ALERT! James Gunn Announces Completion Of First Draft Of Guardians Of The Galaxy 2

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James GunnPhew. After 48 days straight without a day off, the the first draft of #GotG2 is done. I’m sorry to all my friends and family who I have ignored.

Posted by James Gunn on Tuesday, June 2, 2015

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Minecraft-Like ‘LEGO Worlds’ Now Available For Early Access On Steam

JLEGO_logoust when we thought LEGO would stop looking for more ways this year to take money from our pockets (LEGO Jurassic World, LEGO Dimensions),  yesterday, LEGO Worlds, a sandbox style open-world game in the tradition of Minecraft, dropped on Steam for early access. Imagine being able to build all those worlds as seen in The LEGO Movie. Well, now you can!

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Summer 2015 (June) Television Schedule

sunIt’s that time of year again for limited series and great shows that just don’t have the strength to stand on their own during the regular season with audiences.  But for us, this is the time of the year when we find some of the great cult-following and niche programming.

The full schedule is posted at the bottom but we wanted to share with you the highlights among the new series and the returning favorites. This will be a three-part monthly feature appearing on the first of July and August,  as well.

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June 2015 Sony PlayStation Instant Games Collection vs. Microsoft Xbox Games With Gold

Games-With-Gold-Vs-PlayStation-PlusWelcome to the first post back after a long hiatus!  What can I say other than life gets in the way… as does trolling asshats on Facebook at a professional level.  But we’re back and I’m retired from trolling and we’re looking to cover not just TV, but the cool stuff in pop-culture that interests us.

As noted by the very unambiguous title, gaming is going to be one of the topics we regularly cover and one of the most obvious stories to tackle on this, the first day of June, 2015 is a comparison of the free games offered to Sony PlayStation Plus members in the Instant Games Collection and to Microsoft Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers via Games with Gold program this month. Continue reading

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REVIEW: ‘Orange Is The New Black’ (37 Shows You Might Want To Check Out This Summer – Pt. 4)

Here’s part four of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer.  Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well.  Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.

oitnb posterOrange is the New Black (Netflix – June 6th)

Orange Is the New Black is an American comedy-drama series created by Jenji Kohan and first released on Netflix on July 11, 2013. The series, produced by Tilted Productions in association with Lionsgate Television, is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, about her experiences in prison. The series revolves on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a bisexual woman living in New York City who is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s federal prisonfor transporting a suitcase full of drug money to her former girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), who is an international drug smuggler. The offense occurred ten years prior to the start of the series, and in that time Piper had moved on to a quiet, law-abiding life among New York’s upper middle class. While in prison, Piper is reunited with Alex, and they re-examine their relationship and deal with their fellow inmates.

Score: 68/100

The highly-anticipated second season of Netflix’s drama (comedy-drama? No.) Orange is the New Black goes live at midnight and I’m thrilled because it ties in perfectly with our series of 37 Shows You Want to Check Out This Summer and because it allows me to finally get a whole bunch of things off my chest that the gushers (both audiences and critics alike) don’t seem to want to address about this series. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy Orange is the New Black (or else I wouldn’t be recommending it to check out this summer), but the show is far from perfect and the problems that it suffers from are glaring and unavoidable.

One of the first things that caught my attention in the pilot was the cheap premium cable device of gratuitous nudity and sex in order to hook an audience.  HBO has been doing it for years (and I’ve been subsequently complaining about it for years) and whereas at one time it was used as an obvious gimmick when the writers had gone to the well one too many times and couldn’t come up with new ideas, it has now become obligatory with every show that the network airs.  It’s not that I have an issue with sex and nudity on television, the issue is that when it’s vulgar and obvious and now since HBO does it all the time, so do all the other premium networks, including Netflix. NOTE TO NETFLIX: When you throw that much gratuitous sex and nudity into a pilot, it’s clear to astute audiences that you are compensating for what you lack in other areas.

So, what does Orange lack?  Well, first and foremost, although the plot is compelling enough for me to want to keep watching it, it’s a slog. On more than one occassion, I have thought two hours had gone by because the show was dragging so much.  I don’t mind a slow burn, but each episode is a slow-burn without much of an emotional payoff at the end.  The only reason this show has found the success that it has is because it’s available for binge viewing because if it was a weekly series audiences wouldn’t have tolerated how slow it is past the third episode.

One of the other problems that I have with this show is that the producers have gone out of their way to say that the show isn’t Oz (well, no sh*t) but it’s obvious to anyone watching it that it certainly is an attempt at Oz (ultra-) light.  It’s so blatantly ripping off aspects of Oz that you’d have to be an idiot not to see it.  The crisis-of-the-week that revolves around a different main character with flashbacks of the character’s pre-prison life and backstory to develop that character?  Nooooo, we’ve never seen that before. For crap’s sake, that’s not even unique to Oz.  Lost did that for six seasons better than any show in history.  That’s just the most glaring example of Oz ripoffs, I’m not going to get into all of them (recycled plotlines, stereotypical characters and situations, etc.) and honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that much because it does help develop the characters but it’s worth noting.

Speaking of character development, that is certainly one area where Orange excels with each primary cast member of the ensemble being given a good amount of screen time and attention by the writers.  This may sound very fanboyish of me but I don’t think that anyone is going to dispute that the best performance of all on this show is that of Star Trek: Voyager‘s Captain Kathryn Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew as the Russian mother-figure to the women, Galina “Red” Reznikov who runs the kitchen.

Same girl... no sh*t.

Same girl… no sh*t.

Equally notable is the underrated performance by the gorgeous Taryn Manning as the incredibly emotionally unbalanced, hillbilly meth addict, Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett. Manning really is quite outstanding and it should be noted what an incredible job the makeup department has done in “ugly-fying” her for this role and how she herself has been able to accomplish that job through her performance.

What hurts this show immensely, however, are the main protagonists and I guess the only reason I’m calling them the main protagonists is that the character of Piper (Taylor Schilling) is who the show is about and the other two, Larry (Jason Biggs) and Alex (Laura Prepon) are the two other sides of the “love triangle” as it were. Do you know what the problem is?

Once a pie f*cker, always a pie f*cker.

Once a pie f*cker, always a pie f*cker.

I hate them.  I hate them all with a passion.  They are the most spoiled, selfish, self-centered, self-righteous and arrogant characters on this show and they are completely unsympathetic. This is what I mean by how stupidly audiences and critics gush over this show.  How is it possible that anyone who watches this show doesn’t want to just punch these people? Hell, how does one not want to punch the most annoying no-talent actor in Hollywood, Jason Biggs, to begin with, his performance on this show not withstanding? How the hell did he get this role to begin with?  Seriously, his only claim to fame is that he f*cked a pie in an incredibly overrated teen comedy over a decade ago.

As for the other two, it’s not that Schilling or Prepon’s performances are bad, it’s that their characters (like Larry) suck and they are completely unlikable.  They’re rotten, they treat people rotten, everything they do is about making themselves happy and they NEVER learn from their mistakes. It’s one thing to have your main characters be so flawed at the begining of a season, especially on a show set in a prison, it’s another thing not have the characters “grow” one iota between episode one and episode 13.  These characters have actually regressed since episode one.

pornstache

Pornstache: Still more likable than Jason Biggs.

To put it simply, we’re supposed to hate the vile “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber).  I get that.  But we’re not supposed to hate our protagonists and that’s what the reality is of this series. They simply don’t have very much redeeming about them whatsoever.

Again, the real saving grace on this show is the performance from the supporting cast and the fact that I’m a sucker for decently done serialized drama and at the end of the day, Orange is the New Black is decently done, if not great. The key is to not expect more out of this series than it can give or you’ll be disappointed.

As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, here are the previous entries:

Part 1 (24: Live Another DayMotiveGang RelatedThe Wil Wheaton ProjectRogueCrossbones)

Part 2 (Halt and Catch Fire)

Part 3 (Longmire)

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REVIEW: ‘Longmire’ (37 Shows You Might Want To Check Out This Summer – Pt. 3)

Here’s part three of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer.  Just one show today and since it’s a returning show that I am quite familiar with, I’ll throw in a review, as well.  Scroll to the bottom for the previous entries.

LongmireLongmire (A&E – Mondays, 10:00 p.m. beginning June 2nd)

Based on Walt Longmire Mystery series of novels by Craig Johnson, Longmire also is named after its central character, Walt Longmire, the local sheriff in rural Wyoming. As the series starts, Longmire has been widowed for a year and, still in pain, hides behind a brave face and dry wit. After his wife’s death, he dragged himself into the office but his heart wasn’t really in the job. He knows it’s time to turn his life around and with the help of his daughter, Cady, and his deputy, Vic, he revives his interest in his job and decides to give his all to his re-election campaign. Victoria “Vic” Moretti is the newest addition to the sheriff’s office. She was a Philadelphia homicide detective for five years before relocating to Wyoming. While adjusting to how to deal with the locals, Vic is out to prove she’s not a rookie. She has a deep connection with Longmire along with her playful attitude and he allows her to be his most trusted deputy. Longmire’s lifelong best friend and close confidant is Henry Standing Bear, the owner of the local bar. Henry is often Walt’s go-between with the reservation. Unlike Longmire, Henry embraces progress and the trappings of the modern world while holding a close connection with his past. Another one of Longmire’s deputies is ambitious go-getter Branch Connally. He’s motivated more by political aspirations than his work as a deputy. He thinks Longmire’s stuck in the past and wants the department to have the technology that most other law enforcement agencies use. It’s his umbrage towards Walt’s outdated methods that pushes him to run for sheriff. Longmire’s only child is daughter, Cady Longmire, an attorney who dreams of practicing law in a big city. With the death of her mother, Cady has stayed to help Walt get his life back together. She isn’t afraid to tell her father like it is, and it’s this straight talk and sense of humor that makes their connection strong. Longmire’s third deputy is The Ferg who has a heart of gold. He’s loyal and well meaning and always eager to please. The Ferg can hunt and fix most anything but he’s not much of an investigator. 

Score: 85/100

Last night, Longmire began its third season and the timing couldn’t be better as I just finished watching season two last week and I’m hungry for more and that’s saying a lot because quite honestly, two years ago I got three episodes into the series and put it on hiatus for over a year because it seemed like just another police procedural.

The drama, based on the Walt Longmire mystery of novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson definitely is a police procedural in the most traditional sense of the genre but I discovered after giving up on it early that the series really has far more appeal than I had originally given it credit.  Whoops… muh baaad!

As far as murder mysteries go, the basic formula on Longmire is, admittedly, pretty vanilla.  If, for the most part, just by the formula of the series established in the first half-dozen episodes or so (and every other police procedural done in the last 50 years) you can’t figure out “who done it” within the first 20 minutes then congratulations, you are not a couch potato and television drama junkie like I am and you are actually doing something with your life.

Of course, as I’ve noted several times in the past, the vanilla and formulaic nature of police procedurals is why I don’t watch them to begin with because none of them have anything new or particular novel to offer.  Sure, there has been this flurry of police procedurals featuring lead characters with incredibly unique abilities that aren’t quite supernatural but give them a special insight into solving crimes that the regular cops don’t possess, but those are simply gimmicks used to gloss over the fact that we are still dealing with a standard “murder of the week” police procedural. Numb3rsThe MentalistUnforgettable (yes, CBS really likes this theme a lot) and The Finder readily come to mind as fitting this mold.

Although certainly formulaic, Longmire  is one of the rare exceptions because it fills in all of the other gaps regarding good television drama that the other police procedurals don’t. The casting is excellent with every single actor being ideally suited for their role on the series and marvelously well-developed.  According to what I’ve read, Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire) is apparently an incredibly well-known and accomplished Australian actor but I don’t believe any of it because I have no doubt in my mind that he is the same weathered old, incredibly well-read and educated renaissance cowboy philosopher from Wyoming that he plays on the show. Despite everything I know about Lou Diamond Phillips (who’s heritage is Spanish, Scottish/Irish, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian and Cherokee) I have no doubt that he is full-blooded Cheyenne and and has been best friends with Taylor since the sixth grade.  That’s how truly honest these character portrayals are.

As far as Katee Sackhoff is concerned, I’m curious if she even had to audition for the role of Deputy Moretti because it’s as if Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica moved to Wyoming and became a slightly less insubordinate cop.  You get the feeling that the producers read the series bible and the character descriptions, watched 10 minutes of BSG and sent her a plane ticket.

I could go on and on about the supporting cast of this show and I almost feel guilty for not but I don’t want to spend an entire piece gushing over casting and character development when the real main co-star of this show and really what sets it apart is the rural Wyoming backdrop which, ironically, much like the show’s titular protagonist, is completely faking its true local origins.  Y’see, the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming is actually in and around the Santa Fe, New Mexico area.  But, once again, I don’t believe it.  As far as I’m concerned, even though I’ve never been to Wyoming, I am absolutely convinced that the show takes place there because the writers and producers have done such a brilliant job in crafting this fantastic living and breathing environment and community that it leaves simply no doubt that what you are seeing is the genuine article.

Part of it is the character development, part of it has to do with selective exterior shots of the landscape (that have even fooled actual Wyoming residents) but more importantly is the presentation of the storylines that address issues inherent to the locals of that part of the country that due to isolation and small populations aren’t very well-known to the rest of us.  Quite often, the storylines are centered on the issues related to the Indian Reservations or ranching or any one of a dozen issues that is part and parcel with that region of the country but it’s done in such a way as to make it accessible to audiences to the point that they easily relate with this community and subconsciously can easily accept Absoroka County as their own community.

"Yeah... where's my attorney and who the f*** gave you law enforcement powers.  I don't see no badge, playa.  All I see is an ascot."

“Yeah… where’s my attorney and who the f*** gave you law enforcement powers? I don’t see no badge, playa. All I see is an ascot.”

One of the few things that does annoy me about Longmire that was stolen right out of the “Mad Libs For Police Procedurals” manual is the obligatory “Scooby Doo Ending” of every episode which I complain about ad nauseum.  If you’re not familiar with the “Scooby Doo Ending,” this is how it goes: the prime suspect in the last five minutes of the episode (sans attorney, of course) while being interrogated basically has the interrogator tell them all of the details of the crime the interrogator knows they committed (without any actual evidence or with only the most insignificant circumstantial evidence) and then the suspect admits to doing it while lamenting how they could have gotten away with it.  The only thing missing is the rubber mask reveal and the phrase “…if it weren’t for those meddling kids [and their dog].” For 10 plus years of examples of this nonsense, simply turn on any episode of CSI as that’s all they do on that show.  The only difference with the Longmire S.D.E. is that that more often than not, our killer is a local who either made a big mistake and regrets what they’ve done or it was an accident that they foolishly tried to cover up or they were motivated by grief/justice/sadness, i.e., our killer is sympathetic and a shade of gray.

Yuck.

That said, however, I’m willing to let Longmire off the hook for even this Cardinal sin because the three or four intertwined main recurring story arcs have been so damned compelling that you find yourself not really caring that much about whatever particular “murder of the week” is on the schedule, anyway.

Longmire does such a great job in every other aspect of crafting good television that I can forgive its shortcomings in the procedural drama arena.  Honestly, the show is so well put-together that it seems that if the “murder of the week” aspect to it is merely incidental and almost filler in order to advance the character development and overall arcs.  Needless to say, that’s rare indeed, and in fact, I’ve never seen a procedural that took such an approach that deliberately and was successful doing it.

So, if you haven’t watched Longmire, yet, set your DVR for the current episodes and head on over to Netflix and get caught up as both seasons one and two are currently available.

As for our multi-part series, 37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer, you can find part one, here and…

Check out part two, here.

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37 Shows That You Might Want To Check Out This Summer (Part 2)

Here’s part two of our series on shows you might want to check out this summer.  Just one show today.  Scroll to the bottom for the previous entry.

HCFHalt and Catch Fire (AMC – Sundays, 10:00 p.m. beginning June 1st)

You have to give AMC credit for having the vision and foresight to bring television ideas to life that on their face seem like they would be as boring as watching paint dry. Think about these premises if you will:

1.) High School chemistry teacher resorts to dealing meth when he finds out he has terminal cancer.

2.) A New York City ad agency during the 1960s.

3.) A Western that focuses on the construction of the railroad post Civil War.

4.) Zombie apocalypse occurs, people are trying to survive.

On paper, these simple premises that have all resulted in some of the biggest hits and critically acclaimed darlings in television history, all have one thing in common: incredible character development.  Halt and Catch Fire would seem to be following this same tradition because let’s be honest, does the premise of “three people in 1983 try to reverse engineer IBM personal computer technology” really seem exciting to anyone but the biggest nerd?  I expect Halt and Catch Fire to do what AMC series usually do and that is to suck audiences in with the characters at first and the compelling drama later.

In fact, if you think about it, the biggest failure in recent history for AMC series-wise has been  Low Winter Sun which attempted to find success with the exact opposite formula, focusing on a (mediocre) story and not on character development out of the gate. AMC knows which side their bread is buttered on and I don’t expect a mistake like Low Winter Sun again for quite some time.

After seeing the first episode, it seems to be in the fast-paced spirit of Jobs and The Social Network and I am enjoying it so far.  It’s tough to make a series assessment after only the pilot but it’s definitely worth following.

What it has going for it: Not only does AMC have a fantastic track record when it comes to picking winners but they also have a reputation of sticking by their shows when conventional wisdom would have had other networks running at the first sign of trouble (See: The Killing which was canceled and subsequently uncanceled by AMC because THEY had faith in the story-telling of the show which is unheard of).  The relatively unknown cast and the fact that although it’s a period piece, it’s set during a time that is within arm’s reach for producers (offices really haven’t changed much in 30 years and it’s not difficult to go to your local thrift store to find 1980s period clothing and computer technology for a dime), makes the show undoubtedly inexpensive to produce making it that much easier for execs to support it.

What it has going against it: I really can’t see much.  The biggest challenge this show is going to face is, as I noted, getting audiences past the on-paper dry premise but AMC audiences are used to this by now and they know that with AMC, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

Check out part one, here.

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