Reviewing Broadway? The Book of Mormon review

EDIT: Saw The Book of Mormon and really digged it. This review is a tad more formal than my usual stuff. It's going in a newspaper.

The Book of Mormon manages to satirize, offend, evoke laughter, make powerful statements on religion, and be heartwarming and irreverent all at the same time. The show brings in $19.5 million every month on average, making it the most successful musical in four decades. The show also recently swept through the Tony awards winning virtually every major award including Best Musical, Best Actress, and Outstanding Music.

Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame and musical writer, Robert Lopez, The Book of Mormon stems from Parker and Stone’s huge success in writing music for South Park along with their satirical take on American exceptionalism, Team America: World Police (2004).

The show is certainly much more crude than most Broadway goers are probably used to. There are tons of subtle (and not too subtle) sexual references and vulgar language. Yet like the past few years of South Park, the vulgarity isn’t there for shock value like Family Guy.

The musical tells the story of two Mormons on a missionary trip to Uganda to convert locals. The pair try to share their religious text that they believe is the third part of the Bible, The Book of Mormon. Only one of the missionaries have actually read the book and the Uganda village is more concerned with the war, famine, AIDS, and poverty that have always plagued them. The Mormons try to convince the villagers to seek help through Christ and slowly the pair question if faith is enough to combat serious problems.

The Book of Mormon certainly has the South Park flavor of sensibility and edge. The show points at the absurdity at Mormonism, and that is arguably just a platform to lampoon against religion as a whole. On the surface, the entire musical satirizes organized religion and challenges the credibility of Mormonism.

Yet, The Book of Mormon manages to be gentle at the same time. Yes, it presents people of faith as cartoonish and gullible. For instance in the song “I Believe”, the protagonist is recovering his faith and sings lines like, “And I believe God lives on a planet called Kolob, and in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”. Those two statements are official stances the church takes and the character totally sings these lines as genuine beliefs, but is presented with a wink and nod to how silly the established church can be.

The Mormons are still presented as great and optimistic people that are just out there in the world doing their best. The ending is heartwarming and communicates that no matter how ridiculous or illogical religious doctrine might be that doesn’t take away from its power.

The Book of Mormon has the potential be offensive but it still managed to be one of the most harmonious pieces of entertainment I’ve seen. Stone and Parker are far more endearing to religion as opposed to someone like Bill Maher. On the surface there are constant jabs at religion, AIDS jokes, and suggests that the Mormon profit Joseph Smith was a total fraud. The show also flirts with the idea that religion is in a vicious cycle of reinventing itself to gain control over people. Upon further examination, nothing in the play comes off as malicious. Instead it feels like it’s trying to communicate that while a lot of beliefs are silly, Mormons are still incredibly charming.

I laughed at all the songs and jokes and appreciated the smart score. The Book of Mormon had me walk away appreciating the Mormons. It commands the audience to still respect these people. Despite being apart of a church, the group manages to be extremely devout, polite, and hardworking people. The play is more of a friendly hazing than rude. Stone and Parker continue to be the masters of crude humor while building a subtle and powerful punchline in the background.

Below is a video from the play showcasing the song I referenced:

@stevenbeynon

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My interview with a horror game developer. You should play Babysitter Bloodbath.

I'm way into slasher films. I grew up in the video store era and I spent a lot of time in the horror section. There are some good horror games out there, but non really capture the 80's slasher spirit. So I was stoked when I discovered a Halloween game. I later found out Patrick had it on Spookin' with Scoops.

The developer of that game is Pig Farmer Games, or specifically one guy making games from his house, Ben Cocuzza.

Listen to my 17 minute interview with Ben here!

Due to issues he can't disclose, the game is no longer Halloween. Now it's under the title, Babysitter Bloodbath. It's essentially the same game but with edits separating it from anything Michael Myers.

Babysitter Bloodbath is about a babysitter (weird, right?) trapped in a house and being stalked by a masked psychopath.

The game is free to play here. What makes it special to me is the idea of just having one enemy that can seemingly spawn at any point. Sorta invokes some Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. It's incredibly stressful and a totally worthwhile experience.

You can check me out playing the first 20 minutes of Babysitter Bloodbath below!

@stevenbeynon

All the menus are inspired by VHS boxes.
The game is made with PS1-like graphics. It took Ben a year to make Babysitter Bloodbath.
At one point the antagonist was Michael Myers, but it doesn't really matter anymore. This can stand as its own without a "license".

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Amateur, Uhh...spookin' with Steve? Babysitter Bloodbath

This was originally a Halloween game complete with the classic music and Michael Myers. However after what's safely assumed is a copyright dispute, the game was edited. This is the newer version. Based on what I saw from the Halloween game, this is roughly the same.

Babysitter Bloodbath is a free to play game made by Pig Farmer Games.

The guy that makes these games is clearly a huge horror fan and there is so much cool attention to detail, including the amazing VHS box-inspired main menu.

There isn't a feature to control the game's audio. Like old horror movies, this game is really fucking loud when action happens.

@stevenbeynon

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Amateur Quick Look: The Banner Saga

Giant Bomb didn't have a Quick Look of The Banner Saga up at the time of this recording, so I figured a lot of you would be curious what it was all about. Normally my audio is a lot better, but the game is lacking a feature to control the audio. So I tried not to talk too much because the game is louder than me. This is the first 40 minutes of the game, mostly tutorials and story stuff.

I saw a review describe this as "Game of Thrones meets Vikings meets Disney", and that's totally accurate.

Check out Alex's review!

Twitter:

@stevenbeynon

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Amateur Encyclopedia Bombastica: Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout

I checked out DBGT: Final Bout and tried to sort through all the dumb Dragon Ball narrative and characters. Half this game's characters are Goku, so that makes stuff easier and even dumber! This game was heavily sought after by collectors in PS1 and early PS2 era. US copies were going for $300. There was even an entire bootleg scene making prints of these on Ebay back in the day! It got nuts.

A lot of folks bought Japanese versions of this game and got weird accessories to make it work on an American PS1. Needless to say, there was a lot of effort put in to play this by a lot of folks. So you'd think it be great, right!?

@stevenbeynon

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Lone Survivor Review

The combat is appropriately intense and doesn't get too stupid.

I really enjoyed Lone Survivor. As an Afghan vet, I truly appreciated a lot of the movie's attention to detail and for depicting one of the war's more infamous battles. This reads a little more formal than I usually write for this is a draft of what's going in a local paper.

Director Peter Berg’s adaptation of the infamous 2005 battle in Afghanistan has a genuine feeling of authenticity and care. It’s more grueling than entertaining. Lone Survivor is a true story and mostly isn’t a “feel good” kind of film, it’s an intentionally stressful take on a real life event. This isn’t a pleasant movie to watch, but is an important display of the horrifying and adrenaline filled environment of combat. I mean those criticisms in the best way possible. All those elements combine into an experience with real emotional resonance.

Based on the memoirs written by Navy SEAL Medic Marcus Luttrell whom is also the protagonist, Berg’s film intelligently zeroes in on the battle itself and the four American men that fought it. Berg drops the audience into a brutal and unforgiving battle that took the lives of 19 servicemen, making it the most devastating day for Navy SEALs since WWII. It communicates a visceral, worst-case scenario situation like Black Hawk Down (2001) but a little less loud and bombastic.

Their reconnaissance mission was to scale a mountain in Afghanistan’s deadly Kunar province to identify insurgent leader, Ahmad Shah. The mission goes awry when the SEAL Team is discovered by goat herders. Despite having suspicions these herders are Taliban supporters, the SEALs are then faced with a difficult decision whether or not to kill the unarmed “civilians”.

The mission goes bad when the SEALs were caught by local Afghans.

Following their moral compass, the SEALs let the herders go and hopes karma will be kind to their mission. Immediately, these Afghans report to a Taliban group about the American’s location. The SEALs are virtually surrounded immediately.

Even for folks that aren’t familiar with the real events the film depicts, its very obvious where the movie goes by title and trailer alone. Lone Survivor’s major plot points aren’t a secret. However, Berg expertly maintains a high-level stress environment. The story arc knows that you are likely aware of Marcus Luttrell’s life, so it’s going to tell this story from the angle of the stress and agony the SEALs went through that day. This story is more about the journey than the destination.

A couple of times throughout the movie, the SEAL team has no other choice than to jump down a mountain to avoid being killed or captured by Taliban. In various real-life interviews, Marcus Luttrell explained that every time their body made contact with the ground, another few bones broke and most direct encounters with the enemy left a few more bullet holes in their bodies. Every broken bone, every gunshot, is gratuitously depicted for maximum impact.

Despite that, there’s very little gore. The visuals and sound design mold together in creative ways to make you aware of the wounds these men are receiving without being gross or exploitative.

Several actors were even injured during filming. The stunt coordinator didn’t use dummies or wires for the falling sequences. Kevin Scott, was charged with these sequences and to depict realism, he tasked his stuntmen with falling 15-20ft sometimes. To properly mimic how the SEALs fell, Scott wanted gravity to take over and told his stuntmen, “Wherever you fall, just go with it”.

It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes Lone Survivor shine. While I was not a part of Operation Red Wings, I have been to the region in Afghanistan the movie is supposed to be emulating. The environment is about as close as you can probably get and even the make-shift bases for some of the earlier scenes in the film are convincing enough to me as someone who has physically been in most of the real-world counterparts. Even just the attention to detail as to the brand of gloves the servicemen are wearing are spot on and everything blends together to make this movie probably as close as you can get without just watching actual combat footage from overseas.

I wonder if Luttrell actually wore a green top or if that's for you to separate who's the main character.

Lone Survivor doesn’t take too much time to expand on its characters for us to get a real glimpse into who these real men were. Instead it wants to communicate how a real battle took place and the inevitable bond lead character Marcus Luttrell forms with an Afghan man that rescues him. It’s the kind of story that on its own would seem too Rambo if it were fiction, but knowing that the film follows closely as to what Luttrell and military reports say what happened that day separates this movie from Call of Duty or interlacing jingoism and cements itself as a genuine movie that can stand proud next to other great war story interpretations like Band of Brothers.

Thanks!

@stevenbeynon

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PTSD and how Battlefield potentially saved my life

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is truly hard to quickly define.

To put it simply, it’s a negative impact on one’s frame of mind due to a traumatic event. Some event in which the 'victim' witnesses something truly awful or is put into a situation so extreme it makes their mind not work like it should.

Each case is different. Some folks develop violent tendencies or become alcoholics. Some end up on the extreme and end up committing suicide such as a close friend of mine chose to.

For me, I’m probably on the lesser end. I was diagnosed back in February. I have random issues with claustrophobia, I’m slightly paranoid, I’m probably over-protective of those I care about, and of course the occasional obligatory nightmares.

While these issues might sound bad on paper, I’m in a privileged state to not have this condition affect my everyday life. My close friends and family will never be let in on the true nature of the condition, and I don’t see myself truly opening up to my experiences overseas anytime soon. I feel as if I'll never truly open up to civilians as I’d like to, they either wouldn’t believe me or they would be turned off by violence I’ve partaken in or think I’m crazy. And on the few occasions I’ve tried to share things, they just don’t care.

It has become increasingly obvious there are some dumb things I simply can’t do anymore. Or at least enjoy as much as I used to. For instance, my PTSD seems to flare up when I drink Jäger. I know...weird, right? I’ve yet to find a vet that shares that problem. Not that it’s a good drink, but fuck...I’m in college and pounding $4 Jägerbombs at the shitty bar is part of the young adult experience.

I have a true love for videogames. Playing, critiquing, and simply coming on this site to chat about them in some manner of intelligent form is my creed.

While I don’t have a difficulty with most games, one of my favorites is too well designed for me to play in long stretches or intoxicated. My doctor says alcohol inflates PTSD like a balloon, so all triggers should be avoided like a goddamn plague. My doctor is kind of right unfortunately.

Battlefield’s (3 & 4 specifically) attention to detail is astonishingly well done and my mental health problem should be a complement to the developers. So to all the folks at EA, don’t take this as a negative criticism but as an official seal of approval that your design is so well polished that a man that has lived the real experience is disturbed.

Listen to this fight in Afghanistan and how its sounds might compare to games like Battlefield:

The game’s single-player isn’t representative of the real world and the combat itself is too cartoonish to take seriously in comparison of real-world Afghanistan. Instead, it’s the sound design.

More Afghanistan footage:

This may sound like a trivial element, but the incredible sound design encapsulates the real world thing well enough to put me on edge a bit, especially with high quality headphones.

The dynamics of the entire game are truly impressive. The ambient noise on multiplayer maps with explosions, and distant machine guns are more than enough to resonate with any veteran. In my case, well enough to make me uncomfortable.

In Battlefield 3 I was walking with my squad. My squad was actually made up mostly of my real world army buddies. I’ll preface this with real world military tactics don’t necessarily apply to videogame success.

We took enemy sniper fire from a rooftop, the enemy likely being some 12 year old from Colorado or something. I returned fire with my SAW, the weapon I used through most of Afghanistan.

The Army trains the machine gunner to immediately return fire in the direction in which it was received for the riflemen to pick out the enemy. The supersonic sound of that 'sniper’s' 7.62mm round whizzing over my shoulder brought back memories and sounded close enough to a real world scenario. I jumped behind cover and immediately expelled dozens of bullets.

I went into “Army mode”.

Now a word from a Battlefield sound designer:

As I laid down a barrage of my 5.56mm SAW rounds on to the window this Sniper was firing from, I asked riflemen to find him with their ACOG optics. They returned accurate fire. One group in my squad had a 320 Grenade Launcher. I yelled at him to fire all the 40mm grenades he had until the threat was destroyed.

The sporadic gunfire sang in a specific rhythm I was used to. The sounds of gunfire tells a narrative. From the rate of cyclic fire the machine gunner chooses, the volume of rifle shooting, distant explosions, RPG fire bracketing your position, and guys yelling obscenities in the background tell a tale every veteran is used to. From the arrangement of these elements, you can sometimes paint the specifics of how deep troopers are “in the shit”.

A full belt of my own ammo, dozens of rifle bullets, and 2 grenades later the 12 year old from Colorado was “dead”.

The dust cleared. I realized during those six seconds we weren’t playing a videogame, but instead were transported back in time. I was in fact playing with guys that were in my fire team overseas. It was natural to shout orders and to verbally analyze the distance and direction of the threat.

This event was before I was diagnosed with any problem. Something serious settled in with me that night of playing. I then realized I had a problem.

Not long after that play session my long time friend Doran killed himself. He was in my virtual and real world squad. I had plans to move in with him and we would go to Ohio State University together. We wanted to throw awesome parties and such.

No, Fox News, videogames didn't kill him!

A man that saved my life and wanted nothing more than to kick-back with whiskey and play videogames with me in Columbus ended his own life because of a misunderstood and easily underestimated disorder.

That session with Battlefield was my first true insight that I have a disorder. It was too late for my friend though.

Battlefield's effect on my state of mind is a true testament to its quality. It's one of my favorite franchises. I can't necessarily enjoy it in large doses, but I credit it with pointing out a problem I had in its early stages that could've led to bad choices and self destruction.

@stevenbeynon

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Steve, Kessler, and Pascual Podcast with Rogue Legacy Designer

For this episode of Steve & Matts we chatted with Rogue Legacy's Teddy Lee. I liked this episode a lot because I felt we got an interesting insight into a developer's thought process and got a peak behind the curtain on some things.

Click here to listen!

All feedback is appreciated. Hope you enjoy!

Previous Episodes:

Iron Galaxies Dave Lang

Patrick Klepek

GaymerX Founder Matt Conn

Thanks for listening,

@stevenbeynon

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Steve, Pascual, & Kessler Talk to GaymerX Founder, Matt Conn. LGBT in Gaming Community.

Matt Conn, founder of GaymerX

GaymerX (formally known as GaymerCon) is an upcoming videogame convention that revolves around the LGBT community. In this episode of Steve&Matts we talked to its founder, Matt Conn. He's a 25 year old San Francisco resident that wants to shine a light on and provide a safe environment for the LGBT community.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

We got one more podcast interview going up later this week. Sorry for spamming a million shows. As I said, I'll be out of town and I struck a lot of luck I didn't want to waste on getting some solid guests on. I would release these throughout the month, but I won't have Internet access. It's actually super informative and insightful, but I'm the host so my opinion doesn't matter.

@stevenbeynon

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