About a month ago I returned my laptop to factory default to clean it out. Even the cleanest machine can build up junk that causes it to run slower, freeze or not be able to run programs, so I would suggest people do this at least every three years. I’ll hopefully write a full post in the future about the process I go through to make sure all my files and programs are safe, and my computer is running at its highest capabilities, but today I’m talking about some of the new PC games I’ve been trying out on my revitalized machine.
Some of these games are in “Early Access” on the PC game service Steam, which means that they’re not finished, but are available for purchase. This allows the developers to receive funding through customer interest/faith, and the player to receive updates as the game is further developed. Sometimes companies fizzle out and the games don’t reach their truly finished state, but it also means more innovative games that publishers wouldn’t usually take a chance on can see the light of day.
Scrap Mechanic - A similar building mechanic as Minecraft, it focuses on creating vehicles and other mechanical apparatus. Using engines, bearings and control surfaces you can create land and air vehicles, autonomous strongholds and even transforming mechs. Just getting your first vehicle to move and turn properly can be difficult, but after a few builds I have a collection consisting of a motorcycle, dune buggy and a jet that I can launch and somewhat steer. My jet took 3 or 4 builds to finally even out the weight and give it enough propulsion to shake the surly bonds of earth, but I’ve had few videogame experiences more satisfying. The build I played only had a “Creative” mode available, so I haven’t seen any of the actual survival or battle mechanics yet. Hopefully, they can apply the same high level of quality I’ve seen so far to the rest of the game.
Superhot – This game takes the hectic pace of a first person shooter and slows it down to a crawl. The hook is that, in the game, the enemies, and the rest of the world around you, only moves when you do. This allows you to easily dodge bullets as you disarm and steal enemy weapons. There isn’t much else to the game, but the beauty is when you clear out a room full of armed assailants, starting with just your bare hands. Throwing objects you find in the environment can deflect bullets or stagger opponents as you turn their weapons back on them. Launch a couple bullets that just hang in midair until you dive to cover, causing them to take flight. It doesn’t have a ton of replay value, but the time mechanics make this an interesting game to play.
The Culling – This game has been dubbed “The only Battle Royale/Hunger Games-style survival title”. Multiplayer only, you start inside a crate dropped into an island landscape. The rounds last 20 minutes and no respawning, so when you die you can either spectate or quit out and join another hunt. There’s a decent amount of buildings and locales to forage through, but you can also create simple weapons and medical equipment from rocks and branches. Surviving or defeating opponents awards you with better loadouts, so you have the choice of trying to defeat the other contestants or simply surviving till the time expires and poisonous gas is released to push the remaining players into the center of the map. The game itself isn’t running particularly well, with framerates dropping below 20fps and connections cutting out periodically. It has some impressive graphics, but I’ve had to keep all the specs bottomed out just to make it playable. People with better PCs seem to be experiencing the same problems, so it may just mean the game needs more reworking under the hood. It’s a fun premise with intense gameplay, but I’ll probably have to wait until the developer cleans it up to really be able to enjoy it.
Rocket League – This game is also available on Xbox One and is the only “completed” title on this list. Simple premise, soccer with rocket-propelled RC cars. In a giant stadium, teams of three battle to get the ball into the other team’s goal (but you know how soccer works). It really is a lot of fun though. After a while you start to figure out that crowding the ball, like a peewee soccer team, leaves you chasing behind the play. Instead, see where the ball is moving and get to a position that will open up scoring opportunities (but you know how sports work). Precise gameplay and deep car customization make this sleeper hit a must-try.
A Real American. I’ve watched The Daily Show for most its run, before Jon Stewart even. It was always entertaining, but a few years into his run Stewart had made it into a wellspring of political accountability. With no network mandated affiliations they could show all the mess that is our political system. The miniscule moments of pettiness and underhanded actions that broadcast networks would neither bother showing nor want shown, for fear of political ramifications. Most of the time Stewart was just pointing out the silliness of our system, but at times he would reach that place of frustration that some of us feel. The frustration of dealing with archaic government systems that have been in place for too long, and social shortcomings we have as a country. I know this is getting heavy(handed), but stick with me for a minute, I promise this isn’t a manifesto. So there’s no misconceptions, I’ve always been a “live and let live” type of person. For that reason I have always voted Democrat. What’s the point of happiness if those around you aren’t living the same? I would gladly vote for a Republican if I felt any of them valued ALL human life and ALL American’s liberties. My grandmother Macy Morse, who spent most of her life reaching out and fighting for people’s civil liberties, always reminded me “It’s not just our right, but our duty to speak out and take (legal) action against corrupted government officials and institutions”. It shouldn’t even be a question in our minds though, no one should accept a miserable existence, or allow others to suffer the same. Now that we’re in the mood, I turn your attentions back to The Daily Show. There’s an unending list of alumni like Steve Carrell, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Dave Attell, Demetri Martin and of course, the Great Stephen Colbert. All those guys are incredible comedians, but I always liked John Oliver’s segments especially. He has a certain way of cutting deep by simply stating the facts. Maybe it’s some form of natural English passive-aggressiveness or a character a la Colbert. His “exposés” were always pertinent to the social climate, and equally important, he is relentlessly funny. He loves American excess unapologetically, bucking the prim/proper English stereotype. He crushed it when he sat in for Jon one summer, and he’s also had a string of great stand-up shows as well as his own stand-up showcase with dozens of comedians that went on to be respectable stars. He would have been the obvious choice to secede Jon on the news desk, but he was offered his own weekly show on HBO right after his stint. This has allowed him to zero in on particular follies that plague this nation, attacking student debt, unchecked municipal violations, government surveillance and transgender rights. He whips me into a frenzy sometimes. As he lets the human degeneracy that he and his writers have collected play out it can sting a bit, seeing what goes on unimpeded in our own states. He certainly doesn’t go any easier on England or his beloved European football either, walking FIFA up to the firing range just days before seven FIFA heads were arrested for corruption. I mean, the man went to Russia and interviewed Edward Snowden, that’s next level. He always finds the hilarity in the horrors though. The most recent episode (2-28-16) focused on Donald “Drumpf” Trump, and I’ll just say that it was enlightening. Anyone who even has the NOTION of voting that man into the White House needs to see this episode.
*Don’t believe the hype! *
There's no excuse for the ignorance, any more. Deadpool had nearly a $150 million opening weekend, and was #1 in over 60 countries. To put that in perspective, it's almost $50 million more than the next biggest X-Men film's opening (which was X-Men 3: Last Stand, so maybe it isn't the best measure after all). It also smashed the record for biggest R-rated opening ever by $30 million. Chances are, it will probably go on to have the highest gross of any X-Men film yet. So everything seems to be going as Fox Studios planned. But wait... FOX didn't want to make this movie. They didn't want to pay Ryan Reynolds to keep his face covered for 2 hours. They didn't want an R-rated comic book movie. They didn't think the source material would translate to film. They stalled, pushed back production and chopped budgets because they didn't believe in the gold they had mined themselves. FOX had also been approached by Marvel Studios in 2014 to create something of a co-op, which would allow each studio to feature each others characters and build storylines together. FOX not only declined, but basically told Marvel to shove it by hiring several ex-Marvel consultants for the X-Movies. Separately, Sony took Marvel's offer to help with their failing Spiderman franchise, and he's appearing in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War this summer. Whether this deal will pan out for Sony remains to be seen, but that exposure will put Spiderman back in peoples faces, setting him up for his reboot film down the line. FOX bought the rights to all X-Men and Fantastic Four film properties in the early 2000s when Marvel Comics was close to bankruptcy. As long as they make a film for each property every 7 years they retain the rights. This last FF movie was made at the last moment, and was a complete disaster both critically and financially, becoming the 35th most profitable Marvel movie out of 40. While some might think being under the gun is what made this movie not come together, some comments shared by the director Josh Trank point to Fox's "film-by-committee" involvement ruining it. Trank had only directed one other film, so it's not hard to imagine him having trouble with a big franchise. His one film was Chronicle though, a similar concept to FF that he created, wrote and directed beautifully. I'm sure that got him the FF job, so you'd think FOX would allow him to make the movie he wanted. Of course I must state, the comments made by Trank and other insiders are unconfirmed, and FOX has stated he became reclusive and hard to work with towards the end of production, but if my name was on a piece of hot garbage that a studio changed beyond recognition I'd be pissed too. The only real confirmation is the other writer of the script confirming that the final movie is nothing like the working draft of the script. The other reason I see FOX's fingerprints on this is because it resembles the horrible failure X-Men Origins:Wolverine so much. That was another movie that was terribly mediocre and completely disregarded the source material. Enter Deadpool, one of the most egregious missteps in XO-Wolverine. Ryan Reynolds had been attached to play the character since 2004 in either a supporting role or feature film, but was made into a completely different character in the movie. This snuffed out the chance for the solo flick for another five years, while people thumbed their noses at Reynolds. He was made for this role though, or vice-versa. Deadpool is essentially the comic version of Van Wilder. Unbeknownst to most people, Reynolds was constantly pushing to get this film made in the true-to-source form we see it now, even producing it himself. Along the way multiple related X-properties were greenlit and cancelled like X-Force, the team book Deadpool first appeared in. Jump to today, Deadpool has been crushing the box office for only four days and FOX is reigniting the fires on a bunch of those shelved films. Not only are they fast-tracking an R-rated X-Force movie and Deadpool sequel, there's also a rumor that they're pushing the third Wolverine movie, already in production, to an R rating. This doesn't mean FOX will let the right people make the right movies without interference from the studio, but maybe the Deadpool money pouring in will distract them long enough for us to get a decent X-Force movie. Oh yeah, as most of you already know, Deadpool was great. Funny, action-packed and painstakingly faithful to the source material. Go see it, but DO NOT bring your kids.
The Devil’s in the details. Lucifer originated in the Old Testament several thousand years ago, then was added as a character to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series in 1989. I’m pretty sure no authors mention him in between those times. Though Sandman is considered one of the quintessential comic books, I find Gaiman’s writing a bit to abstract for my tastes, so I have only read a few of the 85 issues. As such, I was not familiar with their version of Lucifer, other than his similarities to the source material. Fox had announced they ordered a pilot for the series just over a year ago. A leaked version of that pilot showed up online just a short time later. I watched it, of course, as I do most shows based off comic properties (sorry, iZombie, not gonna happen). I thought it was pretty promising, but then had to wait almost a year for the actual series to start. The premise is Lucifer has grown bored of Hell and moved to LA to open a nightclub. Not the most exciting story on paper. What made it interesting for me was the fact that he can subtly make people tell him their deepest desires, and somewhat sway them to act on those desires. They have a suave British guy playing him so the women already act cartoonishly befuddled by him, but with those powers at work it does make for some genuine laughs. The framework of the show works like most procedurals like Bones, or Castle (I’m guessing), “Devil falls in love with female cop, starts feeling more human, blah, blah, blah.” As you may be able to tell, I’m not really jazzed about the thick layer of “Network TV” slathered on this show, but I do still find it an enjoyable watch. Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar does a really great job selling his detachment from the human condition, while still hitting a generous amount of comedic notes. Some of the other acting/dialog does have major problems at times, but the fast pace of the hour-long episodes don’t stay on any “extras” too long. Small side note: I also started the new Lucifer comic series from DC Comics. It follows a similar storyline, but the real story here is the art by Lee Garbett. I see shades of Stuart Immonen (Star Wars, X-Men) cartooning in there, with a bit of scratchy chaos like Riley Rossmo (Cowboy Ninja Viking, Hellblazer). Once again, it didn’t bowl me over, but it’s interesting enough to bring me back for the next one.
I can’t stop marveling at the beauty of the trash piles. Tom Clancy’s novels have inspired an impressive catalogue of video games. Beyond their consistent quality, the studio houses under Ubisoft’s umbrella really seem to embrace the necessary change that can keep semiannual franchises worth purchasing. More recently, they’ve began to add some new genres to their repertoire. The Division was announced three years ago as a *deep breath* massive-multiplayer, open-world, post-apocalyptic, third-person, tactical shooter. It’s been delayed from 2015 to March 2016, but Ubisoft has released the BETA version for public consumption. I downloaded it the second day it was available, not realizing it was only open for the weekend. Regardless, I was able to spend a long day exploring the huge map. The developers, Red Storm Entertainment, brought an incredible amount of detail and life to the New York City backdrop. I’m a fan of open-world games, and this may be the most life-like city I’ve ever seen. While there isn’t a ton of interactivity with your surroundings, the game is just beautiful. The streets are lined with garbage and broken-down vehicles, but it is masterfully rendered. The gameplay has pretty run-of-the-mill cover mechanics, but the controls, and movement all feel really tight. I jumped right in without any major issues. The problems started when I finished the provided single-player missions and journeyed into the multiplayer “Dark” zone. There are extraction points, but no real explanation as to what you have to extract, or where you might find it. There are NPCs(Non Playable Characters) for you to fight, and it’s DayZ-style kill/recruit/ignore option for other players you run into, keeps things interesting. Some of the things Ubisoft has promised like voice commands and the option of playing as a tactical drone from an actual tablet were not available, but I enjoyed what I played of the game so far. It may not seem like anything monumental on the surface, but The Division’s single and multiplayer unification may be the experience that a lot of developers have been striving for over the last few years.
Once upon a time in the south… In the town of New Orleans, known for its jazz background, a few record labels brought a new sound to the hip-hop landscape in 1998. “Bounce” music was undeniably well-received, hitting top spots on the Billboard charts, as well as boasting over (a reported) 150 million albums sold by No Limit Records and Cash Money Records alone. This has pushed Master P (Percy Miller), the creator and owner of No Limit, to a nine figure net worth, with a wealth of other business ventures. Out of the roster of almost 80 artists on the label, only a handful have been worth more than a couple million at any given time though. Most of the (non-Miller family) artists who did reach the millions all had separate business deals after No Limit that were (probably) what got them to that point. Snoop Dogg, has been a regular on reality TV, Mystikal had a couple hit songs with The Neptunes after leaving the label and Curren$y has been on a steady ascent both with Cash Money/Young Money and now independently. It’s not hard to see why the artists would want to strike out on their own, and try to parley that bit of heat into a sustainable career. Soulja Slim (James Tapp) was one of the early additions to the label, releasing “Give It 2 ‘Em Raw, which hit #13 on the Billboard charts selling over 82k the first week. Soulja Slim has stated that he received about $600,000 from Miller for the album, which totaled sales just short of “gold” at 450k+. This equals out to a little over $1-per-album sold. Slim used a large portion of that money to buy his mother, Linda, a house in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. Slim was incarcerated when G.I.2.E.R. was released, so he wasn’t able to participate in promotion or the joys of having a hit record. When released from prison in 2001 Slim dropped “The Streets Made Me”, then was shortly thereafter incarcerated again. It was a decent album but No Limit Records had already lost its all-star production team Beats by the Pound, as well as most of its high-profile artists, so it felt like the album was an afterthought for Miller. Slim spent the next couple years shelved on No Limit’s roster while Miller tried to make his son, Lil Romeo’s career happen. As stated, most of No Limit's roster had left by the early 2000s. This was a label that was built on being an “army”, who boasted about loyalty and being souljas, but ended with most artists saying they had been ripped off by Miller. Master P, in turn, had his new or remaining artists calling them out on records and screaming the same propaganda their predecessors had. Soulja Slim released the album “Years Later” on his new Cut Throat Comitty Records label in 2002. Most of the beats were provided by a French producer, Zo a.k.a. Jeezo and heavily featured 12 A’ Klok and Tre-Nitty, the first Cut Throat artists. While G.I.2.E.R. was a classic dirty south album, Years Later took that style and mixed it with a new synth-y sound provided by Zo. The album sold over 25k copies in New Orleans alone, (full albums sales unavailable) showing how much his area loved him. Slim took multiple shots at Master P and other No Limit artists on the album, more as a warning to those younger cats not to get caught up in the same situation. Around this time, Slim joined fellow New Orleans rapper Juvenile (disenchanted Cash Money artist) on his Slow Motion single, which hit #1 on the charts. This would go on to make Slim one of only six artists to have a posthumous #1 single. On November 26th, 2003 James “Soulja Slim” Tapp was shot to death on the lawn of the house he had bought his mother. A known knucklehead (hitman, thief, enforcer) Garelle Smith was arrested for the murder. The police had reason to believe he had been paid $10,000 by a “rival rap artist” to kill Slim. Smith was caught with the gun, a stolen service pistol, that had killed Tapp, but because of no witnesses coming forward, was released without charges. Smith would be arrested for connections to, at least, three more murders, but released for similar lack of witnesses in each case. On August 15th, 2011 Garelle Smith was found shot dead in the same Gentilly section of New Orleans, leaving the trail of murders unresolved. One of the promising artists to come from the Cut Throat Comitty, Argell ”12 A’Klok” White (a.k.a. Twelve O’Clock) had released a few albums in the time after Slim’s death. On these, he made mention of the younger group of Cut Throat artists being either complacent or responsible in the murder of Soulja Slim. While not attacking the obvious suspects Master P or No Limit, “12” seemed to hold his own camp responsible. On August 2nd, 2010 White was shot in the back multiple times on his aunt's lawn. White's aunt was Slim’s mother Linda Tapp, but from what I could find it was a different address than where Slim was killed. While the first thought is that it may have been Garelle Smith, being shot in the back in a non-execution style usually points to the murderer being someone close to the victim that could make them drop their guard. While the music world has been robbed of seeing these promising artists make their own way, both Tapp and White’s murders remain unsolved, robbing their families of the closure they deserve.
CAUTION| Contains minor story elements for Marvel's Star Wars #1-15, Darth Vader#1-15 and Vader Down one-shot |CAUTION
A short time ago, not far from here in galactic terms…. I had an overall positive opinion of the ancillary Star Wars books. They managed to weave their stories into the established cannon without cheapening the films’ tale. At the same time, that was what kept them from being truly impactful, being shackled to the main storie's outcome. I think the enjoyment I found in those books came from the new characters they were based on. Those characters can still have complete arcs, with permanent repercussions. Marvel’s been throwing everything they have at the main titles. The titan, Jason Aaron writing “Star Wars” with a revolving cast of top shelf artists, and Kieron Gillen Writing “Darth Vader” with the ever-consistent Salvador Larroca handling art exclusively. Both books contain rich casts of new and re-imagined supporting characters, so you do get a taste of the unknown. Unfortunately for these books though, following the main cast makes them feel like they’re spinning their wheels. These are grade-A writers, so you get your money’s worth, but in the end it just didn’t leave me with anything. The Marvel Star Wars universe doesn’t seem to be the only corner of the comic industry suffering from this. While there are a lot of really solid books out from all the publishers, there just doesn’t seem to be many standing out from the crowd. This may just be attributed to the fact that we’ve just had a couple years of groundbreaking titles. The bar has been raised.
Witness me, Bloodbag! There are few moments in my life when I was more amped than watching Fury Road the first time. Luckily, I was able to catch the last day of showings in the motion seats. Considering its one continuous car chase, it’s probably the best suited movie for them. The film itself is like a beautiful art piece laid over an enthralling action movie. Inspired casting, seamless practical and digital effects and some of the most original world-building I’ve ever seen. Possibly my favorite movie-going experience ever. Long before seeing the movie I had read of the video game adaptation by Avalanche Studios, the developer behind the Just Cause series. I was intrigued initially, but movie adaptations are infamously horrible. After seeing the movie, with still a few months to wait for the game, I didn’t imagine it living up to the new level of George Miller’s vision. The open-world adventure starts in a similar fashion to the movie, with a quick car chase and a lot of destruction. While the standard tutorial portions of the game are there, it doesn’t hold your hand through the story. It starts you out in the world, and you can enjoy and random thing you come across. I was ecstatic the first time I barreled into a dust storm, ramming cars full of cackling Warboys into the lightning. It takes a little while for the impressive array of skills and upgrades to become unlocked, but the battle systems (both hand-to-hand and driving) are entertaining enough to keep you progressing. The majority of open-world titles end up feeling repetitive or hollow, but Mad Max has such a wide assortment of missions, enemies, collectibles, and distractions, finding a break in the action to turn it off becomes the challenge. George Miller has recently reiterated the fact that he has grand plans for the two greenlit sequels to Fury Road. I once again struggle to imagine anything surpassing the first, but like the game, maybe they can recapture that glory. In Valhalla!
* SPRAYS MOUTH *
I love the wacky. I like shows that are meta, self-aware or break the fourth wall. Ones that toy with a genre’s tropes, subverting the viewer’s expectations. This probably started with The Simpsons, the first show I remember having that “loose” reality. Since then I’ve been blessed with shows like 30 Rock, Venture Bros. and Comedy Bang Bang that operate on a higher plain than (most) network sitcoms, showing their love for discarded pop culture even as they skewer it. Unfortunately, those gems are hard to find. I had seen commercials for TBS’s Angie Tribeca that played like the True Detective intro, until you see a dog driving a police car at the end. I got a laugh out of it, but quickly flushed it from my mind. A few weeks later, my friend mentioned she was watching it. She compared it to Naked Gun and thought I’d like it. She was correct. Within the first thirty seconds I was sold on this. References to 80s movies, disregard for the rules of reality, but really just utter nonsense. Thank you. First off, I notice in the opening credits that Steve Carrell is the creator, writer and director. This seems like a major missed opportunity for TBS. I saw that commercial several times and never knew Carrell was even involved. I mean, it would have been an automatic “watch” for me. It plays like a CSI episode mixed with the aforementioned 80s buddy cop film. Rashida Jones successfully delivers a lot more comic relief than most of her previous roles have allowed, and has an incredibly strong supporting cast. Also, they roll out well-known guest stars pretty regularly, including the KING of cameos himself. I swear it kind of feels like Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law at times. The plotlines are erratic and everything goes back to normal after, it just keeps the insanity coming. I moved through the first season pretty quick and look forward to the next one, which looks like it’s been greenlit according to IMDB.com.
CAUTION| Contains major spoilers for HBO's The Wire |CAUTION
Nobody wins. It’s strange to watch a series that stretches five seasons, only to have it end where it began. And not in a cool time travel way either. The corners are still infested with dealers. The top dogs are still free and simple-minded cops are still in charge. I know it’s probably a metaphor how the “gangsta” lifestyle is just a repeating cycle, but I walked away from this feeling worse than I felt before. I guess I’ll just have to appreciate the journey more than the destination on this one. After never seeing it, I watched the whole series in the last two weeks. It starts a bit slow, but eventually you start to see the DNA a lot of the serialized shows we enjoy now (Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Mr. Robot) were spawned from. The Wire doesn’t seem as tightly written as some of the newer shows, though. Some storylines seem unnecessary, meandering or overly convoluted, but I have to give them props for handling a huge ever-expanding cast so well. This show really is a hall of fame of future stars. Idris Elba, Wood Harris and Michael Kenneth Williams bring a sincerity to their roles that propels this show to the heights it reached. Some lesser-known actors like Jamie Hector, J.D. Williams, Tristan Wilds and Felicia Pearson also portray multi-dimensional characters that you can’t help but be fascinated by. It does a great job of carrying stories through multiple seasons. Younger background kids grow over the course of the seasons to become relatable out main characters. I had characters I hated with a passion, but then ended up rooting for them as they came against worse ones that followed. Oh, and the worst people in the show? The cops. Easily. Responsible for multiple witnesses getting killed. Several innocent bystanders (and other cops) dying in avoidable gunfights. They allow MOST of the drugs in the show to still be sold. All types of tampering and outright racism. Lester and Daniels are respectable, but even that’s tarnished by the end. People complain about George R.R. Martin killing his popular characters. David SImon has made an art of getting you to like a character right before putting a bullet in their brain and making you watch. Good people die, too much. R.I.P. Wallace
The coming year has a comic book movie coming out just about every other month. DC Comics/Warner Bros. officially starts their shared cinematic universe, while Marvel/Disney begins Phase 3 of theirs. DC Films: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Man of Steel is disliked in the comic community but it’s at least entertaining, and I expect this movie to follow in suit. Big explosions and a lot of posturing. The biggest problem I see it having is with the large amount of characters and concepts they plan on introducing in it. Suicide Squad – I really wish they just made a Jared Leto Joker movie. I don’t find anything appealing about this. It will probably be an “edgy” movie and have a big youth following (like the next movie), but this is a trainwreck waiting to happen. Marvel Films: Deadpool – Deadpool was created as a shameless rip-off of DC’s Deathstroke, but over the years his book became more comedic to the point of Deadpool breaking the fourth wall regularly. Somewhere along the way kids latched onto the character. He’s just just edgy enough for kids to read, but still think they’re doing something they’re not supposed to (see Five Nights at Freddie’s). So what was once cool became commercialized and oversaturated. X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t help, considering that version of Deadpool is the least faithful interpretation ever. This new movie’s trailers do look great though. The costume works, the comedy works, and the action is as good as any other movie here. Captain America: Civil War – The last offering in this series was one of my favorite movies ever, so I trust the Russo brothers to come correct. This could have a similar problem to BMvsSM in having too many things to focus on. X-Men: Apocalypse – The X-Men are my favorite comic book franchise and Apocalypse is my favorite character. I have been waiting for this for 30 years. I wouldn’t have thought of Oscar Issac for the role, but I’ve loved him in everything I’ve seen him in. I like that they seem to be fully embracing the comic mythology. Doctor Strange – Not much is known about this, but the supporting cast is solid. I couldn’t quite picture Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, but the first few set photos they’ve released look great. Marvel may have another sleeper like Guardians or Ant-Man on their hands.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming back. If that doesn’t get you excited see a doctor, you’re dead inside. On top of that sundae of amazing sprinkle a little new host Jonah Ray, and recently added Patton Oswalt! You may recognize Jonah Ray from the Nerdist podcast, TripTank or numerous walk-on rolls. Patton Oswalt you may just recognize from being a comedy god. The real icing on the cake is that it was funded(nearly 3x over) by fans on Kickstarter, showing the true value in MST3K as well as crowdfunding in general. For those that don’t know, since MST3K has been cancelled the cast has been doing live shows as RiffTrax. They show a bad movie in front of a live audience as they do what they do best and riff. None of the shows have made their way to New England, but the local movie theater has been reshowing them. Starship Troopers is already a joke. I personally like the movie, but it is not good. It seems to be a parody one second, and a serious commentary on society the next. It’s hard to separate the sarcasm from just failed attempts at filmmaking, and the acting does not help. So this movie was a prime candidate for riffing. Simply put, this show was hilarious. It stands on its own, but seeing it in a theater with a bunch of other comedy nerds was choice. They cut shots of the cast standing at podiums along one side of the screen, which I found a bit unnecessary, but everything else was as you’d imagine. I would recommend this to anyone. These guys still have it, and I can see the new series(MST3K) running for a long time to come.
Jonathon Hickman has some of the best books out right now. With both “East of West” and “Manhattan Projects” he gives us single issues with a more fully developed stories than most writers whole runs. The big selling point of his Marvel work is that it’s essentially one long running epic. His saga started in Fantastic Four(Dark Reign) and ran through SHIELD, The Ultimates, Avengers, and crescendoed in this year’s Secret War miniseries. It’s obvious, single issues are not the only thing Hickman can do well. Like most Marvel events, Secret Wars started with a bang. It threw everything you’ve ever loved from Marvels history of events and multiverse stories at us. Where it separated itself was with a strong follow-through. He kept the pace up, while still handling the huge cast with finesse. The concept of bringing (sometimes multiple) different versions of characters into the same world could have turned hokey, but instead is spun into a Game of Thrones-esque power struggle. Today saw the long delayed final issue of the series. This delay came at the cost of a comprehensive launch for the “All-New, All-Different” Marvel initiative. There are stand-alone books that are pretty unaffected, and shine, but the deeper shared universe books are still a bit muddy. Whether this delay was caused by missed art deadlines, story problems or print issues it was worth the wait to have a cohesive book, completely drawn by a legend like Esad Ribic, no less. The final issue brings it home with a fitting ending to the long-reaching tale, which I’m not gonna spoil here. The issue, as a whole, was more of a wrap up, but that’s not a bad thing. The real fireworks took place in the 8th issue, leaving this issue room to breathe and really get the point of the story across. It should come as no shock to anyone currently reading comics that a new Marvel universe is created from the fallout of this story. It will be really interesting to see what develops from the new “behind-the-scenes” status quo. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough for some of it to spill into the, also long delayed, finale to he and Dustin Weaver’s SHIELD book this year.
2015 was a good year for hip-hop. It will never be what it was, but I think the quality rebounded significantly. Though we saw new albums from Dr.Dre, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, I’m not referring to the Top 40 artists. I’m thinking more of the grimy struggle music. Queens Bridge. Boot Camp. Early Terror Squad. You ain’t supposed to dance to this. This is theme music. Lines that give you the chills when you hear ’em. Soul samples and the boom bap. Collaboration. So much of the best 90’s “underground” hip-hop came from large groups(see Wu-Tang Clan). That’s what’s been missing in this millennium. We’ve been sold a lot of mediocre solo projects from otherwise legendary artists. The last few years though have seen numerous groups reunited in the studio, like Onyx, CNN w/ Tragedy Khadafi, and Jedi Mind w/Stoupe. Duck Down Records has bolstered their already mighty roster with KRS-One, Statik Selektah, Black Rob and Ed O.G. I’ve also been fortunate enough to stumble upon “DJ Modesty’s Real Hip-Hop Show” podcast. He mixes new tracks by the rappers I’ve mentioned, plus comes correct with songs by off-the-radar rookies. One of the songs from the show that really stuck with me was “Revolution” by A.C.E.(A Criminal Entity). Looking into the album, I found out it was produced by Tonedeff, who was featured on the Game Over Compilations, collaboration hip-hop albums using mostly video game samples(see Super Brooklyn). I then found a long trail of recent songs by those artist that are so damn underground that I, a fan, can’t even find it without extensive searches. I decided to start at the source, the A.C.E.(A Criminal Entity) album. There wasn’t much info on the internet about him but he seems to be from New Jersey. His voice has more than a passing resemblance to Saigon. He tends to wax prophetic like Saigon as well, but neither of those are bad things. The whole album feels familiar, actually. There’s a few tracks that have spacey vibes like early Heltah Skeltah or Biggie. He has some darker tracks like Big Pun or B-side NAS. Tonedeff’s production is straight out of 90’s New York, even the instrumental interludes are solid beats. This helps make it a very cohesive album. While there are a handful of songs like “Revolution” “Life On The Line” “Antithesis” and “New Beginning” that will definitely stay in my rotation, none of the album seems like filler. If you like anything you’ve heard and need some new, REAL hip-hop I would seriously suggest this album.
Bonus Track: A.C.E. - Fear and Loathing
A new Tarantino film is always a treat. There were plenty of scandals and rumors surrounding this film, but the only one that piqued my interest was hearing that it took place in the “Django Universe”. My personal favorite Tarantino films are his new(er) action-heavy pictures like Kill Bill, Basterds and Django, and I was expecting this one to follow in suit. Seeing the trailer laid that assumption to rest, depicting just a single location and less than a dozen characters total. It seemed like Tarantino doing Clue, and I was fine with that. Hateful Eight did not disappoint. It has well developed characters, a tense soundtrack and dark humor, everything we’ve come to expect from him. He’s truly on his A-game here. This movie is not like Django though. It’s actually more like a spiritual successor to Reservoir Dogs. It’s a “talker”. There is some amazing action, but really, about 90% of this film’s 3hr. runtime is jaw jacking. Even considering that, I’m hard pressed to find anything wrong with this movie. It may not be my favorite type of Tarantino film, but it is still far superior to most Hollywood offerings. Tarantino has always had masterfully compiled soundtracks, mostly containing existing music. This is his most originally scored film, but it really doesn’t miss a beat. The composer kept the tension high with a familiar sound motif reminiscent of Basterds and Django. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tim Roth’s performance. For an actor that usually plays hardened crooks and such, he actually provides a lot of the comic relief. In a room full of heavyweight actors I think he managed to steal every shot he was in.
CAUTION| Major spoilers for Star Wars:Force Awakens, Kanan:The Last Padawan and Journey to Star Wars:Force Awakens-Shattered Empire |CAUTION
The Force Awakens was a really well done movie. Though it was somewhat derivative of the original trilogy, I feel that familiarity helped ease the transition into the new movies. It’s already crushed most domestic records, and is well on its way to being the highest grossing film ever. When going to see Hateful Eight tonight, nearly a month after SW’s release, most showings were still selling out. Even without being a diehard SW fan I’ve still enjoyed most of what LucasArts has created in the life of the franchise, but the comics have never interested me all that much. Now that “The Sovereign Nation of Disney” owns both Marvel and LucasArts though, it’s allowed the top creators in the industry to tell original, canonical SW stories. Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka & Marco Checchetto is a four issue miniseries that follows two starfighters just moments after The Battle of Endor. The empire’s lack of upper-management hasn’t stopped the seemingly infinite amount of Stormtroopers, officers, crimson guard, etc. from oppressing the galactic population. The two pilots(Shara Bey & Kes Dameron) are a couple with a young son named Poe, who we know as ace x-wing pilot Poe Dameron thirty years later in Force Awakens. While he’s not featured in the comic, I mention him because I noticed a few interesting things that may relate to his and Rey’s family background. Now this is where we get into spoiler territory, you’ve been warned. In the story, Poe’s father(Kes) goes with Han Solo on mission while his mother(Shara) goes with Luke Skywalker. I had noticed that Shara Bey had the same haircut as Rey, as well as having a similarly spelled name(Rey/Bey). I began to suspect that Poe’s father would not survive his mission, leaving Shara widowed and in the company of the most powerful being in the known galaxy(Luke). Long story short, Kes does survive and reunites with Shara, but I’m still under the impression that Poe and Rey are siblings, even if Luke isn’t her father. I'm definitely looking forward to this storyline developing. The art in this book is some of the most gorgeous stuff you’ll find in comics today, but over-all the story(while well written) just doesn’t amount to much. The bigger surprise for me was actually Kanan:The Last Padawan by Greg Weisman & Pepe Larraz. Two creators I’m not familiar with telling the story of Caleb Dume(Kanan Jarrus), the only surviving padawan of Order 66. Some of you may recognize Kanan as one of the main characters of Star Wars:Rebels on DisneyXD. I haven’t watched the show but Clone Wars was an amazing feat in intellectual property adaptation, so I’m sure it’s of a certain level of quality at least. Luckily, the comic is pretty stand-alone from the rest of the story. It takes place right after the slaughter of the Jedi and follows Kanan as he runs from his former clonetrooper brothers-in-arms. This leads him into a life of piracy(see Han Solo) but really gives an introspective look at someone who has absolutely nothing left and isn’t safe anywhere in the galaxy. The character building is handled very well and really left me wanting to know more about his story. The art is a great cartoony style with a heavy line á la Paco Medina or Mahmud Asrur. Next, I’m going to start into the main books like Star Wars, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca which all have positive reviews, so that should make for a good second installment of this column.
I've been circling around ideas for a personal blog for awhile. I'm hesitant to call it "daily" but that's the goal at least. So I needed a subject that was consistently interesting for myself and any poor soul reading this. I can easily run off at the keyboard about comic books, hip-hop music, podcasts, movies, etc., but I'd eventually get bored focusing on any one of them. Being the entertainment enthusiast(media whore) I am, I usually see the new movies, play the new games, read the weekly comics and watch an unhealthy amount of TV. This puts me in a position to offer completely biased, unsolicited, and certainly, unqualified opinions. More importantly, this leaves me open to just ramble about whatever shiny object is stealing my attention at the moment. Resisting the urge to start with Fargo Season 2(trust me, you'll hear plenty about it) I'm going with a very unlikely subject, The Green Elephant restaurant in Portsmouth, NH. What makes this an unlikely choice is that first, I've been in the restaurant business for more than a decade as both cook and server, so my opinion is far more *eh-hmm* qualified than most. The second reason is that the Green Elephant is a vegetarian establishment, and not only do I enjoy most of the animals of the edible variety, but I've also poked playful fun at vegetarians for years. I'm not going to change, literally, any of my lifestyle because of this visit, but I thought it beared mentioning. After trying a plethora of dishes I would say this restaurant could hold its own with some of the better places in the area. By collecting a hodge-podge of the best vegetarian dishes from different cultures(mostly asian) and some vegan mind tricks they made G.E. extremely approachable for omnivores. Some normal complaints about vegetarian dishes can be about texture or that they're not filling. They solve both these problems by frying pretty much everything to a crisp. While the different items were packed with levels of flavor, nothing seemed overwrought or greesy. Good local beer choices and an enjoyable atmosphere really cinched it. Now, I'm gonna go eat the leftovers but I appreciate you making it this far and I look forward to sharing my experiences(obsessions) with you in the future. Feel free to comment or even drop your own reviews in the Comments section below.