A Strange Trip through Life is Strange

 I didn’t really play the point & click/graphic adventure game when I was younger. Since games like that are more focused toward stories and characters and themes as opposed to gameplay and action I didn’t pay attention to them. As I’ve gotten older my mind has opened up to more than the basic game experience. This style of game has made a bit of a resurgence lately with the episodic series from Telltale Games. Stories like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands have brought in a new generation of audience. I am included in this new group. I recently played and complete one of my new favorites in this genre, a game called Life Is Strange.

The game is the story of photography student Maxine Caufield. It covers a week of her life as a student at Blackwell Academy in the fictitious town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. The game begins with Max going about her day at school. Early in episode 1, she witnesses an even that causes her to discover she has the ability to rewind time. After meeting up with her childhood friend Chole Price, Max embarks on a journey that may possibly result in the end of reality.

The game was released in 2015 over 5 episodes and is now available in whole for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows PC.  

 From a gameplay/technical perspective the game has all the pieces of a point & click adventure. A lot of dialogue, paying attention to your surroundings, puzzles, hunting for items needed to progress the story and player choices that may impact the narrative. To mix things up, we have the use of Max’s rewind ability which is used not only to redo moments where you made a choice that you want to see play out differently, but also to solve puzzles. It is a nice mechanic that gives a new feature to a fairly old style of game. There are some issues with the syncing of the characters mouth movements to their voices. However the voice acting is pretty good and believable. I never once doubted that these were high school students in this story. From the slang to the vocal inflections, nothing ever felt overdone or melodramatic. 

Another issue was there was a fetch quest halfway through that was longer than it should have been. There also are a couple sections that are stealth focused that did not need to be there. There is  a stealth area toward the end that really dragged on for me. You will not be blown away by the game’s visuals, but there are some pretty good light effects evident in the many sunsets you see during play. 

 Normally games like this do not offer reasons to play through again other than to make different choices, but this one does give a little incentive. Throughout the game you have a chance to photograph items Max may come across during the story. You can snap shots to earn trophies or achievements based on your platform of preference. There is also a director commentary that was released for free.  

   Like other games before it, the core of Life is Strange is its story. There are two elements to it that I enjoyed. First is the time travel elements that give no real explanation. I am fine with that. For example we don’t know how Max actually gets this power or rules of time travel. It’s kept simple. Something happens, she can rewind and do things different and there are different outcomes. There isn’t any scientific reasons and I’m glad because it would take too much from the overall narrative. Aside from the science fiction elements, there is a very human story here. Max has no idea that is happening to her and she has to balance this with normal high school life. I relate to Max in a way as she is person who does not quite fit in nor fully fit out in regards to the social groups that we are normally presented with teenagers. There is so much going on around her with themes of bullying, friendship, suicide, grief and resentment coming to the forefront. I also enjoyed the characters she interacts with as there is some depth to the other students that are not normally shown in films or television. The choices you have during the story make you think as they are not simple to make. There are consequences that may not make themselves known in the short run, but may or may not affect your relationships later.  
I was totally engaged from start to finish. Once I reached the end and made my final choice, I sat so still I’m not sure if I was breathing. I knew what I had chosen, but to see the end result play out with the knowledge I gained throughout was a hard hitting moment indeed.This was a great experience for me to play and I appreciate the work developer Dontnod Entertainment out into this. I look forward to their next game in this style if they wish to make another. Life is not only strange, it’s great! 

 Final Rating (4/5 – Great story with time travel, some technical issues with lip syncing and some padded fetch quests  and stealth sections.)

For more DeaconsDen coverage of narrative driven games, check out the reviews for:

The Walking Dead – The Complete First Season
The Wolf Among Us
Until Dawn

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DeaconsDen 5 Favorite Film Scores

Music is an essential part of the movie watching experience. For me it requires using your brain in a different way. You listen to music. Yet when music and cinema come together in a perfect blend you are seeing the music. It gives you chills, it widens your eyes, it transports you, it takes you to another world. As much as I may love to see what’s on the screen, when I fall in love with the score it really cements that film’s place for me as an absolute favorite. 

Here I present to you five film scores that I love sincerely and mean something to my development as a film lover.

5.) Beauty and the Beast (1991)  

 I was 6 years old when this film was released. I remember sitting in my seat and for the first time I can recall in my life, being captivated by a musical score. From the opening prologue to our introduction of Belle, I found myself separating the brilliant lyrics by the late Howard Ashman from the score by Alan Menken. You could say this inspired my interest in film as I began to watch specials on the making of Beauty and the Beast as well as other films. My first encounter with the idea of “Disney Magic.”

4) Batman (1989) 

 

I feel this is Danny Elfman’s best work. It has elements of his quirky style and at the same time perfectly fits the character. There aren’t too many opening themes to a film that I think are perfect, but this score has it. It totally sets the mood and everything about the score screams Batman. Elements of the score made it into Batman: The Animated Series which a lot of people claim (myself included) is the best iteration of Batman outside the comics. So it certainly is an inspiration. This film sparked my interest in superheroes and Danny Elfman’s work was a huge part of it.

3) Ben-Hur (1959)

 

An epic amongst epics. Miklos Rozsa was a master at these kind of scores. With films such as Ivanhoe and Quo Vadis under his belt, Rozsa excellently captures the grandiose scale of Ben-Hur. My favorite pieces of this score are its Overture which spells out musically (at least that’s how my ears interpret it) the journey that Judah Ben-Hur will soon take. From a prince to a slave to a man set on vengeance the overture’s tone flows to set the mood. I also love the music leading up to the chariot race scene. It brings to life the spectacle that is that scene and the entire film. Ben-Hur is one of the last great epic biblical films and its music is a masterclass in film scoring.

2) Star Trek: The Motion Picture 

 
Honestly, if you asked me, this is Jerry Goldsmith’s best score and most unappreciated at the same time. I feel it’s forgotten due to the the reception of the film itself. For me it captures the exploration of space and the wonders of discovery. This is what Star Trek is about. Two standout tracks are Ilya’s Theme which acts as the film’s overture. It’s soft and beautiful and sometime brings a tear or two while I’m listening. The other is Enterprise because it sums up the bond between Kirk and the Enterprise. Goldsmith has me feeling what I imagine what Kirk is feeling when he sees his ship again for the first time in years. Also there’s the main theme which I always thought was the theme for The Next Generation until I saw this for the first time. This film and this score to me is what Star Trek really is.

1) Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope

This is the only film score that I can perfectly play the entire film in my head as the music goes. John Williams is a virtuoso and this is his magnum opus to me. It drops adventure, fantasy, escapism. Everything is iconic and recognizable. This score was the icing on the cake to fully bring George Lucas’ vision to life.

So there you have it! The DeaconsDen 5 Favorite Film Scores. What are some of your faves? Let me know in the comments!

Film Review – Deadpool

They finally really did it. The Merc with a Mouth has made his cinematic debut. We won’t speak of things in the past (A certain movie in a certain series that we just won’t mention). Honestly Deadpool is a character I never would have thought would make it to the screen. I never really knew if his appeal was that far reaching. I’ve always enjoyed the antics of Wade Wilson, but Deadpool’s nature may or may not be appealing to others. So how does this superhero-action-comedy stack up?

If you’ve seen the trailers or tv spots for Deadpool you might think you’ve seen it all and there is nothing new. Believe it or not the trailers did not simply showcase all the best material. Clocking in at just under 2 hours Deadpool is crazy, stupid comic book fun with some pretty decent fight choreography and at times can be a bit touching. 

 The movie opens with a pretty funny opening title sequence that pokes fun at both the current state of superhero films and also Hollywood in general. I found it pretty funny. After that we get into the story.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary. Yet despite the title, he actually has a bit of an honest streak. Early in the film he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), an escort with who he hits it off instantly. This is one of the parts of the film that I say was actually quite touching. It isn’t the standard, star-studded way of showing a romance on screen. A line spoke by Wade indicates that “her crazy matches his crazy.” At first meeting the two have a banter back and forth about who had the harder childhood. It actually come off really sweet and adds realism to their relationship. Not to turn this review in a relationship piece but I think we all know that not every love story as the same standard formula. 

 Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wishes to spare Vanessa the pain of seeing him die. He crosses path with Francis aka Ajax ( Ed Skrein) who offers a chance to cure his cancer. He accepts and in the process discovers he has a healing factor that cures his cancer but leaving him with a disfigured body and practically immortal. He then commences his hunt for Francis to fix his condition.

 As far as casting goes this was perfect for Ryan Reynolds. I actually thought he was fine as Hal Jordan, but Green Lantern had a whole array of issues not connected to him. Morena Baccarin also was well cast. She and Reynolds have great chemistry and bring believability to Wade and Vanessa’s love. Ed Skrein as Francis is alright. There’s nothing special about his character nor his performance. Another Marvel villain par for the course cinematically. The same goes for Brianna Hildebrand and Stefan Kapicic as Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus respectively. Gina Carano plays Angel Dust with imposing physical presence, but also not much to do. Two supporting highlights are Leslie Uggams as Blind Al and TJ Miller as Wade’s friend Weasel. These two are pretty damn funny and have great comedic timing.Although the story is a standard origin story, as a viewer I did not care because Deadpool never takes itself that serious as a superhero epic. It actually can stand alone if it wanted to since everything pretty much wrapped up by the end. 

 The movie also has some pretty nice action sequences. The scenes are never to fast or frantic for viewers to take in. Even when Deadpool is jumping all around, it has a fluid feeling and its brutal in its violence, but never revels in it. Heads and limbs are cut off throughout but it never bashes you over the head or feels at all uncomfortable. There’s no point in criticizing the CGI Colossus since the movie brings attention to that at the beginning. For those afraid of the film being overdone with Deadpool-isms need not worry as it knows when and when not to indulge.

I wouldn’t call Deadpool a game-changer in the superhero film genre. I can say that perhaps this will convince not only Marvel but DC as well to give some consideration to their more mature properties on a theatrical scale. Deadpool does what Deadpool does with some very entertaining results. It’s not The Avengers by any means. You are not going to be able to dig deep into the layers of Wade Wilson and find this story some commentary on whatever is going on in the world. I can say this however, if you want an entertaining, adult oriented superhero movie, you can’t go wrong with Deadpool. It’s just fun. 

 Final Rating (4.5/5) Weak villain and not much from the X-Men sidekicks, but that never really detracts from the movie. Funny with some really well done action and actually can be a bit heartfelt and touching. 

 

A Meeting of the Minds: Marvel Comics Hip-Hop Variants

I love comics. I love Marvel Comics. I love music. I love Hip-Hop. Well Marvel has taken these things I love and mashed them together for a special blend of superheroes and music. For each of their new #1 issues following the Secret Wars Event, Marvel has released a variant cover based on a hip-hop album covers from past and present. I saw that they were doing this and had to get in. I did not get all of them, but here are a few that I have gotten that I am pleased to share.

Doctor Strange #1 – Cover based on The Chronic by Dr. Dre 

 
The Astonishing Ant-Man #1 – Cover based on Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G. 

 

The Invincible Iron Man #1 – Cover based on Get Rich or Die Tryin by 50 Cent 

 
Amazing Spider-Man #1 – Cover based on Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest 

 
Spider-Gwen #1 – Cover based on The Great Adventures of Slick Rick by Slick Rick 

 
Contest of Champions #1 – Cover based on Liquid Swords by GZA 

 

Review – Batman: Bad Blood

The first DC Universe Animated Original movie of 2016 has arrived. I always enjoy picking these films up and reviewing them when they come out. Mainly it’s because it’s the one area of DC that is above Marvel. DC knows how to do animation. It doesn’t matter if it’s TV or film, they bring a cool vision to comic books stories.

Batman: Bad Blood continues the storyline that started in Son of Batman and continued in Batman vs Robin. The film opens with a new hero in Gotham, Batwoman. After an encounter with criminals Firefly, Electocutioner and the mysterious Heretic, Batman goes missing and Batwoman is the only one who witnessed the events. 

 In the wake of the Dark Knight’s disappearance, his former ward Dick Grayson aka Nightwing takes charge in leading Bruce’s son Damian (Robin) and Batwoman to finding what happened to Batman.

Believe it or not, this film is a bit more of a character piece more than a straight up superhero story. With Batman the driving force of the plot it allows for the viewer to spend time the 3 people most affected by his absence. I found it pretty insightful as we get a little piece of the puzzle with Nightwing, Robin and Batwoman as they all are connected in someway to Bruce Wayne and his crusade. Dick Grayson laments looking up to Bruce as a father but realizing it’s a very lonely life with him. Damian, his own son feels no connection to his father. Kate Kane, who was inspired by Batman but may or may not have questionable methods in how she handles her second life. I liked that the film took a moment to breathe with these characters. Also we are introduced to Batwing, Luke Fox. Son of Lucious Fox, he joins the Bat family on this case as well. We don’t get to know him all that well other than the fact that he’s a soldier. 

 The film moves at a brisk pace. It’s only 74 minutes but the story unfolds quite well with not too much filler. The endgame is pretty standard stuff but with this being a bit more character focused, I can forgive that.

Batman: Bad Blood is another solid entry in DC’s animated canon. Gotham may be familiar territory but we get 3 compelling leads stepping up in the spotlight with the Caped Crusader missing. 

 Final Rating (4/5) If this was a straight up Batman flick, it might have scored a little lower. Yet with Batman missing and the film focuses on the effect of his absence on his team it actually elevates it from the standard fare.