Movie Review: Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Drinking Buddies [2013]
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Running Time: 90 minutes

From the day it was announced, Drinking Buddies seemed like a film after my own heart. Director Joe Swanberg’s latest “mumblecore” effort combines two of my favorite things: craft beer and the city of Chicago. Better yet, this was filmed on location at one of the city’s finest breweries: Revolution Brewing. Fans of good beer will appreciate all the little winks and nods at the Midwest’s many craft breweries (my own personal favorite, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter, makes a cameo), but there is plenty to enjoy for movie lovers as well.

The film revolves around two co-workers at Revolution Brewing: Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). They are great friends, always fooling around at work and then getting drinks afterward. Kate appears to be “one of the guys”, able to hold her own with the seemingly male-dominated brewery. Luke and Kate have an infectious chemistry and there is an undeniable air of sexual tension between them; the only problem is that their relationship is strictly platonic.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Both co-workers are in separate relationships. Luke has been dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) for six years, and they have been talking about getting married. Meanwhile, Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Everyone seems happy at first, but it’s awfully hard not to notice how much of a connection there is between Luke and Kate.

A couples weekend retreat to a Michigan cabin makes the differences especially glaring. While Luke and Kate are perfectly content to just sit around drinking and playing blackjack, Jill and Chris prefer to hike in the woods. These four couldn’t be more different, but then again, can a relationship really thrive if two people have all of the same interests?

This question and many more come into play in Drinking Buddies, and the “will they or won’t they?” stigma is always lingering. Yet what makes the film work is that it doesn’t go down the conventional route. While it sounds and even feels predictable, it isn’t. This film changes directions and takes detours before reaching an abrupt conclusion, one that is sure to split audiences.

Drinking Buddies [2013]

Through all of this, the film manages to remain incredibly authentic. All of its dialogue is improvised, further adding to the sense of realism. These characters all feel like real people, and hell, you may know some just like them. The entire cast here does a phenomenal job, and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde deliver what may be their finest performances yet. The connection between the two is indisputable; they know it and we know it, but they also know it’s unacceptable.

Drinking Buddies is one of the better mumblecore films I have seen, and it examines male and female relationships in a way that isn’t usually realized on screen. While a bit more closure would have been nice, the performances alone make this well worth seeing (preferably with some craft beer on hand, of course).

8/10

Video Game Review: Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Xbox 360)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Derek Yu, Blitworks (PSN)
Publisher: Mossmouth
Price: $14.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 27, 2013

Spelunky is one of the most infuriating games I have played all year.

It’s also ridiculously fun and insanely addicting.

Originally a 2009 PC game, the 2D cave-exploring sensation known as Spelunky received an enhanced release on the Xbox 360 last summer. Last month this upgraded edition made its way back to PC while also hitting the Playstation Network for the first time. The PSN release happens to be a cross-buy title, meaning one purchase nets you both the PS3 and Vita versions. For the sake of this review, I focused on the Vita, and for good reason: Spelunky is especially efficient in bite-sized gaming sessions (and it’s only ~100 MB!).

The game’s general concept revolves around you, an unnamed adventurer, who must make his way from top-to-bottom in a series of randomized dungeons, all while collecting loot and upgrades along the way. Each level is full of a wide variety of dangers. The first world, the mines, is filled with snakes, spiders and spikes, just to name a few obstacles. Falling into the spikes results in instant death, forcing you to start all the way back from the beginning. Later worlds, such as the jungle and an ice cave, present even graver difficulties.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Every new game starts you off with four hearts (touching an enemy = loss of one heart), four bombs and four ropes. The bombs are incredibly helpful for paving your own way through each area, and they can be used to wipe out enemies and find hidden treasure. The ropes are used to get to locations unreachable by jumping, or to descend lower without having to take a huge fall. More of these items can be found within each level, and occasionally a shopkeeper even shows up with new upgrades for sale. His items are random, and they range from machetes to jetpacks to cameras, all of which can be crucial survival tools.

Each level has its own little quirks and secrets, and because of its randomized nature, you never know what you’re going to get. There is one constant, however; hidden somewhere in each level is a damsel in distress (which can amusingly be turned into a pug in the game’s settings). Rescue her and you’ll get one extra heart added to your life — these are critical to your success, and it is almost always worth the effort to save her.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky has so many secrets, such as hidden rooms and characters, that there is *always* something new to discover. I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon the black market — a new room where seemingly every item in the game can be purchased. Too bad I didn’t have much gold on me at the time.

Now, as this is a roguelike title, the permanent deaths and constant restarts can be an exercise in patience. The obscene difficulty can be a huge turn off at first, but if you stick with it, the game is immensely rewarding. I can’t say I have ever played a game that made me jump for joy just for being able to reach the second world! It takes time to learn the behavior of every enemy, as while as how to avoid booby traps, but with every game you will get better. The game never feels cheap, as everything acts as it is supposed to. Enemies can fall to their death onto a bed of spikes just like you. It’s because of these consistencies that Spelunky truly works — it doesn’t resort to cheap tactics to raise its difficulty.

Outside of the main adventure mode, there is an option to play deathmatches. This throws four characters into a cramped environment where they fight to the death by throwing bombs, using powerups, etc. It’s basically a throwaway addition to the game, but it can be a fun diversion with friends.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

One nice perk about the PSN edition is that the game can be played LAN-style between the Vita and PS3. This means that two players can do a co-op campaign with one person using the Vita, and the other playing on the PS3. It’s an incredibly cool addition, and it’s something I would love to see other games do. There is no online multiplayer, unfortunately, but that’s not a huge loss given the game’s splendid local options.

In the end, Spelunky is a clever little title that works perfectly on the Vita. Its addictive exploration gameplay and randomized dungeons offer seemingly endless replay value, and its small download size means it will earn a permanent place on my memory card. There is a demo available so you can try this for yourself, but chances are you will get hooked just like I did.

9/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC)
Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: One True Game Studios & Iron Galaxy Studios
Publisher: Iron Galaxy Studios
Price: $9.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 20, 2013

Divekick is simultaneously a parody and an homage to the fighting game genre. What started as an innocent joke — what if there was a fighting game where all you could do is dive and kick? — quickly grew legs and became a sensation on its own. Now this “minimalist” fighter has been unleashed onto the PC, PS3 and Vita, giving the general gaming public a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

The result? A bona fide cult hit.

Divekick‘s concept is kind of genius, really. While there is a good-sized community of hardcore fighting game fans, there are even more who steer away from the genre due to the overwhelming complexity of many modern titles (myself included). By stripping away the gameplay to its absolute purest form, Iron Galaxy Studios have created an immediately accessible game that anyone and everyone can play.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

There are only two buttons to memorize: dive and kick. Essentially, dive is a jump button, causing the player to ascend vertically on the screen. While in the air, he can perform a kick. There are also special moves that can be used by pressing the two buttons together. Hitting your opponent with any kick variation will end the round. The first player to win five rounds is the winner of the match. That’s basically all you need to know.

What’s amazing is that there is a startling amount of depth to these seemingly simple encounters. An example of this is the game’s versions of “headshots”. If you manage to kick an opponent in the head, they become concussed for the next round, causing them to move incredibly slower than usual. This potentially creates a huge disadvantage for your opponent, making them easier targets for your next devastating kick (or headshot).

By only allowing for two moves, everyone is on the same level. In a way, each round feels like a poker game. You are constantly watching your opponent, learning their mannerisms and trying to outsmart them. Sure, some matter of luck is involved, but there will likely never be a situation where you feel you are outmanned from the start. That can’t be said for other fighting games.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick has a total of thirteen characters, each one with their own style of play. Fighting game buffs will recognize most of these options as spoofs of characters from other titles. In fact, there are countless in-jokes scattered throughout the game, most of which will go over the heads of those not in the know. That’s not to say this is only funny to fans of the genre; that’s not the case at all. Some bits are just generally amusing, such as Uncle Sensei’s “pro tips” that display on loading screens. This is a game that does not take itself seriously at all, and it’s all the better for it.

As far as modes go, Divekick is incredibly basic. There are brief, nonsensical story modes for each character, but they grow tedious after finishing one or two of them. The real heart of the game comes in the form of its versus and online modes. Nothing compares to playing against friends locally or against random people online. Each match, when paired against someone else, is a tense, adrenaline-filled affair. Best yet, they are over relatively quickly, working perfectly as a quick go-to party option. Divekick + friends + booze = one hell of a gaming night.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

The PSN version of the game is cross-buy, meaning one purchase nets you both the PS3 and Vita versions. I played both extensively for this review, and I noticed no differences in terms of content. The Vita even has a unique way to play local versus matches — one player uses the d-pad for their two buttons, whereas the other uses the right buttons (i.e. square and X). I had a harder time finding ranked matches on the Vita, but that could have been an aberration.

Divekick is an incredibly addictive little game, and it gets my vote for the best party title this year. While some may scoff at the notion of a two-button fighting game, I am willing to bet that most will get hooked when they actually sit down to play it. That’s what happened to me. Absolutely worth a look for everyone, not just fighting game fans.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Movie Review: Magic Magic [2013]

Magic Magic

Magic Magic [2013]
Director: Sebastián Silva
Writer: Sebastián Silva
Genre: Thriller
Starring: Juno Temple, Emily Browning, Michael Cera, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Agustín Silva
Running Time: 97 minutes

It’s somewhat ironic that Magic Magic went straight to DVD. The previous Sebastián Silva & Michael Cera collaboration, the low-budget road movie Crystal Fairy, was filmed as a means to pass the time while waiting for funding for Magic Magic, yet it managed to receive a limited theatrical release. It’s a bit of a shame that both didn’t get proper releases, as they are both quite interesting little films, albeit incredibly different.

Magic Magic tells the story of a young American woman, Alicia (Juno Temple), who travels to Chile to visit her cousin Sarah (Emily Browning). Sarah has planned a long road trip to a secluded cabin, and she brings along a few of her friends: her boyfriend, Agustín (Agustín Silva), a local friend, Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno), and a fellow American, Brink (Michael Cera).

Magic Magic [2013]

The trip seems doomed from the start. Alicia has never left the U.S. before, and she is struggling to adapt to the new country. It doesn’t help that Sarah abandons her for part of the vacation to make an emergency trip back to Santiago, forcing Alicia to travel alone with people she does not know. Barbara appears standoffish, and Brink is downright creepy with some of his mannerisms.

Alicia struggles to get any decent sleep, and her insomnia starts producing frequent hallucinations. We are left to question what is real and what is a dream for much of the film’s running time. This culminates in a final act that is so wildly different from the rest that it will make or break the film for most viewers. I loved the direction the film went, as it changed its tone at just the right time, right before Alicia’s behavior grew too grating.

Magic Magic [2013]

Juno Temple has been one to watch in recent years, and she delivers what may be her finest performance yet in this lead role. Her blank stares and disillusioned expressions perfectly convey the vast emptiness that appears to be her mind. It’s not entirely clear what mental illness she may have — or if in fact it is just a bad case of insomnia — but it’s hard to look away from her. And, of course, it’s great to see Michael Cera once again take on a different type of role here, this time being both ghoulish and unpredictable.

Magic Magic may be a bit too much of a slow burn, but it’s a strangely enigmatic film that warrants a viewing. The odd Silva/Cera partnership continues to yield fruitful results, and I’m hoping this isn’t the last we see from them.

7/10

Movie Review: Only God Forgives [2013]

Only God Forgives [2013]

Only God Forgives [2013]
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm
Running Time: 90 minutes

After the critical success of 2011’s Drive, my personal movie of the year, all eyes were focused on director Nicolas Winding Refn. What would he do to follow up his breakout hit? If you had guessed he would make a violent crime drama with incredibly sparse dialogue and a nearly non-existent plot, give yourself a hand.

Ryan Gosling once again takes the lead, this time playing Julian, a mysterious drug smuggler in the seedy Bangkok underworld. After his brother Billy (Tom Burke) is murdered for raping and killing a young prostitute, Julian does not immediately seek vengeance. In fact, he does nothing at all. This infuriates his domineering mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who flies into Thailand with the ferocity of a Griselda Blanco. She will do whatever it takes to hunt down and kill those involved with her son’s death, and Julian is her pawn in this whether he likes it or not.

Only God Forgives [2013]

This is a simple revenge story, one that takes its sweet time getting anywhere. There is a lot of staring with no words being spoken, and characters are frequently shown to be walking in slow motion. This is “artsy” to the point of exhaustion, and those with little patience will find this a chore to sit through.

Yet there is still something resembling a good film beneath this tedium. Refn’s direction is as stylish as ever, and Bangkok comes to life with an assortment of vibrant neon colors. Many scenes are awash in blue and bright red, and the film itself is quite stunning to look at.

Only God Forgives [2013]

The performances are also memorable. While Gosling does not appear to change his facial expression even once during the entire film, Kristin Scott Thomas is a tour-de-force as the mafioso-like matriarch. Even as her character spews inappropriate diatribe about the size of her son’s genitalia, she remains convincing. Vithaya Pansringam also delivers a quite enjoyable performance as Lt. Chang, the powerful police officer who had a hand in Billy’s death. He comes across as someone who should not be messed with. At all.

Only God Forgives is a divisive film through and through. While not everything works, this is still a visual spectacle that has enough eye candy to make up for some of its weaknesses. At the very least, this further proves that Refn is a filmmaker that knows how to get people talking about his work, and he doesn’t seem to give a damn about what any of us may think.

6/10

Movie Review: Crystal Fairy [2013]

Crystal Fairy [2013]

Crystal Fairy [2013]
Director: Sebastián Silva
Writers: Sebastián Silva
Genre: Adventure/Comedy
Starring: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva
Running Time: 98 minutes

One of the biggest highlights in this year’s surprise comedy hit, This Is the End, is Michael Cera’s out of control, coked-out cameo. With his starring role in the Sundance selection, Crystal Fairy, Cera continues his recent on-screen drug binge, this time trading in James Franco’s mansion for the vast Chilean coastline.

Cera plays Jamie, a college-age American who has traveled to Chile in a quest to find the illustrious San Pedro cactus, the inside of which contains the hallucinogenic mescaline. Jamie is a stereotypical boorish American, the type of guy who is only thinking of himself and his object of desire (the cactus). It’s a wonder that he has managed to make any Chilean friends, but he does find himself in the company of three mild-mannered and polite brothers, the oldest of whom offers to help Jamie.

Crystal Fairy [2013]

At a party the night before their planned road trip, Jamie notices another American dancing by herself without any inhibition whatsoever. This amuses him to no end, and he starts cracking jokes about her to anyone who will listen. Eventually, he starts a conversation with her, discovering that her name is Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). Still tickled at the idea of such a radical free spirit doing as she pleases, Jamie jokingly throws out the idea of her joining them on their cactus hunt. Surprisingly, she accepts.

Sure enough, the next morning he gets a phone call from Crystal, and she is waiting to be picked up in a nearby park. Jamie, further proving his selfishness, suggests ignoring her request and not bringing her along. His friends immediately discredit this notion, as they agree that would simply not be the right thing to do. And so the journey goes with two completely different Americans and three Chilean brothers.

Crystal Fairy [2013]

What follows is an easy-going road trip movie that manages to remain enjoyable despite taking its sweet time to get anywhere. The culture clash is very much at play here, but the biggest disparity is between Jamie and Crystal. Jamie is especially taken aback by her carefree behavior and casual nudity, and this seems to embarrass him far more than the others. Although both American characters are never really fleshed out all too much (and come across as little more than stereotypes), they are still just likable enough to make the film work.

The script is bare-bones at best, and much of the film is at least semi-improvised. This gives it an air of authenticity that helps remain engaging (it also probably helps that the cast members did in fact trip on mescaline for this film, some of which made it on screen). When the film does attempt to dig into a character’s back story, it feels unnecessary and tacked-on, providing a resolution that leaves something to be desired.

Still, sometimes it’s nice to just go along for the ride, and Crystal Fairy left me guessing throughout. I wasn’t sure where these characters would end up or what might happen during their adventure, and it was rare that I didn’t have a smile on my face. Sometimes that’s all that is needed.

7/10

Video Game Review: Dragon’s Crown [PS3/PS Vita]

Dragon's Crown [PS3/PS Vita]

Dragon’s Crown
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Action RPG beat ’em up
Developer: Vanillaware & Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Price: $49.99 (PS3), $39.99 (Vita)
Release Date: August 6, 2013

Dragon’s Crown is a stylish throwback to the old school beat ’em ups that once ruled the gaming world (think Golden Axe). In a genre that has struggled to maintain relevance in recent years, this latest offering from Vanillaware & Atlus feels like a breath of fresh air. By adding RPG elements to the classic brawler gameplay, the end result is one of the most enjoyable (and surprisingly in-depth) gaming experiences of the year.

The core of the game consists of side-scrolling hack ‘n slash action. There are six different characters — Fighter, Amazon, Wizard, Elf, Dwarf and Sorceress — to choose from, all of which are completely unique and offer their own brand of gameplay. The most popular choices seem to be the Amazon and Sorceress, but I opted for the Dwarf for my first playthrough. What can I say — I was feeling nostalgic for Gilius Thunderhead from the Golden Axe series.

The Dwarf’s biggest asset is his massive strength, and he has the ability to pick up enemies and throw them across the screen. These traits are quite useful, and they work especially well when paired with some of the other characters. The game is at its best when four players, all of different classes, are working together to annihilate whatever is on screen.

Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]

Each character can be upgraded with new combat techniques, increased health, etc. by gaining XP through the game’s campaign. There are a total of nine stages that can eventually be unlocked to play through at your whim. This may not sound like much, but each level has alternate routes, hidden rooms and diverse enemies, making each trip feel different than the last.

The stages are also wildly distinct from each other in terms of design. Underground caves, abandoned temples and fortresses are just a handful of locations you will come across. These areas always have randomized content in the form of both loot and enemies, and they culminate with some truly epic boss battles. These big fights are a major highlight, and they make each playthrough immensely rewarding.

Another addition meant to encourage multiple romps through each level comes in the form of side quests. These can be anything from killing a certain amount of an enemy type to finding a specific hidden room that is only accessible via rune magic. These are all completely optional missions, but they deliver huge XP bonuses and are usually quite fun to seek out.

Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]

As mentioned before, the levels can be played through at your discretion, but only after clearing the initial run through the first half of the game’s storyline. Once this is complete, however, the game really opens up, and it unlocks the ability to play online. This is where Dragon’s Crown positively shines.

While the game can be played — and enjoyed — solo, it’s even better when playing with others. The AI partners are decent, but nothing beats working together with a few friends. When connected online, other players can jump in and out of your campaign, immediately taking over control of an AI character. You also have the ability to join a random room and help others. The transition to online play is seamless, and it’s incredibly easy to sync up with friends.

Now, this wouldn’t be a proper Dragon’s Crown review without discussing its controversial art style. Ever since the game was announced two years ago, there has been a bit of an uproar in some circles about the hyper-sexualized visuals. This is an understandable concern, especially since the Amazon and Sorceress characters in particular both constantly seem on the verge of busting out of their tops. On the flip side, the men are mostly covered from head-to-toe, aside from the beefy, bare-chested Dwarf. Although I agree that some of the women are ridiculously designed, the overall art style is absolutely gorgeous. The hand-drawn visuals are stunning with smooth animations, and they remind me a lot of classic fantasy illustrations. I do not have a problem with this artwork — in fact, this is easily one of the most beautiful beat ’em ups I have ever come across — but of course, your mileage may vary.

Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]

Dragon’s Crown is available for both PS3 and PS Vita, and the two versions are nearly identical. The Vita version suffers from occasional slowdown during some of the more intense battles, but this is outweighed by the nifty touch screen features. The PS3 requires using the right analog stick to point a cursor on screen, whereas the Vita only requires a simple touch. The bite-sized levels are also perfect for the handheld, and I found myself playing on the Vita more often. However, the PS3 does have an advantage in that offers local co-op. Unfortunately, this isn’t a Cross Buy (or Cross Play) title, but characters can still be shared between the two systems using the cloud save function. You can’t go wrong with either version, so it comes down to a matter of preference (and convenience).

Dragon’s Crown isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel here, but it is offering a refreshing and incredibly well-executed spin on one of the classic gaming genres. With so many quests and ways to play each stage, there is plenty of replay value. Completing a campaign with one character unlocks a brand new one at an increased difficulty — all things considered, there are upwards of 120 hours of potential gaming here if you were to play through every difficulty level with every character. And with such infectious, easy to pick up and play gameplay, that is certainly possible for any dedicated gamer. Don’t be surprised if this shows up in my Top 5 list at the end of the year.

9/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark
System: PS Vita/PS3 (crossbuy) [also on PC, Mac, Linux and Android as Stealth Bastard Deluxe]
Genre: Stealth puzzle platformer
Developer: Curve Studios
Distributor: Curve Studios
Release Date: July 23, 2013

Stealth Inc has the distinction of being a stealth game that doesn’t really play like one. Most stealth games move at a laborious pace that requires sneaking around, waiting for guards to turn their backs, and hiding until the coast is clear. In Stealth Inc, there is still a lot of lurking in the shadows, but the game moves at a much brisker rate than you might have come to expect.

It’s also one tough bastard.

Stealth Inc scraps the idea of having a plot in favor of just throwing you — an unnamed “clone” — into action. This clone, with an appearance not unlike a South Park character, is forced to undergo a series of tests presented by an unknown overseer. This mysterious figure mocks the test subject when he dies by writing words of belittlement on the walls, but he also shares the occasional helpful tip to get through a tough area. These random blurbs help lighten the mood, a much-welcomed diversion from the difficult gameplay.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita, 2013]

Split into eight chapters of ten levels each, the main campaign offers bite-sized puzzle-platforming action. In theory, each level can be completed in anywhere from 30 seconds to just a couple minutes. In reality, these can take much, much longer, as a lot of trial-and-error is required to solve the myriad of puzzles thrown in your direction.

In order to progress through an area, the clone must hack computers and push switches, all while dodging security cameras, lasers, patrolling enemies and other hellish contraptions. Each level is well-designed and offers generous checkpoints, but many of the puzzles are real head-scratchers. Certain areas can be incredibly frustrating — there were multiple times where I needed to step away just to clear my head — but there is a huge sense of accomplishment in solving some of the trickier bits. In other words, patience is required, but those elusive “Eureka!” moments make the grievances worth it.

In many ways, Stealth Inc reminds me of the highly-regarded indie title, Super Meat Boy. The fast-paced platforming action is very similar, right down to finding hard-to-reach optional items in clever locations. The stealth aspect adds a refreshing twist to this tried-and-true formula, and the brief levels make this an easy game to pick up and play.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

One major plus is that there is a lot of potential for replay value here. For the extra-adventurous, each level can be replayed in hopes of getting the desired S-Rank high score. These in turn can unlock new levels and bonus suits, the latter of which can help shave off precious seconds in a time trial. There is also a nifty level editor, though unfortunately user-created levels cannot be shared at this time (the developers have stated that this feature will be patched in soon).

This game also has the benefit of being a Cross Buy title, meaning that one $9.99 purchase grants you access to both the PS3 and PS Vita versions. For this review, I focused entirely on the Vita experience, and this type of game is perfect for on-the-go action.

Stealth Inc offers plenty of bang for its buck, and its stealth-tinged gameplay is unique enough to make it stand out in the ever-expanding indie market. It helps to be a glutton for punishment with this one, but those who stick with it will find this to be a very gratifying experience.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Movie Review: World War Z [2013]

World War Z [2013]

World War Z [2013]
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof (screenplay), Matthew Michael Carnahan & J. Michael Straczynski (screen story), Max Brooks (novel)
Genre: Action/Drama/Horror
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale
Running Time: 116 minutes

World War Z seemed to be doomed from the start. With production delays, a burgeoning budget and multiple script rewrites, Marc Forster’s film struggled to get off the ground. In fact, it took a good 5+ years of development before the final product came together. Surprisingly, even with these miscues, the film isn’t half bad, though it does fall into some familiar traps.

Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a former UN employee who, after the zombie outbreak hits, is called upon by The Powers That Be to help investigate the source of the virus. Forced to leave his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters behind, Gerry embarks on the desperate journey that takes him all over the world in order to (hopefully) save mankind.

World War Z [2013]

World War Z crams a lot into its two hour running time, as Gerry and company travel to South Korea, Israel and Wales. With so much globe-trotting, the film never really finds its footing, instead opting to use these jaunts as action set pieces with increasingly unrealistic outcomes. Some characters are seemingly invincible, surviving disasters that would swiftly kill “real” people. Many in the film also act like complete tools (i.e. forgetting to shut off a cell phone while sneaking past a group of zombies), and they are often getting into cheap predicaments meant to rivet the suspense.

Outside of Brad Pitt’s Gerry, none of the characters receive any real development, and they are merely there to fill the screen. Pitt deserves a lot of credit, however, as he is more than capable of shouldering the load. His portrayal of the near-perfect hero works well, and he helps keep the film entertaining even during its slower moments.

World War Z [2013]

World War Z is rated PG-13, and this raises some issues. I don’t have a problem with a film getting this rating, but WWZ so desperately wants to show the usual zombie gore and violence that it seems frustrated in not being able to do so. Zombies are shot in the head, impaled and otherwise brutally massacred, but all of this happens off screen. We know it happens, but the frequent cuts away from the action are distracting.

Now, that’s not to say World War Z is a bad film. In fact, it is quite entertaining, and it moves along at a very crisp pace. It’s just that it is also a remarkably generic zombie movie, one that has been done better in the past. In short, it’s pretty much what I expected from a summer blockbuster of this nature, for better or for worse.

6/10

Movie Review: The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The Way, Way Back [2013]
Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James
Running Time: 103 minutes

At first glance, The Way, Way Back appears to be a relatively formulaic “coming of age” film, and to some extent it is. Yet it manages to take this well-worn genre and turn it into one of the most satisfying movies of the summer.

Liam James stars as Duncan, our socially awkward 14-year-old protagonist who is dragged along on a summer vacation with his family. His recently-divorced mother, Pam (a marvelous Toni Collette), her new douche-y boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his just-as-awful teenage daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin), all hop in a vintage station wagon and hit the road.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

Their destination is Trent’s oceanside beach house, and the resort town almost instantaneously turns into a “spring break for adults.” Their neighbor next door, Betty (a hilariously inappropriate Allison Janney), always has a drink in her hand, and other nearby friends, Kip (Rob Corddry) and Joan (Amanda Peet), are frequent patrons to their beachside parties. While the adults are drinking and dancing to 80s tunes, Duncan is left feeling more isolated than ever.

Through the film’s early stages, we are continually shown examples of just how much Duncan is struggling to adapt to his developing adolescence. He is shy and struggles to talk to others, including the cute girl next door, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). He is also desperately seeking some type of father figure, and it’s clear that Trent’s arrogant attitude is not a good fit. In the very first scene, Trent asks Duncan (or “buddy” as he demeaningly calls him) how he would rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan, after much deliberation, frustratingly answers a “6”. Trent immediately rebuts this by stating that Duncan’s lack of motivation makes him more of a “3” in his eyes. Yeah, he’s kind of a dick.

The Way, Way Back [2013]

The movie hits its stride when Duncan meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the free-spirited manager of the local water park, Water Wizz. Owen (and the other employees, including the more “professional” Maya Rudolph) slowly draws Duncan out of his shell by giving him a job at the park and acting as a type of father figure. Rockwell is terrific in this role, playing a character that is a bit of a “man-child” yet utterly kind to everyone he meets.

Writer/director duo Nat Faxon (of “Ben and Kate”) and Jim Rash (“Community”), both of whom also have hilarious supporting roles as park staff members, have put together a very enjoyable first effort. The Way, Way Back may feel overly familiar at times, but it still manages to be quite the crowd-pleaser. This is a film that will make you laugh, and possibly cry, and there’s no doubt that it will keep you entertained.

8/10