Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Director: Dan Gilroy
There’s something slightly unsettling about Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy’s exploration into the world of L.A. crime journalism. Until watching this movie, I didn’t even know this sort of industry even existed. Essentially, the act of “nightcrawling” involves racing around the streets of L.A. during the twilight hours to capture b-roll footage of all the crimes that take place during the night. This footage is then shopped around to news agencies, ripe and ready to be broadcasted during the morning news cycle. It’s a ruthless business, one that requires you to stay ahead of the curve if you want to succeed. Nightcrawler is the story of Louis Bloom, a rookie to the business who takes his entrepreneurial abilities a little too far.
Jake Gyllenhaal takes the lead role of Louis Bloom, a grungy greased-up entrepreneur. He’s a hustler, persistent to the point of annoyance and willing to do anything he has to in order to put his foot ahead of the rest. His search for a job comes to an end when he drives past a car accident on his way home. He gets out of his car and before he even has the chance to take a couple of steps, a van comes to a halting stop next the accident, with two video journalists hopping out to capture the footage. Ideas start brewing in Louis’ head and before we know it, he is dipping his toes into this somewhat sleazy business.
Louis’ operation escalates pretty quickly as he starts to learn the ins and outs of the business. He purchases his own equipment, learns the police radio codes, and even hires an assistant (played by Riz Ahmed). Unlike the other video journalists, Louis takes his craft to the next level and begins to blur the lines of morality. His first video package that he prepares for a local TV station gets a little nosey as he “breaks” into a house to get the “perfect shot” of a crime scene. His primary contact at the TV station, TV veteran Nina Romina (Rene Russo), loves this up-close-and-personal footage and decides to air Louis’ work, despite some hesitation from her peers at the station.
Things only get more intense as Louis tests the waters of moral ambiguity. Gyllenhaal does a perfect job at portraying the young entrepreneur. He’s cut-throat in his doings and he’s a little bit insane. Gyllenhaal takes you down the character’s rabbit hole that he gets himself into as he tries to get “the perfect shot.” The film ramps up in intensity, especially during a murder scene at a suburban mansion. It’s the film’s peak, the moment that begins Louis’ decent. Rene Russo’s Nina also takes part in this decent, although to a lesser extent. The performances are great all around, but I would have liked to see more from Riz Ahmed’s character. His relationship with Louis was a toxic one, one that I thought could have been explored a little more than it was.
Nightcrawler shouldn’t really be looked at as an accurate representation of the business, but more as a satire. However, the film does raise questions about the moral ramifications that stem from such a sordid, yet lucrative job. Morality is one of the primary driving themes behind the story, one that is handled pretty well. Like I said in the very beginning of this review, there is something deeply unsettling about the act of nightcrawling. It’s not the most glamourous of occupations, and this film does a great job at portraying this.
Events build up as the movie rolls along but the final scene felt a little bit anticlimactic, and almost unnecessary. Things came to a close in such a jarring way that I was not expecting. The ending wasn’t really effective at all and didn’t really put the nicest cap on an otherwise very well-made film. The movie could have been extended or shortened by a scene to wrap things up better. It would have made a big difference.
There’s a dose of grittiness and darkness that covers Nightcrawler, an unnerving look into the seedy world of crime journalism. Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance of a man who takes things a little too far. The film documents the steady decline of his character as he does some dirty things to get ahead of his peers. It’s a fascinating film that’s full of great performances and thrills. It’s just a shame it wasn’t brought to a conclusion in better fashion.
Publisher: The Astronauts, Nordic Games, EuroVideo Medien GmbH
Developer: The Astronauts
Never have I felt more alone while playing a video game than I have in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. The game literally throws you straight into the world with no guidance or hand-holding. I’m serious, the game straight up tells you that from the very beginning. There was a lush landscape in front of me that was just calling my name. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is game chock full of discovery, beauty, mystery, and sometimes horrifying imagery. There’s some weird things going on and it’s your job to investigate.
Players assumes the role of a nameless detective who’s tasked with finding a missing boy. As a detective, you have the power to rip holes in reality, giving you visuals of horrible crimes that have taken place within the game’s world. It’s necessary to go around and put these visuals together to solve the mystery of the missing child. A lot of this legwork involves stumbling upon a rift in reality in the environment and then proceeding to investigate the rift. A lot of these investigations involve piecing together the events of crimes and forming a clear picture of what took place.
The game sets a tone of loneliness as there is no one to be found as you roam around the gorgeously lush world. The sense of discovery that the game provides is immense. The game doesn’t tell you where to go…leaving the exploration to the player. There’s forests, lakes, cottages, and caves that you will end up exploring. Each of these environments are beautiful and look wonderful on the PS4. I haven’t seen the PC version but I can only imagine that the visuals are heightened on the platform. Sometimes it’s a little tough to figure out where you need to go next, but you’ll most likely stumble upon the places you need to go without having to worry about it.
The amount of interaction you have with the world is limited, but the game does a good job at enticing you to move forward. Most of the gameplay involves pressing a button to open up a visual of a previous crime or walking around and piecing together different events of a crime. There’s also some lite puzzle solving, but nothing that will drive you crazy. That’s about it. There’s not much to be found in terms of gameplay, but the exploration more than makes up for the lack of interaction that you have with the world. There was a multitude of times where I just wandered away from my objective and just took in the sights and sounds. There were many vistas and landscapes that seemed screenshot worthy. In fact, 98% of the game is screenshot worthy. 98% is an arbitrary number…there’s no science behind it.
Remember the game Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture? Yeah, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is basically that game but better in almost every way. (Graphics wise, the two are comparable) In both games you are walking around the environment piecing together the events that took place prior. There’s a sense of mystery and intrigue in both games, but TVOEC captured my interest way more than EHGTTR. The story in TVOEC is a lot more interesting and gave me more incentive to explore and dig deeper.
I feel like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that passed everybody by. It didn’t make a big splash when it was first released and the talk surrounding the game waned as weeks went on. Hell, I even passed up the game when it first came out. I remember looking at it and having interest in playing it, but I never went back to it. I am glad I finally visited this short and unique experience. Its full of interesting ideas and intrigue-driven exploration. The game also looks fantastic, probably one of the prettiest I have seen in years. It’s an extremely immersive experience that is worth sinking some time in.
There’s something about long car drives through the middle of nowhere. They’re therapeutic and relaxing. How about adding some rain into the mix? The rain drops bead up on the windshield of your car as you continue on your drive. There’s really nothing like the experience of the open road and the pleasant sights, sounds, and smells of a spring rain. Now, what would make this experience ten times worse? What if you replaced the rain with a tree-splitting tornado and the open road silence with a stressful conversation with your family that you haven’t talked to in a while? That’s basically the anxiety-inducing premise of Three Fourths Home, an interactive visual novel.
The interactive piece of fiction places you in the shoes of Kelly Meyers, a young girl traveling home through the corn-fields of Nebraska. She has just recently moved back in with her parents and her brother after being gone for some time. She left home in the first place to attend college, but hasn’t kept in touch with her family as much as she might’ve wanted to. On the way home, things start to go bad as big storm starts to kick in. Making matters worse, you’re on the phone with your mom talking about a whole slate of different topics ranging from school to your dad’s drinking problem. Kelly’s family take turns passing the phone around as they put her through the gauntlet of family drama…the last thing you need as your pushing 80-90 mph in order to make it home before the Tornado gets the better of you.
You don’t do much in Three Fourths Home besides navigating text choices during the phone conversation with your family. There’s moments were you don’t have a choice in how to respond, but it’s mostly on you to decide how you want the conversation to go. You can be negative or positive in the way you talk with your family. You can burn bridges or mend them. It’s all up to you. The conversations start at the surface level but as storm ramps up, so does the intensity of the drama. The storm taking place outside your car is indicative of the intensity of the conversation your having with your family…which is really cool.
Visuals play a key part in what makes Three Fourths Home so unique. The game’s art style is primarily black and white. It gives the game a dreary and depressing tone, which fits perfectly with what’s happening on your journey back home. Kelly’s in a pretty crappy situation, in more ways than one, and the visuals reflect this in every way. The sound design, consisting mostly of sounds of rain, thunder, and wind, meshes well with what’s taking place as well. Three Fourths Home does a pretty bang-up job of immersing players into its tense atmosphere.
Some of the controls are a little wonky and they can take some time to get used to. I found myself repeatedly pressing the wrong buttons, causing me to in turn choose the wrong dialogue options. It wasn’t a major problem but it led to some annoying situations that put me down a path that I didn’t want to be in. You’re driving a car for the entirety of the short little experience, so you have to hold in one of the triggers to keep the car, and the conversation, moving. This leaves players with an awkward control scheme that might not be too familiar.
The writing is well done and searing and makes it easy to picture the people you are talking to in your head. During the course of the game you never see Kelly’s family, but the writing leaves you room to form those characters in your head. The game is short, lasting roughly 1-2 hours, but it builds up its characters and makes you care about them in the short amount of time. There were times where I wished there was a little more visually going on, but the stark atmosphere of the long open road does enough more than enough to keep players going.
Three Fourths Home is short and to the point, but it tells a deep and painful story about the reality of leaving your family hanging for a couple of years. The game succeeds in that it makes you sit back and reflect about your family and how much you talk to them. It’s eye-opening in a way that I wasn’t expecting. There’s a couple of rough patches here and there but this short little interactive piece of fiction is something special and worth a try. It’s not that expensive and it will leave you moved in some form or fashion.
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Director: Jennifer Kent
Everybody remembers the classic ritual of bedtime stories. As kids we would brush our teeth, put on our pajamas, and then climb into bed excitedly as we would wait for night’s fairytale or children’s story. At least that’s how I remember it. The Babadook, an indie horror flick directed by Jennifer Kent, is an example of bad parenting.
The movie stars troubled mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her delinquent son Sam, played by child actor Noah Wiseman. Through the use of flashbacks, we discover that the two are grieving the death of their father. Things are not easy and over the course of the movie we watch as the two spiral down a dark path. Sam is a problem child, throwing frequent tantrums that begin to turn violent. He’s fascinated with the idea of fighting and protecting his mother from monsters. This soon leads to a mysterious book, called “The Babadook,” which Sam asks his mom to read.
This is where the bad parenting comes in. The book is introduced around halfway through the movie and by that point Amelia should have noticed that her son wasn’t doing well. The decision to read her son a (rather frightening) book about a dark monster who lives in the dark side of the bedroom is probably not the best. As one would expect, this drives Sam’s mental state into a deeper downward spiral and things start to go pretty bad very quickly when the demonic book starts to haunt their house, and everything in it.
I’m normally not a huge fan of horror movies; not because they are dumb but because the premise behind most of them are stupid and often times predictable. The concept behind The Babadook is not entirely new, but it provides enough dumb fun to make it enjoyable. A lot of the scenes, especially the ones dealing with the storybook, are kind of silly and stupid, but they aren’t bad enough to make the movie unwatchable. I found myself snickering a lot more than getting scared, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Speaking of getting scared, the movie is generally tame when it comes to the spooks. Although, there are some disturbing scenes and imagery that will make anyone cringe. One of the best parts about the movie is its reliance on disturbing imagery, rather than jump scares, to frighten viewers. It made the movie feel less cheap and gives the movie a more authentic quality. The imagery used during the storybook sequences are really well done and the pages literally come to life on screen, which was really fun to watch.
Performance wise, you can take it or leave it. The movie primarily focuses on Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with some supporting cast here and there. Their acting isn’t necessarily the best, but it is good enough to be passable. In the end, I didn’t really care because when all’s said and done, The Badadook is a B-movie affair. The acting took a backseat for me, as I was too caught up in the fun that was happening on screen.
Perhaps the big takeaway from The Babadook is that you shouldn’t read your young kids a dark storybook about the monsters that make noises in the night. C’mon, that’s a disaster waiting to happen, as evidenced by the movie. There are a plethora of better horror films out there, but this one holds its own as being a dumb fun kind of movie that you can just give a mindless watch.
Starring: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Linda Cardellini
Director: Shira Piven
Mental illness is extremely hard to get right in film. Many a movie has done a great job with portraying people with mental disabilities, but it is super tough to capture what it’s really like to live with a mental illness due to the fact that every illness is different. With comedies, it can be hit or miss. You have to carefully dance around the line of tastefulness and offensiveness. With Welcome to Me, we get a hilariously honest, and sometimes dark, story about a woman with a personality disorder that wins the lottery and decides to form her own talk show.
Actress and SNL alum Kristen Wiig plays the role of Alice Kleig, a woman who’s living a normal, yet quirky, life with a borderline personality disorder. She’s pretty content with what she has in her life. She has a good friend in Gina (Linda Cardellini) and she has every episode of the Oprah Winfrey show on tape. It may not be that much, but it floats her boat. Things drastically change in her life one day when she wins 86 million dollars in the lottery. That’s a stupid amount of money. What does she do with this money? Well, she goes off her meds and decides to start a talk show…about herself, and only herself. Can’t go wrong right?
With the life of the rich and famous on her mind, she immediately sets out and buys a room at the nearest casino. She then finds her way to a studio where she meets with brothers Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich Ruskin (James Marsden) and talks with them about her grand idea for a talk show, similar to Oprah Winfrey, about herself. Their hesitant at first, but when you have a client who is willing to drop fifteen million dollars on the spot, no idea is a bad idea.
Ever since Kristen Wiig left SNL she has been doing great things. Some of her movies have been hits but some have fell low of hitting their mark. Her role as Alice is probably her most genuine performance yet. She does a fantastic job at portraying a woman who doesn’t really know what she is doing at first, but finds her footing and becomes a sensation among her viewers. Everybody else is okay, but they don’t bring too much to the table. Kristen Wiig is pretty much the star of the show this time around.
Welcome to Me is a dark movie in nature, but it managed to make me laugh at lot more than I thought it was going to. It goes places that you wouldn’t think it would and gives a brutally honest picture of borderline personality disorder. The scenes involving the actual talk show are some of the best in the entire movie. I didn’t think a show where a woman talks about herself would be any interesting, but hey, after watching this movie I’d maybe consider watching a show like that. It’s really dumb, and sometimes awkward (there’s a segment where Alice neuters a bunch of dogs on live TV…and it’s really something), but you just can’t look away. The movie suffers from some pacing issues at times, but it kept me entertained all the way through.
I didn’t really know what to expect going into Welcome to Me but I was pleasantly surprised with the final result. It’s a brutally honest comedy that does some really cool things, telling a uniquely original story about some of the ups and downs of personality disorders. Despite the bumps in the road, the movie accomplishes what it set out to do. Kristen Wiig continues to be one of the funniest actresses in the business and I continue to look forward to what she has in the works.
I know I say it almost every year, but 2015 was a great year for movies. Looking at my list this year was interesting because there was a wide spectrum of releases this year. There were movies about rap as well as espionage, and a new Star Wars to put the cherry on top. As usual, it’s worth noting that this list is my top ten movies that I saw this year and is not indicative of the entirety of movies that came out in 2015. The simple fact is there were a lot of movies that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time (or money) to see all of them. I’m sure that my list would be different if I was able to see all of the movies that I wanted to see over the course of the year. I can’t speak for movies that I haven’t seen so I wouldn’t feel right putting them on my list, regardless of their critical reception. With that out of the way, let’s get to the list…
Favorite Movie from a Previous Year: Boyhood (2014)
Unfortunately, I missed seeing Boyhood last year when it first came out because it would have probably rose to the top of my top ten list from last year. There have been a lot of great movies coming out in the past couple of years, but no movie was more fascinating or more unique than Boyhood. The movie’s production spanned twelve years, documenting the life of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane). We see his triumphs and his struggles as he has to deal with the life of being a boy. With some fantastic supporting roles from Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, Boyhood is a movie unlike any other.
10. Kingsman: The Secret Service
This might be the one movie on this list that will fly under a lot of people’s radars, which is a travesty because Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun movie with stylistic flair. Releasing way back in February, the movie gave us a look at what a James Bond movie would be like if they were a more lighthearted affair. No literally, the movie pays homage to the classic espionage films like no other. Taron Eggerton plays Eggsy, a young spy who is sucked up into the secret organization known as The Kingsman, with the help from mentor Galahad, played by Colin Firth. The movie even has a wacky and whimsical villain, played by Samuel Jackson. There’s a lot to like in Kingsman and it’s a movie that you should probably go back and appreciate.
9. Jurassic World
Jurassic World was having all the fun in the box office for a good part of the year, until Star Wars came around to break all of its records. Jurassic World was essentially the movie of the summer, bringing in thousands and thousands of theater goers. Let’s just say a movie has to be pretty good in order to do that well. Jurassic World took us back into the world of Jurassic Park, paying homage to its predecessors while giving us something new, like dinosaur handler Owen, played by box office superstar Chris Pratt. A new theme park has opened up, managed by the park’s head Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), with a gigantic dinosaur as its premier attraction. Things soon go bad as the big dinosaur escapes, putting the entire theme park in dire straits. Things only getter better (for us) as the movie’s thrills are turned up to ten. I should also mention that the movie’s two younger characters, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), managed to not be so annoying, which is a pretty big victory.
8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I guess 2015 was the year for movies about spies and espionage, with Kingsman: The Secret Service and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation providing us with thrills and excitement. (I failed to mention Spectre because, well, it just doesn’t match up to the previous two I mentioned) Tom Cruise, who has pretty much proved himself to be immortal, has done it again, giving us a super exciting adventure involving the takedown of The Syndicate, a super-secret organization with the sole mission of taking down the IMF. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this movie is the fact that Cruise still manages to perform his own stunts, including the ridiculous scene involving a plane take-off, yeah…the one from the trailers. It’s all him. Tom Cruise and funny-man Simon Pegg still manage to steal the show, but series newcomer Rebecca Furguson, who plays the sexy badass Ilsa Faust, gave us a fantastic performance as well.
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is the no-joke movie equivalent of an energy drink. The movie is literally a non-stop action fest from beginning to end. Weird looking sand buggies and fire-spitting tractor trailers are moving all over the place while a bunch of mind-washed worshipers are jumping and twirling in every single direction. It’s truly a visual spectacle, made even better due to the fact that most of the stunts you see in the movie are totally real and practical. Director George Miller brings us the newest addition to the series, with Tom Hardy playing the part of Mad Max. Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t even center around the character of Max, but instead, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. Furiosa is probably one of the best new characters of 2015, leading the escape efforts of a band of princesses across the sand-stricken wasteland of the apocalypse, with some help from Max of course.
Two Marvel blockbusters came out during the summer of 2015, but only one of them stood to prominence, and that is Ant-Man. Don’t get me wrong, Avengers: Age of Ultron was a wildly entertaining movie but Ant-Man does a lot more to make it on this list. The best part of the movie was Paul Rudd who played the con-man Scott Lang. After stumbling upon the high-tech Ant suit that gives the user the incredible power to shrink down to the size of an ant, Scott Lang becomes the Ant-Man, on a mission to prove he is a changed man, while at the same time helping Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with a heist that will save the world from Darren Cross, a man up to no good. The movie was humorous thanks to not only Paul Rudd’s personality, but supporting roles from Michael Pena and T.I. Yes, T.I. is in this movie so that might be a good enough reason alone to watch this movie right? Okay, maybe not the only reason, but Ant-Man is a pretty good movie worth watching. What makes the success of this movie even sweeter is that it was conceptually a big risk, but one that paid off big time.
5. Steve Jobs
This is the part of the list where I try to defend one of the year’s biggest box office blunders, Steve Jobs. Some thought that the world didn’t need another retelling of the story of visionary and Apple CEO Steve Jobs. However, after the horrendous misfire that was 2013’s Jobs, I welcomed Steve Jobs with open arms. Told through the backstage frame of three of Apple’s biggest product launches, Steve Jobs gives us a more personal look at Steve Jobs, with the actual history of Apple taking the backseat. Michael Fassbender plays the genius visionary, capturing almost every essence of the real life Jobs. Other great performances came from Kate Winslet as Job’s personal assistant Joanna Hoffman, Jeff Daniels as John Scully, and Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak, who was probably the biggest surprise of the movie. There are heated encounters and raised voices galore, keeping me on the very edge of my seat throughout. The stress of a major product launch is already pretty high, but when you add in some of Job’s personal stress into the mix, it leads to a very honest and grounded look at the man behind Apple. The movie also had a fantastic ending involving Job’s daughter, bringing a couple of tears to my eyes, a feat that no other movie this year has done. So what you will about the movie’s run in theaters, but the underrated Steve Jobs managed to be one of my favorites this year.
4. Furious 7
Okay, this might be another movie that is lower on most people’s lists, but I am a little biased towards the Fast and Furious series. Everything about series director James Wan’s high octane action movies are great in my eyes. This time around, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (played by series newcomer Jason Statham) who is seeking revenge for his brother Owen Shaw who was taken out in the previous movie. The movie does what the series does best, delivering some of the year’s biggest and baddest action sequences that will make any action movie junkie giddy with excitement. Furious 7 will also hold a special place in the heart of any Fast and Furious fan as it is the final movie that will include Paul Walker, due to his death this year. The movie almost acts as a tribute to the late actor, wrapping up with a heartfelt ending that will put a lump in your throat for sure. It was these final moments that really sealed the deal for me, putting it pretty high on my list.
A small movie with a big message. That is one way of describing Dope, one of the smaller and surprising movies of the year. Life is tough for ace student and geek Malcolm, played by break-out star Shameik Moore, living in Inglewood, CA. He’s part of a punk band with friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) that gets caught up at a party with drug kingpin Dom, played surprisingly well by rapper A$AP Rocky. After Dom gives them a mysterious package full of drugs, the crew is sent on a wild adventure around California. There some great music to be found, with a soundtrack produced by Pharrell Williams. The movie also has an eye-opening final scene that pulls the movie back and gives it a perspective that will keep you thinking long after the credits roll. It was one of the best endings I have seen in a while.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A new Star Wars movie in 2015. What a thing to celebrate. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a late addition for me as it only recently came out earlier this month. I pretty much had my top ten list finalized and I was just waiting to see where Star Wars would end up. The movie does a good job at establishing the new characters while paying tribute to the characters that made the series the thing it is today. Star Wars newbies Daisy Ridley and John Boyega played Rey and Finn respectively, two characters whose paths cross due to destiny. We also have Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren, leader of the First Order. Familiar characters like Han Solo and Princess Leia, played by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, make appearances as well, giving the movie it’s nostalgic feel. The Force Awakens acts as a set-up for what’s to come and establishes the birth of a new hero who will be the foundation for these movies as the move along. I have confidence that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, who previously had almost no major movie experience, have the chops to carry the tremendous weight of the highly lauded franchise for years to come. The Force Awakens is not perfect, but hey, if it wasn’t for some of the bigger plot holes it would be pretty close.
1. Straight Outta Compton
This was a tough choice for me to make, considering the previous movie on the list was a big contender, but the biopic Straight Outta Compton edged out Star Wars as my favorite movie of 2015. The movie documents rap group N.W.A’s rise to prominence in a society that wanted nothing to do with them. They were one of the biggest and most feared voices when they were around, placing them in icon status. The movie was produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre themselves, which gives the movie it’s brand of authenticity that makes it so special. O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Ice Cube while Corey Hawkins plays Dr. Dre. Jason Mitchel plays Eazy-E while Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge, MC Ren. Finally, Paul Giamatti plays the group’s manager Jerry Heller who is a key part of the story as well. I mention all of these actors because they all give great performances around the board. They capture some of the groups finest moments as well as some of their darkest hours. The movie puts its focus on their music, but also highlights the groups personal struggles as well as life in the streets of Compton. The movie also has a message that is still relevant in today’s social climate, which made the movie resonate with so many people. I’m a huge fan of rap music and this movie was on my radar ever since the minute it was announced. It lived up to my expectations and more by telling a story that needed to be told.
Developer: Double Fine Entertainment, Midnight City
I guess it only makes sense that Halloween, every kid’s favorite holiday, would be taken away by a slightly deranged and selfish dentist. He was never able to enjoy the fun that came along with Halloween, so no one will. This is the basic idea surrounding Double Fine’s follow up to Costume Quest, Costume Quest 2.
A new dystopia has been created by dentist overlord Orel White, and the responsibility of saving the beloved holiday is thrust upon two kids, Reynold and Wren, who are returning from the original game. With some help from some friends, the two have to travel back and forth through time in order to put a stop to Dr. Orel’s squeaky clean and candy-free dystopia. Who would want such a thing?
Double Fine, along with Midnight City, have crafted another simple RPG, much like their original outing with Costume Quest. You control Reynold and Wren, along with others, and dress them up in different costumes that give them special powers in combat. There is a nice variety of costumes this time around and their move sets, along with their names, pay some homage to different elements of pop culture. Combat is pretty similar to the first game, employing a turn-based model. There are regular attacks that you can use, along with specials and Creepy Cards, which allow the player to use a plethora of different special effects. When attacking, you can press the button at just the right time to score a more powerful attack. The same goes for defense, allowing you to perform a more effective block. As you get deeper into the game, you learn a couple more combat abilities, but things are relatively simple, which is appealing for anybody who is new to the genre.
Clever writing and genuinely funny humor is where the game shines. The interactions between the different characters make for some pretty funny moments. The game has a cutesy look and feel around it, but the game manages to be funny no matter who you are. The game’s flavor text also contains some hidden comedic gems. More specifically, the Candy Corn costume (which is pretty much useless in battle) has a ton of flavor text surrounding it that is really witty and amusing. The dialog is all handled through text blocks, which kept me wishing that there was some form of voice acting in the game. The game could benefit from some good voice acting if it was handled properly. With Double Fine’s success with their Kickstarter game Broken Age, I have confidence that they would be able to find the right voice acting for a game like this.
All in all, the presentation is pretty on point. The game maintains the same look and feel as the previous game, throwing in cartoony visuals with a mix of comic book style cut scenes, especially during the character’s special attacks. The game runs into a couple of hiccups in terms of performance here and there, but the game looks just fine for what it is trying to do. Everything looks a notch over the top which makes for some of the humor as well.
Costume Quest 2, just like its predecessor, is a short game in terms of length. However, it managed to keep me pretty entertained all the way through. You spend an equal time in the past as well as the future. There is a total of twenty eight quests, both main and extra, to occupy the player’s time with the game. Although a good bit of them are different and original, there are some quests that start to get a little boring after the third iteration. I’m mainly looking at the hide-and-seek quests and the trick-or-treating quests which require the player to go door to door in the game’s neighborhoods asking for candy. They were fun the first time through, but they started to get a little old and rotten after a while.
The general package that Costume Quest 2 provides is sweet and delightful, just like the candy that this game is all about. The game’s mechanics are super easy to pick-up, with no strings attached, making it quick to get into. The story is pretty funny and the interactions between the characters are comical and clever. 2015 has a ton of great games still in the pipeline, leaving the amount of free time to play new games relatively low. If you haven’t already, Costume Quest 2 is a great little game that you should try out in between the big releases still to come.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
At this point, whether you are religious or not, you are probably familiar with the epic biblical story of Noah’s Ark. It’s basically the story of a new start for mankind because of the evil and sin that had corrupted the land. God entrusted Noah and his family to build an ark to survive the massive rainstorm that would literally wipe everybody off the entire planet, leaving Noah’s family and some animals to start anew again. Coming from the bible’s Old Testament, the story is inheritably full of epic proportions, which is captured wonderfully in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a retelling of the classic story for a more modern audience.
I should warn you that this is not the type of movie that you should show to younger ones to familiarize them with the story. It tends to stray off the trodden path and gives us a very different retelling of the story, a surprisingly dark one at that. The titular character of Noah is played by Russell Crowe. Early on in the movie, he experiences some troubling visions of the world falling apart at the hands of a deadly flood. He can’t turn away and he has to do something about it. With some guidance from his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he finally arrives at the notion that he has to build an ark that will save his family from the flood.
With a mission ahead of them, Noah and his family get right to work. They entrust the help of some gigantic rock monsters called “The Watchers” that do the heavy lifting while protecting them from danger at the same time. This is where the story that most are familiar with started to fall of the rails and find a new track. I personally don’t think the rock guardians were needed since they don’t really fit well with the rest of the story, but I can see why Aronofsky made the decision to put them in the movie. They add onto the epic nature of the movie and make it feel right at home as a blockbuster movie.
The only real interesting character in the movie is Russell Crowe’s Noah, with the others falling into a pit of boredom and clichés. Jennifer Connelly plays Noah’s wife Naameh, who brings most of the emotion to the film but hardly anything else. We then have Noah’s kids, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Shem’s only really important because he is the new wife of Ila (Emma Watson), a girl that they found during the early moments of the movie. Ham (whose name always makes me chuckle a bit) is the most interesting of the bunch because of his subplot of “becoming a man.” After falling away from his father Noah, he looks to Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the main villain of the movie, as a way to get revenge after all the things that Noah has done to their family.
Noah gets really compelling when the family is on the boat after surviving the flood. Noah starts to change as the task at hand starts to get to him, causing him a great deal of stress. His loved ones start to question who he is and they get driven away from him as he falls deeper into a hole of grumpiness. I’m sure if I was in the same position as Noah I would probably be the same exact way. He’s in a tough spot and that starts to wear on him a lot. This is one of the few things about the movie that is believable.
In terms of scale, Aronofsky has got it right. Noah captures the grand scale of the movie with ease and grace. Every sweeping vista and massive forest feels right at home amid the movie’s other breathtaking visuals. Noah’s dark and sometimes terrifying visions also look great too. The ark and the animals that inhabit it also provide for some great visual moments as well. Yes, there were some parts where the movie looked a little too saturated but most of the movie looked phenomenal.
It’s a far cry from the story most of us were introduced to, but Noah manages to tell a story that’s fresh and intriguing. Its characters, besides Noah, could have used some work but everything comes together in the end to form a cool take on the biblical tale. The movie, full of color, is visually striking and adds to the movie’s scale. Aronofsky has managed to make the story of Noah more interesting than the original, even if he had to take some creative liberties to get there.
Baseball is a sport that has had a lot of characters throughout its long storied history. Among the long list of famous baseball players, Dock Ellis is one of those guys that probably flies under the radar. How he flies under the radar, I do not know. He is probably one of the most intriguing players, if not one of the craziest pitchers to play the game. No No: A Dockumentary tells his story.
Director Jeff Radice does not waste his time in the beginning of the documentary, starting with Dock’s claim to fame; his no-hitter with the Pittsburgh Pirates under the influence of LSD. A feat like this is almost impossible, but somehow, some way, Dock Ellis found a way to pull history off against the San Diego Padres.
The title is misleading though, as the documentary starts to branch off into other directions. We indeed get the story of Dock’s no hitter, but we get a much bigger exploration into the crazy life that Dock Ellis led. He was an alcoholic, a drug addict, and was never afraid to ramble off what was on his mind. He’s a player that would not last a second in today’s world, but managed to create a name for himself back when he first played for the Pirates. He was a talented pitcher, managing to pitch under the influence of a number of different drugs. The drugs “took the edge off” and managed to loosen up his appearance on the mound. He was a pitcher that had an effect on the psyche of hitters. They never knew what kind of state the man was in.
With that many drugs going through his system on a daily basis, it was no surprise that his personal life started to take a downhill direction. He had different girlfriends, but these relationships never seemed to all end abruptly thanks to Dock’s drug problem. He also led a party life that often got him into trouble. These effects changed him however, and the last part of the documentary documents Dock’s return to sobriety, and his defeat of his drug and alcohol addiction. It was a change for the better, and it led him to teach and counsel others going through the same types of struggles that he went through.
The story is told by friends, family, former players and Dock himself, who was present for some interviews. They all had interesting things to say about Dock, painting him as a good man, with a lot of vices. Radice does a good job of framing the story with music from the era as well, giving the documentary a cool psychedelic feel straight out of the 70’s. It was a good fit. As far as actual game footage go, it was pretty scarce. Most of the footage came from his famed no hitter, but the majority of the film was still photos and interviews from others. It would have been nice to see some other footage, perhaps from his game against the Cincinnati Reds, where he was on a mission to hit everyone in their lineup until he got taken out.
Another thing that came to question was the documentary’s sudden end. The documentary does not disappoint and managed to keep the story going through its 100 minute runtime, but it came to a quick end. It almost seemed like there was a little more story to be told. I do not know if Radice had to make some cuts for time concerns or what, but it just did not seem right.
No No: A Dockumentary manages to tell a compelling story about one of the craziest and lesser known players of the game. He was outspoken, pitched a no-hitter, started an all-star game, and played for a number of teams during his wild career. He has not received a hall of fame nod, but perhaps that is because the kind of life he led does not necessarily match up with the kind of example you want to set for young players of the game. Either way, the now deceased Dock Ellis deserves a nice comfy spot in baseball history as one the most storied players of the game, and his documentary demands your attention.
Starring: Zak Penn, Joe Lewandowski, Robert Rentschler
Director: Zak Penn
Everybody remembers the Atari 2600. The legendary home video console was one of the biggest cultural phenomenon of the 1980’s. It was considered the system that caused the home video game revolution, and arguably the gaming revolution as a whole. It had a massive impact, delivering some of the most classic and revolutionary games to a generation of gamers.
With Atari sitting high and mighty on top in terms of commercial success, what brought their empire tumbling down? That is the question that documentary Atari: Game Over aims to answer. Director Zak Penn tells the story of the infamous “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” Atari 2600 game cartridge that ultimately brought on the eventual demise of the Atari 2600. This statement has been argued by many game critics and theorists, but the failure of the game, which was considered to be frustratingly tough and boring, could not be denied.
The game, created by Atari software engineer Howard Scott Warshaw, did so poorly for the company that they decided to literally bury the game and leave it behind them. Urban legend detailed how Atari buried millions of the E.T. game cartridges in a landfill all the way out in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The story is pretty interesting, although kind of silly at the same time. It was a story so interesting that Zak Penn decided to chronicle the investigation of the mysterious burial of the game.
Penn brings on a lot of people onto the project to tell the story. Joe Lewandowski, a waste disposal expert and historian, was fascinated by the urban legend, which caused him to investigate the scene of the burial. We also get to hear a lot of input from the likes of Warshaw himself, former mayor of Alamogordo Robert Rentschler, screenwriter and novelist Ernest Cline, game historian Mike Mika, and Manny Gerard, the chief operating officer of Warner Communications. Although some of these guests had more interesting things to say than some of the others, they all seemed necessary to tell the tale.
The documentary’s main focus was the rise and fall of Atari. Although this information was an important farming piece for the landfill excavation, it was a shame to see less of the attention given to the actual dig itself. Throughout the documentary we got bits and pieces of the set-up for the dig, with a big portion towards the end focusing on the actual event itself. However, most of the running time was devoted to the history of Atari and some of its other successful games like “Adventure” and “Yar’s Revenge.”
The documentary is a gold mine of information however. If you have never heard of Atari and its place in gaming history, the documentary does a good job of filling you in. It also gives some fresh tidbits of information for those already well versed in the company’s history. I was quite surprised to hear about the “party-all-the-time” lifestyle and work environment that took place at Atari back in the day. It was these kinds of facts that made up for the information that we have heard before in previous documentaries.
Some of the interactions that Penn had with some of the story’s key players were a little cheesy and on the nose, but entertaining to say the least. The dig itself was captured quite well, giving us a good look at the crazy, and arguably silly, event. The archeologists faced a tough challenge with the dig, but they ultimately found what they were looking for. After some hard work and intense heat, the cartridges were eventually found. It was a moment of triumph, as well as emotion, especially for Warshaw, who was pleased with the amount of recognition and publicity that the terrible game was getting.
Atari: Game Over tells a zany story about digging up glorified trash in the middle of the desert. It is a concept that seems like it would not deserve its own documentary, but Zak Penn did an alright job at providing us with a lot of information and stories to make the experience generally worthwhile. It was also pretty interesting to hear the experiences and perspectives from some of the key player in the story. Atari’s handling of the situation by burying the ET cartridges is one of gaming’s weirdest story, and Atari: Game Over does a pretty good job of putting it all into perspective.