Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why I am endorsing Donald J Trump for president of the United States of America.




Having decided to weigh in on the current political debate, I’ve found it necessary to make a clear case for why I support Donald J Trump for President.  An Election year in the United States of America is always one brimming with great fervor and intensity. This one is especially paramount. For the sake of brevity, I am going to keep this article concise and to the point. You may be a Trump supporter yourself. You may be undecided, indifferent, or even curious about the rationale behind the minds of people who support him, especially when there are many out there that consider him so divisive and polarizing. My aim is to summarize the calculus of the policies he’s put forth and hopefully make them more transparent to those who wish to grasp the thought process of a member of his support base.

Personally speaking, I have admired Mr. Trump long before he decided to run for office. Donald Trump is unequivocally, a tactician of the highest order when it comes to striking business deals, creating strong partnerships and building wealth with a name brand that is synonymous with success. These are all traits that lend itself well to the role of commander in chief. Despite a handful of failed ventures, he’s not afraid to try and fail only to try his hand again; fighting harder and emerging even stronger due to his sheer determination and capitalist business savvy. He is emblematic of the American spirit and has become this patriotic tour de force generating the sort of unfiltered yuppie bravado of late 20th century America that we have all but lost. A populist leader in the truest sense, Mr Trump clearly speaks to the silent majority that is demanding real change in this country. He has tapped into the vein of anger we feel at bureaucratic corruption, and, although he is certainly bombastic, he is channeling it smartly into progressive reforms and bold new policies with the red-blooded vigor and macho dynamism of the great leaders of old like Theodore Roosevelt and generals like Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton. Only the persuasive, firm, measured aggression that Trump exudes will be enough to accomplish the sweeping political priorities that Trump has vowed to make precedent in his administration and I believe America is in tremendous need of this kind of definitive transformation. 

For a long while I was undecided regarding my political affiliation. Some might label me a swing voter because I am convinced in supporting a candidate by having first come to a consensus regarding their appeal through a host of many factors, including: Great personality, political values, speaking presence, and substance of character, something which Mr. Trump possesses in spades along with a plethora of game-changing policies and ideas that he brings to the table. I do not believe any two parties can thoroughly encapsulate the complexities of the American voter base. Many are just mystified by the Phenomenon of Trump because he is attracting support from a wide ranging base outside of the establishment of hardline Republicans. For example, I am socially liberal and accept the legitimacy of man-made (Read: carbon emission altering) climate change, support birth control, women’s right to choose and believe in maintaining a social safety net for those who are struggling and in dire need of help for basic needs, but I don’t share many of the fundamental, underlying policies typical of left wing democrats.

Although Senator Bernie Sanders makes many salient points and I especially share his vision of being socially liberal, raising the minimum wage and embracing equality for all races, genders and orientations, I could never vote for a candidate that advocates what essentially amounts to socialism and support the communist ideologies that he espouses. On another note, I certainly have no love for the religious right: Evangelical ‘values’ and bible thumping zealotry that discriminates against the LGBT community and that publically shames women who have had abortions and attacks planned parenthood deserves no  place in the governance of 300+ million people. However I speak strongly as a conservative on the issues of national fiscal responsibility, 2nd amendment rights*, foreign policy, and shoring up our military forces. Mr Trump has shown he will do everything in his power to take care of our veterans. He has the gumption to tackle overspending, eliminating the festering corruption in Washington and has the greatest skill in bringing back jobs to our country and levying penalties on corporations that export labor and manufacturing overseas. He has the experience necessary to reinvigorate our lagging economy and the decisiveness to help put us back on top of the globe where we belong.

*In an earlier article I discussed gun control in great detail in which I support effective background checks, gun training courses and expanding mental health facilities while respecting that our 2nd amendment rights remain intact and unmolested.

He is not controlled by the political elite: He manages his own wealth. As countless pundits and bloggers have pointed out, anyone can agree on the fact that Trump is not a career politician by trade and therefore he is not being made to dance under the purse strings of lobbyists and special interest groups. This is a major point of appeal for me as well as other Trump supporters.

Donald Trump is the only candidate capable of building a border wall under budget and ahead of time that would help put a stop to illegal immigration, human smuggling, and drug-running. What many don’t understand is that the “Wall” he refers to is just as much a philosophy as it is an engineering project on the southern border (That Mexico will pay for!) The “wall” is an expansive series of enhanced security measures and checkpoints barring illegal immigrants from any port of entry into the United States. The “wall” is buffing up security patrols on our borders and on our coasts, making sure that if there are any refugees flooding in from the Middle East, they will be thoroughly screened because, unlike many liberals, conservatives do not delude themselves with naiveté when it comes to immigration. We know that ISIS and other terrorist factions are just itching to embed themselves in the destitute masses of refugee crowds and wish to slip through by taking advantage of our sympathies…and if they cannot infiltrate the refugees directly, they will do everything in their power radicalize those who make it through and influence their extended families to join terrorist cells within. 

You better believe it.

Allow me to address a couple accusations that Mr Trump’s opponents mindlessly spew:

“Donald Trump is a bully!”

Mr Trump has shown he can be very presidential and is a unifier when he is not being attacked on all sides by his opponents. Is he an entertainer? Absolutely, and that makes him interesting. Donald Trump has shown he has a great sense of humor and knows how to work a crowd. He has unparalleled people skills and persuasion in getting his ideas across. Let’s not forget that the great Ronald Regan was a Hollywood actor before he became President. If Mr Trump is being attacked, he has every right to defend himself, something which he does magnanimously and the country needs him in power.

“Donald Trump is racist/fascist/sexist/White Supremacist!”   *Substitute any two of the four to fit your personal narrative, get a side order of Bullshit™, absolutely FREE of charge!

Wrong. Utter sensationalist swill. Believing in any of the previous ‘ist’ buzzwords in the quoted statement is a clear red-flag that you have been thoroughly conditioned by the liberal agenda of many mainstream media outlets and/or you have been genuinely misinformed. What is the worst possible thing to accuse someone of in this day and age? 

Racism. 

Fortunately, Americans are usually clever enough to understand when something is taken out of context by the liberal media. In the commentary made during his conference on 06/16/2015, it is evident that Mr Trump was referring to illegal immigrants from Mexico, and is absolutely correct in calling out the fact that many of these illegals are indeed rapists, murderers and drug dealers financed by the cartels. This does NOT implicate Mexican nationals as a whole, which are indeed a wonderful people with a rich history and culture. Many of my friends are of Mexican and Latino descent (I am of partial Latino descent) and they are dearly loved. Conflate this with the epidemic drug problem south of the border that the cartels are taking advantage of and you have a recipe for a sensationalist cake baked by the biased media, decorated with swastika icing. With the U.S currently maintaining a 58 Billion dollar trade deficit, Donald Trump will ensure that the construction of the U.S/Mexico wall will be financed by Mexico, either through a trade embargo, deportation taxes or through some yet other undetermined means of expenditure, it will get done come hell or high water. After Dr Ben Carson’s endorsement and a fantastic introduction from Pastor Darrel Scott, Donald J Trump has shown he is in touch with leaders in the black community as well as addressing race relations in America and is very much concerned about the unemployment rate, particularly among young African American males and how to help them obtain better jobs, escape poverty and achieve success.

Mr Trump is the hero we need driving a stake into the sordid heart of political correctness. He is an avenger in pointing out media bias and the propaganda of the press; and while we do have a ‘free’ press, it is very much a biased one.  Recognizing the Muslim friends he is partnered with in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump will work with Gulf powers in rooting out the fanatics and extremists that are so delusional in their zealotry that they are insidiously attacking civilians in Europe and abroad. With a stable power-base to flourish in, ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terror networks will be in the perfect position to carry out a series of catastrophic attacks on the scale of 9/11 or worse upon the free world if they aren’t eradicated. As a war-hawk president, Donald Trump will vigorously destroy the scourge of Islamic terrorism.  Let’s keep in mind that we are coming out of an era where President Barack Hussein Obama did not even have the stomach for labeling recent terrorist attacks committed in the name of radical Islam for what it is: Radical Islam. Instead, he began his presidency by embarking on a worldwide apology tour and went ahead with a trade deal lifting sanctions on Iran without getting our prisoners back. The Iranian deal he formulated makes no guarantee that thorough inspections will be carried out with any degree of certainty and now there is nothing stopping Iran from supplying nuclear arms to Hezbollah.  For this (among many other reasons, namely, throwing Israel under the bus), I believe he is the absolute worst president in U.S history. In my opinion, Obama’s legacy is one of tremendous shame and despair. Let this be known for posterity: The Obama presidency is a filthy stain on the history of this nation. In 2008, at the age of 21, I voted for the first time in a presidential election for John McCain and I do not regret that decision to this day.

Opposition groups have resorted to the despicable tactic of attacking Mr Trump’s support base, casting an aura of shame upon them. They would love nothing more than continue labeling them as merely uneducated, unwashed masses that simply have no grasp about what’s going on in the world around them, more or less ignorant sheep in the grand scheme of things. They exploit this clearly broken narrative to change the tone of the conversation in an effort to help suit their own twisted agenda, wielding opinionated rhetoric with such smug arrogance, as to be rendered pathetic and desperate for validity. They attempted to affiliate Mr Trump with the Ku Klux Klan and his supporters with white supremacy, even after Mr Trump repeatedly disavowed any endorsement from David Duke. They are so utterly desperate in justifying their polluted worldview that many of these ‘protestors’ are little more than agitators that have introduced a level of violence into our political process yet unseen. These groups either represent (or are partnered with) subversive groups such as Black Lives matter, 3rd wave feminists, and cultural Marxist organizations that have gone completely off the rails. 

What we are seeing in the 21st century is that fascism has taken the form of extreme anarchist, cop-hating radical leftists groups behaving like Orwellian thought police against those they disagree with, inciting violence at events hosted by Mr Trump which would have been otherwise peaceful rallies. Sabotaging events and then decrying self-victimization while simultaneously using intimidation tactics and claiming victory afterward is an act of cowardice and it’s a shameful spectacle to behold. Stifling Donald Trump’s platform is stifling the political process itself and prevents him from exercising his first amendment rights. Trump did the smart thing by shutting down the rally event on 3/11/16 for public safety. However, I believe this works in his favor and he can turn it around by garnering media exposure. In the McCarthy era, these groups would have been investigated for communist treason and as far as I’m concerned, they are traitors to the liberty of this nation. We have a media cycle that has given a speaking platform to a mentally deranged individual who rushed Mr Trump on stage. If an individual had rushed Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton on stage, no news network would have interviewed that individual. It is exactly this sort of outrageous double standard that only reinforces my support for Mr Trump.

For the vast majority of US citizens who can see through the media smokescreen and their blatant lies, I believe we will make the right decision come November. The numbers don’t lie: Trump is a force of nature and he is reaching across the aisle and bringing in new voters. If the Republicans expect to win in November against Hillary Clinton they must rally behind Trump or the party is going to fracture and split in two. I sincerely believe Donald Trump loves this country and desires to see prosperity and strength reign once again, particularly for those willing to work for it. Small business owners and entrepreneurs will benefit greatly from his policies. The minimum wage will be raised and that will bolster the service sector and the standard of living for the average American. Taxes incurred on imports from China and elsewhere will help repair our failing infrastructure. Manufacturing will be brought back to the homeland under Trump and many products will be cheaper to transport and of superior quality when these changes gradually take effect. Mr Trump will oversee a unified America where racial and gender division will be put in the past where it belongs and usher in a technologically advanced, egalitarian and prosperous nation with a stronger military force.

It is for these reasons that I can state with pride and absolute conviction, that Donald J Trump is the right man for the job of holding the highest office in the nation and is the only candidate that will make America great again.


Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie isin't dead



Rarely have I seen such an outpouring of grief and remembrance go forth toward an artist and cultural icon as much as I’ve seen lately with the recent passing of David Bowie, especially resonating from the ranks of us snarky ‘Millennial’s’ who maintain an appreciation for his greatest works which occurred largely ‘before our time’. Rarely do celebrity deaths have such an impact on me personally as well. The deluge of mass media coverage we are seeing is not a trivial ritual, because, in his heyday, Bowie was so far ahead of his time in so many ways that he speaks to us directly even though he made his mark on the world 40 some odd years ago.

David Bowie epitomized the essence of what it means to be an artist. Constantly re-inventing himself and changing with the times, he dissolved gender lines, generational lines, racial lines, and genre lines. Upcoming artists and musicians need to take note and study Bowie like Beethoven studied under Mozart and Sinatra studied under Crosby. Even in the throes of death, Bowie managed to somehow encapsulate a dramatically artistic fugue with ‘Blackstar’ his final album that is as haunting as it is euphoric; with his swan song ‘Lazarus’ representing an unnerving portrayal about coping with cancer and keeping it hidden away from the world. He was a class act right up until the very end of his life. What strikes me most is how rare artists of his caliber are today, and it would be fair to argue that he defied caliber and classification altogether. Otherworldly and alien, creating alter-ego’s that were real rather than gimmicky, Bowie shaped a cultural legacy that will always endure. What we are now seeing is that the pool of talent reaching anywhere near Bowie’s magnitude is fast dwindling. There is still great talent and unique sound in the music world today, though not nearly in the same way as it once was: There lacks a certain panache and musical finesse for real ingenuity in the vast majority of the mainstream music scene.

The old Gods of Rock are dead and dying.   

Because he was a musical polymath with an uncanny ability to span so many echelons of talent, acting and performance art and pull it off so authentically, the next generation desperately needs to understand how unique Bowie was and realize just how much talent this planet lost this past Sunday. The kind of seismic, musical witchcraft that Bowie produced will never, ever come groomed from some record label executive whose sole purpose is mass manufacturing a brand attached to a photo-shopped face. In the long term, people will always see through the charade of the short lived one hit wonders with obnoxiously perfect hairstyles and synthetically altered voices.  Although Bowie was never above profiting from his works, like any true artist, his music and performances came from a heart of great inspiration and zealous artistic creativity; and although his music and image can be promoted and marketed, talent of his nature can never be replicated. The Thin White Duke had a great impact on my life as it did countless others. Let’s not forget Labyrinth, either. How awesome was that movie?

David Bowie isn’t dead; he’s immortal and simply fell back into outer space.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: "The Force Awakens" a review.



WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

The following article is intended as a post-theatrical release full review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

If you have not yet seen the movie, stop reading now.

Introduction:?

Star Wars needs no introduction. 

It’s as ubiquitous as sliced bread and quoted more often than Richard Nixon delivering his keynote resignation speech. It’s been parodied by more late-night comics, magazines and TV serials than perhaps any other popular relic we have in our cultural arsenal. “Star Wars” has become the ideal vehicle for Hollywood to partake in selling mythology lite to the cynical, post space-race western masses. It embodies the perfect blend of Kurosawa film technique; Zen traditions, totalitarian fascism, WW2 Era ace pilot bravado and a “Black and white” mystical dichotomy that dares to begin venturing yet further into the questionable grey areas of our materialist, postmodern morality. The latest entry in the saga meets the anticipated nostalgia quota that gives a degree of fan-service that everyone from the general audience to the true blue fans, of which I am proudly one, will appreciate.

The core premise of ‘The Force Awakens’ is about reclamation: This is the grand, overarching theme that runs throughout the course of the movie. The very future of the Star Wars franchise hinged entirely on J.J.Abrams ability to distance it from the recent memory of the prequels and establish vital, binding links with the original trilogy while pumping in new blood and applying a fresh coat of paint. There is no doubt he succeeded brilliantly. ‘The Force Awakens’ is, from a canonical perspective, less of an extension of Jedi and more a reboot of A New Hope. This is pulled off with precision detail and finesse thanks to its ardent cast of characters, engaging score, pulse-pounding action sequences, and of course, it’s trademark quirky humor and campy one-liners. All of these factors complement one another. It’s the first Star Wars movie since ‘83 that truly feels like a Star Wars movie.

On to the review!

Acting:  The cast carries the film, as it should in any great production. Their performances are invigorating and the cast feels excited to be there. (Well, most of them). Poe Dameron and Finn are total bro’s and their energy radiates genuinely on screen. The hotshot ace pilot is a young Solo incarnate, and perhaps my personal favorite new character. Oscar Issac could have been granted a bit more screen-time as Dameron, but gave an otherwise outstanding performance. Daisy Ridley steals the show as Rey, a force wielding savant with riveting screen presence. She’s also a natural actress and a convincingly force-powerful female lead that has been pulled off perfectly. Finn's enthusiasm is infectious, embracing the light side and his newfound role as the reluctant hero. Han and Chewie have the ‘grumpy old men’ vibe going that provides comic relief while still displaying a gun slinging chivalry reminiscent of the first films. Leia mutters a few forgettable lines. Luke Skywalker has transformed into a grizzled Ben Kenobi and stares intensely for about 10 minutes straight delivering one of the best wordless cliffhanger endings in cinema history.

Staging and special effects:  They finally did it right this time. The usage of physical sets and models combined with real costume design and strategic use of CGI made all the difference. The atmosphere is quintessentially Star Wars down to every last detail. Maz Kanata is a wonderful new character brought to life through CGI and motion capture thanks to the talents of Lupita Nyong’o, which is exactly the kind of new character that the new trilogy deserved. She had perhaps the most unique and original role in the film, I felt, despite her cantina/castle drawing yet more obvious parallels to ANH through the setting being a facsimile of the Mos Eisely Cantina. The full IMAX sequence of the Millenium Falcon being chased down by TIE fighters across the dunes of Jakku and through the bowels of a scuttled Star Destroyer should be more than enough to make a Star Wars fan out of anyone.

Score: A thematic John Williams score never fails, as it simply wouldn’t be ‘Star Wars’ without one. Each track is utterly flawless. 

Cinematography:  Panning, sweeping shots lend themselves to some of the best scenes yet featured in any of the Star Wars films. Most notably, Finn and Rey running away from the TIE fighter bombardment all in one take, referencing a certain ship hidden off screen as ‘garbage’ as they sprint toward a vessel off in the distance in hopes of escape only for it to get blown to pieces in front of them, turning back round before the camera swiftly pans to the left unveiling the Millennium Falcon draped in tarp, was, in my opinion, brilliantly executed. Rey’s speeder racing across the dunes of Jakku amidst the wreckage of Imperial and Rebel ships both in foreground and background gives a breadth of scope that is nothing short of jaw dropping. The shot where the nose of the Star Destroyer Finalizer begins hovering over the crowd in IMAX was simply glorious. The Light saber battle which takes place toward the end of the film was absolutely incredible; feeling authentic and haggard like a novice medieval sword battle would play out, rather than a highly choreographed showboating dance number that was the bane of the prequels. I needn't go on. We never feel out of the action within any of these sequences. There is no blurry, telescopic focus on the characters as they fight, no cutting rapidly in and out of takes which plagued many action movies of the past. We feel involved in the battles, and can hone in on the rich detail of all the characters as they square off.

Plot:  Simultaneously its weakest and strongest feature. It’s the strongest because it’s essentially a retelling of a new hope. It’s the weakest because...it’s essentially the retelling of a new hope.

This of course, is the film’s most pressing concern. It is light years past the point of homage when every pivotal plot point is an echo bounce off the hallowed halls of ANH. This can be absolved, however, as the fundamental plot of ANH was a superb modern adaptation of the Hero’s journey and the monomyth that resonates with audiences to this very day. The obvious parallels, however tenuous they may be at times, are pulled off so incredibly well that despite Abrams stratagem of playing it safe by having gone this route purposefully, we are yet left with a plot that still amounts to a Re-hashing. When it comes to the integrity of the storyline, what it suffers from the most is unoriginality regarding the story arc, most notably in the development of the protagonist (Rey).  Rey is Luke. She follows in his footsteps and inerrably leads right back to him. She also does this wonderfully and with magnanimous screen presence. Star Wars needed to come back its roots, and it has done just that. ‘The Force Awakens’ may be a rehashing, but it is a great re hashing.

Genuinely funny moments abound: cheeky puns and quirky humor are essential to the Star Wars experience. BB8 giving an ambiguous “Thumbs up” or “Middle finger” to Finn was pure gold. By virtue of existing in its own galaxy, Star Wars can bend the integrity of its storyline by never taking itself too seriously. This is one of the defining features that make Star Wars unique.

The villain, Kylo Ren, is something of a mixed bag. Having found his calling in being seduced to the Dark Side by Darth Smeagol and his ‘Attack on Titan’ Sized hologram, he is far less menacing and confident as Vader appeared in the 1970s by an order of magnitude, Kylo appeals to the sensibilities of the current times: The untrained villain, while powerful, is genuinely emotionally unstable. Self-doubting, self-conflicted, and irrational to a fault, his litany of flaws and weaknesses are purposefully exacerbated; verging on the whininess of Prequel Anakin. Yet Driver delivers a solid performance through Kylo harnessing his distinct psychopathy and contempt for the light which result in his inevitable patricide. We now have the father/son redemption dynamic in reverse. Evil is portrayed as delirium, a spontaneous force lashing out of control.

Though predictable, I am not ashamed to admit I found Han’s death scene to be the most emotionally compelling part of the film. Han knew stepping onto that catwalk would spell his doom and that his chances at saving his son were slim to none. Harrison’s expression of anguish upon sacrificing himself followed by pity for his son at what he had done to him was brutal, still caressing his face before he fell to his death. Chewies utter ballistic outrage and Finn and Reys horrified look of shock after their more naïve hopes at Kylo’s redemption were dashed to pieces drove the scene home. Despite all this, it had to happen to give the film the impact it needed. Ford wanted this for over 32 years.

Han Solo will always be a cultural icon. He’s the original space cowboy preceded only by the likes of Flash Gordon. The backdrop of his death scene resembled the Bespin Shaft where Vader revealed his fatherhood to Luke. Han’s death itself was a throwback to Obi Wan becoming one with the force right before being ‘struck down’ by Vader. These are just a couple of the many parallels Abrams ties with pretty red bowstrings to the original trilogy.

Gripes: 

Captain Phasma :  No, I am not a Game of Thrones fan, I have a legitimate bone to pick here. Gwendoline Christie’s character was the most underwhelming of the entire movie for me. She was primed to be the next ‘Boba Fett’ and did absolutely nothing. Knocked upside the head, capitulated to the Resistance while muttering an idle threat, and dumped into a trash chute without as much as putting up what could have been an epic fight in an exciting scene. It doesn’t get more humiliating than that. She ended up about as relevant to the plot as Dannik Jericho. Don’t know who that is?  Neither do 99.9% of moviegoers who aren’t die-hard SW fans. She’s pure ornamentation. She could have stood on the bridge of the Finalizer throughout the entire movie as a set piece in her shiny chrome armor and the plot would not have changed one iota. Ok sure, maybe Han and Finn could have abducted one of the other ten billion storm troopers aboard the Starkiller to lower the shields (Oh, like THAT hasn’t been done to death…).

What an utter waste of a fresh character with a badass costume design.

Suspension of disbelief: The film stretches itself a bit too thin at times. Coincidence to the point of absurdity can and will be written off as ‘The will of the Force’ in any Star Wars film. Jumping out of light speed eight hundred feet off the surface of the Starkiller? A perfect rift opening up within the span of 30 feet right in between Ren and Rey at the exact moment there's a lull in their saber fight?  Kudos, Abrams!

Leia: While appearing matronly and reserved, her bittersweet reunion with Han was believable but she did not project the aura of a Resistance general. She seemed bored to be there, and sounded like a woman named Blanche after pulling an all-night binge in Vegas playing slots and smoking menthols.

Upon escaping Jakku and being towed in by the freighter Eravana, Finn and Rey hide out in the smuggling compartment of the Millennium Falcon expecting to be boarded by storm troopers. Upon which, they plot to flood the Falcon with poisonous gas to take out the storm troopers coming on board while wearing re breathers of their own. Finn then has some dialogue with Rey in reference to the threat of invading storm troopers which leads us to:

The Dumbest line in the movie award! Which goes to:

“Their masks only filter out smoke, not toxins!"

Uhhhh...

Yeah, no.

That whole idea is dumb and should have been scrapped.

Conclusion

Overall, the movie was excellent. Little else needs to be said on that front.

What I now feel to be the most crucial function the next two installments must accomplish is for the screenwriters to take risks and head in a completely new direction, introducing a fresh plot with more twists and turns that keeps people guessing. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can anticipate how Ep VIII will flesh out: It’s going to get dark. Luke will train Rey. Snoke will train Ren. There will be a pivotal battle. Light sabers will clash. SOMEONE is going to be related to SOMEONE else. Yawn. 

There needs to be a variety of highly exotic elements coming into play with the following films. Ep VIII cannot emulate ‘Empire’, else it should become stale and fall back into prequel mediocrity. ‘The Force Awakens’ was a veritable success in recapturing the essence of Star Wars and did it so well that it can’t afford to let the series simply repeat itself like a broken 8-track thinly disguised as an iphone6, even though the theme of coming full circle is quite charming and underscores the locus of thought that Abrams felt necessary to execute with this film, the series now needs to branch out into unknown territory and truly surprise us.

Ah…who am I kidding? Even if Ep VIII clones ‘Empire’ frame for frame it’ll still rake in billions. 

Much of the script is likely already written and may already be in pre-production. Let’s hope it breaks the mold and gives us something completely different.

Audiences at large don’t sincerely expect Star Wars to wax philosophic on some profound soul searching pastiche; delivering deeply intellectual melodrama through black & white art-house performances by academy award winning actors and actresses: its pseudo-science and space aliens. It’s about munching on popcorn while watching laser cannons blasting apart Star fighters to smithereens and receiving little tidbits of wisdom from sagely old masters in cloaks.  It’s about licensing and toy companies. It’s especially about toy companies. It’s about them selling veritable ass-loads of action figures to your kids. This is all a great thing, of course…though maybe not for your checking account if you’re a parent…or a 30 something year old ‘collector’ in a subterranean living situation with your parents.

Star Wars is this wonderfully crafted modern cultural vessel that ties people together and spans entire generations through the enduring mythos of a fantasy space opera that has stood the test of time, but the whole thing now desperately needs an injection of ingenuity straight to the heart like Uma Thurman getting pumped full of Adrenaline after overdosing in Pulp Fiction.

I am incredibly satisfied with ’The Force Awakens’, and can strongly declare it a worthy successor to Jedi. Despite a series of minor flaws and a singular glaring one, The Force Awakens deserves its global success and positive critical reception. The Force has been brought back for a whole new generation to enjoy. It’s as nostalgic as it is entertaining, and it left me smiling in my theater seat.

Most importantly, it feels fun. 

Final score

9/10

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why "Undertale" is Game of the year: A game review.

(Though I would consider this review "Spoiler Free",its much better to play this game without hype or expectations, if you agree, stop reading now.)

Coming from the likes of a jaded, life-long gamer, I can honestly say that “Undertale” is a game that came completely out of left field for me. Having been recommended by a friend, I went dubiously into this game with an open minded critique expecting a typical RPG experience and came out emotionally moved with a whole new outlook on video gaming as a hobby and as an art medium.
 
It reels you into its world immediately and you won’t want to let go until it’s all over. Visceral and emotionally charged, one cannot help but find that it's heartfelt plot development, offbeat sense of humor, and gripping musical score are nothing short of compelling. 

The hype is real.

You play as a human child who has fallen into an underground world inhabited by monsters that were sealed off by humans during a war long ago. You strive to escape the Underground, but soon learn you weren’t the first to fall in. Simple, right? Things aren’t as they seem. Your every choice has consequences, and every character you meet along the way has their own complex agenda and distinct psychopathy. The incredible amount of painstaking attention to detail that went into making this game is impressive alone. This is a game, which, 20 some odd years ago, would have required an entire Dev team of coders and graphic artists to make, along with a marketing team to promote it and a major publishing company to release it.  Among my first thoughts during my initial play through was “This game was made with heart.”

On to the review!

Graphics:  

This is a game that prides itself on being an ‘NES’ style throwback. It fully embraces the Indie doctrine of ‘Story and substance’ over the ‘Pomp and circumstance’ we have come to expect from over-the-top, salaciously rendered pixel-porn that has become the norm of mainstream gaming; often some well-established heavy hitting franchise that has overstayed its welcome or a tie-in title with some multi million dollar movie series. Undertale’s graphical styling gives us a revival of the classic era, and it does so not for the sake of playing on our nostalgia, but out of sheer candor. The monster encounters are like wistful, black & white pantomiming silhouettes, each one crafted with care and detail. The simplicity of the world design is almost ‘Zen’ like in execution, and its charm and exquisitely rendered sprites hearken back to the 8-bit era without patronizing it. This serves us well by further emphasizing we should never judge a game by its polygon count.

Soundtrack:

  Wow. 

The melodies in this game are riveting and expertly composed. The themes run the gamut from heartwarming and bold, to foreboding, somber, or just plain bizarre. It is perfectly synchronized with every character encounter, and creates ambiance that make the underground world truly ‘live’.  The catchy chip-tunes typical of the 8-bit era are born anew through the original composition by TobyFox who cut his teeth creating tracks for Homestuck and playing piano by ear. Playing Undertale is worth it for the soundtrack alone; it elevates the game throughout its progression and drives the story sequences home in such a way that is wholly uplifting to the soul.

Game play:

 Implementing ‘Bullet hell’ gameplay mechanics lends itself to Clever, quirky, and at times delightfully challenging monster encounters and boss fights that keeps the pacing fresh and interesting. Although many of the map puzzles are too easy, it intentionally uses this cliché as a point of parody. It never takes itself too seriously, which ultimately lends itself all the credibility it requires. It’s got glamour, it’s got style….You can even date a skeleton! This is a game that needed to be made. I once pondered long ago what it would be like playing a game where you do not have to kill a single enemy, and if it would even be remotely enjoyable: Undertale answers that with a resounding “Yes.” Each character encounter offers you a unique way of dealing with them that does not require outright slaughter. You can finish the entire game without killing a single enemy. 

Plot:

This is where Undertale shines the brightest.(Hurr hurr hurr!) Toby Fox takes a seemingly simplistic story that anyone can follow within the first few minutes, then masterfully adds layer upon layer of depth and emotionally charged story progression that ultimately results in a climactic Apotheosis of both player and protagonist that shatters all conventionality, right at the decisive moment, when it spawns a Deus Ex Machina, goes full ‘Meta’ and bulldozes through the fourth wall in flames while popping a wheelie at full throttle.

In any other game this would have proven catastrophic to its integrity.
 
I find it immensely difficult to deliver a complete assessment of the story without introducing spoilers critical to the plot, which is something I refuse to do. It’s such a pure story that needs to be experienced rather than being subjected to an over-analytical TL’DR fanfic-esque dissection.

Its clever pop-culture references and amalgamation of internet/anime/meme-centric humor speak to the sensibilities of the modern gamer in 2015. Undertale is really a horror game masquerading as a benign, cute JRPG style adventure. It disarms you with humor, only to confront you with a slew of ethical challenges and eldritch abominations. It forces you to think of your own consequences in a game world as a reflection of how you’d behave in the real world. It deals with androgyny and sexual undertones in such a brilliant manner, as to render it a harmless burlesque. The characters are so deeply flawed in their nature, yet so lovable, and that is exactly what gives them mass appeal. Whether or not Tobyfox set out with this in mind, the base elements of the ancient theme of Greek Tragic-comedy are alive and well in this game, and it is made adaptable for the modern generation in the form of a video game. It may even seem absurd to some who refuse to believe that such a twisted creation can even exist or that works of Art can take on so many variegated forms. 

Conclusion:

In all fairness to the critique, it was clear to me right from the start that the game mechanics and graphical style are reminiscent of the Earthbound (Mother) series, and that it even draws upon some of its oddball charm, however, Undertale cleverly strikes out on its own volition and delivers a unique brand of quirkiness that sets it apart without directly 'imitating' anything before it. Despite how much TobyFox was influenced by the EB series, Undertale is by no means an ‘Earthbound clone’; it stands on its own two feet proudly, sallies forth, and delivers a homerun. The torch has been passed.

That being said, it’s very true that ‘Undertale’ is on the short side. Depending on your style of play, this game can be completed in a matter of hours, or over the course of a few days.  Initially, I felt as though the maps could have been more expansive in breadth and scope and more fleshed out…but I digress. For a game that costs only 10USD, having been developed by a very small dev team, this is a non-issue for one major reason: Toby Fox has embarked on this incredible venture and woven an intricate tale for us: Undertale delivers its message. It says what it needs to say, and I’ve come to realize it’s absolutely perfect as it is, short though it may be.  It throws typical RPG tropes out the window. It rejects the doctrine of completionism  and the mundane task of requiring hours and hours of mindless grinding typical of virtually all RPGS, or setting out to obtain some pointless ‘McGuffin’ in order to advance progress. It utterly redefines what it means to be a gamer by examining the relationship between the player and the character. In the same way that the Legend of Zelda series realizes the significance of the monomyth and the Heroes journey by allowing you (the player) to ‘Link’ to the Hero, Undertale reinforces that connection through embracing the core message of hope, forgiveness, redemption, and above all else: Determination.

If you don't....well, let's just say you're in for a bad time.

Those who truly ‘understand’ the game will require a degree of empathy and the ability to feel unhindered emotion and project their thoughts outside of themselves by ‘letting go’ and therefore engaging with the interactive medium of gaming to vindicate the art form to its highest potential, helping to understand the nature of others who have different perspectives. The powerful emotional impact this game possesses will result in a cathartic experience that has been described by many as nothing short of intense.  If you are unable to feel ‘something’ after completing one of the 3 possible endings, you may be just as repressed and internally tortured as the game’s “antagonist”.

I haven’t felt this way playing a video game since I was a child playing the NES classics back in the day. It was something I thought that I had lost and would never feel again. Undertale embodies the re-awakening of something so very familiar, but also something refreshing and so very unique, and I am sincerely thankful that someone out there still ‘gets’ it. In a mainstream world full of Halo’s, Metal Gears and Madden sequels, nothing could have prepared me for this experience. There’s so much hate right now in video games, so much division between gender, class, and corporate fanboy-ism pledging allegiance to their respective camps that many of us have lost focus on what a pure gaming experience truly is. Undertale comes along in all its lo-fi, 8-bit glory, and resets everything.

In a way, we are all like the child fallen into a world of monsters.

This is hands down game of the year, and in my humble opinion ranks among one of the greatest games of all time. I am not saying this lightly, either. Don't mind the haters: Undertale is the true underdog of retro-classic gaming in 2015.

Reading this review fills you with Determination to play Undertale.