Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

via The Reel World
via The Reel World

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

R / 120 min

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

Director: George Miller


There is always those scenes in a movie that involve intense car chases and long-winded action sequences that lead to people walking out of the theater saying, “yeah, that was kind of amazing.”  I mean, all you have to do is look at the Fast and Furious franchise and you will know exactly what I mean.  These action sequences are a staple of summer blockbusters and they provide what movie goers long to see.  With that being said, I am going to recommend a movie to you.  It’s called Mad Max: Fury Road and the entire movie is one big action sequence.

What’s cool about this movie, which has been in production for a while now, is that it is being directed by George Miller, the guy behind the previous Mad Max movies.  It has been a while since these movies have filled theaters, which makes it crazy that Miller decided to bring back what can almost be considered a revival to the franchise.  I have not seen any of the previous Mad Max movies, but I have only heard good things.  After all the talk about the breed of movie that Fury Road is, I decided to give the movie its due process.

via Screen Rant
via Screen Rant

The title role of Max Rockatansky is played by Tom Hardy, who most people probably know from some of Christopher Nolan’s past movies.  He is a man of little words with his actions taking the place of most of his words.  Fury Road begins with Max, broken and reflecting on his past.  He ends up getting caught up with a bunch of bandits that end up taking him to The Citadel, a place ripe with greenery and water; two hot commodities in a desert wasteland that is hot and unforgivable.

The Citadel is run by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who has the look of a clown mixed with the body of a seventy year old.  He is a weird and scary looking fellow that has a lot of weird ways.  The movie is quick to establish this weird villain as a quirky and slightly insane character.  His prized possessions?  Perhaps his five wives who act as breeders played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie-Huntington Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abby Lee, and Courtney Eaton.

via Movie Pilot
via Movie Pilot

However, the character that basically steals the spotlight for the movie’s entire runtime is Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron who dons a shaved head and a mechanical arm.  She’s a rough, but skilled, driver who is in charge of one of Immortan Joe’s supply runs.  Furiosa has her own plans however and uses the run as a smuggling mission to get the five wives out of The Citadel and into freedom on a quest for hope.  Thus begins the almost two hour-sand covered action scene.

Furiosa was one of my favorite characters because she turns out to be one of the movie’s biggest bad-asses.  Max ends up escaping from his captor Nux (Nicholas Hoult, who also happens to be another intriguing character), and joining forces with Furiosa, but he does not have the same flair that Furiosa brings to the table.

via Black Film
via Black Film

Fury Road is the definition of a high octane summer blockbuster, siding with thrills and explosive excitement rather than a story and fleshed out characters.  This would be a pretty big problems with most movies, but Fury Road knows what it is doing and it never tries to accomplish more than it can handle.  You know the countless explosions and flipped cars that you see during the movie? (Not to mention a pretty sweet looking flaming guitar)  Yeah, those scenes were done primarily with practical effects.  What makes this movie even more appreciable is its use of practical effects over the visual effects that dominate the medium.  I often found myself marveling at the sights and sounds, and wondering how they were able to accomplish this kind of madness in practical nature.

A movie like Fury Road is a big risk in this day and age, but George Miller pulled his vision off with his fiery spectacle of a movie.  It’s a movie that might not be for everyone given its heavy emphasis on action over story, but that is okay.  It seems like Fury Road knows its audience and gives them one hell of a concentrated dose of what its audience wants, which is flaming car upon flaming car flying through the air in a lovely orchestrated manner.  Both Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy give two great performances, while the five wives, played pretty much entirely by super models, surprisingly serve as another key addition to the movie, despite some minor flaws in character.  Fury Road is one long (literally) ride through a sand-stricken wasteland, and I liked every minute of it.  Its dumb insane fun at its finest.

fury road score

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Review: Fruitvale Station

via Daily Inspiration
via Daily Inspiration

Fruitvale Station (2013)

R / 85 min

Biography / Drama / Romance

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer

Director: Ryan Coogler


Fruitvale Station literally opens up with a literal bang…and no that is not a joke.  We are instantly introduced to the footage of Oscar Grant getting shot by a police officer in a San Francisco BART station on New Years Day back in 2009. It’s grainy cell phone footage probably taken by astounded onlookers…which makes it all the more real and disturbing.  This reminds me of Titanic, a movie where you know how it is going to end, but the stories of the ships passengers make the inevitable end all the more hard to swallow.  Fruitvale Station does the exact same thing, focusing on the day before the fatal shooting.

Oakland native Ryan Coogler is the director behind the film, which makes sense given his proximity to the events that took place.  The events hit him hard which eventually drove him to make the film based on the shooting.  It’s possible that he took some creative liberties and painted the picture in a light that portrayed the cops as the extreme bad guys and then made it seem like they were let off the hook pretty easily during the ending credit sequence recapping the events in words.

fruitvale station 1

Michael B. Jordan plays the role of Oscar Grant, a humble man who tries to stay positive and carefree amid the numerous problems that get thrown his way. He gets caught up in the drug trade, although he eventually weans himself clean.  He also has some trouble with work, eventually losing his job.  Things could be a lot better for Grant, a man who has a daughter to raise and a family to run, but he beams positivity through it all.  His favorite thing to say is “everything is going to be alright,” even up to the final moments of his life where he is being held by the police officers.  I do not know if Grant was actually that positive in real life, but it does not seem natural for a man in such a crappy situation.

Coogler does an amazing job at building up to the final moments of the movie in the BART station.  We get a “day in the life” view of Grant’s life, which involves his mother’s birthday, his relationship with his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), a trip to his work on his off day, taking his daughter to the learning center, and New Years Eve dinner with his family.  Just like Titanic, I started to grow a large attachment to Grant.  The final scenes, although I did not know how they were going to play out, were in the back of my head for the entirety of the movie.  The moment where Grants mom, played by Octavia Spencer, told him to take the BART going into town for New Years night was where the realization really kicked in.

via Movie Gos
via Movie Gos

What I started to notice as the film moved on is the gritty and low-budget nature of the film’s production.  I do not know the actual budget of the movie and how much Coogler and his team had to work with, but you could tell that there was a down to earth and low-budget feel to the movie.  In any other movie this might be a downside, but this kind of look really enhances the story of Fruitvale Station.  The beginning starts off with the grainy cell phone footage and then the rest of the movie follows suit with the low-budget looks.  It makes the events taking place on screen seem even more real, especially during the sequence in the BART station.

The final moments of the film, where we finally get to view what took place on that fateful night, was the ultimate climax.  The build-up never grew old and outstayed its welcome.  It was necessary in order to make the shooting hit home the hardest.  Like I mentioned before, the police were portrayed to be insanely evil, which might not have been the case in real life.  Whatever the case was, it still made the shooting even harder to watch once more.

via Daily Republic
via Daily Republic

Some creative decisions were probably made to bring out the emotions from viewers, but Fruitvale Station is a touching movie about the fatal death of Oscar Grant, a family man.  The supporting cast holds up pretty well, but its Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Grant that takes home the awards.  The movie is all about him and his life that was cut short in what might be one of the worst ways possible.  It’s a movie that might be hard to watch for some, but it’s a movie that does its job of recreating the events that need to be seen.

fruitvale station score

Review: A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP

via News N Music
via News N Music

At.Long.Last.A$AP (2015)

A$AP Rocky

Rap / Hip-Hop

A$AP Worldwide / Polo Grounds Music / RCA Records


The unexpected death of A$AP Mob’s founder ASAP Yams hit rapper A$AP Rocky pretty hard back in January.  It still affects him to this day.  Yams played an integral role in Rocky’s career in music and he served as one of the prime influences on Rocky.  Yams has been with Rocky ever since he broke big, which means it only makes sense that Rocky’s sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, is dedicated to the late rapper.  What makes the story even better is that Rocky’s second offering is a stellar release; serving as the rapper’s best album to date.

ALLA starts off with the mellow and highly meditative “Holy Ghost” that features a lot of religious imagery, with Rocky almost begging for forgiveness by the end.  Its sets the tone for the rest of the album, which goes into multiple directions, taking a deep dive into the wild life that is Rocky’s.  The rest of the album explores the vices that the rapper enjoys and goes into some of the problems that the rapper has faced as well.

via Complex
via Complex

When it comes to the rappers vices, his tribute to LSD, appropriately titled “L$D,” gives you a good idea of what I’m talking about.  The drugged up ode to the highly addictive drug takes you on a literal trip through Rocky’s enjoyment of acid.  We also get “M’s,” which can be considered a ballad to moolah.  Lil Wayne appears on the track as well and Weezy gives it his all with his colorful verse.

What makes the album dynamic is the exploration of Rocky’s problems, especially “Better Things,” which goes into the rapper’s problems with women.  The track has gained greater relevance in light of the interview that had the rapper reveal that he had three orgies with nine different women at the last SXSW.  (Yep, nine of them…)  The song also delves a bit into his hook-up with singer Rita Ora, which had an ugly ending thanks to her “big mouth,” according to Rocky.

via Promo News
via Promo News

“Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2,” also known as LPFJ2, shows off the rappers ability to lay some great verses.  Not to mention, it also contains a bumping beat as well.  The two other tracks that stood out were “Jukebox Joints” and the star-studded “Everyday.”  “Jukebox Joints” features a vocal assist from the fellow fashionable rapper Kanye West.  The two rapper/fashion aficionados give us a nice collaboration that lives up to its potential.  If I had to pick my favorite song off the album, it would have to be “Everyday.”  The track features the legendary Rod Stewart, although technically it’s only a sample of one of the singer’s past performances.  All that aside, the song, which features a smooth hook from R&B croon Miguel, is a nice package of musical goodness.

It only makes sense that the album wraps up with a dedication to ASAP Yams.  “Back Home” is a track created with love and respect from both A$AP Rocky and Mos Def.  Although the song features a rather annoying beat, the intentions are in the best place possible.  The song wraps up with a vocal outro from Yams himself, concluding what is a stellar project from the Brooklyn-born emcee.

via Hip Hop Since 1987
via Hip Hop Since 1987

A$AP Rocky is a very talented and forward thinking part of the rap game and At.Long.Last.A$AP provides all the proof you need to come to this conclusion.  The rappers debut album Long.Live.A$AP was a pretty good album on its own and it has only gotten better for the rapper.  2015 has been a big year for hip-hop, and A$AP Rocky gives us a worthy addition to the honorable list of great album that have already made their way to release. ASAP Yams would be proud.

at long last asap score

Between Pilot Impressions

Imagine that you are 21 years old or younger.  You’ve lived long enough to gain a lot of knowledge, but you still have a lot of learning to do.  You are not necessarily the wisest person on the planet.  Your parents have always been there for you, teaching you the many ways of life.  Now let’s imagine that all of a sudden your parents start bleeding from their mouth and then tumble to the ground, knocking at death’s door.  Yes, this might be a graphic thing to think about, but it’s the brutal reality of Netflix’s newest drama Between, which chronicles the story of a small town that is under attack by a strange disease that only affects people 22 years or older.

The disease is on a rampage, taking out the town like a wildfire.  The elderly, and maybe not so elderly, are dropping like flies and town officials have no clue what to do.  Under some consideration, the government comes in and puts the town under a ten mile radius quarantine.  No one is allowed in and no one is allowed out.  The youth of the small town of Pretty Lake are left to fend for themselves within the confines of the city fences.  What a nightmare this turns out to be.

via Takes on Tech
via Takes on Tech

The only notable member of the cast is probably Jennette McCurdy of Nickelodeon fame who plays the pregnant Wiley.  If you thought the situation was tough enough, imagine having to deal with a baby through it all.  The only other cast member that I sort of grew a liking to was Jack Murray, who plays a prisoner that looks more like a pretty boy than a convict.  During the pilot we see him deal with other convicts in the penitentiary.  He’s an intriguing character and I want to see what he has actually done to get himself in his position in the first place.

The biggest thing that brings the pilot down is the actor’s god-awful acting.  Not even Jennette McCurdy can provide an interesting character.  Everybody has a stone face throughout the episode and no one seems to give a damn about what is happening around them.  Character’s parents die and it looks like they could care less.  What we get is a crowd of emotionless one-dimensional teen stereotypes that do a wonderful job of making you strongly dislike them.  I’m not going to lie, there were definitely some times where I was hoping that the mysterious disease would take out some of the teen characters as well.  The acting is only going to bring the show down, which leaves the premise and the story as the only things that can salvage the disaster.

via TV.com
via TV.com

The disease serves as the integral backbone for the story.  What is it and why is it only affecting the older crowd?  It’s a disease that seems rather unlikely in this day and age, but I will be interested to learn some answers about this mysterious plague.  I am also going to be interested in the role that the government plays in ruling the town.  They seem to have a tight grip on the town’s activities and I assume that there control is going to only get tighter.  This will most likely drive some of the characters to lead a rebellion, with the ambitious goal of taking their town back and gaining freedom.  I only say it is ambitious because of team of young tweens will most likely stand no chance against a force of highly trained officers, unless the show delivers some ham-fisted excuse for their success.

Netflix as of late has been delivering a lot of hot shows, but this is a show that they will probably want to sweep under the rug and forget about.  Unless some drastic changes are made, the show is only going to get worse.  The actors need to shape up and actually pretend like they are in the middle of what should be a life-shattering crisis for them.  Let’s not kid ourselves though, this gang of tweens is going to stand no chance, and neither is this series.

via 411 Mania
via 411 Mania

Review: Life Is Strange Episode 3

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life Is Strange Episode 3 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


If you have been paying playing Square Enix and DONTNOD’s Life Is Strange, you already know that a lot of stuff went down in the episodic game’s second chapter.  Your choices that you make and your powers that you have a profound impact on what takes place.  As a byproduct of this kind of episode, we get an aftermath episode that deals with some of the fallout of the previous.

Life Is Strange’s third episode, entitled Chaos Theory, does a lot of cool things with the story, but it was relatively boring in its entirety.  I went into the episode in that negative mindset already because when you have to follow up an episode like the second one, it’s hard to deliver that same kind of one-two punch.  There were some good bits and pieces scattered throughout the episode that make up for some of the boring parts, but this just seems to follow the path of an “in-between” kind of episode.  The eye of the storm, if you will.

via XGN
via XGN

Story wise, like I mentioned before, our character Max Caulfield is dealing with the aftermath of the happenings of the second episode.  Depending on the outcome that you reach in the previous chapter, the overall tone of Chaos Theory differs.  Some players will treat Max like a hometown hero worthy of praise and thanks.  If things went south, then there will be a sad and dreary overtone present throughout.  The fact that you could have two different episodes depending on what happened in the second is pretty refreshing.

Some of the problems from past episodes carry over, like the game’s cringe-worthy dialog.  I overlooked it a bit in the first episode, but it has continued to get a little worse.  It’s not awful, but it just does not seem natural.  The way the characters talk really rubs me the wrong way and gets me to dislike them.  Things like the overzealous use of the world “hella” and other similar slang can get pretty annoying after a while.  No one speaks like that, at least not the people I talk to.  The game also seems to straddle the line between a thoughtful and intelligent story and the story you would find within the confines of a young-adult beach read.  I could picture the story, aside from some of its darker elements, right at home in the pages of a book in the teen section of a library.

via Blogocio
via Blogocio

The mechanics still manage to stay relevant, which is a bit surprising.  DONTNOD continues to make good use of the time rewind elements in pretty cool ways.  This was the episode where it seemed like they knew what they were doing with the mechanics and everything seemed to work pretty well.  Aside from a couple fun sections, the episode relegates itself to a lot of fetch quests, which did not provide a lot in the fun department.  I hope that these portions do not spill over into future episodes, because I want them to do more with the mechanics that they leave for you.

What makes this episode shine amid some of its problems however is the fantastic and unexpected ending.  I am not exaggerating at all when I said it hit me like a cannon coming out of left field. By the time the credits started to roll, it becomes apparent that the story that you once thought you knew gets flopped on its backside.  They seem to be going in an exciting new direction for what seems to be the rest of the season.  Perhaps this does not sound as mind-blowing in words, but I do not want to spoil anything.  Just take my word for it when I describe its unexpected nature.

life is strange e3 3

I am excited for where the story is going in the future.  I was beginning to worry towards the middle of the episode that things were starting to run dry.  The story had its interesting plotlines, but they started to become a little stale and predictable.  The curveball that gets thrown at Max at the end of the episode secures Chaos Theory as one of the pivotal episodes in Life Is Strange.  It may not seem like it at first, but you will know what I mean when you experience what happens for yourself.

life is strange e3 score

Also available on PC, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

Review: The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season

via Fone Arena
via Fone Arena

The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (2012)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games


Thanks to recent success, Telltale Games has become a household name among gaming fans.  They are now a well-oiled machine that is putting out their now famous brand of adventure games, with a focus on storytelling, at breakneck speeds.  Contrary to what you might assume, most of these games are actually pretty good.  The game that put Telltale on the map and started their second wind was their episodic adaptation of The Walking Dead.  It was a game that was highly regarded among critics and fans alike, garnering a massive following.

What made this game special for people was two things.  First, the two main characters that you follow through the story were extremely well done.  Lee Everett is a good man that has another side to him.  We first see him being hauled away to the slammer due to a mishap in his relationship.  On the way to prison, the police car runs into a zombie on the road and they are propelled into the nearby grass.  The action begins.  Lee manages to escape the site, only to stumble upon a house that seems to have another soul in hiding.  Cue the introduction of Clementine, a rather young and shy little girl that has been hiding away in her house for a while now.  Her parents are gone and she would not have survived if Lee did not stumble upon her house.

via Games N More
via Games N More

Telltale does an amazing job from the get go of making you really care about the two characters.  Lee is faced with a big challenge in helping Clementine with finding her parents, as well as survival.  Clementine should not be painted as a deadweight, but instead as a lightbulb for Lee.  Lee has some trouble coming to grips with the morality of some of the decisions that he has made in his life, and Clementine acts as a moral compass from that point forward.  The two grow quickly attached to each other just as fast as the player gets attached to them.  The scenes involving the two lead characters were by far some of the best scenes from the whole series.

The other thing that really makes the game special is Telltale’s style of adventure game that they instituted with this release.  When the game came out, gone was the format of the traditional adventure game and in with Telltale’s new format of quick time events and heavy decision making.  There is a greater emphasis on story this time around and every dialogue option that you choose in the game has an effect on how things play out, whether big or small.  They do not give you a whole lot of time to make these decisions either.  I often found myself making impulse choices and saying things I did not mean to say.  That might be frustrating to some, but it only makes complete sense.  With the world in shambles due to the zombie outbreak and its people facing immense danger every day, there are going to be a lot of impulse decisions being made.

via Pure Xbox
via Pure Xbox

Each episode of the five episode season has a set of tough decisions that you have to make, and boy do these decisions live up to their name.  Some hit you right in the face in terms of toughness, but others do not seem like they make a big difference at the time, but they end up influencing the story in ways you could not imagine.  There is a moment towards the halfway mark on the season that was tough to swallow for a lot of reasons.  I am not going to spoil anything, but anybody who has played the game should already know what I’m talking about.  What happened was out of my realm of control, and it made me feel helpless.  The game gives you a chance to react, and I acted impulsively, and maybe a little irrationally, when faced with the decision of dealing with a character.  I have never felt that kind of feeling before in a game, and it was great and infuriating at the same time.

via What Culture
via What Culture

The supporting cast of characters that you tag along with during Lee’s journey with Clementine all bring a lot to the table in terms of greatness.  The game was almost flawless in getting me to somewhat care about all the characters that it gave me.  The last two episodes of the season after things are shaken up in the middle leave players with, in my opinion, some of the weaker links when it comes to characters, which made the decisions I had to make a little easier to stomach.

Once again, I am not going to spoil anything in terms of story, but the finale takes what’s left of your heart strings and rips them out with ferocity.  The game twists and turns and plays with your emotions, leaving you tired by the end.  The final moments of the game, where it’s just Lee and Clementine together, make for some tear-worthy moments.  I am not one to cry during any form of entertainment, but I have talked to people who have.  It’s a rough portion to play through, and it wraps everything up in a hard but satisfying way.

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

The complete edition comes with the DLC that was released with the game called 400 Days.  It tells the story of a wide variety of other people in the form of short playable chapters.  I thought it was a nice little break from the main story, but given how quickly the game runs through the stories, I found it hard to get attached to these characters like I did in the main offering.  The decisions that they gave you in these chapters did not have the same effect as a result.  The special episode ended in head-scratch worthy fashion, with a confrontation that I was not expecting.  Overall, 400 Days gives players a fun little experience in the world of The Walking Dead, but it is not necessary.

The Walking Dead does a ton of great things that were sometimes tainted by some technical problems.  There was a lot of hitching and sometimes the game chugged along in terms of performance.  These are minor quibbles on a masterpiece of a game, but it’s a game that is not going to win any awards in the technical categories.  This might not be your traditional adventure game, but it was a milestone for Telltale, setting a foundation for their future in the game industry.  The Walking Dead was a game that tried a lot of new things, telling an amazing story.  If you were ever on the fence, make time to play through this gem of a game.

the walking dead s1 score

Also available on PC, Mac, PS3, PSVita, Xbox 360, iPad, iPhone

Review: The Unfinished Swan

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

The Unfinished Swan (2012)

PS4 / Rated E

Casual / Puzzle

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: Giant Sparrow


The argument on whether video games are art or not has been raging among critics and fans for a while now.  Say what you want about the topic, but I think it is completely stupid.  Games are games, and we should not waste our time trying to make games seem more worthy among those who do not find games appealing.  We should just enjoy them for what they are: fun interactive experiences.  Now that I have went on a tangent, let’s talk about a game which involves both art and interactive experiences.  It’s called The Unfinished Swan.

The game, which is developed by indie studio Giant Sparrow, can be best described as an interactive storybook.  Monroe, a little boy that is the star of the game, has a mother that is an avid painter.  She paints, but she does not finish her work, leaving them unfinished.  One day, Monroe is forced to go to an orphanage, but they let him take one piece of his mom’s work.  He picks her Unfinished Swan painting, which is his favorite.  One night, he looks over to discover that the swan has disappeared from the painting.  This leads him to explore the painting, giving him entrance to a whole new world within the painting.

via jeuxactu.com
via jeuxactu.com

This is how we first get introduced to the world of The Unfinished Swan.  The first set of levels takes place within a king’s garden. However, the screen is completely white.  It’s a good thing that Monroe brought his mom’s paint brush.  The game’s first mechanic that it gives you is the ability to throw paintballs around the world.  In the first levels, this allows you to paint the world around you, forming the space in front of you.  In a sense, you have to feel your way around by painting the blank canvas around you while perusing the swan that seems to be leading you through this king’s world.

You soon start to find out a little more about the king through the collectible storybook pages.  The king is a tyrant, but a creator at heart.  He creates this kingdom for himself, but his people are never pleased because he does not seem to finish what he starts.  Just like Monroe’s mom, he paints these magnificent places, but does not finish them.  It’s the similarities between this king and Monroe’s mom that seems to be the possible understory of the game’s progression.

via Geeks Podcast
via Geeks Podcast

The game is a relatively short adventure.  There are only about four chapters with a couple of levels beneath each one.  The environments that you explore range greatly, going from the blank canvas in the beginning to the shaded walls of a magnificent castle to the dark and gloomy locale of a nighttime forest to the geometry based world that focuses on blocks and other shapes.  You go through these stages relatively quickly, as most of them are pretty easy and straightforward to get through, but they are a spectacle to see.

Another quibble I have with the game is the way it breezes through new gameplay experiences that it gives you.  One thing you will notice as you make your way through the game is that each level, for the most part, gives you a new gameplay mechanic or gimmick to play around with.  The first level, for instance, focuses on throwing paint balls to explore while some of the later levels involve moving lantern balls around the forest and firing a paint hose around the environment.  One of my favorite mechanics lets you create blocks the unfinished swan 4using your paintballs as the constraints.  Based on where you throw your paintballs, you can set the length, width, and height of the blocks that you create, almost as if you were the game designer.  You use these blocks to traverse to areas you were not able to get to before.  This mechanic was a lot of fun, but was forgotten pretty quickly as the game moved on.  It came back for a tiny bit during the last chapter, but I would have liked to see the game explore these kinds of mechanics more.  This is where the games length starts to hurt the experience.  The story pretty much hits the sweet spot in terms of time, but I would have generally liked to experience the mechanics a little more.

the unfinished swan 3

The Unfinished Swan is not a hard game by any definition of the word.  This is because difficulty is not the game’s main priority.  The game focuses on its story, and the experience of discovery.  The game does not want to block you from exploring the world that it gives you, and for that I commend Giant Sparrow.  This might be unattractive to some gamers, but it’s worth the break from some of the other games that are out right now.  In terms of replayabilty, balloons can be found throughout the environments that encourage deeper exploration.  This can warrant another playthrough for some, but I found all of them on my first runthrough.  Aside from that, the game is meant to be played just once.  That is all you need.

If you want to engage in the debate on whether games are art, then The Unfinished Swan is probably the game you would want to include in your discussion.  It’s a game that managed to captivate me with its colorful, and sometimes colorless, environments.  The game has a unique look unlike any other game.  It’s a little short and it breezes through at a pace that might be too fast for some, but it is most definitely a journey worth taking.  On a side note, they missed their chance on making a 100% completion trophy named “The Finished Swan.”  …just saying.

the unfinished swan score

*Also available on PS3 and PSVita

Review: Grace and Frankie Season 1

via Pop XD
via Pop XD

Grace and Frankie Season 1 (2015)

Netflix / TVMA

Comedy

Starring: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston

Creators: Marta Kauffman, Howard J. Morris


Who does not like a fun comedy about the process of getting a divorce?  Television comedy has told many stories about divorce, but what about a twist on the classic formula?  What if there were two couples, where the husbands left their wives to pursue their love for each other?  Let’s also throw in the fact that these couples are both in their seventies.  It is a weird plot, but it is the premise behind the wholly original new Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie.

Creator’s Marta Kauffman (Friends) and Howard J. Morris (According to Jim) have managed to tell a new story about two rivals, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), and their respective husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston).  Robert and Sol’s love for each other, which they have been hiding for twenty years as business partners, causes a lot of grief and distress among Grace and Frankie.  It is a story that makes sense to tell, especially in the current societal climate.

via Post Crescent
via Post Crescent

What’s interesting about the show is how the two seventy-somethings cope with their new lives as single women.  Let’s just say that it’s a hard life for a single senior citizen.  There are not too many options out there.  They start out in denial and stress, and then move slowly on to boredom and trying to start new lives and relationships as they question things like “invisibility.”

There are some genuinely funny moments that come from Fonda and Tomlin’s characters, but the comedy starts to run dry, pretty quickly.  Laughs were few and far between as the comedy seemed to try too hard.  The jokes are lacking freshness and they are pretty much as old as the characters themselves.  There as a scene in the first episode where the two take peyote while sitting on a beach.  We then watch the two actresses crawl around and make fools of themselves trying to act super high.  It was a good sign as to where the comedy was going to go.

via Channel Guide Mag Blog
via Channel Guide Mag Blog

Fonda and Tomlin have had better roles in the past, but it was the supporting cast that impressed me the most.  We have Grace and Robert’s two kids, played by June Diane Raphael and Brooklyn Decker, and Frankie and Sol’s, played by Baron Vaughn and Ethan Embry.  They manage to bring a little variety to the show, and offered breaks from the sometimes boring moments featuring the two leads.  There were some subplots involving the kids, but these stories were glossed over in favor of the main divorce story at hand.  It would have been nice to see a little more from them.

I also want to mention the ending, which I found to be subpar.  You can classify it as a cliffhanger, which in my opinion is not going to end well for a series like this.  You would think that a show like this would naturally end with the wedding of Robert and Sol, bringing closure to the series, but this was not the direction that we were taken in.  I do not want to spoil anything, but you can read what I mean below.  A cliffhanger is not going to work for a series like this, because I do not think that the story can last and keep things fresh for a another whole season.  They show started to empty the well and overstay its welcome towards the end, which does not lend well to a second season.  Not to mention, the series has already been receiving mixed reviews, which leaves the shows future up in the air.  I would have liked closure this season.

via Revista Pixel
via Revista Pixel

I have to admire the originality of a show like Grace and Frankie.  There really is not a show like this out there, and it had a lot of potential from the get-go.  Things were not handled well and the series fell flat of success, especially when you compare it to some of the other hit shows that Netflix has been putting out lately.  This just did not seem like a show that fit with Netflix.  I would have liked to see a lot more from the two funny actresses, but this was not their best display.

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series "Grace and Frankie". Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ê

****SPOILERS BELOW****

Throughout the whole season, we see Frankie and her husband Sol going back and forth with each other.  They file for a divorce, and everything seems over between the two, but they kept managing to get closer to each other, whether it was the unexpected visits or the traditions like watching the spelling bee.  The second to last episode shows the two moving the family out of their house, which lets in a flood of memories for the delicate and emotional Sol.  The episode then ends with Frankie and Sol sleeping with each other once again, in their own house.

Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series "Grace and Frankie". Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ê
Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series “Grace and Frankie”. Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ê

It was a little frustrating.  I was expecting closure to come in the final episode, which I was expecting to be called “The Wedding.”  Instead, we have episode thirteen, “The Vows,” which features the fallout of Frankie and Sol’s little get together.  Towards the final moments, Frankie realizes what she did was not the best for her, and she finally decided to cut Sol off from her life.  It was then Grace and Frankie walking off into the sunset, interlaced with scenes of Sol arriving back at his house with Robert, with the probable intention of breaking the news to his husband.  The credits then began to roll before Sol even entered the house.  It was unexpected and it left me more confused.  I figured we were not going to get the wedding episode that most were expecting, but I at least wanted to see Sol’s confrontation with Robert about his feelings toward Frankie.

I should not been that invested in a story like this framed by a less than average comedy, but it was an ending that rubbed me the wrong way.  Plainly, I just wanted to see more.  Cliffhangers are enticing television if they are pulled off correctly, but this was not the situation that demanded that kind of ending.

****SPOILERS ABOVE****

Review: No No: A Dockumentary

via Google Play
via Google Play

No No: A Dockumentary (2014)

NR / 100 min

Documentary / Sports

Starring: Dock Ellis

Director: Jeff Radice


Baseball is a sport that has had a lot of characters throughout its long storied history.  Among the long list of famous baseball players, Dock Ellis is one of those guys that probably flies under the radar. How he flies under the radar, I do not know.  He is probably one of the most intriguing players, if not one of the craziest pitchers to play the game.  No No: A Dockumentary tells his story.

Director Jeff Radice does not waste his time in the beginning of the documentary, starting with Dock’s claim to fame; his no-hitter with the Pittsburgh Pirates under the influence of LSD.  A feat like this is almost impossible, but somehow, some way, Dock Ellis found a way to pull history off against the San Diego Padres.

via The Dissolve
via The Dissolve

The title is misleading though, as the documentary starts to branch off into other directions.  We indeed get the story of Dock’s no hitter, but we get a much bigger exploration into the crazy life that Dock Ellis led.  He was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and was never afraid to ramble off what was on his mind.  He’s a player that would not last a second in today’s world, but managed to create a name for himself back when he first played for the Pirates.  He was a talented pitcher, managing to pitch under the influence of a number of different drugs.  The drugs “took the edge off” and managed to loosen up his appearance on the mound.  He was a pitcher that had an effect on the psyche of hitters.  They never knew what kind of state the man was in.

With that many drugs going through his system on a daily basis, it was no surprise that his personal life started to take a downhill direction.  He had different girlfriends, but these relationships never seemed to all end abruptly thanks to Dock’s drug problem.  He also led a party life that often got him into trouble.  These effects changed him however, and the last part of the documentary documents Dock’s return to sobriety, and his defeat of his drug and alcohol addiction.  It was a change for the better, and it led him to teach and counsel others going through the same types of struggles that he went through.

via PGH City Paper
via PGH City Paper

The story is told by friends, family, former players and Dock himself, who was present for some interviews.  They all had interesting things to say about Dock, painting him as a good man, with a lot of vices.  Radice does a good job of framing the story with music from the era as well, giving the documentary a cool psychedelic feel straight out of the 70’s.  It was a good fit.  As far as actual game footage go, it was pretty scarce.  Most of the footage came from his famed no hitter, but the majority of the film was still photos and interviews from others.  It would have been nice to see some other footage, perhaps from his game against the Cincinnati Reds, where he was on a mission to hit everyone in their lineup until he got taken out.

Another thing that came to question was the documentary’s sudden end.  The documentary does not disappoint and managed to keep the story going through its 100 minute runtime, but it came to a quick end.  It almost seemed like there was a little more story to be told.  I do not know if Radice had to make some cuts for time concerns or what, but it just did not seem right.

via Youtube
via Youtube

No No: A Dockumentary manages to tell a compelling story about one of the craziest and lesser known players of the game.  He was outspoken, pitched a no-hitter, started an all-star game, and played for a number of teams during his wild career.  He has not received a hall of fame nod, but perhaps that is because the kind of life he led does not necessarily match up with the kind of example you want to set for young players of the game.  Either way, the now deceased Dock Ellis deserves a nice comfy spot in baseball history as one the most storied players of the game, and his documentary demands your attention.

no no score

Review: Bush

via missinfo.tv
via missinfo.tv

Bush (2015)

Snoop Dogg

Funk / West Coast Hip-Hop

Doggystyle / i am OTHER / Colombia


When it comes to the classic west coast sound, arguably no one does it better than Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.  The news that Snoop’s Bush would be entirely produced by Pharrell was good news, because Pharrell is one hot producer right now.  Bush is the rapper’s thirteenth studio album and it gets some things right, but largely did not stand out in the grand scope of the west coast rapper’s discography.

Snoop brings the funk 110% with a mix of hip-hop and R&B.  Any fan of Pharrell’s previous work will feel right at home, with a lot of real familiar sound that stays in touch with the producer’s past work.  It is a rather short offering, with a track list of ten songs all about getting high, among other things.  What else would you expect from Snoop?  He manages to provide a nice flow on the tracks, giving us a different sounding Snoop when compared to some of his previous work.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

The beats are nice, with Pharrell providing a nice does of funky flavor along with some poppy instrumentals.  Its party music, and it will most definitely want to make you get off your feet.  Songs like “Peaches N Cream,” “So Many Pros,” and “This City” will make it hard for you to stand still.  They were some of the strongest tracks from the album.

Perhaps one of my favorite tracks comes with Snoop’s collaboration with rappers Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar.  The two are probably some of the hottest in the game right now, and they live up to the hype by providing the heat on “I’m Ya Dogg.”  As always, Kendrick Lamar continues to showcase his trademark flow over his power punch of a verse and Rick Ross just continues to be a boss.

via The Stashed
via The Stashed

When most of your songs on the album sound the same, it’s hard to keep the party fresh.  A lot of songs off the album fell into a pool of mediocrity and just sound like top 40 wannabe’s.  That is the kind of vibe that I got from the album.  It seems like Snoop and Pharrell were trying to make an entire album that sounds like the kinds of songs that you would currently find on the top 40 airwaves.  Although this works for some of the tracks, like the ones I mentioned previously, the idea does not work as well as they would expect.

I probably struggled the hardest with what to say about the album.  I did not hate it, but I did not find it overly enjoyable either.  There really is not too many words to describe Bush.  The album has a cool California sound to it, but most of the songs did not manage to keep my attention for long.  This is not Snoop’s best piece of work, but there is some things that you can find to like about it.

bush score