The VMAs 2015 Recap

via People
via People

MTV was hyping this year’s MTV Video Music Awards to be super crazy and off the rails.  There was even talk about the program being put on a slight delay.  Why?  Well, because Miley Cyrus was hosting them and let’s just say she knows a thing or two about crazy.  All you have to do is take a quick look at her Instagram to see why.  Ever since she left her squeaky clean Hannah Montana image behind her, she has redefined what it means to be an attention grabber.  With her hosting the VMAs, things were probably going to get weird…except they didn’t.  It was actually a relatively tame showing from Miley, with the emphasis being put on the multitude of performances.

Nicki Minaj started off the night with a raucous performance of “Trini Dem Girls,” complete with tribal dancing and vaginal slapping, pretty much par for the course when it comes to a Nicki Minaj performance.  She then moved on to “The Night Is Still Young,” where the crowd was met with a surprise when Taylor Swift came out to join her on stage.  If you didn’t know already, the two had some beef brewing between them, but if this performance meant anything, the beef between them had finally been squashed.  What a way to start the show.

With one celebrity squabble crushed another one was built up…by Nicki Minaj of course.  After being presented the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, Nicki Minaj proceeded to call out Miley Cyrus who was standing on the other side of the stage.  Miley Cyrus was talking negatively about her in an interview a while back and Nicki thought the bright stage of the VMAs would be the best place to settle things.  Things didn’t really settle however, but only got worse, leaving us with a pretty awkward moment.

via Hugo Gloss
via Hugo Gloss

Now that we’re on the topic of Miley Cyrus, let’s talk about her hosting performance shall we?  She was pretty tame in terms of the things she did.  She started with a brief little monologue talking about how MTV will probably go back to having no hosts by the time the night is over.  The monologue had some other jokes here and there that pretty much fell completely flat.  Miley Cyrus is better when she does her own thing, without a script put in front of her.  She had numerous wardrobe changes, some more interesting than others, as the night went on.  There were also a number of sketches that were sprinkled in between.  Aside from an “accidental” nip slip towards the end and a head scratching performance at the end, Miley wasn’t really the Miley that most were probably expecting.  In fact, she kind of left me disappointed.  She got progressively more annoying as the night went on and definitely less funny as well.  Perhaps the most surprising thing coming from her end was a surprise announcement of a free album, “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.”  Pretty bold move…

via Billboard
via Billboard

As far as other performances go, there wasn’t really any “bad” performances.  Macklemore and Ryan Lewis graced the outdoor stage outside the theater with a performance of their newest single “Downtown.”  The Weeknd gave a pretty solid performance of “Can’t Feel My Face,” complete with flames galore.  Twenty One Pilots and A$AP Rocky might have given us the most interesting and different performance of the night with a mash up of their songs.  I didn’t know what to expect from it at first, but I liked it.  Demi Lovato took the outdoor stage with a fun performance of “Cool for the Summer” with surprise guest Iggy Azalea…who no one particularly asked for.  There was also a cool performance from Pharrell Williams of his newest song “Freedom” that took place on the outdoor stage as well.  I thought the stage outside the Orpheum Theater in the streets of Los Angeles was a pretty cool setting in my opinion.

via Zimbio
via Zimbio

Justin Bieber made his return to the VMA stage after a five year hiatus.  That span of five years has been pretty tough for the young rascal and he looked like a changed man last night.  He gave an electric performance of “Where Are U Now,” followed by his newest song “What Do You Mean” which ended with Bieber literally flying in the sky performing some acrobatics.  After making his landing safe and sound, the artist was in tears…for no apparent reason.  Perhaps it was because he felt good to finally be back on stage again after all he has been through…or maybe it was the straps that might have rubbed him the wrong way…your guess is as good as mine.

via ET Online
via ET Online

As far as the televised awards go, Taylor Swift might have to be considered the big winner.  She took home the Best Female Video award for “Blank Space” and Video of the Year award for “Bad Blood,” among others.  Artist to Watch was given to Fetty Wap, most notably for his hit “Trap Queen.”  Best Male Video was given to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars for their infectious jam “Uptown Funk.”  Finally, the award for Best Video with A Social Message went to Big Sean, Kanye West, and John Legend for “One Man Can Change the World.”  Big Sean probably gave the acceptance speech of the night, dedicating it to his late Grandma who was a war pilot.  It was a well-deserved award for Sean.

via Zimbio
via Zimbio

Let’s be serious though, perhaps the most talked about and most important portion of the night was the presentation of the Video Vanguard Award, which was presented to Kanye West.  It was only fitting that Taylor Swift would be the one to present Kanye his award because of their past VMA history.  Anyway, Kanye soon took the stage and just stood there for a good minute, soaking it all up.  The crowd was going crazy, shouting “Yeezy” chants left and right.  Kanye finally took the mic and started rambling on and on about a whole variety of different things ranging from his daughter to groceries to celebrity beef to award show and the culture that surround them.  I have to admit, I kind of lost him a couple of times, but it was still fascinating to watch.  He ended the big speech with a joke about running for president in 2020 before dropping the mic and walking off stage.  It was a very Kanye thing to do, setting the social media sphere in flames.

via Billboard
via Billboard

Even though the show could have done just fine without the “crazy” antics and mischief from Miley, 2015’s VMAs still had its fair share of fun and talk-worthy moments.  The emphasis was on the performances, which only makes sense in this day and age. No one watches award shows for the awards anymore.  It’s all about which performance topped them all, and this year’s VMAs gave us a whole lot of performances to think about.  I struggle to pick which one was my favorite because they were all equally great and exciting. The VMAs continue to provide a fun award show experience that tops most award shows on TV these days.  I hope this trend continues on…but let’s have Miley sit out next time please?


Here’s the full list of winners from the night…VMAs 2015 8

Video of the Year: Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”

Best Male Video: Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”

Best Female Video: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Artist to Watch: Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

Best Pop Video: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Best Hip-Hop Video: Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”

Best Rock Video: Fall Out Boy – “Uma Thurman”

Best Video With A Social Message: Big Sean feat. Kanye West and John Legend – “One Man Can Change The World”

Song of the Summer: 5 Seconds of Summer – “She’s Kinda Hot”

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Review: Until Dawn

until dawn coverUntil Dawn (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Horror / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Supermassive Games


It’s that time of year again!  The fall games season is here and 2015’s holiday season looks like it is going to be ripe with new releases.  Some might disagree, but I think the season has been started with the release of the PS4 exclusive Until Dawn.  The game has gone through a weird developmental cycle, announced back in 2012 as a PS3 horror game that would heavily involve the PlayStation Move.  Things went quiet until 2014 when the game was re-announced as a PS4 exclusive horror game.  Sony’s well of PS4 exclusives has been pretty dry recently but Until Dawn brings the water back into the well.

via WCCF Tech
via WCCF Tech

The game hones the influence of movies like Cabin in the Woods and Scream, putting you in control of eight teenagers who have gathered at a cold and desolate mountain resort on the anniversary of their friends’ death.  The gathering was put together as a way to cope and move on from the unfortunate events that took place the year prior, but things start to go south as something sinister starts to peek its head in the darkness.  Things start going bad pretty fast as the teens are flung full force into a deadly marathon of survival and terror with the respite of rescue awaiting them at dawn.

What makes this story engrossing is the choices that you have to make as the story plays itself out.  The game emphasizes the “Butterfly Effect,” where all of your choices that you make, whether big or small, have impacts and consequences later on in the story.  I tend to be skeptical when games boast these kinds of features, but with Until Dawn, the prospect of multiple branching story outcomes is present at every corner.  It was amazing to see the effects of your choices in places you wouldn’t expect.  Situations like whether or not you choose to shoot a squirrel in the first episode (the game is broken up into ten episodes, much like a TV show) can have major repercussions later in the story.  I found this to be fascinating and it drove me to complete multiple playthroughs to see where my choices would lead the story, and like the game boasts, I got drastically different endings.

via Leader Gamer
via Leader Gamer

Story wise, it’s hard to figure out if the game was taking itself seriously.  Why you ask?  Well, the game is one big horror trope fest.  Literally, the entire game is littered with almost every single horror trope you could imagine.  The teens split up, jump scares get you out of nowhere, a grandfather clock dings, a heroine in distress walks around a house in your bath towel, and almost every character makes extremely stupid decisions.  I want to believe that the game wasn’t taking itself seriously, but I couldn’t really tell.  Other story elements started to fall apart towards the end as well, including a subplot about a mysterious psychologist.

It’s a shame that the story wasn’t the greatest, because the actors involved with this game were phenomenal.  Familiar faces like Hayden Panettiere, Peter Stromare, and Rami Malek stand in as the teenagers through the magic of motion capture.  The team at Supermassive Games have outdone themselves, doing a great job at bringing the characters to life.  Their facial emotions are way better than any other characters I have seen in games these days and they actually look like real people in their movement and actions.  Each of the actors and actresses sold their characters pretty well, despite the type of material that was put in front of them.  I have to admit that they all deserved better, but they did a pretty good job with what they had.

until dawn 3

If you have played a similar game like Heavy Rain, then you will most likely be familiar with the type of gameplay that is presented to you in the game.  Most of the interactions you will have with the game are in the form of quick time events and choosing between two choices in terms of dialogue.  You will have to move around the environment from time to time, but the game is more like an interactive movie.  There is also a fair amount of collectibles to pick up along paths and in rooms which serve as devices to feed you some of the backstory that the game decides to leave out from the main story.

I was pleasantly surprised with the experience I received from Until Dawn.  The story fell into a pit of well-trodden tropes, but it was easy to look past this because the game was just too damn fun.  It’s a game that I played with some buddies, experiencing the campy moments of horrific nightmares together.  The acting was superb and the game looked pretty great, probably one of the best looking PS4 games around.  With the abundance of outcomes present in the game, I would love to hear the kinds of experiences that other players have with the game.  It’s certainly a game worth talking about.

via Play Nation
via Play Nation

Also as a side note, if you hear a weird freaky noise coming from a not so friendly looking place, don’t go towards it, no matter how adventurous and curious you are.  It’s not worth it.  No, it never ends well.

until dawn score

Review: Beauty Behind The Madness

beauty behind the madness coverBeauty Behind The Madness (2015)

The Weeknd

Pop / R&B

Label: XO, Republic


It’s been cool to watch the journey that Abel Tesfaye, more famously known as The Weeknd, has taken from his more obscure roots as an R&B croon to the mainstream star that he is today.  The Canadian artist first got his start putting out mixtapes and then proceeded to get noticed by record labels.  I guess it’s only ironic that the guy who relished being closed off from the world would go on to be noticed by more and more people.  Beauty Behind The Madness is Abel’s first foray into the mainstream and he takes the spotlight with grace.

via The Island Critic
via The Island Critic

I have to admit, I was pretty worried going in.  The tried and true tale of lesser known artists going mainstream and drastically changing their sounds is one we hear often.  I was worried the same would be true of The Weeknd.  His classic dark and atmospheric sound, fueled by his past, love, and drugs, was the sound that made me gravitate towards his unique brand of R&B.  It also doesn’t take a genius to recognize that this kind of sound doesn’t necessarily translate well to the top 40 airwaves.  (Just take The Weeknd’s first official album Kiss Land for example.  It was lauded well by critics but didn’t strike big among the general populace.)  Luckily for me, and probably everybody else, his doesn’t miss a step, taking his familiar sound to the mainstream spotlight while appealing to the masses.  Beauty Behind The Madness is simply the best case scenario for everybody.

Abel manages to fuse his addicting verses and melodies about troubled love and drugs with songs that are fit and ready to go on the radio.  Just take “Can’t Feel My Face,” for example.  The song manages to remain a “The Weeknd” song while at the same time providing us with one of the songs of the summer.  It’s also pretty easy to realize that Michael Jackson is a common influence through it all.  Literally, his influence rears its head on almost every note.  Other songs like “The Hills” and 50 Shades of Grey’s “Earned It” are great examples as well.

via All-Stars
via All-Stars

Don’t let the mainstream coating around the album scare you away if you were a fan of the old Weeknd though.  There is still a ton of material to keep you satisfied in between.  “Often,” which has been released in the past, makes another appearance on the album and continues to be one of my favorites.  Two songs towards the beginning of the album, “Real Life” and “Tell Your Friends,” act as good introductions to not only Abel’s music, but his life as well.  They go into his dark past and the decisions that he has made while going on and stating that he is not going to change his ways despite his new-found gust of fame.  He lays it out like it is.  Abel has been pretty open in the past, but the songs on Beauty Behind The Madness dive deeper into the shrouds that surround the intriguing crooner.

Another thing that makes the album pop is the amazing production that is interlaced through every single track.  The Weeknd handled a lot of the production on the album, but he also signed on the expertise of guys like Illangelo, Max Martin, Mike Dean, and even Kanye West for production duties.  Everything sounded very great, setting a mood and atmosphere that just kills.  On a side note, “Tell Your Friends,” produced in part by Kanye West, was in dire need of a Kanye verse.  Just saying…

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

The album is primarily a solo affair, which only makes sense for the kind of artist that Abel is.  The only features on the album are Che Pope, Ed Sheeran, and Lana Del Rey.  Aside from Che Pope, Sheeran and Del Rey are two artists that just go hand in hand with The Weeknd’s style.  The Weeknd and Sheeran’s “Dark Times” is a fantastic sounding song where the two feed off each other’s energy as the song goes on, culminating to a sweet sounding final duet.  “Prisoner,” featuring Lana Del Rey, presents us with the musical styles of both artists which ultimately goes together like peanut butter and jelly.  (Sorry, I had to use the PB&J analogy because it just makes sense.)

Beauty Behind The Madness is a textbook example by The Weeknd on handling new-found fame preceded by years of general obscurity.  A couple of songs lack the luster that the other’s bring to the table, but ultimately The Weeknd presents us with a final package that will please everyone in the end.  It’s a well put together album that will hopefully put The Weeknd on the map, if he hasn’t been put on there already.

beauty behind the madness score

Review: Jobs

via Moviefone News
via Moviefone News

Jobs (2013)

PG-13 / 128 mins

Biography / Drama

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad

Director: Joshua Michael Stern


Steve Jobs was not your average guy in the business sphere.  He was a smart and quirky young entrepreneur that had his own way of doing things.  This often attributed to his brash and narcissistic personality.  But, that’s just how he was.  He had a knack for design and detail and he always had a grand vision, one step ahead of everybody else.  This led to some of his successes, as well as some of his failures.  Jobs was a dynamic visionary in the tech world, and his legacy is enormous.  There has been extensive looks at his life, but 2013’s Jobs is a lackluster affair that fails to capture that legacy that Jobs left behind.

via Digital Trends
via Digital Trends

There is a lot to Steve Jobs and the movie’s star, Ashton Kutcher, does a pretty good job of bringing the Silicon Valley genius to life.  He put a lot into the role, mimicking everything down to his voice and the way he walked around.  It was a convincing performance that is leaps and bounds above any other actor in the movie.  Kutcher could have been the only actor in the movie and I would have been totally okay with that, although it wouldn’t really be a movie then, would it?  Unfortunately, Kutcher’s performance is just about the only good thing about Jobs.

The movie carries itself at a breakneck pace, going all the way back to Job’s days at Reed College.  We start to see the kind of person that he is and how he started to get involved in technology.  From there, we are introduced to his good friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) who later goes on to helping Jobs with creating their first personal computer.  Jobs runs his little operation out of the comfort of his parent’s garage, until finally noticed by Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), an entrepreneur and an investor that would provide the initial funding for Jobs’ Apple Computers.  The rest was history.

via apnatimepass.com
via apnatimepass.com

It was by this point that the movie was flying, right when it was in dire need of slowing down.  I soon started to realize that this movie wasn’t really about Steve Jobs and the person that he was, but instead, it was the history of Apple…but only at a surface level.  What about Jobs’ personal life?  What about his personality?  What caused him to be this way?  Why was his personal life so disjointed?  These were the kinds of questions that I was hoping the movie would cover in addition to his dealings in the corporate world.  I wanted to see who Jobs really was, but Jobs only swam as deep as the surface level, glorifying Apple’s successes and failures instead.

via apnatimepass.com
via apnatimepass.com

Perhaps the most glaring omission from the entire movie was the entrepreneur’s time with NeXT Computer.  After Jobs’ design philosophies didn’t bode well with Apple executives, he was turned away, forced to go out on his own.  During his brief stint away from Apple, he started NeXT Computer, a company that specialized in computers for the higher education and business class.  They were top notch computers that were in a market of their own.  What’s most important about this time however is the change in personality that Jobs went through.  He started to lose the narcissistic behavior and started to become a more influential leader.  What we don’t know is why this came to be.  What happened that caused him to be this way?  Was it his time he spent back with his family, fostering the relationships that he had with them?  Jobs almost completely glosses over this time in his life, giving his stint with NeXT Computer a measly minute…if that.  Instead, it raced right back to when Jobs came back to Apple.  This movie is all about Apple.  What about Steve Jobs?

I was left with a lot of answers by the time the movie’s credits rolled.  Perhaps I went in to the movie expecting the wrong thing.  I was looking for a mirror into the life of Jobs and why he was the way he was.  What was the motivation for the way he did things?  Instead, Jobs focuses on the history of Apple instead, which was the movie’s largest detriment.  There were some nice moments here and there, but the movie was largely uninventive and mundane.  Ashton Kutcher gave a wonderful performance as the unique and dynamic tech genius, but that was pretty much the movie’s only true glistening positive.  If you want a better story about the life of Steve Jobs, you might want to check out Walter Isaacson’s biography of the man or who knows, maybe 2015’s Steve Jobs will be a better representation of Jobs’ life, although it looks like a mess right now.

_DSC3748.NEF

The Terrifying Nightmare that is Dismaland

via U Funk
via U Funk

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that Banksy has created a dystopian version of Disneyland.  Over the years, the English graffiti artists and political activist has given his fair share of political and social commentary in the form of satirical street art and other eye-opening exhibitions.  However, this time Banksy might have outdone himself.

via TMZ
via TMZ

Dismaland is Banksy’s newest exhibition, set in the confines of an old seaside resort in Weston-super-Mare, UK.  Don’t let the famous lettering of the park’s entrance gate fool you, Dismaland is not as happy as your favorite mouse’s theme park.  The exhibition, which not only features some of Banksy’s art but 50 other artists’ including Damien Hirst and Caitlin Cherry, is running for five weeks, starting tomorrow.  It features a bunch of familiar themes from Banksy’s past works including anti-consumerism and anti-corporate messages.  The place looks like a product of Walt Disney’s nightmares.

No seriously, somewhere Walt is turning in his grave.  Just look at the place…

via Design Boom
via Design Boom

dismaland 3

via Cool Material
via Cool Material

Looks fun doesn’t it?  Yeah I didn’t think so.  The park features everything from Cinderella’s castle, which has seen better days, to a mangled looking Ferris Wheel.  There’s also a bunch of other little attractions like a creepy little sandbox for the younger crowd and a midway full of your favorite fairground games, although they will most likely be impossible to win, because it’s Dismaland.  There’s also statues galore featuring the artwork of a multitude of different artists.

via Western Daily Press
via Western Daily Press

Other notable attractions include a Stallion built from used scaffolding, a cinema displaying a wide range of various short films, a circus tent full of Gothic sculptures, an odd statue of two tankers called the “Big Rig Jig,” and various other scary looking atrocities that you would find at a post-apocalyptic amusement park.  Surprisingly, there is no mouse to be found within the dark walls.

via Colossal
via Colossal

In order to gain entry to the park, you have to go through some weird NSA style screenings, which proves to be a hassle.  You then quickly get lost in the park’s undeniable allure and dark fantasies.  You get so lost that its almost hard to find an exit to leave.  Don’t bother asking any of the parks disgruntled employees, because they won’t provide much help at all.  They don’t even look they want to be there.  Dismaland is a weird place with a shock value that get’s its bleak message across with ferocity.

dismaland 6

Perhaps what makes this place more interesting is the blanket of secrecy that was cast over it as Banksy and other artists were hard at work developing the nightmarish park.  The place was walled up for a long time with no access granted to any press or the public.  The location was toted as being a filming location for a new movie titled “Gray Fox.”  It was convincing, but the mystery drove fans to new heights in anticipation.

via Cool Material
via Cool Material

Dismaland is a fascinating creation that has a lot of bold things to say about not only Disney, but the culture of theme parks and consumerism.  I guess it’s only fitting that such a place is going to have performances from Pussy Riot and Massive Attack.  Dismaland is probably not the place you would want to take your kids on your next vacation, but it is still definitely worth checking out.  I am not super interested in art exhibitions, but this sort of exhibit is something that I would make an effort to see for myself.  I wonder if any Disney execs will be making the trip out there?   …maybe not…

via Cool Material
via Cool Material

dismaland 9

via ITV
via ITV
via Huffington Post
via Huffington Post

Review: Tales from the Borderlands Episode 4

tales from borderlands ep1 coverTales from the Borderlands Episode 4 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Telltale Games, Gearbox Software


I’m going to go ahead here and make a bold claim: Tales from the Borderlands might be one of the best Telltale games series to date.  Not only has the episodic tale given us a breath of fresh air by turning to comedy instead of seriousness, it has also given us consistent quality among all of its episodes.  Telltale keeps the streak going by giving us a stellar fourth episode with Escape Plan Bravo that contains a treasure chest of awesome, funny, and sentimental moments.

via High Def Digest
via High Def Digest

The episode is hot on the heels of the third episode, picking up right after the main villain (or so we can assume) Vallory steps in and puts a stop to Rhys and Fiona’s journey.  She commandeers their plans and tasks them with working for her.  The mission?  Getting the last component for Gortys, the lovable robot that was the start of the third episode.  The only problem is, the last piece seems to be cradled up in Helios, the Hyperion space station where everything started.  It’s up to the crew to put on their thinking caps to develop a plan to sneak into the highly guarded space station.

Escape Plan Bravo utilizes a bunch of familiar movie tropes during the remaining course of the episode.  Although these tropes have been used time and time again, Tales sidesteps the tired route that they could have took and put its own spin on these classic movies themes.  The whole plan is laid out in the form of an Oceans Eleven-esque heist sequence where Rhys lays out the plans in a pre-heist explanation montage that is hilarious in its own right.  We then get a shot of the entire crew leaving to head for their new spaceship to the tune of Twin Shadow’s “To the Top.”  The whole sequence is amazing and it embraces the campiness of it all.  I couldn’t stop laughing.

via Vandal
via Vandal

Over-the-top moments are all over the place as Rhys, Fiona, Sasha, and Gortys carry out their fool-proof plan on the space station Helios.  As you would assume, things don’t go according to plan which is where the episode starts to break down into silliness and awesomeness.  I’m not going to spoil any of the greater moments that unfold during the course of the episode, but let’s just say there is a huge gunfight…involving finger guns.  Yep, you have to use your trusty finger gun to take down an army of enemies blocking your way.  It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

The performances from the characters were top notch across the board.  Rhys’s relationship with his hidden sidekick Handsome Jack (voiced by Dameon Clarke) evolves into one of the most interesting and intriguing relationships from the series.  Jack’s power hungry and he tries to rub off on Rhys in weird, but tantalizing, interactions in his head.  Scooter, the mechanic from episode 2, also gets a little more time to shine in this episode, including a truly emotional scene with Fiona.  The series has been a non-stop laugh fest, but Telltale knew its boundaries, giving us a dose of sentimentality.  Gortys, voiced by Ashely Johnson, also continues to be one of the funniest characters in the mix, giving us a whole bunch of hilarious moments.  Claptrap is nowhere to be seen in Tales, but Gortys shows us that she might be the funniest robot the Borderlands universe has to offer.

via Destructoid
via Destructoid

The only problem with having such a strong episode as Escape Plan Bravo is that it sets up the final episode to go down in two ways.  It will either be a disappointment, crumbling beneath the hype and anticipation, or it will deliver on its promises and give us one final one-two punch to send the series off.  Going along with my prediction in the first paragraph, I think it’s safe to say that the final episode is going to be the final culmination of a fantastic episodic story from Telltale.  I have been waiting for the series to trip up for a while now and the episodes kept on getting better and better, so why would the final episode be any different?

tales from borderlands ep4 score

Also playable on PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360

Review: Costume Quest 2

via True Achievements
via True Achievements

Costume Quest 2 (2014)

PS4 / E10+

RPG

Publisher: Majesco Entertainment, Midnight City

Developer: Double Fine Entertainment, Midnight City


I guess it only makes sense that Halloween, every kid’s favorite holiday, would be taken away by a slightly deranged and selfish dentist.  He was never able to enjoy the fun that came along with Halloween, so no one will.  This is the basic idea surrounding Double Fine’s follow up to Costume Quest, Costume Quest 2.

via Game Side Story
via Game Side Story

A new dystopia has been created by dentist overlord Orel White, and the responsibility of saving the beloved holiday is thrust upon two kids, Reynold and Wren, who are returning from the original game.  With some help from some friends, the two have to travel back and forth through time in order to put a stop to Dr. Orel’s squeaky clean and candy-free dystopia.  Who would want such a thing?

Double Fine, along with Midnight City, have crafted another simple RPG, much like their original outing with Costume Quest.  You control Reynold and Wren, along with others, and dress them up in different costumes that give them special powers in combat.  There is a nice variety of costumes this time around and their move sets, along with their names, pay some homage to different elements of pop culture.  Combat is pretty similar to the first game, employing a turn-based model.  There are regular attacks that you can use, along with specials and Creepy Cards, which allow the player to use a plethora of different special effects.  When attacking, you can press the button at just the right time to score a more powerful attack.  The same goes for defense, allowing you to perform a more effective block.  As you get deeper into the game, you learn a couple more combat abilities, but things are relatively simple, which is appealing for anybody who is new to the genre.

via Polygon
via Polygon

Clever writing and genuinely funny humor is where the game shines.  The interactions between the different characters make for some pretty funny moments.  The game has a cutesy look and feel around it, but the game manages to be funny no matter who you are.  The game’s flavor text also contains some hidden comedic gems.  More specifically, the Candy Corn costume (which is pretty much useless in battle) has a ton of flavor text surrounding it that is really witty and amusing.  The dialog is all handled through text blocks, which kept me wishing that there was some form of voice acting in the game.  The game could benefit from some good voice acting if it was handled properly.  With Double Fine’s success with their Kickstarter game Broken Age, I have confidence that they would be able to find the right voice acting for a game like this.

All in all, the presentation is pretty on point.  The game maintains the same look and feel as the previous game, throwing in cartoony visuals with a mix of comic book style cut scenes, especially during the character’s special attacks.  The game runs into a couple of hiccups in terms of performance here and there, but the game looks just fine for what it is trying to do.  Everything looks a notch over the top which makes for some of the humor as well.

via Overclockers
via Overclockers

Costume Quest 2, just like its predecessor, is a short game in terms of length.  However, it managed to keep me pretty entertained all the way through.  You spend an equal time in the past as well as the future.  There is a total of twenty eight quests, both main and extra, to occupy the player’s time with the game.  Although a good bit of them are different and original, there are some quests that start to get a little boring after the third iteration.  I’m mainly looking at the hide-and-seek quests and the trick-or-treating quests which require the player to go door to door in the game’s neighborhoods asking for candy.  They were fun the first time through, but they started to get a little old and rotten after a while.

The general package that Costume Quest 2 provides is sweet and delightful, just like the candy that this game is all about.  The game’s mechanics are super easy to pick-up, with no strings attached, making it quick to get into.  The story is pretty funny and the interactions between the characters are comical and clever.  2015 has a ton of great games still in the pipeline, leaving the amount of free time to play new games relatively low.  If you haven’t already, Costume Quest 2 is a great little game that you should try out in between the big releases still to come.

costume quest 2 score

Review: Straight Outta Compton

via The Bull 101.7
via The Bull 101.7

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

R / 147 mins.

Biography / Drama / Music

Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

Director: F. Gary Gray


Hip-hop wouldn’t be where it is today without the heavy influence and trailblazing nature of the rap group N.W.A.  It’s a simple fact that’s hard to dispute, no matter how hard you try.  They gave a voice to the people, a voice that people from Compton (and all over the U.S.) could rally behind in the late 80’s.  The ragtag group, consisting of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, were just looking to make it big in the streets of Compton, but it was there unique message that propelled them into the country’s spotlight.

via Black FIlm
via Black FIlm

Straight Outta Compton is the story of N.W.A.’s rise to fame, directed by F. Gary Gray and produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and widow Tomica Woods-Wright, wife to the late Eazy-E.  With that kind of pedigree off screen, the film already had a lot of things going for it.  This isn’t Gray’s first radio, having directed Friday with Ice Cube back in the day, and having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing the movie gave me full confidence that the story of the world’s most dangerous group was going to be handled with finesse and care.  The one big question when it comes to biopics is whether or not the story is worth telling.  It’s the story and the way that it’s told that can make or break a biopic.  N.W.A.’s story has been well documented and publicized up to this point, but Straight Outta Compton dives a little deeper and gives us a look not only at the group’s rise to fame, but their personal stories as well.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is the top notch acting that came from a cast full of lesser-known actors.  Aside from Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his father in the movie and Paul Giamatti’s part as the group’s manager Jerry Heller, the rest of the cast is relatively new to the scene.  Let me break it down: Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins, Eazy-E by Jason Mitchell, DJ Yella by Neil Brown Jr., and MC Ren by Aldis Hodge.  The cast might not be as well known, but they all did a fantastic job at embodying the legends that they were acting as.  Obviously they had mentors in Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, but there was an incredible amount of practice and studying that went into their characters.  Their mannerisms, personalities, and musical styles were all matched pretty realistically.  Two other rappers that garner some screen time are Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose), who looks eerily similar to his real life counterpart.  It could have just been Tupac’s hologram, I don’t really know.  (I do know I am excited for Tupac’s standalone movie, where Marcc Rose will reprise his role as Tupac)

via New Pittsburgh Courier Online
via New Pittsburgh Courier Online

Another thing that was sort of surprising is that the movie really wasn’t entirely focused on N.W.A.  The first act detailed the creation of the group and its rise to prominence.  We got to see some of the situations that the guys were coming from and how much this group meant to them.  The movie then began to focus on what happened when a group of street rappers from Compton got a ton of money and a big spotlight.  Ice Cube was in disagreement with his contractual situation and decided to branch of on his own.  Dr. Dre’s vision also propelled him to leave the group and pursue his own musical genius at Death Row Records.  We also got to see Eazy-E’s relationship with the scumbag manager that was Jerry Heller.  The guy was manipulative and started cheating the group of their own money.  The scenes involving Eazy-E and Jerry were fun to watch, but also kind of depressing considering you knew that there close relationship wasn’t going to last forever.  Anybody who knows N.W.A. knew there was a lot of internal conflict between the group’s members and Straight Outta Compton manages to capture their stories with near perfect execution.

This movie couldn’t have been coming out at a better time.  The country has been experiencing a lot of turmoil when it comes to blacks living in America and police brutality.  The movie captures angst and the feelings that guys like Ice Cube and Eazy-E had towards the authorities that were looking to bring them down.  We also start to see the government’s involvement in the group’s message.  It was a scary time for the government.  They were scared that this message, reality rap, could spark a revolution in the country that they wouldn’t be able to handle.  N.W.A.’s influence on the masses was undeniable and pretty large.

via Black Film
via Black Film

I was pleasantly surprised that the movie, which has a pretty long run time, went as far as to cover Eazy-E’s struggle with HIV and his imminent death.  Those last moments with Eazy-E on his death bed and guys like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre coming in to say their goodbyes were heartfelt and, at times, hard to watch.  Straight Outta Compton is a fantastic movie that will most likely take the torch as my favorite movie of the year so far.  It’s a gritty story full of hardship and triumph.  Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have coming a long way from their gangbanging days and their stories, along with the rest of N.W.A, are unresistingly intriguing and fun to watch.  You will probably appreciate this movie more if you are a fan of rap, but don’t let that be your barrier to entry.  Straight Outta Compton is a movie worth watching no matter where your musical tastes lie.

Straight Outta Compton

Rocket League Goes Supersonic

Rocket League received assumable what can be considered the first of many updates yesterday: the Utopia update.  The patch gives players access to a brand new arena to go head to head in it’s game of rocket-powered battle car soccer.  The arena, simply called Utopia Coliseum, is a grand new stadium that carries on the theme of ancient Greece.  The coliseum, which looks like it held the first Olympics, blends a futuristic game with a historic setting.  It’s a really cool place to rocket around in and it is probably the grandest of the few stadiums that your were able to play in previously.

via pu.nl
via pu.nl

The update also gives players the option to spectate matches both offline and online.  This might seem like a minor option at first glance but it is huge for a game like this.  Rocket League, which I consider the next e-sports game, is the closest an e-sports game has actually gotten to being an actual sport.  There’s tense moments and tons of clutch plays that make the game not only fun to play but to watch as well.  I myself have watched my fair share of videos documenting some of the great plays that have taken place in the game.  Watching these moments live only makes sense.  Its these kinds of features that are really going to propel this game into the spotlight into the ever-growing world of e-sports.

This patch, which also offered a collection of other smaller features, was not the only piece of content to be released for Rocket League.  Yesterday also saw the release of the game’s first major paid DLC, titled Supersonic Fury.  The DLC, priced at a measly $3.99, is going to be the first of many paid content that will net Rocket League a lot of money.  The game was June’s PlayStation Plus free game of the month, meaning that tons of players picked up the game without paying a dime.  Psyonix, developers of the game, still made their money from their partnership with Sony, but the game’s surprising success probably left Psyonix with less money than they probably could have made.  These pieces of DLC, which are smartly priced, will most likely be downloaded by a ton of the game’s player base, giving Psyonix a ton of money.

via Pixel Dynamo
via Pixel Dynamo

Supersonic Fury gives players access to two more battle cars, six decals for each of those cars, five more paint options, two new rocket boosts, and two more wheels.  For the price your paying, you are getting a good bit of new customization options to make it worthwhile.  The two new cars you get look pretty nice and the decals that go with those cars are probably better looking than any previous decals that the game offered.  Additionally, both rocket boosts (“Burnout” and “Nitrous”) both leave ridiculous trails behind your car which will most likely leave your opponents cursing your name as you speed in front of them.  Yes, the game is now encouraging you to be “that guy.”

There’s a lot to like with Psyonix’s first batch of updates to their wildly successful game.  I am looking forward to see what comes next for Rocket League in terms of DLC.  I would only assume that new arenas and cars are in the plans, but I personally want to see some new modes apart from online, exhibition, and season.  I want to see them conjure up some modes that would put a spin on the established gameplay.  Things like Keep Away, where teams tried to maintain possession of the ball for the longest amount of time could provide some fun moments if done right.  I recognize that this probably won’t happen in the near future, but one can hope right?

via Eurogamer
via Eurogamer

Review: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

via Geek
via Geek

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015)

Netflix / TVMA

Comedy

Starring: Marguerite Moreau, Zak Orth, Paul Rudd

Creators: Michael Showalter, David Wain


I have never been to your typical summer camp before, not once.  I’ve always entertained the idea here and there but it never seemed to appealing to me.  Spending my entire summer in the wilderness away from it all might have been a little daunting in thought.  If summer camp is anything like Camp Firewood, I might have been missing out.  Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp takes us back to Camp Firewood on the first day of summer camp, reintroducing us to some of the classic characters from the 2001 cult classic, as well as some newcomers.

via The Daily Beast
via The Daily Beast

If you haven’t already seen the 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, you don’t have to bother seeing it again.  First of all, it was a bad movie.  It featured a plethora of stars that went on to make it big for themselves, but the movie doesn’t hold up to this day.  Secondly, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp acts as an eight episode prequel to the movie, detailing the crazy mischief of day one, as opposed to the last day of camp, which was featured in the movie.

One thing that makes First Day of Camp different from its 2001 counterpart is that the show is actually hilarious…very hilarious.  Wet Hot American Summer had its moments (Paul Rudd’s amazing tantrum scene) but a large collection of the jokes just fell flat and didn’t really connect.  You could tell that they had a good time with the movie, but the ideas were not executed as well.  First Day of Camp carries the original spirit of the film in almost every way, while keeping things hilariously fresh and pretty clever.

via Alta Peli
via Alta Peli

A large amount of the camp counselors make their return, including the likes of Katie (Marguerite Moreau), JJ (Zak Orth), Andy (Paul Rudd), Coop (Michael Showalter), McKinley (Michael Ian Black), Ben (Bradley Cooper), Beth (Janeane Garofalo), Susie (Amy Poehler), Gail (Molly Shannon), Neil (Joe Lo Truglio), Victor (Ken Marino), Gary (A.D. Miles), Abby (Marisa Ryan), and Lindsey (Elizabeth Banks).  We also see the return of Jonas the cook, played by Christopher Meloni.  Yep, that’s a mouthful of a cast, but they all play an integral role in making the show a ton of fun.  Now that they’re all over ten years older, it makes it funnier to see them in a prequel series for a movie they did back in 2001.  That’s where some of the humor comes into play.  They’re all in their thirties and forties playing high school camp counselors.  It’s a ridiculous concept.

There is also a whole host of newcomers that add even more star power to an already shiny cast.  There’s Jason Schwartzman who plays Greg, one of the head counselors for Camp Firewood.  H. Jon Benjamin also makes a return, but this time in an acting role instead of his voiceover for a can of mixed vegetables.  The only thing about his character is that I’ve seen a ton of Archer, which kind of ruins his voice for me.  Every time I heard Benjamin’s Mitch talk, I kept on hearing the voice of Archer in my head.  Now that I think of it, I really want to watch a series where Archer goes to summer camp.  That needs to happen.  Finally, we also see appearances from Michael Cera, Jordan Peele, Kristin Wiig, Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, John Slattery, Michaela Watkins, Chris Pine, and Weird Al Yankovic.

via High Snobiety
via High Snobiety

Like the 2001 movie, the plot in First Day of Camp really doesn’t matter too much.  It’s the types of mischief and crazy antics that the counselors and their campers get themselves into that give the show its charm.  There are some smaller subplots though that have relative importance.  Kevin (David Bloom), is a shy camper that enlists Coop as his mentor as he takes on bullies and finds his love.  It turns out Lindsey was part of a magazine, going undercover in Camp Firewood to dig deeper and find the true story of the camp and it’s campers.  We also have the neighboring Camp Tiger Claw full of the prissy and rich campers, led by Blake (Josh Charles).  There’s also government conspiracy that rears its head as the big looming threat over Camp Firewood.  Although this subplot had its couple of moments, it was unnecessary and didn’t really fit in well with the rest of the hijinks going on in camp.

There’s something for everybody in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.  It takes from its 2001 source material and continues the tradition and spirit without ever tripping up or missing a beat.  This unfortunately might leave some people who haven’t seen the 2001 movie in the dark, but it shouldn’t matter too much.  Creators Michael Showalter and David Wain had an amazing cast to work with back in 2001 and that cast only got better as time went on.  First Day of Camp is a really fresh comedy that kept me laughing all the way through.  If every day in Camp Firewood is as crazy as it’s first, it’s hard to believe that the camp stayed standing long enough to make it to its last day!

first day of camp score