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Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

batman e1 cover
via PlayStation 4 You

Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games

Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games


Batman has been made great again.  Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride.  They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham.  What about Bruce Wayne?  Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games.  With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.”  The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics.  It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.

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via Press A Key

Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games.  In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots.  The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.  As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils.  On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites.  Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot.  Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player.  The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful.  Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important.  As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.

Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with.  As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer.  In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble.  There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs.  His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign.  Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.

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via MMoga

The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully.  There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny.  Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt.  Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard.  Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again.  This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes?  Hey!  Hey!  Remember when your parents died!?  Yeah that must suck huh.  There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail.  These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written.  I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.

There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series.  Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in.  You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out.  Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments.  Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus.  There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence.  When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games.  Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun.  Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene.  It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique.  There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities.  I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.

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via VG24/7

Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot.  The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors.  The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman.  The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better.  Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work.  The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character.  The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking.  Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.

I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan.  The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement.  There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name.  It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media.  With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.

batman e1 score

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Review: Lee Daniel’s The Butler

the butler poster
via Cinema Blend

Lee Daniel’s The Butler (2013)

PG-13 / 132 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo

Director: Lee Daniels


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

The Butler (2013)Forest Whitaker
(Screengrab)
via EW

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

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

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via The Atlantic

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

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

Lee Daniels' The Butler

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

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

THE BUTLER

Review: Our Brand Is Crisis

via The Low Down Under
via The Low Down Under

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

R / 107 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thorton, Anthony Mackie

Director: David Gordon Green


Our Brand Is Crisis seemed to be a movie that was not quite sure what it wanted to be, which is not a good thing; especially when your movie is about political campaigns.

Based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis tells the story of American political consultant “Calamity” Jane Bodine, played by Sandra Bullock, and her task of getting Bolivian presidential candidate Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) re-elected.  Jane’s been tested and has the experience necessary, but her career started to take a dive when rival campaign manager Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thorton) started to steal the rug from right under her, winning the past couple of elections that they were both involved in.  When Jane realizes that Candy is working with Castillo’s opposition, things get personal and she realizes that she has to pull out all the stops in order to succeed.

via Mountain X
via Mountain X

After being convinced to go to Bolivia by some of Castillo’s American staff, Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd), things get off to a shaky start the second Jane sets foot on Bolivian soil.  The air conditions begin to make her nauseous and she literally tumbles her way into Castillo’s offices.  It’s not a good look for her, or anybody for that matter.  However, she slowly regains her footing and starts to realize that running a campaign in Bolivia is a whole different ball game from her previous campaigns in America.  She’s told on multiple different occasions that the strategies that she has employed in America do not really fly well in Bolivia, but that does not stop her from doing what she has to do to beat Candy’s opposing campaign.

It’s with Sandra Bullock’s character where the movie starts to lose its identity.  Literally the movie tells the story of two different Jane’s.  On one hand we have the serious and determined Jane who has experience under her belt and a whole library of quotes from some of the most brilliant minds in the world.  She knows how to get what she wants and she brings ferocity and vitality to a campaign that seems to be tanking.  Then we have the other Jane; the crazier side.  At one point she is getting drunk with one of the campaign’s volunteers and his friends and later she is literally sticking her ass out the window of a moving bus.  I started to see that this was screenwriter Peter Straughen’s way of bringing some comedy and zaniness into the story, but it really was not all that funny.  Instead it just made me confused as to what type of character Jane Bodine actually was.

via Screen Relish
via Screen Relish

Despite the problems with her character, Sandra Bullock did a fine job with portraying the real life Jane Bodine.  In fact, she was really the only main attraction.  Characters like Billy Bob Thorton’s Pat Candy had their moments here and there but most of the cast did not really perform up to the same bar as Bullock.  The whole movie was being carried by Bullock, with the rest of the cast seemingly along for the ride.

The premise of Our Brand Is Crisis is fascinating and intriguing in concept, but it has some flaws tying it back from its full potential.  The screenplay, despite some amusing moments, was relatively bland and lacked the kind of punch that a movie like this needs.  Bullock does her absolute best but it is ultimately not enough.  Oscar season is quickly approaching and it does not seem like Our Brand Is Crisis is going to have a successful awards campaign.  Isn’t that ironic?

our brand is crisis score

Review: Killing Them Softly

killing them softly posterKilling Them Softly (2012)

R / 97 min

Crime / Thriller

Starring: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins

Director: Andrew Dominik


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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