Comic Book Review: All Star Batman (2016) #1

Oh, thank heavens. Scott Snyder is writing Batman again. After his run on Batman ended I was left adrift on what American comic books could fill the void left by one of the greatest, if not the greatest run on a Batman comic book that there has ever been. Snyder and Capullo’s run on Batman was so good, it literally made me lose interest in almost every other book on the shelf because they simply could not match the quality Snyder and Capullo were putting out.

And while Snyder has returned to write a character he has proven to hold a deep understanding of, Capullo has unfortunately not returned with him. I suppose I will just have to accept John Romita Jr.– one of the most respected and desired comic book artists out there– as a consolation prize. Suffice it to say the art is good.

This first books jumps right into the action. Batman is taking Two-Face somewhere that might potentially rid Harvey Dent of his dangerous alter ego. Unfortunately, Two-Face has put out the word that whoever stops Batman will be paid an enormous reward, prompting both villains and civilians to try and kill Batman as he tries to get Two-Face to his destination. It’s been fun so far, but Snyder hints at some reveals that will affect the history of Batman and his relationship with Alfred.

Personally, I am excited to see Snyder take on the character of Two-Face. Besides Joker, Two-Face is arguably Batman’s most dangerous villain and I am eager to see Snyder’s insight into the Batman universe applied to this character.

In addition to the Two-Face story, there is also a side story involving Batman’s new ally, Duke. He is undoubtedly not Robin, and the story goes into figuring out what kind of hero he will be. It was a surprisingly compelling side story and I’m eager to see more of Duke and Zsasz.

Score: 7.1/10 A fun, action packed start to a promising Batman story.

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Video Game Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth (PC)

A short preface: played this game for about twenty hours. Beat the main quest and most if not all side quests.

In order to truly enjoy this game, you must first check off two boxes: (1) you’ve watched South Park before and you are a fan, and (2) you like turn based role playing games (especially old Japanese RPG’s). If you fit this criteria, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an incredibly fun game, arguably even a near perfect adaptation of a television show and a near perfect South Park game.

However, it is important to note that the first twenty minutes of this game are a slog. When I first tried this game out, I found it really boring and gave up on it for a few months. I came back to it later and forced myself through the beginning tutorial and I am so glad I did. After that first twenty minutes the game opens up and you get all the South Park humor you’d expect in this type of game.

Speaking of humor, this game exudes the humor of the television series to an extreme, R rated degree. The premise is thus: you are the new kid in South Park and you play a fantasy role playing game with the other kids of South Park when a sudden crisis strikes the town.

While not all of the past South Park characters are present, there are a ton of them. Some cameos include Al Gore, Jesus, Moses in dreidel form, Terrence and Philip and the Canadians. It’s just good fun to see familiar faces, and then see that character used as a magic spell or an enemy boss. For example, (minor spoilers) you get to fight Al Gore and one of his attacks is a power point on the environment which has the effect of putting you to sleep. You can also summon Mr. Hankey onto your side and he casts a poop themed wave attack reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia. It’s pretty nuts, yet awesome at the same time.

Of note is just how far this game goes. There is nudity in this game, even though it is cartoon nudity. In fact, one boss fight takes place in the middle of a bedroom while two persons engage in sex. The battle ends with one of you getting hit by a boob while the other gets hit by a nut sack.

In regards to gameplay, it is a fairly simple form of turn based role playing game reminiscent of Super Mario RPG and old Final Fantasy games. There are a lot of spells and attacks that involve timed button presses, which can be annoying. However, I’m okay with these since they do at some interactivity to turn based combat.

Visually, the game looks just like an episode of South Park, which I loved.

Score: 8.2/10 Loved this game. It captures the spirit of the show so well. It’s like playing through a really long episode of South Park, yet even better because of all the references and cameos from old South Park episodes. If you like the show, playing this game is a no-brainer. This game is perfect for a rental or to borrow from a friend. There is also no replay value to the game after beating the main quest and side missions.

Restaurant Review: Ladybird (near NYU, NYC)

Official site: http://ladybirdny.com/

As you can probably tell from the image above, Ladybird is a pretty hip looking bar that only has vegan taps for food, so it’s a good place to bring your vegan friends. It was actually pretty pricey for the size of the portions, but it generally is when it comes to vegan stuff. It’s the vegan premium.

We only bought drinks, which were pretty good. They seem to have pieces of flower in a lot of them. There aren’t any whiskys or things like that, just wine, champagne and mixed drinks involving flowers for ingredients. Kind of unique I guess.

Additionally, the service was nice. At the time that we went here, it had been opened only a few weeks. So they’re still getting the hang of things and you could feel that. They were still nice.

Score: 5/10 This score is only based on the drinks and environment. Loved the interior of this place, which matters to me.

Restaurant Review: Go Zen (near NYU, NYC)

Official site: http://www.gozenfamily.com/

Another day, another vegan place. Hung out with my vegan friends again so I dragged my self to another vegan place to torture myself. As with past vegan restaurants, I will express not only my opinion of the place, but that of my vegan friends.

In my opinion, this place is symptomatic of all vegan places; it was tasteless, bland, and a poor imitation of what food should taste like. What’s amazing to me is that the things I ordered are served in non-vegan places, things like crispy rolls and Kao Fu (marinated gluten) and this place just does it shittier. The original recipe called for no meat, yet because it was produced in a vegan place, the quality of taste drops immensely. I just don’t understand it. It’s like if it tastes good, then it’s not truly vegan. I’m starting to think that this blandness is the exact kind of taste that vegans look for.

In the opinion of my vegan friends, the place was great. They specifically like the sesame seitan.

Score: 2/10 Vegan food depresses me.

Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto V (Review of the Single Player Mostly, played on PC)

When I first started playing this game, I was worried that it might be kind of crap. I know the reviews have generally been positive, but the idea of splitting the single player campaign into three separate characters sound like a hassle that would slow down or break apart the flow of the story. I am happy to say that my fears were unfounded. The best part of this story is that it is told from three, playable points of view.

There are three protagonists in this story: Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. Michael is a retired bank robber going through a mid life crisis. Trevor is a user and dealer of crystal meth. And Franklin is your stereotypical gang banger from the ‘hood. Through various events, they come together to form a criminal team and try to pull the biggest heists they can find.

It’s a great crime story. Each character is distinct and the ability to see an event from differing perspectives adds a lot to the narrative. But what really adds to the story is the humor and the way the game offers an R rated parody/critique of real world things like Facebook, the entertainment industry, and corruption in law enforcement. If I were to try and describe this game as if it were a movie, I would say it is a crime/heist movie with some hilarious commentary on real world events.

Gameplay is exactly what you’d expect from this franchise. While you can play from first person perspective, I prefer the default view of third person view. You run around, drive and shoot your way through missions given by a colorful cast of characters in a very large open world setting. The city this iteration of the franchise takes place in is based on Los Angeles and is filled with details and landmarks reminiscent of the real city. The controls are familiar and driving is just fine. Nothing to complain about here.

The most noteworthy aspect of the game play to me is that you can switch between characters during a heist, performing each role necessary in the heist. The general rhythm goes like this: a few missions to prepare for the heist, then the execution of the actual heist mission. During the heist mission, you play as each character based upon the job that character was assigned. For example, you will first go through a portion infiltrating or robbing the target, then you switch to the shooting character who fights law enforcement, then you swap to the getaway driver for the escape. It’s a really fun way to tackle single player heists by letting a player play all gameplay aspects of a heist, rather than locking him/her into the getaway driver, shooter, etc. In retrospect, tying the ability to switch character both narratively and gameplay-wise is just genius.

Visually, for a years old game, this game looks amazing. Especially the way the city looks after a rain. Man, that water reflection looks good.

The legendary Grand Theft Auto soundtrack returns with more familiar tracks that you’d expect to hear on the radio. Lots of familiar songs on the radio.

In regards to the voice actors, they are spectacular and do an amazing job immersing you into this world.

I’ve played some of the multiplayer and it is fun. I just haven’t played enough to really have a full opinion. It does seem a little grindy though. Racing was fun, too.

Score: 8.6/10 With regards to the single player, this game is insanely fun. That they developed such a lengthy multiplayer is just icing on the cake.

Restaurant Review: Lillie’s Victorian Establishment (Union Square, NYC)

Official site: http://unionsquare.lilliesnyc.com/

Unless I’m going to a bar that has little to no food, I generally judge a place by the food it serves. Unfortunately for Lillie’s, that is how I judged this place.

The first thing your notice here is the interior. It’s pretty awesome and definitely promotes good vibes. The drinks were fine, just had some beers.

The food was just okay. I mean I wasn’t hungry afterwards, but I wouldn’t eat it again for fun. We both ordered Lillie’s burgers. The pickles were insanely tart.

Score: 3.6/10 Good place to drink. Food was just all right. It’s just average bar food. Don’t come here expecting to eat anything awesome.

Movie Review: Finding Dory

I was fearful when I walked into this movie. I estimated this had a fifty-fifty shot of  being a good movie or a bad one. I mean Pixar made Up, but it also made the Cars movies. I am happy to report that this movie is another great one, even though I would really like another original property from Pixar instead of another sequel.

The premise is this: Dory, a fish with a short term memory problem, begins to remember an older memory of her family which she forgot. She thus goes on an adventure with Nemo and friends to try and find her old family.

This is a mostly funny movie with some very sad and happy moments that may move your to tears. With that said, the makers of this film have clearly tried to make a more lighthearted film in comparison to movies like Up. There are far more funny scenes than emotional scenes. Bring a handkerchief just in case though.

Speaking of jokes, I enjoyed pretty much every joke they threw at the audience. It’s a cute kind of funny, which was fun.

While all of the characters are funny and great, the one that needs to be discussed is Hank the octopus. Ed O’Neill portrays the proper combination of depressing and manic, yet hopeful and moral. I loved Hank and enjoyed every scene he was in.

Score: 7.8/10 Great film with some heart.

Restaurant Review: Il Gelato (Eataly at the World Trade Center, NYC)

Official site: https://www.eataly.com/us_en/stores/nycdowntown/counters/downtown-gelato/

After dinner at La Pizza & La Pasta, we stopped by Il Gelato for some dessert. Thank heavens for this location. If you’ve ever been to the Il Gelato location uptown then you know that the line there is stupidly long. Here however, there were like three people in front of us. Amazing.

We tried the pistachio, the lemon, and the raspberry. Surprisingly, the raspberry was easily my favorite out of all of them. They were all good, but the raspberry was spectacular.

Score: 7/10 Can’t wait to come back and a some of that raspberry gelato. Man was that good.

Restaurant Review: La Pizza & La Pasta (Eataly at World Trade Center, NYC)

Official site: https://www.eataly.com/us_en/stores/nycdowntown/downtown-pizza-pasta/

Came here the week after Eataly downtown’s grand opening. I have to say that in many ways, this Eataly is far better than the one uptown. This is largely because it is crowded, but far less crowded than the uptown Eataly. Further, there were little to no lines or tourists. It was incredible. The uptown Eataly is a mad house, always packed and lines going around the store.

The views are also incredible. The World Trade Center area is slowly but surely entering completion and as the construction crews and cranes pull away, the area shows it’s undoubtedly beautiful appearance.

Now for the restaurant. The first thing you should know about La Pizza & La Pasta is that they don’t take reservations. First come first serve in this place. The wait was about forty minutes, which was fine since we walked around and looked at all the other stuff in the store.

The view is spectacular. Definitely get a window seat if you can.

Service was spotty, but they have only been open for a week so it was to be expected. Waiter was a nice guy though.

The food was fantastic. We both had the Tagliatelle con Ragu di Manzo. It’s just long noodles with brisket, Parmigiano Reggiano, and parsley in a tomato sauce. The brisket was pretty good, but those noodles were damn fresh. I don’t know if it was all in my head or if it was objectively true, but those noodles were some of the best I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’ve had fresher. Just the right amount of chewiness.

Score: 7/10 Looking forward to coming back.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water

It took watching this movie to realize just what a lousy year for quality movies this was. There were the superhero movies which only exacerbated my superhero fatigue. Some good animated films and science fiction, but nothing original. They were all sequels like Finding Dory and Star Trek Beyond. Hell Or High Water stands apart in that it is an original film, arguably an indie film, and a contender for the best movie I’ve seen this year.

The premise is this: two brothers launch a daring series of bank robberies as an old Texas ranger tries to catch them. It’s a simple enough story, but executed wonderfully.

I love when movies incorporate their setting into a movie. It’s almost as if the state of Texas is a costar. Long shots that linger on beautiful Texan landscapes are plentiful and establish a quiet, yet brooding atmosphere in the film. I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of Texas that I am unlikely to see for myself.

This atmosphere pervades into the performances of the actors, who are all stellar. They help encourage this dreary atmosphere and set a calm, yet tense tone for the film. It reminded me a little of No Country For Old Men.

Score: 7.7/10 Great movie. I definitely recommend anyone who has the opportunity to see it to go see it. Unfortunately, I think it had a limited release so not everyone will get the opportunity.