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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn

horizon cover
via Amazon

Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)

PS4 / Rated T

RPG / Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Developer: Guerrilla Games


In the months leading up to Horizon: Zero Dawn’s release I thought it was just a unique third-person action game starring a very capable female machine hunter named Aloy roaming around a seemingly post-apocalyptic open world full of tribal inhabitants and bad-ass looking robotic dinosaurs…or whatever you want to call them.  It just looked like a cool third-person action game and I did not think twice about it.  It was an anticipated title of mine but I did not think it was going to blow me away like it did.  Like damn…this Guerrilla’s first foray into this genre of games really impressed me on almost every front.

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via US Gamer

Aloy’s tale begins during her days as an outsider, living off the land with her father Rost.  The two having been together for the better part of her formative years, until the day Aloy decides to put her skills to the test by participating in the trials, with the goal of joining the tribe that shunned her and her father years ago.  After a successful day at the trials (among other things that I will not spoil) she becomes a member of the tribe and soon begins to learn secrets about who she really is, and the deeper mystery that blankets the world of Horizon.  It is the looming mystery of this semi-familiar post-apocalyptic world that acted as the driving force that kept me playing through the game.  The game’s scope starts off small but as you begin to meet new characters and venture farther into the world, things start to open up and things get crazier as you begin to learn about the machines, why they exist, along with a host of other mysteries.  There are a lot of crazy ideas and concepts boiling under the game’s surface…more than you would initially imagine.

The best part of it all?  These crazy plot points that you encounter later in the game are extremely satisfying.  Any writer can throw together some hogwash that connects the dots and explains why things exist the way they do, but Horizon’s writers give some satisfying answers that are actually plausible…all things considering.  It is a fantastic bit of science fiction that comes to an end in a pleasing way.  I would be fine with the story ending the way it did, but I would be open to another iteration in the series, in whatever form that would take.  The game has done very well for Sony at this point, so I would not be surprised to see a sequel in the future.

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via Forbes

Now let’s talk about powerful and capable protagonists.  Aloy serves as the backbone for the entire story.  If there was no Aloy…the game’s story would only amount to a withering skeleton.  I was infatuated with her character, as she was tough but also smart.  Over the course of the game she unravels a whole bunch of eye-opening revelations that would make the average person nauseous.  The way in which Aloy interprets what she sees is what makes her character so fascinating.  She is a very well-written character that deserves utmost praise.  The rest of the game’s cast were also strong.  I was most intrigued by the game’s various social structures that they present to the player.  Maybe it was just me, but the ratio of women to men leaders far favored the women.  In fact, this is probably one of the most diverse games I have ever played in terms of its various characters.  That is not necessarily a selling point for me, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air from some of the other games out there.

Perhaps the game’s biggest draws at a surface level is its combat, specifically versus the hordes of deadly machines that you will come across in the world.  You fight a fair share of human enemies while overtaking bandit camps and other locations, but the lion share of combat involves those dope machines that you have seen from the trailers.  What makes these machines unique are the various components and weak points on their bodies.  It is a fool’s errand to rush into a fight, spraying and praying with your bow-and-arrow.  Each machine has a strategy that works best for taking them down.  Using Aloy’s focus ability, which is a scanner attached to her ear, you can analyze the machines and plan the most viable fight strategy.  Perhaps tripping a machine with a tripwire and then sending a barrage of arrows in its direction towards its weak point is the way to go.  Shooting a machine’s cannon of its back might be a better approach.  Nothing is more satisfying than giving a machine a dose of its own medicine.  There are many different strategies you can take, which is a sign of engaging gameplay.  I love these types of games where tactics are just as important as the weapons you bring into battle.  You can have the best weapons in the game, but could have your ass royally handed to you on a platter by one of the Behemoths if you do not know what you are doing.  Another aspect I adored about the game’s combat is its sense of scale.  The machines you fight in the beginning are small and manageable, but as you discover new monsters they begin to get bigger and more terrifying.  It makes taking them out on your own that much more rewarding.

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via Imgur

Horizon’s world is chock full of collectibles and side quests for Aloy to partake in.  However, this leads me to one of my minor gripes with the game, and that is its side quests.  I was never bored during my time with the game’s side quests, but a good bit of them fell short in the writing department.  Some quests are just your basic “go kill x number of x machines,” while some are a little more substantive and provide some interesting stories.  Unfortunately, a lot of these quests just fall a teeny bit short of greatness.  There was one quest in, for example, involving a father and his estranged daughter.  It starts off as a simple “find my daughter” quest, but then it evolves into something a little more distressing.  The game’s writers had something great on their hands, but did not do anything with it.  They set up a remarkable story, but then proceeded to swing and miss on its execution.  There were several ways the quest could have gone down, some more impactful and darker than the others, but the game’s writers took the easy way out wrapped the quest up prematurely.  This is just one single (and vague for fear of spoilers) example of some side quests that did not quite hit the mark.  This small shortcoming is what sets this game apart from games like the Witcher 3 and the Fallout series, where the side quest writing is stronger.

To no surprise, the game looks very beautiful.  I mean, they did not put a photo mode into the game for decoration.  There are a lot of different environments that you will explore, ranging from dense forests to arid desert plains.  Each of them look stunning at various times of the day.  I often found myself marveling at the incredible vistas that were a commonplace.  The character models looked just as beautiful, but I found that there seemed to be some technical issues during scenes of dialog.  There were some prominent lip-synching issues that were hard to not notice and the character animations during some of these scenes looked too robotic.  There were times were their upper-body movement did not seem natural and at times it felt like I was watching two animatronics at a Disney Theme Park.  Fortunately, aside from these issues, Horizon looks remarkable.

horizon 4
via iDigital Times

All my expectations for Horizon: Zero Dawn were met and sometimes even exceeded.  It is one of those games where I will instantly recommend it to you if you own a PS4.  If you own a PS4 and have not played Horizon yet…I do not know what you are even doing with your life.  I do not think the game unseats Uncharted 4 as my favorite PS4 exclusive, but it sure does give Naughty Dog’s masterpiece a run for its money.  Bravo to Guerilla Games for delivering an absolute barnburner of a game.

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Review: Power Rangers

power rangers poster
via IGN

Power Rangers (2017)

PG-13 / 124 mins.

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler

Director: Dean Israelite


I like to have fun at the movies.  There is a place for more complex and deeper stories, but a big fun, dumb action movie acts as tasty junk food from time to time.  The reboot of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, simply titled Power Rangers, is that type of movie for me.  It is a ton of fun and the cheesy b-tier action sequences will keep a grin on your face from beginning to end.

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Photo by Kimberley French

Am I the biggest Power Rangers fan?  Definitely not.  In fact, I do not have the same affinity that some have for the beloved Saturday morning TV show.  I have watched the show a couple of times in my youth, but it was not something that I truly cared for.  I understand the show on a basic level, but never went out of my way to dig deeper.  Because of this, my expectations for the movie were at an absolute minimum.  I also had a couple of beers before the feature, so this might have attributed to my liking of this movie.  Let’s face it…beer can help make a lot of things better.

One of my favorite things from the movie, as well as one of my biggest issues, are the characters.  The five unlikely rangers include Jason (Dacre Montgomery) as the Red Ranger, Kimberly (Naomi Scott) as the Pink Ranger, Billy (RJ Cyler) as the Blue Ranger, Zack (Ludi Lin) as the Black Ranger, and Trini (Becky G.) as the Yellow Ranger.  The cast gels well together and they are all really likable.  They are quippy and humorous, especially Billy, who often steals the spotlight.  What makes his character even better is the fact that he is on the spectrum.  Most movies are hit or miss with their depictions of characters on the spectrum, but Power Rangers actually nails it and produces a fantastic character.  Despite how likable this crew is, almost all over their backstories and character moments are botched.  The first half of the movie, the weaker half, mostly serves to introduce the characters and their backstories.  It plays like a glorified YA novel.  There were a lot of character moments, besides Billy’s, that just felt flat on their face and could not get back up. Becky G’s character missed the mark. Zack’s story? Ehh…. Kimberley’s backstory? Kind of unimportant…and the same goes for Jason’s. I just could not get behind their stories. They were either poorly written or just plain uninteresting.

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Photo by Kimberley French

But what about the other characters?  Bryan Cranston voices Zordon, the Ranger’s mentor in their endeavors.  There is also Alpha 5, Zordon’s trusty robotic assistant, who is voiced by Bill Hader.  The two do a great job with their respective performances, especially Hader who serves up some of the movie’s more humorous moments.  The final notable character in this band of 90’s cartoon characters is Rita Repulsa, played by Elizabeth Banks.  She acts as the main villain in the movie, and god bless her for it.  Elizabeth’s character ranges from serious to tacky, hamming it up for the majority of the movie.  I really liked her performance and thought it brought along its fair share of laughs, but I might have preferred her character to take a more serous tone, especially during the movie’s final act.  I thought some scenes lost their intended tone because of her.

Power Rangers takes some time to morph into high gear (sorry…bad pun) but the final act is where it begins to take off.  There are some nostalgic callbacks that will make any Power Rangers super fan giddy with glee and the action that ensues fits perfectly with the show’s attitude.  The final fight includes some great shots and it is especially hard to not get hyped when Kanye West’s “Power” makes its way onto the soundtrack.  It was a full thirty minutes of B-movie action that just made me smile.  Sure it was corny. Sure it was laughable at times.  Sure, I had some beers in me so maybe it was the alcohol talking, but I really enjoyed the final act. There was even a galactic bitch slap that left me dying of laughter in the theater.

power rangers 3
via IMDB

Power Rangers never takes itself too seriously with its lighthearted fare, which might be a negative to non-fans. However, the original series was just as corny, so for the reboot to mimic that style is all the movie really needed. If you’re not a fan of the Power Rangers, then maybe this is not the movie for you. I went into this movie not expecting to be a fan…but I walked out pleasantly surprised. This movie is not winning any Oscars…but it was big, dumb fun…which I need every once in a while.

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Review: Palmystery

palmysterylogo
via Itch.io

Palmystery (2017)

PC / NR

Horror / Cartoon / Adventure

Publisher: Paloma Dawkins

Developer: Paloma Dawkins


It only takes a matter of seconds before Palmystery starts to get…puzzling.  The game, designed by Paloma Dawkins, is illustrated as a “surreal horror cartoon video game.”  It is cartoonish and there are some surreal moments…but it is not necessarily horrifying in anyway.  In fact, the game is more unsettling than scary…with brief moments of relaxation thrown in between.  Allow me to explain.

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Palmystery is littered with hands.  There are hands galore in all shapes and sizes.  There are big hands, small hands, foreboding hands, hands wagging their finger at you begging you to come closer, hands growing like grass, and hands that form all triangles, which act as the gateways between each colorful and outlandish scene.  According to Dawkins, the game features Palmistry, which is the foretelling of the future through the study of hands, more commonly referred to as “palm reading.”  There are sparse references to Palmistry, however, besides the introductory moments that have you walking through a castle corridor, with the various signs of Palmistry adorning its foreboding walls.

This is not an extensive experience, only taking about a half hour to play through.  You explore a host of colorful scenes that take you to a variety of surreal landscapes.  Some are more comical and lighthearted than others.  There are also some cartoon characters that you will meet along the way.  Dawkins’ little animated creatures are all in various states of panic…and some will be playful, only to get swept up into space the next.  There are a lot of tonal shifts that will most likely throw you for a loop, but it paints an intriguing portrait of Dawkins’ mind.

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Dawkins explains in a blog post that this game is a portrayal of her feelings after Trump got elected as president.  “It stirred within me a darker side to my cartoons that I want to explore,” she goes on to explain.  This explains the shifts in tone that are present in every scene that you explore.  There are a lot of conflicting emotions as you witness these scenes taking place in front of you.  It is unsettling…but can be relaxing as well.

Perhaps the most relaxing portion of the game is the game’s final scene, which places you in a purplish water world.  There is a cartoon deer that is prancing around in the water, dancing from diamond to diamond which float around in the landscape.  While this is taking place, hypnotist Andrea Young facilities a little session of meditation.  It was not the turn I was expecting the game to take, but I cannot really complain.  It was an unexpected way to unwind after a mysterious and confusing experience.

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I am not going to pretend to understand what was going on in Palmystery.  It is a genuinely weird experience that always keeps you thinking.  I believe that was the intention though.  You are not supposed to understand everything that is put in front of you.  It is supposed to be complex in a funny and bizarre way.  It makes perfect sense when described as a product of Dawkins’ mind, who might have been experiencing the same feelings after Trump’s election.  Palmystery is certainly not a game for everyone, but it will certainly leave you uncomfortable and chill at the same time.

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Review: Beauty and the Beast

batb poster
via Pop Sugar

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

PG / 129 mins.

Family / Fantasy / Musical

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans

Director: Bill Condon


When the adaptation of the classic Disney animated musical Beauty and the Beast was first announced I was instantly sold.  Not only was Beauty and the Beast released during Disney’s golden era of musicals, but the remake was set to star Emma Watson as Belle, the musical’s lead lady.  When you add in the fact that it was being directed by Bill Condon (of Dreamgirls and Chicago fame), it did not take much more for the remake to become a must-watch for me.  Now that the movie, a tale as old as time, has finally arrived, I can report that the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast has met my expectations, delivering an experience more magical than the original.

batb 1
via Digital Spy

If you have watched the original, then the remake should have you feeling right at home.  Aside from a few minor changes, the remake walks in lock step with the source material.  The Beast, played by Dan Stevens, is still under a curse that has trapped him in his own castle as a monstrous beast and his friends as a collection of inanimate objects.  He is still in search of someone who will love him before the last petal of his rose withers away.  Belle is still the young woman who, after going to search for her father, finds herself a prisoner in the Beast’s forgotten castle and soon begins to fall in love with the beast himself.  The rest is history.  It is still an endearing tale, only made better by the fact that Belle is not a damsel in distress this time around.  By Emma Watson’s demand, Belle is a more intelligent and capable character.  She is an independent and bookish woman, who will most likely act as an inspiration for a generation of young fans for years to come.

It is obvious that Emma Watson’s performance serves as the seat-filler, but the rest of the performances compliment her well.  Dan Stevens plays a good Beast, who shows both a beastly side as well as a charming side in his performance.  I think both him and Emma worked well together.  Then there are everybody’s favorite talking objects, Lumiere and Cogsworth, played by Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan respectively.  The two acts as the comic relief throughout the entire movie and share some of the movie’s best moments.  Gaston, the narcissistic and charming antagonist played by Luke Evans, also does a wonderful job with his role.  He is even better than the original in that he starts off as a rather harmless goof and then quickly turns into a terrifying figure blinded by rage in the end.  It is still a fun character arch to watch develop onscreen.

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via Gamespot

Emma Watson not only plays a good Belle, but it also turns out that she has a great voice as well.  Her performances, especially her opening number “Belle,” show off her great musical talent.  There were times where it seemed like her voice was digitally enhanced or modified, but it never felt too egregious.  The rest of the songs are just as great as the original classics.  Some songs have modified lyrics to fit the story while some songs are completely new.  While I don’t know how I feel about the modified lyrics, they never go too overboard with it.  Songs like “Beauty and the Beast” performed by Emma Thompson (who plays Mrs. Potts) and “Be Our Guest” sung by Lumiere and the rest of the castle crew feel livelier this time around and they will surely bring back some nostalgic memories.

The biggest differentiator (if it was not apparent already) is that the remake is live action.  CGI is the name of the game and it is well done in this movie, for the most part.  Lumiere and Cogsworth, as well as the rest of the castle objects, look amazing in CGI.  They are more fluid and move around with ease.  Mrs. Potts might look a bit creepy, though.  (What is even creepier is her Funko Pop figure) Then there is the Beast, who looked a little too rigid.  His movement did not feel natural which was especially evident in scenes like the ballroom dance.  CGI aside, there are some very nice looking shots throughout the movie.  It is a colorful film that is really pleasing to the eye.  There was some great cinematography that brilliantly captured the picturesque beauty of the original.

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via ComicBook.com

While it might not be a popular opinion to most, I think that the adaption easily surmounts the original Beauty and the Beast, despite some of its technical issues regarding the Beast and some pacing issues in its story.  I really enjoyed the original movie, but I do not highly regard it as some do.  In my opinion, the original provides a good backbone while the adaptation takes the story and runs with it, filling it with more energy and magic.  While it might not seem instantly apparent, there are going to be a new generation of kids that look at the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast and they are going to view it as the definitive version.  While this might seem like a bonkers idea, it is not necessarily a terrible thing.

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Review: Unravel

unravel-cover-art
via Wikipedia

Unravel (2016)

PS4 / Rated E

Puzzle / Platformer

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Coldwood Interactive


When this little indie game from Coldwood Interactive named Unravel was first announced at EA’s 2015 E3 press conference, it immediately caught my attention.  A very nervous Martin Sahlin, the game’s creator, came out on stage and proceeded to introduce us to the game, and its adorable little star, Yarny. (Seen below)  I remember being instantly intrigued with its mechanics and instantly charmed by the games irresistibly cute visual style.  It later went on to release in early 2016, but it seemed to be a game that largely flew under people’s radars…including mine.  After about a year I finally dipped my toes into what Unravel is all about and I was met with a very charming experience with some unique platforming elements that make it standout from some of its peers.

As I mentioned before, the game stars a small red, cat-looking creature named Yarny, who is made entirely of yarn.  Yarny is constantly in awe and wonderment as he explores the objects and environments around him.  The game starts you in a small house that includes pictures of different locations that are important to the homeowner’s life.  Yarny explores these environments and collects memories along the way, slowly telling the emotional and nostalgic stories of the homeowner and their family throughout the years.

It is a very gripping story structure that drives you through the game.  There no cut scenes and a scant amount of characters, but the whole story is told through pictures and mirages in the environments that you explore.  Some of these stories were a little tough to understand, but the game does a fantastic job at capturing the various moments and emotions that families experience, whether it is the happy moments or the sad moments.  It is harrowing at times and will most likely relate to your life in some way.  Unravel, despite its simple concept, has a way of resonating with players, making it a special experience.

unravel-1
via Coldwood Interactive

The game is made up of twelve different levels spanning environments like forests, mountainous hilltops, and snowy valleys…to name a few.  These levels require you to use Yarny’s body made of yarn to get pasts its various obstacles and dangers.  Yarny can create rope to swing across gaps, make bridges, and maneuver objects.  If that was not enough, Yarny also unravels (insert title card) as you make your way through the level.  If you are overzealous with your yarn usage, you will eventually run out of yarn and Yarny will be stripped down to his basic frame.  To combat this, there are various “checkpoints” in the levels that allow you to re-spool, giving Yarny more yarn to work with.  I did not find myself running out of yarn too much, but it does add another layer of complexity to the levels and their thoughtful design.  In terms of overall difficulty, the game is not too challenging.  There are moments where the game will get you, but death is never really a burden given the generous checkpoint system.  You also can warp back to the latest checkpoint if you find yourself stuck.

One gripe I have with Unravel’s mechanics are the floaty controls that sometimes make tougher platforming sections a little frustrating.  There were some moments in the game were tighter controls would have been more helpful.  There is a trophy (on PS4) that requires you to go through each level without dying and I quickly found myself giving up because the controls were not as up-to-snuff as I would have liked them to be.  There is also the tiny issue of freshness when it comes to the game’s mechanics.  Unravel does a commendable job, for the most part, of giving you new challenges that change things up, but this evolution in gameplay starts to taper off when you get to the later levels.  Due to the game’s simplistic nature, it is tough to constantly give you new ways of using the mechanics at your disposal.

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via Coldwood Interactive

But let us talk about the game’s main attraction: just how darn cute the whole thing is.  There is an enormous amount of detail that went into the game’s visual style from the environments to Yarny himself.  Everything has a tactile feel to it and Yarny looks super realistic.  Coldwood Interactive most likely drew some inspiration from Nintendo’s games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World.  The game’s score is also well done, meshing perfectly with the game’s heartwarming story of family and nostalgia.

Despite the few issues I had with the game’s mechanics Unravel still manages to invoke tons of feeling, something you do not see too much from puzzle-platformers.  The game’s eye-popping adorability is what pulls you in but it is the gripping and emotional story that convinces you to stay.  It is a relatively short, but powerful, experience that manages to do some cool things with its yarn-based mechanics.  Unravel is worth your time.  It is worth it alone just to see Yarny’s curiosity of the world around him.

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Review: By the Sea

by-the-sea-poster
via IMP Awards

By the Sea (2015)

R / 122 min.

Drama / Romance

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent

Director: Angelia Jolie


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.

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via The AV Club

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.

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via Rolling Stone

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.

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via Collider

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.

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Review: I Decided.

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via Henncredibly Dope

I Decided. (2017)

Big Sean

Rap / Hip-Hop

GOOD Music / Def Jam


When you stack up Big Sean’s I Decided. against his previous albums like Hall of Fame and his debut Finally Famous, it is quite clear that the Detroit-based rapper has taken a more introspective turn in his career.  Songs like “Dance (A$$)” and “Guap” are a thing of the past compared to his more recent offerings.  Dark Sky Paradise was a good indication of this change, mixing fun and more lighthearted party rap with deeper, reflective tracks.  I Decided., Big Sean’s fourth studio album, is not unlike what other rappers have been doing lately, but it still is Big Sean’s best work yet.

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via Dancehall Hip-Hop

Things get rolling, theme-wised, in the album’s intro track.  Big Sean’s older self, voiced by actor J.R. Starr gets hit by a car and dies.  He is then reincarnated as his present self in another life.  The whole album serves as a reflection on Sean’s life, with his older self is giving him advice and wisdom every step of the way.  It is a cool theme, but one that is underused.  The intro track came and went but I was only reminded of the theme later in the album on “Halfway Off the Balcony.”  I Decided. has a clear and consistent message throughout, but I would have liked the bits with J.R. Starr to be sprinkled a little more throughout.

“Bounce Back,” the most popular song from the album, also happens to be one of the highlights from the project.  It is an upbeat banger about bouncing back after taking an “L”.  Big Sean has some great flow on the track, similar in style to the flow found on Drake’s song “6 Man.”  Next on the track list is “No Favors,” a controversial collaboration with everyone’s favorite rabble-rouser Eminem.  Produced by WondaGurl, the song marks the first time Eminem has appeared on a Big Sean’s album.  Big Sean’s verse is great, but the biggest take-away is Eminem’s verse, where he makes a bunch of verbal jabs, including a threat against Ann Coulter.  Whether he meant it or not (he probably did not), people are still taking some offense.  This is not the first time Eminem has said something controversial.  He is the king of controversy of course.  It should not be a surprise to anyone.

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via Saint Heron

These are not the only bangers that appear on the album.  “Voices in My Head/Stick to the Plan,” produced by Metro Boomin, is another great track with a double-edged sound.  In the song, Big Sean tells himself and his listeners to stay true to himself and to heed the advice of your elders.  Then things heat up and quicken as Metro steers the beat in a new direction with the second part, where Sean convinces himself to stay focused amid the endless distractions of drugs, money, and sex.  One of the more personal tracks, “Sunday Morning Jetpack,” is a song full of nostalgia and the struggles and how they made him the person he is today.  The song features The Dream, who gives a great hook over a breezy beat.  The song almost acts as an alternative “One Man Can Change the World,” one of the strongest offerings from Dark Sky Paradise.

Not every track is a slam dunk.  “Same Time Pt. 1,” featuring Big Sean’s lady friend Jhene Aiko, is an underwhelming ballad that features a less-than-stellar verse from Aiko.  I was expecting a little more from the TWENTY88 duo.  There is also “Inspire Me,” which is a cliché and sappy tribute to Sean’s mother and the role she has played in the rapper’s life.  It is sweet in concept but does not bring anything fresh to the table when compared to similar tracks from other rappers.

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via Stupid Dope

I Decided. is capped with “Bigger Than Me,” a booming track featuring Starrah and the Flint Chozen Choir.  Big Sean wraps up the album, going off about how he has made it to the top but still needs to improve as a person.  There are some great moments with the choir and a nice verse from Starrah.  The track ends with a phone call with Big Sean’s grandma, just like his previous albums.  A lot of I Decided. is predictable, but it is the culmination of Big Sean’s career in a good way.  Big Sean has matured as a rapper and a person and that is prevalent in almost every corner of his latest project.  There are bangers galore and reflection aplenty.  Big Sean fans will rejoice.

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Review: DOOM

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via Pinoy Tech Blog

DOOM (2016)

PC / Rated M

First-Person Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda, Zenimax Media

Developer: id Software, Certain Affinity, Escalation Studios


DOOM doesn’t waste any time before throwing you right into the action.  There’s a demonic invasion…and it’s your job to kill every single demon that falls in your path.  DOOM is a constant thrill ride from start to finish, turning the notch of intensity up with every level you play.  I’ve only played the game’s campaign, but that was all I needed out of this experience.  I just needed an excuse to kill a lot of demons…and DOOM delivered in every way.

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id Software has created a game with a hell of a lot of style.  (Pun certainly intended…yay for bad jokes!)  The game’s initial moments, which have you donning the iconic suit of the Doom Slayer, immediately set the mood and tone for the rest of the game.  As you make your way to an elevator, the main theme starts to play and we get the game’s title sequence.  Perhaps the best part of it all is the final beat of the song, which perfectly syncs up with your character cocking his gun, ready for the hell-bent mission awaiting him.  It’s the perfect introduction for the game, immediately putting you in the right mood.  It’s always important for a game to nail its initial moments, and DOOM’s first impression is outstanding and wild.

Understandably, the story tends to take the back seat for most of the game.  DOOM takes place on Mars where a UAC facility is being invaded by the evil and demonic forces of Hell.  You play a man who wakes up on an alter in the bowels of the UAC facility.  Upon freeing yourself from your chains, you quickly find your Praetor Suit, the suit that turns you into the Doom Slayer.  You then begin to realize that the facility’s demonic invasion has been enabled by Dr. Olivia Pierce, the game’s main antagonist.  With help from Dr. Samuel Hayden and the facilities’ VEGA system, your mission is to prepare yourself to stop Hell’s forces and end the demonic onslaught for good.  There’s nothing complex about the plot which mainly serves as an excuse for you to make your way through the Martian facility and eventually the pits of Hell.  It’s hard to knock the game because of its story since the game clearly knows what it is all about and why people are playing it.  You’re here to kill demons and DOOM clearly recognizes that, which is a good thing.

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via ONRPG

Besides the campaign’s objectives and waypoints, the other force that drives you through the game is the metal soundtrack that accompanies your every action.  Unlike most games where the soundtrack is mostly passive, DOOM’s soundtrack is an active soundtrack, one that really motivates you to kill the demons that step in your path.  The soundtrack, written and composed by Mick Gordon, is full of gritty and electronic metal.  It pairs with the game perfectly and does a great job at painting the game’s atmosphere.  There were many times where I was bobbing my head to the beat of the music while murdering hordes of demons onscreen.  It just felt right.  It made for some kick-ass moments.  It’s an example of a well-realized soundtrack that really jives with the game it’s accompanying.

When it comes to the actual act of demon slaying, this aspect of the game felt great as well.  The combat is extremely smooth and fast, which worked perfectly for this game’s style and feel.  The game runs nicely as well, which also enhanced the gameplay.  There’s a variety of guns that you unlock as you make your way through the game.  These guns all felt right and the upgrades that you acquire through skill points that you collect also make for more varied gunplay.  The shotgun and the heavy machine gun are your best friends, but weapons like the Gauss Cannon and the rocket launcher are a good way to go when battling tougher and beefier enemies.  I never felt like I was using the same weapon for too long.  I was constantly switching weapons to give myself the advantage when battling certain enemies, which is great from a game design standpoint.  There are also glory kills, which allow you to “finish off” enemies when they are low on health.  The advantage of performing a glory kill is that the enemy drops health when performed.  These kills were a novelty in the beginning, but they begin to grow old as you advance in the game.  The variety of these kills tapers off quickly and they become quite repetitive.  I never stopped performing these kills because of their benefits, but it’s a shame id Software didn’t do anything to change up the formula.

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via WCCF Tech

There’s no shortage of demons for you to kill in the game.  The game relentlessly throws demons your way left and right, which makes for a thrilling experience.  It’s non-stop action from start to finish with little bits of respite sprinkled throughout.  The enemy variety is great, starting you off with a couple of measly demons.  As you progress your way through the game, more enemy types are thrown into the mix, each with different strategies and move sets.  By the time the final level comes around, all the enemy types are joining forces to get a piece of you, making for some hectic late game firefights.  In addition, there are only a couple of boss fights in the game (three to be exact) which were a little underwhelming.  The three boss fights, including the final boss, were epic and grand in scale, and a lot of fun, but I would have liked to see a little more.  There were a good deal of open rooms with waves of demons coming your way.  It would have been nice if some of these rooms were actually boss fights, especially earlier on in the game.  This is only a minor complaint with the game however, as the action is still very relentless and a ton of fun.

I only played the campaign, so I can’t speak on the multiplayer modes or the Snapmap functionality, but the campaign alone is enough for me to recommend this game to anyone who hasn’t already taken the dive.  DOOM’s campaign is extremely polished and it has a ton of style which is established right from the get-go. The combat is great and only made better with the superb soundtrack that drives you through the experience.  At the end of the day, I came to DOOM because I wanted to kill endless scores of demons, and I can’t think of any other game that nails this experience better than DOOM.  Get ready to kill a lot of demons…Doom Slayer.

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Review: Doctor Strange

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via Nerdy Rotten Scoundrel

Doctor Strange (2016)

PG-13 / 115 mins

Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams

Director: Scott Derrickson


I am pretty much at the point where I will go to see any Marvel movie when it comes to theaters.  I have reached a level of confidence with these movies, knowing full well that I am going to enjoy the product that is presented to me on screen.  Maybe I am going to get burned one of these days, but that has not stopped me yet.  Doctor Strange was one of the few Marvel movies that I was not totally hyped for.  I have no affinity or familiarity with the character, so I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into in terms of the story it was going to tell and the characters it was going to present.  These preconceptions quickly fell to the wayside as Doctor Strange turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the year.

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via Wallpapers Insider

There was a brand of complexity to this movie that made it enticing and engaging from the start.  We are quickly thrown into a world were reality is promptly turned on its head as sorcerers manipulate the world around them in alternate dimensions.  Based on the trailers that I saw before going into the movie, I knew that this movie was going to be complex and abnormal.  It only took a couple of minutes before what looked like London was being manipulated as if it were a kaleidoscope.

But let us get this out of the way right off the bat: Benedict Cumberbatch makes a great Doctor Strange.  Going into the movie I was unfamiliar with the superhero, his origins, and his personality.  After some conversations with some people, I was told that he is intelligent, egotistical, and kind of a wise-ass.  I quickly made connections, relating him to Tony Stark, who happens to be one of my favorite characters in the Marvel universe.  After seeing Cumberbatch deliver a role that matched these traits down to a T, I quickly realized that I was going to enjoy this character.  He sells the role perfectly which makes him instantly likable, or not likable if you are not a fan of wise-cracking know-it-alls.

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Although the movie is structured around him, his supporting cast is great as well, especially when you look at the names that adorn the cast list.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, a master sorcerer who finds Doctor Strange, a broken (both physically and emotionally) neurosurgeon on a quest for healing, and takes him to a secret place where he learns about things like mysticism and alternate dimensions.  There’s also his love interest Christine, a fellow surgeon who’s played by Rachel McAdams.  Although her role in the movie is semi-small, she still does a great job with it.  Tilda Swinton plays the role of the Ancient One, a mysterious sorcerer who’s essentially the teacher, bringing Strange under her wing.  Finally, Mads Mikkelsen (of Hannibal fame) plays Kaecilius, the movie’s primary villain.  He has the looks of a fallen sorcerer turned evil, but he was the one character that had me wanting more.  There’s not much to his character, which was unfortunate.

The story involves Doctor Strange looking for healing after suffering from a bad motor accident that heavily damaged his nerves in his hands…his tools on the surgeon’s table…his claim to fame.  His ego drives him to find curing, but he is essentially put in his place by the Ancient One who opens his mind to the world of mysticism and sorcery…a world Strange never knew existed.  He then takes on the path of knowledge as he quickly learns about the world of sorcery.  In his studies, he starts to learn about darker magic and begins to uncover some darker secrets that spell trouble for the Marvel cinematic universe.

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via Just Jared

In my opinion, it is the movie’s visuals and cinematography that really make Doctor Strange shine.  Like I mentioned before, the world is constantly being manipulated by the sorcerers in the mirror dimension (a dimension that “mirrors” the real world but the actions that take place in it have no effect on the actual real world), giving the movie an Inception-esque appearance.  There were multiple times throughout the movie where I was like, “huh, this would make for a really bomb-ass wallpaper!”  There are some other scenes, like the surgery scene in which Strange’s astral body (I’m not going to explain that) is directing Christine who’s operating on Strange’s physical body.  There’s some cool cinematography going on in some of these scenes that really make this movie a visual delight.

After going into Doctor Strange with absolutely zero expectations, I can officially say that I am sold on Doctor Strange as a character and I am excited to see his role in the larger Marvel cinematic universe.  The movie’s cast is nothing to scoff at and the movie delivers some of the best visual effects that I have seen in a long time.  Even if you have no familiarity with the characters, like I did, Doctor Strange is still worth checking out.

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