Papers, Please: A Glorious Review

 

A talented writer in his own right, this week honorary Rogue, Kevin, drops by to give us his take on the doubleplusgood (and bad) qualities of indie darling Papers, Please!

I like creativity in a video game. Moral choice systems that actually affect the gameplay, level design that forces you to get out of your comfort zone, and rogue-like elements that randomize your encounters really add to that beloved sense of immersion that I always find myself desperately seeking. A good film can make us look at a social issue in a different light, and a good song can make us appreciate problems we’ve never considered. A good, creative video game is no different. Spec Ops: The Line made me re-examine the entire player-character relationship, and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell handed me a gun and then forced me not to use it.

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Because I Feel Like It (Guest!) Reviews – Alien Isolation

The Alien is quite possibly the scariest and most brilliantly designed creature in science fiction. It’s deadly, it’s smart, it’s unimaginably violent in its natural life cycle, and it’s all-around pretty freaky-looking. The first Ridley Scott film was a masterful blend of science fiction and pure horror, and it always stuck with me. Its subsequent sequels felt a little lackluster, watching multiple Aliens being killed off by machine gun fire at the hands of some over-the-top space marines. As a result, I was very excited for Alien: Isolation, since everybody told me it was a lot like the first film – one Alien, a dark and dingy space station, and the protagonist trying to stay alive while being hunted by the perfect organism. And oh boy, did it deliver.

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New Bookshelf review from Vince! The War Against the Assholes by Sam Munson

I’m sure I won’t be the first to look at the title of Sam Munson’s urban fantasy tale and cringe a bit. However, for me a bit of that cringe is hoping that people won’t be immediately turned off, mistaking the bold, yellowcoloured obscenity on the cover as an indicator that this is a book hoping to trade on sassy shock value in place of literary substance. In fact, the opposite is true, and there is a lot to like in Munson’s naughtily named novel.

The book follows the tale of Mike Wood, a teenage high school quarterback used to solving problems with muscle. In perhaps the most socially conscious use of blackmail I’ve seen, Mike is tricked by the nerdy loner of the school, Hob Callahan, into READING (*insert gasp*). The title of choice is a mysterious book called The Calendar of Sleights, a seemingly innocuous guide to a library of cards tricks. In actuality, it is a cleverly disguised litmus test for whether an individual has the talent for actual sorcery. Read review–>

Because I Feel Like It Reviews: Penguins of Madagascar

Normally, the Madagascar movies annoy me. There are a few good jokes, sure, but the amount of zany humor, puns, and slapstick stuff clearly intended for a super-young audience irritates me enough that it’s probably my second least favorite Dreamworks franchise (the first being Shrek). That being said, one of the few shining lights for me within those movies were the penguins, and it baffled me why it took three movies for the squadron of Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private to get their own feature. 2014 remedied that, and brought with it what I think to be far and away the strongest film of the series.

In Penguins of Madagascar, the titular penguins find themselves caught up in the schemes of revenge-driven octopus Dave (John Malkovich) to use his somehow-obtained genetics degree (just roll with it) to create what he calls The Medusa Serum in order to take vengeance on the penguins of the world. Because of their cuteness, he was shunned from zoo after zoo and has been plotting and recruiting an army of cephalopods ever since.

The penguins aren’t alone, though. Also on the trail of Dave is a secret animal task force with inexplicable access to heavy weaponry called the North Wind, headed by Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), and staffed by the brawny Corporal (Peter Stormare), espionage expert Ava (Annet Mahendru), and demolitions specialist Short Fuse (Ken Jeong). Classified and his crew must contend with the bumbling-yet-effective penguins in order to stop Dave from turning his super-weapon on the penguins he’s kidnapped from around the world.

The voice acting pretty much across the board here is pretty fantastic. You might have noticed the star-studded cast that Dreamworks brought in for this production, and I’m normally skeptical when on-screen actors step into a voice role, because talent in one field doesn’t necessarily translate into another. in PoM, I was pleasantly surprised particularly with Cumberbatch, who plays the stodgy and frustrated Classified perfectly. Part of the credit for that definitely goes to the animation department though, as they perfectly capture his mannerisms, even in the form of a cartoon wolf. Malkovich is suitably insane as Dave, and reminded me a lot of Will Ferrell in Megamind. The writing for his character is probably the weak point in the film, but the charisma that Malkovich brings to the role helps to (at least somewhat) balance that out.

The shining star of performance in here though is definitely the rapport between the Penguins themselves. Tom McGrath’s Skipper reminds me a lot of Billy West’s Zapp Branigan from Futurama mixed with Patrick Warburton, and Chris Miller’s Kowalski is the perfect Spock-esque straight man to accompany him. Christopher Knight’s performance as Private is the heart of the movie, as Private aspires to be something more than a cute mascot to the team. He’s the character who undergoes the most growth in the film, and his arc is the glue that holds it together. That being said, it’s a credit to the comedic writing here, together with its tight pacing that the script being somewhat character-light doesn’t really hurt it at all. Conrad Vernon rounds out the team as Rico, a character who doesn’t really talk so much as make sounds and eat stuff. That being said, until I looked up who played the role, I thought that Rico’s Tazmanian Devil-esque growls and gibberish were courtesy of Dee Bradley Baker, and anyone who is a fan of voice acting can attest that that’s a colossal compliment.

For the large part, I loved the comedy writing in the film. When the penguins are on their mission it’s usually a combination of visual gags and quick dialogue that evokes Laurel & Hardy meets the Three Stooges. The friendship and rapport between the characters and their respective specialties (Skipper the leader, Kowalski the tech guy, Rico as demolitions/assault, and Private as… distraction, usually) is super-fun, especially when in an almost Mr. Magoo like fashion, their talent for improvisation causes them to repeatedly fall backwards into success despite their clearly having no idea what they’re doing. Skipper’s one-liners are great (“Ah, Beijing’s famous Little Dublin district!”, “Whoa, tone down the moxie, sass-mouth!”) and had me at the receiving ends of confused stares from train passengers when they caused me to laugh out loud. Most of the flaws in PoM can be overlooked just because the gags and frenetic pace make it just so damn fun to watch. Most, but not all.

The movie occasionally falls victim to the kind of lowest-common denominator, “zany” humor that I can’t stand from the other Madagascar films. One particularly groan-worthy running joke has to do with the names of Dave’s henchmen and their similarity to certain movie stars. The joke is LITERALLY nothing other than Dave saying their name, and then an action that sounds like the corresponding last name of the actor. Once or twice, it’s lame but bearable. But this is a well that the movie goes back to AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN to the point where you just go, “ENOUGH already. The comedy writing is otherwise great and well-timed here, so what happened? Did the director’s nephew with the lobotomy take a tour of the writer’s room for the day and mess with the script?”

That and the lazy falling back on the use of a couple fart jokes was a little disappointing, but the humor by and large hits the mark with rousing success such that I ended up having a great time watching it. In any other year not populated with movies like How to Train Your Dragon 2 or Book of Life, this movie would be an Academy Award nominee. However, even in an especially strong year for animated features, Penguins of Madagascar puts forth a strong display; and one worth going out of your way to see.

Because I Feel Like It Reviews: Fury

Fury-2014-poster

When I first sat down to watch Fury, I was tempted to remark how it was nice to have a WWII era movie where Brad Pitt isn’t attempting to eat his own upper lip the whole time. But once my internal peanut gallery shut its whore mouth while Fury was talking, I found myself on the receiving end of one of the most intense emotional experiences I’ve had in a war film. It’s grim, grisly, heartbreaking, and tragic, but also bleakly beautiful. As a result, Fury is probably one of my favorite films to come out this year.

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Because I Feel Like It Reviews – Starbomb: Player Select

I’m someone who unabashedly loved the first Starbomb album. Despite the (legitimate) criticisms of their debut CD being one big dick joke, I still laughed out loud at least once a song. Not only that, but there are some SERIOUSLY catchy jams on it, to the point where despite it’s short runtime (roughly a half hour), I repeatedly found myself listening to the whole things two or three times in a row. Egoraptor is a surprisingly good rapper, the lyrics are clever, and Danny has a spectacular voice for rock ballads… So I was a little sad when I found that Starbomb`s second offering, Player Select, is much more of a mixed bag than their first record.

Now, that`s not to say that there aren`t some great tracks on here. Glass Joe`s Title Fight, Smash!, and Minecraft is for Everyone are probably the strongest tracks on the album, and channel some of the band`s biggest strengths. The rhythms are dynamic, the lyrics are fun and clever, and the songs are devilishly catchy. They never feel monotonous or gimmicky, and straddle the line perfectly between their value as comedic parody and being legit, quality music in their own right.

A couple of the attempts at “sequel” tracks are considerably weaker. Mortal Kombat High, The New Pokerap, and The Hero of Rhyme all kind of feel like they’re riding the coat tails of the tracks from the first album. For instance, the Pokerap just turns into Ego listing out random words to make up Pokemon that don’t exist. If there was something ADDITIONAL to the song, that would be fine, but it’s a one-note joke that goes on way too long. The last third of MK High is just the two saying words with “-ality” at the end of them. It’s an attempt to make fun of the huge amount of Fatalities in MK, but it kind of ends up feeling half-assed after great tracks like Crasher-vania and The Book of Nook.

Not only thing, but in between the tracks are these occasional sketches like Toad Joins the Band and the Atari Mystery Hour that… to be blunt, just… aren’t… funny, and just seem to take up space where music should be.

I hate to end this review on a negative note, so I DO want to emphasize that ARE some really great songs on here. When Player Select hits, it hits HARD, and I’ve had Minecraft is for Everyone and Smash! stuck in my head for hours. But those soaring heights are balanced out by some pretty mediocre lows. I feel as though this album lacks focus, and Starbomb still isn’t exactly sure what it wants to be stylistically. Hopefully they can go back to the drawing board and play to their strengths by the time the next release comes around. For now though, Player Select is the perfect example of why the ability to buy individual tracks off of iTunes is a blessing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.