Review: Anti

anti cover
via D4 Premiere

Anti (2016)



Westbury Road / Roc Nation

It was late last Wednesday night when I somehow ended up with Rihanna’s newest album for free.  Anti, the singer’s eighth studio album, was released for free through Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal.  I was just clicking around on Twitter and a few links later, her entire album was downloading to my computer.  I was already excited for Rihanna’s new project…but this put the cherry on top.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, since the idea of a “surprise album release” is now commonplace in a music industry that is changing every day.  Rihanna always strives to be different from everybody else and in true Rihanna fashion, Anti is supremely different from her previous work.

via Wiki Starz

Gone are the high-octane hip-hop beats and fiery pop sound.  Anti is more of a slow-chopped R&B affair and it also happens to be one of Rihanna’s most personal records yet.  This creative freedom might be the result of RiRi’s label change, moving from Def Jam to Roc Nation.  The album consists of songs of reflection on relationships of the past.  In fact, most of the album gets personal about her love life, including her highly public (and probably abusive) relationship with Chris Brown.

The album opens up with “Consideration,” featuring singer SZA.  The song is about Rihanna’s music career and how there should be a bigger emphasis on being an artist rather than an entertainer.  Rihanna has writing credits on the song, as well as all the other songs that appear on the album, which is a big deal for her.  This is one of her first forays into songwriting and it pays off in big ways.  To give context, Rihanna’s album Loud featured zero writing credits from the artist.  She’s come a long way in terms of being an artist, which is what the song is all about.  It’s a strong opening for an album.

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via News AU

Anti then continues to get deeper and deeper.  The desperate “Kiss It Better” dives into the emotions of someone who just got out of a relationship but want’s their lover back, laced with some nice guitar riffs in the background.  “Work,” the lone single from the album featuring, teams up with Drake to deliver a lust-filled narrative of two lovers.  There’s an exotic reggae beat that goes along with the track that gives it it’s laid-back quality.  The album is incredibly diverse in terms of sound, dipping it’s toes into genres like dancehall and soul.

Taking a break from the moody offerings on the album, “Desperado” is an energized and powerful track about being in a relationship with someone “on the run.”  There’s also “Woo,” a collaboration with rapper Travis Scott, Rihanna’s first track with her esteemed lover.  It’s a pointed track that delves into Rihanna’s feelings about an old flame.  However, the best track on the album is not even Rihanna’s.  “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is a cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”  The song is essentially about her work towards not releasing songs that are “burnt out.”  It’s a smooth track that is top-notch.

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via Pigeons and Planes

There is some first-rate writing on the album thanks to Rihanna, making Anti an experiential experience.  This experience is complemented with some great sound production and engineering.  In order to achieve the moody sounds that Rihanna wanted on the album, she teamed up with producers like Hit-Boy, DJ Mustard, Brian Kennedy, Timbaland, and No I.D., among others.  Anti is a far cry from the EDM club and dance projects of Rihanna’s past, but this album’s distinct sounds is one of her best.

If songs like “FourFiveSeconds” and “American Oxygen” were any indication, Rihanna has seemingly changed her musical course of direction and delivers an album in Anti that stands strong on its own.  Rihanna opens up with a collection of moody and love-infused tracks that will have you feeling all sorts of emotions.  Although I loved the Rihanna of the past, I applaud her for the changes that she has made in order to deliver this fine product of her creativity.

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My Formative Gaming Experience

If you’re a gamer, I’m willing to bet that at some point you have stepped back and thought about where it all began; where your love for games first got its start.  It’s a natural feeling.  As humans, the feeling of nostalgia is super real and a common part of our lives.  As of late, I too have started to think about where it all started for me.  I started to pinpoint the one game that I can attribute my love of gaming to and after some thought, Chrono Trigger, Square’s beloved RPG, was the game that towered over all.

chrono trigger 1
via Lazy Tech Guys

Chrono Trigger certainly wasn’t the first game that I remember playing.  The Gameboy Advance is where I got my start.  Believe it or not, my younger brother was the person that got me into gaming.  He received his Gameboy for his birthday one year and I remember following him around watching him play it.  It got to the point where I decided I wanted on for myself.  The first game that I put a lot of time into?  Pokemon: Crystal Version for the Gameboy Color.  I spent countless hours, a lot of them past my bedtime, roaming around the Johto region amassing my collection of Pokemon.  It was Chrono Trigger however that really cemented me as a gamer.  It lighted a fire in me, one that still burns today.  I liked playing video games before Chrono Trigger, but it was the game that put me past the point of no return.

Let’s get a little more nostalgic.  My formative gaming experience, the one that got me into games, consists of three key ingredients, one of which you are already familiar with.  These three key ingredients include Chrono Trigger (the game itself), a GameFAQs guide for the game, and French Toast Crunch.  Yep, when I look back, it’s these three things that really stand out from my personal formative experience.

Chrono Trigger

chrono trigger 2
via Game Fabrique

I’ve already talked about how Chrono Trigger was the one game that got me excited about gaming, but why did I like it so much?  The game was unlike anything I had played up to that point, having it’s hooks in me from the very start.  You start off as main character Chrono who visits the Millennial Fair, where a demonstration of a time machine is going to take place.  While roaming around the bright and cheery locale, you start to make decisions that directly affect where the story goes.  For instance, I stole a guy’s lunch so that I could have those items in my inventory…it just seemed natural.  Little did I know, that decision I made was brought up again as I was sent to jail for the petty theft that I committed.  It was these small things that really engrossed me in the game’s story.

The game’s use of time travel was also mind-blowing to me as a kid.  As you progress through the game, you are constantly traversing time and exploring different eras of the game’s world, which is similar to Earth.  You go back to the Prehistoric times, where you pick up one of my favorite characters from the game, the fierce and confident Ayla.  You also travel to the future, which is bleak and depressing…overrun by numerous robots and other technology.  It was fascinating going through time and witnessing the changes that took place over the years.  You are travelling to the same areas, but in different eras…allowing you to pick up on the differences and similarities.  As a kid, this was the coolest thing ever.

chrono trigger 3
via Fan Games

Finally, the game’s combat mechanics where simple enough for a young kid like me to pick up, but complex enough to keep me interested.  The game utilizes an Active Time Battle system, where the characters you bring into battle have their own personal timers and once those timers run down to zero, you can perform an action.  The enemies have their own timers as well, giving the system an “active” feel.  It was simple enough for me to grasp, and kept me entranced for hours on end.  The inclusion of double and triple attacks involving multiple characters was pretty great as well. Learning and mastering these techniques was satisfying, especially when these attacks would do massive amounts of damage.

A Chrono Trigger GameFAQ Guide

chrono trigger 4You’re probably wondering why the hell I would use a guide for a game like Chrono Trigger. Let’s take a couple of things into consideration.  I was still pretty young at the time, so getting through an entire game like Chrono Trigger was pretty tough for me.  The game has multiple endings based on the decisions that you make and my first time through I got one of the worst endings.  It was also one of the easiest endings to achieve, as it doesn’t take much.  It was from that point forward that I decided that I needed a guide to get the good endings that I wanted.

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Without further ado, I hopped on my grandma’s computer and started searching around for what I could find in terms of a “guide.”  I was new to the internet at the time, so the process took over a day.  The internet was a weird and often foreboding place.  I finally stumbled onto the popular website GameFAQs, a place totally dedicated to providing guides to help players get through games.  After perusing the site for anything related to Chrono Trigger, I finally found a full guide that had everything I could ever want.  Walkthroughs, item descriptions, secret locations, enemy strategies, etc.  Everything was there.  The guide was almost 250 pages long…so I decided to print out the whole damn thing.  A lot of printer paper and ink (which was super expensive at the time) was sacrificed that day, but that sacrifice was well worth it.  I cherished that guide and I carried it around with me in its own special folder.  From then on, whenever I played Chrono Trigger, you better believe that my 250 page FAQ was right there beside me.

French Toast Crunch

chrono trigger 5
via Hello Quizzy

What does the wonderfully delicious French Toast Crunch have to do with Chrono Trigger you ask?  Well, nothing really.  That doesn’t mean that this snack was important to my experience though.  After reflecting on my experience with Chrono Trigger, I decided to go full nostalgia mode and think back to the one snack that I identify with that game, and French Toast Crunch was that snack.  Aside from being the best cereal ever, it was also my primary choice of snack if we had it in the house.  We would get cereal a lot, and whenever this cereal would arrive in the house…it wasn’t safe.  It would be gone in almost two days flat.  I can remember munching on bowls of French Toast Crunch while playing Chrono Trigger.  It was the only way to go.  No really, French Toast Crunch is really good.  I could literally write an entire article about why French Toast Crunch is so great.  It was a travesty when the cereal was discontinued.  Luckily, the people over at General Mills realized the mistake the made and recently brought it back into stores.  So, all is right with the world.

I have personally come a long way since my formative gaming experience, but it’s fun to go back and think about where it all started.  I still have fond memories of my formative gaming experience, involving Chrono Trigger, a GameFAQ, and a bowl of French Toast Crunch.  Nowadays I don’t use guides when I play games (unless I am going for trophies) and I don’t eat as much French Toast Crunch.  Sometimes that’s just how it goes.  However, it was these elements that really formed me into the gamer that I am today.

Thanks to Alexander Kubal, community manger at Man Crates, for the idea for this post.  They ship out great stuff in wooden crates that can only be opened with a crowbar.  Pretty cool stuff.  You can check it out for yourself over at

Review: Master of None (Season 1)

master of none s1 poster
via 7Stream TV

Master of None (Season 1) (2015)

Netflix / TVMA


Starring: Aziz Ansari, Noel Wells, Lena Waithe

Creators: Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang

Netflix has been killing it with their exclusives…it’s actually quite surprising.  Every show (not all of them, but most of them) has been great and different from what you find on traditional TV.  This time, it’s comedian Aziz Ansari’s turn to throw his hat in the ring with his newest comedy Master of None, exclusive to Netflix.

master of none s1 1
via TV Show Stream

The show was meant to be a personal project, helping bring him and his parents closer among other things, and it instantly shows.  The show is deeply personal, but super relatable at the same time.  Master of None covers a lot of ground and you just can’t help but laugh at the source material…because they pretty much nail the wide variety of topics with honest hilarity.

Dev (Aziz Ansari) is a thirty-something actor living in the jungle that is New York City.  We get a glimpse at the maturing actor as he takes on things like jobs, relationships, parents, and sexual offenders on the subway.  Yeah, life’s hard for a man who still hasn’t quite reached peak maturity.  That’s what the show is about.  It’s about a man’s growth through the different events and obstacles that life throws at him.  As I mentioned before, the show is painfully funny but isn’t afraid to take it down to a more serious note at times.  The show is quick to poke fun at life’s hilarious scenarios…but it’s honest as well.  I’m not quite sure if this show is based off any aspects of Ansari’s life, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

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via TV Show Stream

There is an overarching story that strings the ten episodes together, which primarily focuses on Dev’s relationship with Rachel (Noel Wells), a tour manager who he initially meets at a bar under some drunk circumstances.  We’re quickly introduced to their relationship in the show’s first episode, simply titled “Plan B,” where they…well you can probably piece the rest together…it’s pretty amusing.  What makes Master of None so appealing however is the fact that every episode could stand on its own two feet.  Each episode has a central topic, with topics ranging from immigrant parents to feminism to stereotypes on TV.  The episodes also benefit from some witty writing, with Ansari taking a good portion of the writing credits as well.  “Mornings” is probably one of the strongest episodes in the mix, aside from the finale, dealing with the joys and tribulations of your significant other moving in to your place.

The acting might be the one thing about the show that rubbed me the wrong way at certain points.  Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe play Arnold and Denise respectively, two of Dev’s best friends.  There’s also some guest appearances from H. Jon Benjamin and Busta Rhymes, who was a pretty cool addition to the show.  For the most part everybody did a good job with their roles, but the acting seemed a little to forced and on the nose at times.  This wasn’t super prevalent but when it did rear its head, I couldn’t tell if the forced acting was part of the character’s personality or if it was the actor.

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via TV Show Stream

Master of None might be some of Azis Ansari’s best work yet.  It’s a charmingly funny show that pretty much nails the random parts of life that a New Yorker has to come in contact with.  The show has been getting critical praise as well, including a Golden Globe nomination and a win at the Critic’s Choice Awards for best Comedy show.  Give the show a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  You’ll be laughing at how true and accurate the show is with its subject matter.

master of none s1 score

Review: Welcome to Me

welcome to me cover
via Forbes

Welcome to Me (2014)

R / 87 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Linda Cardellini

Director: Shira Piven

Mental illness is extremely hard to get right in film.  Many a movie has done a great job with portraying people with mental disabilities, but it is super tough to capture what it’s really like to live with a mental illness due to the fact that every illness is different.  With comedies, it can be hit or miss.  You have to carefully dance around the line of tastefulness and offensiveness.  With Welcome to Me, we get a hilariously honest, and sometimes dark, story about a woman with a personality disorder that wins the lottery and decides to form her own talk show.

welcome to me 1
via Variety

Actress and SNL alum Kristen Wiig plays the role of Alice Kleig, a woman who’s living a normal, yet quirky, life with a borderline personality disorder.  She’s pretty content with what she has in her life.  She has a good friend in Gina (Linda Cardellini) and she has every episode of the Oprah Winfrey show on tape.  It may not be that much, but it floats her boat.  Things drastically change in her life one day when she wins 86 million dollars in the lottery.  That’s a stupid amount of money.  What does she do with this money?  Well, she goes off her meds and decides to start a talk show…about herself, and only herself.  Can’t go wrong right?

With the life of the rich and famous on her mind, she immediately sets out and buys a room at the nearest casino.  She then finds her way to a studio where she meets with brothers Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich Ruskin (James Marsden) and talks with them about her grand idea for a talk show, similar to Oprah Winfrey, about herself.  Their hesitant at first, but when you have a client who is willing to drop fifteen million dollars on the spot, no idea is a bad idea.

welcome to me 2
via Gimme Shelter

Ever since Kristen Wiig left SNL she has been doing great things.  Some of her movies have been hits but some have fell low of hitting their mark.  Her role as Alice is probably her most genuine performance yet.  She does a fantastic job at portraying a woman who doesn’t really know what she is doing at first, but finds her footing and becomes a sensation among her viewers.  Everybody else is okay, but they don’t bring too much to the table.  Kristen Wiig is pretty much the star of the show this time around.

Welcome to Me is a dark movie in nature, but it managed to make me laugh at lot more than I thought it was going to.  It goes places that you wouldn’t think it would and gives a brutally honest picture of borderline personality disorder.  The scenes involving the actual talk show are some of the best in the entire movie.  I didn’t think a show where a woman talks about herself would be any interesting, but hey, after watching this movie I’d maybe consider watching a show like that.  It’s really dumb, and sometimes awkward (there’s a segment where Alice neuters a bunch of dogs on live TV…and it’s really something), but you just can’t look away.  The movie suffers from some pacing issues at times, but it kept me entertained all the way through.

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I didn’t really know what to expect going into Welcome to Me but I was pleasantly surprised with the final result.  It’s a brutally honest comedy that does some really cool things, telling a uniquely original story about some of the ups and downs of personality disorders.  Despite the bumps in the road, the movie accomplishes what it set out to do.  Kristen Wiig continues to be one of the funniest actresses in the business and I continue to look forward to what she has in the works.

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Review: Staten Island Summer

staten island summer cover
via Rama Screen

Staten Island Summer (2015)

R / 108 min


Starring: Graham Phillips, Zack Pearlman, Ashley Greene

Director: Rhys Thomas

Fresh new snow has just fallen which means the rough days of winter are starting to commence, and here I am writing a review about a summer movie.  I hate winter.  Correction: I hate snow.  You can give me Christmas, New Years, and some good ol’ fashioned family time, but you can keep the snow and the cold temperatures that come with it.  With the temperatures starting to drop, I figured why not watch Staten Island Summer to hold me over till Summer.  Staten Island Summer might be good enough to take the chill off, but the movie didn’t warm me the way I thought it was going to.

staten island summer 1
via Nerdist

Okay I’m going to be honest, the only reason why I decided to give this movie a try was because of the talent in front of and behind the camera.  A good portion of the cast and production crew are current SNL players and alumni.  Behind the camera, production credits go to Lorne Michaels while writing credits go to current Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost.  Jost also plays the role of Officer Greg in the movie as well.  Other SNL actors include Bobby Moynihan, Cecily Strong, Mike O’Brien, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, and Kate McKinnon.  As you can see, the movie sure has the talent behind it.

The movie falls flat when it comes to the actual story.  The summer teen sex comedy stars Graham Phillips as Danny Campbell and Zack Pearlman as Frank Gomes, two Staten Island lifeguards who want to throw a massive summer bash, along with fellow lifeguards Skootch (Moynihan), Anthony (John DeLuca), and Mary Ellen (Strong), before they leave for college.  The party planning looks to be smooth sailing until their ridiculous speedo-toting boss Chuck Casino (O’Brien) gets word and makes it his mission to have the pool to himself on Labor Day weekend.  This leaves the group desperate to think of other ideas to make the party a reality.  Unfortunately, the conflict is pretty lukewarm, attributing to the small payoff that the movie’s ending brings on.

staten island summer 2
via Hollywood Reporter

Staten Island Summer follows all the familiar tropes of a teen sex comedy, in the vein of movies like Wet Hot American Summer.  Most of the adolescent interactions and dialogue between the characters is about what you’d expect for a movie like this; the originality isn’t really here.  However, there is some scintillating wit to be found in the writing and there were some genuinely funny moments that made for some good times.  Rapper Method Man plays a drug-dealing ice cream truck driver and some of his scenes with Frank Gomes are some of the best the movie has to offer.

Things change big time for Danny when his childhood babysitter Krystal Manicucci (Ashley Greene) walks onto the scene for the first time.  Things literally explode around her as she makes her way down the swim club’s steps in slow motion on the way to poolside, where she ends up stripping down to her bikini in front of a pool full of ogling eyes.  It was quite an introduction for a character, and unfortunately that’s as far as Greene’s character goes.  Yep, her primary function in the movie is to provide the screen with eye candy.  Don’t get me wrong, Staten Island Summer certainly tries to make her and Danny’s relationship something, but it failed to reach me on a deeper level.  Their relationship goes from She’s Out of My League to Girl Next Door in almost no time flat.  The two end up together on the beach by the end, but it really didn’t feel right…or mean anything for that matter because that was about as far as their relationship went.

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I see what Staten Island Summer was trying to do, but the summer bash that it was trying to throw could have been better.  In a movie about friendship, love, sex, and pools, it’s the SNL brand of witty humor that really stands above the rest.  The movie is trying to copy its’ genre’s predecessors, but gives us an average movie in the process.  It was fun to watch, but it was nothing to write home about…unless you’re from Staten Island?

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Review: See You in Valhalla

see you in valhalla cover
via The Red Carpet

See You in Valhalla (2015)

R / 82 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Sarah Hyland, Bret Harrison, Steve Howey

Director: Jarret Tarnol

Oh the classic genre that is dramedy.  It’s a genre where you pretty much know what your signing up for when you go in.  *Insert life event* brings *insert name* back home to their crazy family where they all have to deal with *insert life event* in their own ways.  What’s that you say?  This kind of story sounds familiar to you?  That’s because you have probably seen this type of movie a bajillion times before.  Luckily (or probably not), See You in Valhalla brings a paint-by-the-numbers story to the table with a few quirks as the side dishes.

see you in valhalla 1
via Entertainment Today

The movie begins with the rather odd death of Johana Burwood’s (Sarah Hyland) brother who attempts to avenge his girlfriend by dressing up as a Viking and going after the drug dealer who was one of the reasons for his girlfriend’s overdose.  Johana’s brother was high as a kite, which didn’t do him any favors as he ended up getting himself killed.  Upon hearing of her brother’s death, Johana and her newly appointed boyfriend, Peter (Alex Frost), take a trip back to her home where she has to deal with the wack-job of a family as well as her muddled past.

Johana’s father, played by Conor O’Farrell, is out of touch with reality, hiring some therapist lady (Jamie Wozney) to be his in-home therapist.  Her brothers, Barry (Bret Harrison) and Don (Michael Weston), have quirks of their own.  Barry is gay and has a bodybuilder sensei type boyfriend named Makewi (Steve Howey) while Don is working through a divorce with a daughter who he had when he was pretty young himself.  Yeah, they’re a dysfunctional family that work each other up and get on each other’s nerves.  They all manage to be super unlikable, minus a select few like Peter and Makew who happens to be one of the movies most redeeming qualities.  There was a scene where the whole family was gathered around the dinner table for the first time in a while, where it didn’t take long for the insults to fly and the punches to be thrown.  I imagined myself sitting at one of the chairs because, I too, hated almost every person at that table.  They are all dirt bags who need to get along.

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via Live for Films

It doesn’t take long for the movie to start throwing around the stereotypical family drama that you have come to expect from these types of movies.  Death, past relationships, current relationships, abortions, divorce, and jobs are some of the deep subject matter that the movie just tosses around like a feather, holding no weight whatsoever.  Everything is tackled at surface level without managing to go deeper.  “Hey, I’ve been going through a divorce.” “Oh really, I’m sorry to hear about that…okay what’s next?”  That right there is an example of a sample conversation that would go down in this movie.  Uh, you don’t want to go a little further?  He seems to be hurting pretty bad because of the divorce.  Well okay if you insist…

Maybe the most mind-boggling aspect of the whole movie is the fact that nobody addresses the massive elephant in the room…the part where their brother got himself killed…as a Viking?  What? The movie seems to play it off like it’s nothing.  Don’t even get me started on the movie’s final scene.  It’s kind of funny, but so out of left field that it feels super out of place.  Maybe I would have gotten a little more out of the movie if I just accepted the fact that their brother was just a casual Viking.  I was waiting the entire movie for one of the characters to be like, “hey guys, don’t you maybe think it’s a little weird that our brother got himself killed as a Viking?”

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via Screen Picks

There were times when See You in Valhalla made me laugh, but those moments were few and sparse.  Instead, we get a movie that tries too hard at being sappy and sentimental thanks to its surface level drama.  It also doesn’t help that the movie has a plot formed by the same cookie cutter that a lot of similar movies have used.  Johana would have done us, as well as herself, a ton of favors by just staying home and sitting this one out.

see you in valhalla score