Mud Review

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

After watching Mud for the second time, I feel that I can finally put my thoughts into a coherent enough string of ideas that I can call this a “review”. Unlike my review of Donnie Darko, this is going to be less of a rambly, glory-singing praise of a movie, and more of a critique of a very good one. (Expect a lot of glory-singing from my How to Train Your Dragon 2 review that should be coming out here shortly). So, let’s get started, shall we?

Mud Poster

Mud takes place in Arkansas, and focuses on two 14 year old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, as they stumble across a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey), who calls himself Mud. They make a pact with him to help him reunite with an old lover, evade his pursuers, and escape his muddy past. (Insert lame laugh here). The boys get more and more entwined in Mud’s mystery, and the strange circumstances surrounding him.

Mud is a hard movie to classify into a genre, simply because it pulls from many without ever fully dedicating itself to one. While this may sound like a criticism, it gives the movie a realistic feel without becoming too depressing or gritty. It’s part thriller, that builds so slowly that I didn’t notice until the tension comes to its boiling conclusion, and felt like the next logical step for the story. It’s part coming of age story, as Ellis and Neckbone discover that no one is wholly good or evil, and that pasts are a force to be reckoned with. Finally, it’s part slice of life, focusing on the odd quirks and daily occurrences of dirt poor families living in the middle of nowhere, where a river is their livelihood and their lifeblood.

Mud Screenshot

And while many thrillers can get so obsessed with their own plots that all other aspects of the film suffer, Mud is able to juggle side plots and characters well, and keep them (mostly) up to par with the main conflict of the movie. There’s a special way that these sub plots interact with the movie, making them feel like the character defining experiences they are, rather than just tidbits tacked on to add a false sense of complexity. My only complaint was that the love interest between Ellis and May Pearl, an older high school girl that Ellis saves from a bully , felt under developed, and only served to add to the  theme of passion and romantic despair.

That’s something that is prevalent in this movie as well. Mud’s criminal past is related to a crime of passion, and Ellis’ parents are going through a divorce that will leave him and his father out of their beloved house on the river. This, and Ellis’ relationship with May Pearl have an impact on him that makes him feel less like a movie character, and more like a real teenager faced with circumstances out of his control.

I felt like the romantic theme could have been used to make some sort of point about passion or love. If there is a point being made here, it wasn’t communicated well enough for me to be able to pull it out. Snakes and tattoos were also common images in this movie, but they were also never used to their full symbolic potential, leaving them skittering around the borders of artistic merit, without ever becoming something I could critically analyse after the credits rolled.

The ending to this movie was one of my favorites in a long time, just based on how well it wrapped up the movie in a way that fit the sleepy tone of the rest of the rest. It left just enough ambiguity to make the film feel like a true slice of life movie, without leaving you feeling as if there was more story to be told.

All in all, Mud was a very good movie. Was it something made to make a point or change your worldview? No, but that wasn’t it’s purpose. It set out to be a slightly gritty coming of age story about love, loss, crime, and just being a teen. And in this respect, it succeeded on all fronts. The acting was stellar, and the soundtrack stuck out to me more than in most films. Definitely one of the better films I have had the pleasure of watching recently. It’s available to stream on Netflix right now.

 

8.6/ 10

Mud Boat Tree

 

I Want to Write About Stories…

•June 13, 2014 • 1 Comment

I want to write about stories. Stories and memories are what make us who we are. Stories tell tales of adventure and intrigue. Stories tell tales of star crossed lovers, or of great hubris. They tell us how the author feels, and the the author’s struggle. They make us laugh, or cry, or sit back in our chair and just think. They don’t have to be something to write a book about. They don’t even have to be true. They just have to be something that you think needs to be told.

Stories are something that transcends our American culture. They tie us together as people across all civilisations and times, regardless of race, class, gender, or personality. The idea of telling stories is almost as old the human race itself.

 

As an aspiring journalist, it will be my job to tell these stories. To find the interesting in the seemingly mundane, and write a piece that lets that story be told. All I want in life is to be able to make something that has an impact on someone else. It doesn’t have to be a significant impact. I just want it to be something that changes the way someone sees something, or teaches them about something they didn’t know existed. If I can say that I’ve done that in my life, I can say my life goal is achieved.

 

That’s why writing is so appealing. Written words connect with us in a way that Movies or TV shows can’t. The act of reading is much more personal that that. What you see when you read is your own, no one else’s. When we read we get a sense that the author put those words on that page specifically for you, and for you alone. There are no actors, no special effects or multi-million dollar budgets here. Just the author, the page, and you.

The saddest thing is that this intimate act, this personal experience of experiencing a story, is slipping away. Books are becoming less popular as Movies and TV shows become the new form of storytelling. And while they serve their own purpose, they are taking over a medium that is older than almost any other. The age of technology is slowly destroying the old ways.

Maybe that’s why I write. To try to keep this tradition alive. Because those who read and those who write are the last of a dying breed that are slowly being buried in a world where faster is better. A world where less work something takes, the more prevalent it is. And it may be old fashioned, but the magic in it is still there. In the writing. Because there’s a reason the written word has lasted for as long as it has. Because it holds something truly special that other media forms can’t capture. That’s why I write. That’s why I want to write about stories.

Donnie Darko Review

•June 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Donnie Darko is the quintessential example of a hidden gem that flopped in the box office, only to pick picked up post-mortem by a set of rabid fans who are devoted to it in a way that rivals most other fandoms. This 2001 film starring Jake Gyllenhaal was released to entirely underwhelming reception at the box office. But over the years it has gathered a cult following.

Okay, bear with me here while I explain the concept. Donnie Darko is set in the 1980 in the small town of Middlesex, Massachusetts. It follows Donnie Darko, the titular character, as he starts to deal with the “interesting” circumstances around him. He begins seeing visions of a man dressed in a bunny suit, telling him that the world will end, and urging him to commit less than legal acts in order to save the town, and ultimately, the entire world. As the movie goes on, you begin to question Donnie’s sanity. The movie challenges you to question whether or not what Donnie is seeing is really happening, or if it is all in his head. He frequently visits a psychiatrist, and takes an unknown medication prescribed to him by the doctor. But the film is more than that. it’s part teen comedy, part teen angst, part love story, and part science fiction to warp your mind and challenge your world view. Yeah, that’s the scope of the movie in question.

And this movie is particularly special for one reason that turns a lot of people away from it. There is very little here that is concrete or explicitly explained to the viewer. While the story is followable, by the end of my first viewing, while I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I didn’t really know what happened at all. So I let it sit in my brain for a while, before watching it again almost a month later. And then I watched it again. And again. Each time, I noticed new things, and I slowly pieced together my own theory about what really happened. And that’s one wonderful thing about it: everyone will interpret the movie differently. This leads to great discussions, and I’ve had a few that changed the way I saw scenes in the movie.

But, theories aside, the movie is a masterpiece of the medium. Richard kelly, the director, weaved symbolism and tiny details into the movie so deep that it took me three viewings to notice them. The themes of time, destiny, God, and the impermanence of our lives are all handled not only tastefully, but subtly enough to not be glaring, and significant enough to reward any who analyze the film enough to notice them.

And the soundtrack by Michael Andrews and Gary Joules is the mellow icing on this haunting, beautiful cake. With an eclectic mix of odd synthesizer drones and piano melodies that excel in their simplicity, it’s a soundtrack that almost rivals the film itself. And the excellent cover of Mad World by Tears for Fears ends the movie on note strong enough to affect me for hours after I watched the film.

While this isn’t a movie for everyone, I can’t help but rave on about this movie. And, while it might not appeal to your sensibilities, if it does, it will grip you in a way that no other movie can. It’s the type of movie that only gets better the more times you watch. It’s the type of movie that sticks in your brain and keeps drawing your thoughts back to it for months to come. It’s available to stream on Netflix right now, so there’s no excuse for you not to watch this underrated masterpiece.

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My Top Ten Games of This Generation

•May 28, 2014 • 2 Comments

As our console generation comes to a close, and the next generation, (PS4, XBone, WiiU) start to become the norm, I thought it was high time that I made a list of my absolute favorite games of the last generation, and why. So, without further adieu, I bring you my personal favorite games from the last generation. These can include games on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, IOS, or PC (If it was released during these console’s life cycles.)

Also, there be no spoilers here, so read on without fear!

10. Minecraft (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, IOS)

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Ah, Minecraft. This lovely Indie gem has exploded in popularity, and has sold over 15 MILLION copies on the PC alone. And trust me, this game is popular for a reason. It’s just something about the sheer open-ended nature of this game that makes it appeal to universally everyone. You’re just dropped into a world with nothing but your fists and a randomly-generated infinity of blocks all around you. You start by gathering resources, and doing with them what you please. Want to build a giant airship? Go for it. Want to armor up and fight a giant dragon? Go for it. Want to explore for miles and miles, just to see what amazing terrain lies just over that next hill? Go for it. And while it’s multiplayer is clunky and hard to use, the game is infinitely better with a few friends and a Skype call. Seriously, if you haven’t tried this game out yet, ask around. I guarantee there is someone you know who has it, and you’ll be hooked.

 

9. inFamous 2 (PS3)

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Now here’s a super hero game done right. The sequel to 2009′s inFamous took everything I loved about the original, and improved on it. Gone is the boring and grey setting of Empire City. Now, the game is set in New Marias, based on the actual city of New Orleans. Our hero Cole is now also armed with a plethora of new powers that expand his repertoire beyond the boundaries of electricity powers. The game’s scope and plot were more fleshed out, and the characters were marvelously written, with the exception of Cole, who still has the personality of a bed of gravel. While the setting and powers changed, the core gameplay was still intact, and it feels great. The combat is where inFamous truly shines. The folks over at Sucker Punch (the developers of the inFamous series) did a fantastic job here. The fighting is frantic and quick, while still feeling in control. The sense of mobility is wonderful, and the powers were fun, without being overpowered or unoriginal. Even if you didn’t enjoy the story or characters, this game did a fantastic job of making you feel like a complete and total bad-ass, and look good while doing it.

 

8. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, Gamecube)

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Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a launch title for the Wii, so it barely makes the cutoff for this list. That doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the best games on the Wii, and my personal favorite Zelda game of all time. It also happened to be my first.

Putting nostalgia aside, everything in the game came together to create a spectacular and haunting experience. The story took a radical departure from the Zelda norm, and had a much more somber tone than the rest of the franchise. You still had to save the princess and the land of Hyrule, but the way you got there was darker and more mature than it was in past games. The main gimmicks here were the power to transform into a wolf, and being able to enter the Twilight dimension. But, you don’t play Zelda games for the gimmicks or story. You play them for the dungeons. And boy, were these dungeons some of the best in the series. The items you received were inventive, the puzzles were challenging, and the combat was stellar as always. Throw in a myriad of side quests, activities, locations to discover, and my favorite game soundtrack of all time, and you have got a fulfilling game that will keep you hooked for many hours.

 

7. Borderlands (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

 

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All right, here’s how I describe Borderlands to people who have never heard of it. Take the loot driven center of Diablo and mix it with slick First Person Shooter gameplay. Add a gorgeous cell shaded art style, RPG elements,  hilarious dialogue, 4 player co-op, and buckets of blood and body parts. That’s pretty much Borderlands in a nutshell. In Borderlands, you find yourself as a Vault Hunter on the planet Pandora (No, not the one from Avatar). Word is, there is an ancient alien vault filled with all the money your heart could desire. The only problem is, Pandora is basically the wild west. There’s no law, and gangs of crazed bandits run the show. So what do you do? Grab your buddies, lots of guns, and shoot your way to victory. The shooting was responsive, and the vast array of weapons you find felt different. Add in elemental damage into the mix, and the combat becomes more than just “Spray-n-Pray.” And while this game is fun by yourself, it is built to be played with friends. You are seriously doing yourself a disservice if you don’t play it with a couple of friends. And, if you can’t get enough, there’s always the fantastic sequel, which has more varied locations, more to do, and most importantly, more guns.

 

6. Journey (PS3)

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Journey is a simple game. Your character with no name or gender is dropped in the middle of a sandy desert. The wind blows sand off the tops of dunes as you explore. The only thing you know is that you have to reach the top of the mountain in front of you. From there, it’s the job of the player to piece together what story there is. Honestly, the less you know about Journey the better. It’s an adventure that will take you no more than two hours, and is best played in one sitting. The ambiance is fantastic, and the online play is integrated so seamlessly you won’t even notice. Seriously, this is a perfect example of video games as art. Thatonegamecompany (yes, that’s their name) has made one of the best games on the Playstation, or ever for that matter. Seriously, Journey deserves your money more than almost any game on this list. Give it a try.

 

5. Bioshock (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

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Bioshock was originally released in 2007 and made a splash (no pun intended) on the gaming industry as a whole. Set in 1960, you find yourself as the survivor of a plane crash who stumbles into the failed underwater utopia of Rapture.  This was a city build by a man named Andrew Ryan and was designed to be a place where artists, doctors, and intellectuals could come and be free from the oppression of a government.  As you descend into the Lighthouse that serves as the entrance to Rapture, you see a huge statue of Andrew holding a banner that reads “No Gods or Kings, Only Man.” Man, he sets the tone pretty quickly, now doesn’t he? When you arrive, the city is in ruins. Andrew Ryan has lost control, and crazed, genetically-altered freaks called Splicers stake their claims and fight for survival. The story of Bioshock is less about you and more about the city. The gameplay is tight, and some of the special powers you get can drastically change how you play the game. Oh, and there’s a twist at the end of the game that totally hit me off guard. Seriously, it changed the ENTIRE game for me. Definitely worth a look.

 

4. Portal (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

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Portal is another example of a simple Indie game that became wildly popular among mainstream gamers. Originally released as part of Valve’s Orange Box collection, Portal was one of the first “First Person Puzzle” games that I had ever heard of. Your character, named Chell, wakes up in a testing facility devoid of any human life. The only interaction you have is with a crazed robot named GLaDOS, who talks to you through speakers in the testing facility. You eventually acquire the “Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device,” which I will proceed to call the ASHPC. With this device you can create two portals on the wall: one blue, and one orange. If you go through one portal, you come out the other. It’s that simple. But man oh man, the puzzle design is impeccable. Seriously, you will use this thing in ways you never would have imagined. The dialogue in this game is fantastic as well. It’s rife with black humor, and hints at some pretty sinister stuff. If you can’t get enough Portal, Valve released Portal 2 in 2011 as a standalone game. Even though I loved the sequel, the original just seemed like a more focused game. To be honest, I still return to this one every once in a while and replay it. It’s that good.

 

3. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

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Oblivion is by far one of the deepest and most sprawling games I’ve ever played. Developed by Bethesda Softworks in 2006, this game had big shoes to fill. Being the Sequel to Morrowind — one of the most highly-praised western RPGs of all time — it had a lot to live up to, and boy did it deliver. The sheer amount of freedom in this game is almost unrivaled. You wake up in a cell with no memory of who you are, or why you have been imprisoned. Eventually, after escaping from prison, it is discovered that you are the Chosen One and that it is your job to stop the forces of Oblivion (basically Hell) from destroying the land of Cyrodiil (where this game takes place.) But, you don’t have to. There are so many sidequests in this game, you won’t know what to do with yourself. In addition to the open world, you can make whatever kind of character you want. From sneaky assassins, crafty mages, and barbaric warriors, to any combination of them you desire, your character really feels like your own. You play however you want to play. And the graphics are gorgeous. While they may not hold up to today’s standards, I still get shivers when I exit the prison for the first time and look out across the lush hillsides of Cyrodiil. I’ve put hundreds of hours into this wonderful game, and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

 

2. Dark Souls (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

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Does that screenshot intimidate you? Well, it should. Dark souls is one of the toughest games on the market right now. It demands all your attention and isn’t afraid to punish you for even the tiniest misstep. That being said, it is also one of the most rewarding games ever. Period. While it is tough, everything is beatable. Every trap is avoidable; every enemy and boss can be killed. It just takes patience. Half of the fun is figuring out where to go and how the game works. The game doesn’t hold your hand at all, and I love it for that. The feeling you get after killing a boss after your 500th try is unlike anything in all of gaming. It’s seriously like a drug. The rush of adrenaline you get after defeating one of the game’s myriad of bosses is what keeps you coming back for more. The combat isn’t your standard “mash the attack button” type of combat either. You have to plan your attacks, your blocks, your rolls, and your parries. Everything feels weighty. When you hit an enemy, you can almost feel the impact. It’s my favorite combat system in any game to date. The story is impeccable as well. Instead of shoving the narrative down your throat, you are left to yourself, and it’s your decision whether or not you want to dig deep into the world of Lordran. Once you’ve beaten this game after 60 or so hours, there’s always new builds to try, and an infinite number of New Game + modes to play through. If you like this game, you won’t be leaving it for a long, long time.

 

Before I get to number one, here are some honorable mentions.

 

Fallout 3

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Dishonored

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FTL: Faster Than Light

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Thomas Was Alone

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Spelunky

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Call of Duty: Zombies 

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And without further ado, I give you number one.

The Last of Us (PS3)

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The Last of Us tells one of the best stories in any entertainment medium. Ever. The Last of Us is the story of Joel and Ellie as they cross a desolated U.S. to try to find the cure to the fungus that wiped out almost everyone in the country. You see, there’s a fungus called Cordyceps that infects the host’s brain and turns them into basically a zombie. A zombie that runs. A zombie with a person still inside. If you sneak into a room full of the infected, you can hear them sobbing, because they know everything they have done; they just can’t control it. And while the gameplay is focused on combat, Joel and Ellie are really the stars of the show. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson respectively deliver some of the best voice acting performances in all of video games. The journey they take is a dark one, and it stays that way. It just makes the moments of happiness that much sweeter. Watching Joel and Ellie’s relationship change over the course of the game is enthralling, and kept me coming back for more. Even the side characters could have their own games. That’s how well written this game is. The ending is ambiguous, the characters are real, and the combat is absolutely visceral. Naughty Dog wasn’t afraid to shy away from gore, and it just adds to the realism and darkness of this story. I know this game has been hyped beyond belief, but it really does live up to it. If you have a PS3, and haven’t played this game, you need to. You owe it to yourself to play this game. It truly is a modern masterpiece.

 

Well, there you go. I thank you very much for reading this. Feel free to post your favorite games in the comments. That’s all I have for now, but I will be back soon with more ramblings. Cheers!

 

~Alec

The Hiatus is Over

•May 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Alright internet! After being gone for more than a year, I have decided to return to this blog and start doing stuff with it again. (And there was much rejoicing.) Here’s a quick status update on what has happened so far.

Finished both Freshman and Sophomore year.
Got a car, getting my licence soon.
Finished Gabriel Frost, edited it, and self published through http://www.createspace.com
Mucked about in general.

So yeah, all that happened. “What shall you do now?” You may be asking your self, (You probably aren’t) Well, I plan on using this now as less of a blog, and more of a place to stretch my journalistic brain. As someone who might want to be a journalist then they are older, I think it would be beneficial to start actually writing journalistic-y articles. So, from now on, expect opinion pieces, reviews, and possibly news stories about Video Games, TV Shows, Movies, Books, and general goings on in the world.

So, expect more things to come from this blog in the future.

Cheers!

~Alec

The Final Countdown!

•November 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So, (I really need to stop using so. I’ll stop after this post, I just ca’t bear to delete it.) I am nearing the final stretch of NaNoWriMo. I am aiming to finish on Thursday, so I had to increase my word count. But I will do it! As of this post, I am at 44,089 words! Hoorah! Wish me luck!

Electroswing!

•November 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So, (I just realized I start almost all my posts with so. AARRGGHH! Repetition, how you plague me!) about a week ago, my friend showed me a genre called electroswing. It’s a mixture between the “Big band Swing” music of the 1920s to 1040s, but adds some electronic spices to it. i really love swing music, so I decided to check it out. And I’m in love. It’s fantastic. My favorite bands are Caravan palace (Just bought their album!), Tape Five, and Parov Stelar. Here’s a few perfect examples of the genre. Just trying to spread the cool, hipster music style. Enjoy!

Rock It For Me – Caravan Palace

Suzy – Caravan Palace

Bad Boy, Good Man – Tape Five

Catgroove – Parov Stelar

Thanks for reading!

~Alec

 
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