What's In The Box? episode 9: OwlCrate's "Good vs Evil"

Well, I had a hell of a busy week. After coming home from work the other day to find two boxes stacked outside my door, I knew that there would be much to do. I'm just shocked I got it done so quickly.

If you missed it, the other day I posted the unboxing video for the July Dinosaur Dracula Funpack.

Which brings us to today...

The Nerdy Pumpkin and I have been getting OwlCrate for a few months and last month I showed you the June "Royalty" box. But this month's OwlCrate, themed "Good vs Evil", was unique in the sense that subscribers would get one of two boxes; one of them was all about Good while the other about Evil.

So which did I get?

The Evil box, which is right up my alley. I was pretty happy with it, too. Here's a few closeups of the items. (Again, apologies for the crappy photos.)

If you want your own Dementor, swing by Amazon.
They have a ton of cool stuff in their Etsy store.
Also worth checking out Jane's Tiny Things on Etsy, too.

Also, I need to pause here to point how my misrepresentation of the quote on the sticker. While I thought that it was from the movie Gladiator (which it is so I'm technically not wrong), given the context of OwlCrate, it's actually from a book called "Illuminae" by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. So there's that.

Sounds like a book I can get into.
Never got a coloring book from a subscription box. I'm pleased.
I dug the evil box. It had some really cool stuff and "This Savage Song" seems interesting. But now I'm curious as to what was in the "Good" box. If you're an OwlCrate subscriber and you got Good, show me your swag! You can hit me up on Twitter or Instagram, or even drop a pic on the Facebook page.

Also, if you like what you see and want the OwlCrate for yourself, head over to their site.

(Oh, and that shirt I'm wearing in the video? I got that from a "The Legend of Zelda: Symphony Of The Goddesses" orchestral concert I went to a few years ago. Funny story about it. I was second from the front on line at the merch booth and the people in front of me were so occupied with their conversation that the lady at the booth waved me up and sold me the last shirt. When the people (who were) in front of me walked up to the other lady at the booth, she had to break the news to them that the shirts were all gone. Sucks, huh? Anyway, I posted a few pics and a short video from the event here if you want to check it out.)

Thanks again for watching!


What's In The Box? episode 8: July Dino Drac Funpack

Well, we've made it back around since starting "What's In The Box?'. You probably remember the unboxing of the June Funpack from Dinosaur Dracula (if you don't you should probably go check it out), and here we are taking a look at July's. How about that?

As you probably know, unlike most subscription boxes, the Funpack doesn't really have a theme, but often it doesn't need one. So since I can't give you much background, let's just jump right into it.

And I know some people just want to look at the items so I am happy to oblige. (Also, the pictures are really terrible since I used an old camera. I'll be sure to go back to my regular camera next time.)

No Funpack is complete without snacks.
The Mystery bag. It's like a Funpack in the Funpack!
The Nerdy Pumpkin loves these games so she's a fan of "Where Are They?"
Unfortunately, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend is not on Netflix, but you can rent or buy it on Amazon.
Comic Ball... I would have preferred more sports than just baseball but whatevs.
Hombre Lobo. The "star" of the box.
Trading card poster and the trading cards they promote? Card-ception!
I love The Legend of Zelda so this was damn exciting.
I need a decent binder for all these ugly posters.
This Funpack was extra special since it was its two-year anniversary. Twenty four magnificent months of nostalgic goodness, even though I've only been with it for 16 months. Regardless, that's a heck of a milestone.

If you're interested in getting the Funpack for yourself, head over to Dinosaur Dracula and sign up. It's only $25 shipped for all this cool junk!


Movie Review: Ghostbusters

It's been about a week since I viewed the new Ghostbusters movie and I've been on the fence about writing up my thoughts on the film. On the one hand, I feel I have a strong understanding of movies, have written numerous movie reviews here on the blog as well as for other sites, and have an opinion, which is at least worth something. On the other hand, given the way I extol the Ghostbusters franchise and that I've been a champion for the all-woman lineup since it was announced, any plaudits I give it will be seen as biased. But, well, here we are.

Warning: Spoilers ahead so if you haven't seen it yet and plan to, proceed with caution.

The newest Ghostbusters centers on Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a quantum physicist at Columbia University. She's on the precipice of securing her career when it comes to light that she's a co-author of a wildly unfounded book on parapsychology, "Ghost From Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal". She goes to her old friend and colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), to demand that she take down the book when she gets sucked into an actual ghost sighting. Her reaction to the phenomenon gets her fired from the university, leaving her to join Yates and Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in creating a paranormal investigation business.

One of my biggest fears going in was that the humor wouldn't resonate with me. I hadn't seen much of Paul Feig's filmography and while I thought Bridesmaids was OK, I couldn't stand The Heat. On top of that, the only actor in Ghostbusters that I had any passing knowledge of was Melissa McCarthy (well, and Chris Hemsworth but I wasn't too focused on him). And even the trailers left much to be desired; though they didn't deserve the vitriol they received, the jokes they showed were luke warm at best.

But as everything unfolded on screen you see how it all works. There were a few rocky starts at the beginning with a couple of punchlines landing awkwardly, but as the movie progressed it started to gel. Even the "ho-hum" jokes from the trailer were funny in context. It has been a long time since I laughed so hard in a movie theater and I'm grateful for Ghostbusters for helping me do so.

What Ghostbusters gets right is the tone. While I hate to compare it to the 1984 classic, it is of course going to become inevitable so let's just go ahead and do that. Feig's Ghostbusters does not have the same tone as Reitman's, but that's not at all a criticism. The new Ghostbusters manages to find its own tone and stick with it. It doesn't try to emulate the magic of Aykroyd and Ramis's script, or the flawless dry humor of Bill Murray. Instead, Feig plays to the strengths of his four leading ladies (and one blonde beefcake) and amplifies their comedic talents. He finds a good balance between comedy and action and maintains that balance throughout most of the film. Granted, the humor took a back seat during the CG-filled finale but overall it still managed to fit some funny bits in there.

Presented without comment.

Ghostbusters sees a ton of celebrity cameos. Nearly the full cast from 1984 graces the screen, with the only holdout being Rick Moranis. While most of the cameos were a fun treat, like Bill Murray as the spectral skeptic or Ernie Hudson as Patty Tolan's (Leslie Jones) mortician uncle, the real disappointment was Dan Aykroyd's crabby cabbie. He spits his lines like he's had a stroke and delivers one of the most half-hearted nods to his original film possible. Don't get me wrong; I respect the hell out of Aykroyd and all the work he did to make this movie a reality, but his cameo made me cringe. I am willing to overlook it, though, based on the classy way they worked a Harold Ramis cameo into the film.

It's not all sunshine and ectoplasm, though. One of the movie's biggest flaws was the editing. Time seems to flow rather abruptly, both from scene to scene as well as overall. While it's evident that they cut a lot of unnecessary scenes to keep the pace of the film moving, in some instances it became jarring. There are things that progressed so quickly that it just felt like it defied logic. Two examples are the numerous ghost-busting inventions Holtzmann creates and how quickly they outfit the hearse as a functioning Ecto-1. I mean, I understand the need to skip over that stuff but it  interrupted the flow.

I also had some problems with the plot, mostly with the main antagonist, Rowan. While I felt that Neil Casey did well with the character, I don't think he was given much to work with. Rowan starts out as an awkward human who makes everyone around him uncomfortable and wants to bring about the end of humanity. It's a decent enough plot but doesn't ring with the same paranormal vibe that I'd come to expect from a Ghostbusters movie. Everything works, it all fits together fine enough, but just feels flat, not to mention a bit cliche given the whole "revenge for bullying" angle.

Though he is really creepy.
Want to talk about the other performances? Sure, let's do that.

Without mincing words, Leslie Jones was hilarious. She seemed to have the most fun with the script and delivered many of the film's best lines. I'd actually be curious to know how much of what she said was scripted and what was improvised because her character just felt so real and vivid. She also played an important part in keeping the rest of the team grounded. As the only non-scientist of the group, her inclusion kept them from going off on techno-babble tangents and made sure their explanations were to the point and in layman's terms so that the audience could follow along.

Melissa McCarthy's Abby is the heart of the team. As one of the largest named stars, McCarthy has a fair share of screen time. Her humor is strong and the script really plays to one of her strengths: physical comedy. Many of her scenes rely on her getting tossed around, like in the proton pack testing scene, which McCarthy plays with aplomb. Unfortunately, I found her to be the weakest of the group but even that isn't much of a criticism of her, just a validation of the strength of the rest of the team.

I was actually fairly surprised by Kristin Wiig. As I haven't seen many of her movies, I wasn't familiar with her brand of comedy but she turned out to be one of my favorites. She mostly plays the straight (wo)man to everyone else but the times that she does stand out, such as her awkward flirting with receptionist Kevin, she manages to steal the scene.

Everyone seems to have fallen in love with Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann, and rightfully so. Holtzmann oozed personality, all thanks to a masterfully nuanced performance. Her odd mannerisms and awkward affectation made her memorable. She does have a few stilted one-liners but most of her humor is solid.

But the biggest surprise was Chris Hemsworth. As a big time action star/demi-god, audiences don't necessarily think of him as a comedic actor. His timing was impeccable, his delivery superb and he displayed a knack for dry humor that seemed almost supernatural. He remained deadpan throughout the entirety of the film and offered some of the movie's biggest laughs. With how excited I was to see a team of women Ghostbusters, I was disappointed that the man outshone them, but delighted that the movie was as fun as it was.

Since I've rambled on much more than I intended, here's a quick Lightning Round.
  • There were two Chekov's Gun type solutions in the film, which I didn't quite care for but they worked and that's all that matters.
  • I liked the nods to two hit horror movies (The Exorcist and Poltergeist), both of which fit the theme of the movie.
  • There was a lot of dancing in it, even with the big Hemsworth dance number cut from the end. I'm not sure why. There just was.
  • I loved the PKE meter. It reminded me of the one from The Real Ghostbusters.
  • While I found the CG to be outstanding, my favorite effect was Gertrude Aldridge, which was done using practical effects. The way the blue glow reflected off her face was creepy as hell. Even the slime-spewing moment startled me despite the fact that I knew it was coming. 
  • I was floored by the final action sequence. Though so much more dynamic than anything in the original films, it had a great flow, coherent action and awesome CGI.

And that's pretty much all I have. So was Ghostbusters a perfect film? No, not at all but it did have many genuinely funny moments and a great cast portraying lively characters. Wrap that up in a blanket of well directed action and you have the makings of a good summer movie. If pressed for a numerical rating, I'd give it a 7 out of 10 (on the PKE meter). Not quite burying the needle but it's a fun, energetic movie with a ton of laughs and a lot of heart.


10 Days With Ghostbusters: Slime City

So a brand new Ghostbusters video game hit shelves recently, cleverly titled "Ghostbusters: The Video Game", and so far it seems to be a big hit. Mind you, I can neither confirm nor deny this assertion since I don't have a Playstation 4 or XBox One to play it on, and the Playstation 3 version seems to be ostentatiously overpriced.So while everyone else gets their bustin' on on a next gen system, I found a free-to-play Android based game to give me a Ghostbusters fix.

(What follows are my own impressions from playing the game; I haven't read a single article, review or walkthrough about it. So if I am misrepresenting a feature or aspect of Slime City that is completely unfounded, well, take a look at that URL at the top of the page and you can understand how something like that would happen.)

Developed by Eight Pixels Square and published by Activision, "Ghostbusters: Slime City" is based on the new Ghostbusters film, that hit theaters this past weekend. Players begin the game as a brand new recruit to the Ghostbusters team and can determine the look of the character by choosing one of four stock body types. The default is Amelie Jones, "France's Leading Paranormal Expert".

The avatar doesn't seem to have any bearing on the performance of your character. In fact, you can switch on the fly as often as you want without any benefit or punishment.

The other avatars available are Clarissa Sharpe, "London's Queen of the Underground"...

...which sounds more like a woman who enjoys going to raves...

...Sam Nova, "Madrid's Manifestation Matador"...

...whatever the hell that's supposed to mean...
...and Bud Franklin, "The Trapmeister".

And of course the American gets the dumbest nickname of all.
As you progress, you earn Skill Points, which you can assign to different attributes to strengthen your character, such as HP, Defense, Power, and Health Recharge. I've gotten to level 8 and managed to upgrade a little bit, but it doesn't seem to have any effect but maybe it's because I haven't leveled high enough to see a difference. Also, defense seems to max out at 4, which is garbage but whatever.

The game mechanics are similar to the arcade game "Time Crisis" where you duck behind cover before popping out to take a shot at enemies. Or ghosts, in this case. Firing is simply tapping the screen where you want to aim the proton pack. The pack is fairly responsive, meaning where you tap will most often result in a direct hit, however, there are a few challenges when it comes to weaponry, which I'll get to in a bit.

The game features different types of ghosts. Most of what you encounter are of the HP variety, meaning you shoot them enough to deplete their energy level, in which case they disappear. A few of the ghosts, however, need to be trapped, and they are indicated by a glowing aura around them.

The green one. Behind the wall. It's a terrible screenshot.
Catching them is fairly easy. It's mostly a matter of tapping on them, holding them, and dragging them to the trap that gets tossed into the center of the room before the battle starts. Again, it's all really, really simple.

There are also massive, oversized ghosts. So far I've run into both the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Rowan and each one has annihilated me without mercy. They're basically HP ghosts but their weak spots vary, they toss shit at you and they have an absurd amount of HP to start with that my level 6 ass could barely keep up.
They sure are cute roaming around Central Park with impunity, though.
But no, seriously, fuck these guys.
Fighting ghosts isn't the only type of mission you face. Well, it's about 96% of your tasks but you do other things as well. Like shoot shit. This isn't a joke, by the way. One mission requires you to shoot up a ghost generating machine, which I failed to get a screenshot of and don't feel like going back to get one since I just want to get this posted. Just take my word for it that it's all pretty standard.

Circling back to the different weapons, you start with the Proton Pack, which is the same as the packs from the new movie. These are reliable, single proton-stream emitting packs that have a good attack strength, quick recharge and decent rate of fire.

A trustworthy weapon.
 I've also unlocked what's called the "Electron Pack", which is the pack from the original films. This pack is a lot stronger than the Proton Pack but has a slower recharge time and tends to be slightly difficult to control. So depending on which weapon you choose, you take the good with the bad.

In addition to the packs, though, you can boost your character with the help of a few cards. You get cards as rewards for completing missions, with rarer cards providing better boosts. I've never actually used a boost during a battle (seriously, the missions last 30 seconds, ain't nobody got time for boosts) so I can't say how much they affect the outcome. But there are different attributes to the boosts, like 15% damage to green ghosts (which would all but guarantee that I don't see a single green ghost in the battle).

Not everything is a "weapon", though.
Like most freemium games, gold is the in-game currency and can be purchased with real currency. I haven't done so as I've amassed over 100 gold coins these past 10 days. Not like that's a lot considering that rushing a building upgrade can take 50+ gold but whatevs.

Legen...wait for it...pay me. 
Oh, and remember when I said that "Slime City" was based on the new movie? Well, there are a couple of familiar faces showing up in the game.

That's Kyle and Jess. OK, so maybe I overplayed the "familiar" part considering they aren't Kevin and Jillian, but god damn, they look close, right? I'm not sure why they didn't use Kevin and Holtzmann for the game, probably some kind of legal jargon concerning rights and likenesses and shit but it doesn't really matter. Even though these two pop up often, their banter adds a few chuckles to an otherwise monotonous game.

Whatever. It made me laugh.
I do enjoy the Daily Log In bonus game, which lets players force Slimer to shovel as much food as possible down his gullet in an allotted time, generally between 15 and 30 seconds. It's gross, it's frenetic, but it's fun.

See that bar at the top? They pay you for that.
Also, there seems to be a lot of product placement . Like, a whole lot. I've run across the Dave & Buster's and Papa John's logos so many times that I've lost count. Granted, both of those companies featured fairly prominently in the film and they both have in-store tie ins to the movie. But hey, however Activision can generate a revenue stream from the game is fine by me. They don't shove ads down your throat like other freemium games and buying currency (so far) isn't mandatory so a few logos here and there is probably the least intrusive thing an Android game can do to make money.

Though that looks like the sketchiest Dave & Buster's ever.
Even with all of that, one of my favorite aspects of the game are the splash screens. The graphics many be simple but they've rendered a few dynamic scenes which make the slow loading times semi-enjoyable.

While the game is fun at times, it tends to get repetitive. Not just because the simple game mechanics are used in every level but because it forces you to retrace your steps often. Because XP is such a rare commodity, in order to level up and unlock other aspects of the game, you have to go back to missions you've already cleared in the hopes that you'll get XP. And even though the missions are easy in themselves, you need to devote large swaths of time in order to progress.

I've fallen victim to many games that rely on the Pavlovian reward system to keep players active and this one just doesn't quite have the right balance. That doesn't mean I'm going to give up on it completely any time soon, but I can easily see it phasing out of my life.
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