One Powerful Republic

onerepublic-native-2013-2000x2000Sometimes an artist I enjoy will release an album and it will terrify me. I’ll be terrified because I think they’ve set a benchmark that will be hard for them to ever compete with, especially with their own records.

Coldplay did it with X&Y.

My Chemical Romance did it with Welcome to the Black Parade.

U2 did it with How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. 

OneRepublic just did it with Native.

Native is one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to and is definitely the best outing from OneRepublic. This is saying something, because I thought Waking Up was fantastic. They took a different turn from Dreaming Out Loud and went into a more poppy, radio sound. Native sounds like a mix between both of their earlier albums. There are songs that hit the road with the pop sound and will be played all over radio stations for months to come. “Counting Stars,” “If I Lose Myself,” “Feel Again,” “I Lived,” the list just keeps going on songs that work.

They also turn it around on some songs and go into some of the more deep motifs from Dreaming Out Loud. “Preacher” stands out as a track bursting from the seams with emotion. It seems to be more of a story set to music than a song meant for the radio. It’s almost as if the band is sitting us all down for a story in front of a fireplace. Ryan Tedder tells us the story of his grandfather and the lessons that he passed down. It’s a truly great track.

When I judge albums, I judge them on one factor more than others. I judge it on how much I want to press shuffle, or how much I want to listen to the album 8-track style. 8-Tracks, for those who don’t know, are un-skippable, un-rewindable, tapes. You have to listen to the whole album all the way through before listening to it again. Very few albums achieve something like this nowadays. With iTunes, Amazon, MP3 players, etc; it’s easy to skip through songs. Native keeps you in the moment though. You just fall into the album and let it wash over you like a cool wave. It’s just that good.

A solid 9.5/10 from me. It loses .5 for “Feel Again” being an almost direct rip off of “The Dog Days Are Over.” The song is still great, but it’s impossible not to notice the huge similarities.

 

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Dead Space 3: More Method than Madness

CAUTION: SPOILERS FOR THE DEAD SPACE SERIES INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW

ds5Dead Space 3 gets a ton of things right. This entry into the series, up until the after-credits scene, is a  fitting end to a long hard few days for Issac Clarke.

This game begins w/ Issac having broken up w/ Ellie from Dead Space 2 after seemingly becoming a recluse and desperately trying to figure out how to stop the coming end of humanity. Everyone thinks he’s just gone nuts from the stress/mind issues of the previous games. All of the sudden his apartment is broken into and he’s thrust on this adventure as Danik tries to kill him and bring the end of humanity by activating the final marker. Obviously, Issac can’t let that happen.

Dead Space 3’s story is the culmination of the series. The final resolution is on its way as Issac has to stop Danik and save humanity. Visceral has been fantastic on delivering tight, epic narrative for this series. This entry is no different. The story here is emotional, scary, and, at time, surprisingly heartfelt. There are moments in this game where you realize, “Damn. This is happening. This is rough.” These moments make the game that much more emotive and the player, at least for me, that much more empathetic.

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Issac Clarke can’t catch a break. While the story in 3 is pretty incredible, I still don’t think it manages to hit the bar set by 2. There were moments in 2 that will forever be seared into my memory. There were moments that legitimately disturbed me and made me uncomfortable. This is a good thing. Not once did I feel that in 3. 3 is more of an action game w/ horror elements throughout. Some fans think this is a bad thing. I don’t. The game mixes both action and horror really well and still hits the right notes throughout. I was never bored, but I was never horrified either. Sure, there are new Necromorphs, but none of them are scarier than anything from the rest of the series.

Dead Space 3 wants the characters to shine in this entry and boy do they. The characters in this are brilliantly written. Even as people are dying off (it’s the last game in a trilogy, lots of people are going to die) they manage to make each on hurt in their own special way. People are left behind. People are killed to save others. Tough decisions have to be made, and are.

The gameplay is pretty much the same as the other entries, save for co-op (Which I haven’t experienced yet) and customization. You can make a crazy amount of awesome weapons in this game. The new Bench tool creation system makes mixing and matching weapon parts exhilarating. (I stuck w/ the Evangelizer Shotgun and Mjonir throughout the majority of the game. I like to keep beasties away from me, but when they do get close Mjolnir kills ’em quick.) There are also Scavenger bots that will pick up resources for you during the game. These come in incredibly handy during the later parts of the story. (DOWNLOAD THE PERSONALITY PACK FOR THESE GUYS! It’s seriously one of the funniest parts of the game and added a much needed does of humor in the midst of horror.)

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The flying missions continue to be a high point of the series for me. I love these levels. Flying, shooting, and dodging make these sections and adrenaline boost whilst remaining fun and light. In the usual missions, it’s dark and scary. These are bright and exciting. There are a good 4-5 of these throughout the 19 chapters of 3. ENJOY THEM.

The soundtrack/sound design here is brilliant as well. The game is scary. Skittering sounds of claws in walls, cries of agony from Necromorphs, depth perceptive sound coming from other rooms or down corridors; this game gets these things right.

Graphics are about the same as 2 with some nice additions. Issac’s visor now gives off light meaning, you’ll see 3 bars of green (or other shapes depending on the suit you’re wearing) shining on the walls as you walk around. I thought this was pretty cool. There are tons of suits you can unlock/buy, so finding out which ones do what is a pretty cool experience. It’s also a nice level of dimension for the gameplay.

ds9And now for what ruined the ending for me. Again, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

At the end of the game, everything seems to resolve for Issac. He and Ellie get back together long enough for him to apologize for everything and save her. He forces her to leave the planet so he can blow everything up w/ Carver and save humanity. She jumps in a ship and blasts off as he fights the last enemy and flips the switch to save the world. As everything is exploding the world slows down, Issac takes a deep breath, looks at his picture of Ellie, smiles, and closes his eyes. His mask was gone (was broken earlier and he ripped it off) and everything goes bright as the planet explodes and he floats into space. Ellie calls his name on the comms after seeing the planet explode. She calls for him and Carver. After no answer, she begins crying and mentions the marker signal is gone. “You did it Issac. You did it.” She says this between tears and turns the ship around before leaping into shock-space and leaving. ROLL CREDITS.

Now, after the credits the screen goes black and you hear Issac call out, “Ellie? ELLIE?!”

That’s it. After everything, Issac is somehow alive. At least, I think that’s what the writers want us to think. If that’s true and he is actually alive then that is terrible on a level like “The Dark Knight Rises.” Everything leading up to his death, INCLUDING his death, is pretty effective and blatant. Issac surviving is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t even be a possibility. The story is immensely better if he is dead. He gave up everything to save humanity, and that’s beautiful. If he doesn’t die, that ending is tarnished in my opinion. It doesn’t hurt as much.

If it’s some weird “afterlife voice” then I’m cool w/ that, but it doesn’t seem like it at the time. It’s the equivalent of Shepard breathing after the end of Mass Effect 3. It just doesn’t make sense, and hurts the story.

This is a huge misstep for an otherwise awesome game.

9/10 here for me. Awesome finale.

Have you played the game? Agree/Disagree w/ my review? Let me know in the comments!

Killing Them Softly: The Hopeless Machine

Killing-Them-Softly-banner-premiereKilling Them Softly is a lesson in the mechanics of hope.

Throughout the film (which takes place in 2008) you hear speeches from George W. Bush and Barack Obama in varying moods. They talk about the economy. They talk about the nation. They talk about how united the country is and how everyone has an opportunity to succeed with the help of their countrymen. Brad Pitt’s character, Jackie, doesn’t believe this one bit. Neither do any of the other characters in the film. They are hardened and cynical and believe that the world is very dog-eat-dog. You gotta take what you want to get it. This mood is only juxtaposed by the speeches.

This is a movie about hope, and the places where it doesn’t exist.

Jackie, Mickey (James Gandolfini), and Markie (Ray Liotta) all know how this world works and don’t have time for any other bullshit that someone may spout to them. Jackie is called into the city to kill the people involved with knocking off a high-stakes backroom card game held by Markie. Thing is, Markie has robbed his own game before, so everyone is going to think it’s him again. These two kids, Frankie and Russell, knock it off and take the money and run, but Russell shoots his mouth off to the wrong person. This leads to the whole problem of who has to die.

Brad Pitt, as well as everyone else, play their parts brilliantly. There’s plenty of morbid comic-relief throughout the film. Everyone laughs out of the sheer absurdity of the situations and the conversations. The cinematography is also phenomenal. There’s a death scene in this movie that’s like watching poetry in motion. Super-slow, super-high detail, multiple angles; it’s wonderful.

Finally, this movie has one of the best abrupt endings I’ve seen, in recent memory. Abrupt endings are hard to do right, but they nail it here.

All in all this film gets a 4/5 for me. Some parts drag, but the majority of the movie is totally worth it. Go see it!

Wreck-It-Ralph Review

So I finally got the chance to see Wreck-It-Ralph yesterday in 3D. This movie was well worth the wait. It hit so many different notes right, and is one of my favorite animated movies of the year (my favorite being ParaNorman, but I’m biased because Halloween is my favorite holiday).

What’s the premise of this movie you ask?

“A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.”

That’s taken from IMDb and pretty much sets the story up completely in that one line. Ralph wrecks the apartment building in “Fix-It Felix Jr.” He’s grown tired of being the bad guy. He never gets invited to parties, never gets complimented, and most of all, never gets a medal. After an argument and loss of temper at the 30th anniversary party for the game he sets out on a journey to gain a medal and finally get the recognition he deserves. However, things do not go as planned.

There are TONS of nods to other games throughout this movie. I was actually shocked how many things that Disney was able to get the rights to. Sonic, Final Fantasy, Q-Bert, Street Fighter, etc… There’s even graffiti on the subway walls that says things like “Aerith Lives” and “Leroy Jenkins was here!” Looking for all the little details was incredibly fun. There are also the more on-the-nose nods like the main game that Ralph heads for to earn his medal, “Hero’s Duty” which is more HALO/Gears of War than Call of Duty, but it definitely spoofs the FPS genre really well.

The “Sugar Rush” game is like a mix between Mario Kart and Candy Land. This is where a majority of the movie takes place and is really quite beautiful in its own right. Lots of bright colors and pastels. There’s even a diet coke mountain with mentos for stalactites/stalagmites (foreshadowing much?).

All the acting is nifty. I mean, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Disney/Pixar movies. All the actors fit their parts perfectly and do amazing jobs. The score is done by Henry Jackman and really cues the same type of vibe as Scott Pilgrim did. There’s a lot of 8-Bit sampling throughout the score. Jackman blends the sounds really well though and makes them fit with the orchestral pieces. “Life in the Arcade” is probably my favorite of the bunch because it sounds like “Super Mario Bros. 3” and other assorted games from that era.

All-in-all this movie is a definite watch for gamers and the like. It’s appealing to children and adults and is the second best animated movie of the year. GO SEE IT. GO SEE IT NAO! 😀

4/5

 

#SKYFALL is the Best Bond Movie Ever (But Not My Favorite)

(POTENTIAL SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW)

Good God. What wasn’t brilliant about this movie? The main titles. That’s it. Everything else is phenomenal. The acting, the action, the small moments, the humor, etc. This is the best James Bond film ever made, with the second best James Bond ever (Connery will always be #1).

This movie departs from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace’s storyline. There’s literally no mention of either during the whole process of the film. This movie is more about the relationship between M and Bond, as well as a meta-view on James Bond himself. Does the 2012 world really need a man like Bond when the world is controlled by computers? The answer is absolutely “yes.”

There are SO MANY fan nods to the audience in this movie. We get a new Moneypenny. We get a new M. The old Aston Martin shows up. We get the original theme song during the movie. It’s just ridiculous how much the filmmakers loved Bond for this one. It’s a true work of beloved art. They even filmed M’s house in the late John Barry’s (iconic Bond composer who died last year) house as a tribute to him! That’s going the extra mile.

You get everything with this Bond movie. Amazing villain? Check. Amazing score? Check. Amazing action? Check. This is the new benchmark for Bond films. They will all be held up to the standard of this one. 5/5 and you ALL NEED TO GO SEE IT NOW! Javier Bardem makes the whole thing sing. He’s now two of my top 3 villains of all time. 😀

ALSO, MY FAVORITE BOND MOVIE IS STILL “A VIEW TO A KILL.” Funny Roger Moore, Evil Christopher Walken, Duran Duran; what more could you ask for?!

 

Cloud Atlas: Spellbinding Brilliance in Film

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. NOT SAYING THERE ARE SPOILERS, JUST THAT THERE COULD BE. 😀

I went into the screening of Cloud Atlas very warily. I loved the 6-minute trailer, but I was scared they wouldn’t be able to balance the storylines. I thought it would be a beautiful failure. The images and scenes would be wonderful, but wouldn’t make much sense in the long run. As the movie progressed, this fear lessened to a degree that it no longer existed. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer have made an epic masterpiece of the highest grade.

It’s difficult to find something to nitpick about this film on. It’s just that good. The acting here is phenomenal. All of the actors are allowed to exist in a sort of playground where they can be all different types of characters. I had known that these actors were playing all these characters beforehand, so a lot of the game was guessing who was who in what makeup. The all star cast has the ability to be these characters fully and make them their own, with meaning. Rare does a character feel like they don’t matter to each existing storyline. This lends itself to the tagline, “Everything is Connected.” Everything feels connected in this movie and that’s amazing.

One of the things that I thought this movie did brilliantly was pacing, in timing as well as in mood. You’ll laugh in this movie. You’ll cry in this movie. You’ll be scared at times. Each emotion is given its due in full force. When you’re sad, they keep hitting you with sad until the release of happiness comes. This movie pulls your heart in every direction and it’s one of the most worthy rides of a film in history. You’re getting pulled every which way, and you love it.

This element is only compounded by the brilliant score for the movie. I went and saw this with a friend of mine who wasn’t really interested in seeing the film and he was blown away. As we were walking out of the theater, sniffling, he says, “Holy crap that soundtrack was amazing.” I agreed (and I’m actually listening to it whilst writing this). Seriously, if you like film score, you owe it to yourself to go download this on from Amazon or iTunes or whatever musical God you serve. :p You won’t regret it.

Watching the characters in each of their storylines is a thing of beauty. Each storyline is given it’s due as a plot. None of them are rushed through in the almost 3 hours of film here. The directors give each different timeline their own time to make it through each plot and resolve everything for the characters. This closure provides some of the strongest emotions of the film. Not everybody gets a happy ending, but they all get closure in their own ways.

The special effects are another strong-suit here. Of course, being the Wachowskis, they have to have some sort of brilliant effects in here. The scenes in New Seoul are filled with “matrix-esque” technology and fight scenes. It’s like a blend between The Matrix and Minority Report in weaponry and fight styles. There are also scenes where they mix tribal tech with future tech, and they both come in handy.

My favorite part of this film is the little struggles you go through with each character. The actors display all these small emotions on their faces at points and you feel what they’re going through. Tom Hanks’ tribal character goes through immense fear, to shame, to courage, to amazement, to anger, to joy, and then to contentment and love. And that’s just ONE of the storylines that he takes part in. Jim Broadbent gives some of the best lines of the film as Timothy Cavendish. He’s definitely one of the characters tasked with the movie’s comic relief.

This movie release Friday here in America. You need to see this film. I watched it with a friend of mine, who is a staunchly evangelical Christian from the South, and he rooted for one of the gay characters throughout the film. That’s a hell of a gap to bridge in 3 hours, but Cloud Atlas accomplishes it fantastically. This film needs to be seen by as many people as possible, because it doesn’t just end as a film. It’s a call-to-action for the people of the universe, which is echoed in the line given by one of the main characters towards the end of the film,

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.”

5/5

 

ARGO and Dark Shadows (Reviews)

I got the chance to catch a screening of ARGO with a friend of mine (twitter.com/datbatmann) on Monday and it was phenomenal.

If you don’t know the declassified true story behind the film, here it is in a nutshell: “As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.” (taken from IMDB)

The film is set in the late seventies and actually happened. I had read up on this story after seeing the first movie trailer. This is a testament to the directing and the acting in this film. You know how it ends. Everyone knows how it ends. It happened. The people got out safely. The plan worked. The intensity is just so incredibly high at points that you think, “Oh God…ARE they gonna get out?!” Ben Affleck has us on the edge of our seat for a story in which we already know the ending. Brilliant.

I also enjoy Ben’s other movies Gone Baby Gone and The Town. I think Gone Baby Gone is better, by c’est la vie.

In short, go see this movie sometime. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen all year and a definite contender for Best Picture. 5/5

At the house, we redboxed Dark Shadows the other night. I hadn’t had a chance to see this one in theaters like I wanted to, but as a Tim Burton fan, I NEEDED to see this one. :]

Unfortunately, this movie is incredibly boring. I mean, I had never seen the original series, so there’s no context for me, but the movie has an almost 2 hour runtime and you feel it. It moves incredibly slow and my family and I found ourselves checking our watches at multiple points throughout.

The things that rock about this movie are the art direction (obviously), soundtrack (artists and score), and the comedic moments. There are a lot of gems throughout, but they are sparse in comparison to the whole film. This one will go down as one of the lower points in Tim Burton’s repertoire.

It definitely had a lot of Alice Cooper though. So, bonus cooper points. 😀 3/5