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Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Best of 2012 – The Year in Review

Best of 2012

We have now reached the end of the year, a time that we can now look back and think about our favorite moments of the year. I will use this post to capture my favorite experiences of the year, looking at my personal list of the best movies, games, and albums of the year. I will award the best movie, video game, and album with “___ of the Year” honors and also give out some special awards and mention runners-up. Let’s begin:

Top 5 Films of 2012

5. Cloud Atlas

4. Looper

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild

2. Prometheus

2012 Film of the Year

Moonrise Kingdom poster

1. Moonrise Kingdom

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Top 5 Video Games of 2012

5. Mass Effect 3

4. The Walking Dead

3. Far Cry 3

2. Journey

2012 Game of the Year:

358162-borderlands-2

1. Borderlands 2

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Top 5 Albums of 2012

5. Sigur Rós – “Valtari”

4. Circa Survive – “Violent Waves”

3. Bloc Party – “Four”

2. Caspian – “Waking Season”

2012 Album of the Year

btbam-parallax-ii

1. Between the Buried and Me – “The Parallax II: Future Sequence”

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Runners-Up and Special Awards

Sleeper Hit of the Year

Caspian - Waking Season

Caspian is a band that I know many are not familiar with. Post-rock in and of itself is a niche genre, yet there exists so much talent and great music within its sounds. Case in point, Caspian’s latest release, “Waking Season”. I have greatly enjoyed their past work, with “You Are The Conductor” being one of my favorite post-rock albums. Yet, “Waking Season” astonished me with its wonderful progressions and its ability to evoke so much emotion through its sounds. Do yourself a favor and listen to “Procellous” or “Halls of Summer” and experience the wonder that Caspian has to offer in this album (that few will hear, I’m sure). You can see my full review of this album here.

Disappointment of the Year

With controls that remain clunky, repetitive gameplay, and an extremely poor ending, the much-anticipated Assassin’s Creed III is an average game that could have been so much more. You can see my full review here.

Surprise of the Year

I had low expectations for Argo going in, and was completely surprised to experience a tense story, exceptional writing, and some great cinematography. Argo is a great film, and if not for my soft spot for sci-fi (Prometheus), would be one of my Top 5 Film of the Year.

I had low expectations for Argo going in, and was completely surprised to experience a tense story, exceptional writing, and some great cinematography. Argo is a great film, and if not for strong competition, would be one of my top 5 films of the year (full review, here).

The Couple’s Choice Award

Ruby Sparks Poster

Award and discussion courtesy of my fiance: “‘Ruby Sparks’ is the perfect film for a date night. Its unique storyline and fun-loving characters make it a film that brings something to the table for men and women alike. It has romance, comedy, and drama all wrapped together in a well-written script. Every guy or girl has dreamed of creating their perfect other half, and this film displays both the positive and negative aspects to having someone tailored to your exact specifications [not that I’m complaining 😉 ].”

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And with that I bid farewell to 2012 and look forward to 2013, a year that seems to have a good deal of interesting projects in store (“Bioshock Infinite”, “The Last of Us”, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, “Man of Steel”, and “The Afterman: Descension” are a few of those that I am looking forward to). I hope you enjoyed this past year of great releases as much as I have, and hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year.

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“Django Unchained” (2012) Review

Django_Unchained_Poster

There is a section in my film library for all Quentin Tarantino films. His past films have all been thrilling, with not a bad one among the bunch. That being said, I have been looking forward to “Django Unchained” for quite some time. The combination of spaghetti western and Tarantino’s style completely captured my attention my first time seeing the trailer. Is this one of the best films of the year, and where does it stand amongst Tarantino’s other work?

I have to start by saying that this might be my least-enjoyed Tarantino film. “Django Unchained” is a mixture of classic Tarantino highs and some very poor lows. Leaving the theater, I was unsure of how I really felt about the film do to this stark contrast in quality. In the end, the good outweighs the bad, but not enough to bring the film to the same level as other Tarantino classics.

I will admit I have always felt the weakest aspect of past Tarantino films has been the plot. His films have great characters that drive the film, but the storyline the characters are involved in is not all that great. “Django Unchained” is no exception. The first sequence of the film wraps up a short storyline regarding one set of bounties. From there on out, we follow a western-style, Civil War era re-imagining of the German “Broomhilda” legend (something that is plainly spelled out for the viewer in one scene). Yet, for the average plot, the characters are greatly detailed and make the almost 3-hour journey worthwhile. Each character is fully three-dimensional, and have their own reasons and mindsets that grow and evolve throughout the film (though I still felt like Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen came right out of the Clayton Bigsby “Chappelle’s Show” skit).

Speaking of characters, two things Tarantino has always done so well are getting the best out of his cast and creating some excellent dialogue. Here is where “Django Unchained” soars. Christoph Waltz captures the same brilliance he did in “Inglorious Bastards”, Jamie Foxx is a great fit as Django, and Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance I have ever seen out of him. Further, the dialogue exchanged between the cast is expertly crafted. In fact, I’d go so far to say that this is the most well-written movie of the year (ahead of “The Sessions”). These two pieces – acting and dialogue – are two major high points of the film and help drown out the lesser aspects of the film.

I'm not a big DiCaprio fan, but Leo gives an incredible performance as Calvin Candie, one I'd say is the best of his career.

I’m not a big DiCaprio fan, but Leo gives an incredible performance as Calvin Candie, one I’d say is the best of his career.

One of these lesser aspects is the pacing. I have no issue with the nearly three-hour runtime, but rather with how the story is spread out over this time span. The first sequence of the film, revolving around Django and Dr. Schultz meeting and first bounties, moves so swiftly that neither character has time to really settle-in and develop (the quality dialogue does not make up for character development). This stands in stark contrast to the “Broomhilda” branch of the story, which feels entirely too drawn out compared to this rushed intro.

Another negative is the thematic tone and feel of the film. There are scenes that play too lightly with themes that should be serious, and others where seriousness takes hold over sequences that could be lighter in tone. The film just doesn’t seem to strike a balance with what it wants to do. One minute you have a theme that is played with humorously and soon after, the film expects you to take the exact same thing seriously. This detracts from the plot as well.

One last piece of the film that needs to be mentioned is the soundtrack. This is a perfect example of the wide spectrum of quality throughout the film. On one hand, we have tracks like the opening Django theme song that are absolutely awesome. On the other, some hip-hop tracks that come out of nowhere and do not fit the tone of the scenes.

I’m still divided on “Django Unchained”. Part of me enjoyed the Tarantino feel throughout the film, including the incredibly over-the-top final action sequences [Side note/warning: Most of the film is over-the-top in the violence and controversy departments, even by Tarantino standards]. But for all the great scenes and dialogue, there are many things that bring the overall film down. It is by no means a poor film, but measured against Tarantino’s prior history, “Django Unchained” falls short.

Final Score: 7.2/10

“Sound of My Voice” (2011) Review

Sound of My Voice Cover

 

After seeing “Another Earth”, I knew there was something special about the lead actress and co-writer, Brit Marling (you can read my review of that wonderful sci-fi film here).  In “Sound of My Voice”, Brit does double duty again, both co-writing and starring as the cult leader, Maggie. The plot is relatively straightforward – a substitute teacher, Peter, and his girlfriend, Lorna, look to infiltrate and make a documentary exposing cult leader, Maggie, who claims to be from the future, as a fraud. Maggie claims to have traveled back in time to prepare a group of people for a coming civil war apocalypse. This is the film’s central premise, but not where its magic lies.

While this plot setting is a nice set-up for the film, the best and worst parts of this story are in its ambiguity. Throughout the film, there are many pieces of information presented at the viewer, and none of these neither truly confirm nor deny Maggie’s claims that she is a time traveler. Thus, as the film progresses, the viewer feels just like Peter and Lorna in that we are trying to figure this situation out for ourselves, as well. The spell that Maggie is able to cast upon her followers seems quite real, yet our rational side denies that there exists any truth to her stories. This feeling of being unsure is exactly what you are supposed to feel.

All of the many scenes in the film, ranging from intense and repulsive to subtle and ambiguous, all can be interpreted in different ways, depending on how you feel about Maggie. This is a wonderful touch, and due to some great writing, you are kept on the edge of your seat with each new test and revelation. Yet, for how great the vast majority of the film is, the ending suffers. I don’t mind ambiguity in endings, as when done right, they are wonderful (as in “Another Earth”). Here, however, the film ends short of developing some of its characters enough to be able to create a coherent puzzle at the end. With out spoiling anything, some characters, outside of Maggie, seem like their words are not truthful either, yet we are not given enough interaction with these characters to make any interpretation of their actions, and how they play into the story as a whole. I surely hope the sequel talk for this film is true, as there are many pieces that could be explored.

Brit Marling is a natural pick for the role of Maggie. The ability to draw the audience in during her monologues in "Another Earth" makes her perfect to act as the central figure of a cult.

Brit Marling is a natural pick for the role of Maggie. The ability to draw the audience in during her monologues in “Another Earth” makes her perfect to act as the central figure of a cult.

Outside of the story, the acting is nicely done. Brit Marling is just as wonderful as she was in “Another Earth”. She becomes wholly believable as Maggie, playing the role with such skill that the audience is drawn into her “spell” just as much as her followers. The supporting cast does a nice job lending more credibility to the story.

One thing I didn’t notice throughout the film was its soundtrack. This is not necessarily a downside, as I think the quietness throughout many scenes fits nicely, as most scenes take place in the solitude of the basement of a home. Speaking of the basement, there is some nice cinematography in the film. The ability to create such tension in the environment and development of the story with half of the film taking place in a single basement requires just as much out of the director behind the camera, as it does of the writing and acting, and Zal Batmanglij does a nice job with such a small budget and minimal environment changes.

“Sound of My Voice” is an interesting sci-fi film. It is a simple premise filled with ambiguity that leaves the interpretation of its pieces completely in the hands of the viewer. You are left having to go with your gut in how you feel about Maggie and her story, and that is the biggest strength of the film. Yet, with all this ambiguity, it leaves its story too open that when the ending strikes quickly, the viewer is left with fundamental questions that need to be somewhat answered to create a fully cohesive story. Despite fumbling at the end, Brit Marling remains a talent to watch out for in the future, one whose next collaboration with Zal Batmanglij, called “The East”, I am highly anticipating.

Final Score: 7.4/10

“Halo 4” Review

Halo-4-Box-Art

I have always felt the Halo series was overhyped. The story was decent, the graphics nothing astounding, and the gameplay your standard FPS fare. To me, the hype came as a result of it being the first big online competitive multiplayer FPS for consoles, and people stuck with it. I played through the series, from the original to part 3, from ODST to Reach, and even the RTS Halo Wars. Yet, I still never bought into Halo being a top-tier FPS experience. With a new company at the helm of development, how does this most recent entry compare?

I can start by saying that the changes made to the story direction are the best thing to happen to the series under 343 Industries. This new approach builds much more characterization around Master Chief and Cortana, and delves much deeper into their relationship. This is a great step forward for the series as the player now begins to view Master Chief as more than a “machine” as Cortana mentions at one point in this game. Further, this first entry in the Reclaimer story is as epic as ever and retains the feeling of a massive space conflict while introducing more backstory on the Forerunners. The story has its ups and downs and is, by far, the best in any of the games bearing the Halo name.

The visuals in the game have also changed from recent entries. The enemies, weapons, and vehicles all bear their classic look, but the view from Master Chief’s eyes feels different. This is by no means a bad thing, as the graphics on the whole are phenomenal, with some great lighting effects, great explosion and particle effects, nice texture work, and some amazing CGI story sequences. For the praise Halo has gotten in the past for its graphics, this is the first entry that I really believe has been above the norm for the time of its release.

This wonderful presentation continues to the audio work. The soundtrack is appropriately epic and fits each section very well. Few shooters really have fitting and high quality soundtracks and this is one example of an FPS soundtrack done right. Further, the sound effects for each weapon and vehicle are top-notch. Each gun’s sound gives weight to the weapon and enhances the feel of them.

The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana is developed much depper than previous entries and becomes a focal point of "Halo 4", a nice change for the series.

The relationship between Master Chief and Cortana is explored much more deeply than previous entries and becomes a focal point of “Halo 4”, a nice change for the series.

For all of these improvements, one area where this game does feel like prior entries is the gameplay. This is not a negative as the controls feel as smooth as ever. Taking on hordes of enemy forces is still simple and satisfying. In “Halo 4”, you will meet some new enemy types as you progress in addition to the classic Covenant forces. Some of these new enemies really take a pounding before they go down, and with that, there is a good amount of new weapons to try out as well. These new weapons have your standard properties of SMG, shotgun, etc. but still enhance the gameplay nicely. One thing I will say is that “Halo 4” really keeps you on your toes, as ammo is often sparse for the many weapons, so you must constantly adapt to the situation and make use of whatever you can (sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating). To break up the constant action, there are some nice vehicle sections that actually have decent controls. On the whole, the only real downside to the gameplay is that the player has a minimal amount of interaction in the final confrontation with the villain. There is a great, epic battle right before, but once you reach the villain, it becomes cutscenes and a few button prompts.

Looking at the full package, the campaign is a great experience, and the best campaign in any Halo game. To add to the depth of this game, you also have some very competitive multiplayer that Halo has always been known for. A few new modes change up the experience, but this is more of the same multiplayer many fans have always enjoyed. There is also a nice episodic co-op campaign, called Spartan Ops, that will feature a multitude of new episodes over the coming months.

As a whole, this is easily the best Halo franchise entry. The story is one of the best I’ve played in any recent FPS, the presentation is outstanding, and the game itself plays nicely. There is also a large amount of content to keep you coming back after the campaign, as well. There are only a few negatives for this game, and any shooter fan should pick this game up. It seems that under the control of newcomer 343 Industries the Halo series has finally become a top-tier shooter experience.

Story: 9.5/10

Graphics: 9/10

Sound: 9.5/10

Gameplay: 9/10

Final Score: 9.3/10

“Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask” Review

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask cover

If you’ve played one “Professor Layton” game, you know what you’re getting yourself into. Puzzles, eccentric characters, and a town full of mysteries all await you in the newest outing, “Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask”. With the Professor making the transition to 3D, does this latest entry live up to the series standards?

Having experienced all of the prior games in the Layton series, I will start by saying the “Miracle Mask” is not the best entry in the series’ story, but might be the most well-developed entry. The main storyline takes a similar path as prior entries – the Professor receives a letter asking for his assistance in a pressing matter plaguing a town. A series of mysteries appear to be solved, and the Professor is always up to the task. The one downside to this entry’s plot is that the answer to the main mystery becomes quite apparent early on, with you having figured out the answer while the rest of the cast is still unsure. Yet, the other mysteries remain surprising when the answers are revealed, and even though the main mystery is not a shocker, it is still very well done. This is mainly a result of the great relationships developed between the characters over the course of the game, and the more personal nature of this entry.

As the story follows the usual Layton formula, so does the gameplay. Many puzzles await to be solved, though this collection of puzzles is one of the easier sets in the series. To complement these puzzles is an array of side activities to do, from robot mazes, to rabbit training, to running a shop. This leaves a good amount of gameplay to be enjoyed outside of the main story. One nice change made to the series in this entry is the addition of new gameplay elements. For example, one section has you chasing the main villain on horseback, dodging obstacles, while another section controls like a top-down dungeon crawler. These additions break the pace of the usual point-and-click style sequence and are a nice evolution of the classic Layton gameplay.

The transition into 3D character models is a smooth one for the Professor, and adds nicely to the overall story presentation.

The transition to 3D character models is a smooth one for the Professor, and adds nicely to the overall story presentation.

As far as the graphics go, Layton has made the leap to three-dimensional character models. At most points, the standard 2D models and hand-drawn backdrops are still there, but certain scenes allow these 3D figures to take stage. The series could benefit from using more of these 3D models, as they look great amidst the carefully crafted city.

Lastly, the sound work must be mentioned. The Layton series has always had top-notch voice work, and this entry is no exception. The main cast sound great, and all the eccentric characters have voices to match their quirks. As far as the soundtrack goes, “Miracle Mask” features more high quality compositions alongside some standard Layton tunes that, together with the nicely crafted story, make the experience even better.

As usual, the latest Professor Layton entry is a high quality puzzle game with a great story.

Story: 8.5/10

Graphics: 8.5/10

Sound: 9/10

Gameplay: 8.5/10

Final Score: 8.5/10

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) Review

The Hobbit Poster

I have been looking forward to these last few weeks of the year due to three film releases I have been highly anticipating, “The Hobbit” being one of them (“The Impossible” and “Django Unchained”, the others). Yet, I have been cautious about getting my hopes up for this film. I thoroughly enjoy the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but have had worries as to how Peter Jackson was going to stretch one book over 3 films (3 approximately 3-hour films, at that) and what pacing issues would occur. Does “The Hobbit” live up to the excellence of the original trilogy?

Let me start by saying that the scenes are still epic, many characters return, and Gandalf is still awesome. The cinematography is absolutely stunning throughout the film, and there are plenty of astonishing set pieces and some aggressive camera work. Every movement is captured wonderfully at the increased frame rate of 48 frames per second. Further, the CGI work is incredible as well.

On top of the visuals, there is also some great sound work. The soundtrack consists of high quality epic fantasy fare, complimenting the highs and lows of the journey, and the voice acting for the CGI characters is well done. Yet, where the sound design and editing really succeeds is in the clashing of blades, cries of animals, and environmental noises. The action sounds (and looks) so nice that it really brings the journey to life.

In terms of plot, “An Unexpected Journey” follows the path of the original Lord of the Rings films as a trilogy. Certainly some scenes could have been cut to cut down on film length, but I don’t think the film really feels long at all. That being said, my uneasiness over pacing was for naught. The movie may be slow in the beginning as it builds its background, but once it begins moving, it is paced well. The journey of Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf, and the dwarves is not on the same scale as that of the original trilogy, but has a personal touch, combined with nice embellishment of high fantasy genre standards, that make it compelling to watch. The one downside I can say for the story is that for all the great interwoven stories, there is no resolution to any of them in this film. I know this is a trilogy, and the ending has me anticipating the next film, but I wish some story would have been resolved to make this feel like a more substantial entry for a trilogy.

Gandalf is as freaking badass as ever. Ian McKellen remains (and has always been) an incredible actor.

Gandalf is as freaking badass as ever. Ian McKellen remains (and has always been) an incredible actor.

Lastly, I will say that the acting is above average. Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis remain perfect as Gandalf and Gollum, and Martin Freeman does a nice job in his role as Bilbo. The band of dwarves are standard for their parts, but nothing too special. But, I still have to again praise Andy Serkis’ motion capture talent. He is the premiere mo-cap talent in the industry and it shows each time he is involved with a project (here, Gollum is wonderfully animated as always, despite his minimal screen time).

Overall, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is shaping up to be a nice trilogy and worthy prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film does not quite reach the magic of the original films (yet) – the setting, scenes, and story are missing the grandiosity of those films, and the characters not as compelling – but it is still a great high fantasy adventure. Those fans of the Lord of the Rings should very much enjoy the film, along with fans of high fantasy settings.

Final Score: 8.0/10

Side Note: I saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 3D, a viewing experience you know I am not a fan of. However, I have to say that this is the first film I’ve seen that the 3D does not actually detract from the viewing experience (outside of a few first scenes, where blurring occurs with some swift camera movement and quick shots), and at times actually looks quite nice. It is by no means necessary to see the film in 3D, but don’t feel hesitant if you are not a big 3D fan.

“Assassin’s Creed III” Review

Assassin's Creed III Game Cover

I have always had a mixed experience with the “Assassin’s Creed” series. The games always seemed to feature some great aspects, such as the story, along with some poorer ones, such as finicky and often repetitive gameplay. “Assassin’s Creed III” is a game that moves in a new direction for the series, yet follows in the footsteps, both good and bad, of the prior entries.

The story in the game is above average. Looking at the past and present stories in the game separately, it is easy to say Conner’s struggle during the Revolutionary War is the stronger one. Conner’s path through the war, and conflict with the Templars draws you in and is interesting all the way through. The amount of detail put into recreating the time period is nice as well. The present day story involving Desmond, though, starts well and remains fairly good through the majority of the game. Yet once the final sequence begins, everything falls apart. The ending feels rushed and is quite poor. After building 5 games worth of story, there should have been a more fulfilling conclusion.

For all the good and bad of the story, its presentation is remarkable. The graphics succeed on both a technical and artistic front, with lively cities and settlements and an expansive frontier. Voice acting is top-notch, with veteran Nolan North and newcomer Noah Watts acting as the main characters. Character models are finely detailed and are animated wonderfully. Yet, for how nice the animations are, the transitions from animation to animation are sometimes unnatural and jarring. There are also some hitches here and there, such as character’s faces/mouths not moving during cutscenes, pop-in with the environments, and minor hiccups with textures. I also have to quickly mention the soundtrack, which is the only real low point in the presentation. It is not very present at times and overall, quite unremarkable.

"Assassin's Creed III" is quite a good-looking game, featuring some of the best water effects I've seen in a game

“Assassin’s Creed III” is quite a good-looking game, featuring some of the best water effects I’ve seen in a game

The gameplay is where we hit the biggest mixed bag. On one hand, you are given an extraordinary array of skills and items to accomplish your tasks, yet on the other, you are limited by sticky surfaces and clunky controls. The ability to free-run and climb anywhere is silky smooth at times, and when it works, you feel like an assassin. But at many times, your character jumps to the wrong object or clings to surfaces and objects you don’t even want to touch. This causes issues on its own, but combined with the poor stealth mechanics, makes it far more difficult than it should be to pull off certain stealth moves, or remain undetected. Further, riding on horseback is very restrictive and clunky, as your horse gets rustled by the smallest of objets or height differentials.

When it comes to actual combat, you have a similar situation. Hand-to-hand combat is well-done and a nice balance of countering and looking for an opportunity to strike. Ranged weapons, such as the bow and pistols, are more clumsy in their use. The ability to hit a target that is highlighted with one button is nice, but to actually get the target highlighted is an issue. Yes, there is free-aim, but that in itself is quite clumsy, as well.

One thing I will mention is that there is a wide variety of things to do in “Assassin’s Creed III”. From hunting, to building your homestead, to recruiting settlers to your cause, there is an abundance of activities and quests waiting to be undertaken. Many of these activities are done well, but I feel that the game does a poor job of making them compelling. In games with a wide variety of side activities, the game needs to have some factor that makes the player want to complete them (i.e. “Skyrim” or the recently released “Far Cry 3”) – making the player travel long distances to get to the mission starting points doesn’t help (there is a poor fast travel system). In other words, I could never get lost doing random tasks, completely forgetting about the main story, in this game as I would in the others mentioned.

Overall, ACIII sets itself up to be a great experience. The story pulls you in and grabs your interest from the start, the presentation is wonderful, and when the mechanics work well, you feel like an Assassin. Yet, the experience is often marred by some poor design choices and clumsy controls, along with a rushed ending.

Story: 7.5/10

Graphics: 9/10

Sound: 8/10

Gameplay: 6/10

Final Score: 7/10

“Drive” (2011) Review

Drive Poster

Far too often are action movies focused solely on achieving the biggest explosions, unbelievable car chases, and one-against-the-world type heroes. These films lack the desire to have a plot any more complicated than the villain doing some kind of villainous deed to warrant the hero’s need to see him apprehended. “Drive” takes a different approach to the genre. Here, we have an unlikely hero who, in trying to help out a neighbor, becomes involved in a deadly situation.

One thing becomes obvious as you begin to experience “Drive” – there is minimal dialogue throughout the film. The conversations that do occur are beautifully written, and at times the silence is perfectly suited, but the film does begin to feel barren at times without more interaction. This has a direct influence on the plot of the film.

The plot itself is smartly constructed and wonderfully paced. Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman who also works as a mechanic and a getaway car driver. As he begins to get involved with his neighbor and boss, in trying to get away from his dirtier business, he becomes embroiled in a complicated mob scheme. It is nice to see a (somewhat) ordinary person become the hero through a series of events involving people he just wants to help. The film has some nice twists throughout and is always in constant motion. Even with the minimal dialogue, the relationships between characters are nicely developed and have you invested in their fates. Yet, I still feel that with some more dialogue, some scenes and relationships could have been even better. The movie still succeeds with this approach due to the wonderful work by its cast. Gosling and Mulligan complement each other well, and the villains, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, suit their roles perfectly.

Gosling and Mulligan manage to create some great on-screen chemistry with minimal conversation.

Gosling and Mulligan manage to create some great on-screen chemistry with minimal conversation.

As far as the cinematography goes, there is some great camera work that really accentuates the slick car chase sequences. Even when the action stops, the camera manages to add a nice layer of style to the film. One thing it also captures as well is the brutal violence in various scenes. There are some intense moments and Refn never shies away from showing every grisly detail.

Lastly, one other thing that detracts from parts of the film (like the dialogue) is the soundtrack. At certain points, the soundtrack is wonderful, varying from pulsing synths to laid-back clean tracks. Yet, some scenes have odd choices for sound, and in a film staying low on the dialogue, a more prominent and fitting soundtrack is needed to help give each scene some more weight.

Among the generic action and crime dramas being released, “Drive” stands out with its intelligent writing and plot. Though there some missteps with the dialogue and soundtrack, the film strays from the norm and successfully creates a refreshing crime drama that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

Final Score: 8/10

“The Phantom Pain” – The Next Metal Gear Entry?

The Phantom Pain logo

Not since the “Dead Island” trailer have I become so interested in a game after one short video. Yet, the recently released trailer for “The Phantom Pain” has quickly skyrocketed this game to the front of my list of games to keep an eye on. The trailer itself has been making waves for many reasons, and is intense and cinematic, setting the stage for an incredible game experience. However, there are many quirks to the trailer and the people behind it that make it pretty obvious this is not just a new project from some unknown, fledgling studio.

Here is the trailer for “The Phantom Pain”:

Now, for many video game fans, one thing becomes completely obvious as the trailer moves on. The main character in the trailer bears a striking resemblance to one mullet-toting video game legend, Solid Snake. Another major quirk is that, if you dig a little bit into the studio supposedly responsible for the game, Moby Dick Studio, you find their leader is one Joakim Mogren. Anything unusual there – maybe an anagram for the man who built the legendary Metal Gear series, Hideo Kojima (Kojima = Joakim). There are various other things that point to the extremely high probability we are looking at the next major installment in the Metal Gear franchise (a more expansive list of details that point to this can be found on the NeoGAF forums, here).

This now leaves us with three coming entries in the Metal Gear franchise: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, and this trailer which will likely come to be Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain. As much as I have loved the entire Metal Gear saga, and have been eager to see what Revengeance and Ground Zeroes have in store, this trailer has brought my interest in this game to much higher levels than Revengeance and Ground Zeroes. The intense trailer looks to be another unparalleled experience in gaming, and a nice continuation of the series. I cannot wait to see what comes out of this trailer, and what the final product becomes.

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