Finish the Fight

Mass Effect 3

Commander Shepard certainly was aptly named. Over the course of the Mass Effect series, the Commander has continually grown her flock, enlisting the support of politicians, soldiers and organizations. Mass Effect 3 poses her biggest challenge, a threat so big she can no longer win with a small team. Instead, she must rally the entire galaxy to her cause. Yes, the Reapers are coming and the fate of sentient life hangs in the balance.
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T3 11: Top 10 Albums of 1967

In honor of the beloved Mad Men, this week is all about 1967. Because that’s when the current season of the show is set. Probably. That show’s not really that explicit about anything. But what is explicit is this podcast, because the groovy conversation is all about the most awesome albums of 1967. It’s a little bit trippy, a little bit psychedelic, a lot a bit fun.

Spoilers after the break!

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To Kill a Mockingjay

The Hunger Games

Human sacrifice was a big part of a lot of cultures for a long time. Sure, now it sounds rather gaouche, but that’s because we live in slightly more sophisticated times. The Hunger Games is set in the future and it sounds like we can at least look forward to human sacrifice coming back in vogue. Here, 24 kids, aged 12-18, are taken to battle to the death in a futuristic arena to remind the population and, of course, make the best damn reality show ever. Because nothing says entertainment like an 18-year-old man fighting a 12-year-old girl.

It turns out there was some big war in North America, which left the world we know behind. Now the continent is run by the ruling class in the capitol city, with the rest of it (the losers in the war) divided into 12 districts and subjugated by capitol city peacekeepers. Every year, the city takes one boy and one girl from each district to compete in The Hunger Games battle royale, to remind the people who’s in charge and that revolution is a bad idea. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) comes from District 12, the poor coal mining district, and her getting sent to the games is basically a death sentence.

But she’s tough and spunky and makes a go of it. The Hunger Games is not a short movie, dedicating plenty of time to showing just how sick and bizarre this tradition is before giving us what everyone really wants, the bloodbath. There’s not much subtlety to the social commentary here, and the reality show set-up makes it difficult to read the characters. There’s a romance in the film that, at inception, is just an act to get audience sympathy. By the end of the film, it is not in anyway clear if that relationship transcended that or not. I never knew how anyone really felt or thought about what was going on.

I do give props to Jennifer Lawrence, who continues to prove herself one of the most talented young actors around. Katniss is tough and not very talkative, but Lawrence brings a lot more to her performance, giving us a window into her mind that I’m sure fans of the book didn’t need but someone like me appreciated. The rest of the cast is fine. Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci all play weird city-dwellers and look like they’re having fun with their ridiculous wigs and outfits. Donald Southerland’s in here too, although he felt more like a sequel setup character than anything else.

A few scenes from The Hunger Games stuck with me. There’s a great scene when a particularly sad death provokes a riot that I thought was well done and I hope is a sign of things to come in the sequel. All I was really looking for was some fun action, and I got it, eventually. Hell, the movie has enough pathos, I even want to read the book now. But if you haven’t read the book, don’t want to read the book, or won’t be dragged to the theater by people who read the book, you’d probably be safe letting The Hunger Games pass you by.

The Government Totally Sucks

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

The Boss has been in charge for almost forty years but he’s still got just as much piss and vinegar as ever. Springsteen has shown that he’s just as rough around the edges as ever on his latest album Wrecking Ball. Gone is the more optimistic vision of hope for our country on Working on Dream as it has been replaced by a more grim outlook. Wrecking Ball tells us that now we got to fight for the American dream and it’s not gonna be pretty. Singing on behalf of the 99 percent and the downtrodden individuals of today’s economy, Wrecking Ball may be Springsteen’s angriest and most political record yet. Of course I’m always willing to rally behind the rock anthems of Springsteen, but I find that on Wrecking Ball the music has taken a backseat to the message.

I’m willing to listen to anyone who has the balls to speak out against corruption in business or government or “Corporate Fuck” as I like to so eloquently call it, I just wish Springsteen’s melodies were as inspired as the message. There are some epic musical moments here that really do hit like a wrecking ball, but even on a third listen it still blurs together. The lead single “We Take Care of Our Own” is my favorite with it’s catchy guitar hook and inspiring lyrics and the title track is another folksy pleasure, if not somewhat formulaic by Springsteen standards. Really I like everything here I just didn’t fall in love with it like I did with Working on a Dream.

I appreciate Springsteen fighting for the working man, but when that’s every track I’ll admit it gets a little tired. The album is certainly a more painful and powerful record but sometimes I prefer the Springsteen that sings about things like dancing in the dark and having a hungry heart. Of course I have to mention how The E-Street Band hasn’t been the same without saxophonist Clarence Clemons, he’s present on a few tracks here but it’s just not the same. Many critics have hailed Wrecking Ball as one of Springsteen’s best in years but I disagree. I liked both Magic and Working on a Dream more than Wrecking Ball, but that aside this is still a strong followup and worth checking out for fans of Springsteen or maybe even the American dream in general.

Favorite Tracks: “Land of Hope and Dreams”, “Wrecking Ball” “We Take Care of Our Own”

It’s Very Complicated

SSX

When it was announced, the new SSX game was called Deadly Descents. It looked to be a departure from what the extreme sports series was known for, and I was worried about the direction it was going in. In the many months between that first trailer and the game’s release, the retitled SSX reshaped itself as both a modern interpretation of the franchise and a return to what made it fun in the first place.

It begins with the formation of a team called SSX, for Snow, Surf, Motocross. Despite the name, SSX is all about snowboarding and doesn’t actually partake in the other events. So I guess chock that up on the big board of terrible backronyms. Anyway, one of the guys on the team betrays the others, who decide they have to conquer the world’s most dangerous mountains to win some contest that I think they just made up. Along the way, they add new members to the team. The characters run the gamut from French model who loves adventure to Hawaiian guy who loves adventure. The story unfolds in comic-style cinematics that aren’t particularly good and frankly, if your into this game for the story, your weird.

Events are broken up into three modes: Race It, Trick It and Survive It. The first two are obvious, you win races by getting to the bottom of the mountain fastest, you win trick contests by scoring the most points. But when you get to the legendary deadly descents, the final level in each mountain range, your only objective is survival. Each mountain has a gimmick that you’ll have to deal with; a particularly rocky mountain, for example, will require the use of body armor. This gets especially crazy with the introduction of active gear, like wing suits used to extend jumps and survive big gaps. It’s a neat addition that makes the game just that little bit fresher.

But what really helps is that there simply hasn’t been anything filling the SSX void since the last game came out. The tricks are as reality-defying as ever, the jumps as ridiculous, the sense of momentum as exhilarating. Most of the time I spent playing this game reminded me of my glory days playing Tricky and SSX3 – and that’s not a bad thing at all. The original games’ quirky control scheme even remains an option for those veteran players who are still comfortable playing like that, but I found the new controls perfectly functional.

SSX lacks any real multiplayer, instead it chooses to follow the model established by Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and put all the focus on leaderboards. Whenever you complete an event, you immediately get to compare your performance to your friends’ and the rest of the world. What’s more, there are events that you can participate in for worldwide glory and in-game rewards. That’s right, if competing with your friends wasn’t enough, the game has its own currency, which you use to buy new gear for your characters, earning both cosmetic and gameplay bonuses. It’s all pretty slick and makes the game pretty addictive.

It wouldn’t be an SSX game without a great soundtrack and this new title does not disappoint. A mix of rap, electronic and rock will accompany you down the slopes that is just eclectic enough that I bet anyone will have at least one song that they love. As always, the music responds to how you’re playing, making the experience that much more cinematic. My favorite touch is the dubstep remix of Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” that plays when you fill the tricky meter. That’s really this game in a nutshell. That familiar old song, remixed just enough to fit in 2012.

T3 10: Top 10 Movie Scores

Top Ten Fridays Saturdays? That simply will not do. But tardiness is better than absence, so delayed but not deterred, T3 is here for you. This week the topic of choice is original movies scores, inspired by… uh… The Muppets DVD release? Now, surely you were looking for some sort of Hunger Games-related murder adventure this week and you’re disappointed to hear everyone lives through the entire podcast (or do they?) but don’t worry, the stakes couldn’t be higher. After all, when was the last time you heard people talking about the best movie scores? I thought so. Give it a listen.

Or you could just look at the list after the break.

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New Kids on the Block

21 Jump Street

The first big comedy of the year has hit and despite sounding like a lazy rehash of an old TV show it’s anything but. 21Jump Street, adapted from the 80s cop drama of the same name is now a raunchy comedy film starring Channing Tatum and a not-quite-fat but not-quite-thin Jonah Hill. Also co-written by Jonah Hill, 21 Jump Street runs away with a premise full of limitless comedic possibilities and delivers on both the laughs and action that we as moviegoers all crave.

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are two youthful cops that despite their inabilities as successful officers are best friends. Growing up on different sides of the high school spectrum, Schmidt being a nerd and Jenko being cool, the two eventually accept each other’s differences when they both find themselves together in the police academy. After they complete their training, and after a comic misadventure as bike cops, the two immature officers find themselves in a secret program led by at the angry Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) where young-looking officers go undercover at high schools, the location of this program’s facility? “21 Jump Street”. Thus Schmidt and Jenko find themselves undercover as students in attempt to bring down a burgeoning teenage drug circuit, hilarity ensues.

First off, I commend the filmmakers for avoiding the easy character route for Schmidt and Jenko. It would of been so easy to make them rivals, but I find it much more compelling for them to be best friends and for the drama to come from peer pressure straining their relationship. The characters are very likable and surprisingly have good chemistry together. I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever liked Channing Tatum, perhaps because his character is as dumb as a post and that a lot of humor can come from the fact that he looks much older than everyone else. Hill of course delivers as always, excelling as the insecure yet lovable Schmidt.

But perhaps the most appealing aspect in this films is that it’s not afraid to make fun of itself. There is even a scene where a police chief played by Nick Offerman says in regards to the program, “We’re reviving an old undercover-in-high-school program from the 1980s, because the only idea anyone can come up with now is to recycle shit from the past.” It really is refreshing to hear that kind of honesty in today’s landscape of remakes and reboots. Another great jab at the genre comes from a high speed chase where the characters keep expecting things to explode but then they don’t, you gotta see it to believe it.

Really there isn’t anything new about 21 Jump Street, the makers would be the first ones to tell you that, but it’s inspiring to see someone take something tired and old and put some life into it. I think there will always be a certain appeal to raunchy high school movies and it’s always a treat to see a buddy cop film where you actually care about the friendship. Sounds like Sony Pictures has already given the green light for a 21 Jump Street sequel, so it’ll only be a matter of time before were going back to school.