Grand Theft Auto V Review!


Well, the biggest videogame launch of the year is finally upon us. Some fortunate folks have even received the game early, and they’re currently knee deep in divorce proceedings from neglecting their families. Other have gone back to their basements and abandoned any semblance of a social life. Yes, the game that makes reality look about as colorful as the contents of your belly button has arrived.

Rejoice! Grand Theft Auto 5 has landed!

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play the game for a while. I’m a devoted PC gamer, so I have to wait for my preferred version to be released (or even announced officially). I’m sure it will be worth it. For now, I have to get by with reviews and gameplay videos from around the net. So for your pleasure, I have linked to some of the latest reviews of the game below. The overall consensus is that Rockstar has done it again.

Kotaku:

“By the end of GTA V, such as there is an end to GTA V, the player will have stories to tell. One is the story of Michael, Franklin and Trevor and follows the main plotline. That one’s ok. The better story to tell will be the one about all the things that happened at the margins… in the streets and alleys, off the airfields and down in the valleys. Much of that was written by Rockstar, too, and some of it was simply enabled by the marvelous chemistry-set of their game world.”

actual_1364388007

CVG:

“Part of Grand Theft Auto V’s magic is discovery, and enjoying the thrilling, unpredictable ride the story takes you on. Whether you’re in the thick of a bank heist or exploring the wilderness listening to Johnny Cash on the country station, it always feels tight, refined, and polished. The world is breathtaking, the script is funny, the music is superb (both the licensed tracks and the atmospheric original score), and, most of all, it’s really, really fun.”

Polygon:

“It’s fitting that the game arrives at the cusp of the next generation of consoles. Grand Theft Auto 5 is the closure of this generation, and the benchmark for the next. Here is a game caught occasionally for the worst, but overwhelmingly for the better, between the present and the future.”

Gamespot:

“GTA V is an imperfect yet astounding game that has great characters and an innovative and exciting narrative structure, even if the story it uses that structure to tell is hobbled at times by inconsistent character behavior, muddled political messages and rampant misogyny. It also raises the bar for open-world mission design in a big way and has one of the most beautiful, lively, diverse and stimulating worlds ever seen in a game.”

IGN:

“Grand Theft Auto V is not only a preposterously enjoyable video game, but also an intelligent and sharp-tongued satire of contemporary America. It represents a refinement of everything that GTA IV brought to the table five years ago. It’s technically more accomplished in every conceivable way, but it’s also tremendously ambitious in its own right. No other world in video games comes close to this in size or scope, and there is sharp intelligence behind its sense of humour and gift for mayhem. It tells a compelling, unpredictable, and provocative story without ever letting it get in the way of your own self-directed adventures through San Andreas.

It is one of the very best video games ever made.”

Ω

Advertisements

Movie Review: ELYSIUM


Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

LIKES

  • I enjoyed witnessing Matt Damon’s character Max’s journey. We’re introduced to him as an innocent child full of dreams of wanting to escape his downtrodden existence and move to Elysium with his best friend Frey. Of course, dreams are seldom what they seem. We next see Max as a world beaten adult who has let go of his dreams. He stops looking to the sky for the faint glimmer of Elysium as it borders on the edge of the world. Somewhere along the way the realities of the dystopian nightmare have eroded away his dreams and left behind nothing but scars and tattoos. Max is just trying to get by but circumstance and destiny collide  to once again waken his childhood dream. Unfortunately, that dream has been severely distorted. Max is a desperate man of few words. Matt Damon lend a softness to this character that makes you sympathize with him and everyone else caught up in the hellish version of Earth in 2154. As a result, you are drawn into the world because you are personally affected. Eventually we see Max become the reluctant hero who embraces his destiny because he understands that his dream doesn’t solely belong to him. In terms of character development, this is similar to how the character of Wikus in District 9 grows over the course of that film.
  • Matt Damon is not alone in the acting department. Everyone brings their A-game to this. Jodie Foster is deliciously menacing with her words and heartlessness. William Fichtner delights in a small role as a capitalist pig. The supporting cast is also on point, but they don’t linger around too much. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura also stands out as the handicapped black market kingpin Spider. He certainly has some bats in the belfry, but he is an intelligent opportunist. However, the man who steals the show is Sharlto Copley. His portrayal of Kruger is the epitome of evil. This man is deranged and a true sadist. He has no morals, respect, loyalty, fear or tolerance. He’s clearly been driven mad from having been stuck on Earth while his employers lived the high life on Elysium. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants and I was genuinely impressed, and sometimes scared, by the sheer brutality of his words and actions. Moreover, I loved the look of the character and how he presented a formidable enemy for Max. Kruger is an animal bred to be a warrior with his multiple augmentations, scavenger-like mentality and willingness to destroy anything that stands in the way of a good pay day.
  • In my opinion, I think the visual effects in Elysium are by far the best of the year. Painstaking attention to detail is afforded to every component of this world. If Oblivion was clinical and clean, then this is downright dirty like a back alley surgery. From the warning labels on the droids to the graffiti staining the walls, everything is designed to sell you Neil Blomkamp’s vision of an Earth that is a garbage dump. This is in stark contrast to the scenes on Elysium which looks like Beverly Hills recreated in space. That’s not a bad thing because it is deliberate and meant to draw your eye to the divide that has contributed to Elysium’s dystopia. The visuals are powerful and every details serves a purpose as nothing is superfluous.
  • Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film for me was that it treated me like an intelligent viewer. Yes, I was there looking for entertainment, but Neil Blomkamp goes one step further by giving me something to ponder about. I appreciated that there was a lack of hand holding and brow beating about the world and the message. If you’re informed about the social, political and economic paradigms that govern and institutionalize inequalities and injustices, then you will appreciate that this is a plausible future. At that moment , the film becomes the very definition of great sci-fi. There might be people who are turned off by the depiction of Earth in the movie. However, I would contend that if we as a species took every wrong step, then the Earth of 2154 in Elysium  is one of many outcomes. Great science fiction does not play it safe. It seeks to challenge you by giving you an escape that  makes you question and re-evaluate your place within your present. It scares or inspires us to be and do better. In essence, Elysium is a movie filled with big action and even bigger ideas.
  • Another significant thing I enjoyed was the technology on display in the movie. The Stanford Torus that houses Elysium is a thing of beauty. Uber-nerds will recognize the design from the Mass Effect videogames. I also loved the inclusion of bio-technology (brain uploads), augmentations (Kruger and Max’s exoskeletons) and all the medical marvels (med-bays!). The fact that the film is set in 2154 helps to sell the plausibility of these technologies. However, all this tech is already available or being researched right now. The best part about this technological indulgence is how it deepens the divide between the rich and poor. For the denizens of Elysium, the elimination of death, pain and suffering creates a stringent detachment which makes them a little less human.  Hell, even their appearance has altered as their skin shows evidence of underlying physiological changes. This detachment is evident in the way they run away screaming from interloping “immigrants” and how William Fichtner’s character deals with his workers (“Cover your mouth! Don’t breathe on me!”). It’s saddening  and affected me personally. I am a proponent of human evolution through technology, but at what cost? This promise of evil that accompanies technological advancement was something Blomkamp touched upon in District 9 as well, and I’m glad to see he has taken it to the next level.
  • I was happy to see that there wasn’t a forced romance in this movie. It really helped the characters develop and be more believable. I wanted this to be a bleak story and I’m glad there was barely a smile in the entire movie. Also, thankfully it didn’t turn into a robot kill-fest. Blomkamp could have gone overboard with Matt Damon punching robots left and right, but I’m glad he didn’t and that the action was necessary rather than gratuitous. Of course, the gore is over the top (face grenade!), but I can forgive that because some of those weapons look like they could tear a man in half. The music is also enjoyable and helps drive the action and the story along.

DISLIKES

  • I wanted more Jodie Foster because I really enjoyed her performance. I think a confrontational scene with Matt Damon’s character would have really added a little more to the movie.
  • The dialogue in the movie is good but not great. It’s not bad by any means, but I was hoping for a little more commentary from the characters about the world they live in. There’s always the risk that something like that could fall flat and sound unconvincing, but it might have helped define the convictions of the characters a little more.
  • Exploring more of the world of Elysium and EArth would have helped the story develop a little more. We see very little of each and I was invested in the movie enough to want more. While that is a good thing, it also feels like something has been incomplete.
  • The camera work is really strong, but I wanted to see more shots that were pulled out a little. There are instance of too much motion blur in the close ups shots. However, I’m nitpicking because I was enjoying the fights so much that I wanted to see a little more of the actors moving around in their exoskeletons and using their whole body. Oh! watch the film in IMAX!

As you can see there wasn’t a whole lot I disliked about this movie. This is rarely the case because I tend to be really picky. Maybe I’ll notice more things I dislike in subsequent viewings. For now, Elysium is by far the best movie of this summer. Depth and vision collide in furious form in Elysium to create an evocative and stylish science fiction film.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

Ω

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby


“All the bright precious things fade so fast…and they don’t come back”

What I Liked:

  •  I read the book a few years ago as I grabbed a tattered copy off of my sister’s bookshelf. Unfortunately, the language and style felt anachronistic to me, so I couldn’t invest myself in the world and the characters. This is not an issue with the movie. This meant that I was free from comparing the movie to the book. As a result, the DiCaprio version stands on its own merits and raises a story, which I initially didn’t care for, to a whole new level. In other words, the movie helped me appreciate the source material and pushed me to revisit it.
  • The words quoted above are uttered by Daisy towards the start of The Great Gatsby and percolate throughout the remainder of the movie. The words set the tone for the time period and sum up the individual character journeys eloquently. These words also teach a harsh lesson because this is a story of heartbreak. There are no heroes and villains, instead there are only flawed people. The New York of The Great Gatsby affords its denizens dreams of glitz and glamour, but dreams have a habit of not coming true. The movie takes this thread and unravels it delightfully. In a nutshell,  it is the story of a man trapped by purpose and consumed by august pretensions  in a microcosm of rapturous congregations. It is all merely a ruse to attract a distant glimmer of a hope he let go of years ago. Sadly, he becomes a victim of his own identity and malevolence as he drags the lives of others into tragedy and leaves them in disarray. I won’t call it selfish, but it is powerful, haunting, dark, sad, hurtful, and beautiful in its pain.
  • Fitzgerald’s writing speaks to you through  Baz Luhrmann’s imagery. Sometimes it even comes right at you. However, this movie is sold through its characters and their commanding presence. You will love them, you will hate them, but at all times you will be enthralled by them. It is initially jarring as everything appears unconventional, but you settle into the groove quickly as you acclimatize to the decadence and the pace of the epoch. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to prove he is the best actor of his generation and that he was born to play this role. He is a roller coaster of emotions, charming one second and ready to kill a man the next. Edgerton and Mulligan are equally evocative. Secretly, I adored Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Nick Carraway. I started off not enjoying his voiceover and his recounting of the story. But over the course of the film you start to notice how his voice grows weary from the chaos unfolding around him. From Wall Street upstart to doting friend, his journey is a treat to watch as  his world crumbles around him and he is ultimately relegated to the role of a spectator entrenched in other people’s tensions. “Within and Without,” as Nick would say.
  • The highly ambitious visuals and effects in this film add to the splendor of the story.  One could argue that it is all superfluous and adds nothing of value to the proceedings. A mere distraction to take attention away from an otherwise mediocre film. I would contend that without the visuals the story of The Great Gatsby would not be so endearing and enchanting. They imbibe the movie with all the extravagances and sorrows of a classical fairy tale. Moreover  the visuals are metaphors strewn all over the place, but they bring the subtleties of Fitzgerald’s writing to the forefront. Lavish parties represent decadence and loneliness; a green light beckons forlorn desires; and the disparity of wealth is covered in thick black smog and the sweat of those less fortunate. The film,unlike the book, isn’t a commentary on the times, but it still manages to register on multiple levels while taking your breath away.
  • I have to give a special mention to the ending. It was meticulous, sombre and poignant. More importantly, it was silent but, just as Gatsby hoped for his own life, it has a sempiternal impact.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • I thought that the soundtrack was a mess. Who thought Jay-Z was a good depiction of the era? I enjoyed Baz Luhrmann’s crazy mash-ups in Moulin Rouge, but the same audaciousness doesn’t work here. I’m surprised that they couldn’t come up with a surreal remix of more iconic songs from that era. Also, the orchestral score wasn’t that striking either. A few hymns and measures stood out, particularly the lament of Young and Beautiful, but on the whole I felt that the soundtrack was underwhelming.
  • There is a lot of fast editing as the film weaves in and out of scenes. This is mostly noticeable at the start of the film and settles down as the movie finds its legs. It’s not major gripe, but it wasn’t handled seamlessly and felt a little disorienting, especially with the 3D.
  • Some interesting characters are sacrificed to keep the focus of the story on the main stars. For example, the excellent Amitabh Bachchan  makes his Hollywood debut here but only appears for about 5 minutes. This usually wouldn’t be a problem, but he is very good in those five minutes and is, quite explicitly, a big part of Gatsby’s current manifestation. The same goes for Jordan Baker, who is much more fleshed out in the book.
  • I fucking hate 3D. This movie made me like it. I don’t like that. There are some scenes which are just beautifully rendered where you actually feel like you are a part of that world and that you’re in the room with these characters as they tear their lives apart. So, I guess this should actually be in the list above.

Overall, this is one director’s vision of a story that has only become more loved through the ages. You will be taken to a different realm and you will be engaged. This is how films should be made. It invokes your imagination and pulls you into the depths of the anguish carried by each of the characters. Visually powerful, expertly designed, thematically refreshing and incredibly well acted.

OVERALL: 8/10

Ω

Movie Review: Oblivion


What I Liked:

  • The strength of good Sci-Fi is that it tells a poignant human story within the parameters of the world it creates. I went in thinking this was an alien invasion Sci-Fi epic with brilliant visuals, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn’t that simple. There is a strong story of struggle, survival, perseverance and love at the core of all the science fiction around it. It was handled delicately and kept the film grounded instead of getting lost behind the science fiction clutter. . More importantly, I thought the twists and mystery made the film stronger and kept my jaw hitting the floor. It all connected in the end in a cohesive way and made it a heck of a lot more enjoyable. 
  • The special effects are other worldly. I would hazard to say that they look even better than Avatar. This is because the entire film looks painstakingly realistic.  The effects do a stellar job of investing you in the world through the visuals. It’s a beautiful desolation and a very original take on a post apocalyptic world. The environments are also dazzling as you’re taken from coastlines and mountain ranges to frozen wastelands and deserts. I felt the bubbleship fight sequence was directed very well and stood out. Sometimes in effects laden film the action gets very muddy and incoherent. That’s not the case here, and it’s actually a treat to experience it in IMAX.
  • Tom Cruise is fantastic as always. He looks great, acts great and at 50 is still pulling off all of his own stunts. The characters of Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko are also well done. You can sense the quiet emotions underlying their actions and they both do an admirable job. Olga does a great job of conveying the confusion of being brought into a world that has changed since she last closed her eyes. Furthermore, you understand the struggle and pain of a man whose memories of Earth and all that he loves remain “undimmed by time and unbound by death”.
  • The music by M83 complements every scene and action in the movie. I’m glad that it didn’t turn out to be another Hans Zimmer-esque score where everything is bombastic. M83 created a stirring kaleidoscope that can stand on its own. Each piece is evocative and drenches each scene with a complexity and emotion that is hard to convey through the camera. I imagine the film would have suffered were it not for the score adding another layer of mellifluous beauty to the dramatics.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Morgan Freeman was wasted. He was clearly collecting  a paycheck.
  • Dialogue wasn’t particularly great. It wasn’t atrocious and I didn’t expect it to tackle existential quandaries, but you can do better than “You look like shit”. Also, the final line that Tom Cruise delivers to the villain was just cringe worthy and really killed the immersion for me. At least people don’t say or do things completely outside the bounds of their character. I just felt that it could have been brushed up in certain places to really make an impact.
  • As good as the story, script and acting are I never felt invested in the characters. This might be because the film tackles too any Sci-Fi concepts and is trying to express them all in a cogent manner. If you’re a fan of movies or Sci-Fi, then you will recognize many iconic shots resembling those from other films (e.g. entering the mother ship looked exactly like Independence Day). This isn’t really a bad thing because the film tackles them all admirably and rises above them. In particular, I appreciated the film making the aliens truly alien. Still, I felt that cutting down on a couple of them might have helped the character development to make this a truly iconic and original film.

Final Verdict 4/5

Ω

Music Review: Device



Positives

  • Stellar opening track. “You Think You Know” really sets the album up and defines what Device is all about.
  • David Draiman. His unique voice and incredible range are on exquisite display here. His performance outshines anything he has done before with Disturbed.
  • Tight musicianship with a sludgy aggro industrial sound. Geno Lenardo’s guitar work complements Draiman’s voice, and it all comes together as a dark aural assault.
  • Deep, creative and well written lyrics which tackle a variety of topics. It is some of Draiman’s best work. The lyrics are a massive step up from Asylum, which I thought had weak and forced lyrics trying too hard to be “dark”.
  • Lzzy Hale. She carries the classic “Close My Eyes Forever” to another level. Lita Ford who? One of the highlights of the entire album. Make it a single and a video.

Negatives

  • At times it’s hard to differentiate Device from Disturbed. It’s different, but Draiman’s voice is so entwined with the mammoth Disturbed that it’s hard to not make the connection. Songs like Penance and Hunted would feel right at home on a Disturbed album. It keeps Device from forming its own identity. 
  • Too short. Ten songs is not enough and they should have left the bonus tracks on the album.
  • It’s not as unique, industrial or special as it was originally made to sound. Also, the songs can start to sound a little similar. I would have liked to have seen more experiments within the album. For example, Haze is a cool track which  has a nihilistic industrial-esque groove. More experiments like that would have made the album a little more exciting.
  • Not all the guests pull it off. Lzzy Hale and M. Shadows do a very good job. Serj Tankian is irritating with his constant high pitched ” ah-ah-aaaahhhs”. Tom Morello doesn’t make much of an impact either, and his guitar work on the album is tame compared to his fiery performances with Rage Against The Machine.
  • Performers such as Rob Zombie, John 5, Manson, Jon Davis, Corey Taylor and Cantrell would have been worthy additions. Hell, Trent Reznor, Richard Patrick and Al Jourgensen could have created something special for all the industrial leanings of the album and made Device a full fledged machine. Well, at least there is a good list for the second Device album.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Stream the album here & here

Buy the album here & here

Ω

Sevendust – Black Out The Sun Review


Sevendust return with a mixed bag of tunes for their ninth album. As a fan of the band, I was looking forward to this album since I burned my copy of Cold Day Memory to a cinder from repeated playbacks. The Atlanta bred quintet are clearly on point with Black Out The Sun, but the new cuts still leaves a little something to be desired.

I’ve been a fan of the band since I saw them at Woodstock as a young’un.  More importantly, I’ve seen this band go through hell and back to emerge victorious on the other side (Clint leaving, money troubles, lawsuits, labels…). In fact, other than Chapter VII (yuck!) I’ve always enjoyed the patented Sevendust “heavy groove + screams+ melody+soulful” vocals formula. I respect the band tremendously and think they don’t get the credit they deserve. Hell, how many bands from the nineties are still kicking it like the old days? Maybe that’s a good thing because it keep them “real”, which is what fans such as myself admire about them. They remain true to themselves and their craft.  Personally, I considered Cold Day Memory as a comeback album which promised a revitalized Sevendust. Having said that, I would rank this as one of their weaker efforts.

First Half

The album attacks from the front with the double punch of Faithless and Till Death. At this point it feels like the darker sequel to Cold Day Memory. I suspect Till Death will become a moshing favorite with Clint, Morgan and Lajon trading vocals all over the place, while the rest of the band keeps things tight with frenetic instrument work. It has a very old school Home vibe to it. In particular, pay attention to the drumming on this song because Morgan pulls out all the stops like he grew an extra set of  arms to play some of the parts.

Suddenly, the album shifts into a very groovy, bass-heavy and cocky tune infused with a little southern hospitality. I dig it. Mountain is the band’s declaration to the world that they are alive and kicking while many others have fallen. I would push it to be the second single off the album. Cold As War turned out to be the first weak tune of the album. It isn’t very exciting and sounds like a rehashed ballad off Chapter VII. There is some very good guitar work, but it doesn’t elevate the tune and feels forced.

The title track is Sevendust at the top of their ‘effin game! This is the formula I spoke of earlier. This is an inspired song with passionate lyrics. As Lajon raises his voice to new heights, the rest of the band is busy drowning you in the emotive musicianship that is Sevendust’s trademark. An outstanding song on every level.

Second Half

Nobody Wants It is an average song and propels the album into the second half. It has a catchy chorus with a driving beat that percolates throughout the song. Unfortunately, everything surrounding that isn’t very inspiring. Dead Roses is an interesting fast paced song. Initially I thought it was more filler, but it grew on me. The solo late in the song is well devised and the song really benefits from it. It’s a different approach for the band and it works well enough to be one of the standout tracks on the album.

Most people have probably heard Decay by now. It’s the heaviest and darkest song on the album and it borrows influences from Animosity and Home. I would call it one of their better singles, but it isn’t totally representative of the album as a whole. This is very noticeable on Dark AM and Picture Perfect. By far, these are the most underwhelming tracks on the album. The former has infectious verses but falters in the chorus. The latter has a beautifully orchestrated chorus accompanied by weak verses. They aren’t terrible by any stretch, but they didn’t impact me like the songs in the first half.

Got A Feeling rescues the album and brings the band back to revisit their acoustic skills. It’s an incredibly memorable song with hair-raising melody as it ebbs and flows through different emotions. The manner in which it shifts gears has a classic rock vibe to it and catches Sevendust at their introspective best.   The final track is Murder Bar and I don’t understand why they chose to put this as the closer. Ending the album with Got A Feeling would have been a better idea. Still, Murder Bar is a solid song with a very interesting stop-go and almost staccato rhythm. I felt it would have made a superb opening song because it feels odd to hear it follow the fantiastic Got A Feeling.

Final Verdict

Overall, the album is a mix of everything Sevendust has accomplished up to this point in their career. The band has a formula and doesn’t stray too far from it. That’s completely fine because Sevendust has nothing to prove. They’ve been around a long-ass time and I would place them among the elite of their genre. Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with this album because that same formula led to a few stale tunes on this album. Of course, that might not be true for everyone because there is a lot to like across the album. The first-half is truly stellar and the entire album is brimming with excellent musicianship and standout moments. In closing, buy the album and catch the band on tour this year. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 3.5/5

Buy on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/black-out-the-sun/id596121821

Buy on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Out-The-Sun-Sevendust/dp/B00B1I1BE4

Ω