Mass Effect Trilogy Vol 1

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Bioware‘s massive science fiction franchise Mass Effect has been a favorite of fans for half a decade. If you like epic storytelling, ass-kicking heroes, and an open-world galaxy to explore, Mass Effect should be your next play. Spanning 3 hit games, a graphic novel series, a handful of books, and many more, Mass Effect is modern sci-fi entertainment at its best.

MEAliensIn the future, humans will live among the stars as newcomers to the galactic melting-pot. A well-established society of aliens living amongst themselves exists out there, and we’re just the latest, hot-shot kids to the table. That means we’re always getting picked on, always getting the shit jobs, always without a shred of respect from the others races of the universe. From the blue-skinned and beautiful, ancient and wise Ansari, to the religious, jellyfish-like Harnar, there are dozens, if not hundreds of intelligent species out there.

What we lack in experience, we make up for in everything else. urlOut of all the races, none seem to encapsulate the full range of knowledge, wisdom, experience, emotion, drive, self-reliance, like us humans. So this makes us simultaneously the butt of all jokes and the object of all desire. Ironic right?

It was mankind’s settlement on Mars that finally kick-started interstellar spaceflight and propelled us into the galactic community in 2148. When scientists begin poking around the planet’s south pole they find a long-abandoned alien outpost buried underground… Proof that we are not alone in the universe. Mankind’s identity is shaken to the core. Religions fall, tensions ease, and peace begins to take shape after centuries of strife. Technology from the alien outpost is adapted and it isn’t long before another, even more important discovery is made. Charon, the frozen moon of Pluto, is actually an ancient alien space station known as a mass relay… tumblr_lz5ggqUxui1qee5lgo1_1280A giant slingshot. Believed to be built 50,000 years before by the ancient and powerful Prothean civilization, with the help of the relays mankind begins to explore the galaxy. The Systems Alliance Charter is signed by the 18 largest nations on Earth, and for once humanity starts acting like a single species instead of squabbling children.

Soon colonies begin springing up, the first in the Arcturus system, where the massive Alliance Fleet is built, then later at Terra Nova and Eden Prime. Aided by the Alliance Military, mankind settles into the galaxy, still unaware of the bustling universe of alien life around them. MassEffect_2008-08-13_12-37-22-09Until scientists at Shanxi begin an attempt to restart a dormant mass effect relay, and are attacked by an unknown force. Unbeknownst to us, activating dormant mass effect relays is a strict no-no. What bumbling children mankind is, throwing their ego around wherever they go, assuming they are the wild west inheritors of the galaxy. The incident at Shanxi ignited what is now known as the First Contact War. 

All in all it was a big misunderstanding. Isn’t it usually? Citadel_Council-Turian_council_memberA Turian patrol came across an unknown life form (us) trying to jump start a gate that led to a sealed-off section of space inhabited by an extremely dangerous species known as the Rachni… The Turians had no idea who we were, they just saw some life form breaking galactic law so they killed it. We fought back, they fought back, we fought back harder, escalation, escalation, then “Woops! Sorry!”

Humanity stumbles onto the galactic stage as the shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of irritant we’d normally shrug off. First impressions aren’t always the best.

It is 2157, and Shepard is 3 years old.

UP NEXT: The Citadel

What’s millions of years old, maintained by a race of little green guys, and perfect for the propagation of sentient life in the galaxy? The best damn space station ever built, that’s what.

Welcome to the Citadel.

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Mass Effect I, II, and III are available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC

Why Iron Man 3 is the Perfect Post-Avengers Blockbuster

imax_iron_man_3_posterI’m not an Iron Man comic fan by any right, but I am a huge fan of the film franchise and Robert Downey Jr. So any hang ups people have with the storyline regarding The Mandarin and the 10 Rings, I don’t care… The villain in Iron Man 3 is one of the best Marvel baddies yet… And Guy Pearce absolutely kills it as well. In a nutshell: Tony Stark is an addict, and now he’s addicted to the power he gets from his Iron Man suit, and even more so the hero he gets to be inside of it. He is also in love for the first time with live-in girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Therefore he is faced with the eternal Batman-esque struggle, how can he simultaneously be a savior of mankind beset by evil alien forces and magical beings from other dimensions, and keep those he loves from getting caught in the crossfire? He knows he can save the world, but has no idea what to buy his girlfriend for Christmas. How can he find balance between the man and the Iron Man? And even just a little deeper: think of the symbolism of the Iron Man suit itself… I’m talking chrysalis and metamorphosis, building walls and coming out of our shells and all of that.

The script, the dialogue, and Downey… They all work brilliantly here. Ex-Hollywood pariah Shane Black, one of the best screenwriters around, knocks it out of the park with razor-sharp wit and a breakneck pace. I’m giving away my old age when I say I had Lethal Weapon flashbacks through the entire movie. a_560x375Iron Man 3 is truly a triumph for Shane Black, and I give him props for fighting back from the brink and coming through looking good! The plot is swift, complicated, and just when it doesn’t always seem like there is one, you realize it’s only because Black is playing it so close to the chest.

Tony Stark can’t sleep in the wake of The Avengers, and he’s having trouble coming to grips with his most selfless act at the end of that movie. Basically, he’s a selfish guy, we love him for it… And yet here he has gone and given his life to save humanity (it was pretty much a fluke he survived, so I’m giving him props too for going all the way with it). You’d be pretty messed up too if you were a super-rich playboy one day, a introspective entrepreneur the next, and then nearly killed by sacrificing yourself to save Earth the next.

im3-2Story-wise, the plot concerns a new super-terrorist in town, The Mandarin (played with scene-stealing glory by Ben Kingsley) who is bombing civilians and hijacking the airwaves with some silly and yet creepy terror-tapes and Noam Chomsky speeches of the Evil America. At the beginning of the film, these tapes seem rather contrived… But come the end it all makes perfect sense. When one of The Mandarin’s attacks puts Tony’s closest loved ones in danger, he sets out on a cross-country mission to stop the mad man from destabilizing the country. I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s a seamless three-act play here. The first act is Tony in California dealing with his post-Avengers PTSD and watching the bad guys put their chess pieces in place. Then act two finds Tony alone and suit-less in the Tennessee snow, just as Captain America said in the Avengers… Which is what this whole film is about… Whether the hero that was born inside the Iron Man suit can survive without it. Tony is forced to truly stare into the abyss he has been circling since New York.

iron-man-3-don-cheadle-robert-downey-jr-tm-2012-marvelAct three grabs all of the threads and ties them up into a funny buddy-cop movie bow with Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot (aka War Machine) helping Tony finally take down the bad guys. There are a few big reveals, some hilarious twists, some awesome special effects, and some seriously awesome high-flying daredevilry. Suffice it to say the Air Force One scene alone is worth the price of admission.

This movie is all about personal demons. Tony tells us so from the start, using narration to book end the story. From the first frame Tony is fighting his demons, and since life has a funny way of knowing when you’re struggling, events begin to unfold that have him questioning his very existence as Iron Man. Can he save the world and protect the woman he loves? Can he be a selfless protector and an OCD hermit crab at the same time? Can he move away from a past full of trampling over others to get to where he wants to be? I realize these are pretty big themes for a summer blockbuster, but Iron Man 3 isn’t your every-day actioner. This isn’t The Avengers. This is an intensely personal film that finalizes the 3-movie-arc of Tony Stark’s transformation from what he was, into what he will be. For a solid hour in the middle of the movie he’s not even in the suit. He’s out solving a mystery, chasing leads, and chumming it up with a surrogate inner child in Tennessee. Throw in a maniacal terrorist, a power-hungry industrialist, and an army of T1000-looking Extremis soldiers, and you’ve got yourself a summer movie!

iron-man-3-tony-stark-robert-downey-jrAlmost every single decision the filmmakers’ had to do the same old thing, they chose something different. Just when you think cliché is about to happen, Black spins it. It’s really fun to watch. It all comes together a little too well in the end, but audiences want the happy ending. Plus like I said before, if you’re a Lethal Weapon/Shane Black fan, you’ll love this flick. There’s a Christmas theme, snappy one-liners, a buddy-cop-flick feel, and even an Xmas tree lot! Come on, how can I be the only one catching this?? The finale even takes place on a BOAT! (I realize that’s Lethal Weapon 2, but you’re getting my drift here right?) There are so many Easter Eggs in this movie you’ll have a hard time following the fast-paced dialogue when you’re too busy pointing out Joss Whedon crouching behind a car during an attack, or Stan Lee judging a bikini contest, or the blatant Christmas tree lot scene… And despite the fact that there are a solid 10-15 minutes of credits, stay for the stinger… It’s worth it. Iron Man 3 is a brilliant movie, don’t believe any negative hype. It’s smartly made, smartly written, and doesn’t get bogged down at all.

I went back to see it in 3D, something I do from time to time to see how the technology is advancing from season to season, and thankfully Iron Man 3-D is one of the good 3D movies. There isn’t any crap flying out of the screen or gimmickry going on here, instead the 3-dimension accents the story… It makes it more immersive, more tangible and real… As much as I hate the fad-happy post-production use of RealD 3D, filmmakers are  beginning to learn how to use it wisely.

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After cleaning up overseas for the last week, the film is quickly on its way to a billion dollars worldwide. Iron Man 3 opened to a whopping $170 million at the US box office this weekend, second only to… you guessed it… The Avengers.

Go summer 2013 movie season!

The Americans – Why it’s the Best New Thriller on TV

The-Americans-FX-showImagine it’s the early 1980s. Ronald Regan is newly-elected President, cassette tapes, Phil Collins, and Return of the Jedi are all the rage… And everyone’s wearing those puffy coats they used to wear that made them look like they just jumped ship.

Back to the Future jokes aside, it’s a scary time. Kids these days don’t remember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but I remember the constant threat of the “Russians.” They were always the bad guys in every action movie, and they were always on the news with scary parades of giant missiles, not like these North Korea guys…30americans-span-articleLarge The Russians were actually scary.

There aren’t any cell phones, or internet, or laptops or iPads… But there are color TVs and microwaves, and these new things called personal computers… Oh, and the constant threat of thermonuclear annihilation.

Now imagine you’re a regular guy, with a wife, a house, two kids, a travel agency to run. You go to PTA meetings, you mingle with neighbors, you go to the movies and follow Carson… The American dream, right?

ta20130104-357-jpg_204929Then you get a phone call, and there’s a code, and you’re off to meet your handler in the middle of the night… Why? Because you, and your wife, are actually deep-cover KGB agents. You have been since you were 17. Recruited to become super-spies, to lose the accent, to blend completely. You met your wife for the first time just a few weeks before you left Moscow. You are a KGB cell, and you are here to spy, to kill, and to destabilize if necessary. Oh, and honey? Can you pick up some .45 caliber slugs, some C4, and some butter on your way home?

This is the premise of FX’s hit thriller The Americans, which airs Wednesday night at 10, and this is my vote for best new show. Starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as the Jennings, the normal couple next door that just happens to be KGB.

jYQdyGu9tl75VCreated by ex-CIA agent Joe Weisberg, the series has been a hit for Fox’s cable channel, FX, following a string of successful shows like Archer and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia… Shows that have redefined television as far as I’m concerned. Cable’s after-10pm time slot is the coveted “We can show and say almost anything” spot thanks to South Park, and in the last few years channels like FX and AMC have used they leeway to push the envelope. This is FX’s first high-concept action show, and it sometimes strays into fantastic-land, but Fox knows what they’re doing. No one brings action to TV like Fox, anyone remember Jack Bauer? Thankfully The Americans doesn’t stray into over-the-top cliche suspense, it relies on something much more intricate.

What makes The Americans work so well? The characters. Rhys and Russel are amazing as Nadezhda and Mischa, aka Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings. At the heart of the show is the marriage between the two agents. FX-TheAmericans-2_Keri-Hallway_1009_CMYK_FThey’ve been pretending to be married for over 15 years, they take the kids to school, they make the dinners, check the homework, do the dance, all the things we do everyday… But the brilliance is the fact that they walk the line between truly just “going through the motions” and real human connections. They’ve been pretending to be happily married for so long, how do their own personal feelings fit in there? The rest of the cast, thankfully, isn’t just window dressing either, this is an extremely talented team. Co-star Noah Emmerich, one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, is compulsively watchable as the emotionally scarred FBI agent that moves in next door. It provides opportunities for so many layers of suspense as the season progresses, especially after an incident with Emmerich’s partner.

We find out early on that both husband and wife use sex as a tool in their espionage belt, and the show is at its best when both of them return home at the end of the day, going to bed like the Cleavers at night. It’s a better version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. These people have to wear so many masks, they’ve lost their real identities in the process. One of my personal favorite characters in the show is Phillip’s alter-ego Clark, a character he plays in order to get information from the FBI office. When they’re alone and the mission is over and the kids are in bed, who are they? rhyamericans1Do they love each other? Can they turn a fake marriage into a real one? After 15 years of living with someone, fighting with someone, spying with someone, wouldn’t a natural emotional connection emerge? Can that survive in the harsh world of cold-war espionage? Phillip is more Americanized, Elizabeth is slightly unstable, and someone is always watching… Can you take the kids to school this morning? I was stabbed in the leg during a mission last night.

Plus the build up to these two having a knock-down, drag-out, ass-kicking fight is just killing me. I know it’s going to happen, you know it’s going to happen, they know it’s going to happen. Oh man I can’t wait to see it.

the-americans-fx-1It’s also refreshing that there is something decent to watch during the week. Usually all of the good TV is on Sunday nights, while the rest of the week is spend waiting for Sunday night. We need more of these mid-week thrillers to keep break up the monotony of the prime-time landscape. There’s no shaky-camera, no over-the-top action… The dialogue is sharp, the plot multi-layered, the characters are believable, and best of all- it leaves you wanting more. If the credits roll and I’m holding my breath for next week’s trailer, I know its a good show.

If you haven’t seen The Americans, you need to. If it looks cheesy and pulpy, then your expectations are the problem, not this show. This show isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as it gets for mid-week escapism. In a post-Lost world where TV executives have to go head-to-head with adult-drama behemoths like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, it’s hard to find a good show that isn’t a weekend-ender. The Americans has my vote for best new show this year. Suck it Revolution.

Toomb’s Tomb Raider Review

286142-blackangelMaking a new Lara Croft game is a tricky proposition. A franchise that has spawned countless games, 2 Angelina Jolie-starring movies, and inspired one of the best been-caught-masturbating scenes ever filmed (Grandma’s Boy). So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider-reboot, simply titled Tomb Raider, was announced a few years ago, everyone’s reaction was pretty much the same: “Well of course they are.”

Don’t you love it when you get proven wrong?

2446979-tombraider_2013_03_05_22_24_38_600Holy shit this is one of the best games you can get for any console ever! They hit it out of the park on this one ladies and germs, cause Lara Croft is back in a(nother) origin story that is filled with edge-of-your seat action, palm-sweating-climbing, and so much more. Tomb Raider also comes with the highly coveted “my wife played straight through in a couple days” seal of approval that only comes along maybe once a year. I knew from the moment I first rented it that it was one of those special efforts that transcends the typical “awesome game” experience. In fact I had to return the rental and go trade in some old games so I could own a copy. It’s good enough to go in this broke guy’s keepers collection.

Lara Croft is the most famous heroine in modern fiction. She’s sexy, she’s independent, and she kicks ass in a pony-tail. In Tomb Raider, we find out how she becomes that way. Her character crosses platforms, media, and pretty much picked up where Indiana Jones left off on, and where only Nathan Drake has been able to continue. I mention Drake on purpose here, because it’s so obvious that Square Enix drew heavily on the EXTREMELY successful Uncharted series for their latest reboot. uncharted-2-among-thieves-1902Uncharted and its sequels are hands-down the most fun you’ll have outside a Rockstar Game. They are not video games per se, they are playable action movies. If you’ve never played Uncharted and you’re a gamer, you need to take a look at your priorities… Uncharted 2 is in my top 5 favorite games of all time (a list that, should it expand at all, will undoubtedly include Tomb Raider).

The reason Uncharted works so well, and also why Tomb Raider works even better, is because of the cut scenes. There aren’t any. With traditional “cut scenes” you’ll play a level, then it will cut to a mini-movie that moves the plot forward (if your lucky enough to have a game with a plot) before you play the next level. Rinse, repeat… It’s boring and monotonous and makes most games sub-par. Cut scenes can ruin a game (Dead Island) or, if done right, can truly elevate a game to a different level of entertainment.

lara-7Like Uncharted, and now Tomb Raider, time and effort were put into the story, the voice-acting, the motion-capture animation, and the way they all work together. The result is truly astonishing. Cut scenes stop being just that and become seamlessly integrated into the game. Video games are always STOP-GO-STOP-GO because of cut scenes and I think they break up the action and take away from the immersion. In Tomb Raider, right from the start you’re shot out of a cannon and the action never slows down.

Camilla Luddington has stepped into Lara Croft’s climbing boots, and with the use of some remarkable motion-capture CGI, the new Lara is an unforgettable character. From the first scene where she is shipwrecked, hit over the head, and hung from the ceiling in a scary cave, you empathize for her. When she falls and is impaled (albeit slightly), you feel the shock… Tomb-Raider_2013-1When she scrambles under collapsing rocks in a cave-in, you scramble too, mashing buttons to get away as a scary bad-guy tries to grab her legs, you break out in a sweat… When she jumps across a mind-numbingly-high chasm to barely grasp the opposite ledge, you hold your breath… Any flaws this game might have are so overshadowed by the brilliance of the M-rated action that they don’t even register. Tiny things like handling (Lara has a tendency to NOT turn around and grab the nearest ledge, resulting in more than a few accidental falls) and frame rate issues become insignificant with all this beautiful game going on.

Plainly said, this is what a video game should be… Mystery, suspense, action, vertigo-inspiring climbing, immaculate graphics, hidden treasures, and the best part? It’s open-world for the most part. Once the main story line is over, you’re free to explore the island… Where plenty of side-missions, hidden booty, and of course, tombs to be raided.

“It hate tombs.” Lara says after emerging from the first one. I’ll try not to get offended.

tomb-raider-2013Lara is 21 years old in this prequel. Fresh out of college with a sound theory on the ancient Japanese legend of Yamatai, a forbidden island reminiscent of Lost meets Apocalypse Now. When she and her friends are shipwrecked on the island, it’s up to Lara to learn how to survive in the jungles, caves, mountains, and shanty towns of the island. At the beginning of the game she is a normal girl, in an extraordinary situation, where she must adapt, overcome, and yes, kill in order to survive and save her friends. When Lara has to kill for the first time it is brutal, intimate, and disturbing. On the other hand, because it is still a video game filled with bad guys, within minutes Lara becomes a cold-blooded arrow-shooting assassin telling her mentor, “I had to kill a man.” “Lara, that couldn’t have been easy,’ He responds.

“It’s scary how easy it was…” replies Lara.LaraBloodyGoodTime

You climb to the highest peaks, and zip-line to the deepest caverns, you sneak-attack with arrows or you’re caught in a full-on firefight with the homicidal cultists on the island. Nothing like a homicidal cult to ruin your expedition eh?

Go out and rent or buy this game right now. You won’t regret it. The graphics, the story, the acting, the gameplay, they’re all nearly perfect. Tomb Raider is available on all platforms, PS3, Xbox, PC, and it boasts a fairly-fun multiplayer as well. It’s guaranteed a great time!Tomb-Raider_Screenshots-12-3-9

Believe it or Not, Spring Breakers May Be the Next Clockwork Orange

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Imagine if you will, an alternate universe where James Franco is a dreadlocked, whiteboy rapper from St. Pete’s, Florida. Oh, and he’s kind of a big deal in the local drug market. He’s got a white-trash house on the water and a hard-top convertible with $ rims, an arsenal of guns, piles of drugs, naked girl and weed posters everywhere. His bed is literally covered with stacks of cash and automatic weapons… and don’t forget the weird bald guys packaging cocaine in the side room. Now imagine the backyard, where a white piano is stuck between the bay, the pool, and a sunset, and where Alien (Franco) sits surrounded by bikini-clad girls in pink balaclavas… tumblr_mju5m4SdGW1rqdh12o1_r1_500All holding guns bigger than they are of course. “You wanna see my sensitive side huh?” Franco asks in a thick southern drawl. He bursts into song, singing a completely ridiculous full-length cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime‘ that’s inter-cut with shots of the gang robbing spring breakers at gun point. If you don’t know the song, open it in another tab and you’ll get the joke.

This is the universe of Spring Breakers, the latest movie from polarizing indie-filmmaker Harmony Korine (Gummo, Kids, Mr. Lonely). It opened in cineplexes across the country last weekend to a lukewarm reception due to one of the worst marketing campaigns I have ever seen. It stars former Disney teen-sensations Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as well as Ashley Benson and the director’s wife Rachel Korine, in a HARD R-rated movie that drips with sex and attitude… Which is obviously what the studio banked on.

Don’t misunderstand me, this is an unforgettable film, and I’m not shitting you. I don’t know if you’ve seen Kids or Gummo or not, but they’re raw slices of Americana that center on kids growing up in different hell holes. Spring Breakers stays true to Korine’s reoccurring motif, teenagers hell-bent on acting like the adults they think they are… Spring-Breakers-30Only this time it’s set to the hedonistic backdrop of the annual college ritual known as “spring break.” Where thousands of college kids drive some place warm and act a fool.  I didn’t think I would like this movie as much as I did… And I’m not just saying that because the stars spend the entire movie busting out of their bikinis and underwear.

Someone in an office somewhere decided to market this movie as a straight-up good-girls-gone-bad gangster flick, probably to cash in on the stars’ names and hoping to do exactly what they did. Draw a big unsuspecting crowd the first weekend, only to be met by a  slew of comments like “Dude that movie sucked” from the poor date-night patrons they duped into the wrong film. Well screw that, and screw them, this movie is so hot it’s electric! I’m confident in my assessment that this is A Clockwork Orange or Natural Born Killers for Generation Y.

photo 1The story is simple, four bored college girls reject the horrible depressing structure they live in and only dream of going “to the place where people find themselves.” That’s right, Florida. Where spring break rages like the twisting nude flesh of some Roman sex-goddess. Morality goes out the window in the pursuit of that which has no morals to begin with. After the girls realize they’ve only saved $230 all year-long, they rationalize what they have to in pursuit of their “needs.”

So of course they rob the local Chicken Shack (in a brilliantly filmed scene shot entirely from inside the getaway car as it circles the diner). This is not a Bonnie and Clyde movie, this is a meditation on the detachment of today’s youth. This film serves up the symbolism on a steaming hot platter and forces you to take a bite. The director skewers everything from traditional gender roles to consumerism and the moral erosion of the age of information. I haven’t seen this much use of ironic neon since Grand Theft Auto Vice City.

photo 5I don’t think I stressed the fact that this movie is sexy. Uncomfortably so… and on purpose. You know the old adage of “if you want to get them laughing, make them cry; likewise if you want to make them cry you’ve gotta get them to laugh?” It’s an old movie trick that goes way back, and in Spring Breakers it’s more of, “Want to make them disgusted? Get ’em hot.” Opening scenes of the girls cavorting in their underwear while conspiring their escape give way to brilliantly staged party-scapes, where bikini-clad college kids dance, drink, screw, prank, and then finally get led on a visceral roller-coaster ride over the wrong side of the tracks. The movie follows these girls through the looking glass and beyond, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, power and helplessness, control and chaos…

I can picture the date night couples that went to see this movie expecting some kind of MTV gangster flick.

After the girls find themselves at the wrong crappy hotel party, they get busted. It isn’t really clear what for, but a lot of coke is snorted off of bare breasts while in another room two girls have sex. Luckily for our girls, two of the guys at the party (guess where the coke came from?) are also buddies with local-rapper-turned-drug-kingpin Alien (played with haunting precision by James Franco). tumblr_mjyy91D6201s4kw7eo1_500So when Alien pays their bail and picks them up the next morning, of course they nervously agree to a ride home in his convertible cheesemobile. This is where the fun begins. From Alien’s metal and jeweled grill to his corn-rowed extensions this guy is a creeper, but he’s got a way with words and he’s something of a celebrity who tosses around money and drugs like they were nothing.

Money and drugs you say? That’s all it takes for a few of the girls, and soon the movie takes a hypnotic, hallucinatory journey through the seedy side of St. Pete’s. After the good girl freaks out and questions their motives and their decisions, she finally bails and takes the bus back home. This sends the remaining girls over the deep end as their moral compass has gone away.

I know why people hate this movie. It makes them feel uncomfortable, the images are disturbing, and if you don’t get that it’s a comment on what’s going on up there on the screen then it’s pointless. spring-breakers-handcuffedOne of the triumphs of Korine’s film is that it succeeds in making beauty disturbing long before it turns ugly. So when it finally does turn ugly, oh man! One scene after the girls first hook up with Alien, he takes them to a spot where he and his friends hang out, where heavily-tattooed thugs play pool and dice in the corner while violent rap plays loudly on the stereo. It’s like watching mice in a snake pit.

All of the characters provide narration at one point I believe, and Alien gets the best lines. “Four little chickies came down to da beach. Four little chickies got out of my reach. One little chickie got shot in the arm. That little chickie went back to the farm.” In the immortal words of Mickey and Mallory Knox, “That’s just poetry baby…”

The best part about Spring Breakers is that nothing is really as it seems, and soon you realize that the girls are more than brooding, depressed college types… And in a very compelling scene involving Franco and a pair of silenced pistols… Well let’s just say for some reason I see that same snake pit, only with a pink grenade tossed in.

Spring Breakers is a movie that you will never forget for many reasons, and at the same time it succeeds in being one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Men World

250px-The_Bob_Newhart_ShowWhen I was a kid I grew up watching the Bob Newhart Show, and I don’t mean the one that took place in a hotel. I mean the old school show where Bob was the psychologist in the big city. I remember watching that show and dreaming of New York (I had no idea the exterior shots of the buildings used in the show were from Chicago), over the years I’ve always had a huge place in my heart for the Big Apple. Whether it was being saved by Spiderman, slammed by Seinfeld, blown up by aliens, backdrop for my favorite Woody Allen movies, or my favorite action movies, New York is my “dream city,” as much as I’d love to live in San Francisco, if I was rich I’d spend a few years living in New York before I die. Heck… I even watch the Today Show most mornings mainly because it’s such a New York show.

story_xlimage_2010_12_R4653_Times_Square_Photo_Contest_123010It’s the New York from the 60s and 70s that I remember from my childhood, the one from French Connection, Midnight Cowboy, Annie Hall, Muppets Take Manhattan… You know the classics. I’m fascinated by the idea of a completely man-made place where endless concrete and steel serves as the doorway to America. That from one side of Manhattan to the other it’s completely covered with streets, buildings, shops, houses… No rolling hills or tree lines like we have here.

Enter AMC’s critically acclaimed drama, Mad Men which returns for its sixth season this Sunday, the latest chapter in the fictional history of New York. It’s the story of Don Draper and his struggles as he becomes one of Madison Avenue’s most celebrated ad men. The most compelling part of Mad Men is that Don is literally not who he seems to be. Spoilers aren’t needed, because it’s well known Don is really Dick Whitman, and has been hiding his identity ever since the real Don Draper was blown to bits in front of him in Korea. don-draperThe ol dog-tag switcheroo and Dick becomes Don, and gets a ride home from the war with a Purple Heart. Don came back from the war and started writing copy for Sterling Cooper, a prestigious New York ad company that was wrangling huge 1960s companies such as Lucky Strikes and Kodiak. Years of lying about his identity and acting as Don Draper have turned this man into a brilliant schmoozer, the king of the board room. Seriously, Don Draper could sell cigarettes in a iron lung.

Mad Men is set in 1960 in the first season, and has subsequently moved forward in time over the tumultuous decade. Mad_Men_Season_6,_Promotional_PosterOften the date is relayed through the events in the show, the Kennedy Assassination in the early seasons, and now the Civil Rights struggles has quickly become a hugely compelling storyline. It’s always done with genius and an eye for detail. Why do you think Mad Men won the Best Drama Emmy 4 years straight? I’ll tell you right now, it’s not because this is some stuffy intellectual show. This is the essence of the human condition, reflected through the lens of one of the most important times in history… And it’s SO New York. It’s got beatniks and junkies and smoke-filled offices filled with drunken sex and infidelity. It’s got smokey bars and taxi rides, high-rise apartments and back-alley infidelity… And I’ll tell you what else Mad Men‘s got. Joanie.

joanLike I said, season 6 of Mad Men starts this Sunday night, and season 5 was just put on Netflix today, so if you need to catch up, now is the time. I’ve got it queued up and ready to go. While I’ll admit the show has lost a bit of what made it great in the beginning, the pitches, the products, the Draper… I absolutely love how the story has evolved, things change, people die, while Don gets even more rich and powerful, his inability to keep his “Dick his pants” so to speak gets harder and harder. I guess that joke does work both ways.

If you look hard, you’ll even notice a similarity between the Bob Newhart Show and Mad Men, and that’s the AWESOME sunken floor in the Drapers’ new house. It’s a gorgeous house that we get a good tour of in the opening shots of season 5… Right before Sally (Don’s teenage daughter) goes all creepy-sexual over daddy’s new 20-something wife half-naked in bed. This show is SO good. I’m tired of pleading with people that haven’t watched it yet. Your loss! I’ll see you all Sunday night when we’re all glued to the TV.

And yes, I’ll be watching it without cable.

Cutting the Cable Cord: Week 2

poltergeistWell here we are, 8 days after turning all of our cable boxes in and telling Comcast to take their $130 cable bundles and shove em… And I’ll be Mayan’d… The world didn’t friggin end! Yet.

The true cord-cutters test will come this Sunday evening when we have friends over to watch the Walking Dead and we’re able to pull it off without a hitch. On the other hand, I am starting to believe that I was only afraid of losing cable because cable wanted me to be afraid of losing it. With the set up we have going now, and thanks to some late-night homework on my part, I believe I’m more than prepared for any of my family’s audio/video entertainment needs.

house-of-cards-posterThe name of the game in cord-cutting is cover your bases. You know there is a show you like and you know when it’s on and what channel, there are ways to get those shows as early as 15 minutes after they air. There’s the standards, like Netflix, which has become the cord-cutters banner for streaming media. Seriously, they have about two-thirds of any TV show, movie, or cartoon you could ever want to watch… for $8 a month. Sold. The most exciting thing about Netflix is their original programming. We watched House of Cards a few weeks ago, and it was exceptionally compulsive television. Produced and directed by David Fincher, one of the most talented filmmakers on the planet, Netflix made the bold move of releasing the entire season at once. They plan on doing the same thing for their next original show, the resurrected Arrested Development. However, besides original programming, they don’t add newer content ever… So Netflix is really good for a video library of all the old stuff you love and maybe want to watch or catch up on… But new episodes of Breaking Bad won’t be on until a year after they air.

imagesThen there is Amazon Instant Video. I’m not 100%, but I think these guys get most their new episodes the next day, in full HD (except for HBO, and I’ll talk about that later). Although I have not tried it yet, this is a great option. I hear Hulu Plus is good, but no AMC, no money from me. I can get it elsewhere. Then there is iTunes… But with Apple, I love their technology, but I hate dealing with them in any way, shape, or form. I’m sure I’m missing a few others, but only because I want to get to the meat and potatoes of my point here.

xbmc1My point is XBMC, which I find amusing because it comes from the Xbox which I’ve never owned, and often bashed for its lameness. If I wanted a Wii or an Xbox I’d buy one, but I’m a serious gamer. XBMC is a FREE multi-media player that runs on your computer and organizes all of your movies, shows, music, games, all in one place… and then you plug in your TV as your monitor and GO! I took an “old” Dell Optiplex 960, while not the best machine, still has a few cores to work with, and I simply ran an HDMI cord from the back of the PC to our plasma screen in the living room. Then I tucked it out of the way, turned it on, and let it know where my audio and video files were. Then it sprang to life.

navi-x-08XB uses online databases and scans your library, then throws it all together in a nice user-friendly format that’s completely customizable. You don’t like the way the cross-media bar looks or works? Change it. There are websites full of skins for it, and all of them have individual settings you can adjust to make it how you want it. Then the features! It allows you to use “add-ons” that let you access all manner of live tv, streaming video, all from sites like Hulu, Amazon, Comedy Central, any place that has their shows online for free, you can watch through XB. Instead of going to ABC.com to watch Once Upon a Time, it serves it for you. There are also add-ons that link to material that is slightly less than legally streamed, but it’s not against the law per se to watch, depending on your morality stance and your patience with non-HD content. xbmc-ios-remoteI tried one for academic purposes only and watched the latest episode of The Americans 15 minutes after it aired on cable. Whoever is streaming these shows is on the ball.

Then there’s the remote. Guess what? It’s an app. It’s a really cool app. It not only has the remote as a touch-screen on your phone but it allows you to browse your library on your phone as well. Want to watch a movie? Pull up your XBMC remote, look through your library, then hit “play.” It’s that easy. Oh, and did I mention Air Play? WITHOUT APPLE TV. Yes that means all you suckers who paid hundreds for your fancy little boxes got just that… Fancy little boxes. I can be looking at the IMDB app on my phone, see a trailer I want to watch, and throw it up to the TV from anywhere in my house. If I’m watching or listening to something on my phone I want to put on the plasma screen I tap one button. I love it.

There’s also a nice little app called Splashtop 2 for the iPhone and iPad that will stream any (wirelessly) connected computer to either device. I’ve had this awesome app for a year now, it lets me play Eve Online while I’m not sitting at my computer. It lets me control the Dell from the couch… Or the shower for that matter. So if XB dies I just open Splashtop, start it up again, and go! I’m still working out the kinks, but so far it’s worked fairly seamlessly. photo 3We tried it again last night for academic purposes, we chose a cool add-on program called “Navi-X” that hosts a ton of streaming content. There are a few dedicated genre playlists that people have created, and of course we found ourselves looking through the Sci-Fi movies. There was practically every popular contemporary science fiction movie in that list. My wife had never seen Solaris with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone (Karen from Californication), so we gave it a shot. The best part? All of them are 720p, high-def streams!

Well technology wouldn’t be technology without a few hiccups, and of course 10 minutes into the movie it stopped and we couldn’t get it started again. So with a little ingenuity I was able to find a copy within minutes and we were back up and running… And that seems to be the way it is without cable. Cable is a product, served up for a specific reason and has been updated, perfected, and worked on for decades. It’s designed to bring you TV and movies seamlessly, and it does. The issue is that mega-corporations that truly don’t care about anything other than the bottom line supply that product. Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-Posters-jaime1All of this new technology is only a few years old, there are still a million bugs to work out, so it’s expected that not everything is going to work 100% of the time… But it better come Walking Dead time I tell you!

Game of Thrones starts next weekend, and I’m curious as to how soon I’ll be able to get HD episodes from Amazon… Since HBO wants everyone to use their HBO Go app now, and you can only use that if you have a current cable package with an HBO subscription. Why doesn’t HBO simply make their Go app a stand alone product? Some of us can’t afford to fork over hundreds a month just to get one show! I’d gladly pay HBO a flat fee a month to be able to watch their brilliant programming… But they are so in deep with their cable company partners they can’t even rock the boat without fear of losing what? Their bottom line. I think they could more than cover their losses by making HBO Go a subscription-based service, and bring it to the millions out there who have to pirate Game of Thrones because there is no other way to watch it.

photo 1Long story long, between the PS3 and the XBMC, I think we’re covered. I can get any show just a few hours after it airs, live TV broadcasts, March Madness, and tons of other stuff. So far, cutting the cable has worked okay, however it has only soured me even more for the cable companies. It’s not a jealousy thing either, it’s a have-and-have-nots thing. If we could occupy Time Warner I think it would be a great idea… But what are the options? Pirate movies? Oooo, that’ll show em. Protest? That only gives them more ammunition. I suppose grass-roots legislation, but I’m fairly sure they’ve got their backs covered on that one.

Crysis 3 Tries Really Hard to Take the First-Person Shooter to the Next Level

iRhD5QPRZfw0LI rented Crysis 3 from my local Redbox on a whim. I’d never played either of the first two, in fact I didn’t even know it was a first-person shooter when I got it. With the miracle of modern technology I was able to yank up my Google app and look at some reviews from IGN while I was standing there contemplating getting it, and man am I glad I did. By the time I was finished with Crysis 3‘s main storyline I was sad I had to return the game. I could have played it over, and lately that seems to be the gauge for a good game.

crysis3dammap1First of all, it’s a visually stunning experience. Using the new CryEngine 3 it manages to pack more awesome particles on the screen than any game I’ve seen recently, and that was just on the PS3… I can only dream of how it looks on the PC with the settings turned up. What it really adds up to is very cool looking grass and water effects. I found myself being distracted by the environment MANY times throughout the short storyline, leading me off on little side adventures… Nothing as cool as Tomb Raider, but that’s another review. All in all Crysis 3 is a very well acted, written, and produced game. It almost felt like I was playing something next-generation. Along with a Call of Duty-caliber multiplayer on top, EA’s latest release is a good step in the right direction for this kind of game.

Crysis 3 takes place in the near future, when super soldiers wear special nanosuits made from stolen alien technology. crysis22011032311210878The suits enhance their abilities and let you jump higher, run faster, and best of all: turn invisible! The extremely complicated plot involves a mega-corporation that controls all of the energy on the planet. I don’t want to say too much but they get it from a source they shouldn’t be messing with, so it’s up to you, Prophet, the ultimate super-soldier, to stop them. The game is mostly an open-world experience, where exploring every nook and cranny will net you rewards. The weapons are fairly standard, except when you pick up an alien gun… But even then they’re nothing to write home about. The real fun comes from using the new bow and arrow. You get different tips on them for different situations, and it’s extremely satisfying to put an arrow through an unsuspecting bad guy’s head.

Unfortunately Crysis 3 has some glaring downfalls that really distract from the experience. One is the length, this is the shortest story mode I’ve played. They’ve trimmed off all the fat and made it a straight-forward break in and save the world plot. crysis-3-review-fpsI wouldn’t have minded so much, but it was such a great story, with some top-notch voice acting. Secondly, the use of the cloaking device is not nearly as good as it should be.  Before too long I found myself repeating the same situation over and over, I’d get to a new area, sneak around and arrow a guy or two until their buddies catch on that someone is there and start lobbing grenades everywhere. Then I’d hide until they calmed down and go around trying to take each one out. Then I’d move on to the next area. It wasn’t until the middle of the game when all hell breaks loose that it got really interesting. Then by the time I got around to enjoying the story and the game play it was all over.

Crysis-3-Explosions-Beneath-the-Liberty-DomeWhen I think about it now, Crysis 3 is more of an action movie than a video game It doesn’t feel immersive and it never stops reminding you that you’re playing a video game. You drop in, blast your way through what’s left of New York, watch a lot of well acted cut scenes, and then an extremely satisfying and rousing ending… Then it’s over and you’re left wanting more. I don’t know if it’s because I had rented it and was pressed for time, or if it simply seemed too short, but when I was done it felt like I’d just played the last half of a really cool, epic sci-fi shooter.

It’s a good rent, but other than the arena-style multiplayer, the outstanding graphics, and the above-average voice acting and storyline all add up to something that is less than the sum of its parts. Crysis 3 is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Cutting the Cable Cord: Day 1

cable_cord_byAlyson_Hurt_flickrccHow much is your cable bill? How about when you let it slide for a few weeks? Ever pick it apart and read the fine print? Now let me ask you this: Do you know what Stockholm Syndrome is?

You know, the one where the hostages lose their minds and start to feel a bond with the kidnappers? It’s like the story of the frog in the pot. The water’s warm, it keeps getting warmer, it feels great and relaxing, and then it’s frog soup.

Well this analogy can be used for anything in our society today, from the inability of our government to function on even the basest levels, to the Doritos Cool Ranch Taco at Taco Bell, the water is boiling… and we’re too relaxed to notice we’re about to be soup… But I’m talking about cable television.

infographic-cutting-the-cableWho knows this game? Your bill is too high so you call up Comcast and say you need to cut back some services and possibly switch to Dish… The representative pretends he or she hasn’t played this game every 5 minutes for the last 5 years  and gives you free HBO for six months and a boost on your internet speed… and maybe if you’re lucky will cut your bill down enough to make you feel like you’re empowered, like Comcast really cares about your business and wants to keep you as a customer.

I played this game for over 10 years and I can’t do it anymore. So as of today, as painful as it might be, my family has “cut the cord.” I turned in all of our cable boxes and gave up the charade of cable television. After literally months of back and forth, pros and cons, and swearing “this’ll be the week…”, tonight we are free. We can watch whatever we want without the constraints of “the guide.”

Let’s face it Comcast, “the guide” is the same crappy blue boxes you implemented 20 years ago. I’ve been staring at the same unresponsive menus and horrible interface for the better part of my adult life. Well, all of it actually… And yes I know that says something about my lifestyle, but I assure you, I do all things in moderation… ESPECIALLY moderation. While they might have added HDTV programming and On Demand (which now completely sucks because there and commercials and you can’t fast forward) to the mix, it’s still the same 25-year-old technology they’re selling us as next year’s model.

the-cable-guy-tbi-1Our last bill from Comcast was $601.00. That’s six hundred dollars, and that’s not a typo. That was also the last straw. Yes, it is three months worth of bills cause of their stupid bill-in-advance system, but still… $600??!! We had an HD-DVR in the living room, an HD box collecting dust, and an old black Motorola doing the same… Plus HBO (half price) and Showtime (half price) and a myriad of shit channels we don’t EVER watch. So I packed them in the trunk, went down and took a number in line, and stood there watching Netflix on my iPhone just to say “F you Comcast.” It would have been a much more satisfying experience if the dude at the counter hadn’t been so damn cool. So that plus internet works out to $200 a month. That’s $2400 a year. Are you beginning to see the water bubbling?

We’ve got 2 PS3s, 1 Sony BluRay, a Wii, a half dozen i-devices, and an HDTV antennae. We’ve also ordered the Boxee, which will be here Tuesday. It uses an internal HDTV antennae to record live TV, DVR-style, and stores it on a server without a limit to how much you store. Did you say no-limit cloud storage? We’ve got Amazon Prime, we’ve got Netflix, and we’ve got resourcefulness.

photo_610x357I’ll admit, it was a little overwhelming. Simply because cable has been such a part of my life, especially HBO and lately AMC, but now I can just BUY those episodes when the day they air anyway. Then I’ll own it! In the next month, two of my favorite shows return, and even if I have to pay $40 for an HD season of Game of Thrones, $40 for Mad Men, $40 for True Blood, etc… That’s still less than one goddamn Comcast payment! And it’s a cost that’s spread out over a few months, and lets me add my favorite shows to my video library!

cord-cutting-cableIt’s time to change the channel from cable television… To boldly go where no one has gone before and all that… Huzzah!

To be continued…

Even in the Future, it’s Decisions, Decisions: (Eve Online 1 Year In)

eve_chart_revelations-4096Let’s talk Geek for a few minutes. I’ll try and keep it entertaining for those that just sighed heavily.

In another life I’m an industrialist from the future. Let’s say about 26,000 years in the future. I don’t have time to catch you up on the details, but basically humans live in a galaxy called New Eden… There are 4 races of humans who are always declaring holy wars, positioning politically, and at each others throats… All in the name of the mighty dollar… So what am I saying? That not much has changed.

Anyway long story short: Like I said, I’m an industrialist that means I take raw materials and manufacture things for sale. I’m new here, which is to say I graduated from the prestigious Caldari Naval Academy about a year ago.  You see, long ago the ability to clone ourselves made us immortal. You ever see Battlestar Galactica? We’re kind of like the Cylons, when we die our consciousness is downloaded into a clone, and we keep on trucking.

Retribution_ThumbnailThis is handy in combat. And let me tell you, the galaxy is a rough place for a miner. When I got out of the Academy I got myself a small cruiser with a big cargo hold and I slapped a couple of mining lasers on it. I sat in that thing for hours nervously watching my back, waiting for someone to fly up and mess with me. Pirates are everywhere, and they’re not the singing and dancing kind. They’re the blow your ship to hell and scoop up whatever salvage they can find kind of pirates. The worst of the worst simply because in New Eden, everyone is immortal… Why not be a ruthless bloodthirsty warrior? There’s a profit in it.

After the cruiser I moved up to an industrial ship, then eventually a mining barge, until finally I trained long enough to learn how to fly an exhumer. Now I sit and grind away, clearing asteroid belt after asteroid belt of their precious resources. Then I learned I could take those raw materials and instead of selling them, I could get a blueprint and build something. So built I did. I build guns, ammo, equipment, everything under the sun. Then I found shipbuilding.

For the last six months I’ve been building the biggest ships in the universe, the capitals. I started with a small project and I’m slowly working my way up. These things sell for billions of dollars, and while I might spend a few hundred million on minerals, I’m still pulling in a profit.

3331Now I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m halfway through the build on a ship called a Rorqual… and I’m in over my head. You see, this ship is no ordinary one. It’s a capital industrial. It has the ability to use a special fuel to jump from one place in to another without the use of jump gates. Plus it can store other ships and clones inside its massive hull. It can take a small mining fleet, jump out to dangerous low-security space (where all the good mining is) and deploy a space station, a mining fleet, and a huge force field.

From there the fleet of exhumers goes and mines, brings the ore back to the Rorqual, which compresses it and stores it in a special hangar. Rinse, repeat. Then the Rorqual can jump back to high-sec, drop off the ores, and jump back. When the system is clear, everyone loads back into the Rorq, and jumps back home.

This is called Jump Mining… and it is a complicated, lengthy, and extremely profitable thing to accomplish. The only problem is you can’t do it alone… and dealing with other people in New Eden is a total pain in the ass. They’re egotistical, they’re aggressive, they never listen, and they flake out. This is the way of the world.

So the question becomes: do I keep it? or do I sell it? This is the chance to start my very own mining corp, to lead missions to dangerous places in search of the mighty dollar. I’d have to recruit, train, hire protection, I’m talking serious work for a guy who only likes to engage on the shallowest level possible.

Decisions, decisions…