Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

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PVZ Garden WarfarePlants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online multiplayer third-person shooter game, released in March of 2014 by Popcap and EA Games. The game offers multiple modes of play, including co-op (split screen), garden defense (tower defense), and many multiplayer modes where you can choose to be either plants or zombies.

Rating: 5/5

Dixon’s Thoughts: Garden Warfare set out to do something that seemed impossible and almost pointless. The original Plants Vs. Zombies is a basic tower defense game with a very specific art style and sense of humor. With Garden Warfare, Popcap set out to translate this entire experience to a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder shooter, which, why? In my limited experience, the prime demographic of the original Plants vs Zombies was women over 50 and children. Odd pairing aside, PvZ: Garden Warfare is engaging, fun, accessible, and has almost infinite replay value. The game has two different play styles: Garden Ops, a mode where you can only play plant characters and fight off waves of zombies, and Multiplayer PvP, which itself has several different modes and allows the players to play either plants or zombies. Garden Ops is the only mode of the game that supports split-screen co-op play, which we’ll discuss later.

Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay is very simple: shoot the other team. Sometimes you need to do this in specific ways, or while accomplishing team based objectives, but at heart that’s all there is to it. When you first start playing the game, you start with the basic versions of each characters’ abilities. You will eventually also unlock the alternate versions of these abilities as well, allowing for some (albeit minor) character ability customization. As usual, some of the upgrades are must-haves, and others are actually worse than their counterparts.

For instance, if you use this thing, you are an asshole.

For instance, we have never found a situation in which this thing is useful.

In Garden Ops, a single player can search for other groups of players looking to join forces and defend the Garden base from increasingly difficult waves of Zombies. This mode most closely resembles the original PvZ game, as players can only control a Plant character and it involves randomly generated waves of specific zombie types. Every so often, a boss wave event happens, which itself has an element of randomness to it.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

If you successfully complete all waves, you’ll have to rush to a location where Crazy Dave (the game’s only human) picks you up in what can only be described as a “Space RV.” This mode of play also supports split-screen co-op, however, there are significant problems with this aspect of the game. While it does allow you to play split screen, you cannot play online in this mode. The garden-ops games are geared towards groups of 4 players, so you’ll automatically start the game two players short. In addition, the “second” player is unable to use any of the game’s Potted Plants (items that you use as tower-defense like towers to automatically attack zombies). This is a pretty significant aspect of the game, and between that and the lack of online play, split screen garden ops is really not very fun. Not everyone agrees, however, so be sure and give it a try.

Fortunately, the game’s online multiplayer more than makes up for this flawed aspect. Multiplayer mode consists of several sub-modes. All the familiar game modes are here, deathmatch, capture the flag, and node control. The last mode, Gardens and Graveyards, is a bit different. In this mode, plants must defend a series of control points. The Zombie team’s only objective is to have more characters on the “flag” area, which will eventually capture it. Once captured, the garden turns into a graveyard and zombie players respawn from this new location, while plant players fall back to the next graveyard and attempt to defend that. This game mode has by far the largest maps, and it is here that strategy and map knowledge make a lot of difference for your team.

gardensandgraveyards

As does “slowly walking backwards”.

While the gameplay is both fun and engaging, PvZ: GW’s greatest features is arguably it’s extensive character customization. This is also where the game’s micro-transactions come into play. Win or lose, every player participating in a game gets in-game currency (coins) which can then be spent on a variety of “card packs”. These packs contain everything from consumable items such as summonable zombies or potted plants (both of which play off the Tower Defense roots of PvZ) to customizations like clothing and weapon skins, weapon upgrades, and new character pieces. There seem to be a phenomenal number of customized items.  We’ve been playing the game for well over a year and consistently see other players wearing items that we’ve never seen.

pvzgwsunflowerThere are 4 main plant variants and 4 main Zombie characters, each of which have a total of 5 class variants, so there are plenty of new characters on which you can spend your hard earned coins. Each class variant is significantly different, and as usual some are better than others. Almost all of them are more powerful than their original class, though the original All Star is extremely powerful in the hands of someone who isn’t terrible. Some of the variants seem almost broken after using them for a long period of time.

To expand on the game’s currency/reward system, there is a default value that every player will get for winning or losing matches. You are awarded bonus points for actions such as kill streaks, critical kills, repeated kills, killing an enemy while they are fighting someone else, killing an enemy who is on a kill streak, killing your nemesis (someone who has killed you at least 3 times in a game), healing party members, and resurrecting fallen players before they respawn. Additionally, players can earn “boasts” for having the most kills in a session, the longest kill streak, the most heals and resurrections, and the most assists.

endgamescreenIf all of that sounds boring to you, but wasting your money doesn’t, you can chose to simply purchase in-game currency to then spend on card packs. We’ve never done this, however, it hardly seems worth it as the currency you can purchase is exactly what you get in-game, and does not unlock anything you can’t otherwise unlock by just killing a lot of people.

There’s something about this game, a certain charm or irreverence that makes it seem like almost a giant middle finger to the modern gaming industry. It’s managed to both refuse to take itself seriously (there is no single play mode and no plot to speak of) while simultaneously being a challenging shooter with a lot of fun elements. It’s got a dedicated player base, at least on Xbox One, and you will come to recognize and hate certain key players that you run into repeatedly. The core gameplay is so simple that anyone can enjoy it, but complex enough to reward effort and skill, and combined with fresh content and consistent updates, the game always gives you something to come back to.  It’s easily one of our favorite games on the Xbox One, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot. Who knows? We might see you there.

The game actually looks like this on the Xbox One.

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Top 5: Movies

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Mindy’s Top 5 Movies

Mindy’s Thoughts: FYMFB has a special post this week; in honor of my birthday (yesterday) I am doing a top 5 list of my favorite movies. This is not a review of those movies, more like an overview of why they are my favsies. Let’s jump in, shall we? In order from oldest to newest (but in no particular personal order) I present to you the five best movies OF ALL TIME.


The ShiningThe Shining (1980)

The Shining is an American psychological thriller film directed and produced by the amazing Stanley Kubrick. It follows the story of Jack Torrance and his family (son Danny and wife Wendy) as they live in a creepy old, possibly haunted or possessed, hotel for the winter. The movie is based on the Stephen King book (released in 1977) but deviates from the book plot enough to piss Stephen King off.

The ShiningLet’s get an obvious statement out of the way: because The Shining is a Stephen King based book/movie, the plot is entirely about a writer struggling with addiction. Jack, played by Jack Nicholson, is a recovering alcoholic that is barely hanging onto the sobriety wagon when they get to The Overlook. Within a week, he’s selling his soul for some bourbon.
On a sidenote, while it absolutely works in this story, I’m sick and tired of Stephen King’s life story being retold every single time he writes a god damn book. We get it, bro! You’re a writer and have struggles with addiction, you don’t need to rehash it for all of eternity. Moving on!
I love this movie for so many reasons, but the biggest one is of course Stanley Kubrick’s directing/producing. The Shining remains timeless, despite being filmed in what could be a very dated time period. The score is perfect and highlights all the right moments. The hotel becomes a living being in this movie, interacting with the family, mirroring Jack’s psyche. While there aren’t many actors in the movie aside from the Torrance family, the acting is top notch; Jack Nicholson always plays a very convincing crazy person and Shelley Duvall was practically born for this role (well, aside from Olive Oyl in the live action Popeye). Shelley Duvall is one of my all time favorites, which makes sense as she now spends her time flashing car headlights into the Texas wilderness to communicate with alien lifeforms.

If you recall, I did a review last year of The Shining Forwards and Backwards which I feel presents all these parts of the original movie in a really beautiful and obvious manner. All of the elements are masterfully laid out and Kubrick’s direction is entirely responsible. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite Kubrick movie, but The Shining might be it.


Die Hard 1988Die Hard (1988)

The original Die Hard starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and Bonnie Bedelia, was adapted from a book titled Nothing Last Forever, released in 1979 by Roderick Thorp. The basic character profiles and some of the character names originated from this story, but this was not meant to be the movie it became. Originally the book was written in hopes that it would turn into a post WWII movie starring Frank Sinatra, then it was going to be adapted into the Commando sequel. After everyone passed on it, they decided to make it into Die Hard and eventually cast Bruce Willis.

Die Hard - Welcome to the Party PalBruce Willis’ character, John McClane, is an every-man; he’s a cop, but he’s not a superhero. He gets hurt constantly and by the end of the movie is barely limping along, covered in blood and dirt. This character is not necessarily a ‘good guy’; his marriage is failing, he’s argumentative and possibly a bit controlling, he’s distant from his kids, he later develops a drinking problem (between Die Hard 2 and 3). Despite that, he saves the day time and time again with nothing more than his handgun, intelligence, and fast reflexes. Why does he do it? Because he has to, because he doesn’t want innocent people (his family included) to get hurt or killed. People can relate to John McClane as played by Bruce Willis because we’re all that person, just trying to make it through each day with our lives, families, and sanity intact.
Please note that this is why Die Hard 5 (and 4 — to an extent) is a failure of a movie, it’s because we stop seeing McClane as ourselves or our brother/father/friend, and start seeing him as a cold and impersonal superhero. In the 5th movie he has machine guns and spends time just killing random people in Russia, because why not? Anyway, this is not a review of why the later Die Hard movies are shit, so we should move along.
Aside from Willis’ character, the other great part of this movie is the supporting cast, specifically Alan Rickman and his crew. They did a great job as the evil henchmen, Alan Rickman even faked a convincing German accent for most of the movie. It seems out of context to watch this movie now, considering it was written in the 70’s and released as a movie in the 80’s, all before the Cold War ended, all while East Germany still existed. We live in a different world now, so while this movie does feel a little dated at times, that doesn’t take away from the fantastic pacing and action that fills Die Hard from start to finish.


The Lion KingThe Lion King (1994)

Compared to the other four movies in my top 5 list, The Lion King may seem like a strange selection but I truly believe there is no better animated film than the 1994 Disney classic. Aside from beautiful and truly artistic animation work, there are so many talented voice actors that starred in the film: Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean!), Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and the list goes on.

The Lion King - Mufasa in the CloudsWhat isn’t to love about this movie? It has been a favorite of mine for over 20 years, but as I get older the reasons why I love it so much have changed. As a child I loved the art, the music (amazing!!! thank you Tim Rice and Elton John!), the story itself. As an adult it gets me right in the feels, thinking about my family, about life, about the world, about the fact that I’ll die one day. It’s even become a common way for me to talk about death, that one day I too will become the grass.
One of my favorite scenes, and in my opinion one of the most impactful scenes, is when Simba is visited by cloud Mufasa. Simba, a young lion man, has been ‘wasting’ his life doing nothing in a forest with his friends. Enjoying the day to day and never thinking about his purpose, his past, or his future. While there may be controversy around the origins of The Lion King‘s story (some say it was inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, other say it is a rip off of Japan’s Kimba the White Lion), I think there is no doubting that this movie conveys a truly human story that almost every person can relate with. We all struggle with our past and future, we all question “why am I here”. Some people find answers in religion, others find answers in their careers, or families, but there is no singular answer for us human beings. For Simba, he realizes after James Earl Jones talks some sense into him, that he wants more out of life than the day to day, that he wants to lead and protect others, that he wants a family, that he is part of the world and can’t hide from it for the rest of his life.

As with all fairy tales and Disney movies, there is a lesson to be learned from this film. The message in The Lion King resonated with me as a 9 year old and has continued to evolve with me 21 years later.


Casino, the movieCasino (1995)

Casino is a 1995 American crime drama, starring a million people (seriously, just a huge cast), but most notably Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese. On a sidenote, Pileggi is most famously known for writing the book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, aka the Henry Hill story, which was later adapted (by he and Scorsese) into Goodfellas.

Casino is about Midwest gangsters and a casino called the Tangiers (the code name for the real life Stardust), but the movie is really about all consuming obsession and how it will ruin you and everything you care about. Obsession with money, power, fame, love, even obsession over the details can eventually drive you crazy and drive everyone away from you. With a run time over over three hours, this movie is an epic tale, spanning a 15-ish year period from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. Everything in the movie is authentic; the costume budget was over one million dollars alone, and each of the leads had 100s of pieces of custom made or vintage clothing, jewels, accessories, etc.Sharon Stone in CasinoI love this movie for so many reasons, for starters it’s a Scorsese film and I will watch anything that man produces. Past that, one of the biggest reasons I love this movie is Sharon Stone. She begins the movie as a hustler, as someone being hustled, as a manipulative woman being manipulated by the man she’s loved since she was 14 who just so happens to be a pimp. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, fiery and explosive, she’s the woman men want to be with and women want to be. Over the course of a decade we see her descent from glory into drug addled insane person, a shell of the person she used to be, before she dies alone in a hallway of a drug overdose. It’s sad, but the movie is a pragmatic cautionary tale; everyone ends up alone in the end.

Sharon Stone won a Golden Globe for her role, and an Oscar nomination — though Susan Sarandon won that year for her role in Dead Man Walking. Scorsese also was nominated for a Golden Globe for best Director but lost to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. I don’t know if there is a better Gangster movie than Casino, despite it not even being on the AFI’s top gangster movies list.


The DepartedThe Departed (2006)

The Departed is a 2006 American crime drama, directed by the brilliant Martin Scorsese. The movie is based on a true American crime story about Whitey Bulger, a crime boss that basically ran Boston from the late 60’s to the mid 80’s. The story of Whitey Bulger mixes with a very popular fictional Hong Kong crime-thriller called Internal Affairs to create the story of The Departed. The movie went on to win a lot of awards, including Scorsese’s first Best Director Oscar, which he had been previously nominated for six times but never won.

When The Departed was released in theaters I was living in (the armpit of) California, and was very excited. I convinced all my dude friends to go see it with me, and roughly three hours after it started it was over and I just sat there disappointed. Later when it was released on DVD I rewatched it several times, feeling that same disappointment. Why? It just didn’t hit me the way other Scorsese movies had, I guess. Whereas Casino and Goodfellas (among many others) were like a punch to my face, The Departed was a slow burn. It follows a parallel story of two men, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, and is essentially a played out thought experiment about the consequences of our choices. Both characters grow up in the same area, both are hand picked by their mentors/father figures to follow a life of crime and justice. The entire movie is a mirror; when there is a Matt Damon scene where he’s happily on a date with a woman, Leo’s character is in a hospital with a female nurse. While Matt Damon pretends to be someone he’s not in front of his family and friends, Leo pretends to be someone he’s not as an undercover cop. The Departed creeps up on you and makes you think about good versus evil, about life and death, about the nature of people, about what we’re all willing to do to get what we want.

Dignam - the DepartedWhile there is not a bad part of the movie, by far the best part is anything involving Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). When he’s not busy kicking ass or calling people cunts, he’s telling everyone to go fuck themselves and busting the real bad guys. While The Departed had an amazing cast (Martin Sheen, Leo DiCap, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon .. excuse me, MATT DA-MON, Alec Baldwin, etc), no one stood out like Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg was the only actor from the film nominated for an Academy Award, but he lost to Alan Arkin for his role in Little Miss Sunshine (boooooooo). There is such a cult following for Detective Dignam that there have been serious considerations of doing a sequel/spin-off with his character. I’ve been a huge supporter of that idea and would be first in line to see that movie, but who knows if it will ever be made.

The Departed is a thoughtful movie, more cerebral than Scorsese’s past flicks, and I believe is the last truly great movie we’ve had released in American cinema.

Woodchuck Summer Cider

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Woodchuck Summer Cider

Woodchuck Summer Cider

Woodchuck Hard Cider

The sounds of the lapping lake-shores, the mountain views, and memories of fresh picked blueberries. Exhibiting a slight tartness, this cider begins with a full, robust flavor followed by a rich summertime taste.

Rating: 5/5

Location: Middlebury, VT
ABV: 5%

Mindy’s Thoughts: Woodchuck offers a few seasonal cider selections, most of which are gross because people need to stop putting fucking cinnamon and pumpkin in everything that exists. However one special seasonal cider, their Summer cider, tastes like a little piece of heaven. It starts off with a tart apple base and then they add blueberry juice to the mix. The combination is refreshing, perfectly sweet, a little fizzy, and the best thing you can imagine tasting on a hot summer day. Hell, it’s a cold winter day and 9 in the morning but I still want one right now.

Generally you will see Summer in stores right around the beginning of June, and the last bottles leave the shelves sometime in early September. Though, if you’re like me you will just stock up and hide 6-packs throughout closets in your house to make it through the winter.

Woodchuck Summer Cider

A portion of the Woodchuck Summer Cider that I’ve saved for the long dry period.

The other packs live in the kitchen. There is always at least one in the fridge, because you never know when you’ll need what my doctor calls “a cooler”. Stressful day? Need a cooler!

Anyway, you should definitely try Woodchuck’s Summer cider sometime next year when it’s available again. Unless you know somebody at Woodchuck that could get you an inside line. In which case, please email me!

The Shining, Forwards and Backwards

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The Shining, forwards and backwards title sceen

The Shining Forwards and Backwards. This is the opening and ending scenes.

The Shining Forwards and Backwards is part video experiment and part obsession. A few years ago, a long time fan of The Shining thought to superimpose the film playing over itself, essentially forwards and backwards at the same time. For sanity’s sake they only include the forward playing audio.

Legend has it that the film was first played in public in Brooklyn, NY in 2011. You can find bits of it online (start here) and occasionally it plays in hipster and indie film houses across the country (here in Seattle, SIFF has screened it at least once). However it’s not generally available through mainstream methods at this time.

Rating: 5/5

Mindy’s Thoughts: As a kid I was crazy about horror movies, watching Child’s Play when I was 3 with my brothers, and by the time I was 7 I had a life size movie poster from Jason Takes Manhattan (Friday the 13th Part VIII) hanging in my bedroom. I can’t remember the first time I watched The Shining, but I know it was early in my life and since then I’ve watched it maybe four dozen times. This movie is a staple of my life, one that has changed and grown with me as I’ve gotten older. So when I first heard that there was a group of people screening it forwards and backwards, I knew I had to witness it myself.

Overall, The Shining Forwards and Backwards is thought-provoking and visually intriguing, doubly so if you are a Stanley Kubrick fan. The thematic coincidences and synchronicity between most of the shots is a constant, and somewhat eery. Within the first few minutes of watching the film, I was enthralled and convinced that Kubrick purposefully made this movie to be seen this way. One of the examples you see repeated throughout the film is the juxtaposition of Danny and Jack; their faces overlaying each other, almost like Danny is seeing into Jack’s mind.

The Shining Forwards and Backwards

The Shining Forwards and Backwards

One of my favorite shots in the movie is below, with crazy Jack’s face between theirs on the car ride up to the Overlook. It doesn’t show well in this image, but if you look closely you can see Danny’s head inside of Jack’s head in the shot, like Danny is inside of crazy (future) Jack’s mind. The context is they are having the Donner party conversation (foreshadowing), and Danny already knows what will happen when they get to the lodge.

The Shining Forwards and Backwards

The Shining Forwards and Backwards car scene

I love Stanley Kubrick and have had a life long obsession with all of his movies. He is meticulous as a director, paying attention to every detail, big or small. With that in mind, do I think he purposefully created The Shining to play backward and forwards at the same time? Probably not. I believe he is consistent with the organization and framing of camera shots, which has led to the overlap of people and objects in this format. Then again, would you put it past Kubrick to do something this involved? Something so secretive and hidden inside of his film that it wasn’t found for a decade after he died? It’s a question without an answer, but it’s a question worth asking. Watching this version of the movie has made me re-examine facets of the movie that I had long taken for granted. Little moments and quiet scenes that add up and foreshadow the horror that is yet to come. I highly recommend and say it’s a must watch for any Kubrick or The Shining fan.