Tag Archives: 2012

Review: The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season

via Fone Arena
via Fone Arena

The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (2012)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games


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

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

via Games N More
via Games N More

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

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

via Pure Xbox
via Pure Xbox

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

via What Culture
via What Culture

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

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

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

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

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

the walking dead s1 score

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

Advertisements

Review: The Unfinished Swan

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

The Unfinished Swan (2012)

PS4 / Rated E

Casual / Puzzle

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: Giant Sparrow


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

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

via jeuxactu.com
via jeuxactu.com

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

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

via Geeks Podcast
via Geeks Podcast

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

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

the unfinished swan 3

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

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

the unfinished swan score

*Also available on PS3 and PSVita

Review: Flight

via Flicks and Bits
via Flicks and Bits

Flight (2012)

R / 138 min

Drama / Thriller

Starring: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle

Director: Robert Zemeckis


What does an “ordinary day” for an airplane pilot involve?  Well, they probably wake up in a hotel and arrive at the airport.  From there, they probably check flight information and weather and other stuff like that.  Then, it’s flying all day.  I can only imagine the amount of places that pilots have been.  Their days are busy, but it’s all just an “ordinary day” for them.

Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Cast Away), focuses on one pilot in particular, Captain Whip Whitaker.  Played by Denzel Washington, Whip is far from your ordinary pilot.  He’s an alcoholic, with booze and drugs a part of his everyday life.  How is he a pilot and how does he do his job?  This is a very good question.  He has his fair share of problems, but he chooses to deny them, and develop lies about his life.  Denzel’s depiction of the character is close to perfect.  You can see the brokenness inside of him through his eyes.

via Buzz Sugar
via Buzz Sugar

One fateful day, he arrives to the airport, drunk and hung-over from the night before, which included an affair with fellow co-worker Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez).  According to Whip, this is just an “ordinary day” for him.  The weather for the day is pretty bad, and it seemingly gets worse and worse as they get into the air.  His co-pilot, Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), is noticeably nervous and Whip’s trusted flight attendant Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie) notices that something is up.  Things go downhill when some of the plane’s parts go defunct, causing the plane to start careening toward the ground at an alarming rate.  Due to some heroic piloting on Whip’s part (which is unbelievable considering the amount of substance in his system), the plane is brought to a forced landing in a field.  Many were saved, but six souls didn’t make it, including Katerina.

The plane disaster scenes were brilliantly captured by Zemeckis.  Tension filled the air and the imminent sense of doom could be seen in everyone’s eyes…except Whip who was surprisingly calm and collected during the whole endeavor.  The sequence is stressful to watch and you can’t help but feel the same sense of terror and helplessness that the passengers were feeling.  It was one of the most visually impressive sequences in the whole movie.

via outnow.ch
via outnow.ch

Things calm down however, for the rest of the movie, as we start to see the aftermath of the accident, and its effect on Whip’s life.  One would think that Whip would go clean off alcohol and drugs after such a terrifying experience, but instead, he gets worse and worse as the movie goes on.  In the hospital, he meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who is an addict like him, but of the hard drug variety.  The two of them are going through so many struggles and problems, but their chemistry together is impeccable.  They grow an attachment together as time goes on.

Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) is the contact for the pilot’s union that Whip meets with, and Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) is the attorney that is hired to work for Whip.  Whip argues that it was the plane’s insufficient maintenance that caused the accident, but all signs point to his alcoholism.  That is why Hugh is hired; to shoot down any evidence that Whip was intoxicated.

via The Urban Politico
via The Urban Politico

The rest of the movie entails Whip battling his alcohol problem.  It gets frustrating as he turns down the numerous bouts of help that is given to him.  He’s still in the denial phase; not wanting to admit to his struggles.  He hits rock bottom as the movie flies (no pun intended) along, with it all coming down when he visits his ex-wife and his son.  We don’t see too much of their relationship, but what was featured in the movie made me want to see more of those interactions.  The movie ends with what you could call a good ending, but it’s perhaps not the ending you would want to see.

Some parts of the movie didn’t make sense.  When Whip arrives home after his hospitalization, he starts to get rid of any alcohol or drugs that are present in his grandfather’s quaint home.  You almost start to believe that he is going to shape up and that we will start to see a change of persona, but that theory is instantly shot out of the water when he meets with Hugh and Charlie about his alcoholism and it’s relation to the crash.  We also see a scene where Whip visits his co-pilot, who sustained a bunch of injuries.  His girlfriend is by his side, eyes full of rage and you could just feel the levels of wrath that fill the room as Whip walks in.  Things aren’t looking good, but out of nowhere, the anger fades and they ask Whip to join them in a prayer of thanksgiving.  What?  Where did that come from?  What happened to the death eyes?

via news.com.au
via news.com.au

Whip’s downhill progression is saddening and emotional, as he hits some pretty deep lows along the journey.  Like I said before, Denzel Washington delivered a stunning performance, one that really made Whip’s story intriguing.  You would think that the film would burn out after such a heavy disaster scene in the beginning, but the momentum kept the plot steaming through till the end.

Flight is a really engrossing movie about a pilot’s supposedly “ordinary day” turning into something completely out of the ordinary.  The supporting cast, especially Kelly Reilly and John Goodman who plays Whip’s supplier friend Harley Mays, really complements Denzel’s performance.  Flight is an thrilling journey of one man’s struggle with coming to terms with the struggles that he faces.

flight score

Review: Taken 2

taken 2 posterTaken 2 (2012)

PG-13 / 92 min

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace

Director: Olivier Megaton


Dating Bryan Mill’s daughter is probably a daunting, and scary, undertaking.  He is a retired CIA agent, who has a particular set of skills that can make anybody’s life hell if he wanted to.  He also has an unbelievable love for his daughter, which causes him to be extremely overprotective, to the point where it starts to become a little weird.

Taken 2 is a ridiculous movie, even more so than Taken.  Imagine a full-size bear rolling around on a beach ball with a party hat on it’s head.  Yeah, that is ridiculous, just like Taken.  Now imagine this same bear on a beach ball with a party hat, except this time he is juggling a set of flaming torches while tightrope walking.  Yes, Taken 2 is more ridiculous than its predecessor.

taken 2 2

The action all starts whenever Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim (Maggie Grace) decide to surprise visit Mills (Liam Neeson) while he is in Istanbul for a business trip.  You can only imagine where this is going.  At the same time, the group that Mills heavily destroyed in Taken is out for vengeance, and they know that Mills happens to be in Istanbul.  Rade Serbedzija (Murad Krasniqi), the father of the guy who took Kim in the first movie, is the main guy leading the operation to seek vengeance on Mills.

taken 2 5

One day on their vacation, Mills and Lenore go out on a little date while Kim stays behind to catch up on some relaxation.  While on their date, Mills and Lenore catch on to the group of men trying to kidnap them, and they try to lose them, but it only ends up with them both being taken.  At the hotel, Kim still happens to be in contact with Mills, and he tells her to hide.  She almost gets taken herself, but luckily the gang doesn’t find her.  It’s now her turn to play hero and get her parents out of trouble.

While keeping in contact with Kim, Mills basically walks her through all the steps she needs to take in order for him to find out where he and Lenore have been taken.  It’s only a matter of time when Mills and Kim finally escape together, and they have to finally figure out how to get Lenore.  It’s here that the movie gets insane, once again.

taken 2 4

The thing that is great about Taken 2 is all of the moving pieces that are part of the film.  The plan that Mills conjures up seems much more involved, and much smarter this time around, than his previous plan in the first movie.  There are also a lot more high stakes action in Taken 2.  The whole movie just felt like the stakes where raised, which kept the tension levels pretty high.

However, when a movie becomes so predictable, you can only keep those tension levels high for a certain amount of time.  You know that Mills will somehow find a way to get Lenore back, unscathed and fresh as a spring day.  He’s going to make it look easy, and he is going to utterly devastate anyone who opposes him.  It’s this kind of knowledge that makes any sticky situation that Mills gets himself in seem insignificant.  It’s never a matter of “Will he?”, it’s a matter of “How he will” get himself out of these situations.

taken 2 3

The final scenes in the movie are also a big bummer.  The last movie ended with an intense firefight on a boat.  Taken 2 decided to tone back the conflict, making it much more low-key.  It’s literally just a game of fisticuffs as Mills takes out his final two opponents.  The death of the final man that Mills faces is kinda clever, but also not what I wanted.  I wanted a little more, something a little more climatic.

Taken 2 also bumped up the emotional level as well.  We got a lot more scenes between Mills, Lenore, and Kim, and their efforts to rebuild their family that once was.  Lenore is going through a bad marriage with her new husband and Kim dating a guy.  Mills is trying to fix his relationship with both of them, and he does make some great steps in the right direction.  If I had to feel satisfied with this movie, it would be with their family situation by the end.

taken 2 1

Taken 2 is still a fun movie because of the intense action that Mills gets himself into.  Liam Neeson is a lumbering giant that basically overpowers any body that tries to lay hands on what he cherishes the most; his family.  Taken 2 could have been so much more if it where a smarter movie, but instead we get some dumb thrills that still can bring a smile to anyone’s face.  Taken 3 is on the way, and I can only imagine what they are thinking of next.  Franchise fatigue is in the air, and only Taken 3 can help fix that.

 

 

Review: Django Unchained

django unchained posterDjango Unchained (2012)

R / 165 min

Western

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Director: Quentin Tarantino


Quentin Tarantino is probably one of the most compelling directors in the film industry.  Why?  His movies like Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Bastards, and more all share nothing in common besides one thing…character.  Although these movies vary across the board in terms of plot and concept, they all have a character to them, and that’s what makes them Quentin Tarantino films.  Django Unchained, a western with attitude, is no different from the rest.

The story that accompanies the film is almost of the feel-good variety.  Django, played brilliantly by Jamie Foxx, is a former slave who is bought from his owner by a witty, yet smart, doctor named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Christoph Waltz  gives a great performance, giving life to the doctor, who turns out to be a bounty hunter who rambles around the wild west with warrants in his pocket and a gun in the holster.

django unchained 1

Shultz decides to help Django on his mission to find and rescue his wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) who was separated form Django after their original slave owner decided to sell them separately.  The doctor only has one condition though, and that is Django has to be his sidekick of sorts and help him on his endeavors as a bounty hunter.

And thus begins the duo’s journey across America to find Hilda, while stopping to pick up the bounties that hang over the heads of some famous criminals and gangs.  Django is a free man now, riding high and mighty on a horse next to his partner Shultz.  This is where the “feel-good” aspect of the story comes in to play.  It’s ironic seeing Django, a former slave, beat upon the white men who kept him in captivity in the past.

django unchained 4

As the movie rolls along, you start to see the obvious influences of the westerns of yore.  We see the gun-slinging, the standoffs, the cowboys, and of course, the white empowerment.  What sets Django Unchained apart from the rest is the signature Tarantino attitude and character that infuses itself everywhere.  We see a lot of witty banter between the characters and the action scenes are often highly stylized, making them a real treat to watch.

I also think Tarantino did a pretty good job of capturing the feel of slavery in the west.  Often times the subject is touchy, and few directors tend to go near the concept of slavery.  You always run into the question, “is this too racist?”  However, the world came to live in this movie and it is believable.  Nothing crosses the line too far. There are definitely a fair share of cruel acts against slaves, but I think this adds to the story.  And it antagonizes the bad guys as well, making you want to see them defeated in the end.

django unchained 2

Things start to get much more interesting as we head towards the later parts of the movie.  When Shultz and Django arrive in Mississippi, they arrive at a plantation run by the charismatic, yet very cruel, plantation owner Calvan Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  DiCaprio was an excellent casting decision for the role of Candie.  He gives a great performance and he breathes a lot of life into his character.  His scenes are never boring, always leaning on the entertaining side.

The third act of the movie is probably the most exciting however.  The shootout in the big house on the Mississippi plantation feels like a culmination of the entire movie up to that point.  There seemed to be a build-up to the scene.  Prime characters die and blood is spilled, lots of it.  It’s a thrilling and suspenseful scene, as well as visually stunning.  I couldn’t help but smile a little bit when the rap music came on and Django started to do work and the countless men that try to stop him.

django unchained 3

The movie may suffer a little from the run-time, but it was only a little concerning.  There were definitely some slow parts throughout the movie, but the big action-heavy scenes made up for these lapses.  The movie definitely had a satisfying ending, especially when you consider how far Django has progressed.  In the beginning he is just a lowly slave serving his master, but by the end he is a changed man, and the tables have turned in his favor.  He gets the girl, rides of into the sunset on horseback with a burning building in the background.  Feels just like your favorite western, huh?

 

Review: Dust: An Elysian Tail

dust cover artDust: An Elysian Tail (2012)

PS4

Action / RPG / Brawler

Developer: Humble Hearts

Publisher: Humble Hearts


 

There is a lot to like about Dust: An Elysian Tail.  The game was originally released back in 2012 and it was regarded as a great game when it came out.  It offered awe-inspiring visuals and a very fluid combat system along with some light rpg elements.  Recently, the game was remastered for the PS4.  Now, the game looks even better.

The story follows a character named Dust who wakes up in a field dust 6which no memory as to who he is and how he got there.   He discovers a mysterious talking sword named The Blade of Ahrah.  He also stumbles upon this “bat-squirrel” looking thing named Fidget who also decides to help Dust figure out who he is and what he was doing prior to his memory loss.

The first thing you notice is the amazing art-style that accompanies the game.  The game takes place in a heavily inspired world full of furry creatures.  The game features a hand drawn art style, which makes the levels that you traverse look amazing.  I often found myself getting lost in the beautiful environments.

dust 5

There are also some very spiffy looking animated cut scenes that appeared later in the game as the story started to get more serious.  These looked really nice, and it was a shame that they were only present for the latter parts of the game.  I wanted to see them throughout the whole entire story.

The voice acting is also really great.  All of the voice performances were spot on and they offered humor to the characters, as well as charm.  Fidget’s character was the comic relief in the story, but she started to get a little annoying after a while.  It was probably here high-pitched squeal voice that she used throughout the game.

dust 3

The game can probably be related to a “Metroidvania”.  The levels are all 2D and they have a heavy emphasis on exploration and backtracking, much like the Metroid style.

This brings me to the combat, which was probably the best part of the game for me.  It’s simple to learn but it gets more complex as you go.  The combat consists of button combos, as well as button mashing.  You can lay waste to all of the characters on the screen with ease and you can pummel them into the air with elegance.  You can also use Fidget to throw projectiles which you can then manipulate with your sword.  You end up all over the place when you are fighting hordes of enemies.  The best part about all of it is that it feels great and fluid.

dust 2

The boss battles were probably the most disappointing aspect of the game.  The game is short in length, which means there are not that much opportunities for boss battles.  This is why I expected them to be cinematic and intense encounters.  However, they were actually pretty easy to defeat and they all offered little to no challenge to defeat. They also weren’t as climatic as I would have hoped, since most of them were the same size as Dust.

As you go along in the game, you also unlock more abilities and powers, which enable you to do more in combat and explore more areas.  These abilities add more depth to the gameplay, making it more satisfying as you continue to level up.  The leveling system is where the rpg elements come in.  When you level up by gaining experience from defeating enemies, you can add skill points to your various skills like health, attack, defense, and Fidget abilities.  You can also upgrade your armor with stronger items.  You can also craft items using some materials that you can collect from the different enemies.  This system offered some more depth that the game really benefited from.

dust 4

You can also collect items, as well as friends (which offer nods to other indie games), throughout the levels.  These collectibles encourage exploration, and some of them even warrant you to use your abilities and ways you haven’t thought before.   The game also offers challenge areas around the map that really test your abilities that you have learned and perfected throughout the game.  These areas probably offered the most challenge, as they were a race against the clock to get through an obstacle course of sorts.

dust 1

Dust: An Elysian Tail was probably the most charming game I have played all year.  The story is dramatic and engaging and the combat is even more engaging.  Not to mention the exploration and sense of discovery was high in this game.  Plus, the game just looks damn great.  Despite some of it’s minor problems, the game is probably one of the more unique games I have played this year.

Review: Archer (Season 3)

archer s3 posterArcher Season 3 (2011-2012)

TVMA / FX

Animation / Comedy / Action

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

Creator: Adam Reed


Archer is slowly starting to become one of my favorite comedy television shows of all time. There is just so much to like about the show.  First off, it’s protagonist, Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), is probably the worst human being of all time, yet the funniest character on the show.  Secondly, the writers continue to nail the dialogue every single episode.  The witty banter between the characters is probably the thing that keeps most people coming back.

Season three features another mixed bag of adventures by Archer and the gang at ISIS.  The season starts out with a bang with a three-part plot-line entitled “The Heart of Archness.”  It features Archer, still reeling from the death of his fiancee going into hiding in the Pacific.  Malory Archer (Jessica Walter) wants him back, so she sends noted adventurer Rip Riley (Patrick Warburton) in pursuit to find him.  This just ends with Archer and Riley getting captured by Somalian Pirates and taken to their stronghold in the middle of the Pacific, where Archer is declared their new pirate king.

archer s3 4

Malory has to instead, send Lana (Aisha Tyler) and Ray (Adam Reed) to go save them and bring them back.  These were three back-to-back episodes that offered some of the best moments of the season.

The season also features an episode about Archer’s childhood idol, Burt Reynolds, who plays himself.  It turns out that Burt is dating Malory, and this sickens Archer.  It’s a great cameo and it’s surprising the amount of calm wisdom that Burt gives Archer during this episode.

archer s3 1

During the season, we also get to see Ray’s hometown in West Virginia where Archer and the gang proceed to help save Ray’s brother’s drug crop from being sabotaged by a crooked cop.  The final two episodes of the season also feature the ISIS gang going to space to help the international space station from being taken over by space pirates.  These episodes provided for some great moments too.

archer s3 2

The relationship between Archer and Pam (Amber Nash) also takes a turn for the weird after a drunken night.  Archer discovers that Pam, as much as he doesn’t want to admit, actually gives him the best sex he has ever had.  These two continue to build the sexual tension as the episodes go on.

archer s3 3

There is a lot of crazy antics that the ISIS gang gets themselves into once again.  Each season seems to get better and better as they go on, which is a good sign for the future of Archer and the gang.

Plus, I’ve already watched the season four premiere and it seems like the next season is going to be even crazier and more hilarious.  I will just have to see.

 

Review: Killing Them Softly

killing them softly posterKilling Them Softly (2012)

R / 97 min

Crime / Thriller

Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins

Director: Andrew Dominik


Movies that have a lot of cool ideas and ambition, yet fall short, are probably the most disappointing to me.  I started watching Killing Them Softly with a lot of excitement, but I just didn’t find myself satisfied with the final product.  This was surprising to me, especially given the work that Andrew Dominik has done in the past, including The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Killing Them Softly is a story about three, rather dumb, criminals who decide to rob a mob-protected poker game.  There is a lot of money flying around the tables, as the one criminal puts it, making it an alluring target.  This is bad for the local economy.  And by local economy, I mean the illegal poker games.  They bring in a lot of money and with this robbery, the confidence level of the players went down.

killing them softly 5

So, they decide to hire an enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to restore order to the situation.  He has to take out the three guys who are responsible for this “recession.”  That’s pretty much the extent of the plot.  It’s rather drab.  It’s a cut and paste story that doesn’t make itself stand out from other crime movies of it’s kind.

What makes this movie even more disappointing is the lack of challenge that Jackie faces with his hits.  Let’s just run down the robbers.  First we have Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) who, in his spare time, sells stolen dogs and does a ton of drugs.  We then have Frankie (Scoot McNairy) who seems to be dealing with constant anxiety and fear.  The guy who ordered the two to rob the poker game is Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola), who doesn’t seem to be to intelligent himself.  You see what I am getting at?  These guys don’t really provide a challenge for Jackie.  It’s hard to find the conflict in this movie when really no one stands in his way.

killing them softly 2

Because of lack of conflict, Brad Pitt’s character isn’t too engaging.  I want to believe that Brad Pitt did the best that he could given the material that he had, but I just couldn’t find to much positives about his performance.  He seemed rather tired throughout the movie, smoking on his cigarette and killing these bozos who didn’t know what they were doing.  It wasn’t a standout acting job on Pitt’s part.

The character I enjoyed the most though was Markie Trattman, played by Ray Liotta.  He is the man that, even though he was completely innocent, was seen as the guy who was behind the hold-up at the poker game.  Even though we didn’t see enough of him in the movie, his few times to shine were great.  He played his part the best out of everybody else.

killing them softly 4

There is also a ton of talking in this movie, and by ton I mean A TON.  This is a largely conversational movie.  I could probably listen to this movie in podcast form and still get the same effect.  Maybe that’s a little exaggeration, but it’s not that far from being the truth.  With that being said, these conversations would be okay if they were actually interesting.  The dialog is usually between Jackie and Mickey (James Gandolfini) and Driver (Richard Jenkins).  These conversations usually go on to long and they are one of the big reasons why this movie is on the dull side.  They are not fun and they tend to be a little useless.

The one aspect about this movie that interested me was the interspersed political commentary that was found throughout the movie.  Whether it was car radios or TV’s, Obama, George Bush, and John McCain could be heard giving their thoughts on the financial situation of America.  America, during this time, was going through a recession and money was low.  The meaning behind these mysterious narrations all comes together in the final scene, which did offer some closure to it all.  However, was all of this stuff necessary?  No.

killing them softly 3

When I went in to this crime movie, I was not expecting all of this political commentary.  In fact, by the end, I didn’t really want it at all.  It intrigued me at first, but the movie just failed to really make it significant enough.  It just shows that this movie had a big idea that it wanted to capitalize on, but it just fell short of what it actually wanted to say.  For this reason, I found the political commentary not needed.

Killing Them Softly is a puzzling movie to me.  I had an open mind when I started the movie, but it’s grittiness and it’s largely boring plot just couldn’t grip me.  Like I said before, it’s a movie that had ambition and good ideas behind it, but it just didn’t attack them the way I wanted them too.  It was a disappointment.  A disappointment that I just can’t bring myself to recommend.

killing them softly 1

 

Review: Silver Linings Playbook

playbook posterSilver Linings Playbook (2012)

R / 122 min

Comedy / Romance / Drama

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Director: David O. Russell


Silver Linings Playbook is not your typical romance story.  In fact, it’s probably the farthest thing from being normal.  Most romances feature two perfect people who come together and work perfectly with each other.  This movie, directed by David O. Russell, stars two very different people who have their very specific problems.  No one would ever have thought that these two would work so well together in the end.

The movie starts with the first piece of the puzzle, Pat (Bradley Cooper).  He is a former teacher who just got off a stint at a mental institution for complications with his marriage.  As seen through flashbacks, Pat walked in on his wife, now ex-wife, Nikki (Brea Bee) cheating on a history teacher.  To make things even worse, the song that played on their wedding day could be heard in the background during the act.  Pat snapped on the guy and literally beat him to death.

playbook 2

Pat is a guy that shouldn’t be liked, but it is hard not to root for him.  His mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) picks him up from the institution and from then on, he is determined to mend his relationship with Nikki, despite the numerous restraining orders that have been put in him.  The motto that Pat has throughout the movie is there is a silver lining to everything, no matter how bad or crappy things tend to be.  It’s honestly a pretty good way to live your life.

Pat’s relationship with his father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is probably the best part of the movie.  Both guys have their things.  Pat is bi-polar and he can snap between different emotions pretty quickly.  His father is OCD and very superstitious, especially when it comes to his Philadelphia Eagles.  He constantly puts money down on the games and he believes that his son is the good luck charm that leads the birds to victory every Sunday.  They don’t have the best relationship though, but you see their relationship rise to a new level as the movie moves on.  The scenes that feature these two are some of the most gripping parts of the movie.

playbook 5

Then Pat meets a peculiar woman named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).

She is the second part of the puzzle.  The minute that Pat meets her, he begins to feel the attraction towards her.  But he can’t embrace these feelings, he’s married right?  But as Tiffany swiftly remarks, “she’s married too.”  Her husband died during an accident on the highway.  She has been a widow for some time, but that doesn’t stop her from sleeping with other guys.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Tiffany and Pat, the relationship that the movie primarily focuses on, is the strangest couple known to man.  They can both be considered crazy at times.  One likes his football and his literature, the other prefers dancing and basically anything that has to do with football.  How do these two get along?  How are they attracted to each other?

That’s the magic behind the movie.  You see a couple that shouldn’t work and get along on paper, but they find the best parts of each other and run with it.  Everybody has their silver lining, right?  Yeah, Tiffany starts to veer Pat away from his end goal of getting together with Nikki, but there chemistry together is amazing.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who have worked together in the past, really work well together in movies.  They both have amazing performances in Silver Linings Playbook.

playbook 1

In a sense, when I look back at the movie, it seems to be bi-polar in nature, almost like Pat himself.  The relationship between Pat and Tiffany and the relationship between Pat and Pat Sr. have their fair share of ups and downs.  Sometimes they go up and down real quickly, perhaps even in the same scene.  But everything seems to work out in the end.

The relationships of these individuals causes a lot of arguments, which leads me to another favorite part of the movie; the shouting.  This movie features a lot of shouting.  Someone will say something, which rubs another the wrong way.  The intensity builds as the voices raise and we soon see ourselves watching a shouting match.  Perhaps it’s Pat’s bi-polar nature that starts these arguments.  Either way, these are the scenes that fascinate me the most.

playbook 3

One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is the humor.  But, how could I forget it?  It’s not the kind of humor that will have you rolling around laughing.  Instead, it’s the humor that puts a smile to your face.  Its cunning and brilliant.  The movie has charm, and everybody seems to make light of the situations that they are in, given how crappy they might be.

Silver Linings Playbook has probably been one of my favorite movies I have seen this year.  There’s just something about it that makes me smile every time I think about it.  It’s charming, funny, dark, romantic, emotional, vibrant, and just plain terrific.  All at the same time.  Like I said in the beginning, this is not your average romance.  However, everything about this movie is fantastic, and everything clicks.  It’s a well-oiled machine. Everything about it just works.

 

 

 

Please Subscribe and the YouTube Phenomenon

Please Subscribe PosterPlease Subscribe (2012)

NR / 77 min

Documentary / Biography / Comedy

Starring: Craig Benzine, Dan Brown & Mitchell Davis

Director: Dan Dobi


 

Even to this day I still can’t fully wrap my head around the immense phenomenon that is YouTube.  When the website formed around nine years ago, it was hard to tell if it would grow wings and spring off.

Obviously this is not the case today.

YouTube has grown into one of the world most visited website.  Tons of people are uploading hundreds and hundreds of hours of content everyday.  It’s truly unfathomable.  Please Subscribe, a documentary by Dan Dobi is a documentary about YouTube, but it tells a different type of story.  It doesn’t talk about what YouTube is, or how it is run.  Instead, it takes a peek into some of the personal lives of some of the personalities that make the site run.  In my opinion, this provides for a better story.

please subscribe 2

The documentary follows the story of eight YouTuber’s and the lives that they live.  These personalities include Daily Grace, Dan Brown, Hannah Hart, Mitchell Davis, Mystery Guitar Man, Seananners, The Will of DC, and Wheezy Waiter.  Each one of them has a different story to tell, and all of them are pretty intriguing.

The documentary focuses a lot on the daily lives that these internet celebrities live and how hectic they can sometimes be.  A lot of people might have the misconception that being a “YouTube Star” is cake walk and that these stars are living an easy life.  In reality,  their lives can be busy and borderline crazy.  A lot of these YouTubers’ days are packed to the brim with video work or planning for their video work.  Their work pays off in the end, because most of these people make six-figure salaries.  Although this a driving force for most, a lot of these personalities do it because they want to, not because of the dough.

please subscribe 1

We also get to hear the more intimate stories that you otherwise wouldn’t hear publicly.  For instance, we get to hear the story of Mitchell Davis, and his battles with OCD.  It’s a thing that he has struggled with in the past, but his YouTube channel has helped him overtake this disorder and tame it.  It’s these kinds of stories that made the documentary riveting to watch.

The documentary primarily focuses on the success stories of these YouTuber’s channels, but we do get to see a channel that has gone through it’s fair share of failures as well.  We see the story of Dan Brown and his property entitled Dan 3.0.  This property that he created was basically a crowd-sourced project on YouTube that he started after his channel had gained some popularity.  This move didn’t really sit well with the fans and it actually ended up not going so well for Dan in the end.  We get to see how he coped and how he got through it all.  It ended with a good ending, but it was important that we got to see the failures that come with YouTube.  Not everybody that signs up for a YouTube account sees instant success.  It takes a lot of hard work, and sometimes the works pays off, while other times it may not.

please subscribe 4

Please Subscribe offers a unique perspective and it sheds a light on the whole YouTube story.  To my knowledge, most people know about YouTube, but they don’t know the story behind it.  They don’t know the people behind it.  They don’t know the true story behind the personalities that they see and watch every day.

The documentary was well shot and it was fun to watch.  Dan Dobi hasn’t done too much up to this point, but I hope that I can see more of his work in the future.  Please Subscribe is an extremely recommendable documentary and I actually encourage a lot of people to watch it.  It’s a unique look at a website and the pioneers that are taking it into the future.

please subscribe 3