Review: The Stone Junction

the stone junction
via DJ Carisma

The Stone Junction (2016)

Audio Push

Rap / Hip-Hop

Interscope / Hits Since ’87


Oktane and Price of hip-hop outfit Audio Push have been around for a while now, a long while.  They’ve been making music since the days when MySpace was cool.  Time doesn’t always amount to major commercial success though.  Audio Push have been putting out mixtapes as their main source of music, with eleven free releases under their belt.  When your releasing free music, money usually isn’t at a premium.  After all these years, they have finally decided to change things up with their twelfth release, The Stone Junction, their first record that is being sold commercially.  It’s not necessarily an EP that is going to blow your socks off, but it’s a solid release that demonstrates the skill that the hip-hop duo have been showing off for years.

the stone junction 1
via Okay Player

The Stone Junction has a seven song track list featuring production from the likes of Slade Da Monsta, Rey Reel, Izze the Producer, and Ducko Mcfli.  You probably haven’t heard these names before but that’s okay, because they do a pretty good job with the production on the album.  Audio Push have tackled a diverse set of sounds over the years, ranging from bass-bouncing hip-hop to sensual R&B.  This might not be the most marketable trait to have as a rap group, but it shows off their impressive range.  This signature of range comes through once again on their first studio album.

The first cut off the project, “BBQ Spot,” has a nice beat to it, thanks to some Slade Da Monsta production, and features two great verses from both Oktane and Price.  The two have a flow that is characteristically rooted in a Californian sound.  There’s also “Servin,” the first single that was released off the record.  The song features BMac the Queen and contains feelings of urgency, touting their experience in the rap game while still rapping, “I feel like it’s me versus everybody.”  When you’ve been around for almost ten years but have no name recognition, things tend to feel this way.

the stone junction 2
via Non-Stop Hip-Hop News

Next on the list are “Vamanos” and “Hard,” arguably the two best tracks off the record.  “Vamanos” features Atlanta-based Mexican-American rapper Kap G and a trap influenced beat from Izze the Producer, who has some other credits on the album.  The song has a unique vibe with some great verses all around.  Then there’s “Hard,” which distinguishes itself from the rest due to its unique sound.  The song starts out with some…well, “hard” bass bumps and then transitions to some sweet-sounding piano melodies around the two-minute mark.  The song goes from bravado to emotional just like that.  It’s a little unexpected but it sounds great in the end.

Towards the end there are a couple of missteps.  “Vibed Up Shawty” contains a heavy use of 808s (which isn’t where the track falters) and hearkens back to their first major release, “Teach Me How to Jerk.”  Unfortunately, the song gets a little too repetitive and wears its welcome after only a minute in.  There’s also “Same,” featuring rapper Jace.  The song features some cool sounds from Ducko Mcfli, but the raps fell a little flat and sounded a little garbled at times.  It wasn’t a great way to end an album.

the stone junction 3
via Rap Wave

There’s still a lot to like about The Stone Junction.  They’re a wide array of sounds, which has become an Audio Push trademark over the years.  This is also their first official studio album, so perhaps this release will propel them into a brighter spotlight.  The record has some hiccups here and there and it’s not an album that necessarily can be considered mainstream, but Oktane and Price’s experience comes through tried and true.

the stone junction score

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Review: Lemonade

lemonade cover
via This Is RnB

Lemonade (2016)

Beyonce

Hip-Hop / R&B

Parkwood


Last weekend Beyonce released her Lemonade into the world.  That last sentence might sound silly but it’s true, Beyonce didn’t release an icy drink but a full-length audio-visual album that debuted on HBO and Tidal.  Yes, you heard that last part right.  It released exclusively on Tidal, which makes total sense given her share in the company.  A new Beyonce album is a good reason for people to jump on the Tidal bandwagon.  However, with the album popping up on iTunes this morning, the whole release of this album further cements Tidal’s status as a joke, but that’s a story for a different time.

We’re here to talk about Lemonade.

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Lemonade might be the most personal album we have heard from the singer.  We’ve heard her get personal before, but this entire project feels like it was ripped straight out of her diary.  The diary contains pages about her relationship with Jay-Z, her family, feminism, and black activism.  Her message comes across loud and clear, a message that’s equal parts intimate and powerful.  It’s easy for an album’s overarching message to get lost in the sound but this was probably the clearest an album has been in a while.

Beyonce doesn’t waste time, immediately addressing the elephant in the room with her first batch of songs.  Her songs “Pray You Catch Me” and “Hold Up” address the relationship rumors between her and Jay-Z and the infidelity that is called into question.  She makes it clear that she still loves her husband, but she’s willing to go crazy to find out where his loyalties lie.  There’s also “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a pointed track full of angst and thrashing guitars, thanks to some help from artist Jack White.  It’s a strong track that puts fear in even the most hardened souls.  With lyrics like, “If you try this shit again, you gon lose your wife,” things must have gotten pretty bad.  I don’t know what Jay-Z did, but after listening to this song all I got to say is he better watch his back.

lemonade 2
via Miss Info

There’s a lot of songs about her and Jay-Z’s relationship, which happens to be the core of the album.  “Love Drought” is a passionate plea to rekindle a relationship behind an airy cloud-synth beat in the background that really carries you away.  Then there’s “Daddy Lessons,” which might be my favorite cut off the album.  It’s Beyonce’s first foray into country, and she kills it.  It’s a song about her father and the similarities between him and Jay-Z.  It’s a deep song that really took me by surprise.  It’s not your typical Beyonce sound, but she harnesses some of her southern roots and gives us a sound that I want to hear more of.

Although songs of love cover most of the tracklist, there’s also some feminism and black empowerment to be found.  “6 Inch” is a song of female empowerment, featuring some vocal help from The Weeknd.  It’s a positive and upbeat song about the grind and success that comes when you’re willing to put in the work.  Lemonade’s sole single, “Formation” is a powerful black activism song that struck up some controversy for its imagery as well as its themes.  “Freedom” is another song about civil rights, featuring the always vocal Kendrick Lamar.  When you talk about issues of civil rights, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar have definitely been on the forefront of conversation.  The track also ends in a touching way, with some words from Hattie White, Jay-Z’s grandmother.  She says, “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to cool myself off.  I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”  There we go, it’s a statement that quite literally sums up the entire album’s message.

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“Sandcastles” is the album’s turning point.  You can hear the pain and tears come through in her voice in one of the most personal songs off the album.  It’s on this song where she starts to contemplate what comes next.  She’s made promises in her life, some of which she wasn’t able to keep.  The same goes for Jay-Z.  Despite all of this, their sandcastles still stand strong, weathering the storm.  It’s a song full of imagery and hope.  The rest of the album features a message of redemption and optimism, especially for her relationship with Jay-Z, which is always a good sign.  “All Night” is the unofficial end to the album, topping it all off with some positivity.

Lemonade’s sound is just as powerful as her lyrics.  Featuring the production work of individuals like Mike Dean, Diplo, Hit-Boy, Ben Billions, Mike Will Made It, Vincent Berry II, and Just Blaze, the album has a wide range of sounds that all work very well.  You’re not going to find too many radio-ready songs on this release, with Beyonce favoring ballads over bangers.  This might be disappointing for some but this isn’t the type of album that’s supposed to play well on the radio.  It’s a deeply personal experience.

lemonade 4
via Ice Cream Convos

Now that the album is on iTunes, hopefully a bigger audience will be able to listen to Lemonade, which I might consider her best work to date.  It’s a fascinating project that puts you right in the center of her thoughts.  She opens up a lot in a surprising amount of ways.  Her message is emotional, powerful, strong, poignant, controversial, and most of all, hers.  She makes it clear, especially in “Sorry,” that she doesn’t care what you think.  This is her life and her message and she wants to put it all out there.  This is an album that we’re going to be coming back to a lot and it’s going to be the talk of the talk when it comes to album of the year.

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Review: The Shawshank Redemption

shawshank redemption poster
via Movie Poster

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R / 142 min

Drama / Crime

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton

Director: Frank Darabont


The prison walls can do a lot of things to people.  The confines of such walls can drive some men into a dark pit of madness while others might look upon the walls with hope, hope that one day they can see the light again on the other side.  Some men are put inside these walls because of their own doing, while some have no choice.  Some prisoners have fear while others believe in hope and it’s their mindset that can keep them from seeking redemption.  This is the idea behind Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s directorial debut.

shawshank redemption 1
via IFC

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a well-to-do investment banker, is the last person you would expect to find behind the bars of prison.  After a series of unfortunate coincidences, Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and the man she was seeing behind his back.  He truly believed he was innocent, but the judge and jury saw otherwise.  Carrying the burden of two back-to-back life sentences, he is sent to the Shawshank prison, where he will spend the rest of his life for something he didn’t do.  The first couple of days are rough.  They’re rough for everyone, but Andy seems to walk with an air of confidence, one that surprises his fellow inmates, including a prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), a “veteran” of Shawshank.  After some time has passed, Andy starts to make the best of the situation he was thrust into.

Days turn to months and the months to years as time starts to pass.  Andy has a rough tenure during his first couple of years but he starts to make a name for himself inside the prison walls.  He gets on good footing with Shawshank’s warden Norton (Bob Gunton), builds and organizes a prison library with the help from senate funding, does the taxes for almost every single guard within the walls, and most importantly, deepens his friendship with Red and some of his other fellow inmates.  This is not the kind of prison movie that you would expect.  Sure, there’s some violence here and there but this is a story of redemption and good will.  Perhaps the title didn’t make that clear.

shawshank redemption 2
via Fan Pop

What makes the film work so well is the deep bond between Robbin’s Andy and Freeman’s Red.  The duo’s friendship comes a long way since the day Andy rode into the prison in a white bus with Red and his cohorts taking bets on who would be the first to cry.  The two help each other, together coping with the situation they were given.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the standouts by far, but the rest of the cast did an amazing job as well.  Every character was well written and they were all instrumental to the overall story.

Just like the characters, every single scene and detail played an important part in the progression of the story.  There were no filler scenes.  Everything was important, whether viewers know at the time or not.  The sequences documenting Shawshank’s librarian (James Whitmore) and his life outside of prison were super effective and some of the best parts of the movie.  They were depressing in a way, but they were important.  This is a movie where you want to pay attention to every single little detail because you know they will come into play later.  The Shawshank Redemption is an example of brilliant writing.

shawshank redemption 3
via Fan Pop

There’s a build-up that takes place from the very start.  The movie might seem slow at parts, especially during the second act, but this all leads to the grand finale.  Remember the part where I said every little detail in this movie has meaning?  Well, there’s a twist that comes in the movie’s third act, one tighter than a corkscrew.  It’s an impressive twist that will leave you in awe wondering how it all even happened.  However, after careful examination of the events and subtleties that led up to it, everything makes perfect sense.

It’s a battle between fear and hope.  People handle these emotions in different ways and The Shawshank Redemption encapsulates these emotions in fantastic ways.  Inside the walls of Shawshank there’s a story of hope, friendship, redemption, fear, and perseverance in the face of dire circumstances.  The Shawshank Redemption is a feel-good story that succeed tremendously in execution.  It also goes to show that it’s not always doom and gloom inside the walls of prison.  There’s always a shimmer of light inside the darkness.

shawshank redemption score

Review: Pacific Rim

pacific rim poster
via Pintrest

Pacific Rim (2013)

PG-13 / 131 min

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi

Director: Guillermo del Toro


In some alternate universe, I’d like to imagine that Godzilla and the Transformers exist together.  In that universe they are fighting each other in front of the backdrop of a towering city, leaving fiery destruction in their wake.  Monster versus technology in one epic battle for the ages.  Alright, this is a pipe dream of mine but Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s epic summer blockbuster, is the closest thing I have to my pipe dream.

pacific rim 1
via Anonymous Blog

Everything about Pacific Rim defines it as a summer blockbuster.  The film has epic battle sequences with massive set pieces.  It’s colorful, explosive, and thrilling.  Massive sea creatures, known as the Kaiju, are threatening humankind.  They come from an alternate universe and their main mission is the destruction of mankind.  In an effort to put a stop to this threat, massive weaponized robots called Jaegers are developed as the prime offensive against the Kaiju.  These mechs, piloted by humans, are mankind’s last hope against the apocalypse at the hands of the Kaiju.

As the war rages on, two pilots are called to lead a mission that involves a big showdown between the Jaegers and the Kaiju.  Raleigh Becket, played by Charlie Hunnam, is a trained pilot who has experience in the cockpit of a Jaeger while Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is a trainee who has had some history with the Kaiju in a different way.  Unlike most big summer action movies, these characters are actually likable.  They’re not just meatheads piloting mechs, but instead they have some memorable moments that set them apart from most characters of their type.  Idris Elba however might have had the best performance as commander Stacker Pentecost.

PACIFIC RIM
via Nerdist

In terms of story, Guillermo del Toro takes a lot of creative liberties.  The science behind the movie’s events is a little silly and sometimes the logic wasn’t always there.  The nature of the movie’s events doesn’t warrant realism but they could have maybe tried a little harder to make it seem more believable.  It also doesn’t help that the two scientists, Dr. Newton Geiszler and Gottlieb, played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman respectively, are silly and don’t really seem qualified for their jobs.  Despite the film’s questionable logic, the film still manages to stand it’s ground.  The science is goofy and laughable, but that didn’t detract from the overall experience.

What makes this movie a standout is the visual experience that it offers.  The CGI that the movie employs is fantastic.  It’s colorful, explosive, and just really well done.  The battles between mech and sea monster were epic in scope and feel.  Buildings crumble in their wake as the gargantuan giants swing punches and throw each other around.  It was delicious candy for the eyes.  As I was watching the movie I couldn’t help but think about the kind of work that went into bringing the movie to life through its CGI.  The visual effects department put in a lot of work into the movie and it really shows.  With a movie like this, I have to give a shout out to the visual effects crew behind the movie, because Pacific Rim wouldn’t be the movie it is without its special effects.

PACIFIC RIM
via Destroy the Brain

Pacific Rim is a movie that deserves a lot more praise.  It was underrated when it was initially released during the summer of 2013, but it could be considered one of 2013’s biggest surprises.  Sometimes movies as big as this fall pretty hard under the weight of their own size but this film manages to stay on its feet.  It’s full of great characters and memorable action set pieces.  My younger self would have probably been obsessed with Pacific Rim and its undeniably monumental action, but it’s safe to say that even though I am older now, I still really like this movie.

pacific rim score

Review: Nightcrawler

nightcrawler poster
via Fat Movie Guy

Nightcrawler (2014)

R / 117 min

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Director: Dan Gilroy


There’s something slightly unsettling about Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy’s exploration into the world of L.A. crime journalism.  Until watching this movie, I didn’t even know this sort of industry even existed.  Essentially, the act of “nightcrawling” involves racing around the streets of L.A. during the twilight hours to capture b-roll footage of all the crimes that take place during the night.  This footage is then shopped around to news agencies, ripe and ready to be broadcasted during the morning news cycle.  It’s a ruthless business, one that requires you to stay ahead of the curve if you want to succeed.  Nightcrawler is the story of Louis Bloom, a rookie to the business who takes his entrepreneurial abilities a little too far.

nightcrawler 1
via Moustache Magazine

Jake Gyllenhaal takes the lead role of Louis Bloom, a grungy greased-up entrepreneur.  He’s a hustler, persistent to the point of annoyance and willing to do anything he has to in order to put his foot ahead of the rest.  His search for a job comes to an end when he drives past a car accident on his way home.  He gets out of his car and before he even has the chance to take a couple of steps, a van comes to a halting stop next the accident, with two video journalists hopping out to capture the footage.  Ideas start brewing in Louis’ head and before we know it, he is dipping his toes into this somewhat sleazy business.

Louis’ operation escalates pretty quickly as he starts to learn the ins and outs of the business.  He purchases his own equipment, learns the police radio codes, and even hires an assistant (played by Riz Ahmed).  Unlike the other video journalists, Louis takes his craft to the next level and begins to blur the lines of morality.  His first video package that he prepares for a local TV station gets a little nosey as he “breaks” into a house to get the “perfect shot” of a crime scene.  His primary contact at the TV station, TV veteran Nina Romina (Rene Russo), loves this up-close-and-personal footage and decides to air Louis’ work, despite some hesitation from her peers at the station.

nightcrawler 2
via Business Insider

Things only get more intense as Louis tests the waters of moral ambiguity.  Gyllenhaal does a perfect job at portraying the young entrepreneur.  He’s cut-throat in his doings and he’s a little bit insane.  Gyllenhaal takes you down the character’s rabbit hole that he gets himself into as he tries to get “the perfect shot.”  The film ramps up in intensity, especially during a murder scene at a suburban mansion.  It’s the film’s peak, the moment that begins Louis’ decent.  Rene Russo’s Nina also takes part in this decent, although to a lesser extent.  The performances are great all around, but I would have liked to see more from Riz Ahmed’s character.  His relationship with Louis was a toxic one, one that I thought could have been explored a little more than it was.

Nightcrawler shouldn’t really be looked at as an accurate representation of the business, but more as a satire.  However, the film does raise questions about the moral ramifications that stem from such a sordid, yet lucrative job.  Morality is one of the primary driving themes behind the story, one that is handled pretty well.  Like I said in the very beginning of this review, there is something deeply unsettling about the act of nightcrawling.  It’s not the most glamourous of occupations, and this film does a great job at portraying this.

nightcrawler 3
via Reel Brief

Events build up as the movie rolls along but the final scene felt a little bit anticlimactic, and almost unnecessary. Things came to a close in such a jarring way that I was not expecting.  The ending wasn’t really effective at all and didn’t really put the nicest cap on an otherwise very well-made film.  The movie could have been extended or shortened by a scene to wrap things up better.  It would have made a big difference.

There’s a dose of grittiness and darkness that covers Nightcrawler, an unnerving look into the seedy world of crime journalism.  Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance of a man who takes things a little too far.  The film documents the steady decline of his character as he does some dirty things to get ahead of his peers.  It’s a fascinating film that’s full of great performances and thrills.  It’s just a shame it wasn’t brought to a conclusion in better fashion.

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Review: Love Season 1

love season 1
via Melty

Love (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Comedy / Romance

Starring: Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rust, Claudia O’Doherty

Creators: Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Paul Rust


Your telling me there’s another show about love?  Another show about the trials and tribulations that relationships bring with them?  I guess it’s not that surprising when you think about it.  The topic of love is a subject that has been tackled time and time again.  It’s certainly not an original theme.  Teaming up with Netflix, Judd Apatow has put out a new comedic show about the journey of love, appropriately titled Love.  So far nothing about this show sounds original…but Apatow finds another angle that makes the show a little refreshing.

love s1 1
via Beauty Slides

Love is the story of two star-crossed lovers who seem like the unlikely couple at the onset.  Mickey, played by Gillian Jacobs, is a rambunctious and loud girl who works for a radio show.  She’s an alcoholic and a sex addict who has her fair share of boy problems.  On the other hand, we have the timid and geeky Gus, played by Paul Rust, who works as a tutor at a big name television studio.  The two couldn’t be any more different but after a chance acquaintance at a gas station convenience store, the two being the long road to love.

Topics like first dates, ex-lovers, awkward parties, and sex are all covered over the course of the ten-episode series.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing original about Love’s subject matter, not even the name.  Series creator Judd Apatow, the guy behind other hit comedies like Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, and Girls, manages to change things up and gives the concept of love a different perspective.  Mickey and Gus have different views on the subject of love and their outlooks on the crazy rollercoaster of romance are what make the series interesting and different from the rest.  Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely moments where I was like, “okay, this has been done before,” but the show managed to stay fresh a lot more than I initially thought.

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The first half of the season acts as a character study, examining Mickey and Gus and the type of people that they are.  These kinds of episodes happen a lot over the course of the season.  There’s even an episode that revolves around the two’s days at work and the kind of madness surrounding their respective workplaces.  Weird creepy bosses and dramatic Hollywood actresses, you know, normal fare.  Admittedly the show gets off to a slow start but begins to pick up when the two start to get into a more serious relationship.  As things intensify between the two, things get a lot more interesting.  The last couple of episodes were not only full of hilarious situations, but serious drama as well.  I wasn’t expecting the show to get as serious as it got…but there’s an interesting story to tell behind Love’s comedic exterior.

Judd Apatow has put out a show that gives a funny view of love, but also a sobering one.  Love isn’t perfect in its execution but it’s a fun show with some really likable characters.  I haven’t even mentioned Mickey’s roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty) who was actually one of my favorite parts of the show.  The show gives us a stunningly accurate depiction of love, one that is instantly relatable to anyone who has had a bout with love.  Love is a fun little show, one that I was not expecting to enjoy.  The show has already been renewed for another season, so we’ll see where Apatow goes with this comedy.  Also, how many times have I said “love” during this review.  It almost sounds silly at this point.  Love love love.  By the way…..love.  Okay, I’m done now.

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Fallout 4 Wasteland Workshop: Cool in Concept, Bummer in Reality

The notion of a perfectly tamed Deathclaw roaming around your settlement in Fallout 4 is rousing and perhaps a little concerning.  Why would you want Deathclaws and other ferocious beats of the wasteland making themselves at home in your settlement?  Well, there’s no reason at all.  You can have them fight your settlers and each other though!  This is the driving force behind Bethesda’s latest add-on for their acclaimed RPG Fallout 4.  The expansion, titled Wasteland Workshop, offers some new stuff for your settlements and the ability to house a battle arena…but that’s about it.

wasteland workshop 1
via VG247

Maybe the biggest draw this time around is the prospect of essentially starting up your own wasteland petting zoo.  The expansion adds a variety of cages into the workshop mode, the aspect of the game that allows you to customize and build your own settlements.  These cages range from small to large, depending on the type of creature you want to capture.  You can capture a good majority of the monsters that Fallout 4 has to offer, including Deathclaws, Yao Guais, Mutant Hounds, Brahmin, and more.  You can also house sentient beings like Raiders, Gunners, and Ghouls.  There’s even cats, although putting a cat cage in the same arena as a Deathclaw doesn’t bode well.  Trust me, I learn from experience.

When you initially capture these creatures, they’re hostile depending on their type.  This is where the Beta Wave Emitter comes in, a new workshop item that pacifies any and all creatures within its reach.  This is the item that allows deadly creatures like Deathclaws to roam around your settlement without the urge to rip your lungs out.  Unfortunately, you have to have certain perks like Wasteland Whisperer and Animal Friend to build this item, which is pretty much necessary if you want to have these creatures in your settlement.  I often found my creatures out of their cages either because of generator failure or you know, just because.  It happened enough that my settlement started to become a littered mess of monster corpses.  I would kill them, reset the bait, and then repeat.  It started to become tedious.  Having creatures locked up in your settlement is also a good way to bring unwanted attention to your settlement.  You’ll find your settlement getting attacked a lot more when you have creatures in the cages.  It was almost comical how much times I started to get attacked as I built more and more cages.  It started to get real annoying after a while and I later just abandoned the settlement…it started to become too much.

wasteland workshop 2
via VG247

Another big feature that Wasteland Workshop brings to the table is arena fights.  These fights can involve your settlement’s inhabitants or your creatures…or both.  New workshop items let you build your own battle arena in your settlements, which sounded pretty exciting at first.  Unfortunately, the battles are a little cumbersome to set up and they’re not that exciting to watch either.  There’s a little value to be found in the first couple of fights…but it started to become too much work to be enjoyable.  Your settlement’s moral goes down as well if settlers are killing each other so there is really no point in having your settlers duke it out, unless you’re a maniacal psychopath that loves to watch the world burn.  If that fits your bill, then this DLC might just be up your wheelhouse.  This add-on does a lot more to destroy your settlements then build them up.

Perhaps the best part about the add-on, and maybe the smallest new feature, is the addition of customizable neon signs that you can adorn on your settlement’s structures.  The workshop gives you the full alphabet, allowing you to basically light up whatever word or phrase that you want.  It’s only cosmetic, but there’s a lot of value.  I was littering my settlements with neon signs in no time.  You can make some pretty silly stuff with these neon signs, which is half the fun.

wasteland workshop 3
via Just Push Start

Unlike past Bethesda expansions, Wasteland Workshop is a barren wasteland in terms of content…or at least content that matters.  The monster cages and arena fights sound really cool on paper but the actual reality of these ideas doesn’t translate the same amount of excitement.  Besides the neon signs, there really isn’t that much else.  I was hoping that we would get a lot more workshop items but instead we only got a select few.  If you’re an owner of a season pass, like me, then none of this really matters anyway.  No harm no foul.  However, if you decided to play it safe by picking and choosing what add-ons you wanted to purchase, then there is really no reason you should pick this one up.  Just wait for their next expansion, Far Harbor.

Review: Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

pee wee big holiday posterPee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

PG / 90 min

Adventure / Comedy

Starring: Paul Reubens, Jordan Black, Doug Cox

Director: John Lee


It’s been almost fifteen years since the quirky Pee-wee Herman took to the small screen for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.  Actor and comedian Paul Ruebens has had small roles as Pee-wee here and there since then but the quirky and sometimes absurd character has been on hiatus for a while.  It’s almost felt like there wasn’t going to be another Pee-wee movie.  Leave it to Netflix to bring an old nostalgic property to the small screen.  Pee-wee has come out of retirement…to take a holiday in the new family-friendly comedic romp Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, only on Netflix.

pee wee big holiday 1
via Collider

Were fans calling for another Pee-wee movie?  I’m sure there were some fans hungry for another adventure with Pee-wee but it’s hard to say.  When Netflix announced that they were making a full-length Pee-wee movie I was like, “okay, let’s see what they can do with it.”  Not so surprisingly, Paul Ruebens still has it.  Despite his age, he slid right into the role of Pee-wee Herman perfectly.  He’s got the goofy laugh and rocks the numerous facial emotions that will instill nostalgic feelings in any die-hard fan.  He even has the looks.  I swear Paul Ruebens just does not age.

For his latest adventure, Pee-wee decides to step out of his comfort zone and go on a road trip to New York City.  Perhaps the film’s biggest draw is the inclusion of Joe Manganiello who plays himself in the movie.  In a bout of destiny, Joe meets up with Pee-wee at his café and inspires him to travel to New York City to attend his big birthday bash at his penthouse.  There’s a big hilarious bromance that brews between the two that can get a little weird at times.  Paul Ruebens and Joe Manganiello seem like the unlikely duo to star in a comedy but the two work well together and provide most of the feature’s laughs.

pee wee big holiday 2
via Coming Soon

We only really see Joe at the beginning and end of the film, so the bulk of the comedy has its spotlight on crazy Pee-wee.  Since this is a comedy of the road-trip variety, don’t expect Pee-wee’s first vacation to go smoothly.  He runs into a female trio of thieves that kidnap Pee-wee, kicking off his journey with a bang.  Pee-wee also runs into a farmer who has a whole handful of daughters that instantly gain interest in Pee-wee.  Not to be outdone, there’s also a community of Amish people that welcome Pee-wee into their home.  Pee-wee’s journey is never uneventful and it’s full of wacky surprises.  He eventually makes it to New York, only to get himself into more foolish shenanigans.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday has a short run-time, clocking in at about an hour and thirty minutes, but Pee-wee’s antics start to wear thin as the film goes on.  Nostalgia takes the humor for a good while but even that can’t keep it floating for too long.  The humor might work well with the younger crowd, but it just doesn’t work that well in today’s day and age.  Pee-wee’s brand of comedy had its time and place but I’m not sure it flies these days.  The movie has its moments that made for some genuine knee-slappers, but I wanted to laugh more…I really did.

pee wee big holiday 3
via Nerd Report

The movie’s production value didn’t really help its cause either.  It was from the film’s first moments that I instantly realized director John Lee was working with a slim budget.  Normally I don’t mind low budget comedies, but there were scenes were I just laughed because of how silly they looked.  There’s a scene where Pee-wee is flying through the air and yeesh…it didn’t look too good.

Fans of Paul Rueben and Pee-wee will probably enjoy the serviceable comedy that is Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.  It operates a lot on nostalgia for the character, as well as the bromance between Pee-wee and Joe Mangianello.  However, it’s a road trip comedy that wears its welcome and starts to burn out.  Luckily Pee-wee made it to New York before the comedy started blow it’s tires, because that would have put a bad cap on an otherwise serviceable trip.

pee wee big holiday score

Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2

unbreakable kimmy s2 poster
via Christian Post

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 2) (2016)

Netflix / TV-14

Comedy

Starring: Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess

Creators: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock


Kimmy Schmidt is finally starting to get adjusted to her new life above ground in the big apple.  She overcame all of life challenges that it threw at her with a cheery smile and a witty 90’s reference or two.  She even managed to win the trial against the Reverend, the man who kept her contained underground as part of his cult.  The “mole-woman” tag is starting to fade away as she starts to put those days behind her.  However, life is full of obstacles and there is still a lot that Kimmy has to learn.  This is where season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix’s hit comedy show from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, picks up.

unbreakable kimmy s2 1
via Splitsider

Last season, Ellie Kemper brought the bright and quirky character of Kimmy Schmidt to life and she returns with another knockout performance.  Think of her as an eccentric 90’s girl-meets-world.  She’s getting adjusted to her new life quite well but there is still a lot that she has to tackle.  In fact, each episode is still framed in a way that signifies what challenge she has to overcome.  Sometimes these tasks range from the mundane (giving up and driving a car) to the serious (finding her mom and meeting a celebrity), while some are just plain ridiculous. When Kimmy goes to a hotel with her Vietnamese love interest Dong (Ki Hong Lee), she learns a whole lot about what two lovers “do in a hotel.”

Kimmy Schmidt still centers around its titular character, but the returning cast is what brings the show together.  Everybody’s favorite from last season, the loud Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), is back and he’s better than ever.  His pinnacle moment last season was his brilliant ode to Pinot Noir and this season he returns with more song and dance.  He is also in a new relationship with a construction worker named Mikey, which brings its fair share of ups and downs as well.  We also see the return of the rich and glitzy Jacqueline Voorhees, played by Jane Krakowski.  She fresh off her divorce from her rich husband and back from her Native American vision quest, which means she’s back in New York City with the mission of getting her life back in order.  She definitely can’t do it alone so she entrusts the help of Kimmy as her personal life assistant.

unbreakable kimmy s2 2
via IB Times

Perhaps one of the best parts about this season is the emergence of a returning character and the introduction of a new one.  People probably remember Kimmy and Titus’ landlord Lillian (Carol Kane) from last season.  She was off her rocker and was never afraid to do her own thing.  We didn’t see enough of her crazy antics last season.  She’s back this season and she gets a lot more screen time as she aims to fight gentrification in the rough neighborhood that her and the gang live in.  We also get introduced to Andrea Bayden, played by Tina Fey, a psychologist who meets up with Kimmy during a drunk Uber call.  (Yep, Kimmy now moonlights as an Uber driver this season) We saw Tina Fey in a minor role last season but she plays a bigger part this season, one that brings along its fair share of hilarious moments.  Nothing can possibly go wrong when Kimmy takes advice from a drunk psychologist, right?

Pop culture references of the 90s variety are still as prominent as ever this season, which was one of the best parts about the show.  Kimmy is still stuck in her 90s world and she never lets you forget that.  Everything from the Ninja Turtles (who Kimmy still can’t believe are a thing) to Seinfeld to Nickelodeon make appearances through the many different references sprinkled throughout.  The show still remains super quotable as well, especially when a character like Titus is on the show. (“I’m not the one who assumed all gay people know how to arrange flowers. Why don’t you do some prop comedy, Carrot Top?” Titus says to Kimmy during a party set-up)

unbreakable kimmy s2 3
via Dork Shelf

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s second season goes places and still retains its status as one of Netflix’s biggest crowd-pleasers.  It’s a show that will make you smile in more ways than one.  (The show’s addicting theme song returns, which is a reason to smile in itself) The minor problems from last season, like the abundance of blatant stereotypes, still linger but they are getting better.  The show’s sophomore season is just as good, if not better, than last season.  All the episodes are on Netflix right now, available to binge, so what are you waiting for?

unbreakable kimmy s2 score

Review: Heavy Rain

heavy rain poster
via Giant Bomb

Heavy Rain (2010 – PS3) (2016 – PS4)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Quantic Dream, SCE XDev Studio


Losing someone you love is one of the toughest things we have to go through as humans.  It’s even tougher if they’re young.  You end up asking a lot of questions and you sometimes question yourself, especially if you had a chance at preventing the loss.  In Heavy Rain, a game by David Cage and Quantic Dream, a father loses his child and is on the brink of losing another.  Feelings of guild, depression, love, and contempt all rear their head as he tries to save his son.  How far are you willing to go to save someone you love from the clench of death?  This is the primary theme that drives Heavy Rain, as well as its four main characters.

heavy rain 1

Tension has been rising as a serial killer, calling himself the “Origami Killer,” has been killing innocent children by kidnapping them from their parents and drowning them in rain water.  Their deaths are marked by the presence of an origami figure, placed in the kids’ cold lifeless hands.  The latest victim is Shaun Mars, son of Ethan Mars, one of the four playable characters.  He’s kidnapped during the course of the game and he only has a couple of days to live.  It becomes a race against the clock as Ethan is given a set of trials that test his love for his son and his willingness to go through hell to save him.

Meanwhile, you play as three other characters who are all concurrently after the Origami Killer in one way or another.  Norman Jayden is a criminal profiler who works for the FBI.  He is contracted by the town’s local police department to investigate the recent killings and he uses the help of his gadget ARI (Added Reality Interface) to help with the investigations.  Madison Paige is a freelance journalist and photographer who ends up meeting Ethan at a local motel.  It’s through this chance meeting that she starts to become involved in the Origami Killer’s doings and she begins to start a private investigation of her own.  Finally, there’s Scott Shelby, an ex-cop turned private investigator who has been contracted by the Origami Killer’s victims’ families to investigate their murders.  Each of these characters, including Ethan, have their own stories and motivations that drive their actions.  The game flips between perspectives, giving you control of each of these characters as the game goes on.

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There’s a lot of heavy material that the game covers and there’s a lot of tense moments that will make you sweat, quite literally.  There’s a lot of twist and turns, including one big one towards the end that caught me off guard.  However, after going back and examining the events that led to this twist, everything made sense and came together, which is an indication of a really well-written twist.  There’s also some plot-holes here and there, but they aren’t too offensive and they don’t detract too much from the story.  The performances were also really well done.  The characters you play as and interact with were all motion captured, which really helped convey emotion and feeling.  You could see the emotion in character’s faces, giving them more life and believability.

The game is an adventure game where all of your choices affect the story in ways that are predictable and not so predictable.  Gameplay mainly takes the form of quick-time events and dialogue choices.  If a character dies due to a failed quick-time sequence, then the story goes on.  There’s no game over screens to save you.  The story is constantly adapting to your choices (and your mistakes) and contains a multitude of different endings based upon the story’s happenings.  A lot of games claim that your choices affect the story but there are few that have high-impact decisions.  Every little choice you make in Heavy Rain affects the story in big and small ways.  Even the smallest of details, like the color of a character’s clothes, can play a big part in the way the story plays out.

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One of the things I really liked about the way the game handles its quick-time events is the way they conveyed emotion through these events.  As you play through the different sequences, buttons will appear on the screen indicating a quick-time event.  Sometimes these indicators will be calm and stable while other times they will be shaking uncontrollably.  This can lead to some frustrating moments where mistakes are easy to be made, but this works in the game’s context.  If a character is nervous and at the precipice of danger, then they are more likely to make hasty decisions and mistakes.  You always know what the character is going through based on the presentation of the quick-time events, which is brilliant and works really well in conveying story without explicitly describing how a character feels.

Heavy Rain was initially released in 2010 on the PS3, but I have been playing the PS4 remaster, which gives the already good looking game a complete HD makeover.  The game looks amazing and even the slightest details like the boxes you find in a convenience store are all retouched and redone in a higher resolution.  The game still looks a little dated at moments but the gorgeousness is undeniable.  Unfortunately, the movement mechanics were not redone for the remaster.  Movement is handled by pressing down the right trigger while moving the stick in the direction you want to move.  It’s a dated mechanic that does not hold up well at all.  I often found myself running into walls and scooting past an object in an environment that I wanted to interact with because I was trying to grasp the character’s movement.  It’s not a thing that gets better with time either.  I was still having annoyances with the mechanic late in the game.

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David Cage’s game took the gaming industry by storm when it was first released.  Heavy Rain, despite some of its mechanical woes, still holds up extremely well today, thanks to some of Quantic Dream’s remastering work.  There’s a thrilling story to be told, one that will most likely move you in one way or another.  All of the characters are dynamic, interesting, and even relatable in some ways.  Heavy Rain was on of PS3’s best games and that quality still stays true today.

heavy rain score