How Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ditches tradition and quenches a thirst for cultural diversity

Feature, Uncategorized

rogue-one-cast-photo-d23-1536x864-521514304075-1

Star Wars: A Rogue One Story official cast photo


Yes, it’s true. Star Wars was once a white world, one filled with albeit weird creatures, but still very white.

When Star Wars: A New Hope ushered a new era of science-fiction movies in 1977 it featured an all-white cast (James Earl Jones, despite being the voice of Darth Vader was never seen on-screen). It took until the first sequel, Empire Strikes Back (1980), to see a person of color in the franchise, the beloved Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams).

By contrast, Star Wars in 2016 features a different face, and a remarkably multicultural one at that. There was a time when Star Wars seemed almost out of reach if you weren’t white, it is no longer the case.

If race in cinema really wasn’t an issue, we wouldn’t be discussing it. Our current reality shows us differently. Hollywood is still this all too white territory where racial barriers continue to persist, unfortunately.

As proven by the #oscarssowhite movement (where many expressed their discontent at the apparent whiteness displayed by the Oscars), audiences everywhere are thirsty for cultural diversity. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is more than happy to quench that thirst.

Last year’s The Force Awakens featured John Bogeya in the role of Finn, a black man, as one of its lead characters. Many applauded Disney for this move. But featuring diverse ethnicities in movies isn’t bold or daring anymore, it’s a no brainer in this day and age. After all, shouldn’t art and entertainment be all-inclusive and therefore be reflective of our culture? And More importantly, does it matter? Yes, and again, yes.

A multicultural cast has mass appeal. As such it is able to reach a larger demographic and touch significantly more lives. It’s what art is supposed to do. Gone are the days where only white people played in Star Wars. Hey, it’s a start.

OK—white British actress Felicity Jones is technically the star of Rogue One, but with a cast that feature Mexican actor Diego Luna, Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed and African-American actor Forrest Whitaker— it’s culturally rich. Star Wars in the 2010s has evolved to reflect diversity and it’s beautiful. Rejoice.

I attended a conference with Dr. Reza Aslan earlier this year and he summed up race and diversity in popular-culture as follows:

“When shown diverse ethnicities in media like television and movies they become a part of popular-culture. People just see it over and over to the point where it becomes ordinary, it becomes a part of their everyday lives,” he explained.

Now I’m not suggesting the work is done by any means, and we have ways to go, but in this age of Trump a movie like Rogue One is refreshing. A movie the size of Star Wars could be an enormous boost when it comes to including more diverse ethnicities on the big screen.

rogueone_onesheetA.jpg                                                                                                                               

                                 Starwars.com

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story detaches itself from the mold of tradition in the movie’s first minute by ditching the iconic scrolling text that begun every entry in the franchise thus far. I hear you. Geeky cries of “How dare they?” and “Blasphemy!” are heard everywhere in a galaxy far, far away.

If there’s anything Star Wars fans expect, it’s tradition. Rogue One is anything but. Star Wars dishes another healthy dose of nostalgia, but isn’t content to simply thread on old ground. It takes a heroic war movie approach without abandoning its space opera roots. It certainly had its space in the continuum of the franchise. It’s a Star Wars movie, but it’s a clearly different Star Wars.

Here’s where it gets confusing: Rogue One is a sequel to the prequels (I-III), but a prequel to the sequels (IV-VI) —its events unfolding between episodes III and IV—it also ties in with The Force Awakens and answers some unanswered questions about the beloved sci-fi saga. Confused yet? It’s essentially a side Star Wars movie not meant to be a part of the current VII-IX trilogy, but rather to be taken in as a stand-alone film. It’s a new concept in the Star Wars universe and one that effectively display potential for the following stand-alone stories to come in the series.

The film holds the dubious distinction of being harder to follow than perhaps any other entry in the Star Wars cannon, largely due to its odd placement in the saga. The brand new characters also play a part in this equation. Seasoned fans will understand the events occurring in the movie, but the casual moviegoers following the hype will likely get lost in the story. In this regard, Rogue One is directed towards hardcore fans and less so the newer ones it amassed from The Force Awakens, Disney is not at the point where it cashes-in. At least not yet.

In case you’re wondering, there are plenty of Easter eggs to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Blink and you’ll miss a brief R2-D2 and C3PO appearance and that’s just to name one.

Is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story worth seeing? Absolutely. With a jaw-dropping appearance by Darth Vader that will no doubt send legions of fans into hysterics all across the galaxy, rich visuals, a compelling story and an array of Easter Eggs, it is definitely worth the price of admission.

The movie’s climatic ending is as satisfying as it is heart-wrenching and necessary. In spite of box office performance and overwhelmingly positive reception by critics and fans alike, I have a feeling Rogue One’s ultimate achievement and legacy will be what it did to promote cultural diversity in Hollywood.

Believe the hype.

 

“The force is with me, I am the force.”—Chirrut Îmwe

 

 

Advertisements

MOTLEY CRUE LAY 34-YEAR CAREER TO REST WITH “THE END’,

Concerts, Music reviews

mcrue1


Farewell tours are tricky affairs. Bands come and go—and come back—members leave and return in revolving door fashion and some bands have only one original member left. In short, its not always pretty. In the process certain artists hurt their legacy by staying in the game too long. Mötley Crüe wanted a different kind of farewell.

Mötley Crüe shocked the world in January of 2014 when they announced to decision to call it quits. The Saints of Los Angeles had chosen to end the party sooner rather than later. The band signed a cessation of touring contract, a first in rock history, prior to embarking on a two-year long farewell. In true Crüe fashion, the event served as a tremendous publicity stunt. With displays of “RIP Mötley Crue”, complete with tombstones that read each band member’s name, it would prove to be one can’t miss funeral.

mcrue

The End press conference, London, England, 2014. Photo credit: Rolling Stone

If The End has taught us anything, it’s that Mötley Crüe was a wild, untamed beast for more than 34 years. A Mötley Crüe show remained a spectacular, reckless and even chaotic event right up to The End.

Complete with big choruses, pyrotechnics, stage production values, female backup singers and dancers in scantily clad outfits, tears and displays of emotions from the band and fans alike, The End is an exciting visual memento and the end of an era. From the bombast and fire that begins with “Girls, Girls, Girls” to Nikki Sixx adressing the audience, Tommy’s roller coaster drum solo, the flamethrower bass and Vince Neil in tears during the last song of the set “Home Sweet Home”, it’s a relentless, unforgettable journey. It’s one last big, epic, blow-out to top off a truly memorable career.

Let’s get one thing out-of-the-way. Anyone who’s been to a Crüe concert in the last decade can attest that frontman Vince Neil’s voice is not what it once was—by a long shot, some would say—and its true [It becomes especially evident on the live CD of the concert]. In the dysfunctional environment that is Mötley Crüe, however, it works.

Vince Neil’s voice and charisma is part of what made the band so successful. Neil remains one of rock’s ultimate frontmen. Even if his voice isn’t quite up to par at times, the energy and excitement level is there.

Nikki Sixx does a commendable job of looking like one of the coolest human beings on the planet. These are his songs and this is his band. The flamethrower bass bit would make Gene Simmons blush.

Tommy Lee lays down a beat like only he can, providing a solid groove and backbone for the band. While performing a drum solo on his roller coaster contraption, the whole stops unexpectedly in mid-air, Lee’s reaction is nothing short of exceptional.

Perhaps most impressive of all is Mick Mars, Crüe’s sole guitarist. Mars often falls under the radar whenever the band is mentioned, but his playing never ceases to impress even after all these years.

mcrue3.jpg

An emotional Vince Neil in tears during “Home Sweet Home”.

Mötley Crüe’s imperfections are exactly what made them a perfect rock band. Rock was never about perfection. Somehow, when these four beings come together magic happens. New year’s eve 2015 would be the last time this magic would be displayed. Thankfully, the Crüe’s send-off was captured in high-definition for the whole world to relive over and over.

The End comes in standalone DVD or Blu-Ray edition and in DVD/CD, Blu-Ray/CD packaging.

Objectively, the live CD is not incredible—most of the blame can be attributed to Neil’s singing— but the excitement of Mötley Crüe’s last concert was captured and that’s enough. The heart wrenching version of “Home Sweet Home” is almost worth the price of admission alone.

mcrue4.png

Nikki Sixx, litterally in the heat of the moment. Photo: Motley.com

The cinematography however, is among the best I’ve seen in a concert film. The cameras capture every bit: the action, emotions and pyrotechnics with beautiful wide angles, just enough slow motion bits, subtle close-ups and depth-of-field shots that would make any rock band envious. Concert cinematography has always been about the emotion and feel, less so about the visuals. The End stands in a category of its own. It sets a template for the next generation of live rock documentation.

There’s a documentary portion just before the concert that serves as a reminder of the dedication fans have for this band. It also legitimizes how big of a draw and band Mötley Crüe really was. The End comes with a few extras. Nikki Sixx talks about his flamethrower bass and Tommy Lee details the history behind his roller coaster drum set.

There are a few more interview that will no doubt be interesting and give insight to fans. Take this particularly one with Nikki Sixx for instance:

“The fact that we’ve lasted is a miracle. Maybe that’s why we’re putting a bullet in its head…We know it’s inevitable that we’re going to break up or blow up or something. Maybe we’re just doing it before it happens anyway. We shouldn’t have lasted this long,” says Sixx in the interview portion of The End.

If anything, The End is a proper send off for Mötley Crüe and one heck of a burial. One final motorcycle ride under the sunset for one of the all time great rock bands. It’s reassuring to see a farewell done right in the world of rock, a landscape where the word “retirement” isn’t always taken seriously. I’ve never been this happy and sad watching a concert on home video.

RIP Mötley Crüe, 1981-2015, you will be missed.

mcrue2.jpg                                                                           Photo cred: Ultimateclassicrock.com

LIVE DVD TRACK LISTING:

1.) Intro
2.) Girls, Girls, Girls
3.) Wild Side
4.) Primal Scream
5.) Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S)
6.) Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
7.) Rock N Roll Part II / Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
8.) Looks That Kill
9.) Motherf***** Of The Year
10.) In The Beginning / Shout At The Devil
11.) Louder Than Hell
12.) Drum Solo
13.) Guitar Solo
14.) Saints Of Los Angeles
15.) Live Wire
16.) T.N.T (Terror ‘N Tinseltown) / Dr. Feelgood
17.) Kickstart My Heart
18.) Home Sweet Home
19.) My Way (Credits)

LIVE CD TRACK LISTING:
1.) Intro
2.) Girls, Girls, Girls
3.) Wild Side
4.) Primal Scream
5.) Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
6.) Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
7.) Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
8.) Looks That Kill
9.) Mutherf***** Of The Year
10.) Shout At The Devil
11.) Louder Than Hell
12.) Saints Of Los Angeles
13.) Live Wire
14.) Dr. Feelgood
15.) Kickstart My Heart
16.) Home Sweet Home

MOVIE/ALBUM REVIEW: KISS rolls the dice in Vegas

Movie reviews, Music reviews, Uncategorized

kissroc

 


In November of 2014 KISS did one of the very few things they hadn’t tried up to this point: a Vegas residency. After all many hard rock artists have tried their hand at Vegas —successfully so— over the years; Both Guns N’Roses and Motley Crue twice, Def Leppard and more recently, Scorpions and Billy Idol. Las Vegas, Nevada is no longer the place where acts go to die, the stigma has faded with time. It seemed obvious KISS would roll the dice in Sin City eventually.

Vegas would force the hottest band in the land to play shows on a smaller scale than it is accustomed to resulting in a slightly more personal performance. That is not to say KISS toned down the fanfare. The antics like pyrotechnics and fire-breathing are still there—they’re just a little less elaborate. While Rocks Vegas is not a particularly fresh concept, it sure is good to see some new live KISS content in an albeit unique setting.

KISS Rocks Vegas initially saw selected showings in movie theatres on May 25th before its impending home video release. KISS looks spectacular on the big screen but watching the Blu-Ray/DVD at home is the next best thing. The last official stand-alone KISS live concert DVD come over ten years ago —Rock the Nation back in 2005— and featured the same lineup.

 

kiss

 

The accompanying CD also marks the first official live album KISS had issued under this current lineup (unless you count the Instant Live CDs). Is it necessary for a band like KISS to put out a live album in what is likely the twilight of their career? For one thing it would shock many to know at just how few live albums KISS has in comparison to bands like Rush and Iron Maiden. If anything I’m surprised we haven’t had more live KISS. Documenting live performances becomes important as a band ages.

Its latter-day KISS, a lineup that features Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer on drums alongside Gene and Paul. That means no Ace and Peter, a fact that should be well outlined by now. This lineup, although quite capable, has its hit-and-miss moments— a fact that becomes more evident when listening to the CD. Let’s be honest for a minute: Paul’s voice is shaky, Gene forgets lyrics and Tommy’s solos are sloppy on ocasion. They may no longer be in their prime, yet KISS is still more than capable of putting on an incredible and visually compelling show.

KISS doesn’t stray too far from its usual setlist of classics like Love Gun and Detroit Rock City, but nevertheless the band took a chance and added Tears Are Falling to the set and chose to play no less than three songs from fan-favourite Creatures of the Night. The inclusions of Parasite and War Machine are worth mentioning as is Hell or Hallelujah from the latest studio effort, Monster.

 

kiss

 

As an added treat, Rocks Vegas features a 7 song acoustic setlist. Paul Stanley shaking his head after filling in for Gene’s forgotten lyrics during Christine Sixteen is simply priceless. Seeing a relaxed KISS as people with no makeup, pyro or costume playing as Love Her All I Can and Goin’ Blind is a great experience. I think it really says something about KISS that the band is this effective in an acoustic setting. I initially was apprehensive of Eric Singer doing Beth, a song that was always Peter Criss’ baby, but its the definitive highlight of the session. You can watch the acoustic performances but if you want to hear them on CD you’ll have to shell out more money as they are part of an $80 box set exclusive to Amazon. KISS and marketing, indeed. 

It’s a monumental task to substitute the live concert experience for a DVD or CD. Rocks Vegas doesn’t quite achieve that feat, but it displays a determined KISS giving a crowd-pleasing performance. The Blu-Ray version is crisp and looks great on my HD TV and the live CD kept those imperfections and mistakes giving a real live feel and that’s a good thing.

Now bring back I Stole Your Love, pretty please.
Setlist:

01. Detroit Rock City
02. Creatures Of The Night
03. Psycho Circus
04. Parasite
05. War Machine
06. Tears Are Falling
07. Deuce
08. Lick It Up
09. I Love It Loud
10. Hell Or Hallelujah & Tommy Solo
11. God Of Thunder
12. Do You Love Me
13. Love Gun
14. Black Diamond
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Rock And Roll All Night

 

Acoustic set:

01. Coming Home
02. Plaster Caster
03. Hard Luck Woman
04. Christine Sixteen
05. Goin’ Blind
06. Love Her All I Can
07. Beth

Batman, the joker and one long overdrawn joke

Misc, Movie reviews, Uncategorized

kj

Just remember. “All it takes is one bad day…”        DC Comics


 

A celebrated, yet often divisive and debated entry in the Batman library, The Killing Joke is dear to a many a Bat fan’s heart. While there’s room to ague the comic’s rank and merits, there is no denying Alan Moore’s brainchild is one of the darkest, most sadistic Joker stories ever put to paper.

In The Killing Joke, the Joker went over the edge —even by Joker standards. He no longer behaves like a lunatic buffoon, the man who laugh is out to prove a point: all is takes is one bad day to reach insanity. The story represents a case in character study, examines the morbid aspects of human nature and what drives a sociopath from a comic book’s point of view—essentially its a deliciously macabre Joker origin story.

I love that DC didn’t change the main story and formula too much. The Killing Joke is already a memorable chapter for Batman and the Joker, it didn’t need to be tinkered with or alternated in any shape or form. The animated film adaptation did quite well in regards to staying on par with the comic.

The main gripe I have with The Killing Joke is with its first 30 minutes where material that wasn’t in the book was added. Sure it’s related to the story and they did their best to tie it in but the storyline they tried to develop for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl simply didn’t work as well as DC might have anticipated.

 

batman_250x375_r5.jpg

DC promo

 

Barbara/Batgirl is a pivotal character in The Killing Joke, therefore it is understandable that DC wanted to give its audience a semblance of insight as to her personality. I’ll give the writers credit for trying to add to Batgirl’s story, but rather than attain its desired effect it feels like it was merely pasted onto the original story to stretch out the film. The further dialogue and backstories really didn’t end up adding anything crucial. Although I won’t go into details, Batgirl’s relationship with Batman in the film was in particularly poor taste and very much unlike the character fans have known.

I was happy to see a few of my favourite lines from the comic were left intact as there are many memorable quotes. As a fan, hearing the words I’ve read so many times over being brought to life by Mark Hamill was fantastic. At The Killing Joke‘s apex, the satisfying confrontation and word exchange between Batman and the Joker kept the same spirit as its source. The dialogue isn’t always on point however. One “joke” in particular is in bad taste. A criminal receiving a beating courtesy of Batgirl looks at her and says, “Must be that time of the month”. BadCringe-worthy.

Speaking of Mark Hamill, his voice acting is possibly the best aspects of The Killing Joke. Hamill as made left his mark on the comic book genre with his work as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and various Batman video games.

The animated film doesn’t quite match the intensity or pace of the comic largely due to its first part. They managed to get some of the art direction right yet the tone of the story isn’t as dark and perverse, but it tries. The Killing Joke falls short in its attempt to prolong the story, but it is a very faithful adaptation of its comic counterpart.

At an hour and sixteen minutes (including credits) it is by no means a long Batman film, however it feels longer due to added Batgirl backstory which decidedly does not work in its favour. Do yourself a favour and skip the first half-hour of movie, you won’t regret it. 3 stars.

Short on “magic”

Book reviews, Uncategorized

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_Cover.jpg


      Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books; Special Rehearsal ed. edition 2016.


 

           Harry Potter was one of the most singular, defining moments of my generation. We anticipated and devoured each book as it arrived, embracing seeing our favourite characters on the big screen year after year. I love these characters and their strange, magical, sometimes dark universe. Simply put, I grew up with Hogwarts.

I wanted to find out what happened to my childhood friends. I had grown up and so had they. We last got a glimpse of their future as Harry and Ginny waved goodbye to son Albus on the train that would take him to his first year at Hogwarts. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2 picks up exactly at that moment we were left off all these years ago. To be honest, Cursed Child is not quite the HP I grew up with. Many factors come into play. For one, it doesn’t feel written by the same author. The pace is altered and it is not as complex and rich as is usual. J.K. Rowling approved the script, but it seems that’s all she did.

Sometimes words spoken or actions taken by the characters feel slightly out-of-place. When Rowling wrote the books she knew the characters inside out and there was no questioning that fact. As such, many fans feel like they know these characters. It was interesting to see how Harry and other characters aged, but I can’t help but imagine some Potterheads might be disappointed by some of their beloved wizard’s actions. I found myself questioning some actions thinking they were out of line with the character. On occasion I felt they were dead-on with Ron and at times I thought they were making him out to be a big goof with little substance.

However, much of the intrigue and action of Cursed Child lies in two characters, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (child of Draco Malfoy). A lot of Cursed Child‘s development happens between those two characters. To have this much weight cast upon  new additions to the Harry Potter world is a considerable and bold move. A good portion of the book focuses on the boys’ relationship. It almost feels fan-fiction driven in that regard. In the HP books we knew Harry, Ron and Hermione were great friends and meant a lot to one another, we weren’t reminded of that fact every five minutes. Neither did we have their friendship shoved down our throats the way Cursed Child does with Albus and Scorpius which wasn’t necessary.

Without revealing too much, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has more to do with time-travelling and alternate dimensions —and frankly, what ifs?— than anything else. It’s mildly interesting but mostly confusing. The idea of revisiting the past is baffling in the first place. I feel J.K. Rowling would have moved forwards in her storytelling, not backwards. Fans have become attached to the stories as they already were and it doesn’t allow this new chapter of the HP universe to truly be its own.

In fact all these time travelling elements hinder from the Cursed Child feeling like its own story. Too much of the play is focus on specific events that happened in the past that we’re forced to revisit. Part 1 was mildly interesting but the good elements of the first start to derail in the second. The ending was fitting but didn’t feel particularly rewarding. There is a big theme in Harry and Draco’s difficult relationships with their sons and the struggles of fatherhood. This added a different perspective to the characters and franchise. If you were hoping for another traditional HP volume, this is not it by any means.

Surely some were apprehensive at the idea of the book being written as a play instead of a novel, I had my own doubts. The play format works surprisingly well and is probably one of the best aspects of the book. The only negative was it made for an especially quick read in comparison to heftier volumes in the series. I was impressed by how strong of a flow Cursed Child had given its format. The brief descriptions and narration complement the story.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will no doubt be a divisive topic among fans of the series. That’s not to say it’s all bad. I liked some aspects of the book and felt it flawed in others. It’s not the heartwarming story it aims to be. Cursed Child struggles with its legacy and embraces parent-children dilemmas combined with the drama and turbulence of teenage years. Try as it might, this chapter doesn’t feel like the true continuation of the tales of our beloved wizard. There is simply less magic this time around. 2 & 1/2 stars.

Packs a punch

Music reviews

sixx-AM-april-29

Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1, Sixx A.M., Sony Music, 2016.

Nikki Sixx sure isn’t wasting any time. Barely four months after completing Mötley Crue’s farewell tour he’s back at it again, this time with a new studio album with his now-main focus, Sixx A.M. 2016 looks to be a very prolific year for the band with their new album Prayers for the Damned to be released in two parts.

I wasn’t a big fan of the band’s last effort, Modern Vintage (2014). I can appreciate that certain aspects were very experimental and diverse, but Prayers for the Dammed Vol. 1 feels much more like a Sixx A.M album. With it’s heavy, anthemic in-your-face lyrics and attitude, the album is everything a Sixx A.M. album should be

“Rise” is a strong opener and choice of first single. It’s everything Sixx A.M. tries to be; uplifting and powerful. A kick in the face.

“You Have Come to the Right Place” is a heavy fist pumper that packs a punch, I see this song working well in a potential live setting .

“I’m Sick” is one of the catchier songs on the album, featuring a blistering guitar solo courtesy of DJ Ashba.

The title track “Prayers for the Damned” is very slick and modern. The song is carried by James Michael’s passionate vocal delivery and constitutes a high point for the album lyrically.

“Better Man” is my favourite song on the album, it has that depth and raw honesty the band’s best songs possess. It’s slightly more stripped-down than the rest of the album and in that sense it’s effective.

“Can’t Stop” is a good song but it gets lost in the shuffle to better songs.

“When We Were Gods” has one of the album’s best choruses and solid riffing from Ashba, very heavy.

“Belly of the Beast” has an industrial feel to it which adds a different dimension to the album .

“Everything Went to Hell” features some furious riffing, swearing and all-around anger. I feel the passion. Definitely a highlight.

“The Last Time (My Heart Will Hit the Ground)” doesn’t stand out in any way to me, but it has a cool breakdown after the halfway point.

The closing “Rise of the Melancholy Empire” is the longest song of the album at 6:08. It had a soft start and builds up quickly and with interesting breakdowns manages to engage the listener. The first thought that came to mind after listening was how well the title fit. Melancholy indeed.

A few observations:

In my eyes, Modern Vintage was ambitious, but all over the place experimenting and throwing ideas against the wall— waiting to see what sticks. Prayers for the Damned is self-aware, loaded, heavier, loud, bold, and confident. This approach works better for the band.

It’s fantastic to hear Asha let loose on Sixx A.M. album. I always had the feeling he was holding back, here he shreds on multiple occasions. Sixx A.M. was never known for having a whole lot of guitar solos, until now that is. It took me by surprise I must say.

Sixx A.M.’s first official drummer, Dustin Seinke,makes his first studio appearance. I wouldn’t classify the drumming as phenomal, but Seinke does the job well and there are moments where he shines.

The album features a lot of God and Christianity-related themes. Songs like “Belly of the Beast” are a little more obvious with their stances, but it’s a found throughout the album almost as a concept.

Is it a masterpiece that will blow your mind? Unlikely. However, Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1 is a great slice of modern rock that boasts very good songs and has me anticipating Vol. 2. Well done, Sixx A.M. 3.5/5 stars.

“Do a barrel-roll!”

Game reviews

star_fox_zero_bundle_box_art

Starfox Zero, Nintendo, Wii U, 2016.

We were long overdue for a new Star Fox game.

It’s been 10 years since we last saw a new Star Fox title in the franchise (Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS), and 11 since the last home console release (Assault for the Gamecube). At last, Star Fox makes it’s debut on the Wii U. Assuming you’ve played Star Fox 64, the game feels familiar from the first mission. From it’s visual appearance to enemies to your colleagues’s voices and commands, it feels like the Star Fox I love and missed.

Star Fox Zero sees the franchise step right back where it belongs. It never gets old to fire at targets, zoom in on enemies, perform barrel-rolls and summersaults for your own entertainment or drop bombs. It’s good to see the crew together once more: Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and Slippy Toad as they tackle Andross and old foes once more. I love hearing the dialogue between the characters, after all, Starfox was know to have great one-liners. There are however, some obstacles that hinder it’s enjoyment.

The controls are the reason I suspect this game won’t be every gamer’s cup of tea. In theory, playing with gamepad doesn’t sound all that bad. Yet it makes for a confusing experiences at times. Looking at two screens is easier said than done, especially in a fast-paced environment such as Star Fox Zero. The TV shows a third person perspective view much like previous Star Fox experiences. The gamepad offers a first person cockpit view. They combine as one but ultimately operate differently. Confused yet?

Mastering the controls while learning to utilize the gamepad and alternating screens is a learning process. Playing the game requires you to use the TV and gamepad screens in conjunction. The gamepad’s screen plays from a cockpit point of view and shows enemies and targets out of range on the big screen.

Learning can be a frustrating process, but it’s ultimately rewarding when one realize all the control that Star Fox Zero offers it’s player. Once you’ve got it down, the controls start to become a little more fun.

There’s still that part of me that doesn’t like the controls. In theory, it sounds like an interesting gaming experience and sometimes it is, but sometimes the game had me rolling my eyes. Holding the gamepad is OK. When it comes to what is essentially swinging the device around and tilting to impossible angles, I’m not fond of them. At best, the controls are fun. At worst, they take away from the enjoyment of Star Fox Zero. In this regard, it might be better to play with a pro-controller which seems more suitable to the experience.

The graphics are sometimes brilliant and effective making the most of the Wii U’s capabilities. Then there are instances where they can look dated, almost as if they belong to a past generation of gaming consoles. For the most part they’re very good but Nintendo didn’t “wow” me, at least not this time. They recaptured the appearance of Star Fox 64 and brought it up to more modern standards, but it doesn’t impress.

Campaign isn’t all that long. 2-3 hours maybe, but then again Star Fox games are usually not terribly long. The multiplayer aspect of the game has many intrigued, with good reason. Two players co-operating to operate and maneuver a plane is an interesting concept. If the aforementioned controls seems puzzling and complex to you, rest assured, multiplayer breaks down the duties and mechanics between two players. Player one controls the air-wing while player two aims at targets.

It feels and plays like a Star Fox game, but it plays it’s cards a little too close to it’s chest at times. That is to say that it’s not daring enough, although it does adds some creative ideas the game isn’t all that different from Star Fox 64. You can almost call it Star Fox 64 II Wii U and it would fit. I’m not sure it’s what Nintendo was specifically aiming for, but Star Fox Zero looks and feels like a remake or an updated reboot of the franchise. It’s not a necessarily a bad thing. The N64 Star Fox is a beloved classic from my childhood. Zero offers an updated version of the concept with updated controls and mechanics complete with a facelift.

Starfox Zero is the game fans wanted and should have gotten a few years ago on the Wii or even the Gamecube. It’s also the best Star Fox since Star Fox 64. Once you master the controls the game is quite fun and offers a good challenge. I like that there are different vehicles to master such as the tank, it adds diversity to the game. On the downside, .

I don’t see much replayability (although you might want to revisit levels once you’ve hold a better grasp on the controls) and it isn’t that far off from the N64. I miss the secret exits and bonus levels as they were a fun part of the N64 title. There are exits but they’re just given to you. Besides, you can replay any levels as you wish at any given time which takes away the challenge aspect. I’m not mind-blown over Zero, but l’m definitely enjoying the game despite its flaws. It’s a fun title that packs a blast from the past, but it’s a little too short with gimmicky controls For these reasons, I’ll rate Zero 3/5 stars.

On a side note, retail copies of Star Fox Zero also include a bonus game, Star Fox Guard. In Guard you essentially play protect the tower. You don’t see the whole field however. Instead, there are twelve smaller screens and you can only operate from those viewpoints with add more challenge to the game. Guard is not incredible, but it’s a fun addition to Zero. It’s a tactical defence-oriented title that adds good entertainment and value to Star Fox Zero.

2831879-star-fox-guard

 

 

 

The spaceman delivers once more, rock soldiers will be pleased~

Music reviews

 

acefrehleyorigins1cd

Origins Vol.1, Ace Frehley, Entertainment One Music, 2016. 

 

Ace Frehley has been on a roll. His most recent efforts, Anomaly (2009) and Space Invader (2014) were both excellent. Frehley hopes to continue this upwards trend with Origins Vol. 1.

Originally, the album was conceived as a backup plan in case Frehley didn’t release Space Invader in time to capitalize on KISS’ 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Ace delivered on both counts as Space Invader came out in due time and we get this album as a bonus. Origins Vol. 1, like it’s title implies, sees Ace going back to his roots covering artists he grew up listening to. The likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Free and Steppenwolf are covered and in some instances, Frehley’s own body of work with KISS.

“White Room” starts the album with a bang. Under Ace’s wing, the classic Cream tune sounds great. Edgy playing, shredding solo and l like the alternating vocals between Frehley and his drummer Scott Coogan (who has a very pleasant voice I’ll add).

I was expecting a Rolling Stones cover and “Street Fighting Man” is a fine choice for the Spaceman. It also harkens back memories of Dynasty where Ace covered “2000 Man”.

The cover of Free’s “Fire And Water” has people talking with good reason. An appearance on lead vocals by Paul Stanley is significant in the scope of the KISS universe. “Fire And Water” marks the first time Paul and Ace are featured on a song together since Psycho Circus in 1998. It’s a solid cover, Paul sounds good and it’s fantastic to have these two on the same song once more.

“Emerald” is an in-your-face bombastic all-out guitar attack. The tune sees Ace trading solos with Slash who does a terrific guest appearance here.

“Bring It On Home” was one song that I thought could have gone either way. As it turns out, I underestimated Ace. His playing is spot-on with some of his own flavour with his drummer again doing an excellent job on the lead vocals.

I wish Ace made a less obvious choice than “Wild Thing”. To his credit it’s a very good version -featuring Lita Ford, no less- but I would have loved to see him tackle a song like “All Along Watchtower” or something else and see him give that a go instead of a song that’s already been covered to death.

“Magic Carpet Ride” is a pleasant, upbeat, feel-good song and Frehley’s take on the song is slowly becoming one of my favourite songs of the album. I also really enjoy Ace’s vocal performance on this one.

“Cold Gin” seemed like a no-brainer, Frehley wrote the song on the KISS debut and Gene sang it. It’s the spaceman going full circle. I’ve heard Ace in interviews many times saying how much he wished to re-record that song. And you know what? It works quite well. The song has a faster pace and Ace sounds good covering himself (ha!).

Same with “Parasite”, he wrote the song and finally sings it and it sounds great. It gives those songs a completely different life with an updated guitar sound. If you wondered what those KISS songs would have sounded like if Ace sang, here it is.

“Rock And Roll Hell” came as a complete shock. Ace covering a Gene song? From an album he didn’t even play on? Yep. I’m glad someone convinced him to take a stab at it because the result speaks for itself. The original is one of my all-time favourite KISS songs and Ace does it justice by putting his own spin on it.

I was delighted at the album’s sound and production. This is a guitar album as well as a rock ‘n’ roll album, representative of Ace. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot here and albums by artists covering other artists don’t usually hold much interest to me. That said, upon reading about the project and seeing the selection I decided to give Origins Vol.1 a chance. Well, that and the fact that Frehley delivered on his last two solo outputs.

The selection of artists covered are for the most part ones you would expect from Ace given how much recognition he has already given them. The choice of songs is not all that startling either. With Paul Stanley, Lita Ford, Slash, John 5 and Mike McCready are all more than capable guest who add depth to album. The highlight of the album is inevitably the guitar work’s strong, heavy approach. Ace seems to struggle vocally at times, but he’s not a young chap anymore and vocals were never exactly his forte either. For his age he sounds fine, and at 65 he delivers a great product.

Origins Vol.1 completely took me by surprise. I wouldn’t say it’s mind-blowing, but admittedly with this album being a covers project, it’s much better than I could have possibly imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this being a covers album; my hat’s off to Ace who has effectively released 3 excellent albums in a row. The songs sound great, the guitars are fantastic and the list of guest adds to the project. Well done Ace, you made your rock soldiers proud once more. Makes me wonder about an Origins Vol. 2, hmmm. 4/5 stars.

Nintendo uses smash hit, it’s super effective!

Game reviews, Uncategorized

pokk

Pokken Tournament, Bandai Namco-Nintendo, Wii U, 2016.

It’s finally here.

There’s been a lot of talk about Pokken Tournament ever since it hit the arcades in Japan in summer of 2015. From trailers and available footage, the game looked like what is essentially a supercharged version of Tekken (I always thought the name of the game was a play on Tekken Tag Tournament).

This time the player fights as Pokemons in an arcade style instead of the traditional turn based-approach that’s been a mainstay of the video game series. Nintendo announced a console version would be released on the Wii U in 2016 and at last, it has arrived. Pokemaniacs who have been can now rejoice as they put their hands on a copy for the Wii U.

Let me start by saying how incredibly gorgeous this game looks with it’s stunning graphics. The visuals are magnificent for the Wii U. The environments are and attacks look splendid. The cartoony-style graphics work like a charm on the Wii U once more. The cut scenes and mega attacks look splendid.

The controls are very fluid and easy to master. As is usual per fighting games, there are different combinations you can learn. Each Pokemon has it’s own set of moves that makes it unique. That’s why it’s fun to play with different Pokemons because no two pocket-monsters have the same moveset. For instance Pikachu and Pikachu libre are much more different than you might think. Pokemons like Gengar, Machamp and Chandelure all have their quirks that make them a blast to control for different reasons.

The gamepad works pretty good and has the added benefit of the screen but l feel Pokken Tournament is best experienced with a pro-controller or the game’s arcade-style controller. I’m very partial to my pro-controller for a lot of games, but since Pokken Tournament is an arcade game, the exclusive controller is the simpler and brings the most fun. It’s quite comfortable and comes with a super long cord. Please note that the controller won’t work with other Wii U game (I tried).

pokkkeeen

Pokken Tournament controller Pro-Pad boxed.

pokke

A closer look at the game’s exclusive controller.

In Ferum league you try to earn the championship as you go around fighting in an open-world, trying level-up your squad as you do so. This story mode provides a few hours of solid entertainment.

There are 16 total Pokemons to play with:

Blaziken, Braixen, Chandelure, Charizard, Garchomp, Gardevoir, Gengar, Lucario, Machamp, Mewto, Pikachu, Pikachu Libre, Sceptile, Shadow Mewto, Suicune and Weavile.

The Amiibo card included with the game unlocks Shadow Mewto.

pokkeee

Shadow Mewto in all it’s glory.

Then you have 30 “assist” Pokemon who can be used at any point during combat as aides to help you. Interestingly, the assist Pokemons come in groups of two. They are:
Snivy and Lapras, Emolga and Fennekin, Frogadier and Evee, Jirachi and Whimsicott Mismagius and Ninetales, Farfetch’d and Electrode, Togekiss and Rotom, Dragonite and Victini, Croagunk and Silveon, Parichisu and Magikarp, Cubone and Diglett, Magneton and Quagsire, Espeon, Yveltial and Latios, Rashiram and Cressilia.

I feel Nintendo missed an opportunity to make Pokken Tournament one of it’s best titles in a long time. It’s a great game, make no mistake, but a few additions would have elevated it and cemented it’s status among gamers.

Firstly, multiplayer only supports two players at a time which is disappointing for those of us hoping for a similar experience to Super Smash Bros. A four player all-out Poke-fest war would have been a dream. I understand that it would have been difficult, but l don’t think it would have been impossible. Multiplayer mode also lowers the screen rate from 60 frames-per-second to 30 fps, a significant drop when it comes to visuals.

Note that it also necessitates one player using the Wii U’s gamepad. As it stands, multiplayer is tons of fun and will no doubt offer countless hours of one-on-one fighting. It’s still hard for me to shake off the feeling that four-player multiplayer would have brought this game to a whole new level.

The comparisons to Tekken ring true but Pokken Tournament takes further steps. It takes a great fighting game and concept and expands on it. It has quickly become one of my favourite Wii U and Pokemon game. If you own a Wii U and love Pokemon or fighting games, I highly recommend you give it a try. Other than multiplayer being only two player, the game hits the spot in every possible way. I was pleasantly blown away! 9/10 stars.

 

Worthwile re-release of a unique gaming experience

Game reviews, Uncategorized

 

pik

 

Pikmin 3, Nintendo, 2013. (Nintendo selects re-release 2016)

 

I’m not a massive Pikmin fan.

I played the original for Gamecube upon it’s release, but haven’t played another Pikmin title since. It’s been over 12 years since I played the game.  I was much younger back then, but it left a lasting impression on me. I acquired a Wii U last year and kept reading and hearing about Pikmin 3 for quite some time on Top/best Wii U games lists and decided to revisit the franchise. One problem, the game was incredibly hard to find -and of course, Ebay sellers want their money- so I passed.

With these new “Nintendo Selects” titles dropping in March (including Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Breeze, NES Remix Pack all for Wii U, along with select titles for the Wii and 3DS) , I can now find an affordable copy of Pikmin 3 -Thanks Nintendo!- and the opportunity to see just what I’ve been missing out. Pikmin 3 is a worthwhile re-release for Nintendo if just for the reason that the game has been out of print and sells for outrageous prices on Ebay. Nintendo selects offers good games at a great price and Pikmin and Captain Olimar were at the top of my list.

The premise of the game is just like the first two entries. You play as 3 different aliens from famished planet Koppai looking for nourishment resources for your species. Your ship lands on an undiscovered planet where you met strange creatures known as Pikmin. These cute, colourful beings take a liking to you and will help you by solve puzzles and fighting.

There are different coloured Pikmin with different abilities. For instance, red Pikmin are stronger in combat, the blue kind can walk on water, and the yellow type are good against electricity. Like it’s predecessor Pikmin 2, 3 adds more types of Pikmin with different powers. This time we get rock and flying Pikmin who add a new dimension to the game.

Did I say the game was unique? The environments, the feel of the game, it’s characters and visuals are unlike any other game I’ve played previously. It’s a unique concept where you solve puzzle, and a very entertaining one at that. If you’ve played a Pikmin game before it will instantly feel familiar, like an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time comes by to visit.

The HD visuals are nothing short of incredible. Pikmin always had interesting visuals, but the experience Pikmin 3 provides is a feast for the eyes. I will say that l do miss playing as Captain Olimar from the first two games, but that’s as far as my criticism goes.

To be fair, it’s not all that different from the original Pikmin, but it plays very differently. The Wii U’s gamepad and is used beautifully all throughout to provide fluid controls. There’s hardly button wasted or unused on the controller. The game makes you tap the screen, use the stylus, use the L, R, ZL, ZR buttons and joystick. For that reason alone it deserves credit.

What’s interesting is characters in the game have devices similar to the Wii U’s gamepad called KopPad that is used to take pictures, view menus and maps. The game also allows the played to use a number of options for play: the gamepad, pro controller or the Wiimote plus /nunchuk combination.

Why is Pikmin 3 a worthwhile game? Because there’s been nothing quite like it since it came out and it fills the void for a certain type of games on the Wii U. To be fair I was a little too young when I played the original, and although it looked like no other game I have seen since, there was no way l couldn’t truly enjoy it. I might just revisit the first two games in the franchise as a result of my experience. 5/5*