, emotional, stressful, and awe-inspiring.  Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

10.  A Haunted House 2

2014 movie of the year hauntedI am not a big fan of the “found footage” style of movie making.  If it is done well it can be entertaining but most of the time that’s not the case.  It’s a tired concept that needs a fresh new take.  The A Haunted House series has been a favorite of mine due to the fun that it pokes at these types of movies.  A Haunted House 2, starring Marlon Wayans as Malcolm, is a parody of the Paranormal Activity movies.  Malcolm is starting fresh with a new girlfriend in a new house.  However, things go downhill after a doll is found in their house.  It’s an entertaining and hilarious adventure as Malcolm tries to get out of this twisted nightmare that he finds himself in.

9.  Neighbors

2014 movie of the year neighborsSeth Rogan has had a pretty good year starring in Neighbors and The Interview (which appears higher in the list).  In Neighbors, Mac (Seth Rogan) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a newborn couple that find themselves new neighbors to a fraternity that just moved in next door.  Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) are the two heads of the fraternity that make life hell for Mac and Kelly.  The movie has parties, antics, raunchiness, and good ol’ immature fun as Mac and Kelly try to take the fraternity down, even if it involves things that the two aren’t comfortable with.  The rivalry between Seth Rogan and Zac Efron is crazy as the two try to gain the upper hand.  The movie happened to be a surprise favorite of mine this year.

8.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2

2014 movie of the year spiderIn the newest trilogy from Sony Pictures, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is dealing with a ton of problems.  He can’t be around Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), even though he has a deep love for her.  He is also dealing with the deaths of Gwen’s father, as well as his own step-father.  Don’t forget the situation with his parents as  well.  It’s a lot to deal with.  In his newest mission, he has to take down Electro, played brilliantly by Jamie Foxx.  He also meets up with an old friend, Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), who turns into the sinister Green Goblin.  There is a lot going on during the events of the movie, but it is all a ton of fun to watch.  All of the characters are extremely likable.  The movie also starts to set the stage for the future of Spider-Man movies, even though it may be uncertain given the fact that Andrew Garfield is leaving the role.  It should be an interesting ride.

7.  The Interview

2014 movie of the year interviewOne of the most daring comedies this year involves the assassination of Kim Jung-un.  It’s a movie that probably shouldn’t have come out, but against all odds, did.  It stars James Franco as Dave Skylark, the man behind the popular TV new show Skylark Tonight.  Seth Rogan plays Aaron Rapoport, the producer behind the show.  The two get the opportunity to land an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un (Randall Park), but he CIA persuades them into turning the interview into an assassination mission.  It’s a hilarious, although sometimes immature, movie that involves the on-screen chemistry of Seth Rogan and James Franco that is frankly irresistible.  It may make you shake your head at times, but its hard to deny the creative vision behind one of the most talked about movies of the year.

6.  Million Dollar Arm

2014 movie of the year million dollarI love baseball and I tend to love movies about the game of baseball.  Therefore, Million Dollar Arm was already stepped off on a great foot.  The movie follows a sports agent JB (Jon Hamm) who is tasked with bettering the baseball program for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He has an idea to start recruiting in India, the country that holds some of the best cricket players.  It’s a plan that seems crazy to most, but it ends up working in the end.  In India, he finds his two best players, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and brings them back to the States to train them in the game of baseball.  JB also finds himself roped into a relationship with his neighbor Brenda (Lake Bell) who helps with immersing Rinku and Dinesh into the American culture.  It’s a heartwarming movie with a story of success and hardships.  It’s a feel good movie that really worked for me.

5.  X-Men: Days of Future Past

2014 movie of the year x-menThings look dire for both mutants and humans in X-Men: Days of Future Past.  The X-Men have to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to change the events of history to prevent the dark future for the X-Men.  Along the way, Wolverine has to enlist the help of younger scientist Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Hank (Nicholas Hoult), and one of my favorite new characters, Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters.  They have to fight Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and stop Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from carrying out his evil plans.  There’s a lot of moving parts in the movie that all happen to make sense in the end.  The movie also ends in a way that sets up a whole new realm of possibilities for the franchise.  There was a lot to like about Days of Future Past.

4.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

2014 movie of the year dawnTen years after the pandemic disease was spread in the original Apes movie, the apes who happened to survive, led by the fearless Caesar (Andy Serkis), build up a colony.  When some human survivors get caught up in their culture, including the likes of Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), Ellie (Keri Russell), and Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), they are drawn into war.  The movie contains a lot of ups and downs and you feel yourself changing sides throughout the movie.  Do I side with the apes?  The humans?  It’s a question that arose in my head numerous times during the span of the movie.  It also contained one of the most evil and antagonistic villains of the year, Koba, played by Toby Kebbell.  It was an intense experience that carried a wide range of emotions with it.

3.  The Lego Movie

2014 movie of the year legoWho doesn’t love Legos?  They were the a important part of a lot of childhoods and they provided endless hours of fun.  There have been a ton of Lego video games that have been released, but what about movies?  Not so much.  The Lego Movie seemed to answer that question with a bang.  The story follows the ordinary Lego mini-figure Emmet (Chris Pratt), who gets roped into an adventure like no other.  He has to take down the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), who leads Lego City with an iron fist, cracking down on the creativity that once ruled the city.  The movie is great for kids, but it also contains a ton of references to pop culture that make it an enjoyable experience for adults as well.  It’s a movie that caters to everybody’s tastes.  The ending was also mind-blowing and completely out of left field.  It was a satisfying film that makes me excited for the inevitable Lego Movie 2.

2.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2014 movie of the year captainThe last two movies were tough to pick.  It was between the next one on the list and this one, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  The Winter Soldier made it’s case by being a phenomenal super-hero movie starring one of the more popular Marvel characters.  It picks up with Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) who is struggling with life in the modern world.  He doesn’t have much time to adapt however, when a new threat makes itself known, and that is the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastion Stan.  S.H.E.I.L.D. has been subverted and things are looking much darker for the hero.  With the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Rodgers has to fight his toughest battle yet, against his toughest opponent.  The movie also contains great performances by Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury and Anthony Mackie, as Rodgers new-found friend, the Falcon.  Definitely one of Marvel’s best movies of the year, as well as mine.

1.  Guardians of the Galaxy

2014 movie of the year featured


In a summer full of dark and tense superhero movies, it was time for a superhero movie to break the mold and provide something a little different.  Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie from James Gunn, stepped up to the plate.  It was a more lighthearted superhero movie, which was a refreshing change of pace in the genre.  Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, is being hunted by the maniacal Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).  Quill has to build up a team of “guardians”, more like criminals, to help defend the galaxy from the evil plans of Ronan.  The team includes Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot the tree looking creature (Vin Deisel),  and the insane raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper).  Each on of these characters are extremely likable and hilarious in their own way.  The movie was an insanely fun romp around the galaxy as the team defies all odds and in the end, comes out on top as the Guardians of the Galaxy.  The movie also contained one of the best soundtracks as well.  Guardians was extremely close to being a completely flawless movie.  It was a tough pick, especially when Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the runner-up, but in the end, I preferred the deeply hilarious and fun experience that Guardians provided.  Two big thumbs up.












Review: Gravity

gravity posterGravity (2013)

PG13 / 91 min

Sci-Fi / Thriller

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

“At 600 km above the planet Earth the temperature fluctuates between 250 and -148 degrees Fahrenheit.  There is nothing to carry sound.  No air pressure.  No oxygen.  Life is impossible in space.”

Those are the words that appear on screen at the beginning of Gravity, a space thriller from director Alfonso Cuaron.  The movie, when it came out last year, was nominated for numerous awards won many of them.  It was met with massive critical praise, making it one of the top movies at the Oscars.  Naturally, I went into the movie with high expectations.  To no surprise, I was pleased with what I saw.


The movie stars the talented Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski respectively.  Ryan Stone is a special mission engineer for NASA, and Matt Kowalski is a seasoned astronaut.  The’re on a routine space walk in the darkness and silence of space, nothing out of the ordinary.  However, something out of the ordinary happens. There is some wreckage and debris that suddenly changes trajectory towards their position.  They go into emergency mode as they rush to get back to their space shuttle…but they are too late.  The debris hits them and they start to get flung around, separating the only two survivors, Dr. Stone and Matt.

The rest of the movie is a story of survival, a task that is almost impossible in the depths of space.  The movie does a good job at nailing that fact in the head.  It’s hard to even find a grain of hope.  Matt and Dr. Stone eventually find each other after the collision, and they decide to make an attempt at the nearest space station to escape back to Earth.  Clooney’s smooth and reassuring voice does a great job at getting Dr.Stone, who is noticeably nervous and stressed back to a level of calmness.  It was hard myself not to be calmed by that voice.

gravity 1

What Cuaron did the best with his movie is how he captured the true essence of space, through visuals and sound.  The visual effects throughout the movie really brought the awe-inspiring vistas and darkness and stillness of space to life.  The numerous moving parts and action during the collision scenes also contained so much detail.  It was hard not to get caught up in it all.  The sounds and music that were used in the movie were perfect and hit the mark every time.  There was silence during the most surreal moments and chilling melodies that sent a chill down my spine during the tense moments.  All of these working parts came together brilliantly to bring the movie to life.

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The feelings and emotions of the two characters were also fantastically captured.  Bullock and Clooney did an amazing job at portraying two characters.  Dr. Stone and Matt both had stories to tell, and It was easy to get caught up in these stories.  I genuinely cared about the two and what they went through.  There were some moments during the movie that were hard to watch.

The ending was probably one of the most breathtaking moments of the whole movie.  There was a tremendous feeling of triumph and accomplishment.  It was a satisfying ending that brought it all to a close.  It may not have been the ending that a lot of people would have wanted, but it was an ending that felt real, and not fake.

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Gravity delivered on it’s high promises and expectations, giving me an amazing experience.  It was equal parts chilling, soothing, impressive, and emotional.  It was easy to see why the movie received so much critical praise.  If movies about the loneliness of space are done right, they can provide amazing experiences.  Gravity was an amazing experience.


2014 Album of the Year

It’s been a pretty good year for music.  I would have to argue that last year was probably better in terms of releases, but 2014 started to get much stronger as the year went on, especially as it was coming to a close.  There were some great albums (many that made it to the top of the list) that came out pretty late into the year.  I should  preface this by saying that my musical tastes lie in the hip-hop and pop realm.  With that being said, there were some great albums that came out, but I just wasn’t in to them.  Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran had a great year (thus their Grammy nominations).

Now, here are my top ten albums that came out this year…

10. While (1<2) – Deadmau5

2014 album of the year whileDeadmau5 has always been an innovator when it comes to electronic music.  All you have to do is follow him on social media to figure that out.  While (1<2) is no different when it comes to innovation.  There is a wide range of sounds on this one and I couldn’t stop myself from tapping to the beat on pretty much all of them.  If you are an electronic music fan, you should definitely give one of the best electronic albums of the year a listen…but I probably didn’t have to tell you that.

9. Mastermind – Rick Ross

2014 album of the year mastermindIt’s been a busy year for Rick Ross, the only artist on this list to release to albums in one year.  His second album, Hood Billionaire, was a little iffy and could have used a little more time, but I’m here to talk about his superior album of the two, Mastermind.  The album contained hits like “War Ready” featuring Jeezy and “Vein” featuring The Weeknd.  Not to mention Rick Ross teamed up with Jay Z with the song “The Devil Is A Lie”, which received a lot of critical praise.  Rick Ross is a powerhouse, and Mastermind displayed this fact brilliantly.

8. Broke With Expensive Taste – Azealia Banks

2014 album of the year brokeThis was an album that flew quietly under a lot of people’s radars.  After a long wait, Azealia Banks released Broke With Expensive Taste to quite a lot of critical praise.  Azealia Banks isn’t really a household name, but she deserves to be.  The album contained a lot of different and unique sounds that made it different from the rest.  With songs like “Chasing Time” and “Desperado”, I couldn’t get the album out of my head.  This album was probably my surprise of the year.  I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it delivered.

7. My Everything – Ariana Grande

2014 album of the year everythingAriana Grande has had a big year, and part of it was because of her latest release My Everything.  It’s hard to argue with the talent that the young singer has.  Her vocal range is enormous and it’s possible that she could become the next Mariah Carey.  The album contained hits like the summer sensation “Problem”, the energetic “Break Free” and the deep, yet sensual “Love Me Harder” featuring the talented The Weeknd.  There is a tone of great songs on the album, making it one of my top pop albums of the year.  (Sorry Taylor Swift)

6. The Pinkprint – Nicki Minaj

2014 album of the year pinkprintNicki Minaj is slowly turning into a feminine hip-hop powerhouse.  She also had a fantastic year, topped by the release of The Pinkprint, which features the strongest Nicki Minaj yet.  The album contains so many different genres, all in one complete package.  There’s some rap that hearkens back to her earlier days, pop, and even some R&B.  Some of my favorites included “Pills N Potions”, “The Crying Game”, “Only”, “Feeling Myself”, and “The Night Is Still Young.”  Any Nicki Minaj fan should find something that they like on the album.

5. The Inevitable End – Royksopp

2014 album of the year inevitable endThis is another album that people might not have heard about when it was released back in November.  The Norwegian electronic duo Royksopp put out The Inevitable End with the plan to stop making music.  They might be taking a break, or they might be done for good.  Either way, I thought that the album was a fitting conclusion to their career.  You could tell that there was a sad tone throughout the album, but it also had some warm feelings as well.  They also collaborated with pop star Robyn for songs like “Do It Again” and “Monument”.  The album also ended with the simply titled “Thank You”, which was a strong finish.

4. The New Classic – Iggy Azalea

2014 album of the year new classicIggy Azalea took the hip-hop world by the horns.  Her first album The New Classic, contained a plethora of hits that propelled her to the top of her game.  “Work”, “Change Your Life”, “Fancy” and “Black Widow” were all songs that put her in the spotlight of the hip-hop industry.  She has also faced equal amounts of backlash and attacks from fellow rappers, but I thought that she has handled herself pretty well despite the things she has gone through.  The album was a strong first impression, and I can only imagine the type of hits she will come out with in the coming years.

3. Shady XV – Eminem & Shady Records

2014 album of the year shadyThe king of controversy is back again with the aptly named Shady XV.  Eminem has built his record label Shady Records into a formidalbe empire in the hip-hop industry.  The album came in two parts, the first being some of the new stuff from the record label, including songs like Eminem’s “Guts Over Fear” and the Detroit fight songs “Detroit Vs Everybody”.  The second part of the album went back in time, reviewing some of the classics that have come from the label.  There was a ton of stuff featured in the package, and it was hard to be disapointed with the final product.  Eminem continues to be one of the best rappers out there.

2. Blacc Hollywood – Wiz Khalifa

2014 album of the year hollywoodWiz Khalifa has had a tough year due to his break-up with long time wife Amber Rose.  However, when Wiz Khalifa goes and looks back on his year, Blacc Hollywood will probably make everything okay.  Wiz’s fifth studio album was supported to the top of the hip-hop charts with songs like “We Dem Boyz”, “KK”, and the pleasant sounding “Staying Out All Night.”  There was a lot more depth to the album than Wiz’s previous projects, making it just a joy to listen to.  Some people didn’t like it as much, but I thought there was a ton to like about the album.

1. 2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole

2014 album of the year jcole

Finally, we have the recently released 2014 Forest Hills Drive, the third studio album by rapper J. Cole.  In my review, I stated that the album was more than just an album, but instead, a story.  J. Cole took us on a journey through his life, beginning in is childhood years and went till the current day J. Cole.  He had some revelations throughout the album and decided to act upon those revelations by the end.  It was amazing to see the progression of the rapper from being young, reckless, and famous to being the wise and talented artist that he is today.  J. Cole isn’t the household rapper that he should be.  If you are a fan of hip-hop at all, make sure to give his latest piece of work a listen, you wont regret it.  It’s fitting that the album has “2014” in it’s name, because it was by far my favorite of the year.

Review: The Interview

the interview posterThe Interview (2014)

R / 112 min

Action / Comedy

Starring: James Franco, Seth Rogan, Randall Park

Directors: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogan

It’s easy to see why a movie like The Interview would be highly frowned upon by Kim Jung-un and North Korea.  They don’t take comedy too seriously in North Korea, especially comedy that involves the death of their “great leader.”  In fact, any piece of fiction in North Korea that involves the death of their leader is punishable by death.  It isn’t hard to see why Sony almost scrapped the project as a whole.  North Korea wasn’t going to find something like this “funny.”

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The daring ambition of the film is admirable though.  It takes a lot of balls to put something like this out there.  The new comedy from Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan is bold and audacious.  It covers a lot of territory that most would deem crazy and unthinkable.  Thankfully, Sony realized this as well, putting the movie out in select theaters, as well as some online outlets.  Freedom of speech prevailed, like it should.  North Korea probably won’t be happy, but there is a ton of people that will be happy this Christmas because of it.  But does the movie warrant this happiness?

The Interview stars James Franco as the charismatic and popular talk show host Dave Skylark, who is the front man for Skylark Tonight.  It’s a celebrity tabloid show similar to shows like TMZ and Entertainment Tonight.  The show wouldn’t be able to run thought if it wasn’t for Dave’s trusted producer Aaron Rapaport, played by Seth Rogan.

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It’s those two together on screen that make this movie enjoyable. Seth and Franco are best buds off screen, and that transfers brilliantly on screen.  Their banter is priceless and the mischief that the two get into during the movie is extremely amusing.

It’s Aaron though that realizes that the show needs to become something else…something better.  Things start to fall into place when Dave finds out that the great leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-un, is actually a big fan of his show.  After a short trip to China, and some other behind the scenes talk from Aaron, Dave lands himself the most important interview of his life, a talk with Kim Jung-un in his own North Korea.

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Meanwhile, the CIA realizes the bigger picture, and discern that this interview might be the one chance that they have to take out the leader.  Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) of the CIA decides to give the duo a visit, and let them in on their grand plan.  The two don’t get it at first, but they soon realize the deed needs to be done.  They are tasked with poisoning the leader via handshake.  It’s a simple plan, and nothing could go wrong…right?

The part that made the movie for me though was the first introduction we get to Kim Jung-un, who is played by Randall Park.  He is basically the complete opposite of what you would think. He is a party animal.  He listens to Katy Perry, drinks margaritas, has a garage full of sports cars, and bangs the hottest models that his country can give him.  The humor is in the irony of it all.  In real life Kim Jung-un is stoic and emotionless.  This is far from the case in this movie.  It’s quite amusing actually.

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It’s the third act when the movie starts to lose me.  We start to see the relationship brew between Aaron and Sook (Diana Bang), one of Kim Jung-un’s trusted officers.  I would have liked to see a little more on that end.  The interview itself is actually anti-climatic.  It gets tense at times, but there wasn’t too much humor involved.  The only humor during that entire segment was in the control room.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but the interview kind of fell short.

The rest of the movie however, was pretty funny, with lots of fantastic and hysterical moments.  There could have been a lot less “dude-bro” humor though.  The “boner” jokes where fast and plenty, making a lot of the humor seem immature.  There were also some jokes that they latched on to throughout the movie.  In particular, the “honey-dicking” jokes were funny at first, but started to wear a little thin as time went on.

Seth Rogen;James Franco

The final scene was interesting to say the least.  The whole premise of the movie is offensive to Kim Jung-un by nature, but it is hard to make those last couple of scenes any worse than they were.  I couldn’t help but cringe a little bit.  It was a little unsettling and I couldn’t really find a laugh.  It might be funny for some people, but it just came off as a little tasteless.  (***SPOILER***) The final death of Kim Jung-un involved a rocket to his helicopter to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Firework”.  The helicopter crumbled and fell to the ground in a fiery mess, right on cue with the chorus.  Like I said, a little extreme if you ask me… (***END SPOILER***)

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I went into the movie with little to no expectations whatsoever.  All the publicity behind the movie, as well as the controversy that it was stirring up, made me interested enough to give it a view.  With that being said, The Interview is an unhinged romp around North Korea starring the perfect duo of Seth Rogan and James Franco.  The movie has it’s laugh out loud moments, as well as it’s blemishes.  Its far from being a perfect comedy, but I have to say that it is probably the most intriguing and daring comedy that I have seen in a while.  It is still worth a watch.



Wale Celebrates Festivus With A New Mixtape

festivus coverI never understood the holiday of Festivus.  Up until this year, I thought it wasn’t even real, but supposedly it is actually a thing.  Apparently, Wale is a fan of Festivus himself, and to celebrate he released his new mixtape collaboration with A-Trak simply called Festivus.  However, don’t expect this mixtape to contain any holiday carols.

The mixtape, which contains eleven tracks, is a prequel of sorts to Wale’s upcoming album The Album About Nothing (which has a great title), which comes out towards the tail end of March.  The album features production work from collaborator A-Trak, with some extra help from producers like Tone P and Raak.

Some of my favorite songs on the project include “Loyalty” and “Girls on Drugs.”  “Loyalty”, which features Dew Baby and Fat Trel is a wickedly cool sounding track.  It features a verse from the little-known Dew Baby, who I’ve heard nothing from up to this point.  However, I like what I hear from him.  “Girls on Drugs” is a slower song about Wale’s struggle with finding the right girl, when they all have other plans on their mind.

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Other hit songs include the percussion heavy ballad “Tonight (Suite 331)”, the strongly worded “The Deep End” featuring Pusha T, and “Friendship Heights”, which explores the hardships that come with being in the dreaded friend-zone.  There were a wide range of sounds on the mixtape that made it fun to listen to.

Not all the songs received a check mark in my books though.  Wale’s freestyle “Keep It Moving” featuring Ab-Soul and Magazeen kinda fell short of what it wanted to be and “Chess”, although having some substance to it, was masked behind a tired veil.  (“Life is like a game of chess”…it’s not like we haven’t heard that one before…)

Don’t let those couple of bad apples deter you from the party though.  Festivus is a strong piece of work from Wale.  The production work is also pretty well done, a bar above what you would normally find on a mixtape like this.  The Album About Nothing comes out next year, but for right now, Festivus will be the only celebration you’ll need till then.  Except Christmas…that one’s pretty important…

Bojack Brings The Christmas Spirit

bojack horseman christmas coverIt’s been a while since we heard from Bojack Horseman and his bunch of weird and dysfunctional friends.  Bojack Horseman, a Netflix original series, starring Will Arnett as Bojack himself was surprisingly pretty good when it came out.  It offered a lot of laughs while poking fun at some of the most common (and mostly true) stereotypes that hover over Hollywood.

Season two was announced a while back, but it won’t be coming any time in the near future.  But that doesn’t mean that Bojack doesn’t have anything to give this Christmas season.  Bojack Horseman Christmas Special: Sabrina’s Christmas Wish appeared on Netflix as a surprise little treat for Bojack fans.

The Christmas special is about the size of a regular episode, but it felt like a little more.  The episode doesn’t feature the regular cast and crew, but instead Bojack and Todd (Aaron Paul), as well as the orphans from “Horsin’ Around”, the fake sitcom that Bojack starred in during his younger days as an actor.

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The episode kicks off when Todd invites himself into Bojack’s house with a candy cane, an episode of “Horsin’ Around”‘s Christmas special, and a bunch of holiday cheer.  As it turns out, Bojack isn’t much of a Christmas person…surprise, surprise.  After some persuasion from Todd, Bojack finally agrees to sit down with Todd and watch the “Horsin’ Around” Christmas special with him.

The nice thing about this episode is that we got to pretty much see an entire episode of the fictional sitcom.  During season one, we only got little snippets of the show scattered throughout the episodes.  This time we got to see a little more about what the show was about, as well as the three main orphan characters that star in it. Another thing that should be noted is the Full House vibes that the fake show puts off.  It’s easy to see where “Horsin’ Around”‘s inspiration came from.

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The one orphan that most Bojack fans are familiar with is Sabrina (Kristen Schaal).  She is the youngest, and probably the funniest, of the bunch.  The premise of the special revolves around Sabrina, and her Christmas wish for Santa to bring her parent’s back.  Bojack realizes how heartwarming it is, but also decides that the news that Santa isn’t real should probably be revealed to her, in order to save a broken heart.

The show is a blatant satire of the cheesiness of holiday specials on TV.  The 90’s sitcom is filmed in front of a live audience, and it is complete with all the laughs, “awws”, and that one guy in the audience that has to scream whatever is on his mind. (“Fire that Jew!”)  That “random guy” was probably one of the funniest parts about the episode.  We also get some outside commentary from Bojack and Todd, who feels he has to interrupt and spew his love for the show every “five minutes” according to Bojack.

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There’s a lot of fun stuff during the episode.  Some of the jokes don’t really work to well, but others hit it home pretty well.  There were a couple of parts involving Bojack’s job at Libitore’s, but those parts weren’t that necessary, or funny for that matter.  There is a ton of 90’s sitcom cheesiness that covers the episode, which may be a little off-putting for some, but I thought it just added to the charm of the show.  (Plus the TV-MA humor that the show is known for probably wouldn’t fly over to well on a sitcom made for kids).

Bojack may be a bit of a scrooge, but that doesn’t stop the Christmas spirit from seeping its way into the episode.  The special may not rank high on the list of “top Christmas specials” but it still offers a great time, even if Bojack and Todd are just “hate-watching” it.

French Montana Serves Up His Latest Appetizer

mac and cheese 4 coverIt was recently announced that French Montana’s sophomore album, the successor to Excuse My French, would be titled Mac & Cheese.  If you are at all familiar with French’s music, you are probably confused, considering he has a mixtape series entitled Mac & Cheese.  Is his new album a continuation of the series?  Is it a standalone album?  However, it’s safe to say that the album will be it’s own standalone release.

However, to make things more confusing, French has just released his latest mixtape project entitled Mac & Cheese 4: The Appetizer.  For those keeping score at home, it’s a mixtape that acts as a prequel to an album that is named after a previous mixtape.  So, is Mac & Cheese 4: The Appetizer the prequel to a reboot of Mac & Cheese?  Have I confused you yet?

How about we put the name aside shall we?  Let’s get to what you actually care about; the music.

The mixtape, which features seven new tracks, is produced by Brooklyn-based  Harry Fraud, who has worked with French in the past.  The mixtape sounds great on a technical level.  The quality of sound was present on the whole project.  The project has a somber tone to it, which was a little surprising coming from French Montana.

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The mixtape starts with some spoken words by Max B, one of French Montana’s first mentors in his career.  Max B and French were great friends, but unfortunately, Max B was sentenced to 75 years in prison after numerous criminal offenses.  As one would presume, this was a hard pill to swallow for French, and you can sense the emotion on the project.  It adds some depth and substance to an overall bland piece of work.

I call it bland because there really isn’t much to it besides the nice sounds and the parts where French reflects on his childhood and his time with Max B.  The lyrics left something to be desired and the some of the songs were just generally non-interesting.  French Montana has been hit or miss for me, and in this instance he missed the mark.  I really wasn’t expecting too much going into my time with Mac & Cheese 4, but I was left underwhelmed.

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For a mixtape whose purpose was to get me excited for Mac & Cheese, it failed to complete it’s objective.  Instead, I feel myself anticipating French’s new album with lukewarm enthusiasm.  If the sound and feel of the mixtape stays constant, at least his album will sound nice, but I want something more.  I hope it provides a little more substance.

Review: Gangster Squad

gangster squad posterGangster Squad (2013)

R / 113 min

Action / Crime / Drama

Starring: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Los Angeles in the 1940’s was an interesting place to live.  It was after World War II, the post-war baby boom.  It was the city of angels, although at times it didn’t seem like it.  Mobsters ran the town, and the streets were corrupted.  Mickey Cohen, one of those famed gangsters from the Chicago area decided to bring his empire to the streets of LA.  He was a determined man, ready to take the city in his hands.

Gangster Squad, a movie from Ruben Fleischer, is the supposedly true story about Mickey Cohen and his reign over LA.  (I bet there are some parts added in to make the story look more enticing)  Mickey Cohen is played rather brilliantly by Sean Penn, who brings the menace and the corruptness to the role.  I couldn’t think of someone better for the role, considering Sean Penn and Mickey Cohen in real life look a little similar in some ways.

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The LA police during this time seemed to have themselves in a corner.  They didn’t want to go up against such a powerhouse like Cohen.  However, a brave officer, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), wants to take down Cohen and bring peace to the city that he loves.  Although the police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) is hesitant, he agrees with O’Mara that something should be done.  So he tasks O’Mara with building a team of “rebel cops”, who will wear no badge and make no arrests, that will take down Cohen and drive him out of the city.  It’s a fitting job for O’Mara, given his experience in the war and his special operations background.  It’s a concept that fascinates me.  How a police department would let an operation like this go down.  But then again, it was the 40’s in LA, so anything could happen I presume.


Then begins the tired and overused “building the team” sequence as O’Mara goes around building the team that will bring peace to the city.  He enlists the help of Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) (although hesitant at first), a hard headed cop Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), smart guy Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribsi), legendary gunslinger Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), and finally Kennard’s partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena).  It’s a worthy team, although they are inexperienced at times, as evidenced by their first couple of missions.

However, the team grows in skill as they start to take on bolder operations, going around the city wreaking havoc on Cohen’s operations.  They end up wire-tapping Cohen’s house, as well as taking down some of his secret operations, with relative ease mind you.  I couldn’t help but laugh at how easy they were making everything look, but I did suspend my disbelief.  The story was interesting all in all.

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Throughout the story we also see the personal life of both O’Mara and Wooters, both of which I thought could have been done better.  O’Mara has a wife at home, Connie (Mireille Enos), who is pregnant and expecting.  She is worried about her husband, worried that he will get consumed by his honor and duty that he will neglect what they have at home.  Wooters on the other hand has a love interest with Cohen’s girl, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).  The two see each other on the side without Cohen’s knowledge.  It’s unfortunate that nothing more was down with Stone’s character.  The role could have been so much more, but instead she basically just serves as the eye candy through the movie, and nothing else.

I did find that Ryan Gosling’s acting was pretty good in this one, picking up the slack for some others.  He was the voice of reason throughout the movie, and his charisma and dedication to his job worked really well.  Josh Brolin did an alright job as well, but it was nothing to write home about.  His character felt lifeless at times, especially during some of his pivotal scenes.

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As it comes down to the final scenes in the movie, Cohen slowly starts to figure out what is going on.  He starts getting personal, attacking some of the families of the cops who are involved in taking him down.  This is where the story tries to inject some emotion, but kind falls short in the process.  I never felt  attached to any of the characters, so their emotions never got to me either.

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The action was probably some of the highlights of the movie.  At times I felt like I was watching an old western, since the shoot-out’s were ripe and plenty in Gangster Squad. All you would have to do is just substitute the gangsters and cops for Indians and cowboys and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.  I felt like every 10 minutes there would be a shoot-out between the cops and Cohen’s men.  It was hard to follow along at times, but it was all so stylish and sweet looking that I didn’t really worry to much. I just sat back and enjoyed.  The final shoot-out in the end was also climatic and tense, and super stylish as well.  On a side note, I was pretty satisfied with the ending as well.  Although it didn’t play out the way I thought it was going to, it still left me with a good feeling.

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Gangster Squad is far from being a stellar movie.  The story of mobsters, gangsters, and cops have been done numerous times in Hollywood, making it hard to keep things fresh.  I wouldn’t say that Gangster Squad kept things fresh, but it did present an intriguing story about the rise, and the fall, of a famous LA gangster who thought he could rise to the top.