Movie Review: “Wish I Was Here”

Starring
Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Pierce Gargnon, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Jim Parsons
Director
Zach Braff

Hating Zach Braff was in fashion long before the actor/director launched a Kickstarter campaign for his long-awaited sophomore effort, but the way he went about funding his follow-up to 2004’s “Garden State” really got under some people’s skin. (Oddly enough, Rob Thomas’ “Veronica Mars” movie received infinitely less criticism despite starting the whole fad.) But while Braff may have been unfairly judged for the way he raised the money to make the film, it’s a wonder why he had to resort to crowdsourcing at all, because “Wish I Was Here” is a confident, funny and heartfelt tragicomedy that, although not without its blemishes, proves Braff is more than just a one-hit wonder.

Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor whose wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is the sole breadwinner of the family, supporting him and their two children (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) with her drab, government job while he’s off pursuing his dream. But when his father (Mandy Pantinkin) is no longer able to pay the children’s private school tuition because he needs the money for an experimental cancer treatment, Aidan agrees to homeschool the kids rather than place them in the city’s awful public school system. The problem is that Aidan isn’t exactly fit to be a teacher (hence the grammatical error in the film’s title), so instead, he takes them on a series of “field trips” meant to impart life lessons that help him rediscover his own identity in the process.

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Praying for poker

There’s a new kind of bible in town – and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.

We all know games of cards for what they are – a social pastime that can get men and women together in a variety of situations, from informal game nights to fighting to the death poker rounds. Poker, by its very nature, is a game, and is often overlooked in the media, save for a few references in Robert DeNiro movies.

Lights, camera, action

This is to become a thing of the past however, as the geniuses over at Titan Poker have added a new facet to their world of online gambling. The poker addicts have fused the controversial topics of religion and gambling, coming up with a recipe for laughter – the poker bible.

As its blurb states, The Poker Bible is a humorist book made up for poker fans connecting both the world of the Bible and its scripts and that of the poker game. The Bible, as it is so blasphemously known, has also been transformed into a tongue in cheek cartoon movie, with a trailer voice over so familiar you might just think you’re listening to Morgan Freeman.

Watch this trailer and you might just think you’re watching Morgan Freeman.

Not quite so black and white

So how exactly can the chalk and cheese topics of gambling and religion be married up into a new fad? Well it would appear that the two are not quite so different after all. In fact, many people think that poker evolved just 150 years ago, when in reality, the game has been proven to have dated back to biblical times.

Keeping everything very tongue in cheek, Titan Poker’s Poker Bible mirrors the words and phrases of the original Christian bible, and even has its own set of commandments by which to live (for the really keen poker players among us.) ‘Thou shall not bluff frequently against thine neighbor’ is just one of the cheeky rules, others of which include ‘honor your dealer’ and ‘remember to play the right cards and keep them holy.’

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While it may not get you into heaven, the Poker Bible is the poker fan’s go to guide for the rules and regulations of poker, without having to get too bogged down in the details. If good old fashioned praying and church attending isn’t working out for you, you may just find yourself a little more fortunate in life if you stick to this good book.

  

Blu Tuesday: Gravity, Thor: The Dark World and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Gravity”

WHAT: When their space shuttle is destroyed by hurtling debris from a damaged Russian satellite, U.S. astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are left adrift in space with limited oxygen and a minimal chance of survival.

WHY: It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.

EXTRAS: In addition to an excellent, 107-minute making-of featurette, the Blu-ray includes shot breakdowns for five scenes, a short film titled “Aningaaq” from co-writer Jonas Cuaron, and the documentary “Collision Point” narrated by Ed Harris.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Thor: The Dark World”

WHAT: When Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) discovers an ancient power known as the Aether, she unknowingly awakens Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), the leader of the Dark Elves who plans to use that power to plunge the world back into darkness. Against his father’s wishes, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes to Jane’s rescue in order to stop Malekith before his sinister plan can be completed.

WHY: I’m a really big fan of the first “Thor,” so my expectations were pretty high going into this sequel, and unfortunately, “The Dark World” fails to live up to them. Though there are some really great moments throughout, the movie is weakened by what is easily the worse villain of the Marvel films thus far. Nothing against Christopher Eccleston, but Malekith looks like a C-list “Star Trek” villain with similarly uninspired end-of-the-world ambitions. Additionally, Sif and the Warriors Three are criminally underused – something that will hopefully be remedied should there be a third installment. Most of what does work in the sequel is carried over from its predecessor. Tom Hiddlestone continues to prove why Loki is Marvel’s greatest asset, because as soon as he enters the film, it gets a lot more interesting, thanks in part to his excellent chemistry with Chris Hemsworth. The Earth-based scenes also feature some pretty big laughs, and the final act is a lot of fun. “The Dark World” isn’t quite on the same level as we’ve come to expect from Marvel, but it doesn’t make me want another “Thor” film any less.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release is headlined by a new Marvel One-Shot titled “All Hail the King” (with Ben Kingsley reprising his “Iron Man 3” role) and an audio commentary with director Alan Taylor, producer Kevin Feige, co-star Tom Hiddleston and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau. There’s also a two-part featurette on the relationship between Thor and Loki, a short featurette on composer Brian Tyler’s score, some deleted and extended scenes, and a behind-the-scenes look at “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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App of the Week: Friendstrap

Developer: Game Oven

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: Here

While the heyday of the board game may have passed long ago in the eyes of many, if you haven’t been paying attention to them lately you may be surprised to find that some of the absolute best party games available to adults are board games. Whether it be the raunchy and hilarious “Cards Against Humanity,” or the clever take on the battle of the sexes “Ladies and Gentlemen” provides, there are a growing number of board games out there that may cause your guests a moment of hesitation when you suggest them, but will soon have them engaged in a way that no other form of party entertainment can achieve.

“Friendstrap” is not one of those board games. However it does retain the spirit of them, as well as the relaxed yet competitive atmosphere they can lead to.

It’s setup couldn’t be more simple. You and a friend put a finger on one of the two dots on screen while a topic appear atop, and a counter begins on the bottom. To play you each have to simply have a conversation on the topic until it disappears and is replaced with another. You repeat this until someone removes the finger and thus themselves from the conversation.

screen568x568 (1)

Now where this gets interesting is in the topics themselves. While some are no more invasive than the weather, others can get incredibly intimate and even awkward. Even better, the topics themselves are often presented in only a few vague words (for instance; “Friends With Benefits”) allowing the psyche of the users to take the game in unique directions. For instance, one strategy would be for each player to pursue the most outlandish conversation paths in order to ensure their companion is too mortified to contribute.

To be honest, based solely on its built-in design, “Friendstrap” is an incomplete experience that works better as a conversation starter or time killer than a full on game. However, with the application of a few “house rules”to keep the participants in check, and the right kind of participants, there is a lot of potential in its simple set up to lead to hours of laughter. Fortunately no such outside creativity is required for the topics themselves which remain ambiguous and entertaining regardless of the specifics of the personal games you create using the built-in set up. With over a 1,000 of these topics included (with additional, even more awkward ones available for purchase) you’re likely to never have the same conversation twice, especially when considering the individual whims of the players.

It’d be misleading to call “Friendstrap” a complete app, as taken at surface value there frankly isn’t much to it. However, the incredibly ambiguous set up is best viewed an an intentional design, as it allows whomever has a finger in the game a level of control over the experience that caters more to their individual whims and unique quirks, rather than forces them to necessarily adhere to pre-set rules. In that regard, its incomplete nature becomes its greatest asset as it ensures every session will be entertaining and unique above all else.

If conversation is truly a lost art, then the ability for “Friendstrap” to strike up entertaining conversations between nearly any participants on any of its topic makes the app something of a work of art itself. An unassuming yet brilliantly maniacal party game, there’s little discussion to be had regarding “Friendstrap’s” status as app of the week.

  

Sex! Drugs! Death Rap! Interview with Underground Hip Hop Legend Necro

Necro-The-Reader

The first time I ever heard Necro was the winter of 1999 in East Chicago, Illinois hanging out with a bunch of hip hop heads. While Brittney Spears, Lou Bega and TLC were dominating the radio, these guys were listening to underground hip hop artists like El-P, Non-Phixon and Necro all the time. And it blew my mind.

It’s important to note that internet music sharing services like Napster had just started, so aside from the radio and, increasingly less, MTV, the only way to get exposed to new music was passing cassette tapes or CDs among friends; what’s more underground than that?

Music at its optimum level dictates, or at the very least, reflects a culture. Every time I hung out with these “heads,” hip hop songs and artists I had never heard before were being pumped in the tape deck of an ’89 Oldsmobile that served as the communal vehicle. The music wasn’t being played because it was “cool” like what Puff Daddy was doing in marketing rap music, but because the music reflected the pace and events of life as it was happening.

Necro’s song “STD,” a narrative about an encounter he had with a female acquaintance, was in rotation at all times. The lyrical content was intense, cartoonish and something like I had never heard before. The production was stripped down and grimy, while the beats reflected the rolling drone of Necro’s New York roots.

Since ’99, Necro has been featured as a rapper or producer on 16 different albums. While the majority focuses on hip hop, Necro created a genre of rap called “death rap,” an homage to his love of death metal, his original musical influence. He even produced and directed a porn movie called “Sexy Sluts: Been There Done That.”

His 2007 album, Death Rap, featured appearances by Scott Ian of Anthrax, Dave Ellefson of Megadeth and even Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed.

As a rapper, Necro has been featured with the likes of Wu-Tang’s U-God, DMC from Run-Dmc, and Ill Bill from Non-Phixon and La Coka Nostra. As a producer, aside from producing all of his own tracks, Necro has created tracks for Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, Cage of Eminem battle rap fame, and most recently, Kool G Rap, one of the most influential emcees in history and the original gangster rapper.

Necro’s latest project, The Godfathers, is a collaborative effort with Kool G Rap. Once Upon A Crime drops on November 19th.

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