A French seaside resort sounds like the perfect locale for a romantic getaway weekend. The fresh and salty breeze kisses your face as the sound of the waves crashing upon the beach fills your ears. It is relaxing just thinking about it. It sounds a lot better than this damp and foggy day I am currently experiencing. Unfortunately, By the Sea, directed and written by actress-turned-director Angelina Jolie is anything but romantic…or a good movie for that matter.
The film, starring Angelina and her ex-real-life husband Brad Pitt, is a reflective piece on the subject of grief and love. It is a deeply personal film about a couple, Vanessa and Roland (played by Jolie and Pitt), at a crossroads in the relationship who decide to go to a French seaside resort to perhaps sort things out in their marriage. Instead, things seem to take a turn for the weird when they begin to meet some new friends around the town, two of which happen to be a newly-wed couple next door.
What brought me to this movie was the obvious draw of a voyeuristic look into the real-life relationship of Jolie and Pitt. It was no secret that their marriage was hanging on a thread and that things were not all roses and dandelions between the two of them. By the Sea was advertised as a personal art-house piece about a couple going through a rough patch. It does not take a genius to connect the dots and theorize that perhaps the movie is a story about the director’s marriage. Despite these theories, we get nothing of the sort. Instead, we get a rather odd voyeuristic look into the sex life of the couple next door thanks to a hidden peep hole that offers Vanessa a view into their life. Feelings of jealousy and lust begin to creep into her thoughts as she becomes addicted to the peep hole while Roland is off getting drunk at the resort’s bar.
This fascination with the couple next door is certainly something I was not expecting, but it is just too bad the overall plot is boring. The film never managed to grab me like I thought it initially would. It does not help that 75% of the movie is one big moan fest full of self-loathing and blank stares. Everyone just lies around drinking and acting all mopey-dopey. The performances feel lifeless, especially from Jolie and Pitt. The dynamic and chemistry between their two characters is the backbone that the movie relies upon but the two never feel invested in their characters. For a movie so personal it was surprising how detached the two felt from it.
There is one department of the movie that deserves praise and that is its cinematography. Angelina Jolie is a great director who looks to have a future ahead of her that does not solely include acting. She takes a simplistic angle on the film, with some great minimalist shots and a lot of silence. It was at least pleasant to look at, despite the boring travesty that was taking place in the resort. There was also a nice orchestrated musical score that added to the movie as well.
Things only get worse as the movie creeps towards its conclusion, but I never found it in myself to care. By the Sea must have been tough to create given the circumstances of what Jolie and Pitt were going through at the time, so I have to commend them for attempting to put something like this out there in the wild. If you came into this movie looking for an irresistible look into the two’s love life however, then you are going to be madly disappointed. It is quite possible you might self-loath yourself just as much as the characters in the movie.
Most people this day and age at some point have probably found themselves in front of a computer with an instant messenger client open. Before the age of texting and social media, there was a time where AOL Instant Messaging was one of the few ways to get in touch with high school friends or distant relatives savvy enough to use a computer. Another familiar experience, one that most of us have probably been through, is the complicated high school crush relationship. With a high school crush, you’re always teetering on the line between a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship or the friend zone, where anything you say could tip it all off-balance.
When you pair instant messaging of the early 2000s with conversations with a high school crush, you probably get a relatable experience, which is where Emily Is Away succeeds in its mission. Emily Is Away is a small PC indie game designed by Kyle Seeley. The game encapsulates the complicated and sometimes nerve-wracking nature of talking with a crush perfectly, using a deeply nostalgic Windows XP aesthetic as a wrapper. It immediately transported me back to a time were punk-pop bands were the norm and Harry Potter movies were new and all the rage.
The beginning of the game lets you pick a screen name, a name that you will use to talk and communicate with the game’s titular character Emily, who goes by “emerly35” online. The short narrative journey takes place over five years, starting in your senior year of high school and ending with your senior year of college. Over this time, you speak with Emily about a wide range of things ranging from music to parties, until you eventually get into some deeper topics like your relationship with her and other love interests in your life. What you say directly affects your relationship with Emily in more ways than one. Do you or do you not want to be with Emily? Oh, she’s talking to another boy? What’s his name? Why would you want to be with him? Do you really think he’s the right one for you?
High school crushes are complicated. A lot of the times they are talking with other people and feeling of jealousy can rise from the dirt. You don’t want to tell them what to do with their lives, but you desperately want to be with them as well. The game captures these feelings perfectly. It also hits home in a lot of different ways, thanks to the relatability of the scenario. Whether you like it or not, your relationship changes with Emily as you go through college and no matter what you say, the distance between you and her continues to grow. The ending is pretty depressing, but it’s extremely powerful in execution. It’s an outcome that you probably dread from the start, but it’s a part of life. The game has different endings, but I’m unsure if you are able to get a “positive” outcome, no matter how hard you try, which is kind of unfortunate. However, I think the negative endings work a lot better for the story and they give it more impact.
All the other details surrounding your conversations with Emily are some of the best parts of the game. Like I mentioned before, the game’s interface lovingly recreates the Window XP desktop. You have your messaging application that you use to talk with Emily as well as your “buddy list” that has all of your friends. Before every conversation, I found myself reading through my friends’ user bios which usually consisted of song lyrics or other meaningful quotes. Just like your relationship with Emily, your friends have changed too, and depending on the choices you make with Emily, you have the power to bring them closer or drive them away. It’s a neat little aspect of the game that only garnishes the meat of the experience. A part of me wishes that I could have talked with these other friends as well, but that would have only distracted me from the main conversation at hand. It could have worked, but it would have been tougher to implement in a meaningful and enriching way.
Even details like your “buddy icon” that you select before every year (five years divide into five chapters or conversations) did a great job at putting you in the early 2000s. The instant I saw the Harry Potter and Eminem logos that you could choose for your icon, I knew I was going to like this game. There’s also plenty of hidden surprises that unlock different Easter eggs throughout the course of the game as well. If you set your username to be “vaultdweller” for instance, you might get a special icon available for use. Some usernames also trigger conversational cues that can add some variety to the conversations as well. Setting your username to be the exact same as Brad’s (the boy Emily is talking to) can lead to a funny and confusing situation. (Try it.)
The short experience that Emily Is Away provides is extremely powerful and one of the most relatable games I have ever played. Not only does it provide a deeply engrossing, and ultimately sad, story but it also hits all of the nostalgic beats of the early 2000s. The game is essentially a friend zone simulator and it succeeds in every aspect of its execution. I would have liked the game to be a bit longer so I could spend more time with the character of Emily, but I think the game is alright where it stands. If you love sweating over what to say to your crush, then this game is most definitely for you.
Netflix has been killing it with their exclusives…it’s actually quite surprising. Every show (not all of them, but most of them) has been great and different from what you find on traditional TV. This time, it’s comedian Aziz Ansari’s turn to throw his hat in the ring with his newest comedy Master of None, exclusive to Netflix.
The show was meant to be a personal project, helping bring him and his parents closer among other things, and it instantly shows. The show is deeply personal, but super relatable at the same time. Master of None covers a lot of ground and you just can’t help but laugh at the source material…because they pretty much nail the wide variety of topics with honest hilarity.
Dev (Aziz Ansari) is a thirty-something actor living in the jungle that is New York City. We get a glimpse at the maturing actor as he takes on things like jobs, relationships, parents, and sexual offenders on the subway. Yeah, life’s hard for a man who still hasn’t quite reached peak maturity. That’s what the show is about. It’s about a man’s growth through the different events and obstacles that life throws at him. As I mentioned before, the show is painfully funny but isn’t afraid to take it down to a more serious note at times. The show is quick to poke fun at life’s hilarious scenarios…but it’s honest as well. I’m not quite sure if this show is based off any aspects of Ansari’s life, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
There is an overarching story that strings the ten episodes together, which primarily focuses on Dev’s relationship with Rachel (Noel Wells), a tour manager who he initially meets at a bar under some drunk circumstances. We’re quickly introduced to their relationship in the show’s first episode, simply titled “Plan B,” where they…well you can probably piece the rest together…it’s pretty amusing. What makes Master of None so appealing however is the fact that every episode could stand on its own two feet. Each episode has a central topic, with topics ranging from immigrant parents to feminism to stereotypes on TV. The episodes also benefit from some witty writing, with Ansari taking a good portion of the writing credits as well. “Mornings” is probably one of the strongest episodes in the mix, aside from the finale, dealing with the joys and tribulations of your significant other moving in to your place.
The acting might be the one thing about the show that rubbed me the wrong way at certain points. Eric Wareheim and Lena Waithe play Arnold and Denise respectively, two of Dev’s best friends. There’s also some guest appearances from H. Jon Benjamin and Busta Rhymes, who was a pretty cool addition to the show. For the most part everybody did a good job with their roles, but the acting seemed a little to forced and on the nose at times. This wasn’t super prevalent but when it did rear its head, I couldn’t tell if the forced acting was part of the character’s personality or if it was the actor.
Master of None might be some of Azis Ansari’s best work yet. It’s a charmingly funny show that pretty much nails the random parts of life that a New Yorker has to come in contact with. The show has been getting critical praise as well, including a Golden Globe nomination and a win at the Critic’s Choice Awards for best Comedy show. Give the show a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You’ll be laughing at how true and accurate the show is with its subject matter.
Starring: Graham Phillips, Zack Pearlman, Ashley Greene
Director: Rhys Thomas
Fresh new snow has just fallen which means the rough days of winter are starting to commence, and here I am writing a review about a summer movie. I hate winter. Correction: I hate snow. You can give me Christmas, New Years, and some good ol’ fashioned family time, but you can keep the snow and the cold temperatures that come with it. With the temperatures starting to drop, I figured why not watch Staten Island Summer to hold me over till Summer. Staten Island Summer might be good enough to take the chill off, but the movie didn’t warm me the way I thought it was going to.
Okay I’m going to be honest, the only reason why I decided to give this movie a try was because of the talent in front of and behind the camera. A good portion of the cast and production crew are current SNL players and alumni. Behind the camera, production credits go to Lorne Michaels while writing credits go to current Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost. Jost also plays the role of Officer Greg in the movie as well. Other SNL actors include Bobby Moynihan, Cecily Strong, Mike O’Brien, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, and Kate McKinnon. As you can see, the movie sure has the talent behind it.
The movie falls flat when it comes to the actual story. The summer teen sex comedy stars Graham Phillips as Danny Campbell and Zack Pearlman as Frank Gomes, two Staten Island lifeguards who want to throw a massive summer bash, along with fellow lifeguards Skootch (Moynihan), Anthony (John DeLuca), and Mary Ellen (Strong), before they leave for college. The party planning looks to be smooth sailing until their ridiculous speedo-toting boss Chuck Casino (O’Brien) gets word and makes it his mission to have the pool to himself on Labor Day weekend. This leaves the group desperate to think of other ideas to make the party a reality. Unfortunately, the conflict is pretty lukewarm, attributing to the small payoff that the movie’s ending brings on.
Staten Island Summer follows all the familiar tropes of a teen sex comedy, in the vein of movies like Wet Hot American Summer. Most of the adolescent interactions and dialogue between the characters is about what you’d expect for a movie like this; the originality isn’t really here. However, there is some scintillating wit to be found in the writing and there were some genuinely funny moments that made for some good times. Rapper Method Man plays a drug-dealing ice cream truck driver and some of his scenes with Frank Gomes are some of the best the movie has to offer.
Things change big time for Danny when his childhood babysitter Krystal Manicucci (Ashley Greene) walks onto the scene for the first time. Things literally explode around her as she makes her way down the swim club’s steps in slow motion on the way to poolside, where she ends up stripping down to her bikini in front of a pool full of ogling eyes. It was quite an introduction for a character, and unfortunately that’s as far as Greene’s character goes. Yep, her primary function in the movie is to provide the screen with eye candy. Don’t get me wrong, Staten Island Summer certainly tries to make her and Danny’s relationship something, but it failed to reach me on a deeper level. Their relationship goes from She’s Out of My League to Girl Next Door in almost no time flat. The two end up together on the beach by the end, but it really didn’t feel right…or mean anything for that matter because that was about as far as their relationship went.
I see what Staten Island Summer was trying to do, but the summer bash that it was trying to throw could have been better. In a movie about friendship, love, sex, and pools, it’s the SNL brand of witty humor that really stands above the rest. The movie is trying to copy its’ genre’s predecessors, but gives us an average movie in the process. It was fun to watch, but it was nothing to write home about…unless you’re from Staten Island?
Starring: Sarah Hyland, Bret Harrison, Steve Howey
Director: Jarret Tarnol
Oh the classic genre that is dramedy. It’s a genre where you pretty much know what your signing up for when you go in. *Insert life event* brings *insert name* back home to their crazy family where they all have to deal with *insert life event* in their own ways. What’s that you say? This kind of story sounds familiar to you? That’s because you have probably seen this type of movie a bajillion times before. Luckily (or probably not), See You in Valhalla brings a paint-by-the-numbers story to the table with a few quirks as the side dishes.
The movie begins with the rather odd death of Johana Burwood’s (Sarah Hyland) brother who attempts to avenge his girlfriend by dressing up as a Viking and going after the drug dealer who was one of the reasons for his girlfriend’s overdose. Johana’s brother was high as a kite, which didn’t do him any favors as he ended up getting himself killed. Upon hearing of her brother’s death, Johana and her newly appointed boyfriend, Peter (Alex Frost), take a trip back to her home where she has to deal with the wack-job of a family as well as her muddled past.
Johana’s father, played by Conor O’Farrell, is out of touch with reality, hiring some therapist lady (Jamie Wozney) to be his in-home therapist. Her brothers, Barry (Bret Harrison) and Don (Michael Weston), have quirks of their own. Barry is gay and has a bodybuilder sensei type boyfriend named Makewi (Steve Howey) while Don is working through a divorce with a daughter who he had when he was pretty young himself. Yeah, they’re a dysfunctional family that work each other up and get on each other’s nerves. They all manage to be super unlikable, minus a select few like Peter and Makew who happens to be one of the movies most redeeming qualities. There was a scene where the whole family was gathered around the dinner table for the first time in a while, where it didn’t take long for the insults to fly and the punches to be thrown. I imagined myself sitting at one of the chairs because, I too, hated almost every person at that table. They are all dirt bags who need to get along.
It doesn’t take long for the movie to start throwing around the stereotypical family drama that you have come to expect from these types of movies. Death, past relationships, current relationships, abortions, divorce, and jobs are some of the deep subject matter that the movie just tosses around like a feather, holding no weight whatsoever. Everything is tackled at surface level without managing to go deeper. “Hey, I’ve been going through a divorce.” “Oh really, I’m sorry to hear about that…okay what’s next?” That right there is an example of a sample conversation that would go down in this movie. Uh, you don’t want to go a little further? He seems to be hurting pretty bad because of the divorce. Well okay if you insist…
Maybe the most mind-boggling aspect of the whole movie is the fact that nobody addresses the massive elephant in the room…the part where their brother got himself killed…as a Viking? What? The movie seems to play it off like it’s nothing. Don’t even get me started on the movie’s final scene. It’s kind of funny, but so out of left field that it feels super out of place. Maybe I would have gotten a little more out of the movie if I just accepted the fact that their brother was just a casual Viking. I was waiting the entire movie for one of the characters to be like, “hey guys, don’t you maybe think it’s a little weird that our brother got himself killed as a Viking?”
There were times when See You in Valhalla made me laugh, but those moments were few and sparse. Instead, we get a movie that tries too hard at being sappy and sentimental thanks to its surface level drama. It also doesn’t help that the movie has a plot formed by the same cookie cutter that a lot of similar movies have used. Johana would have done us, as well as herself, a ton of favors by just staying home and sitting this one out.
I would be scared to find out how many hours I have put into some of the games on my top ten list this year. No really, there were a lot of capital B big games that released over the course of the year. This was due to the influx of open world games, which might be daunting to some but I brought them in with open arms. On the other hand, we had some smaller, more story-focused games that made way for some of the best gaming moments of 2015. As usual, it’s worth noting that this list is my top ten games that I played this year and is not indicative of the entirety of games that released in 2015. The simple fact is there were a lot of games that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time (or money) to play all of them. I’m sure that my list would be different if I was able to play all of the games that I wanted to play over the course of the year. I can’t speak for games that I haven’t played 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…
Best Game from a Previous Year: Grand Theft Auto V
I was a little late to the party when I first dug into Grand Theft Auto V back in March, but I was instantly hooked. Rockstar has developed a living and breathing Los Santos with seemingly endless activities to take part in and crimes to commit. Since I was playing the PS4 port, I also had the ability to play the game in first-person, which was a real game changer. Unlike previous games, players control three different characters; Michael, Franklin, and the crazy Trevor. Each character is great in their own regard, bringing their own unique qualities to a surprisingly fun story. I can’t believe I have gone this long without mentioning the elaborate heist missions, which were the highlight of what GTAV had to offer. Although I didn’t get too deep into the online offerings, GTA Online (a first for the series) offered some fun moments as well.
10. Lego Dimensions
I’ve been playing this game recently, which makes it my last minute addition to the list because it deserves some recognition. What makes this game different from all of the other Lego games is the fact that you can actually build the Legos, for real. It’s a toys-to-life game which means the little Lego minifigures and models that you build outside the game can be put into the game via the Lego Dimensions gamepad through NFC technology. The other plus about the game was the amount of properties that the game includes, like Scooby Doo, Dr. Who, Ghostbusters, The Simpsons, Batman, Lord of the Rings, The Lego Movie, and a lot more. This made for some crazy situations, like Homer Simpson getting excited every time he passed Batman. It’s a whole bunch of fan service that no other previous Lego game was able to offer.
9. Broken Age
What started off as a mysterious Kickstarter turned into one of Double Fine’s best games. Broken Age mixed adventure game tropes with some modern elements that didn’t make it feel out of place in 2015. The story follows two different characters, Shay and Vella, whose paths connect thanks to destiny. It was actually one of the biggest surprises of the game. The two seem to be living totally separate lives, but you quickly find out that this might not be the case. The writing is fantastic and the puzzles are clever and make you think, because this is a classic adventure game of course. The game’s art style is gorgeous as well, with every screen mimicking the look of a painting that you could find in an art museum. If you are a fan of the golden age of adventure games, then Broken Age should be on your radar if it wasn’t already.
8. Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange is one of two episodic adventure games on this list, but this one doesn’t come from Telltale, but instead, Square-Enix. This game probably provided some of the most memorable moments of the year as well. You follow Max Caulfield, a girl who finds out that she has the power to manipulate time. This power becomes one of the game’s main mechanics, allowing you to rewind time to change the decisions you make in the game, making it stand out from all of the other episodic games out there, where your choices are final. Being able to rewind time makes you really think about your decisions, giving them more weight. The game also isn’t afraid to get real and doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics like depression, suicide, and some other things that make you cringe. The game has some minor flaws here and there, but they don’t detract from Life Is Strange’s best moments.
7. Until Dawn
I’m not the kind of guy that you’ll find playing horror games, but Until Dawn had a bunch of exceptions that made me want to get my hands on it. Imagine your favorite teen slasher flick merged with a video game. That is the best way to describe the game’s presence. You play as eight different teens who get together to spend a night in one of the friend’s mansion on a haunted mountain. Things quickly start to take a turn for the worse as tensions rise and the mountains horrors rear their head. It turns into a survival fest as the hours count down until dawn. Most of the action is handled through quick time events which do a fantastic job at providing thrills and excitement. The game also revels in its horrific moments and there are plenty of them that will make you jump if you’re not expecting them. It’s a game that you can poke fun at while being scared at the same time. Also, play with a group of friends that can help you make decisions along the way. It makes for a cool experience unlike any other on this list.
The PC space is a perfect place for some good ol’ fashioned indie innovation. Undertale, a small little indie game on the PC, was a game that blew me away. I was not expecting myself to get so attached to it. It has the look and feel of an 80’s era RPG but has gameplay elements that make it new and refreshing. You play as a nondescript kid on a zany adventure, meeting some different and hilarious characters on the way. It’s hard to put humor in a video game but Undertale was a game that really made me laugh out loud at certain points. You can also go through the entire game without hurting a soul thanks to the game’s unique battle system, with each battle being different from the next. Undertale’s ending goes places that I wasn’t expecting, topping off the neat little experience with a bang.
5. Tales from the Borderlands
Here we have the other episodic adventure game, this time from Telltale games. Up to this point I have never played a Borderlands game but Tales from the Borderlands actually made me care about the series’ lore and the story it has to tell. You play as two characters, Rhys and Fiona, who with the help from their friends go on an adventure around the harsh world of Pandora on the search for a legendary treasure. If you have ever played a Telltale game, then you should already know what you’re getting from this game. This game however has some fantastic writing that makes it one of the funniest games of the year. Rhys and Fiona are always getting themselves into trouble in hilarious ways. If you have gotten tired of the Telltale formula, don’t let that stop you from playing Tales from the Borderlands. The Walking Dead games that they put out are their best, but Tales from the Borderlands follows closely in their footsteps of greatness.
4. Rocket League
I’m going to be honest with you, I really wasn’t expecting Rocket League to be as good as it is. It was released as a free PS Plus game so I decided to give it a fair shake. What I got was one of my top games of the year. The game’s premise is that of a pipe dream. It’s soccer, but with rocket powered cars! Sound fun right? Yes, it’s as great as it sounds, and the fact that it is so simple to play makes it that much better. Within no time I found myself getting better and perfecting my skills. Let me tell you, nothing was more rewarding than score a goal. I soon took my skills to multiplayer which was a ton of fun. I might not play Rocket League as much as I did when it first came out, but it was still one of the best multiplayer games of the year. Also, it was a free game! I got my money’s worth, for sure.
3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
This was my first time playing a Metal Gear game but I got the sense from others that the series has come a long way. Metal Gear Solid V is a massive game, with a huge sandbox for players to tackle missions in a plethora of different ways. As Big Boss, you manage Mother Base and you can recruit people to your team to deepen the ranks of the Diamond Dogs. You then put these people into different divisions to advance and improve your base. You can also put people into research and development which churns out new gadgets and weapons that you can take to the field. The game’s story might not rival some of the series’ previous entries but it is still epic in scale. When all’s said and done, it’s MGSV’s gameplay that makes the game so special. The game just feels good to play and I loved hearing how other people completed missions their own way.
2. Fallout 4
I can’t say I’m that surprised when I see Fallout 4 so high on my list. This was probably my most anticipated game of the year when it was first announced back at E3 this year. The game takes the best parts of the previous Fallout games and adds in a ton of new things to make it stand out as my favorite Fallout game. The story this time around is similar to the story of Fallout 3, but instead of searching for your father you are searching for your son in a post-apocalyptic Boston. Bethesda has created a fully realized city with Boston and I spent countless hours just walking around and stumbling upon unique buildings and settlements. Junk that you find around the world also plays a vital role because now they can be used to craft everything from weapon mods to armor mods. You also have the ability to build your own settlements, which is something completely new for the series. The game has it’s issues with bugs and other jank, but that’s now why I come to a Fallout game. I come for the exploration and the world, and Bethesda delivered.
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
If you think about it, this was a year of firsts for me. Just like Metal Gear Solid V was my first Metal Gear game, The Witcher 3 was my first Witcher game. Boy am I glad I took the dive because much to my surprise, The Witcher 3 actually surpassed Fallout 4 as my game of the year. You play as Geralt, a Witcher who roams around taking down monsters harassing villages, usually for a nice reward. The game’s story is basically a game of cat and mouse as you try to find Ciri, Geralt’s old friend, who is being pursued by the evil and ruthless Wild Hunt. It’s CD Projekt Red’s non-linear storytelling that really shines however. The game’s world is massive, spanning a whopping three open-world maps. Each map, with the exception of the introductory area, is massive and full of people to meet, ruins to explore, and monsters to kill. The combat has a little bit of a learning curve to it, but one you start to get the hang of it, it is super satisfying. The game punishes you for rushing into battle unprepared, requiring you to step back and really think about your actions. Each victory felt like an accomplishment, which is something I didn’t feel in a game like Fallout 4. The game also wraps up with a super satisfying ending due to the choices that I made in the story. The characters are super likable (The Red Baron is one of the best and most dynamic characters in the game) and the monsters you have to fight can be horrific. The Witcher 3 might seem daunting to some, but it is a game that you have to play if you haven’t already.
This year’s top ten album list was a little bit of a surprise to me. If you don’t know already, I am a pretty big fan of rap music which means that most of the music I listen to during the year tends to be rap and hip-hop. In turn, this leads to top ten lists that are mostly comprised of rap albums. This year was a little different. This year’s list, although still mostly rap, branched out a bit and brings some diversity to the table. As usual, I should note that this list is my top ten albums that I listened to this year and is not indicative of the all the albums that came out in 2015. The simple fact is there was a lot of music that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time to listen all of it. I can’t speak for albums that I haven’t listened to 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…
Honorable Mentions: Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson, Ludaversal – Ludacris, Everything Is 4 – Jason Derulo, Revenge of the Dreamers II – J. Cole and Dreamville Records
10. Title– Meghan Trainor
The world was introduced to Meghan Trainor in 2014 but we didn’t get her debut album until 2015. Title is a strong debut for one of the more trending pop artists of 2015. Not only does it include “All About That Bass,” the song that put her on the map, but it also includes lesser known tracks like the album’s intro “The Best Part” and the fun “Walkashame.” Not to forget, the album also contains “Lips Are Movin” and “Dear Future Husband,” two of her other more popular songs. The album has a diverse sound and there is a lot to like about it.
9. Dark Sky Paradise – Big Sean
For his third studio album, Big Sean reflects on his life and gets a little introspective. It’s a change of pace when compared to the rapper’s previous albums and this change works really well. Dark Sky Paradise was also largely produced by Kanye West, a.k.a. the album has a great sound as well. You are already familiar with “I Don’t F*** With You,” one of the album’s premiere tracks, but the atmospheric and deep “Blessings” is another song that deserves a listen. The album also has a strong introduction with “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” where he reflects on some of the past decisions that he has made in his life. “One Man Can Change the World” proves that Big Sean opens up big time on his album, making it a necessary album on Sean’s discography.
8. GO:OD AM– Mac Miller
Mac Miller’s career trajectory has been a little hard to predict. He started off small with his release of Blue Slide Park and then moved to bigger and better (and profoundly different) things with Watching Movies with the Sound Off. With his latest release, GO:OD AM, Mac seems to have dipped a little bit in terms of mainstream recognition, but certainly not in quality. This also marks his first major label debut. GO:OD AM is a nice collection of tracks that mix some of the “trippy” Mac with his older sound. “100 Grandkids” is the song that I point to because it is a good representation of what you are going to get with the album. Other standouts include “Brand Name,” “Rush Hour,” and “Weekend” featuring R&B superstar Miguel.
7. At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky
2015 treated rapper A$AP Rocky pretty well…for the most part. The death of Rocky’s good friend A$AP Yams was a punch to the gut, but he seems to be doing pretty well with a starring role in Dope and a great album with At.Long.Last.A$AP. His sophomore album not only shows off the rapper’s talent, but it also acts as a dedication to his late friend Yams. The album kicks off with the deeply meditative “Holy Ghost” but then moves on to the trip-fest that is “L$D.” The album also contains “Everyday,” a collaboration between Rocky, Mark Ronson, Miguel, and Rod Stewart. Yep, you heard that right. A$AP Rocky was not afraid to experiment with different sounds and feels on the album, making it a unique experience. Finally, the project wraps up with a touching tribute to A$AP Yams. It wasn’t the best track on the album, but the energy was there.
6. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
I will never stop being fascinated with The Weeknd’s voice. It’s the single aspect that got me instantly hooked when I listened to his indie project Kiss Land. For a time, The Weeknd was mostly underground, shying away from the mainstream light. Beauty Behind the Madness is the artist’s first foray into the mainstream light, and he handles himself pretty well. There’s a little bit of everything on the album to cater to a lot of tastes. “Can’t Feel My Face” harnesses a strong Michael Jackson influence to cater to the masses while songs like “Often” and “The Hills” harken back to the artist’s previously dark sounds. The album gave us the best of both worlds on top of some of the year’s best production. All The Weeknd needs to do is just keep being himself and all will be good.
5. Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco
You’re probably looking at this album and probably wondering where the hell it came from. I am going to go ahead and declare that Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth was the most underrated rap album of 2015. I consider Tetsuo & Youth a smart man’s rap album. There is everything from instrumental melodies to nine minute masterpieces. Lupe also tackles topics like religion in tracks like “Madonna” and “Adoration of the Magi.” The album’s best track is “Prisoner 1 & 2” which provides a unique perspective on incarceration and racial profiling. These aren’t the only hot button issues that the album takes on either. There is a lot to Tetsuo & Youth and it all comes together in a well-rounded package. The album came out pretty early in the year and I knew the second after I finished listening to it that it was going to make it on this list.
4. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples
When I think about it, this might be the second most underrated album of 2015, although it gained wider mainstream acceptance due to word of mouth. Vince Staples’ debut project is an interesting one because it is rooted in a story. Over the course of the album, the rapper goes into the summer of 2006, a season that really changed him as a person. Similar to some of the other albums on the list, Summertime ’06 is a reflective experience. “Life Me Up” and “Birds & Bees” are great examples of the rapper opening up about his childhood and his life growing up on the North Side of Long Beach. The double album has a cohesive theme that sticks the whole way through. Summertime ’06 came out of nowhere for me and now I am looking forward to what is to come from Vince Staples.
3. Compton: The Soundtrack – Dr. Dre
Who said the old man couldn’t hang out with the new guys? Dr. Dre, who hasn’t released an album in almost sixteen years, proves with Compton that he hasn’t missed a beat. Compton came out around the same time as the movie Straight Outta Compton, which really boosted the rapper’s resurgence in 2015. The longtime producer was dormant for the longest time but he comes back with an energy uncontested by many. Dre pays homage to his past with tracks like “Genocide” and “It’s All On Me” while at the same time looking where he has come since then in tracks like “Talking to my Diary.” There is a lot of Dre on the album but there is also a bunch of guest features including the likes of King Mez, Justus, and Candice Pillay. There is also a good bit of familiar voices like Eazy-E, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg that lead to some great collaborations as well. The album has the old school Dr. Dre sound with a modern feel. This could be the rapper’s last album, but what a way to shut it down.
2. Our Own House – Misterwives
What!? An indie pop album from a New York based band as my second best album of 2015? This was exactly the way I felt when giving this album a comfy spot high on the list. My fascination with Misterwives’ music started with a free download of their song “Our Own House,” which later led to my purchase of the entire album. It’s a really fun and energetic album. “Reflection” and “Best I Can Do” are great examples of the energy that I am talking about. The album goes to some deep places as well with “Oceans” and “Coffins.” The group is super talented, fusing the fantastic voice of lead singer Mandy Lee with a mix of different instruments, yielding a final product that is unlike anything else on this list. The album really resonated with me, making it perhaps my biggest surprise discovery of 2015. The album is also great for blasting on long drives. Trust me, it has happened.
1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
It’s almost like Kendrick Lamar can do no wrong, right? Kendrick is probably one of rap’s hottest commodities, having himself one of the best years he has had in a while. It wasn’t going to be easy to top his previous album good kid, m.A.A.d. city but he did it. He topped that album with To Pimp a Butterfly. What an album. Kendrick Lamar is one of the best lyricists in the game right now with a deep talent for storytelling. Almost every song on the album is phenomenal, with standouts like “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “How Much a Dollar Cost,” and “The Blacker the Berry.” Kendrick also dives into a bunch of cultural and social issues that have taken hold of our current society, making it one of the most relevant albums of the year as well. I’m pretty confident in saying that this relevance won’t just stay in 2015 either. I’m not lying when I say that this is an album that is going to be talked about years from now as one of the greats. Yeah, the album is that good. You should probably listen to it.
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.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, SCE Santa Monica Studio
Developer: Ready at Dawn Studios
2015 has been a stellar year so far for gaming and it’s looking like 2016 might even surpass it. With so many exciting things that have taken place this year, the number of disappointments has been relatively low, especially compared to what 2014 brought. I think you know where this is going. If you had to ask anybody what the biggest disappointment of the year for gaming was, they would probably point to The Order: 1886. Ready at Dawn, the studio behind the game, has had some success with PSP titles in the past, but this was the first time they took an original game to the console, and perhaps it shows a little. I’m not necessarily up at arms against this game as much as some are, but my time with the game was less than ideal.
The Knights of the Order are an elite group of highly trained knights that offer protection to Victorian-era London. The game takes place in an alternate history where technology has progressed farther along, giving the knights access to some high-tech weapons, a lot of them designed by the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who also happens to be a character that you meet in the game. You play as Sir Galahad, a member of the Order. He’s an older and more seasoned knight that has a lot of experience under his belt. Other members of your Order include Lady Ingraine (Galahad’s love interest), Sir Percival, and Marquis de Lafayette, who hasn’t received his title yet since he is just an apprentice.
An ugly war has taken place in London between humans and these creatures called “half-breeds.” These creatures start off as humans but take on animalistic traits. The origins of this disease are not really explained but these creatures are not things you want to mess with. With the help of Black Water, a weird substance that heals the drinker almost instantly, the Order has been able to turn things around, giving them the advantage in the bloody fight that has ravaged the streets of London. (All traces of realism are thrown out the window with this one) There’s a whole bunch of twists and turns as you make your way through the eight to nine-hour campaign that make the story enjoyable and gripping. Unfortunately, its capped off by a rather abrupt cliffhanger that blatantly sets up the prospect of another sequel. I would have liked the story to continue on a little longer, but I was generally content with the game’s length. There were a lot of complaints directed at the game’s length, but I don’t think the game would have necessarily been better if more content was tacked on to the game’s length. It’s the game’s combat and gunplay that are the real problems with The Order.
Uninspired and unoriginal third-person cover shooting makes up a good percentage of the gameplay. For the most part it works, but boredom starts to kick in as you routinely have to take out a number of rebels and other enemies. The game has an okay variety of weapons, however only a couple stand out. As you progress through the story, some science-powered weapons are given to Galahad to try out and this is where the main fun can be had, although that feeling starts to degrade again as repetition kicks in again.
Maybe the most surprising thing is the lack of half-breeds that you have to fight. The whole premise of the game revolves around the fight against these monsters, but here I was, shooting rebel after rebel from the safety of some cover…what!? The couple of times where I actually was fighting the half-breeds were great and intense, making me hungry for more. Maybe it was the game’s lack of creative direction, but the lack of half-breeds in this game seems like a major misstep that should not have been overlooked.
The other percentage of gameplay that wasn’t cover based shooting involves quick time events and corridor walking…fun right? Who doesn’t appreciate an overzealous use of quick time events and endless walks through corridors? As it turns out, a lot of people. There was not an offensive number of quick time events but it was starting to get a little out of hand. The game’s shooting sequences were sandwiched between walks through city streets or dark corridors with some of the other characters. This was not fun at all, but at least the game’s environments were gorgeous and highly detailed. It would sometimes make me forget that what I was doing was just walking to the next large area where a shooting sequence was going to take place.
If Ready at Dawn would have put a little more work into The Order: 1886’s gameplay, this could be a whole different review. The story is original and engrossing, set in the frame of Victorian London that pops off the screen with stunning visual appeal. It’s the unoriginal and rote cover-based shooting and quick time events that largely bring the experience down. I wouldn’t call the game my biggest disappointment of 2015 because it had a lot of good things going for it, but the game could have been a lot more. Maybe the sequel will right its predecessor’s wrongs?
Duuuuuuuuh-duuuh-duh-duh-duh-duuuuuuuuh-duuh-duh-duh-duh-duhhhh…. (Just imagine the rest of this review like it’s the iconic Star Wars intro title crawl with the iconic music in the background for added effect)
The Star Wars prequels left a bad taste in the mouths of fanboys across the world. Episodes I, II, and III had their moments but they were largely underwhelming and incomparable to the original masterpieces of IV, V, and VI. Making matters worse, it’s been ten years since Episode III came out, meaning the bad taste has just lingered and festered for years. Fans started to become anxious for the next installment in the storied franchise, just something to cleanse their palette. Enter Disney. Famed Star Wars director George Lucas sold his baby to the entertainment juggernaut that is Walt Disney and soon to follow this news was the announcement that a new trilogy would soon be making its way to the big screen.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens slowly became one of the year’s most anticipated movies. Directed by J.J. Abrams, the movie would continue the story of famed movie heroes like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, along with some newer characters joining the fray. It is made clear that The Force Awakens is on a mission to set the series back on the right track of what made the classics great. Now we have something else to talk about instead of the prequels sucking so much. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but The Force Awakens has been selling gangbusters and breaking records left and right. It has become one of year’s biggest movies. J.J. Abrams has successfully accomplished his mission and has made a Star Wars movie to rival the classics.
The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A lot has happened since then. The First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver of Girls fame), is the omnipotent evil that spans the galaxy. The Jedi are just a myth of the past. The characters from the previous films are all doing their own thing now. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is still the general of The Resistance, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) are still the rebel bounty hunters that we came to love, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing, which is the main crux of the movie’s story.
Within the first couple of scenes we are also introduced to the new faces that will drive the new trilogy for the years to come; Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. These two are the new fresh faces that this series needs. Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a scrapper from Jakku who is under the impression that one day her long lost family will come back to find her. John Boyega, on the other hand, plays Finn, a Stormtrooper who wants to change his ways. The two character’s paths meet up in a play of destiny and they are set on a mission after finding the cute little droid BB-8 that has part of the map that will lead the Resistance to Luke Skywalker.
John Boyega’s Finn was probably one of my favorite new characters from the movie. His humor is a refreshing change of pace for the movie and he has an energy that is undeniable. Daisy Ridley is amazing as well. I believe that both of them will have what it takes to carry the monolith that is Star Wars into the future. This movie was their proving ground and they took the baton from the established cast and are ready to move on into the future. I also want to mention that Adam Driver did a fantastic job as Kylo Ren. His character was perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch. Ren is a unhinged and emotional apprentice to the Dark Side that is afraid that he will never live up to Darth Vader. Driver captured this character’s unstable nature amazingly and I really look forward to perhaps taking a deeper dive into the shroud that this character withholds.
The nostalgia factor is out the roof the second the notorious title crawl starts scrolling up the big screen. Everything from the sights to the sounds bring back pangs of nostalgia and reverence to the original trilogy. The use of practical effects in The Force Awakens alone is super cool in that it adds to the old school mantra that this movie upholds. It really made the movie feel like the original trilogy. In fact, this movie was super similar to A New Hope, maybe a little to its detriment. Everything from the locations to the story seem to fit right in line with A New Hope, almost like it was trying to play it a little safe, using the already established classic as a crutch to carry it forward. This doesn’t mean too much right now, but if the next movie starts to fall in line with The Empire Strikes Back, then maybe we should start to feel alarmed.
There’s also the convenience factor that started to make me question a lot of the things that happened in the movie. I fear that if I started to go deeper into what I mean by this, spoilers would start to arise so I am going to stay out of the mud for now. If you see the movie, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Things line up in ways that seem impossible and characters run into other characters at opportune times that make you shake your head a bit. Don’t get me wrong, this is a problem that a lot of movies have, but that doesn’t make it excusable. Similar to my point about The Force Awakens being too similar to A New Hope, this isn’t a big problem in the movie, but you can add it to my list of small gripes that I have with it.
It’s been a while since a movie instilled a feeling of pure childish giddiness in me but The Force Awakens really did that for me. The feeling of going to see a new Star Wars movie in theaters again was just a delight in itself. Luckily the movie was pretty fantastic to go along with these nostalgic feelings. The movie took its time and established the new characters and paid homage to the old in ways that seem to set up the future movies pretty well. (I should also mention that the movie’s last shot was pretty amazing, setting up the cliffhanger that will be picked up in Episode 8) Whenever J.J. Abrams had his hesitations with signing on to the iconic series, I understood why he would have these feelings. He can rest easy now because he accomplished a lot of great things with The Force Awakens. This is the Star Wars movie you have been looking for.