Tag Archives: 2013

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.

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.

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: Lee Daniel’s The Butler

the butler poster
via Cinema Blend

Lee Daniel’s The Butler (2013)

PG-13 / 132 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo

Director: Lee Daniels

We’re smack dab in the middle of another election season which means one thing, more change is coming to the White House.  No matter how this election turns out, a new president is going to be elected and people will be moving in and out of the White House.  It’s a change that’s relatively constant every four (or eight) years.  I’m willing to bet that the White House is probably the one house in America that has had the most tenants over the course of history.  I’m probably wrong but I’m 80% confident that this is the truth.

The Butler (2013)Forest Whitaker
via EW

Change doesn’t affect everything in the White House though.  It’s the behind the scenes crew, the group of individuals that keep America’s oldest and safest house running at tip-top shape, that are the one constant amidst the change.  Perhaps the most notable staff member that the White House has ever had on its team was Eugene Allen, a butler who served under a multitude of presidents over a 34-year span until he retired as head butler in 1986.  He is also the source and inspiration behind Lee Daniel’s The Butler, a historical drama that takes a look at the wildly intriguing life of Cecil Gaines, butler at the White House.

Yes, that’s right, the name of the butler in the movie, played by Forest Whitaker, is named Cecil Gaines.  I’m not sure why they decided to go with that name over Eugene’s actual name, but there’s probably some legitimate reason that makes sense.  I’m sure Eugene or his family probably had something to do with it.  Forest Whitaker was pretty much perfect for this role.  He was stoic and constricted in his mannerisms as he slid right into the body of Cecil.  The man goes through a lot over the tenure of his work and watching the way he acted and reacted to things was one of the best parts of the movie.  There’s few actors I could have seen doing better in this role than Whitaker.

the butler 2
via The Atlantic

The rest of Cecil’s family are also just as delightful, although they don’t reach the same caliber as Whitaker’s performance.  Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil’s loud-mouthed wife Gloria.  Cecil also has two sons, Louis and Charlie, played by David Oyelowo and Elijah Kelly respectively.  Louis is the rebel in the family while Charlie is the good two-shoes of the bunch.  One of the primary spotlights of the movie is centered on Louis as he becomes a big proponent for the black civil rights movement and joins the Black Panthers.  We film switches back and forth between Cecil’s life in the White House and Louis’ life on the streets.  One is working for the power while the other is working against it.  They both ultimately want the same goal, social freedom, but watching the contrast between the two is really cool.

The reality of making a movie about the life of Cecil Gaines, as well as the civil rights movement, is perhaps a little tougher than it seems.  You could create a multi-season TV show about the two, but when you try to cram 30+ years of history into one movie, things get a little crowded.  The film’s pacing is light on its feet and it flies through the years, only stopping here and there for important plot moments.  Lee Daniels had a lot of ground to cover in terms of material and it would have been nice if he honed it down to a more concentrated and smaller portion of history.  The focus of the story moves a little too fast between different time periods making it hard to catch a breath.

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Another way in which the movie faults is with its A-list cast.  It’s funny that I say that.  A-list cast?  Why would that be a bad thing.  Your right, having a top-notch cast is usually something you strive for with a movie but in The Butler’s case, the cast is actually a little distracting.  Over the course of the movie we are introduced to the eight presidents, who range from lesser known actors to the more popular.  The bottom line, they were all gimmicky in their own ways.  Casting the late Robin Williams as president Eisenhower was one example of the questionable casting decisions.  He looked the part but didn’t necessarily fit into the part personality wise.  Instead of saying, “oh look, it’s president Eisenhower!” I said, “oh look, it’s Robin Williams…that’s weird.”  There’s also appearances from the people like Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz that just felt out of place in the movie.

Despite its missteps, Lee Daniel’s The Butler is a well-made period piece.  It tells not only a fascinating story, but an important one that needs to be told.  It also finds ways to be relevant to this day.  (It even has a couple of scenes dedicated to the Obama election) The movie might be a quick and fast crash course on the topic of the civil rights movement, but that only acts as a backdrop for the story at hand, which is the story of Cecil Gaines, a black White House butler during a time of unparalleled change in American history.


Review: The Walking Dead Season Two

the walking dead s2 cover
via watz-up.fr

The Walking Dead Season Two (2013)

PS4 / Rated M


Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games

Clementine was probably one of the greatest video game characters to come out of 2012.  When Telltale Games released season one of their adaptation of the Walking Dead series, it was met with rave reviews and massive critical appeal.  The game was close to a masterpiece, introducing you to main characters Lee Everett and Clementine while forcing you to make some gut-wrenching decisions along the way.  It was this game that propelled Telltale to where they are today.

the walking dead s2 1
via Softpedia News

One year later, Telltale released The Walking Dead Season Two, putting you in the shoes of Clementine.  Some time has passed and the young and naïve Clementine has grown up and matured.  However, she is still on the road, fighting to survive the dangerously harsh world of the zombie apocalypse.  Some things just don’t change.

The Walking Dead Season Two introduces players to a whole new set of characters, along with a couple of surprises here and there.  As with the previous season’s cast of characters, season two’s characters have their own set of problems.  At first, these new people that Clementine comes across rubbed me the wrong way, but after time they start to open up and reveal the kinds of demons and struggles they are dealing with.  They all have good intentions, but some of these issues cause them to get snappy with each other, putting the group on edge multiple times throughout the story.  Clementine always seems to act as the beacon of reason, calming the group down and helping them work through their problems.  It’s a cool dynamic that really goes to show how much Clementine has changed since the first season.

the walking dead s2 2
via IGN

Another big theme that season two tackles is Clementine’s personality.  In season one, she is young and scared, often looking to Lee for help and guidance.  Lee was her mentor and her best friend, helping her endure and adapt to the harsh world that they live in.  After a year has passed, she isn’t the scared child that you remembered from before.  This time around she is killing zombies left and right and doing some things that, for a lack of a better term, “make grown men cry.”  The reality of this new life has changed her, and these types of moments are scattered throughout the season.  It’s cool to see this zombie-ridden world through the perspective of a young kid.

My biggest complaint about this entry in the series is the plot’s predictability.  I was seldom surprised at the events that took place on screen.  Now I am not going to lie, there was some points in the story where I was legitimately surprised, but these moments were few and far between.  I always felt that the story made it a little too clear at what kinds of things were going to happen next.  For example, a character would say something like, “Hey Clem, I don’t think I can trust this person.  What do you think?”  Well, when you put it that way, I guess I shouldn’t trust said character should I?  An episode would pass and surprise, that character would do something to betray the group.  This is just a specific example but I felt these kinds of situations made it super easy to see where the story was going.

the walking dead s2 3
via Video Gamer

Although the season had some plot issues, as well as some classic Telltale Games technical issues, I still had a great time with The Walking Dead Season Two.  Although it does not stack up against its predecessor, it is still one of the best Telltale games I have played to date.  Story wise, the game wraps up in a way that opens up the possibility of future games.  (There has already been rumors of a season three) If you are not a big fan of what Telltale has to offer, I at least encourage you to give their Walking Dead games a try.  You don’t have to be a big Walking Dead fan to appreciate the stories that they have to tell.

the walking dead s2 score

Also available on Mac, PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Ouya

Review: Jobs

via Moviefone News
via Moviefone News

Jobs (2013)

PG-13 / 128 mins

Biography / Drama

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

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

via Digital Trends
via Digital Trends

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

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

via apnatimepass.com
via apnatimepass.com

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

via apnatimepass.com
via apnatimepass.com

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

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


Review: The Swapper

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

The Swapper (2013)

PS4 / E10+

Puzzle / Platformer

Publisher: Curve Digital

Developer: Facepalm Games, Curve Digital

Puzzle games can be extremely satisfying experiences if executed correctly.  Puzzles need to be deep and innovative, using familiar mechanics while managing to keep things fresh as time goes along.  This is precisely why The Swapper was such a satisfying experience.  Not only did it deliver on the puzzles, but it managed to tell a simple yet compelling story with the eerie and dark backdrop of space.  It was a weird experience, but I liked it.

the swapper 1

The game doesn’t waste time in throwing you right into the world.  You play as a female space scavenger who finds herself stranded in an abandoned and mysterious space research facility, which you learn is named Theseus.  The facility, among others, was set up to mine for resources.  Earth has already used up a majority of its resources, forcing the construction and deployment of these facilities to essentially save Earth from a resource crisis.  Theseus and its crew landed on Chori V and discovered some weird, but abundant mineral deposits in the ground.  However, things go awry as these resources start to have adverse effects on the crew and their functions.

As the lone explorer of the space station, the player is left to their own devices to discover the story of what happened to Theseus and its crew.  While wondering around the station’s corridors, you brush up against a mysterious device known as The Swapper.  The device allows for the creation of clones which you can swap in and out of at will.  You’re not meant to immediately get what is going on with the device, but as you progress through the game, you start to learn more about it and its effects.  I like the sense of progression that the game employs.  You are given little in the beginning, but as you make your way through the research facility, you discover more and more, until you finally realize what actually happened to the doomed facility.

via PS4 Home
via PS4 Home

The Swapper, despite its deep, chilling story is a puzzle game by nature.  The device that players picks up yields some great innovative and thoughtful puzzles that feel satisfying every time you solve them.  The obstacles that you have to overcome are pretty easy in the beginning.  The mechanics are simple, you can create clones and then switch to them to gain access to other areas.  Red lights prevent you from swapping to your created clones while blue lights prevent the creation of clones.  Purple lights prevent both actions.  In terms of mechanics, that’s pretty much all there is to it.  Some puzzles require quick timing and precision but don’t let that scare you.  Most of the puzzles are pretty easy to figure out, but are challenging enough to make feel great when completing them.  There are a couple of puzzles that I found to be quite frustrating and annoying, but these problems are few and far between to be too meddling.

You will know when you complete a puzzle because at the end you receive different types of orbs.  Some contain a single orb while others contain multiple orbs.  They all are added to your grand total which allow you to access blocked areas.  The game’s final terminal is only accessible after finding 124 orbs, which means you will have to explore the entirety of the facility to gain the necessary orbs necessary for accessing the final moments.  This was a cool way to handle progression and it made the game feel like Metroid in a way.  You’ll run across areas that you aren’t able to access right away but after some exploration and puzzle solving, you will be able to access these areas in due time.

via Egg Plante
via Egg Plante

Perhaps the neatest thing about The Swapper is its brilliant atmosphere that surrounds the whole experience.  There’s a feeling of loneliness that envelopes you as you make your way through the space station’s abandoned corridors.  There is a silence that lingers in the air, besides the sound of your footsteps.  It’s a chilling adventure.  The game also looks amazing as well.  If the art style looks handmade to you, that’s because it is.  The artists at Curve Studios originally made the game’s assets with clay.  They then digitized their creations to bring the game’s world to life on screen.  The game deserves major props for its art direction.

The Swapper ends with a choice that you have to make based off the information that you have gleaned as you cloned and swapped your way through the station.  This was a thoughtful and deep game, which I was not expecting given the game’s initial moments.  The puzzles and obstacles that you encounter never get old despite the lack of new mechanics.  Instead, they evolve and innovate with these simple mechanics to give you fresh and new experiences right up to the game’s ending.  I encourage you to take the trip through the space station to discover the true story of Theseus and The Swapper.

the swapper score

Also available on PC, PS3, Vita, and Xbox One

Review: Nebraska

via Go Watch It
via Go Watch It

Nebraska (2013)

R / 115 min.

Adventure / Drama

Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb

Director: Alexander Payne

I know that I am not the only one who has gotten a million-dollar sweepstakes letter in the mail saying I have won the big prize.  You open it up and what you see is YOU WON THE GRAND PRIZE in all caps.  Then comes the little feeling of excitement…followed by the quick slap of reality once you start reading the all-too-important fine print that is hidden at the bottom of the page.  The next thing that letter sees is the garbage can.  That is usually the end of it, but in Nebraska, one old man really thinks he won big.

Directed by Alexander Payne, Nebraska is the story of Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, who receives a letter in the mail from a marketing company saying he won their million dollar mega sweepstakes worth one million dollars.  The poor man, who is stubborn as hell, believes he actually won and decides to begin his walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize.  It is in the movie’s beginning scenes were we begin to see Woody’s mental problems and his profound stubbornness.  He is dead set on claiming his prize, no matter what his family tells him otherwise.


Woody’s son David (Will Forte) is a young man who plays along with Woody’s fantasy.  He takes it so far that he decides to drive his dad all the way to Nebraska from their small home in Montana.  It makes way for a long road trip, which gives them plenty of time for classic father and son bonding.  We also have Woody’s wife Kate (June Squibb) who is loud, and pretty funny.  She constantly tries to tell her crazy husband that he did not win one penny, but he is too stubborn to believe her, or anybody else for that matter.

Where the movie excels is its charming scenes featuring father and son, Woody and David.  The movie makes it known that Woody had problems with money and drinking back in the day, which has affected a lot of his relationships.  David is constantly trying to break through to his father and learn more about him.  Their interactions were special and they provided for a lot of the movie’s deadpan style of humor.

via LA Times
via LA Times

The movie takes a detour when the two find themselves stopping by Woody’s old hometown in Hawthorne Nebraska.  It’s also where we are introduced to the story’s main conflict.  Whenever someone wins big in the lottery, the winner’s immediate family and friends will most likely come to them for some financial help.  It’s bound to happen, because hey, they have some pocket change to spare right?  Well, this is the case for Woody, who starts to come into contact with some of his family and friends who have not seen him in a while.  They wonder why he’s in their neck of the woods and he tells them with a straight face, “I won a million dollars.”  “Oh really now?  You won a million dollars?  Congratulations Woody!”  This is when everybody starts to want some money from the man who seems to have taken loans from everybody to fund his drinking habits.  Things get heated and things start to go south.

The predictability of the movie’s premise is at a high from the start of the movie to the end credits.  There is only one way that a story like this ends, and it’s with disappointment followed by the harrowing acceptance.  However, it’s the way that the movie takes you to the conclusion that makes it special.  The movie excels with its characters and tells a story that is gritty and sad, but often positive as well.

via Gallery Hip
via Gallery Hip

Another element that makes this movie stand out from the crowd is its unique black and white visual style.  It just fits well with the story that Nebraska is trying to tell.  It also paints a realistic picture of rural backwater America, right down to the run down gas stations and bars.  It provides a unique atmosphere for the road trip elements of the movie.  I do not think the movie would have had the same effect if it was shown in color, but I cannot quite put a finger on why.

Bruce Dern shines in what might be one of his best roles yet in Nebraska.  He takes a deep dive into his character and really brings all the quirks and iron-willed mindset to life.  Will Forte and June Squibb both do a really good job as well.  Nebraska is a movie that might demand a lot of your attention, and if you give it the attention it desires, it will give you a story that you will not forget for a while.

nebraska score

Review: Fruitvale Station

via Daily Inspiration
via Daily Inspiration

Fruitvale Station (2013)

R / 85 min

Biography / Drama / Romance

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

Director: Ryan Coogler

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

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

fruitvale station 1

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

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

via Movie Gos
via Movie Gos

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

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

via Daily Republic
via Daily Republic

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

fruitvale station score

Review: SimCity

via IGN
via IGN

SimCity (2013)

PC / Rated E10


Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Maxis Software

The release of SimCity was probably one of the ugliest game launches in recent memory.  If you remember back in 2013 when the game first launched, everything seemed to go wrong for EA and Maxis.  Servers caused a ton of trouble, which is a major problem for a game that, at one point, was completely online-only.  Things seemed to be on fire for the longest time, until subsequent updates would slowly start to fix the problems plaguing the game.

I was at first fascinated by the prospect of SimCity.  The previews looked great and it looked like it was going to take the franchise to the next level.  However, after all the release woes that the game faced, I decided to wait out the storm, to see if things would look better after all the commotion.  Luckily, things did start to look better, which is why I decided to finally give the game that looked so appealing to me at the time a try.

via holkf.de
via holkf.de

The first thing that I noticed when I first booted up the game was the inclusion of an offline mode.  I should note here that the entirety of my experience with the game comes from the offline mode.  The original vision for SimCity was for it to be an always online experience where your cities would be connected with neighboring cities, ideally controlled by other players.  You, and your neighboring players, would work together to create a self-sustaining ecosystem of cities.  Maxis’ original vision makes sense and works well for some, but with these kinds of games, I tend to take the road of the lone wolf.  Working with other players could make way for a really fun and enriching experience, but it could also work in negative ways as well.

Another thing I immediately noticed is how good the game looks.  The game may have faced a lot of technical issues when it was first rolling out, but the look and aesthetic of the game managed to stay true throughout.  Everything looks good from a distance, and when you zoom in, you can see your city come to life, with citizens going about their daily business and cars buzzing around city blocks.  The game makes it known that every little detail that you see is a product of the game’s numerous internal simulations.  Each citizen has a set goal or objective that they are carrying out, making no one citizen similar to the next.  It really immerses you in the experience, breathing life into your metropolis.

via Games Keyhouse
via Games Keyhouse

The game also has a pretty spot-on user interface that provides the player with many different outlets of information.  The game excels with giving players information via info-graphics.  You can view information on your cities power consumption, water flow, waste build-up, resident happiness levels, and much more via data overlays that present information in your city in a clear manner.

via SimCity Wikia
via SimCity Wikia

The game also gives you a variety of different buildings to populate your city, just like other games in the series’ past.  However, your city’s space will quickly fill up as your city grows.  The plot of land that is given to you in the beginning may seem like enough, but as you slowly build up your city, things start to get a little crowded, causing you to have to expand to other plots of land.  This is where city specialization comes in.  You can have a region of four cities, each with a specific function like industry or commercial, that can work together to create the kind of self-sustainability that you would want.  If you try to create one massive “do-it-all” city in the plot of land that you are given, you will quickly find yourself running out of space, and you will also see your residents get unhappy as well.

This brings me to another point, citizens tend to complain a lot this time around.  Their every emotion that they express to the player is reactionary based off your actions.  They will make it known if they do not like an addition that you added to the city, and they will be vocal about it till you decide to take action.  This might make sense, but it got annoying after a while, especially as your city grows.  Striking the right balance with your city’s residents is almost the toughest part of the game.

via Unlimited Lives Blog
via Unlimited Lives Blog

If it was not for such a muddled release, SimCity might have struck a chord with a larger audience of fans.  The game does a lot of things right and I think Maxis might have finally figured the formula out.  The online components caused a lot of problems when the game was coming out and they probably could have avoided that problem if they allowed for users to play the game offline.  That is how I preferred to spend my time with the game.  The online vision that the game wants you to get behind in concept, but it might just be the fact that we are not there yet.  The game was on fire for a long time, but it is safe to say that the coast is clear and SimCity deserves a second chance to redeem itself.

simcity score

Review: The Last of Us

via Taringa.net
via Taringa.net

The Last of Us (2013)

Rated M / PS4

Shooter / Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: Naughty Dog

I finally see why The Last of Us is regarded as possibly one of the best games ever.  When Naughty Dog released the game on the PS3 back in 2013, they instantly had a wildfire hit on their hands.  After some time, they released a remastered version on the PS4, which seemed to be the way to fully experience the game.  After not knowing anything about the game, I decided to give the game a run for its money.  It was by far one of the best decisions I have made, roaming the infection-ravaged countryside with two great characters.

These two characters I’m talking about are Joel and Ellie, voiced and mo-capped by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson respectively.  Joel is a man in his 50’s, who has already felt the pain of loss due to the deadly infection that has been spreading throughout the land.  Ellie, a younger orphan girl, has also been changed by the recent events, having survived an infected bit on her arm.  It’s Joel’s goal to get her to the Firefly’s, a rebel organization opposing the government, in hopes of possibly finding a cure for the infection that has been spreading throughout the country.

via playm.de
via playm.de

The journey that you take with these two wildly different, yet strangely attached, characters is a harrowing one.  During the course of the game, you travel across a good portion of the United States, only to see a place completely torn apart by death and destruction.  There is also an abundance of infected, as well as desperate humans that provide some tough opposition along the way.  It’s a tough adventure, with a lot of hardships that ultimately brings Joel and Ellie together.

It is hard not to get immediately attached to the characters that you meet along the way.  Naughty Dog did a fine job with the writing and overall storyline.  A lot of the dialogue comes in the form of natural reactions to the world that they are traversing.  They often try to make light of the situation, whether it be Ellie’s joke book or Joel’s wise cracks with some of the supporting characters.  It made the characters ultimately seem more relatable.  It is probably how I would react if I was thrown into the crappy situation that they have to endure.

via games.it
via games.it

I am also surprised I made it this far without talking about how gorgeous the game looks.  Granted, I experienced the adventure with the remastered version, which is exponentially better looking than its PS3 predecessor, but both versions look amazing nonetheless.  The apocalypse did some nasty things to the locations that you explore, but everything has a visual pop to it.  Being from Pittsburgh, I could not help but get all excited seeing the striking familiarities that the Pittsburgh section of the game contained, whether it be the big hulking yellow bridge in the distance or some of the other surrounding buildings and structures.  Naughty Dog but a metric-ton of detail into each and every location in the game, and their hard work pays off.  The remastered version even contains a “photo mode,” which gives the player some nice tools for creating some fantastic looking snapshots of some of the game’s greatest moments.

The third-person gameplay is executed nicely and feels great, but that was not too much of a surprise given the studio’s past work with the Uncharted franchise.  What makes this game different however is the lack of items that they give you.  Bullets are hard to come by and crafting using the various scraps and materials you will find around the world will largely save you in the end.  Every shot that you make counts, which makes combat situations a little tougher.  The game gives you options with each encounter that you face.  If you have an abundance of supplies, and your just feeling like a badass, you can go in guns-blazing.  You can also take the smarter and generally more effective stealth approach, taking your enemies out in silence.  You will quickly learn that silence is a beautiful thing in The Last of Us, because causing a lot of commotion can make your day go to hell real quick.

via IGN
via IGN

The enemy variety is alright, but could have been better.  You will encounter three types of infected along the journey, including Runners, Clickers, and Bloaters.  You will also fight a good number of humans as well, which provide a bigger challenge.  The infected AI is pretty easy to work around if you know what you are doing, but the humans are smart, and tend to give you more of a challenge.  It would have been nice to have a little more variety in terms of the infected enemies, because by the end of the game, it is pretty easy to dispatch the infected that they throw at you.

The Last of Us also included a multiplayer mode called Factions, which lets you side with either the Firefly’s or the Hunters.  There are three 4 v 4 modes; Supply Raid, Survivors, and Interrogation that all had their moments.  The combat is pretty much carried over from the single player mode, making familiar players feel right at home.  The multiplayer provided some fun, sure.  However, it is not something to write home about.  It’s your average run of the mill multiplayer mode that just feels tacked on like most games these days.  If you are playing The Last of Us, the single player adventure is probably all you really need.

via ae-infinite
via ae-infinite

One of the perks of playing the remastered version was the inclusion of the Left Behind DLC that went along with the game.  In this short but sweet experience, we get to see Ellie’s relationship with Riley, a good friend of hers from the military boarding school that they grew up in.  The DLC is mostly set in the locale of a local mall, which makes sense when you think about it.  What other place would to pre-teen girls want to go to?  The ending however leaves you speechless, and it hits you with such blunt force.  It is a curveball that you do not expect until it hits you hard.  The DLC also sheds light on Ellie’s first encounter with the infected as well.  It’s definitely worth the money and extra time if you have not dived into it already.

In terms of the greatest gaming experiences I have ever had, The Last of Us is definitely one of them.  I am not exactly confident in saying that it is my favorite game OF ALL TIME, but it ranks high on my list of top games that I have played.  The game takes you on an emotional adventure, full of thrills and hard moments that are sometimes hard to swallow.  The game looks amazing and the combat ranks high as well.  The Last of Us is a 1-2 knockout punch that will change you as a person, or at least how you look at games as a whole.  If you have not given the game a fair shake yet, do yourself a favor and educate yourself on one of the generation’s greatest games.  Do it.

the last of us score

Review: Grand Theft Auto V

gta 5 coverGrand Theft Auto V (2013)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Adventure / Racing

Publisher: Rockstar Games, Take-Two Interactive

Developer: Rockstar North

When Grand Theft Auto V was released last year in the sea of climatic hype, I have to say that I missed the train.  I had the full intention of playing the game last year, but I knew that they were going to release the game for next-gen consoles…so I decided to sit back and wait it out.  Surprising no one, Rockstar eventually put their critically acclaimed hit on the PS4 and Xbox One, with some graphical changes, as well as a groundbreaking new game mode.  Not to mention, Grand Theft Auto Online was also in the mix.  It wasn’t just a normal port.

Let’s start with the three stars of the game, Michael De Santa, Trevor Phillips and Franklin Clinton.  Unlike past Grand Theft Auto games, Rockstar decided to incorporate three new characters into the storyline.  Michael is retired from the game of crime, enjoying his new life as well as trying to repair a broken marriage.  Franklin is a repo man working in South Los Santos.  He’s handy when it comes to the wheel and he can handle him self under pressure.  Then there’s Trevor.  Trevor, a heavy drug-addict and all around crazy-person, is everybody’s lovable psycho.  He’s a former military pilot and he is never afraid to take a challenge head on, employing his own brand of insanity to get the job done.  The three’s lives seem distant at first, but they ragtag group of criminals eventually team up together and start taking the crime world of Los Santos by storm.

gta 5 1

The story is heavily improved from previous installments.  There’s a bigger emphasis on the characters this time around and their relationships and business deals are all brought to the forefront.  The game contains a total of 69 story missions, with activities and events ranging all over the map.  There’s planes, drug deals, gang-banging, celebrity run-ins, family issues, federal involvement, private armies, city cops, bank heists, and much more packed into the tightly executed story.  The heists are by far the best parts of the story.  The game puts the pencil in your hand and gives you options on how you want to tackle the different heists.  All three characters come into play, as well as some hired hands that you bring in.  Some of the later missions are intense and electrifying, and the final mission really brings it all together and wraps the story into one satisfying bundle.

The city of Los Santos is by far the biggest Grand Theft Auto city thus far.  The open world spans the sprawling version of LA, as well as the surrounding Blaine County, which is Trevor’s domain.  Filling the city are a bunch of “Strangers and Freaks” missions which are a fancy name for side missions.  You meet some pretty intriguing characters in these missions and they usually pack a breath of fresh air amid all the regular story missions.  There are also a ton of hobbies and pastimes, as well as other miscellaneous things to do like street races, parachuting, hunting, random activities, stick-ups, darts, golf, tennis, and more.  Any person who thinks they will get bored in this city are crazy people.  You will never get bored.

gta 5 2

With such a big city, did Rockstar manage to make it look good?  Surprisingly they nailed it out of the park, especially on the next-gen versions of the game.  The city looks above amazing, with a ton of detail put into every nook and cranny.  The streets are lively, with a ton of people going every which way on their commute, giving a feeling of a fully-alive city.  There is also a ton of variety in the buildings and landmarks that populate the city.  Talking about it here isn’t doing the visuals any justice, its just stuff you have to see for yourself.

It’s probably appropriate to talk about the new play-style that Rockstar incorporated into the next-gen versions, which is the brand new first-person mode.  This may not seem groundbreaking to some, but if you are a Grand Theft Auto fan, you are well aware that this is Rockstar’s first foray into the first-person realm of gaming with the series.  It opens up a brand new perspective on the game, making combat easier and more fun to take part in, as well as making the game look so much nicer.  I played the entirety of the game in first-person, besides the driving.  Driving in first-person view is nice because it gives you a fully detailed view of the cars’ interiors, but it makes it a little tougher to see where you’re going.  Seeing the game through first-person is truly revolutionary in every sense of the word.

gta 5 3

With such a wide variety of activities to do in the game, Rockstar had to put a lot of work into the gameplay for each of these activities.  There are a couple of areas that could be improved, including the combat and other tiny miscellaneous activities, but they’ve pretty much got everything working real well.  The driving is super tight and activities like golf and tennis work really great, despite my hesitations.  Flying in the game is also a little tough, but it’s nothing I can knock Rockstar for.  Flying is tough in general, but I think they did a good job of replicating the activity.  It took some getting used to, especially landing, but it all worked out in the end.

As for online play, it only makes sense opening the world of Grand Theft Auto up to other players, which is why Grand Theft Auto Online is such a great idea.  In short, the online component of the game puts you in the same exact city of Los Santos that you are familiar with from the story mode with the same activities, but puts others players on your map as well.  With these other players, you can participate in different jobs, races, death matches, and a plethora of other activities.  There’s even a robust job creator that puts the tools in the players hands to create their own missions which they can share and play with others.  It’s a cool feature that will most likely extend the replayability factor by a lot.

gta 5 4

Each player in Grand Theft Auto Online gets their own customizable character and their own car and are free to do whatever they like in the city.  You gain money and experience points for doing various things, which in turn, increases your rank, giving you more abilities, modes, activities, and other unlocks.  One you raise enough money, you can even buy your own property to store more cars and call your own.  Grand Theft Auto Online is a great concept that really works well.  It’s a little buggy at times and some things don’t work totally right, but once more patches come out, it will only get better, especially with the announcement of heists coming to the mode, the best part about the story mode.

Grand Theft Auto V is a stellar experience.  I enjoyed my entire time with the game.  Michael, Franklin, and Trevor are all great characters in their own respects and the situation that they get themselves into during the course of the adventure are all great.  There is also so much to do in a city that looks every ounce of amazing.  If you own any of the next-gen systems, including the PC in a couple of months, I heavily recommend you diving into Rockstar’s world if you haven’t already.  It’s an experience that doesn’t disappoint, an experience that lived up to every level of hype that it received.

gta 5 score