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Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Coheed and Cambria – “The Afterman: Descension” Album Review

The Afterman: Descension cover

After Coheed and Cambria’s recent efforts (the unpleasant “Year of the Black Rainbow” and the highs and lows of “The Afterman: Ascension”), I had major doubts that the group could regain any of their former glory. The first part of the Afterman tale showed some glimmers of hope, but still didn’t do it for me. On the flip side, part two is one of Coheed’s finest works.

One thing that really makes “Descension” so good is the feel of the music. This is the first time since “In Keeping Secrets” that a Coheed album doesn’t feel forced at any point. The need to be epic or change styles has made recent efforts feel less natural and takes away some of that raw intensity from their first two works. In “Descension”, the group seems to let the music write itself, rather than mold the music to the story – and this makes a positive impact on the album as a whole.

The album opens with “Pretelethal”, a straightforward passage that serves as a decent intro to the coming excellence. This is quickly followed by “Key Entity Extract V”, a heavier track with a classic Coheed feel. The combo of palm-muted and ringing chords in the main riff follows a nice rhythm, while the song follows with a heavy chorus. The track breaks at points to return to an acoustic lick and some heavier breakdowns, proving to be one of the more progressive songs on the album. In fact, the album actually is less progressive in nature than the group’s previous works – while this may sound like a deterrent, the album easily succeeds with its less-progressive nature. Also, in this first main track, Claudio puts forth some great vocals. This carries through to the whole album with Claudio showcasing the vocal abilities I have always enjoyed and felt were lacking in recent efforts (including “Ascension”).

Next up, is “The Hard Sell”. I cannot prepare you for this track in this review (you can check out the song here). The mix of varying rhythms, chunky guitar riffs, and searing vocals make this my favorite song on the album and (IMO) one of Coheed’s best. The song may be linear, but the way the song evolves is incredible. Once over, the listener is thrown right into “Number City”. This song feels like the group really allowed the music to take over. By no means a conventional Coheed song, “Number City” feels different along the lines of “Once Upon Your Dead Body” or “Blood Red Summer”. It effortlessly blends many genres to create a highly unique track that ends in one of Claudio’s most infectious vocal melodies.

Moving on, we come to “Gravity’s Union”, the album’s heaviest and longest track at nearly 7 minutes. “Gravity’s Union” has a “Final Cut” feel to it along with some styles of “In Keeping Secrets”, though with a much more progressive song structure. After the track weighs you down with its heaviness, however, the album takes you into its lighter side, beginning with “Away We Go”. There’s not much to say about this track – it is a straightforward rock ballad (not bad, but not great).

Following this we enter a two-track series of “Iron Fist” and “Dark Side of Me”. “Iron Fist” is a lighter track, but still quite powerful. Zach Cooper replaced Mic Todd on bass for this album, and while his talents are great throughout, he really shines on this song. His bass lines in “Iron Fist” really bring the track to life, and once the full instrumentation lets loose toward the end (including Claudio’s voice) the song swirls into melodic harmony. To follow “Iron Fist”, Coheed presents “Dark Side of Me”, the most emotional song on the album. While it may be another linear track, it is expertly crafted and contains the album’s most anthemic chorus.

After all of these movements, the album closes with “2’s My Favorite 1”, an upbeat track that rounds the album off nicely. While not particularly impressive on its own, the song closes with a nicely written outro to close out the two-album story – one that brings back feelings of “Ascension” opening, “The Hollow”.

For “Descension”, the whole group has really stepped it up. Claudio’s guitar work and impressive vocals, Josh’s fluid rhythms, Travis’ lead work, and newcomer Zach Cooper’s bass chops are all combined nicely into some of the group’s best work. Zach fits in nicely with the band, and his style sounds better than Mic’s (not that Mic was a bad fit). On the whole, Coheed and Cambria seem to have relaxed on this album, allowing their own personalities to shape the music. As I had said, this is their most natural feeling album since their early days, and in not trying to change or force their sound, the band has crafted an excellent album tied together by some nice dialogue sections. While not as progressive as their prior body of work, these tracks accomplish a lot without needing that progression. Anyone who is a fan of Coheed, or rock/alternative music should easily find something on the album to enjoy. Here’s hoping the group don’t return to the dark days of “Year of the Black Rainbow”.

Final Score: 8.4/10

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Thoughts on the 85th Annual Academy Awards

85th Academy Awards

Now that the 85th Annual Academy Awards have come to a close, I want to take a quick look back at tonight’s ceremony. On the whole, the show was better than I had anticipated, though I can’t say I agree with some of the awards (everyone has their own favorites). That being said, I’d like to share my thoughts that I had throughout tonight’s show. As these are disjointed, this will be more of a list than a flowing post. Here goes:

    • Starting off, a solid win for Christoph Waltz, an extremely talented actor.
    • I like the move to the “Jaws” theme as the wrap-it-up queue. Idea for next year – keep the music and bring in a “Jaws” recreation that pops out of the stage at the award recipient scaring them off the stage once they ramble a decent amount into the theme song.
    • How did Helen Hunt get nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar, but John Hawkes didn’t get a Best Actor nod?
    • Also, how did Dwight Henry not get a Best Supporting Actor nod?
    • While I’m on a roll, why is “Cloud Atlas” missing from the nominees, especially in the make-up department? And one nomination for “Moonrise Kingdom”? Seriously?
    • Shirley Bassey nailed “Goldfinger”, even now, so many years after her original Bond recordings. Enjoyed her much more than Adele (who still did a decent job with the vocally underwhelming “Skyfall” theme)
    • Speaking of singing, the cast of “Les Miserables” did a nice job live….. Russell Crowe, not so much (please, Russell, stop singing)
    • A tie for sound editing? How does the Academy not pick one winner. If there was a tie vote, then I think they should have a second vote removing the other nominees. If that still ends in a tie, or all else fails, have the two nominees have an on-stage contest of some sort to decide who wins – joust, rock-paper-scissors, something…
    • I’m glad “Lincoln” didn’t sweep the awards like I was anticipating. Personally, I am not a fan of Daniel Day Lewis’ voice, nor Tommy Lee Jones’ completely fake-looking hairstyle.
    • And yet, for some reason, “Life of Pi” played the role I thought “Lincoln” would have occupied in receiving a bombardment of awards. I still don’t understand why the film received so much praise.
    • Seth MacFarlane was actually a decent host. With the downhill slope “Family Guy” has been on for a while, I was unsure how he would do, but I really didn’t mind him.
    • Nothing against Jennifer Lawrence (a talented actress), but I’d take any other nominee in that category before her to win Best Actress for their roles.
    • Continuing on the leading roles, I have to say that the group of nominees for Best Actor was weak this year (in my opinion). Out of the given group, I’d take Jackman easily…. Still, this was Hawkes’ award.
    • Jack Nicholson is crazy, as always.
    • Finally, at least “Argo” won Best Picture ahead of “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi”. Still would’ve taken “Beasts of the Southern Wild” any day, but not bad, Academy.

There you have some of my random thoughts on the Oscar ceremony. I hope you enjoyed the show, and hopefully, some of your favorite films won. Let me know which of your favorites won and who you thought should have won in the comments.

“Side Effects” (2013) Review

Side Effects poster

Though not being a major fan of Steven Soderbergh in the past (the “Ocean’s” films never really did anything for me), his recent effort in “Contagion” was a uniquely thrilling film. That being said, after “Side Effects” popped up on my radar, I was instantly intrigued by another thriller set in the medical world. If you have any interest in “Side Effects”, you will likely not be disappointed, though the film is not without its flaws.

Starting out, the plot of “Side Effects” feels too contrived and exaggerated. As someone working in the pharmaceutical industry, the plot felt like too much of a stretch for the first 20-30 minutes or so. Stick with it, though, and the true nature of the plot begins to unfold through many unexpected twists and turns. As the characters develop and their intentions come to light, the story in “Side Effects” becomes a complex web that Soderbergh spins skillfully. If you work in the medical field, pieces of the plot become even more interesting. Either way, Soderbergh has an absorbing plot here, as the characters are well-designed and the developments, while still somewhat farfetched, keep you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out the next plot twist.

With the characters being well-written for the film, it helps that the cast does a great job of making each scene intense and believable (for the most part). Relative newcomer Rooney Mara delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor. As I’ve said before, I have become a big fan of actress Brit Marling over the past year due to some great work, and Rooney Mara feels like a lesser version of Marling (I mean this as a compliment to Rooney, not a detriment). Jude Law also does a wonderful job as always. The one who really brings the cast down, however, is Channing Tatum. I was hoping that being in a more sophisticated release, and with Soderbergh behind the camera, Tatum would bring something to the table that I hadn’t seen out of him. Needless to say, he didn’t – even the scene that should have been his most emotional left me groaning inside. Still, Tatum doesn’t get a large amount of screen time, so the rest of the cast are able to shine.

Relative newcomer, Rooney Mara, delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor.

Relative newcomer, Rooney Mara, delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor.

Another thing that “Side Effects” really has going for it is its cinematography. Soderbergh does a great job with some wonderful lighting and color saturation. Combined with his usual knack for quick movements and cuts and you’re left with quite a well done film. Not to mention, Soderbergh produces a really cool way to tie together the opening and closing sequences of the film.

To augment the cinematography and bring the whole film together, there is a well-crafted soundtrack. From calm to intense, the music varies to match each situation nicely. This is one film of the recent ones I’ve seen whose soundtrack I actually noticed as a highlight.

“Side Effects” is another nice entry into Soderbergh’s body of work. It has many good things going for it, and for the most part, really succeeds at being an interesting thriller. Yet, for all its good pieces, there is enough bad to keep it from being really great, or reaching the level of “Contagion”. For those who enjoyed “Contagion”, or looking for a tense thriller, “Side Effects” will be a great experience. Though it stumbles early, once it gets going it is hard to not become embroiled in its twists and turns.

Final Score – 8.0/10

Thoughts on the Playstation 4 Press Conference

Playstation 4 reveal date

 

With speculation running rampant over the past few months, it seemed everyone had some piece of information or supposed details regarding next generation consoles. Would they block used games, be priced exorbitantly high, or be released this year? Well, Sony decided to strike first in the next generation battle between themselves and Microsoft (I know Nintendo truly “struck first” with their Wii U release, but compared to what Sony and Microsoft are moving towards, and the Wii U being more of a “catch-up” console, I am of the belief that Nintendo is going to eventually be left in the dust in the console race). Here are the main highlights of the conference, and some key features we now know and still don’t know about the Playstation 4:

What We Know

  1. New Controller Design – With many leaks regarding the Dualshock 4, we have now finally seen the design of the new controller. The design is similar to the standard Dualshock 3, with a small touch-pad on the top-center, and the inclusion of a “share” button that will allow users to easily share live game play streams or upload videos to Facebook. The controller has some extra additions including a headphone jack, built-in speaker, and LED light bar that can adjust color based on in-game queues (such as a character being low on health).
  2. Release Date – While we weren’t given an exact date, we were given a solid window. The Playstation 4 will be released for the holiday season this year, 2013. I’m assuming a November release would be most likely, though that can easily change based on Microsoft’s moves.
  3. Hardware Specs – I’ll get straight to the point, here. Sony reports the PS4 will have a custom designed chip with eight Jaguar x86-64  cores, arranged as two clusters of four. A big improvement has been made to the GPU with the new console having an 18 compute unit array that is much easier for developers to utilize and is capable of producing 1.84 teraflops of processing power. Add to this 8GB of GDDR5 memory and it seems that Sony is dead-set on making the Playstation 4 a powerful machine whose capabilities are easier tapped compared to the complex Playstation 3 system.
  4. The Console Will Play Used Games – Despite rumors to the contrary, Sony made it clear in an interview with Eurogamer that they will not block used games on its upcoming console.
  5. A Big Library of Games in Development – Many developers have been announced with projects for the PS4, with games revealed including a new “Final Fantasy” title from Square-Enix, “Diablo III” from Blizzard, “Destiny” from Bungie, sequels to “Infamous” and “Killzone”, and a host of new IPs.
  6. Other Details – Some other things we learned about Sony’s new console is that it will have both Vita and smartphone connectivity. The Vita may be used for remote play, while your iPhone/iPad can download an app that will allow you to purchase new content when not in front of your console among other features. The system will have USB 3.0 ports (unknown how many). Also, a nice addition, is the new low-power “suspend” mode that will allow users to put the console in a low-power state when finished with their session and when ready to resume playing, pick up right where they left off.
A look at the revealed Playstation 4 controller with its touchscreen seen in the top-middle.

A look at the revealed Playstation 4 controller with its touchscreen seen in the top-middle.

What We Don’t Know

  1. Pricing – Sony has strategically decided to wait until Microsoft makes a move to release its pricing scheme for the system. With reports ranging from $400 to upwards of $600, speculation will still continue on this key point. Based on their wait and watch attitude, Sony seems to have learned from its past mistakes with the PS3 and will likely stay at an affordable price range. The most likely prediction, as reported by one outfit, is that Sony will have two systems available – one priced around $400 and a premium version around $500. Expect a more solid idea as E3 approaches.
  2. Backwards Compatibility – With Sony revealing that the new Playstation will not play this generation’s PSN titles, Sony has yet to make an official stance on retail title backwards compatibility. Reports seem to point toward streaming-based backwards compatibility, as the new innards of the system will likely make it difficult for true physical media-based backwards compatibility, yet the true nature of this feature is still up in the air.
  3. Console Design – For all the reveals made by Sony at the press conference, one thing that remained hidden is the Playstation 4 system itself. There were no prototype consoles on display, and Sony has said that the final design is still in the works. Again, look for the console to be on display at E3.
  4. Other Details – As mentioned above, we still are unsure of the exact release date of the console. Further, some random details still need to be finalized (i.e. console ports and online structure).

There was certainly a lot of major information revealed during the initial Playstation 4 press conference. The system seems to be quite a workhorse, with Sony really going all-in on hardware specs. While it will be likely direct comparisons between the PS4 and next Microsoft console will likely lean in Sony’s favor (early reports on the next XBox put the system a leg behind Sony’s details, and it seems unlikely Microsoft will make or be able to make any drastic changes at this point in development). With some details still in the dark, Sony seems to be gathering a large amount of positive buzz regarding their announcement, and rightfully so. If the pricing scheme is competitive and other minor details fall in line, Sony can really put itself in great position for the next generation. I, for one, am really looking forward to see what Sony does for E3.

 

“Hope Springs” (2012) Guest Movie Review

Hope Springs poster

By: Jamie

Hello all, the time has come again for me to put in my two cents on a recent film. To be honest, I had high hopes for “Hope Springs” with wonderful actors like Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones playing the leads. How can this be bad, I asked myself. Well, let’s just say that it was not what I was expecting – it was more like “Hope Sinks.”

Classified as a drama and romantic comedy, I was expecting a lot of laughs and some wonderful heartwarming “Awww” moments, especially with Steve Carell as their relationship therapist. However, what I got were some very awkward scenes that not only made the actors cringe, but the audience as well. There were some laughs, but they were so few and far between that many times I forgot they even occurred.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some beautiful moments when Arnold would realize how much he loved Kay and wanted to make things right. The ending was especially emotional and heartwarming and it has some great life lessons for a happy marriage or relationship sprinkled throughout, but I would have rather learned those lessons on an episode of Oprah or Katie instead of 100 minutes of awkward scenes talking about or displaying various sexual scenes and desires.

The scene above is just one example of a scene that both of the actors seem uncomfortable with, and makes the audience feel the same way.

The scene above is just one example of a scene that both of the actors seem uncomfortable with, and makes the audience feel the same way.

Overall, it was a cute movie that gave you some things to think about for your relationship or marriage. However, the lack of real emotion and chemistry between the actors, the awkward or overdone scenes, and the lack of a decent soundtrack and story line all made the movie just “ehh”.

My opinion may be somewhat biased as it took me almost 2 hours to get through the movie due to technical difficulties since I rented it from Redbox (beware of scratched/skipping disks when renting, I’m 3 for 3 this past month). This made me aggravated and annoyed, making the movie feel longer than it really was and me wanting it to end as soon as I started experiences problems. Other than that, I still think it was a miss, when it comes to a romantic comedy and a disappointment compared to all the hype surrounding the movie. I still love Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell, but this was nowhere near any of their best work. Feeling adventurous or bored, watch it for yourself and let me know if you agree in the comments!

Final Score: 5.0/10

“A Separation” (2011) Review

A Separation poster

I have been interested in seeing “A Separation” for a while now. This Iranian drama focuses on the separation of Nader and Simin, a married couple who have decisive views regarding care for Nader’s father and moving outside the country for the sake of their daughter, Termeh. With this simple basis, the film evolves nicely into a much more complicated situation as the fates of multiple people and families become intertwined after a series of serious accusations take place. On the whole, “A Separation” is a unique film with a ton of potential that gets held back by some development and design flaws.

The first thing worth noting is the cinematography, as Farhadi’s skill becomes apparent in the opening scene. Here, Nader and Simin are embroiled in a discussion regarding their divorce with a judge. The camera angle takes the point of view of the judge’s eyes (as the judge remains off-screen, and the scene is done in one continuous shot. This opening sets the pace for some skillful camera movement and scene design. Every scene shows such close attention to detail, while still managing to add to the depth of the story, including the closing credits that take a similar, yet evolved, approach as the opening.

This is not the only category that Farhadi succeeds in. His tale of two couple’s struggles, their children, and how their families’ fates become linked evolves slowly and follows an unpredictable path that keeps your attention. The plot manages to raise an emotional response in the viewer at many points, as each characters’ struggles are touching with most audience members having some sort of connection in one way or another. Where the plot stumbles and the movie begins to lose its steam is in the length of this story. At many points it is extended for too long, with some unneccessary scenes and sluggish plot resolution. Another negative lies in the ending. I have no issue with the actual ending scene (though I’m sure many will), as I felt it was pretty clever and right in line with the theme of the rest of the film. What the issue happens to be, however, is the lack of resolution regarding the characters not directly involved in the conclusion. The stories of those outside of Nader, Simin, and Termeh are left hanging, leaving a sense of incompleteness to the plot despite its overall great development.

The single shot, opening scene of the film is very well done and sets the stage for the great acting and tense story that are about to unfold.

The single shot, opening scene of the film is very well done and sets the stage for the great acting and tense story that are about to unfold.

To make the plot that much more powerful, Leila Hatami and Payman Maadi give incredible performances as Simin and Nader. In fact, the entire cast does a great job of giving every scene, whether calm or intense, a natural and completely believable feel. The characters are written well, and the acting gives them tremendous depth. All around, great performances are given in “A Separation”.

With these pieces in place, “A Separation” has a lot of potential and at its best has no problem holding the viewer’s attention. There are many positives that can make the film an easy recommendation, but it’s lengthy, dragged out story and poorly developed ending hold it back from ever reaching its peak. Still, anyone looking for a tense drama that feels like a breath of fresh air in the drama genre should enjoy “A Separation”.

Final Score: 7.5/10

“Identity Thief” (2013) Review

Identity Thief poster

To preface this review, I have to say that I am not a big fan of crude humor. At times, it works. But when films become over saturated with the same old tasteless humor and empty jokes, I cannot get into them. Going into “Identity Thief”, I wasn’t expecting much…. And I left feeling that the film had underachieved compared to my low expectations.

First, the plot to “Identity Thief” is somewhat tolerable if viewed with the lowered expectations of a comedy plot. Yet, the film finds ways to rope its characters into far-fetched and contrived situations. The characters themselves are poorly developed, and McCarthy seems to be as superhumanly indestructible as an old Nokia phone. The worst part is that the film could end at about the twenty-minute mark (you mean to tell me McCarthy didn’t have one other ID left she could have used at the airport out of the dozens at her rental house?) and would have likely been better off if it had.

To make the story worse, Seth Gordon feels the need to try to make the audience connect with the characters in such poor ways. Characters are developed entirely in one direction, yet at any time the film will take a complete 180-degree turn regarding its stance on these characters. The moral system in the film is inherently flawed, and results in the film often feeling like it is forcing you to connect with its characters when your mind is pushing you in a completely opposite direction.

Worse yet, the humor propelling the film is tasteless. There is an extremely heavy reliance on the uncreative, crude bag of tricks of cranking out joke after joke involving over-the-top violence, lewd sexual content, and generally mindless writing. Did I mention that I found maybe 2-3 parts of the film legitimately funny? Maybe I’m just getting old….

I can imagine Jason Bateman saying here, "wait, this is the script I signed up for?"

I can imagine Jason Bateman saying here, “wait, this is the script I signed up for?”

Glaring negatives aside, Bateman and McCarthy actually do an acceptable job in portraying the uninspired parts they were given, and do quite a decent job playing off of each other. If it wasn’t for these two stars holding this film together, there would little positive to talk about. Still, their performances cannot redeem the many negatives in “Identity Thief”.

“Identity Thief” is an exercise in uninspired humor, the kind that seems all too common in theaters anymore. The story, characters, and humor are all shoddily designed. At one point, Bateman actually comments to McCarthy, “are you even human?” When a film’s characters have to ask questions about the film’s lunacy, you have a problem. Overall, “Identity Thief” lacks much enjoyability, and as such I cannot really recommend this to the majority of viewers.

Final Score: 3.0/10

Anticipation for The Dear Hunter’s Upcoming Album, “Migrant”

It is no secret that I am a big fan of The Dear Hunter. Anything Casey Crescenzo seems to do musically is gold – the guy has a Midas touch. With their new album, “Migrant”, releasing April 2nd, there has been a leak/release of one of the album’s tracks called “Whisper”. You can check out the song below:

I didn’t know what to expect from the group after their recent departure from the “Acts” with their last, highly ambitious release, “The Color Spectrum”. There was a nice break from the usual Dear Hunter style, yet still retained the essence of the group’s musical talent for creating incredible music. With this first track, I can safely say that this is my most anticipated music release this year. These guys can seemingly do no wrong – from Casey’s vocal talent, Nick’s creative and skillful drumming, and the wonderful progressions and fullness of each song. “Whisper” may be fairly straightforward, but there are very few groups out there right now with the ability to make such intelligently designed, intricately layered, and beautifully melodic music. If you haven’t listened to or haven’t heard of The Dear Hunter, do your ears a favor and check out their previous works and be prepared for what will surely be another great release from the group on April 2nd.

Are Digital Downloads the Future of Gaming?

No matter what system you own or prefer, you have likely been in its respective storefront to buy a game, purchase downloadable content, or do some other business. With e-commerce becoming an increasingly prominent form of business and consumer purchasing, digital downloads seem to be becoming more popular. With minimal distribution costs and the ability to create smaller games at lower prices, this side of gaming has attracted many indie developers. With this increasing popularity for both fledgling and indie developers and increasing sales due to the rise of bigger storage media and faster internet speeds, will digital downloads become the future of gaming?

There are reasons that I can see this form of distribution increasing in growth in the coming years. With the popularity of indie games on the rise after recent classics such as “Journey”, “Limbo”, and “Braid”, and the ability for other prominent developers to offer high-quality games with shorter-than-retail lengths (i.e. “Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty” and “I Am Alive”), digital downloads will always have a market. The low costs associated with development and release allows these kinds of games to be offered at low prices, ranging from, say, $5-20. Further, these low costs also allow for experimentation, and the release of kinds of games that would be “too risky” for a retail release. For these reasons, I will always be supportive of digital releases by these types of developers – groups like thatgamecompany push the boundaries of what is possible with the medium, and being able to release games this way allowed them to produce some of this generations most wonderful experiences in “Flower” and “Journey”.

Digital content is also becoming extremely popular due to the rise of downloadable content (DLC) and the ability to get the latest games without leaving your house. DLC allows developers to support games after release by adding additional content for player to experience. This content ranges from high-quality to abyssmal, but when it is good, DLC can help extend the lifetime of a game and enhance the player experience. Yet, the rise of DLC has also led to developers trying to nickel and dime players for add-ons that bring nothing significant to the table, and the introduction of “Day 1 DLC” where content becomes available for download on the day the game is released. This is something that many, including myself, see as a money grab, with content that should’ve been included on the disc (in many cases the content is actually on the game disc, and the player just pays for a code to unlock said content).

Yet, in spite of the benefits of digital downloads, there are a few key reasons why gaming will not fully migrate to all-digital formats. The biggest reason is that without physical media, many issues pop up. First, the ability to buy and then sell or trade-in games is gone. There is a large market for this business (as evidenced by the growth of Gamestop), and many players – myself included – like to be able to minimize the amount they pay for each gaming experience, as opposed to having shelves full of games they will never play again, and in the process, allow them to buy and play more games. Second, with the lack of physical media, there is an insecurity as to if the player will actually be able to play their game in the future. Say a new console generation comes out and the prior generations online commerce system is abandoned to make room for a new generation. What happens if that download you had stored becomes corrupted, or your hard drive needs to be restored. Ordinarily, you can re-download that game, but now with its online storage shut down, you’re lost.

Along with a lack of physical media and a move to digital comes increased security and restrictions. If you buy a physical disc, there’s nothing stopping you from taking that game to a friend’s house to play some co-op, or allow someone to borrow it to see if they’ll enjoy the game (Online Passes keep the online multiplayer restricted for some titles, but the majority of the game remains open).

The second biggest reason is cost. In many cases, digital downloads cost the same or nearly as much as their retail counterparts. To lose the benefits of the freedom of having your own physical copy, you are given a measely 10% discount, or 0% in many cases. Further, with sales occuring all the time for physical media, digital downloads often cost more than their physical brethren – a fact that completely undermines the idea behind lower production and distribution costs.

Another small issue is that major releases are becoming bigger in scope and graphical requirements. As these increase, so does the game size. This leads to longer download times. Once again, this negates a supposed advantage to digital downloads – the player does not get a game “instantly” if they have to wait a few hours for a 10-gig download and install. While some may say that you can just download the game overnight and be ready whenever you’d want without causing a major wait. I say that I can just as easily take 10 minutes to stop at a store on my way home from work to get that game I wanted with minimal effort, and avoid the lengthy download times.

Lastly, there is an unusual sounding reason, though if you’ve been playing games long enough, you understand. There’s just not the same gratification in downloading a game as there is buying or receiving a new game. Unwrapping the plastic, waiting to pop the game into the system and play, and that “new game” smell (the push towards digital manuals has limited this satisfaction) all are missing from pressing a download button and seeing an icon pop up on your home screen.

It is for these reasons that I feel digital distribution will not become the future for gaming. While the system has its pluses, without some major overhauls to the system, it will always trail retail sales. I think it is a nice supplement to standard distribution (especially when it comes to releasing some more unique titles, such as Journey, that may never see the light of day otherwise), but it will not take over the industry.

“Red Lights” (2012) Review

Red Lights poster

In viewing the trailer for “Red Lights”, I was instantly hooked. Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and Robert De Niro together in a thriller focused around psychic activity is a combination I could not refuse. That being said, I still didn’t know what to expect from the film. Would Cortes take a horror-style approach, or make it more of a mystery thriller? In the end, I was very pleasantly surprised by the outcome of his film, as “Red Lights” is an outstanding thriller.

You could say “Red Lights” is broken up into two parts. Those would be a foundational story about the two main protagonists, Murphy and Weaver, and the struggle between the protagonists and the central antagonist, De Niro. The first section is quite interesting as the pair of psychologists investigate various people involved with psychic phenomena or powers. This dissection of the paranormal is wonderfully executed and each investigation, no matter how short, has the viewer trying to figure out the mystery along with the psychologists. The second act takes a different turn, as the movie becomes more of a thriller. A tense battle takes place between the rational stance taken by Murphy and Weaver and the sense of the unknown in the form of De Niro’s character. This challenge to prove/disprove De Niro’s “powers” becomes quite enthralling and is made even more interesting when you see the ending. The ending, though, is where the film really comes together and becomes even more compelling, despite what some have said.

Prior to seeing the film, I had personally not heard anything about the film outside of what I saw in the trailer. After seeing “Red Lights”, I noticed how many people were completely turned off by the ending. I absolutely do not want to spoil anything (and, as such, I recommend going into the film without looking at too many articles to avoid any spoilers), but the ending makes perfect sense, and in the context of the whole film’s themes, is fitting (paying close attention throughout the film allows you to see the many hints and development toward the final conclusion).

With these two captivating acts and divisive ending, the overarching plot of “Red Lights” becomes even better due to the clever use of colored themes throughout the film. The heavy use of black and white plays nicely amidst the “gray” area of psychic powers, and is used in some really interesting ways. Also, there is a recurrent use of the color red, which has its own symbolic meaning here (one I don’t want to delve into to avoid spoilers). I will say that it is smartly used and together with the play on black and white, really enhance the story being told.

Weaver and Murphy work wonderfully together, both continuing their penchants for great performances.

Weaver and Murphy work wonderfully together, both continuing their penchants for great performances.

In addition to the story, the other pieces that make up “Red Lights” are all successful in enhancing the movie as a whole. The performances by Weaver, Murphy, and De Niro are all top notch, something to be assumed given their collectively amazing careers. Each performer plays very nicely off each other, and every interaction feels natural, right down to the monologue delivery. Further, even the small roles have some decent performances. On a side note, Cillian Murphy remains one of my favorite active actors (if you have not seen “Peacock“, do yourself a favor and check out his outstanding  performance as a character with a split personality).

The film also gets high marks for its sound design. Its effects, mixing, and soundtrack all mesh nicely together making each confrontation intense and able to be felt. This complements the cinematography nicely, as the soundtrack matches the changing visuals (including the recurrent black/white theme).

With all of these positives, “Red Lights” manages to have very few downsides. With its shocking ending, the film feels the need to go back and show one of those “here’s everything you just saw, but now everything has a different meaning now that you know the ending” montages. I am not a big fan of these kinds of recaps, as it seems as though the director is trying to dumb the ending down. Those who pay attention to details in films likely put everything together without being shown it. Also, some of the scenes have a feeling of being a little too contrived. Still, these negatives don’t really detract from the overall film.

“Red Lights” is a wonderful film that really took me by surprise. Rodrigo Cortes has created a unique story, and combined with a talented cast, produced a great thriller. At no point does your interest wane, or the film feel drawn out. Those interested in a rational approach to psychic activity should really enjoy this, along with fans of thrillers in general. Overall, this is a sleeper hit waiting to be discovered.

Final Score: 9.0/10

Second Opinion (Jamie):

I must agree whole-heartedly with the above review.  “Red Lights” in a wonderful film with a unique storyline. It only takes the first few minutes of the film to really get you hooked and wanting to denounce the other “psychics” and various other “powers’ these individuals claim to have.

The storyline is very fluid, never too rush or dragged out. The acting is phenomenal as well, by all three main characters of the film. The only negative of the film, if you can call it that, is the likelihood that you will need to watch it twice to really catch all the meaningful scenes and actions that take place throughout the movie. The ending is a wonderful surprise and really makes you think again about what you just watched. At that time you start to connect the black, whites, greys and reds used meaningfully throughout the movie as well as other small details that now have much more meaning.

With that said, I also truly enjoyed “Red Lights” and loved the psychological thriller theme to it and how unique of a film it was. I can’t wait to watch it again and truly capture all the tiny details the director put into making the film the wonderful masterpiece that it is.  

Final: 8.5/10

Watch this film for yourself and let us know if you agree with our reviews in the comments! We’d love to hear your opinions!

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