Review: The November Man

via Flick Direct
via Flick Direct

The November Man (2014)

R / 108 min

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko

Director: Rodger Donaldson


Pierce Brosnan was never considered to be the best James Bond.  He had the charm and charisma, but the only memorable Bond movie that he starred in has to be Goldeneye.  Nonetheless, Brosnan is still a pretty good actor.  The November Man, directed by Rodger Donaldson, is Brosnan’s latest attempt at a spy movie, but once again, he does not quite get the job done.

The movie stars Brosnan as Peter Devereaux, an ex-CIA operative who has to emerge from his retirement to protect an important witness for a case involving a Russian president-elect.  The guy is believed to have been involved with some crimes during the Chechen war, and the woman supposedly can give the CIA the names to prove it.  When Devereaux arrives to intercept her, they are shot and she is killed, but not before she can give him the name.  When Devereaux kills the men who attacked him, he sees Mason (Luke Bracey), a guy that he trained back in the day.  Devereaux finds out that the CIA is somehow involved.

via movpins.com
via movpins.com

With the mission at hand getting more complicated, Devereaux has to find the person that the witness named, and he believes that a social worker named Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), is his key to finding her.  Meanwhile, the CIA orders Devereaux to be taken off the case, and that Mason takes care of it.  Thus begins the little game of spy versus spy.

The premise of the movie is pretty interesting to say the least, but it is also one that has been done before countless times.  It is spy versus spy; master versus apprentice.  The movie sticks to the books and delivers a cut and paste espionage tale that starts to get boring after a while.  It is humorless, uninspired, and not to mention, pretty confusing and hard to follow at times.

via Black Film
via Black Film

The November Man still desperately wants to be a Bond-like spy movie.  It features car chases, sticky scenarios, trickery, sexy woman, and even some high tech gadgetry that propels the movie into the 21st century, like drones for example.  However, none of these things do the trick.  The movie still lacks inspiration and direction.

Pierce Brosnan, I believe, does a fine job playing the charming and charismatic Devereaux, but the rest of the cast of characters did not really give convincing performances.  Devereaux’s relationship with Mason could have been so much more as well.  The two never seemed to get along well during their first mission together, but I still do not know why the two were fighting against each other, especially given the events towards the end of the movie.

via movepins.com
via movepins.com

The one thing that confuses me the most was the direction the movie took towards the end.  We started to see scenes of torture, rape, and other forms of cruelly, all with the purpose of making us feel emotion.  With a movie that fails to make us care about what is happening, these scenes do not do too much.  The movie also introduces us to Devereaux’s daughter, who is held hostage by the enemy.  It would have been nice to see the two’s relationship developed a little more, because I could have cared less whether the girl was taken or not.  We only saw her for probably thirty seconds of screen time, which just was not enough.

The November Man is a movie that fails at being a good espionage drama.  It is a confusing and muddled mess that wants to be like a Bond movie, but fails rather miserably.  It is a largely unoriginal film that fails at its mission.  It is only worth seeing for Pierce Brosnan and Olga Kurylenko’s beauty, but that’s about it.

November Man

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Review: Archer Season 5 – Archer Vice

via Pintrest
via Pintrest

Archer – Archer Vice (Season 5) (2014)

TVMA / FX

Animation / Action / Comedy

Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Amber Nash

Creator: Adam Reed


If there is a series that needed a reboot, it was FX’s Archer.  It is not that the previous four seasons of Archer were bad, in fact, they were actually pretty good.  However, the formula was starting to run a little dry and a new direction was going to be needed.  The crew at ISIS, the private espionage agency, takes a hard right turn in the fifth season of archer, and turn into cocaine dealers.  Archer Vice has a premise that is insane, but it actually provides for some pretty good comedy.

The season starts with Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) walking gracefully into ISIS headquarters, when things start to go downhill very quickly.  The place gets infiltrated by FBI operatives and we soon find out that Mallory Archer (Jessica Walter) was running ISIS without any permission from the federal government.  That seems like something important, like something you would not overlook.

via airows.com
via airows.com

The crew is pretty angry, and confused at the same time.  After Mallory talks their way out of the clutch of the FBI, the team has to figure out what they should do now that everything was taken from them.  Archer reveals that ISIS has been hiding a literal metric ton of cocaine behind a secret door.  They obviously decide to form a drug cartel, and that is when the season starts to get rolling.

The season is a great breath of fresh air.  It is the same old Archer that we have come to love, but with a new setting.  The show’s brand of humor is still present around every corner and the emphasis on characters still takes the forefront.

via TV Over Mind
via TV Over Mind

Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), as we saw in the previous season, is now pregnant, which provides for a range of emotions from everybody’s female spy.  Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), who is by far one of my favorite characters, soon becomes addicted to the crew’s own supply, turning her into a much leaner and crazier Pam.  Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer), decides to pursue a career at becoming America’s top country singer.  It is a ridiculous idea by the show’s creators, but her “outlaw country” attitude is absolutely hilarious.

The other characters, like Cyril (Chris Parnell), Ray (Adam Reed), and Krieger (Lucky Yates) are still their same selves, but still just as funny as before.  Along the way, we see Cyril become the dictator of San Marcos and Krieger meets some of his clones, among other crazy antics.  We also see a guest performance from Kenny Loggins, which they get to perform with Cheryl at Lana’s baby shower.  We also see Christian Slater play himself as a CIA operative.  The guest stars were pretty good, but they could have done a lot more.

via Buzz Focus
via Buzz Focus

Just because the ISIS team is not partaking in their usual espionage missions, we still see them getting into ridiculous situations.  As it turns out, they are not too good at selling cocaine.  They end up getting caught in a sticky situation in Miami, feuding with the Yakuza, taking Cheryl “Southbound and Down” on a hilarious road trip, taking a secret mission to Columbia, and coming into contact with the dictator of San Marcos, Gustavo Calderon.

Sterling Archer is still by far one of the greatest animated characters on TV.  He’s a massive asshole, but with that comes a ton of hilarious moments.  Archer still manages to be an extremely quotable show, given the witty banter that the characters have among themselves.

via Uproxx
via Uproxx

With a reboot as big as this, it is hard to see where the future seasons will go.  ISIS will probably not be coming back, which is probably a good thing considering the current events of the day.  It is hard to see them going down the same path, but the crew will have to think of something bigger to top a season like this.  The reboot to Archer Vice was a big risk, but the creative team played their cards right and it largely paid off in the end.

archer vice score

The Weekly Drop: 3/27/15

This is a new weekly series that I will start that will cover new singles and mixtapes that were released throughout the week.  Every Friday, I will go in depth and let you know whether you should download, stream, or pass on the newest releases.  On the blog, I have reviewed a lot of albums, but I have never really looked at the other types of releases that come out in a given week.  So, without further ado…

This week pretty much centered around Rihanna’s new single, “Bitch Better Have My Money.”  She has been releasing some snippets from the single, but on Thursday she finally released the full song.  We also saw a comeback from T-Pain.  In terms of other releases, we had some new stuff from Gucci Mane, Que, T.I., Yelawolf, Ludacris, and more.


via Beyond Gossip
via Beyond Gossip

“Bitch Better Have My Money”

Rihanna

Buy

There was a lot of hype surrounding the single from Rihanna’s next big album.  “Bitch Better Have My Money” is the second single of her upcoming album R8.  The song features a mix of singing and rapping, with a bunch of confidence.  The bass heavy song, produced by Deputy, is no doubt going to be a hit for a while.


gibberish“Gibberish”

MAX feat. Hoodie Allen

Stream

As it turns out, singer MAX and up-and-coming rapper Hoodie Allen are actually best buds.  That’s why it makes sense that they release a song together, entitled “Gibberish.”  The song, which is about meeting a girl and realizing that she is not who you thought she was, is something that we have all heard before in pop music, but it still manages to be pretty catchy.  Hoodie Allen also brings a good verse to the equation as well.  It’s definitely worth a listen, but that’s about all.


charge it to the rap game“Charge it to the Rap Game”

Ludacris

Buy

Ludacris’ next album Ludaversal is going to be pretty big.  However, there hasn’t been too much released yet from the album, with “Good Lovin” being the only single released so far.  “Charge it to the Rap Game,” produced by Illmind, shows off that classical lyrical flow that Ludacris has been known for.  The rap game has a lot of highs and lows to it, and Ludacris weighs in on all of it.  This might not be a groundbreaking track by any sense of the word, but it is still pretty good.


via hulkshare.com
via hulkshare.com

“Project Steps”

T.I.

Pass

T.I. has made it known before that his past was not pretty, growing up in the hood of Atlanta, Georgia.  His newest song “Project Steps,” produced by Mars of 1500 or Nothin’, goes into the struggles that T.I. faces with not reverting to his past ways to solve the problems he comes across today.  A song as hard and raw as this seems like it should be faster and not as sluggish.  The beat in the background also got a little repetitive as well.  I was expecting more from T.I.


via Rap Wave
via Rap Wave

“I Go Hard”

T.I. feat. Kat

Buy

This is the better of the two T.I. songs that were released this week.  “I Go Hard,” is inspired by Get Hard, the Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell comedy that comes out this week.  T.I. also plays a role in the film, starring as Russell, a former convict.  The song actually appears on the ending credits as well.  The track goes hard, with a loud and booming hook from Kat.  T.I. lays some hard rhymes over the tough sounding song.  The song definitely lives up to it’s name.


via Juno Download
via Juno Download

“Roll the Bass”

Major Lazer

Stream

Major Lazer has been around for a while, with is third major studio album Peace is the Mission on the way soon.  “Roll the Bass”, a single from the new album, is an energetic mix of Major Lazer’s reggae style of music with the heavy beats of trap step.  It is fast and it is fun, and it will most likely have you dancing in no time.


via Rap Wave
via Rap Wave

“American You”

Yelawolf

Buy

This song is actually pulled from Catfish Billy’s next album Love Story.  With Eminem and Malay handling production duties, “American You” has Yelawolf talking about the kinds of things that go through a young teenage American’s mind.  We get some nice vocals from the rapper, with a nice and easy sound.  There are some instrumentals in the background that really just make the song feel like an American piece of work.  It was surprisingly really good.


via XXL
via XXL

Dessert (EP)

Gucci Mane

Pass

If you are talking about the hardest working rapper in the game, you are most likely talking about rapper Gucci Mane.  Last week, the rapper released three full-length albums; Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.  To top things off, he also released a three song EP this week as well, called Dessert.  The mixtape features some good production work from the likes of Mike WILL Made-It and The Honorable C-Note, but the three songs are just average at best.  “Don’t Make Me Mad” was probably my least favorite of the three tracks, with it sounding like a garbled mess at times.  It is hard not to applaud the work ethic that Gucci Mane puts out, but I would honestly like to see him channel that energy into making less albums, with a bigger focus on quality.  Putting out song after song, album after album, is not always a sound strategy of success.  This is a pretty good example of why that does not always work.


via Far Out Hip Hop
via Far Out Hip Hop

The 6th Man

Que

Stream

Atlanta’s own Que is here with a new mixtape called The 6th Man.  The album is primarily a one man show, with the only feature from Young Dolph on “Weak.”  The mixtape includes a pretty good sounding intro, which leads into one of my favorite tracks from the project, “Type I Am.”  Some of my other favorites include “Stick Up Kid” and “Emotions,” a song that features some vocals from the rapper.  Not all of the songs are A-grade material however.  “Type of Party” gets a little repetitive after a while and “Digg It” leaves more to be desired.  However, the XXL Magazine nominated Freshman of the Year has some good flow and his lyrics roll off the tongue pretty well.  The mixtape also sounds good, with some production from up-and-coming producers like OZ and 30roc.  I do not think that the mixtape is worth a download, but I still think you should give the rapper a listen.


via All Hip-Hop
via All Hip-Hop

The Iron Way

T-Pain

Download

It’s been four years since the release of T-Pain’s Revolver.  Say what you want about the album, but it was not really a big commercial or critical success.  It was a good time for T-Pain to take a break and lay low.  Fast forward to 2015 and we now have The Iron Way, T-Pain’s comeback mixtape if you will, hosted by DJ Drama.  The tape contains twenty tracks, as well as a star-studded features list.  Lil Wayne, The Dream, Big K.R.I.T., Yo Gotti, Migos, and more lend verses to the project.  The Iron Way contains some hard and raw raps from the rapper, including the mixtapes intro “Kill These N*****,” as well as those seductive auto-tune ballads that you have come to expect from T-Pain, like “Let Your Hair Down,” featuring help from The Dream and Vantrease.  Some other good cuts are “15,” the bouncy club anthem, as well as “Let Me Through,” the feature with Lil Wayne.  It is interesting to note the apparent absence of T-Pains collaboration with Aaliyah, titled “Girlfriend.”  He played the song at a recent preview session in Manhattan, but perhaps the internet backlash was the reasoning for its cut off the album.  T-Pain’s intentions are clear and he wants a swift comeback.  If this spawns another album, that’s great.  If not, we at least got some more music from the auto-tune genius.

Review: Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like S***, I Don’t Go Outside

via Barstool Beats
via Barstool Beats

I Don’t Like S***, I Don’t Go Outside (2015)

Earl Sweatshirt

Alternative Hip-Hop

Tan Cressida / Columbia Records


Surprise album releases have been so common these days in the music industry.  It is almost like these surprise albums are not even surprises anymore.  In Earl Sweatshirt’s case, his album I Don’t Like S***, I Don’t Go Outside was put up for pre order without prior announcement, and was then released a few weeks later.  Earl’s second studio album is what I like to call a little above average.  It is not bad, but it also is not a knockout either.

The first thing you may notice about the album is its title.  It is certainly unique, and kind of pessimistic and negative.  However, the name definitely works in this case, given the album’s largely dark and chilling sound.  The songs on the album include a lot of talk about his depression, addictions, and other negative stuff from his childhood.  It certainly is not your “let’s listen to music and get happy about life” kind of album.

via Konbini
via Konbini

I’ll start with the positives.  IDLSIDGO starts with “Huey,” which serves as the pre-intro to the album.  It has a nice sounding organ being played in the background, and sounds pretty similar to Earl’s “Sunday” from Doris.  The next song “Mantra,” which can be considered the actual intro to the album, is another dark sounding song with some chilling verses from Earl.  It goes into his experience with fame, as well as his ex-girlfriend.

Another downbeat and gloomy song comes in the form of “Inside,” where Earl opens up about how he missed out on going on tour with Odd Future.  He also talks about some of his drug addictions, and how it is easier to get drugs once you are famous.  Earl also opens up on songs like “Faucet” and “Grief.”

idlsidgo 3

Vince Staples and Da$h also join in on “Wool” and “Grown Ups” respectively.  In both of those songs, Earl, Vince, and Da$h go bar for bar, providing us with some pretty good sounding verses.  Wiki is the other feature on the album, but his song he does with Earl, “AM // Radio,” is lackluster compared to Vince and Da$h’s.

Some of my least favorite tracks from the project were “Off Top,” which was produced by Mellowhype’s Left Brain, and “DNA,” which features an alright verse from Nakel Smith.  Compared to the other songs on the album, they just do not stack up.  They fit in the same theme of darkness and pessimism, but they just were not doing anything for me.

via Rap Xclusive
via Rap Xclusive

Earl Sweatshirt has a lot of talent, and he largely flies under the radar when talking about rap.  When his mom sent him away to Samoa for a time, that hiatus must have done a lot for him as an artist.  It fueled a lot of this album, and probably more to come.  Earl Sweatshirt has had a tough going, and IDLSIDGO is here to prove it.  It is worth a listen, but you might need a bright and cheery pallet cleanser afterwards.

idlsidgo score

Review: Life is Strange Episode 2

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life is Strange Episode 2 – Out of Time (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


*There may be some slight spoilers in the following review.  Just a heads up.*

Max Caulfield is a girl that has the special power of time manipulation.  It is a power that a lot of use would die to have.  In the first episode of Life is Strange, we get to see Max and how she deals with the realization of these newfound powers.  Now, the second episode is here, and we start to see Max getting more comfortable with using her powers.

The second episode, titled “Out of Time,” we get some background on the whole Kate Marsh situation.  If you remember from the first episode, a viral video has spread throughout Blackwell Academy of her doing some pretty un-Kate like things.  We soon find out that she attended a Vortex Club party, where she only remembers taking a couple of sips of wine.  She also remembered Nathan Prescott telling her he would take her to the ER.  It is assumed that none of this actually happened.  Kate is pretty depressed throughout the episode, and I started to realize that this episode pretty much centers on her.

via Eurogamer
via Eurogamer

The whole middle part of the episode has us spending more time with Max’s childhood friend Chloe, which we met in the first episode.  After Max’s nightmare at the end of the first episode, Chloe starts to become super interested in Max’s powers, and she tests them in a diner, run by Chloe’s mom.

The game gives us a couple of sequences that actually used the time manipulation mechanics in a fun and interesting way.  Chloe has you guess what is in your pockets, and using your time powers, you can wait till she pulls everything out and then rewind and blow her mind.  She also has you predict what is going to happen in the diner in the next thirty seconds.  The game has you observe the happenings and little details that partake in those thirty seconds, and then has you rewind to tell Chloe the full recap of what happens.  It took me a couple of times to get through these sequences, given the attention to detail that they require, but they were generally pretty fun.

via Gameinformer
via Gameinformer

Later in the episode there is also a pretty intense and gripping sequence involving a train.  Chloe is stuck on the rails and you have to do some quick thinking to divert the train’s path.  This requires a lot of time manipulation to give yourself time to investigate the area.  It got a little frustrating at times, but I eventually figured out what I needed to do.

We also get introduced to a new, and possibly more dangerous, character than Nathan.  His name is Frank, and he seems to have a past with Chloe.  He starts demanding money, which seems to be the theme with Chloe’s friends.  The game gives you a decision during this heated confrontation, which possibly sets the course for future interactions with this character.  In this moment, I felt that I made the wrong decision, which tended to be the theme for me in this episode.

via Gamer's Global
via Gamer’s Global

The highlight of this episode however was the last couple of scenes involving Kate Marsh.  The episode gives you numerous opportunities to talk to Kate Marsh and help her out with her depression, many of which I dropped the ball on.  It culminates to a pretty intense and emotional scene where Kate is on the rooftop of the dormitory, playing with her life.  The game doesn’t present you with a binary decision, but instead lets you try to talk her out of it.  You have to say the right things in order for her to change her mind.  I must have said the wrong things, because the scene ended with her descent towards her death.  It was a scene that made me feel pretty helpless.  I later found out that you could have saved her, which made me wonder what the story will be like going forward.

Going forward, I hope that developers DONTNOD can fix some of the technical issues that still linger around the game.  The lip-syncing issues are still pretty prominent with the characters, and still ran into some framerate problems where the game would start to chug.  It’s still a very nice looking game, but there is nothing to demanding about it.  In a recent interview, they revealed that the character progression and the voice actors are where a lot of their time and money was devoted to, with the technical aspects of the game taking the backburner.  It is a shame that they could not deliver on both fronts, because they made it seem like they will not be fixing the issues anytime soon.

via Gamer's Global
via Gamer’s Global

“Out of Time” was a pretty strong episode, not to mention a well named one as well.  The story reveals that Max will not be able to use her powers over and over again.  She gets nosebleeds whenever she uses her powers too much.  We saw how this flaw in her powers affected her in the last scene, but I am more intrigued to see how it will affect the overall story arc.  Despite some of the ongoing technical issues, it is easy to see where DONTNOD’s priorities were with this one, giving us a really strong story and a pretty deep, and disturbing, ending.  I have a good reason to believe that Life is Strange will only get more involved…and well, more strange…as the story trucks on.

life is strange e2 score

Review: Action Bronson’s Mr. Wonderful

via nahright.com
via nahright.com

Mr. Wonderful (2015)

Action Bronson

Rap / Hip-Hop

Atlantic Records / Vice Records


The chef-turned-rapper is back at it again, but this time in a much bigger way.  Action Bronson has danced with the rap game before, but up to this point, he has only released a series of mixtapes and EP’s.  Mr. Wonderful is the rappers second studio album, but it marks the first album released by a major label.  It is pretty evident that Action “Mr. Wonderful” Bronson has put a lot of work into the album, judging by the range of sounds that can be found on the album.

Bronson has enlisted some of the top names in production to help him out with the project, including The Alchemist, Mark Ronson, and Noah “40” Shebib.  The album’s sound can generally be summed up as psychedelic, with some influences from rock and underground rap.  The album’s first song, “Brand New Car,” even features a sample from Billy Joel’s “Zanzibar.”  Bronson is a pretty big Billy Joel fan, and he got Joel himself to write a handwritten blessing to Bronson, allowing him to use the sample.

via BET
via BET

The album is best listened to as an album, start to end.  Most of the songs have transitions into the next, making it feel like a streamlined listening experience.  The songs might not link up together theme wise, but they all share similar sounds that make them feel like they belong together.

The voice that Bronson brings to the rap game is pretty distinguishable.  It’s unique and energetic, but that’s nothing new for Bronsolino fans.  He has made strides in his lyrical flow, but there was still some spots where he made it clear that there is still room to improve.  I especially noticed this in songs like “Brand New Car” and “The Rising,” featuring his cousin Big Body Bes.  What is new for Bronson is his singing skills, which he has not really portrayed in any previous releases.  He demonstrates the singing chops in “Big City Blues” and “Baby Blue,” which featured a very catchy and soulful hook on Bronson’s part.  “Big City Blues” was good, but the instrumentals and guitars in the background drowned out the rapper’s voice, almost overpowering him.  It’s a shame, because his unmodified voice that he uses on these tracks was impressive, and something I would not expect from the rapper.

via BET
via BET

Some other notable tracks from the project include “Terry,” which features a trippy beat and that psychedelic sound that I mentioned before.  Bronson himself explains the song as a “tasteful boom.”  We also got “Only in America,” which has the feel of an 80’s rock ballad.  Producer Party Supplies lends his guitar skills to the track, giving the album a nice touch of rock.

If you listen to the album from start to end, you notice that the second to last song is a live recording from Prague of Bronson’s song “The Passage.”  The song serves as a break and an intro into the song’s finale.  “Easy Rider,” which was the first single released from the album, is the ending to the album.  The song has some great lines, including, “we took acid for ten days straight up in the mountains / started running with the stallions.”  The song also ends with an impressive guitar solo and the line, “Ride a Harley into the sunset.”  I cannot think of a better way to end an album.

via This Song Is Sick
via This Song Is Sick

Action Bronson brings a lot of good stuff to the table, and cooks us up a pretty great album with Mr. Wonderful.  (See what I did there?  Action Bronson was a chef…and he cooks…he released an album…yeah…)  Anyway, he gives us some very unique songs with some interesting sounds that you don’t hear too much in rap these days.  His flow might need some improvement, but all in all, I think it’s safe to call Action Bronson Mr. Wonderful.

mr wonderful score

Review: Breaking Bad Season 2

via Film School Rejects
via Film School Rejects

Breaking Bad (Season 2) (2009)

TVMA / AMC

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn

Creator: Vince Gilligan


Heisenberg and Jesse are not just dealing off the block anymore, the game has changed.  Things are getting bigger and more out of control, and business is only getting better.  The first season of Breaking Bad might as well have been a preview of what is to come.  The show’s second season is where we start to take a dip into the craziness that will ensue in coming seasons.

The season picks up seconds after the drug deal between Walt (Bryan Cranston), Jesse (Aaron Paul), and drug kingpin Tuco (Raymond Cruz).  Thanks to Walt’s extensive expertise in chemistry, the unlikely duo have managed to create one of the hottest meth products on the market.  A better product means a bigger market.  Which means that it is time for Walt and Jesse to take their little side business to new heights.

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As Walt’s secret side job escalates to new levels, so does the family situation at home.  Skylar (Anna Gunn) and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) are going through a range of emotions in light of recent events.  Walt’s dual personality that he has to uphold really throws Skylar and Walt into a sort of taboo the whole season.  Skylar starts to get the suspicion that Walt is up to something, but Walt does the best he can to keep those questions diverted.  He can only uphold the act for so long though, as things start to catch up to him in the last couple of episodes.

Walt is not the only character with a dual personality.  In fact, season 2 really gave us a look at everybody’s dual personalities.  Jesse tries to play the part of Mr. Tough Guy, but reveals his softer side to his new landlord Jane (Krysten Ritter), Jesse’s first true love.  Skylar tries to stay faithful to Walt, but we start to see the brewing chemistry between Skylar and her new boss at her new job.  Walt’s brother in law Hank (Dean Norris), the DEA agent, makes it seem like he is a fearless individual, when we know this is not the case, when we see his anxieties start to kick in towards the middle of the season.  Skylar’s sister Marie (Betsy Brandt) is a loving and compassionate relative to the White family, but she shoplifts and does some things on the side that might make us think otherwise.  Even Walt Jr. has another side, preferring to be called Flynn among his friends.  Some of these personalities are more prominently featured than others, but the theme still remains clear.

breaking bad s2 2

Jesse Pinkman probably had the hardest season out of all the characters however.  He goes on a wild character arc throughout the season, ending on probably the lowest we have seen him.  He starts off as the tough guy that we remember from season 1, but this act cannot be upheld forever when he is literally thrown to the streets by his parents.  With no car or house…or pretty much anything…he is left to his own devices to build his life back up again.  We then see him evolve into a fake kingpin as business starts booming.  This is another act that he cannot uphold forever though.  Finally, thanks to his new girlfriend that is his landlord, he devolves to the status of a heroine junkie and literally injects himself to the lowest totem on the pole by the end of the season.  The last episode however gives hope to Jesse, making it look like he will make a strong return in season 3.

It’s funny to see the scope that Walt and Jesse’s business has grown to by the end of season 2.  The two most unlikely criminals have pretty much rose to the top of the drug game.  However, just like any business, problems start to arise, especially when you try to take on new territory.  This presents us with two new characters, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) and Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), the owner of the Los Pollos Hermanos food chain.  Bob Odenkirk brings a great performance to the table as the shady criminal lawyer Saul.  He teaches Walt and Jesse a couple of lessons about the game, while providing some funny moments along the way.  What makes Gus interesting is his striking similarity to Walt.  The two are both very cautious with their business proceedings, while at the same time, trying to live normal lives.  Gus helps Walt make the biggest deal of the series, netting the two close to about $500,000 dollars each.

breaking bad s2 3

This season was very well done.  It managed to tie up a couple of loose ends, while making room for new ones which will drive the series onward.  Towards the end, we see Skylar give birth to a newborn girl, and Walt even gets some good news of his own.  However, the finale is a tough one for Walt.  The show sets up season 3 to be a big season for Walt’s character.  With his new situation that is presented to him, is he going to try and fix it, or go all in with his business?

Season 2 was a hell of ride, providing me with some of the most intense and riveting episodes that I have seen from the series in a while.  It’s hard to pick out the faults from a season that did so many things right.  Time’s running out for Walt, and what he does with this time is going to be one hell of a ride.

breaking bad s2 score

Review: Empire Season 1

via fanart.tv
via fanart.tv

Empire Season 1 (2015)

TV14 / Fox

Drama / Music

Starring: Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett

Creators: Lee Daniels, Danny Strong


When I sat down and watched the first episode of Empire I had no clue where it was going to end up.  It could have been a surprise hit, or a complete failure; I was not sure.  It had a unique spin on the family drama sphere of television, one that chronicled the life of a family in the hip-hop music business.  If only I knew the raging wildfire that the show ended up turning into as succeeding weeks went on.

The show, which gives us a glimpse of the glamorous lifestyle of the Lyons family, proved to get bigger and bigger every single week.  Every week, they would release the numbers and they just seemed unrealistic.  How could a show do this good?  How could a show continue to receive more viewers every week, without going down in ratings?  The pilot was watched by around 9.8 million viewers and the finale clocked in at about 16.7 million viewers, without ever taking any dips or stumbles.  The show, on its quick rise to the top, ended up crushing records, including the record for highest rated season finale by a first year show, which was previously held by the Grey’s Anatomy for its first season in 2005.  The show now stands as TV’s highest rated and most popular show out there, and it’s only just begun for the crew at Empire Records.

via ibtimes.com
via ibtimes.com

Lucious Lyons (Terrence Howard), the owner of Empire Records, is the star of the show.  We find out in the first episode that he is diagnosed with the chronic illness that is ALS.  The one thing we learn throughout the show is that Lucious is not a man to go down without swinging.  He’s a fighter.  He wants to take his record company public, but in order to do that, he needs to find someone to take the throne.  His three sons, Andre (Trai Byers), Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), and Jamal (Jussie Smollett), have to pretty much earn their dad’s trust and respect in order to get a piece of his empire.

We also have the character of Cookie, played by Taraji P. Henderson.  If you have not watched the show, but manage to stay up to date with pop culture discussion, you have probably already heard of Cookie’s character.  With hash tags like #ShitCookieSays, it is easy to see why Cookie was one of my favorite characters from the series.  She is the ex-husband of Lucious who was put into jail because of her and Lucious’s past in the hood.  She was sentenced to seventeen years in jail, all while Lucious built up his Empire, calling it his own.  We see in the show however, that this is not so much the case, and that Cookie has had a big part in the label’s success.  When she gains freedom from the precinct in the first episode, it is immediately care that she is not going to let Lucious have all the fun with Empire’s success.  She wants a part of it too.

via opdnewsfeed.com
via opdnewsfeed.com

The show contains all sorts of themes, including greed, power, and the flashy lifestyle that comes with the hip-hop industry.  It is these kinds of things that separate the show from other family dramas.  It made the show much more interesting to watch.  There were numerous points throughout the season where everybody seems to have their own motives in mind when carrying out their actions.  This leads to lots of juicy conflict and literal hair-pulling drama, especially in the last couple of episodes.  Cookie and Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), Lucious’ head of A&R, have a tense relationship and this relationship often provided us some of the best moments from the show.

There are two things that probably contribute to the massive success behind the show, and that is the show’s edgy plotlines, as well as the rich music.  The show, on top of the concepts that I mentioned before, travels to some areas where most shows would never think to go.  Lucious Lyon demonstrates his homophobic nature whenever his son Jamal comes out.  We also see his disdain for white women with Andre’s relationship with his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday).  These two plotlines come up frequently throughout the first season and they painted Lucious Lyon in a pretty negative light.  I applaud the show for hitting these types of themes though, because the show had a lot to say about them.  I think it handled them well.  It is these kinds of themes that permeate the hip-hop industry, which is why it would make sense to tackle them in a show like Empire.  As Lucious says, “hip-hop is controversy.”

via Rolling Stone
via Rolling Stone

Rapper and producer Timbaland was the guy behind Empire’s amazing soundtrack, which includes genres like hip-hop, rap, r&b, and gospel.  If you are making a show about music, you have to make sure that you get the music nailed down right, and Empire gave us a formidable soundtrack, knocking it out of the park.  Hakeem, an up-and-coming rapper, and Jamal, the passionate r&b singer, provided some great musical hits, as well as some of the supporting cast.  The show even featured some cameo performances from the likes of Jennifer Hudson (who actually played the role of Andre’s musical therapist), Estelle, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Rita Ora, Juicy J, as well as others.  The music was so good, that there is talks about producing a concert series featuring the show’s hit music.

As the show went on, the plot twists and deep intertwined drama started to get more and more intense.  The last four episodes where edge-of-your-seat enthralling and rattling television.  The one gripe I started to have was that some of these riveting twists and turns seemed a little cheap.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but things start to suddenly look up for Lucious by the second to last episode, completely out of the blue.  They used a convenient plot device to make the show more interesting for its second season.  This might be hard to argue with, but I wish they could have handled it with a more realistic solution.  There were a ton of other cheap and convenient plot twists that served the purpose of moving things along towards what looks to be an intense season two.

via Billboard
via Billboard

I started to get the sense that Empire realized how big it was getting.  The first couple of episodes were interesting and entertaining, but as the ratings started to skyrocket towards the sky, so did the show’s vision and scope.  You could almost see the show evolving before your eyes as it drove towards the fantastic finale.  It was a show that gripped me from the get-go, and it kept me wrangled towards the very end.  As the final credits started to role after its thirteenth and final episode of the season, I just felt myself hungry for more.  Season two cannot come sooner enough.  Empire is one of the few shows that can be considered “must watch TV.”  If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend catching up on the first season, because I can only feel that the show is going to get bigger as season two takes the stage this fall, or next spring…but hopefully next fall.

via realitywives.net
via realitywives.net

****SPOILERS BELOW****

The finale pretty much presented us with the main skeleton behind season two.  When Lucious, after realizing he does not have ALS anymore, gives the throne to Jamal, Andre and Hakeem are not too pleased.  They want to do what is considered a “hostile takeover.”  They join forced with Cookie and Anika to basically bring down Jamal and Lucious’ empire.

In the final couple of scenes, we see that Lucious’ dark past catches up to him when justice is finally done.  He is arrested for his murder of their cousin Bunkie and is sent to jail during his tribute concert.  This is bad news for Empire, the newly public company.  This only means that season two is going to be a story of revenge for Lucious.  He is going to use these recent forthcomings as fuel for his comeback.  Season two is going to be one hell of a season if the series’ creators can play the right cards.

*************************

empire season 1 score

Review: Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2

tales from borderlands ep1 coverTales from the Borderlands Episode 2 (2015)

Rated M / PS4

Adventure

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: 2K Games, Gearbox Software


It has been a while since the first episode of Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands was released.  The episode left off with a cliffhanger involving our characters Rhys, Fiora, Sasha and Vaughn dealing with the holographic Handsome Jack in the Atlas vault that they discovered below the racing arena.  He revealed that there was a secret “Gortys Project” that leads to a dangerous vault, presumably full of riches.  Finally, the second episode, titled “Atlas Mugged” has finally landed and it provides a lot more laughs this time around, as well some hard-hitting choices you have to make.

The episode starts off right where the first left off with our vault hunters scrounging around the Atlas vault in search of some clues for their next move.  They stumble upon the (seemingly) dead body of an Atlas general, which they use to reveal the location of the Gortys Project, which is in Old Haven.

via VG Network
via VG Network

The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the enhanced humor that the episode provides.  Do not get me wrong, the first episode was pretty funny and brought on its fair share of chuckles, but Telltale’s newest episode brings on a lot more jokes and humorous situations, which is apparent right of the bat with the eye scene.

We also get another humorous and stylistic opening title screen sequence when the group is suddenly attacked by Moonshots.  They leave the vault with the things they need and speed away in their caravan, only to run into trouble with monsters and a huge beast.  Fiora and Sasha find a way out of the mess, while Rhys and Vaughn fall behind in the desert dust in a rather comical way.

via VG Network
via VG Network

Deserted and roughed up a bit, they encounter Vasquez from Hyperion who is shot down from Helios in his flashy car.  Rhys and Vaughn’s lies and shady business behind Vasquez’s back finally catches up to them as Vasquez has one mission in mind, to knock those two out.  It is revealed that Handsome Jack, who turns out to be some weird form of a hologram, is attached to Rhys’ body, and only Rhys can see and interact with him.  It is hard to understand why this is the case, but I just learned to accept it.

Handsome Jack’s character provides his own brand of humor to the story, much like the proper Borderland games.  It first seemed like Vaughn was going to be the comical relief character, but know he has some competition from Jack.  Jack is a cocky, and sometimes a smart ass, yet very enjoyable to watch.

tft borderlands ep 2 3

With the help of Handsome Jack’s apparent control over Rhys’ body, Rhys and Vaughn get away from Vasquez, and meet up with the handy Loading Bot that we were introduced to in the first episode.  The game gives you the choice to go to Old Haven, where the Gortys Project is being held, or Hollow Point to meet back up with Fiora and Sasha.  I chose to go to Hollow Point, where Fiora and Sasha were getting their caravan vehicle fixed up and ready to go for their adventure ahead.

In Hollow Point is a dangerous place for Fiora, who is on wanted posters all over town.  She has a pretty big price on her head, which is very attractive to the various bounty hunters and bandits that roam around town.  The duo stays low as they pay a visit to Felix’s safe house that is in town.  They find the place trashed, but they manage to find the stash that Felix has hidden away.  However, Sasha finds out about my decision that I made to let Felix die at the racetrack.  As one would assume, she wasn’t too pleased and she seemed to be in a bad mood for the rest of the episode.  It’s going to be interesting to see where the two’s relationship goes after this episode.

tft borderlands ep 2 4

The two are not as safe as they thought they were however, as two bounty hunters stumble into the house and stick up the two.  Using their newly acquired weapons, Fiora and Sasha find a way out of the sticky situation, only to find that they are being chased by a mysterious assassin-like figure.  She has the intention to wipe Fiora out, but her motives still remain unclear.  Before she can do any damage, Rhys and Vaughn’s Loader Bot comes to the rescue to save Fiora and Sasha, and brings them to safety.

Reunited, the group treks on to Old Haven, the abandoned mine town that supposedly holds the high tech military facility.  After some snooping around, the team finds the switches that brings the mammoth facility out of the ground, revealing an entrance into the building.  They decide to enter, only to get held up once again by Vasquez, August, and some of his other men.  This time there is not too much they can do to about it, and Fiora and Rhys are forced to open up the doors with the switches they found in Atlas’s vault.

via VG Network
via VG Network

Telltale does not waste any time with making you really hate Vasquez’s character.  We also get some backstory behind Vasquez and Handsome Jacks’ relationship at Hyperion.  Vasquez looked up to Jack, even though he literally served as Jack’s verbal and physical punching bag.  When both Rhys and Fiora put the pieces in their respective consoles, the get locked into a orb-like room which holds the orb that might be the key to the vault that Jack was talking about at the end of the first episode.  However, Rhys almost compromises the whole project when he narrowly avoids dropping it into the abyss of the room.  Atlas’s security system is not too thrilled about the whole situation and sends a bunch of robots upon the group to neutralize the situation.

In the face of this danger, Fiora pulls out her handmade grenades that she found in Felix’s safe house, while Handsome Jack whispers in Rhys’ ear about his plan to help Rhys take over the facility.  It was the first seemingly important decision from the whole episode, and it was a tough one.  At the time, I thought it would be a better idea to see what Jack had in store for me, but I later regretted the decision, because like any good Telltale game, the decision will most likely come back and throw a wrench in Rhys and Fiora’s relationship.

tft borderlands ep 2 6

The episode leaves off with an even better cliffhanger than before, showing the true extent of Jacks’ powers.  He takes control over Rhys’ body and, in turn, takes over the flying robot security system.  They turn at Vasquez and his men and go forward for the attack, and this is where it cut to black.  I wanted to see what would happen next and how the team would get themselves out of this dirty situation, but that will only have to wait till the third episode.

The episode felt like it was a one big set up for the final moments and the third episode, but it was still a fun experience nonetheless.  The introduction of Handsome Jack’s character brought on more humor to an already hilarious story.  I am interested to see what Jack’s true intentions are and if he is a guy that the team can truly trust.  There seems to be a shady side to him, but we will have to see.  If those final moments of this episode were any indication, episode three is going to be a wild and thrilling ride, with even more new characters.

tft borderlands ep 2 score

Review: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly

via thisiswalder.com
via thisiswalder.com

To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

Kendrick Lamar

Hip-Hop / Jazz Rap

Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope


When good kid, m.A.A.d. city was released back in 2012, Kendrick Lamar set the rap industry ablaze with his lyrical flow and storytelling skills.  He had a story to tell and he took his fans on a musical journey on his masterpiece of a rap album.  With that kind of critical success, it propelled Kendrick into a spotlight that he wasn’t expecting.  I mean, look at where he came from.  The life that he carries out now is a drastically different landscape than what he was used to.  With this kind of success, expectations started to tower up to some high levels.

In the time since his sophomore studio album’s release, Kendrick has been crafting another story.  One that has big shoes to fill.  To Pimp A Butterfly is his next masterpiece of an album.  The album was unintentionally released a week early, but this only did good things for Kendrick Lamar.  It gave his fans an early look at what Kendrick Lamar was working on all this time.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

What does it mean?  What does To Pimp A Butterfly actually mean?  Well, the title is an obvious play on Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a classic American novel.  In the story, we see black man Tom Robinson who is prosecuted for rape.  Atticus Finch, Tom’s lawyer in the book, tells his kids not to shoot at mockingbirds.  Their neighbor Maudie Atkinson explains the reasoning behind this.  She says…

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

via Shmoop
via Shmoop

All you have to do is replace “Butterfly” with “Mockingbird” and it all makes sense.  In the book, the characters considered “mockingbirds” are completely innocent and only want to sing their hearts out. It’s a pretty genius analogy that Kendrick brings up, and that’s only the title.  If you haven’t presumed already, To Pimp A Butterfly is a thinking man’s album.

When Kendrick released the single “The Blacker The Berry,” the obvious racially charged undertones made fans believe that this was the kind of energy that the album as a whole was going to encompass.  Although the song is probably one of the strongest on the album, I would think that this would be a hasty generalization.  Kendrick uses his strong voice and pedestal to tell a story that does contain some commentary on a black man’s role in today’s society, but there is much more to the album than these conversations.

via In Flex We Trust
via In Flex We Trust

We get to see a lot of personal reflection on the part of Kendrick.  In songs like “u” and “How Much A Dollar Cost” that really dive into Kendrick’s head and past experiences.  They contain some darker themes and they really make you thing.  “King Kunta” is another brilliant song that serves as an oxymoron.  Kendrick is a wealthy black man that seems to have it all, but he is living in America where he is facing a ton of suppression.

Do not fret however, since there is also a fair share of positive and upbeat songs that are scattered throughout the album.  “Alright” is a song about how everything is going to be a-ok, despite the types of adversity that a black man has to endure in today’s society.  The first single of the album, “i,” is another upbeat song about loving yourself no matter what.  You can’t get more positive than that.

Kendrick’s storytelling ability is at an all-time high, rivaling some of the greats.  When he changes his voice in the song “Institutionalized” to represent different personas, it has a profound effect on the song’s impact.  There is also a running poem that Kendrick constructs as the album plays, that culminates into one final product in the final song “Mortal Man.”  It’s also worth noting that “Mortal Man” is a great ending to Kendrick’s masterpiece.  It ties everything together and wraps it into one nice package.  It even contains an eye-opening fictional interview between Kendrick and legend 2-Pac.  It’s really surreal.

via SF Weekly
via SF Weekly

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is the type of musical style that Kendrick brings to this release, which is a far cry from his previous work.  He brings in all of the different types of black music, like gospel, spoken word, jazz, and more into one sound that really goes well with the album’s undertones.

There is a lot to think about when listening to To Pimp A Butterfly.  Kendrick Lamar really steps it up in almost every way possible.  One thing that Kendrick cements on this release is the power of his voice and his music.  He is by far the next big voice in rap and hip-hop, and if you listened to “Mortal Man,” he realizes that he only has a limited amount of time to relay the messages that he wants to send.  The only question that still remains: Does To Pimp A Butterfly dethrone good kid, m.A.A.d. city?

tpab score