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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

So. Star Wars. It’s a thing. A big thing. A very, very, very big thing. If I have to explain Star Wars then you might need to get from under the rock you’ve lived in for the last 30 years. In short, Star Wars is a trope heavy sci-fi franchise that is well beloved, minus three entries and one entry in particular (looking at you episode III), and is a juggernaut. No doubt you have seen the advertisement, toys, games, fan recreations, books, and every other marketable thing from the series just shy of officially licensed lightsaber condoms. But the newest film in the franchise feels like a natural extension but with its fair share of problems.

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The Force Awakens aka Running: The Film

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens plots across familiar territory with new characters for the most part. There are a few changes to convention but really it is a distinct nostalgia trip where you follow characters you may feel like you’ve seen before. The film follows deuteragonist Finn and Rey in their quest to become characters in the Star Wars universe. I say this because characterization was not necessarily this movie’s strong suite. There were hints of interesting things being done with the characters but I’m sure they are being saved for the next two films in the franchise. To be fair, Finn being the malfunctioning storm trooper and Rey becoming basically Luke Skywalker was a good if not expected choice. Now there are some underlying theories that could be made based on these two but I’m going to keep this a face value for now. The showing of Finn being shellshocked from all of what was going around him that lead up to his defection was well done and showed that there is in fact a conscious there and how… well… war is hell. Finn’s quirks were also reasonable and rather funny, making him a comic relief while still portraying a multi-dimensional character. Rey is practically Luke. Really, she is and by that you could read into some meta commentary that the way to make a Jedi is to: live on a desert planet, kill off parents in some way, lose a father figure, go on a quest to find a legendary Jedi to learn from. It is rather paint by numbers but I see story potential for the next movie to diverge from the path it is on.

 

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Player 2 to join in running

At least it all looks really pretty. The film is a treat to the eyes and ears as the cinematography is well done and stays in tune with the original films. Many of the modern conventions like shaky cam, obnoxious orange or blue film tint, or the JJ Abrams standard lens flare are (thank the force) missing from this film. The CG looks good and you can tell that is where a large portion of the budget went to. All of it felt like they belonged to the movie series without but so much modernization. The locations had a certain grandeur about them and the scale was massive. Again, a feeling of familiarity as we had the desert planet, the flora and fauna planet, the snow planet, and the giant make things go boom spherical object (that had a nod to one of the Star Wars games that is no longer considered canon mind you). However much the locations felt familiar, they were much grander and still were able to illicit wow from the audience. All of the design choices were made with the originals in mind and to that it benefited greatly. The combat was well done and there was heavy emphasis on Chewbacca’s bowcaster as he went on a tear with it many times. There were a number of large set piece battles that looked great and you could see the world deteriorate as the fighting went on in ways we really haven’t seen happen in the movies. The lightsaber duels were awesome and felt like they had weigh to them. Any time a lightsaber was on the screen it had impact and importance. The lightsaber encounters felt more like actual sword fights rather than the plodding pace of the original trilogy and less of the flips and more flips of the prequel trilogy. The dogfights, while brief, were great as well and gave a nice contrast between what tech was inside the newer flight vehicles and the classic Millennium Falcon and how archaic it is. The ship Kylo Ren flies in is impressive in the “How does that even work, it looks like a space taco” sense.

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All hail the Space Chalupa

Ahhhh, Kylo Ren, one of the antagonists of this trilogy it appears. He as a character has some promise but in this film, I just didn’t see him as being the big bad until the last few minutes of his screen time. His place in the lore makes sense as a common theme with these movies is that every character is tied to another in some way shape or form but he was just somewhat ineffectual. Darth Vader had a certain presence about him and commanded a scene whenever he was around. He seemed like a natural fit for the bad guy that may not really been all that bad but in the end, villainy won out. Ren reminded me more of episode three Anakin. For example, there was a scene early on where the things didn’t go quite the way he wanted them to and he demolished a bunch of computers with his lightsaber. I felt like that little temper tantrum nicked his badassness a little and caused him to be less effectual as a villain. More like a Vader in training than the guy helping lead the First Order. The Force powers displayed were cool and they seemed more from the Force Unleashed School of powers but just a little bit “meh” with his character. Then there was the big scene between him and his father and it was telegraphed miles ahead of when it actually happened. There is foreshadowing and then there was this. As important of a scene as it was some of its impact was lost by how trope heavy it was and how obvious that was said character was going to bite the dust. It was at that time, however, his viciousness and any possibility of him being brought back to the light side was extinguished. Kylo is also the most innocent faced sith/dark side member I have ever seen even considering the old extended universe (rest in peace sweet prince) and I was downright gleeful when he gained a few more scars before the end of the film.

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Not spoiling it. You’re welcome

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a lot to live up to and in a way, it succeeded in what it needed to do; establishing a new universe and set the stage for new media to come from it. Even as we have until 2017 to see where this new series will lead, I am surprisingly optimistic. The characters have an opportunity to come into their own and the new expanded universe will fill in some of the gaps between the films and other media like Star Wars: Rebels. As much as this movie felt like a revision of A New Hope, that might be all it needed to be really to draw a new generation of fans into the fold while not alienating the old fans. Well, not alienating them anymore than Disney has with the death of the old expanded universe anyway. All I can really hope for is that the next movie brings more original elements into lore and provides a fresh take on the series. This is a trick that you really can only pull once in a franchise otherwise it gets old very quickly.

 

And at the very least, we have this movie to thank for this meme.

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Halo 5 Review

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Halo is the game that made Microsoft a viable platform and houses one of the most recognizable characters in modern gaming: Master Chief. It changed the landscape of console first person shooters and spawned a number of sequels and even helped popularize machinima by serving as the base for series Red vs Blue. Halo served as the blueprint for multiple imitators (Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter? Anyone? You get an imaginary cookie for knowing that game) and introduced one of my least favorite mechanics into shooters: only holding two weapons at a time. The series has seen a fair amount of changes, both to its developer and to the gameplay, over the 14 years of its existence but the core has stayed the same; which works to the games benefit and detriment in the newest title of series, Halo 5.

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Halo 5 is the first Halo game made for the Xbox One and it shows. The game is exceptionally pretty and runs smoothly and even when the action is fast and a large amount of enemies on screen, there appears to barely a dip in framerate. Though, resolution can become sketchy in comparison but the team at 343 studios did a masterful job at keeping the game looking beautiful at all times. As a player of the old Halo games, the 60 frames per second (fps) took a bit of getting used to due to all the others being locked at 30 but it is a sight to behold and the stylized designs of the enemies, Spartans, and worlds both mechanical and of flora and fauna all provide a great ground for the killing sprees that the player will go on.

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What has changed is who you go on those killing sprees with. In Halo 5’s story you play a mix of the one, the only, Master Chief and a younger Spartan by the name of Jameson Locke. A game of cat and mouse plays out as Master Chief disobeys orders to follow the whispers of a character that is thought to be dead. Spartan Locke is charged with finding, and if necessary, eliminating Master Chief. The story feels like the weakest part of the game as it is predictable and rather trope heavy in the way the plot proceeds. At no point did the stakes feel all that high or the motivations of the characters really pull through what became a somewhat cliffhanger ending. At least the cutscenes where well-acted and managed to inject life into the squad you are teamed with at any given time. Both Master Chief and Spartan Locke have three other team members along with them that are more or less vehicles for the co-op multiplayer mode of the game. You and up to three other players can play online and complete the story. However, this feels like a necessity if you are playing on any difficulty past normal as the AI teammates varies wildly between helpful and suicidal and the enemies become bullet sponges. All of this yet you are not able to do split screen multiplayer anymore, much to the chagrin of many fans. I understand that 343 wanted to keep resolution and framerate consistent but it is quite an odd change from how the older games were and is a feature many still wanted in the game.

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The feature of the game that most people care about manages to be the best part of the game: the multiplayer. The game’s stalwart modes like team slayer and capture the flag exist in the Arena section of the multiplayer while the new mode, Warzone, has its own section. Breakout, a new Arena mode, is pretty fun and often requires you to work as a team to succeed as you have one life per round. The arenas for the move are close range and have their fair share of blind spots. The big attraction to this one is Warzone. A large 12 vs 12 battlefield where you fight against not only the other team but AI controlled enemies. It is very Titanfall-esque as vehicles join the fray and you have revolving objectives between trying to capture and control all bases, killing off specific enemies, and trying to destroy the other teams energy core for the win. It reminds me of the large scale warfare of Battlefield and is one of the better introductions of a gameplay mode done in the Halo universe. The game is going to receive a lot of post-release support in the way of maps and game modes being released over time until June including the return of Forge mode, a fan favorite, which allows for modification and creation of levels.

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Most already have decided if they are going to pick up this game or not and it is a fine addition to the Halo universe but the game just does not feel as grandiose as some of the older titles in series and story wise felt like a bit of a step backwards. The gameplay still feels like Halo but faster and is enjoyable but the real attraction is the multiplayer. What Halo does, it does well and while not a game of the year contender it is a worthwhile if only for the Warzone mode.

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Moment of Music Review

Hey there people who follow me (all five of you) as I said before and as I have in the tagline; I’m into a lot of stuff. Music is one of those things and every once in a while I may do a review of an album or a couple of songs I’ve listened to recently. May be old, may be new but I listen to a variety music and basically whatever interests me. Also, I am no professional reviewer so just a disclaimer. So with that intro, let’s get started.

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First off is the “freshman” album from the band Devil You Know The Beauty of Destruction. I say freshman that way because this is their first album but all things considered they are a super group made up of John Sankey (Fear Factory), Francesco Artusato (All Shall Parish), and Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage). The album out the gate hits you with what you expect from these guys: Metal, Metal, and METALLLLLL! All of it excellent examples of melodic metal. The first song “A New Beginning” appropriately sets you up for the album and is kind of an intro to the style of metal that you are going to be in for. “Seven Years Alone” was the single chosen for album and it works. The feel of the song is aggressive enough but still feels a sadder song. “My Own” is on of my favorites on the album due to how it reminds me of a Killswitch Engage song by the name of “This Fire.” You can hear the influences from their former bands and how much each member’s contribution to their former or current band meant to their sound. An excellent metal album and one of my favorites for this year.

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Next up is Southsiders by Atmosphere. A rap duo that I have followed for quite some time now and damn does this album feel reveling. Their form of alternative rap is made clear from the first song “Camera Thief” a song that I had to listen to a couple of times to warm up to. At first it sounds a little uneven and a couple of the rhymes feel a little weird but it makes a lot more sense on a second or third listen once you get the theme of the album. “Arthur’s Song” and on feel like you are looking into a one way mirror into someone’s life with a magnifying scope. All of the songs have meaning and flow between them and feels like a consistent narrative. A lot like listening to the thoughts of a person that has seen a lot in their life and this is their form of coping. The sound of a train and the naming of stops ties the album together and ends appropriately with a stop on the Southside. They still have their distinctive ability and is an example of what I expect from Rhymesayers Entertainment album label.

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Last up is Benji by Sun Kil Moon. This one was hard to get through, not because it was bad, not by any means, but because it is, as expected, pretty depressing. The song that starts the album “Carissa” was a serious case of mood whiplash and a strong sucker punch to me because of the sudden shift in content. Describing her life and how he, Mark Kozelek being the story teller, remembers and how she works for her kids and suddenly death from a house fire due to an exploding aerosol can. “Goddamn what were the odds?” is right. But this song does set up the running theme of mortality throughout the album and is a really sobering look in having to accept the finality of death. “Dogs” is a bit different in comparison to the running them because it’s more about the death of love and how lust leads to doing very very dumb things. A little cringing how descriptive the sexual life of the main character is described but I think it was meant to be uncomfortable and it is very effective. “Pray for Newtown” is an extremely topical song relating to the Newtown shooting and is one of the few “feel sad about an event that had nothing to do with you” song that actually worked on me. Color me impressed. “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes” sounds really extremely vengeful and angry that he did such horrible things and had nothing bad really happen to him in comparison to what he did to others and the fears of death. The double track singing is very effective to show how worried he is. The album ends on the song “Ben’s My Friend” It’s kinda nice compared to the depressing theme of the album and is a bit of a cleanser song. He’s just describing things that he did and even admits that he needed a song to finish out the record. It’s a nice ending to a really heavy but excellent album.

 

So, what do you think? If you have any suggestions, comments, or thoughts feel free to share them in the comments below. I don’t know how common of a thing this will be but if I find more that I feel like reviewing then you’ll be the first to know.

Stay Salty.

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