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Review: The Fate of the Furious

fate poster
via Coming Soon

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

PG-13 / 136 mins.

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson

Director: F. Gary Gray


Things are changing in the world of the Fast and the Furious.

Paul Walker has passed away due to a tragic car accident, meaning his character Brian is not returning in future installments.  The stakes continue to rise as Dom and his crew get their selves wrapped up in global conflict.  Dom has turned on his family!?  Things are certainly changing as the street-racing-turned-blockbuster-action-franchise returns with its eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious.  Even though Fate serves up a delightfully fun and silly experience its beginning to feel like there is an onset of series fatigue.

Of course, this is a natural for a series that has been around for sixteen years.

fate 1
via Universal Pictures

In the franchise’s eighth ride, directed for the first time by F. Gary Gray, Dom (Vin Diesel) is placed under the grasp of an international terrorist who goes by the name of Cipher (Charlize Theron).  She meets up with the former street racer in Cuba and all it takes is a single photograph for Dom to change sides, supposedly betraying his “family” in the process.  This is the narrative hook that has been captivating fans of the series up until its release.  It is an outlandish premise, and at times unbelievable, but the reasons for his “betrayal” are satisfying and make sense.  In fact, this is probably the most coherent plot the series has offered in a while.  What is even more satisfying is the secret plan that Dom formulates while working for the other side and the way in which it all turns out in the end.  It is a ton of fun and there is some fan service that will make any Fast fan giddy with excitement.

Charlize Theron’s Cipher is one of my favorite villains this franchise has seen.  She is equal parts cunning and ruthless.  She does some pretty messed up things during the movie’s run time and you will end up hating her by the end.  Past villains in the series have been hit or miss, but I am confident when I say that Cipher cements herself at the top.  Unfortunately, the worst part about her character is that we do not see enough of her in action.  She spends the lion share of her time in the movie aboard her plane within the confines of her headquarters.  She is rarely on the ground getting her hands dirty and we certainly never see her behind the wheel.  Charlize Theron is an actress who is going to be starring in the action-thriller Atomic Blonde (who’s trailer we see before the movie) so it is quite a shame that she never throws a punch or swings a kick.

fate 2
via The Hollywood Reporter

Despite Dom and Cipher being the centerpiece of this movie’s plot, it is the other characters that make this movie such a delight.  Dwayne Johnson reprises his role as the super-cop Hobbs.  He has a ton of great moments and this movie would not have been the movie it is without his presence.  What is most entertaining is his relationship with Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham.  The two despise each other (which is understandable) so when forced to work together, things get interesting.  Jason Statham is one of my favorite parts about this movie.  He is a fusion of humor and seriousness and he plays both parts amazingly.  The fact that the team is totally cool with him despite his murder of Han in cold blood is a little weird, but the movie does a respectable job at making him a redeemable character, especially during a laugh-out-load scene involving a plane gunfight towards the end.  Then there is Roman, Tyrese Gibson’s character.  Did you think there was not enough Roman in previous installments?  If you said yes, then you are in for a treat.  Roman reprises his role as the comic relief and his character is constantly a joy.  Every line he mutters made me laugh.  Just wait for the Barents Sea scene…it is tough to not laugh.

The rest of the cast is fine.  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is now happily back with Dom.  Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are still the hackers of the group.  Kurt Russell makes a return as Mr. Nobody, along with series newcomer Scott Eastwood, who plays the “little nobody.”  His character did not do much for me.  I am sure he is going to be in future movies, so good for him.  He has some funny moments but he ultimately seems like a boring stand-in for Paul Walker’s character.

fate 3
via iMDB

The action sequences in Fate come from the same brand of ridiculous that the Fast movies have become famous for, but they pale in comparison to previous movies.  There are only so many things you can do with cars, which is the inevitable problem with a series like this running for so long.  It is hard to top set-piece moments like the aircraft scene in Fast 6 and the skyscraper jumps from Furious 7, but Fate still has its fair share of crazy action moments.  There is a zombie car sequence in New York which is essentially Day Z but with cars and the submarine chase that has been heavily featured in the trailers offers some insane excitement.  Reality is constantly thrown out the window and the approach to some of these situations can be laughable, but that is what makes these movies so special.  I am not here to question the physical plausibility of such scenes.  I am here to eat popcorn, turn off my mind, and enjoy the blockbuster action in front of me.  That is something these movies tackle perfectly.

Another complaint I have with the movie is its recycled gags and plot points that it comes to.  Hobbs gives a stern speech in the beginning but it is revealed that he is giving said speech to a girls’ soccer team.  Roman and Tej are still vying for the admiration of Ramsey.  Those are just two examples.  Of course, this is a symptom of series fatigue.  The series’ writers are falling back on the same tricks that they have pulled in past movies, which is a little concerning.  The movie switches things up by placing Dom on the villain’s side, but with two more movies left, the writers are starting to run out of places to go.  The Fate of the Furious is a very familiar feeling movie, but maybe it is starting to become a little too familiar.  This familiarity does not just stop at gags and plot points.  The movie falls into a lot of similar tropes that have been common for the series.  This is not necessarily a terrible thing considering how great the past three movies have been, but this sort of laziness is not going to fly for much longer.

fate 4
via Dark Horizons

Despite inklings of fatigue, The Fate of the Furious still manages to take viewers on a thrill ride, offering a lot of dumb, silly action.  If you are coming into this series fresh without any knowledge of the previous movies, your mileage may vary with this movie but if you have been a ride-or-die fan since day 1, you will find a ton to love with this movie.  With a ninth and tenth installment imminent, I am eager for this franchise’s future.  I am hoping it sets up for a strong finish.

fate score

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Review: Luke Cage Season 1

luke-cage-s1-posterLuke Cage (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Action / Crime / Drama

Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi

Creator: Cheo Hodari Coker


He just wanted to be left alone, but the city needed a hero.  That’s one of the things I love about Netflix’s host of Marvel TV shows.  The featured superheroes, or vigilantes as some might say, never revel in the spotlight that is thrust on them.  They never bask in the glow of praise (or hate) that gets thrown their way.  They just do what they feel is necessary.  They get the job down because it’s the right thing to do.  Luke Cage, the star of Marvels’ Luke Cage, was just the neighborhood guy, hanging out at Pop’s barber shop in Harlem.  However, after his name gets tarnished he needs to fight to clear his name and save his neighborhood.

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via gamers.vg

Some superheroes wear capes; others wear hoodies full of bullet holes.  The one thing that Luke Cage absolutely nails, among other things, is its titular hero.  We got a taste of Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Netflix’s other series Jessica Jones, but this time around he’s front and center.  He’s an ex-con who literally just wants to be left alone.  He’s the neighborhood guy that everybody loves.  He also has superhuman strength and durability, which comes in handy more times than not.  The show doesn’t waste any time in showing you that Luke’s bulletproof.  I was going to count how many hoodies he lost because of bullet holes…but I quickly lost count.  Colter brings a toughness to the role that I really like.  He also does a good job at portraying a man who has a lot of demons, demons he wrestles with all season.  Luke’s a complex character, one that ever so relatable.  As a white male, I would be lying to you if I told you that I related to Luke Cage, but there is a massive demographic of young black males that will quickly identify with Luke’s character, especially in light of the events in current society.  This isn’t by accident either.

Another aspect that show creator Cheo Hodari Coker nails is the story, full of great supporting characters as well as villains.  Like all of Marvel’s Netflix shows, the story stays grounded in Harlem, a city full of gangbanging and corruption.  One of the neighborhoods’ biggest players is Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) who goes by the name of ‘Cottonmouth.’  I absolutely adored Ali’s performance as the classy gangster hungry for power.  Nothing made me giddier than the show’s iconic scene that has Cottonmouth demonstrating his power in front of a portrait of late rapper Biggie Smalls.  It’s a great example of the show’s fantastic cinematography.  Cottonmouth’s not the only player in Harlem though.  There’s also councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Herman “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi).  Both give great performances, along with some other villains that I won’t mention in fear of spoilers.

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via News Times

But who’s on Luke Cage’s side?  At first, Luke’s relationship with Harlem detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is a rough, but the two slowly warm up to each other as the season moves on.  They both are in search of justice and want to make sure that it’s found, no matter the cost.  It’s also refreshing to see Rosario Dawson get substantial screen time as Claire Temple, a good friend of Luke’s.  We have seen Dawson in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones as Claire, but only in smaller, more supportive roles.  This time she’s a prime part of the story, helping Luke find answers and seek justice in any way that she can.  She has experience tending to heroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which makes her a qualified sidekick on Luke’s quest for vengeance.

The first couple of episodes chug along at a slower pace, but the story quickly picks up at a faster and more thrilling pace.  Although the main focus is Luke’s quest to avenge Pop’s (Frankie Faison) death, we also see bit and pieces of Luke’s past as an ex-con and how he became the superhuman that he is now.  I think these bits of backstory are neatly framed within the context of the story and they never feel too egregious.  They also play a big part in developing the characters and their motivations in the story.  Even though I enjoyed the show’s story a great deal, it was still lacking a thing that all good stories need: conflict, which might seem silly when you see Luke Cage fighting his way through gangsters and taking bullets like hunting target.  “Of course there’s conflict, what are you talking about!?”  Sure, there’s a surface level conflict, but I never felt like Luke was ever in real danger at any point during the course of the season.  There’s clever ways that the plot tries to build roadblocks in Luke’s mission, but I always knew in the back of my head that Luke was going to be just fine.  That’s the problem when you have a character that is, literally, bulletproof.  There were, of course, an abundance of thrills but these thrills were the byproduct of well-choreographed fight scenes and action moments…never the byproduct of conflict.

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via Digital Trends

Let’s circle back to a positive aspect of my time with Luke Cage and that is the show’s production and style.  Everything from the imagery to the show’s amazing soundtrack play a big role in putting you in the city streets of Harlem.  I already mentioned it previously, but the scene including Biggie’s portrait is a perfect example of the show really embracing Harlem’s culture.  There’s also the soundtrack, which is heavily influenced by old-school rap.  It even boils down to the show’s episode titles, all of which are references to the classic rap duo Gang Starr.  The show’s creators really understood the culture and setting that they were working with and hit a hole-in-one in terms of Harlem’s look and feel.  It did a great job at placing you in the beating heart of Harlem’s neighborhood.

If I had to rank Marvel’s Netflix shows as of right now, I would probably put Luke Cage above Jessica Jones but below Daredevil.  Regardless of its place among its sister shows, Luke Cage still excels on its own.  There’s a few blemishes, specifically with the conflict for a near-invincible vigilante, but the story delivers a wonderful cast of characters placed in the beautifully painted depiction of Harlem.  Ever since I saw Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Jessica Jones I knew I wanted a full-on show devoted to the character, and Luke Cage delivers and succeeds in its mission.  But seriously, Luke really needs to buy some higher-grade hoodies.  Don’t they sell bullet-proof hoodies?

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Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2

unbreakable kimmy s2 poster
via Christian Post

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 2) (2016)

Netflix / TV-14

Comedy

Starring: Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess

Creators: Tina Fey, Robert Carlock


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

unbreakable kimmy s2 1
via Splitsider

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

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

unbreakable kimmy s2 2
via IB Times

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

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

unbreakable kimmy s2 3
via Dork Shelf

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

unbreakable kimmy s2 score

Review: Agent Carter – Season 1

via coolreviewsrule.com
via coolreviewsrule.com

Agent Carter (Season 1) (2015)

TVPG / ABC

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Chad Michael Murray

Creators: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely


I have to start off by admitting that Captain America ranks high on my top list of superheroes from the Marvel universe.  There’s just a lot to like about him.  He’s a war hero, with a chip on his shoulder.  The WWII setting that often accompanies a lot of his material is also pretty intriguing as well.  Marvel has been doing well with the Captain America movies, striking a sound chord with fans everywhere.  It was only natural to bring the superhero to TV in some form or another.  However, it was the form that surprised me the most.

Agent Peggy Carter, played brilliantly by Hayley Atwell, was a pivotal character in the Captain America movies, but not a character that I thought could run a whole series.  When it was announced that Hayley Atwell would reprise her role as the WWII Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) agent, I had surface-level enthusiasm.  However, right from the start of the pilot I could tell that my expectations were going to be blown out of the roof, demonstrating that she had all the right moves to headline a show by herself without the help of Captain America.

via Nerdist
via Nerdist

It was also refreshing to see a lead female role in a superhero show.  It seems that this is the direction that Marvel has been going with their foray into television, starting with agent Skye in the hit show Agents of Shield.  Watching Carter take out men with ease on the field with some slick moves, as well as her manipulative nature when it comes to men, was fun to watch.  She had all the tools to hang with the big guns.

The plot-line that drove the story forward was also pretty strong, but it was only after a couple of episodes that it started to ramp up in intensity.  The pilot put us in 1946, after all the drama of WWII.  As one would assume, the need for a bunch of agents dwindled, which meant that Agent Carter was relegated to secretarial duties in an SSR office full of unrighteous and often times disrespectful pricks.  A big part of the first couple of episodes was the office culture, and how Carter had to persevere among the amount of disrespect that she got from her coworkers.  These coworkers got better after time, but they were real assholes in the early episodes.

via Sound on Sight
via Sound on Sight

Let me give you a brief rundown of Carter’s key co-workers.  The chief that runs things during the series is Chief Dooley, played by Shea Whigham.  He’s the guy who makes the executive decisions across the investigations.  We also have federal agent Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) who seems to be the top agent among the agency.  We also have agent Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), who is quickly established to be Carter’s love interest, even though she already has a thing for the dreamy super soldier Captain America.  Sousa is a cripple, and a generally likable character from the beginning.  He was probably my favorite agent besides Carter herself.  The two had a nice thing going on, but the only this is, I wish they could have deepened this plot-line a little more.

Carter’s role in the story really comes into play when Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) approaches Carter with a favor for her.  The SSR’s top priority is Stark, who as accused of treason after the war.  He wants Carter to do a bit of double crossing among her SSR allies to clear his name from the inside.  He entrusts her with the help of his trusty, and most of the time hilarious, Edwin Jarvis, played by James D’Arcy.

via Hypable
via Hypable

Early on, it seems that Stark might be the overarching bad guy that the SSR will eventually have to deal with.  However, as episodes go on, we soon start to see that this is not so much the case.  The story heavily enforces the theme of trust, making it hard to really trust anyone.  Some of the most unlikely characters in the series soon prove to be someone else.  It makes for a couple of interesting twists and turns along the way.

As I mentioned before, the story takes a little while to ramp up to full intensity mode.  The series only spans a short eight episodes, which means that it had to pack a punch from the get-go.  The pilot got the ball rolling, but subsequent episodes seemed a little less engaging.  Carter was doing her sly undercover work while keeping suspicion away from her deeds.  The overarching evil plans that come later take a little longer to get to.  The good thing is, the last trio of episodes really brought the intensity, with a lot of edge-of-your-seat thrills.  Without spoiling anything, I can say that when Carter has to deal with the SSR, it is really enticing, and you could see the shift in the series tone from petty undercover missions to one single mission of a much broader scale.

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Towards the end, there is also a lot more talk about Captain America, and his role in the story.  There were some points where I thought that the hero was going to make a surprise cameo, but this unfortunately was not the case.  We only get to see a brief glimpse at his shield during an illusion.  It was a little disappointing at first, but I understand the decision to not put him in.  It most likely would have been cheap fan service that would not necessarily fit in well with the tone of the story.

I should also mention that setting of the series was supremely well done.  They really brought 1940’s New York to life in every way, including the way characters dressed and the locales.  The classic diner that Carter would often sit at throughout the show with Jarvis or her roommate just screamed “post-war 40’s.”  The Captain America movies featured some of this WWII period setting, but in Agent Carter, it truly shines.

via enstarz.com
via enstarz.com

Despite some of its flaws here and there, Agent Carter was a pleasant surprise for me, and just a really strong show in general.  There was a good story that never lost sight of its end goal, even if it did take some time to rev up to full speed.  The characters, especially Hayley Atwell’s amazing performance as Carter, also made the show for me.  I hope that we get to see more with Agent Carter in the future.  It was originally set up to only be a one season run, but the way the show wrapped up in the end, it seems like they are leaving themselves an open door to another go if they wanted to.  At this point, the only question is whether or not the series got a good fan approval.  Based on the good critical praise that the show has gotten, I can only assume that things look good for Peggy Carter’s future in the SSR.

agent carter s1 score

Review: G-Unit’s The Beast Is G-Unit

via The Daily Loud
via The Daily Loud

The Beast Is G-Unit (2015)

G-Unit

Rap / Hip-Hop

G-Unit Records


Once upon a time, the rap group G-Unit used to have a significant influence in the rap game.  The group, consisting of 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, Kidd Kidd, and Young Buck, came out of South Jamaica and Queens, New York.  However, as time went on, the crew started to fade out of people’s radar.  A recent resurgence has brought the team back on the map, with the release of their first EP The Beauty of Independence.  The EP did alright critically.  Their second EP, The Beast Is G-Unit, is a follow up to The Beauty of Independence, and once again, the EP is pretty good, but nothing special.

What you’ll find on the six track release is the same sound that has become synonymous with the G-Unit crew.  The songs still promote violence and pretty much fit the definition of “gangster rap” pretty nicely.  The crew, even to this day, still has the same amount of “thuggishness” that they had back in the day.

via The Urban Daily
via The Urban Daily

Member Lloyd Banks, who has done a fair share of projects on his own, takes the spotlight on this EP; delivering a lot of raw verses throughout the songs.  The prime example is “Doper Than My Last One,” which is a solo production by Lloyd.  If anything, the EP proves that Lloyd Banks has started his own track to resurgence.  I would love to see what he would do if he started making more new music on his own.

The flagship rapper of the crew, 50 Cent himself, takes the back-up role, which is a little unfortunate. He does some good work with the hooks in songs like “Ballin’” and “Boy Boy,” but is largely not present in most of the tracks.

“Boy Boy” was probably one of my favorite tracks on the album due to the menacing beat put behind it by producer !llmind. It fits pretty well with the collective’s tone.  Another good example of the production work is “Doper Than My Last One,” which has a raw and underground feel to it with some record scratches; highly nostalgic of their older stuff.

via Jaradio
via Jaradio

You could almost consider Kidd Kidd the LVP of the project, putting forth the least amount of quality work into the project.  His verse in “Choose One” outranks the rest of his verses, which were just largely uninspired.  Tony Yayo and Young Buck, the last two rappers I haven’t talked about yet, had some good moments on the album, but did not stand out.

The Beast Is G-Unit is a mixed bag of quality gangster rap and songs that just don’t seem to fit in with the current climate of rap.  G-Unit is slowly starting to get their name circulating again, but it’s hard for me to reason why this is a good idea.  I think the group should continue to go their separate ways and do their own independent projects, because I think the days of G-Unit have been over for a while.

the beast is g unit score

Rockefeller Center Kicks Off The Christmas Season

christmas at rockefeller center 5If you have been to New York City during the Christmas season, then you already know that the city puts 110% effort into their Christmas decorations.  The city is decked out and full of the holiday spirit, and it all starts at Rockefeller Center.  The gigantic tree, which is the centerpiece of the holiday decor, is found overlooking the ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza.

Christmas at Rockefeller Center is NBC’s holiday special that puts a kick-start to the holiday season.  It’s a program that is filled with musical performance after musical performance, and it all concludes with the blinding light-up ceremony of the famous tree.  The show this year was hosted by Today Show anchors Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, Al Roker, and Natalie Morales.

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The show kicked off with the super talented Mariah Carey, who sung her holiday favorite “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.  It wasn’t necessarily the “bang” that it was hyped up to be, but she still did a pretty good job of getting things rolling.  From there, it was a avalanche of musical acts…

Next up to the stage was the odd duo of Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga, who sung “Winter Wonderland.”  To this day, I still don’t know how Bennet puts up with the craziness that Lady Gaga puts out, but their performance was still jazzy and full of Christmas spirit.  We then got a performance of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” from the a-capella group Pentatonix.  It was a pretty cool sounding rendition of the Christmas classic.

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It was then Prince Royce, the Latin sensation, that adorned the stage with his version of “Jingle Bell Rock”.  His act was sub-par, and it really didn’t do anything for me.  However, Idina Menzel, who is extremely talented, gave a performance of “Holly Jolly Christmas” which was very good.  It was then Darius Rucker who gave a solid rendition of “White Christmas”.

One of my favorite performances of the night came from the duet of Seth McFarlane and Sara Bareilles and their song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”  The chemistry that had was apparent and you could tell that they were having a lot of fun with the song.  Another unique performance was given by LeAnn Rimes, who sung “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” off her own Christmas album.  The song is inherently silly, but it really captured that Christmas charm.

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The last three performances were from Cyndi Lauper and Billy Porter, Trisha Yearwood, and the Radio City Rockettes.  The performances were good, but the Rockettes were the standouts of the three, as well as the crowd favorite.

It was then the tree’s turn to take the spotlight as the ceremony came to a close.  This year, the Norway Spruce came from Pennsylvania.  With the momentous push of a button, the blinding array of colorful lights and the shining crystal star went alight and lit up the entire plaza.  “Joy To The World” came on and the whole entire plaza erupted with Christmas cheer.  The moment never gets old.

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The Christmas season has started, thanks to the iconic tree.  The ceremony had some good performances, but there were none that were total standouts.  However, there was no doubt that the holidays were in the air.

Live from New York, It’s Saturday Night Live…Season 40

Yes, that’s right, Saturday Night Live has returned for it’s 40th season tonight.  It has been a while since season 39, but that hasn’t meant that it has been a quiet off season for SNL.  In fact, it has been pretty busy.

There have been some notable departures from the cast.  Wheelan, Milhiser, and Wells have all moved on from the show.  Mike O’brien has also left the cast, but only to go back to the writer’s room for good.  As for the people joining the show, Michael Che and Pete Davidson are the two new incomers.  Michael Che is now one of the co-anchors for the Weekend Update and Pete Davidson, interestingly, is the fourth youngest person to ever be on SNL, as well as the fourth person in SNL history to be on the show and not be of legal drinking age.  I found that pretty intriguing.  It is also rumored that this might be Kenan Thompson last season on the show.  It’s a shame because he has been one of  my favorite cast members.  However, this only means that he will probably have more screen time as the season goes on.

chris pratt and kate mckinnon

Tonight’s episode featured Chris Pratt, the actor of Parks and Recreation fame, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy.  The musical guest was pop singer Ariana Grande.  So how well did the first show go?  Well…

The show started off with a bang.  Some good ol’ jokes against the NFL.  This was expected given the crappy situation the league has gotten itself into.  It featured Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah as Ray Lewis and Shannon Sharpe respectively.  Pharoah, with his spot-on impressions, stole the skit with his on-point impersonation of Sharpe.  It was a good start to the show.

snl nfl

We then heard the voice of Darrell Hammond, who  is the new announcer for the show, taking over for Don Pardo, who passed away on August 18th.  Don Pardo was the longtime announcer for SNL with his signature voice to start the show.   It sounded different and it will take a couple of times for my ears to get used to it, but it seems that he will be a pretty good fit for the job.

Chris Pratt’s monologue showcased  a very “pumped” Pratt.  He cracked some jokes at all of his weight changes, which was expected.  He also performed a “folkish” sounding song about himself.  During the song,  Anna Faris also made an appearance.  He mentioned their childbirth, which produced a beautiful baby.  It wasn’t the best monologue I have seen on the show, but it was still entertaining nonetheless.

snl he men

There was a skit that featured a boy that wished his toys would come alive for his birthday.  He blew the candles and then his wish came true.  Out of the blue, Chris Pratt and Taram Killam, who were playing action figures appeared.  They’re introduction to the human world was quite amusing.  We also saw Ariana Grande who played “the other sister”.   As you would expect, this got the biggest reaction from the audience.

ariana grande

 

Later in the episode, we saw more of the NFL, and more specifically the Ravens and the Panthers.  The skit ran through the two teams and their players, as well as the crimes that they committed.  There was child abuse, domestic violence, and more for everyone!  They also announced that there was a Chris Brown halftime performance and a special tribute to Pacman Jones.  It probably could be considered a Key and Peele rip-off of their famous “College Bowl” sketches.  I’m sure Roger Goodell, if he was watching, thought all of this was hilarious.  I know I couldn’t help but laugh.

 

snl weekend update

We saw the first Weekend Update of the season, with Michael Che and Colin Jost.  The update featured cracks at Apple’s iCloud, Derek Jeter, and the NFL.  I personally liked it better when there was just one person running the table, but Jost and Che seem to work pretty well together.  The update’s funniest moment featured “Leslie Jones”,  a woman who has had a pretty awful experience with men. This Weekend Update is a pretty good sign for the future of the desk.  It had a lot of good laughs, and ended with a musical number about Barack Obama, and how “things are going to get better.”

snl cecily

Pete Davidson, who was featured during the Weekend Update as the “resident young person” seems like he is going to a pretty good addition to the company.  I am interested to see more of this kid in future episodes.  Aidy Bryant had a lot of screen time on the show, which is not a surprise.  She is humorous and provides a lot of memorable moments.  She started coming into her own last season, and I hope to see more of her this season.

One thing that I couldn’t help but notice was the lack of Chris Pratt.  He had some funny moments, but he wasn’t a knockout punch.  He is naturally a funny guy, but it seemed like the  actors around him stole the spotlights.  Perhaps it was an issue with the material he was given.  I applaud him for the effort that he gave all of his parts though.  He did a pretty good job with what he had.

snl level complete

Ariana Grande’s performances were pretty good.  When it comes to live performances, it seems that she knows what she is doing.  Her first performance was an acoustic version of her hit song “Break Free”.  It was an intimate performance, which then  transformed into a very high-energy performance.  They’re seemed to be more lip syncing then actual singing, but hey, she was dancing so give her a break.  Her second performance was of “Love Me Harder”, which was also spot on.  It features The Weeknd, who joined Ariana on the stage for the song.

Judging by the buzz that was circling during the show, it seemed that the show received a lot of negative feedback.  I have to agree that there were no standout “knockout sketches” but I still thought it was a good show overall.  I laughed numerous times throughout.  So, that’s all that count’s right?

Replaying Spider-Man

Spider Man box artSo it all starts with a scientific demonstration, by the highly esteemed Dr. Otto Octavious.  Peter Parker is in attendance when things start to go a little south.  An impostor Spider-Man swings out from the rafters and steals Dr. Octavious’s experiment.  Eddie Brock, who is also in attendance tries to take pictures of the fake Spidey but instead gets his camera shattered by the impostor.  He then worries that J. Johah Jameson will be disappointing that he didn’t get any pictures, which causes Eddie to go into a rage, turning him into Venom.  The police, witnessing the event in front of them, begin to pursue Spider-Man and get back the experiment.  So what does this mean for the real Spider-Man?  Trouble…

This is the premise to the original Spider Man for the PS1, N64, PC and Dreamcast.  Not only did the game get reviewed pretty well back in the day, it was also surprisingly one of my favorite games for the PS1.  It was an experience that really stuck with me.  I surprised myself by how much I actually remembered from the game as I was playing through it.  But the question that kept on rising throughout the replay was why I liked this game so much.

spider man 5

It obviously wasn’t because of the gameplay.  Hell no.

This can probably be considered the worst part of the game.  The game doesn’t really age to well, especially in an age of refined 3D navigation in games.  In Spider Man, the camera sucks and everything just feels a little off.  When Spidey is swinging around the rooftops, it’s always hard to get him swinging in the direction you want him to.  I repeatedly found myself smashing into a building that was off the beaten path.  This is particularly not useful when you are in the racing sequences where you have to keep up with a character on screen.  I found myself falling behind a lot.  For a game that centers itself on a famous webslinger, the webslinging wasn’t too hot.  But then again, this game came out in the year 2000.  Perhaps this gameplay was revolutionary back then.  We never got to swing freely along the NYC skyline in any previous game up to that point.

The game has it’s fair share of awful sequences that are extremely tough to beat.  An example that comes quickly to my mind is the subway level where I am faced with a bunch of enemy lizards that are coming at me on the top of a moving subway train.  Although these lizards aren’t that tough for Spider-Man, it’s was infuriating whenever I overcompensated for a swing and a punch and then found myself falling straight onto the tracks, an instant doom.  The other sequence that comes to mind is the final level that has you escaping an exploding warehouse with the Carnage-Dr. Ock fusion chasing you.   With the combination of sloppy controls and horrible camera angles, the sequence was a frustrating end to an otherwise memorable experience.

spider man 2

These were only two of the many sequences that left a sour taste in my mouth.  Now this doesn’t leave me with a convincing argument as to why this game was such a classic.  If anything these sequences taint the overall experience.  However there still had to be something that made this game so special to me.  Perhaps it was the story.

To no surprise, the story doesn’t really make sense when you look at it from eye level.  It’s a hodge podge of random allies and enemies from the Marvel universe.  You come into contact with enemies like Scorpion, Rhino, Mysterio, Dr. Ock, Carnage and Venom.  As for allies, you meet up with Black Cat, the Punisher, the Daredevil, Captain America, and Mary Jane.   Throughout the story characters pop in at random times providing a little advice to Spidey on his adventure.  Although this is very cool, it just doesn’t make sense.  They don’t really help Spidey, they kinda just watch him from the sidelines and then later meet up with him at the very end after all is said and done.

spider man 3

In the end, what really makes this game the game that it was is the overall superhero experience that it provides to the player.  It’s has everything that a superhero game should have.  There are collectible comic covers and costumes that can be unlocked, lots of fan service, a somewhat epic story line, a chance to swing around an NYC skyline, and Stan Lee himself, providing his own iconic style of narration.

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You may have to suffer at times to get through the beat-em-up sequences and rough gameplay but none of these drawbacks really rip to much away from the superhero experience.  Back in 2000 this was the superhero game to play.  It set a lot of good examples for the others of it’s kin and it could also be considered the benchmark for the future.  It may not hold up 100% to today’s standards but it can still provide a nostalgic experience to those that fondly remembered it.

The classic humor of the Spider Man series is also in full force in this game as well…