What Happened to My Start Button?

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I’m not sure if anyone else has as strong feelings as I do about the symbol on a controller button, but I feel I must provide some context to help you understand. The following is said out of love for the Xbox; the type of love that can send you into a swirling rant over the smallest thing.

In today’s ever-advancing world, it’s easy to forget that Microsoft is relatively new to the console production game. I’m of an age that I remember getting excited about upgrading to the SNES from the original Nintendo system. The first Playstation was the last console I had growing up and at the time, as a tween, it fulfilled most of my entertainment needs (-more on this in a bit). When I got back into gaming in my 20’s, I got really attached to Xbox Live. Once the 360 ran its course, the Xbox One seemed like the natural transition and I’m happy with the choice I made.

The Xbox One controller took a large part of the marketing focus during the console’s launch. It makes sense. The box itself is just that: a box. A much more sleek and modern-looking box, but a box nonetheless. (And now I can’t stop thinking about Silicon Valley.) The controller provided a better visual representation of the advancements made to the next generation console. It’s shaped differently; the triggers and bumpers behave differently; it’s more ergonomic. It no longer has the “Start” and “Select” buttons.

In their stead are the “Menu” and “View” buttons. Renaming the menu button seems logical as, in most games/applications, pressing it will often bring up a list of options much like the symbol that labels it. Its cutesy nickname of the “Hamburger” button, regardless of how endearing you find it, is a nice touch of marketing panache.  The view button was harder for me to wrap my head around both in name and function, but after some time (and I think a random tips video), I sort of get what it does. (Note that I will not even attempt to definitively describe its purpose.) Who really knew what the select button did without trial and error anyhow? But that to me is the first problem: start and select are easily identifiable to anyone who has ever held a controller. What did Microsoft hope to accomplish by renaming and relabelling them?

Granted, the buttons are in the same place they’ve always been and people will continue to use them in the same ways. However, as a student of semiotics, the change of the symbols is something that can’t be easily ignored. Semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, can be an obsessive affair once you notice how much it permeates pop culture. Humans have inherited a prehistoric ability to get emotionally attached to symbols,  a method of communication that predates written language. It’s why advertising and logos work the way they do. The “Start” button means more than start to anyone who recognizes its accompanying symbol, the sideways triangle. It means play.

 

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Obviously, the word “play” is dear to any gamer, but here’s where I can tie in my experiences with my first Playstation console. This was the first time I had a gaming system that did more than just play games. As a growing music-lover, I got a lot of use out of the Playstation’s CD player. Over the generations, consoles have included more features to create a one-stop entertainment center. The word play applies to more than just games, it can be used with a lot of the media we enjoy consuming. I think it’s worth noting that Sony, alongside being a hardware manufacturer, is a massive entertainment company. Their hold across different media is something that is apparent in everything they produce, for better or worse.

So, this isn’t news. The new controllers have been out for years now and with a stated effort to end console generations, including the ability to carry over accessories to newer consoles, it doesn’t look like Microsoft will be redesigning them any time soon. (Incidentally, the redesign of the Playstation 4 controllers also lead to the removal of its Start button; so much of what I’m saying about Microsoft also applies to them.) However, this does speak to a concern I have that is tempering my excitement about advancements in console gaming.

To me, the end of the start button is a change that may seem insignificant, but when closely examined says a lot about the design process. If you know anything about huge corporations, you know that no change, no matter how small, is made without extensive research on its functionality and, perhaps most importantly, consumer perception. I find myself wondering if Microsoft knew of a subconscious connection of the triangle to the Playstation brand. This is just the tip of the iceberg of newness that lead to the somewhat tainted launch of the Xbox One. There had been so many innovations that were clouded by the perception that Microsoft was pushing changes on consumers that no one asked for. The most frightening part of that is the implication that they were doing it just to be different, to stand out.

We’ve definitely come a long way from that rocky launch, and changes in the Xbox leadership have lead to decisions and practices that make Xbox One users happier with each update. I’m deeply invested in the Xbox family of consoles. So much that my frustration at not being able to pause a movie with the “not-start” button spawned this whole train of thought. I just hope that in trying to break ahead in the console war, Xbox sticks to positive improvements instead of changing to be different.

My New Favorite Mobile Game

I’ve never been the type to harp on mobile gaming. I’m far from the sort of elitist gaming purist that considers mobile apps the lowest form of entertainment. I enjoy a good time-waster. While I may be slightly annoyed at the not-so-subtle ways these apps try to drain the users’ wallets, I’m not too bothered by it to get a few moments of enjoyment before choosing to wait out whatever lockout/timer necessary to continue playing for free.

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I typically have a couple of puzzle games on my phone, the kinds that keep adding levels at a rate way faster than you can beat them. They are my fall-backs when I have a few moments of nothing else to do. I never thought a game on my phone would hold my attention to the point where I would actively take the time out to play it, but that’s what MyNBA2K17 has done to me.

I’m not sure how I came across this app. Odds are the subject of this video, which demonstrates the easiest way to get virtual currency for the real NBA2K17, had something to do with it. I’ve seen other video game tie-in apps (does anyone else remember Call of Duty Elite?), but this isn’t just some tangentially related product that merely lets you view stats for the proper game. MyNBA2K17 is a pretty decent game itself. It’s a stats-based collectible card game, which has events related to the current NBA season.

Someone managed to marry my love for basketball and card games with the urge for completionism that is one of my strongest drives. I have no desire to buy NBA2K18 this year; 2K17 will probably last me a long time. However, I will definitely be looking forward to the next mobile iteration though and I’m excited to follow along when next season starts up.

My 2016 Bests (Part 1): Games

I’m a little late with this, as we hurdle past the halfway point in January, but I’ve been thinking of ways to jump back into writing. What better way is there than to take a look at all the things that have kept me from writing these past few months?

First and foremost, there’s been a lot of video games.

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My 2016 Gamercrest from Xbox Live

Last year was supposed to be the year of movies for me. I was hoping to stop binge-watching TV shows and catch up on some of the titles I missed out on. Basically, I’m obsessed with staying in the loop with pop references and that’s hard to do when you can’t get yourself to sit through 2 hours of a film.

I did watch way more movies than I usually do, but I lost the battle to television. More surprisingly, though, I got really into video games too. I believe it all started with my break up with Call of Duty. I wanted to expand my video game horizon and so I did what I always do when I want to learn about the goings-on of a community; I started listening to gaming podcasts. The first was XONEBROS and it exposed me to all the games on Xbox One that were passing me by while I attempted, to no avail, to master CoD. I can’t express how much this show has done for me. It introduced me to a community of like-minded and positive gamers that I’m proud to be a part of (and as a part of their creative team, I’ll have monthly blogs on their site). It also brought me to one of my favorite games of 2016: Overwatch.

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Blizzard Entertainment, 2016

I watched the Bros stream the beta of this game and within minutes I knew I had to play it. First, it’s a first-person shooter – perfect for me -, but it’s also not the super twitchy, down a bunch of G-Fuel, I’m glad I still have the reflexes of a teenager kind of game. It’s a bit more nuanced and strategic than that. As I get older and my reaction time increases, I appreciate the thought that goes into team compositions and synergies even more. It’s the first and only game by Blizzard that I’ve played, and I fully understand why they are such a beloved company now.

So I think I can safely say Overwatch is my game of the year, but there are a few others that I have been really impressed by this year. Titanfall 2, I’d say, was a close second for best game last year.

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Respawn Entertainment, 2016

It might seem like I’m trying to fill the void of Call of Duty with other FPS’s, but that’s definitely not the case. If this game were just a CoD clone, I wouldn’t care too much about it. However, it seems to be all the things the past few futuristic CoDs were, just a bit… more. It’s hard to describe, really. The game feels phenomenal. The controls are super smooth, even with the fast-paced action and movement chaining. Typical me: I jumped into multiplayer straight away and was hooked. Over my winter break though, I played the campaign and was drawn by the connection between pilot and titan. And as much as I hated the platforming, it improved my multiplayer game immensely.

The other games that have consumed my life are all similar in that it’s almost as if they were made to suck up all my time. (Side note: the majority of these came out well before 2016, but I’m listing them because I played them last year.) I’m talking about the open-world games that have objectives, leveling systems and collectibles that scratch the completionist itch that I have. I got the Borderlands: The Handsome Collection and sped through all of the core content and DLC of the two games included. I loved these games and can’t wait for the 4th installment. (I also got a 360 recently and started replaying the original Borderlands, so yeah. I’m kinda obsessed.)

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Gearbox Software, 2015

After experiencing some withdrawals when dozens of hours spent culminated in beating two games, I decided to give Sunset Overdrive a shot. I think this game was an Xbox One launch title and, since I was a bit late on getting the console, I hadn’t heard too much about it after. It was offered as a Game with Gold a while ago, but sat in my library untouched. It definitely served its purpose of getting me over my Borderlands hangover and it was so fun I even bought and beat the DLC  for that as well. (One thing I try to do is support the developer of games I get for free by purchasing add-ons. It’s a small price to pay for something you enjoy.) The game’s self-aware, meta sense of humor got me hooked and the outlandish weapons and enemies kept me there to see it through.

Speaking of free stuff, I won Major Nelson’s #FreeCodeFriday giveaway back in November! It’s probably not that big of a deal. He does it practically every week and there are 5 winners, so I guess I’m on a pretty boat. But, I was stoked and I won a brand new title: Dead Rising 4. This was one I debated including in my best-of. I’m conflicted because, if I were being honest, the game was just good, not great. However, I did spend a lot of time beating it, so it must have done something right.

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Capcom Vancouver, 2016

The issues I had with this game have nothing to do with the complaints that most hard-core Dead Rising fans have. I actually enjoyed the decreased difficulty and I loathed the timer aspect of the previous titles. I was happy to spend all the time I wanted exploring the massive map and finding collectibles. I guess the main problem with this title is the story that won’t have a concrete ending until the DLC is released. The fate of Frank West is locked behind a pay-wall with no detailed release date. As much as this practice irks me, I may shell out for the season pass if it looks at all decent. I did get it for free after all.

So those are the games that I enjoyed the most in 2016. I’ve done my best trying to vary the types of games that I play and I will definitely continue branching out of my comfort zone now that I have a YouTube series dedicated to failing forward in this regard. Check out my “Confused Gamer” videos here.

Next up in my 2016 Bests: Movies and TV.

 

 

Update: December 2016

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The badass-est State Motto

Well, I fell off the face of the planet. Not really, but here’s what happened:

I started a new job. Moved to a new state, while still working in the former state effectively doubling my daily commute. Completely changed my work/chill/sleep pattern. Continued my Hamilton obsession. Continued my Overwatch obsession. Watched a bunch of TV. Ate a bunch of turkey. Traveled for a conference for my new job. And how is it December already?

That was the past 3 months or so. Did I get to watch any movies? I think so. I’ve been periodically updating my list of movies watched this year – which is to say ,when I watch a movie and remember, I add it to the list – but I’m telling myself that I must have left a few off along the way. I probably have, but the real problem is that I set myself up with a pretty huge goal. 100 movies in 1 year. It’s not impossible, but the timing wasn’t right for me. As of right now, my list is at 46 with Doctor Strange as the last entry. 46 ain’t bad. If I get in 2 more before the end of the year, it will be 4 movies a month which is almost 1 a week. (Once I start with numbers, I can’t stop.)

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The Newsroom, HBO

But there’s so much good television. It’s kind of hard to ignore. Even if I swore off a million different shows, there’s always something new to draw me in. I blame Netflix. I really do. My current roster of shows to binge starts with Daredevil (almost through season 2, so close to done) and The Newsroom, which I just started and I’m loving. If it were up to me I would have zipped through these shows, but I’m watching with my husband who is less inclined to set aside a full day to watch television (weird, I know).

This is too long for one of my signature parentheticals, so just consider this paragraph a long aside: Does this happen to anyone else? Obviously, I’m a bit obsessed with moving pictures of people on screens. I care a lot about shows, movies, games and such. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t feel as connected to them. He says he doesn’t care if I watch a show without him, but it’s not really true. I know that I’ll have to fill him in on anything he missed, which makes it harder for me to enjoy because I feel like I have to take notes to relay important details. And even so, I feel bad because I want him to get the full experience that I cherish so much. So what do I do? If I know he has stuff to do, I’ll watch something I think he won’t enjoy, but he still gets sucked in. It’s quite the conundrum.

Anyhow, that’s what I’ve been up to. I started watching Gilmore Girls to refresh my memory before I watch the new season. It’s been such a blast to reminisce and I hope to be able to write about the experience of reliving these memories. There are also a couple of shows that debuted on Netflix that I’ve watched and want to discuss. All of this in addition to maybe putting up some impressions about the movies I remembered to keep track of over the past couple of months makes for a pretty good list to get this page up and running again.

In other news, I’ll be writing more about games too. I could be writing for my favorite gaming community, XoneBros, on their website. I’m hoping everything works out and I’m able to join their blog at the beginning of next year. I was nervous about it at first, but as I’m writing this, I’m remembering that the hardest part is opening the page. The fingers get moving and words come out. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. More ramblings are definitely on the way.

Overwatch: All of the Heroes

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If you are like me and have found that FPS games have become a bit stale, then you are in for a treat with Overwatch. BLIZZARD has once again taken a beloved game genre to the next level by incorporating all the things the fans love and adding some much needed innovations. Even better, this is a title that will be playable for much longer than others that offer a new game every year.

The game’s been out for a couple of weeks now and the internet is saturated with guides and tips videos as the competitive scene starts to pick up. However, I’ve yet to find an easily digestible list of all the characters and their abilities. So, I decided to put one together. Below you’ll find all the heroes listed by class with their suggested difficulties, abilities and accompanying Xbox controls (something I added since most sites list PC controls and I didn’t want to neglect my fellow console players).

A few quick notes: This is in no way a comprehensive guide. In the interest of time (I want to get back to playing) and ease of reading, I only explain abilities that aren’t obvious in their names. Any enemies that have two weapons in their arsenal can switch between them using the left D-Pad button. All things listed as named in the game are italicized and in caps. So here are the heroes and what they do:

 

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GENJI (Difficulty Rating – 3 Stars)
Primary weapon: SHURIKEN
Primary fire (RT): accurate burst of 3 projectiles
Secondary fire (LT): fan of 3 projectiles
1st ability (LB): SWIFT STRIKE
2nd ability (RB): DEFLECT
Passive ability (A): CYBER-AGILITY, double jump and climb walls
Ultimate Ability (Y): DRAGONBLADE, fast-moving katana attack

McCREE (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: PEACEKEEPER
Primary fire (RT): single revolver shot
Secondary fire (LT): fan the hammer to empty the cylinder
1st ability (LB): COMBAT ROLL, reloads weapon while moving
2nd ability (RB): FLASHBANG
Ultimate Ability (Y): DEADEYE, locks on to multiple enemies, press Y again (or RT) to fire

PHARAH (Difficulty Rating – 1 Star)
Primary weapon: ROCKET LAUNCHER (RT)
1st ability (LB): JUMP JET
2nd ability (RB): CONCUSSIVE BLAST
Passive ability (A/LT): HOVER JETS, hold to hover
Ultimate Ability (Y): BARRAGE, fire a volley of rockets

REAPER (Difficulty Rating – 1 Star)
Primary weapon: HELLFIRE SHOTGUNS (RT), dual wield, short range
1st ability (LB): WRAITH FORM, move faster, become invulnerable, cannot shoot
2nd ability (RB): SHADOW STEP, teleport to target location
Passive ability: THE REAPING, collect SOUL GLOBES to regain health
Ultimate Ability (Y): DEATH BLOSSOM, damages all enemies in AOE

SOLDIER: 76 (Difficulty Rating – 1 Star)
Primary weapon: HEAVY PULSE RIFLE
Primary fire(RT): full auto assault
Secondary fire (LT): HELIX ROCKETS
1st ability (LB): SPRINT
2nd ability (RB): BIOTIC FIELD, heals you and allies in AoE
Ultimate Ability (Y): TACTICAL VISOR, auto-aim on enemies in field of view

TRACER (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: PULSE PISTOLS (RT), dual wield, full-auto
1st ability (LB): BLINK, teleport in direction of movement
2nd ability (RB): RECALL, go back in time to previous location and health
Ultimate Ability (Y): PULSE BOMB, sticky explosive

 

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BASTION (Difficulty Rating – 1 Star)
CONFIGURATION: RECON, mobile with SMG (RT)
CONFIGURATION: SENTRY, stationary with rotary cannon (RT)
1st ability (LB): RECONFIGURE
2nd ability (RB): SELF-REPAIR, hold to heal
Ultimate Ability (Y): CONFIGURATION: TANK, move on treads with powerful cannon

HANZO (Difficulty Rating – 3 Stars)
Primary weapon: STORM BOW (RT), hold to charge
1st ability (LB): SCATTER ARROW, RT to shoot, fragments and ricochets
2nd ability (RB): SONIC ARROW, RT to shoot, highlight enemies in AoE
Passive ability (A): WALL CLIMB
Ultimate Ability (Y): DRAGONSTRIKE, spirits can travel through walls

JUNKRAT (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: FRAG LAUNCHER (RT)
1st ability (LB): CONCUSSION MINE, LT to detonate, launch yourself or enemy into air, does damage to enemies
2nd ability (RB): STEEL TRAP
Ultimate Ability (Y): RIP-TIRE, driven explosive, can climb walls

MEI (Difficulty Rating – 3 Stars)
Primary weapon: ENDOTHERMIC BLASTER
Primary fire (RT): short-range freezing spray
Secondary fire (LT): ICICLE, long-range, higher damage
1st ability (LB): CRYO-FREEZE, protect and heal yourself
2nd ability (RB): ICE WALL
Ultimate Ability (Y): BLIZZARD, freeze all enemies in AoE

TORBJORN (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: RIVET GUN
Primary fire (RT): long-range, slow-fire
Secondary fire (LT): short-range scattered burst
Secondary weapon: FORGE HAMMER (RT), upgrade and heal turrets, melee enemies
1st ability (LB): BUILD TURRET
2nd ability (RB): ARMOR PACK
Passive ability: SCRAP COLLECTOR, pick up resources to build armor
Ultimate Ability (Y): MOLTEN CORE, temporarily upgrade turrets and adds armor, buffs weapon attack speed

WIDOWMAKER (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: WIDOW’S KISS
Primary fire (RT): automatic assault rifle
Secondary fire (LT): aims down sight for sniper rifle, RT to shoot
1st ability (LB): GRAPPLING HOOK
2nd ability (RB): VENOM MINE, slows down enemies, does some damage
Ultimate Ability (Y): INFRA-SIGHT, highlight all enemies for your team

 

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D. VA (Difficult Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: FUSION CANNONS (RT), mech-mounted, no reload
Secondary weapon: LIGHT GUN (RT), used when out of mech
1st ability (LB): BOOSTERS, deals damage to and knocks back enemies
2nd ability (RB): DEFENSE MATRIX, shoots down incoming projectiles
Ultimate Ability (Y): SELF-DESTRUCT, eject from mech and cause massive explosion
CALL MECH (Y), after mech has been destroyed, regains some ultimate charge

REINHARDT (Difficulty Rating – 1 Star)
Primary weapon (RT): ROCKET HAMMER
Primary defense (LT): BARRIER FIELD
1st ability (LB): CHARGE, pins enemies to walls
2nd ability (RB): FIRE STRIKE, hammer throws a flaming projectile
Ultimate Ability (Y): EARTHSHATTER, knocks down and damages all enemies in AoE

ROADHOG (Difficulty Rating: 1 Star)
Primary weapon: SCRAP GUN
Primary fire (RT): short-range spread
Secondary fire (LT): medium-range spread
1st ability (LB): CHAIN HOOK, catch and pull in enemy
2nd ability (RB): TAKE A BREATHER, self-heal
Ultimate Ability (Y): WHOLE HOG, knock back and damage enemies in front of you

WINSTON (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: TESLA CANNON (RT), frontal cone electric barrage weapon
1st ability (LB): JUMP PACK
2nd ability (RB): BARRIER PROJECTOR
Ultimate Ability (Y): PRIMAL RAGE, gain increased health, leap and melee enemies

ZARYA (Difficulty Rating – 3 Stars)
Primary weapon: PARTICLE CANNON
Primary fire (RT): short-range linear beam
Secondary fire (LT): energy grenade launcher
1st ability (LB): PARTICLE BARRIER, personal barrier boosts damage output when blocking enemy attacks
2nd ability (RB): PROJECTED BARRIER, give barrier to teammate, boosts damage
Ultimate Ability (Y): GRAVITON SURGE, pulls in and damages enemies

 

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LUCIO (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: SONIC AMPLIFIER
Primary fire (RT): burst of sonic projectiles
Secondary fire (LT): SOUNDWAVE, knocks back enemies
1st ability (LB): CROSSFADE, switch between speed and health boosters
2nd ability (RB): AMP IT UP, increase boost
Passive ability (A): WALL RIDE
Ultimate Ability (Y): SOUND BARRIER, high capacity temporary shield

MERCY (Difficulty Rating – 1 Star)
Primary weapon: CADUCEUS STAFF
Primary fire (RT): hold to lock on and heal ally
Secondary fire (RB): hold to lock onto ally and boost damage
Secondary weapon: CADUCEUS BLASTER (RT)
1st ability (LB): GUARDIAN ANGEL, fly to an ally
Passive ability (LT): ANGELIC DESCENT, hold to fall slowly
Ultimate Ability (Y): RESSURECT, brings back all nearby fallen enemies

SYMMETRA (Difficulty Rating – 2 Stars)
Primary weapon: PHOTON PROJECTOR
Primary fire (RT): short-range beam
Secondary fire (LT): hold to charge, release to fire orb
1st ability (LB): SENTRY TURRET, have up to 6 at a time
2nd ability (RB): PHOTON SHIELD, give to ally
Ultimate Ability (Y): TELEPORTER, connects to spawn room

ZENYATTA (Difficulty Rating – 3 Stars)
Primary weapon: ORB OF DESTRUCTION
Primary fire (RT): single energy projectile
Secondary fire (LT): charge for rapid-fire valley
1st ability (LB): ORB OF DISCORD, increases enemy taken by enemy
2nd ability (RB): ORB OF HARMONY, heals an ally
Ultimate Ability (Y): TRANSCENDENCE, become invulnerable and heal nearby allies.

Movies 31-37

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Even though things have been hectic the past few months, I’ve managed to watch some movies. I’m happy that I’ve been able to get to the theater more often and there are a slew of upcoming titles that I’m excited to see. Part of my issue reaching my goal is that I find myself turning on cable and sitting through a movie that is already partway done. While this counts towards watching more movies than tv shows, I’m not counting them on my list unless I’ve seen the whole thing. So here’s the list of movies I’ve watched in their entirety in the past month. I’ll try to be brief…

#31: Hell and Back – Ok, so this movie is really immature, but it succeeded in getting me out of a rut and watching stuff for sheer entertainment value. I laughed more than I cringed, which counts for something. I remember being somewhat intrigued by the trailers for this stop-motion adult comedy, but then I never heard anything else about it. I can see why. While there are some great comedic voices in the cast (including TJ Miller, Bob Odenkirk and the polarizing Nick Swardson) much of the delivery is lacking. I found myself wondering how they got Susan Sarandon to agree to this. The movie really tried to stretch the “they just went there” type of comedy, but it was more distasteful than funny a lot of the time.

#32: Hardcore Henry – The main complaint people have with this movie was that it was like watching someone play a video game, but isn’t that why Twitch exists? Because people enjoy that? I was interested in seeing how a first-person action movie would play out on the big screen and, once I got over the nausea, I was happy to see the first attempt at it. Sure, the plot made like no sense, but I liked how the audience is thrown into the action from the beginning just like Henry. I was actually surprised by the twist, though I’m sure a more attentive viewer will pick up on it quicker. Two things I did enjoy: the parkour sequence and the many iterations of Sharlto Copley’s character. That’s about all I can say without spoiling too much, in case anyone ever plans to watch this.

#33: KeanuLook at the kitty! It’s so cute! No sarcasm at all, that kitten was unbelievably adorable. I kept wondering how on earth they managed to train a cat, or if they just kept the camera rolling with the hopes he would do what they wanted. Anyone who’s ever owned a cat knows they rarely do what you want. Enough about the title cat, though. The movie was really funny and everything you would expect from the comedy duo. The trailers actually didn’t give away too much of the plot, which was refreshing. I expected Key and Peele to go on a John Wick-type rampage, but that’s not really the case. Instead, they create different personae and infiltrate a gang in the hopes that they can get Keanu back from the gang’s leader. The result is some hilarity and surprisingly real consequences. It’s all good stuff. And the almost mandatory cameo is very well done.

#34: Get Hard – Can you tell I’ve been on a comedy kick lately? I watch movies for the escapism and comedies provide the easiest means of that. I liked the movie – it delivers everything you’d expect from Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell -, but I have a huge problem with the main conceit. So Ferrell’s stock-trading protagonist assumes Hart’s character has done time in prison solely because of his race? He even goes as far to explain his rationale and it in no way adds up. Putting aside the lack of comedy in racism, the resulting dynamic is amusing enough. Even better is when some actual gangsters are thrown into the mix. The all-around great cast makes for a better movie than this premise probably deserves. In light of recent tragic events, I would argue that T.I. should just stick to acting. Type-casting aside, he always does a fine job.

#35: Special Correspondents – Netflix continues to release movies that aren’t nearly as high quality as it’s original television series. This movie is pretty forgettable (I watched it not long ago and am struggling to remember key details), but it makes for a decent watch on a night with nothing else going on. Ricky Gervais and Eric Bana play news radio employees who, when unable to go on location to a conflict in South America, make up stories from literally across the street from the New York-based station. It should be noted that Gervais also wrote and directed the movie. His personality is very hit or miss for me. In this case, he leaves behind his more smug characteristics to play an underdog the viewers actually want to root for. It’s a nice change of pace and lends well to the satire of the news industry. I wouldn’t call this a must-see, but I found myself invested in how the story would wrap up all the same.

#36: Money Monster – I had wanted to watch this since the first time I saw a trailer for it. I’ve never seen a real investment advice/talk show, but the premise of a hostage situation on live television appeared to be more thrilling than what the genre has put out lately. It had me on the edge of my seat, straining to make sure I heard every line of dialogue. Better yet, it didn’t go the easy route of making a political statement about one-percenters or anything like that. The direction it did take was far more interesting, and frighteningly plausible. According to my husband, who is far more interested in economics and the stock market than I am, the financial mumbo-jumbo (that’s the technical term, I believe) mostly holds up. I would definitely recommend this movie and I’m keeping an eye out for future Jack O’Connell leading roles (also going back to watch Unbroken). He commanded attention while acting against the likes of Julia Roberts and George Clooney. Not an easy task at all.

#37: Focus – Here’s how I described Focus to my husband, trying to convince him he’d enjoy it: “Will Smith is a con-man and he’s training this lady to con, but you don’t really know who’s conning whom.” His reply: “So it’s like Matchstick Men?” Well, after watching it, the two aren’t on the same level, but I was mostly right about the basic plot. We found ourselves debating how it would unfold while we were watching. The actual outcome wasn’t nearly as complex as we both had thought. The movie was oddly funny; odd because it seemed so out of place with the overall tone. It also dragged considerably in places (which gave us time to debate without missing anything). I’ve been wanting to watch this for a while, but I get now why there wasn’t much hype around it (despite its advertisement being ubiquitous for a while last year). A con movie is supposed to keep you guessing at all turns, but when the answers in your head are more appealing than the ones the movie provides, it’s a little disappointing.

“My Shot” from Hamilton

My YouTube channel is getting off to a pretty good start. It’s wonderful to be gaining viewership, but the pressure is on to put out more content. This particular video went live about a week ago, but I haven’t had the opportunity to post it here yet. So here’s the emblematic hit from my current musical obsession, “Hamilton”.

Favorite Lines

  • “Poppin’ a squat on conventional wisdom…” – haha, the imagery
  • “A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists” – say that 3 times fast.
  • “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory” – straight poetry

“Guns and Ships” from Hamilton

There are differing opinions on whether or not this is the fastest song in the history of musical theater, but it is without a doubt breakneck speed at points. I try to read along to spot mistakes when I make these videos, and I had to pause more than a few times. I hope people see/hear some lyrics they couldn’t get before.

A note: I’m not sure if he actually says “fluent in French, ami” (most sites have it as “I mean”), but that’s how I’ve always heard it et je l’aime comme ça.

Favorite Lines

  • Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting FRENCHMAN!!!
  • Makin’ red coats redder with blood stains.
  • No one has more resilience or matches my practical, tactical brilliance.- and all the aspiring rappers out there just got day jobs.

A Walking Dead Rant

*Spoiler Alert* – Although nothing really happened, this post discusses the plot of the season 6 finale of The Walking Dead.

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The Walking Dead, AMC – “Hmm, there’s something blocking the road. Let’s all go check it out.”

It’s been a week and a half since “Last Day on Earth” aired and I’ve had some time to let myself cool off a bit. In the past 10 days, I’ve been thinking about what this season has done to change my opinion of the show. I also got to watch the new episode of Fear the Walking Dead this week, and my opinion may be weighed against it. That show has way less of a following than The Walking Dead, – having been widely criticized as a lesser companion to the original – but it still managed to get more action out of its cold open than the entirety of “Last Day on Earth”. I have stuck by TWD since the beginning, even through some of its most patience-trying plots, but this might be the last straw for me. First, let’s look at the finale, before getting into my issues with this whole season.

I spent the whole episode glancing at the time. Everyone knew this would finally lead to the group’s first encounter with Neegan, but it still took forever to get there. The build-up was engaging to an extent. I liked how obvious it was that the Saviors were just screwing with them, but then it just got pointlessly repetitive. How many roadblocks do Rick and the gang have to come to before realizing there’s no way out? Having survived this long, you would think they’d have some way of figuring this out. Sure, there’s the emotional impact of Maggie’s pregnancy complication, but Rick’s calculating leadership would have gotten them out of that camper way before they did. Anyway, the episode could have run its normal length and worked just fine.

When Neegan finally appears (with only 10 minutes left in the episode), I was still excited. I felt like sitting through everything that happened before was going to pay off. Then he… talks for about 10 minutes. Sure, this is his big moment. We get to see that he is a much bigger force than anyone could have expected. He’s a psychopath and there’s clearly no way for the group to get out of this in one piece. However, the more he talks, the more annoying it is and far less menacing. It goes on for so long that what comes next is not a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. He finally decides who is going to get bashed to death by his barbed-wire baseball bat and the camera cuts to a P.O.V. of the victim’s last moments. The End. I stormed out of my living room.

There are those who believe that the purpose of this cliff-hanger was to keep the audience guessing as they develop different theories and excitedly wait for next season. I, on the other hand, consider this to be the television equivalent of click-bait. A large portion of my disappointment could stem from the fact this occurred after all the shenanigans pulled this season. Sure, there was some action this season, but not nearly enough consequences were had for the number of dumb decisions made. They lost some people, mostly annoying Alexandrians, and the one new person who was worth anything was killed in the worst way possible. (Apparently, finding a new lease on life is a death sentence in the zombie apocalypse.) RIP, Dr. Denise.

I wasn’t upset about the bait-and-switch with Glen. I was convinced his landing under Nicholas’ body was not a coincidence. The showrunners did a decent job of laying out the truth for the attentive viewer. What I find upsetting is that the dumpster escape started a pattern for the whole season that really messes with my suspended belief. After all, this is a show about zombies, but the characters are still human, right? Here’s the plot of the whole season:

The group gets into an incredibly difficult situation. How will they ever get out of it?! Wait, no, they’re fine.

And so on, until they finally reach the point where there will be something that happens to them. Somehow, everyone of value in their community leaves the safety of Alexandria. All of the viewers who were criticizing how unrealistically stupid that was can relax knowing that there will be consequences for this mistake, but we’ll have to wait 8 months to see it. Well, we know it’s not Rick or Carl, but I don’t care at this point. I’m so done. I could say I won’t watch next season, but I probably will. Part of me wants the reveal to be leaked so I don’t have to go through all of these emotions again in 8 months. (I said I was cooled off, but writing this just brought it all back.)

Anyhow, I’m excited that Game of Thrones starts soon. There’s a series where another character hangs in limbo, but I’m actually interested in how it might play out. (You can read my theories about that here.) Before that though, I have a lot of catching up to do. Expect a marathon of Girls, soon.